As Christ Loved the Church

Paul teaches two things in Ephesians 5–how husbands should love their wives, and how Christ loves the church. Young man, it’s vital that you know how to love your future wife. But it’s a critical prerequisite that you know the Love of Christ.

Christ loved us, setting aside His own desires, and putting the our needs before His own (Mat 26:39). He loved us, sanctifying us to make us holy both in the sight of God (1 Cor 6:11) and physically holy in the world (Eph 5:8). He washes us “with the water of the word” so that we might be spotless and clean. The sacrifice that Jesus made to bring us sanctification was complete–he undertook the whole wrath of God for our sake.

Our calling then, is to love as Christ did, in every circumstance where we are called to love:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. – Matthew 22:37-39

Knowing About God, or Knowing God?

Ephesians is a book about knowing God. (Eph 3:17-19) As Paul puts it, the purpose of his preaching and apostleship is that Christ may dwell in our hearts, that we may know the breadth and length and height and depth [of God and Christ], to know the love of Christ, and to be filled with all the fullness of God. Similarly, the phrase, “In Christ”, occurs 57 times throughout the book. So Paul’s focus is for us to be In Christ, and also to be filled with Christ and God.

Even the demons know about God–James 2–but instead of loving Him, they shudder. Satan must see the love of Christ towards His elect, but reviles it. Then, is seeing the love of Christ towards others enough to know it in Paul’s sense? Obviously not. You’ve got to experience that love, to have the fullness of God filling you.

One of the first times the word “know” is used in scripture is when Adam “knew” his wife Eve, and they had a son. And indeed, knowledge is a frequent term of close relationship throughout scripture. Later in Ephesians, Paul even associates the relationship of husband to wife with the relationship of Christ and His Church. Marriage is a deep, intimate, personal relationship, not just an intellectual understanding.

So then, we must be careful when studying God that we don’t simply learn about Christ, but that we learn Christ. Firsthand experience, not intellectual knowledge.

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. – John 17:3

Being God’s Man

The world cries out against weak men, because it stands or falls by their strength. Truly, the battle for the world is fought in the hearts of Christian men.

The world’s answer to the weak effeminate is “cowboy up, be your own man.” Agreed, an important aspect of manhood is the ability to stand on your own two feet; when the world is against you, to stand as Athanasius did, one man against the world.

But men are never to be autonomous–operating solely by their own law, under no one else’s authority. The Christian man is to be God’s man–quite literally His servant or slave. Like a soldier under his commanding officer. Keeping his body and mind under his own authority, but subjecting everything to Christ. How can you expect to bring your sphere of influence under the feet of Christ if you yourself are not so subjected?

My answer, and Paul’s answer in Romans 8 & 9 is this: humble yourself, and be God’s man. And when you humble yourself, God will exalt you; when you rest in His provision, he will give you the desires of your heart. Will not the God who gave us reconciliation through the gift of His Son, and who owns the cattle on every hill, be sure to abundantly bless us as we trust in Him?

And that’s a true man: self controlled, under the subjection of Christ, and willing to do the work of God even if it means opposing the entire world for the name of Jesus.

God’s Delight in Saving

God delights in saving; it’s part of His character. Sometimes, that’s why hard things come–not because of what we’ve done or have to learn, but for the illustration of God’s delight in deliverance.

There was a man born blind in Jesus’ day, and His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9) The answer Jesus gives sheds light: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Why was this man born blind? Why did he stumble around in the dark, helpless and probably making a living by begging? We know he was “of age”–at least 13–but that his parents were both still alive. Why didn’t God spare this son of Israel, and give him a healthy body so that he could work and further the kingdom? What must seem a mystery up to the day of the miracle becomes delightfully obvious when Jesus touches the young man’s eyes. His blindness was for God’s glory! The hardness of sin and disease was in his eyes so that Jesus could show His love in deliverance!

Joseph was repeatedly scorned, abused, and had his life drastically changed, again and again. Sitting in prison, falsely accused, Joseph must have questioned why. After all, hadn’t he followed God’s commands? Hadn’t fled evil and done what was right, even under adverse circumstances? But God showed Himself mighty in saving Joseph from the pit, and made Joseph a type of Christ when He provided salvation through Joseph for the family of Israel. Wouldn’t it have been simple for God to keep the famine away from Cannan, and there to be plenty of food? Of course God could have made Abraham’s descendants into a great nation where they were at, and avoided the exodus from Egypt, the trials in the desert, and even the conquest of the Jordan. But that’s not the point.

God arranges history for the good of those who trust in Him. He does it because He loves us, and to demonstrate His glory. History is full of the delight of God’s salvation, and how wonderfully he has rescued us. As David has it,

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psalm 18)

Euphemizing the name of God

God is holy and perfect. He has placed His name upon us who are in Christ, and His Holy Spirit indwells us.  In keeping with His Holiness, He demands that we treat His name with sacred honor.

How careful are you with the name of God? How cautious are you to refer to His character? Are His punishments or rewards a light thing for you? Too often I catch myself using expletives I’ve heard in the world without a thought to their context. Many different euphemisms have been created for the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ–from jeepers creepers to lord-y. It seems like everything related to the triumph of God has been twisted into a curse–from the Blood of Christ, to calls of damnation (making light of God’s justice), to degrading anything holy and pure. In fact, I’m hard pressed to arrive at a common cures that does not explicitly degrade God, His righteousness, His church, or Christianity. By referencing the holy in a common or crass situation, we degrade the holy. Instead, the name of God should be used to make holy what is common–and for that to happen it must be held in reverence.

Perhaps, Christian men, it’s time to rethink our use of expletives entirely. What’s the point? Loosing self control and uttering a stream of words that makes the holy crass is certainly not an example of strength. Perhaps the opposite is true. Maybe silence is the stronger sign of courage when you’re in a tough spot. Oh, I know it’s hard–I’m trying to quit myself. But Christ’s strength is with us to do what is right.

Perhaps we should also rethink our callousness to swearing in our media consumption. Aside from it’s immediate offense to God, and even if you never speak a word of what you hear, do those phrases lodge themselves in your mind? God, who observes our thought process, also commands us to be pure of heart. (Mind.)

Last words & the self-existance of God

I had an odd dream one night–I was in bed dying, and time was frozen. Enough breath was left for a few words–what should they be? All the things to say, and what a conundrum. What would be my last words? At some point (whether asleep or awake, it doesn’t matter), I settled on one great truth: God is. Eccentric, yes. Morbid, not really–but it got me thinking.

God identifies himself as “I AM who I AM”, and establishes his character as self-existent. All things draw their beginning and their substance from Him. The Trinitarian union has no beginning, no end, no extent, and no lack. God IS.

All our hope, all our needs, all our purpose is bent on God’s nature. His love gives us hope, His glory gives us purpose, in His sovereignty He fulfills our needs; and His name, which He placed on us who are in Christ by the indwelling of the spirit, our identity. Everything that we are flows from Him.

How trivial our problems seem in light of His greatness! How foolish our tempting pleasures in light of His eternity. Heavenly Father, give us your prospective.

Self-denial and Personal Holiness

Sin attacks the Christian from multiple fronts—principally, it springs out of our dying old nature, influenced by our culture and heritage, and is spurred on by the devil. To cut off a sin at it’s source then, we need to die to self and become alive to Christ through the process of sanctification. Personal holiness, then, comes through the process of self-denial.

Throughout Scripture, self-denial is practiced and encouraged. Notably, fasting is mentioned again and again. To our modern American culture, however, fasting has become lost knowledge. Perhaps with the rise of materialism and its infusion into the church, the idea of voluntarily giving up something for the sake of giving it up is foreign. Lent has been relegated to the archives of liturgical churches. Lent remembers what Christ gave up when he left heaven and the glory of the father. No, we’re not used to self-denial.

Worse, Christian men have largely failed the fight against the sinful nature in lust, self-ambition, and every other form of immoral habit. In short, we don’t know how to fight anymore. Perhaps we’ve lost sight of who and what we’re fighting. Perhaps we’ve forgotten where the battle is. Across the four realms of jurisdiction (self, family, church and state), self is the foundational field of war. If Christian men cannot control themselves, they have no way to lead their families, teach the church, or guide the state, all for the dominion of Christ.

Men, learn to fight the battle inside of you. God promises to deliver you from your enemies. Use the tool of self-denial to combat the root of selfishness. Don’t be afraid to take drastic measures to win. Satan isn’t missing any tricks—fight sin with no holds barred.

In Christ

The phrase “In Christ” is found 90 times from Romans to 1 Peter, and forms the foundation of our identity as Christians.

The statement “in Christ” takes us back to the core relationship of Christ and His church. The redeemed are the bride of Christ (Jeremiah 3, Ezekiel 16, John 3, Ephesians 5, Revelation 19). This mystery is profound, and yet it is not a metaphor used just in a few places. The two shall become one flesh, and the idea of being the body of Christ is another frequent term used to describe the Church.

A large number of spiritual and doctrinal issues depend on us being in Christ. In Adam, all died. Historically, the Church has interpreted this in light of all people being created from Adam’s body, and thus were rather literally, “in Adam”. But in Christ, all were made alive–that is to say, all in Christ were made alive in Christ. And our redemption, our justification, our eternal inheritance, our present blessings, and our adoption as sons of God the Father all depend on us being in Christ, having Him as our head and lord.

When God the Father sent Christ to propitiate our sin, and to unite us to himself, all the infinite blessings of Christ have been copied to us. In fact, our very existence emanates from our status in Christ. He chose us in him before the creation of the world; in Christ you died; and in Christ you will be made alive. From eternity to eternity, we are in Christ.

All eternity centers on the fact that God sent his Son, because He loved His bride.

Battle for the world

The battle for the world is in the hearts of Christian men.

I’ve been encouraged by older men with the phrase, “don’t waste your youth!” (perhaps most eloquently by J.C. Ryle in his book.) The question is, how to utilize the time that god has given? Many young men have taken up causes, and campaign against evil in the world. Some have taken up arms against sin in the world, and I know some young men called to preach, as was John the Baptist.

All that is well and good, and needed. But I received some wise counsel from another wise man–the battle for the hearts of nations begins in your own heart. The battle for the things of God, holiness, purity and righteousness–that conflict is most present in your own heart, Christian.

Your task is to extend the dominion of Christ over the spheres where God has given you influence, and to work out the reality that our Father has put everything under His feet. And your influence and authority is greatest over your own heart and mind. (Primarily, the Bible describes the center of consciousness as the heart, what we often consider our minds.)

Yes, if you father a family, your are the primary one to lead them in submission to Christ. And if you are an elder in the Church of God, you have a primary calling to bring Christ’s flock to His fold. If you are a civil magistrate, your duty is to bring your sphere into submission to Jesus as Lord. Men are placed in authority in this world. Christians are guides to the world, Christ’s representatives on earth. If Christian men fail, the world fails.

If you fail in your heart, the catastrophe of that failure will rock any success in other spheres. If you cannot walk humbly before God with a clean heart, your ability to help others do so will be severely hobbled.

That’s where the battle is, in your heart.

A Man after God’s Own Heart

In his early life, David developed a rigorous righteousness that protected him in all kinds of bad situations. From his boyhood fighting with lions and bears, God protected him because David did what was right in God’s sight. When he was a young man, David fought God’s battles and God blessed him for it. Even when King Saul mounted a rigorous search-and-destroy mission for David, his careful holiness protected him from killing the Lord’s anointed. Because David’s obedience placed him in God’s circle of protection, he had nothing to fear.

However, later in life David was not so careful–he let his guard down. When the kings went out to war, David stayed home and relaxed. When he saw a beautiful women, he did not avert his gaze and challenge the lust of his heart, but sinned mightily against God, who had been so good to him for so many years. And after sinning, he lied and murdered to hide his guilt.

But God was there, God saw it. David’s kind heavenly father spared his life, but other consequences remained. After an uplifting story about the man after God’s own heart, a passionate and faithful agent of God in the world, the story of David becomes a bitter and painful one. Nearly everything that could go wrong did, from the sexual immorality of David’s sons, to their outright rebellion, and the rebellion of the whole people (as inferred in 2 Sam. 24).

The key to David’s early walk with God was his active, faithful obedience. He avoided every opportunity of evil, and concentrated his life on fighting the battles of the Lord. The trigger of David’s fall was sloth, laziness and selfishness. A little sleep, a little folding of the hands to rest, a little temporal fun, and sin was upon David like an armed man. But for the grace of God, David would have failed. But our God’s kindness never fails to bless His children.

Young man, if sin is knocking at your door, remember David. Flee the opportunities for sin, covenant with your eyes to turn from the pleasure of examining it. Understand that every honey-sweet word from sin is a bitter lie. Trust in God above all, and whenever you are under attack, run into His fort for relief. Find protection in the circle of Obedience. You can’t fight this one on your own. Run.