The High Cost of Free Grace

The title of this post may seem puzzling.  How can grace be both free and costly?  That is simply contradictory.  Yet I think that this is a paradox that we see in Scripture and which I have been trying to work out in my head.  We receive salvation through the free gift of God’s grace and yet the fact that it is free does not mean that it will cost us nothing to receive it.  How can this be?

That we receive salvation as a free gift is undoubtedly true.  Scripture tells us, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).  This is a pivotal point of the Gospel.  Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, and the faith which saves us?  It is a gift.  A gift, by definition, is something you cannot earn or attempt to pay for.  For then it would be cease to be a gift.  This point Paul emphasizes so that we can all understand that none of us can boast.  If we want salvation, we must receive it humbly, giving all the glory to God.

In this sense then, grace is free.  With all my works, I could never have been good enough to earn it.  With all my money, I could never have afforded it.  And the real truth is that with all my sin and wickedness, I did not even want it.  Yet here I stand in the grace of God. It is free and it has freed me.

However, salvation is not “free” in the same way that the samples at Sam’s Club are free.  That is free in the sense of instant gratification with no cost and no lifestyle implications.  The offer of the Gospel is very different.  Mercy is weightier stuff.  It lays claim to our lives.  Christ did not die merely to dole out forgiveness to passersby, but to purchase souls.  If we want His grace, we must be ready to give our devotion.  If we want His life, we must be prepared to surrender ours.

In a strange sense, the grace of God would be less costly if it was less free.  If God merely wanted our money, our good deeds, our lip service, I think many would be more willing to take His offer because we would still be able to retain the one thing we all cringe at relinquishing: the thrones of our hearts.  For if the Gospel is really free, if God has really in His sovereignty, reached down and saved me, changing the trajectory of my life from eternal wrath to eternal life, then there is a very great cost. I cannot be the person I was because God has changed my very identity from child of wrath to child of God.  I cannot live as Lord of my own life because because Christ has bought and paid for the right to be not just my Savior, but my Lord.  Yes, grace is free, but its implications are weighty.  I am not my own.  For grace has made me His.

This should cause us to consider the offer of the Gospel with due sobriety.  We should marvel at the glory of free grace and yet consider the cost of receiving it.  We must hear the warning of Christ Himself: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27). These are sobering words indeed.  They tell us that being a disciple of Christ may cost us everything, our dearest relationships or even our very lives.

Indeed, many who have chosen to follow Christ, have been led by Christ down paths of suffering that they would never have chosen for themselves. This is the cost of free grace: complete submission and avowal that we will follow Christ wherever He may lead.  Yet, the cost does not come without promise and the promise is very, very good.  The promise is that no matter where Christ may take us or what He may ask us to do, it will be worth it.

Paul understood the promise.  He tells us that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).  And in Philippians, he vows to embrace the cost and sufferings of belonging to Christ, even calling it rubbish, all that He might gain Christ and be found in Him (Philippians 3:8-9).  Paul understood that there was a cost, but that whatever the cost might be, it was simply incomparable to the prize.

Thus we see that grace is free and yet costly, that the cost is both great and yet so transient in the grand scheme of things as to ultimately be counted as nothing.  Let us then consider with sobriety the weighty offer of the Gospel and the far-reaching implications it has for our lives, but let us also consider that if a cost must be paid, something must be given in return.  Those who do count the cost and consider the worth of the prize will see that it is so much more than worth it.  For ultimately, following Christ must necessarily lead us to Christ and Christ Himself is the source of life and salvation and the treasure who is worth more than any price.

American Individualism and the Myth That We Are “Special”

In my Bioethics class last semester, we discussed an interesting statistic. America is by far the most individualistic society in the world.  Most countries have a general sense of a community identity while America was at the far, far other end of the spectrum, having almost no sense of communal identity and an overly heightened individualistic independence.

I think this is because in America, we are taught that we are “special.” From childhood, each of has been fed a steady diet of feel-good phrases about how wonderful we are and how we can do whatever we set our minds to.  I was suspicious of these even as a child.  They seemed to be founded on blind and willful belief rather than any actual truth.  We can all work hard to achieve things, but we also have natural limitations.  I may have wished to be the next great artist, but my complete lack of artistic ability told me that was not a viable option, no matter how hard I might try.

Why do we work so hard to pump this stuff into our children’s brains when it is clearly not true?  What is this need we have to be “special?”  I think it is fairly obvious that from a worldly perspective, this nonsense comes from an over-exalted sense of self.  We are all going to glorify something in our lives and for most, it is ourselves.  Our great fear is to be average because deep down, we believe that an average life is not a worthwhile life.  We need to feel that we are special in an attempt to fill our desire for meaning and purpose and value for our lives.  The ironic truth though is that we cannot all possibly be special. To be special is by definition, a rare privilege given to a select few.  If we are all special, then we are actually all just average.

What I have been learning over the past few years is that this thinking can leak its way into the minds of Christians as well.  It is just a little more subtle and cloaked in the holiest of language.  “God has a special plan for my life….”  “God wants to use my gifts for His glory.”  So what am I saying?  That these things aren’t true?  No, not exactly, but I think that our take on them can be self-centered instead of Christ-centered.

The Biblical Perspective on Being Special

So what does the Bible have to say about this?  Does it reinforce our desperate desire to believe that we are special?  Well, I think the answer is yes and no.

The Bible affirms that each of us is special in the sense that we are unique, created and designed in the image of God with inherent value and purpose (Psalm 139).  However, in another sense, it tells us that we are not special at all.  In fact, it has some very sobering words about mankind.  It tells us that there is “nothing new under the sun.”  Each of our lives is in some way, the same song, second verse.  “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Psalm 103:15-16).  That is not very flattering.  If there is one thing that is not special, it is grass.  It is abundant, replaceable, and easily forgotten.

This tells me two things.  First, we are not at all special in the way the world would have us believe.  No matter how gifted and talented we are, no matter how much we achieve, it has all been done before and it will all be done again and we, for all our striving, will soon be forgotten.

Secondly, we are special, but not in the way we desire.  We want to be special in a way that glorifies ourselves and God refuses to give His glory to another (Isaiah 48:11).  No, in and of ourselves, we are quite average and it is time we, myself included, come to peace with that.  The only special things about me, I can take no credit for, even my gifts and abilities.  I am special because God has made me in His image.  I have gifts because He gave them to me (1 Corinthians 4:7).  And by far the most special thing about me is that I have been saved by the grace of God and that, I can certainly take no credit for.  In fact, what it really shows is how special and how infinitely precious and worthy of praise Christ is.

The Bad News and the Good News

This is definitely not the fluffy, feel-good message printed on posters in classrooms all over America.  The bad news is that it makes us feel much smaller than we would like.  It refuses to flatter our egos and pamper our pride.

However, I think it is good news as well, but we must first accept the bad news before we can receive the good news.  The good news is that it frees us from our fear of being “average.”   If our need to be “special” is met in Christ instead of ourselves, we find that being average is not such a terrible thing after all.

Moreover, I think it actually frees us from a small vision for our lives and gives us a greater one.  Once we get past the disillusionment that we are not as wonderful as we thought we were, we can glimpse a greater purpose.  God insists on humbling us before He will exalt us, but if we accept that humility, we can find that our lives can have greater value and purpose than we ever dreamed for ourselves.   No matter how average a life may seem, if it is spent showcasing how special and infinitely valuable Christ is, instead of ourselves, that will be the most special life of all.  And that, my friends, is very good news.

The Example of Christ

No one has demonstrated this better than Christ Himself.  Being God, He was certainly more special than any of us could hope to be. There is none like Him.  And yet, for our sake and for the sake of obeying and glorifying the Father, He put that aside to become completely and incredibly average.  He became one of us.  If we really want our lives to be special and meaningful, we are instructed to follow His example, He “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).  

How average He must have seemed.  How terribly ordinary.  And yet because He insisted on obeying and glorifying only the Father in the midst of His horribly mundane and humble human existence, “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).  

This tells me that what we need to fear is not being average, but in missing the point of it all:  that God is less concerned with how special we think we are than how special our lives shows Him to be.  And that it is not so much about finding His special plan for our lives as it is about finding how our average lives conform to the special plan for His glory.

I read a quote recently that really impacted me.  It said that “it’s better to play a small role in God’s story than to cast yourself as the lead in your own fiction.”  The fact is that God’s story is the only one that matters, but He only takes those who are willing to deny themselves, to deny their own need to be exalted in order that they may exalt Him.  This may entail leading an incredibly average life of which no one will take any particular notice, but if we can be content with that and any small and humble role which God would have us play, we will not have missed out on His good and perfect plan for our lives. Moreover and most important, in be willing to lose our lives for His sake, we will gain Christ Himself, He who is life and who is the treasure and prize for which God has called us heavenward.

Christian Optimism

I have never had much patience with optimism.  As a self-proclaimed realist, optimism has always seemed to me to be willful belief in a positive future that has no foundation in reality.  In many ways, that is what it is.  At least worldly optimism.  It has occurred to me however, that Christians should be the most emphatic optimists around and that Christian optimism is in fact realism because our assurance that all things will work for our good is firmly rooted, not in warm, fuzzy feelings but in the real, unshakeable, irrevocable love of Christ, purchased for us at the Cross.  

Consider Romans 8:28-39.  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).  Paul begins with this bold statement of incredible optimism.  Yet, this is not some pie-in-the-sky hope.  No, Pauls claims it as a fact.  What is his basis for this claim?  The very sovereignty of God.  “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30). Paul’s optimism for all who love God is founded on nothing less than the sovereign power of God who has promised that He will do good to those who love Him.  

The promise then is not that no trouble will befall God’s chosen or nothing bad will ever happen to them, but that whatever trouble does befall them, for it is almost assured that it will, this trouble will, in the end, be for their good and through it all, none of it will ever be able to sever them from the love of Christ. I find this to be a truly amazing promise.  For if we go back to Romans 5, we remember that before God chose us, there was much to separate us from His love. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  

How can we be assured that all will work for our good?  How may we know that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ?  Because Christ has effectually closed the gap between us and His love with His death and Resurrection, His sovereign choosing of us to redeem.  Nothing remains between us and the love of Christ because He has done away with it all.  Yes, there was once much to separate us, but it has been removed.  

We were sinners, dead in our transgressions.  Christ has tread our sins underfoot and hurled all our iniquities into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).  We were condemned before God.  Christ has been condemned in our place, forever silencing any tongue who would bring a charge against those whom God has chosen (Romans 8:33).  We were by our very nature, objects of wrath.  Christ has borne the wrath the we deserved so we might be objects only of His love (Ephesians 2:3-4).  We were far off from God, separated from His transcendent glory by our lowly humanity.  Christ has come down to take on flesh.  He is Immanuel, “God With Us” in our sufferings and pain (Matthew 1:23).  

Paul’s grand conclusion then is that nothing remains which can separate us from the love of God because Christ has effectually removed all hindrances between Himself and His chosen.  We are His because He has made us His and there is nothing that can keep God from working all things for the good of those who God has sovereignly made His own.  We shall not fear hardship, persecution, or even death because death has been transformed from the door which closes us off from Christ with a harsh thud of finality into a gateway which opens and leads us into the life forever with Christ which He has purchased for us.  Death has no sting for us now (1 Corinthians 15:55). 

The point then is that of all people, Christians should be the most optimistic people around, not because of a vain hope, but because of the real and irrevocable fact of our redemption through the blood of Christ which has bound us, eternally, to His love.  In all things then, we shall be more than conquerors.  “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).  

The Desires of Our Hearts

An old post that God brought to mind today. So often we need to be reminded of what we already know.

The Motherhood Marathon

Desire.  It lives within us.  It drives us and can consume us.  In and of itself, it is not wrong, although it can be. Scripture tells us that “after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:15).  This kind of desire, which leads to death, is desire gone awry, desire that is outside of God’s good and proper order.  It pays no heed to the laws of God and in my experience, usually springs from a warped and short-sighted understanding of reality, demanding instant gratification.  It is desire that will not wait, but rebels or ignores God in order to obtain its object.

Because of this, we can give the word “desire” a negative connotation.  We feel we need to repent of it, as if it was wrong to want.  As sinful beings, our desires can’t be trusted…

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September 11th Reflections on God, Evil, and Psalm 10

Today is September 11th, a day on which acts of unspeakable horror were committed and thousands of innocent people lost their lives.  As I imagine many people did today, I went back in my mind to that day of evil.  Where I was, what I was doing, and what I was thinking as I watched planes crash and buildings fall to the ground…Why?  It is a question we all ask at one time or another and I began thinking on it again today.  Why would God allow something like that to happen?  It is a serious and important question, one which has kept many from faith in God.

“Why O LORD, do you stand far off?  Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Psalm 10:1

Not Just Why, but Who?

However, I think an equally important question is not just why, but who?  In the face of evil and suffering, it is easy to become angry at God or even decide that it must mean God is not really real.  I think though that we must be careful to first consider the direct cause of evil in the world: ourselves.  We cry against the wrongs committed against men, but it is to be noted that these wrongs are done at the hands of other men.  This tells us two very significant things about mankind: one, we hold ourselves to a higher standard than all other species and two, we continuously fall short of this standard.

In our outrage at evil, we deny God’s existence and yet, if God is not real and we are but products of the blind and indifferent process of evolution in a universe with no ultimate justice, then our outcry against evil is completely unfounded.  We are nothing but animals and so we should look to the animals for example.  We can no more object to the murder of innocents than we can to the predator who takes his prey.  Yet, we know this cannot really do.  We cannot really live like that because we know whether we are willing to admit it or not that we are different from the animal.  We are held to a higher standard.

It is this fact that we do not want to face because if there is a standard, there is a judge and that is a frightening thing.  For just as we know that we are held to this higher standard, we know that we have not met it. Looking at the history of mankind, it is evident that there is something terribly, terribly wrong with us, something rotten at our very core.  So we most certainly should ask why God would allow evil, but we should not forget that it is we who have committed it.  It originates with us.

The Wicked Man

If we are the direct perpetrators of evil, then the question of “Why?” must not only be levied at God, but at ourselves.  What is it that is so wrong with us?  Why would a man or men commit such heinous acts as murder or terrorism?  The Bible gives us an answer.  It tells us about the wicked man.

“In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises.  He boasts of the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD.  In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all this thoughts there is no room for God….He says to himself, ‘God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees'” (Psalm 10:2-4,11).  

The wicked man is wicked because he does not fear God.  In his pride, he believes that God does not see his evil acts nor that He will call him to account.  It is slightly ironic that in reaction to evil so many deny God and assume He does not see when it is the denial of God which has led men into evil in the first place. Evil has come into our hearts and our world because our hearts have turned from Him.

The Intellectual and Practical Answer of the Gospel

There still remains the question of, “Why, God?”  Intellectually, it is a question of logic.  How may a good and omnipotent God allow evil?  This is no easy question and I do not pretend to have it completely figured out, but I would say that I have come to peace with this question intellectually because the world would make less sense if there was no God.  If God is not real, then there is no higher standard and our objection to evil is unfounded.  We would not cry out as we do. And yet, we do. I find then that our objection to evil is stronger evidence for God rather than against.  I argue more extensively for this here: https://emilysuzanne11.wordpress.com/2013/04/04/how-can-a-good-god-be-compatible-with-evil-and-suffering/

Practically as well, the theist is in a better position than the atheist.  If there is no God, then not only do we have no grounds for calling evil acts evil, but we also have no hope of evil being punished and the wrongs committed against us being brought to right.  We may, in our anger against injustice, eliminate God from the picture, but in so doing, we throw away our only hope for justice.  Thus we are left without the ability to call evil evil and without any hope of triumph over it.

The Christian, however, knows evil for what it is, the outpouring of the hearts of wicked men who have hated God, and also knows how justice will be served, either through the wrath of God on us or through the wrath of God on Christ who took the evil of man upon Himself in his death and defeated it in His resurrection.

The Personal Answer of the Gospel 

Finally and most importantly, the Gospel provides a personal answer to evil because it is a personal problem.  We are both the perpetrators and victims of evil.  We are broken people.  It would not be enough if God only punished evil because we would still be left sick and bleeding.  We need not only justice, but salvation. Not only a judge and a victor, but someone to come to us in our suffering and bear our burdens with us. Jesus Christ is that person.

I remember while studying Philosophy in college, I went to hear the Christian philosopher Os Guiness speak on the problem of evil.  I was expecting an astoundingly insightful argument, something to blow me away.  When asked how a Christian comes to terms with evil and suffering, he smiled and said that you simply have enough faith in Jesus Christ.  I remember thinking, “That’s it?”  I felt slightly embarrassed in front of the atheists and agnostics in the room.  It seemed such a cliche and overly simplistic answer, but I realize now that it is anything but.

I have been married for a little over a year now.  I am not always with my husband so I do not always know what he is doing. Nor do I know what he is thinking all the time. He is very different from me so I do not always understand the things he does or why he does them, but I do know him.  I know his character.  I know his commitment to love and protect me.  I have experienced his love and faithfulness to me.  So I know that I can trust him even when I do not understand or agree with all that he does.  I believe that he will honor his commitment to love me and that he will be faithful to the vows he made to me. My faith in him is based on my experience of him.

It is the same with Jesus Christ.  I do not doubt God in the face of great evil in the world because I know Jesus Christ.  I know Him personally. Through the Gospel, He has made His heart and character known to us. He has shown His unfailing commitment to rescue us from the evil we have wrought with our own hands by taking it upon Himself.  As Os Guiness said, “Christianity is the only religion whose God bears the scars of evil.”  Jesus has shown Himself to be good and trustworthy and so we trust Him even when it does not always make sense.  More on this here:  https://emilysuzanne11.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/how-can-a-good-god-be-compatible-with-evil-and-suffering-part-2/

The answer to evil then is not just some argument, or something, but someone: the person of Jesus Christ who will both “judge the world in righteousness” (Psalm 9:8) and “be a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble” (Psalm 9:9).  He both avenges the afflicted and enters into their affliction with them.   In this, the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides all that we need in the face of evil: a judge, a victor, and a healer.

“But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand.  The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.  Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out.  The LORD is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land. You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more” (Psalm 10:14-18).

The Right Kind of Slavery

A couple weeks ago I posted my thoughts about the question of whether or not living a life of holiness was necessarily opposed to living a life of pleasure.  I argued that contrary to common thought, the life of holiness will yield the life of greatest pleasure.  A closely related issue is the question of freedom.  What does it mean to be free?  Does living for God mean giving up your freedom?  These are important questions and I’d like to share what I’ve been mulling over lately.

First, we must examine what we think freedom is.  Then, we must determine if our view of freedom coheres with the reality of human nature and also whether, such freedom is possible or even desirable.

Freedom According to the World

America is by far the most individualistic society in the world.  We prize autonomy above all else.  The human right to liberty is the primary ideal on which the country was founded.  The founding fathers believed that humans had an inherent dignity which gave them certain rights and freedom which should never be violated.

However, I would say that freedom has come to mean something more today than it did then.  Personal liberty was never meant to be absolute.  The right notion of human dignity and liberty has been twisted into something it did not used to be, a bloated and irrational conception of freedom.

Today, our understanding of freedom has become the idea that we, as self-governing, rational individuals should have the right to do whatever we please, with whomever we please without any regard for consequences or accountability to an authority imposed on us against our will.  This kind of thinking has infiltrated our music, our media, basically ever aspect of our society.  The individual has been exalted to god-like status.   This is nothing new.  It is merely selfish arrogance masked as something noble, the age-old rebellion of man against God masquerading as “enlightenment” and “progress.”

Besides the fact that it is very hard to see how a society who has discarded the Creator who endowed them with such inalienable rights, can still maintain that they have such rights, there are other problems with this view.  It is not really possible nor, if we think about it for any length, is it really even desirable.

It would be very hard to maintain a society where people were actually free to do whatever they wanted.  There could be no laws.  There could be no protests against the behavior of others.  Chaos would reign.

Even if it was possible, would such a world even be one we would want to live in?  Of course not.  Our beliefs are inconsistent.  None of us really want a world of complete freedom.  We want the bad guys in prison.  We want those who have wronged us punished.  Our tolerance and subjectivity shatter in the face of evil.  Deep down, we do not want a world where there is absolute freedom and no final justice because we know that such a world would render our lives meaningless and neutralize our sufferings.  The real and ugly truth is that we do not want everyone to escape the consequences of their actions.  Just ourselves.

Moreover, I would argue doing as we please does not really bring freedom at all.  Those who seem the least concerned with following God’s law or any sense of moral obligation other than their own desires and whims usually end up in the greatest bondage to addictions and destructive lifestyles.

Freedom According to the Bible

So if doing as we please without regard for consequences is not true freedom, then what is?  The Bible takes a very different stance.  Its notion of human freedom is both less and more than ours for it exalts God rather than man. Man is not his own absolute authority.  His actions do have consequences and he will be held accountable, not to the moral code he creates for himself, but to the laws of an eternal, holy, just God.  None of us are free from God, but if we submit ourselves to God, we can be free from the destruction of own foolish ways.

Yes, we all have free will in the sense that we make our own choices and these choices come from our own hearts. Each human life is sacred and therefore should always be treated as an end and never merely as a means. However, our human dignity does not mean we are our own masters, exempt from God’s law and immune to His judgments.  We were simply not designed to be our own master and therefore any attempt to be will end in disaster and frustration. It goes against our nature.  The truth is that we are all slaves to something.  We were created to worship and whatever we worship, we serve. Whatever bewitches our hearts will own our souls.  We are in bondage to whatever we love most.

This is startling and offensive to our American sensibilities, but if we survey even a little of human history or look into our own hearts, we cannot deny it.  Yes, we are free to make our own choices in this life, but the sum of our choices is merely the choice of what we will be slaves to, what master we will serve.  In fact, the Bible only gives us two options.  We can either be slaves to sin or we can be slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:18-23).

To be a slave to sin is to live without reference to God.  It is to “exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve created things, rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25).  The problem with this kind of slavery is that it is in direct opposition with reality and in total opposition to our built-in purpose to be God-worshipers and God-reflectors.  In essence, to reject God’s law in order to live a life of licentious freedom is to live a lie. Absolute freedom without the guide of absolute truth is a dangerous thing.  To freely follow our own passions and desires is not freedom from God but voluntary bondage to the objects of our own misplaced love and worship.  Many who live for such “freedom” ultimately find it to be a cruel master.

If being a slave to sin is to live a lie, then being a slave to righteousness is to live in the light of the truth of God. It is to make our choices in accordance with the reality of God’s existence, the truth about who He is as the Creator, and the subsequent truth about who we are as the created.  As Tim Keller put it, freedom “is not the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us.” -Tim Keller, The Reason for God

Freedom then, on the Biblical account, is nothing more than choosing the right kind of slavery.  Now to us, slavery has major negative connotations which we need to check at the door.  Choosing the right kind of slavery merely means to serve the God we were made to serve and worship the God we were created to worship.  It means exalting God rather than ourselves.  In so doing, we find that, paradoxically, such slavery leads to freedom because it releases us to fulfill the purpose for which we were designed and thus, to attain the abundant life which God always intended for us.

No, we are not “free” to do whatever we like.  We are still bound to the authority of God, but we are no longer bound to sin and therefore, death (Romans 6:21).  We are now bound to Christ and therefore, life (Romans 6:22). We are bound to a God of infinite love and wisdom “who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:31) and “who works all things for good for those who love him” (Romans 8:28).  What better Master to serve?  Who could be more worthy of our utmost love and devotion?

Jesus said, “if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).  The precondition for freedom is truth and the precondition for truth is holding to His teaching and thus, being His disciples.  The life of true freedom then is not the life of freedom from the authority of God, but the life submitted to the authority of God.  Christ is the only One we were meant to worship and the only Master who will free us from death unto life eternal.

Praise for the God of Isaiah 40

This morning in my devotions I read Isaiah 40.  Isaiah has always been one of my favorite books and I think Isaiah 40 has to be one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible.  It is a wonderful and striking picture of a God who is both mighty and gentle. That is why I love this chapter. It illustrates both the transcendence and immanence of our God.  Both of these attributes are worthy of praise, but it is the combination of the two that is really amazing.

Isaiah 40 tells us of the might and power of a God who is sovereign over His creation.  “See the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him” (Isaiah 40:10).  We are given pictures of Him measuring the waters in His hand and weighing the dust of the earth in a basket (Isaiah 40:12).  We are told that “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.  He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in” (Isaiah 40:22)

These pictures of God certainly put me in awe of Him.  I stand amazed at a God who is so beyond me.  However, I think if all we knew of God was the He was mighty, sovereign, and transcendent, we would no doubt fear Him and honor Him, but I am not sure we would love Him or trust Him.  A God who is merely transcendent is great, but He is not personal.  He may have no reason to care for the worries and woes of the weak and finite creatures of the earth.

Yet Isaiah 40 tells us that our God is both transcendent and immanent. He is both far beyond us and yet ever near us.  With the same arm that rules with power, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart” (Isaiah 40:11).  The God who sits enthroned over all the earth, who does not grow tired or weary, comes near to us in our weakness so that He may “give strength to the weary and increase the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:29).  Just as He calls out the starry host by name (Isaiah 40:26) , so He also calls out His children by name and reminds them that He will be with them and protect them through every trial and struggle (Isaiah 43:1).

I treasure the truth of my God’s transcendence and His immanence.  If He were only transcendent, I would fear Him, but not know Him.  If he were only immanent and not transcendent, He would care for me, but not be able to work good for me through His sovereign power.  Yet He is both, both sovereign over all and yet a very present help in times of trouble.  He is both full of might and power and also full of love and gentleness toward the sheep of His pasture.  What a glorious God we serve, who is both able and willing to meet us and provide for us in our weakness and need.

In Christ, we see find the greatest portrayal of this wondrous truth.  It is simply astounding that the transcendent God who knows nothing of weakness or need should condescend so far as to come down to be Immanuel, God With Us, with us in our frailty, our weakness, and our desperate need for salvation.  Could we ask for a greater Shepherd than the One who, in love, came to dwell among us and lay down His life for us and who, in sovereignty and power, rose to life in defeat over death and sin?  Surely this God who is beyond us in wisdom and strength is to be ever praised and surely this God who is for us and near us with love and grace is to be ever trusted.

Reasonable Faith

     To say that we have a reasonable faith might seem strange.  I think when we hear the word “faith,” we think of blind belief, high hopes without much grounding. Whatever faith is, it is certainly not based on reason.  This is true to an extent.  We are saved through faith and this faith is based on the revelation of God.  None of us could arrive at belief in God through reason because apart from God’s work and revelation of truth, our thinking is futile and our hearts are darkened.  However, I would argue that once God has revealed Himself to us, the playing out of our faith, that is faith for every day life, is really very reasonable.

     What I have come to love and appreciate about Scripture is that it is full of valid and sound deductive arguments.  The writers of Scripture reasoned out their faith.  

“The LORD is my light and my salvation–whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the stronghold of my life–of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1.

      King David knew that if God was His stronghold, he had nothing to fear.  Man could certainly do nothing to him.  

“And why do you worry about clothes?  See how the lilies of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”  Matthew 6:28-30

     Matthew posed this deductive argument that if we believe that God provides for insignificant things such as flowers, we must also surely believe He will provide for us, His children.  If God knows our needs and is able and faithful to provide, then worry is nonsensical.  To use terms of logic, worry “does not follow” from what we know to be true about God.  Faith in God is actually the logical choice.  

“If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”  Romans 8:31-32  

     Paul eloquently and persuasively reasoned that if God is with us, no one could possibly stand against us.  If God loved us enough to die for us, then there is nothing good which He would withhold from us.  If the magnitude of our sin could not separate us from His love, then nothing else possibly could.  It is simple logic.  

    These are just a few examples of this kind of deductive reasoning in Scripture. They all have something in common.  In logic, it’s called a conditional statement.  It’s quite simple.  If A, then B.  If A obtains, then it follows that B will necessarily obtain.  I would suggest that Scripture is in a way, one big conditional statement beginning with the clause “If God, then…” with all manner of things logically following from that.  

     I have found that when I lack faith in God, I am actually being incredibly unreasonable.  I am not believing God is who He says He is despite manifold evidence to the contrary. God has revealed Himself to me.  He has shown me that He is sovereign and omnipotent, that He is good and faithful.  On the cross, He demonstrated the depth of His love for me, His unshakeable commitment to always do me good.  In His Word, He promises to provide for me, sustain me, protect me, refine me, empower me and so much more.  And because I am in Christ, all these promises to me are ‘Yes’ and ‘Amen.’ (2 Corinthians 1:20).  

     So if I worry, if I doubt God, it is not so much that I lack faith, but that I have foolishly put my faith in the wrong things.  It is a question of what I really believe to be true about God.  Do I believe more in the power of my circumstances than in the power of my God?  Do I have more faith in my paycheck than the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hillsides?  Do I put greater stock in the lies of the world and the deceitful whispers of the enemy than the words and promises of the God who laid down His very life for me?  

     If God….If GOD, in all His sovereignty, wisdom, power, love and grace, if He is real then how can I worry?  How can I doubt?  How can I not believe that He can do amazing, miraculous things?  If I don’t, I have not followed my faith in God to its logical conclusions.  For we who walk by faith are not those who defy reason.  We embrace it to its fullest, putting all of our hope, all of our trust into this one rock-solid, infinitely powerful belief, “If God, then….”  We know by faith that God exists, that He is all good and He is all powerful.  From this we must now deduce all the wonderful things that follow.  If we need, He will provide.  If He has said it, He will do it.  If God is all that He has shown Himself to be, then there is nothing good which shall be withheld from us, nothing which we shall fear, and nothing which shall be impossible.  This is our faith and it is reasonable.  

From Our Hands to His

Our hands say a lot about what we really believe, what’s really in our hearts. If our heart soars and feels as if it would burst with awe and wonder at a glimpse of the glory of God, we lift our hands in praise. If we love as He has loved us and comfort as we ourselves have been comforted, we reach our hands out to others to give, to lift up, to lead, to help. If we come to the end of ourselves and are humbled by the realization of our own weakness, we unashamedly open our hands to receive from others. If we have purpose and seek to glorify Him, we put our hands to work, to labor and strive for excellence at whatever He has laid before us. If we rely on the wisdom of God and seek His will, we clasp our hands in prayer. If we trust in God and live in surrender to Him, we lay our hands open before Him, ready to receive that which He gives and surrender that which He takes. If God is our LORD, our hands cling desperately to His, firmly grasping so that He might lead us. 

The hands of God lead us, discipline us, break us, mold us. They command the universe and yet, they bled for us.They carry us when we’re weak and when we’re weary. They wipe away our tears when we cry and they heal us when we’re wounded.   He holds each of us in His hands and His hands….His hands are sure. Let us surrender our lives…from our hands to His.