Dead Works

One of the first principles of spiritual life is repentance from dead works. (He 6:1) What are dead works? How do we repent of them?

Dead things are missing that life force from God, the energy and vitality He gives to all living things (Ac 17:25), making them sentient, aware of their surroundings, causing them to change and grow and function as they ought.

To repent is to start believing the truth about something, and to start acting differently as a result. (2Ti 2:25-26)

So, repentance from dead works must be to start thinking differently about our lives, understanding why we’re living as we are, identifying what sort of works we’re doing, and to stop doing things which are not energized by God, activities that are apart from and outside of Him.

Christ says that unless we’re abiding in Him, we can do nothing that’s worth doing (Jn 15:5); unless we’re aligned with Him, seeking to honor and obey Him, we’re working against Him. (Mt 12:30) In other words, if we’re willing to continue living our lives apart from Him, out of fellowship with Him, for our own pleasure, then we’re the walking dead (1Ti 5:6), having only the outward appearance of life (Re 3:1): we’ve yet to begin the spiritual life. (Ep 2:1)

Everything we do, we choose to do; to repent of dead works is to start making different choices, in every choice we make. It’s a fundamental life change, living for a different reason than we’ve been living, living for God instead of for ourselves.

If there’s something we’re thinking that Christ can’t be thinking, that He would find distasteful or repugnant, let’s stop thinking that; if we’re going where Christ wouldn’t go, let’s stop going there; if we’re speaking words He wouldn’t speak, let’s stop speaking them. Let’s be thinking what Christ in us is thinking, doing what He’s doing, and going where He’s going. Let’s let Him live through us, reincarnating Himself here in this world through us. Everything we do, let’s do it in Christ’s name (Col 3:17) and for God’s glory. (1Co 10:31)

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As Little Children

Christ says that unless we’re converted, and become as little children, we can’t go to Heaven. (Mt 18:3) Whatever salvation is, according to Jesus, it includes becoming childlike.

The context of His teaching was a dispute among the disciples about which of them would be the greatest in Christ’s earthly kingdom, and granted the most privilege and power. (Lk 9:46) The disciples were evidently making comparisons among themselves, trying to exalt some over others, vying for position. Christ tells them that unless they’re changed in the core of their nature, free of such comparison and self-exaltation, they aren’t going to make it into His kingdom at all. In other words, the disciples, at this point in time, are yet unregenerate: lost. Their pride gives them away.

This isn’t the first time the topic has surfaced; in His initial recorded teaching, Christ tells us the poor in spirit own the kingdom of God: they comprise it — all those in the kingdom are poor in spirit, and all the poor in spirit are in the kingdom. Unless pride begins to die in us, until humility begins to flourish in us, and we’re esteeming others better than ourselves, nothing of Heaven can live in us.

Christ continues in His analogy by saying those who humble themselves to become more like little children are the greatest in His kingdom. (Mt 18:4) This relates to a parallel concept: those who obey all of God’s laws and teach others to do the same, are considered great in the kingdom. (Mt 5:19) For both to be true, the two concepts must be equivalent in some way.

Small children tend to be free of pride, haughtiness and ambition; they naturally feel inclined to look up to and emulate their elders; they aren’t preoccupied with judging others, comparing themselves with others, or posing and posturing to be more than they are. They know they’re utterly dependent on others to care for them, and tend to be trusting, not suspicious or jaded. When properly disciplined and loved, young children tend to be obedient and faithful. In these same ways, those who come to God in salvation acknowledge their utter dependence on Him, trust Him and believe on Him, taking Him at His Word, obeying Him and seeking to be close to Him.

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Calling and Election

Each of us is created uniquely by God for a purpose, for a reason. God tells us to diligently search this out, to make both our calling and election sure, for if we do both of these things we’ll be eternally successful. (2Pe 1:10-11) How do we go about it?

Alex Honnold free solo climbing El Capitan

To make our election sure, we must examine ourselves to establish that we’re in the faith (2Co 13:5), to ensure we’ve entered into His rest (He 4:3), to verify that our lives evidence and reflect the things that accompany salvation. (He 6:9) Salvation produces certain characteristics in the soul; those who fail to exhibit them should not deceive themselves, but strive to enter the kingdom. (Lk 13:24)

Once we’ve made our election sure, we should also endeavor to make our calling sure, not merely our calling to salvation, but discovering and fulfilling our design and purpose in God, Who has given each of us specific gifts with a certain objective in mind. (1Co 12:7) These gifts are dispositions, skills, passions, talents and opportunities that equip and enable us for His service. As the stones of the altar were not to be polluted with the hammer of Man (Ex 20:25), so those in the service of God, made in His image, need not contrive or force their own orientation, nor force their hearts and minds into a particular mold that does not intrinsically suit them.

Finding our calling in God is an important part of establishing and stabilizing ourselves in our spiritual life. We must observe God’s design in us, and develop it withing the boundaries of His Word, to realize His calling in us. If we’re an eye, or a hand, or an ear (1Co 12:14-18), we’re each given gifts to be a gift, both to God and to each other.

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Moses and the Prophets

When we read about the signs and wonders in the early days of Christianity, do we miss them, and long to see them again? Is it an indictment of our faith if we don’t walk in the miraculous today? What are miracles for, and why don’t we see more of them?

A man once pleaded with God to give his family a fantastic miracle so they would repent and be saved. (Lk 16:27-28) God’s answer was they already had Moses and the Prophets; this was all they needed. (29) The man protested saying it wasn’t enough, but that if someone they knew went back to them from the dead to witness to them, they would repent. (30) God refuted saying, if the Old Testament wasn’t enough, they wouldn’t be persuaded by anything. (31)

This is insightful, suggesting that a key purpose of miracles is to establish the reliability of those who, through the gospel, preach Torah (1Pe 1:25) to those unfamiliar with it (He 2:3-4), and to confirm that Torah points us to Christ (Lk 24:27), both for salvation (Ga 3:24) and sanctification. (2Ti 3:16-17)

The souls watching Noah build the ark heard him preaching righteousness (2Pe 2:5) as God waited patiently for them to repent. (1Pe 3:20) They weren’t atheists or agnostics, nor were they deceived and blinded by a false religious system: they knew about the God of Creation and what He wanted; they simply weren’t interested. Only 8 souls from that wicked generation chose the living God. What’s different today?

Nothing; we’re all the same: no one seeks God on their own. (Ro 3:11) People aren’t lost because they don’t have sufficient witness of God (Ro 1:19-20), but because they are at enmity with Him (Ro 8:7); for those who aren’t already seeking Him, miracles evidently do more harm than good. (Mk 6:5)

God never seeks to impress and entertain with miracles; that’s Satan’s domain. (2Th 2:9) God provides supernatural witness when it’s needful to help those who’re looking for Him to find Him, when the Way is so unclear and the lies are so abundant that we need divine assistance to navigate through them. For souls who already have Moses and the prophets pointing them to Christ, and sufficient evidence of the validity of this witness, it appears we should not expect to see the miraculous, at least as a norm.

And those who think they’ve found the living God, but aren’t yet delighting in Torah (Ro 7:22), should examine themselves (2Co 13:5), and diligently make their election sure (2Pe 1:10-11): the very sign of the new covenant is that we have a new heart in which God is writing His laws. (He 10:16)

The preaching of another Jesus prevails today, and false brothers abound who’ve not chosen a love of the truth. (2Th 2:10) Those who claim to know God but aren’t keeping His commandments are lying; they’ve yet to find Him. (1Jn 2:4)

If we’re still cleaving to dust, dissatisfied in what we’ve found of the God of Heaven, thirsty for more of Him (Jn 7:38), and if we’re looking for miracles to bolster our faith and draw us closer to Him — as we’re neglecting the most powerful witness of His character and nature imaginable — perhaps we should start looking for Him in earnest, where He said we’d find Him. (Jn 5:39)

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Perfect Peace

Living at peace in a world of turmoil is no small thing. We’re bombarded with temptation, with trial and trouble, and with accusations (2Co 7:5); keeping our composure, our joy, and living continually in God’s eternal shout, this is supernatural.

As we stay our minds on JEHOVAH, He keeps us in perfect peace, because in doing this we’ll be trusting Him. (Is 26:3) When we aren’t at peace, perfect peace, we’ve let our minds wander off; we’ve either forgotten about God, or we don’t yet know Him well enough.

Perfect peace is about the basics (He 5:12): God is good, perfectly good; He’s faithful, perfectly faithful; He’s sovereign, absolutely sovereign; He is love, perfect love; He is just, perfectly just. He has a unique design and calling in each and every life, one perfect calling, and we can each find ours, and live in it. His grace reigns in those who belong to Him, enabling us to feed in His majesty, to walk in the way.

Staying our minds is mentally camping out here, basking in the infinitude of God, in His sovereignty, continually abiding in Him in our thoughts, cleaving to Him, grounding our theological roots in the reality of God. This isn’t something we’re born with; it doesn’t come naturally (Ep 4:17-18); we must be deliberate about this (Ps 119:11), intentional; it takes training, exercise, work.

Knowing God as He is produces hope; the eternal God will never break a promise; He’s put His name, His reputation, on the line in every single one of them. They’re rock solid; our souls find rest in discovering Him.

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These Signs

Christ tells us supernatural signs will follow believers. (Mk 16:17-18) Does this mean we should all be healing the sick, casting out demons, babbling in foreign languages we haven’t learned, and handling deadly vipers without harm? That if we aren’t walking in the sensational then we’re carnal, or worse?

No; we don’t each have all the gifts, and this is by design. (1Co 12:29-30) Christ is speaking here about the body of believers as a whole over time; the supernatural has indeed been observed among the saints through the ages, but each believer has unique gifts based on the needs of Christ’s local body at any given time and place. (1Co 12:18)

The intent of God’s gifts is evidently not to entertain, or to inflate our egos, or make us appear super spiritual. The greatest mere man who ever lived (Mt 11:11) never performed a miracle (Jn 10:41); the Corinthians pursued supernatural gifts (1Co 14:12), yet remained carnal, babes in Christ. (1Co 3:1) Pursuing the supernatural for ungodly motives gets us nothing. (1Ti 1:5-6)

God gives gifts to help the church become more like Christ (1Co 14:26), to know Him as He is. (Eph 4:11-13) He also bears witness with evangelists (He 2:4) to enable them to proclaim the gospel to those who are seeking Him. (Ac 8:6) In themselves, even the best miracles don’t move those who aren’t seeking God. (Jn 12:37)

In a world full of churches little different from the world, and bibles seldom read, at least in 1st and 2nd world countries, where is the miraculous needed? (Mt 16:4) Can’t those who’re seeking God today find Him without signs and wonders? I, for one, didn’t need them, at least the kind most are seeking.

The miracles I experience enable me to navigate a perilous world without getting all tangled up in it; they help me live as I ought, facing an incessant stream of spiritual enmity. (Ep 6:12) It isn’t glamorous; no one can see it but me, but it’s what I need to live for Him.

As we seek God, wherever we are, and gifts from Him to help ourselves and others find Him, know Him and walk with Him, He will empower and enable us as He wills. In any case, to be safe in our pursuit of the supernatural, we must ever be seeking the Giver Himself, and not merely His gifts.

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The Word of Faith

Salvation’s a mysterious thing, for sure, how and why God intervenes in our headlong dash to destruction (Mt 7:13); His mercy is infinite, even in the best of us;  we’ve no hope apart from Him.

Medicine Root Trailhead, Badlands National Park, SD • Dan Anderson

In some ways, getting saved seems so simple, but simple solutions to complex problems are usually wrong. When we look closely at this one — and we’d better — it’s like most anything else about a living being: a flat-out miracle.

When first struggling with this, I was told I just needed to confess Christ as Lord, believe in His Resurrection, and sincerely ask Him to save me. (Ro 10:9, 13) It seemed scriptural, and so doable, but it didn’t work, not for me. Thus began my long and painful journey, striving to enter the narrow way, a trip few will ever make. (Mt 7:14)

As usual, context provides the key, revealing what accepting Christ is all about: “But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach.” (Ro 10:8) If we don’t understand this in context, we’re all out of context, and I’ve never seen a reasonable explanation of this verse, how it all ties together. So, here we go.

The quote is from Torah: “But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” (De 30:14) The key to salvation is our heart, and the law of God (Torah, “the word”) becoming part of us (“in thy heart”) as we memorize it and meditate on it (“in thy mouth”) with the intent to obey Him (“that thou mayest do it”). 

We don’t start out this way, aligned with God’s Law from the heart (Ro 8:7), because our heart is evil (De 29:4), so we need a new one (De 5:29): we need to be transformed. (2Co 5:17) The gospel, the good news, is that God is able and willing to provide us a new heart (Ez 36:26)and write His laws into it (He 10:16), enabling us to keep them. (1Jn 3:24)

Eternal salvation is not found in ritual, but only in the mystery miracle (Mt 19:26) of becoming one with the eternal God through His Son Jesus Christ (Jn 17:21), entering into His rest by faith(He 4:3) Evidence of this transformation is a heart cleaving to God, delighting in Him and His laws above all else, obeying Him and following His Way (Jn 14:6)assured of our eternal destiny only in what Christ has done for us. (1Th 1:5)

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He Hardeneth

Scripture teaches God controls us all, even deciding our eternal fate, having mercy on a few of us and hardening the rest. (Ro 9:18) Is God then unfair to condemn us, since He controls us? (Ro 9:19)

This seems so obviously wrong, even asking the question is embarrassing. But obviousness is often the enemy of correctness; in the end, how can any complaint against the goodness of God be rational? (Ro 9:14) Perhaps an illustration will help.

Single block ice sculpture, World Ice Art Championship, Fairbanks AK

Suppose we dwell in a frigid climate where we enjoy three things: lounging in a hot tub under crisp, starlit heavens; ice water bathing; and competing in the annual ice sculpture festival. Being thrifty and innovative, we design special panels we can assemble into water-tight tubs of various shapes and sizes. When we want a steamy evening outside, we put one together, fill it with water and drop in a heating element. When we want our ice bath, we back off the heat to just above freezing and take the plunge; and at sculpture time we pull the heater, let it freeze, pull the panels and put our genius to work.

With a reliable water heater we can control the state of the water in our tub as we please, from steamy to frozen solid, by precisely controlling the heat we supply. In making ice we could say we’re “hardening” the water, but we’re really just withdrawing heat and leaving the water alone; where we live, water hardens naturally all by itself, and very predictably.

In the same way, God controls us by resisting our fallen, sinful nature (Ps 19:13), either reining in our depravity (De 18:14) (i.e. heating the water), or giving us up to pursue our own evil ways as He sees fit (Ps 81:12) (i.e. letting the water freeze). God never actively causes anyone to sin (Ja 1:13-14), or forcefully hardens anyone; we do that all on our own whenever He lets us.

God’s hardening is passive, simply letting us go our own way (Pr 1:31), not forcing us; when left to ourselves, we obey the law of sin operating within us (Ro 7:23), so we’re as predictable as the law of gravity. God knows exactly what we’ll do in every circumstance if He withdraws His grace from us. Just as we can control an object‘s elevation by only pushing it upward, never causing it to fall, God can precisely control us by restraining our evil nature without causing us to sin. (Pr 16:9)

God isn’t unloving or unjust in letting us sin; it’s the essence of free will, and we’re no less guilty because we always want to sin as much as He allows. (Ro 3:19) Neither is God unfair in restraining us, some much more than others: it’s all His mercy(Ro 9:23)

God’s purpose in all this is ultimately to glorify Himself by revealing His amazing nature(Ro 9:22) He could do it all differently and save everyone from themselves, but the end result would evidently not be as glorious. He’s doing it all perfectly.

The key to resolving one of the deepest spiritual mysteries, how God can be absolutely sovereign, yet also loving and just, evidently lies in the depravity of Man, the puzzle piece most of us overlook. Depravity is simply what happens when God let’s do our own thing (Ge 6:5), and nothing obligates Him to override everyone’s natural will. His choice to intervene and only quicken and transform some of us isn’t unfair, it’s brilliant. (Ro 9:16) Anything else is lackluster at best.

God is rejoicing in how He’s responding to sin (Mt 11:25-26), and we should be too (Php 4:4): He’s always in perfect control of it. (Ep 1:11) Exactly what it will all look like in the end remains to be seen, but I expect it will be amazing, like everything else He does. (Re 15:4) In seeing all of life from God’s perspective, we can give thanks always for all things with joy(Ep 5:20)

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Grafted In

God’s kingdom isn’t divided into factions (Mk 3:24); it’s a holistic, integrated organism(Jn 17:20) What comprises this kingdom? What does it look like?

We all start out with a bad father, children of the wicked one. (Ep 2:3) But when God quickens us, from being dead in our sin, becoming our sin and giving us His resurrection life (Ep 2:5), everything changes: we’re transformed and adopted into His family (Ep 1:5), such that we become part of Him (Ep 5:30), and He becomes part of us. (Jn 17:23)

To illustrate, God uses the grafting of an olive branch into an olive tree. (Ro 11:17) He cuts us off from our original trunk, makes a deep slit in the host tree to expose its vascular system, fixes us into this new host and stabilizes our connection until the two of us begin to grow into and out from each other, becoming one life together.

In this allegory, it’s easy to mistake the root, the olive tree that we’re grafted into, for Israel, God’s chosen people. Consequently, many think redeemed Gentiles should somehow emulate the Jewish people, and adopt Jewish language, traditions and rituals into their worship and obedience. However, God says Israelites are natural branches of the olive tree (Ro 11:24): Gentiles aren’t grafted into branches, but into the tree trunk. (Ro 11:18) If Jews are natural branches, they aren’t the tree.

So, what does the olive tree itself represent? God says Gentiles partake of the root and fatness of the olive tree, along with the Jews, the natural branches. (Ro 11:17) Christ Himself is the One we partake of (He 3:14); He’s the vine, we’re branches. (Jn 15:5) We’re not partakers of Israel, but of the divine nature (2Pe 1:4), partakers of the Holy Spirit. (He 6:4)

God’s kingdom doesn’t necessarily look Jewish, or eastern or western, or anything in particular. It’s distinctive is not in its likeness to any particular race or culture, but in it’s amazing cultural diversity, all blended within a single family, comprised of souls from every race and culture. (Re 5:9) The commonality lies in conformity to God’s law, which doesn’t prescribe or forbid any particular culture; it even protects culture by forbidding the imposition of extra-biblical tradition. (De 4:2)

Israel isn’t the divine nature, nor its wellspring; she is in fact, for the most part, entirely void of divine life (1Jn 5:12), and does not have a proper understanding of divine things (Ro 10:1); though beloved of God, she is still His enemy. (Ro 11:28) She does not honor the Son; she has persistently (Ro 10:21) and flagrantly dishonored Him (Jn 8:49), so her worship cannot glorify either the Father or the Son. (Jn 5:23) Only a remnant will ever know Him (Ro 9:27), so why emulate her ways, or pattern our worship after hers, especially in her liturgy? In teaching her tradition as God’s command, she’s corrupted her worship such that it’s largely empty and lifeless. (Mk 7:7) How can this, in itself, be pleasing to the Godhead? (Ps 2:12)

Salvation is of the Jews (Jn 4:22), in the sense that God’s revealing Himself and His salvation to the world through them (Re 21:12): the adoption, the covenants, the giving of the Torah, and the promises all pertain to them. (Ro 9:4-5) But it isn’t all just for them (Ro 9:17): there is one law for us all. In no sense do we become part of physical Israel in salvation, nor do we obtain salvation through them. We come to salvation just like Israelites always have (Jn 3:7), and we become part of God, just like they do. (2Co 6:17-18) There’s no difference between Jew and Greek here (Ro 10:12); in this, neither circumcision helps, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature(Ga 6:15)

The Jews certainly have an advantage in that they’re custodians of God’s Word, so it’s embedded more deeply in their culture, and as a rule they’re much more familiar with it. (Ro 3:1-2) We can certainly learn much from them, and it’s not necessarily wrong to adopt parts of their tradition that aren’t inconsistent with God, but hoping this will bring us closer to God is a mistake: they’ve actually missed God Himself. (Mt 8:12) Supporting Israel and praying for her as God’s chosen nation (Ro 11:29), we must filter everything she says and does through the lens of Scripture, staying as true to the Word as we can.

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Chambering

There’s an intrinsic wisdom in God’s instruction that’s easy to miss. What may seem like arbitrary, antiquated rules are divine insights that protect us and position us for blessing.

For example, Scripture forbids chambering (Ro 13:13), co-habitation1, sharing the same bed like husband and wife without the formal commitment.

If anything is selfish, acting like we’re married without getting married is. It’s saying, “I like being with you, but I’m not so sure about you; you’re still on trial. I’m not in for the long haul just yet; I might find something better.” This certainly isn’t love.

We might rationalize and say we’re saving on rent and utilities while we make a trial run, but how is this helpful? Living together can’t show us what a committed relationship’s like because that’s not what we have; we can’t see what that’s like until we’re actually in one.

When we invest deeply without the foundation of trust grounded in a formal marriage commitment, we’re building our house on the sand. (Mt 7:26) We force upon ourselves the unnatural and awkward process of sharing expenses and responsibilities as business partners without a contract, rather than in the permanent, God-ordained synergy and interdependence of marriage.

And as we normalize halfhearted commitment in cohabitation limbo, we’re preparing ourselves more for divorce than for the devotion and security of marriage. Without a sure foundation, when (not if) difficulty comes, the stress and strain of life can easily overwhelm and destroy a relationship. (Mt 7:27)

And while we’re doing this to ourselves, by default we’re limiting our freedom to find stable, permanent relationships; each year invested with someone who’s unwilling to make a formal commitment is lost, one less year we have in this short life to become one with another. (Ge 2:24)

And if it doesn’t work out, it’s really no less difficult to disentangle ourselves and get out of harmful, dysfunctional, transient relationships without doing even more damage to our hearts in the process. We simply aren’t designed to live this way.

If our partner isn’t going to be our husband or wife, and someone else is, aren’t we defrauding our true spouse while we experiment with someone else? Until we’re actually married to the person we’re living with, that’s the chance we’re taking with the most important relationship on earth. (Ep 5:24-26)

God calls us to purity in all our relationships (1Ti 5:2), not to using each other for our own pleasure; the essence of any healthy relationship is in the giving, not the taking. (Ac 20:35) Leveraging extended family and community to vet potential mates is much wiser than yielding to chemistry and convenience; those who know and love us can almost always see what’s best for us. (Ep 5:21)

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The Downside of Cohabiting Before Marriage: Jay, M; The New York Times, April 14, 2012.