Thursday, February 25, 2010

What is your wisdom and righteousness?

Reading: Deuteronomy 4 – 6 or 1 Corinthians 1
When God made Adam and placed him in the garden He gave him a good piece of advice (wisdom) that would determine whether or not Adam was righteous:
And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
God maintained the knowledge of good and evil. Man's wisdom and righteousness would be found in acknowledging God's answer to the question, “What is right and wise?” God's answer is quite simple: “You are free to eat from every tree but this one. If you eat from this one you will surely die.”
Adam and Eve thought about that tree and the serpent suggested, “you shall not surely die.” They looked at the fruit and saw it as “desirable for gaining wisdom”. (Genesis 3:1-7) In other words, we don't' want God to tell us what wisdom and righteousness is, we want to know and decide that for ourselves. So they ate and God's wisdom is proved right every day: death is pervasive in our world; children suffer; disease runs rampant; wars seem constant. The serpent's lie is revealed for what it is every day, “You shall not surely die.”
So God begins the work of redemption by making a covenant with Abraham which leads to the eventual redemption of the children of Israel out of Egypt. They make their way into the wilderness only to continually rebel against God, breaking His laws. So just before the next generation enters the promise land, 40 years later after, Moses tells them this:
See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (Deuteronomy 4:5-6)
God reminds us that the knowledge of good and evil (wisdom) still resides with Him. And the law is where they are to find it. Obey God's law and that will be your wisdom and understanding. In effect, you don't need to figure it out on your own. Not only will it be your wisdom, it will also be your righteousness.
And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.' (Deuteronomy 6:25)
The history of Israel through the course of the Old Testament reveals that they must have trusted in their own wisdom and righteousness over God's. They continually broke His commands, and disregarded His laws. In Romans 10:3-4 Paul speaks of how Israel...
...sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
The law was a shadow pointing to something to come that would really restore man back into fellowship with God. We know that “something” is Christ. And so Paul informs us in 1 Corinthians 1:30
It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
The law is no longer our wisdom or righteousness; Christ is. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness; Christ is our righteousness. Righteousness is available to all who believe in Christ.
God is the One who maintains the right to declare what is right and wise—that will bring life to (redeem) those upon whom death has come to rule. And God declares that Christ is right and wise—faith in Christ as the means to life. That is wisdom from God, so we should stop trying to establish our own means of righteousness, which includes law keeping as a means. And faith in Christ is our righteousness, sanctification and redemption.
What are you trusting in for your wisdom and righteousness? For your holiness and redemption? Turn to Christ and His sufficiency!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Proper Ground of Assurance

Reading: Ephesians 1 – 3, Colossians 1
What is the ground, or basis of your relationship with God? The Gospel continually points in one direction for confidence in our relationship with God.
For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:18)
One could translate it, “on account of Him.” Our access to God is never on account of us. We should never look to us. Again, but a handful of verses later Paul writes,
In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12)
Our eyes are continually pointed, not at ourselves, but at Christ and what He as done on our account.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)
I was reading some history of the reformed faith and discovered some great comments by John Calvin on this topic. Rooted in Ephesians 1:4 which declares that, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world,” Calvin writes, “But if we have been chosen in Him, we shall not find assurance of our election in ourselves.... Christ, then, is the mirror wherein we must, and without self-deception may, contemplate our own election.”
Our assurance in salvation, our confidence before God that we are saved and therefore can come before Him as His children is rooted in Christ alone. It is like the time in Numbers when the Israelites had sinned and the Lord sent venomous snakes into their midst and whoever was bitten died.
The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." (Numbers 21:8)
Salvation” was not rooted in the people, but in what they looked upon. John in his Gospel records these words, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15) Notice the parallel between “look at it and live” and “believes in him may have eternal life.” Our believing in Christ is not some work we conjure up; the power is in the object of our gaze—Christ. Those looking at the snake on the pole had no grand illusion that they somehow earned their deliverance. They had rebelled, were bitten, and were going to die; but God in His mercy provided a serpent on a pole... and a Savior on the cross.
Looking to ourselves will never produce assurance. Calvin goes on to say in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, “when the Christian looks at himself he can only have grounds for anxiety, indeed despair.” Is Christ's death sufficient for you? Indeed it is. And clinging to Christ is all the sufficiency we need.
Consider, again the claim of scripture regarding the ground of your relationship with God:
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. (Colossians 1:21-23)
How are we reconciled—brought back into right relationship—to God? By Christ's physical body through death. He is the One hanging on the pole to bear our punishment. And now we are holy in the Father's sight, without blemish and free from accusation.
Recently a friend of mine shared how that next verse (23) has tripped them up for years. He kept reading, “if you continue in your faith” as a obligation upon how he lived in order to stand secure. It brought his eyes off the One hanging on the cross for him, the Sufficient One, and onto himself. But one day, sitting in the driveway of his house, I talked about this verse with him in a whole new light. “If you continue in your faith” is not intended to take our eyes of of the Sufficient One and put them onto our faith, but intended to keep our eyes on Christ. Faith is clinging to Christ, trusting in Christ as our only means of right relationship with God. It is clinging to Christ that saved us and it is clinging to Christ through which we remain. Continuing in faith is continuing to root the ground and basis of our faith in Christ and Christ alone.
Commenting on how he would respond if asked how he has assurance he is elect, an issue which frequently sidetracks people in their assurance of salvation, Calvin's response is quite profound. “I answer that Christ is more than a thousand testimonies to me.” Christ is our assurance of salvation—look to Him.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Absurdity of Doubting God's Love

Reading: Deuteronomy 1, or Romans 8  
You grumbled in your tents and said, "The LORD hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. (Deuteronomy 1:27)
Do you ever wonder, “How in the world, after the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt in the miraculous way He did, rescuing them from slavery, led them through the desert with a cloud by day and fire by night, could they arrive at the promise land and think, 'God did all this because he hates us.'?” If God did all that, surely He loved them, and surely He would finish the job. After all, He had already done the hardest part!
But they grumbled—many translations use the word murmured, which is a bit more graphic sounding. What was this murmuring? It wasn't that they disagreed with God's description of the land to which He had brought them. Remember, they were being promised a land flowing with milk and honey which they had never seen. They had to travel there by faith. And indeed, after exploring the land for 40 days the report confirmed, “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.” (Num. 13:27)
So what was their complaint?
"We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are....The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size....We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them." (Numbers 13:31-33)
Their complaint was all about their inability. But really, underneath it all, it was about God's lack of love for them. (See Deuteronomy 1:27 above). Ultimately, they had to believe that either God was not able, or God was not willing—i.e. He did not love them. While it certainly could have been a combination of both of these that caused them to focus on their own inability, the text focuses us on the latter. In effect they were saying, “God hates us, so He won't help us and we are too small to do this on our own.”
After all they had experienced of God's deliverance, doesn't this seem absurd? Maybe, but don't we do the same thing many times? How often have you said, or heard, “I know God saved me from all my sin (committed before I was saved), but I just can't overcome this temptation, or this sin.” Or, maybe it comes when we face serious trials in life and creeping up inside of us is the thought, “Is this a sign that God has forsaken me, that He does not love me or is mad at me?” Once we get this view of God, all we are left with to trust in is ourselves. So we quickly move to, “I can't do it...I'm too small... It is destroying me and I can't stop it.” Once we dismiss God's ability or love we can only turn to ourselves and that will fail every time.
Yet, this line of thinking is equally absurd for us. I know, we haven't been brought out of slavery in Egypt, and didn't travel across a desert with a cloud and fire leading the way. However, we have something even more significant.
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)
The logic is the same as that applied above. If God gave His Son to die for you, to bear the wrath you deserved for your sin, what else would He withhold from you? If a thief came to my house and asked for all my valuables—my money, jewelry, etc.—I wouldn't say, “No, please just take my kids, I need my stuff.” Of course not. Rather, I might say, “Take anything you want, just don't hurt my family.” Why? Because nothing is more valuable to me than my family. God gave His most valuable treasure already for you and me. Paul's logic is simple and profound, “What would He withhold?” And the obvious answer is, “Nothing.”
This is confirmed by what precedes and what follows this verse in Romans. What precedes it is Paul's talk about the difficult trials of life that believer's endure.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.... What, then, shall we say in response to this? (Romans 8:28, 31)
All the giants in your life, the difficulties that stand between you and the heavenly reward, your inheritance, are not signs that God has stopped loving you. Rather God is even working through those for your good.
Again what follows also confirms it.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
Let us not grumble in the midst of our trials, in the midst of the giants we face. Let us not doubt the love of the One Who gave His Son for us. If we doubt His love we are left only to trust in ourselves. So if you find yourself saying, “I am not able to overcome this temptation,” or, “I am not able to endure this trial,” get your attention off yourself and onto the One who did more than bring you out of Egypt, reminding yourself, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for me—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give me whatever is needed in this trial or temptation?”
I initially titled this devotion, “The absurdity of murmuring,” however, I changed it to, “The absurdity of doubting God's love,” because when we murmur or complain, what we are really doing is doubting God's love for us in that circumstance we find ourselves in.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,