Archive for the ‘discipleship’ Category

Living Because of God

April 19th, 2018

For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. (Romans 14:7-8 ESV)

There are three different perspectives of our relationship with God found in the Bible.

Perspective 1: It is my life but I wish God to bless it

The first view begins with the individual and then goes to God. This view is limited, but not always completely evil. It is commonly seen among people. And, to be honest, it is seen in Scripture in both a positive light and a negative light.

For example, the psalmist wrote, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Psa. 91:11). The verse was seen as a prophetic promise to the Messiah (Matt. 4:5-11), but it also reflected the idea of general faith in God, that my path in life is chosen by me, but I may still ask God to bless my path. In its best light it causes the individual to think what it would take for God to bless his life and his choices. But Satan used it also in a negative way to tempt Jesus to suggest that He could go His own way and make God follow Him.  

In its worst light this idea of God blessing my way resembles what is commonly seen in pagan religions that make several unchristian assumptions about God: (a) that God is distant and aloof, (b) that God does truly care about us and we must bribe him in some way to gain his attention and concern, (c) that God also does not truly know what is best for us, so we must advise him about what we want in life.  

Jesus alluded to this when he spoke of the Pharisees who prayed as though God was deaf and uncaring: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:7-8). 

But this view is not altogether wrong all the time, for there are many instances in life where God allows us freedom to choose our ways. “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans” (Prov. 16:3). There are many decisions we make in life where God is silent, and we must make the best decision we can under the circumstances and commit it to the Lord. But to commit something to the Lord means more than to go our own selfish way and wish him to bless it irregardless. This leads us to other perspectives.

Perspective 2: My life is given me by God and should be lived to please Him

This is a second perspective, and it is much more than asking God to bless my choices.  It begins with the assumption that God is not just the Creator of life in general but He is my personal Creator. He has a plan for me. I should look first for His choices, His will, and His path for me.

For the Christian, we are comforted with the knowledge that God is a God of love, of mercy, and of compassion, and He wishes to bless me. He also wishes to bless others through me, so with God there is always someone to be redeemed and benefited through our obedience – sometimes it is us who benefit, or so it seems, and sometimes it seems that others benefit from our obedience. But the perspective of a biblical faith is that our obedience to God’s will and choices for us is always a blessing to all.

For example, He teaches us to love others for their benefit, but along the way we discover that loving others is also a benefit to us. And this is true with other seemingly unselfish acts.  “Give and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38), and “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Act 20:35).

The one thing that every meaningful life must have is a purpose. The selfish individual is the most miserable. The one who truly has a God, ordained purpose to his life is the most fulfilled. Paul wrote, “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it” (Eph. 4:7). The idea behind this is that God has given each redeemed life a certain amount of grace to fulfil His plan for that life.

In Romans he wrote similarly of faith: “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Rom. 12:3). Here Paul spoke of faith, and it seems that he was describing the same principle. God has a purpose for your life and for my life and the most fulfilled person finds that purpose and lives according to the grace and faith that God has allotted him to life with.

Perspective 3: We are alive because of God

There is another perspective that brings these together and even helps them go much further. My life is not just mine to live as I wish, nor is it just mine to live as God wishes me to. My life is an extension of Christ’s work in the world and I live because of Him.

Again we are helped by Paul who wrote, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not i but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Jesus said, “I  am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). John wrote, “Whoever has the Son has life” (1 John 5:12).

He lives in me and through me is the Christian principle. I do not merely go my way and ask for His blessing. And I do not merely go His way and ask for His guiding presence. He now lives and goes in me and through me and He guides me and enables me in all that I do. Jesus taught:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)

In some way we operate daily on all three levels.

  • We are independent agents and make our own decisions. Many things we are left to decide on our own, but we should ask God to bless our way in life.
  • We are to be obedient agents as well, and our path is not just ours. We do not live to ourselves or die to ourselves alone, but to God. We should find His purpose and fulfil His purpose with the strength and grace and faith He provides.
  • We are not mere actors on this stage, however. We are empowered and indwelled beings. God is in us through His Spirit. We live because of God.

Daily Devotions, discipleship

Search Me, O God!

November 25th, 2017

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! … Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:1,23-24 ESV)

Any of us who reads this psalm might echo the words, “Search me, O God!” To be searched by God is to be known by God, and we can never know God without first being known by God.

The entire Christian life can be summed up in the idea of knowing Christ. If we would want to say as Paul said, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil.3:8), or as Paul also said, “For to me, to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21), or as Christ said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3), then the unavoidable conclusion is that God will also know us, and in so doing He will search us, to show us to ourselves.

Yet we often object to the means God uses to uncover us to ourselves. We should be pro-active in our Christian life and character development, spending time with God, getting to know Christ better, letting Christ lead us and seeking to personally grow with a systematic study of His Word and in prayer. Yet we each seem to have some weaknesses, and miss some finer points along the path of life. We wish God would use only prayer and Scripture to search us, to pull back the cover from our eyes only in private. He, of course, does do this quite often, but other times He uses unpleasant means – the rebuke of a younger and less experienced person, the public realization of some failure in our life, or the succumbing of our bodies to the physical realities of how we have internalized stress. I believe He uses the more public means because they are more effective – both in their power to reveal the specific weakness, and in their power to reveal our own pride and true willingness to let Christ be glorified in us.

I was struck this morning by a quotation from Jonathan Edwards:

Considering that by-standers always espy some faults which we don’t see ourselves, or at least so fully sensible of: there are many secret workings of corruption which escape our sight, and others are only sensible of: resolved therefore, that I will, if I can by any convenient means, learn what faults others find in me, or what things they see in me, that appear anyway blameworthy, unlovely or unbecoming. (From Gordon MacDonald’s The Life God Blesses)

If spiritual growth is our passion, if knowing Christ is our goal, if being searched by Him is the means that God chooses and that we accept, then utter humility in all circumstances should be our attitude.

Having served a long time in Asia, and during my formative years, I am well acquainted with the Asian manners of respect to one’s elders and to those in respectable positions. Sometimes one might properly think that young people who might rebuke his elders are also being disrespectful – a fault of theirs – and Westerners are very prone to this fault, I must say. An Asian will defer to age and rank, but a Westerner seems to be respectful of no one in particular. So there may be good reasons why I am concerned that such disrespect is sometimes directed my way by a younger person.

Yet that does not mean there is no truth to their words, no valid fact in their observations. So if we ask God to search us, we should not complain about the means that He uses to do so. We have every right, of course, to request of Him to be gentle with us, while also being clear. But still the matter is in His hands. He does so for our real good – and not mere appearances.

David gave a demonstration of humility when he and his closest friends were forced to leave the palace because of the rebellion of his own son Absalom. A man named Shimei cursed David as he traveled across the Kidron Valley. When Abishai offered to kill him for David, David replied, “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to” (2 Sam. 16:11).

As Christians we can take all valid criticism in a similar spirit. Behold, I am still not perfect for my Lord, and if someone finds some weakness in me, let me take it as a sign of God that I need to work on this personal trait to become more like Christ. (I am not saying that we should adjust our lives to lies and to false criticisms, or to unjust criticisms, or to criticisms because of biblical stances we take.)

So, here are some thoughts for our spiritual growth today. Seek Christ in a spirit of complete humility if you seek Him at all, and accept as demonstrations of the Father’s love any valid correction that comes your way. And be gentle with others, remembering the words of Christ: “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:2).

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