Satan’s Strategy LUKE 22:31-34, 54-62
All of us make tracks through the valley of failure. The question is, How are you going to respond? Plenty of people give up and exchange a vibrant kingdom-serving life for a defeated existence. But failure need not be an end. It’s a chance for a new beginning living in Christ’s strength.
Peter had a life-altering failure. Jesus warned that Satan had asked permission to “sift” the disciple like wheat (Luke 22:31)—vigorous shaking is required to separate wheat kernels from debris. The Enemy wanted to shake Peter’s faith hard in hopes that he’d fall away from Jesus like chaff.
Peter fervently believed the promise he’d made to Jesus: “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not” (Mark 14:29). But Satan knows a few things about the power of fear. What’s more, he realized that the disciple would be wounded by his own disloyalty. A man with tattered pride can’t help but question his usefulness.
When Satan sifts believers, his goal is to damage our faith so much that we’re useless to God. He wants us shelved far from the action of the Lord’s kingdom. Therefore, he goes for our strengths—the areas where we believe ourselves to be invincible, or at least very well protected. And when the Devil succeeds, we are disappointed and demoralized. But we don’t have to stay that way.
If we are willing, God can use failure to do spiritual housecleaning. Peter laid down his pride and instead put on the Holy Spirit’s courage. Thereafter, he risked humiliation, persecution, and death to proclaim the gospel. Failure was the catalyst that brought forth greater faith and true servanthood.
I slept, but my heart was awake.
Song of Songs 5:2
Paradoxes abound in Christian experience, and here is one: The spouse was asleep, and yet she was awake. The only one who can read the believer’s riddle is he who has lived through this experience. The two points in this evening’s text are: a mournful sleepiness and a hopeful wakefulness. “I slept.” Through sin that dwells in us we may become lax in holy duties, lazy in religious exercises, dull in spiritual joys, and completely indolent and careless.
This is a shameful state for one in whom the quickening Spirit dwells; and it is dangerous in the highest degree. Even wise virgins sometimes slumber, but it is high time for all to shake off the chains of idleness. It is to be feared that many believers lose their strength as Samson lost his hair, while sleeping on the lap of carnal security. With a perishing world around us, to sleep is cruel; with eternity so close at hand, it is madness.
Yet none of us are as awake as we should be; a few thunderclaps would do us all good, and it may be, unless we soon stir ourselves, we will have them in the form of war or disease or personal bereavements and loss. May we leave forever the couch of fleshly ease, and go out with flaming torches to meet the coming Bridegroom! “My heart was awake.”
This is a happy sign. Life is not extinct, though sadly smothered. When our renewed heart struggles against our natural heaviness, we should be grateful to sovereign grace for keeping a little vitality within this body of death. Jesus will hear our hearts, will help our hearts, will visit our hearts; for the voice of the wakeful heart is really the voice of our Beloved, saying, “Open to me.” Holy zeal will surely unlock the door.
Oh lovely attitude! He stands
With melting heart and laden hands;
My soul forsakes her every sin;
And lets the heavenly stranger in
Does God Cause Us to Sin? ISAIAH 45:6-9
Yesterday’s reading affirmed that God is in everything from natural disasters to family disputes. Nothing touches a believer’s life unless it comes through His permissive hand. And He brings about good from even our worst experiences (Rom. 8:28). But believing in divine sovereignty over all the events of earth implies a connection between holy God and our sin. Then, just how are they related?
Read this carefully: God neither instigates sin nor leads anyone into temptation. He is holy, so He can’t be in the presence of sin. He is just, so He demands payment for wrongs. And He’s loving and merciful, so He desires that all people know Him and His saving grace. To lure people into wrongdoing and then judge them for disobedience would be contrary to His character.
At times people point out the King James translation of Isaiah 45:7, which says that God makes peace and creates evil. While I love the KJV’s poetic language, I teach from the New American Standard Bible because it’s the most accurate translation. The NASB says God is the One “causing well-being and creating calamity . . . ” Even before we make a wrong choice, the Lord knows what the repercussions will be. And He uses the evil circumstances related to our sin as a teaching tool.
We have a certain amount of free will—the Lord allows us to step out His will and pursue our own agenda. He knows that sin reveals the flesh’s weakness and arrogance. Once we realize our frailty, He teaches us to die to self and to rely upon Christ’s strength (Gal. 2:20).
And Jesus said to him, ‘if you can! All things are possible for one who believes.’
A certain man had a deeply troubled son who was afflicted with a spirit that struck him dumb. The father, having seen the futility of the attempts of the disciples to heal his child, had little or no faith in Christ. Therefore, when he was invited to bring his son to Him, he said to Jesus, “If You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Now there was an “if” in the question, but the poor trembling father had put the “if” in the wrong place. Jesus Christ, therefore, without commanding him to retract the “if,” kindly puts it in its legitimate position. “Actually, ” He seemed to say, “there should be no ‘if’ about My power, nor concerning My willingness; the ‘if’ lies somewhere else. If you can believe, ‘all things are possible for one who believes.'”
The man’s trust was strengthened; he offered a humble prayer for an increase of faith, and instantly Jesus spoke the word, and the devil was cast out, with an injunction never to return. There is a lesson here that we need to learn. We, like this man, often see that there is an “if” somewhere, but we are continually blundering by putting it in the wrong place. “If Jesus can help me”; “if He can give me grace to overcome temptation”; “if He can grant me pardon”; “if He can make me successful.” No; if you can believe, He both can and will. You have misplaced your “if.” If you can confidently trust, even as all things are possible to Christ, so will all things be possible to you. Faith stands in God’s power and is robed in God’s majesty; it wears the royal apparel and rides on the King’s horse, for it is the grace that the King delights to honor. Girding itself with the glorious might of the all-working Spirit, it becomes, in the omnipotence of God, mighty to do, to dare, and to suffer. All things, without limit, are possible to one who believes. My soul, can you believe your Lord tonight?
Is God in Everything? ROMANS 8:28-29
Is God involved in everything that happens throughout the world? How you answer that question is important. What people believe about the Lord’s sovereignty affects both their trust in Him and their reactions to struggles. Moreover, believers’ thoughts on God’s dominion influences their compliance with His requirements. For instance, “in everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18) would be an impossible standard if God were only partially in control of what’s going on.
Believing God is present in the positive aspects of our lives is easy. Reconciling hardship to His promises of provision and love is tougher. But think about this: If the Lord has reason to provide a job promotion, might He not also have reason to orchestrate a job loss? If He gives good health, might He not also allow sickness, as He permitted in Job’s life (Job 2:6-7)?
The Bible says that the Lord’s ways are not like our ways (Isa. 55:8). He has a master purpose for involving Himself in every aspect of believers’ lives—namely, conforming them to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). Jesus’ life was not easy or sweet. He suffered shame, abuse, ill will, and persecution even before He faced the cross. If we are to be like Him, then we must expect that God’s loving hand will sometimes hold a tool for reshaping us.
Every believer is encircled by God’s protection (Psalm 34:7), so nothing touches our lives unless He permits or directs it. Bitterness and blame cannot take root if we accept that every good and bad thing comes with God’s knowledge and permission. We can trust Him to do right by us (Rom. 8:28).
Higher than I
When my heart is faint . . . Lead me to the rock that is
higher than I.
Most of us know what it is to be overwhelmed in heart, emptied like when a man wipes a dish and turns it upside down, submerged and thrown on our beam-ends like a boat mastered by the storm. Discoveries of inward corruption will do this, if the Lord permits the depth of our depravity to become troubled and cast up mire and dirt. Disappointments and heartbreaks will do this when billow after billow rolls over us, and we are like a broken shell thrown to and fro by the surf.
Blessed be God, at such seasons we are not left without a sufficient solace: Our God is the harbor of weather-beaten sails, the hostel for forlorn pilgrims. He is higher than we are, His mercy higher than our sins, His love higher than our thoughts. It is pitiful to see men putting their trust in something lower than themselves; but our confidence is fixed on an exceedingly high and glorious Lord. He is a Rock since He doesn’t change, and a high Rock because the tempests that overwhelm us roll far beneath His feet; He is not disturbed by them but rules them at His will. If we get under the shelter of this lofty Rock, we may defy the hurricane; all is calm under the lee of that towering cliff. Sadly, the confusion in which the troubled mind is often cast is such that we need piloting to this divine shelter.
Hence the prayer of the text. O Lord, our God, by Your Holy Spirit, teach us the way of faith; lead us into Your rest. The wind blows us out to sea—the helm does not answer to our puny hand; You alone can steer us over the bar between the sunken rocks and safe into the fair haven. We are totally dependent upon You—we need You to bring us to You. To be wisely directed and steered into safety and peace is Your gift, and Yours alone. Tonight be pleased to deal kindly with Your servants
Finding Contentment PROVERBS 3:5-6
Too often we let our circumstances determine our attitude. If life is going smoothly, then we feel good about ourselves; when it gets hard, our mood drops. But we don’t have to live this way. Like the apostle Paul, we can learn and practice the secret of being content.
Contentment means accepting things the way they are—in other words, not wanting anything more or different. This requires developing an “I can through Christ” attitude. It means learning to bring God’s power into our weakness so we can accept and adapt to changing circumstances.
When we respond to life with that kind of thinking, we move beyond our feelings to living by faith (2 Cor. 5:7).
Submission and trust are needed for such a lifestyle. First, we must surrender our will to God’s: in every situation, we are to yield what we want and accept whatever He allows. Our desire to control events is replaced by reliance on Him. This option becomes more appealing when we realize that the alternative—fighting against our circumstances—brings anxiety and distress. The second step is to trust God to oversee our specific situation. If we believe He is working out His perfect plan for us, then we will experience the joy that comes from trusting Him. Contentment will be ours.
Paul submitted his life to God and trusted Him. He faced insults, rejection, and many difficult trials but was still content. When we surrender control to the Lord and believe He has our best interest at heart, we will experience contentment too. Who is in charge of your life?
Do not sweep my soul away with sinners.
Fear made David pray like this, for something whispered, “Perhaps, after all, you may be swept away with sinners.” That fear springs mainly from holy anxiety, arising from the recollection of past sin. Even the pardoned man will inquire, “What if at the end my sins should be remembered, and I should be left out of the company of the saved?” He thinks about his present condition—so little grace, so little love, so little holiness; and looking forward to the future, he considers his weakness and the many temptations that surround him, and he fears that he may fall and become a prey to the enemy. A sense of sin and present evil and his prevailing corruptions compel him to pray, in fear and trembling, “Do not sweep my soul away with sinners.”
Reader, if you have prayed this prayer, and if your character is correctly described in the Psalm from which it is taken, you need not be afraid that you will be swept away with sinners. Do you have the two virtues that David had—the outward walking in integrity and the inward trusting in the Lord? Are you resting upon Christ’s sacrifice, and can you approach the altar of God with humble hope? If so, rest assured, you will never be swept away with sinners, for that calamity is impossible. At the judgment the command will be given, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”1
If, then, you are like God’s people, you will be with God’s people. You cannot be swept away with sinners, for you have been purchased at too high a price. Redeemed by the blood of Christ, you are His forever, and where He is, there His people must be. You are loved too much to be swept away with reprobates. Will one who is dear to Christ perish? Impossible! Hell cannot hold you! Heaven claims you! Trust in Christ, and do not fear!
The Secret of Contentment PHILIPPIANS 4:10-13
After his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul had much to learn about salvation and following Christ. Throughout his life, the apostle shared what he was discovering. In his letter to the church at Philippi, he wrote about a very important life lesson—the secret of being content.
What kind of life do you think brings contentment? You might assume it is one with few troubles or great success. You may want good health, financial security, and a loving family. Paul’s life was not at all like this. He was in danger from both his own countryman and the opposition (2 Cor. 11:23-26). Sometimes the people listened, but more often, they were hostile to his message. He also had a “thorn in the flesh” which God refused to remove (2 Cor. 12:7-9). And Paul even spent considerable time in prison, chained to a guard. Yet he boldly wrote, ” I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Phil. 4:12 NIV). The secret he discovered was to live on the basis of his position in the Lord, not his feelings. As God’s child, Paul knew he was spiritually rich—”blessed . . . with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3) because he had a loving Father and the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
Contentment in our media-driven age is hard to find and harder to keep. There’s always something newer, bigger, or better to buy and someone else who has what you want. When you feel unsatisfied, try basing your response on your position as a co-heir with Christ (Rom. 8:17) rather than feelings.
Reflections on the Evening
At evening withhold not your hand.
In the evening of the day opportunities are plentiful: Men return from their work, and the zealous soul-winner finds time to share widely the love of Jesus. Do I have no evening work for Jesus? If I have not, let me no longer withhold my hand from a service that requires wholehearted endeavor. Sinners are perishing for lack of knowledge; he who loiters may find his shoes red with the blood of souls. Jesus gave both His hands to the nails. How can I keep back one of mine from His blessed work? Night and day He toiled and prayed for me. How can I give a single hour to the pampering of my body with luxurious ease? Up, lazy heart; stretch out your hand to work, or lift it up to pray. Heaven and hell are serious; so must I be, and this evening I should sow good seed for the Lord my God.
The evening of life also has its calls. Life is so short that a morning of manhood’s strength and an evening of decay make up the whole of it. To some it seems long, but a dollar is a great sum of money to a poor man. Life is so brief that no man can afford to lose a day. It has been well said that if a great king were to bring us a great heap of gold and bid us take as much as we could count in a day, we would make a long day of it; we would begin early in the morning, and in the evening we would not withhold our hand.
Winning souls is far nobler work; so how is it that we quit so soon? Some are spared to a long evening of green old age; if such is my case, let me use any talents I still retain and serve my blessed and faithful Lord to the final hour. By His grace I will die with my boots on and lay down my commission only when I lay down my body. Age may instruct the young, cheer the faint, and encourage the despondent. If evening has less stifling heat, it should have more calm wisdom; therefore in the evening I will not withhold my hand.
Wait Upon the Lord PSALM 40:1
Practicing patience is hard work! This is especially true when we are waiting upon the Lord, who keeps to His own timetable. But believers who trust God to deliver are richly rewarded with the desires of their heart.
A person’s willingness to wait reveals the value of what he or she desires. Imagine, for example, a young woman who yearns for a husband. She must decide whether to place greater importance upon a) getting married or b) waiting patiently for a mate chosen by God. If her priority is the former, she may accept an offer that is less than the Lord’s best for her. The fellow in question might be a good Christian but not a man suited for this particular young lady.
No one goes wrong waiting for the Lord to send His best in His perfect timing. Of course, believers don’t receive everything they request. At times God simply says no. In other cases, He adjusts our desire to match His own. In our humanness, we can’t possibly know all the details of a situation. So we ask for what we think we need, based on our limited information. A submissive heart accepts the omnipotent Father’s gentle redirection. When the awaited object of desire comes, it may not look like what the believer originally requested, but it will be exactly what he or she needs.
Waiting patiently on the Lord is an awesome witness. When He responds, others see the reality of God, His faithfulness, and the wisdom of our commitment. In addition, our own faith is strengthened. Fools rush to seize their prize. But wise believers know that blessing will come in God’s good time.
A Right to Lead
And they follow me.
We should follow our Lord as unhesitatingly as sheep follow their shepherd, for He has a right to lead us wherever He pleases. We are not our own, we are bought with a price—let us recognize the rights of the redeeming blood. The soldier follows his captain, the servant obeys his master, and so we must follow our Redeemer, to whom we are a purchased possession. We are not true to our profession of being Christians if we question the summons of our Leader and Commander.
Submission is our duty; quibbling is our folly. Our Lord may say to us what he said to Peter, “What is that to you? You follow Me!”1 Wherever Jesus may lead us, He goes before us. If we do not know where we go, we know with whom we go. With such a companion, who will dread the dangers of the journey? The road may be long, but His everlasting arms will carry us to the end. The presence of Jesus is the assurance of eternal salvation; because He lives, we will live also. We should follow Christ in simplicity and faith, because the paths in which He leads us all end in glory and immortality. It is true that they may not be smooth paths—they may be covered with sharp, flinty trials; but they lead to “the city that has foundations, whose designer and maker is God.”2 All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth to those who keep His covenant.
Let us put our complete trust in our Leader, since we know that in prosperity or adversity, sickness or health, popularity or contempt, His purpose will be worked out, and that purpose will be pure, unmingled good to every heir of mercy. We will find it sweet to go up the bleak side of the hill with Christ; and when rain and snow blow into our faces, His dear love will make us far more blessed than those who sit at home and warm their hands at the world’s fire. When Jesus draws us, we will run after Him. No matter where He leads us, we follow the Shepherd.
1John 21:22 2Hebrews 11:10
God Acts On Our Behalf PHILIPPIANS 4:6-7
We have become so accustomed to this hurried world that we’ve begun to demand speed in our spiritual life too. However, God “acts on behalf of those who wait for him” (Isa. 64:4 NIV). Wise believers endure until the fruits of His labor appear.
In this devotion, we’ll look at three reasons believers are called upon to wait. First, God may be preparing us to receive His blessings. Perhaps we need new skills or greater maturity. Sometimes people require fresh spiritual insight before their hands are ready to hold what their hearts desire. For example, David waited years to sit on his appointed throne. But when he did, he was a wise, strong, and battle-tested king.
Second, the Father is often teaching His children to have confidence in Him. How would believers ever learn faith if God immediately fulfilled their every request? In my own life, the Lord has often said two words: “Trust Me.” And He has never been late to meet my needs. No matter how we justify rushing ahead of God, doing so amounts to saying, “I don’t trust You.”
Finally, the Lord will at times withhold blessing to protect us from harm we can’t see. We may never find out what caused the delay. But be assured that God examines the object of our desire closely before placing it in our hands.
Waiting is rarely easy, particularly in this instant-everything world. But rushing ahead of the Lord short-circuits His plan. Believers who do are left unsatisfied, and they often must live with terrible consequences. Be patient while the Lord works out details. His best is on the way.
No Unnecessary Miracles
God employs His people to encourage one another. He did not say to an angel, “Gabriel, My servant Joshua is about to lead My people into Canaan—go, encourage him.” God never performs unnecessary miracles. If His purposes can be accomplished by ordinary means, He will not use miraculous agencies. Gabriel would not have been half so well fitted for the work as Moses. A brother’s sympathy is more precious than an angel’s prestige. The swift-winged angel knew more about the Master’s desires than he did about the people’s needs. An angel had never experienced the difficult journey, nor faced the fiery serpents, nor had he led the stiff-necked multitude in the wilderness as Moses had done. We should be glad that God usually works for man by man. This forms a bond of brotherhood, and being mutually dependent on one another, we are united more completely into one family.
Brethren, take the text as God’s message to you. Work at helping others, and especially strive to encourage them. Talk warmly to the young and anxious inquirer; lovingly try to remove stumbling blocks out of his way. When you find a spark of grace in the heart, kneel down and blow it into a flame. Leave the young believer to discover the roughness of the road by stages, but tell him of the strength that is found in God, of the certainty of the promise, and of the benefits of communion with Christ.
Aim to comfort the sorrowful and to encourage the despondent. Speak a fitting word to the weary, and lift the spirits of those who are fearful to go on their way with gladness. God encourages you by His promises; Christ encourages you as He points to the heaven He has won for you; and the Spirit encourages you as He works in you to will and to do of His own purpose and pleasure. Imitate divine wisdom, and encourage others according to the Word this evening
A Lesson in Listening LUKE 6:46-49
Early in life, I learned to listen to the Lord, and this most important lesson is the foundation of my confidence in God. Moreover, because I pay attention to the Father, He has given me courage in my convictions, strength in times of trouble, and unspeakable joy.
I opened my spiritual ears because of my grandfather’s words to me. Oh, he didn’t say, “Now Charles, you’ve got to listen.” Instead, he described what the Lord was saying to him and how He was speaking. The powerful evidence of Grandfather’s faith gave me a burning desire to hear the Lord too.
No person can hear without actively listening. God taught me how, and it is this important lesson that I pass on to you. Heeding the Lord begins when I meditate upon His Word. I listen prayerfully for what He is saying to me through the passage, and I am expectant. The Lord is not secretive. He clarifies Scripture to those who desire to know its meaning and are willing to abide by it. Often I have to be patient. God reveals His truth when a believer is ready to hear. I continually return to a portion of the Bible until His message to me is clear. Sometimes that means going over the same passage for days at a time.
God will speak with clarity to anyone who listens prayerfully and submissively. He wants to speak to you! His great desire is for you to know Him as intimately as did Moses, David, Paul, and others like them. Dig into the Bible every day, and listen to the words the Lord impresses upon your heart.
More Rebellious than the Sea
Am I the sea, or a sea monster, that you set a guard over me?
This was a strange question for Job to ask the Lord. He felt himself to be too insignificant to be so strictly watched and chastened, and he hoped that he was not so unruly as to need to be restrained. The inquiry was natural from one surrounded by such miseries, but after all, it is capable of a very humbling answer.
It is true that man is not the sea, but he is even more troublesome and unruly. The sea obediently respects its boundary, and it does not overleap the limit, even though it is just a belt of sand. Mighty as it is, it hears the divine “thus far,” and when raging with tempest it still respects the word. Self-willed man, however, defies heaven and oppresses earth, and there is no end to his rebellious rage. The sea, obedient to the moon, ebbs and flows with ceaseless regularity and so renders an active as well as a passive obedience; but man, restless beyond his sphere, sleeps within the lines of duty, lazy where he should be active. He neither comes nor goes at the divine command but sullenly prefers to do what he should not and to leave undone what is required of him. Every drop in the ocean, every beaded bubble, and every yeasty foam-flake, every shell and pebble, feel the power of law and yield or move at once.
If only our nature were but one thousandth as much conformed to the will of God! We call the sea fickle and false, but how constant it is! Since our fathers’ days, and even before, the sea is where it was, beating on the same cliffs to the same tune. We know where to find it; it never hides, and its ceaseless pounding never fades; but where is man, fickle man? Can the wise man guess by what folly he will next be seduced from his obedience? We need more watching than the billowy sea and are far more rebellious. Lord, rule us for Your own glory. Amen.
Listening to God JAMES 1:22-25
Learning to listen to God is an essential part of following His will. The Lord regularly speaks to His followers through four resources:
1. The Bible. Scripture is God’s guidebook to His thoughts and actions. It is the primary source for His followers to consult about everything in their life. This means that we ought to aim for more than just reading a bit every day. Our goal is to absorb the message—listening for God to offer instructions on how and where to apply His Word.
2. Prayer. Like all real friends, the Lord desires give and take in His relationships. Therefore, prayer is not complete when I’m done talking. I must quiet my mouth and thoughts so that my spiritual ears can open.
3. Circumstances. The Lord often revealed His ways to the biblical saints through their circumstances. He still works that way today. Situations differ but God does not. He uses everyday life to reveal errors in thinking, open or close doors of opportunity, and prove His promises true.
4. Others. Pastors, friends, and mentors can all speak truth into a person’s life. The Lord placed believers in community so they could be supported and helped by those nearby. He doesn’t hesitate to send a message from the mouth of someone we know.
God does not use just one or two of these methods to reach a believer. He speaks through all of them. We need to attune our spiritual ears, always remembering that a message from the Lord must agree with His holy Word. God is talking to you. Are you listening?
Proximity to God
. . . For the people of Israel who are near to him.
Distance and separation were marks of the old covenant. When God appeared even to His servant Moses, He said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet”;1 and when He revealed Himself on Mount Sinai to His own chosen and separated people, one of the first commands was, “You shall set limits for the people all around.”2 In the sacred worship of the tabernacle and the temple, the thought of distance was always prominent. The majority of the people did not even enter the outer court. Into the inner court none but the priests might dare to intrude, while into the innermost place, or the holy of holies, the high priest entered but only once in the year. It was as if the Lord in those early ages was teaching man that sin was so utterly loathsome to Him that He must treat men as lepers put outside the camp; and when He came closest to them, He still made them feel the extent of the separation between a holy God and an impure sinner.
When the Gospel came, we were placed on quite another footing. The word “Go” was replaced with “Come”; distance was replaced with nearness, and we who previously were far away were brought near by the blood of Jesus Christ. Incarnate Deity has no fire wall around it. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”3 is the joyful proclamation of God as He appears in human flesh. He no longer teaches the leper his leprosy by setting him at a distance, but by Himself suffering the penalty of the leper’s defilement.
What a state of safety and privilege is this proximity to God through Jesus! Do you know it by experience? If you know it, are you living in the power of it? This closeness is wonderful, and yet it is to be followed by a greater nearness still, when it shall be said, “The dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people.”4 Lord, haste the day!
1Exodus 3:5 2Exodus 19:12 3Matthew 11:28 4Revelation 21:3
The Abiding Life JOHN 15:1-5
Yesterday I shared with you about the time when God reminded me, “You are not the vine, Charles. I am the vine.” For years I tried to accomplish by myself what Jesus Christ wanted to achieve through me—in other words, I attempted to produce fruit by doing good works. My desire was to impress God and earn His approval. His goal, on the other hand, was for me to act like the branch that I am and just abide.
The Holy Spirit’s job is to live the life of Christ through us. This process is known by a variety of names, including the exchanged life, the Spirit-filled life, and the abiding life. All of these monikers describe the joyful existence Paul spoke of in Galatians 2:20: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.” The apostle meant those words literally.
Seen from the outside, a branch does not appear to be doing anything. But don’t get the idea that the abiding life is passive. Jesus was the perfect example of a Spirit-filled life, and He certainly didn’t sit around! He worked hard out of a reservoir of divine energy (John 8:28). All of Christ’s wisdom, knowledge, and courage was drawn from God through the Holy Spirit.
The fruit of the Spirit does not pop out of believers through effort; Christians bear fruit through surrender. We “take root” in the Lord by meditating on His Word, praying, and serving. We reserve nothing for ourselves to control but fully rely upon Him. That’s not passive living; it’s an abiding life.
I acknowledged my sin unto you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
David’s grief for sin was bitter. Its effects were visible on his outward frame: His bones wasted away; his strength dried up like the drought of summer. He was unable to find a remedy until he made a full confession before the throne of heavenly grace. He tells us that for a time he kept silent, and his heart was filled with grief and his lips with groaning: Like a mountain stream that is blocked, his soul was swollen with torrents of sorrow. He created excuses, he tried to divert his thoughts, but it was all to no purpose; like a festering sore his anguish gathered, and, unwilling to use the scalpel of confession, his spirit was tormented and knew no peace.
At last it came to this, that he must return to God in humble penitence or die outright; so he hurried to the mercy-seat and there unrolled the volume of his iniquities before the all-seeing God, acknowledging all the evil of his ways in the terms of the Fifty-first and other penitential Psalms. Having confessed, a task so simple and yet so hard for the proud, he immediately received the token of divine forgiveness; the bones that had been wasted were made to rejoice, and he emerged from his prayers to sing the joyful songs of the one whose transgression is forgiven.
Do you see the value of this grace-led confession of sin? It is to be prized above everything, for in every case where there is a genuine, gracious confession, mercy is freely given—not because the repentance and confession deserve mercy, but for Christ’s sake. May God be praised, there is always healing for the broken heart; the fountain is ever flowing to cleanse us from our sins. Truly, O Lord, You are a God “ready to forgive.”1 Therefore will we humbly acknowledge our iniquities.