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Changed By Glory

"And we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." II Cor. 3:18

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Christian Life

7 Reasons You Should Start Studying Theology Right Now

Many Christians see theology, the study of God, as being the labor exclusively taken on by pastors and scholars. Such Christians are mistaken and are missing out on something incredible. And here are seven reasons why…

  1. Because to know God is the essence of eternal life (John 17:3)
  2. Because God has made himself known (Hebrews 1:1, Deuteronomy 29:29)
  3. Because by beholding Him we become like him (II Corinthians 3:18, 1 John 3:2)
  4. Because by knowing God rightly we worship him rightly (John 4:23, Proverbs 19:2)
  5. Because we are commanded to get knowledge and to think on excellent things and there is nothing more excellent than God (Proverbs 23:12, Philippians 4:8)
  6. Because we should be always ready to give an answer for our hope and be ready to teach others (1 Peter 3:15, 2 Timothy 2:2)
  7. Because there is literally nothing greater that we could do than this (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

If these seven reasons are not enough, then I don’t know what is.

There are many amazing, sound resources available for you to get started on and I would love to make suggestions. For starters, feel free to take a listen and look at what we are doing to encourage the work of theology at Immanuel by clicking here.

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

(Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV)

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Don’t Try To Be The Holy Spirit… or do?

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I have heard it said dozens of times “You can’t be the Holy Spirit in their life” or “Stop playing Holy Spirit with them.” I understand what could be meant by this. It would be blasphemous for any of us to pretend to take the Spirit’s place in penetrating to the heart of a person. Sadly, however, the attitude that is more often behind this rebuke is one of individualism and a resistance to accountability. Let me explain.

The truth is, while we are not supposed to try to be the Holy Spirit to other people we are commanded to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). And this truth comes from none other than “the Spirit of truth” through the Word of God (John 16:3). The difference is when we try to speak on our own authority. But when we resist a Word spoken in love by another person, we actually risk ignoring the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not my own personal almanac for life, but is the very glue which binds us together with other believers (Eph. 4:3). The Spirit uses each of us to speak into one another’s lives with the Word of God, which is from the Spirit. We deceive ourselves if we think we just need ourselves and our own personal Holy Spirit. God did not design us as believers to function this way. We need to have the humility to recognize that the Spirit works through all the means of grace that God has given and that includes the communion of saints.

We are not supposed to try to be the Holy Spirit to each other, but we are to be the mouthpiece of God, lovingly speaking the truth through which the Spirit works. Your brothers and sisters are not the Paraclete but they are a tool in His hand.

Next time someone says something to you and you begin to think, “You can’t be the Holy Spirit to me!” Check your heart. You might be shutting the Spirit out.

Knowing God’s Will for Your Life

 I promised last week that I would address the topic of how to know what God’s will is and I would like to briefly give an answer. There are many layers to this subject, but I want to just touch on a foundational principle that I hope will bring freedom and motivation to live a life devoted to God’s revealed will.

    I have many times heard people in exasperation declare “I just want to know God’s will for my life.” Other sit still, claiming that they will just do nothing until God tells them what to do. Many are waiting for a calling and then grow frustrated when that calling they receive doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Did they hear God right?

  What these people, and I have been included among them, fail to realize is that God has already told them what to do. Every believer has sufficient information from God to know his will. II Timothy 3:16-17 says “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” This verse teaches that the Word of God is sufficient for the man or woman of God to be complete. Now that is not to say that you will ever in this life be complete, but we can be confident that in this life we will never reach the end of our sanctification as there is always room to go deeper in the Scriptures. But this does give us a clear message from God that his Word is enough.

   The problem with seeking a subjective calling or extra-biblical inspiration, is that it is not Scripture, which according to this verse is what we need if we desire to be complete. The Bible is full of things that are God’s will for you, but the problem with us is that we often want God to be like a fortune teller who will make decisions in life easier for you by telling you where to live, what to major in, who to marry, etc. Doubtless the Bible speaks into all of these things, but God does not give us many specifics regarding every-day life. Does this make what He has revealed insufficient? We of course can say no!

   Much more could be said about this, but let’s get to nuts and bolts. How then do I know God’s will for me in where I should live, whom I should marry, and so forth? A sufficient answer can be found in the Word. We want God to tell us what to do because he knows the future and we don’t, in fact he has ordained our days and where we will live (Acts 17:26). Yet he does not tell us the details of how he brings these things about or what things we should do in detail in most cases. But he does tell us what we need to know.  “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.“(Deuteronomy 29:29)What does this all mean to this point? It means that is each situation that arises we can make decisions in keeping with God’s revealed will (the Scriptures) and have confidence that in and through those decisions he is bringing about His secret will leading to the good of His children and the glory of His name.

   Here is a great example that is not my own, but is helpful: If a girl is being pursued romantically by two men and she thinks they are both great, how can she know what God’s will is? Who should she say yes to? What does God want her to do? Biblically speaking if both men a clearly born-again, growing in Christ and submitting to His Lordship, then she is free to marry either. Therefore, as crude as this may seem, if one guy is tall and the other is short, and she likes tall guys, then she should marry to tall guy. It’s not rocket science, it is about submitting to what God has revealed about His will in the Scriptures and not becoming petrified by your inability to know what God’s secret will is!

   Now what this does not negate is seeking wisdom which God freely gives to those who ask (James 1:5). God is able to give you wisdom and insight through the Word, through other people in your life, to give you the ability to be discerning of situations, and numerous other ways in which the exercise of wisdom can help illumine the path before you. To go against wisdom may lead to some head-aches and even trials, but as long as it is not disobedience to God’s revealed will for you in his Word, then it is not sin per se. Avoid ruinous decisions then by taking what God has told you as far as it goes in the decision process, confident in its sufficiency, and then pray for wisdom and move forward. The girl in the example above may have decided to employ wisdom over preference and when considering her desire to eventually be a missionary she realized that tall guy had a desire to take over the family business and that short guy shared her desire. Thus she allowed shorty to pursue her instead. (Crude and cheesy but it works).

 However, if she held the view that many people do on walking in God’s will as a mystical exercise, what would have happened if she married tall man? She probably would eventually become disillusioned and would question if being married to Tall Man was really “God’s will”. But if she instead came to realize that she married Tall Man in keeping with the revealed will of God, she could then be free to pursue her evangelistic desires wherever she is. Perhaps soon she would be meeting with a group of refugee ladies in her small American town, sharing the love of Jesus with them; doing the will of God as revealed in Scripture.

My desire for this post is that many people would come to have a greater appreciation for the Bible –God’s Word. And that many would experience freedom to walk in obedience to what God has revealed his will to be, wherever they are. If you want to know God’s will for your life, then spend a lot of time in the Word. Recognize His sovereignty over your situations and then pray each day for wisdom. Just as God was faithful to lead his people in the wilderness with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, so now God holds before us in this land of our sojourning the pillar of Scripture so that we may with confidence walk in the path before us. 

Inalienable Rights Vs. Loving Your Neighbor

Western Christians have bought into the lie that they have inalienable rights.

Some may consider that to be a startling statement. But it is true. Christians, particularly conservative Christians in America, have given themselves over to the idea that they have rights. I think we all have a good sense of what is meant when I refer to “rights”, but I will clarify. By the word “right” what is meant is those things which are good, proper, and fitting in light of being. We think of this as also being what is justly deserved (an example of which would be of a murderer who we may say has given up his right to live). In this case the idea is that as a human being I have certain things which are good, proper, and fitting for me to demand.

But can I make demands? Do I actually have any rights that are inherent? There are two ways that we can categorize rights: vertical and horizontal. Vertical rights are those which I have from God and are exercised in relation to God. Horizontal rights are those basic rights which I have as a human among humans, this is where the real meat of my point lies, but we will get there in time.

Vertical Rights

This one should be simple. As a creature I have no rights that I may demand of the Creator. “Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”(Romans 9:20 ESV). We see rights bestowed by God, such as the right to become sons of God (Jn 1:12), but these rights are conditional and are freely given by God. They are not inherent rights. In fact, if we consider a right as we have defined it, then any right bestowed by God is an act of grace and mercy that goes against that which is good, proper, and fitting for a rebellious creature. This places it in a very different category of thought than the typical conception of a right, for you can make no demands on the basis of a gift.

Any rights that man may have had as a result of being image bearers of God and of His glory, he relinquished such rights when he rebelled and exchanged the glory he was to reflect for the glory of himself, the created. Mankind is now like a helpless beggar, with nothing to demand and only for mercy to plead. Man can make no demands of God. Even as the redeemed stand before the judgment bar, it will be Christ that will vouch for them. They will not be able to say, “I am your child. You must let me enter your eternal blessedness”; indeed one Word is all that will suffice “Christ”. I have no demand to make but can only defer to the One who has every right.

Horizontal Rights

But does the reality of my having no vertical rights have any bearing on my rights among my fellow man? Can I not, as a fellow in equal created order and being, make demands? Have I no rights among my peers, fallen though we may be?

The problem with this for the Christian is that it assumes there are two spheres of life; one in which God is central and one in which man is central. The problem with believing that we have horizontal rights is that the exercise or protection of those rights horizontally (among peers, fellow man) will eventually become a vertical issue.

Let us take as our primary example, especially to a western audience, the Enlightenment summary of quintessential, “inherent” rights; the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What happens when my fellow man stands in the way of either of those being fulfilled? Can I as a Christian demand that right? What about when the government denies me one of those three rights? Can I then rebel? Let us carry the usual argument to its logical end. What happens when an unexpected pregnancy gets in the way our your right to live the life you want? What about the law not allowing you and your same sex partner to get married, thus disrupting your liberty? What if you find out that the baby inside of you has down’s syndrome, disrupting your pursuit of happiness? Don’t you have any rights? What happens when my annoying neighbor is getting in the way of my happiness? How do I responds to the dozens of ways that my basic rights are encroached upon?

Here we see where there are many instances where the protection of horizontal rights becomes a vertical issue! Beloved friends, Christ shows us a better way.

If I am correct and we have no rights which we may demand, how then do we treat each other? There are three main ways that we are commanded to interact horizontally as mankind: Love you neighbor (Mt 5:43, Rom 13:10, 1 Cor 10:24), Submit to rulers and authorities whoever they may be by God’s sovereign decree (Rom 13:1-7, Titus 3:1-2, 1 Pt 2:17), esteem others higher than yourselves (Rom 12:3, Phil 2:3,4). This is the standard for the believer and thus the name of this post is what it is for I believe that the protection of the one is at odds with the other. In fact they war against each other!

The second greatest commandment is that “You love your neighbor as yourself”(Matt 22:39). This is a command that is binding to all and that can be applied to wherever you live as a Christian, whether it be the United States or North Korea. Wherever you are you have the right to carry a cross and to love your neighbor. Christians, that is what we are called to.

Finally I want to leave you with the following admonition. When it comes to our horizontal relationship with man I offer this comparison. If our foundation for a our relationship with man is based in individuals rights that we see ourselves as having, then we will eventually defend those rights if they are challenged as we see them as inseparable from who we are. On the other hand, if we take the Biblical perspective, we realize that we have no rights to demand as we realize that God is supremely sovereign. So setting aside any notion of rights that I have, I treat others in a “Gospel way” as I view myself in a “Gospel way”. What I mean by a Gospel way is that as a believer, I realize that I have no rights to claim God’s mercy and only the right to perish as a result of my fallen state. The great Puritan John Owen said that “Man by his sin has forfeited his right to all the ends of his creation, both on earth and in heaven”. In light of that is the knowledge that I have been made by God’s sovereign call a recipient of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Jesus is God and he has all the rights and he came down and did not exercise his rights as God and became a man who has no rights in order that we might be saved. Christ could have laid claim on any number of rights as God at any time, yet he did not, and he laid them down all the way to that tree on Golgotha where his blood was spilt for the sins of fallen, God-despising man. Now I am commanded that the same mind that was in Christ be in me. (Phil 2:5)

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