April 22, 2016
What is the basis on which you approach God?
How did David approach Him?
Consider Psalm 86:2: “Preserve my life, for I am godly.” It almost sounds as if David is saying, “Look at how good I’ve been! I’ve become like You, Lord! I’ve fulfilled my part of the bargain, now You fulfill Yours – keep me alive! Save me from my enemies!”
But that seems to fly in the face of what Scripture says elsewhere. For example, many of us have memorized Ephesians 2:8-9:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
These and the surrounding verses clearly show that we are saved by God’s grace, not by our works. We are saved through faith in the crucified and risen Christ, not by our efforts. No matter how many good works we may do, no matter how faithful we may be, our status before God depends upon “the great love with which [God] loved us” (v. 5), not upon the “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (v. 10). Those works, indeed, are the result of God’s love, not the prerequisite for God’s love.
How then do we understand a verse like Psalm 86:2?
To understand this verse rightly, we must understand the word translated “godly.” What does this Hebrew word, hasidim, mean? It is often translated “saints.” But the word shares a root with the important Hebrew word hesed – translated “lovingkindness,” “steadfast love,” “covenant love,” or “unfailing love.. The English translations don’t look very similar. But any Hebrew reader would note the close relation between hasidim and hesed.
The word hesed, appearing more than 250 times in the Old Testament, is commonly used of God’s love for His people. For example, when God proclaims His Name before Moses at Mt Sinai, He says, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in hesed and faithfulness, keeping hesed for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6b-7a). David concludes Psalm 23 by saying, “Surely goodness and hesed will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
The word hasidim, on the other hand, is much less frequent, appearing in its plural and singular forms only 32 times. The link with hesed helps us to see that the hasidim are the people to whom God has shown hesed (see Psalm 18:25 and 2 Samuel 22:26). As one scholar writes, this word “indicates those who were recipients of God’s grace and who as a result show the impact of grace in their lives.” That is, “we love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Thus, the word can be used to refer to God’s people (Psalms 85:8) or God’s servants (Psalm 79:2), since anyone who receives God’s hesed belongs to Him. But the word can also be used to refer to “the faithful ones” (Psalm 12:1), since those loved by God are changed by Him. They become faithful to Him. Those God loves, He transforms into His likeness.
So hasidim does not mean “godly” in the sense of someone who has become like God through his own efforts. Instead, hasidim refers to those to whom God has shown hesed, and thus are made to be godly, made to be saints, by His grace.
This understanding of hasidim gives much opportunity for fruitful reflection on several of the verses in which the word appears. Consider:
- Psalm 31:23 “Love the LORD, all you his hasidim!” That is, “Love the LORD, all you loved by Him!” In effect, this is 1 John 4:19 in the Old Testament.
- Psalm 37:28 “For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his hasidim. They are preserved forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.” That is, “The LORD will never forsake those He loves, but will preserve them forever. Those outside His love will be cut off.”
- Psalm 32:5-6 “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Therefore let the hasidim offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found.”
The translation “godly” is particularly problematical in this last quotation. David says the hasidim are to offer prayers of confession when they sin. Given our usual understanding of “godly”, this makes little sense. Furthermore, near the end of the psalm he writes, “Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but hesed surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.” David draws a contrast not between those who are sinners and those who are godly; rather the contrast is between sinners who confess, and the wicked who do not. Thus, “the wicked” are those who have never been transformed by God’s hesed, and so are not His people. Those who sin and confess are the hasidim, God’s people, those whom He loves. This is the real meaning of “godly” in this verse.
Finally, let’s return to Psalm 86:2: “Preserve my life, for I am one of the hasidim”. David says, “Preserve my life, Lord, not because of my righteous acts, not because of what I have done or accomplished, not because of my sacrifices or religious acts. But preserve my life because You love me! Preserve my life because You have made me Yours, You have made me one of Your people! Preserve my life because You are transforming me into Your likeness!”
This is a precious truth, which will help us fight the fight of faith day by day. God’s people, the hasidim, are those to whom He shows hesed. Thus, the main question for us is not, “How am I performing?” The question is, “Am I one of God’s people, God’s child, loved by Him and transformed by His love into His likeness?” The Lord God will indeed preserve His people. He will keep them in His love. He will complete the good work He has begun in them. Nothing can separate God’s people from the love He has for them in Christ Jesus. Amen.
April 14, 2016
How does a person come to believe in the truth and authority of the Bible?
John Piper’s most recent book, A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness, addresses this question. The answer: We see its glory rather than infer its truth.
Seeing is central because saving knowledge is more than intellectual acknowledgment of truth claims. Saving knowledge includes loving God, treasuring Jesus, and staking your life on the Gospel. These don’t result from research that simply leads to inferences that the Bible is probably accurate. Furthermore, Scripture makes clear that such saving knowledge is available to all mankind, to the educated and uneducated, to the adult and the child, and not only to those with analytical minds and ability in historical research. So Piper writes:
The pathway that leads to sight may involve much empirical observation, and historical awareness, and rational thought. . . . But the end we are seeking is not a probable inference from historical reasoning but a full assurance that we have seen the glory of God. Thus, at the end of all human means, the simplest preliterate person and the most educated scholar come to a saving knowledge of the truth of Scripture in the same way: by a sight of its glory. (p. 15)
Does this even make sense? Note that this is the way Scripture speaks of salvation: Satan has “blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). But God is the One who creates light! He “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Furthermore, if “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17), then the saving sight of God’s glory comes to us through the Word – through Scripture. There thus must be a similar shining of God’s light in our hearts to come to trust the revealed Word.
Piper argues that although seeing the glory of Scripture may sound strange to our ears, there are other times when we must see truth rather than infer it. In Chapter 9 he presents several analogies to help us have some idea of what that seeing by divine illumination consists of. Here we will look at two of them.
First, as C.S. Lewis writes, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” That is, “In Your light do we see light” (Psalm 36:9). Piper writes:
Ordinarily when we seek to have a well-grounded conviction about some claim to truth in this world, we bring all our experience to bear on the claim and try to make sense out of it. . . . Does it cohere with what we know to be true? Does it make sense in the light of what we already know? What we know from experience is the standard, the arbiter, the measure of truth.
But what happens when we encounter a claim that says, “I am the Standard, the Arbiter, the Truth”? This claim is unique. It is not like other claims to truth in this world. When the ultimate Measure of all reality speaks, you don’t subject this Measure to the measure of your mind or your experience of the world. He created all that. When the ultimate Standard of all truth and beauty appears, he is not put in the dock to be judged by the prior perceptions of truth and beauty that we bring to the courtroom. The eternal, absolute original is seen as true and beautiful not because he coheres with what we know but because all the truth and beauty we know coheres in him. It is measured by him, and it is seen flowing from him. (p. 158)
Now, think: Jesus is “the true light, which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9). He is the standard. He is the measure. And He is the One who is the source of all knowledge:
He is one who can be known and the one who makes all knowing possible. He is a point of light—a point of truth and knowledge—that enters our minds, and he is the light by which we see all points of light. Thus we know him to be true, not because our light shows him to be so, but because his divine light shines with its own, all-enlightening, all-explaining glory. (p. 160)
And this provides us with an analogy for Scripture:
We know the Scriptures to be true, not because our light shows them to be so, but because their divine light shines with its own unique, all-enlightening, all-explaining glory.
The second analogy we will consider concerns Peter and Judas. Both lived with Jesus for about three years. Both saw Him, heard Him, spoke with Him, ate with Him. Jesus sent them both out to preach and to heal. Both are called disciples. Both are called apostles. Yet Peter saw Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Judas betrayed Him for a few thousand dollars.
What led to the difference between these two men? Why did one see, and the other did not?
Jesus Himself tells Peter, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). Peter would not have seen apart from the revelation of God.
However, Piper argues that it would be wrong to say Judas did not see because it was not revealed to him. He did not see because he was a liar, a thief, a covetous person.
Consider John 3:19-20 in this regard:
Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (John 3:19-20)
Commenting on these verses, Piper writes:
The root of our blindness is not that we are victims of darkness, but lovers of darkness. The root of our blindness is not that we are hindered from the light, but that we are haters of the light. We love the darkness of doing things our way, and we hate the light of the surpassing beauty of the all-authoritative, all-satisfying, sovereign Christ. And, therefore, our blindness is blameworthy—not, as the lawyers say, exculpatory. It does not remove our guilt. It is our guilt.
In this analogy, Judas represents people who approach the Christian Scriptures with a mind and a heart that are so out of tune with the music of its meaning that they cannot hear it for what it is. There is such a dissonance that the heart repels the revelation of God as undesirable and untrue. Peter represents the people who come to the Scriptures with a mind and a heart humbled by the Holy Spirit and open to the beauty and truth of God’s glory shining through the meaning of the text. What the analogy brings to light is that two people can be looking at the very same person (Jesus Christ) or the very same book (the Bible) and miss what is really there.
So the Scriptures are like Jesus in His essence – the Light by which all is seen – and like Jesus in His humanity – the One who divides humanity into those who see His glory and delight in it, and those who are blinded by their own sin.
In our fallen state, we must see this glory – and our very fallenness blinds us to this glory.
Thus, there is no way we can have such sight unless we humble ourselves before God and His Word, unless we seek Truth from Him rather than establish ourselves as the arbiters of Truth. So may we approach God’s Word as supplicants, as needy people, as those thirsting in a desert – and may He satisfy us with His Truth, His Beauty, His Glory.
[The pdf version of the book is available as a free download at Desiring God. My approach to arguing for the authority of Scripture – as well as my personal story of coming to trust that authority – can be found in these blog posts from 2013: first, second, third.]
April 7, 2016
What impact does the blood of Christ have on those who believe?
Of the many different ways to answer that question biblically, consider the answer provided in Hebrews 9:14: “The blood of Christ . . . [will] purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” What does this mean?
First: Jesus’ blood will “purify our conscience.” “Conscience” here includes what the English word suggests: our sense of right and wrong, especially whether or not we are under God’s judgment for what we have done. See, for example, Hebrews 9:9: Speaking of the rituals ordained for ancient Israel, the author states, “Gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper.” No matter how many animal sacrifices the Israelites offered, they knew that the penalty they deserved was not fully paid. They stood guilty before God. They could not access Him directly. And the regulations restricting access to the Holy of Holies to only the High Priest, and to him only once a year, underlined the inefficacy of the sacrifices. Those worshipping could not enter into the very presence of God. Something more was needed.
But “conscience” in Hebrews is also intimately related to “heart,” all of our inner desires and longings, as well as our will. In Hebrews 10:22, the author writes, “Let us draw near [to God] with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience.” The cleansing of our conscience by the blood of Christ leads to full assurance of faith, thereby enabling us to approach God Himself with a true heart – that is, with all our inner being truly focused on Him, delighting in Him, comforted in His love, embraced as His child, and loving Him with all our heart.
So in purifying our conscience, the blood of Christ is changing us thoroughly from the inside out.
With that understanding of “conscience,” consider the next phrase in Hebrews 9:14: Our conscience is purified from “dead works.” Think of these both as “works that are produced by deadness” and “works that can’t produce life.” Apart from Christ we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). Apart from Christ, we are impotent; we can do nothing (John 15:5). So whatever deeds we do – whether those are acts that look like worship, or acts that seem to help another person or produce something worthwhile – are all sin-stained, the production of sinful, dead hearts. And such dead works logically cannot produce life. They cannot save us, they cannot make us alive when we are dead in trespasses and sins – no matter how religious those works may appear – nor can they effect life in any other person.
But when the blood of Christ purifies our conscience from such dead works, what happens? What are we now able to do? We are able “to serve the living God.” Note that the same verb translated “serve” in Hebrews 9:14 is translated “worship” in Hebrews 9:9. The blood of Christ enables us to worship the living God.
So now we can summarize the impact that the blood of Christ has on believers, according to Hebrews 9:14: Jesus’ blood cleanses us from the inside out, providing us with a clear conscience and purifying our hearts, so that we no longer offer to God unacceptable worship or sin-stained deeds, but, made holy, we draw near to God, truly worshiping Him in word, in thought, in affections, and in deeds, thereby glorifying His Name.
That is: The blood of Christ enables us to worship God.
Ponder that thought. We so often think of Jesus’ blood as saving us from hell, or as saving us from guilt, or as saving us from the power of sin, and thus saving us from destroying our lives. Praise God, His blood does all that. But it does even more. Jesus’ blood enables us to worship God in the only way He can be worshiped – in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). The blood of Christ enables us to worship God on Sunday mornings – and indeed every hour of every day, as we display what He is like through our thoughts, our feelings, and our acts.
So, Christian: Jesus’ blood enables you to worship. Do so. Even today. Even now.
April 2, 2016
(Blake Lunsford began his Sunrise Service devotion last week with this poem:)
For the Church On Easter Morning
No mourning, this morning
It’s a new morning, this morning
The grave’s not grave, this morning
Christ isn’t in the tomb, this morning
Death isn’t slowly dying, Death has died
Death is dead, this new day
Life is living
Life is living like light is living in the heat of a summer’s day
Yes, life is living this Morning
God is loving this Morning
God has raised his Son from the dead
God has raised you from the dead
The grave’s not grave, this morning
No mourning, this morning
Keep looking at him, this morning
Christ is risen indeed, this morning
April 1, 2016
How do you respond when confronted with temptation, sin, and failure in your life?
We often respond in one of three unbiblical ways:
- “I’m forgiven! Therefore, sin doesn’t matter!”
- “I’ll overcome this. I’ll fight it and won’t fall into it again!”
- “Now I’ve blown it. There’s no hope for me. I might as well give up. All is lost.”
How should we respond?
- Not with indifference.
- Not with self-confidence and self-effort.
- Not with despair.
Consider what the book of Hebrews tells us at the end of chapter 4. The author has just explained that a Rest awaits God’s people; as we believe in Him and in His promises, we can rest from our works, from our efforts to cleanse ourselves. Yet we do strive – we strive to enter His rest! We work hard to depend on Him.
And striving to depend on Him instead of striving to make ourselves presentable to Him only makes sense. For we can never fool Him. His Word discerns our thoughts and intentions, opening us up before Him. He knows our every weakness, our every temptation, our every failure. While we may strive to make ourselves worthy of His acceptance, He always knows how far short we fall.
In this context, the author writes:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
That is: Jesus is our great High Priest. He overcame those very temptations that you face – and, having overcome them, He now is exalted to the right hand of God the Father. So we must hold fast to the truth of the Gospel, confessing it with our mouths, believing it in our hearts, and preaching it and applying it to ourselves every day. For remember what the Gospel tells us:
- Jesus is indeed the Son of God. He is powerful and mighty, wise and discerning.
- Jesus experienced weakness. He was tempted in every way even as we are – and He knows the power of temptation more thoroughly than any of us, for He resisted to the end. He understands our struggle.
- Jesus held fast the confession. He was without sin.
- Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice, so that you, fallen sinner that you are, might be reconciled to God the Father (Hebrews 7:27).
How, then, do we fight the fight against temptation, against unbelief? How do we follow our Lord and Savior in holding fast to our confession? Hebrews 4:16 tells us:
- Go to the Father! He sits on the throne, showing that He is the Almighty One! He is far more powerful than the Tempter.
- Go to the Father! With Him you will find mercy! For Jesus knows your weakness (Hebrews 5:2), and He is the One who offered sacrifices – Himself! – for you.
- Go to the Father! Do that boldly and confidently, for the Gospel of our confession teaches that Jesus is our mediator! (Hebrews 9:15)
- Go to the Father! For He will give you both the power to resist temptation and the power to hold fast to your confession. Indeed, He will give you the power to enter His rest, granting (as we could render the last few words of Hebrews 4:16) “grace unto a well-timed help.”
So fight the good fight – by His power. Hold fast your confession – by turning to Him, depending on His grace, actively depending on Him and His promises. Don’t belittle sin. Don’t be self-confident. And don’t despair. We have a great High Priest. Depend on Him. He will never let you down.