His Everlasting Arms are Beneath Us…

Giving a helping hand.

In recent posts, I think I have established that J.I. Packer believes God is our Guide.  Chapter Twenty of Knowing God makes a strong case “to know” God is to recognize one of His characteristics is He is our guide in life.

That’s good because most of us need guidance.  Some of us are willing to admit it, but some won’t.  Packer refers to those self-directed individuals as people who drive their cars into a bog.  They don’t listen to God’s guidance.  Maybe they feel they don’t need it.  Anyway, they have missed the road.  To take this further, sometimes Christians not only miss the road, they stand by and watch their cars sink in the bog and vanish.  Packer writes “the damage would be done and that would be that.” 

Really?

We are just supposed to suffer the consequences and move on in life?  “The damage would be done and that would be that” sounds just like the reaction one might have over spilled milk.  It is spilled and I can’t put it back in the glass.  I now must just go get a roll of towels, clean it up and forget it.

Sometimes life does not work like that.  When we “get off the road” so to speak, we can really commit grievous errors.  Some actions are terribly hard to fix.  Some actions cause extreme regret.  Some actions result in sinful feelings…the list goes on and on.   My point is, we don’t just say “oh well” and move on.

That is where we begin to realize that not only is God our Guide, but He is also our Sovereign and He has the ability to extend His grace to us.  Packer writes “Thank God…our God is a God who not merely restores, but takes up our mistakes and follies into His plan for us and brings good out of them” [241].  Maybe that is the meaning of Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”   God can take a man-caused disaster and make all things right again.

Sadly, we have to admit that it is probably human nature to not take God’s advice but someone insisting on doing “it” their way is not the end of the world.   God knows that this pattern of behavior is part of man’s makeup and He has known it from the very beginning.   Some would argue that “original sin” came from Adam and Eve “doing it their way” in the Garden, ignoring God’s admonition that they must not partake of the fruit on that tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Adam and Eve listened to Satan and ate the apple anyway.

Packer says “Guidance, like all God’s acts of blessing under the covenant of grace, is a sovereign act.  Not merely does God will to guide us in the sense of showing us His way, that we may tread it; He wills also to guide us in the more fundamental sense of ensuring that, whatever happens, whatever mistakes we make, we shall come safely home.”  To extend his opening metaphor further, the car is pulled from the bog, it is made right and we will eventually drive it back home. 

Straying off the path, slipping off the road [however you want to refer to us making errors] is going to occur and we need to know that God’s everlasting arms are beneath us.  He promises to catch us, rescue us and restore us. 

Here is the “bottom line.”

God is not going to let us ruin our souls.

But before we go too far, let’s not get egocentric.  He is not doing this for our security.  He is doing it for His glory. 

People like to see “comeback stories.”  Imagine the powerful message that it sends when nonbelievers see a Christian fail.  It is such a colossal failure that it seems impossible to recover.  No normal person could ever come back from such dire circumstances.  Yet they do.  Not only does God intervene to help them, but He restores them.  In the long-view of their life, we see that this was part of His plan all along.

It is the story of Job, the story of Joseph, the story of King David, the story of Paul’s life, and the story of Peter’s denial of Christ. 

It is the story of anyone who is used by God to accomplish what could not ordinarily be accomplished by just human effort.

Driving the car into the bog is not a life-ending error; it may be part of God’s plan. 

It is what happens when we get out of the bog that matters.  We carry on with life.  We drive it back home and when someone asks how all this came about, we humbly respond…

“It was God…

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No Turning Back, No Turning Back

Knowing what to do and how to do it is a problem for everyone [believer or nonbeliever].  I have had times in my life when I was so confused that I just wanted someone, anyone  to give me a direction.  Please lay out a plan for me.   I know I want to do something  but what comes first?  How can I accomplish a goal? What is the first step, the second step…any step?

I bet you have times like that too.

I have been around “driven” people but even they get off their target from time to time.

For the Christian, feeling a lack of guidance can be a serious problem. 

Why would I say that; why is it so serious for Christians to be confused about what to do?

Here it is:

We are promised by God that He will guide us, all of us, all of the time.

All we have to do is follow His lead.

In previous posts,  I have written about inward promptings from sources outside of God’s word and how people need to rely on the Bible for guidance.*  I  have written about God’s help with what Packer calls “vocational choices” and how we can fail to listen to those choices [six pitfalls].**

Now it is time to address another concern, another “perplexity” that can cause us to be confused about  God’s guidance.

It is time to take action toward accomplishing a goal and we have prayed about what to do, we have waited patiently for God to give some direction.  We feel He has given us a positive sign and we are heading toward our goal, what Packer calls “setting off along the road which God seems to indicate.”

Then problems occur, difficult problems, problems which cause us to doubt God.

Let’s take some examples that Packer cites from the Bible as times when God puts problems “in the roadway.” 

God guided Israel from Egypt into a long journey that was fraught with trouble.  There was the Red Sea crossing.  There were frustrating days without food and water in the desert.  There were battles with the tribes of Amalek, lack of passage from King Sihon, and battles with the Amorite King Og.  The Israelite people grumbled and wondered about the wisdom of God’s guidance.

Packer cites Jesus taking His disciples out on the Sea of Galilee two times in bad weather.  Jesus commanded the weather but they probably wondered about His guidance.  Why did He put them in danger?

The apostle Paul followed the urging of the Holy Spirit even though he knew he was headed for problems.  In Acts, he says to the Ephesian elders “I am going to Jerusalem, bound in the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there; except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me” [20: 23-23].  He was of course a man of great faith but there were bound to be moments of doubt about God’s guidance and maybe self-doubts.  Do I really want to go to prison?  Do I really want to be afflicted?

What are some common problems that make a person doubt God’s guidance?

First, there is isolation.  It takes fortitude to follow God sometimes.  I have found that Christians can be confronted with isolation as they try to do God’s will but His will is very different from commonly accepted practices in society.  I hate to use the terms but detractors can use damaging words  behind our backs like “holier than thou” to get a Christian back into the mainstream of “the world.”  I have found that people don’t want to feel guilty about their behavior and someone who does right by God may cause that conviction in others.  Isolation is hard to deal with as a believer follows God’s urging and loses contact with friends and even family.

Sometimes it is even worse treatment.  Isolation is bad enough but open criticism may even be worse.  It is more transparent than isolation but direct words of criticism can really be hurtful.  You know how others feel and they are not happy.  Their criticisms may even make you doubt that you are doing the right thing.  Here is a good example.  I had a family member criticize me for wanting to go to church.  They said I was neglecting the family by doing so.  I should not be so dedicated to worshipping God.   From my point of view, I did not feel like I was neglecting anyone or anything.   I did not appreciate being criticized, having to make a choice between my church family and my relatives.

Practical frustrations can also be major reasons for doubt.   Packer cites a dramatic case of Elisabeth Elliot, who was a widow of a missionary.  She felt called to travel to Ecuador to work on translating the Bible for an Ecuadorian tribe.  Practical frustrations got in the way.  She had a helper who not only spoke Spanish but was also a Christian.  That was the only way she could accomplish her goals for translation and existing in the country.  Within a month, this man was murdered.  She continued trying to work on her translating, compiling an impressive file of translated Scripture.  Her file was stolen.  She had no copy.  She made a valiant effort to do the work but she had to stop.  Too many practical frustrations…

Why do people who begin their work for God have to suffer through isolation?  Why do people who begin their work for God have to deal with openly critical words from others?  Why do people who begin their work for God have practical frustrations that can stop them dead in their tracks?

I don’t know…

Elizabeth Elliot did not know either.  She said in her book Eternity “If you are thinking that you know the will of God for your life and you are anxious to do that, you are probably in for a rude awakening because nobody knows the will of God for their entire life” [18].

Perhaps problems can strengthen our faith, strengthen our will to do God’s work.  Perhaps problems can cause us to doubt God and He wants us to deal with that doubt.  Perhaps God only wanted us to go so far and then He wanted us to stop and go no further.  Maybe someone else will come along and finish the work.  

None of us knows the answer but after we receive His guidance, the pathway is not always clear toward accomplishing God’s work.

Here is what Packer says about this dilemma:  “God’s guidance, which brings us out of darkness into light, will also bring us out of light into darkness” [241].

That might not be very reassuring, but it is part of living as a Christian.  There will be times of great glory for God and there will be times when we walk in the “valley of the shadow of death.”

This last expression that Packer leaves us with is laden with all kinds of symbolism but maybe it is the best answer we will ever receive about this dilemma.

“It is the way of the cross” [241]…

Lyrics from “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”

I have decided to follow Jesus

No turning back, no turning back.

The world before, the cross before me

No turning back, no turning back.

Tho’ none go with me, still I will follow

No turning back, no turning back.

*”God’s Help on Our Journey” June 14, 2020 St.JohnStudies.com

**”God’s Guidance: Packer’s Six Pitfalls” June 21, 2020 St.JohnStudies.com

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God’s Guidance: Packer’s Six Pitfalls

From the hymn  “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah” some of the lyrics say:

“Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,

Pilgrim through this barren land.

I am weak, but Thou art mighty;

Hold me with Thy powerful hand.”

J.I. Packer writes that we need a guide in this world, someone to help us with our choices.  He refers to those choices as “vocational choices” but what does he mean?  Here are some examples.  When contemplating marriage, the big question is should I marry or not?  Another example is joining a church.  Should  I join a particular church or not?  Regarding work: should I take one job over another?  Regarding living situations: should I live in one location as opposed to somewhere else?

I have been very fortunate to have had very wise men and women to help me over the years and one of the most important pieces of advice I ever received from someone happened in 1998.  I will never forget it.  I had just accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and this man told me “life is all about choices.”  That statement sounds infantile, but I needed to hear that at that time.  Previous to 1998, I had gone through a horrible period in my life and I was beginning to see some hope through beginning my belief in God.  Anyone who goes through justification will tell you that you are made right with God when you profess your belief and all things truly become new.  After all, it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away;  behold, all things have become new.”  All may become new but anyone who has been born again will tell you that old problems will not immediately go away; they will reappear and choices must be made about whether to revert to ingrained habitual responses or to try to respond to problems in a more Christlike manner.

I needed my mentor’s guidance.  I was a “baby” Christian and I had no idea what my future would hold.

I accepted the guidance and to this day, I remember it and I try to live it…every day.

Why won’t people accept guidance from God?  We may know we need it, but we go our own way anyhow.  Packer writes that even though a Christian may have right ideas about God’s guidance, it is “easy to go wrong.”  We are frail human beings; he calls our human nature “regenerate.”  “The Spirit can be quenched, and we can all too easily behave in a way which stops this guidance from getting through.”

He comments on six major pitfalls.

First is the “unwillingness to think.”  Deuteronomy 32: 29 says “O that they were wise…that they would consider.”  This is God’s call for us to think.  God gives us many gifts, one of which is a rational brain and He intends us to use it.  In the thinking process, God can and will work to shape us through our thoughts.  Packer lists a couple of problems that interfere with man’s thinking:  false piety [putting on a show to garner the favor with others], “super-supernaturalism of an unhealthy and pernicious sort that demands inward impressions that have no rational basis” [Knowing God, 237].  We all have feelings and feelings are not bad.  In fact, emotions can be very effective in spurring us creatively, motivating us to tackle projects and helping us to experience the joy of life.   However, there are times when we need to think and there are times when it is ok to feel.  Be willing to seriously consider matters  when life calls us to do so.  Feelings cannot rule all day long.

Related to thinking in the moment is the skill of thinking ahead.   Present-centeredness is a useful skill and it helps us to enjoy life in the immediate.   Of course, none of us can predict the future and most of us worry too much about what the future holds,  but choices have consequences and those consequences are in the future.  Thinking people realize this, that they need to “think ahead” from time to time.  Packer says God can guide us in the short-term and in the long-term.  “Think ahead is part of the Divine rule of life no less than of the human rule of the road.  Often we can see what is wise and right (and what is foolish and wrong) only as we dwell on its long-term issues” [327].

“The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice” [Proverbs, 12: 15].  Too often people can become so narrow-minded that they don’t want to hear what others think about their actions.  There are people in this world who know the Bible, they are wise about human nature and they have Godly gifts which can be passed along to us in the form of advice.  It is smart to listen to people who can help us with their words.  Packer says to spurn the advice of wise counselors is a sign of conceit and immaturity and it is a major pitfall in receiving God’s guidance given to us through people.

However, some words of advice coming from others can be harmful.  As we can make errors in not accepting good advice, we can make grievous errors accepting advice that is grounded in “ego-boosting, escapist [words], self-indulging or self-aggrandizing [words]” [238].  We all need to feel good about ourselves, but some people prey on others by words of flattery, words that are not grounded in reality.   It is important to reflect on advice when it elicits feelings and not thought.  Packer says “we need to ask ourselves why we ‘feel’ a particular course to be right, and to make ourselves give reasons” [328].  Psalms 139: 23-24 says “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me.”  It is wise to distrust the motives or others in matters of flattery and it is wise to distrust ourselves in matters of receiving flattery.

Packer says the fifth pitfall is the influence of others who have “personal magnetism.”   Hero worship is what he is discussing.  Too often we can be directed by well-meaning people who have a desire to be the center of attention.  They don’t care so much for us and the guidance we need as they care for the power of being admired as guidance-givers.  People who need to be guided by God can be deluded by others with personal magnetism.  “Even when a gifted and magnetic person is aware of the danger and tries to avoid it, he is not always able to stop Christian people from treating him as an angel or a prophet, construing his words as guidance for themselves and blindly following his lead” [328].  This blind following is not the way to be guided by God.  Outstanding people are not always wrong, but they are not always right either.

The final pitfall is something that has tripped me up repeatedly over the years.  I work hard to avoid this problem but it rears its ugly head at the most inopportune times.  It is called “unwillingness to wait.”  We know God has good plans for us, but God delivers his plan at His speed, in His circumstances.  He gives good advice but His guidance comes when He is ready to give it.  We are an impatient and “stiff-necked.”  People want what we want to know yesterday, not some obscure time in the future.  I am reading Psalms now and a constant phrase I am encountering is “wait on the Lord.”  God is never in a much hurry as we are.  He may want to guide us but He wants that guidance to come one step at a time.   We want the complete picture all at once.   It is much better for me [maybe you?] to learn to wait for God rather than to be guided by impatience and act prematurely. 

As I reflect back on my life I can pinpoint times when I made choices that had a major impact on my life.  Some of the most important choices I have made are those where I consulted God, either directly or God working through His advisors. 

As I reflect back on my life I do think of my mentor who pulled me aside and said “life is all about choices.”  I also think of the times when I asked God for guidance and I recall a poem written by Robert Frost that I would rank up there as one of my favorites.  It is a stretch to defend the poem as God inspired, but to me it has always had great meaning and it is about choices and their implications; The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

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God’s Help on Our Journey

In this journey we have been on to get to know God better, J.I. Packer adds another characteristic of our Father.  He is also our Benevolent Guide. If “God Be For Us…” is the section of his book we are in.  That reference is probably based on Romans 8: 31 “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” “Thou our Guide” is the title of the chapter we are on and the discussion in this post will be on how Christians receive guidance from a God who is for us.   Surely God is probably going to be a good guide and we should desire His guidance.    Proverbs 1:5: says  “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.”  Before I sat down at my computer to write today, I just left worship service at my church and we always have a lay reader who reads Old Testament Scripture early in the service.  Today, she made a well-known quip that she was reading from the Bible, which she said is an acronym for “Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth”.  If God has a plan for you and me [see the previous post “God Has a Plan”] and it is a good plan, should we not want to take advice from our wonderful God?  Should we not desire His basic instruction?

Again the big question is how do people go about receiving God’s guidance?

Packer believes that many Christians make the mistake of thinking that divine guidance comes from the “inward prompting by the Holy Spirit, apart from the written Word” [Knowing God, 234].

I once had an experience with a man who professed to be a Christian.  I took his profession at face value.  I was standing in line at my church, waiting to go into Wednesday night supper and he came rushing into the building.  He declared to all of us in the foyer “God has given me a Mercedes; the Holy Spirit prompted me to buy my new luxury car!”  What seemed unusual is the fact that this man told all of us earlier that he had limited means; in fact, he had a history of repeatedly taking free resources from our church.

That’s one of my experiences with someone who relied on the Spirit and not the Word, but Packer cites more examples.  He tells of a woman who awakens each morning, consecrating her day for the Lord.  The Lord tells her whether to get out of bed or stay in bed.  The Lord tells her whether to put on her right shoe first or second [or leave off the left shoe entirely].  The Lord tells her to put on stockings or leave off her stockings.  She truly believes the Holy Spirit dresses her.

Then there is the case of a woman who stayed at another woman’s house for the night and took money accidently left on a dressing table by her hostess.  She said the Holy Spirit told her to take the money to illustrate the Scripture “all things are yours.”  When the hostess discovered her Holy Spirit action [the guest put the money under her pillow], she had her guest charged with thievery.

Lastly is the tale of the “quiet refined lady rather past middle age” who, in order to help her friends receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, required them to perform a unique act.  They had to lie in bed with her back to back and neither person had on bed clothes.  When queried about her process, she simply said “I have felt distinctly led by the Lord to have my friends get into bed with me like this” *

What all these examples show are a reliance on pure feelings and an assumption that our God and Father is not rational.  Packer of course believes in the Holy Spirit, but “the true way to honor the Holy Spirit as our Guide is to honor the Holy Scriptures through which He guides us….the inward promptings…[are the] pressures on our consciences of the portrayal of God’s character and will in The Word, which the Spirit enlightens us to understand and apply to ourselves” [236].

The Bible gives us positive ideals by which we should behave; guidelines that are grounded in Scripture are not likely to suggest we spend beyond our means, dress with Holy Spirit promptings, steal money because the Bible tells me so or ignore commonsense ideas about inappropriate nakedness in the name of Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Packer says God’s guidance encourages us to be like Jesus.  Be as virtuous as you can, up to your limit.  Know the responsibilities of your role in life: husband, wife, parent, children etc. and perform your role to the best of your ability following Biblical guidelines.  I have been reading the Psalms lately as well as Proverbs; both books offer excellent examples of guidance.  General Biblical axioms apply very well to everyday life.  “Turn from evil and do good” is an admonition from the psalmist which is a big idea but it will serve as commonsense guidance for everyday choice making.  All of this is not just the reading of words; these words are God’s words and asking Him for the strength to help you carry out His guidance is very appropriate.  That just makes good sense.

But people declare that being “led by the Spirit” is a real reference to Romans 8: 14.  Is this not a real thing?  Packer writes that Romans 8: 14 is not a reference to being led by inward voices as much as it is about “mortifying known sin and not living after the flesh.” 

These questionable “Spirit-led” decisions that I have written about are what Packer calls “vocational” decisions.  Focus on his words about these types of decisions:  “He [God] guides us vocationally through the means of our thinking, our consulting, our reflecting, our praying, our allowing Him to convince us that this, rather than that is the way we should be going.”** Certainly there is room for feeling in this statement but it is clear to me that Packer does not feel that our Holy Spirit feelings will lead us astray from God’s Word.  Psalms 23: 3 says “He guides me in paths of righteousness” to which Packer adds, “—but not anywhere else.”

Life is a journey, I don’t know about you, but it is nice to have some help getting to where I am going, a helpful GPS system, a good map or even a human guide.  I don’t want to get lost.  I don’t want to waste my precious time.  I want to arrive safely at my desired destination.  I believe in the Holy Spirit but I don’t believe that the Holy Spirit will prompt me to do something that is against God’s word.  I will always have feelings as I travel down the road of life, but God’s word…

The words of His Bible are the guardrails…

*examples cited come from Hannah Whitall Smith, Religious Fanaticism

**from Packer and Nystrom, God’s Will:  Finding Guidance for Everyday Decisions

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God Has a Plan…

Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NIV)

“For I know the plans I have for you,” ‘declares the Lord’, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.   You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart”.

I have Jeremiah 29: 11-13 in a frame on the wall of my workshop in my garage.  It is an awesome piece of Scripture.  It makes me feel good because it tells me that I am on God’s mind.  He has plans for me and I am very open to following His guidance.  I want to be experience prosperity, I want to avoid harm, and I want to have hope and a future.  J.I. Packer writes “To many Christians, guidance is a chronic problem.  Why?  Not because they doubt Divine guidance is a fact, but because they are sure it is.  They know God can guide, and He has promised to guide, every Christian believer…. Their fear, therefore, is not that no guidance should be available for them, but that they may miss the guidance which God provides through some fault of their own….they remain anxious, because they are not certain of their own receptiveness to the guidance God offers” [Knowing God, 230-31]

This is how Packer begins Chapter Twenty entitled “Thou Our Guide.”

He admits that worry about “receptiveness” is not everyone’s problem.  As he has discussed many times in his book, some Christians have obscure knowledge of God, some are downright ignorant of God’s capability and some have been improperly educated by the church.  Of course, all this makes it doubly hard to accept that Divine guidance exists at all. 

Whether a Christian’s problem is fear of receptiveness or just plain old lack of knowledge of God, how can one accept the fact that God can give humans Divine guidance?

First of all, God has a plan for individuals, like you and me.  How does Packer support this claim?  He begins by pulling phrases from Ephesians, phrases like “eternal purpose,” “a plan for the fullness of time” and He “accomplishes all things according to the counsel of His will” [3:11 and 1:10-11].   He cites God’s plan for redeeming His people from Egyptian bondage [guiding them through sea and desert by means of a cloud by day and fire by night].  He had a plan for the return of His people from Babylonian exile, placing Cyrus on the throne and having him motivate the Israelites enough for them to build a temple.  Of course God had a plan for Jesus; He spent his whole life on earth doing His Father’s will.  God had a plan for Paul, who stated in five of his letters that he was God’s apostle by “God’s will.”

Yes God has a plan for each of His children, even you and me.

Ok if you accept the premise that God has a plan for every believer, how does one “get with the plan?” 

First of all, all Christians have what Packer calls an “indwelling Instructor, the Holy Spirit.  This Spirit came to us as Jesus left this earth, the Helper, Comforter and Guide was the Gift that believers received to keep them linked to the will of God.  “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you” [John 14: 15-17].

In addition, God has always been a communicative God.  He used prophets to make His will known in Old Testament Scripture.  He certainly guided Jesus and Paul.  God tells David “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you” [Psalms 32: 8].  Isaiah 58:11 states “the Lord will guide you always.”  Guidance is the main theme in Psalm 25: “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He instructs sinners in His ways.  He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way….Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord?”

We have just finished discussing a chapter about being adopted into God’s family and if we are His family members, does it not follow that God would give His own children guidance.  If human parents have a responsibility to give their children guidance when they are about to harm themselves by engaging in dangerous activity, the same should apply to God’s family members.  Matthew 7: 11 says “If  you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him.”

Let’s not forget the Bible.  Scripture is God’s Word and is “profitable…for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” [2 Timothy 3: 16-17].  Teaching means instruction in how to live; understanding the will of God.  The words reproof, correction and training in righteousness mean that we can apply scriptural instruction to our lives.  When we are “equipped for every good work” we are living life in God’s way.  We have tapped into His plan; we are learning how He wants us to live.

Let’s conclude by admitting that most of us humans can be very selfish.  If we really believe the words of Jeremiah 29 many of us may focus on the words “prosper,” “hope,” and a God who “will listen.”  It sounds pretty good; I will seek Him and will find Him and He is going to give me a really nice future. 

Here is the “catch.”

God seeks His glory in our lives.  He is there to teach us and we are to be His devoted students.  We are supposed to learn how to walk in His will, knowing there will be great benefit.  But the benefit shines directly on God, not us.  What we have, what we are able to produce, how we respond to the ups and downs of life etc.; all this reflects God’s gifts to us.  He seeks glory in the Christian’s life.  In Psalm 23: 3, David proclaims “He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His names sake.”

This is not about being selfish.  It is about giving credit where credit is due.

“For I know the plans I have for you, ‘declares the Lord’”.  When we dwell on those words, it is not about us; it is about Him.  The Christian who begins to understand God’s plan, increases their knowledge and receptiveness of His message and is headed for a better life.  But the secret of the Christian life is that it is all about us allowing God to take over; it is Him working in us that produces the fruit, not our labors.

Here is the bottom line.  We are adopted children but…

Let’s not forget our Father.

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“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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