I recently heard someone differentiate between bravery and courage, saying that bravery is the ability to take on difficult situations without fear, while courage is taking on difficult situations even when you’re afraid. When I think of courage, I am reminded of Gideon.
I relate to Gideon; he lives life afraid. We find him “beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites” (Judges 6:11). When the angel of the Lord comes to him, Gideon immediately expresses his doubts about God’s faithfulness to the Israelites (Judges 6:13). When Gideon realizes who is speaking to him, he insists that as the least member of his undistinguished clan (Judges 6:15), he can’t be given an assignment.
Gideon isn’t confident to do anything himself. He’s fine complaining about how bad things are, but when he is asked to do something to improve the situation, Gideon backs away. It’s easier to complain than to act.
When God makes it clear that he himself is calling Gideon, Gideon wants a sign — just to be sure (Judges 6:17). After he receives the sign, Gideon obeys God and cuts down the altar to Baal. But rather than doing it out openly by day, Gideon is afraid of the townspeople and even his family, so he destroys it by night (Judges 6:27). Later, when the irate townspeople come for him, Gideon lets his father defend him. Gideon was not brave.
God Knows We Are Dust
It’s easy to criticize Gideon for his doubts, but I’ve doubted as well. I have seen God work in my life, enabling me to do things that I would have thought impossible. But then I still doubt that I can do the next thing. I look at myself and my resources, and I feel inadequate all over again, convinced I can’t accomplish what’s before me. I know that for me, further physical weakness and loss are constants. When I consider the future, I often cry out, “Lord, I can’t do this. I’m not as strong as you think I am.”
“The Lord isn’t looking for your strength, or bravery, or natural gifts; he wants your reliance on him.”
The Lord wants to save Israel by Gideon’s hand, but Gideon wants proof. Twice. He first wants the fleece to be wet on the dry ground, and then wants to see dry fleece on the wet ground, just to be extra sure. From our perspective, Gideon might seem overly skeptical. Why does he keep asking for proof? But then I think about all the times I keep asking for assurance from God. When I feel inadequate to face something, I ask for signs, encouragement from friends, verses that apply to my situation. God understands my frailty; he deals with my weaknesses just like he did Gideon’s — without scorn or chastisement. The Lord remembers that I am dust.
After giving Gideon all the signs he requested, God prepares him to lead the Israelites into battle against the Midianites. Twenty-two thousand people showed up for battle, which the Lord declared was too many (Judges 7:2–3). With that army, the Israelites could take credit for the victory themselves. The Lord tells Gideon to let the fearful warriors go home and choose for battle only those who lap the water instead of kneeling to drink, resulting in an army of just three hundred. The victory would not be credited to the strength of the Israelites; God’s power alone would deliver his people.
What God Sees in You
When Gideon is left with three hundred men, he’s scared. Though he doesn’t voice his fear, God knows his heart and reassures him by offering, “If you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp . . . and hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened” (Judges 7:10–11). One would think that if God unequivocally told you what to do, that you’d trust him without proof. But not Gideon. Of course he goes immediately to the camp and must hear for himself why victory is assured. Then finally Gideon believes and moves forward (Judges 7:15).
Throughout this encounter, Gideon doubts, is afraid, and feels inadequate and weak. He only acts when he has proof that he’ll succeed. He wants to trust God, but he keeps doubting himself. Yet, from the beginning, God sees him as a “mighty man of valor” (Judges 6:12), which seems to contradict Gideon’s insecurities and doubts. God sees what we are in him, not in ourselves.
So, if you feel inadequate, weak, or afraid today, take heart. God chooses the foolish “to shame the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27). Some of the greatest undertakings in the Bible were accomplished by weak people who felt they didn’t measure up to their calling.
‘Lord, Choose Someone Else’
Moses parted the Red Sea and delivered the Israelites from their Egyptian pursuers, but when God first called Moses, he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else” (Exodus 4:13). This was immediately after God had assured Moses, “I will . . . teach you what you shall speak” (Exodus 4:12). When God called the prophet Jeremiah, his first response was, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth” (Jeremiah 1:6).
“God sees what we are in him, not in ourselves.”
Paul wanted God to remove this thorn in the flesh, but the Lord reminded him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).
All He Requires
Today, if the Lord is calling you to a task for which you feel inadequate, remember that the Lord isn’t looking for your strength, or bravery, or natural gifts; he wants your reliance on him. His power is made perfect in our weakness. We know that God saw Gideon as mighty. In the celebrated Hebrews “Hall of Faith,” we are reminded that Gideon conquered kingdoms and the Lord made him strong out of weakness (Hebrews 11:32–34).
We too will be made strong out of weakness when we put our trust in the Lord. As the hymn “Come Ye Sinners” beautifully reminds us, “All the fitness he requires is to feel your need of him.”
“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” — Ruth 1:16-17
Even in the face of our sin, Jesus doesn’t blink. Nothing surprises him. Nothing fazes him. Not even the prospect of being loved back imperfectly or infrequently will send him packing. Our well-meaning friends may decide the prospect of our pain and junk spilling into their lives isn’t worth it. They see our habits and our baggage and our self-interested patterns and they wish us well, but sadly, like Orpah, choose another path. But not our friend Jesus! He sets his face toward the cross, scorning its shame, and makes his covenant with us to the bitter end.
Jesus, like Ruth, makes his commitment to the ones he loves for better or worse. But unlike Ruth, he knows just how bad the “worse” is going to be. Still he stays.
Ruth stays too, and things do not look great for her in the immediate wake of her commitment. She and her bitter mother-in-law make the journey to Bethlehem. It is hard to see the wisdom in Ruth’s decision. They are poor. They are widows. She is a Moabite. Her mother-in-law is really kind of a downer. I wonder if Ruth ever had second thoughts.
But she went. Why? Because her vow had been made. It had been made out of love for God and love for Naomi. Ruth was willing to venture into the unknown because her love was greater than her fear.
I think of Jesus in that garden mere minutes before his betrayal and arrest, mere hours before his torture and crucifixion. The agony of the cross is already gripping his flesh. In his prayers, he is sweating blood. In the near distance, his friends nap. He is doing this for them?
Yes, and for us. Jesus even prayed for you in that garden. Did you know that? John 17:20says he prayed for all who will believe because of the apostles’ message in the future. “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (verse 23).
Christ’s vow has been made. It has been made out of love for the Father and love for you. Jesus was willing to venture even to death on a cross because his love was greater than his fear. And because his love is greater than your sin.
A meditation from David Niednagel, Pastor/Teacher. (David uses the S.O.A.P. method in his morning devotional time, study, observe, apply, pray)
Proverbs 15:13 A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit. NIV
When we are happy we have a smile on our face, and when we are broken hearted, we are, by definition, crushed/down. So, is this proverb here just to state the obvious? I think there is more. What if we aren’t happy? Can we do anything about it? Like go to a party or buy something new? It may help temporarily but I don’t think that is the point.
Ps 9:1-2 says “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. 2 I will be glad and rejoice in you;I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.” Even if our circumstances are not good, and we are sad, we can remember the goodness of God in the past and consciously thank and praise Him. Even if we cant think of good things He has done for us, we can think about what He has done for others (See Ps 77. Yes, read it!) And if we are really down, read Ps 78 and it will bring joy to our heart.
And if we are experiencing heartache, tell the Lord! Pour out your grief and tears. He was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and familiar with grief. (Isa 53). He tells us not to be anxious about anything, to to pray about everything, with thanksgiving, and the peace of God will surpass anything we can imagine. (Phil 4:5-8) He invites us to “cast our cares on Him because He cares for us” (1Pet 5:7)
Lord, thank You that we are not powerless to cope with circumstances. You told us “in this world we will have trouble, but we can be or good cheer, we can take heart, because You have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Even if circumstances never change, even if we get killed, You have overcome death and You will raise us to be with You forever! And Lord, help me have a shepherd’s heart that weeps with those who weep, yet also connects them with Your promises and Your presence and Your peace. I praise You that You are not bound by time or circumstances, and You can give us victory in our times and circumstances. Amen
Article by Greg Morse, Staff Writer, desiringGod.org
Rumor has it that when one aging pastor and renowned
theologian was asked what was the highest theological peak he had reached in
his years of study and preaching, he answered simply: Jesus loves me this
I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Initially, I smiled at the preacher’s cleverness. Later,
however, I wondered over the preacher’s answer. Something about it stuck with
After a life of exploring mountain ranges men like me have
never seen, savoring Christ in ways I have not, speaking of nuances in theology
I do not yet understand — after all his decades of travel in the Christian life
— this preacher imparted no higher souvenir than can be found on the lips of
children. With all his twists and turns, ups and downs, peaks and valleys, he
had not escaped the nursery of God’s gospel love. This love stood as crib walls
for the childlike heart.
Would I have answered similarly?
God Delights in Me?
When we hear that God loves us, we can imagine strange
things. We call it an ocean; we sing songs about it; but too often we float at
its surface preferring the more practical, more current, more insightful. A
world remains unexplored. But God desires to give full lyric to our nursery
song. He says to his people through Isaiah,
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and
a royal diadem in the hand of your God. . . . You shall be called My Delight Is
in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land
shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons
marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God
rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:3–5)
“To smile more before God, we must rediscover the weight of
his smile, his unveiled happiness in his people.”
God likes you. He delights in you. He smiles at
you — and not because he sees someone smarter, taller, better looking, or
holier standing just behind you. He looks each redeemed child in the eye and
tells him of his love for him in his Son. This is who our God is towards us.
Not because of our worth, but because of Christ’s.
Your inheritance in Christ shatters all of earth’s piggy
banks: God’s smile. He delights to see you, he rejoices to have you, as every
smiling groom at the end of the aisle foretells. The God who spoke the cosmos
into existence sings over you:
The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will
save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he
will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
Have you been quieted by his love of late? Have you simply
sat singing to yourself: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells
me so? Have you submerged beneath the surface to discover the heart of God
towards his bride? The pastor found God’s affection for him to be a bottomless
sea to explore. His maturity did not graduate to other seas; it went scuba
He Wants You Where He Is
Some of us think about God’s love in so many clichés and
platitudes that we come to think of it as the kiddie pool of the Christian
faith. It gives us no pause, therefore, to leave the lyric behind us to higher,
weightier things. We forget to marvel as C.S. Lewis does in his famous sermon
“The Weight of Glory”:
To please God . . . to be a real ingredient in the divine
happiness . . . to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an
artist delights in his work or a father in a son — it seems impossible, a
weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.
How different we would pray, how different we would
evangelize, how different we would worship and explore his word, if we believed
that the God whom we sought actually wanted us to draw near. If we worshiped
the God of Scripture who summons us under his wings (Luke 13:34).
The pastor knew that our Father does not roll his eyes as he
gives the kingdom to his children. Instead, he says, “Fear not, little flock,
for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
From such a heart he anticipated the holy commendation at the end of his race:
“Well done, good and faithful servant. . . . Enter into the joy of your master”
25:23). If we too only realized that Jesus died to keep us from hell and from
some remote corner of heaven — that he died to bring us to himself: “I will
come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3).
He wants us near because he delights in his people. Do we
fellowship with this happy God, a God in whom enough joy cascades to submerge
his people for an eternity?
A New Smile Every Morning
John Piper has given his life to proclaiming, God is
most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. And how shall we
be satisfied in him? Go deeper in his satisfaction of you in Christ. Stare,
without excuse or extensive qualification, at how he desires us; how truly
happy he is in his redeemed people. No one forced him to adopt us.
“How different we would pray, if we believed that the God
whom we sought actually wanted us to draw near.”
Perhaps many of us are not happier in our Christian lives
because we assume God is as disappointed in us as we can tend to be in
ourselves. Children cannot long delight in a father that stares indifferently
at them — and we have not outgrown this. Children love to be delighted in. They
love to cry, “Daddy, watch me!” and see his smile when they complete the
somersault. Although we can still displease him with our sin, grieving the
Spirit he placed within us, the Father’s smile replaces his displeasure as the
sun replaces the moon each morning. His laughter, as with his mercy, is new
To smile more before God, we must rediscover the weight of
his smile, his unveiled happiness in his people that bids us be as merry as we
humanly can be — in him. In this is joy: not that we have delighted in God, but
that he first chose to delight in us. We will never outlaugh our heavenly
Father. His smile, his happiness, not ours, founds the universe. We who desire
for God to get the glory due his name will learn to dwell on this regularly.
When we do, perhaps a few more of us might near the end of the world’s road and
say behind us with a smile, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells
(My pastor/friend David provided this post, Days of Praise, by Institute of Creation Research.)
Only Christ Was Sinless
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)
Here John is writing to Christians, and his epistle is full of exhortations to the Christian to purge sin from his life, with grave warnings to any who do not. Yet, he also says that for a Christian to claim sinless perfection is self-deception. “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10).
Only by Jesus Christ Himself could such claims be truly made. The greatest theologian, Paul, said concerning Christ that He “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). His closest friends, Peter and John, said that He “did no sin” (1 Peter 2:22) and that in Him is no sin (1 John 3:5). His betrayer, Judas, said, “I have betrayed the innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4); His condemning judge, Pilate, said, “I find in him no fault at all” (John 18:38); and His executioner said, “This was a righteous man” (Luke 23:47). Christ Himself claimed human perfection: “For I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29).
Jesus Christ alone was sinlessly perfect in His human life, and it was because of this that He could die for our sins. It is arrogant for one of us to claim a state of perfection, thus leading such a person into repeated assertions of boasting and self-justification, trying to explain why apparently sinful behavior is not really sinful. Even Paul himself acknowledged: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect” (Philippians 3:12).
But between these two key verses in John’s epistle, he gives us the moment-by-moment remedy for sin in a godly believer’s life: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). HMM
Daily Meditation from David Niednagel: Pastor and Teacher. David uses the S.O.A.P. method for his daily morning devotional time. (Study, Observe, Apply, Pray).
Prov 14:30 A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. NIV
We all prefer life and health over sickness and misery. This proverb describes a heart at peace – not the common word for peace (Shalom) but a word with the primary meaning of something that has been healed. It also describes a heart that is not healed,- a heart that wants more, that does not have peace, in fact it brings disease to our very core – a rottenness to our bones. Pain, weakness, stumbling, brokenness – which no one wants.
The proverb says if we have strong desires for “stuff” we may or may not get the stuff, but we will get rottenness – which we don’t want. If we are past the belief that stuff/things will make us happy, and our heart is healed of those desires, we will have life!
Of course we need some things, but if we are insecure, we think the more we have the more we will be admired and valued in our culture. That is not true. Other people may want our stuff, but they will not necessarily love or respect us, unless we have a good heart. We can recognize some people who brag about their wealth (like president Trump, entertainers, athletes) and see the truth of this proverb and the bankruptcy of their lives. But those of us who have far less money can also have the same disease in us. God made us to love people and use things, but we often love things and use people to get those things.
Lord, I can so easily want more! Something newer. Something cool. Help me desire You more and have more contentment about things. I know the answer to envy is generosity, so help me have a heart that wants to bless others more than consume stuff. Help me live life to the fullest, not by getting, but by having the mind of Christ. Amen
Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org
Not one word has failed. Joshua, as leader of God’s people, had said this not once, but twice after God brought them safely into the land he promised (Joshua 21:45; 23:14).
Several hundred years later, at the height of the earthly kingdom, in his benediction to the dedication of the temple, Solomon echoed Joshua’s declaration: “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant” (1 Kings 8:56).
Not one of God’s words had failed. It was an important reminder for the first readers of the book of Kings, as they found themselves at rock bottom (all too soon after Solomon’s reign). Having fallen from those heights to the depths of exile, God’s people were tempted to wonder, Have God’s plan and power failed?
Again and again, 1 and 2 Kings seeks to restore and strengthen the faith of God’s languishing people, not with platitudes and generalities, but with specific details and concrete facts. God’s people need to be confronted with the stark realities of what God had said through his prophets and how, without fail, he acted to fulfill his word.
Specificity Feeds Faith
Two and a half millennia later, such specificity still feeds faith. Generalities about God and his trustworthiness draw on a depleting store, while concrete details, textures, and hues replenish the supply. Which is why God gave us such a big book, a book big enough to feed our faith for a whole life long. God means for his church to move about and feed from the whole pasture, not cluster in one corner of the field. He means for us not simply to remind ourselves that God is good and keeps his word, but to recall specific expressions of his goodness and particular instances in which he spoke and it came to pass, seemingly against all odds.
Some of God’s promises come to pass quickly, even overnight. Others stretch over long periods of time, acting as sinews holding together the history of his covenant people over centuries. Both long-term and short-term prophecies serve to build and renew the confidence of his people. In a previous article, I rehearsed a few of the more arresting short-term fulfillments, but here let’s consider some of the more significant long-term examples of God’s faithfulness to his word. Marvel with me at the power and patience of God, and let the specific details fill the tank of your confidence in him to accomplish, in his perfect timing, all that he promises.
As much as we might suspect differently, God never goes back on his word. As he said to Jeremiah, “I am watching over my word to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:12), even when he watches for hundreds of years. Remembering his long-term care and faithfulness may not, on its own, relieve our pain today in waiting, but through it God does provide strength to endure while we wait.
Two Sons Die the Same Day
In 1 Kings 2:27, shortly after Solomon’s coronation, while the new king is establishing his reign, we learn that “Solomon expelled Abiathar from being priest to the Lord, thus fulfilling the word of the Lord that he had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh.” This was no day-old prophecy. It was a century old.
The promise went back generations to 1 Samuel 2:27–36, before the call of Samuel, who, in his old age, anointed David as king after Saul. Eli, serving as priest and judge in Israel for forty years, had kept his own nose clean but looked the other way on the wickedness of his sons, Hophni and Phinehas. A nameless “man of God” came forward to pronounce God’s judgment on Eli’s house because of his sons:
All the descendants of your house shall die by the sword of men. And this that shall come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both of them shall die on the same day. And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. (1 Samuel 2:33–35)
The immediate word came to pass in 1 Samuel 4:11. The Philistines slaughtered thirty thousand Israelite foot soldiers, captured the ark of the covenant, and killed Eli’s sons. But then God patiently waited, until the reign of Solomon, to finally unseat the house of Eli, one hundred years later. God’s word did not fail.
Jericho Seven Centuries Later
At the end of 1 Kings 16 comes the first introduction and summary of the 22-year reign of Ahab, a wicked king in Israel. In the writer’s brief summary, he mentions something seemingly incidental that transpired in that span:
In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. He laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun. (1 Kings 16:34)
It’s a stunning lightning strike of prophetic fulfillment. Seven hundred years have passed since Joshua said, “Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho. At the cost of his firstborn shall he lay its foundation, and at the cost of his youngest son shall he set up its gates” (Joshua 6:26).
Now the Kings narrative marks for us, as a simple parenthesis in Ahab’s reign, how God is watching over his word to perform it. What he said through Joshua, he meant. The passing of seven centuries did not negate one syllable of his word.
He Knew the King by Name
For those who know well the story of Israel’s tragic fall, over five centuries, into exile, we know a king named Josiah comes near the end of that tragedy (2 Kings 22–23). So, it’s surprising to hear his name foretold centuries before (1 Kings 13:2). The kingdom is newly divided between Solomon’s son (Rehoboam) and Solomon’s former servant (Jeroboam), and another nameless prophet arises to tell the latter, addressing the altar of his idolatry,
Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you. (1 Kings 13:2)
What, of course, is remarkable is that the prophet gives the specific name of a coming king, in David’s line — a king who will not even be born for almost three hundred years. Then an immediate sign is fulfilled (1 Kings 13:3–5), granting assurance that God will most certainly fulfill his long-term promise.
Sure enough, almost three hundred years later, a young ruler arises who, against the grain, “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2). His name: Josiah. Not only does a king ascend by that specific name, but he also fulfills the particular prediction:
The altar at Bethel, the high place erected by Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, that altar with the high place [Josiah] pulled down and burned, reducing it to dust. He also burned the Asherah. And as Josiah turned, he saw the tombs there on the mount. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar and defiled it, according to the word of the Lord that the man of God proclaimed, who had predicted these things. (2 Kings 23:15–16)
The Thousand-Year Judgment
Finally, and perhaps most dramatically, is the exile itself. The very Trauma that had so unsettled the collective faith of God’s people, and threatened to destroy them as a nation, and called God’s word into question among the faithless, was in fact precisely what God himself had foretold by his prophets. Here at the end of the Kings narrative, during the reign of Josiah’s son Jehoiakim, we discover where the story has been driving all along:
In his days, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him. And the Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldeans and bands of the Syrians and bands of the Moabites and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servants the prophets. (2 Kings 24:1–2)
Now it’s no mention of a singular prophecy, but the sweeping “by his servants the prophets.” This is a thousand-year, multi-prophet project finally coming to its horrible fulfillment. One of those prophets had been Isaiah, who had said to good King Hezekiah, “Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord” (2 Kings 20:17). Isaiah even pinpointed the specific nation more than a hundred years in advance.
God also spoke “by his servants the prophets” to King Hezekiah’s wicked son Manasseh:
Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria, and the plumb line of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day. (2 Kings 21:12–15)
Yet even at this point, God wasn’t done issuing warnings. He spoke to Josiah as well about the coming exile: “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there” (2 Kings 23:27). All along, the ministry of the prophets had been leading here, to exile. God’s people, on the whole, had disobeyed him “since the day their fathers came out of Egypt” (2 Kings 21:15). God sent his prophets, one after another, generation after generation, to awaken his people to repentance and warn of exile to come. But, as a whole, they would not repent.
In fact, God himself had said even through the greatest, most conspicuous prophet, Moses, “They shall go into captivity” (Deuteronomy 28:41), as well as, “You shall be plucked off the land” (Deuteronomy 28:63). And then he said to Moses (to be recorded as a testament against the people),
Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. (Deuteronomy 31:16–17)
For those who remembered these prominent words, exile was not a challenge to God’s word, but a confirmation of his plan and power. Nearly 900 years before Babylon ransacked and destroyed Jerusalem, God had said it would happen. And as the time drew near during the reigns of Hezekiah, Manasseh, and Josiah, he confirmed it again and again. A chorus of prophetic voices, spanning almost a millennium, had foretold that God would do the humanly unthinkable. And he did.
He Will Keep His Word
Kings records this important word from God through Isaiah: “Have you not heard that I determined it long ago? I planned from days of old what now I bring to pass” (2 Kings 19:25). Not only does God have the power to make the utterly unthinkable happen in 24-hour cycles; he also has the patience to watch attentively over his words, and bring them to pass — every single one — in his perfect timing, whether it spans days and weeks, or generations and millennia.
To the Christian, even more impressive than century-spanning prophecies about Jericho, Josiah, and the exile are the long-range promises fulfilled in Jesus. More than four centuries before he came, Malachi told of a messenger who would prepare the way for God himself (Malachi 3:1). Seven centuries prior, Isaiah wrote of “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), who would be “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).
Even the Kings narrative ends in hope, that God is keeping, and will keep, his promise to David, as the Davidic heir comes into unexpected favor in Babylon (2 Kings 25:27–30). God promised that he would not let the lamp of David go out (2 Kings 8:19), and God always keeps his word.
Every Word Comes True
Now, on this side of Christ’s coming, we take heart knowing that God’s words to us will not fail. Not that they all have come to pass. Not that we don’t have to wait. In this age, we wait for healing, for restoration, for peace, for fullness of joy.
Filled with fresh faith from feeding in Scripture on the details of how God has fulfilled his word in the past, we look with confidence to the day when our world finally rings with this great announcement:
Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:3–4)
God never goes back on his word. Not one of his promises will fail. Some will come true even in this life, and all of them in the age to come.
We all know that not everyone who claims to be a born-again Christian is a genuine follower of Christ. A 2017 study by LifeWay Research discovered that 24% of Americans profess to be evangelical. A higher percent claim to be born again. But when pressed, only about 15% of Americans can affirm the most basic evangelical beliefs.
This is not a new problem. Anyone who has been a Christian for long knows someone who professes Christianity but fails to believe what Christians should believe, or believes right doctrine but exhibits little or no fruit. A gap always exists between the number of people who profess to be born again and those who possess the reality. This is true of every congregation. That is one reason why the constant preaching of the gospel matters. The more the gospel is preached, the smaller that gap becomes.
So, acknowledging that the gap exists, how can we know that someone who professes new birth actually possesses it? Those legitimately born again are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (John 3:5). What does it mean to have the Holy Spirit living within us? Fundamentally, it means that the Holy Spirit is communicating a conviction about Christ’s moral beauty to the eyes and ears of our hearts. This communication has four important distinctives.
First, the medium of God’s communication is a conviction of faith.
Second, the place where it occurs is the heart.
Third, the knowledge communicated is the moral beauty of Christ — a growing grasp of his moral and spiritual goodness.
Fourth, the effect is changed behavior motivated by a growing desire to be holy as God is holy.
Have You Experienced Real Conviction?
First, the medium of communion with God is a growing conviction of faith. Remember, “Faith is . . . the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). True faith empowers us to increasingly see truth through God’s eyes — from a divine perspective. We “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). New birth equips us to increasingly taste spiritual truth. The primary way we taste is through conviction.
For example, I recently read Paul’s description of man’s sinfulness in Romans 3:9–20. As I read “their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive,” God opened my heart to see that this was often me. Then the thought that God had loved me, even in this condition, overwhelmed me. The result was a new conviction about the depth of God’s love and mercy. My soul soared in gratitude, and I felt a heightened desire to serve and live for God.
This is what takes place when the Holy Spirit speaks to us. We see spiritual truth with God’s eyes, and conviction is always a byproduct.
Many reading these words have experienced similar encounters with God. It can take place while reading Scripture, while listening to a sermon, while busy jogging, driving, or vacuuming the living room. To the degree that this communication happens, everything changes.
Has Something Happened in Your Heart?
Second, the location of this interaction with God is the heart, not simply the mind. In the work of sanctification, God never bypasses the mind. The intellect is crucial. Although the conviction that points to new birth passes through the mind, however, it occurs in the heart. “With the heart one believes and is justified” (Romans 10:10). “Faith is the candlestick,” noted Charles Spurgeon, “which holds the candle by which the chamber of the heart is enlightened.”
We use the expression “from the heart” to describe something done with enthusiasm and joy — something done because we want to. By contrast, we say “my heart wasn’t in it” to describe behavior done strictly from a sense of duty. Although some duty always characterizes Christianity, fundamentally it is a heart religion.
Before conversion, our hearts might be into material wealth, popularity, entertainment, or career success. After conversion, we are increasingly into God himself (not just his gifts). Increasingly, he becomes our heart’s delight. John Bunyan described the Holy Spirit’s heart conviction as God branding our hearts with a hot iron.
Is Christ More and More Beautiful?
Third, the subject of this communication is ultimately the moral beauty and goodness of Christ. I am not talking about eschatology or the best form of church government. These subjects matter, but you can have convictions about them and not be born again. But you cannot have a conviction about the moral beauty, the utter glory and trustworthiness of Christ, without the inward presence of the Holy Spirit.
That is why Paul described new birth as the shining forth of “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” in our hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6). It is a growing heart conviction that God is good, that he can be trusted, that I can spend my life in his service and will not be disappointed. This conviction about God’s goodness frees me to take the risks that always accompany obedience. It is a down payment on our eternal inheritance (Ephesians 1:13–14).
The more we gaze at the light of Christ, the brighter it gets. For example, at conversion my knowledge of God’s glory was basic. I trusted that God forgave my sin and loved me. Over the years, however, God has increasingly turned that light up. It now includes the excellence of his justice, the depth of his righteousness, and the majesty of his sovereignty. With each communication, the capacity to delight in his goodness has grown, and joyful obedience has increasingly followed.
Has Believing in Christ Changed You?
Fourth, this communication has one consistent effect: it motivates us to be like Christ in holiness and righteousness. New birth and spiritual fruit cannot be separated.
Our hearts cannot feel a growing conviction about “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” and not long to imitate what we see. This is what Paul meant when he also wrote, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). We will always imitate the object of our worship. That is why John inexorably connects new birth with a changed way of life. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers” (1 John 3:14).
Am I Truly Changed?
Tragically, some legitimately born again will read this and doubt their salvation. That is not my intention. It is possible for us to experience assurance that we have been born again. Do you love and trust Christ more today than ten years ago? Yes, I know you have doubts. All Christians do at one time or another. But has your view of Christ changed? Do you increasingly want to imitate him? Has he become the treasure in the field for which you would sell everything (Matthew 13:44)?
Second, are you changing? I’m not asking if you are perfect, but are you changing? “You may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him” (1 John 2:29). Do you handle your money, your time, and your gifts differently? Is your speech becoming more godly? Are you more willing to forgive, to love an enemy, to push yourself out of your comfort zone? Are you changing how you relate to your spouse? Your roommate? Your parents? “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9).
Third, there will be a spiritual oxymoron. People born of God feel increasingly (and joyfully) unworthy. They feel their sin more acutely, and therefore are more dependent upon Christ and his grace. That is because their knowledge of Christ’s perfections grows much faster than their ability to change. Even though they are forgiven and growing in Christ, the contrast makes them feel increasingly unworthy.
Born Again for Good Works
From the data gathered from his many surveys, George Barna concludes that when “evaluating fifteen moral behaviors, [those who profess to be] born-again Christians are statistically indistinguishable from non-born-again adults.”
This will not be true of those who possess the reality of new birth. Just the opposite — they will increasingly enjoy communion with God. And a believer enjoying this communion will begin to change. “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4). That is because God saves purposefully. “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
When the Holy Spirit indwells us, he communicates a growing conviction about Christ’s moral goodness to the eyes and ears of our heart, and it slowly changes everything. “The core of conversion,” writes John Hannah in To God Be the Glory, “is the gift from God of a new indwelling principle in the heart of mankind. That principle is the very life of God; it is the love of God. This alone is the ground of true virtue and morality and is the exclusive means for glorifying God.
”William Farley is a retired pastor and church planter. He and his wife, Judy, have five children and twenty-two grandchildren. They live in Spokane, Washington. He is the author of seven books, including Gospel-Powered Parenting.
Article by Tim Counts, Pastor of Northshire Baptist Church in Manchester Center, Vermont
Some days, you go to Bible study and your life is slowly but imperceptibly changed. Other days, you go to Bible study and something in God’s word changes the trajectory of the rest of your life.
One spring day in 1998, as an 18-year-old college freshman, I understood marriage in a way I never had before. I had signed up for a Bible study taught by my college pastor, “Preparing for Marriage.” That day, Pastor Doug Busby gave me and all of the young men in the room an assignment that I have been working on for the last 22 years. I will continue to work on this homework until, for my wife and me, “death do us part.”
My pastor read to us, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25). Then he asked us the obvious question (the question we husbands so often fail to ask in the daily grind of work and family life): Howdoes Jesus love the church?
Ten Christlike Loves
As I have scoured the Scriptures, year after year, looking for ways that Jesus loves the church, ways that he calls me to echo his love for me in my love for my wife, I have found ten great loves. As a husband, God calls you to love your wife like Jesus loves her, so meditate on his deep, complex, and unparalleled love.
1. Stubborn Love
Jesus won’t ever leave his bride. He says to her, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). His love for your wife is based not on her performance, but on his covenant love for her. When we keep our marriage covenants through all of the challenges and changes over years of married life, we reflect his kind of stubborn, delight-filled love. May our wives know the comfort of love that says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
2. Hopeful Love
When Jesus looks at your bride, he sees her as already sanctified. This hope is anchored in the power and promise of the gospel. Paul writes to believers, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). In fact, he sees her not only as already sanctified, but as already glorified (Romans 8:30). How often would your wife say that your love for her “hopes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7)? By keeping eternity in mind, you can have patience with your wife, just as Jesus does with her — and you.
3. Pursuing Love
Jesus never takes a break from pursuing your wife’s heart, not romantically but persistently. In fact, he cares not only about her devotion, but also her affection (Psalm 37:4). He is the tireless Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to seek after the one (Luke 15:4–7). In a similar way, God is glorified when a husband continually seeks a deeper relationship with his wife. A husband who has been captured by Jesus’s love is an incurable romantic toward his wife.
4. Forgiving Love
Jesus gives your wife grace when she doesn’t deserve it. It may be that the most Christlike thing you can do is offer your wife forgiveness on a daily basis, remembering that you too are in need of forgiveness. The picture of forgiving love that every husband should seek to emulate is Jesus making breakfast for Peter, who had sinned against him, denying him three times at his crucifixion (John 21:12–15). Is it you or your wife who is usually the first to begin to move toward reconciliation when it’s needed?
5. Joyful Love
Jesus doesn’t just put up with your wife or grudgingly but persistently love her — Jesus loves to love her. He delights to be with his bride. He receives joy by giving us joy (Hebrews 12:2). Wives who are loved this deeply, who know their husbands love to love them, are often an even greater blessing to others. Love your wife so joyfully that it’s obvious to her and others.
6. Serving Love
Jesus served her in life and death. There is nothing — nothing — that God can call you to do for your wife that would be too much! Jesus “gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Many husbands think of themselves as kings to be served, but you and I are called by God to be the chief servants in our homes. The way to Christlikeness in our marriages is through joining Jesus in taking up the towel and the basin (John 13:12–17).
7. Sanctifying Love
Jesus loves your wife by helping her to grow in holiness and by being her advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1). Do you encourage your wife to go to Bible study, even if it means you have to care for the kids by yourself for the evening? Do you regularly bring your wife before the Father in prayer? Work hard to help your wife blossom spiritually.
8. Leading Love
Jesus leads us to what is good for us. Jesus not only loves your wife with a leading rather than a passive love, but he also leads her toward what is good (Psalm 23:2). It is impossible to lead our wives spiritually if we ourselves are not being led by God through the word and prayer. One way you can lead her well is by seeking her input and then making big decisions (and accepting the consequences), rather than allowing the decisions and consequences to fall to her.
9. Providing Love
Jesus provides your wife with all that she needs. Do you notice your wife’s needs, even beyond physical provision, and do something about it? Christ nourishes her, providing an environment for growth and flourishing. The apostle Paul explains to us that “in the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28). It made a marked difference in my marriage when I realized that it was my responsibility to do what I could to fill my wife’s sails.
10. Knowing Love
Jesus knows your wife better than she knows herself. He has an informed love for her. He knows her strengths, her weaknesses, and he acts on her behalf (Ephesians 5:29–30). While we will never know our wives like God knows them, he wants us to know them as well as we can. Our prayers for them will always be hindered if we fail to know them (1 Peter 3:7). Our wives know they are cherished when we make an effort to really know them.
Defy the Serpent with Love
One evening, I walked down the hallway from our bedroom with bare feet when I saw something you never want to see in your hallway: a snake tail sticking out where the floor meets the wall. It turned out that there was a crack in our foundation, and a snake had made its way through the crack, and up into our home.
Brothers, we have an enemy, that ancient serpent, who desires to squirm his way into our homes and cause havoc. But praise God, we know the snake crusher, Jesus Christ, who has already defeated him and loved us with a supernatural love. Know that when you love your wife like Jesus loves her, the foundation of your marriage is strengthened, Satan is defeated again, and Christ is lifted up for more to see.
Tim Counts (@timothycounts) is married to his best friend, Melanie, and they are the proud parents of three children. He serves as the pastor of Northshire Baptist Church in Manchester Center, Vermont. Tim writes regularly at He Must Become Greater.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. — 1 Corinthians 13:7
Love is fulfillment by way of emptiness. It would not seem to work that way. This is why nearly every worldly notion of love—and even some churchy notions of love—try to get at the fulfillment by way of filling. We want our eyes filled with sex, our ears filled with platitudes, our bellies filled with morsels, our minds filled with daydreams.
And then there is the way of Jesus. The Lord of the Universe who, not desiring to exploit his deity, empties himself. Obeys even in the personal famine of the desert. Commits even in the darkness of the garden. Serves even in his final hours. Even washes the feet of those who, if they knew better, should be hugging his neck! And he loves all the way to the cross. He loves all the way from his heart to the splattered ground beneath his pierced feet.
You and I? We would be running the numbers way back. We would see how big the mountain was, how insurmountable the task promised to be. We would compare the pain of love against the relative worthiness of the ones to be loved and think, This is not a favorable scenario. The odds are stacked against us. To love anyone that much hardly seems worth it. I mean, we’d inconvenience ourselves a little, maybe a lot for someone who really deserves it. But die to ourselves? Take up our cross? The risks outweigh the benefits. That kind of love is a liability. Or so it seems to the mind set on self-fulfillment, on the screen played romance of “you complete me”-ology.
For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross, despising its shame (Heb. 12:2). True love isn’t “running the numbers” love, but “counting the cost” love.
Christian, the Lord knows you are not an asset to the organization. He knows what a tangled-up knot of anxiety, incompetence, and faithlessness you are. He knows exactly what a big fat sinner you are. He knew exactly what he was getting into. Eyes wide open, and arms too, he comes to embrace you. He’s not playing the angles, calculating the risks, hedging his bets. He emptied out to go “all in” on you.
That’s what love looks like. Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Anything less is less than love. Any grace meted out based on one’s worthiness of it is not grace at all (Rom. 11:6). Christ does not love actuarially. He actually loves. Believe it.