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

 

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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.

You Shall Be Holy.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:13-16 ESV

As we wait for the revelation of Jesus Christ and the redemption of our bodies, we have a responsibility, a duty. We have been born again to a living hope through faith in Jesus Christ. We have received the Holy Spirit of God as a permanent resident in our lives. He acts as a kind of down-payment or “the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Ephesians 1:14 ESV). Paul also says that God has “put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 1:22 ESV). We have been justified, deemed righteous by God, because of the atoning blood of Jesus. We stand before Him, free fr0m any condemnation, and as His adopted children, heirs to the incredible inheritance He has in store for us.

So in the meantime, we are to live like what we are. We have been set apart by God, consecrated for His use. We are “vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory – even us whom he has called” (Romans 9:23-24 ESV). Paul tells us, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7 ESV). In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “Or 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). This was the same point Peter was trying to make. While his readers were waiting for their future glorification, they were having to endure suffering and persecution because of their faith. So Peter felt compelled to remind them of who they were and how there were to live. In other words, he was calling them to live lives of holiness – as those who had been set apart by God and for God.

Peter calls upon an Old Testament passage to remind his readers of their responsibility. It is found in the book of Leviticus. It reads, “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44 ESV). The Hebrew word translated “consecrate” is the word qadash and it means “to set apart as sacred, consecrate, dedicate” (“Hebrew Lexicon :: H6942 (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). They were to live as who they were – those who belonged to God. He had redeemed and rescued them out of slavery. He was leading them to a land of abundance and blessing. They were His people and He was their God. But they were to live their lives in a distinctively different manner than all the nations surrounding them. The passage in Leviticus goes on to say, “You shall not defile yourselves…” (Leviticus 11:44 ESV). Moses used the Hebrew word, tame’ which means “to defile oneself, be defiled” (“Hebrew Lexicon :: H2930 (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). They were to remain qadash (set apart) by not tame’ (defiling) themselves.

So when Peter uses this passage, he is reminding his readers that they are already holy or set apart by God. But their choice of actions can result in their own defilement. That is why Peter wrote, “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15 ESV). So Peter told them to prepare their minds for action. Dr. Thomas Constable gives some helpful insight into just what Peter was trying to say. “He said in effect, Now that you have focused your thinking positively you need to roll up your sleeves mentally, pull yourselves together, and adopt some attitudes that will affect your activities” (Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes of 1 Peter, 2008 Edition). In other words, their holy standing was to show up in their every conduct. This was going to require that they be “sober-minded” or calm and collected. They would need to be thoughtful and circumspect in their decision-making. They would need to be careful and discerning in their conduct. Peter calls them to live as “obedient children” refusing to go back to living like they used to live. Peter told them, “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).

Holy living takes effort. It doesn’t come naturally for us as human beings. Because of the fall, we have been polluted by sin and, even as Christian, we still retain our sin nature. Paul tells us, “The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions” (Galatians 5:17 NLT). His point is that, if we attempt to live holy lives in our own strength, in our flesh, we will fail. But if we rely upon the Holy Spirit within us, we can live in such a way that our lives reflect the true nature of who we are: children of God. But Peter provides us with one more thing we must do: “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13 ESV). Our current spiritual health is totally reliant on our future hope. If we do not constantly remind ourselves of what God has prepared for us in the future, we will have difficulty understanding or enduring the difficulties that come in this life. Holy living requires that we see ourselves as holy people, set apart by God for His use. We belong to Him. We are His children and our actions and attitudes in this life should reflect our belief that He has promised us a rich inheritance in the next life.

 

Not Seeing Is Believing.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. – Hebrews 11:8-10 ESV

The first four words of this section of Hebrews 11 are critical: “By faith Abraham obeyed.” It would be easy to put the emphasis on the latter half of the statement, making the obedience of Abraham the point. But the author is clearly out to build a case for his opening statement: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Abraham’s obedience, while important, takes a back seat to his faith. It is a byproduct of his faith. As the author said in verse six, “without faith it is impossible to please God.”

We have to go back to the Old Testament book of Genesis to see the complete story of Abraham’s call and his subsequent obedience to that call. He was living in Haran with his father and the rest of his family. They had moved there from Ur. And it was while he was living in Haran that God came to Abram (his original name), and said, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3 ESV). What’s important to notice is that the text indicates that God had not told him exactly where he was going. Even the passage in Hebrews says that Abram “went out, not knowing where he was going.” This is an important part of the story. All Abram knew was that God had called him and he was offering to give him some land and to make him a great nation. While some pretty impressive promises, let’s admit that they were a bit vague. Anyone would naturally want to know where and how. Where do you want me to go? How are you going to make me a great nation? But the point is that, “by faith Abraham obeyed.” He had no idea where he was going or how God was going to pull off what He had promised.

And Genesis tells us that Abram headed out, under the direction of God. Before long he found himself in the land of Canaan, a land occupied by none other than the Canaanites, the descendants of Ham, one of the sons of Noah. Abram was a descendant of Shem, another son of Noah. So once he got to where God was sending him, Abram found the land already taken by some distant family members. The author of Hebrews reminds us that “By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land” (Hebrews 11:9 ESV). And while the occupants of the land were living in houses, Abram and his family were forced to live in tents. They were little more than squatters and vagabonds, moving about from place to place, with no sense of stability or ownership. And this would last for generations, spanning the lives of Isaac and Jacob. He had received a promise of a land but never got to truly live in it or occupy it. The author tells us that “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10 ESV). The Greek word the author uses is ekdechomai and it means “to look for, expect, wait for, await” (Greek Lexicon :: G1551 (KJV). Blue Letter Bible. Web. 4 Feb, 2016. <http://www.blueletterbible.org). Abram was waiting for, expecting, anticipating some that had not yet come. He was eagerly and hopefully waiting for God to make his residence a permanent one. His understanding of the promise was that it would include a city made up of bricks and mortar, with walls, ceilings and floors – not a nomadic existence spent living in tents.

But he had to wait. And he had to deal with not only the existence of Canaanites, but the impact of a debilitating drought. It was so bad, he was forced to flee to Egypt. Not exactly what he was probably expecting. But through a series of unexpected chain of events, Abram arrived back in Canaan a wealthy man with lots of livestock. In fact, his flocks were so large that he and his nephew Lot had to decide to part ways in order to keep from running into conflicts over pasturing rights. And when he gave Lot the first choice of land, he chose the very best, leaving Abram with the less attractive portion. But Abram was trusting God. He was placing his hope and convictions in the promises of God. So that, even after Abram gave Lot the choice of the best land, God reconfirmed His promise to him.

Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you. – Genesis 13:14-17 ESV

According to God, the land was as good as his – all of it. Every square acre of it, including all of the land occupied by the Canaanites and by Lot. It was Abram’s land. Even though he had yet to take possession of a single foot of it. Abram’s faith was in God and His word. The fact that he did not have a permanent home or the deed to a piece of property in his possession did not diminish his belief that God was going to follow through on His promise. His faith was the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Abram and all the others listed in chapter 11, “died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). Their’s was a future-focused faith. It was based on a promise. And the promise was assured because the promise-maker was trustworthy. Abram knew that the promise of God was far greater and encompassed far more than just his individual blessing. God’s promise was regarding future generations and had far-reaching future applications. Abram would never live to see the complete fulfillment of God’s promise. He would be long gone by the time his descendants moved to Egypt. He would never live to see them multiply and grow to such a degree that the Pharaoh would become fearful of them. He would not experience the joy of watching God set his descendants free from captivity and led to the promised land. He would not enjoy the thrill of seeing them conquer the land of Canaan and make it their own. He would not see the rise of the kingdom of David or the splendor of the kingdom of Solomon. And he would never live to see the coming of the Messiah, the one through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

But Abram believed. He had faith. He obeyed. He worshiped. He waited. And he left the future in God’s hands. He had future faith because he believed in an eternal God who never fails to keep His word or fulfill His commitments. Paul would have us live by faith as Abram did. He reminds us, “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:23-25 ESV).

More Than Conquerors.

As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:36-39 ESV

There are those two words again: “These things.” It is as if Paul is presenting us with a juxtaposition that presents all of the “these things” related to our position in Christ and all of the “these things” that are tied to our time of suffering in this world. They appear contradictory and in conflict with one another. On the one hand, we are sons and daughters of God. We are joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. We have the Holy Spirit living within us, empowering us to deny our sin natures and live godly lives. He helps us in our times of weakness, even interpreting our prayers and bringing them into alignment with God’s will. We have the assurance of God’s unstoppable purpose for our lives and the promise of our future glorification. And yet, while we live on this earth, we suffer just as Jesus did. We face temptation. We have to constantly fight our own sin nature and fend off the attacks of the enemy. But Paul asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35 ESV). Then he goes on to list just a few of the obstacles standing in our way: Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and the sword. These are just a few of the “these things” Paul is referring to in verse 37. And he adds to the list in verses 38-39: Death, life, angels, rulers, things present, things to come, powers, heights, depths, or anything else in creation. The New Testament In Modern English puts those two verses in language we can understand.

I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord!

We are more than conquerors, Paul emphatically states. We are over-comers and, ultimately, victors over anything and everything that stands in our way in this life. Why? Because of Christ’s finished work on the cross. He loved us enough to die for us. He loved us so much He rose for us. He loved us even though He left us, because He sent His Spirit to live within us. He loves us enough to intercede for us with His Father. He loves us enough that one day He is returning for us. Jesus told His disciples, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3 ESV).

The problem we face is the constant temptation to judge the love of God based on what is happening to us at a particular moment in time. If we find ourselves in a desperate circumstance, we can easily begin to wonder whether God really loves us. We can be tempted to doubt His faithfulness. We may begin to question His power or even debate His presence. But rather than focusing on what is happening, we need to learn to keep our attention on has already happened. God has already sent His Son to die for us. He has redeemed us with the blood of His innocent, sinless Son. He has adopted us as His Son and daughters. He has justified us – removing our sin and replacing it with His Son’s righteousness. He has given us His Spirit to live within us, providing us with the same power that raised Jesus from death to life. He has conquered sin and death. He has written our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life. In other words, God HAS loved us, all the way to the end. And NOTHING will ever separate us from that love. Nothing can snatch us from His hands. No one can change what God has ALREADY done.

The writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us, “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). Look at what he says. “He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” That is us. All who have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ are being perfected for all time. His sanctifying work in our lives is not yet finished, but it will be. The day is coming when we will be like Him. We will see Him. We will be with Him. The purpose of God for our lives will be finalized. We have been saved. We are being sanctified. And we will one day be glorified. We are more than conquerors, we are victors.

There is a wonderful song we tend to sing only at Christmas. It is by Thomas Kinkade and is called Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee. The closing lines fit perfectly with our verses for today.

Mortals, join the happy chorus,
Which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us,
Brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward
In the triumph song of life.



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Our Prayer Partner.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. – Romans 8:26-27 ESV

In the preceding verses, Paul encourages us to wait eagerly, hopefully, and yet patiently for the final stage of our adoption as sons and daughters of God and for the redemption of our bodies. There is a day coming when we will freed from these bodies of death as Paul called them (Romans 7:24). We will be given new bodies and the long-awaited opportunity to live in perfect, unbroken fellowship with God, fully enjoying our position as His children and all the benefits that come with being His heirs. But in the meantime, we must continue to live in a fallen world, dealing with the ongoing presence of our sin natures and struggling against the persistent attacks of Satan. Back in verse 17, Paul told us “we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Our glorification is coming, but in the meantime we sometimes find ourselves suffering as a result of our faith in Christ and our relationship with Him. And as we suffer as God’s children, we naturally call out to Him as our Father. We find ourselves too weak at times to handle all that is happening to us and around us in this world. We are constantly experiencing and witnessing the effects of sin. And so, in our weakness, we cry out for help. But there are times when we don’t even know what to pray. We aren’t even sure what to ask God for. And when we do ask, we sometimes never see the answer to our request.

In our present circumstances, our needs are constant, but Paul assures us that so is the help of the Holy Spirit. He helps us in our weakness. As we patiently, eagerly, hopefully wait for our final adoption and redemption, He comes alongside and assists us during this time of suffering. Paul says we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23 ESV). That word, “groan”, means to sigh or pray inaudibly. As we attempt to live holy lives in the midst of an unholy world, we find ourselves struggling with our own sin and the constant emotional bombardment from witnessing sin’s damaging influence over the world. So we pray. We call out. And when we do, we find ourselves asking God to remove the cause of our struggles. We beg Him to remove sickness from our loved ones. We ask Him to provide us with resources when our bank account is low or our pantry is bare. We plead with Him to remove our pain and restore our strength when we are weak. And when He doesn’t seem to answer those prayers, we become defeated, confused and, at times, even bitter and disillusioned. But Paul would have us consider that the Holy Spirit helps us in our times of weakness. When we don’t know what to pray, how to pray, or how to get what we pray for, He intercedes on our behalf. “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” The truth is, we don’t know what we need. Paul says, we don’t know what to pray for. We are like little children who ask for the obvious. Driven by our fallen human nature, we tend to ask for what we want, not necessarily what we need. If we have pain, we want it removed. If we experience sickness, we can think of nothing better than having it healed. Paul provided us with a personal testimony regarding this very thing. “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9 ESV). Whatever the “thorn” in Paul’s flesh might have been, Paul prayed that it be removed. But God had other plans and a higher purpose. He was protecting Paul from conceited, proud and arrogant over his position as God’s spokesman. Paul pleaded for the removal of the thorn, but the Holy Spirit interceded and turned those self-centered, comfort-oriented requests into prayers that matched the will of God.

We are children of God, but like all children, we rarely know what we truly need. The Spirit does, because He knows the heart and mind of God. If you ask a small child what he or she wants for dinner, they are likely to respond, “Ice cream!” That is what they want, but that is not what they need. And a loving parent would not give in to their request. Instead, they would provide them with what they truly needed, even though the child may feel like their “needs” are not being met. The difference between our prayers and those that the Spirit prays on our behalf are that He “intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” I don’t always know the will of God. I don’t always know what is best for me. But the Spirit does. And He is constantly taking my sighs, moans, and silent prayers, and turning them into requests that align with God’s will for my life as His child. So when His answers come, I may not always recognize them, but I can trust that they are just what I needed. I have a prayer partner who intercedes on my behalf. He knows the desires of my heart, the will of God, and how the two can become one. Like any loving Father, God is not interested in giving us all that we want, but He is determined to provide us with all that we need for life and godliness. And His Spirit helps us pray within His will so that we can always know that we are receiving the right answer at just the right time.