More S.O.A.P. from ‘Genesis’ (study, observe, apply, pray)… by David Niednagel
Genesis 9:1-7 In the image of God
9:1Then God blessed Noah and his sons and told them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth.2All the animals of the earth, all the birds of the sky, all the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the fish in the sea will look on you with fear and terror. I have placed them in your power.3I have given them to you for food, just as I have given you grain and vegetables.4But you must never eat any meat that still has the lifeblood in it.5“And I will require the blood of anyone who takes another person’s life. If a wild animal kills a person, it must die. And anyone who murders a fellow human must die.6If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image.7Now be fruitful and multiply, and repopulate the earth.” NLT
After the Flood God gave permission for humans to eat anything, not just the plant, vegetable diet in 1:30. Here, there are no restrictions on “unclean” animals, that will be later forbidden under the Law of Moses. But there is a restriction against eating “meat that still has the lifeblood in it”. They could not bite into living animals or drink the blood of animals. Lev 17 teaches that “life is in the blood”, and I believe this is a picture of the blood of Christ which would be for our atonement.
This point is connected to the next verse which says if an animal or a person takes a human life, the life of the killer must be forfeited,because humans are made in the image of God. God is commanding capital punishment for murder. Today many oppose capital punishment because “it is cruel and unusual” and/or because innocent persons are sometimes convicted. In the Law of Moses safeguards were built into the judicial process to protect the innocent, but here God says the death penalty for those who murder another shows a higher value of human life than letting the murderer go free. The NT also teaches that to curse a person (James 3:9) or discriminate against other ethnic groups is wrong because we are all created in the image of God. (Col 3:8-10) Capital punishment applied biblically upholds the value of human beings.
Lord, Thank You for revealing truth and perspective that goes beyond what our society thinks. Thank You for giving us so many good things to eat! And thank You for showing us how to value life – in animals and in humans. I have never been tempted to kill anyone, but I have sure devalued and disrespected people created in Your image. Help me treat everyone with the dignity appropriate to someone in Your image. And Lord, I do pray for Your people to work for justice in our court systems so that innocent people are treated with justice and dignity. Amen
(Article by Scott Hubbard: Editor, desiringGod.org)
She didn’t want to lose herself.
Friends had invited her to church, where she was suddenly confronted with her own fork in the road: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). For the first time, she understood that coming to Christ would mean coming to die.
But there were so many parts of herself that she didn’t want to die: her hobbies, her friends, her sense of humor, her future plans. Who would she be if she handed them over to Jesus? She thought of some Christians she knew — nice, neat, and bland. They seemed to dress their souls in beige every day. She wondered if Jesus would flatten her personality, her identity. She feared, with Nietzsche, that “in heaven, all the interesting people are missing.”
She didn’t want to lose herself. And so, she heard Jesus say, “Follow me,” and she walked away.
Losing your life has never been easy. The age has not yet come, nor will it ever, when self-denial will be convenient, or taking up a cross comfortable. In our culture of self-help and self-realization, of individuality and independence, of “you do you” and “follow your heart,” Jesus’s call to lose ourselves stabs at the very heart. Who will we be if we hand our self over to a Lord who demands all of us?
“The age has not yet come, nor will it ever, when self-denial will be convenient, or taking up a cross comfortable.”
Many in the world hear Jesus’s call and, like the young woman, fear that following him will destroy all that gives meaning to me. They’d prefer to keep their own identity, that self they’ve been fashioning for so many years. And so, they stay in their little land of Shinar, adding bricks to their personality and appearance, their resume and persona, building Babels to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11:1–4).
Even in the church, many of us cannot help but be tempted by our culture’s obsession with a self-made self. Though Jesus has taken a wrecking ball to our former selves, we can find ourselves walking wistfully among the ruins, even trying to raise little shacks here and there. Not content to locate our identity simply in him, we seek to be known by something else as well, something all our own: a certain style of clothing or music, a method of raising our children, a unique career or passion, an expertise on some subject, a grade point average.
We take innocent things in themselves and use them as hideouts from the One who would refashion us in his own image. The quiet rebellion spills out when God disrupts (or dismantles) our little fortresses of self.
We have forgotten, as C.S. Lewis puts it,
It is no good trying to be ‘myself’ without Him. The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires. In fact what I so proudly call ‘Myself’ becomes merely the meeting place for trains of events which I never started and which I cannot stop. (Mere Christianity, 225–26)
Moons on the Run
The God who made us in his own image has not given us the power to create a self that can survive on its own. From the beginning, our true identity (who we are) has been tied to our Creator (who he is): “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him” (Genesis 1:27). God created us to be like the moon: cold and barren on our own, but aflame with light when we come near the sun.
Any self that flees from God will eventually go dark. Those who give themselves over to themselves do not, in the end, become more interesting, more unique, or even more themselves; they become beasts: “like unreasoning animals” (Jude 10), “like a horse or a mule” (Psalm 32:9), “like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:12). The farther we flee from the great Person who created us, the more we forfeit our personhood (Romans 1:21–25).
“The more we pursue self-realization, the more we lose the self God made us to have. We unself ourselves.”
Anything we give ourselves to for our own sake and not for Christ — beauty, wealth, friendship, sex, food, comfort, power — eventually becomes our master, defacing the remnants of that image that God placed upon us (Romans 6:16). Those who quip that they’d rather be in hell with all the interesting people do not know what they are saying. Hell will not be filled with interesting personalities, but with people who are barely recognizable: Nebuchadnezzars finally cast down from their thrones, eating grass like an ox (Daniel 4:33).
If we would find a self that will last forever, we will need to die to the search for a self apart from Christ. We will need to die to self-realization, die to our independence, die to a me-centered universe, and give ourselves up to the one who says, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24).
We will need, in the language of the apostles, to leave behind that old self, crucified with Christ, and embrace that new self, “which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10). And when we do, we will find that we are finally becoming the person God made us to be — more ourselves than we ever could have been on our own.
Jesus is not interested in obliterating the personalities of those who follow him. He does not aim to fill the kingdom of heaven with clones. He aims, rather, to renew our new self “after the image of its creator” — a creator who is not a bare unity, but a glorious unity of Father, Son, and Spirit.
The triune God who made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in it, is not a God of monotony, as any field of wildflowers can tell you. He is the God of the orchestra and the dance, who makes a world swirling with diversity yet held together in him. When you give yourself up to him, you will become part of a grand whole, but not swallowed up (Colossians 1:17); a member of a worldwide body, but with a distinct part to play (1 Corinthians 12:12); one among myriads upon myriads and thousands upon thousands, but with your own note to add to that colossal chorus (Revelation 5:11–12).
“We become most us when we forget about ourselves and become consumed with him.”
You may lose yourself when you give yourself up to Christ, but only those parts of yourself that deserve to be lost — the parts that will be torn apart and thrown into the lake of fire (Romans 6:21). We will no longer use our hobbies as props for our identity, but will enjoy them as gifts from a kind God. We will no longer restrict our social circle to those who really get us, but will rub shoulders with the most unlikely. We will no longer plan a future around our own bucket list, but will dream about meeting the real needs of needy people.
Parts of you will be burned away, others will be refined and repurposed, and whole new parts of you will come alive. Die to yourself, and you will find the true you.
When we lose ourselves, we do not simply get a new self, increasingly radiant with the glory of our Maker. We begin thinking about ourselves less and less.
We begin to discover that we become most us when we forget about ourselves and become consumed with him. We will discover that we are happiest when we care least about how unique we are, or what sort of personality we have. We would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God, gazing upon his face, than hold a mirror to our own in the tents of wickedness (Psalm 84:10).
Give yourself up to him. Walk into this river that divides the kingdom of self from the kingdom of Christ, and let it wash the old you away. Don’t worry about losing the best parts of yourself. Anything good in you will be waiting for you on the other bank, transfigured. And on the other side, you will find that the true you has always been hidden away in him.
We know this: darkness does and will descend. The shadow of death will envelope us all, and it extends its reach into today through physical pain, disability, loss, unrelenting depression, the troubles of daily life, the dark deeds that shape the injustices done against us, and more.
All this darkness comes in different degrees. Though much of it can feel intensely painful and unbearable at the moment, some passes and some stays with us. The loss of a pet usually fades, the loss of a child or spouse does not. It is the persistent or enduring darkness that poses the most noticeable threat to our souls.
Emotional Health and Wealth
Overlay on this enduring darkness our era in which we do not have sensory experience of Jesus. For now, we do not see him or touch him (1 Peter 1:8). Those who occasionally hear him with their ears cannot rely on the timing of those visitations. This absence of sensory contact is tolerable when life is good, but it can seem vexing when life is painful.
“We know this: darkness does and will descend.”
And there are other challenges. Our emotions drive us more than we know. The world around us suggests that we have a right to good feelings. To be fully human, it would seem, is to lean towards the happiness and pain-free side of the emotional spectrum. Even Christians adopt this mindset. Health, wealth, and prosperity don’t have to be taught from the pulpit in order to be a guiding heresy.
Good worship, for example, is usually judged by its capacity to make us feel good. Public testimonies inevitably give thanks for good circumstances that satisfy some personal desire. So, we imagine, when bad feelings come, they must be driven away quickly if we are to maintain confidence in the goodness of God.
In other words, darkness can be spiritually complex. When it comes in earnest, we need ways to counter the thoughts and feelings that offer either incomplete or inaccurate assessments of what is true.
Faith Sees and Hears
Faith is a kind of sixth and most valuable sense. It is distinguished from our sense of sight, and the other traditional senses, in that faith can see more (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith can see even when our eyes are closed.
We typically think of faith as something we have or something we do not have: we have put our faith and trust in Jesus, or we have not. We see Jesus, or we are blind to him. Yet faith is also a gift that can grow. We can have weak or little faith, or we can be “full of faith” (Acts 6:5), stand firm in faith (1 Corinthians 16:13), fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12), and draw near to the Lord “in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22). We can have less faith or more faith. Our aim is to have more faith so that, when darkness comes, we can see spiritual realities clearly.
How Jesus Heard
By faith we see the physical world and the invisible world, which sustains and surrounds what is visible (Hebrews 11:3). This faith is nurtured by hearing the words of God in Scripture, and hearing leads to seeing.
“Health, wealth, and prosperity don’t have to be taught from the pulpit in order to be a guiding heresy.”
Jesus himself lived by faith. He certainly had more faith, or clearer vision, than us, but make no mistake, his faith can be our own. Notice the seminal story of Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–10). It occurs immediately after Jesus received the Spirit at his baptism.
While enduring the worst of human troubles, he remembered, “It is written.” Jesus lived “by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Those words were more real than Satan’s lies. And those words are more real and solid than our emotions, which beg to interpret our difficult life events.
Walk with More Faith
The way of faith is not easy. The task of remembering is not natural to us. As such, the triune God is fully engaged in our mission to know his faithfulness when our emotions see nothing but darkness. The Father speaks, Jesus is the fullest revelation of the Father to us, and the Spirit opens our ears and gives us more of Jesus. More faith — more sight — is ours for the asking.
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)
To have more of the Spirit feels like confidence in God and his word. To have more of the Spirit is to be assured of forgiveness of sins, which means that absolutely nothing will keep God from coming close when we are surrounded by trouble. By the Spirit, servants have seen that they were surrounded by the armies of God (2 Kings 6:17), and psalmists have seen the God who is so close, his shadow covers us at midday (Psalm 121:5). And we see the close and faithful Jesus in a way that, though our emotions sense only darkness, we see light.
“If we can still see Jesus when darkness descends, the miracle has occurred.”
Meanwhile, we do not have to wait for the miracle of sight. If we can still see Jesus when darkness descends, the miracle has occurred, and we pray to remember and see more. As we pray, we feed on the words of God in Scripture and we ask others to help us see. Those who have used these means of God’s grace do, indeed, remember his faithfulness — even while we sit in the darkest shadows.
“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”
I’ll never forget the big yes! I felt, almost a quarter of a century ago, the first time I heard this quote by Jerry Bridges. It was 1994, the year his book The Discipline of Grace was published. Those words captured the glorious freedom I’d been savoring many years, after living too long with a “doghouse spirituality,” where I could sleep in God’s love when good but was sent to the doghouse when I had failed.
Good Days and Bad
For years, I bought into what Jerry Bridges called the “good day, bad day” mentality. A “good day” would be measured by my goodness and good outcomes — by having personal devotions, making godly choices, resisting temptation, and so on. The assumption was that faithfully doing these things results in a day of pleasant circumstances — a day “blessed” by God. Even worse, I assumed God loved me more on those “good days.”
A “bad day” was the opposite. If I failed to spend time in spiritual disciplines, indulged a bad attitude, or made selfish choices, God’s smile disappeared. He would arrange challenging circumstances to communicate his disappointment with me, teach me a lesson, or punish my lack of discretion or discipline. I would have to stay in the not-so-heavenly doghouse until I could see how my lack of obedience and foolishness led to things going poorly in my day, week, or month.
Have you ever tried to carry the self-centered burden of taking responsibility for our Father’s love towards and ultimate acceptance of us? I fear many of us do and are.
Jerry Bridges wrote The Discipline of Grace to expose and dispel this grace-less, gospel-lite way of thinking and living as a Christian. For twenty-five years, his book has helped many believers come to understand the so-much-more-ness of the gospel of God’s grace. I’m grateful for the disciplers, mentors, and teachers who did the same for me.
All of our “good days,” Jerry reasons, even our very best days, still need God’s grace, because God’s standard of judgment is his glory — a standard to which we all fall short. Even the Spirit-filled fruit of our faith in Christ is still tainted with mixed motives and woefully incomplete compared with his righteousness.
As for our “bad days,” even our very worst days in Christ don’t alienate us from God’s favor, cause him to love us less, or diminish our Father’s ultimate delight in us. Our worst days don’t put us in the doghouse of shame and penance but in our Father’s house of grace and redemption through faith. Even when God disciplines us, though it is painful, he does so in great love (Hebrews 12:11).
It’s only as we understand just how really bad our condition is that we begin to cherish the gospel and experience the joy of our salvation. God’s law demands a perfect righteousness that only Jesus’s obedience could meet (Romans 8:3–4). This is why it is critical we understand that Jesus came to be our substitute to trust, before he is our model to follow.
Before dying on the cross to take the judgment we deserve, Jesus provided the obedience that we owed. Jesus didn’t come to be our second chance, but to be the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45), doing for us what we could never do for ourselves. In this sense, alone, we can talk about being justified by works — Jesus’s finished work for us.
Four Wonders of God’s Grace
Reading Jerry Bridges’s quote a quarter of a century later, here are some of the great truths of the gospel I celebrate more passionately than ever.
1. God doesn’t love and accept us to the degree we are like Christ, but to the degree we are in Christ (Romans 8:1), which is 100%. His never-ending love for us in Jesus is an unwavering love (2 Thessalonians 3:5).
2. Grace is more a Someone than a something. It is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 8:9). To be in need of and within reach of God’s grace is to be in the impossible-to-pry-loose grip of Jesus’s palm (John 10:28). Even more so, Jesus is our wisdom from God — that is, our “righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). To be a Christian is first to be stunned with who Jesus is and what he has done for us, not what we have to do for him.
3. God’s grace puts an end to all earning and merit (Ephesians 2:8) but not all effort and muscle (Philippians 2:12–13). The gospel frees us to offer our Father the obedience of faith and love, rather than the obedience of guilt and pride. With respect to our sanctification, we begin to pray, “Father, show me that you love me as you love Jesus. Free me to become more like him.”
4. A proper understanding (and experience) of the gospel of God’s grace will free us from the dark perils of legalism and performance-ism, and from the ugly presumption of antinomianism or “cheap grace.” The grace of God is the most transforming power on the face of the earth (2 Corinthians 3:18).
God’s grace is stronger than our worst sins, and his blood is deeper than our lowest days. This does not make us stop pursuing holiness — it makes us pursue it all the more. We hate the sin he died for, and love to see his beauty, his righteousness, and his glory increasingly reflected in our lives. We do not celebrate or settle for failure, but we do rejoice in a love that is stronger than our worst days.
On the first day of the new year, I felt the paradox of Christianity.
While on vacation in the Grand Canyon, I forced my family to get up early so that we could watch the sunrise. I dreamed of witnessing the first light of the new year over the mile-deep canyon. A winter storm dumped a half a foot of snow the night before, making it look like someone sprinkled powdered sugar over the massive rock formations and deep ravines.
As the sun broke over the eastern sky, the Grand Canyon flooded with hues of red and purple. A rainbow appeared. The first light of the new year penetrated the cold canyon, and the clouds melted away. A clear, blue sky prevailed overhead.
My eyes became a portal for my soul. I stood speechless at the grandeur of God’s creation. My heart was filled with worship. It was easy to be thankful.
A few hours later on our drive home, a text arrived that I feared might be coming soon: “Tyler Trent just passed into heaven.”
Cancer Came Three Times
Not only was I his pastor, but I had been his basketball coach, and he was a friend of our boys. Based upon what I was hearing from his parents, who are dear friends, I knew Tyler was entering his final days. But the sober reality of that definitive text was gut-wrenching.
Over the last four years, I’ve watched Tyler and his family battle osteosarcoma. I’ve seen, firsthand, Tyler’s steadfast faith in Jesus. I’ve prayed for his dad as he told Tyler that he had cancer not just once and not twice — but three times.
The swirl of emotions that ran through my soul was incredible. Tyler modeled how to suffer as a follower of Jesus, and when ESPN told his story, he used his fame as a megaphone for winsome, Christ-centered perseverance. I was honored to be his pastor.
But I also was troubled. I hate death, and cancer is evil — one of the clearest evidences of the brokenness of the world. I was deeply grieved. Candidly, it was hard to be thankful.
Grandeur and Grief
In the span of a few short hours, I felt the tension of Christianity: God is good, but life is hard. I marveled at God’s grandeur and mourned the presence of grief. When my heart is overwhelmed with this uncomfortable paradox, I’m grateful the Bible has a language I can use: lament.
Biblical lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust. Over a third of the Psalms were written in this gutsy and honest voice. Lament turns to God in pain, tells him why we are sad, asks for his help, and leads us to trust.
The morning after Tyler passed, I woke up early and wrote a lament. It was what my heart needed. I was really sad, and yet I knew that God is good. When I’m stuck between my tears and what I believe, lament is the language I need:
O Lord, we turn to you on this hard and painful day. We look to you, the author of life and the giver of grace, because our hearts are broken with grief. A young man, so full of life and joy, is gone.
We grieve the loss of Tyler.
How long, O Lord, must cancer steal our loved ones away? This evil disease doesn’t fit with your goodness. It mars, destroys, and kills. We hate its presence in the world.
Lord, we prayed for healing. And your answer is hard to accept. We watched our friend and brother persevere. Twenty years doesn’t seem long enough for Tyler. We long for the day when osteosarcoma is no longer a part of our vocabulary — or our prayers. We’d rather have a different ending to this story.
Yet we know that you have purposes beyond what we can see.
We witnessed glimpses of your plan in the meteoric rise of Tyler’s story. We marveled at the favor and the kindness showered upon him through his journey. We rejoiced at the platform you gave him to share his faith in Jesus.
Lord, we ask you to bring comfort to Tyler’s family. They’ve walked beside him through this journey. They need your grace both now and in the months and years to come.
We pray for wisdom and creativity for those researching the treatment for Tyler’s cancer. We ask that his donated tumor and the money raised might yield life-saving options for future cancer patients. Would you heal many from Tyler’s death?
But even more, Jesus, we ask for your name to be lifted high through Tyler’s life.
You were the bedrock of his strength. You were the one who captivated his heart and gave him hope as his physical strength declined. We pray that thousands — even millions — of people will be led to the kind of relationship that Tyler shared with you.
On this hard day, O Lord, we choose to trust you. We believe you have ordained eternal purposes that we can’t see right now. We believe you gave Tyler every grace he needed to persevere.
We believe Jesus rose from the dead so that one day our tears will be wiped away once and for all. Through our pain and questions, we rest our hope in the One who said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). We know this was the strength that made Tyler strong. We saw it. Tyler lived it.
In Jesus’s name, Amen
Tuesday in Glory
On Tuesday evening thousands will gather at our church for another paradoxical moment. We’ll mourn Tyler’s death and celebrate his life. We’ll do what Christians have done for centuries starting with the resurrection — we’ll weep and rejoice.
We’ll rehearse the gospel that provides hope. Tyler believed Good Friday led to Resurrection Sunday. He knew the power of the cross and the victory of the empty tomb. He often quoted his grandfather, who modeled faithfulness in his own battle with cancer: “If I live, I win. If I die, I win.”
Our gathering will display the glory of God through a 20-year-old who lived out the verse displayed on yellow wristbands and t-shirts worn in his honor: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).
On Tuesday our lament will lead us to the hope of eternal life through Tyler’s Savior. And in so doing, we’ll see that the Grand Canyon is not the only place to behold the grandeur of God.
“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Whenever I read those familiar words, I find myself asking myself, Do I know this? Do I live from it? The new year gives each of us an opportunity to test the anchor of our souls, especially inside the waves of fear and anxiety about the future.
“Becoming a Christian does not mean that we are now immune from awful things happening to us.”
It’s important to see that Paul says, “All things work together for good.” Not, “all things are good.” Becoming a Christian does not mean that we are now immune from awful things happening to us. That may be the teaching of some leaders in the world today, but you will not hear it from God himself in Scripture. We suffer the same illnesses, financial challenges, bereavements, work stresses, relational heartaches, accidents, and challenges as anyone else in this damaged world we live in. We suffer like anyone else. In some places in the world, we even suffer more because of our faith in Jesus. As we faithfully follow Christ, something awful may happen in the next twelve months.
Paul is not saying nothing bad will come our way in the Christian life; he is saying that God can take whatever comes and make it serve our good. He is not responsible for evil, but even evil and suffering cannot escape his perfect purposes for us.
All Things in 2019
This verse has been given to us because it is going to be exactly what we need to hear. Paul has already outlined the basic shape of the Christian life — sufferings now, glory to come (Romans 8:17) — a shape derived from the ministry of Christ himself. In a world full of painful waiting, this verse is an indispensable resource for us to take into this new year. We’re going to need to know that God is able to take everything that happens to us and use it for our ultimate good.
“All things” means everything that happens to us, including the very worst things that might happen. Even those things are not outside the scope of God’s loving purpose for our lives. In the Old Testament, Joseph could look back on the unspeakable evil his brothers did to him and say, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Worry tells us they meant it for evil — that it happened while God was distracted. Faith reassures us that God means it for good.
This “working all for good” is most clearly seen in the death of Jesus (Acts 4:27–28). It was the very worst thing ever to happen on earth. Yet through it God was able to bring about incalculable and eternal good.
The Good All Things Will Serve
“This next year will be one moment after another of God working things out for your ultimate good.”
So what does this mean in practice? However the last year has been for you, God could not have been more good to you than he has been. It may have been a very painful year for you (it was one of the hardest I’ve had). That may be so. But this is God’s word to us about this past year. It will be no less true of the year to come. This next year will be one moment after another of God working things out for your ultimate good.
Perhaps aware that it will be hard for some of us to believe, Paul shows how this truth is backed up by the verse that follows it: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29).
This is the good to which all things in your life are working — that you become like Jesus. We struggle with seeing the goodness of God because we struggle to understand what ultimate goodness looks like. Our view of what is good falls so far short of God’s. Verses like this remind us that God knows far, far more about what is ultimately best for us than we do. God is not working all things so that this life will be one of financial riches, good health, or popularity. God is working all things so that we will become more and more like his Son.
Nothing to Worry About
As Christians, we are those who love God and who have been called according to his purpose. It is not that we first loved God and, in response, he called us to be blessed by him; it is precisely the other way around. The call of God is how we have come to know him and are able to love him. Not perfectly, but truly. We have a new heart and affection for God. We do love him. However deep your sinful impulses go, a Spirit-given love for God is found deeper still. And this promise is for you: God is working all things for your good — for your conformity to his Son.
“However the last year has been for you, God could not have been more good to you than he has been.”
That is what God wants most for me. That is what I ought to want most for myself. Nothing in my life could be greater than this. There is not a single thing in all of creation, history, and reality that God will allow to get in the way of it.
Which must mean, there is not a single thing I need to worry about. If all things are being worked by God for my good, then God has ordered all things in my reality in the way I most need them to be. Worry on my part will only indicate that there are greater depths in my heart to which I need to apply this truth. I know what it means to struggle with anxiety. But if we are in Christ, we need not worry about next year. There is not one moment we need to fear. Every second of it, God will be working to make us more like Christ. What could be better than that?
(Sam Allberry is an apologist and writer for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and a consulting editor for The Gospel Coalition, and is based in Maidenhead, UK. He is the author of Is God Anti-Gay? He is also a founding editor of Living Out, a resource to help the church faithfully navigate issues of human sexuality.)
Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. . . . My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 3:7–8; 2:1–2)
Ponder this remarkable situation with me. If the Son of God came to help you stop sinning — to destroy the works of the devil — and if he also came to die so that, when you do sin, there is a propitiation, a removal of God’s wrath, then what does this imply for living your life?
Three things. And they are wonderful to have. I give them to you briefly as Christmas presents.
Gift #1. A Clear Purpose for Living
It implies that you have a clear purpose for living. Negatively, it is simply this: don’t sin — don’t do what dishonors God. “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1). “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
If you ask, “Can you give us that positively, instead of negatively?” the answer is: Yes, it’s all summed up in 1 John 3:23. It’s a great summary of what John’s whole letter requires. Notice the singular “commandment” — “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” These two things are so closely connected for John he calls them one commandment: believe Jesus and love others. That is your purpose. That is the sum of the Christian life. Trusting Jesus, loving people the way Jesus and his apostles taught us to love. Trust Jesus, love people. There’s the first gift: a purpose to live.
Gift #2. Hope That Our Failures Will Be Forgiven
The second implication of the twofold truth that Christ came to destroy our sinning and to forgive our sins is this: We make progress in overcoming our sin when we have hope that our failures will be forgiven. If you don’t have hope that God will forgive your failures, when you start fighting sin, you give up.
Many of you are pondering some changes in the new year, because you have fallen into sinful patterns and want out. You want some new patterns of eating. New patterns for entertainment. New patterns of giving. New patterns of relating to your spouse. New patterns of family devotions. New patterns of sleep and exercise. New patterns of courage in witness. But you are struggling, wondering whether it’s any use. Well, here’s your second Christmas present: Christ not only came to destroy the works of the devil — our sinning — he also came to be an advocate for us because of experiences of failure in our fight.
So, I plead with you, let the fact that failure will not have the last word give you the hope to fight. But beware! If you turn the grace of God into license, and say, “Well, if I can fail, and it doesn’t matter, then why bother fighting sin?” — if you say that, and mean it, and go on acting on it, you are probably not born again and should tremble.
But that is not where most of you are. Most of you want to fight sinful patterns in your life. And what God is saying to you is this: Let Christ’s covering of your failure give hope to fight. “I write this to you that you might not sin, but if you sin you have an advocate, Jesus Christ.”
Gift #3. Christ Will Help Us
Finally, the third implication of the double truth that Christ came to destroy our sinning and to forgive our sins is this: Christ will really help us in our fight. He really will help you. He is on your side. He didn’t come to destroy sin because sin is fun. He came to destroy sin because sin is fatal. It is a deceptive work of the devil, and it will destroy us if we don’t fight it. He came to help us, not hurt us.
So here’s your third Christmas present: Christ will help overcome sin in you. First John 4:4 says, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Jesus is alive, Jesus is almighty, Jesus lives in us by faith. And Jesus is for us, not against us. He will help you in your fight with sin in the new year. Trust him.