A blog that focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Increasing Knowledge: Salvation

The foundation for increasing knowledge is the fear of the Lord, which drives man to learn what God reveals and demands. A Christian's increasing knowledge of the Bible supplies guidance for life. The Bible is also necessary for increasing in the knowledge of salvation.

The Bible reveals "the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (II Timothy 3:15). That foundational understanding of salvation is merely the beginning; believers are expected to grow in their understanding of salvation. "Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (I Peter 2:2).

Salvation is simple. The simplest explanations include "Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13) and "You must be born again" (John 3:7). A child can understand and accept the gift of salvation.

On the other hand, salvation is too complex for any man to completely comprehend. Salvation has many amazing components that happen without a believer's even realizing they are occurring. Apart from God's planning of and providing for salvation, the actual process of salvation for each individual is distributed over what humans would define as three different points of time.

Terms like justification, redemption, and reconciliation describe salvation in the past, at the moment a person accepted Christ. These components have to do with God's taking a wicked, condemned person and declaring him righteous and redeemed.

·         "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace" (Ephesians 1:7-8).
·         "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive" (Ephesians 2:4-5).
·         "For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son" (Colossians 1:13).
·         "That through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives" (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Glorification refers to the future aspect of salvation, when Christians are taken to heaven. Wonderfully, Christians who are currently oppressed by a sinful world and a sinful flesh will someday experience the ultimate abolition of sin.

·         "Having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:23).
·         "Knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed" (Romans 13:11).
·         "It has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is" (I John 3:2).
·         "Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. . . . We will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, . . . and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality" (I Corinthians 15:49-53).

A believer's increasing knowledge of salvation's past and future aspects provides a richer and fuller realization of what has happened and what will happen, thus prompting an increased appreciation for one's salvation. This appreciation is important, but I believe the most important growth regarding salvation involves the present aspect.

Beyond appreciation, sanctification involves application. The gradual, daily process of becoming more like the Savior happens as a believer learns previously unknown truth about the outworking of his salvation. Many of the epistles open with chapters about redemption and justification, but the later chapters are filled with truth about how that salvation should impact the daily life. It is in learning and following these instructions that a believer grows in his salvation.

In fact, it was ignorance that caused past ungodly behavior, and it is increasing knowledge that will produce future godly behavior. "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior" (I Peter 1:15).

·         "For you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light, . . . trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8-10).
·         "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things are passed away; behold, new things have come" (II Corinthians 5:17).
·         "So as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles" (I Peter 4:3).
·         "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).
·         "So that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work" (Colossians 1:10).
·         "Now the deeds of the flesh are evident . . . . But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:17-23).

Growth in salvation is expected. "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food" (Hebrews 5:14). Any believer who remains in the same position as when he was saved or who has reached a level of stagnation is missing God's very important expectation that he grow in his knowledge of salvation, not just in knowing about it but in displaying it practically.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Increasing Knowledge: the Bible

This mini-series about increasing knowledge was prompted by a recent incident. Various factors had curtailed my preparation time for a children's class at church. Someone who heard the lesson and knew about the limited preparation time expressed amazement over the positive result. I don't advocate "winging it" when teaching God's Word, even for simple lessons to young students. I share the story because both the observer and I recognized that a redeeming factor in this less-than-optimal preparation was a previously established foundation of Biblical knowledge.

I have not always had that foundation, nor have I yet achieved ultimate success. As I reflect on my past position, however, I can definitely see a vast difference. I can easily remember times of great frustration and seasons of near despair regarding accessing the Bible's help. It was troubling to be in positions of desperately needing help for overwhelming situations, believing the Bible had the answers, yet having little or no idea of how to find those answers.

Probably the most troubling aspect of such situations was the sense of needing immediate answers. The situations often felt like crises. With a little bit of training, practice, and guidance, nearly anyone can study out a passage or a topic and can gain helpful truth - if he has the time to do that. I remember needing answers NOW and realizing that it might take me weeks or months or longer of random study to stumble across those answers.

While I still have far to go on my journey, I can now look back and realize that I finally enjoy a significant foundation that I longed for in the past. The foundation was established deliberately and gradually. The process could be compared to a couch potato who decides he wants to run a marathon (or even a 5K). He takes a long-term approach. He knows he will not be ready in a week or a month, maybe not even in a year. If he doesn't start taking steps, however, he will never be ready. He starts to regularly take steps, recognizing them as the pathway for achieving his goal. Although the goal is future, his actions must be regular and consistent in the present.

There is logic and simplicity behind the consistent actions needed to acquire a strong Biblical foundation. While tactics will vary individually, the basic premise is simply learning more and more of the Bible. Most often this is through personal Bible study: reading through the Bible systematically, studying a particular book of the Bible, restudying the same passage more than once, doing a word study, examining a topic, memorizing a verse, writing out a verse card, looking up a word meaning, linking one passage with another, and so on. These individual efforts gradually yield a stronger foundation.

Personal study can be supplemented by regularly attending church, listening to sermons, taking a Bible course from a fundamental institution, attending retreats, reading sound books, and doing similar activities. Whether personal or guided, each of these activities adds another brick to the foundation. No one will become a Bible expert overnight, but everyone can gradually grow from where he is.

In time (and perhaps without actually perceiving the change) one will realize that he is much better established in the Bible than he was previously. In my case, I can see tangible results such as writing a devotional book, writing this blog, having answers for patients I visit in my chaplain ministry, knowing a verse to share with someone who is struggling, and knowing where to find help for myself in my own struggles. At times I even have the conscious thought, "Ten years ago I would have been lost and helpless to find the answer. Now I knew exactly which passage to turn to."

That doesn't always happen. I don't have all the answers yet, which is why I can never abandon those deliberate and gradual steps toward increasing my knowledge of the Bible. My biggest problem now is not that I have no idea where to turn, but that I forget to focus on the truth I know. I can minimize the value of God's truth, thinking, "Sure, that's a verse that helped me in the past. I already know that." Well, if it helped in the past, it ought to be able to help now. I can't abandon the truths that created the foundation that I enjoy. For my increasing knowledge to have real value, it cannot be knowledge for knowledge's sake, but it must be as a current resource that I actively rely on for everyday life. Knowledge of the Bible does have benefit, and increasing knowledge only increases the benefit.

"And that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:15-17).

"Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my mediation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Your precepts. The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple" (Psalm 119:98-100, 130).

"The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward" (Psalm 19:7-11).

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Increasing Knowledge: Foundation

Knowledge has value. Whether regarding automobiles, health, investments, family, or more, people value experts who can provide accurate and helpful answers. A college education is promoted almost as a necessity. Through the educational process, students are expected to progressively increase in knowledge until they are well-rounded in the basics and proficient in something.

Knowledge really does have value, and increasing knowledge really is important. The key lies in the foundation of that knowledge. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7). Knowledge is to be cunning and aware rather than ignorant, and the Bible states that its foundation is the fear of the LORD. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10). In this case, beginning is the commencement or first occurrence of wisdom. Wisdom, skill for life, can't even start without the fear of the LORD.

Certainly the Bible is important in terms of knowledge and wisdom, which can grow over years of reading and hearing the Bible. The most valuable wisdom, however, doesn’t come from merely reading the Bible. The key is not one's accumulated biblical knowledge, but rather one's attitude toward that knowledge. If the knowledge is matter-of-factly acknowledged or is an end in itself, the profit will be limited to the mental. When one's Bible knowledge illuminates the vast difference between God and man, however, and man places himself in his rightful position, he can then have spiritual profit.

When one realizes his actual position before God, he ought to be filled with a strong desire to please Him. He ought to shudder at the thought of violating God's commandments or misunderstanding His truth. That is the fear of the LORD, which is crucial for growing in true knowledge and wisdom. When someone fears God, therefore desiring to please Him, he is impelled to search the Scripture to find out what is right and wrong. He now has strong motivation behind the gaining of biblical knowledge.

The fear of the LORD creates the difference between mental profit and spiritual profit. Wisdom speaks in Proverbs 8:12-14. "I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate. Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding, power is mine."

A wise person who fears God will hate what God hates (verse 13). This man, with a strong desire not to offend God, hates evil, pride, arrogance, the evil way, and the perverted mouth. He will have to study the Bible to learn what these (and other) offences are, and his fear of God causes him to take these offences seriously.

On the opposite side, a wise person who fears God will love what God loves and will embrace the qualities mentioned in verses 12 & 14. He will long for wisdom, prudence, knowledge, discretion, counsel, sound wisdom, understanding, and power. Again, he will have to examine Scripture to find fuller understanding of what God desires, and he will dedicate himself to learning and then doing those things.

With this foundation and motivation, man can have great understanding for decision-making and for life. He can now profitably counsel himself and others, because instead of speaking from his own thoughts or experiences, he will be sharing God’s thoughts. Accompanying his solemn desire to do what is pleasing before a great God is a realization that God has the answers that he doesn’t have. He is dependent on God to open his eyes.

Specifically addressing young men regarding harlots, the early chapters of Proverbs illustrate how wisdom helps with life choices (6:23-24, 7:4-5). God-fearing wisdom changes the entire path of life. It affects how one lives, helping him to evaluate and see dangers. Wisdom "walk[s] in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice" (Proverbs 8:20).

Illumination and guidance do not happen to everyone who reads the Word of God, but to those who humbly fear the Lord. With the barriers of pride and self-reliance properly broken down, God can effectively show His truth. "Good and upright is the LORD; therefore He instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way. Who is the man who fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way he should choose. The secret of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant" (Psalm 25:8-9,12,14).

Wisdom can indeed be found. "I love those who love me; and those who diligently seek me will find me" (Proverbs 8:17). Wisdom is freely offered to all who seek, regardless of their innate natural ability. "'Whoever is naive, let him turn in here!' To him who lacks understanding, [wisdom] says, 'Come. . . . Forsake your folly and live, and proceed in the way of understanding'" (Proverbs 9:4-6).

The power of wisdom through the fear of the LORD is illustrated dramatically by those who lack both qualities. When "there is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:18), man is "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (II Timothy 3:7). "Professing to be wise, they became fools" (Romans 1:22). Men with no fear of God get both basic and major things wrong. They lack knowledge and wisdom about earth's origins and its end, about the role of government and the rearing of children, about natural disasters and global warming, about end-of-life issues and abortion, about morality and entertainment,  about finances and education.

Rather than condemning others, those who have godly knowledge must be careful to follow it. It is dangerous to know the right thing and ignore it, but blessed to know the right thing and do it. "Heed instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. But he who sins against [wisdom] injures himself; all those who hate [wisdom] love death" (Proverbs 8:33 & 36). 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

An Understanding God

It is hard to understand the struggles of others without having experienced those same struggles. In the midst of difficulty, many people believe that no one else understands them, and it may indeed be true that within their circle of acquaintances no one does. Many have also finally found someone who shares their experience and who really does understand; the level of understanding is almost unbelievable.

While people might not actually state the words, they often believe that God doesn't understand either and doesn't know how hard the trial is for them. God's knowledge of all things is unbounded. His omniscience alone guarantees that He knows; some special Scripture passages reinforce how much He also understands.

"Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:13-14).

God understands man's weakness because God created man. He knows exactly how weak human substance is, and He understands exactly how the body, mind, and emotions work, because He designed them.

God made man to be social, and He knows it is difficult when interpersonal relations don't go well. God made man with emotions that are impacted by various external and internal stimuli, so He knows the effect on the emotions. God made man with a mind that takes in data from multitudinous sources, so He knows how the mind can struggle when processing that data. God made man with a finite and limited body, so He knows that it can be pushed past its limits.

God knows man's makeup far better than man himself does. God perfectly understands the intricacies of DNA, hormones, brain waves, the nervous system, and every other aspect of man's body. Man is "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14), but he is also finite, weak, and frail. No one knows that better than the Creator.

"Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself also partook of the same. . . . Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted" (Hebrews 2:14, 17-18).

Not only does the Creator understand man's weakness, but the Savior also understands man's weakness. The Savior, who experientially knew nothing of weakness, took a man's body and experienced every weakness associated with such a body. The passage above explains why He did that. He had to know what it was like to be a man. He had to live in a human context so that He could understand what humans go through and so that He could come to their aid.

Hebrews 2:10 reveals, "For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings." Jesus was already as perfect as perfection could be - a holy and powerful God in heaven. No one would have expected anything more from a deity than what Jesus was, yet the Savior was made even better through human suffering.

The incarnation of Jesus added another phenomenal layer to His person - that of fully and experientially understanding what life is like for those who are not divine. Jesus was already one hundred percent of what would ever be expected of God, but His suffering in a weak human body added even more greatness.

Jesus' suffering (and subsequent understanding) was complete. He was "tempted in all things as we are" (Hebrews 4:15). Physically, He suffered beyond what man can comprehend. Socially, He was rejected even by His own people and was betrayed by someone from His closest group. Spiritually, He experienced the direct, targeted attack of Satan himself. Emotionally, He was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). Ministry-wise, He sacrificed everything and fully dedicated His life to reaching needy people, but they rejected and killed Him. Practically, He had no home of His own, no comforts or possessions, and no provision for meals and lodging. There is no category of suffering that man can undergo for which Jesus does not have firsthand, and often far superior, experience.

This Creator who knows how weak the human body is and this Savior who knows what suffering is like also knows everything that happens to every person. He knows every movement man takes, every thought he has, every path he walks, and every word he speaks before he even speaks it (Psalm 139:2-4). God knows every tiny detail of a man's life and every danger that threatens him (Matthew 10:29-31). The passages above teach that God absolutely knows and thoroughly understands not just the events of life themselves, but also what it is like for man to go through those events.

The greatest wonder of that divine knowledge is what God does with it. If God knew but didn't care, His knowledge wouldn't be very reassuring. If He knew but didn't act, His knowledge would be empty. Far from those disappointing responses, God's understanding prompts the best responses.

When the Creator sees man stumbling in his weak body, He has compassion on him, just as a father would on his hurting child (Psalm 103:13). When the Savior sees man faltering under temptation, He comes to his aid (Hebrews 2:18). This understanding Savior sympathizes with man and knows that he needs help; He graciously offers that help.

"For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses. . . . Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:15-16).