Thou Art Fairer

Beauty is a mysterious, instinctive, metaphysical thing; impossible to explain or quantify, and quite outside our will. The very fact we perceive beauty is evidence of purpose in our design: we’re made to enjoy something outside ourselves.

Satan may have been, at least for a season, the most beautiful being in the universe, so beautiful that his magnificence became his downfall — as others observed and responded to him he exalted himself as a god. (Ez 28:17) Evidently, the heavenly hosts esteemed Satan even more beautiful than God, which may have been partly the cause of their fall; they’re certainly attracted to beauty. (Ge 6:4) What a powerful thing! to draw even the angels from their place. (Jud 1:6)

Yet how can the creature possibly be more beautiful, more glorious, more majestic than the Creator? How can the Creator of beauty itself be outdone by His own creation?

Of course, this would be so if God wills; He certainly might create a creature exceeding Himself in beauty, or choose to appear in a diminished form for a season, and let the creature exceed His personal appearance for a purpose. (Is 53:2) But why?

Consider how we’re influenced by spectacularly beautiful people, drawn to them, favoring them, catering to them. (Ps 45:12) Beautiful women certainly do have an advantage; it’s often an honor and pleasure just to be around them. (Job 42:15)

But like a rich man hiding his wealth to reveal his true and faithful friends, identifying those who love him for himself and aren’t after his money, God arranges to hide His glory and majesty to reveal and expose His enemies. We should choose God because it’s right, not because He’s handsome. This, the wicked will not do.

Yet a day will come when the most beautiful Being in the universe will be Jesus Christ, more gorgeous than any woman ever born (Ps 45:2), shining forth in perfect beauty. (Ps 50:2) Once we see Him as He is, we’ll desire nothing else (Ps 73:25); to simply behold His beauty will be more than enough. (Ps 27:4)

What will it be like to be in intimate fellowship with the most beautiful Person in existence? (So 1:4) To have Him say, “Come on in and enjoy Me! (Mt 25:23) To enjoy His favor and feel His pleasure in us (Ps 45:11), it will be joy unspeakable. (1Pe 1:8)

In that day, no one who’s forsaken any pleasure for Christ will regret it, for they will enjoy deeper intimacy with Him. (Php 3:8) As it will be then, even so it is now; there’s no reason to wait, every joy in Christ is ours. (Ps 37:4) Every lust (Pr 6:25), every wrongful passion, every wonton discontent … it is answered here, in the perfection of beauty: Jesus Christ.

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The Godhead

The Trinity is a mysterious concept: one God in three persons. Trying to explain the Trinity in detail, or to devise a model which perfectly illustrates it, inevitably fails. One isn’t three and three isn’t one; mathematics is solid on this point. Is this a problem?

Only if we presume an infinite God may be fully explained in finite terms. Yet the Being Who inhabits eternity, Who created the ten dimensions in which we exist, must be far above, beyond and outside of them. Is it any wonder that we’re unable to create a finite model which perfectly and completely represents Him?

Perhaps this gets at the heart of the 2nd Commandment: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Ex 20:4a) Trying to create a physical representation of God, or even a  theoretical image, is attempting to create a likeness of Him. Perhaps He’s telling us not to do this because it can’t be done; any attempt to fully define Him will ultimately fail.

Creating an accurate image of God is not only impossible, it’s evidently harmful, for in reducing the Godhead to any likeness of any thing in the universe is to perceive Him as less than He truly is, to diminish Him; this corrupts our worship and tarnishes our perception of Him.

Perhaps this is one reason God hates idolatry so much: it replaces God with something paltry, something small and finite. Our tendency to try to contain God in a physical – even a theological – box leads us into error. Perhaps it’s our way of trying to control Him.

We may content ourselves in accepting the fact that God reveals Himself as a unity (De 6:4) as well as a plurality.  (Ge 1:26a) There can be no true logic implying God can’t be this way. God has revealed Himself as a triune Being, each Person of the Godhead uniquely and purposefully, yet ascribes to each Person all the attributes of the entire Godhead. We must not separate these Persons: they are one; yet we must allow for distinctness within them, for that is how Jehovah has revealed Himself.

Our perception of God is foundational in our spiritual lives and impacts our way more than we can possibly imagine. No possible description of Him can be too glorious, too majestic; it is impossible to have too high a view of God. We must not place any artificial limits on our conception of God, but let our spirits soar continuously higher in seeking Him.

Staying faithful to the scriptures here, and living within it’s prescription for us, is freedom of a most profound kind.

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Free Will

How do we reconcile Man’s Free Will with God’s Sovereignty? our responsibility to make good choices with God’s ultimate control of our behavior?

It’s clear that we all make choices of our own free will, and that our choices are not always good, yet we pray as if God governs other people’s choices and can control them as He wills; we even accuse God of letting people make horrible choices – we instinctively know He can prevent them.

It’s very difficult to understand how God can be in control of our behavior while holding us responsible – it’s like an open contradiction. This mystery is so profound, so difficult to grasp, many rebel against God because of it, or deny His existence altogether.

Yet denying God’s existence is equivalent to denying the existence of evil itself, so evil can’t be evidence of God’s non-existence: our very cry for justice proves we’re made in God’s image.

And rebelling against God for being in control while holding us responsible accuses God Himself of being unjust and evil, yet we can’t rightly define justice or evil apart from God … in fact, in redefining good and evil we’re exalting ourselves as gods. (Ge 3:22)

To resolve this dilemma, note that paradoxes are often rooted in incomplete perspective; in stepping back a bit and challenging our underlying assumptions we often find our answer.

If we assume Man is truly acting freely, apart from divine restraint, then God isn’t in control of Man by definition: thus it must be that Man’s freedom of choice is limited by God’s restraint. (Ps 76:10)

And if we assume Man’s evil choices are actually caused by God, then holding Man responsible for evil violates God’s own standard of justice (De 25:1); so Man’s own will is the ultimate cause of evil. (Jn 3:19)

And if we assume that God has no good purpose in allowing evil, then God is acting in a way that is ultimately harmful and not good; thus it must be that God knows what He’s doing, that He will be pleased in the final outcome, and therefore that it’s good. (Ps 27:13)

So, we resolve the paradox of God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Free Will by attributing evil entirely to Man’s total depravity, and attributing goodness to God’s intervening restraint: when Man chooses freely, apart from divine aid, Man makes the most evil choice God allows him to make every time he makes a choice, because that’s Man’s nature, freely chosen by him. (Je 17:9)

Yet God is constantly and mercifully intervening and controlling Man’s behavior by perfectly and imperceptibly restraining evil according to His perfect will and plan (Php 2:13); whenever God does permit evil it’s for a glorious final purpose (Ro 8:28), by which He intends to reveal and glorify Himself. (Ro 9:22-23) For this we ought to be genuinely thankful. (Ep 5:20)

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Put Out Their Name

Our name is how we’re known and recognized, our brand, how we’re differentiated from each other. It represents the unique integrity of our character, the faithfulness of our word, the wisdom of our experience. They that know God’s name put their trust in Him; knowing He’s perfectly reliable – He never forsakes those who seek Him. (Ps 9:10)

Our good name derives its goodness from our behavior, from our actions and how we’re perceived and known by others through them: a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches (Pr 22:1a), for this reflects our personal, practical righteousness in community, and reveals the nature of our souls. How we teat a person’s name reveals how we feel about them; God won’t excuse those who disrespect His name. (Ex 20:7)

When God judges the wicked He puts out their name, extinguishing it eternally. (Ps 9:5) After revealing their wickedness to the universe (Mk 4:22), God blots out the remembrance of evildoers from under Heaven (De 29:29); He deliberately obscures their uniqueness and identity (Ps 34:16), such that we can no longer recount or explain their way (Ps 1:6), how they were each unique in their behavior.

So, in addition to suffering the vengeance of eternal fire (Jud 7), in having their names put out the wicked essentially become indistinguishable from one another; they lose their individual identity. Collectively, they will be held in everlasting contempt (Da 12:2), their carcasses embodying a nameless insanity, an irrational, abhorrent, filthy depravity (Is 66:24), utterly consumed with terrors. (Ps 73:19)

God is perfectly just and upright in putting out the name of the wicked (Ps 9:8), for there’s no benefit in trying to differentiate between them as they exalt themselves against the Holy One. All sin is essentially the creature setting itself apart from the Creator, to seek identity apart from and outside Him. Though there are certainly varying degrees of depravity (Jn 19:11), after it is exposed in judgement, God need not continue to individualize all the terrible nuances and shades of such rebellion as expressed through His enemies – in the end, it’s all one and the same. (Jn 8:44)

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Wait Only on God

Jehovah promises that if I wait on Him, my strength will be renewed. (Is 40:31) This isn’t merely a call to silence and inactivity, if it is that at all; wait relates more to having an expectation that God will be faithful to His Word, to His name, to His character — that He will keep His promises. (Nu 23:19)

When I expect God to be as He has revealed Himself to be, and to do as He has promised, I honor Him and please Him. When I take God at His Word, and live as if He is as He truly is, I’m aligning myself with reality, and this is the place of strength; this is when I’m at my best, living according to my design, as strong as I can be.

But when I alienate myself from the life of God through my ignorance of His Way (Ep 4:18), when I cling to false ways in my unwillingness to fully trust Him, I emulate the world (17), living in anxiety, frustration and fear, which steals my joy – which is my strength. (Ne 8:10)

My motive for distrusting God appears to be a fear of being let down should God fail me, as if it’s better to anticipate being disappointed and brace for a fall than to fall flat on my face. But in living like this I’m calling God a liar (1Jn 5:10), and I’ll eventually be ashamed of every moment I’ve lived apart from Him like this. (1Jn 2:28)

If God isn’t faithful, if He isn’t good, if He can’t be trusted, then nothing else matters anyway; then life has no meaning, I have no purpose, no hope. And how’s that working out for me? I’m saved by hope. (Ro 8:24) There’s nothing else worth having, so what do I have to lose by trusting Him? Nothing: I’ve everything to gain.

I should trust Him, and I should trust Him implicitly. But I must also study Him and seek His face (Ps 28:7) so that I may know Him as He is, so I don’t trust in a false image of Him that I’ve created for myself. My trust in Him is only as helpful as the accuracy of the perception I have of Him; I must seek to know Him as He truly is (Php 3:10), and not merely as I wish for Him to be.

And I should only trust in God (Ps 62:5), not man. (Je 17:5) I should not ultimately expect anyone else to be perfectly faithful on their own, apart from God: only God is good, and He works in all of us according to His pleasure (Php 2:13), so I can safely trust Him to work all things for my good (Ro 8:28), and thank Him for all things (Ep 5:20), regardless of appearances.

God’s after one thing – making me like His Son, along with all others who’ll have Him (Ep 5:26-27), that we should be to the praise of His glory. (Ep 1:11-12) So, this is what I should expect Him to do; this is God’s agenda, and I should joyfully pursue Him in it.

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Be Kind

Since God is kind, and since He commands us to be kind (Ep 4:32), we ought to understand what kindness is.

Kind is not nice, avoiding conflict, difficulty or discomfort; at times we’re called to speak the truth (Ep 4:15) even when it wounds. (Pr 27:6) Nice is generally selfish and fearful; seeking approval and acceptance; this isn’t the servant of Christ. (Ga 1:10)

Kindness isn’t passive, weak, insecure or timid; God commands us to be strong (1Co 16:13); Kindness can be bold (Pr 28:1), standing firm (Ep 6:13), confronting evil and defending ourselves as needed. (Lk 22:36)

The root words from which we get our English word kind also give us our word kin; as if God’s calling us to treat one another like family: we are all related, members one of another. (Ep 4:25) The Greek is chrestos or useful, suggesting moral helpfulness and benevolence, also translated easy (Mt 11:30), good (Ro 2:4), and gracious. (1Pe 2:3) It’s how we treat our loved ones.

Kindness is love in action (Tit 3:4), loving my neighbor as myself, seeking their ultimate welfare. Love persists in kindness (1Co 13:4), for love perfects and completes kindness. (2Pe 1:7)

The opposite of kindness is evidently malice (Ep 4:31): having ill will, animosity, wanting less than the best for another. This is often rooted in vengeance, thinking others deserve less than the best, rendering our own sense of justice rather than letting God do so. This is, at it’s root, unbelief in the goodness of God (Ro 2:2), refusing to walk in love and let God be God.

If God is ever inviting us to what is best, both for ourselves and others, if He is never malicious, then we should be like Him. (Lk 6:35) This is our design, when we’re at our best and bring Him glory, being like Him, full of grace and truth. (Jn 1:17)

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To Be Saved

The question of the ages: “What must I do to be saved?” (Ac 16:30) has a straightforward answer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (31) Salvation isn’t complicated; little children can get this.

Yet, as simple as this is, we may miss it by changing believe on Jesus for something else. For example, we could say as Billy Graham did, believing on Jesus means repenting of our sins, asking Christ to come into our hearts and save us, and committing our lives to serve Him.

Just one little problem: no one in the Bible was saved like this, and in the end it didn’t even work for Dr. Graham himself (he had no assurance of Heaven). With the world ablaze in the wrath of God (Ro 1:18) and nowhere to hide (Re 20:11), we can’t afford to get this wrong.

To help us understand, God describes believing on Christ from multiple angles. It’s receiving Christ as He claimed to be (Jn 1:12a), believing on His name (b) … totally convinced He will do as He says He will do (Ro 4:21), that He’s trustworthy and perfectly good. (Ep 1:13) It means entering into His rest (He 4:3), ceasing from dependence upon our own works to gain acceptance with God (10), trusting implicitly in the finished work of Christ for our redemption (1Th 1:4-5a), the total payment of our sin debt to God. (Is 53:11)

God says we must be born again (Jn 3:7), conceived by God (Ja 1:18), quickened by the Holy Spirit (Ep 2:5), made a new creation. (Ga 6:15) We’re saved by grace through faith (Ep 2:8), supernatural confidence that only comes from the enabling power of God. This is a miracle, not a human work (Jn 1:13); only God can do this, with Man it’s impossible. (Mk 10:27)

So, if we don’t have supernatural assurance in the finished work of Christ, resting confidently in Him as our only hope of eternal salvation, trusting Him and believing in Him as He has called us to, knowing we are as safe from the wrath of God as Jesus Christ Himself, this then is our greatest need. Let us not go back to a memory of praying to receive Christ, or pray again to receive Him now, but let us look to the cross itself (1Co 2:2), asking God to reveal the Lamb of God to us (Jn 1:29), to give us faith in His blood. (Ro 3:25) Let us seek the Lord until we find Him (He 11:6), striving to enter the narrow gate, until we know He has borne our sins in His own body on the tree, and has set us eternally right with God. (1Pe 2:24)

Give diligence to make your calling and election sure – we cannot accept “not sure” for an answer. (2Pe 1:10) His death is available to us all (2Co 5:15) that we may know for certain that we have eternal life. (1Jn 5:13)

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Turning the Grace

Grace may be the most important word in the Christian Faith. We’re saved by grace (Ep 2:8) and we stand in grace. (Ro 5:2) If we get this foundational concept wrong, we may call our theology Christian, but it may still be foreign to God, and leave us with false hope.

God exhorts us to earnestly contend for the authentic, apostolic faith (Jud 3) because false teachers promote a counterfeit Christianity by changing the definition of grace, turning it into permission to indulge, essentially denying God’s nature. (vs 4)

Grace is commonly defined to be the unmerited favor of God, the idea that we may freely enjoy the blessings of God without deserving them. Since those who receive Christ are forgiven and loved by God unconditionally, the claim is that we’re free to sin against God on purpose, that even if we sin deliberately, God will never be angry or disappointed in us: He’s taken care of our sin in Christ. In other words, defining grace this way means we can receive all the benefits of salvation merely by receiving Christ as Savior, and that receiving Him as Lord is optional.

This teaching on grace effectively turns it into a type of open-ended leniency, permission to pursue our own interests, passions, and lusts. This is what Jude calls turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, exposing those who promote this as ungodly, denying the Lordship of Christ. (Jud 4)

Routinely overlooking the willful, wrongful behavior of those we love is unhealthy at best. Claiming God is this way, and that we should be too, is foolish. God simply isn’t like this; He cares very deeply how we act, being grieved and angered by all intentional sin (He 10:26-27) This is clear in the Word, proof of His love. (Re 3:19)

The problem with the common definition of grace is that it fails to account for the miracle of the new birth, and the transforming dynamic inherent in grace. Grace isn’t freedom to sin, it’s freedom from sin (Ro 6:14); grace is God providing us a new nature (2Co 5:17) that’s inclined to obey Him. (1Pe 1:2)

Let no one deceive us (1Jn 3:7): those in Christ have received Him as He truly is, as both Savior and Lord. (Jn 1:12) Those who carelessly and willfully disobey Him as a manner of life don’t yet know Him. (1Jn 3:9)

The relentless assaults of false teachers require us to earnestly contend for the basics of godly faith as we engage each other to fight the good fight and lay hold on eternal life. (1Ti 6:12) God’s Word is unmistakably clear: those who don’t love Jesus Christ don’t belong to Him (1Co 16:22), and all who aren’t trying their best to honor and obey Him don’t love Him. (Jn 14:23)

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That Which Is Behind

God is infinitely self-sufficient; He doesn’t need our worship or our service. He is perfectly complete and content in Himself.

Even so, there is something God lacks, which He may only obtain through us: affliction. (Col 1:24) God would not afflict Himself, or cause Himself grief or suffering: this only comes to Him through sin.

This suffering in God is not at all for God; it is for us; it is the vehicle through which God chooses to reveal His infinite nature and character to the universe (Ro 9:22-23), and the elect are the primary beneficiaries of this.

And it may very well be that the primary way God suffers is by allowing His children to suffer innocently at the hands of the wicked. When believers are persecuted, Jesus Christ takes it personally, as if He Himself were being persecuted. (Ac 9:4) This is a gift He gives Himself through us and for us, and also a deep privilege he bestows upon us. (Php 1:29)

Perhaps it is only in this mindset that we fully rejoice in difficulty (Ja 1:2) and tribulation (Ro 5:3): suffering not only works patience and holiness in us (He 12:10-11), but will eventually serve to glorify God immensely. (1Pe 1:6-7) If God is allowing others to afflict Himself through us, for a glorious eternal purpose, we can glory in this as well for His sake. (Php 3:10)

There’s something about God’s suffering that will vindicate and glorify Him one day. The nature of His enemies will be open to the universe, impossible to hide, since He’s given them liberty to pursue their own free will. Most all of what they have done will have been perpetrated against His own, whom the world hates because it hates Him. (Jn 15:19) In that day, in the context of the suffering of God, there will be no just complaints, no excuse for the wicked. (Ro 1:20)

Let’s be ready and willing to suffer for God as He wills (Ga 6:14), to let Him suffer in and through us. (Ga 2:20) This light affliction, for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. (2Co 4:17)

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Turned unto Fables

Any basic misconception about the nature of God can be detrimental; to the degree that our expectations of God are misaligned with reality, we’re deceived, captive to the devil (2Ti 2:25-26), and prone to bitterness and resentment. (He 12:15)

It is common for the enemy to offer us a fable, a heart-warming story teaching us something false about God. (2Ti 4:4) As an example, consider the following.

As the aircraft is pummeled by turbulence, thrashing violently up and down, back and forth, the poor man is more than distraught, taking drinks one after another, trying to calm himself.

From his first class seat, he notices a little girl back in coach playing with her doll, as calm as can be.

“Stewardess! Another drink, please!” He keeps trying to sedate himself … but it isn’t working. He’s terrified. Yet every time he looks back, the little girl is still playing happily with her doll. Her peacefulness is both an invitation and a rebuke, but he can’t translate, he’s just too upset.

Finally he can’t take it any more. Glaring back at her as the plane plummets again, he sputters: “Little Girl! Why aren’t you worried?” 

The little girl pauses, looks up sweetly and says: “Mister, see that cockpit up there? My daddy’s the pilot, and he knows I’m back here. He’s not going to let anything happen to me; he will get us home.” Then she goes back to playing with her doll.

How comforting! What a picture of divine love, of how we should rest in our Father’s care! (1Pe 5:7)

But isn’t something amiss? Isn’t this half-truth?

To be complete, she needs to add something like,

“But … even if he doesn’t get us home, Daddy doesn’t make mistakes. If this is my last day, or if I get hurt, that’s OK. I trust him, no matter what.” 

Moral of the story? Believing God will always keep us safe and protect us, that He’ll never let anything terrible happen to us, is unrealistic, deception, a false hope: it’s not what God promises.

When suffering does come, and it will if we belong to Him (Jn 16:33), and we don’t have the whole picture, we become bitter, cynical and resentful, turning from God as if He’s unfaithful or evil. (Ep 4:18)

But the problem isn’t with God, it’s with our wrong perception of God: the problem is idolatry — the false, nice, safe little gods we’ve made up for ourselves, and that we’re still clinging to. (1Jn 5:21)

Not only does God not promise to keep us safe, what He does promise is quite the opposite, and so much better. He promises to scourge us (He 12:6) and chasten us; it’s for our good and we all need it. He afflicts us faithfully (Ps 119:75) to conform us to the image of His Son. (Ps 119:67) Though it seems awful to us at the time (He 12:11), it’s part of His plan to glorify Himself in us. (Ep 1:12)

What God promises is that He’ll never leave us nor forsake us (He 13:5); He will be suffering with us and in us through anything He allows in our lives. It’s a precious gift if we’re living for Him. (Php 1:29)

God promises that all things work together for good to those who love Him (Ro 8:28); He’s able give us grace to walk worthy of Him in every circumstance of life. (2Co 9:8)

God is faithful to establish us, to keep us from being overcome and destroyed by evil and suffering (2Th 3:3), and to present us faultless before Himself with exceeding joy. (Jud 1:24) We are His workmanship (Ep 2:10), and He will complete the work He has begun in us. (Php 1:6)

Rather than pleasure and convenience, God offers us something vastly superior: Himself. But we can’t receive and enjoy Him without holiness (He 12:14), so He will do the needful, whatever it takes, to produce His likeness in us.

God is good, but He isn’t nice: God’s not safe – He’s a consuming fire. (He 12:29) It’s a fearful thing to fall into His hands (He 10:31), yet there’s no better place to be.

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