A String of Beads

Four final thoughts…

J.I. Packer opens his book Knowing God with a warning.  My book “at best is a string of beads: a series of small studies of great subjects.”  He is humble about his undertaking, the writing of a “treatise on God.”  He hopes his work coalesces into a single message about God and how Christians live their lives.  As I transitioned from a previous book discussion and moved into Knowing God, [on April 22, 2019] I opened with an illustration he borrowed from another author:  there are two types of Christians, ones who theorize about their faith and ones who walk out their faith.  The theorizers he calls “balconeers” because they are high above the street looking on at the walkway “commenting on the way that travelers walk” below.  The ones on the walkway are “travelers” going from one place to another, trying to figure out how to walk in God’s world.  He intended Knowing God to be a book for travelers.

Indeed as I have worked through his book I feel I have been on a journey.  The book has challenged me.  Along my way I have learned so much about God.  I have been humbled as Packer exposed the weakness of my knowledge, my true lack of communion with Him.

As we head toward the final pages, Packer wants to leave us with four final thoughts.

The first thought is one I have written on before: “If God is for us, who is against us.”  This Scripture from Romans 8: 31 is the first closing idea in his book.

Why did Packer pick Romans 8: 31 as a final idea, so important that it concludes his book?

He says that Paul writes about God in this way to announce that He will always be our sovereign protector.  No matter what we encounter in life, He will always be there.  The Bible is full of examples of God showing His protective nature for those who follow Him.* 

It is a matter of “covenant commitment.”  What God says in Genesis 17 is of maximum importance.  “I am God Almighty;…I will establish my covenant between Me and you…to be your God and the God of your descendants after you….I will be their God….You must keep My covenant [verses 1, 7-9].  “God is for us” is covenant language.  What Romans 8: 31 means is that God is going to uphold and protect His people when circumstances are threatening.  Packer describes Romans 8: 31 this way: “The simple statement ‘God is for us’ is in truth one of the richest and weightiest utterances that the Bible contains” [262].

Paul knows that the Christian life is a struggle at times, obstacles come against all of us which can make our lives a challenge.  Paul knows firsthand that people make fun of Christians, express displeasure for the Christian faith, or even get hostile toward believers.

As in the previous post, he implores believers to THINK!**  Opposition is real and if you do not acknowledge it, you will have problems maintaining your faith in God.  He is begging us to be realistic. 

But also he is begging us to think about our Protector.  Should we be afraid of our detractors?  Paul says “You need not be, any more than Moses needed to be afraid of Pharaoh after God said to him, ‘I will be with you’” [Packer 263].  You need not be any more afraid than Hezekiah was when the King of Assyria had a huge army coming against him.  Hezekiah acted on the faith of the words recorded in Second Chronicles “Do not be afraid…because with us is the Lord our God to help us to fight our battles” [32: 7-8].

What should we do when we are in our time of troubles?

First of all, we should praise God’s word.  No matter what we encounter in life, God’s word tells us that we will be ok.  We don’t have to indulge in “theological fantasies” because we have evidence to the contrary.  Founding our lives on the Bible is a mark of a true believer.  Secondly, we must pray.  This is communion with God and it is essential for all believers.  The person who declares they are “Christian” but never prays does not tap into the greatest power source to help us when we are troubled.  Finally, the Christian who is beset with problems should “pay his vows”, which means express thanksgiving for God’s protection in difficult times.

We truly have an awesome God, one who looks out for us every day, all day long.  He never forgets His promise to the faithful.  As Romans is from the New Testament, one can turn to Psalm 56 to see the same ideas expressed in the Old Testament.  When the psalmist complains that his back is to the wall, he knows that God is there for protection.  Again the phrase “God is for me” shows up in verse nine.  When you read this Psalm, this troubled man knows that God has not forgotten or overlooked his need.  He has confidence that when he cries out, God will turn his enemies back and there is no need for panic.  “When I am afraid, I put my trust in thee….In God I trust without a fear.  What can flesh do to me?” [verses 3-4].  Packer says it this way: “[Whatever] may [happen] to the psalmist from the outside, so to speak, in the deepest sense nothing can touch him, for his real life is the inward life of fellowship with a loving God, and the God who loves him will preserve that life whatever happens” [Packer, 262].

We all know the Christian life is difficult at times.  We think thoughts that are far from edifying.  We say things that we wish we could take back and we do things that are sinful.  Yet we are supposed to summon the strength to continue our walk with the Lord no matter what we do, no matter what others do to us.  You might say we need protection from our detractors and we need protection from ourselves.

With Romans 8: 31 Packer says we have all that we need.  That’s why he calls the Scripture “rich and weighty;” the Apostle Paul is telling us to hold onto the idea that God is always for us.  We have a sovereign protector who is forever giving us what we need.

We don’t have to fear anything.

Our faith does not have to crumble when we sin, for God gives us His grace.

Turn to God and experience new strength for the fight.

“If God is for us, who is against us.”

Indeed…

*Abraham, the nation Israel, Jesus, a sinner who is raised from spiritual death to spiritual life etc.

**September 7  “Possess Your Possessions” from St. John Studies.

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