Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Discovering the One Thing Needful

There are just some books and authors who stand out as making a huge difference in my walk with God. In addition to the Bible, reading Spurgeon's sermons has been one of them. But, I have recently been blessed by a little book called Disciplined By Grace: Studies in Christian Conduct by J.F. Strombeck which has completely opened my understanding concerning the work of grace in the believer.

You see, I always understood grace to be "the unmerited favor of God" -- and it is! --, but I never saw it also as the way by which God works His mighty power in us. It is the operation of God in salvation both in justification and sanctification. Perhaps all of you already knew that, but this is news to me!

The whole book so far has been very good, very enlightening, but after reading Chapter 13, "Devotion and Works," I am overwhelmed to my very core that I have been missing something vital in my walk with God. The Lord has been revealing it to me little by little over the course of about five years now, but this morning it all opened up for me. How could I have missed it for so long?

Loving devotion to Christ is the one thing most needful.

Strombeck explains:

"Devotion to Christ is most important. As important as are good works in the believer's life, there is that which in God's sight is even more important. While Christ desires and recognizes service, He far more desires and values love and devotion to Himself. In this day when service has become the keynote of Christianity, meditation on Christ, devotion to Him, and a desire for Him, purely because of what He is, have almost become a lost practice. These are, however, necessary and prerequisite to acceptable service for Him."*

He goes on to give examples of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42), the dialogue between Christ and Peter in John 21:15-17, and Christ's letter to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-5.

A loving devotion for God in Christ is the one thing needful. Everything else flows from that. And that loving devotion is given by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5 and following). It all begins with the revelation that God really is love (1 John 4:8). I believe that knowing this is the key to understanding the seeming contradiction of justice and mercy.

God's laws are not a means of constraining us from something good and fulfilling. They are a means of restraining us from destroying ourselves and others. A loving God gave a loving Law in order to show us what living really is. Christ summed up the greatest commandment of the Law to be "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." (Matthew 22:37)

While memorizing Deuteronomy 6:4-7, my brain kept wanting to skip over verse 5 and go straight to verse 6.

"4. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:

5. And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

6. And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:"

However, omitting the verse about first loving God before embracing His commandments should be no surprise when you consider that this route around loving God first has marked nearly all of my Christian walk. I have not made the love relationship with God my main focus. I have made His law, keeping His commandments, and being a champion of "the truth," my whole force and ambition. I even thought doing these things was how I proved my love for God. Unfortunately, that was what I was taught growing up in the church.

But, "there is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." (Proverbs 14:12), and I'm afraid this way has led me astray from the joy and beauty of life in Christ Jesus. The way I was going seemed right! I wanted to do what was right. I wanted sin to not have dominion over me. I wanted to please God. But, I was going about it in entirely the wrong way, by the works of the Law through the flesh. Disciplined By Grace has helped to bring the truth into focus for me.

God is love.

God's Law is given in love.

No other law or commandments from any other god can be trusted to be in our best interest; but every law of God is an extension of His pure love only with our highest good in mind.

The cry of the loving heart of God for even those who reject Him is "O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!" (Deuteronomy 5:29)

The reason God desires us to keep His laws is because only His laws are truly just and will bring life and peace to those who keep them. It all flows from His love. Once we see this, we can begin to love Him in return. "We love him, because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

To only keep God's commandments because He's "the Boss" and will punish us if we don't is a twisted way of looking at the relationship God desires with mankind. It is a pagan god who will only draw near when their devotees cut themselves and cry out all the day long. 1 Kings 18 gives us this example. You can read the whole story in 1 Kings 18, but please note that it was the pagan god who didn't answer. Yet, God answered the prophet Elijah immediately when he offered the sacrifice.

I've heard a lot of preaching about how God will not save a man until he humbles himself in some sort of painful exercise and cries out to God continually until He gives an answer. But, this looks too much like how the god Baal operates. There are people who give examples of how they cried out to God to save them but never received an answer or were given an answer only after a time of extended contrition. But, I believe this is a grievous error.

Salvation is never given apart from faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ in the sacrifice of Himself on the cross. That faith comes not from our cries and prayers and humblings but by hearing and believing the truth of that good news! (Romans 10:13-15) The faith to believe that Gospel good news of Christ is given by God by His grace (the effectual operation of God on the soul).

Now, it's true that once you've had your eyes opened by the preaching of the word to see the ugliness of your sin against God and against others, there will be a natural agony of soul. If you see it rightly, there will be. But none of that avails anything apart from then believing on the finished work of Christ to forgive those sins and give new life. The Holy Spirit is only given to those who believe in Christ. And new life, hope, and peace with God are then given through the indwelling Spirit of God. Thus, Christ has made the way for man to be reconciled to God, both for now and eternity. Believe it, and be saved!

These are the things I am learning. I would appreciate any feedback or discussion anyone might have. Even if you disagree, that is good, too. I want to be sure what I am discovering isn't in error. I may be figuring things out, but that doesn't mean I have it all figured out.

I encourage you to get a copy of this little book and consider the things in it. It's not very long. The chapters are short and easy to read. But, it is deep in nature and pulls up living waters from the very depths of the well of the Word. So refreshing!

*J.F. Strombeck, Disciplined By Grace: Studies in Christian Conduct (Chicago: Moody Press, 1946), pp. 75-76.