Surrendered to God’s Grace

“The eyes of both of them were opened” Genesis 3:7

This is the first time any person ever felt guilt. Adam and Eve’s attempt to cover their guilt was futile. Covering for guilt and the ultimate removal of guilt would require the death of a substitute. Guilt caused them to flee God’s presence instead of coming to Him. Guilt still does this to those who are yet to be forgiven. Those who most vehemently oppose God are the one’s sensing guilt the strongest. Their sin is against God and only He can forgive their sin. To remain just, a satisfactory substitute would have to die. Adam had brought about a fundamental change in his being which must die. Only a new creation could allow him into God’s presence again.

With the guilt came conviction of sin for which Adam and Eve had no remedy but to flee God’s presence. This did nothing to diminish the conviction or remove guilt. Instead of desiring God’s presence they wanted to hide from Him. People who have believed Satan’s lie still prefer to hide from God.

We observe here that God pursued Adam and Eve until He caught up with them. He then gave them opportunity to have a change of heart which they eventually accepted. First they played the blame game. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent but in reality they were both blaming God. This characteristic of fallen people can be readily observed in all spheres of society throughout history and is still very evident today. It is, we accuse, always someone else’s fault!

When they eventually surrendered to the grace of God, God clothed them in animal skins thus picturing the means by which they and all who choose to believe what God has said will be saved. God is still in pursuit of people but sadly most will not heed His words of love, grace and forgiveness. Don’t be among them but be among those who humbly acknowledge their sin against God, turn to face Him and receive His gift of forgiveness. Paul wrote, “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

One who has received the gift of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ will not run away from God when they sin. Having experienced His forgiveness before, they will return to Him whenever they are aware of sin (1 John 1:9). This is a mark of one who has truly chosen to reject Satan’s lie and believe what God has said.

Stewards of Grace

“As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. … that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 4:10,11

It has been said that each person should find out what they love doing and then find someone to pay them to do it. From a worldly perspective that seems like a good idea. For the Christian it is a little different. We are to discover what spiritual gifting God has given us and then develop it by use. In doing this we will discover that we love expressing the gift given and in the process bring glory to God. That doesn’t mean it will be without cost and hardship.

I have been asked by family members what I would like as a birthday gift and then they may choose from the items mentioned. The Bible reveals that we don’t get that choice. Each one’s spiritual gifting is at the sovereign will of God. Keep in mind that it is a gift not a reward.

Peter, the last New Testament writer to mention spiritual gifting writes that spiritual gifting is for the benefit of the whole body of Christ. Each one is to “minister it to one another.” Such gifting is not for the purpose of boasting in ourselves. That is pride and we know the origin of pride (Ezekiel 28). Spiritual gifting is not a reward for service but it is divine ability in stewardship to serve others. We will give account at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:12-15) as to how faithfully we performed this stewardship.

Spiritual gifting is an expression of the Divine attributes of Jesus Christ and leave no room for pride or boasting on our part. The exercise of spiritual gifting is all to the glory of God. As Paul wrote, “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

Paul and the other apostles all had spiritual gifting but exercised them for the benefit of the church and not for personal benefit. Often they paid a considerable price to enact this stewardship.

Peter writes, “… be clothed with humility” followed by, “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:5, 6). If anyone boasts with regard to spiritual gifting it reveals that they are out of fellowship with Jesus Christ and speaking on behalf of Satan. Of all people, Peter knew what it was to be humbled by God and he became a good steward of the grace gift that God had given to the church through him.

Pursue Love

“So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken?” 1 Corinthians 14:9

This chapter begins with the words, “Pursue love” and follows a chapter describing the characteristics of God’s kind of love. This in turn follows a chapter describing the nature and purpose of spiritual gifting to the church through members of Christ’s body.

The Corinthian church regarded spiritual gifts as a thing of which to boast as if they merited the gift. Further to this they argued that their particular gift was better or more important than others. The focus was on exalting themselves in the eyes of others. There is no shortage of such people today and, unfortunately, we contribute to their pride when we idolise them.

Pursuing love is described by Paul in this chapter. It means to develop and exercise our spiritual gifting in order to edify other members of Christ’s church. This is accomplished through communicating understanding of God and His word in a language easily understood by the hearers. The key words in this chapter are edification and understanding. Rather than attempting to proclaim Christ in a language his hearers did not understand Paul writes that in the church he would rather speak five words with understanding than ten thousand words in a language not easily understood (v 19).

Love will demand that we minister to others and that means building up, strengthening and encouraging other believers. Apparently a spirit of pride had overtaken the Corinthian church and self exaltation had erroneously become recognised as a spiritual blessing. Paul corrected this attitude to spiritual gifts when he wrote, “Since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel” (v 12). This is love in action.

To other Christians Paul described the difference between the spirit of manipulation and the spirit of ministry. “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit.” That would be manipulation of others to serve one’s own pride. “But in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” This is the right attitude of mind. “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” This is ministry to others out of love (Philippians 2:3-4). In the same chapter, commending Timothy for this right attitude and ministry, he comments of others, “For all seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ” (v 21).

Paul gives to the Corinthian church, and to us, the principle to be applied, “Let all things be done for edification” (v 26).  He concludes his letter by writing, “Let all that you do be done with love” (16:14). That is how we pursue love.

Receptive to Correction

“Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you” 2 Samuel 7:3

The prophet Nathan was well aware of the way David became king of Israel. Samuel had anointed him as Saul’s successor years earlier and the Lord had preserved David through many and varied attacks on his life. It seemed that almost everyone was placing obstacles in the way of him becoming king. On occasions David seemed to act with prudence and wisdom and at other times he acted very much at a carnal level.

On this occasion, as on many others, David chose to inquire of the Lord so he expressed his desire to build a permanent structure, in which the Lord could dwell, to the prophet Nathan. He had built a great house for himself and he now saw the inequity of the Lord dwelling in a tent or tabernacle.

Nathan’s response to David was not unlike the way we might sometimes respond. Since the Lord had done much to get David to the throne of Israel it was obvious that the Lord was with him. Nathan assumed that because the Lord had demonstrably been with David that He was also with him in this desire. Without inquiring of the Lord he presumptuously told David, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.” In this he misled David and would need to be corrected. The Lord would not allow David to build Him a house and Nathan had to go back to David with a correction to his previous consent.

Have there been times when we have given counsel or approved something on the basis that the Lord has blessed that person in the past rather than inquiring afresh of the Lord? Perhaps we have even presumed that because the Lord has been with us in the past that we can go ahead with our desire without inquiry.

Nathan was a faithful prophet who was later used of God in bringing David to repentance and confession of sin (chapter 12) but here he made an assumption without first inquiring of the Lord. It appears that he was not rebuked but corrected. Because he was humble before the Lord he was receptive to correction and to putting things right. Such a spirit became the Lord’s opportunity to reveal His plan and purpose regarding David’s Seed. The ensuing covenant is a huge part of our celebration each Christmas (vv 12-16).

It may well be prudent for us to evaluate our way and walk with Jesus to see if there is any need for us to be corrected in a similar way. A close and personal walk with Jesus is the only means of prevention for being presumptuous. But if we do make this mistake a humble heart and teachable spirit, like that of the prophet Nathan, will allow Jesus to correct us without rebuke.

Seeking F.A.T. Christians

“… because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words …” 2 Chronicles 34:27

In our part of the world many people have become fat from the pleasures of this world. For the Christian, to be spiritually fat can be a good thing if we utilise the following acronym: F.A.T. God is seeking F.A.T. Christians: Christians who are Faithful, Available and Teachable.

 

Faithful: A key aspect of the Divine Nature is faithfulness. If God is not faithful to His word then we have nothing in which to trust. Those who are His people will also be faithful. Paul writes, “It is required of stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). Jesus spoke a lot about faithfulness of His people in Matthew 24 and 25. Instructing Timothy in regard to the fulfilment of the Great Commission Paul writes, “The things you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).

A faithful person is one who knows the truth from God’s word and then lives it out and passes it on. To know the truth is not enough as we see in the parable in Matthew 25:14-30. The reward for faithfulness is to be given more responsibility. Jesus said, “Well done good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things” (Matthew 25:21).

 

Available: To be available to Jesus means that He is the priority over everything in our lives. In Luke 9:59-62 we read that a man wanted to take care of his father until he died before following Jesus. Another wanted to delay by returning to his family. In both these cases the men had a priority over following Jesus. There delaying tactics may have resulted in them never following Jesus.

Jesus does not need advisors but much of our prayer would seem to be along that line. We ask that He physically heal this person, provide funds for another and relational healing for yet another. While we do pose these as requests outwardly, it is possible that inwardly we are actually advising Him how to run His church. It may be that many of us are available to Jesus but only in an advisory capacity. To be available to Jesus means that when He calls we come, when He sends, we go (James 2:20).

 

Teachable: A person who is teachable is always a humble person. Only the proud are unteachable. To be teachable does not mean that one should be gullible or without discernment. Quite the contrary (Acts 17:11).

Jesus (Matthew 28:20) and Paul (2 Timothy 2:2) both exhort those who are teachers to seek out people who are teachable. The reason is that they will then pass it on to future generations. It is a waste of time and effort to try and teach and disciple a person who is neither humble nor teachable.

A teachable person is also responsive to the Holy Spirit (Luke 12:12; John 14:26). The Holy Spirit resists the proud and unteachable (James 4:6). Let us be humble and teachable students of the Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful, available and teachable.

Persistent Love

“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter … ” Matthew 15:22

Could there be any one more determined than a mother pleading for a sick child? It may surprise us to read that Jesus did His best to discourage this Gentile woman from seeking His help. He ignored her and the disciples told Him to send her away. She was a Gentile and in their view she could have no expectation of blessing from Israel’s Messiah. Jesus seemed to affirm the disciples’ thinking but for a completely different reason. He wanted to draw out and strengthen her faith.

Being a father and grandfather I know the pain and feeling of helplessness when one of my children or grandchildren is suffering and I cannot help relieve it. From observation I believe that mothers feel that pain even more acutely than fathers.

Instead of being discouraged by Jesus and the disciples this mother persisted. Had one of us been an observer on this occasion we might have become angry with her for distracting Jesus’ attention from what we wanted or maybe with Jesus for prolonging her suffering and apparently making it even worse. Notice that no amount of humbling by Jesus discouraged or hurt her.

Jesus wanted to give her much more that what she was asking. She was absolutely sure that Jesus was who He said He was and could do what He said but Jesus wanted to reveal Himself to her. He rewards faith with more faith.

The faith of this mother in Jesus is a lesson to us all. She would not be put off until she had what she wanted. At no time did she demand that Jesus heal her daughter. She begged as one who has no right and deserved nothing. She did not plead her good works, kind deeds or offer to live better in future. She humbled herself and begged. This is quite a different picture than what we sometimes see today. It appears that some people demand Jesus heal them or their loved one. They twist Jesus’ words apparently trying to manipulate Him into doing what they think they have a right to. Satan used this tactic with Jesus and failed (Matthew 4:1-11).

If we have this attitude toward Jesus we can hardly expect our children to come humbly to Him for the Gift of salvation. The greatest need our children and grandchildren will ever have is forgiveness of sin and they must come to Him in full humility. We have no right to forgiveness and neither do we deserve it any more than this mother had a right for her daughter to be healed.

A mother’s love for her daughter was the means by which Jesus drew out her faith in Him so that He became the focus and not her daughter’s plight. She came humbly with nothing in credit, and she promised nothing for the future but she received much more than she asked.

Many a child thanks their mother for begging Jesus Christ for their salvation. Many a child has their mother’s prayers to thank for keeping them from or delivering them out of a destructive life brought about by sin. Let us follow this woman’s example, be of the same mind as her, as we plead for the salvation of our children and grandchildren.

There is Always More

“We all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect (mature) man” James 3:2

Quite a few years ago during a family discussion on a particular activity I espoused some knowledge from my distant past experience with that activity. My son (in his twenties at that time) was amazed and asked how I knew so much on that subject. What he didn’t know was that I had participated in the activity in question for several years but it was all before he was born. He didn’t know what he did not know. This is true with us in regard to the Bible. It may seem to us that there isn’t any more to know, that we know the whole  story, but we cannot know what or how much we don’t know.

The verse above reminds us to be humble and teachable with regard to the Bible. Pride will want to make us an authority in order to make us feel good or to elevate ourselves and diminish others in our sight. Then we will “stumble in many things.” We may not say it outright but in our hearts there is pride that will make us feel a little better than others. It may be that some Christians have little interest in further study of the Bible because they think they know all there is to know. James wrote, “We ALL stumble …”

Understanding God’s word is very important in living our life with Christ but it is not the ultimate objective. The Bible is replete with affirmations on the importance of knowing and understanding God’s word and wisdom in its application but it is not the ultimate goal. We seek Jesus. Paul writes, “… that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10). Yes, we will stumble in many things but let us keep our eyes on Him. There will always be more that we don’t know so a humble teachable spirit should underpin our character. This involves placing ourselves where we can learn and is why God has given gifted teachers to the church.

We acknowledge that there is more to know and understand but that does not mean that we should be as the wind blowing to and fro when it comes to doctrine. The Holy Spirit is the One who will help us to learn and understand God’s word. After all, it is He who moved men to record what we now have in the Bible. Our part is to read the Bible daily, meditate on it and study it. God will then take us through life experiences that will help in our understanding.

The mature Christian will know that there is a limit to his knowledge and will not be lifted in pride so as to stumble in word.