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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See Afar Off

Living by faith is acting as if God’s Word is true, as if all His prophesies are already fulfilled, being as certain of the eternal as of the temporal. Faith sees the promise fulfilled as soon as it’s spoken, redemption complete long before it’s started, (Ro 4:20-21); it calls real what isn’t yet but will be. (Ro 4:17)

It’s looking back two millennia at the cross, standing before the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Re 13:8) as He sets us free from sin, as if it’s happening right in front of us. (Ga 3:1)

It’s rejoicing in trial, trouble and suffering, counting it all joy (Ja 1:2), letting patience have her perfect work that we might be perfect and entire (Ja 1:4), knowing God is working it all for our good. (Ro 8:28)

It’s enjoying the victory in Yeshua’s eternal shout, in God’s final trumpet blast (1Th 4:16), as if justice and glory has already come, as if God’s already trodden down His enemies (Ps 119:118), even as they steal, kill and destroy (Jn 10:10), confident they’ll never answer for their crimes. (Ps 73:11)

It’s knowing we’ll eventually look back over our lives rejoicing in our Father’s care and faithfulness (He 13:5-6), even as we’re struggling through bewildering circumstances, with no earthy prospect of rescue. (2Co 1:8-10)

Living this way requires adding virtue to our faith, and knowledge to virtue, and temperance to knowledge, and patience to temperance, and godliness to temperance, and kindness to godliness, and love to kindness (2Pe 1:5-7) Apart from this we’re blind, unable to see reality through the promise. (2Pe 1:9)

As we cleave to God we can see afar off, embrace eternal reality, and live persuaded of things to come. (He 11:13)

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Spirit, Soul and Body

Atheists tell us we’re just electro-chemical accidents, yet most of us instinctively know better, that our lives matter, that we have intrinsic value, that we’re made in God’s image. But what exactly is this image?

God describes us as a trinity: spirit, soul and body (1Th 5:23), comparable to the way He’s revealed Himself as Father, Son and Holy Ghost. (Mt 28:19) This should come as no surprise; an image is a likeness. But are we a soul with a spirit and a body, or a body with a spirit and a soul, or a spirit with a soul and a body? What, in essence, defines us?

Clearly, we’re not our body (Lk 12:4); we’re much more than this.

Are we then a spirit with a soul and a body? The Psalmist views his spirit as something within himself, distinct from his core self. (Ps 143:4) Stephen, upon his death, seems to view his spirit as something conveying him to Christ, but something he has, not what he is. (Act_7:59)

When God created Adam and breathed into him, man “became a living soul.” (Ge 2:7) The essence of our identify appears to be revealed here: we’re souls with bodies and spirits. Our spirit is evidently formed along with our soul and comprises our spiritual temple, being inseparably linked with our souls, through which we know and feel. (1Co_2:11)

It’s our souls that sin, not our bodies or spirits (Ez 18:4), so it’s our souls which need atonement. (Le 17:11)

We can speak to our souls as ourselves, the essence of who we are (Lk 12:19), the source of our motivations, thoughts and intentions. Death is requiring our soul to leave our body. (Lk 12:20) If we lose our soul (Mt 16:26), we lose our very selves. (Lk 9:25)

So, becoming, growing, improving ourselves, who we are, is in our souls, not our minds or bodies (1Ti 4:8); we evolve through our choices, which mold and reveal us. We’re eternal soul beings headed toward eternity, to only one of two possible ends. We’re designed to be gods (Ps 82:6), but we can make ourselves into fiends. (Jn 6:70) Choose wisely: every choice we make shapes us in eternity.

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He Was Sick

Some faith healers teach it’s always God’s will to heal deformity, sickness and disease immediately, that if we’re suffering physically in any way it’s due to sin and/or our lack of faith in God: in other words, our own fault.

Though it’s true that sin can cause physical weakness, disease and sickness (1Co_11:30), Scripture never presumes sin is the sole cause, or even a typical one. Nor does it teach that being sick for a season is necessarily our fault; it does not teach that it’s always God’s will to heal us immediately. For the innocent, presuming sin is the reason for affliction, or even a lack of faith, adds insult to injury. (Jn 9:3)

Case in point is Epaphras, a dear man of God who became sick while serving Christ. (Php 2:30) He didn’t have authority to heal himself immediately, nor did Paul. His healing came at the last minute, and it was undeserved: God had mercy on him. (Php 2:30) If his state had anything to do with a lack of faith, Paul wouldn’t have tolerated it.

Trophimus, who ministered with Paul, became so sick Paul had to leave him behind. (2Ti 4:20) And Timothy had such physical problems Paul suggested a dietary change. (1Ti 5:23) Again, if a lack of faith were the sole cause of seasons of weakness and sickness, these texts would not be written as they are.

At times, Paul himself took pleasure in being afflicted with various infirmities as a way to reveal the sufficiency of God’s grace in his life (2Co 12:10); he didn’t presume it was always God’s will to heal immediately.

Granted, at times, God may be willing to heal instantly and miraculously, and we might, in fact, forego healing due to our lack of faith (Mt 17:19-20): anything we ask in faith, we receive. (Mt 21:22) We often suffer because we don’t pray, and even when we do pray it’s selfish, and so in vain. (Ja 4:2-3)

But God is no man’s servant; He isn’t this giant, cosmic vending machine dolling out gifts to those who have the right feelings or speak the right words. There’s nothing we can do to manipulate Him, and presuming we know His will in a situation can lead to tremendous pain and frustration. His ways are often mysterious, and His will in any given situation is not, in my experience, obvious. I think the key is in understanding what it means to ask in faith, and how this works.

To pray in faith is to pray knowing the will of God (1Jn 5:14) for the glory of God. (Php 1:21) Faith isn’t about trying to make ourselves believe something, it’s about walking so closely with God that we sense what He’s doing to glorify Himself. (Jn 5:20) Thinking faith is something else is misguided.

Trying to manipulate the physical world through our will or technique is the essence of witchcraft. The human soul in itself is exceedingly powerful; we must carefully distinguish between godly faith and presumption. The slightest twist of God’s truths can make them poisonous; if we aren’t careful we may, like faith healers often do, use them like knives to wound the innocent. (Pr 12:18)

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My Servant Job

Job … the ultimate case study in longsuffering and patience, a story most of us know. It reveals the tender mercy of God in suffering (Ja 5:11), yet perhaps we’ve missed something else that’s precious here, a key to understanding God, Man and Satan.

The action begins with a provocation; God challenges Satan with an anomaly: in a world of ungodly men, there’s a uniquely righteous one. (Job 1:8) Satan retorts that it’s not righteousness at all, just selfishness getting what it wants. (Job 1:9-11) Game on. (Job 1:12)

But why such a challenge, when God Himself says there are no righteous men, that no one seeks Him? (Ps 14:2-3) And why is Satan agreeing with God’s claim that all men are depraved, rather than inferring God’s unique claim to holiness is illegitimate? (Mk 10:18)

In other words, if this is a merely test of Job’s character, as it’s so commonly understood, aren’t God and Satan each arguing what the other should be? Based on the relentless nature of fallen Man, shouldn’t God expect Job to fail in his own strength? (Jn 15:5) Yet He bets the farm on the outcome, and gives Satan free reign to do whatever he likes to Job. If Job does happen to pass the test, how does this glorify God? Wouldn’t it simply exalt Job? What’s the value in that? Why would God initiate such a thing, and be so interested in it?

It’s as if God’s pointing out an ongoing miracle in Job that’s not so easily observed, that He’s doing something in Job that’s impossible for fallen Man on his own (Php 2:13), even when everything’s going his way. (Mt 19:24-26) And it’s as if Satan can’t even begin to bear the thought of it, the very idea that God moves in the hearts of fallen, depraved Man as He pleases. (Pr 21:1)

And if God works in Man as He sees fit, doing according to His own will on Earth as well as in Heaven (Da 4:35), could it be that He also controls fallen angels (1Ti 5:21), even Satan himself? (Ep 1:11) How can darkness tolerate being the unwitting servant of Light? Wouldn’t Satan be driven to prove that God isn’t in control of Job, or anyone else? “I’ll show the universe: he’ll curse you!”

Maybe this isn’t merely an arbitrary trial for Job; perhaps it’s a challenge of God, a throw down before the heavenly hosts, an ultimate test of Jehovah’s sovereignty, which He Himself invites. Perhaps this explains why God publicly initiates it, and why Satan accepts, and is given all the ammo he wants. Yet there’s no chance of failure, not the slightest, no matter what Satan throws at Job, because this doesn’t depend on Job’s holiness, or on Satan’s power, if the absolute sovereignty of God is on display, and determines the outcome.

When understood like this, I think the narrative magnifies God immensely, and comforts us exceedingly. If God be for us, who can be against us? (Ro 8:31) The good work He’s begun in us, He’ll continue to perform in us, no matter what lies ahead. (Php 1:6) We’ll have trouble in this world, but He’s overcome the world, and He’ll overcome it again in us. (Jn 16:33) We’re His workmanship, not our own, created in Christ unto good works, which God has preordained for us to walk in. (Ep 2:10) Every difficulty that lies ahead is more precious than gold; in the end, it will all glorify Him, in and through us. (1Pe 1:7)

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Her Perfect Work

Patience is one of those traits of godliness that’s easy to miss; yet we’re to be adding this to our faith with all diligence. (2Pe 1:5-7) It’s like longsuffering, the fruit of the Spirit working in us to endure without becoming bitter (Ga 5:22-23), but it’s translated from a different Greek word, and has a different connotation.

God tells us to rejoice as He stretches and grows us through various kinds of trials, producing patience in us. (Ja 1:3) He exhorts us to work with Him during this process, allowing patience to have its way, her perfect work, to come to fullness so that we will be perfect and complete. (Ja 1:5)

This suggests that patience is more than longsuffering, not giving up; it’s continuing to trust in God’s goodness and faithfulness in the midst of suffering, enduring in hope and confidence in God.

The patience of Job is not merely refusing to despair (Job 2:10), it’s persevering trust in God (Job 13:15), a case study in God’s way. (Ja 5:11):

As we begin to see more of God’s purpose in our suffering, we begin rejoicing in the midst of it; repeatedly watching God work things out in our lives gives us practical, hands-on, experience with God’s heart, and this produces hope (Ro 5:3-4), an expectation of glorious purpose in all of our suffering, well before it’s apparent to others.

Let’s add patience to our faith, purposing to hope in God in the midst of trial; counting Him faithful before we can see the outcome, honoring Him when all looks lost and broken, when all we have left are His precious promises. (2Pe 1:4) Since we’ll eventually look back from eternity on our light affliction, exulting in God with joy unspeakable and full of glory, might as well start now. (1Pe 1:8)

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