Falling in Love With the God Who Plans to Marry Us

If you’re reading this blog post the weekend it was published, then Yom Teruah (Day of Trumpets, also called Rosh Hoshanna) is about to happen. This year, the first day of the seventh Hebrew month falls on Monday, Sept. 26. All around the world, people will blow shofars and gather to celebrate this day God calls holy to Him.

Last year, I wrote about the many different theories for what this day pictures. God simply calls it “a solemn rest for you, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation” (Lev. 23:24, WEB). There are several ideas about what this day pictures in the New Covenant now that Jesus has filled the Law up to its fullest extent (Matt 5:17-20; see Thayer’s definition of pleroo). I think the strongest argument links this day with Jesus’s return to claim His bride.

I’ve been thinking about love and marriage a lot lately. I recently started dating a man I’ve been friends with for years and I’m kind of in awe of how wonderful this relationship is; I thought we’d be good together but I hadn’t realized exactly how good. This giddy, happy, can’t-wait-to-see-him feeling is how we should feel as we wait for Jesus to come back to earth. We should be longing to see Him, eager to have our Bridegroom give us His new name (Rev. 3:12).

Promised in Marriage

I know the idea of being romantically in love with God and having Him in love with us makes some people uncomfortable. For some, thinking of Jesus as lover as well as Lord is a struggle; the in-love emotion seems a strange thing to try and balance with the respect due God. I suspect it’s a particularly weird analogy for men in the church, who are asked to picture themselves as a bride for their spiritual relationship to Christ while also modeling His role as Husband in their relationship with their own wives if they get married (Eph. 5:25-33). Still, church as bride and Jesus as Groom is one of the most common analogies for our relationship used in scripture, so it’s worthwhile to try and wrap our minds around it.

Usually at this point in a study about Jesus as our Bridegroom, I’d start talking about Jewish wedding traditions. Today, though, I want to focus just on how scripture talks about this relationship. For more on the Jewish background and historical context, check out my posts “The Bridegroom’s Pledge” and “The Bridegroom Cometh!

I wish that you would be patient with me in a little foolishness, but indeed you are being patient with me! For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy, because I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that just as the serpent deceived Eve by his treachery, your minds may be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:1-3, NET

There isn’t much room to argue with this verse. If we’re following Jesus, then we’re promised to Him in marriage. Our goal is to be pure for Him at that marriage; in other words, wholly faithful to Him now whatever our past was like. The “foolishness” Paul talks about here involves defending his apostolic mission from naysayers, moderate boasting about the mission God sent him on, and the shocking idea that his readers might listen to someone preaching “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 10-11). It isn’t foolish to think of Jesus as our future Husband. It’s foolish to let anything distract from our focus on being faithful to Him.

Image of a man reading a book, with text from Rev. 19:7-8, NET version: "“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the All-Powerful, reigns! Let us rejoice and exult and give him glory, because the wedding celebration of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.”
Image by Creative Clicks Photography from Lightstock

The Marriage Covenant

If you followed along with my recent Isaiah study, you might remember that the topic of God’s marriage covenant with Israel came up in Isaiah 40-66. When God established His covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai (often called the Mosaic covenant), He was setting up a marriage relationship (see Is 54:5-8). They would be His people and He would be their God. When they stopped worshiping Him or brought foreign gods into their hearts, He took that as adultery. Ezekiel 16 summarizes this well.

“Yes, I swore to you, and entered into a covenant with you,” says the Lord Yahweh, “and you became mine. … You were exceedingly beautiful, and you prospered to royal estate. Your renown went out among the nations for your beauty; for it was perfect, through my majesty which I had put on you,” says the Lord Yahweh.

“But you trusted in your beauty, and played the prostitute because of your renown, and poured out your prostitution on everyone who passed by. … Moreover you have taken your sons and your daughters, whom you have borne to me, and you have sacrificed these to them to be devoured. …

“I will judge you, as women who break wedlock and shed blood are judged; and I will bring on you the blood of wrath and jealousy.” …

For the Lord Yahweh says: “I will also deal with you as you have done, who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant. Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. … Then you will know that I am Yahweh; that you may remember, and be confounded, and never open your mouth any more, because of your shame, when I have forgiven you all that you have done,” says the Lord Yahweh.

Ezekiel 16:8, 13-15, 20, 38, 59-60, 62-63, WEB

Love story” is my favorite metanarrative the Bible gives us to describe the big, important story God is creating. When we pull back and look at God’s plan as revealed in the whole Bible, we see a story of romance where God married a people who were then unfaithful to Him, and whom He died for in order to bring back to Him. You’re simply never going to find a better love story than that. Even the most beautifully romantic fairy tales are pale reflections of God’s love for His bride. He’s passionate about us and He wants us in a faithful, lasting covenant relationship with Him.

Image of a woman with rolling hills in the background, with text from Isaiah 54:5, NET version: “For your husband is the one who made you—
the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name. He is your Protector, the Holy One of Israel. He is called ‘God of the entire earth.’”
Image by PhotoGranary from Lightstock

Falling in Love With God

There’s a really interesting connection between love and obedience in the Bible. The greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:28-34, WEB). All the other commandments depend on loving God and loving your neighbor (Matt. 22:36-40). Love is the basis for our obedience; the foundation for following God’s other laws. It’s also a lot easier to enjoy being obedient if you’re in love with God and trust that His commands are good for us.

But what if you don’t feel “in-love” with God? Real love is as much an action as it is a feeling, so we can (and ought to) do the things that people who love God do regardless of how we feel. As much as I enjoy relating to God’s word academically, though, I also think it’s appropriate to get excited about God and our relationship with Him. There’s likely more than one way to do this, but one of the things that helps me connect with my love for God is reading about His love for me.

Image of a smiling woman worshipping with the blog's title text and the words "As wonderful as it is to be in love with God now, how much more wonderful will it be after He comes back for us, marries His church, and establishes His 
kingdom here on earth?"
Image by Pearl from Lightstock

Yahweh appeared of old to me, saying,
“Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love.
Therefore I have drawn you with loving kindness.”

Jeremiah 31:3, WEB

“I will betroth you to me forever.
Yes, I will betroth you to me in righteousness, in justice, in loving kindness, and in compassion.
I will even betroth you to me in faithfulness;
and you shall know Yahweh.”

Hosea 2:19-20, WEB

God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in offenses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved!

Ephesians 2:4-5, NET

In just those three verses, we see God passionately declaring His love for His people, and one of those people reminding us of the “great love with which He loved us.” The reality of God’s love is awesome. We were dead and His love brought us back to life. We made mistakes and He still wants to keep us with Him forever. He treats us with loving kindness and calls His love faithful and everlasting.

We are recipients of God’s love now, which is an incredible thing. We’re still waiting, though, for a time when things will be even better. When Jesus returns, we’ll “be like Him” and we’ll get to “see him just as he is” (1 John 3:2, NET). Make no mistake, Jesus is present with us now. We don’t get to see Him, though. Our conversations don’t happen face-to-face. As wonderful as it is to be in love with Him now, how much more wonderful will it be after He comes back for us, marries us, and establishes His kingdom here on earth? That’s the sort of wonderful, exciting thing we can look forward to as we begin this fall holy day season.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” He who hears, let him say, “Come!” He who is thirsty, let him come. He who desires, let him take the water of life freely. … He who testifies these things says, “Yes, I come quickly.”

Amen! Yes, come, Lord Jesus.

Revelation 22:17, 20, WEB

Featured image Jess Bailey from Pixabay

Song Recommendation: “Even So Come” by Chris Tomlin

When God Calls You By Name

I remember feeling completely lost when I first read Isaiah. It didn’t make much sense, which made it a puzzle, which meant I kept going back to it over and over. I’m glad I did because, years later, Isaiah is now one of my favorite books. There are so many passionate expressions of God’s love for His people here, and so much insight into how He relates to us when we slip up and make mistakes. I’m particularly fond of this passage:

But now Yahweh who created you, Jacob,
and he who formed you, Israel, says:
“Don’t be afraid, for I have redeemed you.
I have called you by your name.
You are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you,
and through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned,
and flame will not scorch you.
For I am Yahweh your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
your Savior.
I have given Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in your place.
Since you have been precious and honored in my sight,
and I have loved you,
therefore I will give people in your place,
and nations instead of your life.”

Isaiah 43:1-4, WEB

For me, reading this verse is the spiritual equivalent of wrapping up in a fluffy blanket and snuggling in with a cup of hot cocoa. It makes me feel safe and loved and warm. It doesn’t stand by itself in Isaiah’s book, though, and the context adds more layers of meaning and assurance to the words of my favorite verses. There’s a particularly intriguing emphasis on names, which is what I’d like to dig into deeper today.

Called By Name

Names matter deeply in the Bible and ancient Hebrew culture. The Hebrew word for name, shem, “often included existence, character, and reputation” (TWOT entry 2405). When speaking of God, there are some passages where “shem Yahweh is so intricately bound up with the being of God, that it functions almost like an appearance of Yahweh.” Shem also “signifies the whole self-disclosure of God in his holiness and truth.” Names stand-in for who a person is as a whole. They often have profound meaning, and in some cases God renames people He’s working with to signify who they’re becoming in him (for example, “Abram” [exalted father] becoming “Abraham” [father of many nations]).

You can see, then, now much it meant to have someone call you by name or to give you permission to call yourself by their name. When God says, “I have called you by your name. You are mine” it means He fully knows who we are and He claims us as His own (Is. 43:1, WEB). Most translations of this verse say “called you by name” or “called you by your name,” but there are some that choose to emphasize God’s role in naming His people. For example, “have named thee” (JUB), “I have chosen you, named you as My own” (VOICE), and “I have called thee by my name” (Clarke’s commentary). Either way you choose to translate it, this is a declaration of knowing and caring on a deep, personal level.

In Old Covenant times, God commissioned the priests to bless Israel and put His name on them. He promised to redeem, “my people, who are called by my name” if they sought Him with humility and prayer. Then in the New Covenant, He fulfilled prophecies that say Gentiles will be called by His name as well (Num. 6:27; 2 Chr. 7:14; Acts 15:17). Those who belong to God have His name associated with them (which is one reason it’s so important that we obey the command “You shall not misuse the name of Yahweh your God” [Ex. 20:7, WEB]).

Isaiah 40-45

The verses we opened this post with are part of a longer message from God that Isaiah records in chapters 40:1-45:13. It’s mostly focused on God’s plans to deliver His people. One of the famous Servant Song prophecies pointing to Jesus as the Messiah is found in this section. There are also promises of God’s comfort, reliability, and protection. He reminds His people that He’s all-powerful and any idols we could come up with are completely insignificant and impotent. God also speaks of His anger with those who’ve abandoned Him for useless pagan gods, while declaring His refusal to permanently abandon them in return. Rather, He revealed He’s planning something new, including providing deliverance using the non-Israelite King Cyrus (who’s mentioned several times throughout this section of scripture).

Power in the Name

Within this passage about anger, deliverance, and God’s plans for redeeming His sinful people, He declares truths about Himself and His name. He also demonstrates His power by showing that He knows even the stars by name.

Look up at the sky!
Who created all these heavenly lights?
He is the one who leads out their ranks;
he calls them all by name.
Because of his absolute power and awesome strength,
not one of them is missing.

Isaiah 40:26, NET

“I am the Lord! That is my name!
I will not share my glory with anyone else,
or the praise due me with idols.

Isaiah 42:8, NET

God’s power contrasted with the uselessness of idols is a recurring theme in this section of Isaiah’s book. It’s one of the reasons that’s God is so angry with His people. There’s no sense in abandoning the all-powerful, all-loving creator of the universe to bow down and pray to a carved hunk of wood. He will not share His glory. And if we know His name, then we shouldn’t expect Him to be okay with half-loyalty or intermittent faith. We ought to reverence His “absolute power and awesome strength,” giving glory to His name.

Image of a man praying with a Bible, with text from Romans 9-10, 12, WEB version: “if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and 
believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart, one believes resulting in 
righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made 
resulting in salvation. ... there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all who call on him. For, ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
Image by WhoisliketheLord Studio from Lightstock
Calling Cyrus

One thing about this passage in Isaiah 40-45 that seems a bit odd to me is how much time God spends talking about Cyrus. Why would God keep brining up a Persian conqueror when discussing how He knows and redeems His people? I didn’t remember much about this part of history, so I did a bit more research and GotQuestions.org provides a good overview of Cyrus’s appearances in the Bible. He’s the Persian king who let the Jewish people go back to Israel after 70 years in captivity.

I have stirred up one out of the north and he advances,
one from the eastern horizon who prays in my name.
He steps on rulers as if they were clay,
like a potter treading the clay.

Isaiah 41:25, NET

This is what the Lord says to his chosen one,
to Cyrus, whose right hand I hold…
“I will go before you
and level mountains.
Bronze doors I will shatter
and iron bars I will hack through.
I will give you hidden treasures,
riches stashed away in secret places,
so you may recognize that I am the Lord,
the one who calls you by name, the God of Israel.”

Isaiah 45:1, 3-4, NET

Here in Isaiah, God is predicting that will happen and revealing His role in stirring up Cyrus to help God’s people. He’s also showing Isaiah (and readers like us) that He can call someone by name even if they don’t submit to Him. God is sovereign, and He gets to choose who He works with in mighty and powerful ways. He might even use someone unexpected to do great things.

Names and Us

Now we get to the chapters where God calls His people by name. Right before the Isaiah 43 passage, God speaks of sending a Messiah (who we now know as Jesus) to redeem His people, looking ahead past the physical relief Cyrus would bring to Israel to a more lasting and complete spiritual relief that Jesus brings to all God’s people. Here, Isaiah also talks about the reasons people need a Messiah–“they would not walk in his ways, and they disobeyed his law. Therefore he poured the fierceness of his anger on him” (Is. 42:24-25). Sins separate us from God, but He has a plan to deal with that.

Now, this is what the Lord says,
the one who created you, O Jacob,
and formed you, O Israel:
“Don’t be afraid, for I will protect you.
I call you by name, you are mine. …

Isaiah 43:1, NET

I will tell the north, ‘Give them up!’
and tell the south, ‘Don’t hold them back!
Bring my sons from far away,
and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
and whom I have created for my glory,
whom I have formed,
yes, whom I have made.’”

Isaiah 43:6-7, WEB

Those who God calls by name and whom He calls by His name will not stay separated or forsaken. He calls us not to be afraid, but to trust in His power and deliverance. He has good things planned for us. We just need to stay connected with Him; associated with His name.

One will say, ‘I belong to the Lord,’
and another will use the name ‘Jacob.’
One will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’
and use the name ‘Israel.’”

Isaiah 44:5, NET

When God Calls Us By Name

Image of a woman smiling and worshipping with the blog's title text and the words "God knows everything about us and He still wants us to draw into a closer and closer relationship with Him, getting to know His name as well as He knows our names."

When God calls you by your name, that indicates a close, personal relationship very much like the one He had with Moses (Ex 33:12, 17). His relationship with Moses was exceptional, especially in Old Covenant times when having a friendship with God was a little more rare. Now, though, we all have the opportunity to have God call us by name.

“Most certainly, I tell you, one who doesn’t enter by the door into the sheep fold, but climbs up some other way, is a thief and a robber. But one who enters in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. Whenever he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. They will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him; for they don’t know the voice of strangers.” Jesus spoke this parable to them, but they didn’t understand what he was telling them.

John 10:1-5, WEB

Jesus is the good shepherd who knows each of us by name. When we’re tuned-in to His voice we can “hear” Him calling us to follow Him each day. He knows us intimately, and is more familiar with our “existence, character, and reputation” than anyone else we can know. He knows everything about us and He still loves us. He even wants us to draw into a closer and closer relationship with Him, getting to know His name as well as He knows our names.

Featured image by Prixel Creative from Lightstock

God’s Parental Compassion

I started studying compassion this week and discovered something that seemed a bit odd at first. There are two main Hebrew words translated “compassion” in the Bible, and one of them is also translated “womb.” For example, these two verses use the exact same word:

even by the God of your father, who will help you,
by the Almighty, who will bless you,
with blessings of heaven above,
blessings of the deep that lies below,
blessings of the breasts, and of the womb (rachum).

Genesis 49:25, WEB

Yahweh, remember your tender mercies (rachum) and your loving kindness,
for they are from old times.

Psalm 25:6, WEB

To English speakers, “womb” and “compassion” are entirely different words. We might associate compassion with feminine traits, but other than that there’s not much connection. In Hebrew, though, this word describes love you feel deep in your guts. Racham (H7356), along with closely related words like raham (H7355) and rachum (H7349), are all part of the same word-family (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament [TWOT] 2146). They refer “to deep love (usually of a ‘superior’ for and ‘inferior’).” It’s the sort of love/mercy/pity/compassion that people feel for each other because “they are human beings (Jer 50:42) and which is most easily prompted by small babies (Isa 13:18) or other helpless people” (TWOT).

Love for the Little Ones

Racham and related words are only rarely used “of men” (TWOT), though it does describe the type of love that a mother has for her children (1 Kings 3:26). Far more often, this word is used to describe how God feels, particularly as a parent toward people who owe their birth to Him (Is. 46:3-4). That’s all of humanity, really–He’s our Creator even if we’re not yet in a parent-child relationship with Him. He sees us as children who belong to Him.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?
Yes, these may forget,
yet I will not forget you!

Isaiah 49:15, WEB

God feels towards us the way a good mother feels towards her children. Even though God always presents Himself as male, women are also made in His image and many traits that we think of as “feminine” are traits of God. His love is perfect and far surpasses even the best parents.

Like a father has compassion on his children,
so Yahweh has compassion on those who fear him.

Psalm 103:13, WEB

Note that in this verse, the Psalmist specifies that “Yahweh has compassion on those who fear him.” It’s similar to how we’ve talked in the past about different types of love that God has for people. Though He has agape for everyone–benevolent love that always seeks good things/outcomes for the people loved– He only has phileo–familial affection based on shared interests–with those who’ve responded to His invitation to enter a relationship with Him (see “Not All God’s Love Is Unconditional: How To Become A Friend Of God”). We’re all little children in God’s eyes and, for those of us in relationship with Him, we’re recipients of a special, familial love that invovles reliable compassion and mercy.

Love that We Can Count On

One of the things that makes God’s love so precious is that we can count on it never to fail. His compassion and mercy aren’t going anywhere and we have abundant evidence in the Bible (and often from our own lives as well) that this is true. He even considers this character trait part of His name (Ex. 33:19; 34:6; Deut 4:31). One example of His rachum can be found in God holding Himself back from destroying ancient Israel no matter how many times they betrayed and forsook Him (Neh. 9:17-19, 27-31). There’s even more evidence in the Psalms, where the writers speak of God’s mercy, recall times when He had compassion on them, and ask for more mercy when they miss the mark (here’s a link to Psalms with rachem words).

It is because of Yahweh’s loving kindnesses that we are not consumed,
because his compassion doesn’t fail.
They are new every morning.
Great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23, WEB

This is still true for us today. Already, we’re the people Hosea prophesied of “who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy” (Hos. 2:23; 1 Pet. 2:9-10). And if we’re in distress, even if we’ve done something He tells us is wrong, we can count on Yahweh’s great mercies (2 Sam. 24:13-14; Ps. 51:1). That’s a promise backed-up by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who came to earth bringing the most incredible proof of our Father’s deep mercy and compassion (Luke 1.76-79; Eph. 2:4-6; Tit 3.4-7).

Just like a little child can trust in a good, responsible mother or father, so we can trust in God. In fact, we must be like little children if we want to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 8:2-4). The more we grow to see Him as our Father and ourselves as completely dependent on Him, the more easily His compassion and mercy flows toward us.

Featured image by Shaun Menary from Lightstock

Drawn To God

My new favorite Bible Study tool is the New English Translation with its 60,000+ translator’s notes. As I was perusing the pages (you can get a print version or access the whole thing for free online), I noticed the translation notes on Song of Songs take up more space than the actual text. Apparently, not only is this text’s interpretation widely debated, but it is also notoriously difficult to translate. As you might know if you’ve read some of my other posts or my short book God’s Love Story, I favor the interpretation that the Song is both a celebration of human love and an allegory of Christ’s love for the church. With that in mind, here’s one of the verses with a footnote that I found intriguing:

Draw me[a] after you; let us hurry!
May the king bring me into his bedroom chambers!

[note a] The verb מָשַׁךְ (mashakh, “draw”) is a figurative expression (hypocatastasis) which draws an implied comparison between the physical acting of leading a person with the romantic action of leading a person in love. Elsewhere it is used figuratively of a master gently leading an animal with leather cords (Hos 11:4) and of a military victor leading his captives (Jer 31:3). The point of comparison might be that the woman wants to be the willing captive of the love of her beloved, that is, a willing prisoner of his love.

Song of Songs 1:4, NET

Another translation for mawshak in this verse is “Take me away with you” (NIV, WEB). There are nuances of meaning for this Hebrew word (as the NET footnote points out), but the basic one is “to draw, drag, seize” (Brown–Driver–Briggs; Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament). Here in Song, and in a few other places as well, it can be understood as “entice, allure, woo” (TWOT). In those verses, it is connected with one of the many pictures God gives us for relating to Him–as a lover alluring, wooing, and drawing His bride to Himself.

Alluring us with Love, Kindness and Grace

Hosea is one of the books that makes the analogy of God as bridegroom and husband most clearly. God instructs the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute because ancient Israel “continually commits spiritual prostitution by turning away form the Lord” (Hos 1:2, NET). God used Hosea’s marriage and his writings to teach that, even though Israel was unfaithful, God still promised “in the future I will allure her,” and then “you will call, ‘My husband’; you will never again call me, ‘My master'” (Hos. 2:14, 16, NET).

Later in Hosea, God talks about how He “drew” (mawshak) Israel out of Egypt “with leather cords” (NET), “with cords of a man” (KJV), or “cords of human kindness” (NIV). Though the NET presents a compelling case for the “leather” translation, I favor “human kindness” because it connects more strongly to the overall theme of God wooing His people that is found so often in Hosea. It would also echo the language God uses in Jeremiah 31:3.

Yahweh appeared of old to me, saying, “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love. Therefore I have drawn you with loving kindness.”

Jeremiah 31:3, WEB

Alternate translations for this passage include “That is why I have continued to be faithful to you” (NET), “That is why I have drawn you to myself through my unfailing kindness” (NET footnote), and “This is why in my grace I draw you to me” (CJB). God’s drawing of us to Himself is prompted by His everlasting love, and it is done with faithfulness and kindness.

Longing for God to Satisfy Us

The time Jeremiah speaks of when God draws His people to Him is followed by a time “when watchmen will call out … ‘Come! Let us go to Zion to worship the Lord our God!’” (31:6, NET). Those who claim the Lord as their God are eager to be drawn, rescued, and gathered by Him (Jer. 31:7-9). Their response here is much like the Beloved in Song of Songs–take me away! draw me after you!–and like that of David in this psalm.

How precious is your loving kindness, God!
The children of men take refuge under the shadow of your wings.
They shall be abundantly satisfied with the abundance of your house.
You will make them drink of the river of your pleasures.
For with you is the spring of life.
In your light we will see light.
Oh continue (mawshak) your loving kindness to those who know you,
your righteousness to the upright in heart.

Psalm 36:7-10, WEB

We can find all we need to satisfy us in the great One who loves us, the Lord our God. We can call on Him to draw us closer, and He will faithfully respond to our longing for Him.

Featured Image by Jackson David from Pixabay

Persevere, Grow, Love: Jesus’s Message To The End-Time Believers

A lot of people want to know if we’re living in the end times. Is this it? Have the events of Revelation started? Will Jesus return soon? And there are plenty of people willing to answer them by setting dates, making predictions, or identifying the mark of the beast. There’s much fear, much distraction, and an eagerness — sometimes almost a desperation — to figure things out. We often overlook that the apostle John offered a simple answer to this question nearly 2,000 years ago.

Little children, these are the end times, and as you heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen. By this we know that it is the final hour. (1 John 2:18, all quotes from WEB translation)

We are living in the end times, and have been for as long as there’s been a new covenant church. Whether Christ returns this year, the next, or 100 years from now the things He had to say about how His people should prepare for the end of this world do apply to us. An end will come for each of us one way or another (whether we die or Christ returns before that), and we are told to be ready.

Near the end of His human ministry, Jesus’s disciples asked, “tell us, when will these things be? What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3). In Matthew 24:4-41 He answered their question by describing what “the beginning of sorrows” will look like, how things will get worse, and signs that His coming is near. He also clarifies that we do not know “the day or hour” but that we can still be ready and watchful. He then expounds on how to do that through a series of parables. 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.

Keeping the Words of the Lord

We often like to think of concepts like love and grace as something with “no strings attached.” If there’s a commitment or reciprocation implied, then we may start to get defensive and resent that it’s not “freely given.” That idea would have been ludicrous to the people of Jesus’ day. Grace is a reciprocal arrangement (we don’t have time to go into that in this post, but click here for an excellent booklet on the subject). Love has to do with commitment and covenants that attach us to God. In a way that seems odd to modern readers, relationship with God is connected to obedience and law.

“One who has my commandments and keeps them, that person is one who loves me. One who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and will reveal myself to him.” … “If a man loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him.” (John 14:21, 23, WEB)

Really knowing Jesus goes beyond saying we believe in Him. It includes letting that belief change the way we live. We demonstrate how much we respect and care about Him by living according to His commandments. And since John points out that Jesus is also the Word — one of two God-beings who’ve been here for eternity — that includes the commands He gave in the Old Testament as well as the New. Jesus stated in no uncertain terms that He wasn’t here to get rid of everything He’d taught before as the Word, but rather to elevate those commands to an even higher level under a New Covenant (Matt. 5:17-48).

Knowing and Commandment Keeping

John further explores the topic of knowing Jesus in his first epistle. He begins, much as he did in writing his version of the gospel, with Jesus’ eternal existence as the Word of life. Then he shares that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all,” which means we have to walk in light in order to fellowship with God (1 John 1:1-2:2).

This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commandments. One who says, “I know him,” and doesn’t keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth isn’t in him. But God’s love has most certainly been perfected in whoever keeps his word. This is how we know that we are in him: he who says he remains in him ought himself also to walk just like he walked. (1 John 2:3-6, WEB)

As this letter continues, John keeps coming back to themes of love, law, sin, and relationship with God. 1 John is one of those Bible books that it’s good to read in one setting (it’s not that long) to get a better feel for the points the writer is making in-context. As you read through it, one thing he continues to repeat is that we can’t have a relationship with God if we insist on breaking His commandments.

Choosing Righteousness as God’s Children

Whoever remains in him doesn’t sin. Whoever sins hasn’t seen him and doesn’t know him. Little children, let no one lead you astray. He who does righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. (1 John 2:1-2, WEB)

If we go back toward the beginning of the letter, we see John has already clarified that the children of God don’t practice sin, but if we slip up we can still repent and Jesus will restore our relationship with God (1 John 2:1-2). He’s not saying a Christian who sins is automatically disqualified for salvation. But he is saying that salvation comes with the expectation from God that we’ll respond to His work in us by starting to live lives modeled after His righteous standards.

We declare by our choices whether we are children of God, who practice righteousness, or children of the devil, who practice lawlessness (1 John 3:8-10). Again and again John emphasizes that children of God keep God’s law, chiefly the two laws that Jesus and Paul identified as the most important  — love God and love others (Matt. 22:36-40; Rom. 13:9-10). All other commands hinge on those two. God is love and we need to love as He does, in deed and in truth (1 John 3:11-24; 4:7-21). That’s just how we do things in the family of God.

How I Love Thy Law

As John wraps-up this letter, he ties what he’s written about loving and knowing God together with what he wrote about loving our brethren. He also addresses a common complaint about how “hard” it is to obey God.

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments. For this is loving God, that we keep his commandments. His commandments are not grievous. (1 John 5:2-3, WEB)

Many people think of commandment keeping as something burdensome, but John tells us that’s far from true. Living within God’s law yields blessings, not hardship. Our attitude toward God’s law should be like that expressed in Psalm 119. This psalmist is in love with the law because it belongs to the God whom he loves. God’s laws are an expression of His character. If we want to be like the Lawgiver and receive the blessings that come from walking with Him, then we’ll respect His word.

Psalm 119 speaks of God’s law as a source of delight, strength, liberty, hope, comfort, life, wisdom, righteousness, peace, and much more. How we keep God’s law is different now — elevated to a spiritual level in the New Covenant — but it still matters (this is largely what Romans is about). God cares about the relationship we have to His words and whether or not we love Him enough to do what He tells us to do. Which brings us to the question of today’s title, “Do I love God enough to obey Him?”

It’s easy to say we love God but it’s harder to follow-through on the things that prove our love is genuine. If we truly love Him, though, obeying His word shouldn’t be a problem for us. It’ll still be a struggle at times to submit our own will to that of our sovereign God, but it’s something worth doing. The blessings of knowing God far outweigh any aspects of obedience that we might find inconvenient. And when we love God and follow His words, continuing to turn back to Him if/when we make mistakes, then we’ll have the assurance that we know Him and are known by Him as well.