Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Month: July 2011

When Life is Hard

It is when you need Jesus most desperately that you come to know Him most deeply.

What a motive for resolve and steadfastness in life’s most devastating moments! Seeking “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8) we can live in the midst of even disaster — not looking primarily for escape, but for the joy of knowing Him more intimately.

Kept and Keeping

I’m assuming for the moment that you are a genuine believer in Jesus Christ. I’m writing to those who, through repentant faith, have come to a real relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Ok, we’ve got that squared away. Now to my point.

How do you know you’re going to make it? To heaven, I mean.

Jesus, by His death and resurrection, has provided fully for your salvation. The Father has drawn you to Jesus (John 6:44), in whom you have found true and genuine new life.

Ok, so how do you know you’re going to make it from here to heaven?

This world is no friend of grace. The threats are real. The temptations are not mere illusions. What assurance do you have that you’re going to make it all the way through to the safety and security of the other side?

“I have confidence in Jesus’ ability to keep me to the very end!,” you say.

Good answer! Ok, but how’s that work? How does He keep His own to the very end?

The Epistle of Jude is home to some of the Bible’s most profound promises with regard to God’s keeping of His children.

Jude opens by speaking of his readers as those “kept by Jesus Christ.” He closes with a sublime doxology: “To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (v.24).

Think of that! God is able to keep you from tripping up in this world to the point that you fail to make it “home.” That is to say that He can “make you stand” (NASB) before Him in His blazing glory and to be found there both “without fault” and experiencing “great joy”!

That’s what I’m holding out for! That’s what I desire with all my soul!

So how’s that actually work? Again Jude tells us. He says that while God does the keeping we have a part in being “kept.” He commands us: “keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (v.21)!

“Wait a minute!” you cry. “I’m saved entirely by God’s doing. But now you’re telling me I’m ‘kept’ in some way by mine?”

God and God alone saves. We don’t save ourselves. But that does not mean we don’t have a part to play. We don’t save ourselves, Jesus saves us—it is all of Him. Yet we are called to receive the gift provided by God through Christ (John 1:12; Acts 2:38). God has designated faith as the means by which He works salvation in us (John 3:16).

God and God alone keeps His children. When a person gets to heaven it is 100% God’s doing. But that doesn’t mean God can’t designate the means by which He keeps us. Jude tells us there are two means which God uses to keep us in His love and get us home to heaven.

The first means is “building yourselves up on your most holy faith” (v.20a). By “faith” Jude means here not so much the subjective trust we each must exercise in Jesus and the truth of the His Gospel. That’s not unimportant; in fact, it’s essential (as we’ve already seen). But in this instance by “faith” he means the Gospel itself—that body of truth which holds forth the salvation of Christ. It is, as Jude described it in verse 3, “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” How was this faith “handed down” to us? The Apostolic Gospel is explained and expounded to us in the pages of the Bible. So continuously and regularly “building yourselves up” on the foundation of the Scripture is one means God uses to “keep” you as His child.

The second means God decrees as essential to our being “kept” is “praying in the Holy Spirit” (v.20b). Filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18) we are to “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18)—bathed in the Spirit’s presence, under His direction, at His prompting, by His empowering, with His wisdom, according to His will, from the Scriptures under His illuminating, teaching ministry. And when in utter extremity, when words fail and you do even know what to pray? “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26-27). “God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal. 4:6) and thus we “have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15, ESV). God sent His Spirit to dwell in and speak within us so that the Spirit can now speak back to Him in prayer through us and from within us. The Spirit of God’s Son cries out within us so that we might cry out to the Father.

Here then is the two-fold means by which God “keeps” His own unto eternal life—the Word of God and prayer. God does the keeping. And thank God His grip is better than mine! But He will not keep me apart from my taking up the means by which He has decree He will do so—regularly building myself up on the foundation of Word of God and dwelling in open, conscious, constant communion with Him through prayer.

“But,” you wonder aloud, “doesn’t this in some way mean I save and then keep myself and thus it is not all of God?”  Perhaps it helps to remember what the Apostle Paul commanded the Philippians: “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (2:12b-13). See the emphasis? You and I must “work out” what God “works in” us. First God (absolutely essential); then us (also absolutely essential). We can only work out what He has worked in. But are we?

Can I save myself? No, only God saves! But He does it by working faith in me, faith which I must exercise by repentance and trust in His Son (Eph. 2:8-9). Having thus been saved, can I keep myself to eternal life? No! Only God can keep me all the way to heaven! But He does it by willing and working through me, so that I am able to “keep [myself] in God’s love” by taking up His appointed means of the Scripture and prayer.

Because God is God, He could have devised a way to save us that did not involve our faith. But He didn’t. Because God is God, He could have devised a way to keep us which required nothing of us—but He didn’t. He has decreed to keep me by means of my responsible, faith-filled obedience to build myself up in His Word and to pray in His Spirit – but even in this it is “God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (NASB).

God keeps. Because He does, you can—and you must.

His Hand and Our Hands (Ezra 7-8)

The Hand of God

“This Ezra went up from Babylon, and he was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given; and the king granted him all he requested because the hand of the LORD his God was upon him.” (7:6)

“For on the first of the first month he began to go up from Babylon; and on the first of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, because the good hand of his God was upon him.” (7:9)

“Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers, who … has extended lovingkindness to me before the king and his counselors and before all the king’s mighty princes. Thus I was strengthened according to the hand of the LORD my God upon me …” (7:28)

“According to the good hand of our God upon us they brought us a man of insight of the sons of Mahli, the son of Levi, the son of Israel, namely Sherebiah, and his sons and brothers …” (8:18)

The Work of our Hands: When the hand of God is on us, God’s work prospers in our hands.

1. The Word of God prospers in our hand.

“Forasmuch as you are sent by the king and his seven counselors to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem according to the law of your God which is in your hand.” (7:14; cf. v.10)

2. The Wisdom of God prospers in our hand.

“You, Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God which is in your hand, appoint magistrates and judges that they may judge all the people who are in the province beyond the River …” (7:25)

3. The Will of God prospers in our hand.

“For I was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way, because we had said to the king, “The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him, but His power and His anger are against all those who forsake Him.” (8:22)

“Then we journeyed from the river Ahava on the twelfth of the first month to go to Jerusalem; and the hand of our God was over us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and the ambushes by the way.” (8:31)

4. The Wealth of God prospers in our hands.

“Thus I weighed into their hands 650 talents of silver, and silver utensils worth 100 talents, and 100 gold talents.” (8:26)

“On the fourth day the silver and the gold and the utensils were weighed out in the house of our God into the hand of Meremoth the son of Uriah the priest, and with him was Eleazar the son of Phinehas; and with them were the Levites, Jozabad the son of Jeshua and Noadiah the son of Binnui.  Everything was numbered and weighed, and all the weight was recorded at that time.” (8:33)

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