No Confidence in the Flesh

The only path to acceptance before God is the way of the Savior, Jesus Christ, who alone can make us righteous. Flee from any confidence in your flesh.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 37-38; Philippians 3

Selected Verses

Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord. Isaiah 37:18-20

 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. Philippians 3:2-3

Reflections

In Isaiah’s day, Sennacherib king of Assyria and his army romped across the world destroying kingdoms at will.  He boasted that Judah would be next.  After all–he reasoned–all the nations had their gods and none of them had been able to stand up to mighty Sennacherib.  Hezekiah was intimidated, but he made the right response.  He called on the prophet Isaiah for help and prayer.  He prayed and repented himself.  He asked God to intervene in such a way “that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.”

God heard and answered in a decisive way.

Sennacherib was diverted from Judah and then murdered by two of his own sons while he was worshipping his idols.  How fitting!  Sennacherib trusted in his flesh and in empty idols rather than seeking the true and living God of Israel. Meanwhile, Hezekiah and Judah were safe.

Paul warned the Philippians of the “Sennacheribs” that threatened them and elevated themselves as if they were perfect by their own law keeping.  They trusted in their flesh.  Paul said to look out for them.  They seek their own righteousness and their own glory, but “we put no confidence in the flesh” wrote the Apostle.

Think about it

Beware of false teachers who diminish the need for faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who say we are capable of attaining righteousness apart from Him. These do not glory in Him but, like Sennacherib, trust in themselves. Flee them. Put no confidence in your flesh or in those who tell you to do so.

It’s About God

What is life about? The Bible tells us there is coming a day of judgment. Every knee will bow before God and recognize Him.  Life is about Him–not us.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 34-36; Philippians 2

Selected Verses

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
 it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Isaiah 35:1-2

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:9-11

Reflections

No matter where we open our Bibles and read, we are never far from the theme of the glory of God. His glory is proclaimed everywhere, but, between the fall of Man and the final judgment, humanity falls short of that glory. Contrary to popular culture, it’s not about us.  It’s about God.

Isaiah prophesied of a day of restoration when deserts would blossom and dry land would be refreshed. In that blessing of the earth, all would see God’s glory.

At the time of this writing, the eastern United States had gone through ten days of rain. In Virginia, our joy at seeing rain after weeks of drought began to give way to gloom as the cloud cover remained day after day and steady rain saturated the ground. Floods arose taking out a hundred-year-old covered bridge. We prayed for relief and for safety from trees falling before expected high winds.

Then on the eleventh day, here at Thistle Dew Farm, we woke to cloudless, blue skies. The sun shone brightly, drying up the mud and restoring the beauty of early autumn.  I praised God and I’m sure I was not alone.

Jesus knew the suffering of becoming a human, a servant, and a prisoner. He knew condemnation and the unspeakable pain of flogging and crucifixion. He bore that to save His people from their sin. God exalted Him and glorified Him. One day every knee will bow and recognize His Lordship. This will bring glory to God the Father.

Think about it

We live in a time characterized by fanatical self-worship. To be free, to be autonomous, to act however we please with no consequences, to be enraged that any one should call us to bow to God–these values rule our day. But it’s not about us. It’s about Him. Be sure you trust in Christ for forgiveness and life. Do not let the day of restoration be your day of condemnation. Your life and all of human history is about God

Zion: A City Filled with Righteousness

The ultimate aim of the Christian is to bear the fruit of righteousness that comes from God and brings Him glory and praise. Our destiny is Zion.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 31-33; Philippians 1

Selected Verses

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high;
he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness,
and he will be the stability of your times,
abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.  Isaiah 33:5-6

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,  filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11

Reflections

The fall of Man in Genesis 3 touched off the millennia-long battle between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, Jesus Christ. The enmity goes on, but never doubt the certainty of final victory through the resurrection of Jesus.  He has already defeated Satan. Those in whom God has begun His work will be perfected at the day of Jesus Christ, the day of resurrection, the final judgment, and the glorification of the elect (Philippians 1:6).

The work of Christ in His people has already begun. It bears the fruit of righteousness through the Lord.  That fruit brings God glory and praise and pleases Him. It is not to the credit of any human but to God. It fulfills the original purpose of mankind whom God made in His image and according to His likeness.

Isaiah makes a similar connection between the glory of God and the righteousness He produces in His people. “The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness.” God wants Zion filled with righteousness and He will do it.

Think about it

Meanwhile, we pray for growth in righteousness and eagerly await that day of completion. In a city filled with righteousness, God “will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.” Rather than trust in gold and silver, “the fear of the Lord [will be] Zion’s treasure.”

World leaders promise to bring about stability and prosperity, but which of them proclaims the need for the fear of the Lord who produces true stability and prosperity through righteousness? When Christ returns, there will be no more competition for dominance or for honor. Until then, pray that day may come soon when we shall dwell in Zion.

Authenticity in Worship and Work

God hates hypocrisy whether done in the name of religion or done in the workplace. We ought to be alert to its presence and repent of it promptly.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 29-30; Ephesians 6

Selected  Verses

Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
whose deeds are in the dark,
and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
“He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
“He has no understanding”?  Isaiah 29:15-16

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,  rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,  knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.

Ephesians 6:5-8

Reflections

Isaiah calls the people to worship with truth, not pretense, thinking that God cannot see their hearts and that He will be impressed by their phony professions of faith.  Some think darkness is a safe cloak for their sin.  These ideas are laughable.  The prophet compares them to a lump of clay taking credit for its own existence and denying its own maker.

This arrogance is laughable, but very real and persistent.  Jesus quoted Isaiah’s words (from 29:13-14 in Matthew 15:8,9; Mark 7:6,7) as He indicted first century Judaism.  It could easily be applied today.  People trust in their own works, but even good religious works (like baptism, Bible reading, and church attendance) are not able to deliver us from God’s wrath.  Only the grace of God in Christ to those who repent of their sin and believe in Him is sufficient.

Paul addresses another kind of hypocrisy in his letter to the Ephesians.  He tells bondservants to obey their masters as they would Christ.  Their service is not for them but for Him.  Some of these servants were only creating an appearance of work which the Apostle called “eye-service” and people pleasing.  The Christian is always serving Christ, no matter who he works for.

Think about it

In the gospel, we learn that through faith we become Christ’s own people.  As His people, we are called to authenticity in our worship and in our work.  Let it be so every Lord’s Day and every work day.

To Spiritually Multi-task

God’s people are called to walk in holiness and bear fruit that glorifies Him. By His grace and the power of His Spirit we can spiritually multi-task.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 27-28; Ephesians 5

Selected Verses

In days to come Jacob shall take root,
Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots
and fill the whole world with fruit. Isaiah 27:6

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2

Reflections

Paul has painted a glorious picture of the purposes of God in all the earth, uniting Jews and Gentiles in Christ. Christians are made alive in Him–made one with God and all other believers.  He calls them to live in a way that is worthy of their high calling.

In today’s reading the apostle uses the image of walking to describe the Christian life, that is, a life lived as imitators of God. That walk is to be characterized by love, reflecting the sacrificial love of Jesus for us. We are to walk as children of the light.  That means fleeing impurity, and covetousness, and even talk that shows approval of such behavior.   Wisdom should be evident in our way of life and in our use of time. This does not mean we live in joyless asceticism, but we exchange the artificially-induced peace and pleasure of drunkenness for the filling of the Spirit and God-glorifying, church-edifying singing.

Isaiah foretold of the time when Israel would fill the world with fruit.  Certainly it would be far more than he could have imagined. God planned to unite Jews and Gentiles in the Messiah everywhere from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Think about it

The kingdom has come in part and it will come fully when Christ returns for His bride, the Church. I can’t wait, can you? Meanwhile, let’s fill the world with fruit as we walk in love, light, and wisdom. By His grace, let us spiritual multi-task till He comes or calls us home.

God’s Grand Narrative

Though we live in a time of corruption and conflict, God’s grand narrative for His people comforts us and assures us. He will complete it with certainty.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 24-26; Ephesians 4

Selected Verses

O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name,
for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. Isaiah 25:1

 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16

Reflections

God planned the “grand narrative” of the Bible, as Sinclair Ferguson calls it, from eternity past.[1]  We can summarize it by the terms: creation, corruption, conflict, and consummation.  As Isaiah expressed it, these are “plans formed of old, faithful and sure.” Nothing ever catches God by surprise. He wrote all of human history before it started. What He plans He completes.

Isaiah observes the chaos of the times and anticipates the coming judgment. But he also makes sweet promises. God will swallow up death forever and wipe away tears from all faces. The Lord will keep in perfect peace all who keep their minds on Him (Isaiah 25: 8; 26:3). “Trust in the Lord forever,” writes Isaiah, “for the Lord God is an everlasting rock” (26:4).

Paul, too, has the big picture in view as he exhorts the Ephesians to live in the unity of the Spirit of God. What has God done for them? He has sent them apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers to equip them for His service. Why? God has done this so that they may grow in unity and maturity in Christ. These two objectives go together.

We still live in the middle period of the grand narrative which began with creation and continues with corruption (Genesis 3:1-13) and conflict (Genesis 3:15). But Jesus Christ has come announcing that “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). He told His disciples to pray that the Kingdom would come, so we know there is more to come (Matthew 6:10).

Think about it

As you look at the ongoing corruption and conflict of this world, do you lose sight of the Kingdom? Do you  forget that God is completing His plans perfectly? Trust in the Lord, as Isaiah said. Seek unity and maturity as Paul admonished. God will fulfill His grand narrative

[1]  Sinclair Ferguson, From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying the Bible, Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1982, 2014, p. 76

 

The Purposes of God

God’s purposes include all nations, all peoples, and all times and result in the exaltation of Jesus Christ as Lord of all.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 22-23; Ephesians 3

Selected Verses

Who has purposed this against Tyre, the bestower of crowns,
whose merchants were princes, whose traders were the honored of the earth?
The Lord of hosts has purposed it, to defile the pompous pride of all glory,
to dishonor all the honored of the earth. Isaiah 23:8-9

This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. Ephesians 3:11-12

Reflections

It is not hard to see that the Bible reveals a God Who is over all the earth and all mankind. It is true that He chose Abraham and made a covenant with him and his descendants, but even that covenant included all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3).

Through Isaiah (and other prophets) God gave warnings and instructions to the Gentile nations around Israel and Judah. Today we read about God’s purposes to bring down the pomposity of Tyre and Sidon. They were proud in their successes, congratulating themselves for their victories and prosperity with no thought for God.

What concern did the God of Israel have for Tyre and Sidon? The same concern He had for all the families of the earth. Their prideful arrogance offended Him, but also drew His mercy and grace as He purposed that His Son would be the Savior of the world, including those from Tyre and Sidon and a thousand other tribes and nations that would come and go through human history.

The mystery of God’s purpose was revealed to Paul and the other apostles and, through their writings, it was revealed to us.  God was working out His plan for the fullness of time “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10).  This was Paul’s calling, to announce this mystery, the uniting of all in Christ. Jews and Gentiles in Christ are now one with God and with each other. Paul prays that his readers in Ephesus (and beyond) may grasp “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” and that they “may be filled with all the fullness of God” (3:19).

Think about it

Press on to know God’s glorious purposes through Jesus Christ. We have only scratched the surface on the eternal purposes of God.

Spiritual Desperation-are you there?

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

Selected Verses

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

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

Reflections

God sent Isaiah 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. Rather, they are 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. In reality, 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. Spiritually bankrupt, they had nothing to offer God.   They could not earn their acceptance nor pay their debt. All they could do was believe and receive what God did.

Think about it

Do you hold out some hope that you will eventually measure up to God’s perfection? Or does desperation describe your spiritual state?  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.

God’s Re-purpose Project

The Bible is the cosmic story of creation, corruption, and redemption. In the end, God wins because through Jesus Christ, He will re-purpose us for His glory.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 16-18; Ephesians 1

Selected Verses

In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel. 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 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:4-6

Reflections

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. He calls us 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.

Think about it

To re-purpose means to change something so that it can be employed for a new end. 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 re-purposed 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 every intention for our re-purposing.

Judgment–Maybe Today?

God rules in judgment over all. No one escapes.  For you and me, our meeting with Him could be sooner than we think. Are you ready?

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 13-15; Galatians 6

Selected Verses

This is the purpose that is purposed
concerning the whole earth,
and this is the hand that is stretched out
over all the nations.
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

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

Reflections

Isaiah saw a clear vision of God, Holy and lifted up.  Now he proclaims oracles against various nations: Babylon, Assyria, Philistea, and Moab. All of these kingdoms 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 sits on the throne.  He will act in judgment on those who are deceived–who think 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.

Think about it

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.

We now face death and judgment.  What do you believe will happen to you?  Are you trusting your own good works to be acceptable before the Judge?  Are you presuming that God is not really serious about our sin? Do not fall for those deceptions.  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.