Solid Joys – Daily Devotionals by John Piper
Resources from the ministry of John Piper.
He set me apart before I was born, and called me by his grace. (Galatians 1:15)
Ponder the conversion of Paul, the sovereignty of Christ, and what Paul’s sins have to do with your salvation.
Paul said that God “set me apart before I was born,” and then, years later, on the Damascus road, “called me by his grace” (Galatians 1:15). This means that between Paul’s birth and his call on the Damascus road he was an already-chosen, but not-yet-called, instrument of God (Acts 9:15; 22:14).
This means that Paul was beating and imprisoning and murdering Christians as a God-chosen, soon-to-be-made-Christian missionary.
As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 22:6–7)
There was no denying or escaping it. God had chosen him for this before he was born. And now he would take him. The word of Christ was sovereign. There was no negotiating.
Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do. (Acts 22:10)
Damascus was not Paul’s final, free will yielding to Christ after decades of futile divine effort to save him. No. God had a time for choosing him (before he was born) and a time for calling him (on the Damascus road). God called, and the call produced the yielding.
Therefore, the sins that God permitted between Paul’s birth and his calling were part of the plan, since God could have called him sooner.
Do we have any idea what the plan for those sins might have been? Yes, we do. They were permitted for you and me — for all who fear that they might have sinned themselves out of grace. Here’s the way Paul relates his sins to your hope:
Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. . . . But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:13, 16)
Oh, how sweet are the designs of God in the sovereign salvation of hardened, hopeless sinners!
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. (Hebrews 11:17)
For many of you right now — and for others of you the time is coming — obedience feels like the end of a dream. You feel that if you do what the word of God or the Spirit of God is calling you to do, it will make you miserable and that there is no way that God could turn it all for good.
Perhaps the command or call of God you hear just now is to stay married or stay single, to stay in that job or leave that job, to get baptized, to speak up at work about Christ, to refuse to compromise your standards of honesty, to confront a person in sin, to venture a new vocation, to be a missionary. And as you see it in your limited mind, the prospect of doing this is terrible — it’s like the loss of Isaac, the only son who can be an heir.
You have considered every human angle, and it is impossible that it could turn out well.
Now you know what it was like for Abraham. This story is in the Bible for you.
Do you desire God and his way and his promises more than anything, and do you believe that he can and will honor your faith and obedience by being unashamed to call himself your God, and to use all his wisdom and power and love to turn the path of obedience into the path of life and joy?
That is the crisis you face now: Do you desire him? Will you trust him? The word of God to you is: God is worthy and God is able.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us. (1 John 3:16)
The love of Christ for us in his dying was as conscious as his suffering was intentional. If he was intentional in laying down his life, it was for us. It was love.
“When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).
Every step on the Calvary road meant, “I love you.”
Therefore, to feel the love of Christ in the laying down of his life, it helps to see how utterly intentional it was.
Look at what Jesus said just after that violent moment when Peter tried to cleave the skull of the servant, but only cut off his ear.
Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:52–54)
It is one thing to say that the details of Jesus’s death were predicted in the Old Testament. But it is much more to say that Jesus himself was making his choices precisely to see to it that the Scriptures would be fulfilled.
That is what Jesus said he was doing in Matthew 26:54. “I could escape this misery, but how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”
In other words, I am not choosing to take the way out that I could take, because I know the Scriptures. I know what must take place for my people to be saved. It is my choice to fulfill all that is predicted of me in the word of God. It is my choice — every step of the way — to love my people to the uttermost. And I want them to feel this. And be utterly secure and free and radically different from the world.
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. (Galatians 2:20)
Why did God create the universe? And why is he governing it the way he is? What is God achieving? Is Jesus Christ a means to this achievement or the end of the achievement?
Jesus Christ is the supreme revelation of God. He is God in human form. As such, he is the end, not a means.
The manifestation of the glory of God is the meaning of the universe. This is what God is achieving. The heavens, and the history of the world, are “telling the glory of God.”
But Jesus Christ was sent to accomplish something that needed doing. He came to remedy the fall. He came to rescue sinners from inevitable destruction because of their sin. These rescued ones will see and savor and display the glory of God with everlasting joy.
Others will continue to heap scorn on the glory of God. So, Jesus Christ is the means to what God meant to achieve in the manifestation of his glory for the enjoyment of his people. No one would see and savor and celebrate the glory of God apart from the saving work of Christ. The aim of the universe would abort. So, Christ is a means.
But in that accomplishment on the cross, as he died for sinners, Christ revealed the love and righteousness of the Father supremely. This was the apex of the revelation of the glory of God — the glory of his grace.
Therefore, in the very moment of his perfect act as the means of God’s purpose, Jesus became the end of that purpose. He became, in his dying in the place of sinners and his resurrection for their life, the central and supreme revelation of the glory of God.
Christ crucified is therefore both the means and the end of God’s purpose in the universe.
Without his work, that end — to reveal the fullness of the glory of God for the enjoyment of God’s people — would not have happened.
And in that very means-work he became the end — the one who forever and ever will be the focus of our worship as we spend eternity seeing and savoring more and more of what he revealed of God when he became a curse for us.
Jesus is the end for which the universe was made, and the means that makes that end possible to enjoy by justified sinners.
He has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:16)
No pollution, no graffiti, no trash, no peeling paint or rotting garages, no dead grass or broken bottles, no harsh street talk, no in-your-face confrontations, no domestic strife or violence, no dangers in the night, no arson or lying or stealing or killing, no vandalism, and no ugliness.
The city of God will be perfect, because God will be in it. He will walk in it and talk in it and manifest himself in every part of it. All that is good and beautiful and holy and peaceful and true and happy will be there, because God will be there.
Perfect justice will be there and recompense a thousandfold for every pain suffered in obedience to Christ in this world. And it will never deteriorate. In fact, it will shine brighter and brighter as eternity stretches out into unending ages of increasing joy.
When you desire this city above everything else on the earth, then you honor God, who, according to Hebrews 11:10, is the designer and builder of the city. And when God is honored, he is pleased and not ashamed to be called your God.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33)
Abraham Lincoln, who was born on this day in 1809, remained skeptical, and at times even cynical, about religion into his forties. So, it is a most striking thing how personal and national suffering drew Lincoln into the reality of God, rather than pushing him away.
In 1862, when Lincoln was 53 years old, his 11-year-old son Willie died. Lincoln’s wife “tried to deal with her grief by searching out New Age mediums.” Lincoln turned to Phineas Gurley, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington.
Several long talks led to what Gurley described as “a conversion to Christ.” Lincoln confided that he was “driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I have nowhere else to go.”
Similarly, the horrors of the dead and wounded soldiers assaulted him daily. There were fifty hospitals for the wounded in Washington. The rotunda of the Capitol held two thousand cots for wounded soldiers.
Typically, fifty soldiers a day died in these temporary hospitals. All of this drove Lincoln deeper into the providence of God. “We cannot but believe, that He who made the world still governs it.”
His most famous statement about the providence of God in relation to the Civil War was his Second Inaugural Address, given a month before he was assassinated. It is remarkable for not making God a simple supporter for the Union or Confederate cause. God has his own purposes and does not excuse sin on either side.
Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war might speedily pass away. . . .
Yet if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid with another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said, “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”
I pray for all of you who suffer loss and injury and great sorrow that it will awaken for you, as it did for Lincoln, not an empty fatalism, but a deeper reliance on the infinite wisdom and love of God’s inscrutable providence.
He who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. (1 Corinthians 7:22, my translation)
I would have expected Paul to switch the places of “Lord,” which means Master, and “Christ,” which means Messiah.
He correlates our liberation with Jesus being our Master (“a freedman of the Lord”). And he correlates our new slavery with Jesus being our Messiah (“a slave of Christ”). It seems strange because the Messiah came to liberate his people from their captors; and masters take control of their slaves’ lives.
Why does he say it this way? Why correlate slavery (rather than liberation) with Messiah, and liberation (rather than slavery) with Master?
Suggestion: The switch has two effects on our new liberty and two effects on our new slavery.
On the one hand, in calling us “the liberated of the Lord,” he secures and limits our new liberty:
His lordship is over all other lords; so our liberation is uncontested — absolutely secure.
But, free from all other lords, we are not free from him. Our freedom is mercifully limited. Jesus is our Master.
On the other hand, in calling us the “slaves of Christ,” he loosens and sweetens our slavery:
The Messiah lays claim on his own in order to bring them from the confines of captivity into the open spaces of peace. “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7).
And he makes them his own to give them the sweetest joy. “With honey from the rock I would satisfy you” (Psalm 81:16). And that Rock is Christ, the Messiah.
So, Christian, be glad in this: “He who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord” — the Master. “Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ” — the loosening, sweetening Messiah.”
If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. (Hebrews 11:15–16)
Faith sees the promised future that God offers and “desires” it. “As it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” Dwell on this for a moment.
There are many people who water down what saving faith is by making it a mere decision with no change of what one desires and seeks. But the point of this text in the great faith chapter in the Bible — Hebrews 11 — is that living and dying by faith means having new desires and seeking new satisfactions.
Verse 14 says that the saints of old (who are being commended for their faith here in Hebrews 11) were seeking a different kind of country than this world offered. And verse 16 says they were desiring something better than what a present earthly existence could offer. “They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”
They had been so gripped by God that nothing short of being with God would satisfy.
So, this is true saving faith: seeing the promises of God from afar, and experiencing a change of values so that you desire and seek after and trust in the promises of God above what the world has to offer.
Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. (Hebrews 10:35)
We need to ponder the superiority of God as our great reward over all that the world has to offer. If we don’t, we will love the world like everyone else and live like everyone else.
So, take the things that drive the world, and ponder how much better and more abiding God is. Take money or sex or power and think about them in relation to death. Death will take away every one of them. If that is what you live for, you won’t get much, and what you get, you lose.
But God’s treasure is vastly superior, and it lasts. It goes beyond death. It’s better than money because God owns all the money and he is our Father. We are his heirs. “All [things] are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:22–23).
It’s better than sex. Jesus never had sexual relations, and he was the most full and complete human that ever will exist. Sex is a shadow — an image — of a greater reality, of a relationship and a pleasure that will make the most exquisite sex seem like a yawn.
The reward of God is better than power. There is no greater human power than to be a child of the almighty God. “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” (1 Corinthians 6:3). “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21).
And so it goes on and on. Everything the world has to offer, God is better and more abiding.
There is no comparison. God wins — every time. The question is: Will we have him? Will we wake up from the trance of this stupefying world and see and believe and rejoice in and love what is truly real, and infinitely valuable, and everlasting?
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! (Psalm 96:7)
Here’s at least part of the experience that the psalmist is referring to when he says, “Ascribe [= give] to the Lord strength.” What are we doing when we “Ascribe to the Lord strength”?
First, by God’s grace, we give attention to God and see that he is strong. We give heed to his strength. Then we give our approval to the greatness of his strength. We give due regard to its worth.
We find his strength to be wonderful. But what makes this wonder that we experience a “giving” kind of wonder — “Give to the Lord strength!” — is that we are especially glad that the greatness of the strength is his and not ours.
We feel a profound fitness in the fact that he is infinitely strong, and we are not. We love the fact that this is so. We do not envy God for his strength. We are not covetous of his power. We are full of joy that all strength is his.
Everything in us rejoices to go out of ourselves and behold this power — as if we had arrived at the celebration of the victory of a distance runner who had beaten us in the race, and we found our greatest joy in admiring his strength, rather than resenting our loss.
We find the deepest meaning in life when our hearts freely go out of ourselves to admire God’s power, rather than turning inward to boast in our own — or even think about our own. We discover something overwhelming: It is profoundly satisfying not to be God, but to give up all thoughts or desires to be God.
In our giving heed to God’s power there rises up in us a realization that God created the universe for this: so that we could have the supremely satisfying experience of not being God, but admiring the Godness of God — the strength of God. There settles over us a peaceful realization that admiration of the infinite is the final, all-satisfying end of all things.
We tremble at the slightest temptation to claim any power as coming from us. God has made us weak to protect us from this: “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Oh, what love this is, that God would protect us from replacing the everlasting heights of admiring his power with the futile attempt to boast in our own! It is a great gladness not to be, but rather to see, God!
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)
One of the greatest hope-killers is that you have tried for so long to change, and have not succeeded.
You look back and think: What’s the use? Even if I could experience a breakthrough, there would be so little time left to live in my new way that it wouldn’t make much difference compared to so many years of failure.
The former robber (the thief on the cross next to Jesus) lived for another hour or so after his conversion. Then he died. He was changed. He lived on the cross as a new man with new attitudes and actions (no more reviling). But 99.99% of his life was wasted. Did the last couple hours of newness matter?
They mattered infinitely. This former robber, like all of us, will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of his life. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). How will his life testify in that day to his new birth and his union with Christ? How will his life confirm his newness in Christ?
The last hours will tell the story. This man was new. His faith was real. He is truly united to Christ. Christ’s righteousness is his. His sins are forgiven.
That’s what the final hours will proclaim at the last judgment. He is changed! And his change mattered. It was, and it will be, a beautiful testimony to the power of God’s grace and the reality of his faith and his union with Christ.
Now back to our struggle with change. I am not saying that struggling believers are unsaved like the robber was. I am simply saying that the last years and the last hours of life matter.
If in the last 1% of our lives, we can get a victory over some long-standing sinful habit or hurtful defect in our personality, it will be a beautiful testimony now to the power of grace; and it will be an added witness (not the only one) at the last judgment to our faith in Christ and our union with him.
Take heart, struggler. Keep asking, seeking, knocking. Keep looking to Christ. If God gets glory by saving robbers in the eleventh hour, he surely has his purposes why he has waited till now to give you the breakthrough you have sought for years.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:3)
How does the promise in Psalm 1:3 point to Christ?
It says, “In all that he does, he prospers.” The righteous prosper in everything they do. Is this naïve or profoundly true?
In this life, it certainly seems that the wicked prosper. “Fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” (Psalm 37:7). “Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape” (Malachi 3:15).
And in this life the righteous often suffer and their goodness is rewarded with abuse. “If we had forgotten the name of our God . . . would not God discover this? . . . Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” (Psalm 44:20–22). The psalmists themselves knew this. We are not protesting something they didn’t already know.
Therefore, when the psalmist says, “In all that he does, he prospers,” he is not naïve. He is pointing through the ambiguities of this life to life after death, where the true effectiveness — the true prosperity — of all that we have done will appear.
This is the way Paul thought.
First, he celebrates the victory of Christ over death. “‘O death, where is your victory?’ . . . Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55, 57).
Then, he draws out the implication that, because of this triumph, every work that believers have ever done will prosper. “Therefore, my beloved brothers . . . in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). When something is not in vain, it prospers.
Because Jesus died in our place, he guaranteed that every good deed prospers — sooner or later. “Whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:8). “Blessed are you when others revile you. . . . Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:11–12). Reviled here. Rewarded there.
What seems naïve in the Old Testament (“in all that he does, he prospers”) points profoundly to the work of Christ and the reality of resurrection. As the words of that great hymn by Katharina von Schlegel, “Be Still My Soul,” says, “Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay / From his own fullness all He takes away.”
We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Hebrews 10:39)
Don’t look at the temporary cost of love, and shrink back from confidence in God’s infinitely superior promises. If you shrink back, not only will you lose out on the promises; you will be destroyed.
Hell is at stake in whether we shrink back or persevere. It’s not just the loss of a few extra rewards that hangs in the balance. Hebrews 10:39 says, “We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed.” That is eternal judgment.
So, we warn each other: Don’t drift away. Don’t love the world. Don’t start thinking nothing huge is at stake. Fear the terrible prospect of not cherishing the promises of God above the promises of sin. As Hebrews 3:13–14 says, “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”
But mainly we must focus on the preciousness of the promises and help each other value above all things how great the reward is that Christ has purchased for us. We must say to each other what Hebrews 10:35 says: “Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.” And then we must help each other see the greatness of the reward.
That is the main task of preaching, and the main purpose of small groups and all the ministries of the church: helping people see the greatness of what Christ has purchased for everyone who will value it above the world. Helping people see it and savor it, so that God’s superior worth shines in their satisfaction and in the sacrifices that come from such a heart.
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. (Psalm 119:67)
This verse shows that God sends affliction to help us learn his word. How does that work? How does affliction help us learn and obey the word of God?
There are innumerable answers, as there are innumerable experiences of this great mercy. But here are five:
Affliction takes away the glibness of life and makes us more serious, so that our mindset is more in tune with the seriousness of God’s word. And mark this: There is not a single glib page in the book of God.
Affliction knocks worldly props out from under us and forces us to rely more on God, which brings us more in tune with the aim of the word. For the aim of the word is that we hope in God and trust him. “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). “These [things] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).
Affliction makes us search the Scriptures with greater desperation for help, rather than treating it as marginal to life. “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
Affliction brings us into the partnership of Christ’s sufferings, so that we fellowship more closely with him and see the world more readily through his eyes. Paul’s great heart longing was “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).
Affliction mortifies deceitful and distracting fleshly desires, and so brings us into a more spiritual frame and makes us receptive to the spiritual word of God. “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1 Peter 4:1). Suffering has a great sin-killing effect. And the more pure we are, the more clearly we see God (Matthew 5:8).
May the Holy Spirit give us grace to not begrudge the pedagogy of God through pain.
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. (1 John 2:12)
Why should we emphasize that God loves, forgives, and saves “for his name’s sake” — for his own glory? Here are two reasons (among many).
1) We should emphasize that God loves and forgives for his own glory because the Bible does.
I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25)
For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great. (Psalm 25:11)
Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake! (Psalm 79:9)
Though our iniquities testify against us, act, O Lord, for your name’s sake. (Jeremiah 14:7)
We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord, and the iniquity of our fathers, for we have sinned against you. Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake; do not dishonor your glorious throne. (Jeremiah 14:20–21)
God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25–26)
Your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. (1 John 2:12)
2) We should emphasize that God loves and forgives for his own glory because it makes clear that God loves us with the greatest love.
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory. (John 17:24)
God loves us not in a way that makes us supreme, but makes himself supreme. Heaven will not be a hall of mirrors, but an increasing vision of infinite greatness. Getting to heaven and finding that we are supreme would be the ultimate letdown.
The greatest love makes sure that God does everything in such a way as to uphold and magnify his own supremacy so that, when we get to heaven, we have something to increase our joy forever: God’s glory. The greatest love is God’s giving himself to us for our eternal enjoyment, at the cost of his Son’s life (Romans 8:32). That is what he means when he says that he loves us and forgives us for his own name’s sake.
“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:4)
Who forgives whom first?
On the one hand, Jesus says, “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” (Luke 11:4)
On the other hand, Paul says, “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)
When Jesus teaches us to pray that God would forgive us, “for we ourselves forgive,” he is not saying that the first move in forgiveness was our move. Rather, it goes like this: God forgave us when we believed in Christ (Acts 10:43). Then, from this broken, joyful, grateful, hopeful experience of being forgiven, we offer forgiveness to others.
This forgiving spirit signifies that we have been savingly forgiven. That is, our forgiving others shows that we have faith; we are united to Christ; we are indwelt by the gracious, humbling Holy Spirit.
But we still sin (1 John 1:8, 10). So we still turn to God for fresh applications of the work of Christ on our behalf — fresh applications of forgiveness. We cannot do this with any confidence if we are harboring an unforgiving spirit. (Remember the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23–35. He refused to forgive his fellow servant who owed him ten dollars, though he claimed to be forgiven ten million. He showed by his unforgiving spirit that the king’s mercy had not changed him.)
Jesus protects us from this folly by teaching us to pray, “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). That’s why Jesus says we ask for forgiveness because we are forgiving. This is like saying, “Father, continue to extend to me the mercies purchased by Christ, because by these mercies I have been forgiven, and I forsake vengeance and extend to others what you have extended to me.”
May you know God’s forgiveness afresh today, and may that grace overflow in your heart in forgiveness toward others. And may that sweet experience of grace in your life give you added assurance that, when you go to God to experience fresh, blood-bought forgiveness, you will know that he sees you as his forgiven and forgiving child.
“There I will make a horn to sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for my anointed. His enemies I will clothe with shame, but on him his crown will shine.” (Psalm 132:17–18)
Who will benefit from the promises God made to David?
Here is Psalm 132:17–18 again: “I will make a horn to sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for my anointed. His enemies I will clothe with shame, but on him his crown will shine.”
Now connect that with Isaiah 55:1, 3, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! . . . And I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.”
From this side of the cross, here’s how I would paraphrase that promise: Whoever comes to God through Jesus Christ, his Son, thirsting for what God is for us in Christ, rather than depending on who we are or what we do, God will make with that one a covenant.
Remember how the Bible comes to an end in Revelation 22:17? “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” This is not just the Jews of Isaiah’s day. This is anyone who comes to Christ to satisfy the thirst of his soul. “I will make with [that one] an everlasting covenant!”
What covenant? A covenant defined and secured by God’s “sure love for David.” Isaiah 55:3, “I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” I take that to mean that I am included in the Davidic covenant. What David gets, I will get in Christ Jesus.
And what does that include?
A horn will sprout for me. That is, great strength will fight for me and protect me. There will be a God-prepared lamp for me. That is, light will surround me and darkness will not overcome me. There will be a crown for me. That is, I will reign with the Son of David and sit with him on his throne. “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne” (Revelation 3:21).
It is an astonishing thing that we will benefit from the promises made to David. God means for us to be astonished. He means for us to leave our devotions astonished at the power and authority and surety with which we are loved by God.
For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
We seldom know the micro reasons for our sufferings, but the Bible does give us faith-sustaining macro reasons.
It is good to have a way to remember some of these so that, when we are suddenly afflicted, or have a chance to help others in their affliction, we can recall some of the truths God has given us to help us not lose hope.
Here is one way to remember: 5 R’s (or if it helps, just pick three and try to remember them).
The macro purposes of God in our sufferings include:
Repentance: Suffering is a call for us and others to turn from treasuring anything on earth above God. Luke 13:4–5:
“Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Reliance: Suffering is a call to trust God and not the life-sustaining props of this world. 2 Corinthians 1:8–9:
We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
Righteousness: Suffering is the discipline of our loving heavenly Father so that we come to share his righteousness and holiness. Hebrews 12:6, 10–11:
“The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” . . . He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Reward: Suffering is working for us a great reward in heaven that will make up for every loss here a thousandfold. 2 Corinthians 4:17:
This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
Finally, Reminder: Suffering reminds us that God sent his Son into the world to suffer so that our suffering would not be God’s condemnation but his purification. Philippians 3:10:
. . . that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings.
So, it is understandable that the Christian heart would cry out in suffering, “Why?” since we don’t know most of the micro reasons for our suffering — why now, why this way, why this long? But don’t let that ignorance of the micro reasons cause you to overlook the massive help God gives in his word by telling us his macro purposes for us.
“You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11).
“I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners.” (Isaiah 57:18)
Learn your doctrine from biblical texts. It stands up better that way, and feeds the soul.
For example, learn the doctrine of irresistible grace from texts. In this way, you will see that it does not mean grace cannot be resisted; it means that when God chooses, he can and will overcome that resistance.
In Isaiah 57:17–19, for instance, God chastises his rebellious people by striking them and hiding his face: “Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry, I struck him; I hid my face and was angry” (verse 17).
But they did not respond with repentance. Rather, they kept backsliding. They resisted: “But he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart” (verse 17).
So grace can be resisted. In fact, Stephen said to the Jewish leaders, “You always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51).
What then does God do? Is he powerless to bring those who resist to repentance and wholeness? No. He is not powerless. The next verse says, “I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners” (Isaiah 57:18).
So, in the face of recalcitrant, grace-resisting backsliding, God says, “I will heal him.” He will “restore.” The word for “restore” is to “make whole or complete.” It is related to the word shalom, “peace.” That wholeness and peace is mentioned in the next verse which explains how God turns around a grace-resisting backslider.
He does it by “‘creating the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace (shalom, shalom), to the far and to the near,’ says the Lord, ‘and I will heal him’” (Isaiah 57:19). God creates what is not there — peace, wholeness. This is how we are saved. And this is how we are brought back from backsliding — again and again.
The grace of God triumphs over our resistance by creating praise where it did not exist. He brings shalom, shalom to the near and the far. Wholeness, wholeness to the near and the far. He does it by “restoring,” that is, replacing the disease of resistance with the soundness of submission.
The point of irresistible grace is not that we can’t resist. We can, and we do. The point is that when God chooses, he overcomes our resistance and restores a submissive spirit. He creates. He says, “Let there be light!” He heals. He leads. He restores. He comforts.
Therefore, we never boast that we have returned from backsliding. We fall on our faces before the Lord and with trembling joy thank him for his irresistible grace that conquered all our resistance.
Cause us to return, O Lord, that we may return! (Lamentations 5:21, my translation)
There is no hope for God’s people unless God causes them to return from their sliding and leaping into sin and unbelief.
The book of Lamentations is the bleakest book in the Bible. God himself had decimated the apple of his eye: Jersualem.
- The Lord gave full vent to his wrath; he poured out his hot anger, and he kindled a fire in Zion that consumed its foundations. (Lamentations 4:11)
- He has killed all who were delightful in our eyes. (Lamentations 2:4)
- The Lord has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions. (Lamentations 1:5)
So how does the book end?
It ends with the only hope there is:
Cause us to return, O Lord, that we may return! (Lamentations 5:21)
That is my only hope — and your only hope!
Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31–32).
Not if you return. But when you return. I have prayed for you! You will return. And when you do, it will be my sovereign grace that brought you back from the precipice of apostasy.
Christian, this is true for you. This is your only hope of perseverance in faith. Glory in it.
Christ Jesus is the one who . . . is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:34)
He will cause us to return. Therefore, “to him who is able to keep you from stumbling . . . be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever” (Jude 1:24–25). Amen!
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
A vague, bad feeling that you are a crummy person is not the same as conviction for sin. Feeling rotten is not the same as repentance.
This morning I began to pray, and felt unworthy to be talking to the Creator of the universe. It was a vague sense of unworthiness. So I told him so. Now what?
Nothing changed until I began to get specific about my sins. Crummy feelings can be useful if they lead to conviction for specific sins. But vague feelings of being a bad person are not usually very helpful.
The fog of unworthiness needs to take shape into clear dark pillars of disobedience. Then you can point to them and repent and ask for forgiveness and take aim with your gospel bazooka to blow them up.
So I began to call to mind the commands I frequently break. These are the ones that came to mind.
- Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Not 95%, but 100%. (Matthew 22:37)
- Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Be as eager for things to go well for him as you are for things to go well for you. (Matthew 22:39)
- Do all things without grumbling. No grumbling — inside or outside. (Philippians 2:14)
- Cast all your anxieties on him — so you are not being weighed down by them anymore. (1 Peter 5:7)
- Only say things that give grace to others — especially those closest to you. (Ephesians 4:29)
- Redeem the time. Don’t fritter away the minutes, or dawdle. (Ephesians 5:16)
So much for any pretensions to great holiness! I’m undone.
This is much worse than vague, crummy feelings. Ah, but now the enemy is visible. The sins are specific. They’ve come out of hiding. I look them in the eye. I’m not whining about feeling crummy. I’m apologizing to Christ for not doing specific things that he commanded.
I’m broken, and I’m angry at my sin. I want to kill it, not me. I’m not suicidal. I’m a sin-hater and a sin-murderer. (“Put to death what is earthly in you,” Colossians 3:5; “Put to death the deeds of the body,” Romans 8:13.) I want to live. That’s why I’m a killer — of my sin!
In this conflict, I hear the promise, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Peace rises.
Now, prayer feels possible and right and powerful again.
“Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” (Matthew 6:31–32)
Jesus wants his followers to be free from worry. In Matthew 6:25–34, he gives at least seven arguments designed to take away our anxiety. One of them lists food and drink and clothing, and then says, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matthew 6:32).
Jesus must mean that God’s knowing is accompanied by his desiring to meet our need. He is emphasizing we have a Father. And this Father is better than any earthly father.
I have five children. I love to meet their needs. But my knowing falls short of God’s knowing in at least three ways.
First, right now I don’t know where any of my children are. I could guess. They’re in their homes or at work or school, healthy and safe. But they might be lying on a sidewalk with a heart attack.
Second, I don’t know what is in their heart at any given moment. I can guess from time to time. But they may be feeling some fear or hurt or anger or lust or greed or joy or hope. I can’t see their hearts. They don’t even know their own hearts perfectly.
Third, I don’t know their future. Right now they may seem well and steady. But tomorrow some great sorrow may befall them.
This means I can’t be for them a very strong reason not to worry. There are things that may be happening to them now, or may happen tomorrow, that I do not even know about. But it is totally different with their Father in heaven. Our Father in heaven! He knows everything about us, where we are, now and tomorrow, inside and out. He sees every need.
Add to that, his huge eagerness to meet our needs. Remember the “much more” of Matthew 6:30, “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you?”
Add to that his complete ability to do what he is eager to do (he feeds billions of birds hourly, around the world, Matthew 6:26).
So join me in trusting the promise of Jesus to meet our needs. That’s what Jesus is calling for when he says, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12)
It is very good news that God designs his glory to be magnified through the exercise of his grace.
To be sure, God is glorified through the power of his wrath (Romans 9:22), but repeatedly the New Testament (and the Old Testament, for example, Isaiah 30:18) says that we should experience God’s grace so that God gets glory.
Ponder how this works in the prayer of 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12.
Paul prays that God would fulfill our good resolves.
How? He prays that they would be done “by [God’s] power.” That is, that they would be “[works] of faith.”
Why? So that Jesus would be glorified in us.
That means the giver gets the glory. God gave the power. God gets the glory. We have faith; he gives power. We get the help; he gets the glory. That’s the deal that keeps us humble and happy, and keeps him supreme and glorious.
Then Paul says that this glorification of Christ is “according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus.”
God’s answer to Paul’s prayer that we rely on God’s power to do good works is grace. God’s power to enable you to do what you resolve to do is grace.
That’s the way it works in the New Testament over and over. Trust God for gracious enabling, and he gets the glory when the help comes.
We get the help. He gets the glory.
That’s why Christian living, not just Christian conversion, is good news.
Immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. (Acts 16:26)
In this age, God rescues his people from some harm. Not all harm. That’s comforting to know, because otherwise we might conclude from our harm that he has forgotten us or rejected us.
So be encouraged by the simple reminder that in Acts 16:19–24, Paul and Silas were not delivered, but in verses 25–26, they were.
First, no deliverance:
- “They seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace.” (verse 19)
- “The magistrates tore the garments off them.” (verse 22)
- They “inflicted many blows upon them.” (verse 23)
- The jailer “fastened their feet in the stocks.” (verse 24)
But then, deliverance:
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God . . . and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. (verses 25–26)
God could have stepped in sooner. He didn’t. He has his reasons. He loves Paul and Silas.
Question for you: If you plot your life along this continuum of Paul’s initial suffering and later deliverance, where are you? Are you in the stripped-and-beaten stage, or the unshackled, door-flung-open stage?
Both are God’s stages of care for you. He has not left you or forsaken you (Hebrews 13:5).
If you are in the fettered stage, don’t despair. Sing. Freedom is on the way. It is only a matter of time. Even if it comes through death. “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
Jesus said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?” (Mark 8:17)
After Jesus had fed both the 5,000 and the 4,000 with only a few loaves and fish, the disciples got in a boat without enough bread for themselves.
When they began to discuss their plight, Jesus said, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand?” (Mark 8:17). What didn’t they understand?
They did not understand the meaning of the leftovers, namely, that Jesus will take care of them when they take care of others. Jesus says,
“When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:19–21)
Understand what? The leftovers.
The leftovers were for the servers. In fact, the first time there were twelve servers and twelve basketfuls left over (Mark 6:43) — one whole basket for each server. The second time there were seven basketfuls left over — seven, the number of abundant completeness.
What didn’t they understand? That Jesus would take care of them. You can’t out-give Jesus. When you spend your life for others, your needs will be met. “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
“In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:26–27)
Don’t make God’s Son more of a Mediator than he is.
Jesus says, “I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf.” In other words, I’m not going to insert myself between you and the Father, as though you can’t go to him directly. Why? “The Father himself loves you.”
This is astonishing. Jesus is warning us not to think of God Almighty as unwilling to receive us directly into his presence. By “directly” I mean what Jesus meant when he said, “I am not going to take your requests to God for you. You may take them directly. He loves you. He wants you to come. He is not angry at you.”
It is absolutely true that no sinful human being has any access to the Father except through Jesus’s blood (Hebrews 10:19–20). He intercedes for us now (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). He is our advocate with the Father now (1 John 2:1). He is our High Priest before the throne of God now (Hebrews 4:15–16). He said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Yes. But Jesus is protecting us from taking his intercession too far. “I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you.” Jesus is there. He is providing an ever-present, ever-living witness to the removal of the Father’s wrath from us.
But he is not there to talk for us, or to keep us at a distance from the Father, or to suggest that the Father’s heart is guarded toward us or disinclined to us — hence the words, “For the Father himself loves you.”
So, come. Come boldly (Hebrews 4:16). Come expectantly. Come expecting a smile. Come trembling with joy, not dread.
Jesus is saying, “I have made a way to God. Now I am not going to get in the way.” Come.
“The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Revelation 3:21)
What does Jesus mean when he says this to the church in Laodicea?
Sit with Jesus on his throne? Really?
This is a promise to everyone who conquers, that is, who presses on in faith to the end (1 John 5:4), in spite of every threatening pain and luring, sinful pleasure. So if you are a true believer in Jesus, you will sit on the throne of the Son of God who sits on the throne of God the Father.
I take “throne of God” to signify the right and authority to rule the universe. That’s where Jesus sits. “He must reign,” Paul said, “until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25). So when Jesus says, “I will grant him to sit with me on my throne,” he promises us a share in the rule of all things.
Is this what Paul has in mind in Ephesians 1:22–23? “He put all things under [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
We, the church, are “the fullness of him who fills all.” What does that mean? I take it to mean that the universe will be filled with the glory of the Lord (Numbers 14:21). And one dimension of that glory will be the complete and unopposed extension of his rule everywhere.
Therefore, Ephesians 1:23 would mean: Jesus fills the universe with his own glorious rule through us. Sharing in his rule, we are the fullness of his rule. We rule on his behalf, by his power, under his authority. In that sense, we sit with him on his throne.
None of us feels this as we should. It is too much — too good, too amazing. That’s why Paul prays for God’s help that “the eyes of your hearts [would be] enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you” (Ephesians 1:18).
Without omnipotent help now, we cannot feel the wonder of what we are destined to become. But if we are granted to feel it, as it really is, all our emotional reactions to this world will change. The strange and radical commands of the New Testament will not be as strange as they once seemed.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matthew 5:11)
“Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20)
Jesus revealed a secret that protects our happiness from the threat of suffering and the threat of success. That secret is this: Great is your reward in heaven. And the sum of that reward is enjoying the fullness of the glory of Jesus Christ (John 17:24).
Jesus protects our happiness from suffering when he says,
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” (Matthew 5:11–12)
Our great reward in heaven rescues our joy from the threat of persecution and reviling.
He also protects our joy from success when he says,
“Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20)
The disciples were tempted to put their joy in ministry success. “Even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (Luke 10:17). But that would have severed their joy from its only sure anchor.
So Jesus protects their joy from the threat of success by promising the far greater reward of heaven. Rejoice in this: that your names are written in heaven. Your inheritance is infinite, eternal, sure.
Our joy is safe. Neither suffering nor success can destroy its anchor. Great is your reward in heaven. Your name is written there. It is secure.
Jesus anchored the happiness of suffering saints in the reward of heaven. And he anchored the happiness of successful saints in the same.
And thus he freed us from the tyranny of worldly pain and pleasure — worldly suffering and worldly success.
“This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.” (Lamentations 3:21–22)
One of the great enemies of hope is forgetting God’s promises. Reminding is a great ministry. Peter and Paul both said that they wrote letters for this reason (2 Peter 1:13; Romans 15:15).
The main Helper in reminding us what we need to know is the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). But that doesn’t mean you should be passive. You are responsible only for your own ministry of reminding. And the first one in need of reminding by you is you.
The mind has this great power: It can talk to itself by way of reminder. The mind can “call to mind,” as the text says: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases” (Lamentations 3:21–22).
If we don’t “call to mind” what God has said about himself and about us, we languish. Oh, how I know this from painful experience! Don’t wallow in the mire of godless messages in your own head. Messages like: “I can’t . . .” “She won’t . . .” “They never . . .” “It has never worked . . .”
The point is not that these are true or false. Your mind will always find a way to make them true, unless you “call to mind” something greater. God is the God of the impossible. Reasoning your way out of an impossible situation is not as effective as reminding yourself that God does impossible things.
Without reminding ourselves of the greatness and grace and power and wisdom of God, we sink into brutish pessimism. “I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you” (Psalm 73:22).
The great turn from despair to hope in Psalm 77 comes with these words: “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:11–12).
This is the great battle of my life. I assume yours too. The battle to remind! Myself. Then others.
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 6:7–8)
Consider these five things from Ephesians 6:7–8 in connection to your job.
1) A call to radically Lord-centered living.
This is astonishing compared to the way we usually live. Paul says that all our work should be done as work for Christ, not for any human supervisor. With good will render service “as to the Lord and not to man.”
This means that we will think of the Lord in what we are doing at work. We will ask, Why would the Lord like this done? How would the Lord like this done? When would the Lord like this done? Will the Lord help me to do this? What effect will this have for the Lord’s honor? In other words, being a Christian means radically Lord-centered living and working.
2) A call to be a good person.
Lord-centered living means being a good person and doing good things. Paul says, “With a good will [render service] . . . whatever good anyone does.” Jesus said that when we let our light shine, men will see our “good works” and give glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
3) Power to do a good job for inconsiderate earthly employers.
Paul’s aim is to empower Christians, with Lord-centered motives, to go on doing good for supervisors who are not considerate. How do you keep on doing good in a job when your boss ignores you or even criticizes you? Paul’s answer is: stop thinking about your boss as your main supervisor, and start working for the Lord. Do this in the very duties given to you by your earthly supervisor.
4) Encouragement that nothing good is done in vain.
Perhaps the most amazing sentence of all is this: “Whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord.” This is amazing. Everything! “Whatever good anyone does.” Every little thing you do that is good is seen and valued and rewarded by the Lord.
And he will pay you back for it. Not in the sense that you have earned anything — as if you could put him in your debt. He owns you, and everything in the universe. He owes us nothing. But he freely, graciously chooses to reward us for all the good things done in faith.
5) Encouragement that insignificant status on earth is no hindrance to great reward in heaven.
The Lord will reward every good thing you do — “whether he is a bondservant or is free.” Your supervisor may think you are a nobody — a mere bondservant, so to speak. Or he may not even know you exist. That doesn’t matter. The Lord knows you exist. And in the end no faithful service will be in vain.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13–16)
James is talking about pride and arrogance and how they show up in subtle ways. “You boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
When you take three categories of temptation to self-reliance — wisdom, power, and riches — they form a powerful inducement toward the ultimate form of pride; namely, atheism. The safest way for us to stay supreme in our own estimation is to deny anything above us.
This is why the proud preoccupy themselves with looking down on others. C.S. Lewis said, “A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you” (Mere Christianity).
But to preserve pride, it may be simpler to just proclaim that there is nothing above to look at. “In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 10:4). Ultimately, the proud must persuade themselves that there is no God.
One reason for this is that God’s reality is overwhelmingly intrusive in all the details of life. Pride cannot tolerate the intimate involvement of God in running the universe, let alone the detailed, ordinary affairs of life.
Pride does not like the sovereignty of God. Therefore, pride does not like the existence of God, because God is sovereign. It might express this by saying, “There is no God.” Or it might express it by saying, “I am driving to Atlanta for Christmas.”
James says, “Don’t be so sure.” Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live, and we will get to Atlanta for Christmas.”
James’s point is that God rules over whether you get to Atlanta, and whether you live to the end of this devotional. This is extremely offensive to the self-sufficiency of pride — not even to have control over whether you get to the end of the devotional without having a stroke!
James says that not believing in the sovereign rights of God to manage the details of your future is arrogance.
The way to battle this arrogance is to yield to the sovereignty of God in all the details of life, and rest in his infallible promises to show himself mighty on our behalf (2 Chronicles 16:9), to pursue us with goodness and mercy every day (Psalm 23:6), to work for those who wait for him (Isaiah 64:4), and to equip us with all we need to live for his glory (Hebrews 13:21).
In other words, the remedy for pride is unwavering faith in God’s sovereign future grace.
Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:28)
What must you do so that you may know that your sins are taken away by the blood of Christ, and that, when he comes, he will shield you from the wrath of God and bring you into eternal life? The answer is this: Trust Christ in a way that makes you eager for him to come.
The text says he is coming to save those who are “eagerly waiting for him.” So how do you get ready? How do you experience the forgiveness of God in Christ and prepare to meet him? By trusting him in a way that makes you eager for him to come.
This eager expectation for Christ is simply a sign that we love him and believe in him — really believe in him, authentically.
There is a phony faith that wants only escape from hell, but has no desire for Christ. That kind of faith does not save. It does not produce an eager expectation for Christ to come. In fact, it would rather that Christ not come for as long as possible, so that it can have as much of this world as possible.
But the faith that really holds on to Christ as Savior and Lord and Treasure and hope and joy is the faith that makes us long for Christ to come. And that is the faith that saves.
So I urge you, turn from the world, and from sin. Turn to Christ. Receive him, welcome him, embrace Christ not just as your fire insurance policy, but as your eagerly awaited Treasure and Friend and Lord.
“Do you think that you can reprove words, when the speech of a despairing man is wind?” (Job 6:26)
In grief and pain and despair, people often say things they otherwise would not say. They paint reality with darker strokes than they will paint it tomorrow, when the sun comes up. They sing in minor keys, and talk as though that is the only music. They see clouds only, and speak as if there were no sky.
They say, “Where is God?” Or: “There is no use to go on.” Or: “Nothing makes any sense.” Or: “There’s no hope for me.” Or: “If God were good, this couldn’t have happened.”
What shall we do with these words?
Job says that we do not need to reprove them. These words are wind, or literally “for the wind.” They will be quickly blown away. There will come a turn in circumstances, and the despairing person will waken from the dark night, and regret hasty words.
Therefore, the point is, let us not spend our time and energy reproving such words. They will be blown away of themselves on the wind. One need not clip the leaves in autumn. It is a wasted effort. They will soon blow off of themselves.
Oh, how quickly we are given to defending God, or sometimes the truth, from words that are only for the wind. If we had discernment, we could tell the difference between the words with roots and the words blowing in the wind.
There are words with roots in deep error and deep evil. But not all grey words get their color from a black heart. Some are colored mainly by the pain, the despair. What you hear is not the deepest thing within. There is something real and dark within where they come from. But it is temporary — like a passing infection — real, painful, but not the true person.
So, let us learn to discern whether the words spoken against us, or against God, or against the truth, are merely for the wind — spoken not from the soul, but from the sore. If they are for the wind, let us wait in silence and not reprove. Restoring the soul, not reproving the sore, is the aim of our love.
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)
The decisive act of God in conversion is that he “made us alive together with Christ” even when “we were dead in our trespasses.” In other words, we were dead to God. We were unresponsive; we had no true spiritual taste or interest; we had no spiritual eyes for the beauties of Christ; we were simply dead to all that ultimately matters.
Then God acted — unconditionally — before we could do anything to be fit vessels of his presence. He made us alive. He sovereignly awakened us from the sleep of spiritual death, to see the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4). The spiritual senses that were dead, miraculously came to life.
Ephesians 2:4 says that this was an act of “mercy.” That is, God saw us in our deadness and pitied us. God saw the terrible wages of sin leading to eternal death and misery. “God, being rich in mercy . . . made us alive.” And the riches of his mercy overflowed to us in our need. But what is so remarkable about this text is that Paul breaks the flow of his own sentence in order to insert, “by grace you have been saved.” “God . . . made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him.”
Paul is going to say this again in verse 8. So why does he break the flow of his own sentence in order to add it here? What’s more, the focus is on God’s mercy responding to our miserable plight of deadness; so why does Paul go out of his way to say that it is also by grace that we are saved?
I think the answer is that Paul recognizes that here is a perfect opportunity to emphasize the freeness of grace. As he describes our dead condition before conversion, he realizes that dead people can’t meet conditions. If they are to live, there must be a totally unconditional and utterly free act of God to save them. This freedom is the very heart of grace.
What act could be more one-sidedly free and non-negotiated than one person raising another from the dead! This is the meaning of grace.
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:3)
One of the most remarkable capacities of the human mind is the capacity to direct its own attention to something it chooses. We can pause and say to our minds, “Think about this, and not that.” We can focus our attention on an idea or a picture or a problem or a hope.
It is an amazing power. I doubt that animals have it. They are probably not self-reflective, but rather governed by impulse and instinct.
Have you been neglecting this great weapon in the arsenal of your war against sin? The Bible calls us again and again to use this remarkable gift. Let’s take this gift off the shelf, and dust it off, and put it to use.
For example, Paul says in Romans 8:5–6, “Those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (my translation).
This is stunning. What you set your mind on determines whether the issue is life or death.
Many of us have become far too passive in our pursuit of change and wholeness and peace. I have the feeling that in our therapeutic age we have fallen into the passive mindset of simply “talking through our problems” or “dealing with our issues” or “discovering the roots of our brokenness in our family of origin.”
But I see a much more aggressive, non-passive approach to change in the New Testament. Namely, set your mind. “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).
Our emotions are governed in large measure by what we consider — what we dwell on with our minds. For example, Jesus told us to overcome the emotion of anxiety by what we consider: “Consider the ravens. . . . Consider the lilies” (Luke 12:24, 27).
The mind is the window of the heart. If we let our minds constantly dwell on the dark, the heart will feel dark. But if we open the window of our mind to the light, the heart will feel the light.
Above all, this great capacity of our minds to focus and consider is meant for considering Jesus (Hebrews 12:3). So, let’s do this: “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
Anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14)
When Jesus commanded Lazarus to rise from the dead, how did he obey that command? John 11:43 says, “He [Jesus] cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’” That was a command to a dead man. The next verse says, “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips” (John 11:44).
How did Lazarus do that? How does a dead man obey a command to live again? The answer seems to be: The command carries the power to create new life. Obedience to the command means doing what living people do.
This is extremely important. The command of God, “Rise from the dead!” carries in it the power we need to obey it. We do not obey it by creating that life. We obey it by doing what living people do — Lazarus came forth. He rose. He walked out to Jesus. The call of God creates life. We respond in the power of what the call creates.
In Ephesians 5:14, Paul says, “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” How do you obey a command to wake up from sleep? If your house has poisonous carbon monoxide in it, and someone cries out, “Wake up! Save yourself! Get out!” you don’t obey by waking yourself up. The loud, powerful command itself wakes you up. You obey by doing what wakeful people do in the face of danger. You get up and leave the house. The call creates the waking. You respond in the power of what the call created — wakefulness.
I believe this is the explanation for why the Bible says paradoxical things about new birth; namely, that we must get ourselves new hearts, but that it is God who creates the new heart. For example:
Deuteronomy 10:16: “Circumcise your heart!”
Deuteronomy 30:6: “The Lord will circumcise your heart.”
Ezekiel 18:31: “Make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!”
Ezekiel 36:26: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you.”
John 3:7: “You must be born again.”
1 Peter 1:3: “God caused us to be born again.”
The way to obey the command to be born is to first experience the divine gift of life and breath, and then to do what living, breathing people do: cry out to God in faith and gratitude and love. When the command of God comes with the creating, converting power of the Holy Spirit, it gives life. And we believe and rejoice and obey.
God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
We know that faith in God’s future grace is the experiential key to generosity, because in 2 Corinthians, Paul holds out this wonderful promise: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
In other words, if you want to be free from the need to stash away your money, if you want to overflow with an abundance (of grace!) for every good work, then put your faith in future grace. Trust the promise that “God is able to make all grace abound to you” in every future moment for this very purpose.
I just called faith in future grace the “experiential key” to generosity, so as not to deny that there is a historical key as well. There is a key of experience, and a key of history. When talking about the grace they received, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the historical key of grace, “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” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Without this historical work of grace, the door of Christ-exalting generosity would remain closed. That past grace is an indispensable key to love.
But notice how the past grace in this verse functions. It is made the foundation (Christ became poor) of future grace (that we might become rich). Thus the historical key to our generosity operates by putting a foundation under the experiential key of faith in future grace.
Thus, the experiential key to love and generosity is this: Put your faith firmly in future grace — namely, that “God is able (in the future) to make all (future) grace abound to you” — so that your needs are met, and so that you will be able to overflow with the love of generosity.
Freedom from greed comes from the deeply satisfying faith in God’s future grace.
What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” (Romans 3:3–4)
Our concern with truth is an inevitable expression of our concern with God. If God exists, then he is the measure of all things, and what he thinks about all things is the measure of what we should think.
Not to care about truth is not to care about God. To love God passionately is to love truth passionately. Being God-centered in life means being truth-driven in ministry. What is not true is not of God.
Ponder these four sets of texts on God and truth:
1) God Is the Truth
Romans 3:3–4 (God the Father): “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar.”
John 14:6 (God the Son): Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 15:26 (God the Spirit): “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”
2) Not Loving the Truth Is Eternally Ruinous
Second Thessalonians 2:10: The wicked will perish “because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”
3) Christian Living Is Based on Knowledge of the Truth
First Corinthians 6:15–16: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her?”
4) The Body of Christ Is Built with Truth in Love
Colossians 1:28: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”
May God make us passionate for him and for truth.
I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. (Revelation 20:12)
What about the last judgment? Will our sins be remembered? Will they be revealed? Anthony Hoekema puts it wisely like this: “The failures and shortcomings of . . . believers . . . will enter into the picture on the Day of Judgment. But — and this is the important point — the sins and shortcomings of believers will be revealed in the judgment as forgiven sins, whose guilt has been totally covered by the blood of Jesus Christ.”
Picture it like this. God has a file on every person (the “books” of Revelation 20:12). All you’ve ever done or said (Matthew 12:36) is recorded there with a grade (from “A” to “F”). When you stand before “the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10) to be judged “for what [you have] done in the body, whether good or evil,” God will open the file and lay out the tests with their grades. He will pull out all the “F’s” and put them in a pile. Then he will take all the “D’s” and “C’s” and pull the good parts of the test out and place them with the “A’s”, then put the bad with the “F’s.” Then he will take all the “B’s” and “A’s” and pull the bad parts out of them and put them in the “F” pile, and put all the good parts in the “A” pile.
Then he will open another file (“the book of life”) and find your name, because you are in Christ through faith. Behind your name will be a wood-stick match made from the cross of Jesus. He will take the match, light it, and set the “F” pile, with all your failures and deficiencies, on fire and burn them up. They will not condemn you, and they will not reward you.
Then he will take from your “book of life” file a sealed envelope marked “free and gracious bonus: life!” and put it on the “A” pile (see Mark 4:24 and Luke 6:38). Then he will hold up the entire pile and declare, “By this your life bears witness to the grace of my Father, the worth of my blood, and the fruit of my Spirit. These bear witness that your life is eternal. And according to these you will have your rewards. Enter into the everlasting joy of your Master.”
After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10)
Sometimes in the midst of the afflictions and ordinary stresses of daily life, we may cry out, “How long, O Lord? I can’t see beyond today’s pain. What will tomorrow bring? Will you be there for that affliction too?”
This question is utterly urgent, because Jesus said, “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13). We tremble at the thought of being among “those who shrink back and are destroyed” (Hebrews 10:39). We are not playing games. Suffering is a horrible threat to faith in God’s future grace.
Therefore, it is a wonderful thing to hear Peter promise the afflicted and weary Christians, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).
The assurance that he will not delay beyond what we can endure, and that he will abolish the flaws we bemoan, and that he will establish forever what has tottered so long — that assurance comes from the God of “all grace.”
God is not the God of some grace — like bygone grace. He is “the God of all grace” — including the infinite, inexhaustible stores of future grace, that we need to endure to the end.
Faith in that future grace, strengthened by the memory of past grace, is the key to enduring on the narrow and hard road that leads to life.
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)
Here are two great incentives from Jesus to become a World Christian and to dedicate yourself to the cause of Frontier Missions. As a goer or a sender.
1. Every impossibility with men is possible with God (Mark 10:27). The conversion of hardened sinners will be the work of God and will accord with his sovereign plan. We need not fear or fret over our weakness. The battle is the Lord’s, and he will give the victory.
2. Christ promises to work for us, and to be for us so much that, when our missionary life is over, we will not be able to say we’ve sacrificed anything (Mark 10:29–30).
When we follow his missionary prescription, we discover that even the painful side effects work to improve our condition. Our spiritual health, our joy, improves a hundredfold. And when we die, we do not die. We gain eternal life.
I do not appeal to you to screw up your courage and sacrifice for Christ. I appeal to you to renounce all you have, to obtain life that satisfies your deepest longings. I appeal to you to count all things as rubbish for the surpassing value of standing in the service of the King of kings. I appeal to you to take off your store-bought rags and put on the garments of God’s ambassadors.
I promise you persecutions and privations — but remember the joy! “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
On January 8, 1956, five Waorani Indians of Ecuador killed Jim Elliot and his four missionary companions as they were trying to bring the gospel to the Waorani tribe of sixty people.
Four young wives lost husbands and nine children lost their fathers. Elisabeth Elliot wrote that the world called it a nightmare of tragedy. Then she added, “The world did not recognize the truth of the second clause in Jim Elliot’s credo: ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.’”
Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)
The need for inner strength arises not just from the depletions of everyday stress, but from the suffering and afflictions that come from time to time. And they do come.
Suffering is inevitably added to heart-weariness on the way to heaven. When it comes, the heart may waver and the narrow way that leads to life may look impossibly hard. It’s hard enough to have a narrow road and steep hills that test the old jalopy’s strength to the limit. But what shall we do when the car breaks down?
Paul cried out three times with this question because of some affliction in his life. He asked for relief from his thorn in the flesh. But God’s grace did not come in the form he asked. It came in another form. Christ answered, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Here we see grace given in the form of Christ’s sustaining power in unrelieved affliction — one grace given, we could say, within the circle of another grace denied. And Paul responded with faith in the sufficiency of this future grace: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
God often blesses us with a “grace given” in the circle of “grace denied.”
For example, on a beastly hot day in July, the water pump on our car stopped working, and twenty miles from any town we were stranded on the interstate in Tennessee.
I had prayed that morning that the car would work well and that we would come to our destination safely. Now the car had died. The grace of trouble-free travel had been denied. No one was stopping as we stood around our car. Then my son Abraham (about eleven at the time) said, “Daddy, we should pray.” So we bowed behind the car and asked God for some future grace — a help in time of need. When we looked up, a pickup truck had pulled over.
The driver was a mechanic who worked about twenty miles away. He said he would be willing to go get the parts and come back and fix the car. I rode with him to town and was able to share the gospel with him. We were on our way in about five hours.
Now the remarkable thing about that answer to our prayer is that it came inside the circle of a prayer denied. We asked for a trouble-free trip. God gave us trouble. But in the midst of a grace denied, we got a grace supplied. And I am learning to trust God’s wisdom in giving the grace that is best for me and for unbelieving mechanics and for the watching faith of eleven-year-old boys.
We should not be surprised that God gives us wonderful graces in the midst of suffering that we had asked him to spare us. He knows best how to apportion his grace for our good and for his glory.
Let us draw near with a true heart. (Hebrews 10:22)
The command we are given in this passage is to draw near to God. The great aim of the writer of the book of Hebrews is that we get near God, that we have fellowship with him, that we not settle for a Christian life at a distance from God.
This drawing near is not a physical act. It’s not building a tower of Babel by your achievements to get to heaven. It’s not necessarily going to a church building. Or walking to an altar at the front. It is an invisible act of the heart. You can do it while standing absolutely still, or while lying in a hospital bed, or on the train as you commute to work.
This is the center of the gospel — this is what the garden of Gethsemane and Good Friday are all about — that God has done astonishing and costly things to draw us near to himself. He has sent his Son to suffer and to die so that through him we might draw near. Everything that he has done in the great plan of redemption is so that we might draw near. And that nearness is for our joy and for his glory.
He does not need us. If we stay away, he is not impoverished. He does not need us in order to be happy in the fellowship of the Trinity. But he magnifies his mercy by giving us free access through his Son, in spite of our sin, to the one Reality that can satisfy our souls completely and forever, namely, himself. “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
This is God’s will for you, even as you read this. This is why Christ died: that you would draw near to God.
You, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13–15)
The reason that union with Christ makes a great difference for the believer is that Christ achieved a decisive triumph over the devil at Calvary. He did not remove Satan from the world, but he disarmed him to the extent that the weapon of damnation was stripped from his hand.
He cannot accuse believers of unforgiven sin. Which is the only accusation that can destroy us. And therefore, he cannot bring us to utter ruin. He can hurt us physically and emotionally — even kill us. He can tempt us and incite others against us. But he cannot destroy us.
The decisive triumph of Colossians 2:13–15 is owing to the fact that “the record of debt that stood against us” was nailed to the cross. The devil made that record his chief accusation against us. Now he has no accusation that can hold in the court of heaven. He is helpless to do the one thing he wants to do most: damn us. He can’t. Christ bore our damnation. The devil is disarmed.
Another way to say it is in Hebrews 2:14–15: “[Christ became human] that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
Death is still our enemy. But it is defanged. The viper’s poison has been drained away. The deadly sting is gone. The sting of death was sin. And the damning power of sin was in the demand of the law. But thanks be to Christ who satisfied the law’s demand. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).
By a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14)
This verse is full of encouragement for imperfect sinners like us, and full of motivation for holiness.
It means that you can have assurance that you stand perfected and completed in the eyes of your heavenly Father not because you are perfect now, but precisely because you are not perfect now but are “being sanctified,” “being made holy” — that, by faith in God’s promises, you are moving away from your lingering imperfection toward more and more holiness. That’s the point of Hebrews 10:14.
Does your faith make you eager to forsake sin and make progress in holiness? That’s the kind of faith that in the midst of imperfection can look to Christ and say, “You have already perfected me in your sight.”
This faith says, “Christ, today I have sinned. But I hate my sin. For you have written the law on my heart, and I long to do it. And you are working in me what is pleasing in your sight (Hebrews 13:21). And so, I hate the sin that I still do; and I hate the sinful thoughts that I contemplate.”
This is the true and realistic faith that saves. This is the faith that can savor the words, “By a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
This is not the boast of the strong. It is the cry of the weak in need of a Savior.
I invite you, I urge you, to be weak enough to trust Christ in this way.
It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:16)
Let us make crystal clear at the beginning of the year that all we will get from God this year, as believers in Jesus, is mercy. Whatever pleasures or pains come our way will all be mercy.
This is why Christ came into the world: “in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:9). We were born again “according to his great mercy” (1 Peter 1:3). We pray daily “that we may receive mercy” (Hebrews 4:16); and we are now “waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 1:21). If any Christian proves trustworthy, it is “by the Lord’s mercy [he] is trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 7:25).
In Luke 17:5–6, the apostles plead with the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And Jesus says, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” In other words, the issue in our Christian life and ministry is not the strength or quantity of our faith, because that is not what uproots trees. God does. Therefore, the smallest faith that truly connects us with Christ will engage enough of his power for all you need.
But what about the times that you successfully obey the Lord? Does your obedience move you out of the category of supplicant of mercy? Jesus gives the answer in the following verses of Luke 17:7–10.
“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
Therefore, I conclude, the fullest obedience and the smallest faith obtain the same thing from God: mercy. A mere mustard seed of faith taps into the mercy of God’s tree-moving power. And flawless obedience leaves us utterly dependent on mercy.
The point is this: Whatever the timing or form of God’s mercy, we never rise above the status of beneficiaries of mercy. We are always utterly dependent on what we do not deserve.
Therefore let us humble ourselves and rejoice and “glorify God for his mercy!”
Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27–28)
The death of Jesus bears sins. This is the very heart of Christianity, and the heart of the gospel, and the heart of God’s great work of redemption in the world. When Christ died he bore sins. He took sins not his own. He suffered for sins that others had done, so that they could be free from sins.
This is the answer to the greatest problem in your life, whether you feel it as the main problem or not. There is an answer to how we can get right with God in spite of being sinners. The answer is that Christ’s death is an offering “to bear the sins of many.” He lifted our sins and carried them to the cross and died there the death that we deserved to die.
Now what does this mean for my dying? “It is appointed [to me] to die once.” It means that my death is no longer punitive. My death is no longer a punishment for sin. My sin has been borne away. My sin is “put away” by the death of Christ. Christ took the punishment.
Why then do I die at all? Because God wills that death remain in the world for now, even among his own children, as an abiding testimony to the extreme horror of sin. In our dying we still manifest the external effects of sin in the world.
But death for God’s children is no longer his wrath against them. It has become our entrance into salvation not condemnation.
By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)
Grace is not only God’s disposition to do good for us when we don’t deserve it. It is an actual power from God that acts and makes good things happen in us and for us.
God’s grace was God’s acting in Paul to make Paul work hard: “By the grace of God . . . I worked harder than any of them.” So when Paul says, “Work out your own salvation,” he adds, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12–13). Grace is power from God to do good things in us and for us.
This grace is past and it is future. It is ever-cascading over the infinitesimal waterfall of the present, from the inexhaustible river of grace coming to us from the future, into the ever-increasing reservoir of grace in the past.
In the next five minutes, you will receive sustaining grace flowing to you from the future, and you will accumulate another five minutes’ worth of grace in the reservoir of the past. The proper response to the grace you experienced in the past is thankfulness, and the proper response to grace promised to you in the future is faith. We are thankful for the past grace of the last year, and we are confident in the future grace for the new year.
You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. . . . So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:5–6, 12)
For me, the end of a year is like the end of my life. And 11:59 pm on December 31 is like the moment of my death.
The 365 days of the year are like a miniature lifetime. And these final hours are like the last days in the hospital after the doctor has told me that the end is very near. And in these last hours, the lifetime of this year passes before my eyes, and I face the inevitable question: Did I live it well? Will Jesus Christ, the righteous Judge, say “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21)?
I feel very fortunate that this is the way my year ends. And I pray that the year’s end might have the same significance for you.
The reason I feel fortunate is that it is a great advantage to have a trial run at my own dying. It is a great benefit to rehearse once a year in preparation for the last scene of your life. It is a great benefit because the morning of January 1 will find most of us still alive, at the brink of a whole new lifetime, able to start fresh all over again.
The great thing about rehearsals is that they show you where your weaknesses are, where your preparation was faulty; and they leave you time to change before the real play in front of a real audience.
I suppose for some of you the thought of dying is so morbid, so gloomy, so fraught with grief and pain that you do your best to keep it out of your minds, especially during holidays. I think that is unwise and that you do yourself a great disservice. I have found that there are few things more revolutionizing for my life than a periodic pondering of my own death.
How do you get a heart of wisdom so as to know how best to live? The psalmist answers:
You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. . . . So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:5–6, 12)
Numbering your days simply means remembering that your life is short and your dying will be soon. Great wisdom — great, life-revolutionizing wisdom — comes from periodically pondering these things.
The criterion of success, that Paul used to measure his life, was whether he had kept the faith. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7–8). Let this be our test at year’s end.
And if we discover that we did not keep the faith this past year, then we can be glad, as I am, that this year-end death is (probably) only a rehearsal, and a whole life of potential faith-keeping lies before us in the next year.
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20–21)
Christ shed the blood of the eternal covenant. By this successful redemption, he obtained the blessing of his own resurrection from the dead. That is even clearer in Greek than it is in English, and here it’s clear enough: “God . . . brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus . . . by the blood of the eternal covenant.” This Jesus — raised by the blood of the covenant — is now our living Lord and Shepherd.
And because of all that, God does two things:
- he equips us with everything good that we may do his will, and
- he works in us that which is pleasing in his sight.
The “eternal covenant,” secured by the blood of Christ, is the new covenant. And the new covenant promise is this: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). Therefore, the blood of this covenant not only secures God’s equipping us to do his will, but also secures God working in us to make that equipping successful.
The will of God is not just written on stone or paper as a means of grace. It is worked in us. And the effect is: We feel and think and act in ways more pleasing to God.
We are still commanded to use the equipment he gives: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” But more importantly we are told why: “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12–13).
If we are able to please God — if we do his good pleasure — it is because the blood-bought grace of God has moved from mere equipping to omnipotent transforming.