We naturally appreciate and thank God for what he has done for us. But it is too easy to be preoccupied with our benefits and overlook what God’s grace means to him. We are saved by grace because that is appropriate to God’s nature and purposes, bringing him glory as it brings us salvation. We are alerted to that at the very beginning of the epistle by the words “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6).
But wisdom is so much more than knowledge, even Bible knowledge.
It is knowing God, maturing in our relationship with him and walking with him
so closely and perceptively that we are enabled to develop a godly character,
live thoughtfully and make proper choices in life.
To embrace God is to allow his desires to rule in our hearts.
To know God is to share his joy and therefore also his grief. If any person is
to love God, he or she must be prepared to grieve over the things that grieve
God. To come to God is to have our hearts broken by God’s sadness, not only for
the world he loves but also for us. To be embraced by God is to be shattered by
the revelation of all that grieves God in our lives. It is to be devastated by
the reality that we are the cause of the greatest suffering in the
universe: the suffering of God.
is a sign that there is something wrong with our relationship with God. The
solution to disobedience, therefore, is not simply to start “doing the right
things.” If the fruit is bad, we don’t focus on curing the fruit; we cure the
tree. This is why so many Christians go around and around in circles when
trying to deal with personal sin. They deal with it by trying harder not to sin
It never works. Something has to change in the heart. Inevitably, the problem
comes down to some kind of relational breakdown, often between themselves and
others, and always between themselves and God.
For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has
appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in
spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is
simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can
never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in peace of
mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in
such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather
it is a privilege.
Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with
a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us
pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink, but let this only
be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall
hereafter be revealed in and for us.
I never made a sacrifice.
David Livingstone (1813-1873), Pioneer missionary to Africa.
If we believe that the Resurrection really happened, then Jesus Christ has, as it were, made an opening in the barrier between the ideal and the real. The downtrodden of the world can say, “Now I have got something, I have a hope. I have a hope for the future.” Middle-class people can get excited about philosophy and ethical principles, but not the masses, not the people who are really stuck in the darkness of this world. The Resurrection, not taken as a symbol but believed as a concrete fact, will lift up the downtrodden, and will change the world. Belief in a final judgment gives us enough hope so that we will neither resort to violence to bring in justice nor give in and collaborate with injustice.
Eighteenth-century philosopher and preacher Jonathan Edward wrote a famous sermon titled “Heaven Is a World of Love,” which conveys the Christian hope with power. Edwards understands the ultimate Christian hope not to be in abstractions such as radiance and immortality but in relationship. At the center of heaven is not merely a generic God but the triune Christian God, one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, “who are united in infinitely dear and incomprehensible mutual love.” There is “an . . . eternal mutual holy energy between the Father and the Son, a pure holy act whereby the Deity becomes nothing but an infinite and unchangeable act of love.” Pouring love into one another in degrees of unimaginable power and joy makes this three-in-one God into a “fountain of love.” In heaven this fountain “is set open without any obstacle to hinder access to it,” and so it “overflows in streams and rivers of love and delight, enough for all to drink at, and to swim in, yea, so as to overflow the world as it were with a deluge of love.”
Ordinary moralistic religion operates on this principle: “I live a good and moral life; therefore God accepts me.” Gospel Christianity operates in the opposite way: “God accepts me unconditionally in Jesus Christ; therefore I live a good and moral life.” In the first case you live a good life out of the hope of a reward, with all the insecurity and self-doubts that go with it. Will you ever be good enough for the reward? How will you know if you are, and how will you keep it up even if you are? In the Christian approach the motivation is one not of fear but of grateful joy. You live to please and resemble the one who saved you at infinite cost to himself by going to the cross. You serve him not in order to coerce him to love you but because he already does.
And here we see the richness, complexity, and startling distinctiveness of the Christian approach to identity. Paul can say, “God judges me,” not with alarm but with confidence. Why? Because unlike either traditional or secular culture, a Christian’s identity is not achieved but received. When we ask God the Father to accept us, adopt us, unite with us, not on the basis of our performance and moral efforts but because of Christ’s, we receive a relationship with God that is a gift. It is not based on our past, present, or future attainments but on Christ’s spiritual attainments. In the Christian understanding, Jesus did not come primarily to teach or show us how to live (though he did that too) but to actually live the life we should have lived, and die in our place the death – the penalty for our moral failures – we should have died. When we rest in him alone for our salvation, he becomes a substitute and representative for us. On the cross Jesus was treated as we deserved, so that when we believe in him, we are treated as he deserves.
Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.