Solid Joys – Daily Devotionals by John Piper
Resources from the ministry of John Piper.
In that same hour he [Jesus] rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Luke 10:21)
This verse is one of only two places in the Gospels where Jesus is said to rejoice. The seventy disciples have just returned from their preaching tours and reported their success to Jesus.
Notice that all three members of the Trinity are rejoicing here: Jesus is rejoicing, but it says he is rejoicing in the Holy Spirit. I take that to mean that the Holy Spirit is filling him and moving him to rejoice. Then at the end of the verse it describes the pleasure of God the Father. The NIV translates it, “Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do” — what you rejoiced to do!
Now, what is it that has the whole Trinity rejoicing together in this place? It is the free, electing love of God to hide things from the intellectual elite and to reveal them to babes. “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.”
And what is it that the Father hides from some and reveals to others? Luke 10:22 gives the answer, “No one knows who the Son is except the Father.” So, what God the Father must reveal is the true spiritual identity of the Son.
When the seventy disciples return from their evangelistic mission and give their report to Jesus, he and the Holy Spirit rejoice that God the Father has chosen, according to his own good pleasure — his own rejoicing — to reveal the Son to babes and to hide him from the wise.
The point of this is not that there are only certain classes of people who are chosen by God. The point is that God is free to choose the least likely candidates for his grace.
God contradicts what human merit might dictate. He hides from the self-sufficient wise and reveals to the most helpless and unaccomplished.
When Jesus sees the Father freely enlightening and saving people whose only hope is free grace, he exults in the Holy Spirit and takes pleasure in his Father’s election.
So, when we see this — in fact, when we know that we are among the chosen children — we too join the rejoicing.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:1–2)
Jesus Christ is refreshing. So, seek the things that are above. Don’t replace Christ this summer with trifles. Flight from Christ into Christless leisure makes the soul parched.
At first it may feel like freedom and fun to skimp on prayer and neglect the word. But then we pay: shallowness, powerlessness, vulnerability to sin, preoccupation with trifles, superficial relationships, and a frightening loss of interest in worship and the things of the Spirit.
Don’t let the coming of summer make your soul shrivel. God made summer as a foretaste of heaven, not a substitute.
If the mailman brings you a love letter from your fiancé, don’t fall in love with the mailman. Don’t fall in love with the video preview and find yourself unable to love the coming reality.
Jesus Christ is the refreshing center of summer. He is preeminent in all things (Colossians 1:18), including vacations and picnics and softball and long walks and cookouts. He invites us this summer, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Do we want it? That is the question. Christ gives himself to us in proportion to how much we want his refreshment. “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
Peter’s word to us about this is, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19–20). Repentance is not just turning away from sin, but also turning toward the Lord with hearts open and expectant and submissive.
What sort of summer mindset is this? It is the mindset of Colossians 3:1–2, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
It is God’s earth! It is a video preview to the reality of what the eternal summer will be like when “the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23).
The summer sun is a mere pointer to the sun that will be: the glory of God. Summer is for seeing and showing that. Do you want to have eyes to see? Lord, let us see the light beyond the light.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:14)
Christians do not just coast through life like jellyfish floating in the current of contemporary culture. We live by the power of the Spirit and find our course by the word of God. We swim. Like dolphins, not jellyfish. Part of that course setting and power is expressed in thoughtful engagement with the digital realities of our day. Dangers included. Here are five.
1) The hook of constant curiosity
Digital devices offer a never-ending possibility for discovery. Even the basic operating systems can consume hours of curious punching and experimenting. Then there are the endless apps consuming weeks of your time as they lure you into their intricacies.
All this is very deceptive, giving the illusion of power and effectiveness, but leaving you with a feeling of emptiness and nervousness at the end of the day.
Resolution: I will strictly limit my experimental time on the device and devote myself more to truth than to technique.
2) The empty world of virtual (un)reality
How sad to see brilliant, creative people pouring hours and days of their lives into creating cities and armies and adventures that have no connection with reality. We have one life to live. All our powers are given to us by the real God for the real world leading to a real heaven and real hell.
Resolution: I will spend my constructive, creative energy not in the unreality of “virtual reality” but in the reality of the real world.
3) “Personal” relations with a machine
Like no other invention, a computer comes closest to being like a person. You can play games with it. It will talk to you. It will always be there for you. The great danger here is that we really become comfortable with this manageable electronic “person,” and gradually drift away from the unpredictable, frustrating, sometimes painful dealings with real human persons.
Resolution: I will not replace the risk of personal relationships with impersonal electronic safety.
4) The risk of tryst
“Tryst \’trist\ noun: An agreement (as between lovers) to meet.” Sexual affairs begin in private time together, extended conversation, and the sharing of soul, which can now be done in absolute seclusion through digital devices. You can think that “it’s just nothing” — until she (or he) shows up in town.
Resolution: I will not cultivate a one-on-one relationship with a person of the opposite sex other than my spouse. If I am single, I will not cultivate such a relationship with another person’s spouse.
More insidious that X-rated videos, we can now not only watch but join the perversity in the privacy of our own den. Interactive porn will allow you to “do it” or make them “do it” virtually.
I have never seen it. Nor do I ever intend to. It kills the spirit. It drives God away. It depersonalizes women. It quenches prayer. It blanks out the Bible. It cheapens the soul. It destroys spiritual power. It defiles everything.
Resolution: I will never open any app or website for sexual stimulation, nor purchase or download anything pornographic.
“Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.” (Deuteronomy 10:14–15)
God’s electing love — the love by which he chooses a people for himself — is absolutely free. It is the gracious overflow of his boundless happiness guided by his infinite wisdom.
Deuteronomy 10:14–15 describes the delight God had in choosing Israel from all the peoples of the earth. Notice two things.
First, notice the contrast between verses 14 and 15. Why does Moses describe the election of Israel against the backdrop of God’s ownership of the whole universe? Why does he say in verse 14, “To God belongs everything in heaven and on earth” and then say in verse 15, “Yet he chose you for his people”?
The reason seems to be to get rid of any notion that God was somehow boxed in to choose this people — that there were some limits to his choosing and he was somehow forced to choose them. The point is to explode the pagan idea that a god may have the right and authority to have his own people but no more.
The truth is that Yahweh is the only true God. He owns everything in the universe and has the right and authority to take any people he wants for his own special possession.
Thus the unspeakably wonderful truth for Israel is that he chose them. He did not have to. He had rights and privileges to choose absolutely any people on the face of the earth for his redeeming purposes. Or all of them. Or none of them.
Therefore, when he calls himself “their God” he does not mean that he is on a par with the gods of Egypt or the gods of Canaan. He owns those gods and their peoples. If it had pleased him, he could have chosen a totally different people to accomplish his purposes.
The point of putting verses 14 and 15 together in this way is to stress the freedom and the universal rights and authority of God.
The second thing to notice (in verse 15) is the way God exercises his sovereign freedom to “set his heart in love on your fathers.” “He delighted in your fathers to love them.” He freely chose to take pleasure in loving the fathers.
God’s love for the fathers of Israel was free and merciful and wasn’t constrained by anything that the fathers were in their Jewishness or in their virtue.
This is a lesson for us. For us who are believers in Christ, God has chosen us just as freely. Not because of anything in us, but because God simply delighted to do it.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)
Meekness begins when we put our trust in God. Then, because we trust him, we commit our way to him. We roll onto him our anxieties, our frustrations, our plans, our relationships, our jobs, our health.
And then we wait patiently for the Lord. We trust his timing and his power and his grace to work things out in the best way for his glory and for our good.
The result of trusting God, and the rolling of our anxieties onto God, and waiting patiently for him is that we don’t give way to quick and fretful anger. But instead, we give place to wrath and hand our cause over to God and let him vindicate us if he chooses.
And then, as James says, in this quiet confidence we are slow to speak and quick to listen (James 1:19). We become reasonable and open to correction (James 3:17). James calls this “the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13).
Meekness loves to learn. And it counts the corrective blows of a friend as precious (Proverbs 27:6). And when it must say a critical word to a person caught in sin or error, it speaks from the deep conviction of its own fallibility and its own susceptibility to sin and its utter dependence on the grace of God (Galatians 6:1).
The quietness and openness and vulnerability of meekness is very beautiful and very painful. It goes against all that we are by our sinful nature. It requires supernatural help.
If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ — if you trust him and commit your way to him and wait patiently for him — God has already begun to help you and will help you even more.
And the primary way that he will help you is to assure your heart that you are a fellow heir of Jesus Christ and that the world and everything in it is yours (1 Corinthians 3:21–23). The meek inherit the earth.
The aim of our charge is love. (1 Timothy 1:5)
Victor Frankl was imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz and Dachau during the Second World War. As a Jewish professor of neurology and psychiatry he became world renowned for his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which sold over eight million copies.
In it he unfolds the essence of his philosophy that came to be called Logotherapy — namely, that the most fundamental human motive is to find meaning in life. He observed in the horrors of the concentration camps that man can endure almost any “how” of life, if he has a “why.” But the quote that stirred me recently was this:
I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers. (“Victor Frankl at Ninety: An Interview,” in First Things, April 1995, p. 41.)
In other words, ideas have consequences — consequences that bless or destroy. People’s behavior — good and bad — does not come out of nowhere. It comes from prevailing views of reality that take root in the mind and bring forth good or evil.
One of the ways that the Bible makes plain the truth that ideas have practical consequences is by saying things like, “Whatever was written in former days was written . . . [that] we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). The ideas presented in the Scriptures produce the practical consequence of hope.
Again, Paul says, “The aim of our charge is love” (1 Timothy 1:5). The imparting of ideas through a “charge” or through “instruction” produces love.
Hope and love do not come from nowhere. They grow out of ideas — views of reality — revealed in the Scriptures.
Another way the Scriptures show us that ideas have consequences is by using the word “therefore” (1,039 times in the NASB). “Therefore” means that what follows comes from somewhere. For example, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Or: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Or: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34).
If we want to live in the power of these great practical “therefores,” we must be gripped by the ideas — the views of reality — that go before them and stand under them. Ideas have consequences. So, let’s bring all our ideas under the authority of God’s word.
In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. (Ephesians 1:4–5)
The experience of Charles Spurgeon is not beyond the ability of any ordinary Christian.
Spurgeon, who lived from 1834 to 1892, was a contemporary and friend of George Mueller and Hudson Taylor. He served the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London for over thirty years as the most famous pastor of his day.
His preaching was so powerful that people were converted to Christ every week. His sermons are still in print today and he is held up by many as a model soul winner.
He recalls an experience when he was sixteen that shaped his life and ministry for the rest of his days.
When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me. I do not think the young convert is at first aware of this.
I can recall the very day and hour when first I received those truths [the doctrines of sovereign, overcoming grace] in my own soul — when they were, as John Bunyan says, burnt into my heart as with a hot iron, and I can recollect how I felt that I had grown, on a sudden, from a babe into a man — that I had made progress in Scriptural knowledge, through having found, once for all, that clue to the truth of God.
One weeknight, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it.
The thought struck me, How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment — I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so?
Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, “I ascribe my change wholly to God.”
What about you? Do you ascribe your conversion wholly to God? Is he the bottom of it all? Does this cause you to praise the glory of his sovereign, overcoming grace?
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6:27)
There are two main reasons why Christians should love their enemies and do good to them.
One is that it reveals something of the way God is. God is merciful.
- He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:45)
- He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalm 103:10)
- Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
So, when Christians live this way, by God’s power, we show something of what God is like.
The second reason is that the hearts of Christians are satisfied with God and are not driven by the craving for revenge or self-exaltation or money or earthly security.
God has become our all-satisfying treasure and so we don’t treat our adversaries out of our own sense of need and insecurity, but out of our own fullness with the satisfying glory of God.
Hebrews 10:34, “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property [that is, you didn’t retaliate against your adversaries], since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” What takes away the compulsion of revenge is our deep confidence that this world is not our home, and that God is our utterly sure and all-satisfying reward. We know that we have “a better possession and an abiding one.”
So, in both these reasons for loving our enemy we see the main thing: God is shown to be who he really is as a merciful God and as gloriously all-satisfying.
The power to be merciful is that we have been satisfied with God’s mercy toward us. And the ultimate reason for being merciful is to glorify God, that is, to help others magnify him for his mercy. We want to show that God is magnificent. We want our love, by God’s mercy, to make God look great in the eyes of man.
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! (Psalm 34:8)
To you who say you have never tasted the glory of God, I say, you have tasted many of its appetizers.
Have you ever looked up at the sky? Have you ever been hugged? Have you ever sat in front of a warm fire? Have you ever walked in the woods, sat by a lake, lain in a summer hammock? Have you ever drunk your favorite drink on a hot day or eaten anything good?
Every desire is either a devout or a distorted enticement to the glory of heaven.
You say you haven’t tasted God’s glory. I say, you have tasted the appetizers. Go on to the meal. Go on to God himself.
You have seen the shadows; look at the substance. You have walked in the warm rays of the day; turn and look at the sun itself — yes, through the protective and sharpening lens of the gospel. You have heard echoes of God’s glory everywhere; tune your heart to the original music.
The best place to get your heart tuned is at the cross of Jesus Christ. “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
If you want the most concentrated display of the glory of God, look at Jesus in the Gospels, and look especially at the cross. This will focus your eyes and tune your heart and waken your taste buds so that you will see and hear and taste the glory of the true God everywhere.
That is what you were made for. I plead with you: don’t throw your life away on shadows. God made you to see and savor his glory. Pursue that with all your heart and above all else. You have tasted the appetizers. Now go on to the full banquet.
“Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.” (Acts 15:14)
It is scarcely possible to overemphasize the centrality of the name of God, that is, the fame of God, in motivating the mission of the church.
When Peter had his world turned upside down by the vision of unclean animals in Acts 10, and by the lesson from God that he should evangelize Gentiles as well as Jews, he came back to Jerusalem and told the apostles that it was all owing to God’s zeal for his name. We know this because James summed up Peter’s speech like this: “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name” (Acts 15:13–14).
It’s not surprising that Peter would say that God’s purpose was to gather a people for his name; because the Lord Jesus had stung Peter some years earlier with an unforgettable lesson.
You recall that, after a rich young man turned away from Jesus and refused to follow him, Peter said to Jesus, “See, we have left everything and followed you [unlike this rich fellow]. What then will we have?” (Matthew 19:27). Jesus responded with a mild rebuke, which in effect said that there is no ultimate sacrifice when you live for the name of the Son of Man. He said, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).
The truth is plain: God is pursuing with omnipotent delight a worldwide purpose of gathering a people for his name from every tribe and language and nation (Revelation 5:9; 7:9). He has an inexhaustible enthusiasm for the fame of his name among the nations.
Therefore, when we bring our affections in line with his, and, for the sake of his name, renounce the quest for our own worldly fame and comforts, and join his global purpose, God’s omnipotent commitment to his name flies like a banner before us, and we cannot lose, even if we must walk through many tribulations (Acts 14:22; Romans 8:35–39).
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. (Psalm 63:1–2)
Only God will satisfy a heart like David’s. And David was a man after God’s own heart. That’s the way we were created to be.
This is the essence of what it means to love God: to be satisfied in him. In him — not just his gifts, but God himself, as the glorious person that he is!
Loving God will include obeying all his commands; it will include believing all his word; it will include thanking him for all his gifts. But all that is overflow. The essence of loving God is admiring and enjoying all he is. And it is this enjoyment of God that makes all of our other responses truly glorifying to him.
We all know this intuitively as well as from Scripture. Do we feel most honored by the love of those who serve us from the constraints of duty, or from the delights of fellowship?
My wife is most honored when I say, “It makes me happy to spend time with you.” My happiness is the echo of her excellence. And so it is with God. He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
None of us has arrived at perfect satisfaction in God. I grieve often over the murmuring of my heart when I lose some earthly comfort or convenience. But I have tasted that the Lord is good. By God’s grace I now know the fountain of everlasting joy.
And so I love to spend my days luring people into joy until they say with me, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).
This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:3–5)
What is plain in these verses is that being born again — being born of God — turns the commandments of God from being burdensome to being our delight. How does that work?
How does being born of God make the commandments of God a delight rather than a burden?
The apostle John says, “This is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith” (1 John 5:4). In other words, the way that being born of God overcomes the worldly burdensomeness of God’s commandments is by begetting faith. This is confirmed in 1 John 5:1, which says, literally, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.”
Faith is the evidence that we have been born of God. We do not cause ourselves to be born again by deciding to believe. God creates our willingness to believe by causing us to be born again. As Peter said in his first letter, God “caused us to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). Our living hope, or faith in future grace, is the work of God through new birth.
So, when John says, “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world,” and then adds, “And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith” (1 John 5:4), I take him to mean that God enables us, by the new birth, to overcome the world — that is, to overcome our worldly disinclination to keep God’s commandments. The new birth does this by creating faith, which evidently includes a disposition to be pleased by God’s commandments, rather than put off by God’s commandments, so that they feel burdensome.
Therefore, it is faith that overcomes our inborn hostility to God and his will, and frees us to keep his commandments and to say with the psalmist, “I delight to do your will, O my God” (Psalm 40:8).
“The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9)
What is God looking for in the world? Assistants? No. The gospel is not a “help wanted” sign. Neither is the call to Christian service.
God is not looking for people to work for him. “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him” (2 Chronicles 16:9). He’s the great worker. He’s the one with broad, burden-bearing shoulders. He’s the strong one. And he is looking for ways to show it. This is what differentiates God from the so-called gods of the world: he works for us. Isaiah 64:4, “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you [in other words this is his uniqueness], who acts for those who wait for him.”
What does God want from us? Not what we might expect. He rebukes Israel for bringing him so many sacrifices: “I will not accept a bull from your house. . . . For every beast of the forest is mine. . . . ‘If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine’” (Psalm 50:9–10, 12).
But isn’t there something we can give to God that won’t belittle him to the status of beneficiary?
Yes. Our anxieties. Our needs. Our cries for power to do his will.
It’s a command: “[Cast] all your anxieties on him” (1 Peter 5:7). God will gladly receive anything from us that shows our dependence and his all-sufficiency.
Christianity is fundamentally convalescence. Patients do not serve their physicians. They trust them for good prescriptions and therapy. The Sermon on the Mount is our Doctor’s therapeutic regimen, not our Employer’s job description.
Our very lives hang on not working for God. “To the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:4–5).
Workmen get no gifts. They get their due. Their wage. If we would have the gift of justification, we dare not work for it. God is the workman in this affair. And what he gets is the glory of being the benefactor of grace, not the beneficiary of service.
And all the people went their way . . . to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. (Nehemiah 8:12)
The only joy that reflects the worth of God and overflows in God-glorifying love is rooted in the true knowledge of God. And to the degree that our knowledge is small or flawed, our joy will be a poor echo of God’s true excellence.
The experience of Israel in Nehemiah 8:12 is a paradigm of how God-glorifying joy happens in the heart. Ezra had read the word of God to them and the Levites had explained it. And then the people went away “to make great rejoicing.”
Their great rejoicing was because they had understood words — the true words of God.
Most of us have tasted this experience of the heart burning with joy when the word of God was opened to us (Luke 24:32). Twice Jesus said that he taught his disciples for the sake of their joy.
- John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
- John 17:13, “These things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”
And what we mainly see in the word is the Lord himself — God himself — offering himself to be known and enjoyed. “The Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:21).
The point is that if our joy is going to reflect the glory of God, then it must flow from true knowledge of how God is glorious. If we are going to enjoy God duly, we must know him truly.
In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy. (2 Corinthians 7:4)
What is extraordinary about Paul is how unbelievably durable his joy was when things weren’t going well.
Where did this come from?
First of all it was taught by Jesus: “Blessed are you when people hate you. . . . Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:22–23). Troubles for Jesus compound your interest in heaven — which lasts a lot longer than earth.
Second, it comes from the Holy Spirit, not our own efforts or imagination or family upbringing. “The fruit of the Spirit is . . . joy” (Galatians 5:22). “You received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
Third, it comes from belonging to the kingdom of God. “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
Fourth, it comes through faith, that is, from believing God. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing” (Romans 15:13). “I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:25).
Fifth, it comes from seeing and knowing Jesus as Lord. “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4).
Sixth, it comes from fellow believers who work hard to help us focus on these sources of joy, rather than deceitful circumstances. “We work with you for your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24).
Seventh, it comes from the sanctifying effects of tribulations. “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3–4).
If we are not yet like Paul when he says, “I am overflowing with joy,” he calls us to be. “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). And for most of us this is a call to earnest prayer. Because a life of joy in the Holy Spirit is a supernatural life.
“Who has given a gift to [God] that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. (Romans 11:35–36)
When it comes to obedience, gratitude is a dangerous motive. It tends to get expressed in debtor’s terms. For example, “Look how much God has done for you. Shouldn’t you, out of gratitude, do much for him?” Or, “You owe God everything that you are and have. What have you done for him in return?”
I have at least three problems with this kind of motivation.
First, it is impossible to pay God back for all the grace he has given us. We can’t even begin to pay him back, because Romans 11:35–36 says, “‘Who has given a gift to [God] that he might be repaid?’ [Answer: Nobody!] For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” We can’t pay him back because he already owns all we have to give him — including all our efforts.
Secondly, even if we succeeded in paying him back for all his grace to us, we would only succeed in turning grace into a business transaction. If we can pay him back, it was not grace. If someone tries to show you a special favor of love by having you over for dinner, and you end the evening by saying that you will pay them back by having them over next week, you nullify their grace and turn it into a trade. God does not like to have his grace nullified. He likes to have it glorified (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).
Thirdly, focusing on gratitude as a motive for obedience tends to overlook the crucial importance of having faith in God’s future grace. Gratitude looks back to grace received in the past and feels thankful. Faith looks forward to grace promised in the future — whether five minutes from now or five centuries from now — and feels hopeful. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1).
This faith in future grace is the motive for obedience that preserves the gracious quality of human obedience. Obedience does not consist in paying God back and thus turning grace into a trade. Obedience comes from trusting in God for more grace — future grace — and thus magnifying the infinite resources of God’s love and power. Faith looks to the promise, I will be “with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9), and ventures, in obedience, to take the land.
He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. (1 John 1:9)
I recall hearing one of my professors in seminary say that one of the best tests of a person’s theology was the effect it has on our prayers.
This struck me as true because of what was happening in my own life. Noël and I had just been married and we were making it our practice to pray together each evening. I noticed that during the biblical courses which were shaping my theology most profoundly, my prayers were changing dramatically.
Probably the most significant change in those days was that I was learning to make my case before God on the ground of his glory. Beginning with “Hallowed be Thy name” and ending with “In Jesus’s name” meant that the glory of God’s name was the goal and the ground of everything I prayed.
And what a strength came into my life when I learned that praying for forgiveness should be based not only on an appeal to God’s mercy, but also on an appeal to his justice in crediting the worth of his Son’s obedience. God is faithful and just and will forgive your sins (1 John 1:9).
In the New Testament, the basis of all forgiveness of sins is revealed more clearly than it was in the Old Testament, but the basis, namely, God’s commitment to his name, does not change.
Paul teaches that the death of Christ demonstrated God’s righteousness in passing over sins, and vindicated God’s justice in justifying the ungodly who bank on Jesus and not themselves (Romans 3:25–26).
In other words, Christ died once for all to clear the name of God in what looks like a gross miscarriage of justice — the acquittal of guilty sinners simply for Jesus’s sake. But Jesus died in such a way that forgiveness “for Jesus’s sake” is the same as forgiveness “for the sake of God’s name.” There is no miscarriage of justice. God’s name, his righteousness, his justice is vindicated in the very act of providing such a God-honoring sacrifice.
As Jesus said as he faced that last hour, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (John 12:27–28). That is exactly what he did — so that he might be both just and the justifier of those who trust in Jesus (Romans 3:26).
God shows [demonstrates] his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Notice that “demonstrates” is present tense and “died” is past tense. “God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The present tense implies that this demonstrating is an ongoing act that keeps happening today. And will keep happening tomorrow.
The past tense “died” implies that the death of Christ happened once for all and will not be repeated. “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
Why did Paul use the present tense (“God demonstrates”)? I would have expected Paul to say, “God demonstrated (past tense) his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Was not the death of Christ, when it happened, the demonstration of God’s love? And did not that demonstration happen in the past?
I think the clue is given a few verses earlier. Paul has just said that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:3–5).
In other words, the goal of everything God takes us through is hope. He wants us to feel unwaveringly hopeful through all tribulations.
But how can we?
Paul answers in the next line: “Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). God’s love has been poured into our hearts. The tense of this verb means that God’s love was poured out in our hearts in the past (at our conversion) and is still present and active.
God did demonstrate his love for us in giving his own Son to die once for all in the past for our sins (Romans 5:8). But he also knows that this past love must be experienced as a present reality (today and tomorrow) if we are to have patience and character and hope.
Therefore, he not only demonstrated it on Calvary; he goes on demonstrating it now by the Spirit in our hearts. He does this by opening the eyes of our hearts to taste and see the glory of the cross and the guarantee it gives that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38–39).
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. (Isaiah 64:6)
It is true that any shortcoming of God’s law offends his perfect holiness and makes us liable to judgment, since God cannot look with favor on any sin (Habakkuk 1:13; James 2:10–11).
But what brought a person to ruin in the Old Testament (and it is the same for us today) was not the failure to have the righteousness of sinless perfection. What brought them to ruin was the failure to trust in the merciful promises of God, especially the hope that he would one day provide a Redeemer who would be a perfect righteousness for his people (“The Lord is our righteousness,” Jeremiah 23:6; 33:16). The Old Testament saints knew that this is how they were saved, and that this faith was the key to obedience, and that obedience was the evidence of this faith.
It is terribly confusing when people say that the only righteousness that has any value is the imputed righteousness of Christ. To be sure, justification is not grounded on any of our righteousness — even Spirit-given righteousness by faith — but only on the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. But sometimes people are careless and speak disparagingly of all human righteousness, as if there were no such righteousness worked in us that pleased God. This is not helpful.
They often cite Isaiah 64:6, which says our righteousness is as filthy rags, or “a polluted garment.”
But in the context, Isaiah 64:6 does not mean that all righteousness performed by God’s people is unacceptable to God. Isaiah is referring to people whose righteousness is in fact hypocritical. It is no longer righteousness. But in the verse just before this, Isaiah says that God approvingly meets “him who joyfully works righteousness” (Isaiah 64:5).
It’s true — gloriously true — that none of God’s people, before or after the cross, would be accepted by an immaculately holy God if the perfect righteousness of Christ were not imputed to us (Romans 5:19; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21). That is true! But that does not mean God does not produce in those very “justified” people an experiential righteousness that is not a “polluted garment” — even though it is not yet perfected.
In fact, he does produce such a righteousness, and this righteousness is precious to God and is, in fact, required — not as the ground of our justification (which is the righteousness of Christ only), but as an evidence of our being truly justified children of God. This is what Paul prays for, and we should pray for. He prays in Philippians 1:10–11 “that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)
In this life of sin and pain, joy is embattled. Just like faith. And Paul says to Timothy, “Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). So it is with joy. We must work for it and fight for it. Paul said to the Corinthians, “We work with you for your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24).
How then shall we fight for joy? Here are 15 pointers.
- Realize that authentic joy in God is a gift.
- Realize that joy must be fought for relentlessly. And don’t be put off by the paradox of these first two pointers!
- Resolve to attack all known sin in your life, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Learn the secret of gutsy guilt — how to fight like a justified sinner.
- Realize that the battle is primarily a fight to see — to see God for who he is.
- Meditate on the word of God day and night.
- Pray earnestly and continually for open heart-eyes and an inclination for God.
- Learn to preach to yourself rather than listen to yourself.
- Spend time with God-saturated people who help you see God and fight the fight.
- Be patient in the night of God’s seeming absence.
- Get the rest, exercise, and proper diet that your body was designed by God to have.
- Make a proper use of God’s revelation in nature — take a walk in the woods.
- Read great books about God and biographies of great saints.
- Do the hard and loving thing for the sake of others (your verbal witness and deeds of mercy).
- Get a global vision for the cause of Christ, and pour yourself out for the unreached.
Every one of those has Bible verses to support it. If you want to see them, they are in the book When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy.
The night is far gone; the day is at hand. (Romans 13:12)
This is a word of hope to suffering Christians. It’s a word of hope to Christians who hate their own sin and long to be done with sinning. It’s a word of hope to Christians who long for the last enemy Death to be overcome and thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14).
How is it a word of hope for all these?
“The night” stands for this age of darkness and all its sin and misery and death. And what does Paul say about it? “The night is far gone.” The age of sin and misery and death is almost spent. The day of righteousness and peace and total joy is dawning.
You might say, “2,000 years seems like a long dawn.” From one standpoint it is. And we cry, How long, O Lord, how long will you let it go on? But the biblical way to think goes beyond this lament of “How long!” It looks at world history differently.
The key difference is that the “day” — the new age of the Messiah — has really dawned in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the end of this fallen age. That is, the end of this fallen age has, as it were, broken in to this world. Jesus defeated sin and pain and death and Satan when he died and rose again. The decisive battle of the ages is over. The kingdom has come. Eternal life has come.
And when dawn happens — as it did in the coming of Jesus — no one should doubt the coming of day. Not even if the dawn draws out 2,000 years. As Peter says in 2 Peter 3:8, “Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” The dawn has come. The day has arrived. Nothing can stop the rising of the sun to full day.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed. (Romans 1:16–17)
We need righteousness to be acceptable to God. But we don’t have it. What we have is sin.
So, God has what we need and don’t deserve — righteousness; and we have what God hates and rejects — sin. What is God’s answer to this situation?
His answer is Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died in our place and bore our condemnation. “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he [God] condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). Whose flesh bore the condemnation? His. Whose sins were being condemned? Ours. This is the great exchange. Here it is again in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
God lays our sins on Christ and punishes them in him. And in Christ’s obedient death, God fulfills and vindicates his righteousness and imputes (credits) it to us. Our sin on Christ; his righteousness on us.
We can hardly stress too much that Christ is God’s answer to our greatest problem. It is all owing to Christ.
You can’t love Christ too much. You can’t think about him too much, or thank him too much, or depend upon him too much. All our forgiveness, all our justification, all our righteousness is in Christ.
This is the gospel — the good news that our sins are laid on Christ and his righteousness is laid on us, and that this great exchange becomes ours not by works but by faith alone. “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).
Here is the good news that lifts burdens and gives joy and makes strong.
And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:26)
Can you hear Jesus singing?
Was he a bass or a tenor? Was there a down-home twang to his voice? Or was there an unwavering crystal pitch?
Did he close his eyes and sing to his Father? Or did he look into his disciples’ eyes and smile at their deep camaraderie?
Did he usually start the song? Or did Peter or James, or maybe Matthew, do it?
Oh, I can hardly wait to hear Jesus sing! I think the planets would be jolted out of orbit if he lifted his native voice in our universe. But we have a kingdom that cannot be shaken; so, Lord, go ahead, do it! Sing!
It could not be otherwise but that Christianity be a singing faith. The founder sang. He learned to sing from his Father. Surely they have been singing together from all eternity. Don’t you think so? Would not infinite eternal happiness in the fellowship of the Trinity sing?
The Bible says the aim of our singing is “to raise sounds of joy” (1 Chronicles 15:16). No one in the universe has more joy than God. He is infinitely joyful. He has rejoiced from eternity in the panorama of his own perfections reflected perfectly in the deity of his Son.
God’s joy is unimaginably powerful. He is God. When he speaks, galaxies come into being. And when he sings for joy, more energy is released than exists in all the matter and motion of the universe.
If he appointed song for us to release our heart’s delight in him, is this not because he also knows the joy of releasing his own heart’s delight in his own image in his Son by his Spirit in song? We are a singing people because we are the children of a singing God.
“For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.” (1 Samuel 12:22)
The name of God often refers to his reputation, his fame, his renown. This is the way we use the word “name” when we say someone is making a name for himself. Or we sometimes say, that’s a “name” brand. We mean a brand with a big reputation. This is what I think Samuel means in 1 Samuel 12:22 when he says that God made Israel a people “for himself” and that he would not cast Israel off “for his great name’s sake.”
This way of thinking about God’s zeal for his name is confirmed in many other passages.
For example, in Jeremiah 13:11 God describes Israel as a waistcloth, or belt, with which God chose to highlight his glory, even though there were times when Israel was temporarily unfit. “For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.” Why was Israel chosen and made the garment of God? That it might be a “name, a praise, and a glory.”
The words “praise” and “glory” in this context tell us that “name” means “fame” or “renown” or “reputation.” God chose Israel so that the people would make a reputation for him. God says in Isaiah 43:21 that Israel is “the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.”
And when the church came to see itself in the New Testament as the true Israel, Peter described God’s purpose for us like this: “You are a chosen race . . . that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
In other words, Israel and the church are chosen by God to make a name for him in the world. This is why we pray first and foremost, “Hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). This is why we pray, “Lead us in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake” (see Psalm 23:3).
When we speak of being a God-centered people, remember, this is because we are joining God in his God-centeredness. And on this side of the cross, that means being a Christ-dependent, Christ-exalting people. “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake” (1 John 2:12). “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).
Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. . . . 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 1:13–14, 16)
Paul’s conversion was for your sake. Did you hear that? Here it is again: “I received mercy for this reason, that Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” That’s us — you and me.
I hope you will hear this very personally. God had you in view when he chose Paul and saved him by sovereign grace just the way he did.
If you believe on Jesus for eternal life — or if you may yet believe on him for eternal life — Paul’s conversion is for your sake. The point of his conversion happening the way it did is to make Christ’s incredible patience vivid for you.
Remember that Paul’s pre-conversion life was a long, long trial to Jesus. “Why are you persecuting me?” Jesus asked on the Damascus road (Acts 9:4). “Your life of unbelief and rebellion is a persecution of me!” And yet Paul tells us in Galatians 1:15 that he had been set apart by God for his apostleship since before he was born. That’s amazing. It means that all his life up to the point of his conversion was one long abuse of God, and one long rejection and mockery of Jesus — who had chosen him to be an apostle before he was born.
That is why Paul says his conversion is a brilliant demonstration of Jesus’s patience. And that is what he offers us today.
It was for our sake that Jesus saved Paul when and how he did. To “display his perfect patience” to us (1 Timothy 1:16). Lest we lose heart. Lest we think he could not really save us. Lest we think he is prone to anger. Lest we think we have gone too far away. Lest we think our dearest one cannot be converted — suddenly, unexpectedly, by the sovereign, overflowing grace of Jesus.
“Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:48)
A woman comes to Jesus in a Pharisee’s house weeping and washing his feet. No doubt she felt shame as the eyes of Simon communicated to everyone present that this woman was a sinner and that Jesus had no business letting her touch him.
Indeed, she was a sinner. There was a place for true shame. But not for too long.
Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48). And when the guests murmured about this, he strengthened her faith by saying, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50).
How did Jesus help her battle the crippling effects of shame? He gave her a promise: “Your sins have been forgiven! Your faith has saved you. Your future will be one of peace.” He declared that past pardon would now yield future peace.
So, the issue for her was faith in God’s future grace, rooted in the authority of Jesus’s forgiving work and freeing word. That is the way every one of us must battle the effects of well-placed shame — not false shame, but shame that we really should feel, but shame that threatens to linger too long and cripple us.
We must battle the unbelief of crippling shame by taking hold of the promises of future grace and peace that come through the forgiveness of our shameful acts.
“With you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 130:4)
“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6–7)
“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)
“To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)
All of us need forgiveness. And we will need it tomorrow. Jesus died to provide it today and tomorrow. Today or tomorrow the reality is this: God’s forgiveness liberates us for our future. It frees us from crippling shame. Forgiveness is full of future grace.
When we live by faith in future grace, rooted in God’s forgiveness, we are freed from the lingering, paralyzing effects even of the shame we deserve to feel. That’s what forgiveness means.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. . . . But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:4–5, 7)
If that was true for God’s exiles in Babylon, it would seem to be even more true for Christian exiles in this very “Babylon-like” world. What, then, shall we do?
We should do the ordinary things that need to be done: build houses; live in them; plant gardens. This does not contaminate you if you do it all for the real King and not just for eye service as men-pleasers.
Seek the welfare of the place where God has sent you. Think of yourself as sent there by God for his glory. Because you are.
Pray to the Lord on behalf of your city. Ask for great and good things to happen for the city. Ask that they happen by God’s power and for his glory. Never lose sight of the ultimate good that the city needs a thousand times more than it needs material prosperity. Christians care about all suffering — especially eternal suffering. That’s the greatest danger every city faces.
But neither God nor his people are indifferent to the health and safety and prosperity and freedom of the city. We all want these things, and Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). In fact, the Lord says in Jeremiah that loving your city is a way of loving yourself: “In its welfare you will find your welfare.”
This does not mean we give up our exile orientation. Peter says that Christians are “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11) and Paul says “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). In fact, we will do most good for this world by keeping a steadfast freedom from its beguiling attractions. We will serve our city best by getting our values from “the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). We will do our city most good by calling as many of its citizens as we can to be citizens of “the Jerusalem above” (Galatians 4:26).
So, let’s live — let’s do so much good (1 Peter 2:12) — that the natives will want to meet our King.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
The reason God wants us not to be afraid concerning money or other things of the world is because that fearlessness — that freedom from anxiety — will magnify five great things about him.
First, not being afraid shows that we treasure God as our Shepherd. “Fear not, little flock.” We are his flock and he is our Shepherd. And if he is our Shepherd, then Psalm 23:1 applies: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want” — that is, I shall not lack anything I truly need.
Second, not being afraid shows that we treasure God as our Father. “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” We are not only his little flock; we are also his children, and he is our Father. He really cares and really knows what you need and will work for you to be sure that you have what you need.
Third, not being anxious shows that we treasure God as King. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” He can give us the “kingdom” because he is the King. This adds a tremendous element of power to the one who provides for us. “Shepherd” connotes protection and provision. “Father” connotes love and tenderness and authority and provision and guidance. “King” connotes power and sovereignty and wealth.
Fourth, not being afraid shows how free and generous God is. Notice, he gives the kingdom. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” He doesn’t sell the kingdom or rent the kingdom or lease the kingdom. He is infinitely wealthy and does not need our payments. So, God is generous and free with his bounty. And this is what we magnify about him when we are not afraid, but trust him with our needs.
Finally, not being afraid — not being anxious — shows that we trust that God really wants to do this. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” It delights him. He is not begrudging. It makes him glad to give us the kingdom. Not all of us had fathers like this, who were made happy by giving instead of getting. But that sorrow is not the main thing any more, because now you can have such a Father, and Shepherd, and King.
So, the point of this verse is that we should treasure God as our Shepherd and Father and King who is generous and happy to give us the kingdom of God — to give us heaven, to give us eternal life and joy, and everything we need to get there.
If we treasure God in this way, we will be fearless and God will be worshiped.
“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, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11–12)
One of the questions I posed while preaching on loving our enemies from Matthew 5:44 was, How do you love the people who kidnap you and then kill you?
How can we do this? Where does the power to love like this come from? Just think how astonishing this is when it appears in the real world! Could anything show the truth and power and reality of Christ more than this?
I believe Jesus gives us the key to this radical, self-sacrificing love, described in Matthew 5:44, earlier in the very same chapter.
In Matthew 5:11–12, he is again talking about being persecuted, just like he was when he said in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” What is remarkable about these verses is that Jesus says that you are able not only to endure the mistreatment of the enemy, but rejoice in it. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you. . . . Rejoice and be glad.”
This seems even more beyond our reach than praying for our enemies or doing good to them. If I could do this humanly impossible thing — namely, rejoice in being persecuted — then it would be possible to love my persecutors. If the miracle of joy in the midst of the horror of injustice and pain and loss could happen, then the miracle of love for the perpetrators could happen too.
Jesus gives the key to joy in these verses. He says, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” The key to joy is faith in God’s future grace — that is, being satisfied in all that God promises to be for you. He says, “Rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven.” Our joy in persecution is the joy of heaven streaming back into this moment of horror and setting us free to love. So, this joy is the freeing power to love our enemies when they persecute us.
If that is true, then the command to love is implicitly also a command to set our minds on things that are above — all that God promises to be for us — not on things that are on the earth (Colossians 3:2).
The command to love our enemy is a command to find our hope and our deepest soul-satisfaction in God and his great reward — his future grace. The key to radical love is faith in future grace. We must be persuaded in the midst of our agony that the love of God is “better than life” (Psalm 63:3). Loving your enemy doesn’t earn you the reward of heaven. Treasuring the reward of heaven empowers you to love your enemy.
Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind! (Psalm 31:19)
Consider two important truths in Psalm 31:19.
1. The goodness of the Lord
There is a peculiar goodness of God. That is, there is not only God’s general goodness that he shows to all people, making his sun rise on the evil and the good (Matthew 5:45), but also a peculiar goodness, as the psalm says, for “those who fear” him.
This goodness is abundant beyond measure. It is boundless. It lasts forever. It is all-encompassing. There is only goodness for those who fear him. Everything works together for their good (Romans 8:28). Even their pains are filled with profit according to Romans 5:3–5.
But those who do not fear him receive a temporary goodness. Romans 2:4–5 describes it like this: “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” Kindness. Forbearance. Patience. Goodness. But it does not meet with the fear of the Lord, but hardness.
That’s the first truth: the goodness of the Lord.
2. The fear of the Lord
The fear of the Lord is the fear of straying from him. Therefore, it expresses itself in taking refuge in God. That’s why two conditions are mentioned in Psalm 31:19 — fearing the Lord and taking refuge in him. “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have 1) stored up for those who fear you and 2) worked for those who take refuge in you!”
They seem to be opposites. Fear seems to drive away and taking refuge seems to draw in. But when we see that this fear is a fear of running away — a fear of straying from him — then they work together.
There is a real trembling in the heart of the saints. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). But it is the trembling one feels in the arms of a Father who has just plucked his child from the undertow of the ocean. It is the trembling at the terrible prospect of thinking we don’t need a Father.
So, cherish the goodness of the Lord. Fear straying from him. Flee from every sin and take refuge in him. “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you!”
“Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.” (1 Samuel 12:20–22)
When the Israelites have been brought to fear and they repent of their sin of demanding that Samuel give them a king to be like the other nations, then comes the good news: “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil.” Do you hear how backward that sounds — how wonderfully backward? You might expect him to say, “Fear, for you have done all this evil.” That’s a good reason to fear: you have done the great evil of demanding another king besides God! But that’s not what Samuel says. “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil.”
He goes on, “Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.”
This is the gospel: Even though you have sinned greatly, and terribly dishonored the Lord, even though you now have a king which it was a sin to demand, even though there is no undoing that sin or its painful consequences that are yet to come, nevertheless there is a future and a hope. There is mercy.
Fear not! Fear not!
Then comes the great ground — the basis and foundation — of the gospel in 1 Samuel 12:22. Why don’t you need to fear, even though you have done all this evil? “For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.”
The ground of the gospel is God’s commitment to his own name. Did you hear it? Don’t fear, though you have sinned, “The Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake.” This should have two effects on you: heart-breaking humility and toe-tapping happiness. Humility because your worth is not the foundation of your salvation. Happiness because your salvation is as sure as God’s allegiance to his own name. It can’t get more sure.
Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went men of valor whose hearts God had touched. (1 Samuel 10:26)
Just think of what is being said in this verse. God touched them. Not a wife. Not a child. Not a parent. Not a counselor. But God. God touched them.
The One with infinite power in the universe. The One with infinite authority and infinite wisdom and infinite love and infinite goodness and infinite purity and infinite justice. That One touched their heart.
How does the circumference of Jupiter touch the edge of a molecule? Let alone penetrate to its nucleus?
The touch of God is awesome not just because it is God who touches, but also because it is a touch. It is a real connection. That it involves the heart is awesome. That it involves God is awesome. And that it involves an actual touch is awesome.
The valiant men were not just spoken to. They were not just swayed by a divine influence. They were not just seen and known. God, with infinite condescension, touched their heart. God was that close. And they were not consumed.
I love that touch. I want it more and more. For myself and for all of you. I pray that God would touch me anew with his glory and for this glory. I pray that he would touch us all.
Oh, for the touch of God! If it comes with fire, so be it. If it comes with water, so be it. If it comes with wind, let it come, O God. If it comes with thunder and lightning, let us bow before it.
O Lord, come. Come that close. Burn and soak and blow and crash. Or still and small, come. Come all the way. Touch our hearts.
This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith. (1 John 5:3–4)
Notice: Loving God is not just keeping his commandments. It is having a kind of heart for God that means that commandment-keeping is not burdensome. That’s what John says. But then he puts that truth in terms of new birth and faith, rather than love. He says, without a break, “For” — that is, here’s why God’s commandments are not burdensome: “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. So, the new birth is what overcomes the worldly obstacles to keeping God’s commandments without burdensomeness.
And finally he adds, “And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith.” So, the new birth overcomes the worldly obstacles to burden-free commandment-keeping, because the new birth gives rise to faith. So, the miracle of new birth creates faith, which embraces all that God is for us in Christ as supremely satisfying, which makes obedience to God more desirable than the temptations of the world. And that is what it means to love God.
The eighteenth-century pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards wrestled with this text and concluded, “Saving faith implies . . . love. . . . Our love to God enables us to overcome the difficulties that attend keeping God’s commands — which shows that love is the main thing in saving faith, the life and power of it, by which it produces great effects.”
I think Edwards is right and that numerous texts in the Bible support what he says.
Another way to say it is that faith in Christ is not just assenting to what God is for us, but also embracing all that he is for us in Christ. “True faith embraces Christ in whatever ways the Scriptures hold him out to poor sinners” — that’s another quote from Edwards. This “embracing” is one kind of love to Christ — that kind that treasures him above all things.
Therefore, there is no contradiction between 1 John 5:3, on the one hand, which says that our love for God enables us to keep his commandments, and verse 4, on the other hand, which says that our faith overcomes the obstacles of the world that keep us from obeying God’s commandments. Love for God and Christ is implicit in faith.
John then defines the faith that obeys as “the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:5). This faith is “embracing” the present Jesus as the glorious divine person that he is: the Son of God. It is not simply assenting to the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, because the demons assent to that. “They cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?’” (Matthew 8:29). Believing that Jesus is the Son of God means “embracing” the significance of that truth — the value of the reality. It means being satisfied with Christ as the Son of God and all God is for us in him.
“Son of God” means that Jesus is the greatest person in the universe alongside his Father. Therefore, all he taught is true, and all he promised will stand firm, and all his soul-satisfying greatness will never change.
Believing that he is the Son of God, therefore, includes banking on all this, and being satisfied with it.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22–23)
God’s mercies are new every morning because each day only has enough mercy in it for that day. God appoints every day’s troubles. And God appoints every day’s mercies. In the life of his children, they are perfectly appointed. Jesus said, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). Every day has its own trouble. Every day has its own mercies. Each is new every morning.
But we often tend to despair when we think that we may have to bear tomorrow’s load on today’s resources. God wants us to know: We won’t. Today’s mercies are for today’s troubles. Tomorrow’s mercies are for tomorrow’s troubles.
Sometimes we wonder if we will have the mercy to stand in terrible testing. Yes, we will. Peter says, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14). When the reviling comes, the Spirit of glory comes. It happened for Stephen as he was being stoned. It will happen for you. When the Spirit and the glory are needed, they will come.
The manna in the wilderness was given one day at a time. There was no storing up. That is the way we must depend on God’s mercy. You do not receive today the strength to bear tomorrow’s burdens. You are given mercies today for today’s troubles.
Tomorrow the mercies will be new. “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. (Psalm 32:9)
Picture God’s people as a farmyard of all sorts of animals. God cares for his animals, he shows them where they need to go, and supplies a barn for their protection.
But there is one beast on this animal farm that gives God an awful time, namely, the mule. He’s stupid and he’s stubborn and you can’t tell which comes first — stubbornness or stupidity.
Now the way God likes to get his animals into the barn for their food and shelter is by teaching them that they all have a personal name and then calling them by name. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go” (Psalm 32:8).
But the mule will not respond to that sort of direction. He is without understanding. So God gets in his pick-up truck and goes out in the field, puts the bit and bridle in the mule’s mouth, hitches it to the truck, and drags him stiff-legged and snorting all the way into the barn.
That is not the way God wants his animals to come to him for blessing and protection.
One of these days it is going to be too late for that mule. He’s going to get clobbered with hail and struck by lightning, and when he comes running, the barn door is going to be shut.
Therefore, don’t be like the mule. “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle.”
Instead, let everyone who is godly come to God in prayer at a time when he may be found (Psalm 32:6).
The way not to be a mule is to humble ourselves, to come to God in prayer, to confess our sins, and to accept, as needy little farmyard chicks, the direction of God into the barn of his protection and provision.
“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’” (Matthew 6:9)
Dozens of times Scripture says that God does things “for his name’s sake.”
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:3)
For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt. (Psalm 25:11)
He saved them for his name’s sake. (Psalm 106:8)
For my name’s sake I defer my anger. (Isaiah 48:9)
Your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. (1 John 2:12)
If you ask what is really moving the heart of God in all those statements (and many like them), the answer is that God delights in having his name known and honored.
The first and most important prayer that can be prayed is, “Hallowed be your name.” I used to think this is an acclamation. Like, “Hallelujah! The Lord’s name is hallowed!” But it’s not an acclamation. It’s a petition. Actually a kind of imperative or command. Lord, let it be! Cause it to be. May your name be hallowed. This is my request, my prayer. I am urging you to this: Cause people to hallow your name. Cause me to hallow your name!
God loves to have more and more people “hallow” his name. That’s why his Son teaches Christians to pray for it. In fact, Jesus makes it the very first and paramount prayer. Because this is the first and great passion of the Father.
“Lord, cause more and more people to hallow your name,” that is, esteem, admire, respect, cherish, honor, reverence, and praise your name. More and more people! So, you can see it is basically a missionary prayer.
Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. (Psalm 126:5–6)
There is nothing sad about sowing seed. It takes no more work than reaping. The days can be beautiful. There can be great hope of harvest.
Yet the psalm speaks of sowing “in tears.” It says that someone “goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing.” So, why are they weeping?
I think the reason is not that sowing is sad, or that sowing is hard. I think the reason has nothing to do with sowing. Sowing is simply the work that has to be done, even when there are things in life that make us cry.
The crops won’t wait while we finish our grief or solve all our problems. If we are going to eat next winter, we must get out in the field and sow the seed, whether we are crying or not.
If you do that, the promise of the psalm is that you will “reap with shouts of joy.” You will “come home with shouts of joy, bringing [your] sheaves with [you].” Not because the tears of sowing produce the joy of reaping, but because the sheer sowing produces the reaping, and you need to remember this even when your tears tempt you to give up sowing.
So, here’s the lesson: When there are simple, straightforward jobs to be done, and you are full of sadness, and tears are flowing easily, go ahead and do the jobs with tears. Be realistic. Say to your tears, “Tears, I feel you. You make me want to quit life. But there is a field to be sown (dishes to be washed, car to be fixed, sermon to be written).”
Then say, on the basis of God’s word, “Tears, I know that you will not stay forever. The very fact that I just do my work (tears and all) will in the end bring a harvest of blessing. So, go ahead and flow if you must. But I believe — though I do not yet see it or feel it fully — I believe that the simple work of my sowing will bring sheaves of harvest. And my tears will be turned to joy.”
“You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” (Matthew 27:65)
When Jesus was dead and buried, with a big stone rolled against the tomb, the Pharisees came to Pilate and asked for permission to seal the stone and guard the tomb.
They gave it their best shot — in vain.
It was hopeless then, it is hopeless today, and it will always be hopeless. Try as they may, people can’t keep Jesus down. They can’t keep him buried.
It’s not hard to figure out: He can break out because he wasn’t forced in. He let himself be libeled and harassed and blackballed and scorned and shoved around and killed.
I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. (John 10:17–18)
No one can keep him down because no one ever knocked him down. He lay down when he was ready.
When it looks like he is buried for good, Jesus is doing something awesome in the dark. “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how” (Mark 4:26–27).
The world thinks Jesus is done for — out of the way — but Jesus is at work in the dark places. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). He let himself be buried — “no one takes [my life] from me” — and he will come out in power when and where he pleases — “I have authority to take it up again.”
“God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24). Jesus has his priesthood today “by the power of an indestructible life” (Hebrews 7:16).
For twenty centuries, the world has given it their best shot — in vain. They can’t bury him. They can’t hold him in. They can’t silence him or limit him. Jesus is alive and utterly free to go and come wherever he pleases.
Trust him and go with him, no matter what. You cannot lose in the end.
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
I have never heard anyone say, “The really deep lessons of my life have come through times of ease and comfort.” But I have heard strong saints say, “Every significant advance I have ever made in grasping the depths of God’s love and growing deep with him, has come through suffering.”
This is a sobering biblical truth. For example: “For [Christ’s] sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). Paraphrase: No pain, no gain. Or:
Now let it all be sacrificed, if it will get me more of Christ.
Here’s another example: “Although he was a son, [Jesus] learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). The same book said he never sinned (Hebrews 4:15).
So learning obedience does not mean switching from disobedience to obedience. It means growing deeper and deeper with God in the experience of obedience. It means experiencing depths of yieldedness to God that would not have been otherwise attained. This is what came through suffering. No pain, no gain.
Samuel Rutherford said that when he was cast into the cellars of affliction, he remembered that the great King always kept his wine there. Charles Spurgeon said, “They who dive in the sea of affliction bring up rare pearls.”
Do you not love your beloved more when you feel some strange pain that makes you think you have cancer? We are strange creatures indeed. If we have health and peace and time to love, it can become a thin and hasty thing. But if we are dying, love becomes a deep, slow river of inexpressible joy, and we can scarcely endure to give it up.
Therefore brothers and sisters, “Count it all joy . . . when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2).
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. (Romans 6:20–21)
When a Christian’s eyes are opened to the God-dishonoring evil of his former behavior, the Christian rightly feels ashamed. Paul says to the Roman church, “When you were slaves of sin . . . what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?”
There is a proper place for looking back and feeling the twinge of pain that we once lived in a way that was so belittling to God. To be sure, we are not to be paralyzed by dwelling on this. But a sensitive Christian heart cannot think back on the follies of youth and not feel echoes of shame, even if we have settled it all with the Lord.
Well-placed shame can be very healthy and redemptive. Paul said to the Thessalonians, “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed” (2 Thessalonians 3:14). This means that shame is a proper and redemptive step in conversion, and even in a believer’s repentance from a season of spiritual coldness and sin. Shame is not something to be avoided at all costs. There is a place for it in God’s good dealings with his people.
We can conclude that the biblical criterion for misplaced shame and for well-placed shame is radically God-centered.
The biblical criterion for misplaced shame says, Don’t feel shame for something that honors God, no matter how weak or foolish or wrong it makes you look in the eyes of other people. Or another way to apply this God-centered criterion of misplaced shame: don’t feel shame because of a truly shameful situation unless you are in some way participating in the evil.
The biblical criterion for well-placed shame says, Do feel shame for having a hand in anything that dishonors God, no matter how strong or wise or right it makes you look in the eyes of others.
The reason we should feel shame is disapproval for behavior that dishonors God. The reason we should not feel shame is behavior that honors God, even if people try to shame you for it.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4)
The form of the 23rd psalm is instructive.
In Psalm 23:1–3 David refers to God as “he”:
The Lord is my shepherd . . .
he makes me lie down . . .
he leads me . . .
he restores my soul.
Then in verses 4 and 5 David refers to God as “you”:
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me.
You anoint my head with oil.
Then in verse 6 he switches back:
I shall dwell in the house of the Lord.
The lesson we can learn from this form is that it is good not to talk very long about God without talking to God.
Every Christian is at least an amateur theologian — that is, a person who tries to understand the character and ways of God and then put that into words. If we aren’t little theologians, then we won’t ever say anything to each other, or to God, about God, and will be of very little real help to each other’s faith.
But what I have learned from David in Psalm 23 and other psalms is that I should interweave my theology with prayer. I should frequently interrupt my talking about God by talking to God.
Not far behind the theological sentence, “God is generous,” should come the prayerful sentence, “Thank you, God, for your generosity.”
On the heels of, “God is glorious,” should come, “I adore your glory.”
This is the way it must be, if we are feeling God’s reality in our hearts as well as thinking it in our heads and describing it with our lips.
Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
The more real Satan appears in our day — the more obviously active — the more precious the victory of Christ will become to those who trust him.
The New Testament teaches that when Christ died and rose again, Satan was decisively defeated. A time of limited freedom is granted to him, but his power against God’s people is broken and his destruction is sure.
- “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)
- “[Christ] himself likewise partook of the same things [flesh and blood], that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14)
- “[God] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:15)
In other words, the decisive blow was struck at Calvary. And one day, when Satan’s time of limited freedom is over, Revelation 20:10 says, “The devil . . . [will be] thrown into the lake of fire . . . and will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
What does this mean for those of us who follow Jesus Christ?
- “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
- “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies!” (Romans 8:33)
- “[Neither] angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39)
- “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
- “They [the saints] have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Revelation 12:11)
Therefore, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you!” He has been defeated, and we have been given victory. Our task now is to live in that victory and make Satan know his defeat.
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
Prayer for your enemies is one of the deepest forms of love, because it means that you have to really want that something good happen to them.
You might do nice things for your enemy without any genuine desire that things go well with them. But prayer for them is in the presence of God who knows your heart, and prayer is interceding with God on their behalf.
It may be for their conversion. It may be for their repentance. It may be that they would be awakened to the enmity in their hearts. It may be that they will be stopped in their downward spiral of sin, even if it takes disease or calamity to do it. But the prayer Jesus has in mind here is always for their good.
This is what Jesus did as he hung on the cross:
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)
And it’s what Stephen did as he was being stoned:
Falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60)
Jesus is calling us not just to do good things for our enemy, like greeting them and helping supply their needs (Matthew 5:47); he is also calling us to desire their best, and to express those desires in prayers, even when the enemy is nowhere around.
Our hearts should desire their salvation and desire their presence in heaven with us and desire their eternal happiness. May God give us grace to pray like the apostle Paul for the Jewish people, many of whom made life very hard for Paul:
My heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. (Romans 10:1)
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel. (2 Timothy 2:8)
Paul mentions two specific ways to remember Jesus: Remember him as risen from the dead. And remember him as the offspring of David. Why these two things about Jesus?
Because if he is risen from the dead he is alive and triumphant over death — including our death! “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).
Which means that no matter how serious the suffering becomes, the worst that it can do on this earth is kill you. And Jesus has taken the sting out of that enemy. He is alive. And you will be alive. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28).
But more than that, the resurrection of Jesus was not a random resurrection. It was the resurrection of the son of David. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David.” Why does Paul say that?
Because every Jewish person knew what that meant. That meant that Jesus is the Messiah (John 7:42). And that meant that this resurrection was the resurrection of an everlasting King. Listen to the words of the angel to Mary, Jesus’s mother:
“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31–33)
So, remember Jesus, the one you serve, and the one for whom you suffer. He is not just alive from the dead, but he is alive as a King who will reign forever — of his kingdom there will be no end. No matter what they do to you, you do not need to be afraid. You will live again. And you will reign with him.
All who dwell on earth will worship [the beast], everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. (Revelation 13:8)
Salvation is secured for all who are written in the book of life.
The reason that being written in the book of life secures our salvation is that the book is called “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” The names in this book are not saved on the basis of their deeds. They are saved on the basis of Christ’s being slain.
But John says in Revelation 20:12, “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.” So, how then does the record of our lives contained in “the books” have a part in our judgment, if we are saved on the basis of Christ being slain?
The answer is that the books, which record our deeds, contain enough evidence of our belonging to Christ that they function as a public confirmation of our faith and our union with Christ.
Consider Revelation 21:27: “Nothing unclean will ever enter [the New Jerusalem], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Here the result of being written in the “book of life” is not only not perishing, but also not practicing detestable, sinful behaviors.
For example, consider the thief on the cross. Jesus said that he would enter paradise (Luke 23:43). But what will judgment be like for him when the books are opened? More than 99.9% of his life will be sin.
His salvation will be secured by the blood of Christ. His name will be in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.
Then God will open the books. First, he will use the lifelong record of sin to glorify his Son’s supreme sacrifice. And, second, God will read that last page, where the thief’s dramatic transformation on the cross is recorded. This work of God in his life, recorded in the books, about that last day will be the public confirmation of the thief’s faith and union with Christ. And Christ will be the basis of his salvation, not his works.
Therefore, when I say that what is written in the books is a public confirmation of our faith and of union with Christ, I do not mean that the record will contain more good works than bad works.
I mean that there will be recorded there the kind of life in Christ that shows the reality of faith — the reality of regeneration and union with Christ. That is how we enter each day as a Christian: confident that our condemnation is past (Romans 8:1), and that our name is in the book of life, and that the one who began a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Christ.
“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)
What about the other ten apostles (not counting Judas)?
Satan was going to sift them too. Did Jesus pray for them?
Yes he did. But he did not ask the Father to guard their faith in the very same way he guarded Peter’s.
God broke the back of Peter’s pride and self-reliance that night in the agony of Satan’s sieve. But he did not let him go. He turned him around and forgave him and restored him and strengthened his faith. And now it was Peter’s mission to strengthen the other ten. “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Jesus provided for the ten by providing for Peter. The strengthened becomes the strengthener.
There is a great lesson here for us. Sometimes God will deal with you directly, strengthening your faith alone in the wee hours of the morning when everyone else is asleep. But most of the time (we might say ten-elevenths of the time) God strengthens our faith through another person.
God sends us some Simon Peter who brings just the word of grace we need to keep on in the faith: some testimony about how “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
Eternal security is a community project. Whenever God encourages your heart with the promise that in Satan’s sifting your faith will not fail, then take that encouragement and double your joy by using it to strengthen your brothers and sisters — with the very strength with which you have been strengthened.
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Romans 7:19)
Christians do not live only in defeat. But neither do we live only in perfect victory over sin. And in those times when we fail to triumph over sin, Romans 7:13–25 shows us the normal way a healthy Christian should respond.
We should say:
- I love the law of God. (verse 22)
- I hate what I just did. (verse 15)
- Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (verse 24)
- Thanks be to God! The victory will come through Jesus Christ my Lord. (verse 25)
In other words, no Christian wants to live in defeat. No Christian settles for living in defeat. But if we are defeated for a time, we shouldn’t lie about it.
No hypocrisy. No posing. No boasted perfectionism. No churchy, pasted smiles or chipper superficiality.
And even more, God save us from blindness to our own failures and the consequent quickness to judge others.
God, help us to feel worse about our own shortfalls than the failure of others.
God, give us the honesty and candor and humility of the apostle Paul in this text! “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24–25).
We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
If you live inside this massive promise, your life is more solid and stable than Mount Everest.
Nothing can blow you over when you are inside the walls of Romans 8:28. Outside Romans 8:28, all is confusion and anxiety and fear and uncertainty. Outside this promise of God’s all-encompassing future grace, there are straw houses of drugs and pornography and dozens of futile diversions. There are slat walls and tin roofs of fragile investment strategies and fleeting insurance coverage and trivial retirement plans. There are cardboard fortifications of deadbolt locks and alarm systems and antiballistic missiles. Outside are a thousand substitutes for Romans 8:28.
Once you walk through the door of love into the massive, unshakable structure of Romans 8:28, everything changes. There come into your life stability and depth and freedom. You simply can’t be blown over anymore. The confidence that a sovereign God governs for your good all the pain and all the pleasure that you will ever experience is an incomparable refuge and security and hope and power in your life.
When God’s people really live by the future grace of Romans 8:28 — from measles to the mortuary — they are the freest and strongest and most generous people in the world.
Their light shines and people give glory to their Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:1)
We as a church are “in” a Father and “in” a Lord. What does that mean?
The word “Father” implies primarily care and sustaining and protection and provision and discipline. So, to be “in” the Father would mean mainly to be in the care and under the protection of God as our heavenly Father.
The other designation is Lord: We are in the Lord Jesus Christ. The word “Lord” implies primarily authority and leadership and ownership. So, to be “in” the Lord means mainly to be in the charge, under the authority, and in the possession of Jesus as our supreme Lord.
So, Paul greets the Thessalonian church in such a way as to remind them that they are a family (in the care of a Father) and that they are servants (in the charge of a Lord). These two descriptions of God as Father and Lord, and thus of the church as family and servants, correspond to two of our deepest needs.
Every single one of us has a need for rescue and help, on the one hand, and the need for purpose and meaning, on the other.
We need a heavenly Father to pity us and rescue us from sin and misery. We need his help every step of the way, because we are so weak and vulnerable.
We also need a heavenly Lord to guide us in life and tell us what is wise and give us a great and meaningful charge to fulfill, and reason for existence, some usefulness for the way God made us. We don’t just want to be safe in the care of a Father — as precious and needed as that is. We want a glorious cause to live for.
We want a merciful Father to be our Protector, and we want an omnipotent Lord to be our Champion and our Commander and our Leader in some great cause. So, when Paul says in verse 1, You are the church “in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” we can take rest and help from the one — God is our Father! And we can take courage and meaning from the other — Jesus is our Lord!
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. (Colossians 1:3–5)
The problem with the church today is not that there are too many people who are passionately in love with heaven. The problem is not that professing Christians are retreating from the world, spending half their days reading Scripture and the other half singing about their pleasures in God all the while indifferent to the needs of the world. That’s not happening! The people of God are not so full of love to God that they spend half their days in his word.
The problem is that professing Christians are spending ten minutes reading Scripture and then half their day making money and the other half loving and repairing what they spend it on.
It’s not heavenly-mindedness that hinders love for the lost and hurting of this world. It is worldly-mindedness that hinders love, even when it is disguised by a religious routine on the weekend.
Where is the person whose heart is so passionately in love with the promised glory of heaven that he feels like an exile and a sojourner on the earth? Where is the person who has so tasted the beauty of the age to come that the diamonds of the world look like marbles from the dollar store, and the entertainment of the world feels empty, and the moral causes of the world are too small because they have no view to eternity? Where is this person?
To be sure, he is not in bondage to the Internet or eating or sleeping or drinking or partying or fishing or sailing or putzing around. He is a free man in a foreign land. And his one question is this: How can I maximize my enjoyment of God for all eternity while I am an exile on this earth? And his answer is always the same: by doing the labors of love. By expanding my joy in God, no matter the cost, if by any means possible I might include others in it.
Only one thing satisfies the heart whose treasure is in heaven: doing the works of heaven. And heaven is a world of love!
It is not the cords of heaven that bind the hands of love and make them ineffective. It is the love of money and leisure and comfort and praise — these are the cords of selfishness that bind the hands of love. And the power to sever these cords is Christian hope. “We heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Colossians 1:4–5).
I say it again with all the conviction that lies within me: it is not heavenly-mindedness that hinders love on this earth. It is worldly-mindedness. And therefore the great fountain of love is the powerful, freeing confidence of Christian hope.