Abide

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another. – John 15:1-11,16-17 ESV

Yesterday, we looked at three different imperatives or commands found in the New Testament Scriptures that seem to provide Christ-followers with marching orders: Put on…, put off…, and grow up…. But we saw that these non-negotiable requirements were never intended to be a list of activities we pursue in order to make ourselves more righteous in God’s eyes. Each is meant to be a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. The commands to “put on Christ” and to “put on the new self” are not to be seen as actions we implement in our own strength, according to our own will power. They are actions that flow from an inner awareness of our need for divine help in our own sanctification or growth in Christlikeness. While the Scriptures are replete with calls that seem to indicate our need to put effort into our quest for spiritual maturity, we must never lose sight of the fact that our growth is never up to us alone.

In his letter to the Philippian believers, Paul told them to, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12 ESV). At first glance, that sounds a bit foreboding and overwhelming. It appears as if Paul is calling them to save themselves. But the key to understanding Paul’s meaning is found in the phrase, “work out,” which is actually one word in the Greek, and it literally means “to do that from which something results.” It is a picture of salvation, a work of God, lived out in daily life through tangible, visible expressions of change. In other words, God’s salvation of sinful men is to be trul life-changing and transformational. Not only does it have future ramifications, in terms of the promise of eternal life, but it also has immediate implications that show up in the form of abundant life, right here, right now. 

And to make sure that the believers in Philippi understood that this working out of their salvation was not a call to increased effort at living a righteous life, Paul clarifies that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13 ESV). In other words, our salvation is actually worked out through us as God works in us. And one of the key ways He accomplishes this work in us is by the presence of His Spirit within us.

In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul makes several interesting observations about the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence. First of all, he describes the Spirit as being the Spirit of God. Then he designates Him as the Spirit of Christ. And, finally, Paul seems to suggest that the indwelling Spirit is Christ Himself.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. – Romans 8:9-10 ESV

While all of this language may seem a bit contradictory or, at the least, confusing, it is simply a way of characterizing the total involvement of the Trinity in the sanctification of the believer. The entire Godhead, including the Father, Son, and Spirit, are unified in their work of transformating the believer into the likeness of Christ from “one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Notice how Paul easily exchanges and interchanges the names of Jesus and the Spirit as he discusses the divine transformation taking place in the life of the believer.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 ESV

For Paul, the Spirit’s work in sanctification could not and should not be divorced from that of God the Father of the Son. As the unified Godhead, their efforts are always symbiotic and synergistic. It is a collaborative relationship. So, in John 15, when we hear Jesus speaking of the one who abides in Him, we must understand that this is far more than a call to a relationship of dependence upon Himself. This call to abide in Him and to have Him abide in you includes the other two members of the Trinity.

The picture is one of communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is an interdependency involved, in which the believer enjoys a powerful and life-transformative union with the three members of the Holy Trinity. And, as if to stress the vital nature of this unity, Jesus discusses the topic of abiding 11 times in just 13 verses. Through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, God the Father and God the Son abide within the life of the believer, and this powerful union produces undeniable and unavoidable outcomes, which Paul describes as fruit bearing.

Eight separate times, Jesus ties abiding to fruit bearing, and He uses the imagery of a vine and branch to drive home His message. This aggrarian reference would have struck a chord with His audience, providing them with a clear and compelling metaphor that made His point easier to comprehend. As a branch must cling to or remain attached to the vine in order to produce fruit, so a believer must see himself as completely reliant upon his relationship with the Trinity in order to be fruitful. And the abiding of which Jesus speaks is not meant to conjure up thoughts of effort or expended energy. A branch doesn’t have to work at abiding. It’s role requires a degree of passivity and complete receptivity, that allows the vine to produce the preferred outcome. As Jesus makes clear, the branch, apart from the vine, is useless. And the believer, apart from his relationship with the Trinity, is powerless to produce fruit.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:4 ESV

And the goal is fruitfulness. In other words, fruitlessness is not an option. Someone who is united with Christ, restored to a right relationship with the Father, and indwelled by the Spirit of God, will produce fruit. And, as Jesus makes clear, not just a little fruit, but a lot. The lack of fruit in an individual’s life is not from a lack of effort, but from a lack of a relationship with Jesus.

While this passage has been used by some to promote the idea that a believer can lose their salvation, that is not what Jesus is teaching. And you won’t find support for that false doctrine anywhere in Scripture. While there will be those who claim to know Christ and who believe themselves to be in an abiding relationship with Him, the proof will be in the fruitfulness of their lives. The presence of God in the life of a man or woman will always produce fruit. The bearing of fruit is the God-ordained purpose for every believer, and our fruit-bearing brings glory to God, because it is the work of God, from start to finish. As Paul told the Philippian believers, “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13 ESV). And, as he told them earlier in the same letter, “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT). 

Abiding is not something we do as much as it is something we embrace. It is not an effort we expend, but a lifestyle we express, through our humble reliance upon the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. From the moment we place our faith in Christ, we must constantly remind ourselves of our complete dependence upon Him for all that we need. He is the vine. We are the branches. The fruit is His work, not ours. The credit is His, not ours. Through our union with Him, we enjoy the blessing of being used by Him, for the good of others and the glory of His name.

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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I Will Restore

18 Then the Lord became jealous for his land
    and had pity on his people.
19 The Lord answered and said to his people,
“Behold, I am sending to you
    grain, wine, and oil,
    and you will be satisfied;
and I will no more make you
    a reproach among the nations.

20 “I will remove the northerner far from you,
    and drive him into a parched and desolate land,
his vanguard into the eastern sea,
    and his rear guard into the western sea;
the stench and foul smell of him will rise,
    for he has done great things.

21 “Fear not, O land;
    be glad and rejoice,
    for the Lord has done great things!
22 Fear not, you beasts of the field,
    for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit;
    the fig tree and vine give their full yield.

23 “Be glad, O children of Zion,
    and rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given the early rain for your vindication;
    he has poured down for you abundant rain,
    the early and the latter rain, as before.

24 “The threshing floors shall be full of grain;
    the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
25 I will restore to you the years
    that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
    my great army, which I sent among you.

26 “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
    and praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
    and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.” Joel 2:18-27 ESV

In these verses. Joel communicates a much-needed message of hope to the people of Judah. It begins with the word, “Then….” Joel appears to be writing from a vantage point where he looking back and recollecting the response of God to the solemn assembly of the peoples, their mourning and fasting, and their cries of sorrow for their sin. But it could also be true, that Joel is speaking of future events, recording what God will do if and when the people truly repent. The problem of interpreting the first two verses of this section hangs on the Hebrew perfect verbs used by Joel. They can be translated into English as either past or future verbs. So, it is somewhat difficult to determine exactly which perspective Joel is writing from. But the context and the content of the chapter provide us with insight into the timing of God’s message.

God had already brought devastation to the land via the locust plague. He has warned the people of Judah that a great army is coming from the north that will make the destruction of the locusts pale in comparison. And He has called the people to turn to Him in repentance. Now, God assures them that, if they return to Him with all their heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and if they rend their hearts and not their garments (Joel 2:12), He will show them pity. Why? Because “he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:14 ESV).

And God tells them exactly what He is going to do, if and when they do repent.

“Behold, I am sending to you
    grain, wine, and oil,
    and you will be satisfied;
and I will no more make you
    a reproach among the nations. – Joel 2:18 ESV

There appear to be two different aspects to God’s promise. The first has to do with the damage done by the locusts. This entire section is full of references to horticulture. God mentions grain, wine, oil, pastures, fields, trees, and vines. He refers to threshing floors full of grain and vats overflowing with wine and oil. It is a picture of abundance and blessing that stand in stark contrast to the conditions described in chapter 1. There, Joel painted a much bleaker image depicting barren vines, stripped fig trees, dried up fields, and fruitless harvests.

Chapter one describes the justified consequences of the peoples’ rebellion against God. Chapter two, verses 18-27 describe the mercy and grace of God in response to true, heartfelt repentance. God had brought His divine judgment upon the people of Judah, and He had warned that more was to come – if they refused to repent. But here He is telling them what the fruit of repentance looks like.

“The threshing floors shall be full of grain;
    the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. – Joel 2:24 ESV

God is assuring them He has the capacity to restore all that had been destroyed.

“I will restore to you the years
    that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
    my great army, which I sent among you.” – Joel 2:25 ESV

The key to their restoration was their repentance. All that prevented them from enjoying the manifold blessings of God was their willingness to return to Him in humility and contrition. He wasn’t looking for some kind of mock sorrow or insincere statement of remorse or regret. God wanted true repentance, marked by a rejection of their formal lifestyle of sin and a child-like submission to the will and ways of God. Hundreds of years earlier, God had told them exactly what they were to do if He  “shut up the heavens so that no rain falls, or command grasshoppers to devour your crops, or send plagues among you” (2 Chronicles 7:13 ESV).

Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV

But notice the phrase, “seek my face.” The Hebrew word baqash carries the idea of desire. It conveys a sense of longing and a willingness to continue seeking until you find what it is you desire. It was God’s desire that they desire Him more than anything else. More than their overflowing vats of wine, fields full of ripe grain, fine clothes, comfortable homes, and yes, false gods.

God had communicated a similar message to the people of Judah through the prophet Jeremiah.

“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. I will be found by you,” says the LORD. – Jeremiah 29:11-14 NLT

Again, don’t miss the conditional nature of God’s promise. “If you look for me wholeheartedly” or with all your heart. God wasn’t interested in a form of repentance that looked more like regret and a veiled attempt to escape His discipline. He wanted them to want Him more than they wanted relief from judgment. He wanted them to desire Him more than they desired His blessings. Their wholehearted seeking was to be for Him, not for what they could get from Him.

But there is a second part to God’s promise. Not only will He restore their land to fruitfulness. He promises that He will “remove the northerner far from you, and drive him into a parched and desolate land, his vanguard into the eastern sea, and his rear guard into the western sea” (Joel 2:20 ESV). In other words, their repentance will result in the removal of the threat of foreign invasion. Remember, God had told them that “he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:13 ESV). He has the power to do whatever He chooses to do. But His relenting was directly tied to their repenting.

All of this had to have sounded like great news to the people of Judah. And it got even better. God promised them great days ahead.

“You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
    and praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
    and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.” – Joel 2:26-27 ESV

Two times God promises that they will never again be put to shame. The pain, suffering, humiliation, and feelings of having been abandoned by Him will never be felt again. But has this promise been fulfilled? Even a cursory glance at the history of Israel reveals that they have a long association with shame. The army from the north did eventually show up and destroy their capital, demolish the temple, and take their people captive. And over the centuries, the Jewish people have experienced their share of shame, humiliation, sorrow, and subjugation at the hands of foreign enemies.

But God promises them that He has plans for them. And as Jeremiah recorded,  “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope…” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT). God was offering them restoration and rejuvenation – if they would repent. But He also promised future redemption, even if they didn’t. God knew His people well. And He was fully aware that true repentance on their part was not going to happen. Therefore, His judgment would come. The Babylonians would show up, the kingdom would fall, and the people would be taken captive.

God had warned them to repent, but they won’t. But He had promised to restore, and He will. And, as we will see, God promise of restoration will include more than just the people of Judah, because He says,  “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…” (Joel 2:28 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

 

The Mystery Explained.

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” – Matthew 13:18-23 ESV

The disciples had asked Jesus why He spoke to the crowds using parables. In a sense, they were wondering why He didn’t just say what He had to say. It’s likely that they found the parables just as difficult to understand as anyone else. So, He told them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11 ESV). But it’s obvious that they didn’t know what the parable meant, because Jesus went on to explain its meaning to them, something He did not do for the people in the crowd. He was treating the disciples differently, in keeping with His statement: “For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance…” (Matthew 3:12 ESV). The disciples had a relationship with Jesus, because they believed Him to be the Messiah. They had each left all to follow Him and, while they did not fully grasp the significance of who He was and what He had come to do, they eagerly listened to what He had to say. Which is what led Jesus to say of them, “blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear” (Matthew 13:16 ESV).

And it was their child-like faith in Him that prompted Jesus to explain the secret of the parable to them. The story was simple, relating the efforts of a single sower, who sowed one kind of seed that fell on four different types of soil. And the outcome of the sower’s efforts were mixed. Some of the seeds were eaten by birds, never having time to germinate. Some seed fell on rocky ground and, lacking depth of soil, they sprang up but quickly withered. Other seeds fell among thorns and, while these seeds were able to germinate and grow, they were unable to survive within the harsh environment. Finally, a portion of the seeds actually made it into good soil where they not only survived, but thrived, producing an abundance of grain.

But what’s the point? That’s what the disciples wanted to know. They could fully understand the various scenarios Jesus described, but had no idea what it had to do with the “secrets of the kingdom of heaven.” So, Jesus explained the meaning behind the story.

The seed represented the word about the kingdom. If you recall, both John the Baptist and Jesus had proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” They were referring to the kingdom of the Messiah, the one of whom the Old Testament Scriptures prophesied and God had promised to send. And Jesus was the fulfillment of those prophecies and the promise. He was the long-awaited Messiah. But He had not come to set up an earthly kingdom. At least, not yet. As Messiah, He had not come to save the Jews from the tyranny and taxation of the Romans, but from slavery to sin. His arrival was not to mark their release from Roman oppression, but from the condemnation of death they all faced as a result of their rebellion against God.

But that message, while widely broadcast to any and all who would hear it, would not find everyone receptive to it. What’s interesting in the story is that the sower seemed to know that his seed was falling in places where it would prove unfruitful. He didn’t seem to worry about the outcome as much as he did about getting the seed distributed. The apostle Paul understood the significance of this thought.

After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. – 1 Corinthians 3:5-7 NLT

The sower simply sowed and left the result up to God. And the seed, or the message of the kingdom, made its way to each scenario, but with varying degrees of success. There was nothing wrong with the seed, but the receptivity of the four types of soil played a significant role in the ultimate success of the sower’s efforts.

The seed that fell along the path was quickly devoured by bird. Jesus compares the birds with Satan, who snatches up the message of the kingdom before it can take root in the heart of those who hear it. The apostle Paul describes Satan’s efforts in stark terms:

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

The seed that fell on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and respond favorably to its content, but their enthusiasm is short-lived. As soon as they face the first sign of persecution because of the message, they bail. The Greek word translated as “falls away” can also mean “stumbles.” These people find it difficult to maintain their walk with Christ because they find the trials and tribulations that come with the message too difficult to bear.

The third scenarios involves seed that fell among thorns. Once again, there appears to be a brief period of receptivity. The seed take root, but there is no fruit produced, because “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word” (Matthew 13:22 ESV). These people hear the message, respond to it favorably, but because of their love affair with the world, they never experience the fruitfulness the message was intended to produce. Jesus promised to give abundant life (John 10:10). But these people never see it in their lives because they allow worldly things to choke out the message before it’s had time to produce fruit.

Finally, there are some who hear the message and allow it to take root in the soil of their lives. They are receptive to it and fully embracing of it. They hear and believe. They listen and receive. And their lives produce fruit because the allow the message to take root. The degree of their fruitfulness varies, but that is the work of God.

The primary point of the parable has to do with receptivity to the message of the kingdom. That is why Jesus had said, “For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance” (Matthew 13:12 ESV). Those who receive the message of the kingdom and allow it to take root in their lives, will see their lives produce abundant fruit. The seed, or the message, will end up multiplying into far more than they could have ever imagined. Their willing receptivity to the message of Jesus Christ and His kingdom will result in abundant life and a growing understanding of all that He has come to offer.

The Pharisees and scribes had refused the message. The majority of the Jews who made up the crowds that flocked to hear Jesus speak and watch Him perform miracles, would also refuse the message. But there were some who, like the good soil in the parable, would respond favorably, allowing the seed of the Gospel to take root in their lives. And they would experience the joy of watching God produce His fruit in their lives.

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 Choice Is Up To You.

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
    and makes flesh his strength,
    whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
    and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
    in an uninhabited salt land.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
    that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
    for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
    for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

The heart is deceitful above all things,
    and desperately sick;
    who can understand it?
“I the Lord search the heart
    and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
    according to the fruit of his deeds.” – Jeremiah 17:5-10 ESV

Who are you going to trust? This is a question each and every human being ultimately has to answer. But for those who claim to believe in God, it should be a no-brainer. For the people of Judah, there should have been no question regarding the focus of their trust and hope. It should have been God. After all, He had more than proven Himself trustworthy over the years. All the way back to the days of Abraham, God had promised to make of the patriarch of Israel a mighty nation and to give them the land of Canaan as their possession. And He had done it. Early in their history, when they found themselves living as slaves in the land of Egypt, God had rescued them, miraculously freeing them and delivering them to the promised land. Time and time again, God had shown Himself faithful and worthy of their trust. But they had repeatedly chosen to turn their backs on God, placing their confidence in false gods and making alliances with pagan nations. And God makes it painfully clear that their decision to trust in someone or something other than Him was not going to turn out well for them.

Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
    who rely on human strength
    and turn their hearts away from the Lord.” – Jeremiah 17:5 NLT

They had made a choice. They had purposefully determined to place their confidence elsewhere. God wasn’t enough for them. In fact, we see this attitude revealed in all its glory when they had demanded that God give them a king like all the other nations. They had taken their demand to Samuel, the prophet, and he was appalled and appealed to God.

Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for it is me they are rejecting, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.” – 1 Samuel 8:6-9 NLT

They were guilty of putting their hope and confidence in man and making flesh their strength. It wasn’t as if God had let them down. He had ruled over them through a succession of judges. And those judges had rescued them time and time again from the attacks of their enemies. But they failed to realize that their suffering at the hands of their enemies had been the punishment of God for their sins against Him. Their unfaithfulness, illustrated by their idolatry, was their real problem. A king wasn’t going to fix what ailed them. And that would proven repeatedly over the coming centuries by the long line of wicked and idolatrous kings who would lead them down the wrong path, away from God.

They had been given the chance to trust in God. But they had chosen not to. And the outcome of that choice was far from pleasant. Their turning away from God produced spiritual dryness. Rather than fruitfulness, they experienced a loss of productivity and a moral drought that left them like withered plants in the desert. But God reminded them that trust in Him produced just the opposite results.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
    and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
    with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
    or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
    and they never stop producing fruit.” – Jeremiah 17:7-8 NLT

Trusting in God does not eliminate difficulties. Look at these verses. They mention the presence of heat and drought. But they also promise fruitfulness in spite of those less-than-ideal conditions. Trusting in God brings the provision of God. Those who place their hope and confidence in God find themselves provided for by God. The difficulties of life become opportunities for God to meet needs and prove His faithfulness. Drought is no match for God. Blazing heat can do no harm to those who find rest in the shade of God’s mercy and grace.

But here’s the problem: The human heart. It is wicked and deceitful. We can’t even understand why we do what we do. We may think we understand our motives, but we don’t. Only God truly knows the hearts of men. He is able to look into the inner recesses of our hearts and see the real motivation behind what we do and don’t do. He knew why the people of Israel had demanded a king. They were rejecting Him as their king. He knows our hearts. And He rewards us according to the motives of our hearts.

I, the Lord, search all hearts
    and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
    according to what their actions deserve.” – Jeremiah 17:10 NLT

The people of Judah had made their choice. They had chosen to place their trust in something other than God. They acted as if they still worshiped Him they went through the motions, offering their sacrifices and claiming to be His children. But their hearts were far from Him and God knew it. So, they were going to suffer the consequences. Rather than blessings, they would experience curses. Instead of fruitfulness, they would endure spiritual dryness and, ultimately, physical death. They had chosen. And they would suffer for their choice. The prophet Isaiah gives us some much-needed words of reminder.

Have you never heard?
    Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint.  Isaiah 40:28-31 NLT

God can and should be trusted. He is trustworthy. He is all-powerful, able to provide strength to the weak, hope to the hopeless, and renewed energy to those facing difficulty. But we have to choose to trust Him. We have to make the decision to turn to Him, rather than relying on our own human strength or placing our hope in something of someone other than Him. It is a daily, moment-by-moment decision.

 

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 God-less Life.

Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers. But they came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved. Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird—no birth, no pregnancy, no conception! Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left. Woe to them when I depart from them! Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow; but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter. Give them, O Lordwhat will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.

Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels.

Ephraim is stricken; their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit. Even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death. My God will reject them because they have not listened to him; they shall be wanderers among the nations. – Hosea 9:10-17 ESV

To fully understand the nature of these verses, we have to take a look at what happened at Baal-peor. God is looking back at the history of Israel, long before the split of the kingdom, and condemning them for their long track record of unfaithfulness. Even while still wandering in the wilderness, the people of Israel repeatedly proved themselves incapable of remaining faithful to God, worshiping the gods of the pagan nations instead. Moses recorded what happened at Baal-peor.

While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove, some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people.

The Lord issued the following command to Moses: “Seize all the ringleaders and execute them before the Lord in broad daylight, so his fierce anger will turn away from the people of Israel.”

So Moses ordered Israel’s judges, “Each of you must put to death the men under your authority who have joined in worshiping Baal of Peor.” – Numbers 25:1-5 NLT

It was at Baal-peor that they “consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved” (Hosea 9:10 ESV). There had been a time when God saw Israel as delightful as grapes in the wilderness or the first figs of the season. They were His chosen. He had set them apart as His own. But they proved to be unfaithful and disobedient. They did not fully appreciate all that He had done for them. And they repeatedly and willfully gave their hearts, resources, trust and attention to false gods.

As a result, God determined to bring upon them all the curses He had promised. Their days of fruitfulness were over. He was going to remove His hand of blessing and they would discover what life without Him was really like. They would also learn just how impotent and useless their false gods really were. While the people of Israel had been able to procreate and proliferate easily, those days were over. Conceiving children was going to become increasingly difficult and for those who were able to bear children, they would find that the infant mortality rate was radically increased. While we may find this news harsh and difficult to understand, we must realize that God was simply fulfilling what He had promised. He was removing His hand of blessing. They had chosen to live their lives without Him and now they were going to discover exactly what life without God was like.

Too often, we fail to realize just how vital a role God plays in our lives. We don’t recognize His hand of mercy on our lives. We don’t appreciate the grace He shows us each and every day. And like the people of Israel, we begin to take Him for granted. We forget Him. Rather than worship Him as indispensable to our lives, we give our time, resources, attention and faith to other things. We end up worshiping our own brand of false gods. And then God allows us to discover the ramifications of placing our trust in anything or anyone other than Him. If we want to place our trust in money and materialism, God will allow us to find out just how unreliable they can be as gods. If we think that our own intellect and talents can make a better gods, we will soon discover just how powerless and impotent they are. When God removes His hand of blessing, we are left defenseless, powerless and hopeless.

God warned the people of Israel, “It will be a terrible day when I turn away and leave you alone” (Hosea 9:12 NLT). And Hosea paints a vivid and disturbing picture of the fate of Israel when God chooses to abandon them to their own desires: “My God will reject the people of Israel because they will not listen or obey. They will be wanderers, homeless among the nations” (Hosea 9:17 NLT). God will simply give the people of Israel what they seem to want more than anything: independence from Him. But they will find out just how dangerous that desire can be. The only thing that set Israel apart from all the other nations was the presence of God in their lives. If He removed Himself and His hand of blessing, they would become just like all the other nations of the earth. It is God and His undeserved grace and mercy that sets us apart. Without Him, we are nothing. We don’t deserve His blessings. He is not obligated to provide for us, as if He somehow owes us for all that we have done for Him. His goodness is undeserved. His grace is unmerited. And our gratefulness and faithfulness should be unprecedented. And yet, like Israel, we can find it so easy to believe that we can somehow survive and even thrive without God’s help. We believe we can make it through this life without His input and apart from His strength. Our stubborn self-sufficiency and prideful desire to run our own lives can cause us to reject His will and attempt to live according to our own. And sometimes God allows us to have exactly what we want. But what a painful lesson it is to learn that life without Him is never what we think it will be. The God-less life is ultimately a joyless life. The man who removes God from the center of his life will discover he has no life at all.

The Season For Fruit.

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. – Galatians 6:6-10 ESV

For the apostle Paul, the body of Christ was to operate in a spirit of mutual love and reciprocity. There was no place for selfishness or a what’s-in-it-for-me attitude. The model Christ had left us was one of selfless sacrifice and love for others. Paul has already talked about coming alongside a fellow believer who has been caught up in sin. He has encouraged they pursue restoration, rather than practice exclusion. No one was to see themselves as somehow better than anyone else. The Christian life was to be marked by a sense of interdependence and a desire to put the needs of others ahead of your own.

God has equipped the body of Christ to care for itself. In his letter to the Ephesian believers, Paul wrote, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13 ESV). There are roles and responsibilities within the church that are designed to provide for the well-being of those who make up that local fellowship. Paul says that those who received the word of God should be willing to share what they have with those have taught them. In that day and age, those who served as apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers, often did so without any form of financial remuneration. Some even became itinerant teachers, traveling from city to city, in order to minister the word of God to the local congregations located in those places. Paul, as one such individual, encouraged believers to provide for the needs of these people.

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul elaborated on the common expectation among believers to care for those who taught them:

Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? – 1 Corinthians 9:4-7 ESV

Paul went on to ask them the question, “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?” (1 Corinthians 9:11 ESV). Even though Paul claimed to have never demanded this God-given right to provision from the churches he ministered to, he said, “those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14 ESV).

For Paul, this all seemed to boil down to unique, God-ordained nature of the body of Christ. There was to be no lack, no need unmet. God would provide teachers to proclaim the Word, and bless the listeners so they could meet the needs of the teachers. But Paul also knew there was always the temptation to sow to the flesh, or to give in to the natural inclinations of our sin natures. It would have been easy for some to see the prophets, evangelists and teachers as lazy, because they “refused” to work. Others could have taken the approach of what is mine, is mine. In some of these communities, people had a hard enough time just making ends meet. The thought of having to give away your money or food to someone else went against the grain. But Paul encouraged them to “not grow weary of doing good” (Galatians 6:9 ESV). Man’s sin nature will always encourage selfishness and self-centeredness. Isolation and independence are normal human inclinations. But Paul knew that the success of the church was dependent upon its members sowing to the Spirit. In other words, they were to invest their time, energy and talents into those things the Spirit was directing them to do. If they did, they would reap the kind of fruit only the Spirit can produce: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Living according to the Spirit is unnatural. It is a supernatural, divine enablement that is in direct conflict with our old natures. There is a part of us that will not want to obey what the Spirit tells us to do. We won’t want to give. We won’t want to share with others. Our natural inclination is not to share or to the needs of others ahead of our own. But Paul tells us, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10 ESV). As long as we live on this planet, we will have opportunities to do good. It is in the here and now that our generosity, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control are needed. There will be no need for patience in heaven. There will be no one who has unmet needs. There will be no sin, so it will be unnecessary for us to respond to hatred with love, harsh words with words of kindness, anger with gentleness, or temptation with self-control. But as long as the Lord delays His return and we remain in this life, we will have untold opportunities to live out our faith and display the fruit of the Spirit for the benefit of all those around us. Now is the season for fruit. Now is the time to live in the power of the Spirit. Today is the day to make a difference in the lives of others as we live in dependence upon God and in mutual reliance upon one another.

Our Divine Tutor.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. – John 16:12-15 ESV

These verses are part of what has come to be known as the Upper Room Discourse. This was Jesus’ final teaching to His disciples prior to His betrayal, arrest, trials and crucifixion. It can be considered His farewell address. In it, Jesus attempted to prepare His disciples for what lie ahead for them after His death, resurrection and ascension. One of the most significant points of emphasis was the promise of the Holy Spirit. Jesus wanted His followers to know that, even though He would be leaving them and returning to His Father’s side, He would not be leaving them alone. He would send another “comforter.” The Son of God would send the Spirit of God to live in them, not just dwell among them. And, as a result, their time of instruction would continue.

Jesus describes the Spirit as the “Spirit of truth.” As the Spirit of God, He would manifest the same character as God. “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19 ESV). God is a god of truth. So is His Son and Jesus emphasizes that the Spirit will be no different. After His coming He would lead the disciples into all truth. In other words, there were things they did not yet know or understand. Jesus even told them, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Their capacity to comprehend the truth of Jesus’ mission was limited by their own flesh. They were having a hard time understanding how Jesus’ death was going to turn out for their good. But when the Spirit came and took up residence within them, they would receive a divine enablement to put the pieces together and see the bigger picture of God’s divine plan of redemption.

The Spirit would take all that Jesus had taught them and not only help them recall His words but understand their meaning. Jesus had just told the disciples that “I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak” (John 12:49 ESV). Jesus spoke on behalf of God. He spoke the truth of God, regarding man, sin, salvation, and the age to come. The Holy Spirit would do the same thing. Jesus said, “he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” The disciples were going to get a big picture view of all that was going to happen. During the time they had spent with Jesus, their perspective had been limited by their somewhat self-centered view of life. They had been looking for an earthly Messiah who would lead the Jewish people in revolt against their Roman oppressors and set up His kingdom on earth. They had not been looking at Jesus’ coming from an eternal perspective, but a temporal one. With Jesus’ departure and the Holy Spirit’s arrival, they would begin to understand that there was much more to Jesus’ incarnation than they had ever suspected. They would see that the kingdom of which Jesus taught was far greater and more significant than they ever dreamed.

Probably one of the most significant points Jesus made about the Holy Spirit was His selflessness. The Holy Spirit exists to glorify the Son. His ministry is completely Christ-centered. From His residence inside the believer, the Holy Spirit persistently points them to Christ, explaining the significance of His sacrificial death on the cross in their place and transforming them into His very likeness. He takes what belongs to Christ – His redemptive work, His perfect righteousness, His commandments, His promises and His future return and reign – and makes them known to His followers. The Holy Spirit within us glorifies Jesus by giving us a greater appreciation for what He has done for us and a deeper desire to share the good news of His salvation to others. As the Spirit of God works in our lives, we become increasingly more like the Son of God, producing spiritual fruit and bringing glory to the one who made it all possible. Our ability to live Christ-like lives is made possible by the Spirit’s presence within us. But He doesn’t get the glory, Christ does. Because Christ is the one who paid the debt we owed and satisfied the righteous wrath of God with His own life. And while our fruitfulness is a result of the Spirit’s presence and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, it ultimately brings glory to God. Jesus said, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8 ESV).

We have within us a spiritual tutor or teacher who enables us to understand the deeper things of Jesus. We have the capacity to grow in our understanding of who He was and what He has done. We can comprehend His teachings and see them as far more than moral lessons on life. We have a divinely enabled ability to expand our understanding of Jesus far beyond our initial acceptance of His as Savior. Peter says we are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 ESV). As we grow in our knowledge of Jesus as our Lord and Savior, He is glorified within us. He becomes of increasingly greater importance to us.

God’s Will. Your Walk.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. – Colossians 1:9-10 ESV

Colossians 1:9-14

Sometimes my prayers can lack focus. Not only does my mind wander when I pray, but even in those moments when I successfully manage to give God my undivided attention, the content of my prayers can be all over the map. It can be hard to know what to pray. If I’m not careful, I can find my prayers becoming somewhat robotic and rote, making the same requests for the same individuals day after day. One of the things I like about the prayers of Paul found in his letters, is that they were focused prayers. He wasn’t distracted by external issues, but seemed to go straight to the heart of what was really necessary and needed. His prayers always seemed to be spiritually-focused, not materially-minded. In his own life he had learned the secret of contentment. “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13 ESV). He had learned to be content with Christ. Everything else that had at one time been so important to him – his career, his reputation, his financial status – had taken a backseat to his relationship with Christ. He wrote, “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8 NLT).
So when Paul prayed for others., he focused his prayers on their spiritual condition. He prayed that the believers in Colossae would be filled with a knowledge of God’s will. that would be the source of the spiritual wisdom and understanding they would need in their daily lives. And he knew that knowing God’s will was the key to their ability to live spiritually healthy lives. Knowing God’s will was going to be essential if they were going to live lives that were worthy of their calling as God’s children. We all know what we want to do. Our will is no secret to us. But God’s will can sometimes be difficult to discern. So Paul asked God to make His will known to those for whom he prayed. Why? Because Paul wanted them to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.” He knew that their knowledge of God’s will and their willful obedience to it would produce fruitfulness. Jesus called it abiding. He told His disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV). To abide is to remain, to rest in and depend on, just like a branch does with the vine. It submits its will to the vine and allows the vine to produce fruit through it. Knowing God’s will and submitting to it is what makes us fruitful. It produces a life that is pleasing to God. A branch that refused to abide is useless. It loses its capacity for fruit-bearing. Failure to abide is when I determine to do my will instead of God’s. It’s when my agenda takes the place of His. Paul knew that was a danger for every believer. So he prayed that they would know the will of God and live according to it, so that they could bear fruit in every good work. Jesus said bearing fruit brings glory to God. “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8 ESV). But it requires abiding in Christ and a submissive obedience to the will of God.

And Paul prayed this prayer because he knew that, ultimately, knowledge of and obedience to the will of God produces a growing awareness of who God is. If we know God’s will and obey it, we will develop a deeper intimacy with Him. Not only will we grow in our knowledge of His will, we will grow in our knowledge of Him. “All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better” (Colossians 1:10 NLT). Knowing God is the objective. He wants us to know Him better. He wants to reveal Himself to us. He wants to deepen the relationship between He and us. That is the essence of what it means to have eternal life. Jesus Himself said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:5 ESV). The apostle john wrote, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20 ESV). Jesus Christ has made God known to us. He has made it possible for us to know God, the one true god. But that knowledge is to increase daily. As we learn His will, we get exposed to His heart, His nature, and His incredible love for man. As we live within His will, we discover just how faithful, true, trustworthy, loving, wise, and powerful He really is. And like Paul, we learn to say, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Abide and Accept.

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. – 1 John 2:27 ESV

According to John, there appear to be two significant things that contribute to a believer’s inability to live as Jesus lived and walk as He walked. The first is that we do not abide in Him. The word for abide is menō and it means “to remain, tarry, not to depart, to be held, kept, continually.” It is the same word Jesus used when He said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4 ESV). Jesus gave us an image of connectedness and oneness. He was illustrating a unity and spirit of dependency that is essential to our fruitfulness as believers. You have to remember that the context in which John writes involves a group of individuals who had left the local fellowship. They had failed to remain. Not only had they departed from fellowship with the people who made up the church there in Ephesus, they had walked away from the Christ that the apostles had preached. Either they had never believed that Jesus was the Son of God and the Savior of the world, or they had changed their opinions about Him somewhere along the way. So John was reminding those who were left behind to “remain.” He wanted them to stay connected to Christ, but not a Christ of their own choosing. They must continue believing in the Christ Jesus claimed to be, the apostles taught Him to be, and the Spirit confirmed Him to be. “But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ” (1 John 2:27 NLT).

There is a time when Jesus will return. And while we don’t know when it will happen, we are to live with that moment in mind. His eventual coming is to have an impact on our conduct. And our conduct is directly linked to our willingness to abide in Him. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV). Our fruitfulness is directly linked to our abiding. And our fruitfulness glorifies God because it gives evidence to His power operating in us and through us. “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8 ESV).

There is a second thing that makes it extremely difficult for us to live abundant, powerful and fruitful lives while we wait for the Lord’s return. We refuse to accept or acknowledge who we really are. John reminds us that we are children of God. This incredible reality seems to never really sink in with most believers. And John would have us know that our new designation as God’s children is the direct result of His incredible, marvelous, undeserved love for us. He has made us His children. Not because we deserved it, but because He chose to extend His love to us through the death of His Son on our behalf. We are His children and yet, most of us fail to ever recognize the immense significance of that reality. We tend to live as paupers rather than princes. We have been adopted by the God of the universe, but live as though we are orphans left to defend for and care for ourselves. The apostle Paul reminds us, “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (Ephesians 1:5 NLT). And one of the most significant things about our adoption is that it comes with rights. Paul tells us that the full impact of our adoptions as sons is “that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Galatians 4:5 NIV). We’re not third-class citizens, but fully legal children of God with all the rights and privileges that come with being His sons and daughters. God is our Father and we can come to Him at any time. We can make requests of Him. We can cry out to Him. But many of us fail to accept our new status as God’s children. We live as if we belong to this world. We tend to seek for satisfaction and comfort from this place rather than turning to our heavenly Father. C. S. Lewis put it well when he said, “It would see that our Lord fins our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

If we want to be fruitful, faithful and experience the full life Jesus offered, we must remain in Him. We must not depart from Him, but remain attached to Him – at all times and at all costs. We can do nothing without Him. And we must constantly remind ourselves that we are children of God, with all the rights and privileges that come with that designation. We are no longer citizens of this world. Which is why John said, “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (1 John 3:1 ESV). And why Jesus prayed on our behalf, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:14-15 ESV). Abide in Him. Accept who you are. And you will see God work in ways that transform you and glorify Him.

Colossians 1:1-14

The Key To Pleasing God.

Colossians 1:1-14

Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. – Colossians 1:10 NLT

I don’t think I’ve ever met an individual who claims to be a Christian who hasn’t somehow aspired to live a life that is pleasing to God. In fact, most of us as believers know that our lives should be markedly different than those of non-believers. We recognize that God has a higher standard for us. So we go out of our way to try and attempt to live in such a way that our lives somehow bring glory to Him. What we usually end up with is some list of do’s and don’ts that we use to determine our behavior and, ultimately to measure our degree of spirituality. Here’s the formula most of us work from: More good behavior + less bad behavior = holiness. So we attempt to increase certain things in our life that we understand to be good, while eliminating other things that might hamper our holiness because they’re inherently bad. So we read our Bibles and we give up smoking. We attend church and stop hanging out at bars. We listen to Christian music instead of rock or rap. But too often we miss the whole point. We can’t actually increase our holiness through behavior modification. We can’t sanctify ourselves any more than we could save ourselves.

That’s why this passage in the very beginning of Paul’s letter to the believers in Colosse is so important. He is writing to Christians and is confident that they have had a saving encounter with Jesus Christ. He refers to them as “God’s holy people” (Colossians 1:2a NLT). He has heard great reports regarding their faith in Jesus Christ and their love for one another. And he offers up a prayer for them at the very start of his letter. That prayer is insightful and gives us a great glimpse into what Paul understood about the key to living a godly life. Notice that the verse above starts with the word, “then.” Some translations use the words, “so that” or “in order that.” But the idea is the same. Paul is telling the believers in Colosse that if they want to live lives that honor and please God, and if they want to live lives that produce every kind of good fruit, there is something they are going to have to have before that can happen. And that ingredient is made clear in Paul’s prayer for them. “We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9 NLT). Paul tells them, “we have not stopped praying for you…” and the content of those prayers have been that they might know God’s will and have spiritual wisdom and understanding. Those things are not just “nice-to-have-them-if-I-can-get-them” kinds of things. They are the keys to living a life that honors and pleases God. They are non-negotiables to to fruitful living.

Paul knew that in order for the believers in Colosse to live godly lives they were going to need to know the will of God. They were going to have to understand what it is that God desired for them. Over in 1 Thessalonians 4:3, Paul wrote the Thessalonian believers that God’s will for them was to be holy – set apart, devoted to God. His will for all believers is that they live lives that are distinctive and different, characterized by the Spirit’s presence and God’s righteous requirements. One of the primary ways in which we can know God’s will is by reading and obeying God’s Word. The Bible is the revelation of God and gives us a glimpse into His character and His expectations of mankind. As believers, we have the unique combination of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the Word of God that provides us with a way to know God’s will, and a means to receive spiritual wisdom and understanding. Together, they provide us with divine insights into the will and ways of God. When I know His will and gain spiritual wisdom and understanding from His Word, I have what it takes to live a life that will always honor and please Him. I also have what it takes to produce the kind of fruit He is looking for.

Paul offered up a similar prayer for the believers who were living in Philippi. “I pray that…you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation – for this will bring much glory and praise to God” (Philippians 1:9-10 NLT). He prayed for knowledge and understanding. He wanted them to know and understand not only God’s expectations, but His provision. God makes the life of holiness possible. He provides us with salvation and then gives us His Word and His Spirit to aid us in the pursuit of sanctification. When we discover His will through His Word, and rely upon His Spirit to empower us to obey what we see and hear, our lives end up bearing fruit that is Spirit-produced. Paul describes that fruit in Galatians 5. “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). That kind of fruit honors and pleases God because it is fruit that is the by-product of His presence in our lives. We can’t manufacture it on our own. So when it shows up, it is proof of His presence in our lives.

So if you want your life to honor and please God, producing fruit that is of divine origin, then you will have to know His will and possess a wisdom and understanding that is not of this world. That will require time spent in His Word. It will demand a submission to His Spirit’s leading. It will take a willing obedience to and trusting faith in His will for your life. And it all starts in the Word of God. Go there. Spend time there. Get to know Him there. And “you will grow to know God better and better” (Colossians 1:10b NLT).

Father, never let us lose sight of the fact that Your Word is essential for living a life that honors and pleases You. We can’t know Your will part from Your Word. We can’t get to know You well if we refuse to spend time in the very book that reveals Your character to us. May we grow increasingly dependent on Your Word and Your Holy Spirit’s leading, so that our lives might honor and please you, producing fruit that proves Your powerful presence in our lives. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org