1Thessalonians 4:1 - Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.
On the Tip of My Tongue
For fifteen years or so I had a concept on the tip of my tongue that I never felt I was communicating adequately. I knew what I meant, but getting others to fully grasp what I was trying to say was a different story.
That concept had to do with what Oswald Chambers referred to as, “unconscious holiness.” I immediately resonated with it from the first time I read about it. But expressing it clearly seemed to elude me.
Stages of Spiritual Growth
In trying to teach classes about this idea, I would usually describe spiritual growth as follows:
There’s a spectrum of spiritual growth. Some folks, before they come to know Christ, sin up a storm, but because they don’t know God or his Word, their sin is not that big of a deal to them.
The next group is made up of those whom God’s Spirit begins to awaken. Perhaps they have just come to know Christ as Lord. Bit by bit the puzzle pieces of faith begin to fit together and they realize their thinking, speaking, and living is not glorifying God. They realize that because they’re now in Christ, they can’t live the way they used to, even if they don’t quite understand all the ramifications of that epiphany.
And, because they’re in Christ and his Spirit is in them, they no longer want to live according to their old ways. And yet, they struggle to the point of frustration because it seems to them they’re just not making significant headway in their spiritual lives. The Apostle Paul’s struggle in Romans 7 comes to mind here.
As time goes by and these folks are seeking to walk faithfully with the Lord, they begin to experience more and more growth in their lives as followers of Christ. They catch themselves before they fall into temptation. Or, they repent immediately after sinning because it grieves their hearts and they don’t want any outstanding obstacles to stand between them and their precious communion with God. While they aren’t batting 1,000, they’re making great strides in what’s called, “progressive sanctification.” That is, they’re steadily and increasingly conforming to the likeness of Christ.
The last stage – the goal of every Christian – is to live a holy and righteous life by default. In other words, Christ becomes so much a part of you that you’re live faithfully for him and with him, almost unconsciously. You are so in step with the Spirit that holiness just seems to come by default.
It may not be theologically accurate to divide this spectrum into stages since the different parts of our lives flow together like a river and you’re never really aware of the moment you’re “moving from stage one to another.” That last “stage” is where I want to be. I want holiness and obedience to be so delightful to me that I automatically seek it, and in fact, it doesn’t occur to me to choose otherwise. Perhaps that’s what it will look like to be fully conformed to the image of Christ.
Think About It This Way
About five or six years ago I was given a precious gift by one of the folks in my Sunday school class who had a business background. Unbeknownst to her, she did a much better job communicating this idea than I had over the years.
She said that as I was sharing with her my idea of unconscious holiness, she remembered a business concept that she had learned.
She said that first of all there’s what’s called, “Unconscious Incompetence.” That means you’re not competent at something, but you don’t know it. Stage two is, “Conscious Incompetence,” which means you become a little more self-aware of your ignorance and inabilities.
The third stage is called, “Conscious Competence.” The idea here is that you become pretty good at something, and you know it, because you’re constantly working on it. It occupies your attention and your time. You’re intentional about improving and growing in that area. You’re also aware of the good results your hard work is producing.
The last stage is, “Unconscious Competence.” This is marked by being good at something – bearing some really good fruit – without really being intentional about it. That’s certainly not to say you aren’t trying to do a good job, but instead, it means that excellent work is so much a part of who you are, it appears effortless.
The goal is to be so competent at what you do, that you reflexively perform well. It is the “default” way you do it because you’re so “in tune” with what you do.
See the Connection?
Our goal is to be unconsciously holy. That is, we want to get to a place in our walk with Christ where our holiness reflexively flows in and through us because we’re so filled with God’s Spirit and “in tune” with his Word.
An Important Caveat
Even if we were to obtain unconscious holiness in this life, we are still called to intentionally pursue it. We want to deliberately please and glorify God. The larger point is that because we’re becoming more conformed to the likeness of Christ in our progressive sanctification, we become more loving, faithful, obedient, etc., in the daily living of our lives. It becomes our default setting. We become who God redeemed us to be.
That’s what I’m shooting for in my life. That’s what I’m trying to pass on to others. Where are you?
If our sins are forgiven by Christ and we can’t earn our way to heaven, then what’s the point of trying to become more like Christ in the first place? In what ways are you intentionally pursuing the holiness to which God calls you? How can you tell if you’re growing in Christlikeness? Is there ever a point in this life where you’re done growing?
Grace and Truth,
John 4:50 - Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed.
If The Royal Official Could
The royal official didn’t first wait for a miracle before he believed. He didn’t wait for Jesus to first “prove himself” worthy of trust. He took Jesus at his word. He believed Jesus. Jesus told the man his dying son would live. That was all the official needed from the Lord.
How I wish this verse described me more. To take that step of faith, without prior confirmation of the desired result, can be frightening. Yet I sometimes find myself still wanting that confirmation in advance. Sometimes the Lord is pleased to throw me a bone, in spite of my small faith. But he would rather have me remember the hundreds upon hundreds of ways he proved himself capable and faithful to me and my loved ones in my own life, not to mention the millions upon millions of times he was to the rest of his people throughout redemptive history.
A Work in Progress
And yet I am encouraged. Despite my shortcomings the Lord is still drawing me closer to himself and conforming me more and more to the image of his Son. Slowly (so very slowly) I am maturing in my faith. The trust I long for comes more often than when I first began my pilgrimage. Is that your story too? Can you relate to that?
How precious it is to believe, and then have the eyes to see the blessing and the hands to receive it. The royal official believed first, then experienced the miracle.
Prayer and Scripture must undergird our growth in Christ. Reading God’s Word, reminding ourselves daily of his goodness and greatness, and then praying and meditating upon it builds us up with encouragement and confidence for both present and future faith. And this is needed. With such confidence in God, many throughout Scripture were able to face impossible odds and come out victorious on the other side. So will all who take the Lord at his Word.
What’s the hardest part for you about trusting God? In what situations do you find yourself wanting that “prior confirmation” before stepping out in faith and trust? Why do you think that is? What are some things you can put in place today to help you grow in your ability to take the Lord at his Word in your daily life? Tell a fellow Christian your plan and begin praying together for your faithfulness to grow.
Grace and Truth,
1 Corinthians 2:14, 16b – The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. …But we have the mind of Christ.
The mannishness of man. That was a phrase Francis Schaeffer used to describe human beings in their fallen state. I like to use the word, “worldling” to describe the same idea. Paul uses the phrase “natural man” or “the man without the Spirit.” All of these describe the basic antithesis between those who have eyes to see and those who don’t – those who love the foolishness of God and know it’s actually unparalleled wisdom and those who see God’s foolishness and believe that it really is folly, an utter waste of time. Like the wicked described in Job 21, they say to God…‘Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?’ (vv. 14-15)
God’s wisdom is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.
Paul writes that a person in his natural state,
doesn’t accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (v. 14).
It isn’t simply that he chooses not to know God’s ways and prefers not to understand them. He cannot. He is unable. Such things are spiritually discerned and he does not have the Spirit. His heart is unregenerate. He is blind. It is impossible for him…for him.
But Not For God
But nothing is impossible for God. Those of us who are now in Christ were once as blind as the worldlings that surround us today. There was a time when we did not understand the deep truths of God. But God is in the business of waking the dead, giving them (us) hearts that beat according to his Word, and providing eyes to see that which is invisible and eternal. This was not of ourselves, lest we should boast. It wasn’t because we were so smart, righteous, or born into the right family. It was the free and undeserved favor of a gracious God.
We now have the mind of Christ. We are able to discern the things of God. Flesh and blood do not reveal such things to us, but our heavenly Father does as he discloses himself – his good, pleasing, and perfect will. We grow in our understanding of his disclosure as we are transformed by the renewing of our minds through his Word.
Humility is Key
So it is with humility that we plead with people who do not know Christ and who are under the influence of the spirit of the age. For where they are, we once were. We know they are in darkness, that they are hurting, broken, looking for meaning and purpose, confused and don’t know the Way. We were once like them. It took the sovereign touch from the Lord of hosts to deliver us from our plight. And so we beg those without the Spirit to run toward the Light of Christ. We intercede on their behalf and ask our Father to give them eyes to see and ears to hear, that they too might enter in and walk the Way that leads to Life.
When and how did you come to faith in Christ? Do you remember what it was like to start “seeing” things in a new way? Describe that experience or process. Based on your experience and the truths from Scripture this devotional outlines, what are some key ideas you would want to communicate about becoming a Christian to an unbelieving family member or friend?
Grace and Truth,
Joshua 1:8 - May I not let Your word depart from my mouth, but meditate on it day and night, so that I may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then I will make my way prosperous, and I will act wisely. (Ken Boa paraphrase)
This Verse is for You
This verse, from the first chapter of Joshua, has been paraphrased in the first person to remind us that God’s Word has application in our lives. It is, in a manner of speaking, addressed to us.
That’s relevant in light of the fact that this single verse is exhorting and instructing us to saturate ourselves in God’s Word. Why? Because that’s where we meet God, hear God, are confronted and instructed by God. In short, it is where we learn to “act wisely.”
But It’s Not Magic
Scripture encourages us to pursue wisdom on a daily basis. James puts it bluntly in the first chapter of the book that bears his name. Verse five reads,
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
It doesn’t get any plainer than that. Ask for wisdom and God will give it, generously. That seems simple enough. Yet what I have learned over the years of my spiritual pilgrimage is that this “formula” does not work like a magic genie in a lamp. You don’t rub the lamp and make a wish. It doesn’t operate like taking an aspirin for a headache. You don’t take two tablets and get wisdom in the morning.
Instead, our text from Joshua gives us a pretty good understanding about how to attain wisdom. If the wisdom we want is God’s wisdom, and God has revealed his wisdom to us in and through his Word, then it would behoove us to read, study, mediate upon, pray over, and apply that source of wisdom.
If we want God’s wisdom to rub off on us and get into our spiritual bloodstreams – into our hearts and minds – then we have to do the hard work of “not letting it depart from us.” We will want to “meditate on it day and night.” We will “be careful to do according to all that is written in it.” Only then will we become prosperous and begin to act wisely.
That’s the cost to this component of faithful discipleship. It’s not easy and it certainly does not come instantly. This is not for the lazy or the faint of heart. But wisdom is a pearl of great price that is worth more than we can possibly imagine.
Read through the Book of Proverbs and write down all the descriptions of wisdom you find. What is it about wisdom that makes it so important to acquire? How is wisdom different than knowledge? What are three things you can start doing today that will help you grow in wisdom? Write them down and then share your list with a friend.
Wise and Courageous Leadership
The Ephesian city clerk was wise. He was a real leader. In the midst of an unjust riot against two Christians, Gaius and Aristarchus, the clerk took a bold stand. There is no indication this man was a follower of Christ, so I take it that his intercession was the result of God’s special grace, while his wisdom and leadership was the fruit of common grace. As John Maxwell says, “leadership is influence,” and this man certainly had it.
First, he connected with the “Men of Ephesus” by recalling for them the ego-stroking perspective that the entire world knew Ephesus was the “guardian of the temple of the great Artemis…” At this point he reminded them that the whole world knew of their important position, as well as the respect such a position held. Then, he cleverly inserted a “therefore” to indicate that such an honored position in the
world required decorum and order. This unnamed man saw the injustice against the two Christians and was not going to allow it.
He told the mob these men had committed no crime or wrong doing at all. Message to crowd: Refined and respected citizens of Ephesus ought not behave like uncouth and uncivilized barbarians. Moreover, his rhetoric seemed to suggest that because they were so refined and civil, they could rightfully address any legitimate grievances with the local legal authorities. He told them if they continued in such unrest, they themselves would be the transgressors of civility and the law. Chalk one up for the city clerk.
After making his case he dismissed the crowd. And Acts 20:1 gives evidence that he must have succeeded in his efforts. The text reads, “When the uproar ended…” It is gratifying to see God’s common grace alive and well in the lives of unbelievers, even more so in the lives of unbelieving leaders. I wonder how many Christian leaders placed in a similar situation would have handled it as well.
There are many lessons to be learned from this historical snapshot of an anonymous Ephesian city clerk, but I want to highlight one in particular.
It’s worth noting the clerk didn’t bend and bow to the mob’s desires in an effort to gain favor with them. That’s sometimes my personal failing. The idea of putting a finger to the wind to see which direction it is blowing is all too tempting to those of us who loathe confrontation. But that’s not leadership, it’s cowardice. It’s the fear of man, not the fear of God. There is no character or integrity in such weakness. The city clerk chose to do what was right, even in the face of possible opposition.
How many times has a Christian pastor backed down from a position (even a God-ordained one) because of pressure from the mob? To be sure, no one ought to die on every single hill that comes along, but there are some principles (convictions and/or values) that should be tenaciously held to – ones that should yield no quarter.
My children don’t always know what’s good for them. They would be content to eat nothing but junk food for the next five years. But that would be harmful to them. I’ve been entrusted to shepherd them, and shepherd them I must. Sometimes, adults aren’t much farther down the road than children, especially when the mob mentality is at work.
God-appointed leaders must exercise wisdom and courage in such situations. For though it is often true that, “all of us are smarter than one of us,” and that many counselors may surely provide good advice, that is not always the case, as the episode in Ephesus reveals. The city clerk was able to make the distinction (wisdom) and acted on what he knew was right and best (leadership).
Whether you are the shepherd of a family, business, classroom, or church, pray for God to give you the same character and willingness to exercise godly leadership as God gave to that anonymous city clerk.
In what areas of your life are you a leader? How do you usually handle confrontation? Read Acts 19:35-41. Besides the points made in this devotion, what are some other lessons you learn about leadership from this text? How can the lesson(s) you learned in this text help you exercise leadership in the areas God has entrusted to your care? As a follower of Christ, what else can you do to help you lead that the unbelieving clerk could not do?
Grace and Truth,
1 Thessalonians 4:3a – It is God’s will that you should be sanctified…
Not What You Were Thinking… Yet
Today’s devotion will no doubt disappoint you if you came to it with the hope and expectation of learning how to decide what job to take, whom to marry, or where to move. That’s often what we really mean when we say we want to know God’s will for our lives, isn’t it? I am no different.
But quite often those desires turn to despair when it is discovered that God doesn’t tell us in Paul’s letter to the Romans or the Gospel of Matthew that you should indeed take that job, marry that person, or move to that place. And because it doesn’t give us the specifics we want, we sometimes end up frustrated over the apparent “inaccessibility” of knowing God’s will for our lives.
My usual counsel to such troubled souls is to encourage them by letting them know God’s will can be found on virtually every page of the Bible. God is not trying to hide his will from them or playing some sort of shell game with his children. Today’s text gives us an example of what I’m talking about. Paul teaches us in our verse:
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.
From and For
“Sanctified” is a biblical word which simply means, “to be set apart.” But what does that mean? Set apart from what? Set apart for what? Well first, it means to be set apart from something – specifically, from the world, the flesh, and the devil. It means the fallen, rebellious, autonomous, sinful, patterns of living and idolatry we once practiced are to be repented of, put off, died to, and left behind.
“Sanctified” also means that we are set apart for God. In Christ, God has made us his own. He is now molding us into the image of his dear Son. Thus, he calls us to love, trust, obey, and walk with him daily, that we might becoming increasingly like him. The Apostle Peter, in his first epistle quotes Leviticus and reminds us that God says to us, “Be holy, as I am holy.” Just a few verses from today’s text, in 1 Thessalonians 4:7, Paul declares, “…God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”
When we hear and receive Christ’s redeeming call and are born anew by the power of his Spirit, we immediately (though imperfectly) begin the process of becoming what God says we already are. God, in a manner of speaking, says to us:
You are holy. Now go and be holy. Go and be who you already are.
To die to yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Christ is what it means to live a sanctified life, one that jettisons the old, fallen self, and instead, puts on Christ as of first importance. It’s a life that immediately seeks his righteousness.
This is God’s will for you. The better you know God, and the more you know of God – his person, work, ways, and word – and the more you pursue them daily and whole-heartedly in your life, the more likely you will be able to discern his particular will for your life – that job to take, that person to marry, that place to move.
Seek first God and his righteousness, and the answers to those other questions will be revealed to you in time (Matt. 6:33).
What do you think most people mean when they say they want to know God’s will for their lives? Is that what you usually mean? How can knowing God’s revealed will for your life, (i.e., that we are called to be sanctified, etc.), help you to better know and understand his particular will for your life? In light of this devotional and the verses of Scripture shared, what advice would you give a friend or family member based on what you have learned?
Grace and Truth,
Hit with a Blunt Object
Have you ever met a person who believed they were given the spiritual gift of bludgeoning people over the head with their “honesty?” Are you such a person?
Such people are only tuned in to what they “think” their intention is, which is, they’re “just being honest.” They wield their “honesty” like a “Get out of jail free card” to say what they want, when and how they want to say it. They seem to think they can be as offensive as they want, as long as they follow their remarks with, “Hey, I’m just being honest.” Or, put another way, "I'm just keeping it real." Upon invoking this magical incantation, in their mind, they should be absolved from all they've just said, regardless of how hurtful or insulting it may have been.
Three Helpful Questions
Perhaps you have heard the following questions before, but I wanted to share them because I have found them quite helpful. These are questions I ask myself before I decide to share my own unsolicited “honesty” with others.
1.) Is it true? Obviously, if you’re going to pass on your thoughts to someone else, you should be communicating the truth. Whether it’s objective truth or even the truth of your opinion, it should be true. The ninth question and answer of The Heidelberg Catechism puts it this way:
Question: What is required in the ninth commandment?
Answer: I must not give false testimony against anyone, twist no one’s words, not gossip or slander, nor condemn or join in condemning anyone rashly and unheard. Rather, I must avoid all lying and deceit as the devil’s own works, under penalty of God’s heavy wrath. In court and everywhere else, I must love the truth, speak and confess it honestly, and do what I can to defend and promote my neighbor’s honor and reputation.
While this is certainly helpful for us in thinking through our communication with others, this ought not be all there is to it. There’s more for us to consider.
2.) Is it kind? Are your remarks bearing the fruit of Christian kindness? Are they words that will be a blessing and encouragement to the other person? Even if hard words must be spoken, we can still say them in such a way that it will be clear to the person to whom we’re speaking that we have their best interest at heart and not our personal agenda.
3.) Is it necessary? Does the person you are “being honest” with need to know you don’t like what they’re wearing, or how they’re raising their children, or how they decorate their house for Christmas? We may desperately want to share our opinions on all those questions and more, but that’s not the same thing as their needing to know it.
As a Christian, truth and honesty should be paramount, but not for the sake of building ourselves up, but for the sake of the other person. If God is not glorified in the transaction of honesty and truth, and if the purpose of the exchange is not the genuine benefit of the other person, then we’re not doing much more than sharing our opinions for the sake of lifting up ourselves.
Do you struggle with the desire to share your opinion with others (“just being honest), regardless of how it makes the other person feel? What do you think the real cause of such a practice is? Which of the three questions is most convicting to you? Why? What other questions would be helpful to you in deciding whether or not you need to be pass along your opinion to another person?
Grace and Truth,
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 - Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.
Satan’s Advertising Campaign
One of the most successful advertising campaigns perpetrated by Satan in our day is the idea that Christians are forbidden to judge anything or anyone for any reason. Even unbelievers know the Bible verse that teaches, so they think, that Christians are not to judge others in any circumstance. In this twisting of our Lord’s words, Satan has led many down an awfully slippery slope.
But is that what Christ, Paul, and the rest of the Bible teach? No. What Christ and his chosen spokesmen spoke against was having a censorious or judgmental spirit or attitude. They taught us to resist the temptation of signing up to serve as God’s official fruit-inspectors. These are the folks who believe it is their spiritual gift to criticize everyone else.
Instead, the exhortation of Jesus (Matthew 7:1-5), was for his followers to remove the giant telephone-pole-sized sin in their own lives first. Unfortunately, that’s where unbelievers, and many Christians, stop with Christ’s words. But Jesus had not yet finished his thought.
The Rest of the Story
Jesus actually taught we are to remove the beam or plank from our own eye first, and then (or, so that) we would be able to see clearly enough to remove the speck from our neighbor’s eye. Jesus wasn’t calling for the abolition of judgment, but for a godly attitude while exercising helpful discernment. We know this because less than ten verses later, our Lord said we must watch out for false teachers. Why? Because they are false teachers. Something isn’t right about what they teach or how they live.
How do you “watch out” for false teachers? By judging the fruit they produce – their works – not their hearts. And yet, according to our Lord, their fruit does tell us something about what’s going on inside of them. He says a good tree produces good fruit while a bad tree produces bad fruit. In both cases, being precedes doing. We aren’t privy to all that goes on inside a person’s heart, so our Lord tells us to judge their fruit, whether it be good or bad.
By What Standard?
How can we make such a judgment? How can we know the difference between good and bad? By using the only sure measuring stick we have, God’s Word.
The Apostle Paul said we are called to test everything. A word like “everything” pretty much says it all. Every idea, suggestion, worldview, moral teaching, news story, political platform, attitude, television program, and on and on and on, is to be tested. But how do you test these things?
With Holy Scripture. God’s Word is sufficient to teach, reprove, correct, and train us for all of life (2 Timothy 3:16-17), whether by explicit teaching, command, law, or rule – or by implicit principles and implications.
After you have tested something by God’s Word, you then must judge or discern whether that thing is good or evil. If it’s good you cling to it. If it’s evil you avoid or shun it. But you have to make a judgment. How else can you pursue holiness instead of sin? How else can you choose the hard and narrow road that leads to life rather than the wide and comfortable road that leads to destruction? You must exercise your faculties of discernment.
The Heart is the Heart of the Matter
Have Christians ever been guilty of having judgmental attitudes? Absolutely. And they should repent for it. But unbelievers have also been guilty of having judgmental attitudes. The difference is that followers of Christ have an objective and binding standard that tells them it’s wrong to have such an attitude. Every time an unbeliever tells a Christian not to be judgmental, they have to borrow from the Christian worldview to say so.
The key point is this: Christians are commanded by Christ to judge good from evil, sin from righteousness, without being judgmental. We are to practice such discernment so we may lovingly correct or restore another person. That is why we must first deal with the sin in our own lives. It humbles us, reminds us of what Christ has done on our behalf, and enables us to better see how to help others. It’s a razor’s edge to walk, but we must not give up walking along that edge simply because it’s hard to do. Instead, we must pray for the power and guidance of God’s Spirit, his gifts of discernment, and for his Word to dwell in us richly so we may walk that edge faithfully, consistently, and lovingly.
What do you think most people mean when they say people shouldn’t judge? Why do people dislike being judged? Have you ever been accused of being judgmental? Have you ever judged another person (sinfully)? Have you ever been judged in such a way? How did it make you feel? How does the counsel of Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5, help us turn from having a judgmental attitude? How does his teaching in those verses enable us to truly be a help to another person?
Grace and Truth,
Romans 16:17-19 - I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.
Take Heed Lest You Fall
These are some of Paul's last words to the Church at Rome. With these words he reveals his Christian love and pastor's heart for this congregation. After a significant, deep, and vital treatise on Christian doctrine and living, Paul stresses one last time how crucial it is for these Christians to take heed to what he has shared with them.
He knows there are those wolves in sheep's clothing (Acts 20) who will creep in among the God’s people (from within and without) and cause divisions - some purposefully and others because they themselves have been deceived. Regardless, these wolves will place obstacles before God’s people. They will seek to undo and disrupt sound teaching, the very doctrine Paul took pains to communicate throughout his Letter to the Romans.
Deception, Then Derailment
Paul says to keep away from such trouble-makers. Don't hang around them. No good can come from getting too close to them. Such people are not representing our Lord, regardless of how smooth their words are. They serve the idol of their own agenda, their own desires and cravings, not Christ's. The first result of listening to them is deception. Once deception sets in, wandering from the faith is never far behind.
Paul loves the Church at Rome. Because he cares for them he therefore encourages them and builds them up by complimenting their obedience. But he warns them to be wise with regard to what is good and innocent concerning evil. Sticking your head in the sand won't do here. The discernment Paul speaks of requires learning and growing in the sound doctrine he has been teaching them throughout his letter. Their lives and souls are at stake, as well as future generations of Roman Christians. The same is true for you, your children, church, and friends if you wander from the sound doctrine of God’s Word.
I encourage you to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Pray for the Spirit's discernment regarding good and evil. Flee from evil and those who bring it, regardless of whether or not the world calls you judgmental. Cling to what is good and thank God for it.
Read through Paul’s Letter to the Romans with some friends and discuss what each chapter teaches you about truth and falsehood, good and evil. How are your observations relevant to today’s world, and your life in particular?
Grace and Truth,
2 Chronicles 7:14 - …if my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Good News Bad News
The Lord was pleased with the Temple Solomon had completed. God said he would take up residence there to receive sacrifices. Then something a little strange happened, at least from our perspective. God mysteriously changed the tone of his words to Solomon by telling him he may shut up the heavens to prevent rain from falling. Or, he may command locusts to devour the land. Or, he may even send a plague on “his own” people (v. 13). It wasn’t good.
It’s hard to understand where God was coming from here. All Israel had just celebrated the dedication of the Temple, the assembling of which, was a community project. And then we get those sobering words in verse 13.
Whatever God’s reasons were, we know this for sure: The sins of a covenant people against the Holy One was no trifle to be winked at. It was a great offense. But our gracious Lord offered hope in verse 14. He declared that when these calamities befall his covenant people, there would be something they could do.
Four Steps of Repentance
First, his people were to humble themselves. There was no room for pride and self-dependence here. Instead, God’s people were to fall on their faces before God as an act of spiritual poverty and brokenness. They had neither strength nor wisdom in and of themselves. God was then, and remains now, the Source for all that and more.
They were also commanded to pray. Prayers of adoration to God, confession of sin, expressions of their helplessness, and complete dependence upon their sovereign God would be a good place to start.
Next, they were to seek the face of God. Imagine that great Day when we will behold the face of God. It is that face which we are to pursue in this life. Therefore, we need to cultivate the character of God in our lives, trust him alone, follow his commands, seek his presence, and enter into intimate communion with him.
God also said his people must turn from their wicked ways. The rest of the chapter gives us a glimpse of what those wicked ways looked like: God’s people had been turning away from and forsaking God and his decrees, as well as serving other gods and worshipping them. This is wickedness in the sight of God and is why God said he might bring disaster on his own people (v. 22). God’s people were to abandon such spiritual adultery at once. That’s repentance.
Forgiveness and Healing Await
If God’s people humbled themselves, prayed, sought God’s face, and turned from their wicked ways, God promised to hear them, forgive their sin, and heal their land.
Ours is a land in desperate need of healing. Whether it’s our country, culture, local church, or family, there is much need for the healing power of God. But it will not come merely because we recognize the need. That’s a good first step, but more is required – genuine change – change that results in humbling oneself before God and clinging to him alone. Saturating ourselves in prayer, grieving over our transgressions and seeking his forgiveness and restoration is essential. Following hard after God – his will, commands, presence, and pleasure – should be our life’s pursuit. And biblical repentance is necessary – turning from our wicked ways and leaving them behind and turning in a Godward direction. Our prayers should include pleading with God to enable us to do just that.
We want to see our land and lives forgiven and healed. But change will have to first take place. Until then, we should expect the discipline of a loving Father – one who loves us too much to let us continue on a destructive path, and who, therefore, will do much to bring us back to the right one. Because he is holy, he will never overlook our transgressions.
And because he is gracious, God will call us away from the gods of this age. He summons us back to obedience and submission to his Lordship. And with that comes his promise to forgive us and heal our land. Thanks be to God – the great Promise-Maker and Promise-Keeper.
Which of the four steps of repentance is hardest for you? Why do you think that is? What are 2-3 ways you could make repentance a more natural part of your life? What are the positive results that would happen if you did?
Grace and Truth,
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