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,
Psalm 119:13-16 – With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth.  I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.  I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.  I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
Matthew 22:29 – Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.
A Good Reason or Two to Read Scripture
I wonder if much of our aimless spiritual wandering isn’t self-inflicted. We are often content to grope in the dark when pure and undefiled light is offered us. This light I speak of penetrates our deepest being (Heb. 4:12), judges our thoughts and attitudes (Heb. 4:12), makes us wise for salvation (2 Tim. 3:15), is breathed out by God himself (2 Tim. 3:16), is truth (John 17:17), is the means by which we are sanctified (John 17:17), is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16), thoroughly equips us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:17), works as a mirror to show us our truest selves (James 1:23-25), endures forever (1 Peter 1:23-25), cannot be broken (John 10:35), counsels us in every sphere of our lives (Ps. 119:24), will not return to God empty but will achieve the purpose for which he sent it (Isaiah 55:11). As the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17), it is our only offensive weapon in our war with the world, the flesh, and the devil.
And so, if all of this is true (and it surely is, and more), why are we not plumbing its depths, mining its riches, and saturating ourselves in its mind-renewing, life-transforming power every available opportunity?
Psalm 119 gives us a beautiful model of what a “piety of the Word” should look like in our lives. All through the Psalm we find a variety of synonyms for God’s Word, such as decree, statute, law, ordinance, precept, as well as word. Sometimes these words are used to communicate God’s “directives for our lives” and other times a word represents “his promises.” The first “calls us to obedience while the other calls us to faith – the two elements of godliness” (NIV Study Bible notes).
Each of today’s verses contain enough material for its own sermon. That would require more time and space than is presently available. But just dream with me for a moment…
Can you imagine a person, home, church, small group, or community that regularly recounts the law of God, rejoices in following his statutes as one rejoices in great riches, that meditates day and night on God’s precepts and considers his ways for every thought, word, or deed? Can you conceive of such an individual or community that delights in God’s decrees and will not neglect his word at any time for any reason? What would such a person or church or small group look like? What would be their impact for the world in which they live? According to Matthew 22:29, Jesus says there would be great power that would attend such commitment, passion, and saturation. Can you picture the reformation and revival that would break out at God’s behest?
Humanly speaking, it all starts with one – one person who will saturate himself or herself in God’s Word, and who, like Ezra, will study it, live it, and teach it to others.
Are you such a person? Imagine what might happen if you were! What’s stopping you? Why not take God at his Word – trust his Word – saturate yourself in his Word – and then hang on.
Which of the descriptions of God’s Word found in the first paragraph fires your imagination most? Have you ever wondered why Christians don’t spend more time studying God’s Word? What are the obstacles in your own life that have prevented you from spending time in Scripture? Be creative: What are three ways you can increase your intake of God’s Word this week? Share your ideas with a friend and then get busy putting your ideas into practice.
Grace and Truth,
Psalm 19:7 – The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
God’s Treasure Trove
Psalm 19 is a treasure trove of wisdom for the person who is pursuing godliness. Similar to Psalm 119, words used throughout this psalm, such as law, statutes, precepts, commands, ordinances, fear, etc., describe the same thing, the revealed Word of God. This is not just any word, but a word revealed for the purpose of reviving our souls, making us wise, giving our hearts joy and our eyes light.
Furthermore, God reminds us in Psalm 19 that his Word endures forever, is perfect, trustworthy, radiant, pure, sure, and righteous.
(As a side note, it’s interesting that the first six verses of Psalm 19 reveal another book of God that declares his glory… the book of his creation.)
God also teaches us in Psalm 19 that it is through his word that the godly person can discern his or her errors (cf. 119:9-11). James tells us his in epistle that God’s Word is like a mirror that reveals to us our true reflection.
How loving and merciful our God is to give us such light in a dark world. How gracious and compassionate he is to reveal himself to us with such clarity that we may reach out to him and know him, which is eternal life (John 17:3).
God’s Good Provision
For the purpose of this devotion, I want to focus in on verse 7 of Psalm 19. In this verse we are humbled by our Lord’s goodness. His law (his Word) is perfect, just as he is in his very essence. Such knowledge of God and his perfect Word is overwhelming to us. And yet, it revives our soul. It gives life where there is none. It strengthens the soul that is weak. It rejuvenates the soul that is weary. O Lord, who are we that you are mindful of us? To God alone be the glory!
By the Word of God incarnate and the Word of God inscripturated, (which bears witness to him), we may come to know God and learn how to love and follow him more faithfully in every sphere of our lives. The godly person must realize that without God’s Word, we are left wandering aimlessly and perilously in the world. We can expect no growth as men and women of God without the rich nutrients given in and through his Word (John 15). That is why it must dwell richly in us (Col. 3:16). There’s no meaningful growth without such scripture-saturation. That’s the revival of the soul I desire. How about you?
Take God’s Word For It
We can trust God’s Word. We need not doubt it as Adam and Eve did in Genesis 3. We are constantly being tempted to doubt what God has revealed to us. Such is the temptation from our adversary and we are foolish to give in to it. Yet God has told us he has revealed himself to us in and through his Word – his character, works, love, commands, and promises. He encourages us to understand that the purpose of his self-disclosure is to make us wise. Wisdom, the Bible tells us, means “skill for living.” God wants us to skillfully grow in the likeness of Christ and faithfully live as godly people in this world.
In his book, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, Donald Whitney asks his reader if they are “being governed increasingly by the Word of God.” Well, how about it? Does that describe you? I want to encourage you pursue this “governance” more and more in your lives. Scripture is God’s gift to you. Let me know how I can help you in this pursuit.
Are you “being governed increasingly by the Word of God?” Why or why not? With a friend or two, discuss what your daily and weekly Bible reading/study plan looks like. What are obstacles in your schedule that tempt you from spending regular time in Scripture? How can you resist giving in to those temptations and make time spent with God a priority?
Grace and Truth
Jeremiah 9:23-26 – This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches,  but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.  “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh–  Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the desert in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.”
It’s great fun and a tremendous blessing to see the harmony of God’s Word in both the Old and New Testaments. Today’s text is a perfect example.
We often think discussion of God’s desire for a circumcised heart is the exclusive domain of the New Testament (and St. Paul in particular). However, this truth can be found in the Old Testament as well. Jeremiah 9 reveals God’s desire for this was not exclusively a New Testament phenomenon.
Israel regularly confused its position before God as a token of only the external. “It’s because our flesh has been circumcised that we are in good stead with God,” they seem to say. But it was never that. Instead, their physical circumcision was to be an outward expression of the inward disposition of their heart toward God. Our sacraments of baptism and communion function in a similar way. The external acts are not magical. They are outward and visible signs of God’s inward and spiritual grace in our lives. Going through the motions is not what counts. Our response of faith to God’s grace is.
Jeremiah prophesied God would one day punish those who relied solely on outward (even ethnic) expressions of religiosity. Jesus never had much good to say about mere external expressions of one’s faith. He likened such conduct to whitewashed tombs that were full of dead men’s bones. They looked pretty on the outside, but inside they were grotesque.
God’s Desire for You
This has been God’s desire for us from the very beginning. Abel gave to God from the best of his first fruits. He inwardly wanted to please God we are led to believe. There was no “going through the motions” for Abel.
How is with it with you?
Has your heart been consecrated to the Lord God Almighty? Is he your exclusive Master? Do you give him the first fruits of your time, talent, and treasure? Or, is God sharing the throne with you, receiving only what is left over in your life? The truth is, God will have none of that. He wants all of you, in every sphere of your life.
Why not lay all of your life on the altar before God as a living sacrifice of praise. I don’t know about you, but I know God can do a lot more with my life than I can. Why not let him have it – all of it – for his glory and your good.
Do you find yourself simply “going through the motions” in your spiritual life? Prayer? Bible Study? Worship? Why do you think that is? What are some ways you can renew your commitment to the Lord and focus on the inward motivation of your heart?
Grace and Truth,
Colossians 2:6-7 - So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him,  rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Off to a Great Start
We start off so well. With great gratitude and enthusiasm we bow before the throne of our King. Upon placing our trust in Christ alone – “receiving” him – we take on the world in his name.
But motivation and inspiration can wane. That which does not become habit and done out of joyful and obedient self-discipline will not last for the long haul. That is why church history is littered with travelers who fell by the wayside on the narrow road to the celestial city. Jesus taught that the seed of God’s Word sometimes falls on shallow soil and does not take the necessary root it needs to live and grow (Matthew 13:1-23).
Continue In Him
Thus, Paul exhorts us to “continue to live in him.” This is much more than simple encouragement to attend church and have your quiet time, both of which are good. He is indeed saying followers of Christ are to persevere in such means of grace. But even more than that, Paul is declaring that our very power source is the Lord himself. He is our power, foundation, anchor, and compass - our all in all. The Lord Jesus Christ must not be sprinkled on our lives to simply add a little flavor to an already okay meal. Instead, he is to be our life. To claim we are in Christ means we died with him in his crucifixion and are raised with him in his resurrection. The life we now live we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20).
Root, Shoot, and Fruit
I love the language Paul uses to undergird his thesis. He adds that we are to be “rooted and built up in him.” In John 15:1-8, we discover Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from him, he tells us, we can do nothing. If we would bear fruit, we must remain connected to Christ. He must be our root, for it is only then he will bear fruit in and through us. If we as branches ever become detached from our vine, we become useless.
Our Chief Cornerstone
Changing our imagery, Jesus is our chief cornerstone and we are to be built up in him. He is our only sure foundation. All else is shifting sand. If we are not built up in him, we will crumble during the storms of life (Matthew 7:24-27).
What does it mean to be “built up” in Christ? Paul helps us here. He says it means to be strengthened in the faith we were taught. When those in the early church first came to faith in Christ, they sat at the feet of the Apostles and learned from them (Acts 2:42). Today we have their authoritative teaching in Holy Scripture. We are built up and strengthened in Christ when we meet him in his Word and listen to his instruction. More than that, we must obey what we hear (Matthew 7:24-27).
And so be encouraged. You have the greatest resource at God’s disposal to enable you to bear much, good, and lasting fruit in your life, Christ Jesus our Lord and the power of his Spirit. Without him you cannot do anything. With him, all things are possible.
I have provided Scripture references throughout this devotion. Look up these texts and meditate upon them as you reflect on the following questions. What is the hardest part for you when it comes to persevering with Christ? Does it encourage you to know God has provided his greatest resource to help you live your life well? What are three ways you can deepen your roots in Christ? Share your answers with a friend and start “deepening your roots” today.
Grace and Truth,
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