Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Resolutions Of Jonathan Edwards - Part 1

If there has ever been a saint that I wanted to emulate and imitate it is Jonathan Edwards. Not only was Edwards one of the most intelligent and thought-provoking theologians to ever grace Christ's Church, he was also one of the most God-centered and intentional people I have ever had the privilege of getting to know.

He ate and drank very sparingly, he studied upwards of 13 hours per day; he prayed for several generations ahead of his family every day; he set aside at least an hour a day to play with his children; he met regularly with the people in his church to pray and minister to them; he lived on a meager salary; he spent a long stint of time ministering to Native Americans under terrible conditions; he displayed an uncanny humility; he hated small talk (at least I think he did); and when his congregation fired him he preached a loving and gentle farewell sermon to his people.

One of the things that really stands out about Edwards is that he penned a rather long list of "Resolutions" by which he tried to live his life. I will be writing out for you all of the "Resolutions" of Jonathan Edwards in ten parts. There are a total of 70 that he penned during his short life, so I will be posting ten of them every week for 7 weeks. My hope is that you will get a glimpse of a man who took his commitment to God and to godliness so seriously that it permeated every area of his life. The most convicting thing for me in trying to emulate Edwards is that I fall miserably short of following my own list of resolutions which only contains 12 points. I encourage you to read these carefully and I hope you enjoy them.

Being sensible that I am unable to do any thing without God's help, I do humbly entreat him, by his grace, to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ's sake.

Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week

1. Resolved, That I will do whatsoever I think to be most to the glory of God, and my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my duration; without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad of ages hence. Resolved, to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved, so to do, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many soever, and how great soever.

2. Resolved, To be continually endeavoring to find out some new contrivance and invention to promote the forementioned things.

3. Resolved, If ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

4. Resolved, Never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God, nor be, nor suffer it, if I can possibly avoid it.

5. Resolved, Never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can.

6. Resolved, To live with all my might, while I do live.

7. Resolved, Never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.

8. Resolved, To act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody has been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings, as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

9. Resolved, To think much, on all occasions, of my dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

10. Resolved, When I feel pain, to think of the pain of martyrdom, and of hell.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Love Of God

"For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:46-47

Buddhists love one another and they serve those around them. Muslims have a concept of caring for the poor. Atheists, agnostics, Wiccans and individuals from just about every other system of belief do nice things for each other and for others around them. In a world where there are seemingly more non-Christians fighting for immigrants, abused women, racial reconciliation and almost every thinkable social issue, what do Christians have to offer that is so different? What is it really that sets the love of the one true God apart from all of the "love" we see around us?

The answer can be found in the text above from Matthew 5. The love of God is not a common love - it is a scandalous love. The love of God i not at all like the love we see among people of like beliefs - it is a tremendous and awesome love. The love of God doesn't just love those who are like us, believe like us, are hurting, are poor or deserve it - the love of God loves the very people that hate us, betray us, are different from us, believe differently than us and don't seemingly deserve to be loved by us.

I use the term "love of God" because that is what it is. It is not our love for people - it is His love for people living in us and flowing out of us. What is so different about Christian love is that it is absolutely unconditional and absolutely undeserved. We are to love our enemies which means we are to love those who hate us, fight against us, can't stand us, make life difficult for us, hate our gospel, hate our God, hate all of our causes, and even those who harm us or our loved ones. That's the love of God and it is the absolute center of the gospel. Without love like this there is no gospel at all.

Now, many people try to tell me that we are to simply preach the truth of how God loves us and that as long as the message of the gospel goes out, God will take care of the rest. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing could be more false. Nothing could be more unbiblical. Nothing could displease God more. Nothing will lead to more death and more people hearing from Jesus "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness," than this view of the gospel.

The gospel is not a "packet" of truth that we send out and it simply does something by itself. If that were the case, God wouldn't use people to spread it. That is not to say that God can't or does not work in situations like that - He does. But Jesus told us clearly what He wants from us; how He wants the gospel to be spread and it is not simply through "truth" going out from our mouths or our ministries.

Consider how Jesus spread the gospel. God came to earth as a man; lived a perfectly obedient and sinless life; died a death in our place for our sins to reconcile us to the Father; and rose from death to vindicate us and set us free. During His life on earth He preached often with words and parables. But what is striking about His ministry is not that He stood on a hill and shouted truth about people. No. What is striking about Jesus' ministry and the reason I gave my life to Him is that He actually loved people sincerely - and not just in word but also in deed. Jesus ministered to people. Jesus healed the sick. Jesus gave sight to the blind. Jesus protected a women just caught in adultery from the punishment of the religious establishment. Jesus cared for His friends and loved them deeply. Jesus died for His friends and also for His enemies. Jesus took time while hanging on the cross, bleeding and dying, to give His mother a new son to take care of her. Jesus washed the feet of Judas - the man who betrayed Him and the man Jesus knew would never turn and would never love Him. Jesus was scourged, beaten, had His beard plucked out, was spit upon and was mocked by the very people whose sin He was paying for. Jesus didn't just preach a message of good news - Jesus lived and died a message of good news, and that good news is the love of God. The love of God is nothing like the love of Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, agnostics or any other human being.

Now, if you think that this love can be "performed" and simply done out of duty Jesus would want to rain on your parade. Two verses in particular make this clear to us.

"Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." Romans 12:9-15

Love must be sincere and genuine, meaning it must come from the heart. Anyone can pretend to love an enemy by showering him or her with gifts in the face of persecution. Anyone can act the part of loving a person they don't really love. What is more difficult is to actually have a sincere affection for a person who persecutes you. To want what is best for the person who just betrayed you and to sense a deep emotion of love for them in your heart is something that cannot be faked. It either is there or it is not. Such love comes from God and not from human beings. Such love cannot be faked - it comes from the Holy Spirit Who lives in those who belong to God.

"Love is patient and kind; live does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends." 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Every single mention of what love is from this section of Scripture can only come from the heart - it must be felt. And from that deep root of love in our hearts, from the Holy Spirit, flows the actions of love. The actions can be imitated - the feelings cannot.

So let's relate this to what I said about spreading the gospel. If we preach the truth of the gospel but do not have love like this in our hearts, we are liars and the truth is not in us. We may have intellectually grasped the facts of the gospel but we are no different from demons (James 2:19). People may get saved through what we preach but I would submit to you that much of what looks like the gospel spreading is simply another "club" growing or another religion spreading. People who are part of the club may love those who are in the club - but to love one's enemies and to bless those who persecute and hate us is all together different. And like I said earlier, it is this heart-felt love and emotion-wrought behavior that distinguishes Christianity from every other religion on earth. Without it, the gospel will not spread - our message will ultimately lead only to death and pain.

People will know Who we belong to by how we love, not by what we say or preach (John 13:35, 15:8). You can't love as God loves without pointing to the One from Whom all things flow so speech and preaching is necessary. But to emphasize preaching or speaking over love is to butcher the gospel. And to define love as we want to define it is to blaspheme against mighty God.

Let's end with two more verses that drive this simple and unavoidable truth home.

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have and deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing." 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

We can preach all we want; we can believe all we want; we can prophecy all we want; we can do as many good deeds in Jesus' name as we want to, but apart from real, genuine, sincere heart-felt affection for all people (especially those who belong to Christ), we are and will be nothing. This is just another way of saying that Christ's Holy Spirit in a person reveals itself in a particular way - through real love. The conclusion is simply that without such love a person cannot claim salvation - no matter how true what they preach, no matter how much they believe and no matter how many good works they do. Love is the point and without it there is only death. If you don't believe what I am saying, read the text again. You can have all the faith in the world and still go to hell. You can preach the truth all you want to and still go to hell. You can give everything you own to the poor because of what you believe and still go to hell. True, saving faith is evidenced by one thing and one thing only - love (Galatians 5:6).

"On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness." Matthew 7:22-23

I would submit to you that the context of this verse, located in the sermon on the mount, shows the serious nature of preaching a gospel and assuming that you are in the clear with God because of what you believe. If we really believe it, we will live it! If we really love God, we will show it by our love for others - and it is not simple kindness or generosity, it is scandalous and profoundly costly for us. It cost Jesus His life to live what He preached and He calls us to do exactly the same thing.

"You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:48

You should read this verse in context and realize that Jesus is likening the perfection of God to His love for His enemies and that this is the perfection to which we are called. It's not optional!

Many of you may be boiling at this point thinking that I am setting a bar that the Bible doesn't set. Maybe you hate what I am saying because you think that we all grow at different rates and that many of us may not have an obvious love like this just yet. Maybe you think I am unreasonable and that I have a 2x4 stuck in my eye and therefore have no right to say what I am saying. Please disregard what I say then and listen only to what God says:

"For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should no be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous...We know that we have passed out of death into life. because we love the brothers. Whoever doe not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives fr the brothers...And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us." 1 John 3:11-23

Don't put truth above love because there can be no truth without love. Love never ends...everything else does so take care that you are abiding in His love and bearing His fruit of love lest you deceive yourself and think that you will be justified by what you believe in your head but don't live out in your life from your heart by His Holy Spirit!



Friday, July 4, 2008

The Body Of Christ

"Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? And he said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And he said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.'" Acts 9:4

When Paul (at that time known as Saul) was knocked to the ground by Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus he was persecuting Christians - rounding them up, throwing them in jail and even participating in the murder of Christians. Paul was doing violence to the people of God, His treasured possession, the people over whom God will sing and exult (Zephaniah 3:17). It seems pretty straight forward at first: Jesus is upset that Paul is persecuting His friends, His people and His Church. But this text in the book of Acts, along with many texts dealing with the Church of God in the New Testament, reveals to us a mystery concerning the Church - the Body of Christ.

When Jesus appears to Paul He doesn't say: "Why are you persecuting my friends?" or "Why are you persecuting my people?" Instead, Jesus asks: "Why are you persecuting me?" and "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." Jesus does not charge Paul with doing violence against the people whom He loves (though, we know that Jesus does love His people). He charges Paul with doing violence against Him. So what does all of this reveal to us concerning the Church? It reveals a profound mystery and a glorious truth concerning the people of God - a truth that should fill us with awe and absolute wonder at the love that Jesus has for His Church.

Now for those who don’t yet know Jesus I want to mention a quick disclaimer. The church is not a “club” or a loose gathering of like-minded people. It’s certainly not a place where everyone simply agrees on everything. No, the church is a family – a family that is closer and more intimately connected than any earthly family. The church is not connected because of what we believe (though every member of the church does hold to certain foundational truths concerning Jesus Christ), it is connected because of the One to whom we belong. All who are in the church belong to Jesus and love Him, worship Him and follow Him. Jesus is the head of this body and the church is the body of Jesus Himself Who is one with us, just as He is one with God the Father. This is part of the mystery that is the gospel.

Let's start our journey toward understanding this mystery by looking at Ephesians 5.

"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their own husbands. Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband." Ephesians 5:22-33

This text is a favorite of many conservative, reformed, evangelicals. Some men love it because it affords authority, respect and leadership to men. Other men, however, love this text because it reveals to us the profound mystery that is the gospel. The former relish in their "need" for respect being met; the latter see the unfathomable extent of Christ’s love for the Church and sense the conviction to love their wives in the same way. But what is the mystery of the gospel that is being revealed to us in this text and how does this relate to our text in Acts?

First of all, notice Paul's language concerning Christ being the head of the church, "his body." Think of the human body. It's composed of a head, shoulders, a neck, a torso, legs, hips, feet, arms, fingers, elbows, organs etc. The head is at the top and decides what every part of the body should do. If I want to move my legs, my legs obey my brain and move wherever I decide for them to go. What Paul is trying to explain to us is that Jesus is the figurative "head" and the church is the figurative "body" and that he decides where and how the body will move. But this text goes beyond this. The church is Christ's body and there is a mystery here that we will not see fully until we see Him face to face. We will see more of this in Colossians later. Nonetheless, Paul sets up the analogy by describing Jesus' relationship to his own body, the church.

Now, take a look at what Paul says concerning how husbands should love their wives. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church. In other words, the husband is the redeemer of his wife. But what should really get us thinking here is the fact that Paul says: "In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body." Hopefully you see the point Paul is trying to make. Jesus loves the church as if it is His very own body - as He loves Himself. Wow! Jesus loves us as He loves Himself. The love of Christ which surpasses all understanding is beginning to come into view and our verse from Acts makes more sense now.

Whenever any part (individual) of the body is hurting or being hurt, Jesus is hurt and counts it and feels it as He Himself is hurting or being hurt. If any one individual is sad or depressed, Jesus feels it. If any individual in the church is slandered, Jesus is being slandered. If any individual in the body is being sinned against, Jesus is being sinned against. When we speak words of anger or hatred toward any member of the church we are literally (not just figuratively) cursing Jesus Himself. This ought to fill us with fear and trembling. You cannot love God and mistreat a member of the church without being in profound sin. You cannot consider any individual in the church expendable or replaceable because the body of Christ isn’t expendable or replaceable – it’s His body. If we view a person in the church this way we are literally saying that Christ Himself is expendable and replaceable and I would not recommend committing this sin.

If you struggle to see this, and I am speaking to men now, think of your wife. Do you consider her expendable or replaceable? Would you willfully abandon her, curse her, or hate her? Would you willfully mistreat her or hurt her? If you answer yes to any of these questions may I suggest that you consider the fact that you are abandoning, hating, mistreating, cursing and hurting yourself? That is what all men do when they sin against their wives and don’t love them as Christ loves His church. And since she is also a part of the body of Christ Himself (assuming she is a believer) you are also abandoning, hating, mistreating, cursing and hurting Jesus Christ Himself.

This is all very sobering for me because I have long struggled with having sincere love for some people in the church. Sure, I perform the obligatory handshake and smile and I even do nice things for these people from time to time. But, a sincere and Spirit-filled love for certain people in the church does not come naturally. I always have an excuse. “They irritate me!” “We just don’t click and are not naturally drawn into friendship!” “That person sinned against me!” The excuses go on and on. But I am in the process of repenting of this and the Lord has filled me with His Spirit and His love for His body so that I not only see this more clearly but I am also filled with sincere love for the church – the body of Christ Himself.

Let’s look at another verse as we continue our study of this wonderful truth.

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.” Colossians 1:24-26

This verse has perplexed me for years, to be honest. I simply could not understand what Paul meant by “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body.” I would get confused because I know that Jesus died for sin once and for all to redeem His bride – the Church so what could possibly be lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body? This verse doesn’t make any sense until you realize that the Church is literally the body of Christ in the sense that He feels and experiences whatever the individuals in the body go through. Jesus suffered and died for sin once and for all – there is nothing lacking in His sufferings in the sense that anyone can add anything to what He has already done for the salvation of His church. But what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions is the display of those afflictions to the whole world. Sure, the sufferings of Jesus are proclaimed in the Bible and anyone can read of them there, but there is something of a personal and intimate witness of the sufferings of the body of Christ that is missing and that the world cannot see. This is put on display by God through the body of Christ. As the people in the Church suffer (and suffer like Jesus did by enduring and absorbing injustice) the world can see the humility, love, and joy with which we suffer. They see our unwavering commitment to God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. They see our faith, our love and our hope in our suffering and this is a testimony to them from Jesus Christ. As they witness our sufferings they are witnessing the sufferings of Jesus Christ Himself because He suffers with us and in us.

Not only do the sufferings of the Church display the truth about Jesus Christ to a dying world, but His love does the same thing. My last post dealt with the fruit of the Spirit – the fruit that is borne by Jesus in us. This love is another testimony both to those in the Church and those outside of the Church. When Christ is in us and we bear the fruit of His love for those in the church, the members of His body are encouraged and assured. They see and experience the love that God has for them through another brother or sister. This love is from God, it is through God (Who is in every believer, bearing the fruit of love) and it is to God as He alone is glorified and worshipped as the source of this love. The world sees this kind of love and sees Jesus Himself.

The same holds true of our love for those in the world. As we love them with Jesus’ love for them they witness and experience the love of God for them. Jesus intends to show His love for people through His own body and this love is instrumental in people coming into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. This happens specifically through the body of Christ and is again, from God, through God and to God.

“To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27

The Church is the mysterious manifestation of Jesus Christ Himself. Don’t treat the church, either the local expression or the global expression, as if it’s anything other than Christ Himself. When dealing with a member of the Church realize that you are dealing with Christ Himself and not just people. The Church is made up of people, this is true, but those people have Christ in them and therefore, the way you treat them is the way you treat Jesus Christ. If you don’t love the people in the Church with the very love that Christ has for them, then you are blaspheming the King of kings and the Lord of lords. (In a future post, I will address how we can have sincere love when it does not come naturally.) If you think that a member of the Church is replaceable or expendable you would do well to realize that you think Jesus Christ Himself is replaceable or expendable. This is all very serious and I would argue that life and death, heaven and hell hang in the balance on this very point.

“But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” 1 John 2:11

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.” 1 John 3:14


Monday, June 16, 2008

Abiding in Christ and bearing His fruit!

"By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples." John 15:8

There is much talk around me these days of bearing fruit - fruit for Christ. As followers of Jesus we all desire to bear fruit and we want nothing more than for Christ to be glorified in our lives as we bear fruit in and through Him. We want our lives to reflect Jesus and His glory and we want the world to see Jesus through our lives, attitudes and actions. But I have yet to hear a good, Biblically grounded definition of fruit. The word fruit is thrown around without much thought given to what God Himself actually considers fruit. I long to bear fruit; fruit that will last and fruit that will glorify my God and savior Jesus Christ. To that end, I hope to do a quick little study on what Jesus Himself means when he speaks of fruit.

As the verse at the top shows us, Jesus desires for us to bear fruit. When we bear fruit we glorify the Son by proving that we are His disciples and we glorify the Father because the Son glorifies the Father. This issue of fruit is profoundly important and is the subject of a long section of Jesus' conversation with His disciples in the Gospel of John. It is imperative that we understand what Jesus means by fruit so that we do not erroneously think we are bearing fruit when we are indeed not bearing fruit. At the same time, it will be encouraging to our faith if we see that we are indeed bearing the fruit that Jesus speaks of.

Starting in verse 15 of John 14, Jesus begins to speak of love - love for Him and love for the Father:

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (verse 15)

"Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." (verse 21)

"If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I." (verse 28)

"If anyone loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." (verse 23)

"...but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father." (verse 31)

(As a side note, all of Jesus' discourse here is in the context of the Holy Spirit, Whom He is promising will come to the disciples.)

Immediately following this lengthy speech on love for Him and love for the Father, Jesus introduces the concept of a vine and its' branches to His disciples and we get our first glimpse of this fruit that we are to bear.

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." John 15:1-2

It is not immediately clear from this text what Jesus means by fruit, but I hope to show that as the discourse moves along Jesus is building on His discourse in chapter 14 to climax at verse 17 with a clear statement of what He means by the word fruit.

"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:4-5

Notice that what Jesus is getting at here is that we can in no way bear fruit apart from Him. It is an unequivocal statement of our inability to bear the fruit that He desires apart from Him. He is the vine that nourishes the branches so that they bear the fruit that He has designed them to bear. It is His fruit, not our fruit. It is His work, not our work. Additionally, notice how Jesus moved from speaking clearly of love for Him and the Father in chapter 14 to a language of "abiding" in Him here in chapter 15. Jesus is using the analogy of a vine and its' branches to show the disciples that abiding in Him is like a branch that is part of a vine, bearing the fruit of the vine. The fruit is not the fruit of the branches but it is the fruit of the vine itself. This may become more clear a little later in the text, so let's move along.

"By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in His love." John 15:8-11

Now we begin to see a little more clearly what Jesus is getting at. He commands the disciples to "abide in His love." Abiding in Him and abiding in His love seem to be one and the same thing. This same text begins with Jesus saying that the Father is glorified when we bear much fruit and so prove to be Jesus' disciples. The Father is glorified as we prove to the world that we are followers of His Son who love Him, abide in Him and abide in His love. But the question still remains: what fruit will we bear when we love Him, abide in Him and abide in His love? It is the resulting fruit of our love for Jesus, our abiding in Jesus, and our abiding in Jesus' love that glorifies the Father. The Father desires for our loving and abiding to produce something so that others' may see Him and His glory. What is the fruit?

"This is my commandment. that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends." John 15:12

So toward the end of this great discourse on love, fruit and abiding, Jesus ges to the crux of what He means by all of this. He wants the disciples (and that includes us) to love one another as He has loved us. When we love Jesus we will obey what He has commanded us and here He tells us what He commands us: love one another as I have loved you. When we abide in Him, we will bear the fruit of love for each other. This is not a love that is from us; it's a love that is from Him. It is His love for us manifested as fruit in those who love Him. The imagery of the vine becomes very clear all of a sudden. This entire section is speaking of love - love for God in Christ and love for others. The love of Christ for us is the nourishing sap that feeds us and strengthens us ("abide in my love.") The fruit that we bear in Him is love for each other.

If you still struggle to see this, please go with me to verses 16 and 17.

"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another." John 15:16-17

There can be little doubt that the fruit Jesus is speaking of here is that of love for one another. It begins with Jesus' love for us and as we abide in Him and His love, we bear the fruit of love for others. It's as if Jesus has designed everything so that His love for others should be manifested through us - as fruit borne from Him, through us, for others so that they might glorify God the Father. The fruit is love! As usual, it is from Him, through Him and to Him.

The fruit Jesus wants us to bear is love. It's not lots of children, or large ministries, or massive church buildings, or thousands of converts. Not that those are bad in and of themselves, but they are not the fruit that Jesus is speaking of here. The children, large ministries, massive churches and converts are all something that flows out from Him as we bear the fruit He wants us to bear - love.

It is dangerous and unwise to try to redefine fruit as anything other than what Jesus defines it as. No, it's more than dangerous and unwise, it's sin. If Jesus defines fruit as love and we define it as something else we have just called Him a liar and do not obey the very command found in this text. We are to bear the fruit of love in increasing measure, thereby proving to the world that we are ineed Jesus' disciples.

Let's look at three more texts before we end.

If you doubt that the fruit Jesus is speaking of here is love than I encourage you to take a look at 1 John 4:7-21 first, then at Galatians 5, and finally 1 Corinthians 13.

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God send his only Son into the world, that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us."

This first part of the section of 1 John I listed is incredible. It reads almost indetical to John 14 and 15 and shows exactly the same concept: God bears His fruit of love through us in order that others might see Him. No one has seen God, but if we love one another God is abiding in us and people will see Him.

Verse 16 is a real clincher: "God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God." Isn't it amazing to see? If we abide in love (God's love) then we are abiding in God and we will bear the fruit of His love. We don't bear fruit FOR God because it is His fruit and He needs nothing from us. No, we bear fruit IN and THROUGH Him and the fruit He bears through us is TO Himself.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23

Remember in John 14 how Jesus spoke of Him being in us? "I am in my Father, and you in me and I in you." (John 14:20) In previous posts I have shown that Jesus living (or being) in us is none other than the Holy Spirit. And here in Galatians we again see the concept of fruit and love together. This time, it is Paul showing us what the fruit that is from Jesus looks like. This is most likely not an exhaustive list but what is curious about it is that the first on the list is love and every single one after that is related to love. Genuine love is accompanied by joy. Genuine love brings peace and is peaceful. Genuine love is patient. Genuine love is good. Genuine love is faithful. Genuine love is gentle. Genuine love is self-controlled.


"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and can understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends." 1 Corinthians 13:1-8

Love never abides. Love can be described in all the ways that Paul wrote in Galatians 5. Love is the fruit that Jesus speaks of in the Gospel of John. God is love and if we abide in Him we will bear fruit that will prove to everyone that we are His disciples, that we are in Him and that He is love.

When we speak of bearing fruit we must be ever so careful to define fruit the way Jesus defines fruit. It is not the number of converts we's not the size of our church's not the reach or influence of our's not the number of children we's not the number of friends we's not the amount of money we's not anything other than what Jesus says it is: love. We love God because He first loved us. As we abide in His love we will love one another and prove to the world that we belong to Him. If you want to assess yourself to see if you are abiding in Christ, see if you are growing in love. If you are not growing in love, you are neither abiding in Him nor are you bearing His fruit. And love like that of Jesus is love that is willing to die for ones enemies, not at all a love that loves those who love us.

This is a sobering truth for us all, but all praise and glory be to Him that we need not strive to bear fruit but only abide in Him and He will bear the fruit of His love in and through us. And the best part is that it is all FROM Him, THROUGH Him and TO Him - all for His glory and our glorious joy!


Monday, June 9, 2008

The cross of Christ, The Spirit and the Father!

It's been a very long time since I last posted anyting on my blog. One of my goals for this month was to finally get something written and to finally get into a good rythm by posting once a week. My wife has also encouraged me to shorten my posts a little and this I will do but I will likely start a separate blog where I post shorter thoughts and keep this blog for more in depth stuff.

"For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to you who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father."

Ephesians 3:14-18

I have posted here before that Christ died not only for our sins to be forgiven, but to bring us to the Father. This section of Ephesians, a book that both my wife and I have been studying at length in the past few weeks, makes this very clear. The cross of Christ is the epitome of the glory of God in that it reveals His love for us and that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." His glory shines forth on the cross as the Son willingly becomes the sacrifice for the sins that you and I have committed, are committing and will commit in the future. Such love has never been displayed in all of creation and it reveals the glory of God for our joy to worhip and thank Him for all eternity. Jesus dead on a cross, a willing and obedient servant of God who laid down His life for His sheep is the most clear display of the glory of God. But as I'm sure you can guess, there is more to the cross of Christ than what I just stated and it becomes clear as we move further along in Paul's discourse on what the cross accomplished.

"For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father." The act of salvation is a trinitarian act and is not accomplished by Jesus alone or to Jesus alone. Jesus died and rose from death to accomplish something - something for us. Notice what Paul says concerning Jesus that through Him we both (being Jews and Gentiles) have access in one Spirit to the Father. Paul is saying that there is something one the other side of the cross that is important and that the most glorious event in all of history is not glorious apart from what it accomplished for us. Jesus' death for sin loses all meaning unless it accomplished more than gain us forgiveness for our sins. What the death of Jesus for our sins indeed accomplished is to open the door for the Spirit to be poured out so that we could have access to the Father. Isn't it curious how easily we forget this? We can become so focused on the cross of Christ itself that we forget what it actually accomplished and the purposes for which God the Father ordained it.

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he migt bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit..." 1 Peter 3:18

It is true that we are to always point to Jesus and that we are to preach in such a way that the cross of Christ may shine and God's glory may be seen in it. But we must never forget that Jesus never pointed to Himself exclusively but pointed to the Father. Jesus rules and reigns over all creation and is seated at the right hand of God the Father. Through Jesus, we have access to God the Father by the Holy Spirit which was poured out after Jesus laid down His life and took it back up again.

It's a difficult nuance and some people easily mistake talk like this for trying to diminish Jesus. But rest assured, the cross is a doorway to God and is not the end point for believers - it is the beginning of a relationship with God where we can boldly approach His throne and by faith live for His glory and our joy. This does not negate a "cross centered life" or the truth that we will behold the slain lamb in the Kingdom of God. But it does remind us that we can easily sit back while focusing on the cross and forget that the cross is meant to get us something and somewhere.

Praise God for the cross of Christ and praise the Lamb of God Who took away the sins of the world. Praise God for providing us with a way into relationship with God through His Holy Spirit!

Blessings to you all!

Friday, March 7, 2008

The gift of God!

"If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him and he would have given you living water...Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

John 4:10-14

Have you ever noticed that when God reveals something to you of Himself and about Himself that the words of the Bible have new meaning and you begin to see this revelation in everything? When I first believed I saw everywhere in the Bible that God loves even His enemies because what God revealed to me first was that He is love. Once God revealed to me that Jesus is God, that is what I saw everywhere in Scripture. Well, God has done it again and I am seeing every verse and every story through the lens of the Trinity of God. Not every verse speaks directly concerning the trinity of God, but all of the Bible ultimately points to it and it is a delight to see this. I hope to show you that when Jesus speaks to the woman at the well His language is laden with a picture of the Trinity of God.

Most people would probably recognize that the water which Jesus offers this woman is the Holy Spirit - but then again, I never realized this until fairly recently, maybe a year and a half ago. My impression was always that the gospel was the water and that Jesus was speaking to her about truth, the good news, and the gospel of His death, burial and resurrection. This error in thinking is not all that uncommon in the reformed circles that I tread. If the error is not as grave as my own, at the very least most reformed saints think of the Holy Spirit as being there simply because we believe...sort of like a caboose at the end of the train. But since God revealed to me more of His triune nature through Jonathan Edwards, John Piper and Brother Lawrence and how there really is no gospel without a triune God, I have begun to see texts like this very differently. Rather than the Holy Spirit being inferential, I now understand Him to be experiential. Let me try to explain this quickly before we move on to our text.

From the time I first believed I always understood the Holy Spirit to be there because I believed. I inferred that because I believed in Jesus, I had the Holy Spirit. And though this is true, insofar as the seal of God's approval on me and the indwelling Holy Spirit which will never leave me, I fought sorely to understand why the Christian life was riddled with such struggle (with holiness) and condemnation. Those who believe in Jesus, in a saving way, are indwelt by the Holy Spirit - there is no doubt about that, for Ephesians 1:13 tells us: "In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit," and 2 Corinthians 1:22 in the same way says: "and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee." So there is little doubt that the Holy Spirit resides in those of us who have heard the word of God concerning the gospel of His Son and have believed. But it seemed like something was missing and "sticking close to Jesus" was an impossible task. Responding to God simply out of gratitude was more than my sinful flesh could handle and I consequently always ran out of steam. Even with an indwelling Holy Spirit, we cannot hope to live a life growing in the holiness of God as we ought to. And when I say holiness, I don't mean only overcoming particular sins, but the countenance and demeanor of our very souls. Most people can white-knuckle addictions and other obvious sins but to grow in the holiness of God is something else goes to very core of the root of our sins. The fruit of the Spirit is not listed as outward behavior like the works of the flesh are but rather as states of our very soul and emotions: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. So though I was certain of my own salvation and knew that God had raised this dead sinner to life, the inward sense of growing in the fruit of the Spirit was lacking and I struggled to see how I could continue living a life managing my sin.

So one evening, as I was reading through the book of Acts and seeing the profound experiences that the early church had with the Holy Spirit of God, I prayed a simple prayer. "Oh Lord, am I missing something? I know that anyone who believes on the Lord Jesus is saved but it seems as if something is different with how I experience you on a daily basis and the way these people experienced you. Will you please give me the gift of your Holy Spirit like you gave it to them?" Not long after this, I slowly started to change, and through conversations with a Pentecostal Brother I learned that being filled with the Spirit is indeed something we Christians should strive for and actually pray for in humble, reliant and expectant prayer. Pay particular attention to the expectant portion of what I jus said because it will be critical to understanding what Jesus is offering this woman and how it relates to us. I have never spoken in tongues, though I pray for this and I pursue it regularly, but I don't think that tongues is the point about being filled with the Spirit. The point is to move our faith from a place of inference to a place of experience where we know, taste, feel, sense and enjoy God's presence in our daily lives. This happened to me in the most remarkable way. I had such profound revelations of God in my life that I routinely wept and worshipped Him even in the midst of difficult situations that would normally have caused me to get angry with Him. I had the presence of God with me and I felt Him both inside me and around me. It all reminded me of being a brand new Christian because this had been my experience at first but the old cliche' of how we are supposed to "tone down" or "cool off" had made its way into my life. As a side note to this, any of you men who tell your wife that you were in love with her once but now your love is more calm, mature and steady should realize that this is not the kind of love your wife wants. She desires to be desired passionately because that is what she is designed and created to need. Yet, we hold to a foolish notion that once we have had our "in love" stage with Jesus we must learn to come down from the mountain top and get on with living out of gratitude for what Jesus has more passionate and lively feelings or desires for God, only gratitude and duty for what Jesus has done. I hope to show you that this is not what God wants for us nor is it what the Bible calls us to. Even in the valley we are called to rejoice exuberantly and praise His name as the object of our most passionate desires and we can sense His presence in our lives every day if only we learn to practice the presence of God.

Now, back to the text. Jesus offers this woman a gift of water and promises her that if she drinks of this water she will never be thirsty again. He refers to this water as "the gift of God" and tells her that this water will well up in her to a spring of water which will well up to eternal life. Let's begin with pondering what "the gift of God" means.

I find it cruious that Jesus doesn't say "the gift from God" instead, to be honest. If the gift He is referring to is that of the truth of the Gospel and the truth that He will die for unworthy sinners then He would have said that this is a gift from God instead of the gift of God. But you see, Jesus is not speaking here of the truth of His life, death, burial and resurrection...not at all. His life, death, burial and resurrection need to be understood as the thing that makes the gift of God possible and I will endeavor to try to make this clearer at the end. Jesus is telling the woman that He can give her the Holy Spirit and that this is the gift of God. The Holy Spirit is God and so Jesus is offering her God Himself. Therefore, it is not the gift from God but the gift of God. I could say more about the language here but I think it necessary to move on to seeing this truth elsewhere in the Bible.

How do we know that this water that Jesus offers the woman is indeed the Holy Spirit? First of all, in my previous post I attempted to show that when David calls us to "taste and see that the Lord is good" he meant that we should "drink" of the Holy Spirit. I showed verses from Ephesians, the Psalms and others which refer to drinking of the Holy Spirit. We can be fairly certain that Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit by comparing his language here to other verses that describe the Holy Spirit in this way. We can also be sure of this because of what is written in John 7:37-39: "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.' Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." Clearly, the living water that is here said directly to be the Holy Spirit is the same water Jesus is offering to the woman at the well. But there is something even more dramatic in Jesus' conversation with this woman that tip us off to the fact that He is offering her the Holy Spirit.

Notice what Jesus says at the end: "The water that I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." Lets deal with eternal life first and then we will move on to "welling up" because both of these point directly to the Holy Spirit as the gift of God. In this same gospel, Jesus tells us what "eternal life" is specifically.

"And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." John 17:3

So eternal life is not simply that we live forever in a place without grief, disease and death. That would simply be immortality and something more like Utopia. Jesus says that eternal life is knowing both the Father and the Son. This is God's definition of eternal life. To know God intimately and be in a relationship with Him is eternal life. I have shown in other posts that this is a relationship of joy and delight, but I want you to see here that what Jesus is telling this woman is that if she would but drink of the water He can give her then she will know both the Father and the Son. Now, there is only one way to know the Father and the Son and that is by the Holy Spirit because 2 Corinthians 3:18-4:6 tells us that "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" is from the Spirit. As well, 2 Peter 1:4 links knowledge of God with being "partakers of the divine nature" which is the same as drinking, eating, or consuming of God Himself. Finally, Jesus' discourse in John 17 reveals that we know and love God by the Holy Spirit Who is God. You can refer to some of my previous posts for more elaboration on this. But to sum it up, the only way to know God is by His Holy Spirit Who is God and eternal life is knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son. This, by the way, is also why 2 Corinthians 13:14 says: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." The fellowship of the Holy Spirit is the way in which we know God intimately and not just inferentially or intellectually. It is also by the Holy Spirit that God loves Himself - the Son loves the Father and the Father loves the Son and this love of God is the Holy Spirit Himself, the third person of the Trinity.

Now, let's take a look at the "welling up" that Jesus speaks of. Jesus seems to be saying that there will be a spring of water that will gush forth this living water. This is not language that should make us think of a small drop of water or a calm lake but of a fountain that is spewing water up and around itself. This is what being filled with the Holy Spirit is like. It is quite distinct and vastly different from having the "seal" of the Spirit. Let's say that you looked into a glass and saw a drop of water at the bottom of it. You would have to look pretty closely in order to see this drop of water and from any measurable distance you would assume that the glass was totally empty. I would argue that the "seal" of the Spirit is much like this drop of water. When we stand before God on judgment day He will see this "drop of water" and will by no means cast us away, because we have been sealed with His Spirit. But Jesus is not speaking of a drop of water here but of a gushing forth and welling up of water which tells me that this is an experience that others around us can see. It wells up in us to eternal life and out of us flows rivers of living water. We know that Father and the Son intimately, which is eternal life, and living water (or the Holy Spirit) flows out of our hearts for all to see. I will not go into how a Christian can have only a drop as opposed to a gushing fountain except to say that we can quench the Spirit of God and it is a serious offense against God. Many will be saved "as one escaping through the flames" might be a good way of putting it. We are called to be filled with the Spirit of God, not simply having a seal of the Spirit.

Now, we have shown that the living water that Jesus offers the woman at the well is the Holy Spirit, God Himself and that this is why He calls it the gift of God as opposed to the gift from God. It is not that this gift is not from God but that Jesus is offering her the gift of Himself by the Holy Spirit. I promised earlier that I would elaborate a little more about how the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus ought to be seen not as the water itself, but as what actually makes this possible. I want to make clear that I am not denying that we behold the glory of God in the face of Christ and that we indeed see this more clearly in the gospel of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. I simply want you to see that Jesus died in order to give you something. He didn't just die for you to be forgiven - no, He died and rose so that you could have eternal that you could know both Him and the Father and that you could feast on His glory by the Holy Spirit.

"If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.' Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." John 7:37-39

I assume you know where I will be going with this. At the end of this section of Scripture we see that the Holy Spirit had not been given in this way yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified. What this is referring to is that Jesus had not yet died for sin and resurrected (see John 17:1). The Holy Spirit could not be given to this extent until Jesus had paid the penalty for sin and glorified the Father as He desired. The love of God, or the gift of God, could not be poured out in this way until Jesus had satisfied the wrath and fury of God the Father. I point this out because it is so common to hear a truncated gospel which simply says that we are forgiven because of what Jesus did for us. This is true, but hopefully you see that Jesus died so that you could know Him by His Holy Spirit and feast on His glory which is eternal life. Jesus didn't just die so that you could have a ticket which says "forgiven." He died so that you could have the Holy Spirit welling up in you and spewing out living water for all to see, and most importantly, to shine God's glory back to Him again. Jesus Christ died to bring you to God and not just get you out of hell. Jesus Christ died so that you could partake of God, delight in God, enjoy God, treasure God, experience the presence of God, taste God, feel God, know God, live in God - to have eternal life.

So this is the gift of God and the gift of God is God Himself. Glorious joy flows from this understanding of the Trinity of God and cannot be a reality without it.

One more thing I wanted to point out is that when we pray for the Holy Spirit as we are directed to do in Luke 11:13, it is important that we do so with three things in mind. 1. We must ask for the Holy Spirit humbly, realizing that we don't deserve Him nor can we control Him. We are naked, wretched, poor and blind 2. We must ask God in reliant prayer for the Holy Spirit because only He can give us the gift of Himself and His own love for Himself 3. We must ask for the Holy Spirit expecting that God will answer this prayer. This is not at all like word of faith, but a realization that Jesus makes a promise to us that whoever asks persistently for the Holy Spirit will indeed be given of Him by God. All of God's promises are yes in Jesus Christ and God desires for us to partake of Him and give Him glory by enjoying Him so He will most certainly give us the gift of Himself if we ask Him, but we must believe that He will do so:

"And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." Hebrews 11:6

We must ask God for His Holy Spirit in humble reliant and expectant prayer, knowing that God will reward those who seek Him with the gift of Himself.

Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!

I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!

I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

Psalm 34:1-10

I read another profound piece of work by Jonathan Edwards this week and it illuminated and sharpened my understanding of glorious joy - the joy that is from God, through God and to God. The title of this work, a sermon he preached to his congregation in 1734, is "A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God, Shown to be Both Scriptural and Rational Doctrine." I would recommend reading it in it's fact, I would recommend reading it over and over again because the supremacy and glory of God shines in this work but in order to avoid making this post about Edwards and not Jesus I want to weave some of what Edwards argues for in this sermon into a discussion about the text from Psalm 34.

Notice, first of all, that David is praising God and expounding upon his own satisfaction and joy in God. He says that he will "bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord;..." Many of the Psalms are about praising and worshipping, in fact most of them are either about the experience of joy in God or a longing for God, but there is something in particular that should stand out to us in this text. The fact that David calls people to "taste and see that the Lord is good!" How can we obey this call of David's to taste the Lord and to see that He indeed tastes good?

Obviously, David is not literally telling us to taste God with our taste buds. So what does David mean by this statement? We must take him seriously and we must assume that David is calling us to do something that can indeed be done. Thankfully, though we cannot taste God with our tongue, what he is indeed calling us to do is not all that different from eating or drinking.

In his sermon, Jonathan Edwards skillfully shows that there is a supernatural light that God imparts to a person which enables him or her to "sense" God rather than merely being aware of His existence. This light is not the product of simple human intellectual ascent but is the supernatural product of God shining His light into the very soul of a person and awakening them to the reality of God's glory.

Says Edwards of the person experiencing this impartation of light,

"He does not merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but he has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart. There is not only a rational belief that God is holy, and that holiness is a good thing, but there is a sense of the loveliness of God's holiness. There is not only a speculative judging that God is gracious, but a sense of how amiable God is upon that account, or a sense of the beauty of this divine attribute."

So Edwards is arguing that rational thought and intellectual ascent do not constitute this "sense" of the glory or beauty of God. There is a difference between believing that God is holy as a matter of fact, and actually sensing (feeling or tasting) His holiness. The same holds true for every single attribute of God. I can believe all the true doctrines of God and never taste or feel the reality of them. I can believe that Jesus is the Son of God; I can believe that He died for sin; I can believe that Jesus rose from death; I can believe all these things with my mind and never taste the glory of the supremacy and beauty of God in them. I can know about God and never know Him intimately in my soul. One verse, in particular helps drive this home for us:

"You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe - and shudder!" James 2:19

You see, it is possible to intellectually know and accept facts about God and never feel or sense the goodness of them or more accurately, feel or sense the goodness of God in them. Notice what James tells us regarding a demon's response to the facts that he knows about God - he shudders. We shudder when we are afraid, frustrated, angry and in general don't like what we see or know. This is the sin of unbelief - to not treasure and cherish the God that we know about. Contrast this response to the response spoken of in 1 Peter:

"Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." 1 Peter 1:8-9

Do you see it? The people to whom Peter is speaking have the opposite response from that of the demons. Instead of believing and shuddering these saints love Jesus and rejoice with a joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory. What is that all about? Why is their response so different from that of the demons? The difference between the demons and the saints is simply that the saints have tasted God and have seen that He is good. They have drunk from His river and experienced the delights of God Himself. Their eyes have been opened and they have seen His glory and they relish in it. The demons shudder at exactly the same sight...because they don't like what they see - even if it is true.

So when David calls us to taste and see that the Lord is good He is simply calling us to true faith - the faith that results in glorious and inexpressible joy. Consider this analogy from Edwards' sermon:

"There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness. A man may have the former, that knows not how honey tastes; but a man cannot have the latter unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mind."

Now we are getting close to what David is speaking of. As Edwards points out here, it is entirely possible to be told that honey is sweet and yet have no idea what it tastes like. I can know, as a matter of fact, that honey is sweet because others have told me that it is and yet not know the sweetness of it. The same is true with God. And David is calling us to actually taste that the Lord is good - not just believe it because he tells us it is so.

So how does one go about tasting and seeing that the Lord is good? I mean, there must be some practical thing we can do to have this experience, right? Well, there is and it relates back to my previous post on the Holy Spirit.

In 1 Corinthians 12:13 Paul says that we have all been "made to drink of one Spirit." The "Spirit" is the Holy Spirit and Paul is using language very similar to that of David in Psalm 34 referring to a drinking of the Spirit. Other allusions to this kind of drinking of the Spirit can be found many places in the Scriptures. For example, in Ephesians 5:18 we are told: "Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit..." clearly alluding to the fact that rather than drinking wine we should drink of the Holy Spirit. In Psalm 36:8 we are told that saints "feast on the abundance of your [God's] house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights." In the Gospel of John Jesus tells us to eat His body and to drink His blood. We could go on to see a few more verses that deal with this "tasting" of God, but hopefully you see that what David is in fact calling us to do is to experience/sense/feel/know God's goodness and not just infer from the Bible that He is good.

Now, if you remember from my previous post, the Holy Spirit is "God's infinite love to and delight in Himself subsisting in the third person of the Trinity." So the Holy Spirit is God's love for and delight in Himself (Jesus' love for and delight in the Father and the Father's love for and delight in Jesus). So, the river we saw spoken of in Psalm 36 begins to make a lot more sense now. Saints have been given to drink of the "river of God's delights" and this river is none other than the Holy Spirit - or God's love for and delight in Himself existing as the fullness of God in the Holy Spirit. Do you see now what David is saying? Do you see that he is referring to drinking of the Holy Spirit or tasting with our souls the sweetness and goodness of God? This is a supernatural tasting and it is a supernatural partaking of God that only God, in His sovereignty, can provide for us. And He will provide it for us - all we need to do is ask Him.

"If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Luke 11:13

You see, we cannot force the experience of tasting God and His goodness - we must ask Him for it in humble and reliant prayer. We must desire to taste Him and we must acknowledge our need for Him to give it to us.

There are a few more passages of Scripture I want to look at before we close. The reason we need to look at these is that I don't want you to walk away with simply an abstract idea of "drinking" from a river that you cannot see. I want you to see the grand scheme of this concept and that it relates directly to the gospel of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. This is not simply the pursuit of a feeling or an experience - but a person, Jesus Christ. I want to show that when you drink of the Spirit you will see Him with your heart and you will delight in what you see and you will be filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.

"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3:18

So this first text shows two things that we need to consider: 1. That beholding the glory of the Lord is the way that we are transformed into His image 2. That this comes from the Holy Spirit That's right, Paul states emphatically that there is only one kind of transformation that ought to take place in the life of a saint - the change that God brings about as we behold His glory. And this "beholding" of the glory of the Lord can only be brought about by the Holy Spirit. So when we drink of the Holy Spirit and taste God we are beholding His glory and will be transformed into what we behold. But what is the glory of the Lord? What is it we see when we are beholding the glory of the Lord?

"In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." 2 Corinthians 4:4

We are inching closer to the crux of the issue now. When Satan blinds the minds of unbelievers he is preventing them from seeing the glory of the Lord and this glory is the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ. So when we drink of the Spirit we see the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ who is Lord over all. The most profound expression of God's glory can be found in the gospel. It is in the gospel that we see the love, justice, grace, sovereignty, power, mercy and patience of our glorious Lord. It is in the gospel that we see the Son of God dying for unworthy sinners to bring us to God. It is in the gospel that we see that the most important value to God is the glory of God. The Holy Spirit always points us to the glory of God and more specifically to the gospel of the glory of God.

"For God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." 2 Corinthians 4:6

There it is again! There is a seeing which takes place when we drink of the Spirit of God. We see the "glory of God in the face of Christ." In the gospel we see the glory of God and this is what drinking of the Spirit is intended to produce. But we have already shown that many people see the gospel - even demons have seen it, and they shudder. So what kind of seeing is this? Is this merely an issue of intellectual sight or is there more going on here? The key can be found in the Psalm that we started with.

"Those who look to him are radiant..."

There is more to this seeing than simply intellectually grasping facts. There is a beholding (which to me denotes enjoyment, cherishing, awe and delight) here which produces a radiance in the person who looks. This is the radiance that Moses had to hide from the Israelites in Exodus and it is the radiance of those of us who now taste the Lord. When we eat our favorite foods there is a noticeable countenance about our faces that lets those around us know that we are enjoying it. We show our delight in things with facial expressions, verbal cues and body language. This is the radiance that I believe is being spoken of in Psalm 34 and it is the same glorious (or shining) joy that the saints in 1 Peter are experiencing. So there is more than simply seeing the glory of the Lord - there is a beholding and delighting in it in such a way that those around us can see, but more importantly, this radiance shines the glory of God back to God so that He alone is glorified.

But don't forget that the way that God is glorified here is by our delighting in Him and tasting the fullness of God. God is glorified by our delight in Him. God gets glory and we get delight. God is magnified and we are satisfied beyond our wildest dreams.

God shone in our hearts to give us this knowledge by His Holy Spirit Who reveals to us the glory of God the Father in the face of Jesus Christ Who is the image of God. We continue to drink of the Holy Spirit to behold the glory of God and to delight in it. So this is both FROM God and it is THROUGH God by His Holy Spirit. Finally, this beholding is BACK TO God by His Holy Spirit filling us with the delight and joy that God has in Himself. We see, behold and delight in God and the joy and delight that we experience shines on our faces for everyone else to see and to radiate back to God who delights in His glories being delighted in. Everything is from God, through God and to God.

"For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever." Romans 11:36

Oh, that we would all take David seriously and taste the goodness of God Himself. That we would cast ourselves upon His sovereign graces and plead with Him to taste the delights that He has in Himself. Oh, how glorious and good is our God. He desires to share with us the love that He has for Himself and He desires to share with us of Himself in the Holy Spirit. Let us all get on our knees and plead with God for the gift of His Holy Spirit that we may taste and see that the Lord is good - that we may have radiant faces which display our pleasure as we feast on the glory of God. Oh that we would experience glorious joy - a joy that is from God, a joy that is through God, and a joy that is back to God as we reflect His glory back to Him and shine as heavenly lights for all to see that the Lord tastes good!

Blessings to you all!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

How we reflect the triune glory of God

Genesis 1:26-27

"Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'

So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female He created them"

As I was preparing to teach my class this week, I revisited a question I have wrestled with for some time now: when God creates man and woman He clearly states that He creates them in His own image and likeness. He created two people (two genders) to reflect His own image and likeness - meaning a man and a woman display the attributes and an image of who God is. As a Bible-believing, orthodox Christian this is actually a little preplexing because our glorious God is a triune God - one God existing in three united, yet distinct persons. So why would God create only two people to reflect His triune image? Doesn't this sort of leave one of the persons in the Trinity out?

While I was thinking about this it struck me that I had missed something which is there to see for all who have eyes to see. Let me try to explain this by referring back to an essay by my dear friend Jonathan Edwards - this is his attempt at describing the Trinity of God:

"And this I suppose to be that blessed Trinity that we read of in the Holy Scriptures. The Father is the Deity subsisting in the prime, un-originated and most absolute manner, or the deity in its direct existence. The Son is the Deity generated by God's understanding, or having an idea of Himself and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the Deity subsisting in act, or the Divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God's Infinite love to and delight in Himself. And I believe the Whole Divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the Divine idea and Divine love, and that each of them are properly distinct Persons."

Jonathan Edwards, "An Unpublished Essay on the Trinity"

I realize that this begs some explanation so I will humbly attempt to give a quick exposition of what Edwards is trying to say.

God the Father is first in the God-head. This is self-evident in the fact that God the Son is the "begotten" Son of God and in the fact that God the Son submits His own will to the will of God the Father. Now, the Son is described in the Scriptures as the wisdom of God. "...Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Corinthians 1:24) 2 Corinthians 4:4 tells us that the Son is also the image of God: " keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." Furthermore, Philppians 2: 6 says that Jesus is the "form" of God, Colossians 1:15 says that the Son is the "image of the invisible God," and Hebrews 1:3 powerfully states that "Who [Jesus] being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person." All of these verses point to an astounding fact concerning God the Son - He is the understanding and the idea that God the Father has of Himself, the perfect understanding and idea that only a perfect and eternal being could have. This perfect idea and understanding begets the second person of the Trinity; the glorious and eternal Son of God.

So far we see that God the Father begat God the Son and that God the Son is God the Father's perfect idea and understanding of Himself - embodied in a person, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Our verse in Genesis would make perfect sense if this was the end of God and there was no third person in the Trinity. But, thanks be to God, there is a third person - the blessed Holy Spirit of God.

In order to understand the Holy Spirit we must think spiritually and not in a sequential or exclusively human way. We must think God's thoughts after Him and seek His glory and majesty to understand Who the Holy Spirit is and how this relates to our passage in Genesis.

God the Father loves God the Son perfectly and eternally. God the Son loves God the Father perfectly and eternally. The essence of love is delight, enjoyment, passion and eternal admiration. This is the unity that is shared between God the Father and God the Son. They are two distinct persons enjoying a perfect unity of love and delight in each other. Now think with me for a moment about what I just said and see if the Holy Spirit does not appear in the very words that I wrote. Does not the Bible tell us that "God is love?" Does not the Bible say that "if we love one another, God dwells in us?" Does not Psalm 36 speak of God's delight in Himself: "They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink form the river of your delights." This Psalm can easily be misunderstood to be saying that it is the "delightful river" we are given to drink of, but this is errant. It is speaking of God's delights and this same reference to river or water is strewn throughout the entire Bible in references to the Holy Spirit. In Revelation 22 we see the glorious Kingdom of God where between the Father and the Son flows the river of life - there is no other mention of the Holy Spirit in this picture anywhere. We see Jesus, in the Gospel of John, speaking to the woman at the well about water that will well up in her to eternal life. We could go on and on. What the Scriptures are telling us is simply that God the Holy Spirit is the embodiement of God's love to and delight in Himself. This love or "divine essence," which Edwards calls it, breathes forth the third person in the Trinity. The perfect love and delight that God has in Himself, or that is enjoyed between God the Father and God the Son, begets or breathes forth a third and distinct person - the Holy Spirit Who is God.

I hope I did Edwards' explanation at least some justice in what I just wrote. But I am more concerned with you understanding what was just, in fact, said than with my ability exposit the thoughts of Edwards. I said, and I believe that God has said, that God the Father and God the Son exist in a perfect union and relationship of love and delight in each other. This delight in and love for each other is, in fact, the Holy Spirit Himself. Consider also that if this is so, it means that the Holy Spirit is in God the Father because He is the love which the Father has for the Son. As well, the Holy Spirit is in the Son because He is the love which the Son has for the Father. Finally, consider that both God the Father and God the Son are in the Holy Spirit exactly because the Holy Spirit is the essence of both God the Father and God the Son - He is love.

If you still doubt what is being said, consider with me how Jesus explains the unity which He and the Father share and how we are given the gift of partaking in this unity in John 17:

"The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."

John 17:22-26

I almost weep just seeing the beauty of what Jesus is saying to us here. He speaks of perfect oneness that He and His Father share - a perfect and eternal oneness that He wants us to taste and have. But if you pay careful attention here you will see that the Holy Spirit is never mentioned in name here - at least not the name by which we know Him. Instead, Jesus speaks of the love the the Father and the Son have for each other and that this love unifies them. Jesus speaks of "knowing" God the Father and this is a clear allusion to the way the term is often used in describing a husband and wife knowing each other intimately. There are references here to the Holy Spirit, to be sure, but the language is that of love and intimacy. And the final proof that Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit comes at the end of the passage. Jesus says that He wants the love with which the Father has always loved Him to be in us. And He doesn't stop there - He also says that He wants Himself to be in us. Do you see that Jesus is speaking of the blessed Holy Spirit here? Do you see that there is no distinction between Jesus speaking of the love and delight in each other that He and the Father enjoy, and the Holy Spirit? And do you see that Jesus wants this love (that is, the Holy Spirit) to be in us? Finally, do you see that Jesus wants to be in us and that this is a reference to the Holy Spirit being in us - Romans 8:9 refers to the Holy Spirit as "the Spirit of Christ."

The Holy Spirit is none other "God's infinite love to and delight in Himself" subsisting in the third person of the Trinity. "...because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:5)

But how does this relate to the question I posed at the beginning? Does this understanding explain why God created two people to reflect His image and not three? Yes it does! It does so because of what God states in Genesis 2:24. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." The Hebrew word for one here is the same word we find in Deuteronomy 6:5 - echad - and it means multiple things coming together to become one. This is the description given to the Israelites of who God is - He is one God, but multiple persons coming together as one. And how do the man and the woman become one? In love to and delight in each other. Through emotional love for each other and through the intimate act of making love they become echad, or one.

The image of the third person in the Trinity is not missing at all, it's right there in front of us for our awe and amazement. The image and likeness of God is complete in the creation of the man and the woman because they love each other and delight in each other. The Holy Spirit is supposed be reflected in the love which is between the man and the woman. Humor me for only one minute more here, please :) Does not Jesus tell us that we cannot see the Spirit but that we can see His effects (a paraphrase of John 3:8)? It is the same with love between a man and a woman. We cannot see love itself, but we can certainly see the effects of it on both the woman and the man. Love leads to unity, delight, peace and joy. Love between a man and a woman makes them both patient, kind to each other, gentle with one another, faithful to each other and it makes them self-controlled when dealing with each other. This is at least what love is supposed to do and it is, in fact, what real and lasting love does to people. If this last list of effects of love sounds familiar to you it's because you have seen it before - in the Bible.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control..."

Galatians 5:22-24

The next time you think of how we reflect the glory of God think not only of a man reflecting one part of God and the woman reflecting the rest of Him. Think instead of how the image of God is completed by love flowing between two people and seeing that love as the thing (or person, in the case of God) that unites them. God is three distinct persons existing in a perfect relationship of love and delight - God the Father and God the Son love and delight in each other perfectly and this love and delight is God Himself, the Holy Spirit, the essence of God.

Husbands, love your wives because the image, likeness and glory of God is at stake. Wives, submit to and love your husbands because the image, likeness and glory of God is at stake. What a glorious and majestic God we serve who created us to reflect His glory this way - by loving and delighting, by having joy!