Am I Chosen By God?

The God of the Bible is a choosing God. He doesn’t explain it or feel the need to apologize for it. When he was ready to begin his work of redemption in the earth, God chose Abram, a man who was worshiping false gods at the time (Joshua 24:2-3). He didn’t announce that he was taking applications for the job. He chose. Then he chose Isaac over Ishmael, and he chose Jacob over Esau. Why? “In order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls” (Romans 9:11). God chose the tribe of Judah to be the tribe of the Messiah, Jesus. Jesus chose his apostles (“You did not choose me, but I chose you” John 15:16). Paul explained to the Corinthian believers that the church is made up of sinners and rejects (not many who are wise, powerful, or of noble birth – 1 Cor 1:24). He then launches into a powerful, repeating chorus of “God chose” (three times in verses 27 & 28). Why? Why has God chosen weak people to be his church? “So that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (v29). God chose, and he alone gets the glory. Paul describes this as God’s “right” as the Potter over the clay (Romans 9:21). God is a choosing God.

So, if God is a choosing God, the question becomes, “Has he chosen me?!” This question may cause some to implode into a philosophical fetal position and question the point of going on. It no doubt causes others to angrily argue with God, or endlessly debate others over this issue. But the Scriptures actually address this as something we can know. According to the Bible, we can know if God has chosen us, based on the evidence in our lives, namely, how we have responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Peter wrote to believers about the evidence of their being chosen by God, their “election.” After a long list describing visible virtues that will be present and increasing in a true believer, Peter writes: “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10 ESV). You can be “sure” of being chosen by God, not because of a decision made in childhood followed by a life of sin and selfishness, but by genuine conversion to Christ, followed by the fruit of increasing Christ-likeness.

The Apostle Paul wrote a similar list to the believers in Thessalonica. He had the audacity to declare, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you” (1 Thess 1:4)! This was not just positive energy, or motivational speaking; it was Paul’s conclusion based on gospel theology and on the fruit he saw in the believers’ lives.

What was the fruit Paul saw that told him these believers were chosen by God? How can we know if we are chosen? Let’s quickly walk through Paul’s nine evidences in 1 Thessalonians chapter 1.

The Gospel Came to Them.because our gospel came to you…” (v5a). In a world full of people who will never hear the gospel, God sovereignly moves and arranges and sends his people into certain areas with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Faith comes by hearing Christ’s word (Rom 10:17), and, how are people to believe the gospel they have never heard (Rom 10:14)? So, it is a good sign when God brings the gospel to you. Be thankful if you have heard the gospel!

The Gospel Bore Fruit Among Them.Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (v5b). The good news did not just come to the Thessalonians, but it was anointed by God’s Spirit! The gospel was received, as God bore fruit among them. It transformed lives! Has your life been transformed through the gospel?

God Sent Faithful Ministers to Them.You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake” (v5c). Leaders are gifts of God to his people (I will give you good shepherds – Jer 23:4) and gifts of Christ to his church (He gave shepherds and teachers for the equipping of the saints – Eph 4:11-12). It is a blessing when God gives us faithful men to pour into our lives, to disciple us, mentor us, teach us, and point us to Christ! Paul says the character and ministry of himself and his missionary partners was “for your sake.” Has God placed faithful ministers in your life?

They Received the Leaders God Gave.And you became imitators of us and of the Lord…” (v6a). Some people despise authority and refuse to submit to leaders in the church. They want to follow Christ without following the ministers Christ has placed over them. But Paul knows these believers are chosen and loved by God, because they became imitators “of us and of the Lord.” It is not possible to follow Jesus and, at the same time, refuse to receive the local church leaders Jesus has given you. It is a good sign when you see people following godly leaders. What is your attitude to the leaders God has given you?

They Received God’s Word with Joy, Even in Suffering. “for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (v6b). Fake Christians can appear to receive God’s word when things are easy, or convenient, or when they agree with it; but it is another thing altogether to continue joyfully in God’s word when suffering or persecution come (Jesus’ parable of the sower – Mat 13:20-21). The real test comes when we are challenged by God’s word. How we respond then speaks volumes of the condition of our heart towards God. It is a sign of genuineness when a believer endures through trials with joy in the Lord. This is a work of the “Holy Spirit”! Are you enduring with joy in the Lord, not giving up in times of suffering?

They Grew and Became Examples to that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (v7). We are born, and then we grow. We mature. That is the normal and healthy process for physical life. Similarly, if someone is not growing, not maturing in the Lord, it may mean they were never born (again). Are you growing in the grace of the Lord?

They Engaged in Gospel Mission.For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything” (v8). Concern for the spread of the gospel is a healthy sign. Churches full of true believers are concerned about the gospel going out, through praying, sending, going, preaching, etc. What is your attitude about the spread of the gospel? How are you seeking to make Christ known?

They Repented of Sin and Idolatry. “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to sere the living and true God” (v9). One of the truest and clearest signs of being chosen by God is repentance. No repentance means no salvation. Turning from the idols in our lives to serve God is a sign of true salvation! Are you giving yourself to the love of others things above God? Has God granted you repentance of sin to serve him?

Their Lives Centered Around Christ!and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (v10). The lives of the Thessalonian believers became Jesus-centered. They began to long for Christ – they were waiting for the resurrected Jesus to come back! Christ became their treasure. The one who rescues us from God’s wrath became their focus! Is your life centered around Christ?

These nine signs are evidence of being chosen by God. Simply put, God intervened in their lives to transform them through the gospel into Jesus-loving, God-serving believers! According to Paul, when we see this in our lives, or the lives of others, we can be sure that God has truly acted with grace; we belong to him. We are loved and chosen by God.


Pray Like This

If “faithfulness in the ordinary is extraordinary,” this is true of prayer. Perseverance and faithfulness in prayer is a miracle of grace. Prayer is at the same time the simplest and most difficult part of Christian discipleship. It is as crucial to our spiritual life as breathing, yet may be the thing our sinful nature hates the most. It is the place where we experience both the greatest spiritual joy, and the most terrible agony. We long to pray more, but we try to get by with praying less. Prayer is the battlefield. The launching pad. The birthing room. There is simply no substitute for our prayer life.

Jesus consistently prayed, in public and in private. He walked with God. He prayed in private, solitary places (Mark 1:35-36). He prayed in public (Jn 11:41-42). Jesus prayed the blessing over meals (Mat 26:26). Jesus prayed when he was overjoyed (Luke 10:21). Jesus prayed when he was being crushed by suffering (“with loud cries and tears,” Heb 5:7-8). He wrestled in prayer in the garden. Jesus prayed for others as he was being crucified (Lk 23:34) [read that again!]. Jesus prayed in anguish as he hung on the cross (Mat 27:46, Lk 27:46). Jesus prayed.

Jesus taught his disciples how to pray. He warned against praying publicly in order to impress people, and against padding your prayer with many empty phrases to try to impress God (Mat 6:5-8). He called for a sincere prayer life that is fostered in private. And he gave us a model prayer, not so that we could repeat it word for word like a magical formula, but to use as an example of the way we should pray. Jesus introduced his model prayer with these words: “Pray then like this…” (Mat 6:9a).

In this article we will break down the model prayer Jesus gave us (Matthew 6:9-13), and ask with the disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).

“Our” – The very first word in the prayer stops us in our tracks and teaches us volumes. First, it is significant that the first word in the prayer is not “Give.” Many people rush into prayer with an explosion of requests, like a shopping list. The word “give” does occur in the second half of the prayer, but that is not where we begin. The purpose of prayer is not primarily to get things from God; it is, rather, the daily discipline by which we know God and walk with him, and the practice by which he molds us into Christ-likeness.

But the first word is also not, “My.” We, surprisingly, are not taught to start with “My Father.” This word, “Our,” forces us to start our prayer with the awareness that it is not just about us as individuals. The very first word of the prayer crushes our selfishness, and teaches us that God has put us together with other believers in the body of Christ. Our walk with God is not just private and individualistic; it is also public and corporate. It’s not “me and God,” but “me and the church and God.” It is impossible to pray the Lord’s prayer honestly if we are not part of a local church; otherwise, there is no “our.” This first word of the prayer reminds us that we are not alone, and that we should not seek to live life alone, to isolate ourselves. We are called to live out our faith together with the people of God (Rom 12:15-16; 1 Cor 12).

This means that Christians are to pray together. We cry out to “our Father” (1 Tim 2:8; Acts 1:14; 2:42; 3:1; 4:24; 12:5). And it means that when we are alone, we pray for one another; we pray with the brothers and sisters on our hearts (Jam 5:16). That’s a lot of teaching from just one three-letter pronoun!

“Our Father” – Now we add the next word, “Father.” Jesus’ prayer-model continues to bless and teach us as we expand to just the second word! When we begin our prayer by calling on “Our Father,” we are reminded of the relationship we have with God. We are reminded of his nearness to us. We are not taught to pray to “Our Judge,” or even “Our God,” (though this is not wrong); Jesus wants us to relate to God as Father! This is the vertical implication of the word “Father.”

But there is also a horizontal implication: we and the other believers are family! Who can speak of “our Father” but brothers?! I, personally, can only speak of my earthly dad as “our father” with just one other person on the planet: my brother. We share a father in this world, and that truth unites us. In the same way, believers in Christ share a great heavenly Father! We, therefore, are to relate to one another as brothers and sisters. We are adopted into God’s family. Welcomed. We belong. We were once far off, but we have been brought near in Christ, and are the people of God (Eph 2:11-19)!

“in heaven” – Why did Jesus add this phrase? What is significant about the location of our Father? Why do we need to remember that we are praying to the One who is in heaven? Scripture speaks of heaven as the location of God’s throne. “The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19). When we speak of the One who lives in heaven, we refer to the One who is the sovereign ruler of the world: “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3)! “Father” reminds us that God is near; “in heaven” reminds us that he is still transcendent, high above us. He is not our equal or our peer. But this phrase also reminds us that he is able. We are encouraged as we bow before the sovereign King, who has all power, authority, and ability! When we begin our prayer by addressing “Our Father in heaven,” we are telling our soul that the One who hears my prayer is above all that I face! He is the One who can answer my prayers!

“Hallowed be your name” – Now we have finished the address of the prayer, and we move to the petitions, or requests. The prayer asks six things from the Lord. And we immediately realize that Jesus wants us to pray about God himself before we ask for what we need. The prayer offers three petitions focused on God, followed by three requests about our needs. The focus of our prayer begins with God himself: “Your name,” “Your kingdom,” “Your will.” Christian prayer is God-centered, not man-centered, because God is ultimate, not us. Prayer is not first of  all to get, but to give! We were created to glorify and worship God, and our prayers must reflect this; we come to God to give: to give him praise and worship and adoration and thanks.

When we begin our prayer with “Hallowed be your name,” we are reminded of our greatest priority. This phrase could be translated, “Let your name be kept holy,” or “Let your name be treated with reverence” (ESV notes). It is asking God to glorify his name. The name of the Lord is closely connected to his Person, who he is. We are honoring HIM. A concern for the glory of God is the first priority of prayer, and of our entire relationship with God.

“Your kingdom come”  – The second petition reminds us that this current world system is temporary, not eternal. We are reminded not to get too comfortable here. There is something better coming! It also reminds us not to put our trust in leaders and powers of this world (kings, government, political systems and parties, etc), nor to make the pleasures and comforts and things of this world our delight! Treasures here are not ultimate; they may be enjoyed, but only to the glory of the Lord.

This request teaches us to desire God and his kingdom (“seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” – 6:33). This request also cries out for the wrongs of this broken world to be made right; a cry for justice, and for the glory of God to be seen and recognized, and God’s enemies to be finally and fully defeated.

“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” – With the third request, we empty ourselves in humility before God. We embrace our cross and follow Jesus in denying self and seeking the will of God. Not my way! This is the heart of discipleship. This is dying to self. This is a reminder of who is Lord (and it is not us). This is a prayer that trusts God, and prefers his way. As we pray this request, and linger here, many good things can happen! This is where we lay it all down. This is where we are molded. This is where we let go. This is where our loyalties are confirmed, and where the Lord gives us peace. Jesus himself prayed this prayer in the garden (Mat 26:42), and the battle was won. We should not rush past this part of the prayer!

“Give us this day our daily bread” – Now the prayer shifts from petitions about God himself, to our requests. This fourth petition is not just about bread, but all our physical needs. Here, we linger awhile, pouring out our heart to the Lord, and naming our needs to him. It is not wrong to bring our needs to our Father; Jesus is teaching us to do that! In fact, bringing our requests to the Lord continues to glorify Him by looking to him as our Provider! We are honoring God by approaching him in faith and trust, believing that he is able to meet our needs. Naming our specific needs reminds us that God is generous and loves to give to his children! It reminds us that he is powerful and able to meet whatever request we bring, according to his will. When we come to this part of the prayer we are acknowledging that we have needs, and that God alone is our Help. We are admitting that our provision comes not from our own hard work, and not by our boss who signs our paycheck, but ultimately from the hand of the Lord.

“and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” – Now we move from physical needs to spiritual ones. We continue to acknowledge that we need him. We are weak. We are sinful. We need his grace and forgiveness. We are reminded that He is holy, and we glorify Him as our Savior! We have peace with God through Jesus Christ! This request is for continuing forgiveness in our daily walk with God. We should spend time here, too, confessing our sins by name; humbling ourselves before the Lord, and looking to the finished work of Christ on the cross!

This fifth request also reminds us of an awesome truth: as we receive forgiveness from God, we must give it to others! God expects us to treat other people the way he has treated us! In fact, Jesus will teach this very thing explicitly immediately following the Lord’s prayer (Mat 6:14-15; see also Eph 4:32 – 5:1). Christians are not allowed to hold grudges, or stay angry. No one has ever wronged us as much as we have personally wronged God! If He has shown grace and mercy to us, lavishing us with forgiveness in Christ, we must extend that same grace to others. If we refuse, that is a sign that our hearts are unchanged – we have not received God’s forgiveness; we are still in our sins. Take some time here to forgive others, and to pray for them.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” – The sixth and final request of the prayer reminds us that we are not in heaven yet. We are at war in this broken and sinful world. We first ask God to spare us from situations where we may fall into sin (ESV notes). The first part of the request could look inward, asking for help with temptations in our own flesh, while the last part could focus more on outward attacks that come against us (“evil” could be translated “evil one”). We acknowledge that we are not yet complete. We have an inward fight against the remnants of the sin nature in us, even though we fight by faith from the place of victory that is ours in Jesus Christ. We also remember that the enemy roams about, looking to destroy us, our testimony and reputation, our family, our ministry, our church, etc. As we pray this final request, we are preparing to stand and fight in faith; to walk and live that day with our eyes on the Lord, worshiping and serving him, rather than living for the flesh.

Praise God for Jesus’ teaching on prayer! The model he has given us is good, sound, helpful, practical, and balanced. Use this model to spend time in prayer. May the Lord make us people of prayer!

Church Unity in Real Life

We all want church unity. But what does it look like in real life? What does it require of us? Turns out, it’s not easy.

In the hours before he was arrested and crucified, Jesus had his church on his mind (the “people whom you gave me out of the world” John 17:6). He was praying for the disciples he had poured himself into for three and a half years. He made that crystal clear: “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me” (v9). And then his thoughts moved to the future disciples who would believe in years to come. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (v20). How encouraging it is to know that, just hours before the cross, Jesus Christ was thinking about his people – all who would ever believe the gospel! Real people, with names and faces…and real sins he was about to take on himself. Jesus was praying for his church.

But what did Jesus pray for? Three times he asked the Father to make his disciples one. Jesus prayed for a unity to be modeled after the oneness experienced by the members of the Godhead (“just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” v21). Unity is easy to talk about; it is something that many talk about as a goal, or ideal. But unity requires something of us.

We Are One

First, we need to understand that the church is, by nature, already unified, spiritually. There is only one God, one Savior, one Spirit, and one gospel (Eph 4:4-6). Through his death, Christ tore down the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile, creating one new man out of the two (Eph 2:11-18). When a person comes to faith in Christ and is born again, the Holy Spirit unites him (baptizes, immerses) into the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13). At conversion, we who believe are united with Christ’s body, and therefore united to his people, the church. You just can’t have Jesus without his church! We are, already, by nature, one.

We Must BE One

But, although the church is one body, we as individual believers are called to walk out this unity in real life. The spiritual truth must be lived out in relationships with other Christians. This is practical unity. This is where it gets tough, because Christians still have the remnants of that sin nature clinging on for dear life; unity must happen among imperfect people. The dominating power of sin is broken for us at the cross (Rom 6:14), but until we are perfected at Christ’s return, our spiritual life will be lived out with other saintly sinners.

Paul charged the Ephesian church members to bear with one another in love, “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 6:2b-3). Unity already exists, spiritually. But we must maintain the Holy Spirit’s unity in the daily life of the church by cooperating with Him. Paul does not leave this idea in vague, general terms, but gets real specific. Awkwardly specific. He writes to the divided, problem-filled Corinthian church: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” 1 Cor 1:10). And when he writes to the Philippian church, Paul even calls out two of the members by name! “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord” (Phil 4:2). He asked one of the other members of the church to serve as a peacemaker, helping these ladies work out their differences (v3).

What Does Unity Require?

So, what does unity look like in real life? First, it requires that we commit to a local church. A Christian in the United States simply cannot walk out unity with the church in China, or Russia. There are geographical limitations! Some may claim that membership in the universal, spiritual church is enough, but the New Testament’s teachings and instructions can only be carried out by Christians who commit themselves to a local church. In that local church family, here are a few more requirements if we want to pursue the unity Jesus was thinking and praying about before he went to the cross:

  • Humility. Pride divides.
  • Forgiveness. You will be hurt in a local church, but that’s part of God’s plan. He’s teaching you to forgive.
  • Sacrificing Preferences. Have you ever considered that every member of a local church comes to the table with their own set of expectations, agenda, desires, and ideas for what the church should be doing? The church cannot possibly do it all and please everyone! Nor should it. Unity in a local church requires that we, as the members, approach the work of the church with humble love and self-denial, giving up our preferences for the greater goal of God’s glory shining through a unified church! We’ve all heard the war-stories of churches splitting up over the color of the carpet, style of music, etc. This is not the will of God. Lay down preferences, for his glory!
  • Love. Unity exists alongside love. Yes, Christ calls us to love each other in real life experience.
  • Self-denial. Jesus called his disciples to self-denial, not self-promotion; unity is impossible when we are focused on ourselves.
  • Vulnerability. You can’t pursue unity when you are building spiritual privacy fences between you and the other church members. Tear down the walls and let people into your life, even though you risk getting hurt!
  • Inconvenience. Unity won’t happen on your time schedule. None of church life is about convenience. Getting things right with other believers interrupts our life.
  • Prayer. Like Jesus, we should pray for unity – in general, for the unity of our local church, and specifically if there are issues between members. God softens hearts through prayer!
  • Hard Work. Yes, pursuing unity is work. And it’s worth it)
  • Valuing God’s Glory. Church unity glorifies God. We must value his glory enough to pursue unity.
  • Obedience. Pursuing unity is a matter of obedience to the Lord.
  • Faithfulness in the Local Church. We must be faithful in attendance, working on building relationships with the church family. We can’t pursue unity if we are not there, and it’s tough to be “one” with people we don’t know.
  • Kindness. Gentle speech promotes unity. Abrasiveness works against it.
  • Sensitivity. We need to be sensitive to the issues, perspectives, needs, and desires of other believers. This includes believers of different ethnicities, or those in the church family who see things differently than we do. Love drives us to consider their perspective.
  • Letting Go of Personal Freedoms. Paul in Romans 14 instructs the stronger believers to consider the needs of the weaker believers in matters of personal freedom. People are more important than our freedoms. So is unity.

Unity…Around What?

Finally, we need to understand that unity is not about giving up truth. Some people think that churches should throw out their statements of faith and simply work together to meet needs. But this is not Jesus’ idea of unity. In this same prayer for the church, Jesus constantly mentioned the “word” he has taught his disciples; the church is different from the world because they have received Jesus’ teaching (v6, 8, 14). As he prayed for unity, Jesus also prayed that the church would be sanctified  in the “truth,” adding, “your word is truth” (v17). Jesus does not want the church to lower the doctrinal standard to promote unity; he wants us to unify around his gospel! The church can agree to disagree over secondary theological matters, but we must unify around the primary truths of the faith, centering around Jesus Christ.

We conclude that unity is not easy. But it is possible for local churches to walk in great measures of unity, by the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit among us! Jesus has unified the church through his death and resurrection, and he calls us to walk out that unity, with gentleness and love, for his glory, until he comes. Let’s get to work!

Jesus’ Message to His Churches

christ-knocking-at-the-door[1]Jesus Calling is one of the most popular devotionals in the world. People long to hear a direct word from Jesus Christ, and the author claims to deliver just that in her daily inspirational thoughts, presented to readers as personal messages from Jesus himself. Interestingly, the words of Jesus in the Scriptures read a bit differently from the positive, sentimental words in the devotional. Beyond that, Jesus has indeed sent a direct message to his churches, recorded for us by John in Revelation chapters two and three: the letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor. However, these authentic and Spirit-inspired messages can get a little fiery…

Scripture teaches that followers of Jesus are “set apart” from the world: we are called out from unbelievers and devoted to God (Romans 1:1, 6-7). Christ both expects and enables his followers to be different (unique, separate) from the world in what we love and how we live. At conversion, Christ and his gospel becomes our life, our purpose, our joy and our focus; this is what it means to be set apart. But sin hinders and destroys our distinction from the world.

Let’s consider Jesus’ message to his churches in Revelation. A simple overview of Jesus’ words to these congregations speak volumes to us as we follow him today.

Jesus Knows His Churches (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19, 23; 3:1, 8, 15)

First, Jesus has perfect, intimate knowledge of his people (The Lord knows those who are his – 2 Tim 2:19a). Jesus keeps opening his words to his congregations by telling them, “I know your works… I know your tribulation… I know where you dwell” (2:2, 9, 13). He knows the overall condition of each corporate church (2:9), and he knows the individual members (2:14). He sees all, from our works, to the ulterior motives we hide within (“I am he who searches mind and heart” – 2:23). Jesus knows what we are doing, how we are living, who we are living for. There is no hiding from the Lord. All will one day be made known, and judgment will be just (“I will give to each of you according to your works” – 2:23).

Jesus Loves His Churches (3:9, 19)

Though there are many negative statements, rebukes, and challenges to the churches in Jesus’ words, the Lord does confirm his love for his people. This is the reason he is correcting them! John began the book of Revelation affirming Christ’s love for the church: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood…” (1:5b). Always in Scripture we are called to look to the cross to see Jesus’ love for his people (Rom 1:5). Christ loved the church, and give himself up for her (Eph 5:25). How precious to Jesus are his sheep! We who believe are loved by the Father, chosen and given to Christ, who has redeemed us and brought us into the “Beloved” (Eph 1:6). Jesus is pictured in Revelation as present in the midst of the churches (1:13, 20). We must remember the great honor and privilege of being counted among the church of Jesus Christ. While we were sinners, he set his love on us, redeemed us, and included us. This should bring us to humble brokenness before him, and cause us to respond to his grace in worship and lives dedicated to his glory.

Jesus Calls His Churches to Repent of Sin (2:5, 16, 21-22; 3:3, 19)

It may be striking to some how strong Jesus’ words are in these letters to his churches. He consistently deals with the sin that is present in his churches, both corporately (2:4, 20) and in individual members (2:14, 15, 22). Jesus simply will not water down the sin, but calls it what it is, using ugly names: “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (2:4); “I also hate” (the works of the Nicolaitans – 2:7); “seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality…” (2:20); “you are dead…I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God” (3:2); “you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (3:17).

We may prefer a sappy, emotional, positive thought of the day, but Jesus loves us too much to withhold the truth we need to hear. The Lord absolutely hates sin, and will not tolerate continued sin among his people. He promises his churches that if they will not repent, he will act decisively against them! Again, he uses very strong and shocking language: “repent…if not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (2:5). Here Jesus promises to remove them from being a church if they continue in sin! He will not claim them on the day of judgment, for their continued sin will be evidence that they do not belong to him. And there is more: Jesus threatens to come to un-repenting churches and make war against them with the sword of his mouth (2:16), to make them sick and even kill some of their members (2:22-23), to surprise them like a thief who has come “against them” (3:3), and to even vomit them out of his mouth in disgust (3:16)! Popular Christianity cannot fathom Jesus speaking like this; yet, these are the true words of Christ, who hates sin and loves his people enough to say something about it.

Jesus Calls His Churches to Faithful Endurance (2:3, 10, 13, 19, 25, 26; 3:10-11)

The final consistent message of Jesus to his churches in these letters is a call to faithfully endure through suffering and trials, until Christ returns. It won’t be easy to be a church who belongs to Jesus in a hostile world. It won’t be easy to maintain a distinction between God’s people and a world given to sin. It won’t be easy to experience suffering, persecution, and hardships because of the life of holiness to the Lord that we pursue. We must know this going in. God will not remove pain from his people, but will enable us to endure through it for his glory. We will face temptations, trials, attacks, and even death. Many will fall away and join the ranks of the unbelievers. Many will hide like cowards among the believers, professing faith in Jesus while secretly giving themselves to worldly pursuits. But no matter what, Jesus calls us to endure in him, for him, until he returns. And he promises great reward to those who do!

To church after church in these letters, Jesus continues to repeat his promise, “To the one who conquers I will…” Conquering implies a battle! Christ has dealt the death blow to all enemies, but we are called to stand in him and fight the fight of faith, enduring until he comes. He gives us strength, but he does not make it easy. Jesus will reward his persevering church when he comes, with unimaginable glories, described in these letters in symbolic terms (2:7, 11, 17, 26-28; 3:5, 12, 21).

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (3:22).

Our Response

As the beloved people of God, purchased by the blood of Christ, and set apart to the Lord in holiness, let us consider seriously Jesus’ words to his churches. jesus-knocking-the-door[1]Let us refuse to tolerate sin and spiritual laziness in our lives and churches any longer, but open the door of the church to the Lord who loves us and wants to fellowship with us (3:20). Let us repent and serve the Lord faithfully until he comes, in the strength he provides! Let us encourage one another in the church and walk in the obedience of faith together! Let us be diligent and grow in grace (2 Peter 3:14, 17-18) while we wait on the Lord!

Are You a Mature Disciple of Jesus?

mature disciple 2Jesus called people to follow him in faith and obedience, learning his truth and walking by his example of behavior. These followers were called disciples: learners who follow a leader and submit themselves to his ways. After his resurrection, Jesus sent his apostle-led church out to make disciples of all nations. He spoke of baptized disciples who were being taught to obey all his teachings (Matthew 28:19-20).

Today, Christians are still called to be a life-long, committed learners who are following Christ, in committed community with a local church. And just as Jesus connected the term “disciple” with obedience (not just knowledge), so the apostles in the New Testament instruct disciples to a life of growth into maturity. Peter called believers to grow up (2 Peter 3:18). Paul commended the believers in Thessalonica for the visible growth of their faith and love (2 Thess 1:3). He even rebuked some of the disciples in the church at Corinth who were failing to grow up into maturity, referring to them as “infants” (1 Cor 3:1). Disciple-growth is not optional, but should be the natural process of God’s work in the lives of his people. When we are not maturing as a disciple, we are resisting the work of God and fighting against his purpose for us. Paul’s mission was not merely to get converts, or decisions for Christ, but to make fully mature disciples to present to Christ for his glory; he spoke of struggling and working hard for this great goal (see Colossians 1:28-29; 4:12).

What Does Maturity Look Like?

mature disciple 1Maturity is not necessarily related to how long one has been a believer. Some have been believers for years, but, sadly, show little maturity and obedience. It is possible for new believers to quickly grow to a level of maturity. Paul describes the process of maturity among disciples in his letter to the Ephesian believers (Eph 4:11-16). From this passage, let’s look at seven marks of a mature disciple.

Mature Disciple Submit to their Leaders (v11-12). Jesus gives leaders to local churches in order “to equip the saints” during the process of maturity (v13). This requires leaders to do their part, and lead. They equip through prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4; 2 Tim 4:1-4), shepherding and overseeing the church in love. For non-leaders, this means following Jesus by submitting themselves to the leaders in their local church, with humility giving themselves to the word of God taught and proclaimed by their elders/pastors (Heb 13:7, 17). On the flip side, immature disciples resist the equipping work of their leaders by not coming to the table when it’s time to be fed, not having a teachable heart, or even actively working against the leaders.

Mature Disciples do the Work of Ministry (v12). Growing up into maturity as a disciple includes doing the work of ministry. Every disciple is a minister in some way, and has a vital part to play in the work of the church. Maturity, then, requires renouncing laziness and selfishness and committing oneself to the work of the Lord “for building up the body of Christ.The life of a Christian is not self-focused; it is a daily practice of self-denial for the sake of the Lord and others (Luke 9:23; Phil 2:3-8). Mmature disciple 3ature disciples are not coasting through life, expecting others to feed them and serve them. They do not come to church to be served, but to pour themselves out in the lives of others, for the glory of God. Their focus is not on their needs being met, but meeting the needs of others. Infants cry and scream until someone takes care of them. Mature adults get up and act. Babies need someone to spoon-feed them; maturity brings with it the responsibility to eat. Immature disciples give up when no one recognizes their work. Mature disciples realize they are working for the Lord, not for recognition.

Mature Disciples Commit to Life-Long Service (v13). Verse 13 answers the question, “How long are we to pour ourselves out in the work of ministry?” The building up of the church is needed until Christ returns and the church is perfect! So, our service to the body of Christ starts when we become a believer and ends when we die, or Christ returns. We serve until all the believers in our local church reach “mature manhood.” This calls for perseverance through the various seasons and storms of life (all of which the Lord uses to build our maturity). In your local church, who are you helping reach maturity? Is there a newer believer or less mature disciple you can meet with and serve? Mature disciples help mature other disciples, for the long haul.

Mature Disciples are Becoming Christ-like (v13). Paul describes this “mature manhood” that our ministry to the church is aiming for: “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.This is one of the most important indicators of maturity: Christ-likeness is the goal. Mature disciples are more like Christ; immature disciples are not like Christ. What is Christ-likeness? Think of what you see Jesus doing in the Bible. Jesus loved people. He taught truth. He humbled himself and served. He forgave people who hurt him. Are you doing these things? If not, you are not mature, no matter how long you’ve been a Christian. We can also look at the list of the fruit of the Spirit as a test of Christ-likeness and, therefore, maturity (Gal 5:22-25). Are you becoming more loving and patient with people, or more grouchy and angry? Do you forgive others when they hurt you or sin against you (as Christ did for us and called us to do for others), or do you hold grudges and retreat from community? These things reveal our maturity level as disciples. Some people have been believers for decades, but they are constantly mean to people. They may be teaching Sunday School, but they are not a mature disciple. Paul said that jealousy, strife, and dividing over their favorite leaders were signs that the Corinthian believers were “infants” (1 Cor 3:1-4). Christ-likeness is the goal (see also Mat 10:25 & Rom 8:29). “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32).

Mature Disciples are Doctrinally Sound (v14). Paul says that “children” are blown around by the winds and waves of false doctrine and craftiness of worldly schemes. While none of us will have perfect understanding of God’s word in this life, mature disciples are growing in the word: learning the teachings of Jesus, explained in-depth by the apostles; memorizing God’s word and integrating it into their daily speech and meditation; applying the word in daily obedience; teaching it to others. Mature believers have grown in discernment; they are not quick to fall for the latest fad of false teaching, or the new, best-selling Christian book everyone is crazy about (but doesn’t hold up to Scripture). They don’t consume a steady diet of shallow fluff, but dive deep into God’s word. See 1 Cor 2:6; 14:20; Heb 5:14; 6:1; 1 Pet 2:2-3.

Mature Disciples are Christ-Centered and Balanced (v15). Maturity is shown in “speaking the truth in love,” a balance that is difficult for immature disciples. Balance is not easy. Some Christians are strong in theology but weak in love (“cage stage” – they see a new truth and want to rub it in everyone’s face, and judge those who haven’t seen it yet); others are all about love, but have no time for doctrine. Mature disciples are learning to walk in both! They are bold with truth, but seasoned with love! The Lord has brought them through suffering and testing over the years, and maturity has come as a result.

This walk in truth and love is carried out as we “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.Maturity is shown in the ability to not be distracted with a focus on other things (even good things) that are not the main thing. mature disciple 4Mature Christians keep the focus on Jesus and the gospel. Immature believers give other things the place of focus that only Jesus deserves. They get side-tracked with issues such as a particular Bible translation, favorite music styles, that ministry they think everyone should be supporting, home-school vs. public school, organic food, fads, politics, etc, to the neglect of Jesus Christ and the gospel! When you see them coming, you know just what they are going to talk about…and it’s not Jesus!

Mature Disciples Do Their Part in the Church (v16). In verse 16, Paul describes the disciples in a local church through the metaphor of body parts working together for the benefit of the body. Ligaments are important, but there is more to the body than ligaments! Individual disciples are important, but we lose ourselves in the Christ-centered, joyful work of the overall church. Paul says this growth happens “when each part is working properly,” so that the body “builds itself up in love. Mature disciples are the body parts who are “working properly,” doing their part. Imagine the problems for a human body if many of the parts did not do their part or function properly! Think of the strain that would put on the rest of the body parts that were working. When someone is not doing their part in the work of the church, someone else in the church has to do their own part, plus theirs. This causes strain on the over-worked members and, eventually, burnout. Every member of a church is responsible to serve the body according to their gifts, and to also help with the “chores” that need to be done. Many church members and leaders are stressed out and approaching critical burnout because of the great number of immature disciples who are not helping. Doing your part requires faithfulness to the gatherings of the assembly (Heb 10:24-25). When you are not gathering with the church, the work still has to be done by others. Seasons do come when we get stagnant, but we must learn to push through these times with eyes on Jesus. There are times where we need ministry, and can’t do our normal share. But this should not be the norm. Mature disciples are giving themselves away, pouring out their lives, for others.

Are you a mature disciple?

It’s ok to act like a baby, as long as you are a baby (Terry Simpson). But when you start getting older, it’s time to act like an adult. How long have you been a follower of Jesus? Are you growing? Are you working with your leaders, doing your part to receive the equipping they are trying to give? Are you causing strain in your local church by not consistently doing your part? Are you involved in ministry, and building up the bod of Christ? Are you progressing in Christ-likeness?

If you realize that you are not a mature disciple, even though you’ve been a Christian for a while, realize that this is a problem. Humble yourself and repent before the Lord. Turn from things that are impeding your growth. Reach out to another believer in your local church and ask for help! Meet with a mature disciple and let them disciple you as you grow into maturity. Most of all, you will grow as you look to Christ in faith. Believe the gospel, and continue walking with the Lord in prayer, worship, and the word.

Let’s grow up!

Embrace God’s Scary-Looking Will

prayer-on-my-knees4[1]Mary and Martha were worried about their sick brother. They sent the messenger to their friend Jesus with speed. But in John 11 we see Jesus respond unexpectedly to this request for help from his close friends. The sisters obviously assume that he will drop everything and come heal him (v21, 32, 37). Instead, Jesus stayed where he was for two more days, until he knew his friend was dead (v6, 14).

We understand here some very important and valuable lessons of discipleship, what following Jesus looks like. First, we must understand that God’s goals are not always the same as our goals. The sisters’ goal was for their brother to be healed (and so that was their “prayer request”). But God’s goal for their family was quite different. Jesus gives us a hint of God’s two goals in their situation: (1) the glory of God, seen in Jesus Christ (v4); and (2) the good of God’s people (v5). We are specifically told that Jesus’ motivation for not healing Lazarus was his love for that family (v5)! There are some good things God can only work in our lives through suffering. And so, God was at work in the lives of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, allowing his beloved people to suffer death, and to grieve the loss of their brother.

Which brings us to our second lesson: God’s goal is not to eliminate as much suffering as he can, by any means necessary. God’s purpose is not to run around the world making people’s lives easy and comfortable. But, God does not send us meaningless suffering either.  God will allow Mary and Martha (and even Lazarus!) to see more of him and his glory through this painful situation. It will be worth it in the end. They must trust God in the midst of their pain and confusion.

So, what will we do when our goal is different from God’s goal? That is the crucial moment. There is a false idea of religion and Christianity that seeks to use religion/faith/prayer/good works/rituals/etc to make God accomplish our goals for us. He is the genie in the bottle and we want our wishes granted! If I believe hard enough, or do enough good, God will have to do things my way. If we are not careful, we can fall into this subtle form of the prosperity gospel. We think we have earned the right not to suffer. We are God’s children and we seek to obey him, so he should bless our goals, dreams, & wishes. But, all boiled down, this amounts to manipulation, witchcraft and idolatry. It is reducing God to a power we control to get what we want. God himself is no longer the focus or center; he is just a means to get our real treasure – whatever goal we want him to grant. In other words, we want God to give us our idols!

But that brings us to our third lesson: true Christianity seeks to replace our goals with God’s goals in humble self-denial. God is not a power we use to get what we want; he himself is what we want! Prayer is not a way to manipulate God to accomplish our goals, but an act of self-emptying and lining up our heart with God’s will. This is the essence of discipleship, the heart of what it means to follow Christ.

These lessons are emphasized again as the story in John eleven unfolds:

Let’s Go into the Fire (7-8). After waiting two days (for Lazarus to die), Jesus announces to the disciples that they are going back to Judea. The disciples can’t believe it; that’s where his enemies are…the ones who hate him and recently tried to stone him to death (10:31, 39)! This is yet another occasion where God’s goal is different from ours. The disciples have one goal in mind: self-preservation. It would be crazy to go back into the fire! But that is just where God is leading them.

Walk in God’s Light (9-10). Jesus explains that his concern is not those who want to kill him, but walking in the light of God’s will. Jesus is the perfect example, and he is teaching his disciples here by example (Keener). Jesus is not being controlled by fear, but trusting God and obeying him in faith. Jesus is willing to walk into the fire.

Dull Disciples (11-13). Jesus now shifts the conversation back to Lazarus. Speaking metaphorically, Jesus says Lazarus has died, but Jesus is going to him to wake him up. The dull disciples don’t yet know Lazarus is dead, and they protest that Jesus should let him keep sleeping so he will get better. The dull disciples are missing Jesus’ entire focus. They are nit-picking on small details, oblivious to what God is up to. This is us!!!

I’m Glad! (14-15). Jesus corrects his disciples, speaking without figures of speech: “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there…” Why is Jesus glad that he was not there to keep Lazarus from dying? For “your sake!” Jesus knows that God’s goal here is not just for the good of Lazarus and Mary and Martha; God also has something good in mind for the disciples who follow Jesus. They are being led into a scary situation – going into the hotbed of Jesus’ enemies. But God is leading them to trust him, to walk willingly into potential pain and suffering, for his glory and their good. Specifically, Jesus says he is glad this has all happened, “so that you may believe.” Jesus’ disciples will see Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, and their faith will be strengthened.

Let’s Go Die With Him (16). Thomas replies to Jesus by telling his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, so that we may die with him.” “Doubting Thomas” doesn’t seem to be doubting here; Carson calls this a display of “raw devotion and courage.” This may not be full faith, but it is a start. He has no idea what God is going to do, but he is ready to go.

Lessons and Implications:

Notice that in this story, everyone’s eyes are on self-preservation, except for Jesus; his eyes are on obeying the Father in self-denying trust, no matter what the consequences.

Also notice how this affects how we pray. Everyone’s “prayer request” is being shaped by their focus! Mary and Martha’s request is to keep Lazarus healthy. The disciples are requesting that Jesus not go into a dangerous area. Their focus on self-preservation bleeds into their request of the Lord. Do our prayers ever go deeper than self-preservation? In contrast, Jesus’ focus on self-denying obedience of the Father will overflow into his prayer request before the cross (Not my will, but yours be done! Matthew 26:42)! What is the focus of our prayer requests? Self-preservation or self-denial? Eliminating suffering, no matter what? Making our lives easier? Or getting to know God more, see his glory, trust him more, and replace our goals with his goals? Jesus taught us to pray for God’s will to be done, for his name to be glorified, for his kingdom to come (Mat 6:9-10); he taught us to pray God-focused, God-praising, God’s-goal embracing, self-denying prayers.

This embracing of self-denial for the will of God, rather than self-preservation at any cost, is the heart of discipleship. Jesus’ call to follow him was a call to come and die to self (Luke 9:23). As we take up the cross to self and embrace God’s will, our mindset is obeying God and serving others (2 Cor 4:10; Phil 2:5-8). This is what it means to follow Jesus.

Questions for Application

What did God allow in your life this past year? What scary situation did he lead you to walk through? Did you do it? In the suffering he allowed, did you embrace self-denial or fight for self-preservation? How did you pray as you went through it…for God’s will or for yours? What was God’s goal in what he allowed in your life this year? In your estimation, is God worth suffering for? Can you trust him?


  • ESV Study Bible notes. ©2008 Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
  • The Gospel According To John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, by D. A. Carson. © 1991. Published in the U.K. by APOLLOS (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press), 33 De Montfort Street, Leicester, England LE1 7GP, and in the United States by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.
  • The Gospel of John, A Commentary, Volumes I & II, by Craig S. Keener. ©2003. Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI.

The Mind-Blowing, Soul-Stirring Doctrine of the Incarnation

The word incarnation comes from the Latin word carne, which means flesh, or meat. “Incarnation,” then, means the “in-fleshing” of God (Carson). The holy, eternal God put on a body and was born as a Man, in the Person of Jesus Christ! This doctrine is one of the core teachings of Christianity.

The “Ingredients” of the Incarnation

John 1:1, 14 is one of the clearest texts on the doctrine of the incarnation. Verse 1 declares that, in the beginning (i.e. before Jesus became a Man – in “eternity past”): The Word was with God – (He was God’s own “fellow” – Carson) [God’s friend, partner, colleague].

This phrase highlights the distinction of Persons in the Godhead. The Word was with, beside, distinct from, God. The Son is not the Father, is not the Spirit.

And yet, in the same breath, this verse goes on to declare:

The Word was God – (He was God’s own “self” – Carson). This phrase highlights the unity of the Persons in the Godhead. The Word was of one substance, one nature, with God.

So far we have a Person who is, at the same time, both distinct from God, and God!

Verse 14 then gives a crucial third piece of the puzzle: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This Person who was both distinct from God and God himself now adds something new to his experience: he became a Man. In becoming a Man, he did not lose his deity (for Jesus still claims to be the I AM who existed before Jesus’ birth – John 8:58, compare with Ex 3:14). Remaining what he was, he became what he was not (a human being). Carson clarifies that this is not God simply indwelling a human, or merely appearing to be human, but actually becoming fully human. By the time the apostle John wrote his letters, he argued tenaciously for the importance of teaching that Jesus came in the flesh, in full humanity. He wrote to the churches that anyone who denied this doctrine is antichrist (1 John 4:2-3; 2 John 7)!

So, we have a Person who existed before he was born, in a state of both unity with, and distinction from, God. This Person then stepped into human time and history and was born as a Man, called Jesus Christ (who remembers his preexistence and speaks of it – John 17:5). Jesus’ birth was not the beginning of his existence, but it was the beginning of his new experience as the God-Man. This is the incarnation!

Philippians 2:6-8 also speaks of Jesus’ preexistence: “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothingbeing born in the likeness of men.” Here we see Jesus existing before his human birth. He existed in the “form” of God (Greek morphe, having the “essential qualities” of God – John Frame). Jesus then entered human experience by being born as a man.

So, the “ingredients,” or the “nuts and bolts” of the doctrine of the incarnation are the ideas of Jesus’ preexistence, his full deity (fully God), and his putting on full humanity.

The “How” of the Incarnation

The incarnation is a great mystery and the greatest of all miracles! How can God become a Man…and still be God? The Bible does not answer all our questions about this, but gives us only one hint, in Luke 1:31-35. The angel told Mary that she, a virgin, would conceive and bear a son of the Most High. Mary is the first one to hear of the incarnation, and she asked the same question we ask, “How will this be?” How can God pull this off, “since I am a virgin?” The only answer she received (and the only answer we receive) is this: “The Holy Spirit…” Boom! End of discussion. This will be accomplished by the power of God, through the Holy Spirit! By his work in Mary, the child “will be called holy – the Son of God.” So the Father sends the Son, who is born fully Man and fully God by the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit, through the virginal conception.

The Glory of the Incarnation

The event of the incarnation is a beautiful and soul-stirring display of the great glory and mighty power of God! Thinking deeply on this subject is good for both the mind and the heart! On particular display in the incarnation is the amazing and unparalleled humility of the Son of God (Scheumann). John Owen writes,

“How glorious then is this willingness of the Son of God to humble himself to be our mediator.  What heart can conceive, what tongue can express the glory of that mind of Christ which brought him down from infinite glory to take our nature into union with his so that he could mediate with God on our behalf?” (John Owen, The Glory of Christ).

Philippians 2:6-8 marvels at the great humility of Jesus seen in the incarnation: though he existed before his birth in equality with God, he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (he did not fight for his position at all costs – did not “grasp” for self-elevation), “but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus did not give himself to self-promotion, but embraced willingly his self-denial, for our sake! The greatest distance ever traveled by any being is the unfathomable distance Jesus traveled from glory to self-humiliation in the incarnation; he voluntarily went from the highest place imaginable, to the lowest place conceivable. The text presents layer after layer of self-humbling. He emptied himself (a figure of speech that means he completely humbled himself – Carson) and came down from heaven. Born in the likeness of men. Not just a man, but a man of low class – a servant. Then he humbled himself further by giving himself to the experience of death! Finally, he humbled himself to the greatest degree imaginable by embracing the shameful, painful death of crucifixion – “even death on a cross!”

This text is given to us so that we may stand in awe and worship of the glory of God displayed by the incarnation of Jesus. And it is taught to us so that we may follow his example of self-emptying as we serve one another in his church (“Have this mind among yourselves” v5; “in humility count others more significant than yourselves” v3). Jesus took on flesh, in humility, to serve (Mark 10:45 – Scheumann).

The Effect of the Incarnation

The doctrine of the incarnation is directly relevant to us today! Christ’s coming as the God-Man made salvation possible. Jesus, as a Man, was now able to live a perfect life as our representative, and die an effectual, sacrificial death as our redeemer! The Book of Hebrews quotes Jesus as saying, “a body have you prepared for me…I have come to do your will, O God” (Heb 10:5-7), before explaining, “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10).

The incarnation was absolutely necessary for our salvation (Frame): “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil…He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest…to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb 2:14, 17).

Jesus needed a body so he could offer it up for us on the cross. He needed blood so that he could shed it for our sins. “The Word became flesh”…so he could save us from our sins by his death and resurrection, and bring us into the eternal enjoyment of God! My encouragement for you this season is to set this beautiful and edifying doctrine before your eyes. Think on it, meditate on it – chew on it like a tasty morsel! Let your mind marvel at the mystery and majesty. Let your heart be stirred to worship and love. Glorify the Lord Jesus, who took on flesh for us!


The Passionate Pursuit of God

What is the number one pursuit in your life? What are you running after harder than anything else?

Christians believe that God should be first priority. Yet, we are pretty quick to forget the most important part of our lives. We are busy. Distractions abound. Temptation and sin are real, constant threats. All of this makes it easy for us to lose sight of our purpose. So, we begin to settle for empty, religious externals, “going through the motions.” Our sights move lower, until we become satisfied with false finish lines (“I’ll be good to go if I read my Bible today…or sometime this week…”). Before we know it we are trudging ahead, eyes glazed over, caught in the grips of moralism. What we forget is that our great goal is God himself: to know him, glorify him, and enjoy him! The greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul and strength.

The truth is that our lives are to be passionate pursuits of God. Why do I say passionate? Because how could it be anything else in light of who he is?! If God is the great Treasure of the universe, the One who satisfies fully and forever, can there even exist such a thing as a “mediocre pursuit” of him? Kinda half-way seeking God?

Knowing God, enjoying fellowship with him, is a major theme running through the pages of Scripture. It’s part of the big story of the Bible. Walk with me:


God created us in his own image and then spoke to us (Genesis 1&2). God blessed Adam and Eve, put them in a garden paradise, and gave them instructions (including the house rules). Imagine! As the freshly created first humans opened their eyes, the first thing they saw was their glorious Creator! And he spoke to them! Conversation. Fellowship. There are even hints that they would would walk together in the garden (3:8).


But this fellowship with God did not last forever. Adam and Eve’s fall into sin broke their relationship with him. Sin is always an obstacle to the enjoyment of God. The Lord judged Adam and Eve for their sin and removed them from the garden (sin brings distance & separation) [Gen 3:23]. But God gave a gracious promise of a Rescuer (3:15).


Now God began a long work of redemption, which he unfolded slowly over human history. After Cain killed Abel, God gave another son to Adam and Eve, Seth. This would be the line from which the promised Rescuer would come. And when Seth had a son, the Bible says, “then men began to call on the name of the LORD” (Gen 4:26). People began to seek God. And this was just what God intended, as Paul explains: “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth…that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27 ESV). God wanted us to seek him, even as he was working to accomplish our redemption and bring us back to him.

Over time, God revealed himself to Abraham and his kids, the nation of Israel. Finally, he sent his Son as a Man, born from the Israelite people. Jesus Christ accomplished the work of redemption by dying on the cross for sin and rising from the grave. This resulted in cleansing from sin, which is what we usually think about. But Christ’s death and resurrection had another wonderful result: reconciling us to God (2 Cor 5:18-19). Part of Jesus’ mission was “to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18a). In other words, Christ came, not just to save us from sin’s penalty, but also to restore us to fellowship with God!  Those who come to God through repentance and faith in Jesus enjoy fellowship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (1 John 1:3-4; 2 Cor 13:14b)!


The fellowship with God made possible by Christ is enjoyed now in part, by the Spirit, but awaits the full experience at Christ’s return. In other words, we can know God and enjoy him now, but in a limited way. Yet, the time is coming when we will enjoy God “face to face,” because, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12 ESV)! Jesus spoke of the time when he would drink with us in the kingdom of God (Mat 26:29). Imagine sitting around the table with Jesus, and all the redeemed! At the end of Scripture we see the new heavens and the new earth, with the announcement that God will now dwell with men (Rev 21:3)!! What was lost in the garden has now been restored by Christ! What a Day that will be!

Pursuing God While We Wait

So, what does that mean for us now? We are waiting on that great Day to come, when we will know God fully, face to face. While we wait, we continue to seek him. It is always the desire of the people of God to know him more. Pursuing God passionately is an overflow of faith; it is evidence of a heart that has been touched by God’s transforming grace. God’s people in every age desire him, and put away the pursuit of earthly things to know him more. We cannot serve two masters; we cannot walk two paths. We cannot pursue this world and Christ at the same time. Sin deadens our hunger for God. Other things creep into our hearts and slowly become our number one pursuit. So the people of God practice repentance, casting aside competing pursuits as God reveals them to us, and renewing our pursuit of the Lord, through faith in Jesus.

The pages of Scripture are full of God revealing himself to his people, and his people seeking him: Moses cried out to see God’s glory (Ex 33:13-23); The prophet Jeremiah told us not to boast in riches and wisdom, but in knowing God (Jer 9:23-24; 29:13); The writers of the Psalms used poetry to express great passion and hunger for knowing God (Psalm 17:14-15; 42:1-5; 62:1; 63:1-8; 73:25-26; 84:1-4, 10). What imagery! Panting in thirst for the Lord; describing his steadfast love as “better than life;” considering how blessed the birds are, who make a nest in the house of God!

Jesus called us to deny ourselves from the pursuit of other things and follow him (Luke 9:23). And Paul spoke passionately about counting every other pursuit as nothing but garbage and dung, compared to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8-11)!

So, I will ask the question I started with. What is the greatest pursuit in your life? Is God bringing to your mind competing pursuits? Is he stirring up your heart to seek him?

In our busy world, seeking God first is a fight. But it is possible, with the grace and power of God! It will take self-discipline (eliminating competing pursuits), repentance, and diligence. You will need to set the Lord before your sights throughout the day, chewing on his word, continuing in prayer, singing songs of praise to yourself. It will mean preaching the gospel to yourself daily, fighting discouragement and guilt with the truth of God’s love in Christ. And it will certainly require fellowship with brothers and sisters in your local church family, who will give needed and timely strength, encouragement and accountability.

We were made to know God and enjoy him forever! Let’s pursue the One who has pursued us in Christ!

Building God’s House, Or Ours?

The Old Testament book of Haggai has a good word for the church today. Who in the world was Haggai, and what message did he preach?


After many years of disobedience to God in the promised land during the age of the kings, Israel was finally given over to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (586 BC). He destroyed the temple built by Solomon and hauled Israelites into Babylon for 70 years of exile. This punishment was from the Lord. In 539 BC the Persians conquered Babylon, led by Cyrus the Great. Cyrus freed the Israelites to return to the land and rebuild (just as God had prophesied through Isaiah, even calling Cyrus by name approximately 150 years before! – Isa 44:28; 45:1, 4b-5). The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the temple and the city wall. The people laid the foundation of the temple, but then stopped building because of opposition (ESV notes – Ezra 4:24). Now God’s house was lying in ruins, while the people built their own houses and pursued their own interests!

Ezra speaks of two prophets from God – Haggai and Zechariah – preaching to the people and encouraging them to get back to work rebuilding the temple (Ezra 5:1-2). In the book of Haggai we actually read his sermon to the Jews, and their response! God wanted the temple rebuilt, his presence with his people, so that he would begin to fulfill the promises he made – to bless the world through Israel (ESV notes).

Haggai’s 1st Message

In Haggai chapter one we read his powerful message of confrontation:

Ø  Consider your ways (v5, 7)! Judge what you are doing and how you are living in light of God’s perspective, plan, commands and promises. God sees how you are living, what you are pursuing and what you love.

Ø  Examine your priorities (v4, 9)! Haggai’s message from the Lord is, in effect: “You guys are saying it’s not time to work on the temple. Really?! Is it time for you to live in your nicely built, paneled houses, while God’s house lies in ruins?? Is that the focus of the people of God? Is it time to prioritize your house or God’s house? Is it time to concentrate on your kingdom, or his? You are all busy with your own agendas and priorities instead of the Lord’s.” Calvin explains: “The Jews were so taken up with their own domestic concerns, with their own ease, and with their own pleasures, that they made very little account of God’s worship.”

Ø  What will God bless (v6, 9-11)? God will not bless our self-focus and neglect of his will. Haggai tells them that this is why God has been withholding blessing from them (they are experiencing drought, crop failure and financial troubles). They are being disciplined for sin! God’s people must understand that neglect of God’s will and focus on our own priorities is a sin that must be confessed and forsaken.

Ø  Get to work and build God’s house (v8)! Haggai gives God’s clear command. The people are to get back to work immediately! God wants his people focused on his will, not theirs. It is time for the people of God to build the house of God!

Ø  Live for God’s glory (v8)! The Lord declared that he would take pleasure and glory in his house. God wants his people to consider his pleasure and glory above all else. When we turn from God’s will and put ourselves first, at heart we are making ourselves gods and pursuing our own glory.

The People’s Response

The people paid attention to the preacher! They listened to his word from the Lord, obeyed what was said and feared the Lord (v12). The preachers encouraged the people in the work, equipping them for this ministry (v13). And God worked in them, stirring up their spirit to do the work of the Lord (v14).

Haggai’s 2nd Message

The people repented of self-focus and returned to the work of the Lord. But their heart was not in it, because they did not see the glory of what they were building. Solomon’s temple had been luxurious and extravagant, but this temple was much more…plain. Ezra reports that when the temple began to be built, the young people shouted with joy, but the older ones – the ones who remembered the beauty of Solomon’s temple – cried like babies (Ezra 3:10-13)! God did not just want his people obeying; he wanted them obeying with right hearts! So, he sent Haggai with a 2nd message to encourage the people.

Haggai told the people not to judge with their eyes. This temple may not look as great as Solomon’s, but it will be glorious (2:3-9)! Haggai encouraged them to be strong, keep working, and don’t be afraid, knowing that God is present with them by his Spirit.

Applying Haggai’s Message in the Church

While we do NOT apply Haggai’s message by constructing church buildings, God does have powerful things to say to us through Haggai’s words:

Ø  Christ is the Temple! Haggai’s words are ultimately fulfilled by Jesus Christ; he is the true, spiritual temple; God’s glory present with us (John 1:14; 2:19-21; Mat 1:23). Jesus said that he would build his church (Mat 16:18), which is his people (not buildings). Because we are united with Christ by the Holy Spirit, we who believe are also referred to in Scripture as the temple, the house of God in Christ, where the Spirit and presence and glory of God is present (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:4-5).

Ø  We are Prone to Self-Focus. Like the Jews in Haggai’s day, we too are prone to neglect the things of God and elevate our own priorities above his will. We have a natural and sinful bent away from the disciple-making, church-building mission of the church; away from pursuing God’s glory and advancing his gospel cause. Instead, our bent is towards self-focus. We are quick to lose our passion for ministry in the church and drift to the “outskirts” of the action, leaving it for others. Our vision drifts from the community of believers to building our own house and kingdom, and chasing our own desires, hobbies, pleasures, comforts, cause, etc. From Haggai’s prophecy, we must recognize that this is a sin to be confessed and forsaken.  Philippians 2:21

Ø  We are Ministers on Mission. Jesus sent out his disciples on a mission to make other disciples. He is building his church in the earth, through the gospel, and we are first and foremost to be focused on this ministry and mission. Jesus calls us today to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23) and embrace the will of God. Christians follow Jesus in pouring out our lives for his cause, joining him in building up his church. We must invest our time, treasures and talents in building his house! This is done through ministry in the church and gospel mission in the world. So…where are your time, treasures and talents going? Whose house are you building? There is much work to do, and your church needs your commitment to Christ and his people.

Ø  Remember the Glory of What we are Building! Ministry is hard, and it is easy to lose sight of the eternal glory and beauty of what we are building. We get frustrated and exhausted; we battle our flesh and the world and the devil. We think we are the only ones doing it right. We look back on the “glory days” of how things used to be done, and we get discouraged. But our labor is not in vain. The church will shine! God’s glory will be seen, and it will all be worth it in the end.

For his glory, let’s get to work!

You Can’t Follow Jesus Without Humility

Faith, Hope and Love are the three great virtues of Christianity. But Humility seems to be a chief attribute of the believer. You just can’t follow Jesus without it. Humility is defined as “submissiveness before God” (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church), “an attitude of lowliness and obedience, grounded in the recognition of one’s status before God as his creature” (Dictionary of Bible Themes), and even “being free from arrogance and pride, and having an accurate estimate of one’s worth” (Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary). But I’ve found that it’s easier to define Humility than it is to actually be humble.

The opposite of Humility is Pride. Pride is the great sin, the mother of them all. It brings competition and division and war. It destroys our fellowship with God and with others. It robs us of peace, and removes thankfulness and gratitude, because it causes us to feel entitled, never satisfied, deserving of better. Pride hinders our forgiveness of others (it would rather hold a grudge), and makes God-glorifying relationships virtually impossible. Someone has said that “Pride is God-repellant.” Nothing chases away fellowship with God like pride. It is a sin that lifts us up in opposition to our Creator.

It is at the moment of our conversion that God breaks our pride with a debilitating blow, and leaves a mark of humility on us that lasts forever. The very act of conversion is an experience of being humbled by God, who cuts us down before he builds us back up. We must recognize we are sick before we will call the doctor. We must feel the great depth of our sin-disease before we will fully appreciate the cure of God’s amazing grace in Christ. At conversion, God touches our pride, and we are never the same. He humbles us, bringing us to our knees. We bow low. Sometimes God uses difficult situations when we are especially stubborn, but he always knows just what to do to bring us to humbleness before him. The good news of the gospel begins with the bad news of our need. Through the gospel God shows us our sin and calls us to repentance. As we begin to see how wicked we are, God’s grace shines brighter and brighter, and the end result is a humbled, thankful and joyful heart that trusts him and loves him.

A picture of what I’m describing can be seen in the Old Testament story of the Patriarch, Jacob. Jacob was a trickster; a manipulator and deceiver. He was selfish. His cunning obtained for him the birthright that belonged to his older brother, Esau. He teamed up with his conniving mother to deceive and manipulate Jacob’s father, Isaac. The blessing came to Jacob, and Esau was furious! Jacob had to run for his life, and God used another trickster to begin to bring some humility into Jacob’s life. His father-in-law, Laban, deceived Jacob, giving him the wrong daughter for his wife! He went on to change his wages and make life miserable for him, until Jacob decided it was better to go home and face the murderous threats of Esau.

While waiting to meet Esau, Jacob had a life-changing encounter with God, who appeared to him as a man and wrestled with him all night! The man touched Jacob’s hip, and he limped for the rest of his life. But God changed Jacob’s name to Israel (Genesis 32:22-32). This was a changing point. Face to face with God. Jacob was a new man. He was still flawed, but there was now some maturity, some humility, about him.

This is a vivid picture of the way the Lord touches our pride at conversion. We limp the rest of our lives, having been brought to the end of ourselves. We see our sin, our need – our place before God. We see his gracious provision in Christ. There is a humility given to us that will become a great fountain in our lives, overflowing in many directions, and touching everything we do. The Christian life is impossible without it.


God’s word is absolutely full of calls to humility. Jesus taught that we cannot enter his kingdom unless we are humbled and become like a child (Mat 18:4)! We learn that everyone who exalts themselves will be cut down by God, and everyone who bows low in humility will be lifted high by God (Luke 14:11; James 4:6, 10; 1 Pet 5:5-6). We see wicked, idol-worshiping kings receive blessing from God when they humble themselves (1 Kings 21:29; Daniel 4:28-37). Even the evil Assyrian kingdom in Nineveh escapes God’s decreed disaster when they humble themselves and repent, much to Jonah’s dismay (Jon 3:6-10)! The mighty Creator God says he takes notice of the man who has a humble, repentant heart, who trembles at his word (Isa 66:2). And God sums up all that he requires of us as walking humbly with our God (Mic 6:8).

The life of the disciple of Jesus is only possible through humility. Pride is the opposite of following Jesus, who calls us to self-emptying, self-denying pursuit of God’s will (Luke 9:23). The life-long process of sanctification is the application of humility to all of life and all our relationships. As we walk in humility we are following Christ. Paul instructs believers to clothe ourselves with “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another” (Col 3:12-13). As we embrace self-denying humility we will discover that the secret of Christian relationships is treating others the way God has treated us. Again, this is possible only in humility. Because we have been brought low before God, we understand that he has been gracious to us, much better to us than we deserve. Therefore, we can be gracious to others. Pride hinders this continually, and much of the Christian life is fighting this pride, consigning it to the cross where it belongs, and embracing humility once again. Because God has been patient with me I can be patient with others (Col 3:12b). Because we have been loved by God, we can live in love towards others (Eph 5:2). Because God has forgiven us in Christ, we can forgive others (Eph 4:32).

Paul describes this entire mindset of humility that sums up the Christian life: “In humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil 2:3b). He tells us to have this “mind” (“mindset,” or “attitude”), which is ours in Christ (v5). In fact, Jesus modeled perfectly for us this humble attitude. Though equal with God, he did not fight for the enjoyment of his rights, but rather, “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-8).

This humility enables us to have God-glorifying relationships in the church. We won’t be competing and dividing if we are walking with our limp – the humility given to us in Christ. Husbands and wives will discover that the only way it is possible for them to walk in the marriage roles assigned to them by God is through humility. Pride will stop a husband from loving his wife as Christ loved the church, serving her and leading her well in the Lord. Only in humility can he pour out self-sacrificing love on his wife! Pride will make submitting to her husband as unto the Lord the very last thing a wife wants to do. Only in humility can she look past her imperfect husband to Christ, and follow his leadership with respect and joy. Moms and Dads will only be able to patiently and joyfully parent their children through humility. Humility is a great key that opens the door for relationships that honor God.

So, are you limping like Jacob yet? Has God touched your pride and brought you low before him? Have you seen your sinfulness and your need for Christ? Have you embraced God’s will? May the Lord fill us with his humility, and enable us to walk out this life of discipleship, for his glory!

[All Scripture quotations, English Standard Version (ESV) (c) 2001 Crossway]