“All our attempts to crucify the flesh, or to keep it crucified, are vain: we need the light and joy of the Holy Spirit to show us what is ours in Christ, what has been given in our union with him, and what he himself will make true in our experience. The very thought of having to keep the flesh crucified may be, very often is, as of a burden, and a strain, and an impossibility: the knowledge and acceptance and faith of the indwelling Spirit makes it part of the great salvation God effectually works out in us.
“Believer, you have the Spirit of the living God dwelling in you. All we tell you of the cross and the crucified life and the crucifixion of the flesh is not to tell you what you are to do, but what you may confidently expect the Holy Spirit to do in you. It is to show you what his work is, that you may in deep humility and entire dependence, but also with joyous faith, claim and receive it. Do begin, at once, to believe, to praise God, to rejoice that you can do nothing but through the Spirit, that you are sure that you can do all things through Christ’s Spirit strengthening you.”
Andrew Murray, The Cross of Christ
"How good it would be if we could learn that God is easy to live with. He remembers our frame and knows that we are dust. He may sometimes chasten us, it is true, but even this He does with a smile, the proud, tender smile of a Father who is bursting with pleasure over an imperfect but promising son who is coming every day to look more and more like the One whose child he is.
"Some of us are religiously jumpy and self-conscious because we know that God sees our every thought and is acquainted with all our ways. We need not be. God is the sum of all patience and the essence of kindly good will. We please Him most, not by frantically trying to make ourselves good but by throwing ourselves into His arms with all our imperfections, and believing that He understands everything and loves us still."
A.W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous
"Do not confound work and fruit. There may be a good deal of work for Christ that is not the fruit of the heavenly Vine. Do not seek for work only. Oh! study this question of fruit-bearing. It means the very life and the very power and the very spirit and the very love within the heart of the Son of God—it means the heavenly Vine Himself coming into your heart and mine.
"You know there are different sorts of grapes, each with a different name, and every vine provides exactly that peculiar aroma and juice which gives the grape its particular flavor and taste. Just so, there is in the heart of Christ Jesus a life, and a love, and a Spirit, and a blessing, and a power for men, that are entirely heavenly and divine, and that will come down into our hearts. Stand in close connection with the heavenly Vine and say:
"Lord Jesus, nothing less than the sap that flows through Thyself, nothing less than the Spirit of Thy divine life is what we ask. Lord Jesus, I pray Thee let Thy Spirit flow through me in all my work for Thee.
"I tell you again that the sap of the heavenly Vine is nothing but the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the life of the heavenly Vine, and what you must get from Christ is nothing less than a strong inflow of the Holy Spirit. You need it exceedingly, and you want nothing more than that. Remember that."
Andrew Murray, Absolute Surrender
“To be conformed to the image of Christ is not an ideal to be striven after. It is not as though we had to imitate him as well as we could. We cannot transform ourselves into his image; it is rather the form of Christ which seeks to be formed in us (Gal. 4.19), and to be manifested in us. Christ’s work in us is not finished until he has perfected his own form in us...
“His life on earth is not finished yet, for he continues to live in the lives of his followers. Indeed it is wrong to speak of the Christian life: we should speak rather of Christ living in us. ‘I live, and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me’ (Gal. 2.20). Jesus Christ, incarnate, crucified and glorified, has entered my life and taken charge. ‘To me to live is Christ’ (Phil. 1.21). And where Christ lives, there the Father also lives, and both Father and Son through the Holy Ghost. The Holy Trinity himself has made his dwelling in the Christian heart, filling his whole being, and transforming him into the divine image.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
“If thou art a writer, write as if thy time were short, for it is indeed short at the longest. Improve each occasion when thy soul is reached. Drain the cup of inspiration to its last dregs. Fear no intemperance in that, for the years will come when otherwise thou wilt regret opportunities unimproved. The spring will not last forever. These fertile and expanding seasons of thy life, when the rain reaches thy root, when thy vigor shoots, when thy flower is budding, shall be fewer and farther between. Again I say, Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Use and commit to life what you cannot commit to memory.”
Henry David Thoreau, from his journals
* * *
I read those words a couple weeks back and was stirred by how readily they might be shifted—changed in their context—so that they ring with an even higher truth. Try this on for size:
If you are a follower of Jesus, live today as if your time is short, for it is indeed short—even at the longest. Improve each occasion, for His living presence dwells in your soul. Be the vessel of His direct inspiration to everyone you meet. Fear nothing but to be temperate when it comes to His Spirit, for each day of each year of your life is an improvable opportunity for His divine purposes. Your earthly life will not last forever. His presence and nearness in your life, when His Spirit reaches low inside you, when He is a wellspring, when you are bearing His fruit, is as available today as it’s ever been. Again I say to you, Abide in Him and He in you. Use and commit this day not to memories of Him, but to His alive life actually dwelling inside you.
“The Lord would have us to be walking epistles of His word. Jesus is the Word and is the power in us, and it is His desire to work in and through us His own good pleasure. We must believe that He is in us. There are boundless possibilities for us if we dare to act in God and dare to believe that the wonderful virtue of our living Christ shall be made manifest through us as we lay our hands on the sick in His name.
“The exceeding great and precious promises of the Word are given to us that we might be partakers of the divine nature. I feel the Holy Ghost is grieved with us because, when we know these things, we do not do greater exploits for God. Does not the Holy Ghost show us wide-open doors of opportunity? Shall we not let God take us on to greater things? Shall we not believe God to take us on to greater manifestations of His power? His call for us is to forget the things that are behind, and reach forth unto the things which are before and to press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
Smith Wigglesworth, Ever Increasing Faith
'Holiness is the very nature of God, and that alone is holy which God takes possession of and fills with Himself. God’s answer to the question, How could sinful man become holy? is, “Christ, the Holy One of God.” In Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, God’s holiness was revealed incarnate, and brought within reach of man. “I sanctify myself for them, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” There is no other way of our becoming holy, but by becoming partakers of the holiness of Christ. And there is no other way of this taking place than by our personal spiritual union with Him, so that through His Holy Spirit His holy life flows into us. “Of God are ye in Christ, who is made unto us sanctification.” Abiding by faith in Christ our sanctification is the simple secret of a holy life. The measure of sanctification will depend on the measure of abiding in Him; as the soul learns wholly to abide in Christ, the promise is increasingly fulfilled: “The very God of peace sanctify you wholly.”'
Andrew Murray, Abide in Christ
There is more hid in Christ than we shall ever learn, here or there either; but they that begin first to inquire will soonest be gladdened with revelation; and with them he will be best pleased, for the slowness of his disciples troubled him of old. To say that we must wait for the other world, to know the mind of him who came to this world to give himself to us, seems to me the foolishness of a worldly and lazy spirit. The Son of God is the Teacher of men, giving to them of his Spirit—that Spirit which manifests the deep things of God, being to a man the mind of Christ. The great heresy of the Church of the present day is unbelief in this Spirit. The mass of the Church does not believe that the Spirit has a revelation for every man individually—a revelation as different from the revelation of the Bible, as the food in the moment of passing into living brain and nerve differs from the bread and meat.
George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons
* * *
Now Christ is the visible expression of the invisible God. He existed before creation began, for it was through him that every thing was made, whether spiritual or material, seen or unseen. Through him, and for him, also, were created power and dominion, ownership and authority. In fact, every single thing was created through, and for him. He is both the first principle and the upholding principle of the whole scheme of creation. And now he is the head of the body which is composed of all Christian people. Life from nothing began through him, and life from the dead began through him, and he is, therefore, justly called the Lord of all. It was in him that the full nature of God chose to live, and through him God planned to reconcile in his own person, as it were, everything on earth and everything in Heaven by virtue of the sacrifice of the cross.
And you yourselves, who were strangers to God, and, in fact, through the evil things you had done, his spiritual enemies, he has now reconciled through the death of his body on the cross, so that he might welcome you to his presence clean and pure, without blame or reproach. (Colossians 1:15-22, Phillips)
I was reading through Ephesians 1:3-14 this week, and was so transported by the over-and-over-and-over repetition of all that He has accomplished for us! Below is a rendering of the Phillips translation, placing His actions at the head of each sentence/verse. This is what He's done, and who He is, for us:
"HE CHOSE" us to become, in Christ, His holy and blameless children living within His constant care.
"HE PLANNED", in His purpose of love, that we should be adopted as His own children through Jesus Christ...
"HIS GLORIOUS GENEROSITY", so praiseworthy, has made us welcome in the everlasting love He bears toward the Beloved.
"THROUGH HIM", at the cost of His own blood, we are redeemed, freely forgiven through that full and generous grace which has overflowed into our lives and opened our eyes to the truth.
"GOD HAS ALLOWED" us to know the secret of His plan, and it is this:
"HE PURPOSES" in his sovereign will that all human history shall be consummated in Christ, that everything that exists in Heaven or earth shall find its perfection and fulfillment in Him. And here is the staggering thing - that in all which will one day belong to Him we have been promised a share...
"SINCE HE DESTINED" us for this long ago, this One who achieves His purposes by His sovereign will, so that we, as the first to put our confidence in Christ, may bring praise to His glory! And you too trusted Him, when you had heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.
Then "HE STAMPED YOU WITH HIS PROMISED HOLY SPIRIT", after you gave your confidence to Him, as a guarantee of purchase...
And "HE HAS PAID FOR US AS HIS OWN" and will complete the redemption, which will again be to the praise of His glory.
My friends, in view of all that He has done, been, allowed, planned, and carried out for us, what sort of people ought we to be this week? How will the world around us experience His life within us? How will we experience His life within us?
In Matthew 8, we read a particularly rapid-fire series of encounters between Jesus and... great crowds, a leper, a centurion, Peter's mother-in-law, all the sick and possessed of Capernaum, one of the scribes, a nameless disciple, the Twelve, two demon-possessed men, some swineherds, and the townspeople of a town in the Gaderenes district.
And, reading all this, it occurs to me...
That the rest of our life, having encountered Jesus of Nazareth, is our direct reaction to having encountered Him. And, that if our sense of encounter has dimmed, or our reaction has begun to flag or fail, it is time to encounter Him all over again.
Fresh reaction to fresh encounters will always lead to the fruit He desires to see in our, and others', lives. First-handedness is everything. We cannot lead the heart of another to where ours hasn't been; or isn't, presently, itself.
"For all those words which were written long ago are meant to teach us today; that when we read in the scriptures of the endurance of men and of all the help that God gave them in those days, we may be encouraged to go on hoping in our own time. May the God who inspires men to endure, and gives them a Father’s care, give you a mind united towards one another because of your common loyalty to Jesus Christ. And then, as one man, you will sing from the heart the praises of God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. So open your hearts to one another as Christ has opened his heart to you, and God will be glorified." (Romans 15:4-7)
Isn't it interesting that when the original readers of these words looked back to "words which were written long ago," they were thinking only of the Old Testament? These words weren't "scripture" to them, then—they were just words written on parchment from a contemporary believer. They thought of Paul as just another follower of Jesus, like themselves. Which, to me, is what makes the last two chapters of Romans just a little more poignant...
And when I think of "endurance," of the "Father's care," of "a mind united towards one another," of a "common loyalty to Jesus Christ," of singing "from the heart," of "opening their hearts to one another as Christ had opened his heart to" them—what period of time do you think I immediately think of?
Those wondrous early days of the Early Church.
In fact, as a Monday refresher for the path we're trying to walk together this week, here's a reminder of what those days were like:
Then those who welcomed [Peter’s Pentecost] message were baptised, and on that day alone about three thousand souls were added to the number of disciples. They continued steadily learning the teaching of the apostles, and joined in their fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayer. Everyone felt a deep sense of awe, while many miracles and signs took place through the apostles. All the believers shared everything in common; they sold their possessions and goods and divided the proceeds among the fellowship according to individual need. Day after day they met by common consent in the Temple; they broke bread together in their homes, sharing meals with simple joy. They praised God continually and all the people respected them. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were finding salvation. (Acts 2:41-47)
Among the large number who had become believers there was complete agreement of heart and soul. Not one of them claimed any of his possessions as his own but everything was common property. The apostles continued to give their witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great force, and a wonderful spirit of generosity pervaded the whole fellowship. Indeed, there was not a single person in need among them. For those who owned land or property would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and place them at the apostles’ feet. They would distribute to each one according to his need. (Acts 4:32-35)
By common consent they all used to meet now in Solomon’s Porch. But as far as the others were concerned no one dared to associate with them, even though their general popularity was very great. Yet more and more believers in the Lord joined them, both men and women in really large numbers. Many signs and wonders were now happening among the people through the apostles’ ministry. In consequence people would bring out their sick into the streets and lay them down on stretchers or bed, so that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall upon some of them. In addition a large crowd collected from the cities around Jerusalem, bringing with them their sick and those who were suffering from evil spirits. And they were all cured. (Acts 5:12-16)
So the Word of God gained more and more ground. The number of disciples in Jerusalem very greatly increased, while a considerable proportion of the priesthood accepted the faith. (Acts 6:7)
The whole Church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria now enjoyed a period of peace. It became established and as it went forward in reverence for the Lord and in the strengthening presence of the Holy Spirit, continued to grow in numbers. (Acts 9:31)
[And] the Word of the Lord continued to gain ground and increase its influence. (Acts 12:24)
When you read all that, what specifically sticks out to you for your day today?
"Christianity is not a doctrine, but an existence communication. (This is the source of all the nuisances of orthodoxy, its quarrels about one thing and another, while existence remains totally unchanged.) Christianity is an existence communication and can only be presented – by existing..."
Søren Kierkegaard, from his journals
* * *
"We are writing to you about something which has always existed yet which we ourselves actually saw and heard: something which we had an opportunity to observe closely and even to hold in our hands, and yet, as we know now, was something of the very Word of life himself! For it was life which appeared before us: we saw it, we are eye-witnesses of it, and are now writing to you about it. It was the very life of all ages, the life that has always existed with the Father, which actually became visible in person to us mortal men. We repeat, we really saw and heard what we are now writing to you about. We want you to be with us in this—in this fellowship with the Father, and Jesus Christ his Son."
1 John 1:1-3, Phillips
* * *
Thought for this week: Our "witness" for Jesus is exactly equivalent to our experience of His existence. Nothing else - no "doctrine," no "orthodoxy," no "quarrel" - can stand against our first-hand, practical testimony to His living life. We must prove Him by our personal experience of His present existence.
If you listen to the Unionists podcast, then you've already heard this particular thought. But, recently, in my reading, I was reminded of the life and death of the Edwardian poet, Rupert Brooke, and of his haunting WWI poem that seemed to foreshadow his approaching death:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
Rereading those words, I was struck by multiple parallels between Brooke's imagery and our Kingdom of Heaven-reality; how the spirit of Jesus lingers on in this world through us. So, imagining Jesus, the ultimate selfless Soldier, writing similar lines to us, I took a stab at an echoing sonnet:
When I ascend, remember only this of Me:
That there's a Spirit whispering in your soul
That is for ever Mine. There shall be
In that reborn life a richer life entirely whole:
A life which is My own, true, perfect in My Way,
Given, once, and always again, to point out Heaven;
The Spirit of My Body, breathing Heaven's ways,
Washed by My blood, enlivened with a higher leaven.
And know, My heart, all evil scorned fore'er,
My life, eternal, lessened not a mite
Will give you, everywhere, My mind and thoughts:
My wisdom, words; dreams joyous as the wind-fresh air;
And laughter, from My heart; and gentle might
Within peaceful hearts, whom Heaven hath bought.
"What happens now to human pride of achievement? There is no more room for it. Why, because failure to keep the Law has killed it? Not at all, but because the whole matter is now on a different plane—believing instead of achieving. We see now that a man is justified before God by the fact of his faith in God’s appointed Saviour and not by what he has managed to achieve under the Law. And God is God of both Jews and Gentiles, let us be quite clear about that! The same God is ready to justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised by faith also. Are we then undermining the Law by this insistence on faith? Not a bit of it! We put the Law in its proper place." (Romans 3:27-31)
And what is the "proper place" for the Old Covenant Law? By faith, where does it most properly, and permanently, live?
In the mind, body, and spirit of Jesus of Nazareth who, daily, perfectly, walked it out, and thus invalidated the power of sin by obeying that Law faultlessly.
In the offered-up life of Jesus, on the Cross, shedding His blood to forever free us from the curse of sin, which was all tangled up in the curses of the Law.
Behind the risen Jesus, left like His burial garments in the abandoned tomb, "finished" in favor of the New Covenant He now offered.
Under the feet of Jesus, as He sits upon the Throne of Heaven, King of Kings of a Kingdom that is founded within all remade hearts.
The Law has been fulfilled forever - in Jesus - and, by following Him, by His Spirit, we too may "put the Law in its proper place." Its proper place is in Him.
By His life, in His death, because of His resurrection, and now, forevermore, as He sits upon the Throne, we are free with the freedom He's earned for us. All life is lived upon "a different plane."
"All our persuading of men, then, is with this solemn fear of God in our minds. What we are is utterly plain to God—and I hope to your consciences as well. (No, we are not recommending ourselves to you again, but we can give you grounds for legitimate pride in us—if that is what you need to meet those who are so proud of the outward rather than the inward qualification). If we have been “mad” it was for God’s glory; if we are perfectly sane it is for your benefit. At any rate there has been no selfish motive. The very spring of our actions is the love of Christ." (2 Corinthians 5:11-14a)
That last sentence ties this whole chapter together; it is the tie that binds: "The very spring of our actions is the love of Christ." The love of Jesus is a never-ending, bubbling, flowing fountain in the inner life that both satisfies our souls and compels us in our outward, others-focused activities. Think of it these ways: the more you drink, the further it overflows; the deeper you swim, the further it spreads out.
In fact, if you read the whole of 2 Corinthians 5, you get a litany of phrases that point out how the love of Jesus is and operates: it is our "permanent house in Heaven," the "full cover...that will be ours," "the life that is eternal," "power"; the love of Jesus is "His Spirit"; it is "our persuading of men," our "inward qualification," our sanity, our "motive": "the very spring of our actions."
So, if I may, I'd like to discourage you and encourage you.
I would discourage you from attempting any form of the "Christian life" where you're not practically becoming familiar with the inward, outward-flowing, personal, personalized, actual love of Jesus of Nazareth. Don't have anything to do with any such disconnected approach.
But, I would encourage you -- today and everyday -- to make the full focus of your day experience and delight-in just how very much He loves you.
Drink deep... that it may overflow.
Swim deeper and deeper... that it may spread further and further.
Remember: "The very spring of our actions is the love of Christ."
Our actions will always manifest in the pattern of their truest source.
This letter comes to you from Paul, servant of Jesus Christ, called as a messenger and appointed for the service of that Gospel of God which was long ago promised by the prophets in the holy scriptures. The Gospel is centred in God’s Son, a descendant of David by human genealogy and patently marked out as the Son of God by the power of that Spirit of holiness which raised him to life again from the dead. He is our Lord, Jesus Christ, from whom we received grace and our commission in his name to forward obedience to the faith in all nations. And of this great number you at Rome are also called to belong to him. To you all then, loved of God and called to be Christ’s men and women, grace and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1-7)
It strikes you, as you read the very first words of this wondrous epistle, what Paul is up to in this opening: he wants the fellowship at Rome—and all of us—so inextricably tied up and tied into the Name and Person of Jesus that there’s nowhere else for us to go. Consider his preamble in this way:
Jesus… whose servant Paul is… as an appointed messenger of the Gospel… which, for ages past, had been promised by the prophets, in the holy scriptures, who were all of them looking only to--
Jesus… who is God’s Son… and the very center of the Gospel’s good news. Really, the Gospel itself is--
Jesus… that descendant of King David… clearly marked as the Son of God--how? By the power of the Holy Spirit, who, seeing Him dead in our sins, raised Him up to life again--
Jesus… who is our Lord… and who personally brought us grace…and who commissioned us each, personally, to bear His name and His Way to all the nations.
Friends, our belongingness, our position as those beloved by God, our calling as men and women, the grace and peace of God the Father all come from--
Let’s go see what He would have us do this day!
"For the Son of God did not come from above to add an external form of worship to the several ways of life that are in the world, and so to leave people to live as they did before, in such tempers and enjoyments as the fashion and spirit of the world approves; but as He came down from Heaven altogether Divine and heavenly in His own nature, so it was to call mankind to a Divine and heavenly life; to the highest change of their own nature and temper; to be born again of the Holy Spirit; to walk in the wisdom and light and love of God, and to be like Him to the utmost of their power; to renounce all the most plausible ways of the world, whether of greatness, business, or pleasure; to a mortification of all their most agreeable passions; and to live in such wisdom, and purity, and holiness, as might fit them to be glorious in the enjoyment of God to all eternity."
A Serious Call to a Devout & Holy Life
"If I imagined two kingdoms bordering each other, one of which I knew rather well and the other not at all, and if however much I desired it I was not allowed to enter the unknown kingdom, I would still be able to form some idea of it. I would go to the border of the kingdom known to me and follow it all the way, and in doing so I would by my movements describe the outline of that unknown land and thus have a general idea of it, although I had never set foot in it. And if this was a labor that occupied me very much, if I was unflaggingly scrupulous, it presumably would sometimes happen that as I stood with sadness at the border of my kingdom and gazed longingly into that unknown country that was so near and yet so far, I would be granted an occasional little disclosure."
Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or
* * *
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:23-26)
An amplification of Romans 5:5-8, with the verses in bold and my words in regular text:
Already we have some experience of the love of God flooding through our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us. The Holy Spirit of God, the atmosphere of Heaven itself, the communion-point of the Father and Son, the animating force of all the greatest deeds of the Old Testament, has been given, without reserve, without end, without any restraint to every believer in Jesus. The Holy Spirit is within you--now. He is the exact point on earth--within you—where the “love of God”—the life of Heaven—is choosing to express itself. Your inward experience of, your union with, this Holy Spirit is the way in which you meet and experience the incarnate life and love of Jesus. And what is that love like?
And we can see that it was while we were powerless to help ourselves that Christ died for sinful men. The love of Jesus is powerful…for the powerless. It is the perfect help of Heaven, sent to earth, for all the people of earth--everyone!—who are unable to help themselves. In fact, that is the best definition of the love of Jesus: that it is heavenly; that it cost His life; that it’s for the powerless, ie. all of us. The love of Jesus is the greatest universal, all-encompassing force that has ever swept across the face of this earth. Listen:
In human experience it is a rare thing for one man to give his life for another, even if the latter be a good man, though there have been a few who have had the courage to do it. Yet the proof of God’s amazing love is this: that it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us. And, by the way, it was while we were sinners that He also lived His life for us—just ask Matthew the tax-collector. Or the woman caught in adultery and hauled into the Temple. Or, for that matter, any of His disciples. And, maybe most notably, while He was in the midst of giving His life for the sake of sinners, the criminal who met Him in death—and then met Him again in Paradise. “God’s amazing love” is amazing because of how relentless it is—even beyond the bounds of life and death—in pursuing the sinner. All human history before Jesus was a record of the seeming wrath of God; everything after is a catalogue of the immensity of His love.
"The Master Plan which exists beneath the superficial activities of human beings is now becoming intelligible to them. The reconciliation between the holiness and perfection of God and the selfishness and evil of men has been unforgettably demonstrated. Death, the old dark bogey, has been exposed and resoundingly defeated. And as if this were not enough Good News for human beings to accept, they know now, by the acted parable of the Ascension of Christ, that God and man are eternally inseparable. Humanity is assured of its entry into the timeless life of God. A new dignity has been conferred upon the whole human race for God himself has become a man. New exciting possibilities appear as men begin to understand that the purpose of God’s descent to the human level is to enable them to rise and live as sons of God. And what is more, he is prepared to enter human personalities by his own Spirit to make such dreams come true."
J.B. Phillips, God our Contemporary
"Now if a man works his wages are not counted as a gift but as a fair reward. But if a man, irrespective of his work, has faith in him who justifies the sinful, then that man’s faith is counted as righteousness, and that is the gift of God." Romans 4:4,5
This is so important - let's extrapolate it out a bit:
There is a God: the I AM.
His very living essence is goodness, love: righteousness.
When a man or woman - fallen, fleshly, broken and sinful by their very definition - begins to believe in God, they do something. They align their life with the goodness, love, the righteousness, of God, and they begin a different journey through their human existence.
When they believe in God, when they trust in God's ways and means, they begin choosing against all forms of self-righteousness. It is not their works - the sweat of their spiritual brow - that will justify them: it is the gift of God who, by belief, lines up His Way (His goodness, love: His righteousness) with this new, redeemed human being.
The whole thing is perfectly natural and perfectly supernatural.
It is "the gift of God" to the individual who, simply, believes.
In working through the latter half of Romans 3, I was drawn to a compare-contrast of the Old and New Covenants—especially the blessings/curses that accompanied the Old, as described in Leviticus 26. For Anchor this week, after having looked at that chapter over and over again, I decided to re-transcribe it in the context of the New—especially highlighting our overwhelming blessings upon blessings. How does this read to you?
“Walk with Me for yourselves, and let my Holy Spirit dwell within you. I am the Lord your God. Live in my rest and enjoy the joy of being my Temple. I am your Lord. As you follow my commandments and walk the path of my Way, my Spirit will become a spring within you, watering your life and yielding great crops of His fruit. Together, we will harvest the fruit of your life—I, the Vine; you, the branch—and you will be fruitful and I will be your fruitfulness.
“I will grant you my peace, and you will rest in Me and no one and nothing will be able to make you afraid. I have already vanquished the words and works of the evil one; swords and strife will not be the experience of your days. The enemy may pursue you, yes; but he is powerless in my presence—I have forever chased Him away by my finished work.
“Now I look on you with favor and I will make you fruitful and increase your fruit, and I will keep the Covenant I have made with my Father. You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. I have put my dwelling place within you, and I will love you to the moment when you come home. I will walk with you and be your God, and you will be my chosen child forever. For I am the Lord your God, Jesus the Christ, who brought you out of bondage so that you would no longer be slaves to the Law, sin and death. I broke the chains of your slavery and set you under the bars of my yoke and enabled you to walk, alongside Me, with our heads held high.”
There once was a mighty mountain—the tallest in the world. Its heights were so high that no eye had ever seen them. Its craggy, granite summit was wreathed around with clouds. Nothing in all the world could compare to this most permanent peak.
On the other side of the world lived a grain of sand. This speck was one of hundreds of billions of other, similar specks. Every day the grain would rise and fall with the tides. It would flow and tumble and toss with the other sand around it.
—the sand-grain heard the voice of the mountain:
“You are no grain of sand, my little one. You are part of me—a fleck of granite—permanent. Let me bring you home…”
And with that, a divine wind—a mighty blast of air from the mountain’s summit—picked up the speck and carried it all the way to the foot of the mountain. It rested now, granite to granite, like to like. It was invited to enjoy its new, permanent home forever. Around it were all the others who’d found their true identity. All was joy and peace and enjoyment now.
But, then, doubts began to rise.
I don’t look the same as all these other kinds of granite.
Is the mountain really the tallest, best, truest in the world?
I miss the tumble and toss—and togetherness—of the seashore.
Perhaps I might just go back…
The voice of the mountain spoke to the speck again:
“I will never move, change or—ever—forget you. I am the life, the truth, the place to live. You have entertained your doubts now, little speck. I am unchangeable towards you. How—where—will you choose to live?”