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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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obedience

The Golden Chain: Why the preaching of the cross is essential to our pursuit of obedience

There is never a point in your Christian life when you move beyond the need for the preaching of the cross.

So crucial is that moment in redemptive history that Paul says that “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”(I Cor. 1:18) We should see the words “being saved” as significant. From beginning to end the “word of the cross” is indispensable to our salvation. Paul felt so strongly about this that he pledged to the Corinthians that the core of all he would teach them would be “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (I Cor. 2:2)

The preaching of the cross is central to the life of the Christian because in the cross we find both the source of our pardon from sin and the impetus for our obedience, and it is that last point that needs to be emphasized.

Perhaps nowhere else do we see more clearly how indispensable the preaching of the cross is to our obedience to God than we do in 1 John. John presents what I like to call the “golden chain” of our Christians walk. These beautiful links in this chain, when connected, provide a guard against legalism (religiosity) and antinomianism (liberalism). The chain anchors our maturation and growth in holiness solidly in the gracious, once-and-for-all finished work at the Cross.

If you have ever wondered how to avoid legalism, this chain keeps you looking to the cross, fixed on grace. If your ever wondered how to avoid liberalism and license, this chain pulls you inevitably toward holiness.

To see this most clearly in 1 John, it helps to work backwards and begin with the question:

Why do we obey God in a way that is not mere religion?

The answer is that we obey out of love. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) The words “not burdensome” are important. We all know what it is like to comply with a command, even a difficult one, because of love. We will do all sorts of things, costly things, for the sake of those that we love. Begrudging obedience is not the obedience that is supposed to mark the Christian life. This is because obedience to God is not the seed of love, but the fruit of love. We obey God as we ought, inevitably and with joy, when we love him.

Why do we love God?

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) Our love for God is the source of our obedience, it is the motivation of our growth in holiness, it is the ground of our righteousness. This link in the chain causes us to see that our love for God does not have its source in us, but in him. The scriptures makes clear that we were, in fact, enemies of God. So our love, leading unavoidably to obedience, has its source in him. This is generally to be expected. Love is an internal force that has an external motivation. A heart beats on electrical impulses, but when that heart stops it must be shocked from the outside. We obey God, because we love God, we love God because he first loved us, now….

How do we know God loved us? 

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) Understanding what a “propitiation” is, is hugely important in helping us understand why we are motivated to obey. A propitiation is a big but specific word which means someone that  “appeases divine wrath”. And where was it that Son acted as a “propitiation for our sins”?

On the cross. On the cross where the Son cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 16:34) It was there that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was forsaken because in love in our place he underwent the judgment of his Father for our sins. In love so deep, in justice so true – he took our place.

We obey God, because we love God, we love God because he first loved us, and we know he first loved us because while we were still His enemies He sent his Son to the cross to be the propitiation for our sins. 

Understanding the depth of our sin and the magnitude of God’s holiness is essential to seeing the cross as precious, resulting in love that overflows in willing obedience.

If one link of this chain is missing, the good news is compromised and we slide into legalism or worldliness. If we try to obey without the cross in view any success will be a source of pride and any failure a source of despair. We will tend to look down on others when we do well, because we will have failed to see the fury of the wrath Christ bore for our pride. If we believe God loves us because we first loved him, we have not seen the depth of the sin for which Christ had to atone, which makes our love weak. It would mean that we have come to love God because we saw it as reasonable to, which means it is likely we will only obey when it seems reasonable. If God’s love for us first depended on our love for him, we would never know his love.

The preaching of the cross is not only the way we know how to be forgiven, it is through the Spirit’s work the motivation for our obedience – radical obedience. I could expound more and more on the implications of this, but I will allow the reader’s mind to run with it.

The preaching of the cross is essential to our pursuit of obedience. Preachers must never leave it out, Christians must always keep it in sight. We see there in one moment the dead-earnest justice and holiness of God and the tender and unfailing love of God which moves us to obey not out of duty but out of desire – out of delight.

In your Christian walk, in your fight against sin, in your labor for the Lord, never, ever, lose sight of the cross and all that it means.

To see the Law by Christ fulfilled,

And hear His pardoning voice;

Changes a slave into a child,

And duty into choice.” 

William Cowper

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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. 

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