Add to Patience Godliness

Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith (He 12:2), instructs us to diligently add to our faith (2Pe 1:5); though God works in us both to will and to do of His pleasure (Php 2:13), He tells us to work out our own sanctification with fear and trembling. (12)

As we pursue God, there’s evidently an optimal path or sequence in sanctification: starting with faith we’re to add virtue, then add knowledge, then temperance, then patience, then godliness, then brotherly kindness, then charity. (2Pe 1:5-7)

Adding godliness between patience and brotherly kindness is perhaps unexpected: godliness is how we might identify the ultimate spiritual goal (2Pe 1:3), so why would God emphasize a particular sequence in sanctification, and include godliness as an intermediate step?

Godliness is from the Greek εὐσέβειαν, which is also translated holiness. (Ac 3:12) It evidently conveys the idea of reverential piety, fervency and earnest sincerity in spiritual matters. It’s wanting to be aligned with God at the most fundamental levels; it’s receiving Him into the deepest recesses of our hearts, inviting His scrutiny, rebuke and chastening, and welcoming His healing, communion and fellowship. (Re 3:20)

Focusing first on rightly aligning with God, godliness being the fine-tuning of this alignment, is perhaps an indication that we must be in right relationship with God before we can rightly relate with ourselves and others. The greatest commandments, summarizing all of God’s Law (Mt 22:40), sequence moral priority like this: first love God then love others. (37-39) The Decalogue confirms, starting with godward commands (Ex 20:3-7), and finishing with relational commands. (12-17)

Focusing on godliness, more so than on love, may actually help us love others more authentically, more effectively. Knowing God’s love doesn’t come naturally; think carefully about it, examine it, pray for and seek understanding. (Ep 3:14, 19) If we don’t understand God’s love, how can we rightly love ourselves and others?

As we grow in Christ we don’t get everything at each stage of sanctification before we move on to the next; we don’t become perfectly virtuous before we gain the first bit of knowledge. The idea here is emphasis; if we value virtue above knowledge, we’ll understand how to rightly use knowledge and it won’t make us proud. (2Co 8:b) Similarly, pursuing godliness above charity ensures that what passes for agape love in us is the genuine article, authentic, not superficial or put on, not for show.

God’s love is about holiness (He 12:10), not human comfort, happiness or pleasure. The more we’re aligned with God, the more our love for others will reflect His.

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Remember the Day

Thirty-eight years ago today I was born again in a mobile home park in Alamosa, CO, after struggling for nearly 5 years to understand and believe the gospel. I was 22 years old.

Prior to this I had earnestly prayed The Sinner’s Prayer on two different occasions, asking Christ to come into my heart and save me and committing my life to serve Him, and I had been baptized three times. I had attended Bible college, memorized many books of the Bible, led scores of people in professions of faith, and preached many sermons in church pulpits. But I never had assurance of salvation, and was still struggling earnestly to believe the gospel and be saved.

Several months prior to this God had spoken to me directly and revealed my lost condition: I loved the Bible and I loved religion, but I didn’t love Him: God is precious to believers (1Pe 2:7), so I wasn’t a believer, not just yet. The evangelical message had completely failed me; after years of earnestly searching and studying and going to church … I had no faith: I didn’t know what it was or how to get it.

It was on July 11, 1984, that I finally decided I could not go on any longer without understanding the gospel. I had locked myself in my study, determining not to leave until I believed on Christ and had assurance of eternal life. (1Jn 5:13) I knew it had nothing to do with asking Christ to save me, repenting of my sins, dedicating my life to serve Him, believing Christ had lived and died and rose again, being baptized, attending church, etc. What it was I had no idea, but I had to know. Not knowing was not an option.

Salvation was by faith: I knew I had to believe something I didn’t currently believe, to know something by faith that I didn’t currently know, and I could not for the life of me figure out what this was, and no one had been able to help me.

As I was meditating on and studying the word propitiation in 1 John 2:2, it suddenly became apparent to me that Christ had actually already paid my sin debt in full when He died on the cross for me (Is 53:11), and that the only way I could possibly be condemned was if He had somehow failed. His righteousness was suddenly now my righteousness, and I was as safe in Him as He was. This belief was certain, unshakable, steadfast. There was nothing to ask for, no ritual to perform, nothing to do: it was already done. All I could do was say, “Thank you!”, and so I did.

This was an entirely new experience for me, something I had never believed before. I could not explain why I believed it, or how this had happened to me. I also realized in that instant that God was now precious to me; I loved Him, I was attracted to Him, committed to Him and delighted in Him, more than anything or anyone else.

This is my testimony, my understanding of how one is born again and how I have experienced it: we believe on God for our salvation and trust Him as our Savior. (Ro 4:4) This produces assurance of eternal life in us (He 10:22) and creates in us a new nature: it isn’t something we can actually do on our own, any more than we can do something to be born physically (Ja 1:20): it is something God does in us. (Jn 1:13) He must give us both the hunger to seek Him, as well as the faith to believe on Him.

Within God’s feast of Passover, I see His command to remember this day every day of my life (De 16:3), the day I was born anew, personally delivered from this present evil world, according to the will of God. (Ga 1:4) I will never forget it.

Thank you Father for your unspeakable gift! (2Co 9:15)

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To Know the Love

The love of God is certainly a mystery; He loves in ways which are quite foreign to us. He loves His enemies (Mt 5:44-45), offering forgiveness and reconciliation (Ro 10:21), while allowing immense suffering in His own children when He could easily prevent it; to the most faithful and obedient He even bestows pain and suffering as a gift. (Php 1:29) It’s not the kind of love we’re familiar with.

The goal of God’s love, the guiding principle, is evidently not our temporal pleasure or comfort, but that we might be partakers of His holiness. (He 12:10) This truly is ultimate benevolence and merciful kindness, to align us with Himself and His nature, with truth and light; anything less would be unloving and malicious.

God knows all, including what we would do, left to our own devices, in every situation we could possibly encounter, and what we would become without His intervention and aid in every conceivable circumstance. He also knows the absolute best way to reveal Himself in and through us, and how to work holiness in us for His own glory and pleasure. (Php 2:13) His love, both for Himself and for us, ensures He will do so perfectly, in the perfect way and in the perfect time (Jud 24), working everything for ultimate good in and for those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. (Ro 8:28)

The primary manifestation of God’s love is in sending His Son into the world that we might live through Him. (1Jn 4:9) It’s here we find the ultimate expression of love: God sending His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (10), to redeem us from all iniquity and purify us unto Himself. (Tit 2:14)

In order to save us God became sin for us, that we might be made perfectly righteous in Him. (2Co 5:21) God suffers inexpressibly in order to be in relationship with us, laying down His very life for us. (1Jn 3:16) In other words, God is all in; He holds nothing back (Ro 8:32), and He can rightly require no less of us (Ro 12:1) — this isn’t about comfort: it’s about holiness, without which no one will see God. (He 12:14)

The full experiential knowledge of this love is priceless; we should study it and meditate on it, asking God to open our eyes (Ep 1:16b-17), praying for ourselves and for each other, that we might be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ep 3:14-19)

How well we understand God’s love is revealed in how well we’re obeying Him. (1Jn 2:3) How thankful are we? (Ep 5:20) How joyful? (Php 4:4) Are we abounding in hope? (Ro 15:13) Are we seeking the welfare of our enemies, in God and for Him? (Mt 5:44-45) Do we see God’s love in all He does? (Ro 11:36) This is the Holy Ghost revealing the love of God in us, and shedding it abroad through us. (Ro 5:5)

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Foolish Questions

We’re commanded to avoid foolish questions (Tit 3:9); so, not all questions are good. To understand the difference between foolish questions and wise questions (Ep 5:16), we ask: What kinds of questions are foolish? This particular question isn’t foolish; it’s wisdom.

The context is profitability (Tit 3:9b), implying a way to measure and evaluate questions. Is the question profitable? depends on what we value. To ask meaningful questions we must have a proper motive and direction to orient our asking.

So, when we’re considering a question, a good question to ask is: Why the question? What’s the goal, or objective, in asking?

Is the atheist seeking to destroy another’s faith or value system? Or distracting from the soul-wound they’ve been using to justify their hatred and dismissal of God? Or searching out an explanation to resolve what seems insurmountable inconsistency, extreme lack of credibility hiding behind the façade of religion?

Is the church-goer showing off, looking for respect, to be valued for their knowledge of scripture? Are they looking to generate controversy and cause divisions and offenses? (Ro 16:17) Or looking to avoid responsibility by casting doubt on instructions and raising up controversy? Or trying to learn and understand, so they can rightly order their thoughts and actions?

Is the biblical scholar ever asking, ever learning, yet never able to come to the knowledge of the truth? (2Ti 3:7) Are we content with theological exercises and pontifications, ducking relational responsibility, ignoring sins of the heart? Are we content piling up knowledge, without regard to the poor (Ga 2:10), the fatherless, orphan and widow?

Or are we asking so we can deliver ourselves from the bondage of our lies (2Ti 2:25-26), freeing ourselves to serve more effectively, more joyfully and fruitfully, equipping ourselves unto love and good works? (Tit 3:14)

If we’re after God and His kingdom (Mt 6:33), if we fear God and want to please Him (Pr 1:7), our questions should bring us closer to God, into more alignment with Him, more obedience to Him, more love for Him.

Jesus asked a lot of questions; we can learn from watching Him. He was always pointing others to the kingdom of God. His questions penetrated hearts and exposed motives, helping us see our need for Him and pointing us toward a more perfect knowledge of His Way.

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Friend

When Judas was in the very act of betraying Christ, Christ knew exactly what Judas was up to, how wicked it was, and how much pain and suffering it would bring upon Himself. Christ saw Judas coming toward Him in the garden of Gethsemane, temple guards in tow, to betray the Son of Man with a kiss.

The Passion of the Christ

Judas was committing, in all likelihood, most evil act in all of human history. Nothing else compares to it, betraying the perfectly innocent, precious Son of God to crucifixion and death. Jesus had already warned, The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born.” (Mk 14:21) This was evidently a peculiarly unique and wicked sin. No other act is ever described in such grave terms.

Yet, as evil as this act was, as sold out to Satan himself as Judas Iscariot was at that moment (Lk 22:3), Christ addresses Judas as His friend. (Mt 26:49-50) Christ extends the offer of friendship one last time, as if to give Judas one final opportunity to be honest with himself, and with Christ, before they took Him away.

This may be the greatest example of fulfilling Christ’s own command, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (Mt 5:44) We’re to bless those who wrong us, do good to them, wish them well, not decide what their punishment should be or wish them any harm. If we truly believe God is perfectly just, and also perfectly merciful, we’ll not hesitate to leave all in His hands.

It’s not that we shouldn’t acknowledge sinful behavior for what it is, or protect ourselves and those we love from abuse, but when God calls us to suffering, we should not retaliate. We should be praying for our enemies and seeking their welfare, regardless what they’re up to.

When we behold the wicked, it’s so tempting to allow unrighteous indignation to well up within us, as if we’d never do such things, and begin to posture ourselves as knowing what they deserve and wishing it upon them. But this disposition doesn’t spring from humility and love; it isn’t Christ in us. It springs from the lie that God is unjust, that we can do better. We can’t. God is good, only God is good, and He is always good.

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His Own Purpose

Humans are distinct from animals in that we must have purpose in our lives, meaning, a reason to be alive. We act as if we’re aware that we’re designed with some objective in mind, and that we expect to be evaluated according to some standard, related to how well we’ve realized our purpose.

The existence of a design standard further implies someone, the Grand Designer, Who is evaluating us, and that there are real consequences for neglecting or resisting our design, rewards and punishments involved in this life and the next, due to our performance. (Php 2:12) This is all instinctive, built deeply into our very physiology; we know it’s true, and we can’t escape it. (Ro 1:20)

To pretend we are the ultimate judge of ourselves is to miss the whole point; we didn’t design ourselves so we can’t give ourselves purpose. We know the standard isn’t arbitrary, it’s not something we can simply make up as we go. And no other created person can tell us our purpose any more than we can.

We may try to obtain some semblance of meaning by taking up responsibility, putting ourselves together and trying to make the world a better place. The fact this actually works is telling; it must be somewhat aligned with our true purpose. (1Ti 5:8) If there weren’t an ultimate Designer, this might be the best we could do.

Yet our instincts reflect reality; we’re fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139:14), and it’s our Creator Who gives us meaning: if God says we’re missing the point in some way, ignoring this isn’t helpful. God is love, and His design is best.

God has set specific, unique objectives for each of us (Ep 2:10); this is our calling, which we must discover in Him and pursue. (2Ti 1:9) It’s an invitation to challenge and adventure, to discover beauty and fulfillment of indescribable value; though there are shadows all about us pointing us to this reality, there’s no earthly parallel.

The genius of God’s Way is that it not only perfectly suits our individual design, it places each believer within the context of a cosmic team, part of a divine body pursuing an eternal goal together, for which we’re all perfectly suited. We aren’t struggling through this life, enduring all its suffering and malevolence, alone. (1Pe 5:8-9)

It is only within this context that suffering itself can truly be called a gift (Php 1:29), when we’re voluntarily suffering for a higher purpose. (Mt 5:11-12) What He has called us to is unspeakable glory in Him. (Ro 8:18) Perfect fulfillment and satisfaction on every conceivable level.

Christ, our perfect example (1Pe 2:21), perfectly exemplified how to find and fulfill our purpose: He didn’t come to make everyone happy, or even Himself (Ro 15:3); He came to do His Father’s will, and to finish His work. (Jn 4:34) In the same way, we’re to prove the will of God for ourselves, and then do it. (Ro 12:2)

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Dead Unto Sin

God says, “Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Ro 6:11) What does He mean?

When we’re dead we’re unresponsive; we don’t interact with the world or function within it any longer.

To be dead unto sin then is to be beyond its reach, no longer subject to its appeal, disinterested in its enticements, to say as Christ did, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” (Jn 14:30) It’s natural to ask then, How might we attain to such a state?

Yet this is evidently the wrong question for the believer: God’s telling us we already have attained to this state; we’re to reckon this to be true, acknowledge it, and live accordingly. The right question to ask is then, How do I identify that part of me that’s dead to sin? How does that part of me live my life, and not the rest of me?

Paul identifies part of himself, the flesh, offering nothing good; it doesn’t equip him to do anything good he wants to do. (Ro 7:18) So, there’s a part of him which wants to obey God, which knows what’s right, an inward man which delights in God’s Law (22), which he calls his mind, and a different part (the flesh) which wars against the good part. (23)

So, we might think of ourselves as having a sort of dual personality, two different versions of us which behave very differently under the same conditions. (Ro 7:19) We might also think of a set of beliefs as a personality which embodies these beliefs; it’s a perfectly reasonable way to describe it. (Pr 1:20-23)

So, we might think of our flesh, the carnal mind (Ro 6:7-8), or the old man (Ep 4:22), as that body of lies to which we’re still clinging, either intellectually or perhaps emotionally or subconsciously, due to wrong teaching, being emotionally biased because of a wound or carnal desire harbored within us, etc. Whatever the root symptom, the underlying substance is the lie.

Putting off the old man, and being renewed in the spirit of our mind (Ep 4:22-23), is then to rid ourselves of these lies and to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Ro 12:2), such that we’re progressively walking more and more fully in the Way, the Truth and the Life – Christ in us, the hope of glory. (Col 1:27)

Reckoning then is noting that all the lies we believe are terminal; each one has a unique death sentence pronounced over it. (Ps 1:6) We’ve no allegiance to it, no obligation to follow after it.

It’s also remembering there’s a part of us which already believes the truth, a part of us which is alive unto God (Ro 6:11): this is the life of Christ in us.

When we look for this part of us, asking God to enable us to recognize it, to realize that we believe the truth and experience our faith in Him, He does so. (He 4:16) We’re free to walk in the light with Christ, if we will. (Ro 6:22)

When we engage our will to walk in this new man (Ro 6:19), the spiritual man, the mind of Christ (1Co 2:16), Christ delivers us from the body of sin (Ro 7:24-25) so we can walk in newness of life. (Ro 6:4) We overcome, because greater is He that’s in us than whatever’s in the world. (1Jn 4:4)

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Make Friends

The parable of the Unjust Steward is challenging, putting it mildly. When Christ says, “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” (Lk 16:9), is He saying befriend the wealthy so when we fall on hard times they’ll be there to rescue us?

The mammon of unrighteousness would be material things this unrighteous world values, tools for good and evil. They aren’t ours (Ps 24:1), so we’re all stewards, and like the steward in the parable (Lk 16:1-2) we’ll all be accused of mismanagement (Jn 5:45) and held accountable. (Ro 14:11-12)

So, we all find ourselves in a similar crisis: we’re flawed in fundamental ways, our record shows this and judgment is coming; we should prepare to make the best of it using every means at our disposal. Pass or fail, the consequences will be eternal. (Ro 2:6-11) In this predicament, Christ is telling us, “make friends.” In other words, live such that when Judgment Day comes those testifying in the heavenly court will be on our side, welcoming us into Paradise.

Consider that everyone who has ever lived will be present at this final Day of Judgment, and those we’ve impacted through our lives will be testifying about us (Ja 5:4), agreeing with God in how they view us, being for or against us. (Mt 12:41-42) Our own works will also bear witness (Ja 5:3), our every act testifying in heavenly court. (Mt 12:36) There will be no deception or partiality; if we’ve walked in holiness before God even the wicked will be forced to agree. (1Pe 2:12)

So, the kinds of friends we should be thinking about here aren’t those who’d pay our bills when we’re unemployed, but those who’ll be receiving us into everlasting habitations, standing between us and our eternal home, inviting us in or barring our way. We must keep short accounts (Mt 5:25-26) and manage our affairs with an eternal perspective. (Col 4:5) As the unjust steward wisely navigated his crisis to secure his earthly comfort for a season (Lk 16:8), Christ is calling us to holy intensity (Mt 5:29-30), striving to secure our eternal welfare. (2Pe 1:10-11)

As we steward earthly resources we’re laying an eternal foundation (1Ti 6:17-19), so let’s make it solid, grounded firmly in the Rock of our salvation (Ps 95:1), to withstand the blasts of God’s penetrating inspection. (Mt 7:24-25)

This isn’t salvation by works; we’re saved by faith (Ep 2:8-9), but our works do reveal our faith. (Ja 2:18) We show what we believe by what we do, so when our actions don’t align with faith in Christ it’s a faith issue (Lk 6:46), a peril of sobering consequences. (Ro 8:13)

To find healing we examine ourselves (2Co 13:5), confess our faults to those who are praying for us (Ja 5:16), and root out the lies which bind us. (Jn 8:32) Living this way doesn’t produce salvation – it’s the life salvation produces. (Ep 2:10)

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Carried by Angels

The Bible describes what occurs as we die, and there’s no hint that it’s going to be different for anyone, same for all of us: angels appear and carry us away to our eternal home. (Lk 16:22-23)

Yes, as we speak, angelic beings are evidently escorting eternal souls departing this world, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Da 12:2) Some are soaring through the celestial wonders of the universe (Ep 4:8), others plummeting into the fiery bowels of the earth. (9) It makes all the difference in the world where we’re headed, but the means of transportation appears to be shared in the nether world.

Why such a conveyance system? Well, stating the obvious, we might not know the way to our eternal home, and it isn’t clear that we’d be able to travel there on our own even if we did know how to get there; we do appear to be stuck wherever the angels drop us off, unable to visit other places. (Lk 16:26) And the damned inevitably evade and resist; a secure escort is appropriate.

Yet for those of us in Christ, of course, evasion isn’t a consideration; there’s no better place to be than with Him. (Php 1:23) As we’re abiding in Him here, we’ll be ever closer to Him each instant of our journey home, with a singular delightful focus on Him (Ps 72:25), the most beautiful Being in the universe. (Ps 45:2)

Since each elect soul has at least one angel attending them throughout their entire life (He 1:13-14), it stands to reason they’ll be present with us as we die, and it may in fact be their responsibility to get us all the way home.

It also seems reasonable to think that these personal angelic attendants might grow fond of the saints over time, watching over us day and night, knowing us inside out, and have some personal affection for us since our common Master loves us uniquely, and so very much. Their joy in our homecoming will certainly be evident; perhaps they’ll engage us in some worshipful conversation as we journey into the immediate presence of our Savior (2Co 5:8), enquiring about our walk with Christ (1Pe 1:12) before they depart for their next assignment.

For the lost, however, the journey may not be so pleasant; the fear and dread of eternal destruction (Pr 1:27) evidently comes upon the wicked quite suddenly at death. (Ps 73:18-19)

Angels meeting an unsuspecting soul departing this life might intimidate unto dread (Mt 28:4), and introduce their victim to a sample of God’s eternal hatred. (Ps 139:21) They will surely accomplish His mission for them, unmoved by the cries of the damned; their grip firm and unyielding, their faces — if bewraying honestly — will surely brim with the terror of God. (2Co 5:11)

The secret things belong to God, but those things which are revealed belong to us. (De 29:29) God has revealed mysterious things to those who seek Him (1Co 2:9-10), and we do well to cherish everything He shows us about His way, imagining as well as we can what this final journey home will be like.

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God Worketh in You

The brilliance and wisdom of God is seen in His commanding us to do things which we ought to do, yet which we’re unable to do without His aid. He doesn’t command us in ignorance, unaware of our weakness, but as a way to engage His image in us, and work through us to achieve His purposes.

The fact that God is sovereign, in total control of all things, including us (Ep 1:11), suggests to some that we’re excused from engaging our will in obeying Him, as if to say, “I can’t do anything without Christ anyway (Jn 15:5), so why try?” The error produces passivity, an idleness of the mind and will, which turns out to be the chief basis of demon possession (Ep 4:27); if we don’t resist the devil he will retake in us the ground he used to have (Ep 2:2) and more. (2Ti 2:26)

So, though God is able to sanctify us without engaging our cooperation, He is pleased to work in and through us (Php 2:13), inviting us into our sanctification as participants and enablers, workers together with Him. (2Co 6:1) This doesn’t jeopardize His plan in any sense, it magnifies His omnipotence, but it does reveal something amazing in His agenda.

God is about making us, all of His elect (Mt 24:31), like Himself, training us up as saints such that we think and act like He does. (Ep 5:25-27) He engages His image within us with the very life and mind of Christ to conform us to Christ (Ro 8:29), reincarnating Himself in us (Col 1:27), calling us to act and strive and then working through our will: our willingness and intent to obey Him becomes the vehicle through which He manifests Himself.

God is putting us through the mill down here, through the ringer, so to speak, sort of like boot camp, refining us and sanctifying us, preparing us to rule and reign with Him. (Re 20:4) He will eventually give us unfathomable responsibility – like passing eternal judgement on the angels. (1Co 6:3) He wouldn’t let us participate with Him like this without utmost confidence that we’d call each situation correctly (Ro 15:14), exactly like He would. (1Co 2:16) He is capable of doing this in us, and He will, for His glory. (Ep 2:10)

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