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,
Luke 12:1 – “Be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees…”
Luke 12:15 – “Watch out! Be on guard against all kinds of greed…”
Luke 12:40 – “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Don’t Miss the Warning
Whether Jesus was talking about the false teachings and practices of religious leaders, temptation and sin in our own lives, or the consummation of all things at his return, he commands us to be on guard, watch out, and be ready.
This theme of preparation appears and reappears throughout much of Jesus’ teachings. Repetition for rabbis in the first century was a teaching tool or technique to ensure a vital point was made and received, so we do well to pay careful attention here. It would be akin to a school teacher in our day writing a point on a chalkboard and saying, “If I’m taking the time to write this out, you can bet it will appear on your exam.” We ignore such warnings to our peril.
What is important to understand about our Lord’s words is the call on our part for disciplined intentionality. For you cannot casually or lazily “be on guard,” “watch out,” or “be ready.” Many of us could cite analogies from the world of sports or the military to show just how essential such intense, intentional, and disciplined preparation is. Without it, the game is lost, the city taken, the soul forfeited.
The Accumulation of Unguardedness
If I let my guard down today, it is true that Jesus may not return… this day. But that’s not the main point Jesus is making here. Instead, we must consider what the accumulation of days with a lowered guard would do to a person. In such a scenario, the spiritual atrophy that would set in could prove catastrophic to an individual. The dominion of the world, the flesh, and the devil would enlarge in that person’s life with detrimental results.
In his book, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan paints a vivid picture of this unguardedness in his characters, Simple, Sloth, and Presumption. All three had fallen asleep on their way to the Celestial City and had become shackled. When they were offered freedom from their bondage to continue their journey and avoid being devoured by the enemy, they responded by declaring they saw no danger and needed just a little more sleep.
How tragic for a person to never awaken from his slumber and thus become an occupied territory unaware. Without a work of divine grace, the battle is lost, and perhaps even the war.
We do well to heed our Master’s words today – to be on guard continually, always be ready, and constantly watch out. For our foes are nearer to us and subtler that we can imagine. Only an intentional and disciplined watchman on the high wall of the soul’s citadel can and will be properly prepared.
Let us, therefore, be ready. For I can think of nothing worse than to fall in battle, knowing I could have easily seen the attack coming and been ready for it, if only I had listened to and obeyed my King.
What are two or three reasons you have “fallen asleep on watch” in your faith? What sorts of images do the names of John Bunyan’s characters bring to your mind? The Lord has graciously given us means by which we may stay on guard, ready, and watchful. Which ones do you practice regularly? What are some things you can start doing today to remain “intentionally disciplined” on your walk to the Celestial City? Share your ideas with a friend and ask for prayer.
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,
Exodus 4:11-12 – The Lord said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”
Luke 12:11-12 – “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say,  for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
In Exodus 4, God called Moses to be his mouthpiece. Moses would represent God to both the Egyptians as well as the Israelites. Moses would speak on God’s behalf and utter the very message God told him to pass on. Some believe that, when Moses first declined God's offer, he was practicing false humility, common in his day. Others believe he wasn't very eloquent and was simply scared. Who knows? Whatever the reason, it seems plausible he may have been a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of speaking to Pharaoh. Who wouldn’t?
I’ve been there. Such fear comes from relying too much upon myself and not enough on God. God says as much with these words,
“Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? (verse 11)
God’s the sovereign One in the equation, not me. Our Lord made a similar point in Luke 12 when he told his disciples they would be persecuted for following him. How would they respond when they were caught and tried by the authorities? How would they reply to the charges? Just think of the pressure and stress. Would fear overcome them? Or would they find the right words at the right moment?
Jesus told them not to worry about such things. He said,
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, (verse 11)
Our Default Excuse
The number of people who have told me they do not share their faith because they are “afraid they won’t know what to say” is higher than I can count. How often have we remained silent when we could and should have lovingly confronted a friend or family member for a particular sin in their lives? How many times have we avoided offering counsel to someone making a major life-decision because the pressure was simply too great? We’re afraid we’ll get tongue-tied for Jesus.
Those, and other examples, are often the result of leaning too heavily upon our own abilities (or fearing our inabilities) rather than trusting God and his Spirit to speak through us. But notice the reasons both
God the Father in Exodus and Jesus in Luke’s Gospel give for placing our trust in God:
Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (verse12)
for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (verse 12)
Trust God and Speak
You see, God never requires anything from us for which he does not also equip us. God wants us to witness to unbelievers as well as to minister to fellow believers. We are his hands and feet. More than that, we are his voice. We are not called to share our own opinions, however, but his words and counsel. Of course, as a seminary professor once reminded me, God seldom fills empty heads. If we aren’t listening to God through prayer and the study of his Word, then it is indeed doubtful we will have much to offer anyone.
And yet, as we dig into his Word and meditate upon what he has revealed to us, we will hear not only what he is saying to us, but also what he wants us to share with others. And that’s more than worth our effort.
Have you ever frozen in fear of what to say to someone who asked you why you are a Christian? Or have you not known how to counsel a friend who asked you for advice concerning a tough life-situation? Did either of those experiences make you more or less likely to “speak for God” when future opportunities presented themselves? Do you think you were leaning too heavily upon yourself? Your abilities? What are three things you can start doing today to prepare yourself to communicate God’s truth to another person when the next opportunity presents itself?
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,
James 1:2-4 – Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Painful Tests and Trials
Several years ago the men's study at our church studied James 1:1-12. We spent most of our time discussing our need to persevere during times of tests and trials, for this is a significant way in which God produces in us the character of Christ. It is one of God’s ordained means to help us grow into his “mature and complete” children.
Most of us readily acknowledge how hard, even painful, tests and trials are. We would certainly prefer not to have to experience them. That was the testimony of many of the men who shared a little of what they had been through, or were going through, in their lives.
Another Kind of Test and Trial
Shortly after that lesson I had a thought one evening as I was getting ready for bed. It occurred to me that perhaps not all of our tests and trials should be categorized as painful, though they may still be considered quite hard. Could this be what James meant when he said “trials of many kinds?” Could it be God sometimes tests us even through our really good and happy circumstances as well?
Suppose I had four healthy, happy, and full-of-life children. Furthermore, suppose these four children gave me great joy and nothing pleased me more than pouring my life into theirs – even sacrificially. But what if this true and right expression of love and commitment for my children went too far? What if this love for these four precious children actually began, slowly but ever so surely, to turn into idolatry? What if they became more important to me than God Himself?
Such love and commitment would not be good at all. In fact, such love and commitment would become sin in my life. Why? Because I would, quite literally, be putting other gods before the one true God. Could it be that God tests us through such good and positive relationships, things, circumstances, and opportunities in our lives?
My Clear and Present Danger
My hypothetical description regarding my four children is not hypothetical at all. I have four such children and I treasure them. I have had to, on many occasions, ask God to help me not put my children before him. In my unguarded moments, I could essentially turn them into little idols.
The same could be true for all of us, whether we’re talking about our families, jobs, status, health, success, ingenuity, etc. Each of these could be little tests to determine whom we are worshipping, to see whom we love most?
The Reason for Trials
Why are we given trials? According to James it is to help us grow in our faith – to become more like Christ – to develop into mature and complete children of God, lacking nothing. But it’s awfully hard to become such faithfully devoted followers of Christ when we love other people or things more than we love Him. It’s impossible to follow and serve God correctly when God’s not even in our top five priorities, much lesson number one.
It’s little wonder that Jesus declared we cannot serve two masters. It’s no wonder he said we must seek God and his righteousness first. It’s not hard to figure out why God’s first commandment to us was that we’re to put no other gods before Him. And it’s not surprising to understand why the Apostle John’s last verse of his first epistle reads thusly,
1 John 5:21 – Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
Because of our fallenness, we have a propensity to put other people, places, things, circumstances, opportunities, feelings, emotions, thoughts, attitudes, etc., ahead of God. And anything that is in God’s place is not merely neutral – it’s an idol - an idol of the heart.
Be On Guard
The really good things God graciously blesses us with could be listed under James category of “trials of many kinds.” It’s true we don’t think of them as trials. It’s also true they are not necessarily painful to go through. But it’s equally true that these sorts of trials can be gruelingly difficult, even if we’re not aware we’re going through them, or perhaps, especially if we’re not aware of it.
Therefore, to increasingly mature in our faith and become more like Christ, we must realize God’s tests and trials can take many shapes and sizes. We must be vigilantly on guard. For it’s critically important for us to persevere through such tests and trials so that we “may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” And by God’s grace, I pray it will be so for you.
Why do you think it’s so easy to put people or things before God? What are those people and things in your life that could become potential idols, if they’re not already? Have you ever considered something good in your life, like your children, job, or health, a potential idol? What are two or three ways you can make sure these don’t become idols?
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,
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,
Selected verses from Genesis 22
A Hard Obedience
Abraham was told by God to sacrifice his son, the son of promise, the dear child Abraham and Sarah had waited a century to have. It was this very son, Isaac, whom Abraham was to take to the mountaintop and sacrifice – to kill.
As Abraham and Isaac approached the fateful place, Isaac looked around, saw the fire and wood, but no animal for the offering. “…Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Isaac asked his father.
“Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide…’” And he did. We know the story well. As Abraham prepared to offer his son, the Lord stopped him, and provided a ram to take Isaac’s place. God provided.
Test vs Temptation
The Lord tested Abraham (verse 1). A test from God is designed to move you forward in faith. The purpose of Satan’s temptations is to trip you up so you will fall backward. This was a test. And Abraham passed. He was blessed accordingly (verses 15-18). Why the blessing? Because Abraham obeyed God (verse 18).
This is the nature of covenantal living. If you obey God and the conditions of his covenant, God promises blessings (because he graciously sets the terms of the covenant, not because he has to). If you disobey, he promises curses. What either of those may look like is not so clear. That God promises to work this way is very clear.
The Legacy of Obedience
I wonder what blessings God desires to pour out upon us for our obedience today and tomorrow. Deeper faith maybe? More influence for the Kingdom perhaps? Greater responsibility? God specifically said Abraham’s descendants would be blessed through his faithfulness. Might our obedience now impact our children and our children’s children after them, for a thousand generations? I believe the answer is yes to all of those questions.
If God chooses to bless us in material ways, that’s fine. (We ought to notice that he already has, and then some.) But shouldn’t the blessings we desire be things like, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is heaven”? And shouldn’t the provisions we hope God will bestow upon us be along the lines of an ever-increasing knowledge of him (John 17:3), a growing conformity to his character, and an ever-expanding influence for his Kingdom, so everyone in our “territory” will bow before our King in willing and joyful submission?
Abraham was obedient and God blessed him. Will you be obedient too? How? How is God calling you to faithfully follow him today? Abraham was asked to sacrifice one who meant the whole world to him – his beloved son. What form of sacrificial living is God calling you to? Will you obey?
What are two or three areas in your life in which you need to trust God’s provision more? Why is it hard to trust God to provide for us during the tough times? In what area of your life today will you step out in sacrificial obedience and trust God? Pray about your answer, write it down, tell someone about it, and get going.
Grace and Truth,
How Many Years of Experience?
Age does not guarantee wisdom. Not even experience guarantees wisdom. There is nothing magical about the lapse of time in one’s life that causes them to become a sage for the ages. We probably all know of someone who doesn’t have 25 years of experience at their job, but instead, has experienced the same one year, 25 times in a row. No growth or maturation has taken place.
This was the case in the story of Job. Job’s three friends, older men in the community, were all sharing their insights as to why poor ol’ Job was experiencing such suffering. Each one was way off the mark. Finally, the younger, less experienced Elihu, who had been respectfully and silently observing the back-and-forth of his elders, could no longer sit idly by and allow such error and ignorance to prevail. He responded,
“I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know.  I thought, ‘Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.’  But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.  It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right. (Job 32:6-9)
Elihu then went on to diagnose the situation of Job.
The Real Source of Wisdom
We learn a very important principle from Elihu: Wisdom does not come automatically with age. Some folks never seem to learn. Instead, true wisdom comes from God himself. Wisdom, God’s wisdom, must be desired and intentionally sought. That takes effort, self-discipline, and commitment. But it will be found only in this way.
The chief source from which we gain godly wisdom is God’s Word. Psalm 119:99 says,
“I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.
Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible and its focus, (almost exclusively so), is God’s Word. In that chapter, God’s Word is also referred to as his statute, law, precept, decree, and command. In each case it refers to God’s revelation of himself and his will to his people. His wisdom for the ages can be found therein. This is how he has chosen to guide us. Psalm 119:24 says, “Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors.”
Godly friends and teachers, informed by God’s Word are treasures. But it must be his Word that is the source for wisdom. I’ll take a mentor who has been seasoned by years and experience any time over a younger, less-experienced person, but only if the former has walked with God during those years and sat under the tutelage of God’s Word. That’s where wisdom will be found. That’s also why we must “delight” in God’s Word each day – that we too might learn, grow, and one day be a source of godly wisdom for someone else.
Who do you know in your life that is older and has walked closely with the Lord during those years, faithfully learning from God’s Word? Why not take that person out to lunch and ask them questions about important lessons they’ve learned, how they’ve persevered with the Lord, etc.
Grace and Truth,
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