“Could It Be?”

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine

O what a foretaste of glory divine

Heir of salvation, purchase of God

Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood

Perfect submission, all is at rest

I in my Savior am happy and blessed

Watching and waiting, looking above

Filled with His goodness, lost in His love

This is my story, this is my song”*

I have sung those lyrics of the famous hymn “Blessed Assurance” countless times as have many of you, but I have to admit I have not thought long and hard about what I was singing.  J.I. Packer has thought long and hard about the topic expressed in these lyrics—assurance.

Maybe I should have…

We hear the idea of assurance in Christian gatherings sometimes but there is rarely a deep discussion of it.  I have heard of “conservative” pastors referring to it in regard to the sins his or her congregation may be committing.  “If you don’t work to rid yourself of sin, you will lose your salvation!” [aka assurance of salvation].  It may come up in a Bible study class or even in Sunday school.  But for the most part, it rarely gets mentioned in the everyday Christian’s life.

What is assurance?

Our Heavenly Father has sent His Son to be with us, to instruct us through His life and to die on the cross.  His death was a clear message to all of us that if we profess our belief in God and His Son Jesus, we can expect wonderful things to happen when we leave this earth.  We can expect to be in heaven.  He “has prepared a place for us”.  We can be assured that if we believe in Jesus Christ and His Father God, we will experience eternal life. 

“Heir of salvation, purchase of God”

“Watching and waiting, looking above”

Let’s stop and consider assurance.  In Packer’s Knowing God he spends several pages discussing the various approaches to our future, our afterlife.  In chapter 19 entitled “Sons of God” this is probably a good time to discuss assurance because if I am indeed a “son” of God, what should I expect as I end my time on this earth?  Do I really have a future in heaven?  What if I sin?  Worse than that: what if I turn my back on God?  Can I lose my salvation?  Do I lose assurance?  

Bottom line…

Can I count on God to stand by me…

A merciless sinner…

No matter what…

It turns out that theologians have debated this issue for years.  Packer cites Roman Catholic theologians who expressed the idea that man could be denied the favor of God due to sinful behavior.  In essence, they believed that man could lose his assurance.  Martin Luther attacked this doctrine that “taught that no man knows certainly whether he be in favor of God or not.”  Human behavior can lead to the torment of human conscience, the riddance of Christ from the church and the denial of the Holy Spirit on the life of the believer.  The Catholic doctrine seems to sidestep the fact that all of us sin; we can’t help it.  It does not matter; if we do, it could lead to eternal punishment—the denial of our salvation.

In my estimation, this approach is extreme [I guess I agree with Luther].  Luther felt that man could maintain his faith in God even under the temptation of sin.  The hope was still there; sinners could experience salvation.  Packer writes “be thankful that you have never been exposed to the kind of temptation that makes [loss of salvation] the actual state of your soul” [224].  Luther felt this loss of salvation was not a problem for every believer.

Puritan believers elaborated on this further, stating that assurance is based on repentance and commitment to Jesus Christ.  A sinner could always repent and continue his commitment to God.  Sin did not disqualify one from their inheritance of salvation.  Expecting to be absolved of sin is the process of “justification.”  Being “born again” is not just a one-time event.  As all of us live our lives on this earth, we will have to be brought right with God more than once.  Sin continues beyond our born again experience but absolution can continue also.

Accepting the idea of assurance is an act of faith; in fact, it is a cornerstone of faith for many Christians.

This all sounds good, but  the debate continues today.  The more one thinks about assurance the more it can be bewildering.  Can a person “bank on” assurance and sin “like the devil?”  Does God assure all believers, despite what they do?  When God assures, what does He really assure us He will do?  Are there any exclusions?  Is it really a black or white issue?

Here is where Packer inserts his adopted “son of god” argument.

If we are indeed the adopted sons of God, we are His children and He is our perfect Father, why would He cast us off?  We may sin and yet find favor with God if we are willing to return to Him, ask for forgiveness and make a sincere effort to repent.  The prodigal son is in our Bibles for a reason.  Does God care for us even when we stray away?  What does the parable of the sheep that strays away mean? God cares; He will leave ninety-nine sheep to tend to the one who has strayed.  Packer writes “God will go out of His way to make His children feel His love for them and know their privilege and security as members of His family.  Adopted children need assurance that they belong, and a perfect parent will not withhold it” [225].

Packer cites the Apostle Paul who exudes confidence in our assurance.   Consider his words in Romans 8: 38-39.  “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  He states if we are God’s children, we are His heirs “since we are His children, we are His heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory” [verse 17].

Furthermore, Packer cites the existence of The Holy Spirit as evidence of our assurance: “God’s Spirit, who bears witness with our spirit, and so to our spirit” [226].  He calls this inferential reasoning.  It works like this.  I know the Gospel.  I trust Jesus Christ.  I bring forth works that account for repentance of my sin.  I manifest the instincts of a “regenerate man”. 

“Our heavenly Father intends His children to know His love for them, and their own security and His family.  He would not be the Perfect Father if He did not want this, and if He did not bring this about” [Packer, 227].

Still hanging out there is the Christian who “sins like the devil” [wow, what an expression].  Packer explains that believing Christians who fall away must get to the point where they “grieve the Spirit.”  In essence, they must eventually seek God with all their heart.  What will happen if they don’t?  Packer states that they will miss the crowning gift of the “double witness.”   God give all Christians “saving faith” but He gives extraordinary Christians “edifying faith.”  Edifying faith is an inspirational life that builds up the Kingdom of God on this earth.   This edifying faith is seen in the Christ who has “a simple confidence in God that shows in all they say and do. Extraordinarily faithful people show a humble godliness and reliance on God’s promises, often so much so that they are known to be quietly fearless and zealous.”**  They are convinced that they can overcome all the obstacles to God’s working in their lives.  These Christians are a joy and encouragement to others. 

I will go even further.

They possess the Christian’s secret of a happy life.

This could be our life, our experience, our assurance of more wonderful things to come, if we live the life of faith in Jesus Christ, His Father God and the Holy Spirit.

“Perfect submission, all is at rest

I in my Savior am happy and blessed

Watching and waiting, looking above

Filled with His goodness, lost in His love

This is my story, this is my song”

Meditate on the last words of these lyrics…

This is my story, this is my song…

Could it be?

Yes it could…

*written by Fannie Crosby

** “What is the Spiritual Gift of Faith” from GotQuestions.org website [accessed on 5/29/2020]

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Four Benefits of Being Adopted by God

I have discussed J.I. Packer’s thoughts found in the first two sections of Knowing God. The first section is entitled “Knowing the Lord” and second is entitled “Beholding Your God!”  Now we are in the last section of his book “If God Be for Us.” This section is broken down into chapters and we are in a chapter entitled “Sons of God,” content emphasizing a familial relationship with The Father.  One would expect extremely important material to be in a chapter exploring how we connect with God.  “Sons of God” does not disappoint.  In recent posts, I have spent some time writing on Packer’s emphasis on the Christian believer as God’s “adopted” child.  Now we will turn to what our “adoption” shows us.  The fact that we are His adopted children can control our thoughts and our lives and  exploring the idea of adoption can give us deep insight into the meaning of the New Testament. 

Packer knows that his thoughts expressed in these pages are very important.  Let me quote him on how important “adoption” is. “The word adoption appears [in the Bible] only five times, and of these occurrences, only three refer to the Christian’s present relationship to God in Christ (Romans 8: 15; Galatians 4: 5, Ephesians 1: 5).  Yet the thought itself is the nucleus and focal point of the whole New Testament teaching on the Christian life…were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation and I do not expect to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that [bold italics mine]” [Packer, 214].

“Richer and more pregnant summary of the gospel than that”…

Pause for a second and consider the gravity of Packer’s wording.  Of course I had many discussions on propitiation from the previous chapter, the “Heart of the Gospel” chapter. For review, propitiation means Jesus saved us from God’s wrath which we deserve because we sin.  He saved us from the danger brought about by those sins when He atoned for our sins in His sacrificial death.  “It is the focal point of the whole New Testament view of the saving work of Christ” [214].

Now Packer combines this heart of the Gospel with the heart of our “sonship” (our adoption into the family of God) and he tells us that four benefits come from the New Testament message regarding our “adoption.”

First, our adoption into the family of God shows us the greatness of God’s love.  One cannot discount the importance of the gift of pardon as Christ gave His life for us, but Packer writes that adoption affords us the gift of “immunity and acceptance now and for the future.”  In the ancient world, to be adopted meant that one was deemed fit to carry on the family name.   However, God adopts us out of unconditional love, because He knows we are not really fit to be a member of His family.  “The idea of His loving and exalting us sinners as He loves and has exalted the Lord Jesus sounds ludicrous and wild—yet that …is what our adoption means” [215].  Think of that, we are on par with Jesus?  It does not stop there; God seeks a relationship with us as any parent adopting a child would seek.  A childless couple in the ancient world made a full commitment to their adoptee.  We don’t deserve His commitment, loving us as fully as He loves Jesus.  But that is what we get; He chooses to love us as we are; all we have to say is that we have chosen to love Him.

Secondly, our adoption shows us the glory of the Christian hope.  “New Testament Christianity is a religion of hope, a faith that looks forward” [216].  What this means is that we can always say the best is yet to come.  Our adoption means that we are guaranteed a “promised inheritance,” our share in the glory of Jesus Christ.  That means at our individual resurrection day, we are promised the full experience of a heavenly life.  Packer goes further by stating that the experience of heaven will be a family gathering, when we will come face-to-face with Father God and Jesus, our brother.  “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” [Matthew 5:8].  “To see, and know, and love, and be loved by, the Father and the Son, in company with the rest of God’s vast family, is the whole essence of the Christian hope….If you are a believer, and so an adopted child, this prospect satisfies you completely; if it does not strike you as satisfying, it would seem that as yet you are neither” [218].

Next, our adoption gives us the key to understanding the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Packer feels that the working of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s life has always been difficult to understand.  He describes our knowledge as full of “pitfalls and perplexities.”  We know the Spirit teaches us the mind of God, and He glorifies the Son of God.  We also know the Spirit energizes, sanctifies and gives us joy, peace and power and other special gifts. Many Christians say they understand these kinds of statements but struggle to recognize the Spirit working in their practical everyday lives.  Packer feels the problem with lack of understanding occurs due to the fact that Christians think the working of the Spirit means some type of magical supernaturalism.  They think they need what he calls a “transforming touch.”  Instead of this life-changing manifestation of the Holy Spirit, Packer feels that most of us would understand God’s working in the context of the truth of our adoption into the family of God.  The work of The Spirit is formed through a gradual process in our lives, through a deepening of our faith, a realization of our assurance and the manifestation of joy in our day to day living.  This occurs gradually over time.  The work of The Spirit is akin to human trust; it takes time to trust another and it takes time to trust Our Father.  The difference between human trust and trust in God is that God is rock solid in His promises.  Therefore our trust can be unlimited.  Transformation is part of the process of joining the family of God, but it is not instantaneous.  Packer calls this a “confirming” process, as we begin to manifest the “family likeness.”  This is a change of character and it does not occur overnight.  It is not something we should expect quickly, but over time it will be visible in our lives as God has His way in our lives.

Finally, our adoption into the family of God shows us the meaning and motives of gospel holiness.  “Gospel holiness” is a Puritan term meaning authentic Christian living.  It is not legalistic living that is grounded in man performing tasks as he earns his way to heaven. It is everyday life that is true to The Father, to His Savior.  It is simply day-to-day life as a good son or good daughter.  It is knowledge that one day we will be fulfilling our destiny to be as much like God and His Son Jesus as we can be.  What about the troubles of life?  We all have periods when we feel we have gone astray.  The Christian can take hope from the fact that God has a plan for our life which will include learning through trouble.  When we are in the midst of difficulty, it is very easy to lose sight of The Father, but He is there.  But does this not fly in the face of a Christian who says that when I gave my life to Christ, I don’t have to experience certain parameters in my life?  I am pardoned from sin; I am now free from the law.  Certainly justification frees us from the need to keep the law as a means of earning our reward in heaven, but before we go too far, keeping the law is still important as a way to please The Father.  It is a natural process of “keeping” which pours out of a life that is dedicated to Jesus.  We know what The Father wants.  He wants us to be as righteous as we can, even though He knows we will sin.  That sinning does not destroy the relationship we have with our adopted Father, but gradually over time, we will sin less and less because we will learn to please our God and we will learn to confess our sin and ask for forgiveness and move forward with our relationship.  It is all part of a gradual learning process. 

All of these ideas are not easy to grasp and as we contemplate what it means when we become the “adopted” children of God.  To be honest, it is about our identity; it’s about our destiny.  We are quick to use stock phrases like “born again,” “I am a new man in Christ,” and “I am a new creation in Christ, the new has come and the old has gone.”

But really, what does all of that mean?  It is easy to say these phrases as our ticket into a “new club”—the “Christian club?”  We can say them and really not know what they mean.  We can say them just to fit in.

Packer is trying to explain to us that when we become a believer, we have taken on a whole new role in life and we should gradually see increased commitment to living out that role.  It won’t happen suddenly, but it will happen, because we gradually come to see that our new Father has made a commitment to us. 

This is the Christian’s secret to a happy life.  We are moving forward to a deeper and more profound relationship with God.  We are moving forward to that day when we will see The Father and The Son and the rest of God’s vast family.

This is our identity and that is the essence of our Christian hope.

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“If Not, Why Not?”

Children don’t come with instruction manuals…

I have one son.  He is an adult now.  My wife and I tried to “raise him right,” but in reality there were periods when we were not sure we knew what we were doing.  I suspect it is that way for every parent.  J.I. Packer makes the case in Chapter Nineteen entitled “Sons of God” that when a person gives their life to Christ, they are adopted into the family of God [see “I Am an Adopted Child of God”  May 1, 2020 and “It’s Who I Am” May 7, 2020 in St. John Studies].

The Bible says we are“adopted.”  We buy into that idea.  If we become family members of God, He is our Abba, our Father, and He becomes the one in charge of instructing us in how to conduct our lives.   As a parent, my wife and I tried to give our son “concrete” examples of how to behave.  We tried to use our imaginations at times to create situations where he could learn how to operate in this world.  We wanted him to have our attitude toward life; to have our view of life.  We wanted him to appreciate “our view” [paraphrase from Packer about parenting].  We were never sure that “our view” was the best outlook about reality.   We did the best we could without an instruction manual.

First of all, our Abba did not give life lessons the way the Jewish lawyers and scribes of Jesus’s day did.  Packer labels that life instruction “tax-consultant type of instruction.”  He labels God’s instruction as “responsible freedom.”  Instead of endless lists of binding, detailed rules, God gives us a “broad and general way [of] the spirit, direction and objectives… guiding principles and ideals, by which the Christian must steer his course” [Packer, 210].

Where are these principles and ideals found?  Packer says they can be accessed in the Sermon on the Mount, which he describes as God’s “royal family code.”  Three main areas of Christian living are discussed: Christian conduct, Christian prayer, and the life of faith.

The Sermon on the Mount is the opposite of “a full scheme of rules, and a detailed casuistry, to be followed with mechanical precision” [Packer, 210].  Packer describes it as broad and general ideals, spiritual directives and guiding principles.  He feels that the instructions about Christian conduct can be broken down to three principles.  First of all, we are to imitate The Father.  Matthew 5:44-45 says “I tell you: Love your enemies…that you may be sons of your Father in heaven….Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  The idea is that we are to show family likeness in our conduct.  In short, Jesus is saying “Be holy, for I am Holy.”

The next Christian conduct guideline refers to glorification of The Father.  When a Christian does good deeds, it is so tempting to be prideful, to take credit for the work that is done.  A perfect example happened one day when my pastor conducted the funeral services for her own father.  She was poised, she said beautiful things, she showed how much she loved her Dad and when I asked how she got through that, she said three words “It was God.”  The ideal is that in living our lives we have an opportunity to bring praise for God as He works through us.  Never take credit even if you have the skills; God is the one who gave you those skills.  Matthew 5: 16 says “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

The last piece of advice for Christian conduct is to please The Father.  Too often we think we should please men; to get praise, to achieve status or to get a tangible reward.  The purpose of conducting ourselves in a Christian manner is not to receive a reward from our fellow man;  it is to please the Heavenly Father.  Before we go too far, pleasing God with our conduct is not a quid pro quo arrangement.  The Heavenly Father may notice our behavior, He may show special pleasure or not, but we should be all about pleasing God, not man nevertheless.

Of course the Sermon on the Mount gives guidance for Christian prayer.  Matthew 6:9 is the start of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’s prototype for all of us in prayer.  We are to address the Lord as Father and even though He gives us some words to guide us, He does not intend us to be mechanical or impersonal in the Lord’s Prayer or any prayer.  “When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” [Matthew 6: 7-8].  Secondly, prayer must be “free and bold.”  This does not mean that we should be brazen and we ask for material possessions or massive amounts of money.  God will give you what you need; the problem is that God’s knowledge of what we need is often different from what we desire.  He will still give us the good things He feels will benefit us.  “Good parents never simply ignore what their children are saying, not simply disregarding  their feeling of need, and neither does God; but often He gives us what we should have asked for, rather than what we actually requested….The Lord knows best and even though He might not give you the answer you want,” it is good to ask nevertheless and His answer may be no.  That is not an unanswered prayer; it is God expressing His knowledge of your needs.

The Sermon on the Mount has helped us with our Christian conduct, our prayer and now we can find guidance about how to live a life of faith.  Christians are called to live a life of faith, whether we are gainfully employed or not.  Jesus asked His Disciples to leave their gainful employment and follow Him.  This allowed them to focus on Jesus, not the temptations of status and security.  When one examines the general advice about the life of faith, Jesus says in Matthew 6: 25 that we should not “worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or about your body, what you will wear.”  When someone questions Him about the wisdom of this commitment, He replies “Your faith is too small.  Have you forgotten that God is your Father” [26].  The well-known example follows of how God cares for the birds and will He not care for you?  His advice is seek first your Father’s Kingdom and His righteousness, and all the things you need will be given to you.  This is the life of faith that God expects of us.  Packer calls trust in God the “mainspring of a life of faith.”  If you don’t have trust in God to the point that you can live a life of faith, your life “at least has partial unbelief.” 

That last sentence is pretty strong stuff.  It confronts us with what we lack.  How many of us can feel the disappointment of the rich young ruler as he queries Jesus about the demands of the Christian life?  He asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life.  Jesus lists some commandments and the young man is heartened.  He says all these commands I have kept from my youth.  Then Jesus tells him to sell what he has, give it to the poor and follow Him.  The young man did not say a word, but left the presence of Jesus in a sorrowful mood, for he had great possessions.

I want to be a child of God; if that is what I am, then I should expect that God will require certain behaviors from me, just like I expected certain behaviors from my son.  I know God wants to “raise me right;” righteousness is His goal for me and righteous living is my goal for myself.  I need to know how to conduct myself, I need to know how to pray and I need to know how to live a life of faith.  Packer closes this section of his book with the example of a little girl who is in a car being driven by her father.  He is weaving in and out of traffic and she exclaims “We might have a crash.”  Her mother looked at her and said “Trust Daddy; he’s a good driver.”  The little girl was reassured and she relaxed at once.  Do you trust your heavenly Father like that?

Then Packer closes with the following words which mean so much…

“If not, why not?”

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“It’s Who I Am….”

The Christian life has been described many ways but one of the most common descriptions is a “walk.”

I have never heard it described as a “sit.”  I have never even heard it described as a “rest.”  I have never heard it described as a something that is not active.  I would say a walk means a person is moving forward, not a run or a dash, but a steady moving forward by taking steps.  The key thought is “moving forward.”

This brings me to J.I. Packer’s* contention about the highest privilege a Christian can experience.  For many, the idea of being made right with God would probably be highest on the list.  This is called justification and it is a transition from being a person who does not know about God, or a person who thinks they know about God to a person who actually knows and experiences God.  All humans are judged but when we transition to “born again” status, we are moving from darkness to light.  Before being born again, we may feel that God’s law condemns us and that makes us have guilt.  We may be restless and miserable down deep inside, even though we may have mastered the look of joy for the world [the “I don’t need God thank you very much” look].  There may be moments when we are fearful of the way we are conducting ourselves, fearful of God’s wrath and fearful that we are living the wrong kind of life.  We know we don’t have inner peace; we know we don’t have peace with God.

We need to have forgiveness of our sins.  We need to have a “right” relationship with Him.  We need these things more than we need anything else in the world.  When we come to that realization, we are finally ready to commit our lives to Jesus Christ.  We are ready to be born again.

We are ready to be justified.

That has to be the most important thing in the Christian’s life.  That has to be the highest privilege a Christian can experience.

Packer says no, that is not it.  The highest privilege is to be “adopted” into the family of God.  Packer admits that adoption cannot occur without justification.  “Justification is the primary blessing, so it is the fundamental blessing, in the sense that everything else in our salvation assumes it, and rests on it—adoption included” [207]. 

However, to be adopted into the family of God is much more than justification.  Justification is “acquittal and peace” won for us by Jesus Christ at Calvary, but justification is not about the intimate and deep relationship that we can have with God as we move beyond being born again.  What we are talking about is our “walk” with God.

Can a Christian be born again and become stagnant, never accepting the fact that he or she needs to move forward in their relationship with God?  The answer is yes; it happens all the time.  Good people profess their faith and then “rest” in their justification.  They sit where they are as if they are in a finished state; they don’t want to learn to communicate with God through prayer and Bible study.  They may take the attitude that I need to go to church on a regular basis and as they do their “duty”; they reserve their spot in a pew in their church.  They aren’t interested in serving their church, giving their time and energy to those less fortunate or witnessing to unbelievers.  They are satisfied that they are saved and they are assured of their spot in heaven.  That’s enough.

I once heard of a person who went on a cruise.  Everyone knows that the cruise experience includes ready access to excellent food at all times of the day or night.  One fellow boarded his cruise ship and in his baggage he had a box of cheese and crackers.  When everyone else was eating from the gourmet buffet this man sat in the corner eating his cheese and crackers.  Finally an inquisitive passenger asked why he did not want to eat the wonderful food at the buffet.  His reply was, “ I barely had enough money to buy a ticket.  I can’t afford to eat these expensive meals.”**   He did not realize that his ticket entitled him to eat the food.  This simple story reminds me of the Christian who is content with justification and does not realize that walking with God affords the Christian so much more [a place at the table with the rest of God’s family].

What more?

That is where Packer explains that the highest privilege a Christian can experience is adoption into the family of God.  “To be right with God is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater” [207].  What is the catch here; what do I have to do to be adopted?  Well if you have asked God into your life, you have started the process, but it goes further than asking Him into your life.  It goes further than reserving your spot in the pew.  It goes further than just experiencing the assurance that your sins have been forgiven.  As with human relationships, God wants to know you and you want to know Him.  As with human relationships, you want to find time to be with God.   As with human relationships, you try to please God as you would try to please a human being that you really love. 

We all know that we cannot “work” our way into heaven.  That type of “works” mentality shows a shallow consideration of the relationship that we can have with God.  Nothing we can do can repay what God has done for us in our justification but the Christian life will begin to bear fruit naturally. You cannot earn your salvation by doing good; however, the evidence of a life of faith is a life of doing good. Jesus Himself, we are told, went around “doing good.”  As we walk with God, we are active in His Kingdom and it shows naturally.

What, you might ask, is the payoff.  As in my last post, why is Packer so keen to express that it is important to understand that we are His adopted children?  This is our highest privilege.  Being adopted into the family of God gives us “safety, certainty and enjoyment.”   You move from legalistic “worry wart” to son.  You move from superstitious believer to heir.    You move from death to life in Christ.  You begin to “abide” in your faith.  Packer says it this way: “you have absolute stability and security; the parent is entirely wise and good, and the child’s position is permanently assured.  The very concept of adoption is itself a proof and guarantee of the preservation of the saints, for only bad fathers throw their children out of the family, even under provocation….[gone is ] depression, randomness and immaturity” [209].

“I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think You’re like

But I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night

And you tell me that You’re pleased

And that I’m never alone.

I’ve seen many searching for answers far and wide

But I know we’re all searching

For answers only You provide

‘Cause You know just what we need

Before we say a word.

Because You are perfect in all of Your ways

You are perfect in all of Your ways

You are perfect in all of Your ways to us.

You’re a good good father

It’s who You are, it’s who You are, it’s who You are

And I’m loved by You

It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am….”***

To be the adopted son of The Father is to have a heavenly Father and God is not a bad father, He is a good good Father.  I am His adopted Son.  I am loved.

“It’s who I am.”

*From his book Knowing God

**as told in Joel Osteen Your Best Life Now

***Chris Tomlin  “Good Good Father”… one of my most favorite songs……

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” I Am An Adopted Child of God “

“I am a child of God.”

The perfect answer to the query of the Christian, “Who are you?”

I am commenting on the third section of Packer’s book*, the section where he discusses “the most important matters” of knowing God and in this case, I want to concentrate on his strong position that when we express our honest faith in God and dedicate our lives to serving Him, we achieve “sonship.”**  That part is not unusual; depending on your knowledge of Christianity; declaring “sonship” may be expected.  What is not expected is Packer’s emphasis on adoptive sonship.

How many of you thought of yourself as adopted children of God when you made your profession of faith?  Why does Packer make such a fuss over adoption?

He explains that adoption was an expected practice in Roman times.  Any adult who wanted an heir to carry on the family name adopted a male as his son.  The son was usually of age rather than an infant.  This is mirrored in Scripture when we see in Galatians 4: 4-5 the words “But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”  Ephesians 1: 5 we are “foreordained unto adoption as sons by Jesus Christ unto Himself.”

I guess adoptive sonship stands out for me due to the fact that I have known many adoptive children in my life and some of them have struggled.  Several adopted children I know have worked hard to find their natural “birth parents.”   I know firsthand that their adoptive parents loved them and gave them anything they wanted.  There is a body of research that states that adopted children often feel rejection and abandonment from their natural parents.  They can have a damaged sense of self-esteem.  Adopted children often feel guilt due to their feeling of disloyalty toward the parents who have adopted them; they are naturally curious about their natural birth parents.  Adoptive kids do suffer ridicule at the hands of some.  I knew a boy who was a “natural” son of a dad and mom, yet he did not look like them or his two brothers.  He was frequently introduced to others as the “adopted one” because of his facial features.  He told me that he never appreciated the intro.  There is a body of research that states that adopted children often feel rejection and abandonment from their natural parents.  They can have a damaged sense of self-esteem.   Last is the search for self-identity.  It is common for adopted children to not feel they have a strong sense of identity.***  One can cite example after example of problems associated with adoption.  Sometimes the process of adoption is excellent but often it seems fraught with problems, the adopted child can feel “less than” the natural child.

Packer cites the Westminster Confession [Chapter 12] as a formal definition and analysis of adoption as the parent-child relationship that we have with our Heavenly Father.   It does not express a “less than” attitude toward our Father.  Christians “ are the partakers of the grace of adoption: by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God; have His name put upon them, receive the Spirit of adoption; have access to the throne of grace with boldness; are enabled to cry, Abba, Father; are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by Him, as by a father, yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises, as heir of everlasting salvation.”

After reading that, I feel that maybe some of God’s divinity has rubbed off on me.  Indeed First John 3: 1 says that believers are to cherish sonship as the supreme gift of God’s love; God has “lavished” His love on us.  Fellowship with God is a privilege, righteousness and avoidance of sin is evidence of His love [and I might add a magnificent benefit].  Packer cites four things that happen to us as we declare our relationship with our Heavenly Father.  One is that God is our authority.  As Jesus came to earth to do the will of Him who sent Him, we are to do the will of our Heavenly Father.  He “commands and disposes” our behavior.  Secondly, as the Father loved Jesus, He loves us.  Thirdly, we are never alone.  Having a relationship with God means that He is always with us in the good times and in the bad.  Last, Fatherhood implies honor.  Just as the Father glorifies the Son, the Son should honor and glorify the Father. 

All of this extends to God’s adopted children.  As God loved His natural Son, He loves His adopted children.  John 16: 27 says “The Father Himself loves you [you and me]” [italics mine].  As God had fellowship with Jesus, so He does with us, but our fellowship is not only with God but also His Son Jesus Christ.  Packer writes “the Bible teaches us to understand the shape and substance of the parent-child relationship which binds together the Father of Jesus and the servant of Jesus” [205].

Packer has taught me so much as I have read his book; I have “known” God and His Son Jesus myself since 1998 when I gave my life to Him as a believer, but I have never thought of being the adoptive son of God.  Without Packer’s explanation, I am not sure that I would like that description, but now I see why it is appropriate and how it is supported in Scripture.  My worldly notions about adoption seem very wrong in this spiritual context. 

Now that we have laid the foundation about adoptive sonship, Packer has even more to say.  In his continuing discussion of “the most important matters” he will elaborate on adoption as a child of God as the highest privilege a Christian can have. 

After I discuss his thoughts on “the highest privilege” in the next post, maybe I will begin to describe myself as I am “an adopted child of God.”

That will be a better description, a higher blessing than just “child of God.”

*from the book Knowing God

**Packer makes no effort to acknowledge females in the process of giving one’s life to Christ, so I will use “sonship” as he does.

***Allan N. Schwartz “Psychological Issues Faced by Adopted Children and Adults” on Mental HealthNet website accessed on April 30, 2020.

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Maybe It is His Plan…

July 18, 1988.  Today I left my family for it seems the millionth time.  I remember my three and a half year old little boy Scott standing on the steps of our home waving good bye and yelling “I love you Daddy!” as I left for the University of Kentucky where I was pursuing a Ph.D.   Then he yelled “I will take care of Mom!”.  I started crying as I forced myself to look away from my son and my wife, my home.  Later in the day, I made the “check-in” call after I arrived at my destination.  My wife told me my son would not come in from the porch after I left.  He sat out there for the longest time and when she went to bring him in he said, “I want my Daddy” and began to cry.  I finished the call and had such anguish.

J.I. Packer writes about the “new” relationship that Christians have in the coming of Jesus Christ.  “In the New Testament we find that things have changed.  God and religion are not less than they were; the Old Testament revelation of the holiness of God, and its demand for humility in man, is presupposed throughout.  But something has been added.  A new factor has come in.  New Testament believers deal with God as their Father.  Father is the name by which they call Him.  Father has become the new covenant name—for the covenant that binds Him to His people now stands revealed as a family covenant.  Christians are His children, His own sons and daughters, His heirs” [203].

But what if your earthly father is not the best father that one could hope for?  Can that cause problems?

I am commenting on the section of Packer’s book which deals with what he calls the “most important matters” and he describes the idea of God as Father as the “climax of the Bible”.  In the Old Testament, God had the name of Yahweh, Jehovah, the Lord, certainly not Father.  God said Himself I am “The Great I Am”, the one who is completely Himself.  He is that way to separate Himself from everything else.  He is the cause of everything   Packer states God is “the reality behind all reality, the underlying cause of all causes…self existent, sovereign, and wholly free from constraint by or dependence on anything outside Himself, certainly not connected to man.  The Old Testament God is a mystery and His mysterious nature was designed to cause man to feel awe before His divine nature, not closeness.

Then Jesus Christ came to decrease distance between God and man.  After the death of Jesus, man could come near to his God.  All that is necessary is to have faith in His Son, to have knowledge of His saving work.  Ephesians 3: 12 states “In Him and through faith in Him, we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”  “Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” [Hebrews 10: 19-22].

Again, we can draw near to our Father but can we really draw near if our earthly father is “inadequate, lacking wisdom, affection or both” [Packer, 203].   What happens if your earthly father is not the best father that one could hope for and that is your experience, your knowledge base?

I might have my anguish about my poor performance as a father but a son blaming his earthly father experience as the reason for not accepting The Heavenly Father is a “cop out” according to Packer.   Packer labels this idea as “silly” [203].  He cites the value of contrasting relationships.  Many sons have a drive to be better fathers than their own fathers; they resolve that they will not make the same mistakes.  Many are successful in their resolve.  Another problem is the quest for the perfect father.  The “perfect” earthly father does not exist.  It is easy to idealize fatherhood, saying “I have never known what it is to have a father on earth, but thank God I now have one in heaven.” The idea is that earthly fathers should be as perfect as The Heavenly Father.  That bar is too high.  Packer does not think it is healthy to think things like this; people will always fall short of The Heavenly Father. 

I have just spent a paragraph commenting on the Packer’s belief that poor earthly fathers do not necessarily ruin relationships with The Heavenly Father. Now let’s look at how God gives us clues regarding right relationship with our fathers.  Packer cites Ephesians 1:3 which says “all fatherhood, earthly or heavenly derives its name [from God].”  God presents His relationship with Jesus as the universal standard. 

Are there any particulars that we can learn from this?     John 1:12  says “Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”  From this we can learn that as God has accepted us, we should accept our own children with love.  We need to come to grips with the fact that Jesus’ Father is our Father; before Jesus ascends to be with His Father, He tells His disciples in John 20:17  “Do not hold on to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”  It feels good to make family feel included; it feels good to be included in the family of God.

When we feel we belong to God, Packer calls that “sonship” and obviously sonship is the supreme gift of God.  We read in 1 John 3: 1 1 John 3:1 “ See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.”  This sets us apart and makes us feel important as all children can be made to feel important if they feel their father’s love.  1 John 5: 1-3 says “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well.  This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands.  In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome.” 1 John 3:10-17 points out that as family members we have new wonderful relationships with our family “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.  For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.  Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.  We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.  Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.  If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”  These new feelings spring naturally from our relationship with our Heavenly Father.  Right relationship with the Heavenly Father inspires right relationship with earthly brothers and sisters. 

Finally our behaviors become new as our relationship with our Heavenly Father is new.  A privilege of sonship is that we can live a life of more righteousness and avoidance of sin.  An earthly child who wants a good relationship with an earthly father will make more effort to be respectful of a father’s wishes and as behavior improves, fathers should show appreciation. 

In short, we see what God’s fatherhood implies for Jesus; therefore, those same ideas apply for Christians.

Yes, the coming of Jesus Christ is a climax of the Bible because His life and death showed man that the distance between God and man is no longer relevant.  The coming of Jesus Christ established a new relationship between people of faith and God, a relationship of Father and son and Father and daughter.  Believers are no longer on the outside looking in.  When we pray to God, we can have assurance that Our Holy Father is listening.

I have asked forgiveness for my poor performance as a father and I don’t get the idea that my son holds it against me anymore.  I got that Ph.D. at a horrible cost to my whole family, but there came a time when I realized that the choice to continue on was really a bad one.  I have articulated my regrets to my son and my wife, admitting my mistakes.  I have worked hard to make up for a lack of closeness and connectedness and to some extent I think I have made amends.  I can’t go back in time.  However today, my son knows I love him.  I know he loves me.  I have written about this before but I found God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ [the latest writing in the previous post, April 15, 2020 St John Studies].   That has made a momentous difference in my life and my son knows that.  It has taken some time, but I can say I have a right relationship with my son.  It is not my doing; it is Gods.  Sometimes in life we have to make errors and in the making of the error, we learn.

I still go back in time when I read that journal entry from 1988.

I read that writing, I know that anguish, I know the pain I caused…

And I cry…

I accept the responsibility and know that God is in control.  To be where I am today, I had to go through some hard times.  Maybe it was His plan for me to cause so much pain and have so much regret so I could eventually see The Light.

Maybe it is His plan for me to eventually find a way to be His son.

So I can find a way to be a father to my son.

To just love him, with all my heart…

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The Richest Answer

Sometimes as we go through life we come to a turning point, a decisive change occurs and from that point on, life goes in a new direction.

For me a major turning point occurred the weekend of October 8 through October 11, 1998, twenty-two years ago.

I won’t belabor you with the circumstances but I was desperately seeking something in my life.  I was trying to recover from a traumatic circumstance and I had lost my sense of direction.  I had asked for help from friends to find my way back to some sense of normality but I just could not understand what my helpers were offering me.  I just could not comprehend their advice.

I relied on Christian friends almost exclusively and they were all telling me the same thing:  “You need to give your life to Christ.”

What did that mean?

How was that going to help?

I had always gone to church, sporadically at best but I had a long stretch of time where I dropped out of church altogether.  “No it is not about church-going” a friend told me; “it is much more than that.  Church is good, corporate worship is good, you learn a lot in Sunday school, in worship and it is very nice to have fellowship with other Christians, but giving your life to Christ is more about what you do Monday through Saturday.  It is about the choices you make in day-to-day living.”

Leading this post with this personal story is my way of leading up to Chapter Nineteen in Knowing God, entitled “Sons of God.”  We are in the third and last part of Packer’s book “If God Be For Us” [“then who can be against us”, from the book of Romans]. 

We are in the part of his book where he discusses what he refers to as the most important matters.

One of the most important matters that a human can have in life is deciding to become a child of God.  Packer writes “the gift of sonship to God becomes ours not through being born, but through being born again” [201]   John 1: 12-13 says “Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”    Galatians 3: 26-29 says “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”  “Sonship” is not a universal status that everyone achieves by natural birth; we receive it by being  born  what Packer calls adopted into God’s family.  Galatians 4: 4-5 describes this relationship:  “But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”

To be adopted into the family of God is a most important matter, so important that Packer says “you can sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s Holy Father.  If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father” [201].   Having God as your Father controls your worship, your prayer and your whole outlook on life.   Put another way, if a “Christian” cannot understand that they are a child of God, they don’t understand their faith. 

Old Testament faith is about God as being Holy.  Isaiah 6: 3 says it best:  “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD almighty.”  Holiness denotes separateness.  When God declares Himself Holy, He is talking about His greatness, His purity.  The constant emphasis in the Old Testament is the view that man is a weak creature, defiled by sin, who must be humble and reverent before an almighty God.  Old Testament teaching focuses on an effort to attain mercy.  “Again and again it was stressed that we must keep our place, and our distance, in the presence of a Holy God.  That emphasis overshadowed everything else “ [203].

The idea of sonship is not expressed in the Old Testament.

God however sent His Son to redeem man.  This past weekend, we celebrated the resurrection of Christ on Easter, the great sacrifice He made for all of us so we can be connected intimately with God.  The brocade curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the less Holy place was torn in two at the death of Jesus.  That distance was erased.   Jesus came so we could be God’s adoptive children.   Did we deserve this act of ultimate sacrifice?  No.  That’s the idea of grace; God gives us love and mercy even though we don’t deserve it, we have done nothing to merit it. 

What were my Christian friends telling me?  “You are seeking something in your life; you will find it in giving your life to Jesus Christ.  You are trying to recover from a traumatic experience: Jesus will give you new life.  You need a new direction for your life:  that new direction will be apparent to you,  for you will be a child of God.”

I remember going on a retreat on October 8 through October 11, 1998, a spiritual/educational retreat called The Emmaus Walk.  Pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place.  For the first time, I began to understand what that phrase “giving your life to Christ” meant.  By the end of that weekend, I had done that.  I laid down all my burdens on the altar and I became a new man.  I had a sense of excitement and freedom that I could not explain.  All I wanted to do was read The New Testament [which I did when I returned home].  I started and finished it in three days.  Every page was a true revelation for me.  I began finding answers to all my questions.   

We are in the part of J.I. Packer’s book where he discusses the most important matters.  No greater question can ever be asked of you than “What are you?”  In a secular sense it is encouraging to have an answer to that, but in a spiritual sense, it is even more important to have an answer.

For many, they might say “I am a Christian.”

Packer has another question.   “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” [200].

The richest answer is “ I am a child of God.”

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