Food and Forgiveness.

Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. – Matthew 6:11-12 ESV

Matthew 6:9-13

Prayer, at its most basic form, is communication with God. It is the child of God speaking with and listening to his Father. There should be a certain degree of intimacy and expectancy in our conversations with God. As Jesus shows us in the model prayer He shared with His disciples, our prayers should begin with an acknowledgement of God’s holiness and transcendency, but also a realization of our personal relationship with Him as His children. Because He is our Father, we can come to Him boldly, knowing that He loves us. But we must also come respectfully and submissively, never forgetting that He is God and always ready to subject our will to His. It is this recognition of God as both our creator and Father that prompts us to willingly submit to His rule and reign over our lives. And while we are perfectly free and repeatedly encouraged to bring our requests before Him, we must always do so with a readiness to accept what He deems best. In Jesus’ prayer, He seems to teach us to ask God for the basics – “give us this day our daily bread.” This isn’t a request for a life of poverty or bare subsistence. It is an expression of dependence upon God for those things that will sustain us in life. Thomas L. Constable, in his commentary on Matthew, writes, “Daily bread refers to the necessities of life, not its luxuries. This is a prayer for our needs, not our greeds. The request is for God to supply our needs day by day” (Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Matthew, 2008 Edition). When we ask God for our “daily bread,” we our admitting our dependency upon Him. Rather than in prideful self-sufficiency, we admit our reliance upon Him as our creator, sustainer, provider and loving Father. This attitude in prayer expresses a degree of contentment in and satisfaction with what God provides. Paul told Timothy, “Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8 NLT). Sometimes our constant requests of God for more reveal that we really seek satisfaction and contentment in things rather than Him.

But there is another necessity that Jesus would have us recognize. Not only do we need God to provide us our daily needs, we need His constant forgiveness. This particular part of Jesus’ prayer has caused some great confusion and consternation. After all, weren’t all our sins forgiven by His death on the cross? If so, why must we constantly ask God to forgive us our sins? It is important that we understand that our sins have been forgiven – in full, past present and future. We stand before God as righteous because of the death of Christ on the cross. But we know from experience that we still sin. We have sin natures and a built-in propensity to sin against God. And sin, as it always has done, creates a barrier between us and God. The forgiveness Jesus is talking about has nothing to do with our salvation. That has been taken care of by Jesus. The forgiveness He is telling us to seek has to do with restoring fellowship with God. The word translated “debts” refers to our sins, not our financial obligations to God. Each and every day of our lives, we sin against God. We rebel against His rule and reign over our lives. We lie, deceive, exhibit pride and prejudice, hurt others, fail to love, act selfishly, lust, covet, and refuse to obey His commands. Our confession of those sins brings forgiveness. In asking for forgiveness, we are recognizing the amazing reality that God WILL do just that – forgive us. “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 ESV). An admission of our sins and a willing confession of them to God restores our fellowship with Him. And fellowship with our Father should mean more to us than anything else.

But there is more. Jesus adds an interesting twist to His model prayer. He says, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 ESV). This is not teaching us that our forgiveness from God is somehow tied to our forgiveness of others. It is telling us that forgiveness should be so important to us that we are willing to extend it even to those who sin against us. To refuse to forgive others is to show an open disregard for the forgiveness of God. That is why, after Jesus finishes giving His model prayer, He adds, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15 ESV). To refuse to forgive others is sin. It is against the will of God for His children. Dr. Constable adds, “These verses explain the thought of the fifth petition more fully. Repetition stresses the importance of forgiving one another if we want God’s forgiveness. Our horizontal relationships with other people must be correct before our vertical relationship with God can be” (Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Matthew, 2008 Edition).

Just prior to giving His model prayer, Jesus has taught, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24 ESV). There is a point at which our personal relationships can hinder our relationship with our heavenly Father. He has called us to love one another. Our desire for forgiveness from Him and restored fellowship with Him should drive us to maintain our fellowship with one another. “If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11 ESV). Food and forgiveness – two basic needs we all share.and two necessities we should all desire.

Reordered Priorities.

Give us this day our daily bread. – Matthew 6:11 ESV

Matthew 6:9-13

What is it you really need? When you go to God in prayer, what is it that you typically ask Him for? Obviously, it is perfectly okay to make requests of God. In fact, we are encouraged to do so in Scripture. Paul writes, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6 ESV). John makes a similar statement when he writes, “we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him” ( 1 John 3:22 ESV). Of course, John adds an important caveat that we tend to overlook. He makes it clear that the answers to our prayers are tied to God’s will. He qualifies the promise of answered prayer with an acknowledgement that it hinges on our understanding of and relationship with God – “whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him” (1 John 3:22 ESV). A little later on in his letter, John makes this relationship between our knowledge of God and our answered prayers even more clear. “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15 ESV).

When Jesus provided His disciples (and us) with His model prayer, He purposely began it with an acknowledgment of God’s holiness, sovereignty, and kingship. He is God, but He is also our Father. Because He is our King and our adopted Father, our desire should be for His righteous rule and reign in all things, including our lives. We should desire what He desires. We should want what He wants. His rule should directly impact our requests. His will should alter our wants. If we truly believe He is righteous, holy, just and fully in control as our King and loving Father, we will trust Him to provide for and protect us. Which is why Jesus transitions His prayer from asking that God’s will be done to a humble request for daily bread. It is well within God’s will to ask for our daily needs. But sometimes we confuse wants with needs. We get our will confused with His. But Jesus would have us remember that God’s will is always best. God always wants what is best for us. And when we start to think that the things of this world are what really bring us joy, peace, fulfillment and contentment, we miss the point. Which is why Paul told Timothy, “we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:7-8 ESV). Paul spoke from experience. He had learned to trust God for his needs. He had learned the secret of contentment. “for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13 NLT).

When we begin our prayers with an acknowledgment of God’s holiness, a self-reminder of our adoption as His children, an expression of desire for His kingdom and will to be done, our requests become much simpler. They become more focused on the essentials and less consumed with the peripheral issues of life. We will tend to ask God for what we need, not what we want. We will find ourselves praying for His will to be done, rather than our own. We will increasingly learn to trust God to give us exactly what we need, when we need it. So that “if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:7-8 ESV). But we will always be tempted to redefine what “food and clothing” means. Quality and quantity tend to become the measuring tools by which we define our needs. How much food? What brand of clothes? Does it include eating out three to four days a week? Just what does our “daily bread” cover? Is a house included? If so, in what neighborhood? What about cars? Income? Retirement account? Savings? It is not that any of those things are wrong. The issue is contentment and a confidence in God’s will. It is trusting Him to provide us with what we really need. It is a willful concession to His divine sovereignty over our lives. Because He is our all-powerful God and our all-loving Father, we can trust Him. We can ask Him for anything, but He will ultimately give us what we need. And the more we get to know Him, the more our prayers will line up with His will and our requests will reflect His desires for us. We will want what He wants. We will desire what He does. And we will be content.

As Right As Reign.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. – Matthew 6:10 ESV

Matthew 6:9-13

What do you want more than anything in the world? What is it you dream about, worry about, obsess about, or think you just can’t live without? A good way to tell what is it we really want and desire is to take inventory of our prayers. You can tell a lot about a person by examining the kinds of things they ask God for or by simply figuring out what it is that motivates them to pray in the first place. Sometimes it is a tragedy or some kind of trouble that gets us on our knees. We find ourselves in a place of difficulty and suddenly we find the time and the motivation to take our problem to God. What we want is peace. We want deliverance from our trouble. We want God to do something to get things back to “normal,” whatever that is. There are other times when our desires are even more transparent. We come to God asking for good health, protection for our children, peace in the world, direction for life, healing for a friend, a promotion, a better marriage, or even the motivation to grow spiritually. But in Jesus’ model prayer, He would have us remember that there is something far more important than all of these things. In fact, it is essential to understanding where everything else fits in on the priority scale of life. Remember, Jesus said, “Pray then like this…” He wants us to use His prayer as an outline for making our requests made known to God, and one of the first things He encourages us to do is to ask for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done – “on earth as it is in heaven.” So before we begin making our will made known to God, we should desire that His will be done – in the world and in our lives.

The kingdom of God. The will of God. These two things have to do with rule and reign, power and authority, sovereignty and dominion. As the people of God, we should desire these things. We should want them more than anything else. Why? Because His kingdom is righteous, good, loving, just, and holy. In the same way, His will is perfect, good, righteous, holy and just. We should want what God wants. We should desire that God rule and reign in us and over us. Paul tells us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 ESV). Life in this world has polluted our minds, causing us to desire those things that, in the end, lead us away from God, not to Him. We need our minds renewed, our desires refocused – on God and His will. Later on in this same chapter in Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV). In other words, we are not to get wrapped up in and obsessed with the things of this world. Instead, we are to have a kingdom mindset. We are to see our lives as part of the greater kingdom of God. And when we find ourselves too wrapped up in the things of this world, worrying about what we’re going to eat or wear, Jesus gives us the antidote: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33 ESV). We are to make the rule and reign of God our highest priority. We are to desire His righteousness, His will, His dominion over all things – including our very lives. Paul reminds us, “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17 ESV). In his letter to the believers in Thessalonica, he told them to “live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12 NLT).

When we come to God in prayer, we should do so with a desire to see His righteous reign lived out in us. We should want His will more than anything else. Our will takes a backseat to His, our kingdom is annexed by His, His rule reigns supreme – on this earth just like it does in heaven. Wanting the will of God is a game-changer. It impacts everything else. It should change the way we pray. It should alter our expectations and dramatically influence our petitions. When we want His rule and reign to be supreme, we will be able to focus on seeking His righteousness rather than worrying about all the stuff that sidetracks us and distracts us from what really matters. God’s will is always good and acceptable and perfect. Why would we ever want anything else?

Your Kingdom Come.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. – Matthew 6:10 ESV

Matthew 6:9-13

Jesus gave His disciples an example of the kind of prayer they were to pray. It was to be done in humility, not for the praise of men. It was to be done privately, with an awareness that God was the primary focus. It was to be direct and to the point, not accompanied by an over-abundance of words or cleverly worded language. Prayer is not our attempt to tell God something He does not know. Jesus told His disciples, “For your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8 ESV). When we pray, we are not bringing God up to speed on all that has happened in our lives over the last 24 hours. He already knows. We aren’t even informing Him of our needs. He knows those as well. So why pray? Because He has given us the privilege of coming into His presence. Because He is our loving Father and we should long to have a relationship with Him. To some degree, prayer is less about sharing information than it is about sharing our hearts. God wants to hear from us, and we should want to hear from Him. We should desire to know His heart and get His perspective on all that is happening in our lives. Prayer should be a two-way dialogue that includes both talking and listening. We are not there to tell God what to do. He is not some kind of cosmic genie who is obligated to grant us our wishes. He is the God of the universe and the creator of all things. He is sovereign, so He knows what is best and He knows what He is doing. Prayer is our opportunity to come before Him and realign our perspective, to refocus our attention on what really matters, and yes, share our personal cares and concerns.

But Jesus would have us remember something extremely important. It seems that this realignment of our perspective is essential to prayer. Jesus said, “Pray then like this…” (Matthew 6:9 ESV), and the second example He provided us was “Your kingdom come, your will be done” (Matthew 6:10 ESV). When coming before our heavenly Father, we are to do so with a focus on His kingdom, not our own. The tendency is for us to try and use prayer as a form of leverage to get what we want from God. We bring our well-thought-out lists of requests, expecting Him to answer every one of them according to our wishes and on our timeline. But Jesus would encourage us to come before God with a desire to see His kingdom come, His will be done. If nothing else, this conveys an attitude of worshipful submission to and trust in God’s wisdom, love, and power. Obviously, this does not mean we can’t bring our requests to God. Paul strongly encourages us to do so. “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:5-6 ESV). We can and should share our requests with God, but always with an attitude of humble submission to His will. We are welcome to share with Him our needs and desires, but we should do so with an expectation that He will do what is best, because He knows best. When the apostle Paul prayed for others, his desire was that they would know the will of God – “we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9 ESV). There is no doubt that we spend a great deal of our lives devoid of an understanding of God’s will. We don’t know what He is doing. We can’t see what is happening behind the scenes. We have a limited perspective and are driven to conclusions by our immediate circumstances. We are also prone to focus on temporal solutions to perceived problems. If we are sick, we pray for healing. If we are in financial straits, we pray for a solution. If we’re out of work, we pray for a job. But what is God’s will in all of this. Why would we pray for His kingdom to come, for His will to be done? Because at the end of the day, there is something far greater going on than our individual lives and our tiny, temporary personal kingdoms. When we pray, “Your will be done,” we are acknowledging to God that we desire His will over our own. We are letting Him know that we trust His plans and submit our own to Him. So if what we ask for does not come in the form we requested or in the timing we desired, we don’t panic or get angry, we rest in His will. Martin Luther put it this way: “Grant us grace to bear willingly all sorts of sickness, poverty, disgrace, suffering, and adversity and to recognize that in this your divine will is crucifying our will” (Martin Luther, Personal Prayer Book, pg 33). There is a certain sense in which prayer is where we come to grips with God’s will. We bring our desires, requests, needs and aspirations to Him, but we walk away with a greater desire to see His will lived out in our lives. To pray for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done is to acknowledge or deep dependence upon Him. It is to desire His rule and reign to be evidenced in our own lives. It is to long for His will to be accomplished through our lives. When you begin your prayers that way, it will dramatically alter the manner in which you bring your requests to Him. You will hold them up to Him with loose hands. You will cling to them lightly, knowing that His will is best, and should He choose to say, “No” to your request, it is for a very good reason. And you will be okay with that.

Keep It Holy.

Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. – Matthew 6:9 ESV

Matthew 6:9-13

When we pray, we are to do so with an awareness of just who it is we are communicating with. We are having a conversation with God, the creator of the universe. He is the transcendent, all-seeing, all-knowing God, who is holy and righteous, and the just judge of all men. The psalmist described Him in terms that signify His otherness. “The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” (Psalm 113:4-6 ESV). After watching God’s miraculous deliverance of the people of Israel from Egypt, Moses had this to say: “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11 ESV). Our God stands alone in His glory, power, holiness, and nature. Paul describes Him as the one “who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion” (1 Timothy 6:16 ESV). We must never forget that our God is, first and foremost, someone who is uniquely worthy of our honor, glory, and praise. He is not to be taken lightly or treated flippantly. But here is the amazing thing. Because of Jesus Christ, we now have access to His presence and can call Him our Father. John would have us remember, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18 NIV). Jesus, because of His death on the cross, has made God knowable and approachable to all who have placed their faith in Him for their salvation. He is our Father and we are His children, so we can “enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” (Psalm 100:4 ESV). That is the incredible reality of prayer.
But in giving us His model prayer, Jesus would have us remember that, as God’s children, we have a responsibility to protect our Father’s name. Jesus told His disciples to pray, “Hallowed be your name.” At first glance, this would seem like a silly request for anyone to pray to God. After all, God is holy all the time. Everything about God is holy, including His name. The word hallowed is not one that is common to our modern vocabulary. In the Greek it is hagiazō and it has to do with holiness or separateness. Jesus seems to be saying that we are to desire the holiness of God’s name. But how do we, as His children, keep God’s name holy or set apart? By the way we live our lives. God will never do anything that will discredit or dishonor His own name. But as His children we can do immeasurable harm to the character of God by the manner in which we conduct our lives on this planet. When we express to God our desire that His name be holy and set apart, we are really asking that His character be lived out in our own behavior. We are expressing our recognition of the fact that we are His children and His image bearers. We have His Spirit within us. We act as His ambassadors or representatives on this earth and must never forget that we carry His name with us wherever we go and bring honor or dishonor to that name by what we do and say. Our great desire should be for His name to be glorified on this earth. Again, the psalmist encourages us to “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness” (Psalm 29:2 ESV). What greater way to honor and worship the Lord than to live our lives in holiness, set apart for His use and determined to make His name famous, not infamous.

There is another aspect of this request for God’s name to be hallowed. We should desire to see God work in miraculous and supernatural ways on our behalf. All throughout the book of Exodus there is a phrase that appears over and over again – “By this you shall know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 7:17 ESV). God repeatedly told Moses and the people of Israel that He was about to do something that would unequivocally prove His glory and sovereignty. By His mighty acts, the people of Israel would know that He alone was God. The plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the provision of manna and quail in the wilderness, the pillar of fire and smoke – all of these things were proofs of God’s power and presence. So when we pray that God’s name be hallowed, we are asking that He reveal Himself in might and majesty in our lives and in our circumstances. We are asking for our Father to glorify His name by acting on our behalf. When God acts, people notice. When God intervenes, it gets peoples’ interest.

So there is a two-fold aspect to this request. We should desire to see God’s glory on display and His name honored by His ongoing action in this world. But we should also desire to see that our lives bring glory and honor to His name by the way we conduct ourselves as His children. We bear His name. We bear His image. We have His Spirit within us. May we live in such a way that His glory is revealed through us, and may we long to see His power and glory revealed all around us.

Praying Like Jesus.

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” – Matthew 6:9

The Lord’s Prayer. Most of us are familiar with. Many of us can easily quote it. Some may even use it as kind of a stand-in or substitute for their own prayers. But how many of us actually use it in the way Jesus probably intended it – as a model for prayer? In the Gospel of Matthew, we have recorded what has become known as the Sermon on the Mount. Chapters 5-7 contain a series of teachings from the lips of Jesus that cover everything from the Beatitudes to the Golden Rule. As He sat on the mountainside, Jesus taught on a wide range of topics, dealing with anger, divorce, lust, fasting, love of enemies, judging others, and living as salt and light. This was radical stuff. And the controversial nature of what Jesus had to say did not escape his audience. Matthew records: “And when Jesus had finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29 ESV).

In a lot of ways, Jesus was the antithesis of the scribes, Pharisees and other religious leaders of His day. In fact, He would constantly expose them as hypocrites, accusing them of having exterior conformity, but lacking true hearts for God. So much of what He said was a direct attack on the legalistic and outwardly moralistic example of these so-called religious leaders. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was upping the ante. He was revealing that the Kingdom of God was about much more that outward adherence to a set of rules or some form of behavior modification. It was about heart change – something that men were incapable of on their own. The Lord’s Prayer lies smack dab in the middle of His sermon, tucked in with some rather harsh words regarding the hypocritical, self-centered motivation of so much of what the religious elite did in the name of spirituality. He exposed their prayer lives as little more than a poorly veiled attempt to get noticed by others. They were looking for recognition from men. They prayed to impress others, rather than to get to know God. So Jesus said, “Pray then like this…” And then He gave them a short, succinct example of what a selfless, God-centered, humble prayer looks like. And He did not provide this as a prayer to be prayed by rote. It was never meant to be a substitute for our own personal prayers. But it does give us a wonderful outline around which we can customize our conversations with our heavenly Father.

Jesus starts out His prayer with a focus of the Father. He sets the tone for prayer by reminding us that we are entering into the presence of our heavenly Father – a staggering reality that was made possible by His death, burial and resurrection. It is because Jesus gave His life that we have been made right with God. His death atoned for our sins. His sinless life made Him the perfect sacrifice – allowing Him to satisfy the just demands of a holy God. And as a result, we are now God’s children. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1 ESV). Paul takes it a step further. “And since we are his children, we are his heirs” (Romans 8:17 NLT). “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (Ephesians 1:5 NLT). So when we come to God in prayer, we must come to grips with the astounding realization that we are God’s children. He loves us. He desires to be with us. But Jesus seems to want us to understand that we must never forget that while God is our Father, He resides in heaven. There is a stark differentiation between God and man. He is spiritual in nature. He exists elsewhere, outside of time and space. He is divine and we are human. He is the great creator God of the universe. Which should make our position as His children that much more remarkable to us. We are children of God! And that designation is not shared by all mankind. While all men have been created by Him, only those who have placed their faith in Jesus as their Savior from sin can claim the unique designation as sons and daughters of God. John writes in his Gospel, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13 ESV). So when we come to God in prayer, we must remember that He is God. Yes, He is our Father, but that intimacy should always be tempered with respect and recognition of His majesty and glory. We should also recall that our entrance into His presence is a privilege, not a right. We enter by virtue of the blood of Christ, not our own self-worth or any intrinsic value. We have been adopted by God. That should blow us away. We can come freely, gladly, boldly, expectantly, but it should always be reverently, with a unwavering recognition of God’s holiness. But we’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

The Privilege of Knowing God.

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. – 1 John 5:20 ESV

1 John 5:13-21

John closes his letter with a strong note of affirmation: “We know that the Son of God has come.” John has given his own personal testimony to that fact, along with the testimonies of the three very reliable witnesses, not to mention God Himself. The evidence is more than sufficient to prove that Jesus not only came, but that He was and is the Son of God. He existed before the creation of the world with God. Not only that, He played a major part in the creation of the world. John begins his gospel with these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3 ESV). The deity of Jesus is essential to the plan of salvation. Without it, mankind’s sin problem remains unchanged. We are left with the ever-present reality of sin in our lives and the complete incapacity to refrain from sin or remove the guilt and sentence of death associated with it. There were those in John’s day who believed that Jesus simply came to show us a better way to live. He came to give us a more enlightened moral code by which to conduct our lives. But Jesus’ entire life led to the cross, where He sacrificed Himself for the sins of mankind. He atoned for man’s sin by offering Himself as a worthy, sinless sacrifice. And as a result, when anyone places their faith in Him as their Savior and sin substitute, they receive not only cleansing from sin, but His righteousness. In other words, Jesus didn’t just pay our debt off and bring our balance to zero. That would still have left us spiritually penniless and helpless. No, what Jesus did was give us His righteousness. He replaced our indebtedness to God with the wealth of His righteousness. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). Not only that, He provided a way for us to know God and experience fellowship with Him for the very first time in our lives.

We can know the one, true God. No longer are we left to try and conjure up our own version of God or find something else that might act as a stand-in for Him. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, we can actually, legitimately know God. We can come into His presence. And when we do, we come as His children, not groveling, fearful debtors. He looks on us as His own children. He sees us as righteous, because our sins have all been paid for in full – past, present and future. We no longer have to try and earn His favor. We don’t have to attempt to measure up and keep our sin-quotient below 50 percent. Yes, we are to live holy lives, because that is what He has called us to. But we don’t do it out of a sense of obligation or in order to earn His love and favor. We do it gladly, out of love for Him. And we do it in the strength He has provided us through His indwelling Holy Spirit. Our testimony can be that of Paul’s, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV). Through the Holy Spirit, Christ lives in us. The Spirit of God has taken up a permanent residence within each and every believer.

But the main point John leaves us with as he closes out his letter is that “we may know him who is true.” By coming to know Jesus as Savior, we come to know God the Father. There is no other way. Any other attempt to come to know God will fall short. It will end in idolatry, a false form of God. Rather than the true God, man will always end up worshiping false gods – apart from Christ. John wants us to know that Jesus makes it possible for us to know the one true God and experience eternal life. But one of the false perceptions among many believers is that eternal life is somehow a commodity. It is some kind of future reward reserved for those who make the right choice and place their faith in Jesus. But Jesus said, “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3 ESV). Knowing God and Jesus is eternal life. It is the reward. A relationship with God and His Son is the prize. But do we value it? Do we fully appreciate the remarkable reality that we can have an intimate, experiential knowledge of God – right here, right now? Jesus has made it possible for us to know and understand the infinite, indefinable, all-powerful God of the universe. Through the living word, Jesus; and the written Word, the Scriptures; and the indwelling Spirit; we can know and understand God. We can come to comprehend His character and nature. We can grow in our knowledge of Him. We can increasingly see His incredible love for us and respond in kind. Rather than seeing Him as distant, detached and difficult to understand, we can know and love Him. And we don’t have to wait for heaven in order to start. What an incredible privilege.

American Idols.

Little children keep yourselves from idols. – 1 John 5:21

1 John 5:13-21

What an interesting way to end a letter. After spending all of his time defending the deity of Jesus, ensuring his readers of Jesus’ Sonship and role as Savior, encouraging them to love one another and warning them of false teaching, John closes with a warning about idols. It seems a bit abrupt and unnecessary. After all, he is writing to believers. These were people who loved Jesus and worshiped God. Why would he need to warn them about worshiping idols? Because that is the natural tendency of all men – both saved and unsaved. We are wired for worship. But John has made it clear that our worship is to be directed toward God and His Son Jesus Christ. We are to worship no one or nothing else. An idol is nothing more than a false representation for God. It is something we turn to other than God for hope, help, assurance, acceptance, joy, and ultimately, salvation. It can be whatever we give our time and attention to, including money, our career, our marriage, children, material things, recognition, power, prestige, or a host of other good and not-so-good things that we place our trust in other than God.

So John begins his letter with a personal testimony regarding the deity of Jesus. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-3 ESV). Then he ends it with a warning to avoid idols. He knew that there was a constant capacity within his readers to turn their worship of God and His Son into the worship of something or someone else. They could even falsely worship God. That is what the former members of their fellowship had done. They rejected Jesus as their Messiah. They claimed to have fellowship with God, but refused to accept the idea that Jesus was the key to that relationship. Rather than worship Him as the Son of God and Savior of the world, they had manufactured their own version of Jesus, making Him into a mere man whose life was worthy of emulation. They redefined Jesus. But John exposed the fallacy of their thinking. “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23 ESV). You can’t have a relationship with God without the Son. To attempt to do is to turn God into an idol. He becomes a false God. You make Him a liar, John says, because it was He who testified to the very fact that Jesus was His Son and the long-awaited Messiah or Savior.

Idol worship is a constant temptation for believers. We can make a god out of doctrine. We can worship our knowledge of the Bible. We can place our trust in a pastor or teacher, which is not necessarily wrong, unless we place them on a pedestal, making them our sole source of strength, comfort, direction, and encouragement. As believers, we are never free from the temptation to make money and materialism our gods. We still have a powerful propensity to worship self – seeking comfort in our own significance. We can seek satisfaction in a host of worldly things, from sexual pleasure to material gain. Which is why John warned, “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15 ESV). He said, “the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world” (1 John 2:16 NLT). When they take on more importance than God, they have become our idols. When we think about these things more than we do God and His Son, we have allowed them to become false gods.

Man is born with a God-shaped vacuum in his life. He will inevitably fill it with something or someone. No one worships nothing. But John would have us remember that we are God’s children. We belong to Him. As believers, we are not only His creation, we are His spiritual children. We are born of God, both physically and spiritually. And He has given us His Son in order that we might have a right relationship with Him. So that we might worship Him. The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Man was created to glorify God. But sin separated man from God. It replaced the worship of God with the worship of self. Sin is rebellion to and rejection of God’s rightful place at the center of our affections. It is a desire for something other than God. It is a desire to make ourselves god. But Jesus was sent by God to remedy not only our sin problem, but our worship disorder. He came to provide us atonement for and forgiveness from the penalty of sin. But He also came to restore us to a right worship of God. Some of us have gladly accepted God’s gift of salvation, but have never fully recognized that we were saved to worship. God restored us so that we might recover our love for and worship of Him. We are not to worship salvation. We are to worship the one who provided it. We are not to worship heaven, but the one provided us access into His presence and with whom we will spend eternity in a loving Father-child relationship.

Knowing God.

And we know that the Son of God has come, and he has given us understanding so that we can know the true God. And now we live in fellowship with the true God because we live in fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only true God, and he is eternal life. – 1 John 5:20 NLT

1 John 5:13-21

We can know God. That should be an amazing, mind-blowing thought, but to most of us, it carries little or no weight. It has long lost its significance, if it ever had any. We have grown so used to using God’s name and claiming to have a relationship with Him that we no longer understand the unbelievable nature of that reality. Because of Jesus and His death on the cross, we can know God. The term that John uses for a knowledge of God is ginōskō and it is the same Greek word used when talking about the sexual intimacy between a woman and a man. It is an intimate word. It is not merely describing a cerebral or cognitive kind of knowledge – head knowledge. It is a knowledge grounded on personal experience. In other words, it is heart-knowledge. We have the unique privilege of coming to know the God of the universe – intimately, closely, lovingly, and experientially. I can actually know God, not just have knowledge about God. What’s the difference? Why does it matter? It matters because Jesus gave His life so that we might be reconciled, made right with God. He died so that we might have life, but that life is intended to be focused on and lived out for the glory of God, not ourselves. We were once alienated and separated from God. Paul reminds us, we “were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions” (Colossians 1:21 NLT). He tells us that “while we were still his enemies,” God sent His Son to die for us. Why? Just so we could go to heaven some day? No. So that we might have a restored relationship with Him. We can have what Adam and Eve had before the fall changed everything. We can have communion with our creator God. We can have fellowship with Him. We can know Him closely – like a child and a father.

In his letter to the Colossian believers, Paul told them that he never ceased to pray for them, asking that they “may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10 ESV). It is interesting that Paul puts equal emphasis on knowing God’s will and knowing God. It is only as we grow to know Him better that we will come to know what He loves, how He thinks, what He desires, and what His will for us might be. I always find it fascinating that, when Jesus prayed in the garden on the night He was to be betrayed, He described eternal life in these terms: “that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3 ESV). Jesus died so that we might come to know His Father in the same way that He does. It is about relationship, not religion. Christianity is not about performance or earning favor with God. It is about understanding the love of the Father and growing in our appreciation for that unmerited, undeserved love. It is about coming to know just how loving, gracious, kind, generous, forgiving, merciful, and patient our heavenly Father really is. Our quest in life is not to please God, but to grow to know Him. God is not asking us to perform for Him or prove our love for Him. He is asking us to rest in the love He has for us – a love so powerfully illustrated in the sacrifice of His own Son on our behalf. Far too many of us don’t know what it means to be a Christian because we don’t know what it means to know God. Some of us live in fear of Him. Others of us misunderstand Him. Many of us take Him for granted. There are those who see Him as distant and unknowable. He doesn’t hear their prayers. He doesn’t show up in their lives. For them, God is an impersonal, unperceivable God, who remains a mystery to them. But Jesus died so that we might know Him. He gave His life so that we might spend the rest of our lives getting to know God better and better. God desires a relationship with us. He wants to reveal Himself to us. He has placed His Spirit within us, provided His self-revealing Word to us, and proved His love for us. All He asks in return is that we seek to know Him, “the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20 ESV).

Divine Protection.

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. – 1 John 5:18 ESV

1 John 5:13-21

The possibility of committing sin is an ever-present reality for believers, as much as it is for the lost. John made it clear earlier in his letter, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8 ESV). It is essential to remember that John was writing to believers in Jesus Christ, those who had placed their faith in Him as their Savior and sin-substitute. Jesus had died as the propitiation for their sins, completely satisfying a just and holy God by paying in full the penalty due to God for the sins of all the world – for all time. But while our sins are paid for and there is no longer any condemnation or death sentence hanging over our heads, we still have the capability to commit sin. Which is why John went on to say, “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 ESV). In John’s understanding of the doctrine of salvation, there is no doubt that he believed in the complete effectiveness of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. He knew and believed that Jesus “appeared to take away sins” (1 John 3:5 ESV). In fact, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ESV). With His death, Jesus made it possible for those who believed in Him to live their lives free from the control of sin. He set them free from slavery to sin. Jesus made a life of righteousness not only possible, but the expected norm for His followers.

John gives us the encouraging and comforting news that “everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning” (1 John 5:18 ESV). Sinfulness is no longer the normal behavior for believers. Before Christ, our entire lives were marked by sin. It was our only nature. All that we did was done in rebellion to and in defiance of God – even our best efforts and most righteous behavior. Prior to placing our faith in Christ, we followed “the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else” (Ephesians 2:3 NLT). We were driven by the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). We couldn’t stop sinning. But all that has changed. We have received new natures. We have been given the Spirit of God to indwell and empower us. God has provided us with a new capacity to live in keeping with our new identity and standing. We are righteous, because of the righteousness which was imputed to us by Christ. On the cross, He exchanged our sin for His righteousness. Jesus, the one “who was born of God protects him” – the one who has faith is Jesus (1 John 5:18). Not only does Jesus save us, He protects us – preventing the evil one from touching us. On the night on which He was betrayed, Jesus spent time in the garden praying to His Father. One of the things He prayed was, “I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one” (John 17:14-15 ESV). It was His desire then that we be protected from Satan, and it is still His desire today. While “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19 ESV), we are protected by God as we continue to live in the midst of it. Praying on our behalf, Jesus asked the Father, “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth” (John 171:17 ESV). Why, because we are not of this world any more than He was. We don’t belong here. We are in enemy territory. We are surrounded. But we have divine protection. From sin and Satan. We know that, because we are born of God, we are no longer children of this world. We are no longer slaves to sin. “We know that we are from God” (1 John 5:19 ESV) and “no one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he was been born of God” (1 John 3:9 ESV). God’s DNA has been implanted within us. We have been rewired from the inside out. As God’s children, we are loved by Him, and because He loves us, He protects us. He watches over us. He will not leave us or forsake us. And He has His best in store for us.