Sunday, December 23, 2012

Speculation vs. Revelation

Psalm 103:19  affirms that the sovereignty of the living God rules over all.  Now, as it is that God is infinite, so His sovereignty is absolute, for, His attributes are but expressions of who He is in His essence.  Anything less, more, or different would not describe the one and only living God.  To portray Him in any terms or fashion that do not accurately reflect His biblical presentation is to be guilty of idolatry.  Indeed, one of the most basic purposes God had for breathing out His Word, providentially preserving it, and providing understanding of His truth by the regenerating work of His infallible Spirit, is to be worshiped as He truly is.  No, we are not to concoct our own concept(s) of who He is and what He requires/desires of us... we are not to base our lives on speculation, but revelation.  To the extent that we are ignorant of revelation (the Scriptures), is the extent to which we will use our sanctified imagination to speculate what seems right and accurate.
Major problems with speculation, however, are that (a) it lacks God's authority, (b) our hearts are more deceitful than all else, and desperately sick [Jeremiah 17:9], and (c) it is inevitably idolatrous, for He Himself declares, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than Your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts," [Isaiah 55:8, 9].
As for (a), speculation in the spiritual realm doesn't have God's assurances of power, as does His Word:  "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth, And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth;  It shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it," [Isaiah 55:10,11].  "For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart," [Hebrews 4:12].  Such promises as these (and many more) are given by the unchanging (Malachi 3:6a) living God, who does not lie (Numbers 23:19), and is utterly faithful (James 1:17).  Our opinions are exactly that: opinions... oscillating as we take in new knowledge, and so cannot come close to the authority of the omniscient God of the Word.

Concerning (b), if one ignores or refuses the Word that God has inspired, preserved and revealed, he is left to depend upon his heart's imagination to answer such questions as "What is God like?" "What happens to me after death?" and "Is Jesus really the only way to heaven?"  Man lays great stock in his heart's ability to judge life correctly: As Shakespeare put it,"To thy own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."  Sounds reasonable... trouble is, it won't do.  Contrary to the unsaved person's insistence, the lost one is spiritually blind (II Corinthians 4:3,4) and unable to know his own heart, much less be true to it.  As Proverb 14:12 states, "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death."  Only through salvation (had only through the Lord Jesus Christ) does one have spiritual discernment.

Regarding (c), any way that we try to relate to the living God other than how He is presented in Scripture, is idolatry.  Indeed, what comes to mind when we think of God is a spiritual barometer, revealing whether or not He has the same attributes in our thoughts as He has in the Bible.  Operating apart from revelation, man's speculations are always skewed, dominated by emotion and logic.  Since "every man's way is right in his own eyes," (Proverb 21:2a), he/she will envision God through feelings and suppositions...many based in childhood experiences, as well as traditions assumed to be true (one such entrenched assumption is "God helps those who help themselves").  Many even believe this saying is found in Scripture, it is so pervasively accepted.  It isn't.  And it helps perpetuate the myth that our works are the means by which we gain God's aid & acceptance.  No, only by revelation do we learn the ways of grace.  

May God grant a deeper desire to learn Him as He is...and seek His face through the revealed Word He has given so graciously.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ephesians 4:15

"but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the Head, even Christ."

Paul touches on three immeasurably important needs for every believer:  (1) what we're to speak, (2) how we're to speak, and (3) the goal of a well-rounded maturity in the Lord Jesus.

(1)  As those whose souls have been savingly changed by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, our lives are to be continually transformed by the renewing of our minds.  Our minds (hearts) are the focus here, because our mouths speak that which fills our hearts (Luke 6:45).  And it's important what we say, even every word we speak -- "And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment.  For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned." (Matthew 12:36, 37).  Sobering words, these... especially since the Lord Jesus never exaggerated, never equivocated, never misspoke.  As our speech is a reflection of our heart's condition, what we say actually forms a basis for future judgment: believers before the bema seat of Christ (II Corinthians 5:10), and the unsaved before the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-13).  What then are we to speak?  The truth.  Sounds simple, but it isn't.  We can lie in so many more ways that stating a falsehood.  One of the most subtle ones is silence.  By our silence we can allow others to assume an untruth. And with our pride and fears and deceitful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9), silence isn't "golden", it's sinful.  Another pitfall comes in the form of exaggeration.  Overstating to impress easily slips into falsities that multiply and worsen, until we are inextricably caught in them, and our good name (as well as our witness) are compromised.  One other way we may mishandle the truth is to speak it as a weapon, with the intent to hurt. Incalculable damage has been done to the body of Christ, even to the destroying of fellowships, by some who declare, with cruelty, truth that tears down rather than builds up... which leads to the "how we are to speak."

(2)  Speaking the truth can be harsh, biting, and hurtful... particularly if it's told to the wrong person, behind another's back, with ulterior motives. Gossip can be malicious, even though the information may be true. And some seek to justify overly-confrontational truth by pleading the spiritual gift of prophecy.  Hence, Paul bids us balance truth-telling with love. The biblical portrayal of love is not a sugary sentimentality, based on feelings.  Paul's enduring all that he did (II Corinthians 11:23-27), was certainly not based on emotion or mood.  And the supreme example of love's sacrificial nature, despite feelings, is the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus... He definitely did not feel like being nailed to a cross... yet sacrificial love and submission to His Father kept Him there.  The point?  Speaking the truth doesn't always feel good, yet when spoken in loving obedience to the Lord and for the listener's sake, the Holy Spirit's smile will be upon it.  There is not a guarantee that the truth will be received gladly... yet the Lord will be pleased, and we will grow from it.

(3)  Spiritual maturity, leading to being conformed more and more to the image of Christ, is Paul's goal for the Ephesian believers in this verse... and by extension, all who have been changed by the Lord Jesus.  James' perspective agrees with Paul's: "For we all stumble in many ways.  If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well," (3:2).  "Perfect" could be taken literally, but more likely it indicates maturity...the spiritual maturity of those who have learned to minimize their tongues' misuse.  I say minimize rather than "completely control" because of James' statement in verse 8 of that third chapter: "But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison."  Thus, a sign of spiritual maturity is constant vigilance and yieldedness to the Holy Spirit's ministry, thereby taking captive to His obedience our every thought.  For, when our thoughts are pure, then our speech will be, as well. O that we would keep our focus upon the Lord Jesus, Author and Finisher of our faith, that by His Word both our contemplations and conversations would have His empowering grace.  

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Taste and See! (Psalm 34:8)

One of the most basic reasons people in general, and believers in particular, distrust God relates to His goodness.  Trusting God is at the very heart of man's purpose on the Earth: to glorify Him and enjoy Him, forever.  Yet, from the very outset, Satan managed to convince Eve, then Adam, that God could not be trusted.  At the heart of his temptation, and at the core of her falling, was the questioning of God's goodness.  The enemy insinuated that He was holding out on her, that His restriction was unfair, that He couldn't really be trusted to act in their best interest.  In short -- He isn't completely good.
The Accuser's tactics haven't changed a bit...  He does all he can to get us to focus on all that is terrible in this world, with the whispered thought, "See?  He allows this, and this, and that... He can't be trusted... how can He really be good?"  And,  since we tend to embrace as true only what our five senses experience, we believe his "half truths" (which is only another name for lies).  In so doing, at least two things occur:  (a) We impugn the character of the living God; and (b) we walk by sight, rather than by faith.

Psalm 119:68a reads, "You are good and do good."  Interestingly, the context in which David affirms the character of God as good is having experienced afflictions.  "It is good for me that I was afflicted," he declares in verse 71, which was used as a tool by the Lord to teach him His truth.  Indeed, David confesses that "before I was afflicted I went astray, " (v. 67).  What a contrast in perspective from that of the world!  The world views affliction as a sign that God isn't good after-all...that suffering's afflictions indicate His impotency or indifference.  When believers "buy the lie" of this perspective, it is a deplorable reflection on the goodness of the One who loves us beyond description, whose promises are thus slandered and whose faithfulness is discounted.
To the degree that we live lives that are not grounded upon His goodness, is the degree to which we walk by sight... giving the lie to II Corinthians 5:7.  And the degree to which we do this is the extent to which our lives  bear little difference from those who disdain our Lord.  For, it is a life of faith that distinguishes the Christian from lost folk.  In truth, the unseen realm is more real than the one that daily assaults our senses. For, "the world is passing away, and also its lusts...but the one who does the will of God abides forever."  Oh, that the truth of God's immutable goodness would permeate our every attitude, mark our every action, and be reflected in our every word!