Obedience Without Worry

I recently reread C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, and I’d like to start today’s post with one of the many quotes that stood out to me:

“Handing everything over to Christ does not, of course, mean that you stop trying. To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already.”

It’s a perfect way of describing the relationship between faith and works. We’re not saved by anything we do, but being saved inspires us to obedience and therefore faith-fueled action.

A Different Perspective on Law

This whole idea also makes me think of Psalm 119, which we were just looking at a couple months ago. The writer of Psalm 119 crafted a beautiful poem that pays homage to God’s law, precepts, and ordinances with every line. It’s a celebration of God’s precious words and of the positive effect following his instructions can have on our lives.

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to Yahweh’s law. Blessed are those who keep his statutes, who seek him with their whole heart. (Psalm 119:1-2, all quotes from WEB translation)

I will delight myself in your commandments, because I love them. I reach out my hands for your commandments, which I love. I will meditate on your statutes. (Psalm 119:47-48)

How I love your law! It is my meditation all day. Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for your commandments are always with me. (Psalm 119:97-98)

When was the last time you thought of God’s commandments as a delight? Or felt like exclaiming, “I love His law!” All too often, modern churches describe God’s law either as a burden we’re well rid of or as something we still have to put up with and must fear breaking. The people closest to God, though, have historically seen His words as something precious; a gift given for our good. He is to be obeyed, but not out of a sense of obligation. We obey because we love, and because we are loved.

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Staying Loyal to Our Core Identity as Children of God, and Using It to Create Unity

Who and what are you?

We can all answer this question a variety of different ways. Our identities are multifaceted things — human, female, Christian, daughter, American, writer, friend, white, Midwestern (to give you some of mine). Some are chosen by us, some are given by God, nature, or other people. The things we identify with, wherever those identities come from, shape who are are.

Sometimes our identities might be in conflict with each other, or with those of other people. We need to be able to handle and resolve those conflicts. On the small scale, it might be something like “student” vs. “friend” (such as finding a balance between needing time to study and finding time to maintain friendships). On a larger scale, it might be something like “national” vs. “religious” (such as wanting to uphold your country’s ideals, but finding some of them at odds with your faith, and needing to choose between them). Or it could be an interpersonal situation where you find yourself interacting with people who have different political affiliations, ethnicities, faiths, and priorities than you do.

How we resolve these inner and outer conflicts says something about who we are and what we value. As Christians, we have an identity that is meant to be first in our priorities and underlie every other part of our lives. But we don’t always live as if this is truly the case. Sometimes we choose to put other beliefs and identities first, and if we do that too often it can damage our relationship with our primary identity as children of God.

Staying Loyal to Our Core Identity as Children of God, and Using It to Create Unity | LikeAnAnchor.com
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The Problem of Conflicting Identities

I recently listened to a podcast episode titled “A First Step Toward Racial Reconciliation,” which was an interview with Mark Vroegop. His book Weep with Me: How Lament Opens A Door For Racial Reconciliation is coming out next month. In this interview, he talks about how the church should be the best place to resolve racial differences because “the gospel creates an identity that gets underneath all other identities.” Read more

Justice Belongs To God

One of the things we discussed in last week’s post about a Christian’s role in seeing justice done was that there are very few situations where God says it’s okay for us to judge other people. There’s an important reason for that which we only just touched on last week. It’s that justice and the application of judgement belong to God. We are to become like Him, yes, but there are certain roles that He does not share with us, at least not yet.

Paul says that one day the saints will judge the world and even angels. We’re not there yet, though there are certain situations where we can practice such as settling disputes in the church or discerning when there’s a sin being committed (1 Cor. 5:1-5, 11-13; 6:1-3). We’re not entrusted with final judgement, though, nor with the execution of justice or vengeance. In fact, we’re instructed to step aside and let God handle it whenever we’re tempted to take any vengeful action.

Judged by the Word of God

Back in Deuteronomy, Moses told Israel not to show partiality in judgement or be afraid of judging fairly (no matter what other people think) “for the judgement is God’s” (Deut. 1:17 all scriptures from the WEB translation). Judgement belongs to God, and He cares a great deal about seeing justice done properly. That’s one of the main reasons “You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality. You shall not take a bribe” (Deut. 16:19). Of course, these instructions were given to handle legal disputes in a nation where God’s law was the standard of government. We now live in nations with secular law systems and most of us aren’t involved in that. But the principles still apply. God cares about justice done rightly, and His definition of “rightly” might not always match with our human impulses. Read more

What Is a Christian’s Role in Seeing Justice Done?

Last week, we talked about Jesus’ heart for reconciliation. We studied how He’s strongly motivated to save sinners; to seek out the worst sort of people (us included) and make them clean. This presupposes that we are unclean without Him. That we’ve done something to separate us from God and need to be reconciled in order to have a relationship with Him.

Reconciliation is related to the concept of godly justice. If God were not a just God who will judge every human being for their actions, there would be no need for reconciliation and forgiveness. It is because we do things worthy of judgement that we need to be set right with God. There is such a thing as wrong and right in this world, and we attest to this fact every time our blood boils at seeing an innocent person hurt or our concepts of fairness violated.

Part of being set right with God involves a transformation in how we think. We’re to be like Him, motivated to reconcile with others and also to see justice done. We humans often see judgement and mercy as an either/or dichotomy, but God sees them both as important things which must be exercised in careful balance. Justice and mercy are both among the weightiest matters of His law and they must not be “left undone” (Matt. 23:23). Moreover, once we become part of His people God requires us to “act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with” Him (Mic. 6:8). But how do we do that? What is our role in seeing justice done?

Be Careful How and Who You Judge

In modern English, we tend to see justice as a good thing — fair and equitable upholding of what is right — and judgement as a bad thing — passing a sentence on someone for something done wrong. They’re much more closely connected in scripture, though. For one thing, they’re both translated from the same words — mishpat in Hebrew and krino or krisis in Greek (note: in addition to this, Greek also has separate words for concepts like condemn, katadikazo, and righteous/just, dikaios). Both these words have to do with forming a personal opinion, making distinctions, and/or deciding the outcome of a court case. Justice involves administering God’s law properly to make a judgement, which can be favorable or unfavorable.

We are very strictly warned to be careful how we form opinions, make judgements, and separate people into groups such as “good” and “bad.” Jesus flat-out says, “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged.” He goes on to say that however we choose to judge is the way that we will be judged. He also points out that when we cannot see ourselves clearly, it would be hypocritical to try and pass judgements on others (Matt. 7:1-5). This goes along with something Paul said in one of his letters.

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each man will get his praise from God. (1 Cor. 4:5, all quotes from WEB translation)

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The Heart of Jesus for Reconciliation

What was Jesus’ reason for coming to earth and preaching the Good News of the gospel? What are the core desires of His heart when He looks at human beings? How can we become more like Him in how we preach and what we desire?

I’ve been thinking about these questions, and others, a lot this week. Part of it’s prompted by some messages I heard last Sabbath and part by recent events. There is a lot of strife and division in today’s world. We fight and bicker and separate ourselves by classes, genders, races, and churches. Such division is not what God desires. In fact, I don’t think it is going too far to say that such things break His heart.

God is grieved deeply by human sinfulness and suffering. He’s also deeply motivated to change things for the better, which means we should be motivated to work toward a better future as well. This truth carries with it a great deal of hope and purpose for us both in this life and in the future. And it’s all connected to the reasons Jesus came to this earth and the core desires of God’s heart.

Why Jesus Came

Jesus Christ is our example. He is the Word made flesh; God who became man. We’re supposed to mimic Him and to tell other people about Him and why He came to this earth. In order to do that, we need to understand these things for ourselves. There’s no better place to start than with what Jesus Himself said about why He came to this earth.

  • To preach. “He said to them, ‘Let’s go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because I came out for this reason.’” (Mark 1:38, all quotes from WEB translation)
  • To call sinners to repentance. “Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’” (Luke 5:31-32)
  • To give abundant life. “The thief only comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
  • To die as a sacrifice in our place. “Now my soul is troubled. What shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this time?’ But I came to this time for this cause.” (John 12:27)
  • As a light for those in darkness. “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in the darkness.” (John 12:46)
  • To testify to the truth. “Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this reason I have been born, and for this reason I have come into the world, that I should testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.'” (John 18:37)

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The Benefits of Living In Covenant With God

In his letter to believers in Rome, Paul asked, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” He goes on to explain that God, who gave up His own son for us, will freely give us everything we need. And because God is all powerful and the One who has final say in judgement, nothing can separate us from His love even if the trials we face kill us (Rom. 8:31-39, all quotes from WEB translation).

What? I thought Paul just said nothing could stand against us, so why is he talking about us being killed? But Paul’s focus here is not on the people of God avoiding physical trials and suffering. Victory is found in Christ alone. Physical protection and healing can (and often do!) happen, but that is not our main concern.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Could oppression, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written, “For your sake we are killed all day long. We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Rom. 8:35-27)

Paul quotes from a psalm that laments the deaths of God’s covenant people and asks God not to reject them forever (Ps. 44:17-26). It seems that Paul would tell the Psalmist, and us, that suffering does not mean God has forsaken us. In fact, we are more than conquerors even in the midst of all that.

Bold, Rational Confidence

I don’t want to deal with grievous distress (G2347, thlipsis), intense affliction (G4730, stenochoria), persecution (G1375, diogmos), famine and destitution (G3042, limos), total lack of clothing (G1132, gumnotes), extreme danger (G2744, kindunos), or slaughter by sword (G3162, machaira). I dare say none of us do. But Paul makes it sound like that wouldn’t be a big deal. And he should know, considering all he went through (2 Cor. 11:23-28). When Paul talks about suffering as a Christian, he speaks from experience. Read more