Holding onto the truth (part 1)

The Apostle John gives his first century readers three hallmarks to be sure they are true Christians:

They will obey God. (see ‘Our Holy Heritage’ and ‘Kill sin before it kills you’)

They will love God and other people. (See ‘Gripped by love’ and ‘Love is…’)

They will hold firmly to the truth.

John challenges 21st century Christians with these tests too. Of course none of these traits can make us right with God. Only Christ’s death as our substitute can do that. Nor will we ever manifest these hallmarks perfectly this side of eternity. But these three marks are external proof that we have been born of God. They are visible signs that we are growing up spiritually as the Holy Spirit does his work of sanctification in our lives. We will be looking at John’s third hallmark today and next week—Holding onto the truth.

Spot the fake

When Banks train their staff to spot counterfeit notes, tellers are made to handle authentic money over and over again. They are taught to study the colours, texture, weight and images of the bills carefully. By being familiar with the real thing, they are equipped to spot the counterfeit. So too with God’s people. We need to be so steeped in the truth laid out plainly in God’s Word, that we instantly spot strange teaching when we hear it. New Testament writers and Jesus himself made it clear that false teaching will come from within the church (2 Peter 3:17Mark 13:22). Only Christians who are tethered to Biblical truth will stand firm against the many “winds of teaching” which can toss us back and forth (Eph 4:14). John calls all Christians living in “the last hour” not to be naïve or gullible, but to hold onto the one true gospel and know the real Jesus for themselves. That is how God equips us to spot the counterfeit.

Our text for the next two weeks is 1 John 2:18-27:

18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. 24 As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is what he promised us—eternal life. 26 I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.27 As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

Remain in Him

John is reiterating what Jesus already said (John 15:4;5;6;71 John 2:27b). It is the open secret of the Christian life: If we are to grow up and bear fruit as Christians, we must remain in Christ, like a branch in the mother plant. “Remain” is from the Greek meno, meaning to abide, dwell, continue, be present, to wait, to stand. It implies a consistent, constant, close attachment to both the person of Christ (the Word), as well as the written Word of God, which contains the full story of redemption history from cover to cover.

What you have heard from the beginning

John says we must see that what we have heard from the beginningremains in us (1 John 2:24). We are to guard this truth  as if it were a treasure that God’s enemy is doing his best to destroy…which he is. After all, eternal life hangs in the balance (1 John 2:25).

That is why John warns Christians about false teachers who lead God’s people astray (1 John 2:26). False teaching is a lie directly from the lips of the enemy and is only combatted when ordinary Christians know the truth for ourselves.

That is why those who teach or influence Christians carry a great responsibility. They answer to the Lord Jesus himself. Their overarching role is to equip God’s people to serve Christ and to build up the body of believers to be unified in their faith and to live in a personal relationship with Jesus, the Son of God. Why? “So that we will longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” (Eph 4:11-14). We need leaders to fearlessly speak God’s truth into our lives to anchor us in the turbulent times in which we live.

A warning to the gullible

The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that nothing has changed. “Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings” (Hebrews 13:8-9). We must not be sidetracked. Our culture of tolerance invites us to feast on a buffet of ideas, but there is only one true gospel and one name by which we can be saved (Gal 1:6-7Acts 4:12). We cannot obey God or love our neighbour if we do not know and love the truth. Like the first century Gnostics who spoke under the banner of Christ, there will always be teachers who add extras to the gospel of grace (Heb 13:9). False teachers will always feed their own appetites before serving our Lord Jesus. They will sow division and confusion rather than unifying and building up. “By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people” (Rom 16:17-18). False teachers will continue to speculate about the future and obsess about myths, genealogies and meaningless talk that do not advance God’s work (1 Tim 1:4-6).

Paul paints a startling picture that resembles our own generation:

“For there will come a time when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim 4:3).

It is true that half hearted worshippers will love inoffensive teachers who dilute the truth. Looking around at the visible church today, nothing has changed since the first century. John tells ordinary Christians that we must be so familiar with the truth passed down by Jesus and the Apostles, the message we first heard, that we are not dazzled by diversions (1 John 2:25-26). Teaching is not a matter of innovation but of constant reminding of the truth.

Every Christian’s birthright

Truth is not a novel insight. Nor do only a select few with ‘special anointing’ have access to it  “All of you” and “all things” are comprehensive terms (I John 2:2027b)). Jesus said that the Spirit will lead into truth all those who belong to Him, not just an elite few (John 16:13). The Spirit’s anointing is every Christian’s birthright (2 Cor 1:21Eph 4:7-8). It is subjective proof that we are God’s children. That is why John can say with confidence; “All of you know the truth” (1 John 2:20). The Spirit inside us will warn us when we hear something that jars with the truth and we must pay attention to those uneasy promptings. It is a heart knowledge.

But our knowledge of truth is also based on the objective reality of the real Jesus of history, the Son of God who existed from the beginning, who came to earth as a baby in Bethlehem, fully man yet co-equal with God. We learn the truth about his life, death, resurrection and ascension in the eye witness accounts of the New Testament. We see shadows of Him throughout the Old Testament. We are told the truth of the war that is raging now between the armies of heaven and hell in this era called ‘the last days’. And we are assured of the final consummation when Jesus returns as Judge and King of the new heaven and new earth. The Bible is a true account of history and God’s extraordinary plan to save the world through his Son. It is this precious truth that gives us the hope of eternal life (1 John 2:25). We are stewards of this truth to pass on to future generations.

Stewards of truth

There are no short cuts to being good stewards of truth. We must engage with our Bible and steep ourselves in its truth from beginning to end. We must tremble at God’s word as we seek to handle it properly (Isa 66:2), especially if we have influence over others. We must not twist the plain truth of the Bible to support our own agenda. We must have a plan to read Scripture for ourselves and not just listen to what other people say about it. We must choose a local church which faithfully teaches the whole counsel of God’s Word, not just the bits the preacher fancies.

All Christians are God’s holy people and priests to proclaim gospel truth to a confused world (1 Peter 2:9). We desperately need clarity on what this truth entails. We have the Holy Spirit’s anointing (1 John 2:27) to understand the Bible and apply it. God’s Spirit and God’s Word act in tandem in our lives. We will easily become unbalanced or deceived if we pit the Spirit and the Word against each other, or if we focus on one without the other. Someone wrote this true statement:

“All word and no spirit, we dry up. All Spirit and no Word, we blow up. Both Word and Spirit, we grow up.”(Unknown author)

Pray

Lord Jesus, help me to see you as you really are, to savour your greatness, your beauty and your worth. Help me to treasure the gospel and to truly love people enough to share the truth with them. Help me to hold onto the truth, not because I want to be right or to win arguments, but because I want other people to know Jesus as their own Lord and Saviour. Father, help me to love you with all my heart, soul and might. Then I will be able to love my neighbour as myself and will obey your commands and serve you with a glad heart. Thank you for the true gospel of grace by which I am saved through faith in what Jesus has done for me on the cross. My precious Saviour, keep me mindful of your undeserved grace every second of day, so that my life will show the perfect tension between grace and truth– as yours did when you walked on this earth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Join us next week for part 2 of “Holding onto the truth”.

Here are three Bible-centred resources that are anchoring our family members in the turbulent waves of our times (click on the links to find out more):

1.

The Bible Explore Bible Devotional App (The Good Book company on App store or Google play). https://www.thegoodbook.com/explore-app

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.thegoodbook.explore&hl=en

(The Explore app contains daily Bible readings with questions to help you engage with the Bible text, comment to get you thinking, and ideas for further reading, prayer and application. It includes the Bible text so that you can open up the Bible wherever you are, whenever you can. Explore is written by trusted Bible teachers with a passion for getting God’s word to work in people’s lives. Contributors include Timothy Keller, Mark Dever, Mike McKinley, Christopher Ash, Graham Beynon, Tim Chester and Stephen Witmer.)

2.
Truth For Life app. Alistair Begg’s daily Bible-teaching ministry. https://itunes.apple.com/za/app/truth-for-life/id387699558?mt=8

(Begg’s daily 20 minute messages are easy to download and listen to later when stuck in traffic during load shedding and to make the gym more tolerable!)

3.

The Gospel Coalition US and The Gospel Coalition Africa websites.

(These have many trustworthy contemporary articles, blogs, discussions and sermons to help Christians apply truth to life.)

Love is…

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love each other. Whoever does not love remains in death” (1 John 3:14).

No shades of grey

John has no shades of grey when he describes true disciples of Jesus:

We are dead to sin and alive to Christ.

We walk in the light, not the darkness. Obedience is our first mark of distinction (See Our Holy HeritageKill sin before it kills you).

Our second trademark is that we will love God and each other because God is love. We love, because God first loved us” (1 John 4:810; see Gripped by love).

Love cannot save us, but love demonstrates that we are born again. It is visible proof that God’s invisible Spirit is changing us day by day. It is the practical expression of living in submission to Christ, our ‘Bridegroom’ and the ‘Vine’ that produces good fruit in us moment by moment. The more we love God, the more we will love the people He has made in his own image.

For me, love does not come easily or naturally. It is sometimes hard for me to know what love requires in each relationship and situation. I am naturally self-centred, task driven and prefer to be alone than in community. I thank Jesus that He is not just my example but my sin-bearer! And I thank my home groups for teaching me the joy of living and loving in community. But we live in a world that has distorted the idea of love, turning it into a flexible, sentimental thing that can be moulded by our own desires and imaginations. ‘Love’ is something that is tossed aside when something better comes along. ‘Love’ is trumped by our dreams and goals. We have truly made love in our own image. Today John challenges us with God’s unchanging truth of what love is:

Love is… self sacrifice.

Love is… action not words.

Love is… laying down our lives for others.

Let us pray that God’s Spirit would change us profoundly, moment by moment, to enable us to practically love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

1 John 3:11-23; 4:20-21

11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

The message you have heard from the beginning.

We live at a time when people disdain the old and uncritically fawn over the new. John is speaking to Christians living in an age of Gnosticism similar to today’s ideologies. False teachers were offering a mystical door to salvation. The Athenian mindset of John’s day was obsessed by new ideas (Acts 17:21), spiritual experiences and special knowledge and revelation. But John reminds them that Jesus is the God-man who came to earth in real space and time. His physical body died and came back to life. Jesus is now with his followers by his Spirit. The message of Jesus and the apostles is down-to-earth. It has no shades of grey or mirky shadows. It is the truth that ‘was from the beginning’– not hearsay but first hand knowledge (1 John 1:123). Faith in this Jesus, whose narrative is told in the eye witness accounts of the New Testament, is the only basis for fellowship with God the Father. Like the true Jesus, true love has no shades of grey.

The spirit of Cain.

To show us what love is, (and is not), John reaches back to the book of Genesis for a man in the second generation of humankind—Cain. Cain is contrasted with Jesus (1 John 3:1216) and John challenges us to ask ourselves who we are emulating. Are we allowing rebellion against God and jealousy to take root in our hearts, bearing the thorns of hate and murder, like Cain? Or are we living in full submission to God, giving our lives away out of love for each other, like Jesus? We may be shocked at the idea that we can be like Cain who murdered his brother, but remember Jesus’s words that anyone who hates his brother is a murderer in his heart (Matt 5:21-22). It is useful to re-read how Cain came to murder Abel in Genesis 4:1-16, and the warning God gave him before killing his brother,

“But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Gen 4:7).

God, who knows Cain’s heart, warns him to guard it. But Cain does not master his desires. He shows a settled refusal to soften his hard heart. His envy of his brother gives rise to hatred, and hatred manifests in murder. The Bible talks of envy as coveting. In Cain’s case, breaking the 10th commandment, “Do not covet” leads him to murder his own flesh and blood. Joseph’s brothers show the same progression from envy, to hatred, to selling Joseph as a slave. Humanity in 2019 is no different from our ancestors in Genesis. The heart is the wellspring of life and all our outward actions flow from it (Prov 4:23Matt 15:18).

In his classic True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer makes the point that all sin originates in the 10th commandment, “Do not covet.” Exodus 20:17is the heart condition which leads us to break the other 9 commandments. Schaeffer shows how our proper human desires easily turn into coveting (P205):

Desire becomes sin when it fails to include love of God or men… there are two practical tests as to when we are coveting against God or men; first, I am to love God enough to be contented; second, I am to love men enough not to envy… and this is not only envy for money, it is for everything….Natural desires have become coveting against a fellow creature, one of our kind, when we have a mentality that would give us secret satisfaction at his misfortune.”

We must search our hearts often with these two tests: Contentment and Envy. Coveting is inward rot that spills its poison into our outward actions and words, as it did in Cain’s life. I know in my own life that coveting leads to ingratitude, anger and many other sins in my own life. Love and coveting cannot co-exist. We are either led by the spirit of Cain or the Spirit of Christ.

The Spirit of Christ

Christ’s love always travels from the heart to the hands and feet of those ruled by His Spirit. Like the good Samaritan, a Christian who is Spirit-led cannot look away when someone is in need or distress (1 John 3:17Luke 10:25-37). It is easy to love ‘everyone’ in a vague, generic kind of way, but much harder to love someone in particular. It is easy to avoid someone in need than to get up close and personal, to see and hear them, to share their suffering (Luke 10:33). It is easy to be moved and to feel pity, but it is another thing to give up our time; to bandage up someone’s ‘wounds’; to use our car, our home and give up our money (Luke 10:34-35). Most of us will not die martyrs as Jesus did, but we are still called to lay down our lives for each other, especially for believers (1 John 3:16John 15:12-13).

Of course we cannot meet every need or save the world. Jesus himself did not heal everyone. But love comes from the conviction that every life matters to God. Love starts with small things. That may mean laying down just a part of my time and energy to connect with a brother or sister in need. Love is holding loosely to our comforts, our schedule, our dreams, our money and our desires so that we can care for people (1 John 3:17-18). Love may mean giving away a whole chunk of our lives as we look after an elderly parent or sick friend, or raise an adopted child. Love means never standing in the way of another’s holiness, nor taking what does not belong to me sexually from another person. Love treats every person with dignity, while racism embodies the spirit of Cain. Love is being thoughtful and not irritable or resentful. Love does not want what someone else has (1 Cor 13:4). Love does not have a need for special attention or recognition (1 Cor 13:4-5). Love patiently bears with people rather than quarrelling and gossiping ( Cor 13:7). Love makes peace and is not rude (1 Cor 13:5). Love does not sow division, pick fights or take revenge (1 Peter 3:9Rom 12:17). Love believes the best even when people disappoint us. Love is not a matter of word and talk, but of action and truth (1 John 3:18).

The Biblical definition of love is down to earth: We cannot claim to love an invisible God if we do not love the real flesh and blood people around us. We demonstrate our love for God by practically and sacrificially loving each other. This is not a new message on love. Love fulfills the Old Testament Law and prophets (Rom 13:8;9;10) and has always been God’s greatest commandment (Matt 22:40). It is not only good doctrine and faithful preaching of the word that draws people to Jesus. It is also the sweet witness of love in our church community that convinces people that the gospel is true.

Love is not self determinism. Love is self sacrifice.

(Read Jen Oshman’s book review, Girl, follow Jesus)

The world at war.

John says we should not be surprised when the world hates us (1 John 3:13). If Cain represents the world and Abel symbolizes faithful believers, the way of the world is to covet and drag others down in order to pull oneself up. Just as Cain hated Abel for his righteousness, many people feel threatened by Christians who don’t strive and jostle for position. Light exposes darkness. The world hated God’s prophets, Jesus, the apostles and faithful Christians throughout history.

Love, light and life will always be at war with hatred, darkness and death.

Rather, we should be surprised if we always have the world’s approval and acceptance. The world’s love is not something to be envied. The question John asks us throughout his letter is this: Which side are you living for?

Live it out!

CS Lewis and John Stott give some no-nonsense, practical advice about loving each other. Let’s put these principles into action:

  • “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” C.S Lewis. Mere Christianity.
  • “It is impossible to pray for someone without loving him, and impossible to go on praying for him without discovering that our love for him grows and matures.” John Stott
  • “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” CS. Lewis, The Four Loves

Gripped by Love

We are born lovers. It is written into our DNA as human beings. It’s not a question of whether we love, but whom we love. The object of our affection will grip our heart, no matter what we say we believe or think. Whoever holds the key to our heart will determine how we will live and die. The Apostle John says that being filled with love is the second proof of being ‘born of God’. The first proof is that we obey God (see Kill sin before it kills you). John tells us that there are two opposing forces that vie for our love. Like light and darkness, they cannot be fused and have nothing in common.

Either we will love God or we will love the world.

1 John 2:15-17:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

1 John 4:7-21

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation* for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us…

16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him…  19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

Living and loving through Jesus

1 John 4:19 was the first Bible verse I ever learned by heart: “We love because He first loved us.” My toddler version was: “I wuv God ‘coz he first wuved me,” and I repeated that verse like a parrot because it made me feel good. God’s love is personal to me. It has made all the difference to my life, and has, over time, shaped crucial decisions and the places I seek security and joy. Every time I bump my head against sin and become aware of how lost and weak I am in myself, God’s love shines warmer and brighter as I realise just how undeserved his grace is. My Saviour’s love has freed me up to love people without worrying if there will be anything left over for me. I know He loves me today as much as He will love me on the day I take my last breath. He will love me in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer, in wise moments and in stupid ones! And death will never part us.

According to John, God’s love is what every child of God can “come to know and believe” as a fact, not just a theory (1 John 4:16). We are supposed to experience it as a reality for ourselves, because God has shown his love to us in a way that we cannot dispute (1 John 4:9-10). Because the holy God of the universe laid down his life for ours as a propitiation* for our sins, we can stake our life on this love. Even when it feels as though God is silent or has forgotten us. Even in the darkest dead-end streets of life, we can depend on it—without a shadow of doubt.

The acid test

For many years now I have led women’s Bible studies attended by ladies from a range of denominations, personalities and cultures. This week I have been with my children at university and attended my daughter’s student cell group. Beyond superficial differences in age, style and denomination, there is one quality that always arrests me in a community where God’s Spirit is alive and well: There is a tender affection for the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians who are growing and being sanctified by the Holy Spirit are eager to serve and obey God more, not out of duty or fear, but from a place of deep love and devotion. Even when they are struggling with life and have honest questions about their faith, they talk of Jesus in a personal, excited way as if He is precious and lovely to them. They are deeply offended if His name is dishonoured. For those who understand the gospel of grace, it is only natural to be completely devoted to the person who has rescued you from the precipice of disaster and death. And it is only logical that when you are gripped by God’s love, you will be moved by it to love others. It is a matter of cause and effect for Christ’s Beloved, as indeed we are if we are born again and know God (1 John 4:7).

Giving our hearts away

But even if we are God’s beloved, it is also easy for us to slip into a stale, stagnant faith over time. Love for God will always grow cold when we give the key of our heart to the world. Love of the world chokes our affection for Jesus. I do not know which is the chicken and the egg, but one thing is certain: if we are setting our hearts on things of the world, we cannot love God at the same time (1 John 2:15). These loves are always incompatible, because what the world delights in is not what our heavenly Father delights in, and vice versa (1 John 2:16). John gives you and me a serious reality check:

This world is not going to last, nor anything in it. Getting cozy with the world is like embracing a phantom in a fog.

If we are gripped by love of the world, we will stumble about aimlessly, eventually losing our way and wasting our life on stuff that is passing away—like vapour that slips through our fingers.  The world has a very short shelf life and we will have nothing to show for our investment in it. By contrast, living a life to please God is making an investment that lasts for all eternity (1 John 2:17). I am not a good shopper, and whenever I have spent longer than an hour at a shopping Mall, these words of Wordsworth’s poem ring like an alarm bell in my mind!

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

Three ways we give our hearts away

How exactly do we give our hearts away and “lay waste our powers”? The apostle John says, “Do not love the world or the things of the world” (1 John 2:15).  John is not speaking about loving nature or creation. In fact, the beauty of the universe restores us and should draw us closer to God, the Creator of everything (Ps 19:1-6). We do not give our hearts away or waste our time when we enjoy the blessings and cherish the people God has given us in this world. But John defines what he means by loving the world in 1 John 2:16:

Lust of the flesh and desire of the eyes is thirst for pleasure in things God has not designed to satisfy us. Selfish lust will always oust love, which is other-centred. Desire of the flesh and eyes is an inward-focussed striving or craving to have our needs met by whatever we have set our heart on– something which we do not have but yearn for. We give our heart away to what we desire most (Matt 6:21).

Pride of life is boasting (even silently) in things we do have– talents or things we have achieved, earned or acquired. When we give our heart away to pride, we stop loving God and others, and start serving ourselves instead. As long as we live for our own glory, we will always fear losing what the world has given us. Money can be a powerful symbol of self glory in a divided heart. That’s why Proverbs 62:10 gives us a wise warning, “If riches increase, set not your heart on them.” And the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

When love grows cold

Loving the world always results in a cold heart towards Jesus. Our devotion to Him will become lukewarm and we will soon make excuses to avoid reading the Bible, praying and spending time with God’s people. It is hard enough to serve Jesus in a hostile world, but if we cling to the world’s trappings, we will lose our distinctive ‘saltiness’, becoming useless disciples (Matt 5:13). Flirting with the world is called ‘idolatry’ and is seriously offensive to God. We can no longer worship God with a full, blazing heart, in spirit and in truth. James puts it bluntly: Friendship with the world leads to enmity (hostility) with God (James 4:4).

So what should we do if our heart is growing cold towards Jesus? The only remedy is to acknowledge the false love (idol) that grips our affections and to ‘burn the ships’, seeking God’s face for forgiveness and renewal. We cannot overcome love of the world in our own strength, but Jesus says that He has overcome the world (John 16:33). If we are in Christ and God’s Spirit is breaking the power of sin in our lives, we too can overcome (1 John 5:4). But we cannot be complacent. We need to turn our eyes to Jesus and do whatever it takes to rekindle our love for our Saviour, just as we would work on a marriage where love has grown stale. We are not slaves to our feelings, but must act in love and obedience to God, and wait for our feelings to follow:

Prioritise time with the Lord, go for a long walk with Him, talk about what He has done for us, remind ourselves of our first spark of love when we were born again. Stay accountable and confess our sins to Christian brothers and sisters. In this way, we do not give the world a gap to woo us. Intimacy with God is something that is built over time, laying down one small brick of love at a time. Intimacy grows through feeding our appetites godly food and placing ourselves in the three channels of grace God has provided to keep our affections alive to Him: 1. Daily reading of Scripture. 2. Prayer. 3. Meeting with God’s people (see David Mathis’s book titled The Habits of Grace).

Who of us doesn’t struggle daily with  desires of the flesh, the eyes and the pride of life? But we will only loosen the world’s grip on our heart through a more powerful devotion to Jesus, who is infinitely greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

Do you love me?

Christian ministry is dangerous without this powerful devotion to Jesus, the Saviour. That’s why our risen Lord asks Peter three times, “Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me?” Before Peter is commissioned to feed the church, he is not asked, “Do you believe me?” or “Will you obey me?” Or “will you serve me?”  Love is the foundation of our faith and our ministry. “Do you love me?” is the most searching question Jesus asks every Christian, since each of us has been sent into the world as His ambassador.

We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The love that grips our hearts will make the world of difference. Is it the love of Christ… or the world?

Live it out!

  • What do you think of most of the time? Turn now to Jesus and ask Him to be the centre of your thoughts, your focus and your desires.

Sing this wonderful hymn to remind yourself of your Messiah, “who holds forever those he loves.” Is He worthy, by Andrew Peterson.

* Meaning of propitiation – the act of placating the wrath of God through Christ’s atoning death on the cross. “The prefix pro means “for,” so propitiation brings about a change in God’s attitude, so that He moves from being at enmity with us to being for us. Through the process of propitiation, we are restored into fellowship and favour with Him.” (see https://www.ligonier.org/blog/two-important-words-good-friday-expiation-and-propitiation/)

Kill sin before it kills you

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12.) Paul expands this proverb in Romans 8:13: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” A Christian is called to be a sin slayer.

The Bible is not ashamed of binaries. Life and death. Light and darkness. The Spirit and the flesh. There is no neutral or fluid space in between. We either follow the Father of lights and the source of life and peace (James 1:17Mal 2:5Rom 8:6). Or we serve Satan, the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). We either live as children of the day or the night (1 Thess 5:5). For the apostle John, obedience to God is the first proof that we are born of God. Obeying God is key to sanctification, which is defined by the Westminster Shorter Catechism as “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.” During the lifelong  process of sanctification we are freed from sinful habits and take on Christlike desires and character traits. Sanctification is real transformation from the inside out, not just a superficial change of behaviour. Although we are saved by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, there is  something active and ruthless about dying to sin and living to righteousness. Whether we like it or not, we are in a war with Satan, the enemy of God and of any person who bears God’s name. We need to kill sin before it kills us. Our texts today are from 1 John:

1 John 1:5-7: This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 3:4-10: Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

Sin is the ultimate wrecking ball

As children of a fluid, shifting culture, we tend to put sins into boxes labeled “Excusable”, “Serious”, “Naughty but nice.” But the unchanging God has no such categories. According to the apostle John, all sin originates with Satan, who makes it his business to lead us away from our Creator and onto a path of sin and rebellion against Him. That path may look innocuous and fun, but all sin is “lawlessness” and ultimately leads to death (1 John 3:4James 1:15). If you are a Christian, sin will always torpedo the joy Christ gives you (John 15:11). It will grieve God’s ‘seed,’ the Holy Spirit who lives in you (1 John 3:9Eph 4:30), and it displeases the Father who purchased you at a great price (1 Thess 4:1).

Just as darkness and light have nothing in common, God’s Spirit doesn’t mix with sin in our lives (1 John 3:7;9). When we ‘practice sin’, we are rebels against God and cannot have fellowship or peace with Him or others. We are even at odds with ourselves (1 John 1:6,7). Since sin is essentially placing ourselves on the throne instead of God, it is the ultimate wrecking ball. There is no unhappier person than a Christian chasing treasure and pleasure apart from God.

Burn the ships

When the infamous Spanish explorer Cortez arrived in the New World in 1519 with 600 men, he ordered them to burn all the ships. His message was clear, “There’s no turning back.” Two years later he conquered the Aztec empire. Likewise, every Christian must die to self before following Jesus and taking our place in God’s family (Mark 8:34-35Luke 14:27). This means turning our back on sin and those thought patterns which go against God’s commands and character. In the blink of an eye, the cozy familiar ships can take us back to our old habits and the old self which used to rule us. The byproducts of sin are dire, and that’s why we cannot play or flirt with it.

We are called first to own and then disown our sin. That means to confess our sin to God and then  turn against it so that it loses its grip on us, to stop excuses and blame, to leave ourselves no option but to trust and obey God going forward. It means hating not just the effects of sin, but the sin itself. It can be like a painful amputation or a violent struggle, but the alternative is even more painful: If you are a true child of God, sin steals your peace, it gives you a heavy heart, and you will have no rest while you are still serving it. That’s why burning the ships is not optional!

If ‘burning the ships’ is too dramatic an image for you, let me give you a more concrete example from my own life: One of the joys of writing The God Walk is that the Holy Spirit is first tattooing on my own heart what I pass on in my devotions. (Tattoos are painful but hopefully the effects are permanent!) Yesterday as I was writing this, I was feeling aggrieved by something and it made me too agitated to write, so I got on my knees and asked the Lord to show me why my response was so disproportionate to the offence. The Spirit showed me that the root of my heaviness was a false treasure, something I cared about too much, a source of satisfaction I was seeking and serving. So, as I confessed this particular idol, I asked the Lord to help me ‘burn the ships’ so I could not return to it. I asked him to change my heart so that I would despise it and throw it in the fire. It was a struggle that went on all day each time my mind raced back its stupid destructive obsession. I realized that deep down I didn’t really want to burn that ship completely and confessed that too. There is perverse pleasure in holding onto sinful thoughts and I am a chief self-saboteur! But I have learned the war language of 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” It is the internal battle of every believer, as Paul describes in Romans 7.

By the time the sun set, I received that wonderful gift that only the Spirit can give. John calls it a “heart at rest” (1 John 3:19), an assurance that we belong to the truth. Those destructive feelings abated and I was released from their tyranny. John says we can have confidence before God and know our prayers are heard “because we keep his commands and do what pleases him”, starting with believing in his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 3:2223). We do what is right and then our feelings will follow. Keeping God’s commands is a daily struggle of confessing, believing Jesus and actively ‘burning the ships’ of our sinful desires, regardless of our feelings. Remember that John is not saying a Christian will stop sinning completely, but that we will not “keep on sinning” without a care.

John Owen (a Puritan) wrote a famous series of sermons titled “The Mortification of Sin in Believers” which he first preached to a youth group in 1656. Imagine the shock and horror of doing that to a group of millennials today! (You can read it here.) Owen’s plea inspired the title of this devotion:

“Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

If we are tempted to think John Owen was a little extreme, we must hear the words of our Saviour, who died to take away our sin and save us from death and judgment:

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matt 5:43-48)

There is nothing meek and mild about this command to kill sin! It’s like slaying a dragon and may cause some injury along the way. You have to get out of your hammock to do it. But there is one thing you can be sure of:

Sin leads to sorrow and death, but holiness leads to happiness and life.

Sin in disguise: Live it out!

What complicates matters is that Satan masquerades as an angel of light and sin does not always look like death and darkness (2 Cor 11:14):  ‘Self esteem’ may be a handy disguise for pride. Gossip and slander may be dressed up as ‘sharing prayer needs’. Greed and envy may masquerade as ‘ambition’. Cheating often hides behind ‘competition’; boastfulness behind ‘assertiveness’; manipulation behind ‘victimhood’. Bitterness and unforgiveness can lurk behind a legitimate ‘grievance’. Rudeness may be labelled ‘task driven’. Unfaithfulness or unkindness can be justified as ‘authentic’ and ‘being true to self’. If denying ourselves and taking up our cross is Christ’s command to every believer, we can be sure that burning our ships means killing every sneaky version of self promotion—self righteousness, self pity, self absorption, selfishness, self protection and narcissism….That’s the flesh. Pride may seem like a protective shell, but it makes us hellbent on destruction. Pride does not mix with God’s Spirit inside us. Pride blinds us to Satan’s schemes to destroy our faith, our relationships and our witness to the world.

Destroying the destroyer

If Satan has evil schemes, Jesus has a good mission— to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Satan’s name means ‘accuser’ and his modus operandi from the beginning has been to accuse, deceive and deface the image of God in us. Satan delights in leading humans into sin so that he can accuse us before God and demand judgment. But the gospel writes a different script for Christians: Sin is so serious that God’s own innocent Son had to come to earth as a man to die in our place, to take our sin away, so that we would not face the judgment of God (1 John 3:5). That’s how Jesus destroys Satan’s works on the cross. But whenever we tolerate sin patterns in our lives, we collude with Satan. Sin is treason against God, a foothold for the enemy to deface God’s image and glory in us. But when we live lives of holiness and obedience, we live under the blessing and protection of our heavenly Father. That is pure joy.

Joy in Jesus

No matter how hard our struggle is, there is incredible happiness for a Christian who walks in holiness, abiding daily in Christ (1 John 3:6). Sanctification is like the process of a worm transforming into a butterfly. It means dying to the old self and coming alive as a beautiful new creation. It is the only route to wholeness.

A third John– John Piper– concludes, “There is a preaching that almost never highlights the truth that Christ died not only to secure our forgiveness but to secure our sin-killing obedience to the commandments of the New Testament. [Christ] bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. (1 Peter 2:24) The beauty and power of the cross of Christ is seen and enjoyed in the blood-bought experience of obedience to Christ’s commands. Experiencing this is a dimension of joy that can be had no other way. A Christian Hedonist won’t be satisfied without it.”

Live it out:

  • Meditate on these commandments of God: 1 Cor 6:9-112 Cor 6:14Titus 2:12Eph 5:3-5Gal 5:19-21; Col 3. Which of God’s commands has the Holy Spirit convicted you of lately?
  • What sin are you slaying in your life right now?
  • Pray for the Spirit’s power to deal with the most insidious sin that underlies all other sin: Pride.

Worship with music:

Burn the Ships (For King and Country–Click and listen here.) Download the whole album on Itunes. There is a personal story of sin-killing behind the song– a great reminder to step into a new day and kill sin… or it will kill you.

Next week we will explore God’s great command to love (and not to love). Love is the second mark of being born of God. We will continue in John’s first letter as we dig deeper into the doctrine of Sanctification.

A Holy Heritage

Being born again is a miracle that dramatically and permanently changes a believer’s trajectory. Through the gates of Radical Repentance we move from death to life; from darkness to light; from the orphanage to the family of the Triune God. In place of fear we have a Father, and the father of lies has no claim over our lives (John 8:44Eph 2:1;2;3). Last week’s devotion, “From Slaves to Sons” featured a picture of a person in a hammock overlooking the world. I loved that picture the minute I saw it! It suggested to me the joy of being a child of God:

No fear!

No longer a slave to fear but a beloved son/daughter of ‘Abba’ Father. No longer striving in my own efforts but resting in the perfect work of Jesus, my older Brother. Forgiven and free, secure in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, with a new perspective and destiny. There’s no end to the blessings of being an adopted child of God, as we’ve been discovering the last few months on The God Walk.

But we cannot bask in the ‘hammock’ of these wonderful truths for the rest of our lives, hoping that the Holy Spirit will miraculously transform us! The gospel is only half a gospel if it revels in the wonder of justification, but never the lifelong process of sanctification. It’s like a runner who enters a trail race, hears the starter gun, and then sits beside the road to admire the view and the goodies in his hydration pack! The hydration pack equips and the view inspires us for the journey ahead, but we must use every muscle of our body to run all the way to the finish line. For a child of God, getting right with God is the starting line. Each day thereafter, we take active steps of obedience to the Father as we run in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ. As children who are ‘born of God’, we must take hold of our holy heritage. According to John’s first letter, there are three proofs that we are children of God —Obedience, Love and a commitment to Truth. We will be examining these three proofs over the next few weeks as we look at the doctrine of sanctification. Our text today is 1 John 2: 1-628-293:1-2:

The proof of obedience

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which Jesus walked…28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself, as he is pure.

Talk is cheap but the walk is costly.

The apostle John could not be more direct in his letter to all God’s children: A claim that we are God’s children is empty if not backed up by obedience to our heavenly Father. If we are truly ‘born of God’, we will ‘practice righteousness’ and walk the same path Jesus walked (1 John 2:529). It is matter of cause and effect.

John is in rapture as he reminds us of our identity as children of God and our heavenly family home (1 John 3:12). I love his affectionate words to motivate us to copy our older Brother’s example of purity (1 John 2:6293:3). Obedience to God’s moral standard is an expression of our love for the Father and the outflowing of His love for us (1 John 2:5). Obedience is an observable genetic trait which proves our holy heritage.

Peter and the apostles give us an example of how costly this obedience can be in a world that does not recognize Christ as Lord (1 John 3:1b). They chose to obey God rather than the world even though it cost them beatings, imprisonment and ultimately their lives (Acts 5:282941). We too are instructed to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him” (Col 1:10), to practice righteousness, not just to talk about it (1 John 2:29). Talk is cheap, but the Christ-walk is costly. Jesus teaches the identical message in John 15:14,

“You are my friends if you do what I command.”

Jesus doesn’t offer suggestions or wise words. He is not fooled by false spirituality or bold claims (Matthew 7:22;23). He is Lord over every inch of our lives, because He is God. There are no half measures. Living as a Christian means obeying the Father as Jesus did (1 John 2:5,6). For Jesus, the cost of obedience was death on a Roman cross.

Never perfect but ever striving

But knowing that we are just little children who don’t look much like our older Brother yet, the gentle Apostle first encourages us (1 John 2:1). He reminds us of his earlier promise (1 John 1: 8,9,10.) There is no such thing as a perfect Christian and we are fooling ourselves and calling God a liar if we hide or deny our sin. Every time we fall, Jesus is there to defend us in the court of heaven as He’s paid our penalty in full (Rom 8:1). We are a work in progress.

But after the acquittal, we must look our sin square in the face and own it. Every moment we actively ‘abide’ (or continue) in Jesus (1 John 2:28), we place ourselves under God’s standards, not man’s. In fact, John calls us hypocrites if we claim to know God but habitually do as we please (1 John 2:4).

Just as children in a healthy family resemble their parents and try to please them, God’s children will take on the family likeness, even though we are not always perfect. Holiness is our distinct family heritage. But we do not strive in our own power. Remember that we are children of the Triune God and one of the members of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit, the guarantor of our adoption. He has made his home in our hearts. Only God’s Spirit can transform us into the image of Jesus ‘from one degree of glory to another’ (2 Cor 3:18). Only the Spirit’s conviction can help us to see our sin and ask for forgiveness (John 16:8). Only the Spirit can give us different desires (Phil 2:13). It is the Spirit of truth who opens our eyes to understand reality (John 16:12-15). Only the Counsellor empowers our prayers and helps us in our weaknesses (Rom 8:26). Only the Spirit gives us the power to exercise self control and say “No!” to sin (1 Cor 3:17). Only through the Holy Spirit can we produce good fruit (Gal 5:22;23). That’s why it’s impossible to please God unless we are born again and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5;6;8).

There can be no holy heritage without the Holy Spirit.

Burn the ships!

You may be wondering what the feature picture at the top of this devotion is all about. You’ll have to join me next week to find out! In “Burn the Ships!” we will look at what it takes to “continue in Christ” and the unbreakable link between holiness and happiness. Don’t miss it! As a sneak preview in the meantime, you can listen to our family’s favourite song Burn the Ships (For King and Country–Click and listen here.)

Live out today’s devotion:

  1. Be honest about your Christ-walk. Spend time thinking and praying about whether your walk matches your talk. Ask people close to you whether they can see the proof of obedience in your life in real concrete ways.
  2. What command of God the Father have you recently obeyed? Was there a cost to yourself?
  3. Worship as you meditate on the holiness of God and the work of the Trinity in your life. Click on here to listen the hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy sung by Shane and Shane. Only when we get a glimpse into the character of God can we truly appreciate our identity as Abba’s child and the Spirit’s work in our lives. Pray about what the words of this hymn mean to you.

From Slaves to Sons

Abba’s child

Romans 8:15-17 (ESV)

15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Psalm 56:3-4 (NIV)

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
    In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?

No longer a slave to fear!

(Click on the song by Bethel music here)

I know without a shadow of doubt that I am a child of God, but if the truth be told, I still live in the shadow of feelings of fear and anxiety—sometimes even doom! It’s not just the ordinary kind of fear either. It’s irrational, debilitating and hits me from nowhere like an invisible assailant. My peace and joy are erased and I suddenly feel untethered, fragmented and panicky. At one time in my life, I used to have a fear of speaking, reading aloud and being with people in a social setting. Loosening the chains of fear, especially my fear of loss and failure, has been part of my journey of faith, but the most helpful question I can ask my own soul when in the grip of fear is this:

“What can anyone or anything in this world take away from me or do to me that God has not ordained?”

Of course, as a child of God I know the answer to that question, but I have to preach the truth to my fluttering heart over and over again. Personally, one of the most liberating and honest verses in the whole of Scripture is Psalm 56: 3-4. Here it is in the ESV:

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?”

I love David’s candid statements to express both his fear and his trust in God at the same time. God has used my fear to show me my own weakness and the power of Jesus to supply all my needs. My fear has driven me to hunger for my Father and the truth of His word. It has forced me to meditate on, memorise and hold onto his promises for dear life. I would never have understood the faithfulness and love of God if I had not been driven by the storm of my own fears to take refuge under his wings. Faith and fear are not mutually exclusive as long as we live in this world, in the period between redemption and the day we take occupation of our perfect home (Rom 8:2Rom 8:2122). Faith is believing the promises of God even when we cannot see or feel any evidence that they are true– Just because He said so. No matter what. There is a tension but not a contradiction in David’s prayer, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”

In today’s devotion, I am going to call on you to click on a few worship songs, because music has been a great megaphone for preaching truth into my own soul.

Look up child!

(Click on this song by Lauren Daigle)

The key to living out our adoption in flesh-and-blood lives, is the Aramaic word “Abba” (Rom 8:15). Abba translates as dadda, the phonetic sound an infant would use before he can utter his first word. Think of a baby holding her daddy’s face and expecting to be fed, protected and loved. There is complete trust and dependency implied in the word. No question of earning Abba’s love or approval. No attempt to manipulate Abba. You and I “cry Abba” when we run like a child towards our heavenly Father to pray to him. We have direct access to Him because we have put our faith in the Lord Jesus, the one and only mediator between sinful people and a holy God (1 Tim 2:5). Like that trusting infant, we simply open our arms to receive God’s gracious gift of adoption. We don’t wear ourselves out trying to ‘make God’s team’ or prove our worthiness. We don’t fear being sent away. It is only because Jesus is worthy that you and I can boldly approach God’s throne of grace (Heb 4:16Eph 1:7). Our prayers to Abba are nothing like the ritualistic prayers of those who do not know God as their Father (Matt 6:5;6;7;8). We do not relate to Abbalike He is the Genie of the Lamp, with prayers to impress or demand His favour. We know we have it already, covered in Jesus’ robe of righteousness (Rom 4:4-6Isa 61:10). We are children, not slaves! Look up child, into your Father’s face instead of the face of your circumstances.

You make me brave!

(Click on You make me Brave by Bethel music). If you prefer hymns, click on  In Christ alone)

Children of God have a primal connection with their perfectly good, strong, faithful and loving Abba Father. When they run to Him for refuge, fear gives way to confidence, devotion and a desire to please Him. This boldness reminds me of my two dogs, Honey (the terrier) and Caspy (the retriever) below.

caspy and honey

When we adopted our no-name brand, “Honeydew” from the SPCA, she was terrified of everyone and everything. She had been rescued on the busy highway near Honeydew, hence the name! It was obvious that her early months of life had been scary if not abusive, and I often had to claim her at the vet’s rooms after she bolted from me in Delta Park. Her panic could be triggered by something as innocuous as a man riding towards her on a bike. Everything changed when we brought our golden retriever, Caspian (‘Lionheart’) home. My son chose him because he was the biggest and gentlest in the litter. Caspy soon outgrew Honey and claimed his spot as top dog. But something significant changed too: Gradually Honey transformed into a bolder, braver terrier than ever before as she hid behind her big brother, Caspy, the most friendly, fearless dog I know! After six years, Honey has become Caspy’s shadow, barking and wagging her tail as if she belongs to our family and proud of her role as guard dog! There’s no trace of fear as long as Caspy is near, but alone, Honey is timid and lost. It’s best not to bend this analogy too far or it will surely break, because trust me, Caspy is unruly and nothing like Jesus! But Honey’s transformation is a little like our own when we become Abba’s children. As we learn to trust and tuck in behind Jesus, our big brother, we start to believe that we do indeed belong to God’s family. We embrace our forgiveness and it dawns on us that we are truly at peace with God. The reality that we are in Christ trickles from our head into our heart and we start to live as though we are true heirs of the blessings that Paul describes in Ephesians 2. Little by little, fear and sin no longer have the power to control us and we relate to God as if He is indeed our Abba. In place of fear, we have a Father. The question we must ask ourselves is this: Which father do we believe? Our heavenly Father or the father of lies?

Whom shall I fear?

Click on Whom Shall I Fear by Chris Tomlin

Live it out:

Do you know that your heavenly Father delights when you love and take care of your spiritual brothers and sisters? Are you meeting with a small group regularly to remind yourself of your status as Abba’s child?

Join us next week in “Which father do you believe?”

From Orphans to Heirs

The Father’s love

One of my favourite books is Knowing God by J.I Packer. I especially love the final chapter titled “Sons of God”:

“What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father… Do I, as a Christian, understand myself?  Do I know my own real identity?  My own real destiny?  I am a child of God.  God is my Father;  heaven is my home;  every day is one day nearer.  My Saviour is my brother; every Christian is my brother and sister too.

Say it over and over to yourself first thing in the morning…and ask that you may be enabled to live as one who knows it is all utterly and completely true. For this is the Christian’s secret of – a happy life? –yes, certainly, but we have something both higher and profounder to say.  This is the Christian’s secret of a Christian life and of a God-honouring life, and these are the aspects of the situation that really matter. May this secret become fully yours, and fully mine.”

Packer is referring to the greatest mystery of the gospel– Adoption.

Our text is Romans 8:12-17

12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

From Orphans to Sons

In another letter, the apostle John calls us to open our eyes and “look at what kind of love our heavenly Father has for us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!” (1 John 3:1).

Our heavenly Father’s love is a kind of love only explained by the gospel. It is nothing like the sentimental ‘love’ we see on romantic comedies or Valentine’s cards. It is a far cry from the ‘love’ that leaves when my needs are no longer met. It is the kind of love which goes on a journey in search of orphans faraway and brings them home, giving them a name, a destiny and writing them into his will as heirs. It is the kind of love that fiercely protects, defends, delights and grieves over his family. It is the kind of love that stays for the long haul.

We are those orphans. God our Father came in search of us while we still scorned and rejected His love (Rom 5:8). But His love was so persistent, so unfailing, so fierce, that He gave His own life to pay for ours.

Let me paint a picture of the Father’s love for his children: When we receive Jesus the Son as our redeemer, the Father adopts us as if we were his natural born children, (John 1:12-13). We exchange orphan rags for Christ’s robe of righteousness (Isa 61:10Rev 19:8). Our shame is replaced by bold confidence. (Rom 8:1Heb 4:16). Our fear is traded for assurance of the Father’s provision. We surrender anxious striving for a permanent position in God’s eternal family. We will never be returned to the orphanage for bad behaviour. The signed adoption papers are God’s Spirit who comes to live in our heart as proof of our status (Rom 8:16). We are given a new identity card (Isa 43:1), a family mission statement (Matt 28:16-20) and a new wardrobe of clothes to wear (Col 3:12). We receive a personal tutor, the Holy Spirit, to help us live beyond the doors of the orphanage where we used to scrap for food and lived only for ourselves (Rom 8:1214). We now have a secure family and a home. Paul says we have received (not earned) adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father!” (Rom 8:15).*

Adoption is the ultimate unearned, undeserved privilege that every Christian inherits when we repent and believe in Jesus as Lord. There are no super-star children or runts in God’s family! No child is invisible or overlooked by this Father. No child is belittled, rejected or abandoned by this Father. This Father cannot be fooled or manipulated. He is the only perfectly good father.

It is hard to take on the world without the secure love of an earthly father who protected and cherished you. This vacuum can become a terrible handicap on the journey of life. But King David tells us that even if “my father and mother have forsaken me, yet the LORD will take me in” (Ps 27:10). No matter what your human heritage, no matter how wonderful or deficient your earthly father is, the father vacuum in our soul can only be filled by the Lord, our perfect Father. He will take you in.

As children of the most high God, we must knead the Father’s love into our minds every day so that even our subconscious dreams start to believe it! Seeing the beauty of this love and guarding it with all our might will prepare us for whatever we may need to suffer for Christ now and to share in His glory when he comes to take his children to our eternal home (Rom 8:17). Our Father’s love is not a mystical secret we can master through theories, books or religious practices. Nor is it a body of knowledge we can learn like maths or history. The Father’s love is something we can only know by experience as we walk in relationship with Him, just as the love of a husband or wife can only be known through the journey of marriage. It is a mystery that reveals more of itself day by day as we learn to walk like a child, in trust and obedience, with our Abba Father. “As a father shows compassion on his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are but dust.” (Ps 103:13-14)

Live it out!

  • Take a rain check on your soul: Are you wearing yourself out trying to prove yourself, earning your place in the world or the family of God? Do you sometimes feel like an orphan? The root of your weariness may be that you are not living as a child of the Almighty, in the shadow of your Father’s great love for you.
  • Take time now to meditate on God as your Father and the love he has lavished on you throughout your life, even when you didn’t want Him. Think of how he pursued you and called you his own. Re-live your journey from orphan to son or daughter as you pray to your Father. Thank Him right now, express your praise and devotion as his beloved child. Pour out your heart and ask Him to reveal Himself to you as ‘Abba’ Father.

Worship your Father as you listen to The Father’s love (Sovereign Grace Music) and Good Good Father (Chris Tomlin).

Join us next week for part 2 in the same text, as we dig deeper into what it means to be “Abba’s Child.”

*Note: In the Roman empire, it was only the firstborn son who could inherit his father’s estate. Daughters were not heirs. When Paul calls us sons and fellow heirs with Christ, he is conveying great status to our position in the family (Rom 8:17).

Radical repentance

Metanoia

the name of my son’s new residence at Stellenbosch University! The word caught my eye beside  the other Afrikaans names. Ever curious, I googled metanoia and was bowled over by what I discovered. In classical Greek, meta means movement or change, also implying something beyond ourselves. The suffix noeo refers to the mind: its thoughts, perceptions, inclinations, motives and goals. So Metanoia is a complete overhaul of the mind— a new internal allegiance which radically changes the identity and trajectory of a person’s life. Metanoia is what happens when a train switches tracks and goes full steam ahead in an entirely different direction, generated by a new engine and directed by a new train driver.

It is difficult to find an English word to fully convey metanoia, but it is translated in the Bible as “repentance.” To repent encompasses much more than mere regret or remorse for sin, a few tweaks, new habits or surrender of negative energy. Nor is it like our new year’s resolutions which don’t last beyond January. Instead, repentance is a supernatural, Holy Spirit-driven process that is radical, ruthless and relentless. Metanoia is the only root of lasting change, and it will bear the fruit of life and peace in even the most shattered lives (Rom 8:6).

Metanoia stands on four legs: a)a complete surrender of ourselves, b)turning to God, c)laying aside of the old, and d)putting on the new (John Calvin).

Jesus insisted that repentance is the only border post to His eternal Kingdom and forgiveness by the King is the only acceptable passport (Luke 13:3;5). This is how CS Lewis describes repentance:

“Christ says, “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good…Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked–the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.” (Mere Christianity)

Metanoia lies at the heart of our text today, extracted from Peter’s first sermon to Jews in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost.

Acts 2:22-4122 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[a] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.25 David said about him:

“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’[b]

29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”’

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Cut to the heart

Three thousand of Peter’s listeners were pierced by the sword of God’s Spirit that day! (Acts 2:37) Their sliced hearts are proof that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged-sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”(Heb 4:12).

As Peter cites Old Testament Scriptures (Ps 16; 110), it dawns on his Jewish hearers that they have killed Jesus “whom God made Lord and Christ.” The Holy Spirit gives them 3-D glasses to see the screen of their hearts clearly and it’s not a pretty picture. Their rejection and violation of God’s chosen Messiah… Their offence and defiance against Yahweh himself… Their utter contempt for His love. As Jews, they knew God’s anger was rightly on them and they desperately needed forgiveness. The Holy Spirit pressed familiar prophecies against their hearts to convict them: “To him (Jesus), all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)

Peter’s metanoia

Now, let’s turn to Peter the preacher. He is saturated with the Holy Spirit as he speaks. Scripture drips from his lips. This uneducated fisherman is confidently delivering his debut sermon to thousands of Jews, many of whom were probably scholars (Acts 2:14). Yet he is not the least bit intimidated nor diplomatic. How did such power come from the same quivering man who, just fifty days earlier, thrice denied knowing Jesus and then abandoned Him, crushed by his own cowardly betrayal? Peter’s confidence is living proof of his own metanoia and the Spirit of God in him. When 3000 desperate Jews cry out, “What shall we do to be saved?” Peter speaks from personal conviction as a fellow traitor of Jesus. He prescribes the one and only remedy —Metanoia!

Repentance guarantees not only that God will wipe out their sins, but will also make his home in their hearts by his Spirit. What a relief for us to hear Peter’s next words: “The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39). The offer is not just for believing Jews and their children, but also for Gentiles who stand outside the privileges of the Old Testament covenant! Most of us are the ‘far-off ones’ and the offer is for each one of us who answers the Lord’s call.

The power of conviction

Like his listeners, Peter had been cut to the heart by his own betrayal of Jesus. It was the lowest point for the zealous man who had been first to follow Jesus (Mark 1:16) and confess Him as Saviour and Lord (Matt 16:1617). But Peter had repented and been restored by His beloved, risen Jesus (John 21:15-17), then taught by Him for 50 precious days thereafter. Peter preaches with the conviction of one called to feed and take care of his master’s sheep (John 21:16). Fearlessly he obeys God’s call “to preach and testify that Jesus is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). He fears the judgment of God more than man’s approval as he calls them to save themselves from their generation, crooked with sin (Acts 2:40). He could be speaking to us today and our own generation. He looks not to his audience, but to the risen and ascended King to empower his life of obedience (Acts 2:31-32).

Peter’s sermon displays the extraordinary power of metanoia in a person’s life. His urgent tone reminds me of the words of another apostle called by the risen Jesus, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16, Paul.)

Our metanoia

Radical, relentless, and ruthless repentance always bears powerful fruit: supernatural peace, power and purpose start to characterise the lives of those who allow themselves to be shaped by it. I have seen it personally in Christians who have truly come to the end of themselves and fallen at Jesus’ feet in desperation. Their personal conviction is deeply compelling.

“But I haven’t denied or rejected Jesus!” you may be protesting. “And I certainly haven’t killed anyone.” Nor had Peter’s Jewish listeners physically nailed Jesus to the cross. Yet, Jesus’ demand to repent is for the Jew and all the nations alike. That means us too! And it’s not just for unbelievers.

If we haven’t ever been cut to the heart as Peter’s listeners were, we must ask ourselves what Jesus asks us: Do you always worship, serve and live for God alone (Matt 4:10)? Have you ever accepted and loved the worship of others (Acts 12:23)? Have you ever been embarrassed to speak up for Jesus to cynical friends (Luke 12:9)? Have you always put your neighbour first and never hated anyone (Matt 5:2122)? Have you obeyed God’s top ten rules? Are you holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16)? Are you never arrogant (Phil 2:3)? Does your life give glory and thanks to God rather than yourself?

We are all traitors of Jesus. Jesus has not come to call the righteous (in their own eyes), but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32).

Personally, the more I know the holiness of God, the more I see how my pride offends his majesty (Prov 16:5). The more I experience the goodness of God, the more I see how his grace trumps his justice (James 2:13).

If you are battling to see the need for metanoia in your own life, this is the opportune moment to ask God for the gift of repentance and His Spirit to show you the true condition of your heart. Do not ignore the fleeting moment of the Spirit’s conviction.

Kairos and the call of the Spirit

Just one last word on metanoia! In Greek mythology, Metanoia was a shadowy goddess who accompanied Kairos, the god of the “fleeting moment” that determines a man’s fate. In his statue, Kairos is bald with a lock of hair on his forehead and wears no clothes. He is running, balancing on a razer blade. Kairos is a symbol of opportunity: If you grasp Kairos from the tuft in front, you can hold him, but once he moves on, no one can pull him back. According to ancient Greeks, the fleeting moment must be grasped. Otherwise the opportunity is gone and cannot be re-captured! Kairos is the brief moment in time, the favourable moment when great things are possible (Aesop fable 536).

kairos resized

My beloved readers, if you feel the Holy Spirit cutting your heart like a razor blade, it is a fleeting opportunity, a favourable moment for metanoia– a Kairos moment. Conviction is a precious gift from God and a great loss if you ignore it, leading to a hard heart or seared conscience over time. Each year, day, moment or crisis appears only once in a lifetime. Metanoia is not a once-off emotional experience when we are first saved. Metanoia is what we do each time the Spirit of God calls our name. That’s why we read the Bible, pray and meet with Christians. We want to be cut to the heart by the Spirit’s conviction! We don’t want to be numb or dumb or left alone in our blindness! Sometimes the call of the Spirit may pierce you with anguish, deep shame or regret. Sometimes his call woos you with a great longing, emptiness or urge to follow him in a more costly way than ever before. Sometimes the Spirit convicts us in moments of pain and brokenness. Don’t ignore or distract yourself from these calls! Each time the Spirit of God touches your heart, it is a unique, God-given opportunity for metanoia. Jesus is calling you to switch tracks and drive full steam towards himself.

Join us next week as we walk through the gateway of repentance to the lifelong journey of sanctification.

Pray the words of Psalm 85 as your own.

CS Lewis: “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor- that is the only way out of a “hole”. This process of surrender—the movement full speed astern—is repentance.”

The Freedom of Forgiveness

“Let it be known to you therefore, friends, that through this man (Jesus) forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses (Acts 13:38-39).

Many are amused, embarrassed or offended by talk of sin and repentance. After all, if there’s no God, each of us must define what is right and wrong for ourselves. Surely we will be free when we throw off the shackles of guilt imposed by society and religion? Surely feelings of shame and unworthiness vanish when we are finally true to ourselves? Yet, looking around our postmodern, post-truth world, we see a different picture—less freedom, less peace, less joy. More angst, more anxiety, more disorder. God’s word tells us that repentance is not a dirty word. In fact, it is the only way our souls can be clean from real sin and guilt, from the inside out. If we find ourselves in a mud bath, we can scrub ourselves to the bone, but will remain covered in mud. Our sin is like that oppressive mud bath, because we are unable to atone for ourselves no matter how many good deeds we do. When storms and pressure come, the benign mud bath often mutates into a mud slide which threatens to drown us in its deadly path. But when we receive the extravagant gift of God’s forgiveness through our Lord Jesus Christ, it is as though we are plucked out of the mud bath of our own sin and pride, and placed under a waterfall that cleanses and restores us to wholeness, rest and shalom to the depths of our soul. Peace with God our Father streams into every aspect of our lives, including our relationships with others. This is the freedom of forgiveness.

Our text today is Psalm 32:1-6

Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.

Undermining God’s grace

“No judgment”, “positive self talk” and “self love” sound like gracious and liberating buzzwords, but they can undermine the grace of God by implying that we do not need His forgiveness. The Psalmist in our text has no doubt that his sin and guilt are real (Ps 32:5) and that he has greatly offended God (Ps 32:4). He knows his actions are at odds with God’s will for his life. His guilt even causes physical symptoms that sap his vitality (Ps 32:3-4), but he does not try to affirm himself, ask God for relief or offer excuses. He does not delve into what was done to him to provoke his sinful reactions or blame his family of origin. He has no doubt about God’s holy character and His unchanging measure of what is good and acceptable. Then the tone of the Psalm lifts as the writer begins to pray to God, admitting that he is part of the problem, not part of the solution (Ps 32:5). At the same time he clutches onto the hope of forgiveness because he is breaking his silence and acknowledging his sin. As he removes the covers from hidden sin, he allows God to cover his shame instead, and receives forgiveness (Ps 32: 5). The result is that his anguished spirit is revitalized and blessed (Ps 32:1-2) and he walks in intimacy with the Lord again, praying and trusting him with the challenges of life (Ps 32:6). It is blessed forgiveness!

Solomon sums it up well in this proverb: “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). We must be careful not to undermine God’s mercy by sugar coating sin.

Sin is why Jesus died

When Jesus proclaimed and proved himself to be God’s chosen Messiah, this was the core of his message: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). I wonder what Jesus would say to those who speak only of God’s grace and love, but minimize sin and repentance? Brian McLaren, speaker in the emerging church movement and author of A New Kind Of Christian, argues, “The church latched on to that old doctrine of original sin like a dog to a stick, and before you knew it, the whole gospel got twisted around it. Instead of being God’s big message of saving love for the whole world, the gospel became a little bit of secret information on how to solve the pesky legal problem of original sin.”

But if there is no such thing as sin, how does the agonising death of the Lord Jesus prove God’s love for the whole world? Why was Jesus forsaken by God as he died? Why did Jesus cry out “It is finished?” What was finished? Why did the temple curtain split down the middle to give access to the Holy of Holies? What a wasted sacrifice of the only perfectly good man who ever lived (and thousands of faithful martyrs after him)… unless of course the bitter cup Jesus drank on the cross achieved what the Bible claims it did: Forgiveness of sin for everyone who repents and believes in Jesus’ name.

From the lips of Jesus

Jesus could not have painted a clearer picture of the emptiness, desperation and filth of sin alongside the extravagant forgiveness of the Father than in the parable of the lost son:

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living… 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

The son was forgiven and reconciled with his father because he got up, went to his father and confessed his sin. He threw himself at his father’s mercy and then received his father’s forgiveness. Jesus sees each one of us as that prodigal, alienated from God because of our sin. If we create ways of saving ourselves without God, without a sense of sin and without the way He has provided for our forgiveness (repentance and trust in Jesus), we will remain in the pig pen, spiritually empty, alienated and in desperate need, but utterly without hope.

Biblical hope assures us that when we acknowledge our sin as an assault against heaven– against God himself– and come to the Saviour who has paid our ransom in full (Mark 10:45), we will always be met with the Father’s gracious and compassionate face (2 Chron 30:9b). We will experience the freedom and joy of forgiveness, along with the angels in heaven (Luke 15:10).

Live it out!

  • Distinguish false from true guilt. Feelings of shame due to another person’s actions or self condemnation are not convictions from the Holy Spirit, but lies from the enemy. Once you are forgiven, you are “in Christ” and no one can condemn you (Rom 8:1).
  • Pray the words of Psalm 51, which is a great template for confession: “Create in me a clean heart, O God… Wash me and make me clean O Lord…Against you only have I sinned… Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matt 6:12).
  • Sin does not only distort our actions, but also our thoughts, desires, motives and will. Lay your heart bare before the Lord and ask Him to expose your blind spots. It is risky to pray for exposure, but better to be free than blind.

Pray

Father, search me and know my heart today. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Ps 139:23-24). Lord Jesus, I know my sins are great but I know that your forgiveness is greater. Please give me the blessing and freedom of your forgiveness, so that I may rest in your grace and mercy, not my efforts. Holy Spirit, give me assurance that I am absolutely forgiven in Jesus. Stir my heart with your great sacrifice so that I am truly sorry for my sin and am sad to offend you and violate your holiness. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Join us over the next two weeks to explore what it means to repent and believe: “Repent, Believe and Receive” and “Radical Repentance.”

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Why Bible reading should be part of your holiday plans

The Apostle Paul spent his last days in a cold Roman prison convicted to die as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. In that dungeon he wrote his final thoughts to his “son” Timothy to remind him of what was truly important and encourage him in his faith. He describes a society which is remarkably like our own– “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Timothy 3:1-5

There is a sense of urgency in Paul’s last written words to Timothy, and also to every believer living in the ‘last days’ (the time between Christ’s resurrection and his return). As we enter the holiday season, it is good to rest and renew our strength. But Paul warns us not to be lulled into a false sense of security, but to understand the times and wake up from our slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed (Rom 13:11Eph 5:14-18). Paul urges us to be “prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2). Satan does not go on holiday when we pack our bags! When life slows down and we let our hair down, we have a God-given opportunity to taste the sweetness of His inspired Word and equip ourselves to live courageously for Him in 2019! Our text this week is 2 Timothy 3:14-17:

 

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Hunger for God

The prospect of reading the Bible during the holidays may fill you with mixed feelings—perhaps reluctance at the thought of study after a year of hard work; perhaps guilt or dread at the idea of imposing duty and structure on lazy days; perhaps excitement at the thought of diving into a new book of the Bible. Guilt and duty are hopeless motivators for Bible reading and will definitely not sustain us during the holiday season. A neutral or complacent attitude towards God’s Word will be useless to combat “holiday rot!” Only awe and hunger for God himself can motivate us day after day to open our hearts to the Bible—to be receptive to its teaching, correction and training in righteousness. If we understand the miracle of God’s Word, the Logos, we will not see reading the Bible as medicine to swallow or a chore to tick off. It is pure pleasure, an experience of communion with God that is as sweet as honey (Ps 119:103Ps 19:10). That is how David saw it a millennium ago even though he only had the first five books to read—mere shadows of what was to come. He longed for greater intimacy with God and saw the law as a vital conduit to this relationship. Timothy’s “sacred writings” (2 Tim 3:15) were also limited to the Old Testament. But we are far more privileged than David or Timothy. What a gift the holidays provide to us to get a taste of the Bible’s 66 God-breathed books, written by around 40 different human authors, spanning over 1600 years! Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s Word –“the Word made flesh” and when we are guided by the Holy Spirit, we see Jesus and everything he has done for believers in the Old and New Testament. It is awe inspiring that we have free access to these sacred texts which tell the greatest story the world has ever heard! How strange that we should plan endless entertainment, distractions, meals and celebrations, but not give a thought to nurturing our souls on holiday? Let’s remember that the Word is essential to our Walk with God. Let’s commit ourselves to a plan of how we will spend time listening and talking to God in prayer over the holiday season. Let us approach his Word with anticipation, like opening a beautifully wrapped gift every day, full of messages that are trustworthy, true and satisfying (Ps 119:14-16).

Show me!

“Tell me and I forget.

Teach me and I remember.

Involve me and I learn.”

Benjamin Franklin was right. We remember nothing when we are just told things. The same goes for reading the Bible. Although the Bible is full of life changing power and can cut into our hearts like a surgeon’s scalpel (Hebrews 4:1213), its words are not magic bullets that automatically transform us. We need to do more than just read Scripture. We need to first open our hearts and pray, “God, show me the meaning of this text. Help me to understand your truth, not my own.” Then read the text carefully, following clues in the margins and notes of your Bible so that you understand what the text is saying to its original readers and against the backdrop of the rest of the Bible. See this as a treasure hunt rather than hard work!

Teach me!

Then whisper the simple prayer, “God, teach me what you want me to learn. ” Be still and quiet as you observe details in the text that stand out for you. Think and chew on it as a cow chews on the cud. Meditate on the words as if you are warming your hands at a fire. No word is wasted or arbitrary. When God the Holy Spirit teaches us, He doesn’t do it all at once. He peels away thoughts like an onion, layer by layer, leading us deeper and deeper into the truth of his Word. In a whole lifetime of reading Scripture, we will always be struck by new truths and will never plumb the depths of God’s Word.

Change me!

But the Bible is useless to us if it remains in our head and does not seep into our heart and emotions, our will, thoughts and actions. Our final prayer as we read Scripture is a commitment to action and a simple request: “Lord, I surrender my will to you. Please change me.” It is a prayer of yielding our whole hearts to God like the good, receptive soil in the parable of the sower. The rebuking, correcting and training function of the Bible can only take place when the veil is removed from our eyes and we finally see the attitudes, behaviours and thought patterns that need to be changed. Each day we need to turn away from ourselves and towards God—a daily recalibration as we wrestle actively and honestly with God’s Word. “Faith without works is dead,” says James (James 2:17). Jesus is looking for doers of the word, not just hearers or talkers (James 1:22232425). “The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chron 16:9). Jesus accused the Pharisees of being ‘blind guides’ because their knowledge of Scripture led to information, but not transformation. Paul warns Timothy of people who are “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (2 Tim 3:7). Scribble down what the Holy Spirit is showing you as he confronts, comforts and convicts you with the inspired text of Scripture. Be specific and hold yourself accountable to your commitments.

Live it out!

  • ROMA is a useful acronym to help you wrestle with your Bible this holiday.

R- Read

O- Observe

M- Meditate / meaning

A- Apply.

  • Plan to read a book of the Bible this holiday and download the Explore Bible Devotional app (The Good Book Company) on your phone to guide you through it in bite-sized daily readings. The App is simple to use (even for the technologically challenged), the devotions are brilliantly written by some of the world’s best Bible teachers, and are very practical. I use the Explore Bible Devotional app as a vital companion to my quiet time as it helps me to interpret the text in front of me against the backdrop of the whole Bible, instead of through the lens of my own personal hobbyhorses. Start a new journal to jot down your thoughts and prayers. As you look back on your journal this time next year, you will be amazed at what God has done and how many of your prayers He has answered.

A river of grace for 2019

Imagine filling your mind every day with heaven’s pure river of wisdom, intimacy and guidance. The Bible is a flowing stream of grace that God himself has provided to enable you to be fruitful in season and not to wither (Ps 1:3)– To remain nourished and restored through every season of life. See this holiday as a gap to reflect on eternal things, to see the beauty of Jesus on every page of Scripture, to spend time taking pleasure in God’s beautiful world and renewing your awe and love for the One who created you and has numbered all your days. Make up your mind today not to succumb to holiday rot! Allow God’s Word to transform you into a man or woman who is mature and complete, equipped for every good work in the coming year 2 Tim 3:17

Pray:

Lord, thank you for getting us through this year and never leaving our side. Help us to lift our drooping hands and strengthen our weak knees at this time. Make straight paths for our feet so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed (Heb 12:12-13). Please restore us this holiday season and remind us that Christmas is all about you and your gift of Jesus.

Jesus, help us to sit at your feet like Mary, instead of being distracted by many lesser things, as Martha was. Help us to choose what is better this holiday, instead of trying to do everything (Luke 10:38-41). Jesus, you are the living Word, and we pray that you will help us to connect to you through the written Word of Scripture in the coming weeks (John 1:1418). Please equip us for every good work in 2019.

In Jesus’ name

Amen.

Thank God for speaking to you through his Word as you listen to this classic hymn by Amy Grant. Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path is based on Psalm 119:105 (click here).