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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Getting Through Affliction With the Help of God’s Law

I was reading Psalm 119 the other day and one of the verses that caught my eye reads, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71, all quotes from WEB translation). Most of us don’t think it’s good when we’re depressed, chastened, weakened, oppressed, and bowed down (those are all meanings of the Hebrew word anah, H6031, which this translation renders “afflicted”). In fact, we’re pretty sure those things sound terrible, especially now that we’re all experiencing some of them as a result of the current pandemic. And yet, this psalmist said affliction was “good” because what they endured helped them learn the Lord’s statues (choq, H2706, could also be translated ordinance, limit, or law).

There’s no getting around it. Christianity is tough. When you think about it, though, it’s not any tougher than life outside the faith and if you’re inside you have God’s help so that balances things out in Christianity’s favor. Jesus promised us His help, presence, and protection but He also assured us that we would face trials, persecution, and suffering. Better teachers than I have tried to explain why — The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis and Where Is God When It Hurts? by Philip Yancey, for example — but one thing we can’t get around is the fact that pain is a part of life. And that’s true whether you’re a Christian or not.

One of the ways Christianity helps make sense of suffering is by saying it is a product of a world that has gone wrong. God didn’t want things to be this way, but they are now and until He comes back to set things right He’s going to find ways to make good come out of afflictions.

Delight in the Law

Psalm 119 is an acrostic psalm divided into 22 stanzas, one for each letter in the Hebrew alphabet. There are several verses within this psalm that talk about affliction, and we find the first in the zayin stanza.

Remember your word to your servant, because you gave me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, for your word has revived me. (Psalm 119:49-50)

A later verse in the lamed stanza puts this idea even more strongly:

Unless your law had been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for with them, you have revived me. (Psalm 119:92-93)

It is not just knowing or obeying God’s law, but finding joy in it that helps get us through tough times. All the knowledge of His words we can gather won’t do us much good unless we really care about what He tells us. But when we hold fast to Him — and by extension His word and the things that He cares about — it’s possible to find comfort, joy, and help even in afflictions. The psalmists did, and we can too. Read more

Do I Love God Enough To Obey Him?

The apostle John had a particularly close relationship with Jesus. Though Jesus loved all of “his own who were in the world,” John is identified in particular as a disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:1, 23; 19:26; 20:2, 21:7, 20-24). If we want to know Jesus — and we do, because that’s part of salvation and eternal life (John 17:3; Phil. 3:8) — then who better to learn from than John?

We’re taking a short break from our series on godly wisdom because I really felt like this was the topic I should be studying this week. Love and relationship are so important to God. Knowing Him and being known by Him are central to salvation, Christianity, and our eternal hope. We have to know Him in His way, though. Jesus said there will be people at the end who think they know Him and yet never had a relationship with Him (Matt. 7:21-23). That’s a scary thought, but John makes sure to leave us guides in his writings for how to love Jesus and how to tell whether or not we truly know Him.

Knowing God is Essential to Life

John’s writings are among my favorite in the New Testament. He highlights Jesus’ power and divinity — the things that make Him so much higher than us — more than any other gospel writer, yet He also highlights Jesus’s love and His longing for relationship — the things that make Him closer to us. The way John talks about Jesus and the Father makes it clear that the powerful, eternal, creator God longs for a relationship with us.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him, nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. … The Word became flesh, and lived among us.  (John 1:1-4, 14, WEB)

Jesus came here not just to die for our sins and reconcile us to God, but also to get to know us. He is the good shepherd who knows His sheep and is known by His own, who choose to follow Him (John 10:14, 27). He calls us His followers, friends, chosen, and beloved (John 15:12-16). And He reveals that knowing Him and the Father is key to eternal life (John 17:3). The importance of knowing and being known by God cannot be overstated. Read more

Putting the Law in Its Spiritual Context: What Did Paul and Jesus Teach about the Law of God?

During His ministry on earth, Jesus said He was not here to destroy the law. Yet we also have record of the Jews saying He “broke the Sabbath” (Matt. 5:17; John 5:18). Do those two statements contradict?

Similarly, Paul said his own writings “establish the law,” but he also asked his readers why they would be “subject to ordinances” now that they live by faith (Rom. 3:31; Col. 2:20). Aren’t those statements contradictory as well?

These statements actually don’t contradict each other, but to understand why you have to know something about the Jewish world at the time. On one hand, you have God’s law that He delivered to His people through Moses (the Torah). On the other hand, you have additional rules, regulations, and traditions that were put in place by human beings.

So if we look more closely, we see Christ was not here to destroy God’s law, but He did loose the Sabbath from restrictions added by human teachers. Similarly, in Romans Paul is talking about establishing the law of God, but in Colossians he is talking about walking away from “the commandments and doctrines of men” (Col. 2:20-23).

So what does all this have to do with modern Christians? We’ll take a close look at this question in today’s post, and I think we’ll find that these statement that at first appear contradictory actually teach us about how we are supposed to relate to God’s law. They also teach us how to respond when other people (including teachers and leaders) start to change or add to God’s word. Read more

Am I Living A Flesh Life Or A Spirit Life?

Do you desire the same things God desires? That’s one of the questions asked in a new book I’m reading called What Does Your Soul Love? It’s written by Alan and Gem Fadling, and it’ll be available for purchase September 17th. I’m about halfway through right now and it’s given me quite a bit to think about. One thing I really like is the way they explain how our resistance to living a godly way of life is connected to Paul’s discussion of flesh versus spirit.

Our desires lie at the root of why we act the way we do. But even when we line-up the things we say we want with the things God wants, we might still find ourselves in the same position Paul was in his letter to Rome. He said he delights “in God’s law after the inward person,” but still finds “the good which I desire, I don’t do; but the evil which I don’t desire, that I practice” (Rom. 7:14-25). When we try to follow God, we encounter resistance from within ourselves as well as from without.

The resistance from outside is usually easier to identify and counter, at least to a certain extent. But what about the resistance inside? What can we do about that?

What Is “The Flesh”?

Just a couple weeks ago, I shared a 2-part post about Galatians. It’s on my mind again now since that letter seems particularly relevant to today’s discussion. If we’re going to talk about how our flesh resists living in the spirit, the last two chapters of Galatians are crucial. But first, let’s clear up a potential misunderstanding.

“The flesh here is not the physical body, but a way of life we’ve grown used to living in a world that does not recognize the reality of God and his kingdom. It is a dynamic within whereby we grab for what we need, not trusting (or knowing of) God’s generosity to provide. It is an ‘I can do it myself’ approach to living that presumes the absence of the loving God” — Alan and Gem Fadling

I’d also add that “flesh” includes an attitude of “I can decide right and wrong for myself” that presumes to know better than God or to think that He doesn’t really care. When we look at Paul’s description of the flesh, it includes following desires and taking actions that God has said are wrong. To keep doing those things when we should be walking in the spirit is to disregard our Creator and Savior’s wishes (Gal. 5:16-21). Read more

What Can Following The Lord Do For You?

We don’t follow God primarily because we want to get something from Him, or at least we shouldn’t. We follow Him because we love Him, He is our savior, and nothing on earth can compare to having a relationship with Him. But we also shouldn’t ignore the fact that following God does mean we’ll receive good gifts from Him.

Following God gives us hope for eternal life. He promises that all who believe in Him shall never see death. Even if that were the only gift, it would be more than enough. However, the good things we receive from God don’t all wait until after you die. He also does wonderful things in our lives right now.

We can’t expect all (or even most) of God’s blessings will be physical ones, though. While He does promise to provide for our needs and even blesses some with physical prosperity, none of us escape trials and hardships in this life. In fact, Christians are promised they will suffer in following Christ’s footsteps. If we only expect God to do things for us in the physical realm then we’ll miss a lot of the blessings He pours out on us. So today, let’s take look at one Psalm that describes some of the incredible things that following the Lord can do for us.

Psalm 19 begins by saying, “the heavens declare the glory of God.” After waxing eloquent about how the universe reveals the Creator, David begins to speak of other ways the Lord, Yahweh, reveals Himself to us. Then David explains how those revelations affect those who believe. Read more