The Steadfast Love of God

The Steadfast Love of God

Why is it important to have a deep and accurate understanding of God’s character?

Author A.W. Pink writes: “An unknown God can neither be trusted, served, nor worshiped.”

Bible teacher Jen Wilkin says it similarly: “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.”

To know and glorify God is the purpose for which we were created. The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches that man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. The reality is that we cannot glorify and enjoy a God whose character we do not know and trust. It is important to note from the outset that the knowledge of God we so desperately need is more than just intellectual, head knowledge, but it is not less. Every human being’s greatest need is a spiritual and saving knowledge of God through Jesus Christ, but even this saving knowledge first begins with head knowledge. 

It’s through the knowledge of God’s character in the gospel message that the Holy Spirit brings spiritual life to the hearts of many, resulting in saving faith. In the gospel–the good news of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ–believers come to know (first intellectually and then salvifically) who God is. Through the gospel message, we learn about God’s nature. We learn that God is holy, just, and wrathful; He cannot and will not let sin go unpunished. Through that same gospel message we learn that God is gracious, merciful, and rich in covenant-keeping love. He forgives sinners and brings them into relationship with himself forever. The Spirit uses the proclaimed gospel to grant his people a spiritual knowledge of him, and this is his work. Our job is to seek to know God and make him known to others as we share what he has revealed of his character through his word and through his Christ.

Here are three reasons we need accurate knowledge of the character of our God:

  1. The faith of both new and seasoned believers is fortified and strengthened as we learn and  know more of God’s character. 
  2. The more we know the God of the Bible, the more we will trust, believe, delight in, worship and serve him in every circumstance of our lives–both the good and the hard. 
  3. Knowing the character of God will help guard us against deception from false doctrine and despair when our suffering is real and we wonder where God is. 

For this study we are going to focus on one very important aspect of God’s character that is revealed throughout all of Scripture: The Steadfast love of God. Our objective in studying God’s steadfast love is to know, love, and trust him more.

We’ve already talked about how God’s character is revealed most clearly in the gospel, but God revealed himself to his people long before Christ came to earth. Exodus 34: 6-7 is God’s own proclamation of “his name”, which is a declaration of his character. These verses essentially became Israel’s credo about who God is. Before looking at the passage, let’s get some context: God miraculously set Israel free from years of oppression and slavery in the land of Egypt and entered into covenant relationship with them. Under Moses’ leadership, he led them into the wilderness (on the way to the Promised Land) and gave them the law on tablets of stone. It wasn’t long, however, before there was a breach in the covenant relationship. God’s chosen people were unfaithful to him, breaking covenant and committing idolatry by building a golden calf to worship. 

When Moses descended from the mountain to discover this idolatry, he was filled with righteous anger and threw down the stone tablets, breaking them in pieces (a picture of the broken covenant). He then made intercession for the people before the Lord, asking the LORD not to remove his presence and pleading with the LORD to show him his ways and his glory. God called Moses back up to the mountain, where he would write the law on a new set of tablets and proclaim to him his name and his character. Let’s look at the passage.

The Lord passed before him [Moses] and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,  keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” – Exodus 34:6-7

Of this passage, Dane Ortlund writes, “Exodus 34:6-7 is not a one-off descriptor, a peripheral passing comment. In this text we climb in the very center of who God is. ” Tim Mackie and Jon Collins of The Bible Project say, “You know how John 3:16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…’ is the most quotable verse in the New Testament? It’s as if these two verses, Exodus 34:6-7, were the John 3:16 of ancient Israel. They come up so much as you read the Bible.

The  passage lists several of Yahweh’s key character traits, but for the purpose of our study, we are going to focus on steadfast love, the one character trait that God mentions twice here. God tells Moses that he abounds in steadfast love and keeps steadfast love for thousands. Since the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, let’s take a look at the Hebrew word that is translated as “steadfast love” in order to get a better sense of its meaning. Here are some things to note:

*The Hebrew word translated as steadfast love in Exodus 34:6-7 is hesed.

*The Hebrew word hesed is used around 245 times throughout the Old Testament 

*The English language doesn’t have one word that fully and accurately conveys all the meaning contained in the Hebrew word hesed.

*Bible translators have used a variety of English words to translate hesed. 

*King James Version uses mercy or lovingkindness

*New American Standard Version as uses mercy or lovingkindness

*English Standard Version uses steadfast love

*New International Version uses love or unfailing love

* Biblical scholars and commentators say that hesed encompasses the ideas of commitment, generosity, and affection. All three are bound  up in the term.

We might define hesed as love in action, a demonstration of promise-keeping commitment and care. It is more than a feeling of affection, yet it is not devoid of affection. Hesed has been described as loyal love by some scholars. It’s a love that is active, full of generosity and kindness, and not conditional or based on the worth of the person to whom it is being shown. Musician and author Michael Card describes hesed in this way: When the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything. God’s hesed is very good news for his people!

*Of the (approximately) 245 uses of the word hesed in Scripture, 75% of them refer to God’s steadfast love, while the other 25% refer to humans showing steadfast love to others. 

Let’s take a look at 3 (of the many) passages that speak of the loyal love of God for his people, and we will follow that by looking at a biblical example of a human demonstrating God-like steadfast love to another. The first three passages we’ll look at all focus on the boundlessness and eternality of God’s hesed.

*Psalm 36:5-10:  “Your steadfast love [hesed] O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds…How precious is your steadfast love [hesed], O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings…Oh continue your steadfast love [hesed] to those who know you…”

*Psalm 136:  The Psalmist repeats the phrase, “His steadfast love [hesed] endures forever” twenty six times times. He praises God for his mighty works and loyal love for his people, which began at creation and continued throughout their history.

*Lamentations 3:17-24:  The prophet Jeremiah is grieving the deep losses brought about by Israel’s continual idolatry (attack from foreign nations & exile from their land). In the midst of his deep grief, his hope remains because he is confident of God’s loyal love. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

What we read about in these three passages is God’s promise-keeping, covenant love for his people. It is a love that is as high as the heavens. It’s a love that endures forever. It’s a love that never ceases, in spite of the failures and unfaithfulness of those to whom this love is shown. It is a love almost beyond what we can fathom, but one that, by God’s grace, we can extend back to God and others (albeit imperfectly).

There are multiple stories in the Bible in which humans demonstrate God-like hesed toward others, but let’s take a look at one of my favorite examples. One of the most beautiful examples of steadfast love shown by one person to another is found in the book of Ruth. Ruth was a Moabite young woman who married an Israelite man. After her husband, his brother, and his father all died, Ruth committed herself to her (elderly and destitute) mother-in-law Naomi rather than going back to her own family and native country. When Naomi urged her to go back, Ruth said, “…where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die…” (Ruth 1:16-17). Ruth’s kind and generous act of loving commitment to Naomi is referred to later in the story as an act of“hesed” (Ruth 3:10). If you are familiar with the rest of Ruth’s story, you know that it’s through Ruth’s steadfast love to Naomi that God led her to meet Boaz. Ruth and Boaz eventually married and had a son named Obed, who became the grandfather of King David. It was through the line of David that Christ the Redeemer came.

This is just one biblical story among others to help us see that the steadfast love of God is one of his communicable attributes. This means that, to some degree, we can (and should) possess this attribute. In fact, the Bible teaches that God expects his children to actually love steadfast love. Let’s read Micah 6:6-8:

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness [hesed] and to walk humbly with your God?

The Lord is not interested in sacrifices and spiritual ritualism. In response to the steadfast love he has shown us, he desires that we LOVE steadfast love. Our response to God’s loyal love is to believe him and loyally love him back (We love because he first loved us. -1 John 4:19) and also to demonstrate that steadfast love to other people, as Ruth did to Naomi.

As we close out this brief study of God’s steadfast love, I want us to consider how, as New Covenant believers, we see and experience the steadfast love of God in Jesus Christ. I want us to think about how this shapes our identity as those who are wanted, chosen, loved, and secure in spite of our own sin and unfaithfulness to God.

There is no Greek word (the language of the New Testament) that is an exact equivalent of the Hebrew word hesed, but the idea of God’s steadfast love is all over the New Testament. As New Covenant believers, we are the beneficiaries of God’s promise-keeping steadfast love in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). Jesus is God’s hesed –his generous, committed, affectionate, undeserved love for his people– incarnate. It is through him that both Old and New Covenant believers confidently rest in the steadfast love of God for all of eternity. Let’s take a look at three New Testament passages that convey the idea of God’s steadfast love for his chosen people.

*Luke 1:54-55: These verses are part of Mary’s song of praise after the angel reveals to her that she will be the mother of Jesus. She recognizes that the Messiah she carries is God’s fulfillment of his committed, generous, loyal love to his people: “He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever.”

*Ephesians 2:4-7: But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

*Romans 8:38-39: Because God’s hesed in Jesus Christ reaches to the skies and never ceases, NOTHING in all of creation is big enough or strong enough to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 It is through the cross-work of Christ that we see the self-proclaimed declaration of God’s character in Exodus 34:6-7 made manifest. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God extends mercy, grace, steadfast love, and forgiveness to the undeserving while also not clearing the guilty or allowing sin to go unpunished. Bless his name!

I would like to close by praying Micah 7:18-20 in thanks to God for his steadfast love toward us:

Father God, who is like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of your inheritance? You do not retain your anger against us forever because you delight in steadfast love! You have had compassion on us. You have tread our iniquities underfoot. In Christ, you have cast all our sins and iniquities into the depths of the sea. Through your faithful Son, you have shown faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you swore to them from days of old. And through your faithful Son, you have made us sons and daughters, too–the grateful recipients of your eternally unceasing steadfast love.

Beware the Myth of Independence

We’ve all heard (or experienced) the story of the young child who threatens to run away from home. A friend just told me about a proclamation her four-year-old child recently made in a fit of anger: “I’m leaving!” This friend proceeded to question her daughter on how she would eat, wash clothes, or get to preschool on her own. “I’ll walk on the road, or maybe even the sidewalk!” the little girl retorted. “And where I’m going, they’ll have grocery stores and washing machines.” Her mother replied, “But will you be able to reach the washing machine to put your clothes in?”

We chuckle in amusement when we hear these common “run away from home” stories because the folly of the child is so evident, and the threats are so ridiculous. Any rational adult knows that a four-year-old child marching “free” on the open road is a child marching defiantly toward her doom. Children are only truly free to flourish within the boundaries of a safe home and under the  authority of loving parents. Yet, in the moment of her rash declaration, my friend’s child evidenced her own embrace of the lie every human being believes–the lie that freedom from the constraints of authority is the way to the good life. 

The parent/child relationship is a parable built into the creation order to teach us something about God as Father and ourselves as foolish, rebellious children. In it, we see the myth of independence that we’ve all believed, but we also get a taste of the grace-driven dependence that leads to freedom and flourishing. You see, to run away from the boundary walls of home is to simultaneously run away from the rest, comfort and safety that only a home can provide. The two are inextricably interwoven, and that’s by design. So this leads us to the questions: What is true freedom? And how do we obtain it?

The Myth of Independence 

The world defines “freedom” as self-determination, or the ability to sovereignly control one’s own life without the constraints of a higher authority or objective morality. This is a “you do you” concept of freedom in which the individual alone decides how to think, act, and be. Justice Anthony Kennedy summed it up well in his majority opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” 

This concept of freedom as self-determination isn’t new. It’s the same myth the first humans believed in the beginning—the age-old lie whispered by the serpent in the garden: “The path to true happiness is freedom from the constraining rules of that Creator of yours. Freedom is the wisdom to determine what’s right and wrong for yourselves. It’s the power to create your own identity, make your own rules, and chart your own course.” Our rebellious first parents sank their teeth into the beautiful forbidden fruit, but, instead of finding freedom, they found themselves slaves to corruption–a corruption they passed on to all people in all generations. 

God’s word teaches that no human is truly “free” in the libertarian sense of the word. We are slaves to whatever we obey, either sin leading to death or obedience [to God] leading to righteousness (Romans 6:16-17). The will is never unfettered to the nature. And the human problem is that our nature is corrupted by sin. We’re children running blind–hell-bent on maintaining the independence that leads to death while desperately trying to satisfy our seemingly insatiable desires. This is the essence of slavery to sin–being locked into the endless chase for what our souls crave and never finding it, never finding Him.

James K.A. Smith writes, “When we imagine freedom only as negative freedom–freedom from constraint, hands-off liberty to choose what I want–then our so-called freedom is actually inclined to captivity… Insofar as I keep choosing to try to find satisfaction in finite, created things–whether its sex or adoration or beauty or power–I’m going to be caught in a cycle where I’m more and more disappointed in those things and more and more dependent on those things. I keep choosing things with diminishing returns, and when that becomes habitual, and eventually necessary, then I forfeit my ability to choose.

 So, if the endless quest for independence enslaves, how does one break free? 

Freedom as Dependence

The first step toward real freedom comes when our eyes are opened to see the chains that bind us in our pursuit of autonomy. True liberation comes through realization of need and the desperate cry for help that follows. The path toward freedom is found when the runaway child on the street, a moment ago so exhilerated in her quest for independence, realizes she cannot live without her parents after all (and doesn’t want to). So, she turns around and runs back home into their arms with tears of humility in her eyes. And she’s received warmly, not because she deserves it, but because of their gracious, unconditional love.

Our Heavenly Father has only one true Son who never rebelled and ran away from him– only one child who obeyed him perfectly and lived within the boundary lines of his perfect will and love. Yet, the Father turned his back on his perfect Son that he might welcome every rebellious son and daughter willing to run home into his arms through faith in that perfect Son. Grace is the answer. Our dependence upon God’s grace in Christ is the only path to true freedom from sin. It’s the only path to satisfaction in the God who made us. 

Smith says, “It is the posture of a dependence that libertes, a reliance that releases. Once you’ve realized you need someone not you, you also look at constraint differently. What used to look like walls hemming you in start to look like scaffolding holding you together.”

Fully Free Forever

Freedom is the gracious gift of a new nature through which we desire to turn away from sin and run back to the Creator we’ve scorned. It’s the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit within us, enabling us to obey the Lord. But freedom from sin is progressive. By faith in Christ, we’re freed from sin’s power, but we’re still plagued by its presence in our lives during our time on earth. Not who we once were, we are still not yet who we will be. This is why Paul reminds believers that sin has lost dominion over us while still exhorting us to “present [our] members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Romans 6:14;19b). It’s why he declares,” For freedom Christ has set us free” and, in the same sentence, exhorts, “stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

By grace, believers have been welcomed back into the family of God. Hidden in Christ by faith, we’ve turned away from the wide path leading to destruction and have begun our journey along the narrow way–the way to our forever home where our freedom will be full forever. Augstine writes, “What shall be more free than free choice when it is unable to be enslaved to sin?…The first freedom of the will was therefore to be able not to sin; the final freedom will be much greater: not to be able to sin…The Christian life is a pilgramage of hope. We live between the first and final freedom; we are still on the way.” 

Wherever you are on the road, dear pilgrim, keep running heavenward in the freedom of Christ. In him alone, restless souls find rest. In him alone, runaway rebels know the freedom of being forever home. 

***Quotes taken from On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts by James K.A. Smith

When Good News is Especially Good

When Good News is Especially Good

As Holy Week commences, I’m feeling a sense of sadness that we won’t be able to physically gather together with our brothers and sisters in Christ to celebrate Easter this year. So much of life has changed in the past few weeks. Our schedules, rhythms, traditions, and sense of normalcy have all been turned upside down, and it’s hard. This week of the year in which we remember Christ’s death and celebrate his resurrection won’t be “normal” either, and in one sense that’s really depressing. But, in another sense, it brings a depth to our hope and richness to our joy. I cannot remember another Easter in my life when I have felt the need for redemption and longing for resurrection as poignantly as I have this year.

Here’s what I mean: Good news is always good, but it’s especially good when the bad news is very apparent. And there’s no bad news like a worldwide pandemic. When all is well and life feels comfortable (or even just manageable) we can easily sanitize the truth of the human condition in our minds, but a health crisis of this capacity shouts our frailty and brokenness as if through a megaphone. A microscopic virus can decimate our bodies because a disease called sin first decimated our souls and our world. And Jesus Christ is our only hope for ultimate healing.

Finished Atonement 

I don’t know if I have been exposed to COVID-19, but I know that it has exposed me. Having my personal world turned upside down by this crisis has brought sinful idols buried deep within my heart to the fore. My husband is working from home. My very active (read: wild) little boys are home all day every day, needing (read: wanting) to eat all. the. time. and needing constant instruction and correction. 

There are unending opportunities to love and serve my family with joy while exuding the peace that comes from faith in Christ, and I have fallen unbelievably short. Rigidity, anxiety, worry, impatience, harshness and more ugly things have been flowing from my heart and lips in the last few weeks. And maybe I’m not alone? Maybe the fallout of this virus has painfully exposed the depth of your own sin sickness, too? If so, the good news of Christ’s finished cross-work for sinners will be the same sweet balm to your soul that it is for mine–even sweeter than when we heard it last. 

This morning, our pastor said, ‘The cross shouts the completeness of forgiveness, total and unalterable reconciliation to God.” When Jesus uttered his last words, “It is finished” (the Greek word translated “tetelestai”), he declared that he had done everything necessary to forgive and heal our sin-sick hearts. Christ met the perfect requirements of God’s law in his life and satisfied God’s just wrath against sin in his substitutionary death on our behalf. Thus, he secured–for all who would trust him in faith– forgiveness, approval, and acceptance from God the Father. 

Just as Christ has finished his work, God promises to finish the good work he began in us through the Son: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Christ’s finished work of atonement gives us real hope as our sin is continually exposed in the heat of this pandemic. Our righteous position before God is secure, and, as we repent of sin and look to Jesus in faith, he continues his work of making us holy in practice. 

Al Mohler recently said “Christianity is not about adding a little meaning to our otherwise pitiful lives while we live. It’s not about giving us mere pastoral comfort in the midst of a pandemic. It’s about God’s decisive act to save sinners through the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ and to save those sinners to the uttermost.” 

Promised Resurrection 

If the story of atonement ended on Good Friday, then we absolutely could not call the day good. The apostle Paul says, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins…If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17,19). But the story doesn’t end on Friday, and, praise God, our hope is not in this life only. Christ not only conquered sin; he conquered sin’s sting: death.  Whether through the coronavirus or by some other means, death will come to all of us. But for those in Christ, resurrection follows death: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of all who have fallen asleep…For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 22).

The good news of the gospel is not only for our souls but also for our bodies and our world (Romans 8:18-24)! These perishable, earthly bodies we have are just a breath away from death at any given moment. Death is unavoidable, but one day our lifeless bodies will burst forth from the graves, raised to life imperishable in Christ. From that day forward, we will never be susceptible to cancer or coronavirus or any other form of sickness leading to death. All will be right, all will be well, and we will sing in fullness, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?… Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55,57).

An Especially Good Easter

So, as we move through this Easter week, it’s ok to mourn all that has been lost because of COVID-19. It’s good to remember that this world is not as it should be and that we are not yet as we will be. The truth is that it’s always been this way, but we are acutely aware of it right now. When our souls are downcast, may this drive us to hope in God and rejoice in his steadfast love for us in Christ. The good news of the gospel shines brightest in the dark, and that means Easter 2020 is going to be really, really good. 

The Goodness of Good Friday

The Goodness of Good Friday

There is a giant elephant in the room of life.

No one wants to talk about it. We really hate to even acknowledge it exists. But none of us can get around it. Its effects are deeply personal and universally widespread. They leave nothing and no one untouched. They are, quite literally, earth-shattering.

We try to live our lives pretending this elephant isn’t really a big deal, but it’s the reason our world is full of natural disasters, crime, poverty, sickness, hatred, oppression, and tragedy. The elephant’s ravaging effects loom large in our world, but the elephant itself emanates from our own hearts. It begins with wicked desires that give birth to wicked deeds (James 1:15). The fruit of these desires and deeds are fear, guilt, deep shame and separation from the one who made us, the only one who is truly good. 

The elephant is sin, and not one of us can avoid its fruit or its ultimate sting–death.

Whether we are aware of it or not, all of us attempt to deal with our sin, guilt, and shame in various ways. We hide, pretend, excuse it, or accuse others for it. We ignore sin’s heinousness and glorify it as good (or at least “not that bad”). We strive to self-atone through good works or prideful self-loathing so we can feel the faux peace of self-forgiveness. We offer grace to ourselves from ourselves because “we’re only human” and need not expect too much. We live for today as if judgement and death will never really come. And all of these efforts are so futile, so inefficient.

But on a dark day over two thousand years ago, God himself dealt with our sin, guilt, and shame. On this day we call Good Friday, God the Father took all that is unholy and placed it on his perfectly holy Son. Jesus the Christ hung naked on a cross, publicly punished and shamed by the Father for the world to see. In this, God demonstrated that the “elephant” of sin is a serious problem that cannot be hidden or ignored. It cannot be glorified or justified away in our own efforts. It cannot be excused. And God has not excused it. He has crushed the perfect Son in whom he delights that he might forgive rebellious children and make us holy.

How could the Father love us this much? For one will scarcely die for a righteous person…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:7-8). Let’s not miss all that this love has accomplished for us. Let’s dwell on why Good Friday is so good.

The One Who Dealt with Guilt

The guilt we feel as human beings is not imagined, false guilt. We cannot avoid feelings of guilt because, deep within our hearts, we know we are truly guilty. We have transgressed the Creator King’s righteous law, and we stand legally condemned (John 3:18), awaiting God’s just judgment (Romans 2:5-9). And blood is required. 

For the wages of sin is death. . . (Romans 6:23)

. . .and without the shedding of blood there is not forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22b).

For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life (Leviticus 17:11).

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses. . . (Ephesians 2:8)

On Good Friday, Jesus took upon himself the just wrath of God our sin deserved. He paid the penalty for our guilt in his death that we may be declared “not guilty” in him. In a beautiful paradox, God was able to remain justly holy while justifying sinners through our faith in his Son (Romans 3:26). Only the love of God toward us in Christ vanquishes our guilt. By faith, we can stop striving to suppress or rid ourselves of the guilt we feel and boldly proclaim: There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! (Romans 8:1)

The One Who Dealt with Shame

But what about our shame? Although we are legally declared righteous before God through faith in Christ, how do we deal with the fact that our current practice does not match our new righteous position? Even in Christ, we still fight remaining sin. Christ has been righteous in our place, but deep down we know we are not yet truly good. In beholding the holiness of Christ, we have seen ourselves for who we really are, and it is painfully shameful.

When Christ hung on the cross–the very emblem of suffering and shame–he took upon himself not only our guilt but also our shame that his holiness despised. He is not only the founder of our faith but also the perfecter of it (Hebrews 12:2). In other words, by faith in him we need no longer feel shame for former sins or the remaining sin we still struggle against. In Christ, our holiness is as good as done.

For by a single offering, he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14).

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life (Romans 6:22).

The fruit of sin is shame, but the fruit of being in Christ is progressive holiness. The benefits of  salvation are more (though certainly not less) than our being declared righteous by faith. By faith, we are also being made holy, and God will finish the work he started, bringing us to sinless perfection when we meet him face-to-face (Romans 8:30).

The One Who Dealt with Death

If the death of Christ on Good Friday was the end of the story, we couldn’t call the day good. If Christ dealt with our sin and its fruit on the cross but failed to deal with the sting of sin through the resurrection, where would we be? Paul tells us.

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).

Good Friday is truly good because resurrection Sunday is coming, the day when death lost its power and sin lost its sting!

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of all who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. . . The sting of death is sin. . . but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:20-22, 56-57).

Look Up!

Today and every day, let’s look at our sin honestly. May we despise it, mourn it, and humbly confess it. But let’s not linger there, pridefully navel gazing in an attempt to deal with sin on our own terms. Let’s direct our gaze heavenward to Christ the perfect one, looking to him to deal with our sin and its fruit. Christ was high and lifted up on Calvary’s hill to bear our guilt and shame in his body and to pay for our sin through his death. He rose from the grave and ascended into heaven to rule with all authority—high and lifted up as the conqueror of death!

Good Friday is good because the Holy One bought back for himself what was lost because of sin in the world he created good. His resurrection is the proof that he is, indeed, making everything sad [and bad] come untrue, both in our hearts and in our world. Look at your sin but linger on Christ, thanking God for his indescribable gift!


The Home as the Hub of Life on Mission

The Home as the Hub of Life on Mission

Our family is in the process of moving from one house to another, and I’m kind of feeling all the feels about it. There’s the nostalgia and twinge of sadness as we say goodbye to a house where we’ve made sweet memories and grown as a family, but there’s also the excitement about a new place for a new season. All these feelings brought about by our upcoming change of address have gotten me thinking about the fact that a home is much more than just brick and mortar.

When we think of a house, we may think of shelter or a space to decorate according to our various styles. When we think of a home, we might envision a refuge or place of belonging. But in the Kingdom of God, does a home have a deeper purpose than even these good things? Does the Bible have anything to say about God’s purpose for the home?

Women who are familiar with the Bible may remember that in Titus chapter two, the work of the home is mentioned. Here, the apostle Paul exhorts Titus to teach what accords with sound doctrine (the gospel): Older women are to train younger women to “love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home . . . that the word of God will not be reviled” (2:4-5). Paul is not here saying that women should only work in the home. The point Paul makes is that the home is significant in God’s gospel mission; therefore, the work of the home is extremely valuable to Him. The Bible is clear that the mission of believers is to spread God’s glory to all the world by making disciples through the power of the gospel (Matt 28:19-20, Rom 1:16). This mission is not disconnected from Paul’s exhortations to women concerning work in the home. When Titus chapter two is interpreted in light of Christ’s great commission mandate, women will begin to see that their homes can serve as a “hub” or effective center for living a life on mission for Christ .

The mission begins within the walls.

I love Mother Teresa’s thought provoking words: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Al Mohler recently made a similar statement: “If we can’t reach our children, we can’t reach the world.” Our mission to reach the world with the gospel starts at home. The people who live within our walls {spouses, children, roommates} are our closest neighbors and usually the people with whom God has given us the greatest influence. Hearts and minds are shaped early and, as parents, we have the hearts of our children first. As we are faithful to love and care for our kids in the day-to-day, we have thousands of opportunities to make intentional deposits of gospel truth into their hearts and lives while praying for God to bring transformation and growth.

When we view the home as the hub of our mission efforts, even the most mundane and exhausting work required in keeping a house and caring for those we love is important and meaningful; yet, at the same time, it doesn’t rule us. Christ rules us. We can work faithfully by His strength and for His glory while recognizing that our joy is not dependent on whether or not we have a beautifully decorated and tidy home, a thankful spouse, or well-behaved children.

To use our homes as the hub of our mission efforts does not mean we are domestic goddesses who keep picture-perfect homes and never make mistakes in front of those who live in our home. In fact, it’s really just the opposite. Being on mission within the walls of our homes means that we really get the gospel ourselves. We understand that apart from Christ we are broken and flawed and weak. We recognize that every failure–every bad attitude, impatient word or careless act–is an opportunity to point to the Perfect One whose righteousness has been credited to us through faith and who is slowly transforming our hearts as we turn from our sin and look to Him alone. The ugly things in our hearts that are exposed in front of those we love give us the chance to demonstrate humility and true repentance as we shout the good news that the gospel of Jesus is our greatest hope in our weakest moments. To be on mission in our homes, we must model our deep need and highlight God’s great grace.

The mission moves beyond the walls when the door is open.

God has provided us earthly homes as temporary places of refuge, not that we may sequester ourselves behind closed doors and only minister to those within our walls, but that we may open our doors and bid others to come in and  see that the it is The Lord is good. These physical structures we live in are just temporary dwellings, but they can be a powerful  tool to point others forward to our eternal dwelling in Christ if we will simply open our doors.

A missional home is an open home, not a perfect home. Are we willing to welcome others into our imperfect (and in my case, messy) homes to share of our time, our food, and ourselves? In the book of Acts, Luke records that the early Church did life together. Followers of Christ gathered daily to learn, worship, break bread, and remember the gospel together. They also applied the gospel together as they generously gave of what they had to meet the needs of others. In short, they lived life with a “what’s mine is yours” mentality. “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were beings saved” (Acts 2:47b). As they lived life together with open homes and hands, the gospel spread.

We live in an individualistic culture of locked doors, drawn curtains and privacy fences. The American mentality is “you can only count on what you earn”. But if our homes are going to function as little gospel outposts for taking the good news to the world, we must work by Christ’s strength to keep our doors open regardless of how uncomfortable or costly it may feel.

We each need to ask ourselves questions such as these: Is my home open to those in the Body of Christ? Do I regularly welcome believers in to share a meal or coffee and speak about the things of the Lord together? Is my home a refuge for others in need of a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, godly counsel or just a free place to spend the night? As I welcome the Body of Christ, am I intentionally seeking to build relationships with the lost in my circle of influence while petitioning the Lord to add to [our] number those who are being saved? Do I speak to neighbors and try to get to know them through time? Do I develop friendships with lost coworkers who do not know the Lord and invite them into my home? Do I pray for them and ask the Lord for opportunities? There are countless creative ways to use our homes for God’s Kingdom mission if we will open our eyes and ask daily for his strength and help.

Lest we become easily discouraged, let us remember that we will not be perfect in managing our homes for effective gospel mission. We will struggle and always have room to grow, but weakness itself is a gift. It reminds us that our hope is in something greater than our home and our own efforts at faithful obedience. In the hard moments, let us shift our perspective to the truth that Gloria Furman communicates so well:

The remnant Israelites learned that their home was not their refuge. In our modern time, we need to know this too. We need to know that our home is not a projection of our image but a space in which we work to display the image of Christ. Home points to a peace that is beyond color schemes and adornments. It points to the fact that the Lord is our refuge. Jesus Christ is the greatest missional home manager the world has ever seen. He builds his house, and he sets his house in order. He is head over his church, and he loves her perfectly. He nourishes her with his word. Christ reigns in sovereign superiority; he is the basis of all our joy. We must live our lives focused on his sovereign lordship over the cosmos.“

Yes. And amen.


Theology Thursdays: The Bible

As part of my counseling training/certification, {which I am two classes shy of finishing, by the way}, I had to complete a very lengthy theology exam. In this exam, I had to formulate and clearly write the biblical basis for my beliefs on a number of questions under the headings of bibliology (the Bible), theology proper (God), anthropology (man), Christology (Christ), soteriology (salvation), pneumatology (Holy Spirit), and ecclesiology (the Church). I decided I would share some of that content on the blog (one question at a time of course), and I chose to post questions on Thursdays because it makes for a nice alliterative title.  🙂 Some questions have relatively concise answers while others have rather lengthy answers.

That said, I can’t make a commitment for weekly posting at this point in my life, so “Theology Thursday” posts might be regular, or they might be sporadic. I make no promises. The first series of questions falls under the bibliology heading (Bible).

1. The Bible is spoken of as “inspired.” What does this mean? 

The Bible is a book written by human men, but it is also the very Word of God. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”  The inspiration of Scripture means that Scripture was literally breathed out by God so that what is written in our Bibles is as much His Word as an audible voice would be. (1)

God, however, did not dictate words to the human authors of Scripture. These men freely wrote what they wanted to write in their individual styles but were kept from error by the superintendence of the Holy Spirit. In referring to the Bible, Jay Adams says, “The Christian counselor has a Book that is the very word of the living God, written in the styles of the individual writers, who (through the superintendence of the Holy Spirit) were kept from errors that otherwise would have crept into their writings, and who, by His providential direction, produced literature that expressed not only what they themselves wanted to say, but what God wanted to say through them . . .” (2)

 1. Jay E. Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling: More than Redemption (Zondervan, N.D.), 17.