Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Why Is My Theology Not Changing My Life?

If I believe all the right things, then why does my growth in holiness seem so tedious and slow?

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from Desiring God
via DG

How Do I Humble Myself?

How Do I Humble Myself?

Humility is not something we can achieve. We might consider it quintessentially American to think we could. You can do it. Be proactive. Take the first step. Grab the bull by the horns and be humble.

In other words, humble yourself by your own bootstraps.

But if we come to the Scriptures with such a mindset, we find ourselves in a different world. Genuine humility, as with true faith, is not self-help or a life hack, but a response to divine initiative and help.

God Opposes the Proud

Make no mistake, we do have a part to play in humility. It is not only an effect but a command. In particular, two apostles tell us to humble ourselves. And both do so in strikingly similar ways, adding the promise that God will exalt us on the other side:

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:10)

Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you. (1 Peter 5:6)

So far as we can tell, James and Peter haven’t been inspired by each other on this point, but by the Old Testament. In the immediate context of instructing us to humble ourselves, both quote the Greek translation of Proverbs 3:34 (“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,” James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). But before we run off to create our own program for self-humbling, we should consider the context in both passages.

Humbling from Within

For our purposes here, observe that both calls to self-humbling come in response to trials. James refers to quarrels and fights within the church:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. (James 4:1–2)

Conflict among those claiming the name of Christ humbles the church. It serves as a test of pride, and humility. James reminds them not only that they are “sinners” and “double-minded” but he also reminds them of Proverbs 3:34. He charges the church to submit to God, resist the devil, and draw near to God (James 4:7–8). In other words, “Humble yourselves before the Lord.” The church is being humbled from within. Now, how will they respond to God’s humbling purposes in this conflict? Will they humble themselves?

Humbling from Without

So also in 1 Peter, the church is under pressure. Society is mouthing its insults and maligning these early Christians. They are beginning to suffer socially and emotionally, if not yet physically. They are under threat, and tempted to be anxious. And at this moment of humbling, Peter turns to Proverbs 3:34, and exhorts them, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5).

Here the church’s humbling is coming from without. Now, how will they respond to God’s humbling purposes in these insults? Will they humble themselves? Will they bow up, reacting with pride and self-exaltation, or will they bow down, humbling themselves before the gracious hand and perfect timing of their Lord?

Self-Humbling as Responsive

Over and over again in the Bible, self-humbling is not something we initiate but something we receive, even embrace — even welcome — when God sends his humbling, however direct or indirect his means. The invitation to humble ourselves does not come in a vacuum but through our first being humbled.

Humility, like faith — and as a manifestation of faith — is not an achievement. Humility is not fundamentally a human initiative, but a proper, God-given response in us to God himself and his glory and purposes.

We don’t teach ourselves to be humble. There’s no five-step plan for becoming more humble in the next week, or month. Within measure, we might take certain kinds of initiatives to cultivate a posture of humility in ourselves (more on those in a later article), but the main test (and opportunity) comes when we are confronted, unsettled, and accosted, in the moments when our semblances of control vanish and we’re taken off guard by life in a fallen world — and the question comes to us:

How will you respond to these humbling circumstances? Will you humble yourself?

Gladly Receive the Uncomfortable God

For Christians, self-humbling is mainly responsive. It is not something we just up and do. We don’t initiate humility, and we don’t get the credit for it. It’s no less active, and no less difficult, but it is responsive to who God is, what he has said to us in his word, and what he is doing in the world, specifically as it comes to bear in all its inconvenience and pain and disappointment in our own lives. Self-humbling is, in essence, gladly receiving God’s person, words, and acts when it is not easy and comfortable.

First comes the disruptive words or circumstances, in God’s hand and plan, that humble us — as it happened for King Hezekiah seven centuries before Christ. God healed him from his deathbed, and yet the king “did not make return according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud.” God then acted against Hezekiah’s pride. He humbled him. In whatever form it took, we’re told that “wrath came upon him and Judah and Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 32:25).

Then comes the question that presses against our souls, as it did for the king: Will I receive God’s humbling or resist it? Will I try to explain it away or kick against it, or will it serve to produce in me genuine repentance? And if I do not humble myself, then, further divine humbling will follow in time. God’s initial humbling leads unavoidably to some further humbling. The question is whether it will be our self-humbling or further (and often more severe) humbling from him.

For Hezekiah, he acknowledged the divine wrath as opposition to his own pride, and he “humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord did not come upon them in the days of Hezekiah” (2 Chronicles 32:26).

When God Humbles His People

To be sure, we are not left without some postures we can cultivate and means to pursue. Daily humbling ourselves under the authority of God’s word, and humbling ourselves by obeying his words, and humbling ourselves by coming desperately to him in prayer, and humbling ourselves in fasting — these all have their place in our overall response as creatures to our Creator. But first and foremost, we need to know humbling ourselves is responsive to God.

He is the one who created our world from nothing by the power of his word (Hebrews 11:3). He is the one who formed the first man from the ground (Genesis 2:7) and the first woman from his side (Genesis 2:21–22). He is the one who chose to reveal himself to us, to speak words into our world through his prophets and apostles, to make known himself and his Son and his plan for our redemption. And he is the one who, through the gentleness and merciful severity of his providence, humbles his church again and again, from without and from within, and in his humbling brings us to the fork in the road: Now, how will you respond to my humbling purposes in this trial? Will you humble yourself?

When the next humbling trial comes, will you bow up with pride, or bow down in humility? God has a particular promise for you in these moments. The God of all power will exalt the humble in his perfect timing.

from Desiring God
via DG





from デイリーブレッド

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Philippians 4:4–7, Part 1: Can Anyone Really Rejoice ‘Always’?

How could we possibly, in our world full of sin and death, “rejoice always”?

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from Desiring God
via DG

Freedom Is to Be Like Him

Freedom Is to Be Like Him

You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)

Jesus Christ set his face toward the cross in order to set his people free.

The nails in his hands were the keys that unlocked our shackles. The cry “It is finished!” (John 19:30) was his command for our release. And Easter’s empty tomb shattered the door to every cell. Because Jesus died and rose again, every Christian can say with the apostle Paul, “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).

Sometimes, however, the idea of freedom is more thrilling than the reality of it. For, as Paul goes on to tell us, true freedom is less about following your dreams and more about kneeling down to scrub another’s feet. “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).

Why did Jesus set us free from the guilt of our past, from the curse of the law, and from the tyranny of our former sins (Galatians 1:3–4; 3:13; 5:24)? He set us free to serve.

Go Low to Go High

Paul’s words sound like nonsense to our sinful flesh. In our natural state, we associate the word freedom with all sorts of ideas — independence, self-expression, personal choice — but rarely with service. Unbelief, however, always separates what God has joined together. And in the kingdom of God, freedom and service belong together like Adam and Eve, like heaven and earth, like grace and peace.

We need look no further than our Lord Jesus. No one has ever been freer than God himself. Yet what did the Son of God do with such freedom? He took “the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). He said to the twelve, “I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27). He wrapped a towel around his waist, bent to his disciples’ feet, and served them to the end (John 13:1–5). In the story of Jesus’s serving, suffering, and saving, we see the freest man who ever lived.

We need not fear losing our freedom, then, when we follow Jesus in taking the lowest place in the room. As he told his disciples, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26). When we bend our necks to this yoke, we walk straighter. When we kneel upon this ground, we stand taller.

True freedom is never found in serving ourselves. True freedom is found in being like him.

Bound to a Thousand Souls

Few have expressed this path of true freedom more beautifully than B.B. Warfield did over a century ago. Preaching on the self-sacrificing love of Jesus from Philippians 2:5–8, Warfield said,

Self-sacrifice brought Christ into the world. And self-sacrifice will lead us, his followers, not away from but into the midst of men. Wherever men suffer, there will we be to comfort. Wherever men strive, there will we be to help. Wherever men fail, there will we be to uplift. Wherever men succeed, there will we be to rejoice.

Self-sacrifice means not indifference to our times and our fellows: it means absorption in them. . . . It means not that we should live one life, but a thousand lives — binding ourselves to a thousand souls by the filaments of so loving a sympathy that their lives become ours.

The glory of Christian freedom is not that we can finally reach our full potential, but that we can finally help others reach theirs. Not that we can finally discover ourselves, but, freed from self-absorption, that we can finally lift our eyes and discover others. Not that we can finally follow our dreams, but that we can finally fill our dreams with the good of those around us.

True freedom, in other words, gives a man the mind of Christ, who bound himself — and who goes on binding himself — to thousands upon thousands of souls. As Paul goes on to write in Galatians 5, true freedom teaches a man to love his neighbor as himself (Galatians 5:14).

Freedom Will Not Feel Easy

As long as we are in this world, of course, we are not yet free as we one day will be. One day, no selfishness will tempt us to forsake the path of service. Our hearts will beat as one with our Lord, and giving to others will be our gladness.

Until then, we should not be surprised when we regularly (even daily) find ourselves simply not wanting to serve. Perhaps when we come from work to a toddler’s wail and the afternoon snack strewn across the floor. Or when a February storm piles snow onto our driveway in heaps, and we have already shoveled three times this week. Or when we see a socially taxing church member sitting off by himself, and we know we should approach him.

What do we do in such moments? How do we “through love serve one another” when we would much prefer to serve our own comfort? We begin by banishing the thought that the service in front of us is somehow slavery. We go on to remember that “for freedom Christ has set us free.” And then we trust that the same Christ who delivered us from our sins is zealous to take us in to deeper levels of freedom — not in spite of or around the service in front of us, but through it.

Trust and Step

When we do move forward in these moments, trusting our Lord to provide what we need, we will find that he does not, as Pharaoh did of old, demand that we make bricks without straw. Rather, he “supplies the Spirit,” who leads us in the ways of love (Galatians 3:5; 5:16–24). When the tasks in front of us feel beyond our strength to carry out, they are not beyond the Spirit’s.

If Christ has freed us from our sins, will he not also free us from today’s selfishness? If he has given us his Spirit, will he not also give us everything we need as we seek to imitate him in his service? He surely will. For freedom he has set us free. So trust his promise, draw a deep breath, and keep stepping into his freedom.

from Desiring God
via DG