Centuries Long Confusion

Our blessings are almost an embarrassment. If we were thankful, it would be okay. Instead, we disgrace ourselves with skimpy gratitude and boldness. We have considerable freedom and security for gathering to worship; it costs us very little. We have our own copies of God’s Word, let alone working eyes and the education to read it. We also have a two-thousand year long hindsight over generations of Christians who settled a foundation of clear and coherent truth for us to stand on.

What amazes and encourages me is that God controls both the course and the pace of our history. That means that He must enjoy, at least in some way, the dramatic suspense of centuries long confusion.

For a few hundred years after Christ came, the early church struggled to explain Christ’s nature. How could He be both fully God and fully man, glorious in humility and even death? Jesus’ own disciples were confused and, though they recorded truth accurately with the help of the Spirit, their disciples still struggled. From our vantage point, we live in the clarity they labored to find.

Again, I’m amazed and encouraged that this was all according to God’s plan. Does He not desire great, global honor for His Son? Does He not want all men to know His Son’s excellent glory? Does He not expect us to see and praise the grace, truth, love, and humility of the eternal Logos? Yes! A thousand times, Yes! And yet the Father was, and is, okay taking His time for the truth to spread.

We benefit from observing this process in at least two ways. First, we can be thankful for God’s gracious placement of us at this bend in the river of history. Second, we can be confident that God will continue to fix the confusion about and overcome the rebellion against His Son as we labor by His strength today. The world knows Jesus more than it did and, according to His Word, it will know more than it does now.

A Lot of Trouble

At least four sorts of trouble surface in the Bible. First there is trouble that results from our sin (think 1 Peter 4:14). We will reap suffering if we sow disobedience. Second is trouble that comes from living in a world of sinners; “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job, 5:7; think also about Paul’s comments regarding marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:28). Thistles and cancer and gossip and orthodontist payments grow after Genesis 3. The third is the trouble of spirit that Jesus displayed when He saw pain (John 11:33; 12:27; 13:21). And fourth, there is the trouble Jesus prohibits when He told His disciples not to let their hearts be troubled (John 14:1, 27).

Some trouble is inescapable. Other trouble is disobedient. Note that this is not trouble as a result of being disobedient, but being troubled is being disobedient. A surprising number of times, at least to us natural non-trusters, God directs us not to be troubled, not to be anxious (Philippians 4:6), to put all our cares on Him (1 Peter 5:6-7), even when we’re suffering for righteousness’ sake (1 Peter 3:14).

Why does God require us to believe to the extent of not being upset? He knows how the knotty the wood here can get. He knows that there is a plot twist on the last page, and that He’s only giving us the story one chapter at a time. He knows the pain of searing loss over a loved one. So why does He tell us not to be troubled? Why would He count it sin when we are?

God requires us to trust Him in trouble because He is infinitely trustworthy. He always tells the truth. He always is faithful to do what He said. We can trust in His character and in His promises. When we don’t, we say (in effect) that we know better, that He cannot be depended on. When our hearts are troubled it isn’t that circumstances are so bad that we had to. It’s that we think the circumstances are more unwieldy than God can control. Not only is it wrong, it is a blight on God’s perfect record.

Adorned with Bible Verses

Two brothers met for coffee one afternoon and the younger brother announced that he no longer loved his wife of seven years and was planning to leave her. The older brother, dressed in righteous indignation adorned with Bible verses, rebuked his younger brother’s foolishness. But, as Solomon said, “crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle yet his folly will not depart from him.” Neither listened to the other and both brothers left.

The older brother didn’t go straight home. His wife had asked him to pick up some groceries for dinner. Heading to the dairy section against the back wall he lingered in the magazine aisle. The local supermarket didn’t sell pornography so he figured he was safe to look at the pictures; certainly nothing was too bad. When he pulled into his driveway, a neighbor was working in his yard and they chatted for a few minutes. The conversation was superficial enough, so it didn’t seem like a big deal when the older brother laughed off his wife’s laziness since she never pruned her flowers as she promised and left him to do the work.

Once inside and after greeting his wife and daughters, he asked if his wife had finished a task he asked her to do earlier in the day. She said she got busy and forgot. He gave her a lecture about all he did for her, showing off the bag of groceries as Exhibit A, and wondered why she couldn’t do this one thing for him. He huffed off to the living room, turned on the game, and left her to finish dinner, clean up the kitchen, and tuck the kids into bed all by herself.

Which brother loved his wife? One said he didn’t, both showed they didn’t. Many in the church have the same problem with their professions of love for God. Some deny Him up front, others deny Him out back. Talk and walk are siblings with similar consequences and we ought to pay attention to both.

Struck Out Looking

The greatest commandment is to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Not one of us loves God with all of our faculties let alone doing it every moment, so we fail on the foremost demand. The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves, another thorough requirement that we don’t ever entirely obey. The count is 0-2 when Jesus pitches His mandate that we love one another just as He loved us.

God commands love. We rebel when we offer worship to Him apart from love, when we serve others without love, and when we do love but only half-heartedly. God accepts no substitutes for love or lukewarm loves. Throw in the “just as Jesus” clause and we have struck out looking on three straight sins of omission.

Let us consider the “just as Jesus” clause further. He loves us when? He loves us all the time, including when we don’t obey His commands to love. He loves us in immaturity, in weakness, in sinfulness. He loves when we don’t qualify for love. That is Jesus love.

It is one thing for us to love God fully; He deserves love. It is one thing to love our neighbors, or enemies; we might get away with loving them only one afternoon. But to keep on loving one another, the anothers we’re stuck with, the little need machine anothers, the anothers who question or misrepresent or needle us, this makes Jesus’ love unbelievable, and glorious.

We confess our sin and we also trust that He forgives us because He loves us. We believe this because He tells us it is true. He also tells us to love one another just as He loved us. The greater we see our sin the greater we must love other sinners. Christlike love abounds, sacrifices, and targets the undeserving. If our love doesn’t, then our love hasn’t put the ball in play.

He Knows

Jesus knows everything. Nothing escapes Him. His knowledge penetrates the hearts of men, all their attitudes, intentions, and imaginations. He also foresees the future, every decision and event yet to come. Because He knows, He cannot be snowed. The Gospels repeatedly report His divine knowledge. He knows more and more truly than all the Internet pages stitched together.

The apostles also preached Jesus’ divine judgment. Speaking to Cornelius in Acts 10, Peter explained that Christ (who is Lord of all, verse 36), “commanded [the apostles] to preach to the people and to testify that [Jesus] is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (verse 42). Jesus writes the final sentence for every person.

His divine knowledge and judgment should provide us with at least a couple encouragements. First, we who believe in Christ depend on His omniscient judgment to right every wrong in someway (by fixing or punishing) someday. He knows all the sins we see and stacks of those we don’t. His judgment isn’t an obstacle that prevents our faith, it is an object of our faith. We trust that He will take care of all sin.

Second, Peter refers to the preaching of good news of peace through Jesus (verse 36). The omniscient judge is also the obedient sacrifice. Peter, as the prophets before him, bore witness “that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (verse 43). Christian, if you’re forgiven, it’s not because He didn’t know all the sin in your heart or in your future. Don’t fear that He might find something you think He didn’t know about. We confess our sins not because He’s ignorant, but because it helps us to remember that He knows them all and forgives them all.

Obedience Is Rock

Jesus cuts the will with an incisive question near the end of His sermon. As Luke recorded it, Jesus said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I tell you?” (6:46) He follows the question with the famous illustration, and favorite kids’ song, about the foolish man who built his house upon the sand and the wise man who built on the rock. The foundation matters.

What is the foundation in the story? It is not Jesus Himself, though that is true when we sing “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.” It is not Jesus’ word, though that also is true when we sing “How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord is laid for your faith in His excellent word.” The foundation in Jesus’ illustration is obedience. One comes to Jesus, hears His words and does them. Another hears and does not do them. Disobedience is sand. Obedience is rock.

We usually emphasize the foolish man and his destruction. When the stream breaks the ruin and fall of his house is great. We observe the fool to avoid becoming foolish. That’s why Jesus Himself wonders why a man would call Him Lord and not obey. But let us also remember the blessing. When the flood comes and the stream breaks the house of the obedient cannot be shaken.

God promises great things to those who hear and do His word. Are you hungry for that blessing? Are you building so your house will stand, that is, so your life will remain upright? If not, confess it. That’s laying solid footings for a firm foundation of obedience.

We Don’t Go Back to Dead

Who taught you that when you come in for dinner, you don’t need to take a shower, you need to wash your hands? Your parents probably passed that lesson on to you, but where did they learn it? It’s not necessarily common sense but it does belong to how God made things to work. Imagine what laws today’s germaphobes might make if we didn’t have a couple thousand years’ worth of hand-washing success? How different would your day look if before handling any food you believed that a full body wash was necessary?

We know that’s not required and let’s not take that knowledge for granted. Similarly, what a great revelation from God to men that saved sinners don’t need to be saved again. We do not lose our salvation, we do not need to be regenerated again and again and again. Instead, we confess daily sins and Christ forgives and cleanses us. How different would your day look if after every sin you believed that a new conversion was necessary?

Every believer has been fundamentally washed in Christ. We were completely filthy, soiled by sin. Christ bathes us and clothes us in His righteousness. When–and it is when, not if–we sin again, we do not go back to dead. We do not need another bath. We need Him to wash up the dirty parts. If we drive the car into the curb we need to take it in for an alignment, we don’t need to trade it in for a new car.

This both comforts us and reminds us. We get comfort knowing that Christ’s work isn’t undone by our sin. We are also reminded that Christ continues to undo our sin and that we ought to keep coming to Him. In this process our consciences remain tender without being terrorized. Imagine what dread the legalists could lay upon us if after every sin we needed new salvation. God’s judgment against our sin is complete in Christ, and the Father calls us to confess any sin based on it.

Pinning Jealousy

The jealous and the zealous are related. Our English word jealous comes down to us from a Greek word, ζῆλος (zealos, meaning strong desire or zeal. Middle English and French chewed this Greek word and gave us a pair. We usually clothe jealousy with dark colors, referring to someone with a strong desire for what someone else has. It describes a man who is envious of his brother’s good fortune or suspicious of his resources. The jealous want another’s possessions or position or popularity.

James wrote, “if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth” (James 3:14). There are visible consequences to this sort of zeal: “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist there will be disorder and every vile practice” (verse 16). He describes jealousy as “earthy, unspiritual, demonic” (verse 15). It quickly leads to quarrels and fights and wars (4:1-2).

Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery because they were jealous (Acts 7:9). The High Priest and other Jewish leaders arrested the apostles because they were jealous (Acts 5:17-18). Solomon asked rhetorically, “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy” (Proverbs 27:4). In other words, who can surf Pinterest and not be drowned by the wave of envy?

That said, God also revealed that He is jealous for His name (Ezekiel 39:25); His very name is Jealous (Exodus 34:14). He is jealous for His people (Joel 2:18; Zechariah 1:14, 8:2). It’s appropriate for husbands to be jealous for their wives.

What makes jealousy either demonic or divine? Our hearts. What are we afraid to lose? Are we zealous for what is right or are we zealous to define what is right? Do we want what we want because we want to conform to reality or because we want to conform reality to our perceived rights? One is heavenly, the other hellish, and we need to confess any wrong we find before battle breaks out.

Who Told You That?

One great success of Christians in our culture can be seen by considering one great criticism from the culture against Christians. One of the most frequent and vigorous judgments is that we don’t love each other.

This judgment is grounded in truth. Jesus said that Christians should love one another sacrificially just as He did and obviously so that the world can see.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35, ESV)

It is good that the world knows what we’re supposed to be doing. But how did they even grasp how to grade our assigned work? We gave them the answer key. Nature teaches them that God is powerful but nature doesn’t teach them about love. God’s Word teaches that God is love and that He commands us to love. Christians have translated and printed and preached the Word so that our society breathes that assumption.

When your kid asks from the back seat why you’re going so fast, remember that you’re the one who explained to them what speed limit signs are for. Unbelievers may point out our responsibilities even though they may not like the standard or plan to apply the standard to themselves. Fine, but at least least they know the law. That’s good.

It’s bad that it is so obvious that we aren’t obeying. They know we’re His disciples because we love to talk about all the Greek words for love. We’ve become like a team of 500 pound nutritionist bloggers and the irony is heavy.

The answer here isn’t for Christians to be secretive about Jesus’ commands. The answer isn’t to hide the truth from our kids about the requirements of speed limit signs. The cultural accountability is good; we want them to know the Bible and we want them to watch our lives. We’ve gotten what we’ve asked for, but we haven’t lived up to our press. Let’s continue to paint the target for our culture to criticize us but let’s also give them no ammo to shoot at us.

Full of It

Our God is special. He does things hardly anyone expects though He expects everyone will notice. Paul told the Romans that all men know God but they won’t honor Him or give thanks to Him (Romans 1:21). It strikes me that gospel, the power of God to salvation, goes after the ungrateful. The good news that causes us to be most thankful addresses sinners who are the least thankful.

Salvation, analyzed in one way, is deliverance from ungratefulness. God justifies unthankful men, forgiving them and declaring them innocent of all their thanklessness. God sanctifies men by the gracious work of His Word and Spirit to make a man more thankful. Even the word itself expresses a great measure: thankFUL, or grateFUL. A saved man is full of it, in the right way.

So there are two parts to this exhortation. First, is your thank tank full? If not, you should confess it as sin.

Second, are you faithfully reflecting God to the unthankful around you? Jesus told His disciples,

love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (Luke 6:35, ESV)

Using unthankfulness to fix an unthankful neighbor works as well as using a Brillo pad to fix a scratch on his eyeball. If we obey the command to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thesslalonians 5:18), we may find that thanks is potent to overcome complaints. We won’t overcome evil with grouchiness because God doesn’t.