Dead and Desperate

Desperation, a sense of total helplessness and hopelessness, is essential to a minimal understanding of the love and mercy of God in Christ Jesus.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 19-21; Ephesians 2

5 Then they shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast. And the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, ‘Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?’” Isaiah 20:5-6

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, Ephesians 2:4-6

Isaiah was sent to show Judah the folly of their trusting in Egypt and Cush for deliverance from the then-dominant power of Assyria. The prophet, under God’s direction, went about barefooted and naked for three years to show them how destitute they really were. God would have Egypt and Cush barefoot and naked before it was over.

Paul paints a vivid picture of lost people. They are not merely weak in spirit; not just sick. They are dead, stone cold dead in trespasses and sins. They may have been trusting that they were good enough to pass muster in a relative sense, that is, good enough to pass if graded on a curve instead of against the absolute perfect righteousness of God. They deserve hell, but instead God, who is rich in mercy and great in love, makes “them alive together with Christ” and saves them by grace alone. Then what? Does He send them back into the world to try to improve their future record? No. He raises them up with Christ and seats them in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. And these were previously dead, hopeless people. They had nothing to offer God.   They could not earn their acceptance. They could not pay their debt. They could only believe and receive what God did.

How desperate are you? Do you hold out some hope that you will eventually measure up to God’s perfection? Or do you see your true condition apart from Christ: dead, alienated, condemned? It is not a good feeling to be desperate, but let us be desperate so that we can appreciate the great mercy and love of God for us.

Getting Re-purposed

Through Jesus Christ, you could say, we have been re-purposed for His glory.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 16-18; Ephesians 1

7 In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel. 8 He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands, and he will not look on what his own fingers have made, either the Asherim or the altars of incense. Isaiah 17:7-8

In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:4b-6

The Bible is the story of creation, corruption, and redemption. The heavy emphasis is on the millennia-long work of God in human society to redeem His people from corruption. The battle lines were drawn in Genesis 3:15 when God told the serpent there would be enmity between the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman. Indeed, that enmity is played out every day in the global battle between evil and good, rebellion and righteousness.

Isaiah speaks of a day when man would look to the true and living God, the Creator, who is the Holy One of Israel. In looking to Him, man would turn away from his own feeble religious offerings, his own efforts to commend himself to God, his false gods and blasphemous altars. Only by looking to God will anyone find forgiveness.

Paul elaborates on this in the first chapter of his letter to the church in Ephesus. In a tightly packed paragraph-sentence, the apostle lays out in soaring words the purpose of God for the world and His means of accomplishing it. At the heart of His purpose is His glory. We are called to live for the praise of His glorious grace. But in ourselves, we are not able or qualified to fulfill that grand purpose. We need redeeming from our corruption. God has done that by giving His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to bear our sin and guilt. Through Him we have forgiveness of sin, are adopted as His sons (yes, male and female both enjoy the privileges of sons), and sealed with His Holy Spirit while we wait for all this to be completed.

Repurpose is a recent word that means “to change (something) so that it can be used for a different purpose.” Although, to be precise, believers in Christ have recovered God’s original purpose for us, it is not a stretch to say that we who were spiritually dead, and who were following the prince of the power of the air, have been repurposed for God. What a glorious purpose! It is the only purpose worthy of all our life, all our strength, and all our love. May God give us grace to grow in fulfilling His purpose for our repurposing to the end.

 

Maybe Today

God rules in judgment over people and nations. No one escapes.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 13-15; Galatians 6

26 This is the purpose that is purposed
concerning the whole earth,
and this is the hand that is stretched out
over all the nations.
27 For the Lord of hosts has purposed,
and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out,
and who will turn it back?                                                                Isaiah 14:26-27

7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.            Galatians 6:7-8

Isaiah, who got a clear vision of God, Holy and lifted up, relates the oracles against various nations: Babylon, Assyria, Philistea, and Moab. All of these were, at one time or other, a threat to Israel and Judah. God assures His people through Isaiah that all these nations are under His control. He will deal with their arrogance and pride and injustice.

Paul has admonished the Galatians to reject the false teaching of those who had come to bewitch and unsettle them (3:1; 5:12). Now he reminds them that God is on the throne and will act in judgment on those who are deceived, thinking that they can sow to their own flesh and get away with it. Two errors concerning sin are in view. One, that by keeping the law we can be justified before God. This is also called “works righteousness.” Two, that sin is of no importance, so we may sin all we please with no consequences. Only through the cross of Christ may we find forgiveness of sin. God will judge those who reject His Son, who is the only Savior and the only means of salvation.

The nations of the Old Testament world have gone, removed from their proud perch. They failed to believe that God rules. Judgment is sure, and judgment is final. Christ’s death is the only way to salvation. Do not trust in your good works. Do not foolishly assume that God is not serious about our sin. Be ready to meet your God. It could be today.

Unquenchable Joy

Joy springs up in the life of those who have God’s Spirit in them.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 10-12; Galatians 5

1 You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
that you might comfort me.

“Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. Isaiah 12:1-3

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Judah and Israel were concerned about national security and relief from the oppressing nations. Isaiah came to them to speak of a Holy God whom they had offended. He was justly angry with them. Israel would be defeated by Assyria. Judah was on probation. But Isaiah also gave them hope of a future in which they would know God’s salvation. They would be comforted in the knowledge that His just anger was turned away.

The sweet promise “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation,” brings to mind Jesus’ words in John 7:38,  “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Jesus was describing the Spirit that all who believed in Him would receive.

Paul tells the Galatians that in Christ they have freedom: freedom from their sin, guilt, and condemnation under the law. They have the Spirit of God and He bears fruit in their lives: love, joy, peace, etc.

There can be nothing to compare with the comfort which comes from being totally forgiven by God. No more just anger against us. If the Spirit of God lives in us, how can we not have a deep joy that springs up like water from a well? Let the joy of your salvation fill you today.

Heart Check Time

We need to be watchful never to forget that the horror of sin and the holiness of God put Christ on the cross for us who believe.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 4-6; Galatians 3

15 Man is humbled, and each one is brought low,
and the eyes of the haughty are brought low.
16 But the Lord of hosts is exalted in justice,
and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness. Isaiah 5:15-16

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.  Galatians 3:13-14

Failure to see the holiness of God and the horror of sin is a problem which repeatedly crops up in human hearts. It happened in ancient Judah in Isaiah’s day and it happened in Galatia in Paul’s day. It continues to happen today.

Isaiah warned Judah of her sin and reminded them of the reality of death, the gaping mouth of Sheol consuming all humanity one by one. The people were living in denial. They presumed upon the grace and mercy of God as they relied on their own wisdom and ignored the perfect holiness of God. It would take a reawakening to the imminence of death and their utter failure to attain to God’s purity to humble them. They needed to see Him “high and lifted up” (6:1). They needed to see themselves as people of “unclean lips” (6:5). They needed to see how darkened were their minds as they reversed the definitions of good and evil (5:20). So do we.

The Galatians’ situation is even more perplexing. Here were people who had heard and believed the gospel, repented of their sin, and had received the Holy Spirit by faith, but now through the influence of some false teachers are turning away from trusting Christ and returning to law keeping as the basis for their hope. Paul is astonished. Yet experience tells us that this is always a potential problem. It appeals to our pride to achieve our own acceptance before God. This attitude comes from not seeing the holiness of God or not seeing the heinousness of our rebellion against Him. In our minds, we either dilute God’s holiness or our sin. Usually both.

God means for us to humble ourselves before Him, to see the awfulness of sin as reflected in the agony of Christ’s death. He had to become a curse for us to free us from the curse that was upon us through the law. Do a heart check today. Beware of any creeping self-righteousness that diminishes your complete reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ for your standing before God.

Legalism Dies Hard

The law was meant to point the world to Christ, never to save.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 1-3; Galatians 2

11 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats. Isaiah 1:11

19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. Galatians 2:19-21

Isaiah spoke powerfully against the hypocrisy of the people of Judah. Their law-keeping was mere window-dressing. God was not pleased with their offerings and sacrifices. But wasn’t this what God had commanded in the law given to Moses? Yes, but they were missing the essential part. The offerings and sacrifices were not intended to provide a cover-up for their sin. These should have been an outward expression of their repentance and contrition. God could see their hearts, and He was not impressed. He sent Isaiah to call them to act in ways that showed repentance and to seek His cleansing for even the most heinous sin (1:16-20).

In Galatia, a similar thing was occurring. The believers were abandoning the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and reverting to law-keeping as the basis for their reconciliation with God. Paul is deeply agitated (Galatians 1:6-9). His letter aims to correct this grave and dangerous error. To make his point, Paul relates his own experience of receiving the gospel from Christ and, at one point, even having to confront Peter for wavering from that gospel.

Why this tendency, of those who should know better, to revert to law-keeping for salvation? Perhaps, as justified  people (but still not fully sanctified), we are prone to a prideful desire to merit our salvation, if just a little. Perhaps this error grows from a desire to cover-up our sin by appearing holy, instead of confessing our sin and trusting God’s forgiveness. Beware of straying from the basis of our justification which was purchased by the death of Christ, and not by anything we could ever do. Never rob God of His glory by reverting to trust in good works for your forgiveness. Legalism dies hard in Judah, in Galatia, and, I’m afraid, in our hearts today.

His Desire is For Me

It is wonderful to know that the one you love so much, loves you just as much. How much more to know that the Eternal God knows, loves, and has set you apart for Himself before you were born!

Today’s reading: Song of Solomon 6-8; Galatians 1

10 I am my beloved’s,
and his desire is for me. Song of Solomon 7:10

15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Galatians 1:15-17

Human love is a reflection of the love of Christ for His Church. For that reason, we can learn a little about Christ’s love from real life love stories.

In Solomon’s Song, he tells us of a beautiful and passionate love between a man and a woman. They describe each other with tenderness and awe. Each has found in the other all they could ever want in a spouse. No one or nothing could draw them away. They long to be together. They revel in being desired by each other.

In officiating weddings, I frequently use a famous prayer by Dr. Lewis Evans, the same one our pastor prayed for us. The next to last paragraph says, “May they never take each other for granted, but always experience that breathless wonder that exclaims, ‘Out of all this world you have chosen me!’” Amen.

But there is an even greater love. It is the love of God. It is love which existed before time. It is love which planned our existence and, if God is pleased, chose us to be His own and to do His will. Paul was enthralled with the wonder of God’s grace, His undeserved, unmerited favor. Paul never stopped exclaiming with breathless wonder, “Out of all this world, God has chosen me!”

Do you marvel that God was pleased to reveal His Son to you? God was not forced to do it. He chose to do it because it pleased Him to do it. Like the bride in the Song, never stop exclaiming, “I am My Beloved’s and His desire is for me.”

The God of Peace and the Peace of God

In the best human relationships, there are moments of deep disappointment, alienation, pride, and disagreement, but the God of love and peace is glorified when these are overcome and restoration occurs.

Today’s reading: Song of Solomon 4-5; 2 Corinthians 13

6 I opened to my beloved,
but my beloved had turned and gone.
My soul failed me when he spoke.
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.                                              Song of Solomon 5:6

11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11

Romantic love has its ups and downs, and Solomon paints that picture in his Song. Anyone who has ever been in love can relate to this: the exhilaration of the first glimpse of the one who steals your heart completely (4:9) and the agony of possible loss of that relationship forever (5:6). We feel this is a risk worth taking, because God said on the sixth day of creation, “It is not good that the man should be alone;” (Genesis 2:18a). So, most of us pursue a lifelong, loving relationship with a mate. Alas, it can be elusive.  When found, it is never without difficulties and setbacks. But it is pleasing to the God of love to find it, and to nurture it.

In the church, Christians are called to live in love demonstrating true discipleship through a level of sacrificial love faintly reflecting that of Jesus Christ (John 13:34, 35). The Corinthian church of Paul’s day had plenty of challenges. They were divided. They were drawn away from the true faith by “super apostles”. They were tolerant of gross sin in their midst. All this was lamentable, but not fatal, to the fellowship. Paul has instructed them in the two letters, which we still have, as to how to overcome these problems and be restored to a life of peace together. This is what God calls them to.

All of us, believers, need one another in the context of the local church. We are called out to be His body and to work together for His glory. He is not glorified when sin is overlooked and tolerated and when there is division and competition that negates the message of reconciliation with God. That reconciliation with Him is the foundation for our reconciliation with one another. For us who are married in Christ, we also are called to model, on a human level, the relationship of Christ and His Church. The same commands and promises Paul gave the church in Corinth apply to us who are married. Seek to be such that the God of peace and the peace of God are always with you.

Unstoppable Love

Love overcomes any obstacle and pays whatever price necessary for the beloved.

Today’s reading: Song of Solomon 1-3; 2 Corinthians 12

8 The voice of my beloved!
Behold, he comes,
leaping over the mountains,
bounding over the hills.                                                       Song of Solomon 2:8

15 I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.       2 Corinthians 12:15a

Over the centuries, there have been various allegorical interpretations set forth about the Song of Solomon which attempt to minimize the impact of the obvious sensual language here. It is widely held among evangelical scholars today that the poem clearly speaks of the beauty of sexual love between a man and woman in the context of marriage. While sex has been and is abused and misused by humanity the world over, nevertheless, when experienced within the boundaries set by God’s law, it is honorable and God-glorifying (Hebrews 13:4).   Paul’s comparison of the relationship of Christ and the Church to that of the relationship between a groom and bride does not denigrate the former relationship, but, rather, ennobles the latter (Ephesians 5:22-33).

Song of Solomon speaks poignantly to the intense attraction and desire between a man and a woman in love. Here this attraction is not degraded or sinful but exalted and celebrated. We ought never to jump to an allegory to hide the original message of the honor of human love and the sexual relationship between a husband and wife. The beloved revels in hearing her lover’s voice. Her joy is palpable as she anticipates his arrival. He leaps over mountains and bounds over hills to get to her. His love is unstoppable.

Paul looks at the Church with the same longing that a bridegroom has for his bride. He is jealous for the Corinthian congregation as she seems to be on the verge of being seduced away from a “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” by “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:2-5). He has been making his case against these usurpers showing his own devotion to the Lord and to them. Though Paul is merely a messenger of Christ, he loves the Church on behalf of Christ. He loves whom the Lord loves, His elect people. So in showing that his ministry is authentic and reliable, he enumerates how he has and will pay a price to serve them in the gospel. “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls,” he tells them. He pours himself out for them, and he does it joyfully, wholeheartedly.

If you are married, take time to consider how your marriage is reflecting the godly love and commitment of Christ to the Church. Whether you are a married or a single believer, think about the price Christ paid for your soul because of His unstoppable love for you.

Escape from Vanity

We can be free not to live our lives vainly controlled by the fear of man.

Today’s reading: Ecclesiastes 10-12; 2 Corinthians 11:16-32

13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.                                      Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

19 For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. 21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!                                                                                   2 Corinthians 11:19-21

The book of Ecclesiastes closes with a final overarching statement about man’s duty. Fear God and keep His commandments because you will face Him in judgment. It seems to contradict the oft-repeated phrase, “All is vanity.” All does seem to be vain, at times. But all is not really vanity, because, while your hard work may not be fully rewarded and crime may pay in the short run, God is going to judge every deed, not only those which are easily observable but the secret ones, too. Justice will be done, when we meet God after this life is over.

Paul continues to admonish the Corinthians about their gullible trust in fools, those phony apostles who were doing Satan’s work. He stoops to their level, in a sense, by defending himself and showing that his suffering demonstrates the authenticity of his calling by God.

The main reason people “gladly bear with fools” is that they desire to please them. They fear being rejected by others, even those whose opinion clearly is of no consequence. They do not fear God, but fear man so they are easily manipulated, coerced, and led to foolishness. Proverbs 29:25 shows that the way to freedom from this malady is by replacing it with the trust in God.

Do you suffer fools gladly? Turn away from this through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who died for this sin and gives His forgiven, Spirit-empowered disciples a proper fear of God. This is the duty we owe to Him, our Creator and Judge. Those who fear God may suffer for it in this world, but in the end they will be approved by God, the only One whose opinion matters. Your life will not be lived in vain.