If We Don’t Understand Grace…

In the process of trying to know God, we have looked at His unchanging nature, His majesty, His wisdom, His Word as truth and in the previous post we have finished looking at His love for us, some would say His heart.

Now it is time to look at His grace.

Packer feels God’s grace is a commonplace word, tossed around a lot in the Christian church but maybe “grace” does not mean very much to some people.  We use “grace” in the name of our churches; it is staple diet in our Sunday school classes and preachers love to preach about it, but despite all this frequent use, Packer says this: “there do not seem to be many in our churches who actually believe in grace.”

I have been in settings [e.g. religious retreats] where I felt I had a firm understanding of grace and as I tried to comprehend the nature of “God’s riches at Christ’s, expense.” I found myself dumbfounded.  The whole idea of grace is overwhelming when you consider it.  I have seen grown men cry when they realize their sins are washed away because God truly loves them that much.

But a retreat is not “normal, everyday life.”  Packer is very negative as he states his feelings about grace in the church today.  “Many church people….their conception of grace is not so much debased as nonexistent.  The thought means nothing to them….speak to them about the realities to which the word grace points, and their attitude is one of deferential blankness…whatever you are talking about, it is beyond them, and the longer they have lived without it the surer they are that they are at their stage of life and they do not really need it” [Knowing God, 129].

How could this be?  How could we take this seminal idea for granted in the Church today? 

Packer writes that the root cause is a misbelief about the relationship between people and God.  It is a “heart thing” for humans.  We are distracted by everyday life and we have strong feelings about the world; we very easily take God’s gifts for granted.  We know in our minds that we should not be this way but we fall prey to our weak wills and our worldly ways.

First of all, modern men and women think highly of themselves.  Material wealth is the God we worship, rather than the true God.   Having lots of things and lots of money to buy things is much more important than a moral character.  Packer feels that today we very easily excuse ourselves for “drinking, gambling, reckless driving, sexual laxity, black and white lies, sharp practice in trading, dirty reading etc.”   If one indulges and has a bad conscience that is an aberration, a sign of “an unhealthy psychological freak” instead of a normal person.  Instead of thinking that we should make some effort to elevate behavior, too many people assume God is just like us.  He is pretty complacent about the ordinary sins we commit.  This effort to project ourselves onto God is foolish.  Maybe we think we are good folks at heart and that is good enough.  God sees it that way also.

I am not sure about that…

Secondly, today’s man and woman don’t worry much about God’s retribution.  Packer goes so far as to say that they “turn a blind eye to all wrongdoing as long as they safely can.”  Toleration of bad behavior is the norm.  Parents sometimes don’t bother to correct their children.  Teachers sometimes don’t worry about discipline in the classroom.  The general public puts up with vandalism and antisocial behavior, the idea being if we can ignore it, that is the best policy.  I am not sure the Bible reflects this attitude.  When I read it, it seems to point out that God’s retribution is a reality.  When we do bad things, we can expect to be punished.  God judges us and His verdict is real.  Packer says “God is not true to himself unless He punishes sin.  Grace is also real but it is only extended to those who repent with a contrite heart.  It is not automatic.  Habitual wrongdoers don’t deserve anything but retribution until they are ready to turn from their evil ways and lead a better life.  One can never experience grace if doing evil with impunity is the theme of their life.

Next is the idea of works.  There are many in the world today who approach God as they approach their earthly employers.  They work so hard to win the favor of the Lord, piling saintly activity on top of saintly activity until God has to throw up His hands and say “truly you are deserving of My grace.”  Packer has a way of describing this type of person as someone who works so hard at providing evidence of good works, putting God in a position where He cannot say no.  He calls this churchmanship.  Also he uses the term morality.  These words denote the individual who works tirelessly in the church running from job to job, committee to committee and doing everything except maybe pastoring.  Surely God takes note of the hard work, the gifts that are given, the spirit of the worker.  Morality is on public display as the “moral” person is quick to declare the “right way of life” in public places and they work hard to display the “right” behavior in as many places that they can.  Romans 3:20 states “No one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law.”  Workaholic behavior is no guarantee that anyone will receive grace. 

The problem: God sees into the heart of the workaholic and like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean [Matthew 23: 27].

Lastly, Packer explores the idea that strikes at the heart of grace, God’s gift to us.  Many feel that God is obligated to extend grace to us.  It is His job.  Packer quotes a Frenchman whose last words are “God will forgive—that’s His job” [131].  Stop for a moment and consider this attitude.  It is based on the idea that God needs us; we don’t need Him.  It clearly says in Acts 17: 25,  “And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything. Rather, He himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”  We cannot claim grace from God.  It truly is a free gift.  What can we expect?  If our behavior is sinful, we can expect justice.  Packer writes “God does not owe it to anyone to stop justice from taking its course.”  Grace does not depend of man’s will or man’s effort; it comes from God’s mercy. 

This is the hardest thing to understand about grace.  It is free.  God does not have to give it to man.  He has total freedom not to extend it.  He gives it because He comprehends the human dilemma.  We are not perfect people and we cannot be.   We can do works to make the world a better place but we can’t do enough work to gain His grace. 

We sin.   Every day, all day long… We sin.

If God gives His grace to us, He does not do it out of obligation; He does it out of mercy. 

I need His mercy, don’t you?  If Packer is right and today’s church is full of people who have “no grasp of grace” we need to change that.  This concept is the defining idea of how God relates to man, how we can approach our Lord and Savior in our weakened human condition and truly ask Him for forgiveness.  If we don’t get grace, we don’t have a chance for salvation.  We don’t have a relationship with our unchanging, majestic, wise, truthful, loving God.

If we don’t understand grace, we don’t understand who we are and more importantly,

We don’t even understand God…

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Continuing Our Journey into the Heart of God…

Some of us are self-aware while others are less so.

For years, I have hidden from the fact that I am a pusher.  Of course I am not referring to the informal definition that I “sell illegal drugs”.  I am referring to the idea that I am the kind of person who pushes myself and others to get things done.

That is not all bad.  “Pushers” do sometimes get stuff done, but it is hard to step aside from life and take the time to be aware of the cost.  Sometimes relationships suffer because not everyone around you wants to accomplish what you want to accomplish at the pace that you prefer.  Sometimes life gets too stressful as you push to get what you want.   Also I know that I have set standards that are probably too high, for myself and for others.  That certainly adds to the stress.

Oh well, the life of the pusher…

Recently I have had opportunities to step back from life and examine it a bit more.  Use whatever cliché you prefer: take a breath, smell the roses or just say I have learned to slow down and push less. 

I am beginning to learn to meditate.

Being a pusher, it even affects reading.  I have found myself “pushing” myself through books, just to say “I have read it!”  Along the way, I have not paid that much attention to the words; I have just raced through the pages, never pausing to think deeply about the ideas. 

Then it happened.  God put some books into my hands that slowed me down.  I can truthfully say that I have been changed by the words of three authors whose works have touched my soul.  These three books have touched my soul even though  I realize that they may not touch yours. *

Let me be even more personal.  I read these books a lot.  I can go to a chapter, a page or even a paragraph and read it again and the thoughts make me think, make me feel, make me feel inspired to do more to make my life better.

But not by pushing…

I am getting where I need to be by accepting what God gives me, working within His framework, listening to the Holy Spirit.  It requires quiet time to get nearer to the heart of God, to feel His presence. 

This brings me to the Scripture that J.I. Packer quotes in Chapter 12 of his book**.  First John 4:8 reads “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  Twelve words.  Packer does not even center Chapter 12 on twelve words.  He concentrates or [if you will] meditates on just three words of First John 4:8: “God is love.”

He thinks that many false ideas have grown up around these three simple words: “False ideas have grown up around it like a hedge of thorns, hiding its real meaning from view.”

Three words: “God is love.”

In the last post, I referred to his definition of God’s love: “God’s love is an exercise of His goodness toward individual sinners whereby, having identified Himself with their welfare, He has given His Son to be their Savior, and now brings them to know and enjoy Him in a covenant relation” [123].  I spent one thousand two hundred and thirty words summarizing Packer’s analysis of the definition, but I did not get through the whole definition. 

Today I will continue the analysis– continue “Our Journey into the Heart of God…”

“Identifying Himself with their welfare” is a section that bears a close look.  If a person really cares for another (really loves another) they are concerned with their welfare.  At times in my life, my son has done things that disappointed me, but that does not mean that I cease caring for him.  When he has needed help, I am there to provide that help.   At times in my life, my spouse has done things that made me less than happy but that does not mean that I am ready to toss our relationship aside. 

Let’s expand this discussion to God’s relationship with men and women.  Truly we do horrible things from time to time so one would think that God would be very disappointed with us, truly “less than happy.”

Packer writes “God was happy without humans before they were made; He would have continued happy had He simply destroyed them after they had sinned; but as it is He has set His love upon particular sinners, and this means that, by His own free voluntary choice, He will know perfect and unmixed happiness again till He has brought every one of them the heaven” [125].

God saves man and woman not only for His glory but also for His gladness.  Luke 15:10 says “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  

Maybe as I love my son and my wife, God loves us: He is concerned with our welfare despite our shortcomings.

“He has given His Son to be their Savior” is the most powerful statement of God’s love for all of us.  Not only did God give His Son to man to help man understand how to live, but God gave His son knowing that he would be sacrificed for all our sins.  Jesus Christ became the mediator who can bring us to a relationship with God.  Jesus Christ became the atoner who died for us as we are yet sinners.   “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him graciously give us all things?” [Romans 8: 32]. 

Is this not the ultimate demonstration of love? 

How could we say it is not?

Finally as Packer closes his definition, we need to consider the “brings them to know and enjoy Him in a covenant relation” phrase.   A covenant relation is a pledged relationship where two parties are connected to each other in “mutual service and dependence.”  God made it clear to Abraham that He was “in it for the long haul” with the lines from Genesis: “to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” [17].  God is not going anywhere; He is omnipotent.  When Packer tacks the idea of a covenant relation on his definition, he is saying that God will be doing the best He can for man forever.  We may drop in and out of a strong relationship with God because we are not holding up our end of the covenant, but that is not God’s promise.  What He promises, He will deliver.

“God is love.”

Three little words from Scripture that mean so much…

Packer writes “Why do I ever grumble and show discontent and resentment at the circumstances in which God has placed me?  Why am I ever distrustful, fearful or depressed?  Why do I ever allow myself to grow cool, formal and halfhearted in the service of the God who loves me so?  Why do I ever allow my loyalties to be divided, so that God has not all my heart?” [127].

All those behaviors make no sense as we respond to a God who loves us so.  Jesus goes even further by saying as God has loved us, we ought to love one another.  As our love for God spills over into the relationships we have with our wives, our husbands, our sons, our daughters, our families, our neighbors, people at church and at work do you think that nonbelievers could see this and learn?

I think so.

Yes, God loves us and we should know it and act on it, but in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we don’t act like we have His love in our minds and hearts.  Packer’s words at the end of Chapter 12 ring so true for a “pusher” like me.“Meditate upon these things.  Examine yourself” [127].Yes God loves us and we should know it and act on it, but in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we don’t act like we have His love in our minds and hearts.  Packer’s words at the end of Chapter 12 ring so true for a “pusher” like me.

“Meditate upon these things.  Examine yourself” [127].

“God is love.”

*not the Bible…My special books are totally focused on me and my life.  They are all spiritual in nature.

**Knowing God

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Our Journey into the Heart of God…

I thought that “Looking into God’s Heart” was a good title for the previous post; that maybe it caught attention.  But after more consideration, maybe the title promised more than it delivered.  There is a possibility that my comments on Knowing God really did not look closely enough into the heart of God.

By the end of the discussion, I am afraid I raised more questions about the “mystery” of God’s love than I answered.  As a writer commenting on J.I. Packer’s book Knowing God, I always approach the book as a learner, just like you, but what did I learn several pages into his chapter entitled “The Love of God?” 

  1. “God is love” is not the complete truth about God so far as the Bible is concerned.”
  2.  “God is love” is the complete truth about God so far as the Christian is concerned.”

At first glance, the two ideas seem opposed but really, they are not; one refers to God’s love as expressed in the Bible and the other refers to God’s love as expressed in the everyday life of the Christian, but I still don’t know what God’s love is, specifically.

I don’t know about you, but I could use a little more explanation.  Packer obliges with a definition of God’s love [don’t we love those definitions!].  He writes “God’s love is an exercise of His goodness toward individual sinners whereby, having identified Himself with their welfare, He has given His Son to be their Savior, and now brings them to know and enjoy Him in a covenant relation” [123].

There we have it, but Packer does even more.  He spends several pages analyzing his definition.

“God’s love is an exercise of His goodness” refers to how God cares for man and woman.  God created us and even though we consistently disappoint Him, He still continues to care for us.  He is generous with His love; we don’t deserve such generosity but He extends it anyway.  “The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made” [Psalm 145:9].  “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked [Luke 6: 35].   Yet He has not left Himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; He provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” [Acts 14: 17].   I don’t know about you, but I feel God manifests Himself in my life repeatedly, I believe He shows up every day.  “Relationship” may have become a cliché as Christians describe their connection with God, but His interest in me is matched by my interest in Him.  Packer quotes James Orr* [He] “finds His joy in imparting Himself to the other [you and me], and in receiving back the outflow of that other’s affection unto Himself.”  It is a stretch to compare the times I have loved in my life to God’s love for us humans, but when I have loved another, I desired to know all I could about the other person and I was absolutely delighted to know anything and everything I could.  This is personal relationship in its purest form.  Desire to know, trust to believe and faith in the love that comes from knowing.

When I wrote above about consistently disappointing Him, and not deserving His generosity, I was alluding to the next part of the definition, that part about His goodness being directed toward “sinners.”   I know not to do certain things in my life but I do them anyway.  When we read the Apostle Paul, can’t we relate?  “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.   As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” [Romans 7: 15-20].  Rationality does not exist in man as we know we should not sin but we continue to sin.  Rationality does not seem to exist in God as He sees us sin and He continues to loves us, through His grace and mercy.  Why would God love us?  Why would He care for the “unlovely” and the “unloveable”?  It makes no sense.  He should condemn us and banish us from His presence.  Yet He chooses to love us despite our flaws.  Packer says this love is “free, spontaneous, unevoked, uncaused.”  I have to turn to Isaiah 55: 8-9 for an answer: “ ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways’  declares the Lord.  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”  Maybe we just have to chalk it up to not being able to understand our sovereign God.  We should be thankful that we don’t get what we deserve.

When it comes to sin, Packer does not just discuss sin in man and woman, sin in general.  Packer writes that God knows of our sins in particular.  Remember God is omniscient and He planned our existence in this world.  Certain sins I have committed, am committing and will commit are sins God always knows about. They are part of my make-up.  God knows me as a sinner but God also knows if He will bless me.  Second Thessalonians 2:13 says “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”  My sin is no surprise to God and His forgiveness of my sins is part of His plan all along. 

At this point we are not even halfway through the analysis of Packer’s definition of God’s love, leaving his explanation of our welfare, giving His Son as Savior and the resulting covenant relationship for a future post. 

But we have determined that we have a loving God, and His love is not deterred by our human bent toward sin.  Yes we have also focused on individual sinners [you and me, dear reader].  He knows all about us, what make us “tick”.  He knows because He made you…

And He made me…

“The exercise of God’s love toward individual sinners in time is the execution of His purpose to bless those same individual sinners—a purpose He formed in eternity” [124].

We have covered some important ground on our journey toward really looking into the heart of God.

*From Hastings Dictionary of the Bible

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Looking into God’s Heart…

So far, we have discussed the wisdom of God, the power of God and the Word of God.

In our efforts to know God, it is time to look into God’s heart. 

J.I. Packer* begins his chapter on the love of God with a simple three word sentence from First John 4: 8 “God is love” from the complete scripture “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

He feels it is one of the most “tremendous utterances” in the Bible but he also says it is one of the most misunderstood.  It seems simple, but it is not.

Ok, if there are false ideas about this it may take work to untangle all the meaning, but it is worth it.  Receiving God’s love is one of the most amazing things that any of us can receive while we are here on earth.  Packer states that “the New Testament sets forth this knowledge [God’s love], not as the privilege of a favored few, but as a normal part of ordinary Christian experience” [118].

Let’s take some Scripture and begin to unpeel the meaning.  Paul writes in Romans 5: 5 that “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”   Here Paul is not talking about our love for God; he is talking about God’s love for us.

Let’s begin to dissect this Scripture.  First of all look at the verb and adverb “shed abroad”.  Packer relates that shed abroad means “poured or dumped out” like the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. 

Secondly, the tense of the verb is perfect tense, present perfect tense.  For those among us who are not grammarians, this means that an action has begun in the past and it is continuing in the present.  God has filled our hearts with love and He is filling them with love right now [like a valley once flooded remains full of water]. 

The last aspect of the verse is the phrase “which is given to us.”  This is not an indication of an extraordinary event.  This is a regular thing that God is doing for us.  Especially today, we are bombarded by the extraordinary, so in a spiritual context maybe we get excited by speaking in tongues.  That may be unusual enough but God giving us love is not; it is a normal, everyday activity.  We may want a revival in church, expecting tongues to break out in worship.  How many would pray for love to break out, filling everyone’s heart to the brimful?

Packer feels that the exploration of this gifting of God’s love for us will lead us “as deep into the mystery of God’s nature as the human mind can go, deeper than any of our previous studies have taken us.”

To begin to understand God’s love, Packer feels that two comments must proceed the study.

One, “God is love” is not the complete truth about God according to the Bible.  If you have read the whole Bible, God is not the grandfatherly figure we used to see on the walls of our child’s Sunday school classroom.  That God seems so warm and friendly, one would have a hard time imagining God judging the world and sending a flood, chastening His people and allowing them to be conquered, captured and exiled.   In the New Testament, this is the God who will judge the world during the end times and we know it will be a “righteous judgement.” 

Obviously if we are to buy into John 4: 8, we have to see God’s complete picture and the complete picture is not totally positive.  

How are we to understand this?  In our minds, the word love does not mean “to condemn” or “to punish.” 

Obviously, we have to get at this complete truth.

Secondly “God is love” is the complete truth about God so far as the Christian is concerned. 

Let’s stop.  Isn’t this the exact opposite of the previous comment?  It almost is, but the previous comment was “God is love” is not the complete truth according to the Bible.  Now Packer writes that “God is love” is the complete truth [as far as the Christian is concerned].

As we begin to explore God’s love, as we begin to look into His heart, maybe this confusion is just the beginning of our efforts to understand the mystery of God’s love for us. 

“I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to Myself”  [Jeremiah 31: 3].

Psalms 136:  26 “Give thanks to the God of heaven; His love endures forever.”

1 Corinthians 13: 13  “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” [1 John 4: 18].

With just this sampling of Scripture, we soon see that love is not the simple word we thought it was. 

Maybe Packer is right; to know God’s love is to reveal His inner being.  To know God’s love is “indeed heaven on earth.”

In subsequent posts, we will see…

*from his book Knowing God

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The True Christian

Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”

There it is.  If you are human, this shoe fits…

We can all feel sorry for ourselves.  We can all castigate ourselves.  We can all go into a deep depression, but what good will these responses do?  It’s a fact: we all sin and fall short of the glory of God.   Some may respond to this by throwing their hands up and saying, “Since I can’t achieve a sinless life; I will just give up and be a merciless sinner.”  Some may distance themselves from the merciless sinners, but that is a joke.  Even the most accomplished Christians sin and fall short of the glory of God.  It is all a matter of degree.  Maybe the most appropriate response is to never give up on trying to live a Christian life.

For the sake of argument, let’s just pretend that we want others to see us a certain way.  We desire for others to apply a label to us.  And that label is “True Christian”.

What does one have to do to get that label?  J.I. Packer is just as straight-forward as Romans 3:   “True Christians are people who acknowledge and live under the Word of God” [116].      

Too often Christians measure their degree of belief against others.  That is the wrong measuring stick.  Certainly there will always be people around us who are more “good” than we are, “submitting without reserve to the Word of God, written in the Book of Truth, believing the teaching, trusting the promises, following the commands.  Their eyes are upon the God of the Bible as their Father and the Christ of the Bible as their Savior” [116].

What are their secrets?

First of all, they believe that the commands in God’s Scripture are true.  Psalms 119: 151 says “All Your Commands are true.”  

Packer boils down the commands into basic ideas that we can all understand.  God knows about human nature; “He has a working definition of true humanity.”  In that definition, God shows us what we can be if we follow His commands.  If we act on His Word, we can learn to be truly human [the best we can be on earth] and we can avoid moral self-destruction. 

Packer likes to explain this by discussing the human body as a machine.  It thrives on routines: good food, good rest, and good exercise.  We don’t have to follow healthy routines; we can thumb our noses at the commands.  We can fill up our bodies with alcohol, drugs and poison to the point that we no longer have healthy functioning bodies.  Do this over a long period of time and death will occur.  God’s commandments are like God telling us of the values of routines for our bodies.  Like routines for our bodies, God thinks of our souls in a similar way.  He knows we are made to run on routines like worship, keeping His laws, telling the truth, discipline, self-control and regular service to our fellow man. 

Here is the upshot of all this.  Like following poor health routines can destroy our bodies, not following God’s commands in the care of our souls will progressively destroy our souls.  Packer writes that “One not only becomes desperately miserable; one is steadily being dehumanized” [114].   Packer sees this as a clear choice, black or white, right or wrong if you will.  Human beings can choose to follow God’s commandments or choose to disobey God’s commandments.  Either a person is laboring to keep God’s laws or they are not.  If they are not, they are in the process of destroying their soul.  If they are, they are working toward living the best life a human can live, a life of freedom from the drudgery of sin.

So what’s another way we can achieve that label “True Christian?”

Secondly, true Christians believe God’s promises are true because God keeps them.  Hebrews 10: 23 says it all: “He who promised is faithful.”

How might we determine God is faithful in fulfilling His promises?  Packer writes “He is a covenant-keeping God; He never fails those who trust His Word” [115].  Abraham proved God’s faithfulness, as he waited in his old age for the birth of his promised Son and millions more since Abraham’s day have continued the covenant Abraham made with God—that his descendants would eventually inherit the Land of Israel. 

A covenant is an agreement between God and His people, in which God makes promises to His people and, usually requires certain conduct from them. In the Old Testament, God made agreements with Noah, Abraham, and Moses. Of course Christians base their faith on the New Covenant. 

The Christian view of the “New Covenant” is a new relationship between God and humans mediated by Jesus which necessarily includes all people, both Jews and Gentiles, upon sincere declaration that one believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and God. 

Christians believe that the promises of God are real and their whole goal in life is to have their lives brought in line with those promises.  Packer puts it this way:  “The promises are before them as they pray, and the precepts are before them as they go about their daily tasks” [116]. 

The “true Christian” knows that God has spoken directly to them in His Scriptures, and God has gone forth to create, control and order all things around them.  God’s Word says that “all things work together for their good.”  Acceptance of their circumstances under the direction of God can bring them joy.  As written above, we all fall short of the glory of God and with that in mind, every human being who declares belief in God must also admit that “I sin and fall short of the God’s glory.”  In Packer’s estimation, our human independent streak can cause us to test God’s Word, but the “true Christian” sees Scripture as a touchstone.  They can use God’s Word as a way to test their ideas but “they will not touch anything which they are not sure that Scripture sanctions”

In closing, I will refer back to the description of the true Christian and I will use Packer’s own words.  “Why does this description [true Christian] fit so few of us who profess to be Christians in these days?  You will find it profitable to ask your conscience and He will tell you.”

Or you can consult His Word and He will show you…

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The Truth We all Need…

I have written about how we should fear God, fear meaning we should respect God, fear meaning we should take God seriously, fear meaning that we should do what He says in His Word.  We should not want to displease our Maker.

I have written about how God’s rule over our lives is absolute; He wants all of us, not just measly partial commitment.  He wants total commitment.  He expects it.

But I have also written about God’s benevolence, His desire to have a personal relationship with us, His desire to live within us, to guide us through this life on a daily basis.  He is not distant. He is there to help us. God cares about all of us.

Fear, absolute rule, and on top of that, benevolence, all good reasons to take God’s Word seriously.

Let’s throw another reason to obey God on the pile.

God’s Word is the Truth.

The Bible is full of references to God as Truth-Teller.

The Bible’s author is the “God of truth” [Psalms 31: 5, Isaiah 65: 16].  His Word is “abundant in truth”—“And the Lord passed by before Him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” [Exodus 34].  “His truth reacheth unto the clouds” [Psalms 108: 4].  James 17:17 says His “Word is truth.”  Psalms 119: 160 declares “All Your Words are true” and Second Samuel 7:28 tells us “Thou art God, and thy Words are true.”

Why is this so important?

To answer this, J.I. Packer* pens a few important reasons: “stability, reliability, firmness, trustworthiness, self-consistent, sincere, realistic, and undeceived.”  You might ask how do those words relate to us?

We all need a firm foundation for our lives.  We need a firm foundation for our beliefs.  We all need core values to live by.

Too often Christians are content to just say “I am a Christian.”  I would venture to say that God wants more than that from us.  Simply put, God wants us not only to say we are Christians, He wants us to “act” like Christians.  In a study I am working on regarding prayer and faith, it is written that “shallow” Christian seems to be happy with just the label.  To tell others “I am a Christian” is enough.   Another thing Christians love to say is “I have faith.”   Saying I have faith seems to be enough because the shallow Christian is happy to just say “I have it.”  Author W. Bingham Hunter** writes that “Many people feel that it doesn’t matter so much what they believe as that they believe.”

The problem goes back to the “c” word above.  God wants total commitment.  He wants us to not only tell others we believe in Him, He wants us to ACT like we believe in Him.  To do that, God wants us to try to act on His truth.  God wants us to try to live in the light of His Word.  God wants us to try to order our hearts according to the truth He give us in the Bible.  To not try is to live the life of a hypocrite.

Living the best Christian life we can is based on truth.  Truth is God’s nature.  He wants to show us things as they really are and He wants us to heed His Word.

John Ortberg*** is an author who has a way of explaining how too many of us act.  His writing is truthful in that it exposes our weakness regarding our ability to obey God.  He talks about public convictions.  Those are beliefs we have and we want others to see that we have them.   We may not really believe them but they “look good.”  If people see us displaying Godly public convictions, they might think we are true followers [maybe in reality we are not].  Private convictions are beliefs we “think” we have.  I write the word think because private convictions are flexible.  Depending on the introduction of additional strong factual information, we may change our private convictions.  Depending on whom we spend time with; we may change our private convictions.  You see, the desire to fit in with others in our social group can really take a toll on our belief system. 

Then you have core convictions.

Ortberg describes core convictions as the rock solid beliefs that really matter.  Not only do we believe in them in a stable, reliable, firm way, we act on them. God is trying to give us the basis of our core convictions in His Word.  God is trying to give us a firm foundation for our lives.  He wants us not only to tell others we are Christians, He wants us to show others we are Christians by our actions.  Our core beliefs should be based on the truth that we find in God’s Word.

We all know how it is in the world.  We are all there; we are all “in the world.”  The power of sin over us is very strong.  Too often we spend time in the darkness of sin when God is asking us to bask in His light. 

Romans 6:23 tells us “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

It all boils down to the ideas that we should respect God, we should commit our lives to Him, we should let Him guide us through life. 

We should do this because He loves us.

He loves us so much He has given us the truth, which we can find in His Word.

*J.I. Packer  Knowing God

**W. Bingham Hunter The God Who Hears

***John Ortberg  Faith and Doubt

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The King That Loves You and Me…

My comments on the first four chapters of part two of J.I. Packer’s book Knowing God, have been on God as King, Absolute Monarch of the universe.  Our topics have been God’s unchanging nature, God’s majesty, God’s wisdom and the difference between His wisdom and man’s.

Now it is time to turn to His Word.  If you believe what Packer has written about above, you obviously believe that your God is King.  A second and related fact that you may believe is He speaks in order that His will be done.  “Just as God’s relations with His world have to be understood in terms of His sovereignty, so His sovereignty is to be understood in terms of what the Bible tells us about His Word” [Packer, 109].

Let’s use the framework of the ancient world, where absolute rulers were common.  Absolute rulers most often spoke to their subjects on two levels for two purposes.  One level was communication via laws established to determine the environment of their people [judicial, fiscal and cultural]. This type of communication can be seen as “distant” as laws are enacted and enforced by a ruler’s representatives.   A wise absolute ruler would also make public speeches explaining new laws in order to connect with subjects and elicit their support and cooperation in what he was doing.  Public speaking is the second level of speaking but it is necessary to engage the minds and hearts of subjects.  A dictator can always rule by fiat but benevolent rulers would rather have some agreement among subjects about laws that are going to be enacted.  Reasons for the law can be provided and people can accept the new rules and revolt can be minimized.

Most knowledgeable Christians probably believe that God is the most benevolent monarch that ever could be.  He has established laws for all of us to live by, but He does not wish to be distant from us.  The Hebrews called the Old Testament the Torah which means law and in the Torah, He does give us laws to live by.  However, unlike earthly kings, He did not intend to be distant from us in the giving of these laws.  God literally made man and woman with the intention that He would walk together with us throughout our lives.  He intends for us to know Him and He certainly knows us.  Read His Word in Psalms 139 for clear evidence.  “You have searched me, Lord, and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue You, Lord, know it completely [Psalms 139: 1-4].  Since God so loves us, His Word is designed to instruct us but it is also designed to entice us into a relationship.  His Word is not the word of a harsh absolute, dictatorial monarch; it is what Packer refers to as “personal communication with the loving Lord Himself.”

Does God speak to us through His Word?  An actual living human monarch could take to the pulpit or podium  and speak to his people but Christians believe God speaks to us through the Bible, His Word.  Packer writes that one does not have to delve too far into His Word to hear Him speak.  Take the Book of Genesis.  In the process of creating the world, God spoke directly to Adam and Eve.  The words “God said to them” confirms that.  He commanded them [“be fruitful and multiply”].  He prohibited them from eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and he made favorable and unfavorable promises to them [for example the seed of woman would bruise the head of the serpent but also woman would suffer in childbirth, man’s work would be hard and both would experience death.   In the first three chapters of Genesis, it is clear that God planned to be very involved with all His creatures, especially the creatures he called man and woman.  Many would argue that the whole Bible is the story of God’s attempt to reestablish a solid relationship with man.

Maybe it would be a “stretch” to claim that God has a public speaking role in the world today but maybe He has something better.   He has a Book that records His efforts to speak directly to man and He intends that we pay attention to His Word.  Jeremiah 13:10 says “these wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words.”  Isaiah 66:2 says that the mark of a true, humble, godly person is they “tremble at my word.”

Instead of revolting against the Word of God, would it not be better to accept it, support it and cooperate with God to bring His will about.  Our God is not a distant God; He is right beside us every day, urging us to live the best life we can live.  He is a benevolent Monarch, loving us every step of the way as we live out our lives.  He has “laid down the law” but it is a law that benefits us, makes our lives better. Instead of hampering our freedom, God’s law can give us freedom from sin.

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish…so is My Word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire” [Isaiah 55: 10-11].

God loves me. 

God loves you.

Love Him back.

I do…

Respond favorably to His Word…

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