I was recently asked to respond to 4 questions about grace for an article for a Spring Creek Baptist Church magazine. Reflecting on grace was good for my soul so I thought I would pass these thoughts along to you for your reflection:
1. What is God’s grace?
Wow! What a question! On one hand the answer can be recited by kids in Sunday school: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense; on the other hand the wonder and profundity of God’s grace fills and overflows our hymnody and theology. Songs, poems, books have been written, and still, the knowledge of God’s grace has not been exhausted (nor can it be—Eph 2:7).
That being said, let me offer a few brief thoughts regarding God’s grace—2 quotes, my definition/description, and 1 Scripture reference—in an attempt to answer your question.
C.L. Chase says, “…grace means God is always up to [a Christian’s] good. God always intends a believer’s good (Gen 50:20); always gives good to a believer (Matt 7:11); and, always works all things to a believer’s good (Rom 8:28).” (C.L. Chase; Grace-Focused Optimism; Christian Focus Publications, Scotland, 2017; 11-12)
Theologian J.I. Packer defines grace this way, “The grace of God is love freely shown toward guilty sinners, contrary to their merit and indeed in defiance of their demerit. It is God showing goodness to persons who deserve only severity and had no reason to expect anything but severity.” (J.I. Packer; Knowing God; IVP, Downers Grove, IL, 2018 edition; 132)
So, here is my attempt of a short definition and brief description of grace: God’s grace is His loving disposition and merciful determination to do only and eternal good through and in Christ Jesus to guilty, undeserving rebels. Our Lord’s grace is sovereign (Rom 5:21), spontaneous—completely free from any external force or attraction (Rom 5:6-8), saving (Eph 2:5, 8), sanctifying (Titus 2:11-12), sufficient (2 For 12:9), and sweetly satisfying (Ps 34:8; Is 55:1-2).
The Bible says it best though: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich….Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor 8:9; 9:15)
2. From your experience, how and why do Christians struggle with God’s grace?
I suppose several in-depth answers could be given to this, but let me try to keep it brief: I think we struggle with God’s grace because of pride and disbelief.
Our pride is a continual obstacle to living by God’s grace. By default, we are legalists in heart (I can and will do what God says so He will/must accept me). By culture, we believe we can “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps” (I can fix myself). Both of these mindsets fight against grace. We struggle to believe that we are as hopeless and helpless as the Bible says we are and that God’s grace is as free, unearned, undeserved, and welcoming as the Bible says it is. So when we sin, instead of confessing to and trusting in Christ, we try to prove ourselves or harm ourselves to show or offer God something. Grace by definition says we cannot offer God anything, rather, we must receive what He gives. We have to learn to fight pride with the humbling truths of grace.
Our disbelief also is a cause for our struggles with God’s grace. Some of us are haunted by past and present sins and we have a hard time believing that God could and would forgive us completely of all our sins. Yet, this is the glory of the gospel of grace: In Christ God does grant us a full pardon (Col 2:13,14). He does remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Ps 103:12). He does throw them into the deepest part of the sea (Micah 7:19). He does declare us forgiven, yes, even righteous (Rom 3:23-25; 2 For 5:21). The enemy loves to accuse us and get us to doubt God’s goodness and grace. Our sinful experiences shout to our consciences that we must not be saved. When this happens, disbelief can easily set in. We have to learn to fight disbelief with the Christ-secured, Bible-revealing realities of grace.
3. What role should God’s grace play in the life of Christians?
Grace is absolutely essential. We are brought to Christ by grace. We are kept in Christ by grace. We will live eternally with Christ because of grace.
We need grace for life, growth, comfort, trial, loss, power, and endurance. We need grace when we sin, suffer, serve, or succeed. We need grace like a seed needs soil, or a fish needs water, for it is in him, the God of all grace, that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28; 1 Pet 5:10).
Here is a quote I found from John Newton (the author of Amazing Grace) after he reflected on 1 Cor 15:10—“But by the grace of God I am what I am.” I think his thoughts capture the essential role of grace in our lives:
"I am not what I ought to be. Ah! How imperfect and deficient.
I am not what I might be, considering my privileges and opportunities.
I am not what I wish to be. God, who knows my heart—knows I wish to be like Him.
I am not what I hope to be. Before long, I will drop this clay tabernacle to be like Him and see him as He is!
Yet, I am not what I once was—a child of sin, and slave of the devil!
Though not all these—not what I ought to be, not what I might be, not what I wish or hope to be, and not what I once was—I think I can truly say with the apostle, ‘By the grace of God—I am what I am!’”
4. How can believers grow in God’s grace?
By grace :) It’s true though! We really can only grow by grace. That doesn’t mean we don’t give effort or apply our selves, but it does remind us that unless God is first and continually gracious and then, we are humbly dependent, we will not grow (Philippians 2:12-13).
That being said, let’s remind ourselves of the means that God in His grace has provided for our growth in grace. These are what is commonly called the “ordinary means of grace.”:
The Word of God (heard, read, studied, preached, meditated upon, etc.)
The communion of the saints (weekly gathering together for word and worship, discipling one another, caring for one another, etc.)
Prayer (private and public, individual and corporate)
The sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s supper)
Theses means of grace are effective for our growth because Christ by his Holy Spirit meets us in them all when attended to by faith.
One other thought for growth in grace (probably an extension of the communion of the saints) that I want to highly commend is the reading of Christian biographies from the past, and the reading of solid, challenging, gospel-centered books and theological works. The Christ-given gifts of teachers in the Church (Eph 4:11-12) not only include those currently in our local churches but also the pastors and teachers down through the centuries. These saints not only enrich our lives but help us to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus. May God grant it by His grace and for His glory.
“But we see him…. namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”--Hebrews 2:9
On this past Good Friday many of God’s people around the world reflected upon the crucifixion of our Lord. In doing so, we recalled the horrendous, brutal treatment of Jesus that led to his death. Undeniably, our Lord intensely suffered unto death. But notice how the author of Hebrews speaks: “the suffering of death.” By this Spirit-inspired phrase we are made to not only consider the sufferings of Jesus leading to his death, but death as suffering. Jesus suffered death. “He….taste[d] death for everyone.” Let’s take a moment to reflect upon this.
Being truly human, Jesus faced that dark unknown of disembodied existence. He suffered the unnatural rending of his human soul from his human body. The body, that his Father had prepared for him (Heb 10:5), laid lifeless in the tomb three days. His human soul/spirit that he faithfully committed into the Father’s hands (Lk 23:46) was for the first time without physicality. For humanity this is an experience which the apostle Paul metaphorically describes as being “unclothed”; “naked” (2 Cor 5). Jesus suffered this in his death.
Christ also suffered the severing of relationships that death causes. Even though it was going to be a temporary condition, he still had to prepare his disciples for this separation (Jn 13-17). He also needed to commit his own grieving mother to another’s care (Jn 19:26-27). Even here we see his suffering of death.
Lastly, let us never forget that Jesus’ suffering of death included fully the conscious experience of death as the judgement of God. On the cross we see that the Lord of glory is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. God’s righteous curse upon man’s sin fell upon Jesus. The terror and pain of what our Lord suffered in his death is greater than we will ever know. For he was impeccably pure and utterly holy in and of himself, yet he bore the sins of many. All the sins, the filth, the perversions, the hatred, the shame of his people through all of history was borne by him (2 Cor 5:21). He tasted death for everyone of his own.
Jesus’ suffering of death for the salvation of sinners truly is unimaginable. He didn’t have to do it. He didn’t need to do it. He desired to; he wanted to. It was his holy joy and good pleasure. Why? Love. He did it because he loves us. Grace amazing indeed!
“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood... to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”--Rev 1:5,6
“...that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled…”--Ezra 1:1
And thus the book of Ezra starts with the strong reality of the unfailing promise of God. Decades before the events recorded in Ezra, God had prophesied through Jeremiah that though his people would be sent into a seventy-year long exile to Babylon for their unfaithfulness, he would fulfill his promise and bring his people back to Jerusalem (Jer 29:10-14). This first verse in Ezra reminds us that God never forgets his word.
If you are like me, you need these continual reminders of God’s unforgotten word. His word never fails. It never falls to the ground; never returns to him without accomplishing what he sent it out to do. God does not forget his promise. Though we might forget, God doesn’t forget. Nations (like a Babylon) can’t alter God’s word. Time (like 70 years) can’t fade it. Death (Jeremiah was in the grave) can’t bury it. God’s word lives on to fulfillment.
Around 2000 years ago God’s incarnate Promise walked the dusty streets of Palestine to visit his people for the purposes of redemption (Luke 1:68). But God’s Promise was not recognized nor generally received (Jn 1:10-11). Rather, he was rejected and exiled to a criminal’s cross outside of Jerusalem. Darkness and death covered the Promise. From the cross God’s Promise would be moved to death’s tomb and the sealed stone set. Individuals and nations, commoners and leaders had once again raised their words above God’s Word. But God’s promise would not fail: “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Ps 16:10). So, on the third day, as promised (1 Cor 15:4) God raised his Promise from the dead! Therefore, in Christ “all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Cor 1:20).
God keeps his word! Let us trust him. Let the proud doubt; we will believe. Let the scoffers scoff; we will exult! Let time roll, nations rise and fall, history march, even the gates of hell attack; let heaven and earth pass away--God’s word will not fail!
Whether our marriage is a month old or decades old, we can all use continual encouragement. So, in this post, I simply want to pass along an encouraging word for our marriages from Tim Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage. Listen to his answer to the question, “What do I do when my ‘feelings of love seem to dry up’?”:
“You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must be tender, understanding, forgiving, and helpful….
“....Many people hear this and say, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t give love if I don’t feel it! I can’t fake it. That’s too mechanical for me.’ I can understand that reaction, but Paul doesn’t simply call us to a naked action; he also commands us to think as we act. ‘Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.’
“This means we must say to ourselves something like this: ‘Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think, “I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.” No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us---denying him, abandoning him and betraying him---and in the greatest act of love in history, he stayed. He said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely. That is why I am going to love my spouse.’ Speak to your heart like that, and then fulfill the promises you made on your wedding day.” (The Meaning of Marriage; pp. 104, & 108-109)
“‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”--Eph 5:31-33
“This blessing has fallen to me, that I have kept your precepts.”--Psalm 119:56
When is the last time you thought of obedience as a blessing? If we are honest, often we’re tempted to view obedience as a burden or a restriction or maybe a threat to our individualism and happiness. But the psalmist knew better.
Notice the two-fold blessing of obedience that this saint speaks of. First, he phrases his obedience in terms of grace, “This blessing has fallen to me…” This sweet singer recognizes that his obedience to God is a result of God’s sheer grace. He acknowledges that it has “fallen” to him. God has granted to him a renewed heart that longs and chooses to keep the precepts of the Lord. His personal faithfulness is evidence of God’s merciful action in his life. The apostle Paul essentially said the same thing in Philippians 1:29, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…” The believing and the suffering (consequence of faithful obedience) were “granted” to the Philippian believers. They, too, could both believe and obey because of God’s grace. I know that our obedience isn’t perfect, but if we evidence some measure of godly obedience in our lives, we should rejoice! For God is graciously at work. Humbly we give Him the glory.
Secondly, he phrases his obedience as happiness, “This blessing has fallen to me, that I have kept your precepts.” He has discovered that the keeping of God’s instruction is “blessing.” The path of obedience is the path of true happiness. On it we experience life the way we were intended to. Contrary to the suspicions of our fallen nature, the new man in Christ discovers that the precepts of the Lord are good (Ps 119:93), and in them we can enjoy freedom (Ps 119:32, 96) and healing (Prov 3:7-8) and experience what it means to be truly human. (Eph 4:20-24; Col 3:10)
The gospel teaches us that through Christ’s perfect obedience culminating at the cross, God redeems us from our disobedience and claims us as His own possession that we may be a people with the psalmist who know the blessing of obedience.
“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome.”--1 John 5:3
Though thanksgiving is to be a regular part of our worship and gratitude is to mark our character, I find a day set aside each year for thanksgiving to be extremely helpful. Contentedness just doesn’t come naturally for a lot of us.
Even the great apostle Paul had to "learn" contentment. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that "[Paul] came to a place of understanding as a result of sheer experience of the dealing of God with him. He had to learn, and experience teaches us all." God places His children in the school of experience that we may learn to be content.
"But," says Lloyd-Jones, "it was not to be experience alone. Paul had come to learn this great truth by working out a great argument." And then Lloyd-Jones proceeds to give the "steps of the argument" or what he also calls "the apostle’s logic" or what I am calling "the logic of contentment."
Here is the logic of contentment from the pen of Lloyd-Jones. I find it helpful and trust that you will too.
Never easy or automatic, yet, viewed through these lenses of logic, contentment just makes sense.
"....for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content." --Philippians 4:11
"When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine…. [he] called the bridegroom and said to him, '....you have kept the good wine until now.'"--John 2:9-10
One of the joy-giving truths that we learn from Jesus’ first miracle (turning water into wine) recorded in John 2:1-11 is that in Christ the best is still to come.
Listen to 16th century London Pastor John Gill comment on this passage:
The Gospel, which may be compared to wine for its purity, pleasant taste, and generous effects, in reviving drooping spirits, refreshing weary persons and comforting distressed minds, as also for its antiquity, was published before the coming of Christ, in the times of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets, but in a lower and weaker way; at sundry times, here a little, and there a little, by piecemeals, as it were; and in divers manners [Heb. 1:1], by promises, prophecies, types, shadows, and sacrifices; and was attended with much darkness and bondage: but under the Gospel dispensation, which is compared to a marriage feast, it is more fully dispensed, more clearly published, and more freely ministered. The whole of it is delivered, and with open face beheld; and saints are made free by it; it is set in the strongest and clearest light; the best wine is reserved till now; God has provided some better thing for us, Heb. 11:40. And so with respect to the future state of the saints, their best things are kept for them till last. They have many good things now; as the Gospel, Gospel ordinances, the blessings and promises of grace, the love of God shed abroad in their hearts, the presence of God, and communion with Christ, at least at times; all which are better than wine: but then there is an alloy to these; they are lowered by other things, as the corruptions of the heart, the temptations of Satan, the hidings of God’s face, and a variety of afflictions; but they shall have their good and best things hereafter, and drink new wine in Christ’s Father’s kingdom, without any thing to lower and weaken it. They will have full joys, and never fading pleasures, and shall be without sin and sorrow; no more deserted, nor afflicted, and shall be out of the reach of Satan’s temptations, and with Christ for evermore. Happy are they that are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb! (John Gill, An Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Newport Commentary Series, Particular Baptist Press, Springfield, MO, 2003), 60)
Even now by faith in Jesus, we know and experience the blessings of God; our hearts are forgiven, free, and full. But one day at the marriage supper of the Lamb we will share the experience of the master of the feast: “You have saved the best for last!”
“Keep on” weary Christian. “Stay true” tempted Brother. “Rejoice” tested Sister. The best is yet to come. In great love and joyful anticipation your Bridegroom is saving the best for last!
“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’--for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”--Revelation 19:6-9
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims his handiwork.
Day to Day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”--Ps 19:1-2
Yesterday, I was reading George Marsden’s biography on Jonathan Edwards and was delighted by a passage that Marsden quotes from Edward’s work called “Miscellany no. 108” taken from The Works of Jonathan Edwards. It was so good that I wanted to share it with you:
When we are delighted with flowery meadows and gentle breezes of wind, we may consider that we only see the emanations of the sweet benevolence of Jesus Christ; when we behold the fragrant rose and lily, we see his love and purity. So the green trees and fields, and singing of birds, are the emanations of his infinite joy and benignity; the easiness and naturalness of trees and vines [are] shadows of his infinite beauty and loveliness; the crystal rivers and murmuring streams have the footsteps of his sweet grace and bounty….That beauteous light with which the world is filled in a clear day is a lively shadow of his spotless holiness and happiness, and delight in communicating himself. (George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 2003), 100)
God spoke the creation into being (Gen 1; Jn 1:1-3), and the creation speaks the glory of God. I hope this summer you are able to take time to be outside and hear creation speak. To those who have ears to hear, Christ the Word of God communicates his glories! So let us look and listen; wonder and worship!
“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens….O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”--Ps 8:1,9
In John 1:19-51 we encounter three witnesses of the Lord Jesus: John the Baptist, Andrew, and Philip. These three combine their voices to declare that Jesus is the Christ. They have different backgrounds, personalities, and responsibilities, but each one faithfully testifies to Jesus; together they form a portrait of bearing witness to Jesus in this world.
John the Baptist’s witness (Jn 1:19-36) is public and pointed, and bears the marks of a God-given call and authority much like what the Church’s corporate witness should be. God has given the keys of the kingdom to local churches to “bind” and “loose.” Churches are to publicly and pointedly proclaim to their communities who Jesus is and what he has done. With God-given authority they are to call men and women, boys and girls to repentance and faith declaring that salvation is found in no other name than the name of Jesus.
Andrew’s and Philip’s witness is personal and relational (Jn 1:41-42, 45-46). Andrew shares Christ with his brother Simon (Peter). Philip goes and tells his friend Nathanael that they have found the Promised One. Both are examples of the privilege and responsibility we have to personally bear witness to Jesus.
Chances are that most of us (except as a Church) aren’t called to a public platform like John the Baptist and that’s okay! God loves to use the private witness of individual Christians. D.A. Carson writes, “[Andrew]....became the first in a long line of successors who have discovered that the most common and effective Christian testimony is the private witness of friend to friend, brother to brother….That has been the foundational principle of truly Christian expansion ever since: new followers of Jesus bear witness of him to others, who in turn become disciples and repeat the process.” You and I matter! Our faithful testimony to Jesus is a powerful tool in the hands of the Redeemer.
So, as a local Church and as individual believers, let us joyfully and faithfully be His witnesses!
In Exodus 33 we hear Moses’s impassioned desire to know God, “Please, show me your glory.” Moses hungers to experience the glory of God and God graciously responds, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But....you cannot see my face…. Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” (emphasis added)
Extraordinary! This must have been a breathtaking, illuminating experience of divine revelation and intimate relationship that would indelibly mark the rest of Moses’s life. And yet, we who are New Covenant believers have an even better privilege, clearer perspective, and fuller experience: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth….And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ….the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (Jn 1:14, 16-18)
Moses saw a passing glimpse of God’s glory; a mere moment to behold the Glory. But, through the Word-made-flesh we can linger...stare...gaze into God’s grace and truth. Moses saw a partial display of glory--”you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” But, in Jesus, God’s only Son, we see the fullness of God’s glory. As Paul wrote, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9). There is no diminishing of Divine glory in Jesus--”he has made him known.”
Surely, “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” What a glory! What a privilege!
There are times that we are struck by the weight of words--heard or read. But, there are also times when silence speaks loudly. The silence I have in mind is the absence of certain elements or patterns of speech. Sometimes, we may be (even unconsciously) impacted by what we don’t hear someone saying. In other words, a person’s character and influence (at least in part) can be known and felt by things we continually don’t hear them saying. For, sometimes, silence speaks.
We may hear an invitation to confide in someone because we do not hear them gossip, slander, demean, or wrongfully criticize another.
We might learn gratitude and graciousness from a friend by the absence of complaint, grumbling, and constant comparisons.
We can hear a brother’s purity and propriety by the silence of anything crass, vulgar, or obscene.
We can listen to a sister’s reverence for God by the absence of careless words and coarse, disrespectful references to God.
The Lord Jesus was no stranger to speaking by silence. His silent pause with the self-righteous Pharisees and the absence of condemning rhetoric with the woman caught in adultery heralds his wisdom, patience, and gentleness (John 8:1-11). On trial, his silence before the false accusers declared his faith in the Father (1 Peter 2:22-23). And, on the cross his silence among the mockers and scoffers proclaimed his love as our Substitute and Savior (Isaiah 53:1-7; Matt 27:27-30, 35-44).
If we listen carefully, we can hear silence speaking.
So, what will you not say today that will sound like Jesus and prove helpful to someone else?
I enjoy a good run or being able to exercise with my wife, and I love that God has wonderfully made us body-soul beings. We are material and immaterial. We walk, work, see, touch, go, taste because of the physicality with which we were created. And, we think, dream, discern, judge, choose, want, love, delight, hate, bond, etc. because God has given us souls or what the Bible so often calls the “heart.”
Though there is a marvelous and mysterious interconnectedness of body and soul, the Bible, without discounting or denying the body, places the emphasis and priority on the soul. That’s why Jesus said that we “must be born again,” (Jn 3:3, 7) and why Paul wrote, “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). We need this reminder of emphasis and priority because we live in a culture that worships the body. People all around us are driven by image, shape, health, and nutrition not so much as good stewards, but because of restless hearts and guilty consciences.
We need to hear the wisdom of Proverbs, “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot” (Pv 14:30). My paraphrase of this verse is, “A whole and contented heart is beneficial to the whole person, but a restless, unsatisfied heart will inevitably destroy the body.” Exercise and physical health is good, but it cannot give life to the soul. Only, the grace of God can heal our inner self (Eph 2:1-5). Like Augustine learned, our hearts can only find rest in God. For, only the blood of Jesus can cleanse our consciences (Heb 9:14), and only the Holy Spirit can make our hearts new and continue to make them new (Titus 3:5).
So, go ahead and enjoy being a good steward of your God-given physicality, but never forget that “while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8). May we not forget the priority of the soul.
“Keep your heart with all vigilance for from it flow the springs of life.” Proverbs 4:23
I am a pastor that is blessed with a patient and understanding congregation. This last Sunday I put that patience to the test by attempting to preach on Psalm 119! Thankfully they passed the test, but I failed! With great kindness and patience they sat through about 50 minutes of teaching that contained 4 main points and 35 sub-points! Yes, you saw that right: 35 sub-points. (I told you they were patient and understanding!)
As you may imagine, I rushed way too fast on the last point with its 7 sub-points. So, (at a friend’s recommendation) I am going to use this post to attempt to clean up my mess and present (much more slowly) the last main heading of Sunday’s sermon: “Oh, How I Love Your Law!” (Psalm 119)
To guide our study of Psalm 119, I offered 4 questions to be considered: 1. What is God’s Word? (a definition); 2. What is God’s Word like? (a description); 3. What is God’s Word for?; and 4. What should be our response to God’s Word? (application). It is this fourth question that I want us to (re)consider.
According to Psalm 119, what should be our response to God’s Word?
“Am I called?” For some this is a haunting question. For others it may not even be on the radar (until now). I would like to offer a short and simple answer (for anyone who may be wondering now that you are reading this post): YES! Yes, you are called!
If you are an unbeliever living in sin and rebellion against God, you are called--you are called by God through the good news of the sin-atoning death and life-giving resurrection of Jesus Christ to repent of your sins (Act 17:30). If you are burdened and worn out by your sin, guilt, and loneliness, you are called by the Son of God, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)
If you are a believer you have been and are called by God:
“He who calls you is faithful”--1Thess 5:24
Jonah: Salvation Belongs to the Lord!
Think with me of the beloved account of Jonah and the great fish. Most of us are familiar with how the Lord called this Hebrew prophet to take God’s merciful message of judgment to Nineveh. Jonah, not liking the new job assignment, opted to run from the Lord by boarding a ship headed the other direction.
Now, one of the main truths that the book of Jonah emphasizes is the sovereignty of God. God is always in control; He always gets His way. Jonah would learn to offer an “AMEN” to Job’s statement, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). So, when Jonah ran God responded by sending a “great wind” and a “mighty tempest upon the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up” (Jonah 1:4). The sailors, fearing for their lives, threw off the cargo and cried out to their gods. Finally, out of desperation, they cast lots to see who was to blame for this deadly storm. The lot fell on Jonah.
Jonah proceeded to inform them of his rebellion and that they must throw him overboard if their lives were to be spared and the storm calmed. Sometimes, at this point in the narrative, we fail to realize the gravity of the situation. To be thrown overboard in such a violent sea meant death not salvation. But, the sovereign God had another plan: “And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1:17)
What was to be certain death became God’s surprising salvation. Surely, Jonah didn’t expect a big fish to swallow him, and surely, inside the fish his immediate response was not to sing out “Amazing Grace!” No, this was a surprising salvation. This rebellious prophet (like the rest of us) had to learn that “salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Jonah 2:9)
When we consider the gospel of the Lord Jesus, once again we see that our God works a surprising salvation for His people. Many in Jesus’ day did not see clearly that he was the Savior. Some said, “Isn’t that the carpenter’s son?” And others remarked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Not many believed that this Jesus, born to Mary and Joseph, was the promised Savior. In fact, Isaiah said of Jesus, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him...a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Is. 53:2-3). A good person? Yes. A great teacher? Certainly. A miracle worker? Indeed! But the divine Savior?....
The Person of salvation was a surprise, and the way of salvation was a surprise. The disciples manifest this by their confusion and grief when Jesus died. He had repeatedly told them that he must give his life as a ransom. He had told them that he would be lifted up (death by crucifixion) and that three days later he would rise again. But, they just did not get it. Only after Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, did they begin to see that Jesus’ death was God’s salvation for everyone who trusts in him. It was and is such a surprising salvation! Yet, it was God’s plan and purpose from eternity past (1 Pet 1:20). Surely, we marvel and humbly declare with Jonah, “Salvation belongs to the Lord!”
Chuck Cook is the pastor of Grace Bible Church - Rolla.