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,
Galatians 4:9 - But now that you know God–or rather are known by God–how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?
A Change of Address
When we lived in darkness – when we were of the world – it made perfect sense that we lived as the world lived. We were a part of its system. You might say it was the very air we breathed.
But when we were delivered from that bondage, ignorance, and darkness we were made into something new. Paul described us as a new creation. To paraphrase the apostle elsewhere,
“When I was a worldling, I talked like a worldling, I thought like a worldling, I reasoned like a worldling. When I became a new creature in Christ, I put worldish ways behind me.”
How is it, then, Paul could address these Galatian believers and ask them how it was they were turning back to their old, dead ways?
It’s amazing how shortsighted we can be on a daily basis. If we don’t keep Christ daily before us, pursuing him with all our might, we inevitably find ourselves drifting back to the world and its ways of thinking. And such worldish thinking will soon lead to worldish living. What’s so sad about this process is that even as it happens, we don’t seem aware that we are becoming enslaved to those “weak and miserable” principles all over again.
Why Do We Do This?
It really is absurd to think about why we would ever want to go back to such thinking and living once we have been freed from it. Why do we seem to prefer bondage to freedom at times? It’s interesting how we, like the Israelites, begin romanticizing how great the leeks and onions were in Egypt and forget about the fact that we were slaves there. Why do we do this?
There are probably many good answers. No believer, I hope, truly thinks the world is preferable to the things of God. I don’t think being out of shape is preferable to being healthy. But one skipped workout at a time – over a period of undisciplined living – and a person will find themselves struggling to walk up a flight of stairs. That was never the intention, but it was the consequence.
Similarly, a little disobedience and sloth here and there and one day a person will wake up terribly out of shape for the Kingdom. In truth, they will be downright unfit for it.
I’ve discovered in my own life that I do the things I want to do. It’s no more complicated than that. I may dress it up in elaborate excuses and rationalizations, but at the end of the day that’s all they are. Can you relate to that?
Don’t Ignore God’s Means of Grace
Thankfully, those who are genuinely in Christ will not be able to return to their old ways without feeling the disciplinary rod of the Holy Spirit. God is not content to watch his children become remolded to the world’s image.
By God’s magnificent grace, the smoke detector goes off long before the fire blazes out of control. God awakens and disciplines those who are his own and gets them/us back on track again. But even here he does not “do” all the work for us. We can still choose to sleep in instead of pray and study. We can play instead of worship on Sunday mornings. Fill in the blank with those temptations that continue to call you back to your old life. We will have those choices ever before us.
But if you cry out to your loving Father for help, his grace will abound once more to rescue you from your chains. And if you rely on him daily and practice those things he has promised will make you spiritually healthy, you may find you have to be rescued less often.
Do you ever find yourself moving back to the world’s ways of thinking and living? What do you think are the primary reasons you do so? Have you ever wandered back so deeply into slavery that you thought you were beyond rescue? How did you escape? What are two or three ways you can protect yourself from becoming enslaved to the “weak and miserable principles” of the world in the future?
Grace and Truth,
A Tale of Two Ditches
Not too long ago a friend shared with me his struggle to faithfully teach grace to the folks he disciples. I certainly share that struggle. Faithful discipleship is a narrow path between the two ditches of legalism and licentiousness.
I didn’t come up with that distinction. The Apostle Paul dealt with the same issues. On the one hand he had to warn the Galatian Christians about the ditch of legalism espoused by the Judaizers. These were folks who claimed Jesus was great, but you still had to obey the Law of Moses to be saved. On the other hand, he had to give an emphatic “NO” to those in the other ditch whose philosophy was, “Let’s sin up a storm so we can experience more of God’s grace.” In their view, Christians don’t have to worry about obeying God, because they’re under God’s grace.
The path between the two ditches is hard and narrow indeed and Christian history is littered with examples of how individuals, (as well as groups of people), have fallen into one ditch or the other. Regardless of which ditch you fall into, you still end up dirty and smelly.
To my struggling friend, and as a reminder to myself, I offer some counsel I once heard. Take comfort in the struggle of the narrow path because the Apostle Paul experienced the same. Grace is a dangerous thing. If we faithfully and accurately teach the biblical doctrine of grace, there will always be the risk someone might distort it in a libertine direction, just as a faithful and accurate teaching of obedience might lead some into the legalistic ditch. We are called to be faithful in our message of grace, even though we can’t control what people will do with it.
Those who take the ministry of discipleship seriously will always struggle with this. However, we can use this struggle between the two ditches, the journey of the narrow path, to motivate us to be careful, loving, grace-filled, and faithful in our teaching, discipling, counseling, correcting, etc.
Remembering My Own Struggle
I know that walking the narrow path is hard for me, and I’ve been at it for some time now. I can still remember the early days of my walk with Christ. I often caught myself walking a little too closely to one side of the path or the other. Sadly, I sometimes found myself having to climb out of one ditch or the other. But in God’s goodness, he cleaned me up, disciplined me, and sent me along my way.
This reminder of my own history will hopefully encourage me (and you) to be patient with those whom I disciple, especially those who are just beginning their own way down the narrow path. Thank God for his ever-present grace!
Do you remember when you first became a Christian? Which ditch did you find yourself falling into in your early days? Now that you’ve been a Christian for a while, which tendency (or, ditch) do you find yourself struggling with? Why do you think Christians, regardless of how long they’ve been walking with Christ, find themselves struggling along the narrow path? Why do they get too close to one ditch or the other? What are three things you can begin doing today, with God’s wisdom and power, to help you stay on the straight and narrow?
Grace and Truth,
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. (Romans 10:1-2)
Knowing God Rightly
“Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear. The long career of Israel demonstrates this clearly enough, and the history of the Church confirms it. So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.” (A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy)
God really does care that we know him (John 17:3)… and know him rightly. Any old expression of religion won’t do and, in fact, often leads to a dangerous idolatry.
The Apostle Paul, passionately concerned for the salvation of the Israelites, admitted that they had a zeal, perhaps even an enviable zeal, for God. Yet he was quick to follow that admission with the sober truth that their zeal for God was not according to knowledge. They were wrong in their understanding of how to obtain righteousness.
The Appearance of Enthusiasm
In our day we give points to folks for the appearance of enthusiasm. Maybe they are very exuberant as they worship God. Perhaps there’s lots of “God-talk” liberally sprinkled throughout their conversations. It may be they actively serve their church. These are all good things to be sure.
However, what they (and we) must watch out for is a zeal that is without a true and proper knowledge of the living God. It’s not that we must first pass a doctoral examination in theology before we go to heaven. The key idea is that a shabby doctrinal or theological foundation can lead one astray. It can cause a well-intentioned person to unwittingly compromise his or her faith and drift to and fro with every new “Christian” book, television program, or religious movement.
In Exodus 34:6-7, God painted a beautiful picture of some of his attributes. He wanted Moses and the rest of his children to know and worship him rightly. He followed up in verse 14 by saying, “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” It’s not a coincidence that the first three commandments focus on this very issue.
It’s frightening how easily we can wander off the straight and narrow path. God provided a warning concerning this very thing in verse 16 when he told Moses to caution the people about choosing the wrong spouse, one who is described as not knowing and worshiping the one true God. He said that sort of choice would lead God’s people away from God and into idolatry.
Ignorance Isn’t Bliss
More is needed than zeal and good intentions when it comes to our relationship with God. It is certainly true that knowledge alone can “puff up” the young and immature in the faith. But that’s not the fault of the knowledge. That’s more of a commentary on where a person is in their faith-journey. The solution to this potential problem is not to ignore our call to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Instead, we ought to still seek such knowledge, but do so humbly, carefully, and in full dependence on the grace of God. Likewise, the purpose of our pursuit of knowing God should be for God’s glory and the good of others. Psalm 43:34a says,
Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. 4 Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight.
A mentor of mine used to say the better we know God the more we will be able to love, follow, and trust God. It’s awfully difficult to love, follow, and trust someone you don’t know. It’s also hard to love and follow God if you don’t have a growing and maturing knowledge of God - what God has revealed about himself as well as how to live for him and with him in this world.
Almighty God, give me great and increasing passion and zeal for you. Yet please ground it in who you truly are. Help me to continue all the days of my life to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, that I might love you as I ought. In Christ I pray. Amen.
Do you agree that many Christians do not know much about God? If so, why do you think that is? What are some ways you can begin learning more about God – his Person, Works, Commands, and Promises? One resource I often recommend is A.W. Tozer’s, “Knowledge of the Holy”. Order it today and work through one chapter a week. Your view of God will expand, and as it does, so will your love, commitment, and trust of God.
Grace and Truth,
Deuteronomy 14:2 - …for you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession.
God’s Usual Unusual Suspects
The people of Israel were not the largest, richest, or most powerful group on the planet when God chose them. Nor were they the most righteous and obedient. And yet God chose them. In 1 Corinthians 1, the Apostle Paul tells us this is God’s usual mode of operation. He manifests his wisdom and power by choosing, and then raising up, the unwise and weak to serve him. It’s been a fairly effective plan thus far. There was a fairly well known empire that was turned upside-down by the “dregs of society” a couple thousand years ago. It seems to still be working.
What is also striking about this verse is that Israel is referred to as God’s “treasured possession.” What a wonderful way to see oneself – as a treasured possession – something incredibly valuable to God.
Not In Us
When we think of ourselves as such, our first impulse is to agree with the verdict. “Of course I’m treasured by God,” we think. “I have so much raw talent, drive, character, and more. Why wouldn’t I be invaluable to God?” And yet, this sort of thinking is antithetical to biblical truth. There is nothing in ourselves which compels God to choose us. Instead, his choice flows from his own good, perfect, and pleasing will that results in God loving us first.
But to think that those who are in Christ are God’s treasured possessions is an amazing notion. Yet that’s exactly what we are as heirs of the new covenant.
How ought we respond to such news? Humility comes first to mind. There is no room for pride in the biblical worldview. How about gratitude and joy? Yes, there should be plenty of both to be sure. There’s also obedience. We mustn’t forget that. Lives lived in humble, grateful, joyful, and obedient response to the God who first loved us is essential, and should be natural. It should register as an, “of course” response from us.
But does it? Does your life reflect that sense of chosen-ness in which God regards you as his treasured possession? If not, why not make today the day you begin living in humble, grateful, joyful, and obedient response to who God is and what he has done on your behalf.
Why do you think some people want to claim that God owes them love and grace? Do you struggle with that idea? What makes the responses of humility, gratitude, joy, and obedience so hard? Why should they be the natural response to God’s grace? Who do you know who needs to hear the good news that they cannot earn God’s favor, nor do they need to? After praying for them, why not share this good news with them today.
Grace and Truth,
Hebrews 9:26b-28 - But now [Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.  Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,  so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
A Once-for-All Sacrifice
At the end of the ages, our Lord Jesus Christ appeared once and for all to do away with sin by offering himself as a sacrifice – a lamb without blemish. In so doing he ushered in the beginning of the end – the eschaton – the last days. We foolishly think to ourselves that because it is now 2,000 years later, Christ’s day could not possibly have been part of the last days. But what’s a thousand years to an eternal God? Make no mistake about it, Christ ushered in the last days indeed!
And how did he do so? As a once-for-all sacrificial atonement for sin. No longer did a high priest have to offer animal sacrifices for the temporary appeasement of God. God’s own Son, our High Priest, settled the issue once and for all by offering himself in our stead.
Because of this, those who are in Christ no longer face condemnation. We all will die. We all will face God’s judgment. But for those who are in Christ, our sin has been covered and our punishment has been taken by Another. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
Christ will come again. Even so, come Lord Jesus. This has been part of the liturgy of the Church for two millennia. At the end of all things, Christ will appear yet again, and with him will come a new heaven and earth for those who are new creatures in Christ. He will not return as a Lamb but a Lion. He will not come in humiliation but glory. He will come and claim the victory he won at the cross and gather those who have waited on him, are waiting on him, and will wait on him. And he knows each of them by name.
Past, Present, and Future Salvation
As followers of Christ and heirs of his covenant, there is a sense in which we have been saved and a sense in which we are daily being saved as we become increasingly conformed to his likeness. But when our Lord and King appears we will be saved in glory and will rule with him in his Kingdom that knows no end. Isn’t that incredible news more than enough to bring us to our knees in humble adoration, gratitude, and submission in the here and now? Where is our boasting? We boast only in our King.
Our Urgent Call
Finally, if Christ ushered in his Kingdom two thousand years ago, and the spoils of his victory belong to those who are in Christ, then doesn’t it make urgent sense that we who are his joint-heirs should labor, as long as we draw breath, to extend our Lord’s Kingdom into every sphere of life? We want those who do not presently know him, (and the goodness, truth, and beauty of his rule and reign), to have the opportunity to voluntarily bow before him and call him Lord.
Let us make great haste, for no man knows the time of our Lord’s appearing.
Who do you know who doesn’t know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord? Write down their names and commit to praying for them daily. Pray also for God to provide opportunities for you to share with them the greatest news they will ever hear.
Grace and Truth,
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