Daily Light – June 30, 2020

Your Inner War Will End

How Heaven Frees Us from Sin

Article by Marshall Segal, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

Imagine a life without your sin. If you hope in Christ, one day you will walk out into a world in which it will not be possible for you to sin anymore. Not only will temptation itself have fallen extinct, but any molecule in you that might have possibly been drawn to sin will have been surgically removed, never to materialize again. Your new body — new heart, new hands, new mouth — will never meet the sin you knew so long. Your lifelong plague will be lifted.

You cannot imagine how sinless you will be, and just how exhilarating it will be to be finally free. The sin that remains in us has made us deeply, unshakably suspicious of ourselves. To date, we have lived only on the unstable ground of a real but unfinished righteousness. Every thought, every word, every act of good has been tinged by the dying coals of our iniquity. Some part of us, however small, has pulled the other way — selfishness, laziness, insecurity, fear of man, greed, lust, doubt.

But imagine, for a moment, a world without your particular besetting sins. Without any of your sin. Not only will you never again commit these sins, but no one else will either — ever.

Nothing Unclean Will Enter

When we walk the streets of the new and lasting earth, we will search, high and low, in vain for sin.

We will roam neighborhoods, and never envy our neighbor — or be envied by him. We will walk in and out of homes, in and out of conversations, and never encounter another whiff of anger. We will eat meal after meal, each more delicious and meaningful than any we tasted on earth, and yet never feel another unhealthy craving for more (or another stomach full of guilt).

We will visit city after city filled with activity, creativity, and industry, and yet never uncover even an impulse toward selfishness or greed. We will wander through the whole world, and yet never resent what we do not have or have not done yet, and we’ll never wish we had more than someone else. We will live through weeks, in and out of work and rest, and never again be tempted to laziness. We will work, but never toil. We will enjoy rest, but never slide into sloth.

We might browse the Internet (or whatever glorified technology we have), and yet after a billion searches never find anything online (or in us!) that would lead to lust. In fact, we would never find anything that did not give our hearts far more pleasure in Jesus than anyone ever found in pornography.

“Nothing unclean will ever enter it,” Revelation 21:27 says of the new earth, “nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” John saw the home God will build for us, and it was immaculately free from sin. Nothing unclean will ever enter or disturb our eternity with Christ.

All Causes of Sin

The sin that once ruined the world has already lost the war for the universe, and one day it will be forcibly removed from every home and family, from every neighborhood, from every government and nation, from the whole earth — and from you. When Jesus describes the end of the age, he says,

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:41–43)

The Son will not only exile sin from his new kingdom, but he will remove even every cause of sin. Nothing in heaven will ever tempt us to sin.

If we will be sinless, never even tempted to sin, why would God have to remove the causes? Because, in his wise plan and perfect jealousy, the glory of a world without any temptations must exceed one filled with conquered ones. The staggering silencing of all temptation will forever prove just how sovereign our King is over every movement and desire in his kingdom.

Before we take even one step onto the new earth, everything that might have destroyed us will have already been destroyed. The blessings we enjoy in Christ here will come to fuller, deeper, stronger fruition. And all the warnings against sin will fall away — not because sin would be any less serious, but because sin will have been wiped out completely.

Oh, That Day

And not only the sin out there — in our relationships, at our workplaces, on the Internet — but the sin in here. Each of our sins really does come, not from some brokenness out in the world or in someone else, but from within us (Mark 7:20–23). Sexual immorality, adultery, and lust; murder and anger; coveting and envy; deceit, gossip, and pride — they all find their root, their cause of causes, inside our own hearts. And when we see our King, he will hurl every wayward impulse or desire or habit into his fiery furnace.

It’s no wonder, at all, why the words of Robert Robinson still resonate so deeply in us three hundred years later:

Oh, that day when freed from sinning
I shall see Thy lovely face
Clothed then in the blood-washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy wondrous grace
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry
Take my ransomed soul away
Send Thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day

Perhaps the sweetest hope of a sinless heaven is a sinless me. This work-in-process, often-wandering son of God knows how tenacious sin can be, even forgiven sin. So I savor the words of 1 John 3:2: “We know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Actually seeing King Jesus — real shoulders, strong enough to bear the world, real eyes, filled with electrifying fire, real hands and feet, pierced to pay our debt, a real smile, warm and wise and sure — seeing him, really seeing him, will be so surprising, so exhilarating, so satisfying, that it will be purifying.

Seeing him as he is now will make us someone we have never been before.

Oh, Today When Freed from Sinning

Knowing that we will see him one day will make us someone different today. John’s next line connects the hope of future sinlessness with our current fight against temptation.

And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:3)

Or as Jesus says in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart [today!], for they shall see God” — and be made purer still. The hope of heaven has everything to do with the war against sin, because we know how this war ends and who we will one day be. Every inch of progress we make is an inbreaking of our great hope, our future self, our promised land.

As we wait for heaven and fight our sin, we are meant to look back, in horror, at how God has hated and judged sin throughout the Bible (1 Corinthians 10:6). And God means for us to look forward at just how sinless we will be, knowing that nothing impure in us will survive seeing him. And then, with eyes behind us and before us, and with God for us and in us by his Spirit, to go and sin no more.

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 a son and live in Minneapolis.

Daily Light – June 29, 2020

What Sin Will Never Quench

Why We Trust in Broken Cisterns

Article from Jon Bloom, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

What exactly is “evil”? Given that the first manifestation of human evil recorded in Scripture involved a desire for this kind of knowledge, the question itself should inspire some trembling. Only God has the capacity to comprehend and the wisdom to administrate the depths, dimensions, expressions, and purposes of evil.

Yet Scripture makes clear that God wants us to understand what it means for us to commit evil. The whole Bible, from the fall in Eden onward, is one long account of the catastrophic fallout of evil’s infection of the human race and God’s unfolding plan to ultimately overcome that unfathomable evil with an even more unfathomably wonderful good. God can give us the strength to sufficiently comprehend what he wants us to comprehend (Ephesians 3:18). In fact, God wants our “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14) so that we might “turn away from evil and do good” (Psalm 34:14).

One of the wonderful things Scripture teaches us is that turning away from evil is not, at its essence, mastering a long list of bad things to stop doing and good things to start doing. Rather, at its essence, God is inviting us to abandon what will ultimately impoverish us and increase our misery, and to choose instead what will ultimately enrich us and increase our joy.

Essence of Evil

One of God’s clearest explanations of this reality comes through the prophet Jeremiah. This man had a very hard calling, spending his forty-year public ministry preaching to stubborn, stony hearts and weeping as God brought his long-forewarned judgment on Israel for centuries of idolatrous rebellion (2 Kings 17:7–14). Through Jeremiah, God expressed his profound dismay and grief over how, in spite of all he had done to create, redeem, establish, protect, and provide for them, as well as warn them over and over, his people had abandoned him and sought their protection and prosperity in the false “gods” of the nations around them:

Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and see, or send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. (Jeremiah 2:10–11)

Not even the pagan nations, whose gods didn’t even exist, had done what Israel had done. Which led God to exclaim in pained exasperation,

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:12–13)

This is a remarkable statement. God lays open the human heart and shows us what evil really looks like. Evil is when the creatures of God, his own image-bearers, forsake him, their very source of life, the source of all that quenches their deepest thirsts, and try to quench those thirsts apart from him. Evil is trying to find life anywhere but in God.

We hear echoes of Eden in the Lord’s words. Like Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, Israel’s sin wasn’t merely that they disobeyed God’s commands. Their disobedience exposed a deeper, deadly problem: treachery against God had taken root in the deepest places of their hearts. Sin revealed that they placed their trust, pledged their allegiance, and sought their satisfaction in something or someone other than God. They exchanged God for things that were no gods (Romans 1:23).

And this has always been the core evil of every sin — of all our sins: forsaking the Source of greatest joy (Psalm 16:11), believing we’ll find more joy elsewhere.

Broken-Cistern Builders Meet the Fountain

But God did not leave us to perish beside our broken cisterns. Although we forsook the Source of living water to slake our thirst in empty wells, the Source, rich in mercy, sent the Fountain to bring us living water.

On a hot Samaritan midday, just outside of Sychar, an experienced builder of broken cisterns was on her way to Jacob’s well. In her heart were the ruins of five relational cisterns she had tried so hard to make, each now desolate and bone-dry. If nothing changed, soon there would be a sixth.

When she arrived at the well, she found the Fountain sitting beside it. The Fountain was waiting for her. He had come to save her from all her futile hewing and to give her “living water” that would “become in [her] a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:1014). She was skeptical till he gave her a taste. Then she drank deeply, and for joy went and told all her fellow townsfolk about the Fountain. Many of them drank deeply too.

In the woman at the well, we see ourselves. The cisterns she tried to make may be different than ours, but ours are no less futile and empty. Apart from God, everything becomes a dry well. Nothing in this world can channel or store the water we long for most. Everything here leaks and eventually breaks apart and ends. And choosing such broken cisterns over the Fountain of living water is the essence of human evil, evil that appalls the heavens.

But in Jesus’s encounter with this woman, we see the heart of God for broken-cistern builders. Like ancient Israel, we all are warned that a judgment is coming upon those who prefer arid dirt to God’s living water (2 Corinthians 5:10). The Fountain has come first, though, not to bring judgment, but to seek and save all who will repent of the evil of forsaking God, turn away from their dry wells, and receive the water the Fountain will give them (John 12:47). And it’s not uncommon that we find the Fountain waiting for us beside one of our ruined wells.

Choose the Greatest Joy

The core evil of the original sin was believing the forbidden knowledge of good and evil would yield more satisfaction than God. The core evil of ancient Israel was believing idols would yield more protection and prosperity than God. The core evil in all our sins is believing some broken cistern will give us greater life and joy than God.

Which means the fight between good and evil in the human heart is a fountain-fight: Which fountain do we believe will really satisfy us — right now, in this moment of temptation? The struggle to discern good from evil is a joy-struggle: Which well has the most real and longest-lasting joy in it? Christian Hedonism is a serious and essential enterprise, because everything hangs on choosing the superior joy.

Which is what the Fountain of living water holds out to us. He offers us the deepest satisfaction, the sweetest refreshment, and life forever (John 4:15), and he offers to fully pay the wages of our sin, the appalling evil of our futile broken-cistern hewing (Romans 6:23). And as with the man who found a treasure in a field or the merchant who found the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:44–46), what he essentially requires of us is almost unbelievably wonderful: to forsake what will lead us only to misery and despair, and to choose the greatest joy.

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by SightThings Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife have five children and make their home in the Twin Cities.

Daily Light – June 19, 2020

(Friends:   I will be away from my computer next week.  I pray that you will have a great week, stay safe, love well, and remember each day how much your heavenly Father loves you.  You are special!)  dh

The War Means You Are Real

Four Ways to Fight Indwelling Sin

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org

It matters little how much strength and skill an army has if, on the day of battle, it underestimates the power of its opponent. Put the wisest generals at its head and the best firepower in its arsenal — still, if such an army misjudges its adversary, it may find itself fleeing in retreat.

So too with us. In the “fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12), every Christian has an almighty force at his disposal, even the Lord of armies himself, who has never lost a battle (Psalm 46:711). Yet if we underestimate the enemy that lives within us — those “passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11) — we may find ourselves face down on the field of war.

The stakes could not be higher. For though our Lord Jesus has gone before us as our great Captain, and though he has disarmed our enemies at his cross and empty tomb, a battlefield still stands between every Christian and God’s kingdom (Romans 8:13). And the banner flying over it reads, “Conquer or be conquered.”

Danger Within

Consider for a moment the enemy we call “indwelling sin.” Remember, first, the position of this enemy. The danger we are up against is not a danger ahead or a danger behind, but a danger within. However holy we may be, we carry with us, wherever we go, “sin that dwells within” (Romans 7:20), a force that fights “against the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17). At work and at home, in public and in private, at midnight and at noon, this enemy is always with us.

Remember also the strength of this enemy. It was indwelling sin that lured Demas back to the world after years of service to Christ (2 Timothy 4:10). It was indwelling sin that disgraced so many kings of Israel after such wonderful beginnings (see, for example, 2 Chronicles 26:16). It was indwelling sin that gravely wounded even the mightiest of men: Noah and Moses, David and Hezekiah, Peter and Barnabas. No matter how long we have walked with Christ, and no matter how firm our faith, every Christian is within the firing range of indwelling sin.

Consider, finally, the stamina of this enemy. The apostle Paul waited until the end of his life to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Among the slain are many who, contrary to Paul’s example, rested in victory before its time — whose early successes misled them to give up watching, give up praying, give up confessing, until they found themselves giving up altogether.

Weapons for the War

Remembering the power of our indwelling sin is not pleasant. Far more comfortable to talk of Christian victory and pretend that all is well. Yes, far more comfortable — and far more deadly. For if we refuse to look our foe in the face, we will likely refuse to face it with the weapons God provides.

If, on the other hand, we regularly consider the power of our indwelling sin, we will walk onto the battlefield clad with the armor of God. We will learn to expect a daily battle, to walk humbly, to kill sin at the start, and to keep near our Captain.

Expect a daily battle.

Our enemy’s position within us reminds us that our battle is a daily one. Unlike some armies, we cannot retreat for a season to escape the clamor of conflict. Every morning, we wake up to war.

This reminder, so disheartening at first, ought to cheer every embattled saint. For if we feel the clash of armies inside of us, and find our best resolves opposed at every step, and yet still press on ahead — well then, as J.C. Ryle writes, “We are evidently no friends of Satan. Like the kings of this world, he wars not against his own subjects” (Holiness, 72).

Expect, then, to rise up from a moving hour in Scripture and prayer, only to find your mind assaulted and your affections thrown off course. Expect the ground you gained yesterday to be challenged again today. Expect to be startled and confounded by dark impulses rising from within. And know that such opposition does not signal your defeat, but rather marks the beginning of the battle.

God’s Spirit makes himself known in us not by the absence of enemies, but by the presence of our warfare against them (Galatians 5:17–18).

Walk humbly.

As we consider the men and women stronger than we whom sin has successfully defeated, humility is the only sane response. Better to face our foe trembling and dismayed than to face him proud. Better to think ourselves capable of every sin, and to perpetually stand our guard, than to fancy ourselves strong in our own strength. For in the battle against sin, as in everything else, pride comes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).

Those who walk humbly are not ashamed to pray every morning, “Lead [me] not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13). Their ears are awake to the warnings, strewn everywhere in Scripture, to “take heed lest [you] fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12), “be on your guard” (Luke 12:15), and “be watchful” (1 Peter 5:8). They are not too proud to stay near their brothers in arms, confessing their failures and asking for help.

The safest soldiers on the battlefield are the humblest ones: those who feel deep down that without Christ they can win no war (John 15:5) — yet with him, every war (Philippians 4:13).

Kill sin at the start.

Perhaps nothing shows more clearly what we think of sin’s strength than how we handle its first approaches. An army may take its time in rising up against a small army — but if the enemy is mighty, the watchmen sound the alarm long before the first shot is fired.

John Owen writes,

The great wisdom and security of the soul in dealing with indwelling sin is to put a violent stop unto its beginnings, its first motions and actings. Venture all on the first attempt. Die rather than yield one step unto it. (Indwelling Sin, 208)

Venture all upon the first attempt: dispel the first wisp of a fantasy, crush the first impulse toward greed, attack the first inclination toward gossip, oppose the first craving for another drink, douse the first flame of anger. In other words, “make no provision for the flesh” (Romans 13:14).

Killing sin in these first moments may seem like a small victory, but the narrow way to heaven is filled with small victories — and the broad road to hell is paved with small compromises. So don’t despise the small battles you face again today.

Keep near your Captain.

All our expectations, humility, and efforts will prove vain, however, unless we keep near our Captain. Apart from Christ, all our weapons against sin are just so many plastic swords. But in Christ, we handle real swords in our warfare.

We would do well to despair if we faced our enemies on our own. But what need have we for fear if our Lord Jesus is with us? Why shrink away if we stand behind the shield of our greater David? The King who will one day slay the lawless one with the breath of his mouth is more than able to subdue our enemies within (2 Thessalonians 2:8).

All our safety, all our wisdom, all our peace and comfort rests in this: keep near Christ. Keep near his cross, where he canceled all our guilt. Keep near his empty tomb, where he broke sin’s power and reign. Keep near his nail-scarred hands, where he pleads his brothers’ cause. Keep near his throne of grace, where he holds well-timed help for every crisis (Hebrews 4:16).

All Who Fight Conquer

Conquer or be conquered: this is the prospect before us all this side of glory. But we dare not imagine that the conquering rests on us, much less that Christ watches, unconcerned, to see the outcome of the battle. Richard Sibbes writes,

The victory lies neither in our own strength to get it, nor in our enemies’ strength to defeat it. If it lay with us, we might justly fear. But Christ will maintain his own government in us and take our part against our corruptions. They are his enemies as well as ours. . . . We have more for us than against us. What coward would not fight when he is sure of victory? None is here overcome but he that will not fight. (The Bruised Reed, 122)

Wherever you are in the fight against sin — whether in the thrill of victory or the throes of defeat — remember: as many as your foes are, you have far more for you than against you if you are Christ’s (2 Kings 6:161 John 4:4), and you cannot be conquered if you only keep fighting. So come again to your Captain, take fresh courage, and go forth to battle.

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 – July 18, 2020

(Happy Birthday to the best person I know…my wife…. Jean Marie Browning Hester.)

Nature Is Anything But Natural

Enjoying Creation Through the Psalms

Article by Marshall Segal, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

Some years ago, as I visited my future wife in Southern California, the ocean began teaching me to notice the supernatural in all I had called natural, to widen my eyes to the world God has made, to recover some of the wonder I once had. The ocean quiets me unlike anything else in creation.

I say creation with deep conviction and purpose because it was — all of it everywhere — conceived and performed by a real, divine imagination. As T.M. Moore writes, “One of the central teachings of Scripture is that the natural world is not at all natural. It is the creation of a supernatural God. What we routinely call ‘nature’ is in fact ‘creation’” (Consider the Lilies, 100).

Nothing we encounter is purposeless, or gloryless, or truly “natural.” We may notice the purpose and glory more in the grander aspects of creation, like oceans, lions, or mountains, but as Scripture teaches, even birds and lilies teach us about God.

Has the natural world lost some of its wonder in your eyes? Have you started to take for granted things God himself literally breathed into existence and sustains with his whispers? Does anything God made still quiet you?

We Need Infinity

But we were talking about oceans. Steve DeWitt beautifully captures how oceans have silenced me:

We need infinity. Not that we can understand it. But only with it does life make sense. That’s why I like walking ocean beaches. Because for me, the infinity of the horizon is a glimpse at what the God who made it is like. (Eyes Wide Open, 128)

Almost anyone standing before the Pacific Ocean can feel the mystery in its enormity. Even mountains usually give us some clear glimpse of where they begin and end, but oceans stretch beyond the frail horizons of our humanity, forcing us to admit how small we really are. As the psalms sing, “Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it” (Psalm 104:25–26) — minnows and manta rays, blue tangs and blue whales, seahorses and great white sharks, all made by God so that we would see God.

The ocean’s mighty and relentless waves wash away our illusions of invincibility, and replace them with honesty, before God, about our own fragility. Its depths, beyond what we can measure, hint at how long and wide are his loving arms (Psalm 33:7). Its shores, where water gently tickles our feet, betray just how wise and sovereign is its architect (Proverbs 8:29). He makes its currents toss and rage, if only so his Son could quiet them (Mark 4:39) — and me (Isaiah 26:3).

Do you still stop to wonder at all God is saying in what he has made? Do you want to start again?

Let the Word Open the World

We can start developing wider eyes for the world God has made by reading nature through what he says all over Scripture — in Psalms and Proverbs, in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, in the Gospels, especially the words of Jesus, and in Revelation. Again, Moore writes,

How often the Scriptures urge us to use our sense to perceive and experience the goodness, greatness, and mercy of God, and to learn something of how we should relate to him. Sparrows, lilies, mountains, rivers; coins, fallen towers, millstones; people marrying, burying their dead, or paying their alms; sounds, tastes, and all manner of sensations — all these and much, much more offer us the opportunity for precious insights into the ways and will of God. But we are too busy, too much in a hurry, or too distracted by the mundaneness of it all to think more deeply about what God may be trying to say to us. (Consider the Lilies, 119)

The Psalms, in particular, are filled with streams and valleys, predators and prey, honeycombs and green pastures, sun and moon and stars. Try removing creation from the Psalms, and ask what is lost from the truth and beauty and depth of what God is saying. If we only saw what the psalmists saw, we would get to behold far more of God than we typically do today.

Walk Through Psalms

When the sun rises each morning, God means for that flaming ball of ferocity, a star the size of one hundred earths and heated to ten thousand degrees, to remind us that he is strong, massive, reliable, and radiating with joy.

He has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat. (Psalm 19:4–684:11)

When we see the stars scattered in a clear night sky, an estimated one hundred billion in our galaxy alone, God wants us to see how detailed and personal he is. “He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names” (Psalm 147:4). Why would he name stars? Not for their sake (they’re stars!), but for ours — so that we would know that he knows and attends to each and every one of us, especially the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3) and the humble (Psalm 147:6).

When clouds crawl across the sky and over our heads, they are not meant to be massive, miraculous afterthoughts (or depressing inconveniences, for that matter). They should draw our attention into heaven and stretch our imaginations, far beyond them, into the faithfulness of God. “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 36:5).

When we make out a mountain in the distance, or drive through them as my family did on vacation earlier this year, we are meant to see enormous shadows of the majesty of God. “Glorious are you,” we sing, “more majestic than the mountains full of prey” (Psalm 76:4). Our God is stronger than the mountains (Psalm 104:32), older than the mountains (Psalm 90:2), and more reliable than the mountains (Psalm 46:2–3).

When we hear the rush of a river or stream, it can inspire us to drink more deeply from all that God is for us in Christ, the well who quenches every thirst forever (John 4:13–14). “They feast on the abundance of your house,” David writes, “and you give them drink from the river of your delights” (Psalm 36:8). The pouring of water between the banks is its own applause to the satisfying goodness of God. “Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together” (Psalm 98:8).

When we come across a rock too heavy to carry and big enough to stand on, its weight and strength anchor a deeper reality. Where does a poet look for language to describe all that God is for him? “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).

Even the deer peeking through the trees declares how deeply satisfying God is. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1–2). And each deer, some thirty million around the world, tells us how God protects, strengthens, and stabilizes us through treacherous circumstances (Psalm 18:33).

All Creation Is Preaching

All of that is to say nothing of all we see and experience of God in the boom of thunder (Psalm 29:3–4), the ruthlessness of lions (Psalm 7:1–2), the fragility of sheep (Psalm 78:52), the sweetness of honey (Psalm 19:10), the strength of horses (Psalm 20:7), the defenselessness of snails (Psalm 58:8), and the lushness of fields after rain (Psalm 23:2). The heavens and the earth, and all that fills them, are declaring the glory of God to us. What might we hear, and see, and experience if we were willing to stop and look?

“Created reality brings God’s perfections home to us in ways that are visible, concrete, and particular,” writes Joe Rigney. “They keep God’s attributes and characteristics from being mere abstractions, because it’s impossible for us to love a list of qualities” (The Things of Earth, 65). Everything God has made is preaching, with loudspeakers, cranked high and embedded everywhere we turn, and yet we often have our heads down, scrolling on our phones, almost nodding off.

There is hope, always hope, for eyes that have grown dim. Creation will never stop declaring the excellencies of our King, and we will never exhaust all that makes him excellent. So, let yourself stop, and watch, and listen a little longer before something God has made, and expect to see something supernatural.

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 a son and live in Minneapolis.

Daily Light – June 17, 2020

What Do You See When You Look at the Sky?

Friends:  Here in Indiana, it is early summer, the flowers are in full bloom, the beauty of the sunsets, the morning chorus of the birds, all proclaiming the wonder of our Creator.  And ‘that’ is wherein the beauty of the changing of seasons lies…another ‘fresh’ opportunity to behold Him who is the Glory of Life as He speaks to us.  I love what John Piper wrote here back in 1990 about the Glory of God in the stars and in creation.  Soak it in and then use the perspective to rekindle you weary bones so that you can hear and see the Glory of our Great God who is absolutely in control and rules over all..chaos and all.  And we are safe ‘in’ Him.  Wow.   dh

Article by John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

What you see when you look up outdoors speaks. It tells; it proclaims. You see those verbs in Psalm 19. But here’s the verb I like best in Psalm 19:2: “Day to day pours out speech.” Now, I looked that verb up in Hebrew, just to check it out, and it is a very exciting word. It means “gush forth,” “spew out” knowledge and speech.

So, fix this truth very firmly in your minds: every time the sun rises, or every time the stars come up, or every time the thunder rolls and the lightning strikes, every time there is a lavender, gold, yellow sunrise or sunset, God is gushing forth speech to you. And he means for you to hear it. And he means for you to be ministered to by it. He means for you to be helped by it.

From God to You

Do you believe God speaks in vain? Do you believe God speaks without love? Do you believe he just rambles on with no purpose like some people do? No. Whenever God speaks, every word is designed for your good. And so the point is simply this: when you look up, God is speaking to you. And we need to learn to hear it. We need to learn to interpret and be helped by what he’s saying. The message comes without words, without speech, without voice.

This is difficult because most of us are so word dependent — I am — that thinking of something coming from God’s heart to my heart minus words is very difficult. And that’s what’s happening when you look up: something is being communicated from God’s mind and heart to your mind and heart without any vehicle of language — no reasonings, no arguments, no words.

Now, you can tell how hard this is because David has to use paradox to get it across. Look at the paradox between Psalm 19:2 and Psalm 19:3. Verse 2 says, “Day to day pours out speech.” Then look at verse 3: “There is no speech.” That’s the same Hebrew word for speech, by the way. There’s no different word there, no fancy meaning. It’s the same thing in English that it is in Hebrew. Speech is being poured forth, and there is no speech. Do you get it? It’s not easy to get. We are not good at it; I’m not good at it: getting messages from God, not through words, but through light, color, shape, contrast, proportion, design, magnitude, and a lot of other things I’m sure I can’t think of that make up what the eye inhales when it looks up. God is communicating without words, without voice, without speech.

And yet verse 4 goes right back to verse 2 and says, yet, “Their line has gone out through all the earth” (NASB). That may be written line, may be plumb line, sound, voice. There’s a lot of uncertainty about what that word means, but we get the idea. “And their words to the end of the world” (Psalm 19:4). There it is: words. “Hey, I thought there were no words.” Well, there aren’t, but there are: words to the end of the world — wordless words, speechless speech, voiceless voice from God’s heart to your heart to minister healing and wholeness and happiness and humility and hope. Are you good at it? Do you get it? Or are you too busy even to look up and listen? The message that comes without words through the sky is about God. Day and night, everywhere in the world, God is speaking about God. You see in verse 1: “The heavens declare the glory of God.”

Always More Glory

We are not pantheists. Let’s get this real clear. We are not New Age pantheists. In the beginning, God — who always was without nature, full and complete in his triune happiness — said, “Let there be nature,” and there was nature. And it is not God. We are not pantheists. We believe in God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. We are light-years away from the kind of being that the New Age puts forth, calling all “God.”

There were mornings on the study leave — the cottage was at the bottom of the hill. And about twenty or thirty yards into the woods was this little trailer where I sat most of the days working on a book. And mornings I would walk, and I would just stop about halfway in the woods. And I would look down through the pine trees, which were probably eighty or a hundred years old, to the little four-acre lake that’s down there.

And I would see the sun spangled with its diamonds, dancing across the water. You know how it does on the lake in the morning. And then I would begin to look up. It’s about 9:00am. The sun’s at an angle, just blazing through. And there’s this shield of hickory and oak and sweet gum and maple leaves all swaying in the breeze. And they’re all yellow, green, and gold. And then I looked on up, and there was the big, broad, expansive blue, and the cool morning breeze was hitting me in the face. And all I could do was say, “Glory, glory, glory.” And I didn’t reason it out either. I didn’t lecture myself. It was just there; it’s just there. When you open your eyes to see what God has done, you see glory.

The glory of God is not something that can be transferred merely by words. It is transferred by words in the gospel, by gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, by the Scriptures, and by the skies, but it is only being transferred. The glory of God is always something more than sky. It’s always something more than Scripture. It’s always something more than gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit. The glory of God is tasted by spiritual perception within. It is perceived by the gift of God’s revelation. It is an awesome thing to behold the glory of God in the sky.

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 – June 16, 2020

The power of example

Devotional by David Niednagel, Pastor and Teacher, Evansville, IN.  (David uses the S.O.A.P. method of study for his morning devotional time:  study, observe, apply, pray)

Philippians 3:17-21   

3:17  Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.   ESV

Paul has already written about the examples of Jesus, Himself, Timothy and Epaphroditus, and here again he exhorts the whole church to follow his example of diligently pressing forward to “know Christ” to the point of suffering and dying for Him. Most of us do all we can to avoid suffering, (and Paul too fled when he could) but Paul says we should make it our goal to be so much like Christ that we are treated like Him. Some will be touched by our love and others will be so jealous and resentful they will want to harm us.

He acknowledges that many who call themselves followers do not follow Jesus’ example. They may claim to believe in Jesus, but their lives have not been transformed. “Their god is their belly” – they live for comfort and pleasure. Their values and goals are like unsaved people – they live for earthly things. So they even boast about things they ought to be ashamed of. The world brags about money, position, extravagance, rising above others – even taking advantage of others – and so do these who claim to be believers. And that is because their friends live the same way. They are comparing themselves with one another, not with the Lord Jesus.

So Paul reminds them of a key truth that we would never know without the Holy Spirit. In Gal 2:20 he said “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Our old “self” is dead. We are a new person with a new identity. It is no longer Jew or Gentile, male of female, rich or poor, white or black – it is CHRIST. We are in Him and He is in us. Jesus told us to “abide in Him and to make sure His Word abides in us” (John 15:5-7). We are only transformed when our minds are renewed by His words. (Rom 12:1-2) That explains why some who call themselves “believers” still live like the others in their culture. They don’t see themselves as “new people in Christ”. 

Here Paul says it a little different way, but the same meaning – We are no longer citizens of earth, but we are citizens of heaven. In Paul’s day, citizenship was a big deal. If you were a Roman citizen you had special privileges and protections that others did not. Paul said we must not think that we are “home” and enjoy the privileges of the others around us. Don’t hope or expect to relax and have an easy life. We aren’t home yet, so don’t live for the values that everyone else around us does. Part of our problem is that Christianity is not a tiny minority like it was in Paul’s day. We tend to think we live in at least a “semi-Christian” culture and it is OK to live with a similar worldview and lifestyle that our friends do – at least like the other people in our churches. But that is what Paul is warning against! Our friends at church struggle and fail just like we do, and we don’t have the conviction or desperation to help one another. It is much easier to just live like all the other “believers“ do.

So what is the answer? Quit using the world as our example. Quit comparing ourselves with other people. Keep thinking about Jesus coming back. He will transform our physical bodies to make them like His – which was resurrected. So even if we are beaten and killed, it is not the end. We will get a new glorified body, so we don’t have to be afraid of death like non-believers. And not only will He transform our physical bodies, He will change us on the inside to have the same heart and character that He has. And that is why we need to follow examples like Paul.

Lord Jesus, thank You that You understand all we go through physically and emotionally. Thank You that we are new people in You! A new identity. Help us live with that mindset – of pleasing You so we hear You say “Well done, good and faithful servant.” when You return. Help me think more about Your return and what will be important then. Help me press on diligently to know you now so I “long for Your appearing”, and help me have no fear of suffering for You, but rather delight in anything I can do to honor You. And use me to help other believes live for the same purpose and values. Amen

Daily Light – June 15, 2020

HOW WE CAN KNOW THE BIBLE IS TRUE

Article by Michael Kruger, President, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte

ABSTRACT: Coming to believe that the Bible is God’s word does not require extensive historical evidence, as helpful as that can be. The best defense for the Bible’s trustworthiness is in the pages of the Bible itself. From the early church on, Christians have recognized that the Bible’s authority is “self-authenticating,” meaning that Scripture bears certain qualities within itself that testify to its divine origins. One of the most powerful of these qualities is the unity and harmony of Scripture: the books of the Bible are consistent within themselves, with prior revelation, and with the overall story of the Bible.

Few qualities are more central to the health of the church — and to the spiritual condition of the individual believer — than a robust commitment to the authority and inspiration of Scripture. As Paul reminded Timothy, “The sacred writings . . . are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). And of course, Jesus himself clearly testified to the centrality of the word: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; cf. Deuteronomy 8:3).

Even so, having an orthodox doctrine of Scripture is one thing; being able to defend that doctrine against attacks is quite another. When asked why we believe the Bible is God’s word — perhaps the most common question about the Bible in our current cultural moment — Christians need to have some sort of answer. Yet this is precisely the place where many Christians lock up. Since they have been convinced that the only respectable answer is a near-exhaustive catalog of the historical evidences for the Bible’s authenticity, and since they have not studied (nor probably ever will study) such evidence, they are often left with no answer. All that can be done is to refer the skeptic to the experts and hope for the best.

At this point, however, we should remember that historical evidences are not the only way we know the Bible is from God. Indeed, Christians throughout history have typically appealed to another way that is not only more accessible, but, in some ways, also more fitting for a book that claims to be God’s word. Christians have argued that the Bible is self-authenticating, meaning that it bears certain internal qualities or attributes that show that it is from God. Put bluntly, we can know the Bible is the word of God from the Bible itself.

A Self-Authenticating Bible

While the idea of a self-authenticating Bible sounds strange to modern ears, that was not the case within the early centuries of the faith, when apologetics was a necessary part of survival in the hostile Greco-Roman world. Although the earliest Christians used a variety of arguments to defend the Bible’s inspiration (such as proof from fulfilled prophecy), they were keen to acknowledge that the Bible was its own best proof. Clement of Alexandria, for example, regarded the Scripture as the equivalent of a philosophical “first principle” and thereby able to authenticate itself. Clement argued that those who have faith hear the “voice of God” in the Scriptures, which operates as a “demonstration that cannot be impugned.” And again, he insists that the “voice of the Lord . . . is the surest of all demonstrations.”

Clement’s self-authenticating approach flowed naturally from his theological conviction that the Scripture, as the very voice of God, was the ultimate authority. When it comes to demonstrating the truth of an ultimate authority, one cannot help but appeal to it. Indeed, if one tried to prove an ultimate authority by appealing to some other authority, then that would just prove it wasn’t really ultimate. Thus, ultimate authorities, by definition, must be self-authenticating. This is why, when God swore an oath, he “swore by himself” (Hebrews 6:13).

Clement was not alone. Origen articulates this self-authenticating approach even more clearly:

If anyone ponders over the prophetic sayings . . . it is certain that in the very act of reading and diligently studying them his mind and feelings will be touched by a divine breath and he will recognize the words he is reading are not utterances of man but the language of God.

Elsewhere, Origen insists that Old Testament prophets “are sufficient to produce faith in any one who reads them.” Incredibly, according to Origen, simply reading (or hearing) the Bible puts a person in touch with its divine qualities. If that person has the help of the Spirit — what Origen calls “a divine breath” — then he will see those qualities for what they are, the very words of God himself.

Indeed, merely reading the Bible, and apprehending its divine qualities, is how the pagan philosopher Tatian was converted to Christianity. On a quest to “discover the truth,” he describes how he came to believe Scripture was from God:

I was led to put faith in these [Scriptures] by the unpretending cast of the language, the inartificial character of the writers, the foreknowledge displayed of future events, the excellent quality of the precepts. . . . And, my soul being taught of God, I discern that the former class of [pagan] writings lead to condemnation, but that these [Scriptures] put an end to the slavery that is in the world.

This patristic backdrop explains why the Reformers were also committed to a self-authenticating approach to Scripture. Not surprisingly, Calvin led the way, but he was followed by William Whitakerand John Owen. And later Reformed thinkers followed suit, including Francis Turretin, Jonathan Edwards, and Herman Bavinck.

The Unity and Harmony of Scripture

So, if the Bible bears certain divine qualities or attributes that show it is from God, then what exactly are these qualities? Typically, theologians have pointed to three: (a) the beauty and excellency of Scripture, (b) the power and efficacy of Scripture, and (c) the unity and harmony of Scripture. Indeed, the Westminster Confession of Faith points to these three in its discussion of how Scripture “doth abundantly evidence itself” to be the word of God (WCF 1.5).

Even so, there is little doubt that this third quality — Scripture’s unity and harmony — has played the most dominant role in authenticating books, both in early Christianity as well as in the modern day. To say the Scripture has unity and harmony is to affirm that any scriptural book is (a) consistent within itself (i.e., it has no internal contradictions), (b) consistent with prior revelation (i.e., it is orthodox), and (c) consistent with the overall story of the Bible. Let’s briefly examine each of these aspects.

Consistent with Itself

The earliest Christians recognized that divine books, because they are from God, cannot contradict themselves. After all, God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Justin Martyr affirms this fundamental principle: “I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another [Scripture].” Irenaeus agrees: “All Scripture, which has been given to us by God, shall be found by us perfectly consistent.” Theophilus is no different: “All the prophets spoke harmoniously and in agreement with one another.” Tertullian is quite blunt: “And here I might now make a stand, and contend that a work ought not to be recognized . . . which exhibits no consistency.”

Since humans, ordinarily, are fallible creatures who are prone to error, finding such remarkable internal consistency in a book can be seen as evidence for that book’s divine origins. Not only is this true for single books (e.g., the Gospel of Luke), but it is particularly true when the Bible is viewed as a completed whole. How could humans achieve absolute consistency across 66 different books, written by almost 40 different authors, over thousands of years, and on different continents? Only a divine author could do that.

Consistent with Prior Revelation

We could also explore the theme of consistency in terms of the doctrine that any given book teaches. Is that doctrine faithful to the truths that have been revealed in prior stages of divine revelation? In the Old Testament, a prophet’s words were tested by comparing them to prior revelation (Deuteronomy 18:20), and in the New Testament we see the Bereans comparing Paul’s teaching to Scripture (Acts 17:10–12). When we speak of a book’s doctrinal consistency, we are simply arguing that a book has to be orthodox in order for it to be from God.

However, one might wonder whether Christians had a standard for orthodoxy before the New Testament canon was completed. Was there a way that orthodoxy could be determined? Absolutely. For one, early Christians tested books by comparing them to the Old Testament. This was the doctrinal foundation for the apostles, as well as for Jesus himself. But early Christians also tested a book’s orthodoxy by comparing it to the “rule of faith.” The rule of faith was basically a brief summary of apostolic teaching that allowed Christians to succinctly and clearly state the essence of what they believed — an early creedal statement, of sorts. The rule of faith should not be viewed as new revelation, or extrabiblical teaching, but basically a summary of the Scripture’s own story line. Armed with both the Old Testament and the rule of faith, Christians were able to assess — accurately and clearly — whether a book was orthodox.

Of course, we should remember that while all scriptural books are orthodox, not all orthodox books are Scripture. A book could be orthodox and yet not part of the canon. For this reason, orthodoxy was typically used as a negative criterion. In other words, it was the lack of orthodoxy — and the positive presence of heresy — in a book that allowed Christians to know that it must not be from God. A good example is how our earliest canonical list, known as the Muratorian fragment, rejected the forged epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans on the grounds that it contained “Marcionite heresy” and “it is not fitting that poison should be mixed with honey.”

Consistent with the Overall Story of the Bible

Christians believed (and still believe) that the Bible not only consists of 66 separate books, all with distinct stories, but essentially functions as a single unified book with one overarching story of redemption. Thus, when early Christians were evaluating whether a book should be received as Scripture, they were concerned not only with whether it matched doctrinally, but with whether it completed the Old Testament story. The Old Testament is like a book without a final chapter, like a play without a final act. And Christians were busy looking for its proper conclusion.

A number of New Testament books demonstrate this redemptive-historical connection plainly. For example, consider the fact that Matthew, the first book in the New Testament canon, begins with a genealogy. For most Westerners, this means little — indeed, it is often skipped. But for a Jew, this would have meant everything. It was Matthew’s signal that the story of Jesus completed the story that began in the Old Testament with Abraham. In other words, Matthew doesn’t just tell the story of Jesus; he tells the story of Jesus in light of the story of Israel. Jesus is the climax of the Old Testament narrative.

This fact is confirmed when we remember that the last book of the Old Testament in Jesus’s day would have been the book of Chronicles (the books were in a different order than in our present Bibles). And the book of Chronicles begins with a genealogy. Thus, the last book of the Old Testament and the first book of the New Testament would have both begun with genealogies focused on David! This led D. Moody Smith to declare, “Matthew makes clear that Jesus represents the restoration of that [David’s] dynasty and therefore the history of Israel and the history of salvation. Thus, Jesus continues the biblical narrative.”

The redemptive-historical character of New Testament writings is seen more plainly when they are compared to apocryphal writings, particularly apocryphal gospels. Notably lacking in most apocryphal gospels is a definitive link to the Old Testament story of Israel. Indeed, some apocryphal gospels, like the Gospel of Thomas, are not even stories at all, but just collections of sayings of Jesus. Gospels like this were rejected precisely because they could not reasonably be viewed as a fitting sequel to the Old Testament narrative.

Reading the Bible as one unified story also provides the opportunity for the reader to draw links between its various parts. It is noteworthy, for example, that Jesus recapitulates the story of the exodus, functioning as a new Moses who, like the first Moses, was almost killed at birth (Matthew 2:13–15Exodus 2:1–2), delivers the law on a mountain (Matthew 5:1Exodus 19:1–25), brings bread from heaven (John 6:32Exodus 16:4), has power over the sea (Mark 4:35–41Exodus 14:21), and provides a Passover lamb for the sins of the people (John 1:29Exodus 12:1–7). Such connections cause us to marvel at how remarkably unified all the Scripture really is. And it makes us recognize, again, that no human could have possibly orchestrated such a vast web of subtle, profound, and eye-opening links like we find in Scripture.

In many ways, then, the collective impression given by all the books of the Bible, when read as a whole unit, speaks to their divine origins. We are reminded that the Bible has a synergistic quality about it — you get something when all the books are read together that you don’t necessarily get when they are read individualistically. It is like the “fifth voice” in a barbershop quarter; you don’t hear it until all the voices are joined together.

Implications of a Self-Authenticating Bible

We have argued that the remarkable unity and harmony of Scripture is one of the main qualities of Scripture that demonstrates its divine origins. And of course, there are other qualities as well that we have not explored here. What are some of the implications of this reality for our ministries and for the average believer?

First, it reminds us that every believer can know the Bible is God’s word without having to become an expert in biblical archaeology, ancient manuscripts, or other kinds of historical evidences. That’s not to suggest these issues are unimportant (they are very helpful in their own way); it’s just that they are not necessary for a person to know the Bible is from God. Unfortunately, many believers are convinced they are necessary, leaving them personally in doubt about the truth of God’s word and having to rely on the experts who have studied such matters. But if the Bible really bears these internal qualities, then all Christians can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, know it is divinely inspired. Remember, even the pagan philosopher Tatian came to believe in the truth of the Scriptures merely by reading them.

Second, the self-authenticating nature of Scripture should reshape our thinking about the best way to convince the skeptic of the truth of the Scriptures. If the Bible bears these internal qualities, then the best way to demonstrate those qualities is to faithfully teach it and preach it, or to invite the non-Christian to read it. We need to unleash the Bible and let it do what it was designed to do: powerfully display God’s glory. Thus, we would do well to heed the well-known advice of C.H. Spurgeon:

Suppose a number of persons were to take it into their heads that they had to defend a lion, full-grown king of beasts! There he is in the cage, and here come all the soldiers of the army to fight for him. Well, I should suggest to them . . . they should kindly stand back, and open the door, and let the lion out! I believe that would be the best way of defending him, for he would take care of himself; and the best ‘apology’ for the gospel is to let the gospel out.

Michael Kruger is president and Samuel C. Patterson professor of New Testament and early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. He is also the author of Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books.

Daily Light – June 12, 2020

Why Must Our Bodies Get Resurrected?

From an Interview with John Piper

Why must our bodies get resurrected? That was one theme Pastor John touched on in a message in the spring of 2014, delivered at the Carl F.H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity International University near Chicago. In that message, Pastor John was recounting some lessons he’s taken from the works of Jonathan Edwards, lessons he’s learned about the work of Christ. Here’s a clip I wanted to share from that message.

The work of Christ in redemption does not only restore, but it advances God’s aim in creation. Christ was not merely a remedy or an afterthought to recover what was lost. The history of redemption climaxes with the cross, not only as a means of restoration, but a means of advance. Christ was the goal of creation, not a means to the goal. He didn’t just recover a goal; he was the goal.

And by his incarnation and death and resurrection, the glory of God was put on new display in its most vivid and lavish excellency. Christ did not come and die and rise only to restore our joy in God, but to become our joy in God. The incarnate God did not appear simply to enable us to rejoice in God, but to become the focus of our rejoicing in God.

Diverse Excellencies

Edwards put his incomparable lens to the gospel of the glory of Christ to describe the glory of Christ most compellingly in what may be his third-most famous sermon — namely, “The Excellency of Christ,” which I love. And the beauty of Christ in that sermon is developed in a stunning way to show that, when Christ did his work, he wasn’t merely enabling us to have something we had lost, but to become, in that work, the very focus of the glory that we once thought we saw and now see in fullness.

So, here’s his description of the glory of Christ — the glory of God — that we could not know without the revelation of God in Christ. The beauty is in the juxtaposition of these seeming opposites. These are things that mingle in Christ and thus constitute his incomparable beauty:

Infinite highness and infinite condescension

Infinite justice and infinite grace

Infinite glory and lowest humility

Infinite majesty and transcendent meekness

Deepest reverence toward God and equality with God

Infinite worthiness of good and the greatest patience under sufferings of evil

An exceeding spirit of obedience with supreme dominion over heaven and earth

Absolute sovereignty and perfect resignation

Self-sufficiency and an entire trust and reliance on God

Christ, the incarnate second person of the Trinity, the Redeemer, is now the fullness of the revelation of the glory of God. He didn’t just repair our ability to see something old; he became what God meant for us to see all along.

Billion-Ton Bliss

So, for example, when it says in Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore,” the Old Testament saints tasted that, and it was glorious — and they didn’t have a clue what the fullness meant. None of the saints knew the fullness of the meaning of that promise: that at God’s right hand are pleasures forevermore. It took the incarnation and the New Testament revelation to show that the pleasures at God’s right hand are the pleasures of God the Father in God the Son and the pleasures of God the Son in God the Father.

And now he has come. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). And you should put into the term well pleased billions of tons of pleasure. We gloss over those words so quickly. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I — God Almighty, with all of my infinite energy — am totally pleased and have been from all eternity. And now you can see what my joy is. Now you can see the joy that is at my right hand: my joy is joy in my image in my Son.”

Tie That Binds

What binds the children of God to their Father for eternity is that we enjoy the Son of God with the very joy of God the Father. Jesus had already said in John 15:11, “I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” So now you not only have Jesus praying for the love of the Father for the Son to become my love for the Son, but you have Jesus saying, “My joy, my joy in the Father — I have spoken to you so that my joy would be in you. There’s no other way for your joy to be full than for my joy in God to become your joy in God.”

So now we have our joy in the Father being the Son’s joy in the Father, and our joy in the Son being the Father’s joy in the Son. And we must have a new resurrection body, or we will be blown to smithereens by that experience. And that’s not a joke at all. That is why you must have a new body. These experiences are so magnificent that this “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50). That doesn’t mean you won’t have a resurrection body; it means this one won’t work. This one will not work for that experience forever.

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 – June 11, 2020

Your Sin Runs Deeper Than You Think

Article by Greg Morse, Staff writer, desiringGod.org

Sin has fallen on hard times. Not, of course, in the sense that we no longer sin. Rather, our society no longer stomachs naming certain attitudes and behaviors as “sins.” The word sounds too old fashion. Images come to mind of red-faced preachers wagging their fingers condescendingly at a demoralized audience. We don’t want to be associated with that.

But when we lose a grasp of what sin is, we lose the biblical understanding of who Christ is, and what the cross means. D.A. Carson ties the two together, as all faithful Christians must:

There can be no agreement as to what salvation is unless there is agreement as to that from which salvation rescues us. It is impossible to gain a deep grasp of what the cross achieves without plunging into a deep grasp of what sin is. (Fallen: A Theology of Sin, 22)

Shallow thoughts of sin lead to shallow thoughts of God and salvation. Ignorance to the depths of our sin leads to ignorance to the depths of the beauty of Jesus Christ.

Counterfeit Christs

Built upon insufficient views of sin, cheap views of Christ are on display all around us — each staking its messianic claims.

Life-Coach Jesus. When we see sin as a nonstarter and humans as inherently good, we move away from talk of death, judgment, and hell, and focus instead on a Christ who can help us towards our improbable goals and wildest dreams. He helps good people become great. He died so we can reach our full potential.

Housekeeper Jesus. When we see sin as inevitable, as “just being human,” as something ordinary and trivial, rather than lamentable, we mistake sin as mere slipups. We’re not perfect, we confess that much, but we’re not “evil.” Jesus, then, follows us around with a mop and bucket, tidying up after our little messes. He died to pay the cleaning fee.

Humanitarian Jesus. When we see sin as mainly between one man and another (and not one man before a holy God), we make good causes into ultimate ones. We fit Jesus neatly into our movement and usually define sin in terms of the haves and the have-nots. Jesus, then, is the one who came to right the very injustice we’re most passionate about.

Kumbaya Jesus. When we see sin as something much less serious than our suffering, we might only know Jesus as the bearer of good vibes. He hears our problems and stressors, teaches us about the birds and flowers, and leads us into green pastures, beside still waters. Because we all suffer in a fallen world, he doesn’t ever say or do anything that would hurt our feelings or cause psychological distress. He died to help us feel better, no matter what.

To prevent being beguiled by false and flimsy depictions of Christ, we need to understand what exactly sin is and how deep it goes. We need to become aware, not only of our own corruptions and sins — that amount to a heap that towers Mount Everest — we need to reacquaint ourselves with the skeleton in humanity’s closet: our original sin in Adam. So we leave the treetops of our own lives and our own times, and travel down to the sin at the root of our family tree.

His Sin and Ours

How many of us think nearly enough about how Adam’s sin effects ours — or how his sin prepares us to understand the glories of Christ? Our history with sin predates us. We were sent into slavery a long time ago. We all fell headlong in the opening chapters of Genesis. And Jesus, the true Christ, is promised in those same chapters.

How did Adam’s sin become ours? How is it that “one trespass led to condemnation for all mankind,” that “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Romans 5:18–19)?

Ponder that monumental battle between David and Goliath. The Philistine giant barked taunts at God’s people. Saul, Israel’s own king and giant, hid in his tent. David, the unknown shepherd boy, jealous for God’s glory, offers to fight. No sooner does Goliath mock him than David crushes his head and removes it (1 Samuel 17:51).

We can be so well acquainted with the story that perhaps we’ve never asked, Why were only those two fighting? Why one-on-one combat to decide the battle?

We Fell Like Goliath

When was the last time any nation settled a battle with another nation by sending out two individuals for combat? This is an example of an ancient practice where the best warrior, a “champion,” would fight the opposing champion to the death to decide the battle.

So Goliath, champion of the Philistines, yaps,

Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us. (1 Samuel 17:8–9)

David and Goliath met as representatives, as champions, as the best of each side, fighting for the fate of their people. If David was slain, Israel would have served the Philistines.

What happened, then, when Adam fell? Our champion met Satan on the battlefield, his wife standing beside him, and he was defeated. He should have crushed the head of serpent, but, with his offspring in the balance, he succumbed. Our representative, our warrior, our representative, refused to silence the lying tongue of the slithering snake, and sought his own glory instead of God’s. He took the fruit with his wife and ate.

Poisoned at the Root

As the champion of the human race, as the official representative of the covenant with our Creator, when Adam sided with God’s enemy, he fell, and his children inherited both his corruption and his guilt. In Adam, we are born unable to delightfully obey God, unable to live in love, unable to do good or escape his guilt. All sons and daughters of Adam are by nature children of wrath, sons of disobedience, and willing slaves of the one to whom our father fell: Satan (Ephesians 2:1–3).

In our father Adam, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10–12). Our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9). We are born in sin (Psalm 51:5).

Our guilt does not just lie in our lusts, our pride, our lying tongues, our exchanging of God’s glory, but in Adam’s. Our champion bent the knee without drawing enemy blood, and because of that first delicious bite, we his children still taste the curse. We have ourselves, in our own unregenerate lives, affirmed our allegiances with the devil hour by hour and in countless ways. The tree of our race is poisoned at the root.

Tale of Two Battles

This brings us to him — not fairy-godmother, political activist, or housemaid Jesus — but Jesus Christ, the second Adam. The first Adam was a setup, a foil for the Champion who was to come and fight the same foes that took away Adam’s head (Romans 5:14).

Where sin came into the world through one man (Romans 5:12), forgiveness comes through another (Colossians 1:14). Adam’s trespass brought death to all who are his (Romans 5:15); Jesus’s victory brings eternal life to all who are his (Romans 5:17). Where Adam brought his children into condemnation and corruption, and offered them as slaves to Satan and sin, the second Adam liberates his brothers for his Father and brings them his full favor and divine help in holiness (Romans 5:16).

In a battle for the garden, the world was cursed. In a battle that raged in Gethsemane, and finished outside of the walls of Jerusalem, the redeemed of all time became blessed. Our first champion was vanquished by the world, the flesh, and the devil; our true Champion vanquished the world, the flesh, the devil — and death for his people. In Adam, we all were made slaves and enemies of God; in Christ, we are made sons and daughters of God, and in the ages to comes, kings and queens.

When we forget our family tree — when we forget we are born in sin, both guilty and corrupt in Adam, followers of the devil — we heal the wounds of each other lightly. We hand out caricatures of Christ. Our sense of need for Jesus fluctuates based on performance, and we are tempted, intellectually or functionally, with the horrible notion that we can earn God’s full acceptance by our good works. But this well is too deep; our sin, too ancient; our slavery, too final. We needed another warrior, another Adam: Jesus Christ who died and rose and reigns, and who soon will return again.

Greg Morse is a staff writer for desiringGod.org and graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Abigail, live in St. Paul with their daughter.

Daily Light – June 10, 2020

How Did Evil Begin?

PONDERING THE MYSTERY OF SATAN’S FALL

Article by John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org (italicized and/or gold font added by d hester to provide additional emphasis)

Why is there a Satan? Why does a being exist whose name means accuser — a “devil,” which means slanderer, a “deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9), a “ruler of this world” (John 12:3114:3016:11), a “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NKJV), a “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), a “Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (Matthew 12:24)? Where does he come from? How did it come about that he ever sinned?

The letters of Jude and 2 Peter give us clues. Jude 6 says, “The angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.” And 2 Peter 2:4 says, “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment.”

It appears, then, that some of God’s holy angels (we may assume, in principle, that Satan is included, whether these verses refer to his original rebellion or a later one) “sinned,” or as Jude says, “did not stay within their own position of authority.” In other words, the sin was a kind of insurrection, a desire for more power and more authority than they were appointed by God to have.

So Satan and the other fallen angels originate as created holy angels who rebel against God, reject him as their all-satisfying King, and set out on a course of self-exaltation and presumed self-determination. They do not want to be subordinate. They do not want to be sent by God to serve others (Hebrews 1:14). They want to have final authority over themselves. And they want to exalt themselves above God.

Most Popular Answer

But these thoughts about the origin of Satan do not answer the question we began with: Why is there a Satan? They simply push the question back to the very beginning. Why did any holy angel sin? Here is the most popular answer of our modern era:

All of God’s creatures were created “free moral agents.” If God had made them otherwise they would have been mere machines with no will of their own. . . . To be a “free moral agent” implies that one has the power of “choice.” . . . As long as Satan chose the “Will of God” there was no “Evil” in the Universe, but the moment he chose to follow his own Will, then he fell, and by persuading others to follow him he introduced “Evil” into the Universe. (Clarence Larkin, The Spirit World, 12–14)

There are at least two problems with this presumed answer: (1) it does not answer the question and (2) it assumes that God cannot exert sufficient influence on a morally responsible being so as to keep that being safe in the worship of God — to keep him from sinning.

‘Free Will’ Philosophy

First, it does not answer the question, Why did any holy angel sin? To say that a perfect angel sinned because he had the power to do so is no answer. Why would a perfectly holy angel in God’s infinitely beautiful presence suddenly be inclined to hate God? “Free will” — that is, ultimate self-determination — is not an answer. It explains nothing.

“Free will” is a name put on a mystery. But it is not the biblical name. Because the Bible never teaches that there is such a thing as ultimate human, or ultimate demonic, self-determination. That is a philosophical notion forced onto the Bible, not taught by the Bible. In fact, that philosophical notion was one of Satan’s first designs for humanity — to persuade Adam and Eve that they could be ultimately self-determining, and that this would be good for them (Genesis 3:4–5). Both of those ideas were false. They could not become ultimately self-determining, and it was deadly for them to try. The human race has been ruined by these notions ever since.

Slandering God’s Saving Power

Second, Larkin’s appeal to angelic self-determination assumes that God cannot exert sufficient influence on a morally responsible being so as to keep that being safe in the worship of God forever. Larkin’s deadly mistake is to assume that if God exerted such influence, the angels “would have been mere machines with no will of their own.”

This too is a philosophical assumption forced on the Bible, not taught by the Bible. In fact, the Bible pervasively teaches the opposite — that God can and does exert sufficient influence on morally responsible beings (his children!) to keep them safe in the worship of God forever.

When the Bible says, for example, that God will “cause [us] to walk in [his] statutes” (Ezekiel 36:27), and that he is “working in us that which is pleasing in his sight” (Hebrews 13:21), and that he “works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13), and that the work he began in us he “will bring . . . to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6), and that he “will sustain [us] to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8), and that “those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30) — when God says all this, he means for us to stop talking nonsense about such glorious influence turning us into machines. It doesn’t. It is life-giving grace. It is effective. It keeps us safe forever. And to call it machine-making is slanderous.

If God did not exert sovereign influence over our wayward hearts, we would all fall away.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

God’s “sealing” (Ephesians 1:13) — his decisive, keeping influence — does not turn us into machines. It keeps us safe in the worship of God forever. No one who is justified will fail to be glorified (Romans 8:30). Heaven will never see an insurrection among the saints. Not because we are better than the angels, but because the blood of Jesus secured the new covenant for God’s elect, where God says, “I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me” (Jeremiah 32:40). He bought this pledge for his children by his blood. They will not commit treason. Let us praise such sovereign, merciful, keeping influence. God save us from slandering his saving power.

It is false when Larkin assumes that God could not have kept his holy angels from sinning — safe in the worship of God. It is false to assume that such sovereign influence would make angels, or humans, into robots. It doesn’t.

Redemption’s Stage

What then is the answer to the question, Why did any holy angel sin?

The answer is that God had a wise and gracious purpose. That is why it happened. Some of God’s holy angels sinned because their fall would set in motion a history of redemption that would fulfill the infinitely wise purposes of God in creation. All the “unsearchable . . . judgments” and all the “inscrutable . . . ways” of God flow from the depths of his wisdom (Romans 11:33). “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all” (Psalm 104:24). He is “the only wise God” (Romans 16:27). All that happens from eternity to eternity happens according to the wisdom of the one “who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).

And we know it was a gracious purpose because God’s plan before the creation of the world was to show grace to unworthy sinners. Sin came into being as part of a plan to show grace to sinners. “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9). The plan before creation was that Christ would be the Lamb slain for sinners — sinners whose names were “written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8). Christ slain for sinners was the plan before any human sinned.

Two Unassailable Truths

But notice what question I am not answering here. I am not answering the question, How did the first sin happen in the heart of a holy angel? The why question I have answered by saying the first sin happened as part of God’s wisdom and purposes and planning. But that assumes God was able to see to it that the first sin happened without himself being a sinner, and without making the first sinning angel into a machine. I do not know the answer to the question of how God did this.

This, to me, is one of the great mysteries of biblical teaching that I cannot explain — how God governs the will of sinful beings, yet, in doing so, does not sin, and does not take away their responsibility. I see that it is true, because the Bible teaches it, but how God does this remains a mystery.

Recall that above I said that “free will” — ultimate self-determination — is the name some people put on this mystery. Then I added that this is not the biblical name. Because the Bible never teaches that there is such a thing as ultimate self-determination, except in God. The Bible doesn’t give the mystery a name. Rather it teaches two truths again and again: God governs the hearts and minds of all sinful beings without himself sinning, and they are truly and justly accountable for all their sins.

Sovereign over Satan

Since we are not told explicitly how things transpired in the fall of Satan, it is illuminating to study how God relates to Satan’s will now. Is God helpless when a satanic will chooses to do evil? Can God restrain that will? Or would that only turn the will into a machine? The biblical answer is that God has the right and power to restrain Satan anytime he pleases. Consider these examples.

1. Though Satan is called “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31), Daniel 4:17 says, “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” Satan’s world rule is subordinate to God’s.

2. Though unclean spirits are everywhere doing deceptive and murderous things, Jesus Christ has all authority over them. “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (Mark 1:27).

3. Satan is a roaring lion, prowling and seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Peter explains that the jaws of this lion are, in fact, the sufferings of persecution: “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9). But this suffering, Peter says, does not happen apart from God’s sovereign will: “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will” (1 Peter 3:17).

4. Satan is a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). But God decides, finally, who lives and who dies and when: “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15).

5. When Satan aims to destroy Job and prove that God is not his treasure, he must get permission from God before he attacks his possessions (Job 1:12) or his body (Job 2:6).

6. Satan is the great tempter. He wants us to sin. Luke tells us that Satan was behind Peter’s three denials. “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31). But Jesus is sovereign over this tempter’s work, and its outcome. He says to Peter, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Not “if you turn,” but “when you turn.” Christ rules over all of Satan’s designs. Satan aims to fail Peter. Jesus aims to fit him for leadership.

7. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that Satan “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers.” But two verses later, God removes that blindness. “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

So now back to the question about the origin of Satan’s sinfulness. Is God helpless before the will of his own angels? Is there a power outside himself that limits his rule over their choices and plans? My conclusion is that, from cover to cover, the Bible presents God as governing Satan and his demons. He has the right and power to restrain them any time he pleases.

Guarding the Mystery

The sum of the matter, then, about where a sinful Satan came from is this: He was a holy angel who mysteriously came to prefer self-exaltation over God-exaltation. He fell into the delusion that ultimate self-determination was possible for a finite creature, and that it was preferable to submitting to God. This fall was part of God’s all-wise plan. It did not take him off guard. How God saw to it that this part of his plan came to pass, without himself sinning and without turning Satan into a machine, I do not know.

Trying to explain this mystery with so-called “free will” — that is, ultimate self-determination — is unbiblical and vacuous. It is unbiblical because the idea that any of God’s creatures has ultimate self-determination is not taught anywhere in the Bible. And it is vacuous because it does not explain anything. Simply asserting that a holy angel had the “power of choice” offers no explanation of why a perfectly holy being in God’s infinitely beautiful presence would suddenly be inclined to hate God.

We should probably take our cue from the reticence of the Bible to speak about Satan’s origin. He is there in the first pages of the Bible with no explanation. The mystery of his first sin remains just that. We surround it and guard it with biblical truth, lest unbiblical and vacuous explanations spread like a smog over the Scriptures and obscure the glory of God’s saving purposes.

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.