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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

Considering our Limitations

April 16th, 2018

Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob… (Psalm 146:3-5 ESV)

Today’s world tends to emphasize our strengths and what we can do. There are many things we can do, but the greater things in the universe belong to God. We should know our limitations, that not even princes, or world leaders, can offer eternal salvation, not even the most powerful among people can change our mortal life spans, not even the wisest among us knows the future. We all must depend on God.

Consider these limitations.

Our Spiritual Limitations

Christ said, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and our lives are empty without His Spirit living in us and working through us and even working around us. Paul, as great a man as he was, knew his own limitations when he wrote:

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.  (1 Cor. 3:6-8)

All that we do of significance depends highly upon God, so much that we are seen as merely day workers who planted seeds but did not abide long enough to even water them, let alone cut back the weeds, or fend off the scavengers, or harvest them. Nor did we prepare the field in which they were planted, clearing the trees and thorns and rocks.

Our service is not meaningless – that is not God’s point at all, for we play an essential part of God’s process – but we do not play it alone. We bring neither conviction nor conversion to the hearts of sinners – that is the Spirit’s work. And neither do we sustain the work through enlisting other workers beyond us. But God is faithful and His faithfulness makes our work rewarding. Paul said, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).

Our Limitations in Changing Outcomes of Past Actions

A law that God has put into the universe is the connection between actions and results of those actions. To the farming economy of the Bible days the biblical writers said that what we plant we harvest, or what we sow we reap. God’s grace forgives our sin and in that forgiveness often we see incredible acts of God’s mercy in this life, where we do not receive what we ought to receive. God’s grace is greater than our sin: “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20).

But let us never imagine that God has entirely suspended this law. Even the most spiritual among us must learn many lessons the hard way of reaping what we have sown. This is not meanness on God’s part – it is utter and complete fairness. He has woven this law into the universe: actions bring results.  It is for our good that He lets us experience even the pain of our foolishness. The Bible says:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matt. 7:1-2)

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. (Gal. 6:7-8)

But notice that this is not limited to only rebellious and foolish planting. God makes the same promise to the one who “sows to the Spirit” that he will “from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Goodness will be repaid in goodness, faithfulness in blessings, prayer in peace, and service in repayment. The Bible says:

Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him. (Psalm 41:1)

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed. (Prov. 19:17)

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:38)

Consider this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. (2 Cor. 9:6)

God is not unjust. He will not forget your work and the love you have shown for His name as you have ministered to the saints and continue to do so. (Heb. 6:10)

Who can forget Dr Martin Luther King’s famous quotation: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

The Limitations of our Life Spans

Christ asked, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life” (Matt. 6:27). With healthy choices we may live longer than we would otherwise, but even this is only a little bit. The hour of our death was written in heaven from even before our birth. The psalmist wrote:

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:16)

We are taught by Christ to “walk while you have the light” (John 12:36). Isaiah said, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). James said, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

The hour of death waits for us all and only the return of Christ will prevent us from walking through that doorway that separates us from eternity. If, however, we can say like Paul, “For to me to live is Christ,” then we can confidently say also, “and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

The Limitations of God’s Plan for Our Lives

God also has a plan for us in this physical life. John the Baptist said, “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven” (John 3:27). God has a specific way that He wishes to use us, and a million other ways in which He wishes not to use us. God’s path for us is not unbendingly narrow all the time. In His dealing with us we see that He allows considerable freedom. We are taught, “Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it” (Prov. 16:3). We are free in many ways to dream and experiment. Ecclesiastes encourages us:

Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. (Eccl. 11:9)

Yet the freedom we enjoy is limited. Not only should we not do evil but even all the good that we may think of may lie outside of God’s plan for us to accomplish.

Sometimes even what appears to be good plans God blocks, as He did with Paul and his companions. “When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to” (Acts 16:7). There was nothing inherently wrong with wishing to evangelize the Bithynians, but God stopped them because He had another plan for them. Sometimes it is our sin that limits what we may do for God, as with Moses who was forbidden from entering the Holy  Land (Num. 20:12). At other times, it is just because of the roles that God has for us each to play. David, for example, was forbidden from building the temple because he was a man of war and had shed much blood (1 Chronicles 22:8), but Solomon expresses this not as a bad thing for David, but the fact that the wars had been pressed upon him (1 Kings 5:3).

Whatever else we may say about our limitations in what we can do for God, there are times that we, like David, have absorbed so many responsibilities or fought so many different battles that, whether we are innocent or guilty or perhaps a combination of both, we are simply not the person God needs to do something else.

Our Inability to Avoid Judgment

The greatest limitation we have, I believe, is in this area. None of us can find a way or a means to exempt ourselves from judgment. The lost person cannot find a way to save himself from the eternal judgment of God. God’s Word says:

All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law… This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (Rom. 2:12-16)

The lost person needs Jesus Christ as a covering for his sins. In Christ we find full forgiveness and this is the miracle of the second birth. “There is now, therefore, no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

Yet the Christian believer also must stand before Christ in judgment.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Cor. 5:10)

The Judgment Seat of Christ is a judgment not to determine where we spend eternity, but to determine our rewards. Our faith and its out workings will be examined. How we lived our lives for Christ, what our motives were, how we dealt with temptation, how we used our opportunities and our spiritual gifts, how true our worship was, and how shared Christ with this lost world will be examined. The Scripture says:

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:11-15)

Some who were genuinely saved but bore little fruit for Christ will seem like they escaped a burning building – “though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” We are not saved by our works but by the grace of God that we have receive through our faith. But our faithfulness will be rewarded, as well as our unfaithfulness will be revealed.

Yet for all of the good in us we will cast our crowns before the Lord, taking none of the credit for ourselves, and say:

Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created. (Rev. 4:11)

Surely our limitations are many in life, but with God all things are possible. So we should rejoice constantly in Him and trust Him in all situations in life. When we do not know the way we can trust in Him. He is the way.

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