What’s God like? In being selective with scripture it’s easy to miss Him and fashion an idol after our own lusts. (1Jn 5:21) We should look at the whole of God’s revelation.
God is love, it’s true (1Jn 4:8), but that doesn’t mean He’s like a doting, harmless old grandfather.
God is also light(1Jn 1:5), the very medium by which we perceive spiritual reality. God is truth itself (Jn 14:6), undiluted, uncompromised, pure and holy. If we think we can fellowship with Him and not be seeking truthmore than gold and silver, if we’re content to walk in darkness of any kind, to any degree, we don’t know Him. (1Jn 1:7)
God is also holy (1Pe 1:16), separate from sinners, higher than the heavens. (He 7:26) He calls us to holiness(2Co 7:1)because He won’t fellowship with anyone who walks in willful sin as a manner of life (1Jn 2:4); He’s angry with the wicked every day (Ps 7:11), and will tramplethem underfoot. (Ps 119:118) His response to any kind of rebellion is fiery indignation. (He 10:26-27)
We might get a clearer picture of God if we see Him as a consuming fire. (He 12:29) Like a raging wildfire, He’ll destroy anything and everything that’s opposed to Himself in any way (Ps 21:9) just by being Himself, by letting His very brightness shine forth undiluted, unfiltered, untamed. (2Th 2:8)
Yet God’s consuming nature will not annihilate the wicked; it will overwhelm, terrify, incapacitate and disable them with everlasting punishment. (Mt 25:46) God’s enemies will no longer be able to act like enemies when God reveals Himself. That’s a good thing, for God and for everyone – totally consistent with love: God shouldn’t have to suffer forever, and His arms will always be open to anyone who’ll come to Him. (Re 22:17)
God’s love is what fuels His justice and wrath, even His hatred. He’s benevolent, so He hates (or detests) sin and those who persist in it. (Ps 5:5) Sin harms ourselves, others and God, so He won’t overlook sin and let it go; there’s a price to pay. (Ro 3:23) We must pay that price ourselves, a debt we can never ever pay in full, or trust God to pay it for us in His Son; Christ is willing to becomeour sin, and die in our place so we might be made God’s righteousness in Christ. (2Co 5:21)
God is good, but He isn’t nice: God’s not safe; serve Him with reverential fearand rejoice with trembling. (Ps 2:11) Both His goodness and severity are awesome and beautiful (Ro 11:22), simply awe inspiring (He 12:21); we should rejoice in all His ways. (Re 15:4)
It’s a fearful thing to fall into God’s hands (He 10:31), but there are no other options; it isn’t a matter of if, but when. For those who love Him, who are seeking God’s face, there’s no better place to be. (Php 1:23)
Christ commands us to be perfect (Mt_5:48); the Greek is teleios: complete, mature, flawless, morally perfect. This is an impossible standard, clearly, but it’s not surprising: God doesn’t tolerate imperfection, and He shouldn’t. (De 18:13) He requires perfection of us because it’s right for Him to do so (Re 3:2); our lack of ability is irrelevant. (Pr 20:9)
So, how should we respond to this demand for moral perfection? There are dangers here we do well to avoid.
Firstly, we shouldn’t complain about God being unfair: fair is giving us all what we deserve – eternal tormentin the Lake of Fire. We’re all desperately wicked(Je 17:9), unbelievably sinful, even on our best day. (Is 64:6) There’s no requirement for God to lower the righteous standard simply because we’ve chosen to sin and corrupt our will. Borrowing more than we can ever repay, and gambling it all away, doesn’t mean we owe any less. We’re guilty as charged: we need mercy.(Lk 18:13)
Secondly, we shouldn’t try to lower the standard for ourselves (Mt 18:26); aiming for anything less than perfection is willful sin (He 10:26); choosing this as a life pattern is insolent, arrogant, disrespectful to God – inexcusable. (vs 27) Every willful sin is a personal affront to God; He hates all who break His laws on purpose. (Ps 5:5) We must try our best, our very best, to be as perfect as possible (2Pe 1:5-7), as poor as that might be. (Php 3:12)
Thirdly, we must ground ourselves in the unconditional love of God (Ep 3:19): God loves each of us because He made each of us uniquely in His image, with His own hands. (Ps 119:73) Real love isn’t conditioned on behavior (Mt 5:44-45): God loves the righteous and the sinner equivalently, because that’s His holy nature.
We must be grounded in the love of God to retain our sanity before Him while we’re stained in our sin. (He 11:6) Our sin is repulsive to Him; it makes Him indignant(Mi 7:9), and every single one of our sins must be dealt with firmly and justly. Yet even in His anger God Is Good – there isn’t a malicious bone in God’s body, and we must count on this in order to function as we consider the second death. While there’s any doubt about our standing before Him, we remain in dreadful peril.
The only sane response to God’s demand for perfection is to find refuge in Christ through the gospel. The terrorof God moves us to seek Him(2Co 5:11), to pursue salvation from our sin until we know we’re safe in Christ, absolutely sure. (1Jn 5:13) We can not afford to stand before God all on our own, and be judged according to our own works.
We should examine ourselves very carefully to ensure that we’re in the faith; we should be able to prove this. (2Co 13:5) There are things that accompany salvation (He 6:9); without these manifest in our lives we’re deceiving ourselves. (Ja 1:22) Until we’re perfectly sure of our eternal destiny, we strive to enter the kingdom (Lk 13:24), and labor to enter into His rest(He 4:11); diligently making our election sure. (2Pe 1:10)
We work this out, our own salvation from both the penalty and power of sin in our lives, with fear and trembling. (Php 2:12) We don’t rest until we know that Christ Himself is our own personal advocate, dying in our place for us, giving us His perfect righteousness (1Jn 2:1) and working His righteousness in us (Ep 2:10), making us as eternally safe from the wrath of God as He is.
It is only from the safety of eternal rest that we pursue perfection with joy, not to be saved, but because this is right, aligned with our new nature to love and obey God. (Ps 119:4) We don’t presume the liberty to sin because He has redeemed us.
And as we pursue God, we don’t let others define good and evil for us, telling us what perfection looks like – we go back to Torah(Is 8:20) and check every requirement against it (Ac 17:11), searching out truth for ourselves. (Ps 119:99) One of Satan’s tactics is to both add to the Word and take away from it (De 4:2), imposing such unhealthy, burdensome regulations that we either rebel, or we or become hateful, proud and judgmental in keeping them. (Mt 23:4)
Finally, and this is key, we don’t focus overly much on ourselves, on our own behavior and how we’re failing; we stop trying in our own strength to be perfect. We grow in holiness through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit as we behold Jesus Christ. (2Co 3:18) Behold Him and rejoice in Him (Php 4:4); He’s the one who gives us faith(He 12:2), our access to grace, the power to live for God. (Ro 5:2) Christ Himself is our life (Col 3:4), and our sanctification. (1Co 1:30)
We behold Christ primarily through Torah, (Ps 119:18), which shows us where we need cleansing (Ps 119:9), then we ask for help to obey (vs 10), hiding His Word in your heart and meditating on it (Ps 119:97) so we won’t sin against Him. (vs 11)
As we receive with meekness the engrafted Word, beholding the living Christ within it, the lies we believe, which keep us in bondage, are exposed and corrected through God’s gift of repentance. (2Ti 2:25-26) This is how Christ transforms us and delivers us from sin. (Ja 1:21) He Himself is the Word, giving us His life (Ps 119:50) through the scriptures (Jn 6:63), enabling us to live uprightly.
We don’t dwell on our own sin, focusing on it constantly; there’s a specific season for this, in which we’re to afflict ourselves. (Ja 4:9) As a general pattern we meditate on Christ through His word (Php 4:8); He points out things that are amiss, where we’re off the mark, imperfect (He 4:12), as He is pleased to work in us.
As He does reveal our sin to us, our imperfections, flaws and weaknesses, we immediately confess and agree with Him, asking Him to quicken and enable us to obey Him (Ps 119:35), and to reveal specific scriptures to us which shed light on our darkness and lies. (Ps 119:130) We meditate on these texts until they become part of us, prayerfully quoting them whenever we feel tempted. (Mt 4:4) This is how we take the sword, the sword of the Spirit, and fight the good fight of faith (1Ti 6:12), abiding in Him, so we won’t be ashamed before Him when He comes. (1Jn 2:28)
A cleanheart isn’t merely forgiven, it’s also free of corruption, darkness and lies, inclined toward and aligned with its Creator, free to live according to His design. To the degree that our old man continues to dominate our lives, our heart isn’t clean, and we’re prisoners to sin (2Ti 2:25), which isn’t good. (He 12:14)
So, when King David found himself in a bad way with God, having sinned grevously, he asks God to create within him a clean heart (Ps 51:10); he wants a miracle, to be a new man.
God is certainly able to do this, yet one should know how God chooses to go about these things, to understand His methodology in such creative acts. It isn’t what we might think.
Our inclination may be to expect God to zap us such that we’re instantly holy, and all we need to do is sit back and enjoy the excitement. Yet this is a bit disingenuous; like claiming we desire physical cleanliness while neglecting to bathe.
So, while only God can perform miracles, He generally tends to work them through us as we engage with Him in His work. (Php 2:13) It’s no different here: He gives us instructions on how to clean our own hearts, and works the miracle of a clean heart in us as we obey Him, working through our obedience to cleanse us.
How then does God tell us to cleanse our own hearts, and put ourselves in order before God? By paying attention to our thoughts, feelings and motives and constantly holding them up against the Word of God as a plumb line. (Ps 119:9) We hide God’s Word in our heart, so we know it from memory and are constantly thinking about it, so we won’t disobey Him through forgetfulness (De 26:13) or carelessness (Ps 119:11), then we commit to obeying all of it that we can as well as we can. (Ps 119:6)
This makes perfect sense, if we think about it for a bit. How can we even desire a clean heart if we’re still carelessly toying with sin, willing to disobey God, unconcerned about the trajectory of our lives? If we aren’t alert, paying attention, looking for where we might be missing His Way, asking God to help us, we’re acting as if we love darkness, as if we have no real interest in a clean heart.
So, though it’s true no one can fully cleanse their own heart (Pr 20:9), we can’t say that we even want a clean heart unless we’re willing to try, to take the first step and do what God says to do. As we try to obey Him He enables us, and does things in us that we can’t do for ourselves.
As we’re meditating on His word, as we find gaps between our behavior and God’s standard, we ask Him to quicken and enable us to align with Him (Ps 119:25), to make us go in the path of His commandments. (Ps 119:35) We ask Him to expose and correct the lies within us (Ps 119:29), asking Him for enabling grace whenever we need it. (He 4:16)
Since we’re seeking strength to do God’s will, we can be sure He hears us. (1Jn 5:14-15) We have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice that He is transforming our character, step by step into the image of Christ. (Ro 5:2) This is how grace reigns in us through righteousness unto eternal life (Ro 5:21), enabling us to overcome sin. (1Jn 5:4)
We’re constantly making choices, moment by moment, in a continuous flow of sowing and reaping. A universal law governs this: whatever we sow, we reap. (Ga 6:7b) If we invest primarily in our physical, temporal nature, in our own comfort and pleasure, we reap corruption and death (Php 3:18-19); if we choose life and walk in the light as a manner of life, we reap everlasting life. (Ro 2:6)
The law of sowing and reaping: we reap whatwe sow, we reap morethan we sow, and we reap laterthan we sow. It’s a universal truth; no one escapes it, not even through the Gospel. So, the apostle Paul warns us: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” (Ga 6:7-8)
So, how does this work in Christ? When God forgives us, does He deliver us from the consequences of our choices? No; even those in Christ are subject to this law: no one is exempt. (Col 3:23 -25) Why must this be?
God chastens and scourges every child He receives (He 12:6) to break the pattern of selfishness and disobedience, and work righteousness in us. (He 12:10) God’s law is for our good (Ro 7:12), and when we break it, or sin, this is bad for us. God is intent on delivering us from the power of sin as well as from its penalty; so, if we’re sowing in the wrong place, God will often use this law of sowing and reaping to help straighten us out. The natural consequences of our choices are often our best teachers.
Certainly, God is merciful to all of us (La 3:39): we neverreap the full consequences of our sin in this life. (Ps 103:10) For those who fear Him, His mercy is infinite. (Ps 103:11)
But those who commit themselves to a life of sin, sin of any kind, show themselves to be alienatedfrom God, subject to His wrath and indignation(Ro 2:8); it reveals that they’re not God’s children. (1Jn 3:9) God transforms His elect such that they live to please Him. (Ep 2:10)
Thinking anyonecan sin without consequence is to deny the justice of God, making a mockery of His dignity and His eternal Word. It makes Him out to be a liar. For anyone who tries this, it will not end well. God does not tolerate being mocked like this; His fieryindignation will silence every rebellious tongue, terrify every arrogant heart, and devour every adversary. (He 10:27)
Let’s serve the Almighty with fear, and rejoice with trembling (Ps 2:11), working out our deliverance from sin by sowing in truth unto obedience. (Php 2:12)
Knowing God, like we know a friend, is different than knowing about God. We may study theology and acquire a lot of religious knowledge, but it’s not worth much if that’s all we have. (2Ti 3:7) If we’re wise, knowing God and walking with Him will be our top priority (Php 3:8), the only thing we find noteworthy about ourselves. (Je 9:23-24) With all the deception about us, how can we tell if we know God, and how well we know Him?
Well, are we earnestly obeying Him, the best we know how? (1Jn 2:4) Are we loving God with all our being and our neighbors as ourselves? If we think God doesn’t mind disobedience, selfishness, lukewarmness (Re 3:16), or doublemindness (Ja 1:8), if we aren’t afraid of displeasing Him (He 10:31), then we don’t know Him at all; we’ve simply made an idol for ourselves after our own likeness, another Jesus. (2Co 11:4)
And are we rejoicing in Him? Is He preciousto us? (1Pe 2:7) Does meditating on His nature and His ways, on all that He does, bring a constant stream of delight to our souls? (Ps 119:97)
As God’s Law, Torah, reveals His nature and His way, the godly delight in the law of God (Ro 7:22), we serve the law of God. (Ro 7:25) We’re earnestly and consistently longing to understand and obey God’s Law more and more (Ps 119:20); that’s what it means to walk in the light with Him (Ps 119:45), the very definition of the New Covenant. (He 8:10)
Do we understand that God’s utterly sovereign? That He does as He pleases in Heaven and on Earth, and that nothing frustrates or worries Him? (Da 4:35)
Are we satisfied with the religion of our parents, accepting without question what we were taught as children, or what our culture and those about us claim? If we want God to leave us alone with our idols … He will (Pr 1:29-31) … to be trodden down in His fury. (2Co 5:11)
But if we want to know God, and ask Him to show us where we’re missing Him, seeking Him until He reveals Himself to us, He will. (He 11:6)
I have been observing that I don’t live in perfect peace as I ought; there’s definitely room to grow. I often tense up and experience anxiety over incidental things, worrying about what people might be thinking, or potential trouble that might cause me grief. How do I combat this?
One thought I’ve had recently relates to “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27) Jesus Christ lives within me (Ga 2:20), thinking and feeling as a real person. The real incarnate Christ, Who lived, breathed and walked this earth 2000 years ago, Who created the universe (Col 1:16), lives within my spirit and will as a whole person, as a divine intellect, emotion and will; not a separate person from me, but not entirely the same either. I cannot quite explain this to my own satisfaction, but it is still very, very real.
So, along the lines of the famous question, “What would Jesus do?”, I’ve started asking myself, “What is Jesus doing? What is He thinking and believing and feeling in me, right now?”
In a sense, I think this may be described as a kind of putting on of Christ, a way of emulating Him, but it seems to me a bit deeper than this. It is acknowledging that Christ Himself is already in me living and doing according to His will, as a very part of me. As I acknowledge this and align with Him, He lives ever more freely and fully and undiluted in me, delivering me from fear, anxiety and worry.
One of the first principles of spiritual life is repentance from dead works. (He 6:1) What are deadworks? 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, conscious, aware of their surroundings, causing them to change and grow and function according to His design.
To repentis 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 truthfully about our lives, understanding whywe’re living as we are, identifying what sort of works we’re doing (1Co 3:13), and to stop doing things which are not energized by God, activities that are apart from and outside of Him, rooted in a carnal mind. (Ro 8:6)
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)
The difference between a living work and a dead work lies in the motive, and there’s only one proper motive: God is doing it. (Jn 5:19)Christ in us(Col 1:27) is living in our life (Col 3:4), breathing in our breath, willing through our wills, and doing through our doing (Php 2:13), as we actively seek to please and honor God with everything we have. (Col 3:17) When we’re living to please Him as deliberately as we know how, actively seeking His will and pleasure every moment, He is living through us and we’re abiding in Him. (Jn 17:21)
Everything we do, we chooseto do; to repent of dead works is to start making different choices in every choice we make. It’s a fundamental life change, a transformation, 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. If Christ dwells in us, let’s let Him live as He will in us, incarnating Himself again in this evil world through us. Everything we do, let’s do it in Christ’s name with thanksgiving(Col 3:17) for God’s glory. (1Co 10:31)
Holiness isn’t popular, yet only the holy will see God (He 12:14): He calls us to godly fear in perfecting it (2Co 7:1), continually cleansing ourselves of all uncleanness, all filthiness of the flesh and spirit. What does this mean? How do we do it?
Holiness is about our heart’s alignment with God’s Law, Torah, the law of love (Mt 22:37-40); it’s God’s measure of how disposed we are to seek His pleasure, of our inclination and tendency to love others as ourselves in deed and in truth.
So how would we live if we cared deeply for God and others? Perfecting holiness is striving every day to live out our answer to this question, exercising our inner selves, training our souls in godliness, purifying our spirits in seeking and obeying the truth through the Spirit unto authenticity and love (1Pe 1:22), seeking the pleasure of God and the good of others in every thought and choice. It’s continuous improvement for life. (Php 3:14)
Thankfully, the pursuit of holiness is itself the work of God, to make us increase and abound in love toward others, so that He may stablish us unblamable in holiness before Himself. (1Th 3:12) As we wrestle this out in daily life He strives in and through our striving (Col 1:29), ensuring our victory (1Co 15:57): He will be glorified in and through us. (2Th 1:10)