Vessels of Mercy

Predestination and election are difficult to understand until we diligently consider the context — the dreadfully sinful human condition: Man’s Depravity. Apart from carefully integrating this concept throughout our theology, many fundamental precepts of Scripture appear hopelessly irreconcilable.

For example, how can God choose who will be saved while respecting Man’s Free Will? Similarly, How can a loving God be in total control when there’s so much evil and suffering? These are perhaps the hardest questions, and they aren’t peripheral; they’re fundamental spiritual bedrock. We can’t afford to dismiss them, yet resolving such mysteries seems impossible. Many stumble here, and go no further.

Yet God Himself gives us the key by addressing the problem directly, asking these same questions, and then answering them. God’s purpose in election will be realized (Ro 9:11) yet God will be totally righteous in it all (14), because God’s not obligated to be merciful (15) — by definition: mercy is undeserved, never justly required.

The reality is, if God didn’t elect anyone, choose anyone to be saved, and He let us all go our own way — we would: every last one of us would walk away from Him; we would not come to Him. (Mt 22:3) This would be fair, certainly, but then Heaven would be desolate (Lk 14:16-18a), and the world filled with even more evil and suffering than it already is. (Ge 6:5) This is what Depravity teaches us (11), if we listen. (Je 17:9)

So, if God chooses to intervene in a few of us, choosing us out from the masses and giving us new hearts and new wills that don’t run away, He’s showing mercy in election, not being unjust.

God never actually turns anyone away who seeks Him, or causes anyone to do evil; He controls by mercifully restraining us from acting out our full evil nature according to His sovereign purposes. (2Th 2:7) There’s nothing at all inappropriate about restraining evil; so, God’s in absolute control of all that happens (Ep 1:11), yet He’s also perfectly good, just and merciful; He’s righteous and holy in all He does. (Ps 145:17)

In giving us new hearts God doesn’t force us against our will; what He does in His elect is heal our will, displacing our love of lies, which moved us to distrust and despise Him, with a love for truth; He works in us to will according to His good pleasure (Php 2:13), such that we begin to want to do good. He works all this in us for our good and for His glory. (Ro 8:28)

The only remaining challenge here is: Why doesn’t God save everyone if He has this ability? The answer lies in God’s glory: He’s most glorified in fully revealing His nature, His wrath and power as well as His love and mercy. (Ro 9:22-23) If God didn’t let most all of His enemies act like enemies, and treat them as He does, we’d know much less about Him, so that’s exactly what He’s doing; God is perfectly revealing and glorifying Himself by only saving a few. (Re 15:3)

Rather than faulting God for being absolutely sovereign, and for choosing only a remnant to be saved, we ought to let all the blame for evil lie where it truly belongs: with sinful Man, and glorify God for His mercy. (Ro 15:9) Rather than complaining and running away, we seek God until we find Him (He 11:6), and discover that we’re indeed elect, vessels of divine mercy. (Ro 9:23)

And in being vessels of infinite mercy (Ps 103:11), undeserving recipients of God’s kindness, love and favor, we also ought to be merciful (Lk 6:36), to be compassionate toward those who are out of the way (He 5:2), esteeming others better than ourselves. (Php 2:3)

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Love Is Perfected

If we love one another, God dwells in us, and His love is perfected in us. (1Jn 4:12) God’s love is being perfected, or brought to completion in us, as we express God’s love to others. God is perfecting His love in us by loving others through us, for love is of God, from God: He is the ultimate source of love – the Author of love. (1Jn 4:7)

If we don’t love others then we don’t love God (1Jn 4:20), and if we don’t love God then we don’t know God. (1Jn 4:8)

It isn’t that we could ever earn God’s love by loving others; God’s love is unconditional: it can’t be earned. He loves everyone because He has made them in His image and chosen to love. We don’t grow in Christ’s love by trying harder and denying ourselves, but by beholding the glory of Christ as the Spirit transforms us from glory to glory. (1Co 3:18) As we behold the glory of Christ God reveals Himself in us and to us, until we know experientially His love for Man, filling us with all the fullness of God (Ep 3:19), enabling us to love others.

When we know and believe God’s love for us, since God Himself is love, and as we live each day receiving and expressing this love, we dwell in God and God in us. (1Jn 4:16)

Since love is so central, so fundamental in walking with God, He tells us clearly what His love for us looks like, and also what it means for us to love Him.

We might think loving God is a sentimental thing, a feeling of interest, pleasure or delight at the thought of God. While loving God naturally produces such feelings, it isn’t exactly the same thing, and this may be hard to fully grasp.

So, God explains that His love is much more than sentiment and feeling: His love is perfected in us as we keep His commands; if we don’t keep His commands we don’t love Him. (Jn 14:23)

Loving God is acting as if God is worthy, just and good; disobeying God is rejecting His authority, goodness and wisdom. In disobedience we’re despising Him, not loving Him; those who live like this don’t know Him (1Jn 2:4); it’s in obeying God that His love is perfected in us, accomplishing its purpose; it’s how we know we love Him and belong to Him. (1Jn 2:5) Earnestly obeying God from the heart is loving Him by definition. (1Jn 5:3a)

Torah itself is the perfect written expression of God’s love for us (Ps 19:7a), showing us how He loves us and unites us to Himself (He 8:10), how He transforms us to be in relationship with Himself (Ps 119:50,93); He gave us Torah for our good. (1Jn 5:3b) So, Torah defines both what loving God looks like, and also what God loving us looks like.

If we’re obeying Torah we’ll have no ill-will towards another (Ro 13:10), or envy or strife in our hearts (Ja 3:14-16); that’s not walking in love — it’s missing the mark altogether. (1Co 13:2)

While we harbor fear, fear of God’s displeasure because we’re willfully disobeying Him (He 10:26-27), or fearing and resenting His authority in our lives because we don’t believe He’s good (Is 33:14), or fearing what others might do to us because we doubt God’s sovereignty and justice (Mt 10:28), then we aren’t yet made perfect in love. (1Jn 4:18)

Obedience also isn’t merely about outward observance to ritual and mechanical rules; nor is it about honoring God with just our lips. If our hearts are far from Him, if we’re not in awe of Him (Ps 4:$), seeking His face, rejoicing in Him, loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, it isn’t obedience at all (De 6:5): it’s nothing. (Mt 15:8)

In living out God’s love, ordering our steps in His Word so iniquity has no dominion over us (Ps 119:33), the purpose of God’s love is accomplished, completed and perfected in us; this gives us boldness before God on Judgment Day because we’re living divine expressions, incarnations of God in this world. (1Jn 4:17) In so abiding in God we have confidence, and aren’t ashamed before Him at His coming. (1Jn 2:28)

Bringing all of these concepts together shows us God’s love has a purpose or a goal: to conform us to the image of Christ (Ro 8:29), the very goal of Torah. (1Ti 1:5) When we love God, we will want to be like Him (Mt 11:29), and walk as He walked. (1Jn 2:6)

Knowing God’s love for us enables us to walk in benevolence, mercy and love toward all, wishing ultimate good for everyone, as God does. (Mt 5:44-45) We don’t love because others are good, but because they’re made in the image of, and loved by perfect Goodness. (1Jn 4:21)

The more we behold and grasp the love of God, the more completely we’re able to display God’s heart towards others as He loves them through us. (Ro 5:5) We love Him, and therefore others, because He first loved us. (1Jn 4:19)

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Enmity Against God

God defines the carnal mind as enmity against God (Ro 8:7); it’s the disposition of hatred itself, being alienated from the life of God. (Ep 4:18) It’s not merely having enmity against God: the carnal mind is enmity itself. Enmity, animosity, hatred … this can’t be reconciled to God by definition, so God doesn’t try to fix this part of us: He crucifies it. (Ro 6:6)

Call it our old man (Ep 4:22), or the flesh (Ro 7:18), it’s the part of us that’s unlike Christ, in love with darkness, walking in lies, committed to sin. (1Jn 3:9) Christ isn’t redeeming this part of us; He’s delivering us from ourselves. (Ro 7:24-25)

Mt Hagan Festival, New Guinea – Eric Lafforgue

The substance of this carnal mind, this contrary disposition, the body of this death (Ro 7:24), this evil nature within us, is the holding to, clinging to and trusting in the lie that God isn’t good, that He isn’t treating us the way we ought to be treated, that we know better than God what’s good for us. (Ge 4:13)

Every single sin, from the very first one (Ge 3:5), is rooted in this same simple lie: we keep on choosing this deceit as if it were true (Ps 119:118), acting it out in innumerable ways. This is our carnal mind, our flesh, our old man; it will never change (Ps 81:15), so it must die.

How do we participate in and cooperate with our own deliverance, in destroying this body of sin? (Ro 6:6) We come to know, believe, trust and obey God, acting in truth — only this sets us free. (Jn 8:32) We’re transformed by the renewing of our minds, how and what we think (Ro 12:2), continually realigning ourselves with the goodness and love of God. (Ep 3:17-19) We do this by humbly an prayerfully continuing in God’s Word. (Jn 8:31)

In other words, we relentlessly pursue the truth, we buy the truth, at any price required, and we never sell it (Pr 23:23), never settling for the lie, never preferring it, and we obey the truth we know, all of it. All truth is rooted in God, in Christ (Jn 14:6): there’s no darkness at all in Him. (1Jn 1:5)

The primary source of truth we have is Scripture, particularly Torah: God’s Law — this is God’s plumb line (Is 8:20), identifying, revealing and exposing the carnal mind. Just as Christ is the perfect incarnation of God (Jn 14:9), Torah is the consummate written embodiment of God’s nature and character. (Ps 119:18)

Both the carnal mind and the spiritual mind are identified in particular by their response to Torah: the carnal mind cannot be subject to Torah (Ro 8:7) and the spiritual mind delights in Torah. (Ro 7:22) It’s that simple: two natures at war within us. (23)

When we believe the lie that God isn’t good we act this out by distrusting His commands and insisting on doing things our own way, deciding what’s right and wrong for ourselves apart from God. (Ge 3:22) This brings us into captivity to the law of sin operating within (23), taken captive by Satan at his will. (2Ti 2:26)

The part of us that does this is the body of lies we’re harboring within us, all manifestations of this same, basic concept that God isn’t good. Whenever we find a law in Torah that we don’t love and obey as well as we can, we’re walking in the lie. Finding this within us, in any way shape or form, is to spot the carnal mind, to identify it.

When we find darkness within the protocol is straightforward; start obeying the truth as well as we can, walking out the truth of God’s goodness, holiness, justice and faithfulness with whatever will we find within to do so, asking God to quicken us with His Word (Ps 119:50), replacing the lies with truth (Ps 119:29), giving us repentance to acknowledge the truth (2Ti 2:25) that God is good, that His judgements are right (Ps 119:75), aligning our hearts with His Commandments (Ps 119:32), and with Himself.

All lies are malignant cancers, but feeling distant from God, alienated from Him, mistrustful of Him, bored with Him, doubting He loves us, that He’s faithful and just and good — this is ground zero, the fountain from which all other sin springs. This is violating the law of love, not loving God with all our might. With laser focus we ought to level the light of scripture on this darkness, meditating in the truth until the lies disperse and vanish. (Ep 3:19)

This isn’t a one-time thing: it’s a life-journey, one hour at a time, and God is always ready to show us the next step, whenever we’re ready to take it (Php 3:15) as His love is perfected in us. (1Jn 4:12)

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God Omnipotent

God’s power is infinite; He is omnipotent – all powerful. (Re 19:6) There’s nothing He wishes to do which He’s unable to do, and since God is good, He will do what is good, everything which is appropriate for Him to do.

This does not mean every imaginable task which can be formulated is doable: no, God can’t make a rock so big He can’t lift it, because the task is inconsistent with the nature of omnipotence. Rather than being distracted by nonsense, we ought to focus on the revealed nature of God.

Clearly, in creating the universe, time and space, God tells us a bit about Himself. He spoke the entire universe into existence; Earth and Heaven, the sun and moon, creating trillions of galaxies, expressed almost as an afterthought. (Ge 1:14) What might tax His strength, strain Him, even in theory? It is inconceivable.

God is outside of space and time, defining and establishing all possible dimensions, and well beyond them. He fills all things. (Ep 4:10) Every aspect of His creation obeys Him perfectly (Ps 119:91), following the purpose He assigned and aligning with His decrees; He’s holding all of it together. (Col 1:17)

We rightly extrapolate from God’s limitless power in the physical universe to the metaphysical: God is unlimited in His ability to work in and through the human will (Pr 16:9): He is utterly sovereign. (Da 4:35) Nothing happens outside God’s control (Ep 1:11); it’s all by His permission, for a glorious, ultimate purpose. (Ro 8:28)

Our free will operates within this sovereignty as God restrains us according to His purpose. (Pr 16:1) Even the most brutal, torturous death of the one, perfectly innocent Person, the worst crime ever committed by mortal man … God Himself was the willing victim, and He ordained it for His glory. (Ac 4:27-28)

A key purpose of this doctrine, in addition to moving us to eternal worship, is to establish our hearts in trusting God, that we not be anxious, frustrated or fearful. Worry and fear is acting out the lie that God’s unable, or that He’s not good. If we’re able to pray for something, and it’s good for God to do it, God is able to perform it, and He will (1Jn 5:15) — no matter what it is. (Ep 1:19)

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The Whole Armor

To resist the devil, to succeed in spiritual warfare, we need spiritual equipment, so God has provided His very own armor for us: the armor of God, and He tells us to put it on — all of it. (Ep 6:11)

This is necessary because our enemies are mightier than we are, more insidious and clever, more committed and experienced than we are; we’re fighting against principalities and powers, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (12) So we’re to take up all of God’s armor, not neglecting a single piece of it, so we can survive the battle and be standing when the dust clears. (13)

There are seven pieces in this suit of armor: a belt of truth and a breastplate of righteousness (14), the shin-plates and shoes of the preparation of the gospel of peace (15), the shield of faith (16), the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, the word of God (17) and prayer (18) – that constant communion with God which empowers the armor and helps it all work together.

Taking this armor, wearing and using it, is more than imagining that we’re putting on physical equipment and calling each piece by name, or fantasizing ourselves in virtual reality overcoming the dragon — much more than this.

The first piece, the belt of truth, is the foundation anchoring the breastplate and sword. We gird ourselves with truth, enveloping the core of our being, never tolerating any lying way within. We buy the truth and sell it not (Pr 23:23), not for any price, not ever. Without the love of truth we have no armor at all (2Th 2:10); walking in the lie we’re prisoners of war. (2Ti 2:25-26)

The breastplate of righteousness is our primary defensive armor, covering the vital organs; it’s the life pattern of obedience to Torah and springs from walking in light, obeying the truth. It comprises not merely positional righteousness; it’s faith in action, practical righteousness, loving in deed as well as in word. (1Jn 3:18) This is life-saving protection when the enemy strikes past our sword and shield; the good conscience of living in truth helps us abound in hope, glorying in trial (Ro 5:3), counting it all joy (Ja 1:2), not withering in shame. (1Jn 2:28)

The preparation of the gospel of peace is a second defensive covering; being rooted and grounded in the basics of the gospel, equipped to continually remind ourselves as well as share with others, this orients us properly in the world. This protects our feet and legs, for this is how we stand, how we journey. There is no standing outside of Christ, so we carefully defend our dependence on Christ: He is our peace (Ep 2:14), made to be sin on our behalf (1Co 5:21), reconciling us to God. (2Co 5:18) We glory only in Jesus Christ. (1Co 1:31)

The shield of faith, supernatural confidence in God, is the mobile defensive piece –  the rest of the armor is fixed in place. We maneuver and position this shield to intercept the lies projected into us, moving us to fear, bitterness, strife and envy. We hold faith strategically, anticipating the lies, applying the promises of God in context to address each one.

The helmet of salvation is assurance of eternal salvation and security in Christ. (2Co 13:5) Failing to keep and maintain assurance of salvation destabilizes and incapacitates our souls, leaving us vulnerable to attack. (2Pe 1:10) We cannot joyfully serve Christ while we’re unsure if we even belong to Him. (9)

The word of God is the sword of the Spirit, our only offensive weapon. Without this we aren’t really in the fight at all, just a target waiting to be taken down. Taking up this sword requires hiding it in our hearts and meditating on it regularly, training ourselves so the Spirit can wield it as we quote when presented with any lie or temptation. This is the example of Christ (Mt 4:4, 7, 10); we follow His steps. (1Pe 2:21) There’s no other way to win.

The final piece is prayer, a weapon empowering all the other components to work together in the might of God. (2Co 10:4) In asking anything according to His will, He hears us (1Jn 5:14), engaging omnipotence in overcoming evil. (Ep 1:19)

We’re to take the whole armor of God, every single piece, because none of the individual pieces work properly without all the others working together. We might think of God’s armor as a single piece with many interconnected parts which all stand or fall together, a single living organism, energized by the life of God and infusing us with divine power. Take away one piece, and you’ve nothing worth having.

This spiritual armor is the very life of Christ in us, overcoming the evil one, each piece a way of portraying Christ Himself, the Word of Life (1Jn 1:1), the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn 14:6), our righteousness (1Co 1:30), our peace (Ep 2:14), our life (Col 3:4), standing with us and in us to overcome the world. (Jn 16:33)

Taking up the whole armor of God is, in a very real sense, bringing God Himself into the battle to fight within us, through us, and for us. (De 20:4) For without Him, we can do nothing. (Jn 15:5)

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Resist the Devil

God tells us to resist the Devil so he will flee from us. (Ja 4:7b) What does this mean, and how do we do it?

If we’re ignorant of the basics of spiritual warfare we might fall into Pentecostal witchcraft, white magic, employing rituals and techniques such as pleading the blood of Christ over our homes or places of worship, or reciting specially formulated prayers hoping to bind Satan and control him.

Or we might fall into simplistically imagining that we’re putting on spiritual armor (Ep 6:11), dressing up for battle like a gladiator in some virtual arena, giving spiritual labels to our helmet and breastplate, sword and shield. But in the end such deception only adds confusion to our suffering — it isn’t the way of the Word.

The immediate context illuminates: we resist the devil by submitting to God. (7a) Satan’s ultimate objective is always to alienate us from God; this is the only direction he ever pushes us, never towards God. So, as we pursue God and seek His face we’re going upstream in the satanic current, fighting into the headwinds of his tempests – resisting his temptations and intent in our lives.

So, we resist the Devil by drawing nigh to God (8a), as we start obeying Him more carefully, focusing our hearts more toward Him and His Word, putting off our carnal mind, rooting out our doublemindedness. (8b) We grieve and mourn and weep over our sin, afflicting ourselves (9) and calling upon God to heal us, quicken us, waiting on Him to help us. We see our sin more as it truly is, ourselves more as we truly are, and humble ourselves (10a), esteeming others better (Php 2:3), acknowledging that we’d be unspeakably worse without His aid, rejoicing in God alone (2Co 10:17), and then God lifts us up. (10b)

Another way of saying this is that God resists us to the degree we allow any trace of pride in our hearts, as we exalt ourselves before Him. (6) So, Satan’s constant strategy is to pit us against God by deceiving us into pride in any way that he can. He lies through both pain and pleasure, poverty and wealth, friend and foe — he is relentless in trying to bring us down and destroy us by separating us from God through our selfishness and disobedience.

It is essentially by definition then: the only way to resist the Devil is to be constantly pursuing God, drawing ever closer to Him through every trial and temptation. Whenever we lapse here, become complacent or negligent in pressing toward the mark (Php 3:14), we begin to yield, to succumb to the enemy.

When Satan discovers that everything he’s throwing at us is only bringing us closer to God, that God is working all things together for our good (Ro 8:28) as we faithfully resist him, he will eventually leave us alone; he will flee from us, and only then. (Ja 4:7b)

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