Daily Light – Oct 23, 2020

How Did God Call Me to Himself? 

From an Interview with John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org 

Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22–24

Call That Creates 

When the called look at Christ crucified, they don’t see a stumbling block; they don’t see folly. They see power. So, there are three groups in those verses: (1) Jews, (2) Gentiles, (3) called. That’s not quite accurate, is it? Let me say it a little more carefully. There are: (1) Jews who are not called, (2) Gentiles who are not called, and (3) Jews and Gentiles who are called. 

Those are the three groups. Are you with me? We’re considering our calling. We’re obeying 1 Corinthians 1:26. There are Jews not called, Gentiles not called, and Jews and Gentiles, some of whom are called. And then he describes the response of each to the cross. 

Jews: “Yeah, stumbling block. A crucified Messiah? Never heard of such a thing.” 

Gentiles: “Foolishness. A dying God? Silly — mythological.” 

Called: “Power — my God!” 

What kind of call is that? I’ll tell you what kind of call it is: it’s the kind of call that creates what it commands. The call gives light. The call creates sight. The call raises the dead. “Lazarus, come forth” (see John 11:43). He didn’t decide to. The call raised him from the dead. 

‘Wake Up!’ 

Let me give you an analogy that could be misleading. It helps me. Just to get your hand around it, because lots of you have never been taught about the call of God: the mighty, effectual, irresistible, powerful, saving, awakening, life-giving call of God that saved you. You’ve never been taught about this, so you need a little analogy to help you, instead of saying, “What is he talking about? I’ve never heard anything like this. I thought I just believed in Jesus.” 

Suppose somebody is asleep, and you want to wake them up. What do you do? They’re sound asleep. You bend over them and you say, “Wake up!” And they bolt right upright. Now, what are the dynamics of that moment? They were sound asleep, and then they were awake. Did they hear the call and say, “I’ll think about that before I wake up, and then I’ll decide if I want to wake up”? That is a good analogy. When God issues a call to your dead heart and says, “Wake up!” you wake up. You did not make yourself a Christian. Just face it: you didn’t make yourself a Christian, which is why you should feel so incredibly loved. 

In fact, if you need a text to say that, just go to Ephesians 2:4, where Paul says just as clearly as can be that, because of his “great love,” he made you alive when you were dead. It’s the only place he uses that phrase — “great love” — in all the New Testament. So, if you have any spiritual life in you at all, you have been greatly loved. It’s called regeneration; it’s called calling. You have been called, and you are greatly loved in this calling. 

God Put You in Christ 

God loved you by putting you in Christ. First Corinthians 1:30: “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus.” That’s pretty clear. In the original, very, very literally it would go, “From him are you in Christ Jesus,” or, “Of him are you in Christ Jesus.” “Because of him” is probably a pretty good translation: because of his doing, because of his work, you are in Christ Jesus. 

So, he chose you “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). He, through Billy Graham, or a preacher, or your mom’s testimony, or reading the Bible, or hearing a worship song, or however he wanted to do it as far as human agency goes, he spoke the word, “Wake up!” or “Come!” or “Live!” And you suddenly stopped seeing the cross as folly. You stopped seeing the cross as boring. You stopped seeing the cross as mythological. You stopped seeing the cross as a stumbling block. Suddenly, it was what you needed, and true. And you embraced it. You embraced it. Because God woke you up, changed your heart. And in that, you were united to Christ. 

When we were talking about the doctrine of regeneration or the new birth, I tried to explain how calling, regeneration, faith, and union with Christ are simultaneous. There are causal connections here, but there aren’t temporal gaps. In an instant — in an instant — he awakened you from the dead. Your eyes were opened, and what you saw was a glorious Christ. And in seeing him as glorious, you were a believer; you were. That’s what being a believer means: “He’s glorious. He’s Savior. He’s Lord. He is mine.” That’s what it is to see him for what he really is. And in that moment, you were united to Jesus, which means God loved you by making Christ your wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. 

So, God awakened you, united you to Christ so that you have a vital union with Jesus. You’re connected with him — maybe like a vine and a branch? 

All He Is, You Are 

Look at verse 30 again: 

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption. 

So, when you unite with Christ, all that he is, now you are — without making you God. All the benefits that are in him, all the inheritance that is in him, all that he ever purchased, all the obedience he ever performed, all the forgiveness he ever purchased, you now have by virtue of union with him, which you feel by faith and which God worked sovereignly. He has become, through God’s loving you this way, everything for you. 

When I walked in tonight and heard the worship team rehearsing, “Hallelujah, all I have is Christ. Hallelujah, Jesus is my life,” I said to Chuck, “Okay, I’m doing an audible here.” I had a hymn picked out for the end. But we’re going to do that: “All I Have Is Christ.” This is verse 30, right? If I need wisdom, he’s my wisdom. If I need righteousness, he’s my righteousness. If I need sanctification, redemption . .  

You are loved. You are loved sons and daughters of God because God chose you for himself. You are loved because he called you to himself. You are loved because he united you to Christ. And by making you one with Christ, Christ becomes everything you need. 

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Coronavirus and Christ

Daily Light – Oct 22, 2020

Humble Yourself — Like God 

The Power of Christ’s Lowliness 

Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org 

Behold, your king is coming to you . . . humble and mounted on a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9

God commands us to be humble. “Seek humility” (Zephaniah 2:3). “Put on . . . humility” (Colossians 3:12). “Have . . . a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8). “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5). Jesus’s promise that God will exalt the humble enjoins us to pursue it (Matthew 18:423:12Luke 14:1118:14). And his apostles too say, “Humble yourselves” (James 4:101 Peter 5:6). 

And yet, humility, according to the regular testimony of Scripture, is not something we can just up and do. As we consider the positive examples of those who humbled themselves (from Josiah and Hezekiah to Rehoboam, Ahab, and Manasseh) — as well as the negative examples of those who did not (Pharaoh, Amon, Zedekiah, Belshazzar) — what becomes clear is that humbling first belongs to the hand of God. He initiates the humbling of his creatures. And once he has, the question confronts us: Will you receive it? Will you humble yourself in response to his humbling hand, or will you kick against the goads? 

“Humble yourselves,” writes Peter, “under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:6). First descends his humbling hand. Then the creature has his turn: God is humbling me. Will I embrace it? Will I humble myself? 

Given this background, it is stunning to read about Christ in Philippians 2:8 — in perhaps one of the most striking assertions in all the Scriptures: “he humbled himself.” God himself, fully divine and fully human in the person of his Son, humbled himself. This is worth our slow meditation and our endless marveling. 

But before we assume too much, let’s ask what humility is in biblical terms. Get that wrong and we might marvel for the wrong reasons. And then, with some biblical bearings in place, let’s see what’s so marvelous about our self-humbling Christ. 

What Is Humility? 

Fittingly, the first mention of humility in all the Bible comes in the escalating showdown between Egypt’s Pharaoh and Israel’s God, mediated through Moses. 

Moses first dared to appear before Pharaoh in Exodus 5, and spoke on Yahweh’s behalf, “Let my people go” (Exodus 5:1). To which Pharaoh replied, “Who is Yahweh, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know Yahweh, and moreover, I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2). Mark that. Pharaoh, swollen in pride, has miscalculated his status, as a creature, in relation to the Creator God. Through Moses, God speaks to Egypt’s head and calls for him to obey. And Pharaoh refuses. 

Exodus 10:3 then describes this as a call to humility. After seven plagues, on the cusp of an eighth, God speaks to Pharaoh, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?” The piercing question, in the context of this extended power encounter, gives us this glimpse into the heart of humility: humility acknowledges and obeys the one who is truly Lord. Humility entails a right view of self, as created by and accountable to God, which requires a right view of God, as Creator and authoritative in relation to his creatures. Humility is not, then, preoccupied with self, and one’s own lowliness, but first mindful of and conscience of God, and his highness, and then of self in respect to him. 

Is God Humble? 

Put another way, humility embraces the reality that I am not God. Pride led to humanity’s fall when Adam and Eve desired to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5) contrary to his command. Humility would have obeyed his command — which is what we will see below in Christ. 

Humility, then, is a creaturely virtue. It is a posture of soul and body and life that acknowledges and embraces the godness of God and the humanness of self. Which means that “Is God humble?” is a tricky question. The answer is no, but not because God is the opposite of what we would consider humble. He is not arrogant or prideful. Rather, humility is a creaturely virtue, and he is God. The essence of humility, we might say with John Piper, is “to feel and think and say and act in a way that shows I am not God.” 

Which contributes to what makes us stand in awe as we read that the God-man, Jesus Christ, “humbled himself.” 

Christ Humbled Himself 

Let’s marvel, then, at this remarkable word from the apostle Paul — that Christ “humbled himself” (Philippians 2:8). Note first, confirming our definition above of humility as a creaturely virtue, that the eternal Son first became man (verse 7), then humbled himself (verse 8). The verb Paul uses to capture the action of the incarnation is not humbled but emptied: 

[Being] in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:6–7

The movement from heaven to earth, so to speak, is an “emptying.” The divine Son emptied himself not of divinity, as if that were possible, but of the privilege of not being human, not being a creature, not suffering the bounds and limitations of our finitude and the pains and afflictions of our fallen world. He could have grasped the divine privilege of not being subjected to the rules and realities of the creation, but instead he emptied himself by taking our humanity. His was an emptying not by subtraction (of divinity) but by addition (of humanity): “taking.” 

By Becoming Obedient 

So, first, he became man. Then, as man, came the creaturely virtue: “he humbled himself.” Paul confirms what we learned about humility in the negative example of Pharaoh in Exodus 10: 

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8

How did Jesus “humble himself”? By becoming obedient. To humble oneself is to acknowledge God as Lord and to obey as servant. In order to do so, then, the Son had to take “the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). 

It is a mark of the fullness of his humanity, and identification with us, that he didn’t come on special terms, to be spared the frustrations of our limits and the pains of our world. Rather, he was all in: fully human in body, mind, heart, will, and surroundings. Fully human in our finitude and common frustrations. Fully human in our vulnerability to the worst a sinful world can work. Nor was he, at bottom, spared the very essence of being human: being accountable to God. 

“Although he was a son,” Hebrews 5:8–9 celebrates, “he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” We, as creatures, must obey our Creator — and he, as our brother, did the same. 

To the Point of Death 

But his self-humbling does not stop at obedience. The apostle adds, “to the point of death.” Christ’s obedience was an all-the-way obedience. A true obedience. He did not obey for a time, as long as it was comfortable, and then try another path. No, he obeyed to the point of death. 

Real obedience endures in obedience. Christ did not begin in obedience and then surrender to disobedience once the greatest of threats loomed. He obeyed his parents (Luke 2:51), and obeyed his Father, in childhood, in adolescence, in adulthood, in Nazareth and Galilee, and all the way to Jerusalem. Genuine obedience sees the word of God all the way through in our lives — both right away and for the long haul. 

Humility not only obeys God as Lord, but continues to obey even as obedience mounts its increasing costs. It doesn’t say, “I will obey for a time, until I’ve had enough, and then I’ll do it my way.” It says, “Your way, all the way, to the end, God.” It begins in Galilee, sets its face like flint to Jerusalem, and in the garden, at the point of no return — even through sweat drops like blood — it trusts the Father, stays the course, and rises to meet its foes. 

One more phrase then puts the exclamation point on Jesus’s humility: “even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Of all ends, his was the cruelest: the Roman cross, emblem of suffering and shame. It’s one thing to die; another to suffer torture; another still to be utterly shamed for the public eye as you are tortured to death. 

And this obedience — this acknowledging and obeying his Father’s word and will to the point of death, even death on a cross — is how Paul expands that most remarkable claim “he humbled himself.” 

Humbled with Him 

God indeed does command our humility. His hand and plan conspire to humble us, whether through pandemics or through the consequences of personal sins. And there in our humbling, whether our own sin played a part in it or not, he invites us to humble ourselves — and in no small measure by learning from the self-humbling of Christ. 

The humility of Christ shows us that true humility is not the denigrating of humanity, but God’s image shining in its fullness. To humble oneself is not to be less than human. Rather, it is pride that is the cancer, pride that corrodes our true dignity. To humble ourselves is to come ever closer, step by step, to the bliss and full flourishing for which we were made. 

The humility of Christ also clarifies that not all our humblings are owing to our own sin. Christ had none, yet humbled himself. Sometimes repentance is the first step in self-humbling; other times it is not. Our self-humblings may often come in response to the exposure of our sin, but even Christ, sinless as he was, heeded the Father’s call to humble himself. 

The humility of Christ also means God’s command is not to something he himself has not experienced. As lonely as we may feel in our most humbling moments, we are not there alone. Christ has been there, and is there with us, fulfilling his pledge to be with you always (Matthew 28:20), and all the more tangibly when it’s hardest. He humbled himself, and draws near in your humbling, to release you to receive it, welcome it, repent, declare his Father righteous, learn from it, and chart a new course with his guidance and presence. 

He Will Lift You Up 

The humility of Christ, in his life and death and resurrection, also testifies to one of God’s clearest and most memorable promises in all the Scriptures: he humbles the proud, and exalts the humble. So it was with Christ. He humbled himself, and “God has highly exalted him” (Philippians 2:9) — literally, “super-exalted” (Greek hyperypsōsen). And so too will our God, without exception, exalt those who are his in Christ. 

No matter how deep your valley, no matter how long it feels like you’ve been left to rot in your humbling, no matter how alone you’ve felt, he will raise you. In Christ, you will be super-exalted, in time. God’s favor for the humble will shine out. His rescuing grace will arrive. He will not leave his humbled unexalted. 

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines

Daily Light – Oct 21, 2020

Friends:   the article of yesterday, and today, contain gold nuggets of eternal truth and light that are found in the deeper parts of the mine. 🙂  They require more time and work in excavation to find, see, and possess.  The goal is to come to truth that is useful in our growth process ‘so that’ we can use such truth to ‘go out’ and produce eternal fruit.  We will return to easier mining tomorrow 🙂. 

Worse Than We Think 

What Total Depravity Is (and Is Not) 

Article by Robert Letham, Professor, Wales Evangelical School of Theology 

The doctrine of total depravity is widely misunderstood. It is almost as important to know what it does not mean as what it affirms. Moreover, we will not grasp its full import unless we see it in a wider context. 

In the phrase total depravity, the word depravity refers to a corrupt nature inherent in humanity ever since the sin of Adam. The necessary presupposition on which the doctrine of inherited depravity rests is the solidarity of the human race. Without that presupposition, the doctrine does not make sense. 

We are not individuals in isolation. We are part of a collective whole, rather like slices of a gigantic pizza. In the Old Testament, people were seen in connection with their ancestors from the past and their tribal connections in the present; you were A the son of B the son of C of the tribe N. Hence, when Achan sinned, all Israel sinned (Joshua 7:1120). Likewise, the actions of the one man Adam directly affected the many (Romans 5:12–21). 

Not only did we all incur guilt in Adam’s sin, but his vitiated nature was and is communicated to all his descendants. As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it, 

By this sin they [our first parents] fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body. (6.2) 

They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. (6.3) 

The modifier total in total depravity denotes that sin affects every facet of our nature. It does not mean that sinners are as bad as they possibly can be or that any one person is as bad as he possibly can be. Nor does it mean that fallen humans lack a conscience or that the world since the fall is entirely miserable and incapable of making any progress or appreciating the beauty evident all around. It means that no part of the personality is uncorrupted: the mind, the emotions, and so on. In William Shedd’s words, total depravity means “the entire absence of holiness, not the highest intensity of sin” (Dogmatic Theology, 2:257). 

Real and Total Corruption 

In contrast, Thomas Aquinas, whose treatment of this topic had a defining effect on later Roman Catholic theology, held that original sin simply wounded human nature. He argued that it does not make us averse to virtue, although it weakens us in this pursuit and brings the penalty of death, all stemming from our inheriting Adam’s loss of original innocence. Sin stains us and makes us guilty, deserving punishment. It is like an illness, some sins being curable, others mortal (see Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae.85–87). Rome came to define corruption in purely negative terms, as the loss of the righteousness that was given by God as an addition to humanity’s naturally created condition. 

On the other hand, the Reformers stressed that the depravity we inherited from Adam was real, total corruption (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.1.8). The biblical basis for their position is clear in that sin is universal (Genesis 6:5Romans 1:18–3:20). It renders humans blind to the gospel (1 Corinthians 2:142 Corinthians 4:1–6) and enemies of God (Romans 8:7Ephesians 2:1–3), and is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). This sinful nature is the source of evil thoughts and actions (Matthew 15:16–20). 

Blindness and Inability 

In practice, total depravity means that there is no human faculty left untouched by sin, even in relative terms. The mind, as well as the emotions and appetites, is biased against God. We need renewal in the whole person. Moreover, the aesthetic sensibilities are also corrupted. The aversion of fallen people to all that reflects the evidence of the Creator in the world renders them incapable of appreciating his glory and beauty. The creation is viewed in itself rather than as the ravishing and resplendent gift of God. 

Because of this, there is an inevitable distortion in humanity’s reception of God’s creation, for it is not seen as in reality it is. The joy is absent that should arise from grasping the real identity of the creation as penultimate and seeing beyond it the beauty of God. Only the renewing work of the Holy Spirit can take the scales from our eyes and turn us around to appreciate the creation appropriately, for otherwise we idolize it for its own sake or denigrate it out of spiritual blindness and indifference. 

A direct corollary of total depravity is that fallen people cannot rescue themselves from their guilt and depravity. This is an ethical “cannot”; they cannot because they will not. “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:6–8), cannot receive the revelation of God (Matthew 16:171 Corinthians 2:14John 6:44–4564–65), cannot submit to the law of God (Romans 8:7), cannot respond of themselves to the grace of God in Christ, and cannot rescue themselves because they are covenantally dead (Ezekiel 37:1–6Ephesians 2:1–3). 

It is true that fallen people can do much good of a moral, social, and cultural nature. They can show love to family, perform acts of kindness, produce great works of art, and make major contributions to civic welfare. However, apart from regeneration by the Spirit, they cannot do these activities to the glory of God. Nor, as a consequence, can they share the exultant joy of the psalmists in the wonders of God’s works (Psalms 19, 145, 147, 148). It requires a radical change, altering the entire bias of the human will, in order to respond positively to the gospel, a change that can be brought about only by the Holy Spirit. 

Hearts Made Willing 

Augustine put his finger on the consequences that arise from the denial of original sin and its impact throughout the depraved mind. In Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, he lists a number of elements of the Pelagian heresy. Its denial of original sin led to their supposition that salvation is based on our own merits and so is not properly grace at all. Augustine opposed both Manicheism and Pelagianism in his saying human nature is healable, since according to the Pelagians it did not need to be healed, whereas according to the Manicheans it cannot be healed since they considered evil to be coeternal and immutable. 

For Pelagianism, faith and obedience are to be attributed to those who exercise them and so any failure is due to their not trying hard enough. J.I. Packer maintained that Pelagianism is the default position of zealous Christians who have little interest in doctrine (“‘Keswick’ and the Reformed Doctrine of Sanctification”). Leaving other matters aside, this heresy eradicated Christian joy, since it encouraged dependence on the constant uncertainties of our own efforts. 

The root of Pelagianism, flowing from its denial of original sin and the totality of depravity, was a focus on morality, with an assertion of the ability of fallen people to respond to the gospel unaided by divine grace. It rested on the assumption that a command of God entailed the ability of those commanded to fulfill it. Augustine argued in reply that humans respond, but we do so since God makes us willing, and changes our hearts, so that we believe freely. 

In short, the reality of total depravity leaves no possibility of salvation by our own efforts. It points to our dire condition from the fall and the sovereign work of God in rescuing us. Only the Holy Spirit can change us and transform us into the image of Christ, who is the image of the invisible God. This is a cause for unbounded thanksgiving to God and delight in his grace and goodness in Christ. 

Robert Letham is a lecturer in systematic and historical theology at Wales Evangelical School of Theology and author of Systematic Theology

Daily Light – Oct 20, 2020

Friends:  This piece is deep and requires some study and prayerful contemplation.  So many chunks of gold to be found herein.  The good stuff is rarely on the surface…you have to dive-in and dig-deep, sort- through.   To find the gold chunks…you have to ‘pan’ through the whole…’panning’, as in panning for gold…and the process of panning is prayer and contemplation.   So dive-in, dig, pan, and grow…and then ‘go’ out and be light to the world.  dh

Today’s Daily Light

He Died to Have Her 

THE STUBBORN LOVE OF DEFINITE ATONEMENT 

Article by Marshall Segal, Staff writer, desiringGod.org 

What happened for you at the cross? 

Jesus died for my sins, many might rush to say (and rightly so). However easily those five simple and beautiful words come, though, they are often misunderstood and unexplored. Who was Jesus, and what had he planned to do? And if he is God the Son, the Word become flesh, what would it mean for him to die? And how do we understand sin, and what does it really cost? 

If we’re not careful, our gospel can easily become a shallow and superficial anthem to relieve guilty consciences and dismiss fears of hell. The cross is no longer really about reconciling us to God, but about calming God and skipping punishment. We end up clinging to a sentimental and superficial cross, not the cross of Christ. We need greater and greater clarity, through the eyes of Scripture, to know the real wonders of the cross. 

Perhaps the most controversial word of the five, though, is my. What does it mean that Christ died for me? When he was pinned to that wood in my place, his lungs collapsing and blood spilling, what did he achieve for me? 

What Did the Cross Achieve? 

What happened for you at the cross? Jesus did not just die so that you might be saved; he died to save you. Christ did not die so that you might have him, but so that he would, without a doubt, have you. When he died, your salvation was not only made possible, but made sure. That is the beauty and promise of definite atonement. If it feels peripheral or unimportant, like theological hairsplitting, we have not yet felt just how dead and hopeless we really were in our sin. 

Definite atonement (or limited atonement) says that Christ died for a definite people — a definite church, a definite flock, a definite and chosen bride. “Husbands, love your wives,” the apostle Paul says, “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Not for everyone, but for her. 

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14–15). For his own, for the sheep, for his friends (John 15:13). For all those whose names were “written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8). 

“I have been crucified with Christ,” the apostle Paul says. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Not just for anyone, but for me — and everyone who lives by such faith. 

John Piper says, “You will never know how much God loves you if you continue to think of his love for you as only one instance of his love for all the world” (From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, 640). When Jesus received the nails, the thorns, the spear in his side, he was not saving everyone in the world, but securing those he had chosen from all over the world. He did not die wondering if you would believe; he died so that you would believe. 

The doctrine of limited atonement arose as part of a five-part response (now remembered by the acronym TULIP) to a theological revolt four hundred years ago. In the Remonstrance, followers of Jacob Arminius falsely taught, “Jesus Christ the Savior of the world died for all men and for every man.” They sought to make the atonement “unlimited,” applying to all and not only those chosen by God for salvation. Ironically, by doing so, they limited the atonement far more than they realized. By trying to preserve, feature, and widen the glory of the cross, they unwittingly restrained and diminished it. 

The Cross Purchases Hearts 

Perhaps no better place exists to discover the certainty of God securing salvation for his people than by going to the heart of the new covenant promises, literally. These precious promises show that the cross not only makes salvation possible, but actually creates in us what salvation requires of us. Through the cross, through “the blood of the covenant” (Hebrews 9:20), God sovereignly forms the faith in us by which he saves us. 

The prophet Jeremiah declares, 

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:31–33

What is different about this new covenant? God will not merely give his people the law to obey, but he will write his law on their hearts. He will put it within them. He continues in the next chapter, 

I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. (Jeremiah 32:39–40

God will not wait for them to fear him, but he will put the fear of himself in their hearts. Or, as the prophet Ezekiel says, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:26–27). 

These are not pictures of a God waiting for us to let him in by faith, but pictures of a God who levels all the walls of our resistance to cause us to repent, believe, rejoice, and obey. And this spiritual heart surgery happens because of the blood of the new covenant (Matthew 26:28) — the death of Christ for his bride, his sheep, his church. Those who argue for unlimited atonement, far from extending the atonement, rob the atonement of its deepest, most vital purchase: the gift of faith for all who would believe. 

Savior of the World? 

But didn’t Jesus die for the whole world? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Arminians base their argument for unlimited atonement on a handful of familiar verses in the Bible, verses we dare not set aside or minimize. No debate over Scripture should be settled by which proof texts are more true, but instead by what holds the utter truthfulness of every verse together. 

So, while John 3:16 may seem to contradict definite atonement, we must stop to ask what Jesus means by “the world” and what he means by “love.” Does world really mean every person everywhere at all times, or might he simply mean people from everywhere in the world (and not only Jews)? The same question applies to other similar texts: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (Titus 2:11). “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). 

Paul may provide the key for some texts like these when he calls Jesus “the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10). Jesus does love all in some real sense and offer himself as the only possible Savior. If it were not for the death of Christ, we all, without exception, would have been immediately buried in wrath. If it were not for the death of Christ, we could not genuinely offer the gospel to all people everywhere. Jesus is the Savior of all in some sense, but not in the same sense. There is an especially: “especially of those who believe.” He not only covers them in common grace, as he does with all people, but he also raises them with saving grace. As J.I. Packer says, “God loves all in some ways” and “God loves some in all ways” (From Heaven He Came, 564). 

Does God Love the World? 

God does love the whole world, though, and everyone in it. He desires, at one level, that all would be saved (Ezekiel 18:23Matthew 23:37), even if he decrees that only some ultimately are. The world in John 3:16 is the world without exception. In giving his own Son, God loved the world, the whole of sinful humanity. And because he crushed his Son, whoever believes in him, without exception, is covered by the blood of Christ. Through Christ and only because of Christ, God is offered to all. 

And yet, even in that very same chapter, we learn that we must be born again (John 3:7) and that the Spirit blows where he wishes (John 3:8). God loves all, and desires all to be saved, and yet he chooses some (Romans 9:18). He loves them more — in all ways. Jesus is the Savior of the world, especially of those who believe. 

Whatever texts like the ones above mean by world or all, they cannot mean Jesus truly dies for everyone in the world. Otherwise, no sin would ever be punished in hell. If Jesus died for those who reject him in the end, how then could they be sent to hell? What more is there to pay? While his death, as the sinless Son of God, surely could have hypothetically covered the sins of the whole world (and many more worlds beside), his death could not have literally covered all sins in this world, or all would be saved. 

And if he meant to cover the sins of all, did he then fail in his mission? Or, if he meant to cover the sins of all, did that set him against the Father, who elects some to salvation (Ephesians 1:3–4), and against the Spirit, who regenerates some to new life (John 3:3–8)? As Jonathan Gibson writes, “The works of the Trinity in the economy of salvation are indivisible. That is, the works of Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct but inseparable. Each person performs specific roles in the plan of salvation, but never in isolation from the others” (From Heaven He Came, 366). 

In the end, perhaps the most serious danger of unlimited atonement is that it appears to divide God, to put the Godhead at odds with himself, to separate what God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — has planned, executed, and achieved, from before the foundation of the world, together. 

Does This Harm Evangelism? 

But if Jesus only died for the elect, can we tell anyone and everyone we meet, “Jesus died for you”? In some ways, this is where the rubber of this debate meets the streets where we live. Many Arminians and Amyrauldians (those who affirm the other four points of Calvinism, but reject definite atonement) simply want to preserve the freedom to preach the gospel to all people. They want to preserve a “universal offer” of forgiveness and eternal life. Again, while trying to unleash the atonement, so-called unlimited atonement strangely limits it, because unlimited atonement shortens the saving arm of God — first for us, and then for all we love and want to come to Jesus. 

When we go to the lost, believing that Jesus not only bought the opportunity for them to believe, but bought the very faith of all who would believe, we can have far greater confidence in our sharing — and far less insecurity and anxiety about rejection. This person’s salvation does not ultimately hang on our persuasiveness, but on Christ’s purchase. Not on our argumentation, but on his propitiation. Not on their decision-making, but on his life-creating, soul-overturning, death-defeating, joy-producing love. 

The definite atoning work of Christ is a significant part of the glory of God’s grace. And to know this, by the working of God’s Spirit, inflames the cause of world missions and enables us to preach in such a way that our people experience deeper gratitude, greater assurance, sweeter fellowship with God, stronger affections in worship, more love for people, and greater courage and sacrifice in witness and service. (Piper, 637) 

If Christ died for all in the same way, we forfeit one of the most precious blessings he purchased — the faith by which we are saved — and we rob God of the full glory he deserves. Definite atonement, far from dulling love or blunting evangelism or blurring assurance, sets each ablaze with new confidence and zeal. The blood he spilled “is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). For many, even you, if he has made you his own. 

Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have two children and live in Minneapolis. 

Daily Light – Oct 19, 2020

Some Learn and Never Grow 

A Lost Remedy for Spiritual Immaturity 

Article by Afshin Ziafat, Pastor, Frisco, Texas 

If you grew up going to church youth camps, you may remember that kid who would seem to have a spiritual breakthrough every summer, only to go back to his former way of living soon after. No matter what he did, he failed to make lasting progress. Maybe you were that kid. Maybe you feel like that kid today. 

The book of Hebrews addresses the danger of not living up to what we know is true. The author writes to a group of Christians struggling to continue pursuing Christ. They probably felt the pressure to return to their former Jewish faith, especially after facing persecution for not doing so. So, the author urges them (and us) to continue following Christ, to pay closer attention to what they have heard, lest they “drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1), to not turn back to a life of mere pointers when they have seen the reality itself. 

As the author exhorts, warns, and woos, he stops mid-discussion to address something serious that hinders our continuing on in the faith. While reasoning with his readers not to return to the old covenant — because Jesus, of a new priestly order, is better than all the high priests of that covenant — he abruptly pauses to make an observation about his hearers: they suffer from spiritual arrested development. 

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11–14

They were grown-ups sipping bottles. Once they had enjoyed spiritual steak, but now they were regressing. Once they had learned “the basic principles of the oracles of God” — that the Old Testament Scriptures point to Christ, and are fulfilled in him — but now they needed someone to teach them again. Once they had heard and obeyed and acknowledged Jesus as Lord; now they had “become dull of hearing.” 

Lazy Listeners 

The author says that what he wants to teach them is hard to explain. Notice the reason he gives for this. It isn’t because the teaching is too technically deep and difficult to understand. It isn’t some esoteric mystery that only an enlightened few can comprehend. It isn’t because he considers himself a poor teacher. It isn’t because he considers them to be intellectually inferior. 

The diagnosis he gives is that they “have become dull of hearing.” Once their spiritual ears were in tune; now they are not. This is something that has happened to them over time. The word that is used for dull is the same word used for sluggish a chapter later (Hebrews 6:11–12). They have become lazy in their ability to hear truth. 

Biblically speaking, to hear is not just to listen but also to understand and obey. Earlier in Hebrews, the author speaks of the Israelites who heard God’s word but fell away and didn’t inherit the Promised Land. “Good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (Hebrews 4:2). They heard the very promises of God, in all their lavish mercy and grace, and yet they did not endure. They heard but did not continue in obedience. They heard God’s word, but fell away from their Lord. 

Moving On from Milk 

Lazy listening led to stunted development. He says that although by this time they should be teachers, they still need milk instead of solid food. They should be ready to graduate from college, but now they need to go back to elementary school. They should be enjoying steak, but instead they need spiritual milk, to learn again “the basic principles” of God’s word. 

It is important to note that the author isn’t downplaying the necessity of milk in extolling the virtues of solid food. A diet consisting merely of milk is not bad in itself. Diapers are not bad. Crawling on all fours everywhere you go is not bad. These things aren’t bad in themselves — not for an infant. What makes them bad is the phrase “by this time.” They aren’t babies anymore, and so behaving like one is a sign of concern. 

I remember when my youngest child was an infant. We would celebrate all the little things he would do, from crawling to his first mumbled words. But if my daughter, who is six years older, did the same things, we would not celebrate. We would be seriously worried. Similarly, the author of Hebrews is concerned that they seem to be returning to spiritual infancy. He defines this further in Hebrews 6:1–2

Let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 

Remember that the readers felt the pressure to return to their former Jewish faith, especially after facing persecution for not doing so. Now that Christ has come, Hebrews wants his readers to cling to the maturity of the new covenant, whatever persecution they face. They cannot go back to Judaism. They must leave it behind and go on to the maturity that is uncompromised life in Christ. 

It is very important to clarify what he means here by “leaving.” Leaving does not mean to throw away or dispense with and abandon. It is similar to the elementary student who has learned the alphabet: he doesn’t do away with the alphabet; the letters are essential to the communication of the most advanced learning. 

Whether in redemptive history, or in our own spiritual lives, progress to maturity is cumulative. The same is true of Christian doctrine. The first principles are foundational and are essential to every stage of development. The beginning foundation (the old covenant) is not the stopping point but rather the springboard to the new. So too the Christian life is not static. It progresses and grows and matures. Regression is reason for concern. 

How to Grow Up in God 

What about for us today? Most of us are not tempted to go back to Judaism apart from Christ, but many seem mired in stagnant or even regressed spiritual lives. 

Notice that Hebrews doesn’t suggest that they simply start eating solid food. It is dangerous to start feeding solid food to infants who cannot process that food. When my son was an infant, there was a period of time when he wasn’t keeping up with a healthy weight for his age. The problem was due to the fact that he wasn’t keeping milk down well. The solution wasn’t to start trying out steak, but to work toward his keeping the milk down. This is exactly how it works with our spiritual growth and maturity: we need to keep down what we already know. 

In the Western church, we too often make the mistake that spiritual maturity comes from obtaining more information. We sign up for Bible studies and theological classes to meet this need. While those classes may have much to offer, they don’t necessarily fix the problem of dull hearing. On their own, they don’t move you on to maturity. This is not merely an intellectual or educational issue. 

The author says the mature are “those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). The issue isn’t a lack of knowledge but a lack of practice. Through obedience, we grow into maturity in order to be able to take in solid food. The pathway to Christian maturity isn’t just to become a more educated person, but a more obedient person. 

If God Permits 

Practice trains our powers of discernment to distinguish good from evil. Like an athlete who develops muscle memory, when we put God’s word into practice we train our muscles of faith to believe God and refuse sin. We train ourselves by tasting and seeing that God in fact is good when we follow his commands, and our powers of discernment continue to grow. This is what growing in Christian maturity looks like. 

But we do not achieve maturity by ourselves: “And this we will do if God permits” (Hebrews 6:3). This is a reminder to all of us that this work of maturity is one that is dependent and directed by God. At the end of the day, we can’t just pull ourselves up by the bootstraps to become mature. We turn to God in full dependence. 

Do you feel like you have a stunted or even arrested development when it comes to your spiritual growth? Do you long to go on to maturity in your faith? If your answer is yes, turn to God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and submit all your life to his word — to know it, love it, cherish it, and live it. 

Afshin Ziafat (@afshinziafat) is lead pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas. His passion is to teach the word of God as the authority and guide for life, to preach Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Redeemer of mankind, and to proclaim the love of Christ as the greatest treasure and hope in life. He and his wife, Meredith, currently reside in Frisco with their three children. 

Daily Light – Oct 16, 2020

Seize the Day’s Interruptions 

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org 

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” sounds, to any Christian, like a grand and noble calling. Jesus’s words can inspire visions of sacrifice, courage, and daring good works. We can lose ourselves daydreaming of future plans to love. 

The daydream can vanish with surprising speed, however, when an actual neighbor asks for our help today. In the midst of our busyness, a friend in need texts, “Can you talk?” A church member asks for help to move a dresser. A coworker requests our feedback on a project. The driven among us find that such love disrupts our schedules, overturns our plans for the day, makes hash of our productivity, leaves our to-do lists half done. “Love your neighbor,” as it turns out, can feel like a frustratingly inconvenient command. 

So, excuses multiply. “I’m just too busy.” “I helped last time.” “My work is too pressing.” “He reaches out too often.” These defenses are persuasive, plausible — and sometimes, certainly legitimate. Yet often, they reveal that we are taking our own work, however important it may be, too seriously. 

Sinful Seriousness 

If you dare, place your soul for a moment under this wise scalpel from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: 

Nobody is too good for the lowest service. Those who worry about the loss of time entailed by such small, external acts of helpfulness are usually taking their own work too seriously. We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God, who will thwart our plans and frustrate our ways time and again, even daily, by sending people across our path with their demands and requests. (Life Together, 76–77) 

The words cut — especially those of us, like myself, who are prone to prioritize tasks over people, to see “real work” as the kind that can be checked off a list. Do we find, over and again, that we have no time to give “simple assistance in minor, external matters” (76)? Or that we give our assistance reluctantly, and then rush through the task while our attention is fixated on the task we left behind? If so, we are likely taking our work too seriously. 

Strangely enough, Bonhoeffer goes on to observe, Christians can be particularly prone to this kind of sinful seriousness, often considering “their work so important and urgent that they do not want to let anything interrupt it” (77). Slowly, “God’s work” makes us negligent toward God’s commands. We are simply too occupied to look to others’ small and urgent interests (Philippians 2:3–4), too overbooked to spend a slow, unexpected hour listening to someone’s pain (James 1:19), too consumed by high and holy work to attend to the needs of the lowly (Romans 12:16). 

In other words, we are too busy to be like Jesus. 

Lord of Interruptions 

We can say without controversy that no one’s work was more important than Jesus Christ’s. However significant our tasks may be, “save the world” exceeds them all. Nor was anyone more devoted to the mission he’d been given (John 4:34). Yet when approached by the multitudes with their “demands and requests,” no one was more gracious and patient. 

Can you imagine how so many of us would have responded to the blind man shouting from the road (Mark 10:46–48)? Or to the woman with the flow of blood (Mark 5:25–34)? Or to the mothers bringing their children for a blessing (Mark 10:13–16)? 

Never once do we see Jesus brush past someone with a hasty, “Not now.” Nor do we get the impression that he ever struggled to focus on the person in front of him — even when dozens of others clamored for his attention. Evidently, he did not see small acts of service as interruptions to his calling, but as part of his calling. “The Son of Man came . . . to serve” (Mark 10:45), and oh how he served. 

We are not Jesus, of course. But we are being formed into his image. And as servants of the great Servant, he bids us to follow him (Mark 10:43–44). 

Focused Love 

Jesus, of course, would not advise us to tumble into the ditch on the other side of the road. The schedules of some are sealed seven times over, requiring multiple keys and elaborate knocks to gain entrance — and to such is Bonhoeffer’s counsel intended. But the schedules of others open with every “Do you mind . . . ?” or “Could you . . . ?” People such as these may need to hear the opposite advice and learn to take the tasks before them more seriously. 

Jesus, for all his patience in the face of interruptions, knew how to turn down requests (Luke 4:42–43). Some need to realize that being a servant does not remove the word no from our vocabulary. Nor does it prevent us, in an always-available culture like our own, from going off the smartphone grid for parts of the day in order to give focused energy to our most important work and relationships. 

More than that, there is a difference between small, everyday requests (the kind Bonhoeffer has in mind) and larger demands on our time. If as a general rule we should lean toward small interruptions and little requests, we should probably lean away from large or ongoing responsibilities — at least without stopping to count the cost (Luke 14:28). 

Nevertheless, Bonhoeffer (and Jesus) still bids us toward a difficult balance: do not hold your daily plans with a vice grip, nor hand them to whoever will take them. That kind of balance comes not ultimately from pro-con lists (however helpful those can be) or any other productivity tool, but rather from a heart in tune with heaven’s priorities. 

Hearts in Tune with Heaven 

Once again, Jesus is our model. With so many demands and requests, and with such important work to do, how did he know when to embrace the unexpected and when to stay focused? 

At the beginning of his ministry, after a long night of healing the sick and casting out demons in Capernaum, “the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them” (Luke 4:42). This time, however, Jesus said no: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43). 

Where did that kind of spiritual discernment come from? Luke tells us. When the crowd came to him, Jesus was in “a desolate place” (Luke 4:42) — and desolate places were Jesus’s favorite places to pray (Luke 5:16). The crowds came to him, in other words, while he was communing with his Father. And from that place of spiritual strength, he had the clarity to see that, this time, he must move on. 

Those who anchor their hearts in heaven — not only once, but morning by morning — slowly grow in the same kind of wisdom. They have the discernment to see some requests as unhelpful distractions to the day’s work, and others as the holy interruptions that they are. In the latter case, they may still feel a pulse of selfishness pulling the other way. But by the grace of God, they will laugh at their momentary frustration, set efficiency aside, and seize the day’s interruptions as opportunities for love. 

Scott Hubbard is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and an editor for desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Bethany, live with their son in Minneapolis. 

Daily Light – Oct 15, 2020

Mind control 

Morning study provided by David Niednagel, Pastor, Teacher, Evansville, IN.  (David uses the S.O.A.P. method for his morning devotional time – study, observe, apply, pray). 

1 Peter 1:13-16   

1:13   Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”   ESV 

Their world was in chaos. Refugees. Forced to leave what was familiar and what gave them peace, routine, and to some degree, even their identity.  Life was so much harder. So Peter reminded them that even though they had little control over their outer world, they could control their inner world. Even non-Christians can control their minds, and can focus on positive things. POWs have done that and survived better than others. But they still have no control over the future. 

But believers have a promise that the world doesn’t understand. Even though we can’t control the world around us, and in fact it may get worse than ever, Jesus promised He was going to prepare a place for us and come back for us. In the meantime, His Holy Spirit is within us, He will never leave us or forsake us, He is interceding at the right hand of the Father for us, and He promises rewards for those who faithfully serve Him in the meantime. When we see His smile and joy, and hear Him say “Well done, good and faithful servant” it will make everything worthwhile. (Matt 25) 

Peter tells them/us to be super careful to plan how we are going to think in the hard times. Don’t wait till the crisis comes, decide now that we are going to praise Him and trust Him through it all. He reminds them of “youthful passions”. They all understood that. And he reminds them that even though those passions are strong, they can bring great trouble and pain, and that it is worth it to resist them to enjoy life later on. Jesus said He was holy, that He decided before He ever came to this world that He was going to be set apart for His Father’s will. Pleasing the Father was worth it. It will be worth it for us to do it too. 

Lord Jesus, thank You that You never wavered from Your devotion to Your Father! Thank You that You understand our world of uncertainty, temptation and pressure. But thank You that we can control our thoughts. Sometimes we don’t, and our world constantly encourages us to think of all kinds of things we should never entertain. Thank You for Your Word in our own language that I/we can read every day, so that I can continuously think Your thoughts. Help me do my part to be faithful in this time with You, and use Your Holy Spirit to speak to my heart and conscience every day. Help me plan how I will respond to pressure and temptation and be holy – set apart for You – just like You were for Your Father. Amen 

Daily Light – Oct 14, 2020

Prophets and Angels 

Morning study time with David Niednagel, Pastor, Teacher, Evansville, IN.  (David uses the S.O.A.P. method for his morning study time – study, observe, apply, pray). 

 1 Peter 1:10-12   

1:10  Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.   ESV 

The verses before said our salvation really is more valuable than gold. But most people don’t think about that. Even people who claim they are saved. Saved from what? From the wrath of God and eternal hell. If there really is a hell, and if God’s wrath is real, and His knowledge and justice are perfect, then there is no hope for anyone. So most people don’t think much about their sin or the wrath of God. They think His love will somehow cover our sin from His wrath – and it does, but not in a way that we can ignore God. Because we don’t want to face how bad our condition is in sin, we don’t understand or appreciate how good salvation is. 

But the prophets who wrote the OT were fully aware of God’s wrath and His judgment on Israel and the other nations, and they also were aware of His promises of merciful forgiveness and restoration, so they were intrigued with what they were inspired to write. It was better than anything they could imagine. Verse 12 says the angels also wondered how this would fit together. They understood the holiness of God and the reality of human rebellion, and they couldn’t understand how both God’s justice and mercy could fit together at the same time. 

Righteous Judge and Merciful Savior, You are more wonderful than any human we have ever met, and so we don’t understand or appreciate who You are or what You have done. But just knowing the prophets and angels were so amazed motivates me to try to respond authentically to who You are. Both Your justice and Your love are beyond my comprehension, but I know enough to realize You are worthy of Supremacy in everything! (Col 1:18) Help me “hallow Your name” and “seek Your kingdom and righteousness” above everything else. Help me use my time and money and energy in a way that demonstrates that You, and Your salvation, are more valuable than gold. Amen 

Daily Light – Oct 13, 2020

How Can I Love God More Than My Boyfriend? 

Interview with John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org 

Today’s question is from a listener named Emma, who is in love. “Hello, Tony and Pastor John! I am currently in a serious relationship with a man who loves Christ and encourages me as I follow Christ. But as our affection for one another continues to grow, how can I make sure that I am loving God more than I love him? What exactly would it look like to be putting my boyfriend above God? And is there something like this I can expect to face in marriage too?” 

What I really want to do is read to Emma a poem that I wrote for one of my sons when he was getting married — a poem about this very question, called “Love Her More and Love Her Less.” Let me give a brief answer, and then I am going to close with just a part of that poem, because sometimes I think poetry can unfold a mystery of emotion that a straightforward APJ answer might not. 

Burning Out the Dross 

With regard to that last question — Is there something like this in marriage too? — the answer is yes, and not only in marriage, but it’s possible to love children more than God, health more than God, reputation more than God, friendship more than God, comfort more than God, security more than God. In other words, the question you are asking about your boyfriend is a question all of us must pose about everything. That’s why the tenth commandment is there, right? “You shall not covet” (Exodus 20:17). Covetousness means simply loving something too much, loving it the way you shouldn’t love it — like loving a boyfriend, or your husband, or your health, or your life, in such a way that it starts to undermine your love for God. 

How can you make sure you love God more than your most cherished earthly love? One answer to that question is surprising — maybe the most important answer of all: God himself will use whatever means he must to keep that from happening, to keep us from loving him less than something else. First Peter 1:6–7 shows that God regards faith in his children as so precious that he will use fire to refine it, so that dross is burned out of it, and it comes through like refined gold to the praise of glory at the end of our lives. 

The same principle applies to love. The issue does not lie finally in our own hands. God will keep his children absolutely secure. He will use whatever means he must to prevent us from idolatry: from loving anything more than we love him — and thus making shipwreck of our faith — if we are indeed his children. 

What You Love Most 

The next thing to say is Hebrews 4:12. “How can I be sure?” “What means might I use to keep myself from loving my boyfriend more?” Or at least, “How can I find out if I do love him more?” The answer is this: 

The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12

In other words, stay close in the word of God, saturate your mind and heart with the word of God, and he will cause you, by the word, to know your own heart and what you love most. That’s what the word of God reveals. When you read the word, it gives you some specific criteria to test your heart. For example: 

Does your allegiance to your boyfriend or your husband lead you into sin? 

Does the pleasure that you have in being with your boyfriend diminish or does it increase the pleasure that you have in being with Jesus? 

Does the enjoyment of being with your boyfriend increase or diminish the enjoyment you have in being with Bible-saturated, godly people? 

Does getting to know your boyfriend lead you to know Christ better? 

Does the thought of losing your boyfriend cause you to think of getting angry with God, or throwing yourself more fully on God’s mercy? 

Less Is More 

Sometimes a poem can capture a mystery and stir us up to love God even better than a theological argument or an APJ answer. Let me venture on that possibility for the rest of this APJ. Emma will need to make an adjustment, since I wrote this for my son; she’s a woman, not a son. I didn’t write it for my daughter, though I could have. All Emma needs to do is just do a little switch, and think of me speaking to my daughter toward the one she’s about to marry rather than my son toward the one he’s about to marry. 

The poem is called “Love Her More and Love Her Less.” Or Emma would need to say, “Love Him More and Love Him Less.” Here’s the excerpt from the poem: 

If you now aim your wife to bless,
Then love her more and love her less. 

If in the coming years, by some
Strange providence of God, you come
To have the riches of this age,
And, painless, stride across the stage
Beside your wife, be sure in health
To love her, love her more than wealth. 

And if your life is woven in
A hundred friendships, and you spin
A festal fabric out of all
Your sweet affections, great and small,
Be sure, no matter how it rends,
To love her, love her more than friends. 

And if there comes a point when you
Are tired, and pity whispers, “Do
Yourself a favor. Come, be free;
Embrace the comforts here with me.”
Know this! Your wife surpasses these:
So love her, love her more than ease. 

And when your marriage bed is pure,
And there is not the slightest lure
Of lust for any but your wife,
And all is ecstasy in life,
A secret all of this protects:
Go love her, love her more than sex. 

And if, to your surprise, not mine,
God calls you by some strange design
To risk your life for some great cause,
Let neither fear nor love give pause,
And when you face the gate of death,
Then love her, love her more than breath. 

Yes, love her, love her more than life;
Oh, love the woman called your wife.
Go love her as your earthly best. 

Beyond this venture not. But, lest
Your love become a fool’s facade,
Be sure to love her less than God. 

It is not wise or kind to call
An idol by sweet names, and fall,
As in humility, before
A likeness of your God. Adore
Above your best beloved on earth
The God alone who gives her worth.
And she will know in second place
That your great love is also grace,
And that your high affections now
Are flowing freely from a vow
Beneath these promises, first made
To you by God. Nor will they fade,
For being rooted by the stream
Of Heaven’s Joy, which you esteem
And cherish more than breath and life,
That you may give it to your wife. 

The greatest gift you give your wife
Is loving God above her life.
And thus I bid you now to bless:
Go love her more by loving less. 

For Emma, the poem would have to close, 

And thus I bid you, Emma, bless:
Go love him more by loving less. 

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Coronavirus and Christ

Daily Light – Oct 12, 2020

Nothing Is for Nothing 

Accepting Loss and Finding Peace 

Article by, Vaneetha Rendall Risner, Author, Writer 

I brace myself as I walk into the house and hold the door frame. It’s a tiny step, if you could even call it that, but I can’t do it without help anymore. I almost lose my balance. My husband steadies me. Last month it wasn’t a problem, but now it is. 

When I get into the house, I plop down into a chair in frustration. I sigh heavily. Losses are constant nowadays, and I scarcely remember doing things that were effortless before my post-polio diagnosis. Painting into the night. Making a new gourmet meal that everyone loved. Going for walks and enjoying the outdoors with friends. None of that is part of my life anymore. 

Some days those things don’t bother me, but others, like today, it’s easier to dwell on what I’ve lost. The ‘can’t do anymores’ keep stacking up, and I wonder how I will get used to this life of continual loss. I know some people do, and sometimes with incredible grace. I want to be one of those people who accept everything easily, never seeming to question what’s given or taken away, grateful for everything they have. 

As I grieved the life I used to have, I silently asked, “Lord, show me what to do with this. I don’t want to let this frustration overwhelm me. I want peace.” Immediately, the familiar words came to mind: “in acceptance lies peace.” 

Ways to Forfeit Peace 

The four words are from a poem by Amy Carmichael entitled “In Acceptance Lieth Peace,” which she wrote after a broken leg left her bedridden, and in great pain, for the rest of her life. In the poem, Carmichael detailed the futile ways we often deal with loss. 

The first approach is to avoid any reminders of the past, trying to forget the hurt and move on. The second is to stay so busy that there’s no time to think about anything else. The third is denial, putting up a facade and pretending that there never was any pain. The fourth is to grimly resign ourselves to a life of unceasing misery. I wonder which of those four feels most familiar for you. The fifth and final approach is to accept this new way of living, knowing that God will walk us through. 

Though the first four options sound depressing, I confess I have tried them all. While they promised relief from the pain, they left me numb, strangling any hope for healing and joy. Life was reduced to mere existence as I plodded along from day to day, hoping the dull ache would go away. 

Indispensable Hardships 

But acceptance is different. It stops the turmoil, and leads to peace. This peace can only be found in Christ, in surrendering to his will, in trusting that every experience is part of his plan. He keeps us in perfect peace when we trust him and focus our minds on him (Isaiah 26:3). 

Elisabeth Elliot would agree. In a letter to her parents shortly after her husband Jim was murdered in 1956, she wrote, 

I know you are all wondering how I am getting along. I can only say that the peace I have literally passes all possible understanding. . . . “The Lord Jehovah is my strength and song.” I have learned, I believe, the lesson which Amy Carmichael speaks of in her poem — “In acceptance lieth peace.” How true. I accept, gratefully, from the hand of God, this experience. 

Gratefully accepting everything from God’s hand, including losing your husband, makes no sense apart from Christ. But because of her faith in a sovereign God, Elliot was able to experience God’s peace in tragedy. And almost fifty years later, she wrote, 

God included the hardships of my life in his original plan. Nothing takes him by surprise. Nothing is for nothing. His plan is to make me holy, and hardship is indispensable for that as long as I live in this hard old world. All I have to do is accept it. (Be Still My Soul, 32) 

All I have to do is accept it. It sounds simple. And in many ways, it is. But this acceptance is not fatalistic surrender. The kind of acceptance that leads to peace requires faith and trust in God. It involves looking at life through the eyes of faith, faith in an all-powerful, extravagantly loving, and incomprehensibly wise God who is engineering every detail of my life. 

Our powerful, loving, and wise God doesn’t make mistakes. So if he has allowed something into my life, it is the very best thing for me, all things considered. It will maximize my joy and deepen my faith. One day in heaven I will see how everything that God brought into my life was love. 

Dailiness of Loss 

While I am convinced of God’s love and purpose in my pain, I must repeatedly remind myself of these truths. Doubt and discouragement creep in as I struggle with the dailiness of loss and pain, with no apparent reprieve. 

At the beginning of any trial, I often feel buoyed by God’s Spirit, able to face the struggle ahead courageously. But after a while, I grow weary and impatient. I forget that the Lord is in my suffering and will walk with me through it. I must deliberately turn to God and ask him to help me — to accept the situation, to know his presence in it, and to have strength to endure it. In essence, to trust him. 

Only then can I truly find peace — a peace beyond understanding that guards my heart and mind in Christ (Philippians 4:7), that keeps me from fear (John 14:27), that transcends the troubles of the world (John 16:33). That is a lasting peace. 

In All My Circumstances 

Like many others, I have felt weary during this pandemic, wondering how long it will last. I am anxious for it to end and have this all-encompassing cloud lifted, so that I can resume life as it was before. I must constantly remind myself of the beauty and peace in joyful acceptance. These circumstances are not random or out of God’s control, but are all part of a loving Savior’s design. He is in all my circumstances and is using them to change me into the likeness of Christ. 

My husband and I went out to the front porch to talk and watch the sunset. As I walked through the doorway again, I was grateful. Looking around, I asked God to give me eyes of faith. I was reminded of all that God has done through my pain. Although I may always miss what I have lost, I do not long to have that life back. God is in my present life, and it is only here, in today’s circumstances, that I can meet him. 

I am embracing this life God has given me, deeply aware that in acceptance lies peace. In this joyful acceptance I find the Savior himself, who will one day transform my enduring suffering into my eternal joy. 

Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Desiring God, who blogs at danceintherain.com. She is married to Joel and has two daughters, Katie and Kristi. She and Joel live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Vaneetha is the author of the book The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering