And The Bride Wore White

I really want to walk down the aisle in my own strength.

No, not physically – although I hope to do that too! 

I mean that I want to walk into the church on our wedding day ready to be a great wife: loving, faithful, kind, wise, etc. I want to be walking with God with perfect faith, obedience and maturity. I want to say my marriage vows without a shred of doubt that I can keep them perfectly. . .

 (I’m sure that most of you are already laughing at my idealism!)

Unsurprisingly when I look at my selfish sinful heart I don’t feel very confident.  I am aware of many areas of sin, faithlessness, and failure which will now affect another person! Left to myself I don’t feel sure that I can always love Tim “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health”, even though I desperately want to. 

So as I walk down the aisle to marry the man of my dreams, it is vital that I walk upon the beautiful and secure foundation that the Bible gives us.

running brideA Walk of Joy-filled Faith

As I mentioned in a previous post, marriage is actually a metaphor for something greater. It models Jesus Christ’s eternally loving and faithful marriage to his church (all those who love and follow him). 

A key symbol in both is the white clothing that the bride wears. We know that white symbolises purity and innocence, and many brides feel that the outward symbolism may not match the reality!  But the beautiful and freeing difference about the biblical picture is that the bride is given her white clothing to wear by her groom Jesus Christ – because he has purchased it for her at the cost of his own life! (See Ephesians 5:25-27, Isaiah 61:10, and Revelation 7:9-10)

The church may be unworthy, and full of sinful failure, but Jesus, her loving groom clothes her with beautiful robes that are perfect and white, and she is utterly radiant.

How does this biblical picture help me as I prepare to walk down the aisle in a few weeks time?

  1. I walk humbly. My own goodness is not enough. I need Jesus to clothe me and equip me to keep the sacred marriage  promises which point to his eternal promises to us.
  2. I walk confidently. Because my confidence is in God’s character and deeds, and not my own. He is faithful, good, and loving. My white clothing ultimately point to his perfection.
  3. I walk steadfastly. Jesus never leaves or forsakes his bride the church, and his love for her is unfailing despite her many failures. His faithfulness and love enables ours.
  4. I walk joyfully, rejoicing in the white that I wear and everything it symbolises, and full of thanks for the gift of marriage with this man whom God has entrusted to me. Our joy is increased in the knowledge that this earthly marriage bears witness (however insufficiently) to the perfect future marriage of Christ and his church.

 

Nim

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Our Perfect Day Won’t Be Perfect

During the last few months I’ve had the exciting task of planning my wedding. (It’s tempting at this point to spend the rest of this post talking about how wonderful my fiancé Tim is, but I’ll try to stay on topic!)

Those of you who have been involved in planning the wedding of a family member, friend, or of your own, may know the pressure to achieve “the perfect day”, an elusive aim that seems only to have grown more elaborate with the advent of wedding magazines, blogs, and fairs.

I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I’ve had to really strive to maintain a balanced and godly perspective on wedding planning, but doing so has caused me to reflect upon my desire for perfection, and to realise that it points to something even more wonderful than the wedding itself.

The Best Laid Plans . . .

You see, however much I obsess over and plan the practical aspects of our wedding day, I already know that our perfect day will not be perfect. Perhaps it will rain, or some of our guests will be unable to come, maybe we’ll forget something, or make a mistake. Most of my married friends have amusing stories of things that didn’t quite go according to plan on the day, and I recently spotted an article online which advertised a “bridal emergency kit” containing more than 40 items in an effort to cover every eventuality!

WeddingAnd yet, even if everything should proceed flawlessly on the day, I must remember that this beautiful event is a metaphor, a picture that points to something higher and better outside itself. An event which will include everyone who loves and follows Jesus Christ: His wedding and eternally faithful marriage to his spotless and perfect bride – the church.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless . . . 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:25-32

The Perfect Day

On this wedding day there will be no shame and no imperfections or failures. The setting will be a redeemed and restored heavens and earth, flawless in its beauty. The bride will be radiant and completely without blemish. The all-consuming nature of her love will be life-giving and utterly fitting. In return the groom’s love will be selfless, staggering in its intensity, totally satisfying, and eternally faithful. Their love will make even the best earthly marriages look weak in comparison to its fullness and perfection.

In fact, as I meditate on this heavenly wedding, I’m even more excited about taking part in its earthly counterpart. Yet this also frees me from relentlessly striving for perfection on our earthly wedding day. If something goes wrong or it fails to live up to my expectations in some way, it won’t crush me because I know that it’s the dress rehearsal for a heavenly wedding that really will be perfect. And as I experience the incredible joy that I’m sure our wedding day will bring, I will be humbled to know that even this is only a foretaste of the joy to come – what a thought!

A Hope for All of Life

This is a principle which also holds true for the disappointments or failures or losses which we face in this life – and there are many. We take heart in the certain, joyful hope of that future perfect day when the whole, ransomed church of God will be radiantly married to her loving Lord and Saviour forever.

“Hallelujah!
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
8 Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.” Revelation 19:6-8

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:1-5

For now we are those who watch, and wait, and long for our perfect heavenly wedding day.

 

Nim

Shipwrecked

A question that I’ve been asked a lot in recent weeks is this:

Why should Christians bother to resist sinning, if they are saved by God’s grace?

When Christians act as though Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross gives us a free pass to sin, we fail to recognise the cost of the sacrifice, the divine identity of the giver, and the depths of the love which motivated Him! Yet we also fail to understand the destructive nature of sin itself. So I love the vivid example that John Owen gives in answer to this question:

“Is it not a madness for a man willingly to suffer the ship wherein he is, to split itself on a rock – to the irrecoverable loss of his merchandise, because he supposes he shall in his own person swim safely to shore on a plank? Is this less in him who will hazard the shipwreck of all his comfort, peace, joy, and so much of the glory of God, and the honour of the gospel as he is entrusted with, merely on supposition that his soul shall yet escape?”

(Overcoming Sin & Temptation, John Owen, pg 184)

drowningIf Owen’s antiquated language is off putting – here is my humble paraphrase:

Continuing in deliberate sin once we are followers of Christ is as stupid as saying that we’d happily endure the pain, terror, and loss of being shipwrecked and losing every possession that we have, because we’re guaranteed not to die in the process!

Any sane person would take precautions not to be shipwrecked in the first place because, given the choice, who would willingly choose the loss of everything but life, when you could arrive safely ashore with great possessions, peace, and comfort, and to great glory and honour?

What a powerful picture to show us the bizarre and foolish risk we embrace when we use salvation as an excuse to sin without punishment, instead of resisting it with Christ’s help, avoiding destruction and enjoying all the blessings of his wisdom, help, and goodness towards us!

Nim

Banishing Christmas Angst

As I’ve probably mentioned before, I’m a bit of an over-thinker, which can be quite useful for blogging, but it also means that I sometimes miss the wood for the trees!

As Christmas approaches each year I usually get a kind of weird anxiety or ‘Christmas angst’, which looks something like this:

I worry about whether I am being too materialistic?

And whether I am taking enough time in the busyness for God, and making space to meditate on the true meaning of Christmas?  (I can’t seem to stick to an advent reading plan!)

I worry about whether I am grateful enough for Jesus coming to earth, and if I am really worth his love and sacrifice?

And whether my worship is as heartfelt as it could be (I tend to go into automatic mode when I’m singing carols). . .and so on.

I wonder if I’m the only one who feels this way?

 

Missing the Point

Can you see what I’m doing here? I might have good intentions, but I’ve actually made Christmas all about me! And instead of relishing the good news of the Christmas story and letting the truth of it soak in and bless me, I’ve let it become all about what I am doing (or failing to do), what I am thinking and feeling, and whether I measure up! There is a place for reflection of course, yet I’m amazed at how I can distort this until my anxieties squeeze out all the joy.

Fortunately for me, a talk that I heard on Sunday  reminded me that we can see what Christmas is about in the names given to the Saviour whom we celebrate:

Emmanuel: God is with Us

Jesus: God Saves

In these two names I’m reminded that God made the first move (in fact he makes every move of significance!)

Jesus Christ came to earth as a man, to rescue us from our sin.

God proclaims his love, care, and forgiveness for all to see by sending a rescuer to all who will receive him:

. . .the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you GOOD NEWS that will cause GREAT JOY for ALL THE PEOPLE. 11 Today in the town of David a SAVIOUR has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth PEACE to those on whom his FAVOUR rests.” Luke 2:10-14

Banishing Christmas AngstSo Christmas is a time where I get to revel in this undeserved rescue, instead of trying to convince myself (and God) that I’m somehow worthy of it. It’s not an opportunity for me to measure how spiritual I am. If I focus on my failings or on arbitrary measures of godliness, I miss the point entirely!

Instead this Christmas, I’m going to focus my attention on God’s radical generosity in sending Jesus, and the news that I don’t need to strive to save myself, I have a saviour! I can rest in the reality of his rescue from sin, which began in a manger in Bethlehem.

All that is left to do is to accept it, enjoy it, and praise him for it.

 

Wishing you a joyful and angst-free Christmas!

Nim

 

 

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas? 

As I write this, Christmas preparations are in full swing, cheery and familiar songs are playing in the shops, and I’ve just put up my Christmas tree. Yet a glance at the news reveals other more sobering realities; not least the recent tragic events in Paris and the steady stream of desperate migrants seeking refuge. We can be tempted to think that evil is overcoming good, that the darkness is stronger than the light, and the cheerful beginnings of the Christmas season serve to make this contrast starker.

So I’m sharing a (reworked) post that I wrote last year, which seems just as relevant now:

sad Christmas

A Light that Shines in the Darkness

In the opening lines of John’s gospel we read: 

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’       

As John continues, we begin to realise that this light is a person – and more than a person, God himself come to earth!

The Bible describes Jesus as ‘the light of the world’ because he is the eternal source of all life and light, and because he is willing and able to banish the darkness. However deep the darkness grows, Jesus Christ has the authority and the power to bring hope that can’t be defeated. He is the conqueror of sin, and evil, and suffering, and all the things that can make us feel as though the darkness is defeating us. And we celebrate the beginning of this rescue at Christmas.

A Light which Conquers

‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ John 1:14

At first the light of the world doesn’t look very significant: a tiny baby, not born in a palace, but in a stable in a tiny Jewish town. Yet we are witnessing the beginnings of God’s rescue plan! And what a comfort to know that our God became flesh, he lived among us, and he knows what it is like to be surrounded by brokenness and evil.

The light that Jesus brings is a light which builds; winning a decisive victory over evil and death at the cross. This victory reverberates throughout history. That is why so many of the carols that we sing at Christmas time contain words like JOY and LIGHT and PEACE and HOPE! It’s not false hope or forced cheer.

A Life-Giving Light

Yes we still live in a troubled world, but we mustn’t lose our nerve when the darkness seems to be all around. Satan wants us to believe that he will overwhelm the light, but the Bible never even sees this as a possibility!

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 

We’re even given a glimpse of the end of the story in Revelation chapter 21:

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” . . . The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light . . . 24 The nations will walk by its light”

So if you are a follower of Jesus the light of the world, then you have every reason for joy, celebration, and courageous hope this season. It’s a hope that we must take every opportunity to demonstrate and share!

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ ‘Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness’

 

Nim

It’s an Endurance Race

Last week I decided to read through the book of Hebrews in the Bible. It’s one of my favourites because of the way it engages with the trials and privileges of following Jesus, and because of the strong encouragements that it offers us.

One of the things that has really stuck with me on this read-through is the focus on endurance. Allow me to take you through some of my highlights in chapter 12:

 

A Need for Endurance

Firstly, all Christians are called to be endurance runners.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for usfixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. 

This is not good news for me. I don’t want to endure, I want things to be simple, easy, and fast. More on this in a minute. . .
Endurance 2

In It to Win It

When I’m at the gym, what I wear is carefully chosen – and not for fashion reasons! I wear clothes that are designed for the kind of exercise that I intend to do. They musn’t hinder my movements or distract me as I train. And for the serious athlete, (not me by the way!) anything that might hamper effective training is put on hold until the goal is achieved.  It’s similar with the Christian life, this is a race that we are called to run to the best of our ability: Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

Whatever would get in the way of this spiritual race must be left behind, if we are to run enduringly and well.

 

Painful Discipline That Achieves Great Rewards

The way that the ESV phrases verse 7 is helpful: It is for discipline that you have to endure.

Because another thing that any athlete will tell you, is that training that produces results requires painful effort and discipline. The body must be strictly disciplined and pushed to the limit, so that muscles will grow and lengthen, endurance and skill will increase. My gym instructors often ‘encourage’ us by shouting ‘It’s a good pain!’ What they mean is that the difficult training that they are putting us through is not meaningless or sadistic, the pain that we feel is a sign that it’s producing results!

Verse 6 says: The Lord disciplines the one he loves and verse 7 continues: God is treating you as his children

So it’s not a pointless exercise or meaningless pain, and neither is it the coaching of a strict and unfeeling Father, but the loving, tender, wise training of a Dad who has great dreams for his child when they are grown.

Discipline comes now, so that we are ready for freedom, fruitfulness, and responsibility. See verses 10 &11:  That we might share in his holiness and so that it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. This training brings us into an inheritance which is more wonderful than we can imagine!

 

Vital Training

And yet, so often I’m tempted to give up when the road gets tough and the training seems strict or painful. I confess that I want my life as a Christian to resemble a sprint, a quick burst of challenge and effort, followed by victory and fanfare. Not a long, gruelling, endurance race, where I must focus repeatedly on the goal, to make it to the end without giving in to the pain and weariness that sets in at key points in the course.

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. . . God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Like the long distance runner, whose body and mind is honed by persistent and gruelling training so that they are able to withstand the demands of the race and complete it. All of that pain has had a purpose, they have been successfully trained by it and they reach their goal, winning the prize.

Sometimes I think that we ask God to bless us and give us righteousness and peace without understanding that this is part of his training package!

 

Eyes on the Prize

Verse 2: fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. . .

The spiritual realities of this chapter expose the reality of my faith and its foundations. If I am following Jesus so that he will give me what I want, or so that my life will be comfortable and easy, if I am treating him like some kind of genie, I will leave the race before it really gets started.

. . .For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

The Bible wants us to know what we have truly signed up for, and whom we have set out to follow, but it also stands at the side lines and cheers us on, telling us to look ahead to Christ who has successfully run the race before us, and now helps us as we run it too.

Because it will be worth it.

This is a race that will end with the greatest celebration and fanfare of all time!

Jesus is our prize, and we are his – eternally!

 

Nim

 

 

Treasure

I can be pretty grumpy at times.

Sometimes I’m irritable just because it’s a Monday, or I haven’t had enough coffee. But I’m sure you’d agree that we live in a world with more than enough real reasons for irritability, worry, and despondency.

So the question I’ve been asking myself this week is: What difference does Jesus make to my experience of life in a difficult world?

Like me, you’re probably watching the news, and despairing over the pain and suffering that many migrants are facing. It’s been making me think – what if that was me? If I was experiencing those horrors personally, would I give up on my faith?

Is following Jesus only for the good times? Is it the privilege of the wealthy, healthy, and happy? (The Bible and human history demonstrate otherwise!)

What if I was to lose everything?  Would Jesus be enough?

It made me think of the two mini parables in Matthew 13:

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.Treasure - God

The good news about God’s kingdom – that his love and home is with anyone who would repent and trust in him through Jesus – is such a precious treasure in itself, that in these stories people sell everything they have to possess it! (And it is a treasure that comes at great cost.)

Yet I can find myself acting as though I have little of value, when I in fact have everything! How short-sighted I am.

John Newton hints at the silliness of this attitude with the following illustration:

“Suppose a man was going to New York to take possession of a large estate, and his carriage should break down a mile before he got to the city, which obliged him to walk the rest of the way; what a fool we should think him, if we saw him ringing his hands, and blubbering out all the remaining mile, “My carriage is broken! My carriage is broken!”

The Works of the Rev. John Newton (Banner of Truth, 1985), 1:107.

Here are some of the other riches that Christians have been given:

  • The riches of God’s grace towards us, expressed in his full forgiveness of all our sins and adoption into his family – Ephesians 1
  • The wealth of God’s eternal kindness to us through Jesus – Ephesians 2:7
  • Stores of new strength supplied by God’s Spirit – Ephesians 3:16
  • Generous and wise provision for our needs – Philippians 4:19
  • An everyday relationship with Jesus Christ that nothing can sever – Romans 8:35

And finally a powerful reminder that ultimately it is God himself who is our treasure, and nothing can part us from him; not our feelings, or experiences, or shifting circumstances:

Isaiah 33:5-7

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high;
he will fill Zion with his justice and righteousness.
He will be the sure foundation for your times,
a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

 

In him we are rich indeed.

Nim

Making Excuses

I’ve recently realised that I’m an expert at making excuses. I hadn’t seen this as a problem until recently because I don’t usually make them out loud.

Most of us know that it’s bad form to reply with an excuse when we’re criticised or when we’ve failed someone, and I try to avoid this. But I’ve noticed that the excuse-making often continues in my heart.

Sometimes it’s in situations that don’t really matter. If I made fewer mental excuses when I’m at the gym, I’m sure that my workout would be more effective – ‘I’ve had a tiring day, I’ll go easy on myself’ – but it’s only my physical fitness that is going to suffer!

But where God has been working on my heart lately is in the area of making excuses to him about my sin.

No More Excuses

I’m currently reading a book called Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Butterfield, I’d recommend it if you want a challenging and stimulating read. It covers a range of topics to do with identity, sin, and ‘union with Christ’.

Something that the author says about our attitude to sin intersected with the ‘excuse issue’ for me. It made me realise that making excuses becomes a troubling spiritual problem, when our excuses are directed at God with the purpose of minimising or denying our sin. I saw that this is not part of repentance, it actually works against it!

Admission Alone Is Not Confession

Admission of sin says ‘Yes I sinned, but…’

It’s not my fault’, ‘You don’t understand the circumstances’, ‘It’s just who I am’, ‘I’m a victim here’ etc.Blame

I like Butterfield’s blunt summary: ‘Sin is treason, not sinus trouble’. She goes on to say that part of the problem is that we often ask God to see our sin from our point of view. Instead of allowing his word to bring our perspective in line with his sovereign and holy will, as true repentance is worked in our hearts.

Butterfield defines confession like this: ‘to own, acknowledge, or avow, as a crime, a fault, a charge, or a debt.’

‘When we confess a sin, we are not asking that God or others see it from our point of view. . .We consent that the Bible is true and that the law of God condemns us. And this either drives us into mad depression or into the open arms of our saviour Jesus Christ.’ 

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Openness Unhindered.

So, unlike admission alone, confession says to God ‘You are justified when you speak, and blameless when you judge . . .Create in me a clean heart O God’ (David’s prayer in Psalm 51)

There is simply no place for making excuses when it comes to sin!

Jesus Removes the Need for Excuses

However, one of the reasons that I find it so difficult to dislodge my excuse-making is that I use them to cover my nakedness! When I know I don’t measure up, when I identify areas of failure and shame in my life, I rush to find little scraps of defensiveness, self-pity, and mitigating circumstances, to clothe me before anyone notices! (We see this both literally and symbolically in Genesis 3:6-13 – remember the fig leaves?) But I can never cover myself sufficiently, and the Bible tells us that all our efforts at righteousness are shown to be ‘filthy rags’ when compared with the perfection of God! (Isaiah 64:6)

Yet the good news for the Christian is that God has a solution for any who are willing to surrender their useless rags to him, in exchange for the pure white clothing of Jesus’ righteousness. We can throw our excuses away and ask him to cover our nakedness!

A broken and contrite spirit you will not despise.’ Psalm 51:17

I can confess my sin and mourn it, recognising it for what it truly is in all its shame and ugliness, because doing so will actually bring me closer to Christ! He promises to forgive me, wash me clean, and help me to continue to turn from my sin in the power of his spirit!

‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ Romans 8:1

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:5

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 

Wow, God is so good to us!

Let’s boldly exchange our excuses for his promises.

Nim

Arbitrary Measures

Sometimes I find myself measuring my ‘progress’ or maturity in Christian faith in random and arbitrary ways:

Here are some of them: (laugh if you want, I deserve it!)

  • Read a chapter of Calvin’s Institutes (super holy behaviour!)
  • Listened to a John Piper sermon in my free time.
  • Ate some vegetables (my body is a temple).

Why do I think in this way?

Arbitrary Measures

All human beings are legalists at heart. We forget (or refuse) to trust in the radical rescue of Jesus, and instead we obsess about the things we do as markers of our success or failure. Or we give up on godliness altogether and settle for creating our own more achievable standards.

But godliness isn’t about random acts of self-discipline or an arbitrary standard of choice.

God’s standard is absolute perfection:  “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) An impossible standard for you and I!

Jesus is very clear about this in the story of the rich young man who wanted eternal life (found in Mark 10:17-27). The disciples are impressed by the outward holiness and worldly success of the man, but Jesus sees things differently, and uses the situation to teach them:

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle . . .26 The disciples were amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Exchanging Measures for Mercy

Here is Calvin’s explanation of how God’s perfect standards should cause the Christian to react:

dismissing the stupid opinion of their own strength, they come to realize that they stand and are upheld by God’s hand alone; that, naked and empty-handed, they flee to His mercy, repose entirely in it, hide deep within it, and seize upon it alone for righteousness and merit. For God’s mercy is revealed in Christ to all who seek and wait upon it with true faith.
True Christian maturity is rooted in Christ, in his perfection on our behalf, and in the gradual changes that he is working in those who follow him. But it’s a work of relationship not rules. Arbitrary rules and habits (and even those found in the Bible) cannot save us, they simply point us to the person who can.

So, I don’t need to make arbitrary rules for myself, instead my measure of holiness is Christlikeness, enabled by God’s Spirit, and achieved by knowing Jesus and trusting in his once-for-all rescue.

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

 

Nim

To Know Him and Be With Him

As is often the way when I’m thinking about a blog post, my thoughts on a couple of things seemed to converge.

A few weeks ago, this little paragraph caught my eye.

My thoughts were as follows:

“Humph, not him again, what’s he saying now?”

“Everything he stands for is opposite to my Christian beliefs!”

“…WAIT – isn’t this how I think too?”

*uncomfortable silence*

Ignore Dawkin’s comments on the abortion issue for now, sad as they are, and look at the way his view on morality is summarised:

“to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering”

Isn’t this how we think? Not just on moral issues, but about everything (or is it just me?)

This is the attitude of the world around us, and actually it’s a view that makes perfect sense.

If there is no God, and nothing after death.

Even the Bible reasons this way – If this life is all we’ve got, let us “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15)

I didn’t come to any conclusions that day, but I felt uneasy that this might be an accurate summary – perhaps not of my morality, but of my general aims in life.

…Then someone asked me what the Bible says about what happens when we die.

Whilst searching desiringgod.org (an immensely helpful website – do check it out if you haven’t already), I found an article that mentioned this verse:

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 2 Corinthians 5:6-9

My brain suddenly made a connection between the two.

I knew that living only to increase my happiness and reduce my suffering wasn’t enough, I knew it wasn’t a particularly biblical way of viewing things either, but look how this verse helps us to see how we should be thinking:

‘As long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.’

‘[We] would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord’

‘We live by faith, not by sight’

‘We make it our goal to please him’

This attitude to living is not based primarily on experiences or feelings, but on a person – Jesus Christ. Because of him the Christian’s aims and response to life, whether in happiness or suffering, are very different.

We want to go home! We long to be with Christ, even if suffering is the path that takes us there. Our goal is to please him, whether that leads to earthly happiness or not, because we look forward to eternal joy in his presence!

Pastor and theologian Wayne Grudem says “the world’s goal of preserving one’s own physical life at all cost is not the highest goal for a Christian: obedience to God and faithfulness to him in every circumstance is far more important”

Have you thought about how radical we’re called to be in this area if we are followers of Jesus?

Now, I don’t relish suffering any more than anyone else, and yet, at the end of my life I don’t want to say “I found a measure of happiness and avoided any major suffering”.

In the light of eternity, this would be so small and meaningless!

With God’s help, Nim the cowardly comfort-seeker wants to be able to say “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:6-7 and “My desire is to depart and to be with Christ, for that is far better.” Philippians 1:23

I pray that God would continue his work to make our attitudes worthy of Christ and our eternal future with him.

Nim