The True Offspring of Abraham

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” John 8:31-41 ESV

This entire encounter between Jesus and His adversaries has taken place in the treasury of the temple, the area located in the Court of the Women. Between the colonnades of the courtyard were placed 13 boxes that were used for the collection of voluntary monetary contributions to the care and maintenance of the temple. Two of the boxes were dedicated to the collection of the half-shekel tax, which was required of every male Israelite of age, including proselytes and slaves. Mark describes the use of these offering boxes in his Gospel.

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. – Mark 12:41-42 ESV

It was in this environment, the only area on the temple mount where women were allowed to enter, and where vast sums of money were collected and stored, that Jesus chose to address the crowd about His role as the “light of the world” (John 8:12 ESV). He had come to shed the light of God’s glory through His sinless life but, ultimately, through His sacrificial death. As the Son of God, He would become the offering that would pay the debt owed by sinful mankind and satisfy the just demands of His holy Father in heaven.

Jesus had come to earth in order to accomplish the will of His Father, which required that He give His life as a ransom or payment for a sinful and condemned humanity. He even alluded to His death and the role the religious leaders of the Jews would play in bringing it about.

“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he…” – John 8:28 ESV

And John indicates that, as a result of Jesus’ message, “many believed in him” (John 8:30 ESV). John doesn’t elaborate on what he means by this statement. But it seems clear that the belief of these people was limited in nature. They were becoming increasingly more convinced that Jesus was someone special, perhaps even the Messiah. But so much of what Jesus was saying still made no sense to them. They knew there was something special about Jesus but His claim to be the Son of God was outside their capacity to grasp. And Jesus was well aware that their belief in Him had its limitations. Which is why He addressed them directly.

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32 ESV

It is almost as if Jesus is expecting their belief to be short-lived. After all, He has already seen what happens when the content of His message becomes too difficult to understand or accept. Earlier in chapter six, John recorded the reaction of Jesus’ followers then they heard Him speak about eating His body and drinking His blood.

“This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” – John 6:60 ESV

At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. – John 6:66 ESV

So, knowing that His message was going to become increasingly difficult to accept, Jesus warned His so-called followers that the proof of true discipleship would be to remain committed to hearing and keeping His word. It wasn’t enough to accept the parts they found attractive. When Jesus had spoken of a bread from heaven that gives life, the people had been eager to get their hands on it. But when He had elaborated on His meaning by saying He was that bread and they would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood, they found His words distasteful and too difficult to accept. So, they had walked away.

The freedom Jesus offered would not be available until He had completed the task assigned to Him by His Heavenly Father. He was going to have to finish His mission by sacrificing His life on the cross. And all those who believed His death to be a satisfactory payment for their sins would find true freedom. Jesus states that they  “will be free indeed” (John 8:36 ESV).

But even this message of freedom becomes difficult for His audience to hear and accept. They immediately begin to reject His assessment of their condition, saying, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8:33 ESV). They found His words to be offensive, not attractive. As Jews, they were extremely proud of their heritage as descendants of Abraham. They viewed themselves as the recipients of all the promises made by God to Abraham. In their minds, they were the chosen people of God and the rightful heirs to all the blessings God had guaranteed to shower on His children.

They even viewed their current occupation by the Romans as a temporary setback. They refused to view their condition as that of slaves and found Jesus’ offer of freedom offensive. But Jesus didn’t have the Romans in view either. The freedom He was offering them was spiritual in nature. And He clearly points out the difference.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” – John 8:34 ESV

Remember what Jesus said: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” He had told them that a true disciple would continue to accept what He had to say, regardless of how difficult it might be to hear. Now, He accuses them of being slaves to sin. As Jews, they would have recognized the reality of their sinfulness, but they would have also taken great comfort in the forgiveness made possible by the sacrificial system. They counted on receiving atonement for their sins by dutifully presenting their offerings to God. But what they failed to understand was “impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 ESV).

The author of Hebrews goes on to say, “every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:11 ESV). The sacrificial system could only offer temporary absolution for sin. It could not provide a permanent release or freedom from the pervasive presence and power of sin. The very fact that the Jews had to continually offer their sacrifices was evidence that they were actually slaves to sin. But Jesus was offering them a different kind of sacrifice, that would provide a permanent solution to their sin problem – something the author of Hebrews points out.

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. – Hebrews 10:12-14 ESV

What the people believed about Jesus was incomplete and insufficient. Even if they believed Him to be their Messiah, they failed to understand that He had come to set them free from slavery to sin, not to offer them release from Roman oppression. They viewed themselves as children of God, but Jesus makes it clear that they are simply the descendants of Abraham.

“I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.” – John 8:37 ESV

They were Jews by birth and right, but that did not mean that they were children of God. And this is where Jesus began to address their real problem. Because they refused to accept Him as the Son of God, they were proving their lack of relationship with His Father in heaven. And Jesus is about to blow away all their preconceived notions regarding their identity as God’s chosen people. He makes a somewhat cryptic comment that is going to leave them furious when they finally understand what He implies by it.

“I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” – John 8:38 ESV

Their immediate response was to claim Abraham as their father. But Jesus counters that if this was true, they would be reacting to Him in a far different fashion.

“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. – John 8:39-40 ESV

They wanted to claim descendency from Abraham, but Jesus was revealing that they lacked the faith of Abraham. They failed to understand and believe in the promises of God as Abraham had. And the apostle Paul later explains what Abraham came to know and believe about the promises of God.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made…” – Galatians 3:16-19 ESV

The promises made to Abraham were to be fulfilled in Christ – the Messiah of Israel. While Abraham did not understand the full import of God’s words, he chose to believe and trust all that God had to say. And the book of Genesis records that Abraham “believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Genesis 15:6 NLT).

Yet the people listening to Jesus in the Court of the Women were having a difficult time receiving and accepting what He had to say. And while they would vehemently defend themselves, claiming to be the children of God, Jesus was about to drop another bombshell on them that would turn their belief in Him to anger and resentment.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Light and the Right

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:6-13 ESV

Up to this point in his gospel account, the apostle John has yet to mention the name of Jesus, choosing instead to refer to Him as the Word, the life, and the light. It seems that John is attempting to establish, from the outset, the divinity and eternality of Jesus. The birth of Jesus, while important to John, was only significant because the Word of God who was God took on human flesh. The co-creator of the universe became one with His creation by assuming the lowly nature of a man. The apostle Paul describes this divine demotion in stark terms:

he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being… – Philippians 2:7 NLT

John was not trying to underplay the humanity of Jesus. He had spent more than three years of his life living with and learning from Jesus. John had shared many meals with Jesus and seen Him fall asleep in the bow of a fishing boat, exhausted from the day’s activities. He had watched as Jesus wept over Jerusalem and the death of His friend, Lazarus. And he had been an eye-witness to the gruesome crucifixion of Jesus, watching in helplessness as his friend and teacher endured excruciating pain and eventually gave up His life. But John knew that the birth, life, and death of Jesus were meaningless if Jesus was not the Word of God and the light of men.

And John recalls how God had prefaced the arrival of Jesus in human form by sending a witness, a martyria – one who testifies. Unlike Jesus, this witness was a mere “man.” But he had been sent by God. In that sense, he followed in a long line of other men, the prophets of the Old Testament, whom God had sent to proclaim His Word to His chosen people.

But the people of Israel had endured a nearly 400-year period of silence, with no prophets or witnesses for God appearing on the scene. Malachi, the last of the prophets disappeared off the scene around 400 B.C. So, for four long centuries, the people of God had no word from God. He had gone silent. And those years had been anything but pleasant. The Israelites had no king and found themselves under the successive rules of the Persians, the Greeks, and, eventually, the Romans. Their land was under constant occupation by enemy forces, and they were subjected to the humiliation of living under Gentile rule. In 63 B.C., the Romans conquered Israel and subjected the land to military occupation and heavy taxation.

The people of God were relegated to living as little more than slaves in what had once been the land of promise. And their dire circumstances created in them an intense desire for the arrival of their long-awaited Messiah. The prophets had spoken of one who would come and rescue them from their suffering. He would be a warrior-king like David had been, wielding his sword on behalf of the downtrodden people of Israel and delivering them from their enemies. But with each passing year, their hopes of rescue grew dimmer as the Messiah’s arrival failed to take place.

But John emphasizes that there was hope. A light had pierced the darkness. A baby had been born who would prove to be the very one for whom the Israelites had been waiting. And that baby’s birth had been heralded by angels, proclaiming “the good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10 ESV).

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” – Luke 2:11 ESV

The word, “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of “Messiah.” The angels were announcing the arrival of the Savior of Israel. The 400-years of silence had been broken. The long period of darkness had been broken by the arrival of the light of the world.

Eight days after His birth, the parents of Jesus took Him to the temple in Jerusalem to be circumcised. There, a “righteous and devout” man named Simeon pronounced a blessing on the baby.

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
   that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.” – Like 2:29-32 ESV

The light had come. And some 30 years later, John the Baptist would begin to testify of the arrival of the light. The infant had become an adult and the earthly ministry of Jesus was about to begin. John the Baptist was given the responsibility to act as God’s herald, announcing the arrival of the Messiah.

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
    make his paths straight.’” – Matthew 3:1-3 ESV

John makes it clear that John the Baptist “was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light” (John 1:8 ESV). He was the messenger, not the Messiah. His job was to proclaim the arrival of the King and His Kingdom. And John the Baptist knew his place, fully recognizing that Jesus was someone and something special. He humbly announced, “Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal” (John 1:27 NLT).

And yet, the apostle John records that the good news regarding the arrival of the light of men received an unenthusiastic response from the people.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. – John 1:9-10 ESV

You can almost sense the disbelief and disgust in John’s words. How could these people fail to recognize the arrival of the light? The creator of the universe had penetrated the darkness of their world and they acted as if nothing had happened. They were completely oblivious to the momentous nature of what was taking place right in front of them. And, to make matters worse, John describes the failure of the Israelites to recognize and receive their long-awaited Messiah.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:11 ESV

The one they had longed for had finally appeared and they had chosen to reject Him. But John makes it clear that not all had rejected Jesus. He had been one of a handful of Jews who had chosen to follow Jesus because they believed Him to be the Messiah. John had been joined by Peter, who had said of Jesus, “You have the words that give eternal life” (John 6:68 NLT). It was Peter who also said of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV).

And John makes it clear that all those who received Jesus and “believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 ESV). John is writing these words after the fact – long after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. He is writing after the events of Pentecost when the Spirit of God had descended upon the disciples gathered in the upper room. John is penning these words with full confidence that Jesus was who He had claimed to be and who Peter had testified Him to be: “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And because Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, all those who believed in Him received life. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4 ESV). And that life was eternal in nature. The creator-God had given men their initial life, but the Son of the living God, the light of the world, had made it possible for men to have everlasting life. They were “were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13 ESV). 

John is describing the new birth, the Spirit-empowered transformation that takes place in an individual’s life when they place their faith in Jesus. It is what Jesus described to the Pharisee, Nicodemus.

“I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
 – John 3:3 NLT

And Jesus qualified His statement by adding, “Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life” (John 3:6 NLT). And that is John’s point in this passage. The new birth is not like human birth. It is not the result of human initiative. It is the miraculous work of God, made possible through the birth, death, burial, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. Those who received Jesus as the Christ and believed in His name as the Son of God enjoyed the amazing benefit of eternal life. They became children of God. Their acceptance of the Light provided them with the right to be adopted into God’s family. It was just as Jesus had told Nicodemus:

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3:16-17 NLT

The Light had come. And He had made possible the right to become a child of God. But belief was the key. Faith was the means by which eternal life became accessible and possible.

to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Future Glory Versus Present Suffering

13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 ESV

The Thessalonians had been distracted. They had taken their eye off the prize and were focusing on their present circumstances, wondering if, as the false prophets had claimed, that the day of the Lord had begun. Their trials and tribulations seemed to support the idea that the end had begun. So, they began to believe they were living in the last days. But this thought was creating confusion and causing them to doubt the teachings of Paul and his companions.

Paul describes the last days as being filled with apostasy, rebellion, and the judgment of God upon all those who reject the truth concerning His Son. As bad as things may have been for the Thessalonian believers, their conditions were nothing like those that will accompany the final days. And the presence of trials in the life of a believer was not to be confused with the future day of Tribulation. In fact, Paul and the other New Testament authors encouraged believers to welcome trials as a vital part of God’s plan for their ongoing sanctification.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. – James 1:2-4 NLT

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. – 1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT

God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. – Hebrews 12:10-11 NLT

Suffering and sanctification are inseparable in the life of the believer. Just as Jesus suffered in this life and then experienced the joy of glorification, so will we one day. And Paul reminded the believers in Rome that their status as children of God, made possible through their faith in Christ, also made them co-heirs with Christ. And part of their inheritance was the glory to come. But, as with Jesus, their suffering must precede their glorification.

And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Romans 8:17-18 NLT

But as Paul states, their present suffering was nothing when compared with their future glorification. And in his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul stressed the example provided by the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus.

6 Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:6-11 NLT

And Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers that they had been chosen by God “to be among the first to experience salvation—a salvation that came through the Spirit who makes you holy and through your belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT). Their experiences of suffering were proof of their salvation and sanctification. They had been given the privilege of suffering on behalf of Christ and Paul reminds them that their suffering has a purpose. It is a God-ordained process for increasing their dependence upon His indwelling Spirit so that their lives might display His power in their weakness.

And Paul had learned this truth from firsthand experience. Three different times he had asked God to remove “the thorn” in his flesh. But each time God had answered: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT). And this eye-opening lesson from God had radically altered Paul’s perspective on the role of suffering and weakness in the life of the believer.

So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT

Paul stressed to the Thessalonians believers that God’s ultimate goal behind their salvation was not their present happiness, but their future glorification.

To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 2:14 ESV

Their ultimate glorification would not come in this life, but in the life to come. In the meantime, God was using the presence of suffering and trials to expose their weakness and to encourage increasing dependence upon the Spirit’s presence and power within them. And Paul challenged them to stay the course. Not only were they destined to experience additional suffering in this life, but they would also find themselves bombarded by false teaching that contradicted the words of Jesus and His apostles.

So, Paul called them to “stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15 NLT). As he told the believers in Ephesus, his job was “to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12 NLT). And he was committed to doing just that.

This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. – Ephesians 4:13 NLT

His commitment was fueled by his belief in the transformative nature of the gospel message. Salvation was to result in sanctification. Faith in Christ was meant to produce those who bore the image of Christ. Spiritual infancy was to give way to spiritual maturity. And the spiritually mature are far less likely to be deceived and distracted by false teaching.

Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. – Ephesians 4:14-15 NLT

Paul closes out this part of his letter with a prayer that takes the form of a blessing. He asks God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son to provide the Thessalonians with comfort and strength in the midst of all their trials. Notice that he does not ask for the removal of their trials. His emphasis is on hope. This is a clear reference to their future salvation and glorification. God and His Son, Paul reminds the Thessalonians, “loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace” (2 Thessalonians 2:16 ESV). He stresses eternity and hope. His point is that the Thessalonians needed to quit being distracted by their current circumstances and the misguided teaching of the false prophets and refocus their attention on the finish line. 

If they kept their eyes on the prize, they would realize that “their present sufferings are not comparable to the glory that will be revealed” (Romans 8:18 BSB). And this future hope would provide the comfort and strength necessary to live transformed lives in the present.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

I Will Hope In Him

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man that he bear
    the yoke in his youth.

28 Let him sit alone in silence
    when it is laid on him;
29 let him put his mouth in the dust—
    there may yet be hope;
30 let him give his cheek to the one who strikes,
    and let him be filled with insults.

31 For the Lord will not
    cast off forever,
32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
33 for he does not afflict from his heart
    or grieve the children of men. – Lamentations 3:19-33 ESV

Jeremiah was not afraid to tell God how he was feeling. And one of the reasons he felt comfortable sharing his heart with God is because he knew how much God cared for him. He could dare to bare his soul because he believed that his Heavenly Father was already aware of his plight and was the only source of hope he had left. There was no king in Israel he could turn to for help. The army had been destroyed. The capital lay in ruins. Even the temple of God was nothing but a smoldering pile of rubble. And as Jeremiah surveyed his surroundings and evaluated his circumstances, the only thing he had left was his relationship with God.

Jeremiah’s mood was dark and he was having a difficult time accepting all that had happened. When he looked around him he saw nothing that could put a positive spin on his circumstances. Happy thoughts were hard to come by. Perseverance was in short supply. And his hope was dwindling fast.

I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “My endurance has perished;
    so has my hope from the Lord.”  – Lamentations 3:17-18 ESV

He was beginning to doubt God. The pressing problems of life were taking a toll on his faith. This prophet of God was allowing the circumstances of life to determine his perspective about God. But he caught himself. He realigned his thoughts and refocused his attention on what he knew to be true about God, and his hope was restored.

But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope… – Lamentations 3:21 ESV

And what was it that Jeremiah called to mind? The unwavering, never-ceasing love of the Lord.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV

In the midst of all the uncertainty surrounding him, Jeremiah found hope in the certainty of God’s love. With all the change that had happened in Judah, Jeremiah forced himself to focus on the one thing that would consistently remain the same: The faithful love of the Lord.

All that had happened in Judah was not to be taken as a sign that God no longer loved them. The judgment they had experienced had been an expression of God’s love for them. He had been lovingly correcting them.

“My child, don’t make light of the LORD’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” – Hebrews 12:6-7 NLT

Just as a parent disciplines a child, the LORD your God disciplines you for your own good. – Deuteronomy 8:5 NLT

But when you’re on the receiving end of God’s judgment, it is difficult to see it as loving and good. It is painful and unpleasant. It appears to be unkind and unnecessary. But the author of Hebrews would have us remember that even human fathers lovingly discipline their children. So, how much more so must our Heavenly Father discipline those whom He calls His own?

For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. – Hebrews 12:10-11 NLT

For Jeremiah, his hope was based on the unchanging nature of God. The love of God never ceases. His capacity to show mercy is endless. His mercies show up every day just like the morning sun. His faithfulness is great – which means it is beyond measure, limitless, totally sufficient and will never run out. The presence of problems was not to be seen as proof of the absence of God’s faithfulness. He was the covenant-keeping God who always fulfills His promises. And while things looked bleak in Judah, God had not abandoned His people or His prophet.

And Jeremiah, as much to himself as to the people around him, points out the key to thriving under the loving discipline of God.

The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
    to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly
    for salvation from the Lord.
And it is good for people to submit at an early age
    to the yoke of his discipline… – Lamentations 3:25-27 NLT

Yes, the days were dark. The conditions in Judah were bleak and unpleasant. But God was loving, gracious, kind, and compassionate. He had a purpose behind all the pain. Their suffering was intended to act as a divine wakeup call, alerting the people of Judah to the seriousness of their sin and their need for God’s salvation.

God had removed every prop upon which they had built their lives. Their human king and his earthly kingdom had been destroyed. Their prophets and priests, intended to be the spokesmen for God, had been silenced. The sacrificial system, meant to provide atonement for sin, had been eliminated. Their economy was shot. Their homes had been demolished. Their neighbors had been taken captive. And their prospects for the future were bleak. But God was still there. And that’s why Jeremiah said, “there may yet be hope” (Lamentations 3:29 ESV).

But before they could hope to be rescued by God, they were going to have to accept the discipline of God. They were going to have to willingly submit to His loving instruction. To stubbornly resist His discipline would do little more than prolong the pain. They had a lesson to learn and God would patiently persist until they were as willing to accept His instruction as they were His salvation.

And Jeremiah reminds his people that God’s steadfast love and unwavering faithfulness will one day result in their restoration to a right relationship with Him.

For no one is abandoned
    by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion
    because of the greatness of his unfailing love.
For he does not enjoy hurting people
    or causing them sorrow. – Lamentations 3:31-33 NLT

Despite the catastrophic circumstances surrounding the nation of Judah, God was not done with them. He had plans in place that would result in their future blessing. His love had not run out. His mercies had not been tapped out. This whole state of affairs was all part of God’s divine plan and He had already told them how it was going to work out.

This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” – Jeremiah 29:10-13 NLT

And this is what led Jeremiah to say, “this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.”

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Set Apart by God

44 For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. 45 For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:44-45 ESV

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV

In order to understand the concept of sanctification, we have to spend some time in the Old Testament. In Hebrew, the word qadash is most commonly translated as “sanctified.” But you can also find it translated as “consecrated,” “holy,” or “hallowed.” It carries a number of different meanings, including “to set apart or separate.”

God set apart or sanctified the seventh day, the Sabbath, as a special day to be marked by rest from work. He also set apart the priests and assigned them the responsibility of acting as His servants, caring for the tabernacle and offering sacrifices on behalf of the people. And God set apart the tabernacle itself by displaying the glory of His presence in the Holy of Holies.

Throughout the Old Testament, there are countless examples of qadash, the setting apart of something or someone by God for His use. God set apart Abram as His own, choosing him from among all the people on earth and making a covenant promise to make of him a great nation. 

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

And God kept that promise to Abram by blessing him with many descendants, who became the people of Israel. His decision to set apart Israel as His own possession was not based on some characteristic found in them, but was determined by His love for them. And God expressed His love by sanctifying them, setting them apart from every other nation on earth, and providing them with a one-of-a-kind relationship with Himself.

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 ESV

The nation of Israel enjoyed the unprecedented status of being God’s chosen people. But their relationship with God came with expectations from God. As the Leviticus passage reveals, their lifestyle was to reflect their sanctified status as God’s possession. He had set the apart as His own and their behavior was to reflect their status as His possession. And notice that God put certain restrictions on them that included their dietary habits. Thirty seven times in Leviticus 11, God uses the word tame’, to refer to those creatures which He deemed as “unclean” or “defiled,” and therefore, off limits to the Israelites. The list included camels, pigs, vultures, certain sea creatures, and insects. God refers to these creatures as being sheqets, which means “detestable” or “an abomination.” In a sense, God had sanctified these creatures as unholy. They were to be avoided at all costs. The people of Israel were to refrain from eating them. If they did so, they would become defiled and, therefore, unholy.

Even contact with them could make an Israelite impure. Which is why God warns the Israelites: “ You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them” (Leviticus 11:43 ESV). Instead, the people of God were to consecrate themselves or set themselves apart as holy to God. The word translated as “consecrate” is qadash, the same word translated later in the passage as “sanctify.” The people of Israel, having been set apart by God, were to set themselves apart through their actions, by faithfully obeying God’s commands.

Notice that their distinctive lifestyle was tied directly to their distinctive relationship with God.

For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:44 ESV

God tells them that, because He is set apart or holy, they were to be also. The Hebrew word translated as “holy” is qadowsh, and it is derived from the root word, qadash. The people of Israel were to live set-apart lives. God had called them to live distinctively different lives, set apart from the rest of the nations around them. They had been set apart by God and now there were to live as who they were. And that distinctiveness was to show up in everyday life.

God reminds the Israelites that He had redeemed them out of slavery in Egypt and had brought them to their own land. It was within that new land that their lives were to reflect their new status as His children.

“I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:45 ESV

By commanding the Israelites to “be boly,” God is not asking the them to become something. He is not suggesting that they have to set themselves apart or make themselves holy. No, He is demanding that they live in such a way that their lives adequately demonstrate their set-apart status. Why? Because they belong to Him and He is set apart and holy. There was no other god like Yahweh. And there was to be no other people like the Israelites.

And the apostle Peter picks up on this call to distinctiveness as he writes to believers living in the first century. Quoting from the Leviticus passage, Peter reminds New Testament followers of Christ that they too are to live set-apart lives.

First of all, he warns them not to go back to their old way of living.

Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. – 1 Peter 1:14 NLT

They were to be “obedient children,” living according to the commands of God. Not to win favor or to earn brownie with God, but as a means of reflecting their set-apartness. They had been chosen by God and their behavior needed to distinguish them as His children. Set apart people live set apart lives. Sanctified people live sanctified lives. Those who God has deemed holy should live lives that reflect their holiness. And Peter makes it clear that holy people strive to be holy in all their conduct. No compartmentalization. The Greek word Peter used is anastrophē and it refers to “manner of life” or “behavior.” There was to be no area of the believer’s life that was free from God’s expectation of holiness. God had set the entire individual apart, not just their soul, mind, or spirit. The apostle Paul told the believers in Rome:

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. – Romans 12:1 NLT

Christ-followers are to live set-apart lives, in every area of their lives. Like the Israelites in the Old Testament and the believers in the New Testament, modern-day Christians are to be holy because the God who chose us is holy. Our lives are to reflect our sanctified status as His children. We are to live like our heavenly Father, not perfectly or completely free from sin, but with an intention to show ourselves to be who He has made us to be: His children.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Justice and Mercy.

“And to the house of the king of Judah say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O house of David! Thus says the Lord:

“‘Execute justice in the morning,
    and deliver from the hand of the oppressor
    him who has been robbed,
lest my wrath go forth like fire,
    and burn with none to quench it,
    because of your evil deeds.’”

“Behold, I am against you, O inhabitant of the valley,
    O rock of the plain,
declares the Lord;
you who say, ‘Who shall come down against us,
    or who shall enter our habitations?’
I will punish you according to the fruit of your deeds,
declares the Lord;
    I will kindle a fire in her forest,
    and it shall devour all that is around her.” Jeremiah 21:11-14 ESV

God gave Jeremiah a message to deliver to the king of Judah. Actually, it was addressed to the house of David, signifying that this was intended for any and all kings who sat on the throne of David. They were to be men who administered justice, just as God does. They were to operate on His behalf, dispensing justice and mercy to the people of God. They were to care for the oppressed and needy, to protect the innocent and punish the wicked. God had ordained them to stand in His place, holding positions of power and authority, but doing so in righteousness and holiness. These men, like David, Solomon, Josiah, and Zedekiah, were to have been icons of virtue. They occupied their places of authority because God had made it possible. But they were to have represented His desires and mirrored His character.

As for the Rock, his work is perfect,
for all his ways are just.
He is a reliable God who is never unjust,
he is fair and upright. – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

The King in his might loves justice.
    You have established equity;
you have executed justice
    and righteousness in Jacob.
Exalt the Lord our God;
    worship at his footstool!
    Holy is he! – Psalm 99:4-5 ESV

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
    who executes justice for the oppressed,
    who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
   the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the sojourners;
    he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
    but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. – Psalm 146:5-9 ESV

But the kings of Judah were not the only ones whom God expected to dispense justice. Through the prophet Micah, He had given the people of God a clear indication of His expectation of them.

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:6-8 ESV

For God, the sacrifices and offerings they made to Him meant nothing if those who made them did not do justice, love kindness and walk in humility before Him. Going through the motions of offering sacrifices to God were meaningless if your daily actions did not reflect a love for Him as evidenced by your love for His people. The apostle John is quite blunt about those who claim to love God but fail to love others. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” (1 John 4:20 NLT). And in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave a similar admonition. “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matthew 5:23-24 NLT).

What good did it do to offer sacrifices to God if you were living out of step with His will? God wanted to see a change in their behavior. He wanted more than just ritualistic obedience. He wanted to see behavior in keeping with their faith. And when His people showed justice and mercy to one another, they were living as He would have them live. They were acting as His children, giving outward evidence of their relationship with Him as His sons and daughters.

But the kings of Judah had failed to obey God’s command. They had not dispensed justice. They had not cared for the oppressed. And their disobedience had been infectious, spreading throughout the nation and creating an epidemic of injustice among the people. So, God warned them, “my anger will burn like an unquenchable fire because of all your sins” (Jeremiah 21:12 NLT). The pride and arrogance of the people had become unbearable and God could no longer allow it to increase. They had become cocky, believing that their great walled city, occupying a prominent place on Mount Zion, was impenetrable and unconquerable. They believed they were divinely protected from defeat because they were God’s people living in the city that bore God’s name and held God’s temple. “No one can touch us here. No one can break in here” (Jeremiah 21:13 NLT).

But God had news for them. He said, “I myself will punish you for your sinfulness” (Jeremiah 21:14 NLT). He would personally oversee their destruction. And while idolatry and immorality would be major contributing factors to their demise, it was really a case of their injustice and refusal to care for the poor and needy that sealed their fate. They had become an overly religious people, but lacked a tangible expression of having been changed by their religion. They worshiped all kinds of gods, but failed to love their fellow men. Their lives did not reflect the character of God. They didn’t love like He loved. They failed to show mercy as He did. They refused to dispense justice to the poor, needy and oppressed. And their failure to do so led to their ultimate destruction by God.

It was the great king David who wrote:

“With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
with the purified you deal purely,
and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
You save a humble people,
but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down.” – 2 Samuel 22:26-28 ESV

God expects His people to emulate His ways. They are to express His character and reflect His heart in the way they live their lives. As His children, we are His representative on this earth, modeling and exhibiting His love, grace, mercy and justice to all those around us. We are to love others as we have been loved. We are to show mercy to others as He has shown mercy to us. We are to love justice as He does. Because we are His children.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Loving Father.

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. – Hosea 11:1-4 ESV

Sometimes, because God is transcendent and invisible to our eyes, we can see Him as distant and difficult to comprehend. After all, He is the creator of the universe. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. He is sinless and perfect in all His ways. So we find it hard to relate to Him. While we speak of His love and rely upon His grace and mercy, it’s not always easy to feel those things in daily life. After all, we can’t experience a hug from God. We have never been able to talk a walk with Him and have Him put His arm on our shoulder to encourage us. There is a sense in which His transcendence makes Him unapproachable and somewhat aloof to us. But God would have us see Him as our Father. In fact, He uses the imagery of fatherhood throughout the Scriptures. And Jesus Himself encouraged His disciples to approach God in prayer with the word, “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9 ESV).

Here in chapter 11, God addresses the people of Israel as a father would speak to his child. He reminds them of their past and jars their collective memory in order to get them to recall what their relationship with Him used to be like. He had been like a father to them. They had been like a helpless child, trapped in the bonds of slavery in Egypt. They were oppressed. They were crying out in pain and suffering. And God had heard them. When He had called Moses, God had told him, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8 NLT). And that is exactly what He had done. He had rescued them, set them free and led them to the land of Canaan, just as He had promised to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

God had shown the people of Israel unconditional love. He had rescued them, not because they deserved it, but because of His love for them. And yet, their response to His love had been to refuse it. The failed to recognize and appreciate the incredible miracle that the God of the universe had chosen to shower His love on them. He had adopted them as His own and yet, they had treated His love with contempt. The prophet Isaiah recorded these indicting words from God against the southern kingdom of Judah.

Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth! This is what the Lord says: “The children I raised and cared for have rebelled against me. Even an ox knows its owner, and a donkey recognizes its master’s care—but Israel doesn’t know its master. My people don’t recognize my care for them.” Oh, what a sinful nation they are—loaded down with a burden of guilt. They are evil people, corrupt children who have rejected the Lord. They have despised the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. – Isaiah 1:2-4 NLT

They were corrupt children who had rejected the love of God. And God uses the imagery of a father teaching his child to walk to illustrate just how painful their rejection of Him was. He had held their hand and lovingly, patiently guided their every step. He had walked alongside them, steadying their way and ensuring their safety. And then had inevitably fallen, He had lovingly healed them. Just like any earthly father would have done. It was Jesus who said of His heavenly Father, “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11 ESV). God is a faithful, loving Father. And yet, Israel, His adopted children, had forsaken Him for false gods. He had “led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love” (Hosea 11:4 ESV), but they had chosen to reject His love and come out from under His protection. Those cords of kindness and bands of love, portrayed through His holy law, had been intended to provide them with loving protection. Like a father’s rules for his children, God’s law was meant to provide appropriate boundaries and protective guidelines for their lives. But they had repeatedly broken God’s laws. They had seen them as oppressive and overly restrictive. But now they were going to understand what the yoke of oppression was really like. The generation to whom Hosea spoke had long ago forgotten the trials and tribulations their ancestors had gone through in Egypt. Slavery was not something to which they could relate. They had been born free and had enjoyed the privilege of growing up in a powerful, successful nation where problems were few and the blessings of God had been many. But the love of the Father had not been enough to hold their attention or keep them faithful.

When we fail to recognize God’s love, His fatherly care and protective presence in our lives, we find it easy to walk away from Him. Like the prodigal son who only saw his father as a source of financial blessing, we can overlook and take for granted our heavenly Father’s unceasing, undeserved love, care and protection. We can end up wanting what we can get from Him more than we want Him. We can treat Him as some kind of genie in a bottle, obligated to grant our wishes and fulfill our every self-centered desire. But God would have us realize just how much He loves us. The apostle John reminds us, “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1 NLT). And God demonstrated just how much He loved us in a powerful and very costly manner. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 ESV). The Father’s love for His children is real. It is boundless and tireless. It is patient and unceasing. And Paul would have us come to grips with the startling reality that nothing can separate us from God’s love. “If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself” (Romans 8:31-33 NLT).

Our Faithful God.

She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all.  But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”

When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the Lord said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”

Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel. – Hosea 1:6-11 ESV

After eventually giving birth to Jezreel, Hosea’s first son, Gomer would go on to conceive and bear two additional children to Hosea – a daughter who Hosea was instructed to name, “No Mercy” and a second son who was to be called “Not My People.” The girl’s name would literally be, “She Is Not Loved.” Now to get the full impact of what is going on here, you have to imagine Hosea calling out the names of his children on a daily basis, just as you and I do within our own families. Every time Hosea wanted to get the attention of one of his children or to introduce them to someone, he would be reminded of the tenuous status between the people of Israel and their God. Neighbors, family members and friends would also receive a not-so-subtle or appreciated nudge as to the spiritual state of the nation. The real sufferers in this context would have been the children themselves, whose very name would be like badges of dishonor their entire lives. What parent in their right mind would want to invite a kid named “No Mercy” or “Not My People” to their child’s birthday party?

But as usual, God’s purposes went far deeper than the personal sufferings of either Hosea or his children. God would making a divine statement about His dissatisfaction with His people. Their actions against Him were unacceptable and His judgment on them was going to be unavoidable. Things had gotten so bad in the northern kingdom of Israel that God was forced to conclude, “I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all” (Hosea 1:6 ESV). And even scarier than that was His sobering pronouncement, “for you are not my people, and I am not your God” (Hosea 1:9 ESV). God was going to give them over to their own rebellious desires. He was going to bring judgment for their unrepentant actions against Him.

God was in no way breaking His covenant promises with Israel. He was simply telling them that the relationship they had enjoyed with Him up until that time was about to radically change. His provision, protection and power would be removed. They had come to believe that their relative success as a nation was due to their status as the children of God, but now God was warning them that that was all about to change – radically. God, who is holy and righteous, cannot turn a blind eye to sin. He cannot simply tolerate or overlook the rebellion of those whom He has called His own. He was going to give the Israelites over to the natural inclinations of their hearts. They didn’t want to serve and obey Him, so He would make it possible for them to come out from under His rule and reign, and experience the “freedom” they so desperately craved.

And yet, God tells Hosea that at the same time, “I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God” (Hosea 1:7 ESV). When the history of the two divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah are examined closely, it is evident that both were guilty of unfaithfulness, but the southern kingdom of Judah has within its less-than-ideal historical chronology a few bright moments when a king would come to the surface who would serve God and lead the people in a renewed obedience to Him. These kings were few and far between, but they provide a marked contrast to the long line of rulers over the northern kingdom of who each, “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (1 Kings 16:25 ESV). It is important to remember that God had promised King David that He would establish his kingdom forever. “Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 NLT). God also told Solomon, David’s son, “I will establish the throne of your dynasty over Israel forever. For I made this promise to your father, David: ‘One of your descendants will always sit on the throne of Israel’” (1 Kings 9:5 NLT). So a major part of God’s promise to show mercy on the southern kingdom of Judah was in order to keep His promise to David. It was not that Judah was more faithful than Israel, but that God was faithful to fulfill all that He had promised. The southern kingdom of Judah was named after one of the two tribes from which it was comprised. And it was to be through the tribe of Judah, David’s tribe, that the Messiah would come. The prophet, Micah, had predicted, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past” (Micah 5:2 NLT).

In the midst of all the gloom and doom of this passage is found a small, but highly significant word: “Yet.” God tells Hosea, “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ it shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God’” (Hosea 1:11 ESV). In spite of all that God had said regarding His removal of His mercy and His rejection of the nation of Israel as His children, He was not done. His anger would not be long-lasting and His rejection would not be permanent. They may have proved unfaithful, but He would not be. The day was coming when His judgment would be unleashed on them in the form of the Assyrian army. But there was also a day coming when God would restore the entire nation of Israel – all twelve tribes – to their rightful place as His children. “And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel” (Hosea 1:11 ESV).

Too often we read passages like this one and focus solely on the judgment of God. But in doing so we miss out on the real message of His faithfulness. We fail to remember the rest of the story. God is not done yet. The redemptive story He is writing is far from finished. His faithfulness is beyond question and His steadfast, unfailing commitment to His promises is unshakeable. Israel would fail God, but He would not fail Israel. Even the southern tribe of Judah would end up falling under God’s wrath for their rebellion, but He would not abandon them forever. Why? Because He is the faithful, covenant-keeping God.

Accomplishing the Impossible.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV

These two verses contain two of the most stunning and intimidating admonitions to be found in the entire Scriptures. Paul begins this chapter with the word, “Therefore.” It would be like saying, “With all that in mind…” He was referring back to his earlier call to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV). He was also taking into account all that he had just said about putting off the old self and putting on the new self, which is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24 ESV). He has called his readers to a life of transformation, made possible by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Their attitudes and actions should be radically different. Their interactions with one another should be marked by gentleness, kindness, patience, selflessness, and love. He concluded chapter four by saying, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32 ESV).

Now he gives them two simple steps to seeing that their behavior matches what they say they believe: First, imitate God. Second, love like Christ. If we stop long enough to consider what Paul is really saying, our response should be one of incredulity. Are you kidding me, Paul? Have you lost your mind? You want me to imitate God? You expect me to love like Christ loved me? Do you have any idea what you are saying? You are asking the impossible. And in a certain sense, Paul is asking the impossible. There is no man or woman alive who can accomplish these two things on their own. But those to whom Paul was writing were not ordinary men and women. They were children of God, called and gifted by Him, filled with His Holy Spirit and recipients of a new nature. They were free to what they had never been able to do before: live godly lives that please and honor God. And as children of God, it would only be natural for them to imitate their heavenly Father. It would be normal and expected for them to see what He does and do likewise. God is gracious and merciful. So should they be. God is loving and patient. They should be as well. God hates sin. So should they. God is holy. And they were expected to be as well. The apostle Peter wrote, “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy” (1 Peter 1:15 NLT). But he wasn’t the first to say this. He had heard similar words from Jesus Himself. “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NLT). And Jesus was basically quoting from Leviticus 19:2, where God said to the people of Israel, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” God was not asking for perfection. Neither was Jesus or Peter. What they were encouraging was a life of set-apartness or distinctiveness, a life that emulated the character and heart of God, not of this world. 

When God calls us, He sets us apart as His own. We become His possession. We are adopted into His family and become His children. As such, we are to live according to His terms and to obey His will for our lives. Paul told the believers in Corinth, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV). We glorify God when we live out our lives in obedience to His will and in imitation of His own character. When we extend mercy and grace to those who don’t deserve it, we are imitating God. When we show kindness to those in need, we are imitating God. When we love the unlovely and unlovable, we are imitating God. When we despise sin so much that we refuse to participate in it, we are imitating God.

Not long before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples about the coming day of judgment, when God would call all those who had come to faith during the great tribulation. They would come to stand before the Lord and He would say to them:

Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

Then these righteous ones will reply, “Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?”

And the King will say, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” – Matthew 25:34-40 NLT

These men and women who will come to faith in Christ during the most horrific period in human history, will do the unthinkable and improbable. They will risk their lives to show the love and mercy of God to those who are suffering alongside them during the tribulation. And their actions will be in imitation of God and an expression of love to His Son.

Which leads us to the second part of Paul’s admonition. Love like Christ. Actually, Paul says, “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ” (Ephesians 5:2 NLT). Our lives are to be characterized by the love of Christ. His love was selfless and sacrificial. His love led Him to give His life. Jesus said that there was no greater expression of love than for someone to lay down their life for another (John 15:13). The apostle John takes this thought one step further by writing, “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16 NLT). The amazing thing about this is that God does not require us to actually die. He simply asks us to die to self, to give up our rights. He calls us to “Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 NLT). He expects us to “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10 ESV). He desires for us to exhibit “tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12 NLT).

Imitate God. Love like Christ. They sound impossible, but they’re not. Peter reminds us, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT). Paul knew it was possible, which is why he told the Philippian church, “Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people” (Philipiians 2:15 NLT). As impossible and improbably as it may sound, we can live like God and love like Christ.

Transformed.

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:25-32 ESV

What does it look like to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV)? And what would it mean to “no longer walk as the Gentiles do” (Ephesians 4:17 ESV)? Paul doesn’t leave anything up to our imaginations. While at one time, before coming to know Christ, we had futile minds and a darkened understanding, all that has changed. We used to be alienated from God and were ignorant of godly things because we had hardened hearts. We were callous, sensual by nature and greedy for more and more impurity. That was our old self. But when we came to know Christ, we were given a new nature, a new self, with the capacity to renew and redeem our entire way of thinking. And the way we think has a tremendous impact on the way we live. Which is why Paul encouraged his readers to “put on thew new self, created in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24 ESV). Then he described what that should look like in real life.

One of the first characteristics of our new life should be truth. Everything about our life outside of Christ was marked by falsehood and based on lies. Our view of God, if we had one, was false. Our perspective on sin and any need for salvation was flawed and influenced by the lies of Satan. We probably didn’t think we were that bad. Our view of our own sinfulness was relative, allowing us to see ourselves as somewhat better than others. But when we came to know Christ, we were suddenly exposed to the truth regarding our sin and the condemnation we deserved. We realized for the first time that any hope we had for restoration to a right relationship with God was possible only through Christ. We became aware that we were sinners in need of a Savior. We came to grips with the reality of God’s unapproachable holiness and our own unrighteousness. The magnitude of God’s incredible love as revealed through the death of His Son on the cross dawned on our darkened minds and opened our blind eyes to the truth of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

As believers we are to put away falsehood and deceit. We have to constantly eliminate the false ideas and faulty precepts on which we formerly based our lives. Instead, we are to “speak the truth with his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25 ESV). While lying was a natural part of our former lives, it is uncharacteristic and unacceptable in our new status as members of God’s family. We are to exhibit holiness and righteousness. For us, honesty isn’t just the best policy, it is the only one. While anger was a normal part of our pre-conversion experience, now we should view it as dangerous and destructive. While we can’t completely eliminate anger from our lives, we can learn to control it. Which is why Paul wrote (quoting from Psalm 4:4), “‘don’t sin by letting anger control you.’ Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV). Our old nature will try and justify our anger. It will want to defend it by labeling it as “righteous indignation.” But anger simply provides an entry point for the enemy. As believers, love is to be the primary characteristic of our lives. 

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus told those listening to His message:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:44-48 ESV

Salvation is not just about having our sins forgiven and our eternity secured. It is about life change. It includes our ongoing transformation through God’s divine process of sanctification. God doesn’t just free us from the penalty of sin, He liberates us from the power of sin in our lives, allowing us to live radically different lives right here, right now. As a result, the thief who comes to faith in Christ, is to no longer steal. He is to work. And rather than take from others, he is to share what he earns with those in need. His whole mindset about life is to change. As believers, our speech should reflect our new nature. Paul writes, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29 NLT). Again, notice the change in perspective. It is other-oriented, rather than me-centered. Our words are to build up, not tear down.

As believers, our conduct can grieve the Holy Spirit. When we live like we used to live, according to our old nature, we are not allowing the Holy Spirit to direct our lives, and this brings Him great sorrow. When bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander mark our lives, it is evidence that we are not living in the power of the Holy Spirit. These things are evidences of our old nature. But when we exhibit kindness, tenderness and forgiveness to one another, it is proof that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, producing His fruit through us. We are walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called. We are living in unity. We are being renewed and putting on our new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.