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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To Be Sin

In seeking God, to know Him and walk with Him, we face an immediate obstacle: He’s holy (1Jn 1:5) and we’re sinful. (1Jn 1:8) Rather than facing our sin, it’s tempting to try to disassociate ourselves from it, to pretend that our actions don’t define us, that our bad actions don’t reveal that we’re bad people … as if just any kind of tree can produce apples, not just an apple tree.

But God tells us that we are, in fact, known by what we do: our behavior reveals the kind of people we are (Lk 6:44), whether we’re good or evil. (Lk 6:45) This isn’t like saying a tree is an apple tree because it produces apples; but rather that a tree produces apples because it’s an apple tree.

In this analogy, there are only two kinds of fruit: edible and inedible (Mt 12:33), analogous to two sorts of behavior: love (keeping God’s Law 2Jn 1:6) and sin (breaking God’s law 1Jn 3:4), revealing two kinds of people: good and evil. (Jn 5:28-29) As we are in the core of our being, obedient or disobedient, holy or sinful, so we do. Our motives don’t make us what we are, they reveal who we are: we live in love or sin, obedience or rebellion, because of our inner nature. 

So, if God identifies and classifies us by our behavior, God’s redemptive plan, to redeem from fallen Man a people for Himself (Tit 2:14), cannot merely be theoretical, it must be practical. In other words, salvation cannot merely be the bestowal of a positional righteousness, there must also be fundamental change in our nature (Ga 6:15), from evil to good. To walk with God we must be transformed, regenerated, born again

As we are made new creatures in Christ, our inward behavior invariably begins to reflect Christ’s nature. (2Co 5:17) As God delivers His elect from sin’s penalty, He frees us as well from sin’s dominion. (Ro 6:14) Regeneration is thus always accompanied by a growing, practical holiness. (He 6:9) This is a miracle; only God can do this in us. (Je 13:23)

In other words, since we are what we do, to redeem us, God deals not merely with our actions, He deals directly with us; He does not merely forgive our sinful ways, He becomes our sinful selves (2Co 5:21), not only by suffering the penalty we deserve, but also in becoming what we are.

God has never sinned, and He never will; but JEHOVAH so identifies with us as sinners that He treats Himself as if He has, as if He has committed all our sins. God, the perfectly holy one, doing this for us, becoming our sin … this is infinite love. (Ep 3:19)

But God doesn’t stop here; as He becomes our sin, He makes us His righteousness. (2Co 5:21) As He becomes who we are, He is also making us as He is. He does not merely atone for our sinful behavior, He also replaces our old carnal nature with His own holy nature. He does not just forgive our sin, He begins to eradicate it, making us who were born desperately wicked, holy and righteous in thought, word and deed … this is infinite power.

The sacrifice of God, as He gives Himself for us (Ga 2:20), is real and personal: it costs Him everything … to give us everything. (Ro 8:32)

Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another(1Jn 4:11)

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Ask in Faith

If we lack wisdom, God invites us to ask Him for more; He gives to all liberally, and doesn’t scold us for asking. (Ja 1:5) In believing God will help us, as we ask Him for good things, we honor Him by acknowledging His faithfulness and goodness, and trusting Him. It shows we understand His character, and expect Him to act accordingly.

But if we don’t ask in faith, confidently knowing He’ll help us (Ja 1:6), we shouldn’t expect anything from Him (Ja 1:7); we’re acting as if God isn’t good or faithful, which exposes a double-mindedness, an instability at the core of who we are. (Ja 1:8) How so?

Being unsure of God’s willingness to help us with wisdom, when He’s told us wisdom is the most important thing in all the world, and that with all of our getting we’re to be getting understanding (Pr 4:7), is to treat Him as if He is malicious, arbitrary and fickle. This is doubting His goodness and love at the core. If we don’t trust the faithfulness of God, if we don’t even know Him, we need His help here first.

Doubting Him on His willingness to give us wisdom, or any obviously good thing, is like thinking He’d refuse to help us find Him (He 11:6), or to help us follow and serve Him. (2Th 3:3) It’s to reject everything He’s told us about Himself; it’s calling Him a liar (1Jn 5:10) and denying His name. At the core of our own being, we know better than this — God isn’t evil — which makes us double-minded.

If we’re content to dishonor God like this, believing lies about Him rather than seeking His grace to believe rightly in Him, He just might let us. (Pr 14:12) And it would be our own fault. (Jn_3:19)

But if we humble ourselves and come to Him (Mt 11:28), seeking His face, casting our insufficiency upon Him (1Pe 5:7) and begging Him to quicken us (Ps 119:156), to give us His life (Jn 1:4), to help us find Him and walk worthy of Him, He most certainly will. (Mt 7:8) That’s just Who He is.

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Of What Sort

God says the fire will try our work, our life, the harvest of our time on Earth, to see what sort it is. (1Co 3:13) If our life abides the fire, we receive eternal reward (1Co 3:14); otherwise we suffer eternal loss. (1Co 3:15)

Fire is evidently a reference to Judgment Day (2Pe 3:7), when everyone shall give account of himself to God. (Ro 14:12) The concept of sort, or type, evidently refers to whether our work is good or evil.

Since we’re made in God’s image, we intuitively understand the concept of good and evil: it’s in our DNA. God has defined it for us, but we tend to reject God’s view and make up our own as we go, even disagreeing among ourselves. But God doesn’t change (Ja 1:17), and justice demands that He use His own definition. He will.

So, what’s God’s criteria here? What’s He looking for? What makes something we do, or who we are, good or evil? What is success? What is failure?

Understanding this, is to understand everything that’s really worth understanding; to miss this, is to miss, well, everything. (Mk 8:36) Most of us will get this wrong (Mt 7:22-23), and only because we don’t want to get it right.

It’s not our actions in themselves that make us good or evil, but why we do what we do (1Co 13:3), and there are ultimately only two possibilities: we’re either out to please ourselves, or God. (Php 2:21) Living merely to please ourselves, self-orientation, is the essence of all rebellion. (Ps 2:3) Each life will be characterized primarily by one motive or the other, love or selfishness, but not both. (Mt 12:33)

What pleases God? Obeying Him; cleaving to Him, loving Him and others; treating others justly, loving mercy, walking in humility(Mi 6:8)

In being overly concerned with Man’s approval we’re driven by fear of his displeasure (Jn 12:43), and this is sin (1Co 7:23), selfish and evil by definition. (Ja 4:17) We can’t be the servants of Christ if we’re slaves to fear (Ga 1:10); fear ensnares us, polluting our motives and service. (Pr 29:25)

God will inspect every activity of our lives, testing it against holiness, and expose our every motive, which will reveal our general life’s orientation, to the universe. His fire will burn up everything that isn’t rooted in Christ (Jn 15:6), in the pleasure of God. (Re 4:11) Everything He hasn’t planted will be rooted up. (Mt 15:13)

Learning to please God is a journey; His elect are growing here daily (1Th 4:1), as we purify ourselves (1Jn 3:3) to serve the living God. (He 9:14)

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Wherein Is Blemish

In JEHOVAH’s sacrificial system, He’s very clear about what’s acceptable: whatever is presented to Him must be perfect; asking Him to accept a blemish or defect of any kind is an abomination. (De 17:1)

It’s not that God dislikes physical defects in themselves; He cares for every living thing. (Ps 145:16) His concern evidently lies in what a sacrifice represents: He accepts an animal sacrifice as a substitute, representing an atonement for our sin. (He 9:7) It doesn’t actually take away our sin (He 10:11), it’s a picture of a metaphysical state, a place of reconciliation with Him, which we must with all diligence find. (He 4:1)

Our sin is entirely unacceptable to God (Ro 3:23); it moves Him to anger and indignation towards us. (Ro 2:8) God designed the sacrificial system to help us recognize this problem, and how He offers to resolve it: we either need Someone Who’s perfect to take our place, to accept our punishment and bear God’s wrath for us, or we must face God ourselves, alone, and be destroyed.

On the Day of judgement, every soul will face Almighty God to answer for their sin. (Ro 14:12) On that fateful Day, His face will be so dreadful Earth and Heaven will try to hide. (Re 20:11). We will all endure the indignation of JEHOVAH, one at a time, one way or another.

It’s only in finding a perfect, willing Substitute that we have any hope of surviving that Day. Our selfishness and pride is an abomination to God (Pr 16:5); asking Him to accept us as we are will be no different than offering a blemished animal on His altar here. It can’t end well.

Many, thinking they’ve found a fire escape in Christ, will hear Him say, “Depart from me, you workers of iniquity, for I never knew you” (Mt 7:22), and will face the court of Heaven on their own.

To find shelter in that stormy Day, we must enter into His rest by faith. God is, in fact, offering Himself to be our sacrifice (2Co 5:21); there can be no excuse for neglecting His offer. (Ac 17:31)

The door to the kingdom is open, and it always will be: it will never, ever close (Re 22:17), but Christ warns us to strive to enter, for only those few who love the truth will find Him. (2Th 2:10)

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Goodness and Severity

God is awesome in every respect; He’s extreme, infinite in every facet of His being. Everything He is and does should move us to worship.

If we prefer to focus on some particular part of God, rather than taking the whole of Him, we find imbalance, a false god. He is love, most certainly (1Jn 4:8), but He’s also light (1Jn 1:5), even a consuming fire (He 12:29), a terror to all who live in sin, to be feared by us all. (Php 2:12)

God calls us to behold His goodness and severity together (Ro 11:22), to be awed in both Heaven and Hell at once. (Re 15:3) We’re to glory in His kindness (Lk 6:35) as well as His justice, vengeance and fury. (Re 18:20)

It’s only in seeking God in all His attributes at once, where they converge in fullness and glory, that we discover Him. As we take in all of God honestly, delighting in all His ways, drinking in everything about Him without bias, preference or reservation, we’re sanctified, changed, transformed more and more into His likeness by His Spirit. (2Co 3:18)

Behold the beauty in God’s grace (Ep 1:6) and mercy as He redeems sinful Man and makes us His own (1Jn 3:1), yet also feed in the majesty of His wrath as He tramples His enemies underfoot. (Is 63:3)

Rejoicing in all the attributes of God, glorying in everything about Him (2Co 10:17), is seeing Him as He is (1Jn 3:2), and not as we wish for Him to be. (Ro 1:23) This, and nothing less, is receiving Him, which is in itself the work of God. (Jn 1:12-13)

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