John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
I’ll bet most of us have thought about our own salvation in terms of surrendering our circumstances and behavior to God. There may be as many stories of personal conversion as there are saved people. That testimony almost always states the effects, the blessings, of “our” surrender to him.
This quote from My Utmost for His Highest reminded me of the “cause” of my surrender: “The fact that He [Jesus] saves from sin and makes us holy is actually part of the effect of His wonderful and total surrender to us.”
It’s a blessing to live with the effects of our surrender but there would be no blessing without the reality of John 3:16. It was God’s “total surrender” of his own son Jesus on our behalf that caused our surrender to effect his blessings in our life. We surrender to God because he first surrendered to us!
-Mark 12:30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
-Matthew 22:37 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
-Luke 10:27…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.
These three New Testament Scripture passages all quote Jesus speaking words that would have been familiar to his Jewish hearers, the Shema. They’re words still used repeatedly in Jewish prayers. They all include loving God with your heart and soul which seems obvious. The inclusion of mind and/or strength is the variant that got my attention. I understand the access to mind and strength more than I do heart and soul.
This is the age-old debate: Is it strength of commitment or the exercise of the mind that fills the heart and soul? How do we figure out what’s required of us to prove our sincerity? It would seem even these Bible authors had their own opinion on that. Mind and strength? Mind? Strength? Do I have to choose one or the other?
Hillel was a famous religious leader in Jewish history. He was asked to recite the whole law for a dedicated student who would prove his sincerity and his physical strength by listening to it all while standing on one leg. That’s a funny mind picture isn’t it? Hillel’s short answer was probably pretty welcome to him; “What thou hatest for thyself, do not to thy neighbour. This is the whole law, the rest is commentary. Go and learn.”
This is the whole law…“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul…” Now go find a comfortable spot, read, study and think. God will begin to write his whole commentary in your mind and on your heart to strengthen your soul
Ephesians 2:3-5 NIV All of us also lived among them [our transgressions and sins] at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
I’m fascinated with the uniqueness of the Greek language to distinguish subtleties of words and meanings. In this scripture there is one word [hamartia] translated “sin” and another [paraptoma] the NIV translates as “transgressions.” What makes it interesting is not the way we might differentiate between those two words but how the Greeks did. These are my edited notes from William Barlclay’s study of Ephesians.
•Hamartia (Greek #266) is a shooting word that means to miss the target completely.
•Paraptoma (Greek #3900)…means taking the wrong road when we knew enough to take the right one.
Sin is a loaded word even for those of us who believe we are sinners saved by grace. The Greek definitions don’t impact the reality of the scripture but they do influence my courage to recognize and confess the truth of it.
What if I read this Scripture as:
I have also lived with missing the target completely and choosing the wrong road at one time, gratifying the cravings of flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like so many, I was by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for me, God, who is rich in mercy, made me alive with Christ when he saw the road I’d chosen was going nowhere—it is by grace I have been saved.
Psalm 37:4 Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
We try many things in our attempt to “delight in the Lord” only to discover we still can’t find that bottom line because we’ve made it more about what we do than the desires of our heart. Our problem is we think we’re strong enough to figure out what the desires of our heart are instead of admitting we haven’t a clue. We take God at his word that our hearts are his domain without remembering he sees the reality of those desires. It’s a scary fact we have to face that God may allow us the desires he sees there.
C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory said this: “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward … promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds 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…”
The Westminster Shorter Catechism gives us a simple bottom line. Q. 1. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
This is about the Simplicity of Grace. Grace is not an exemption for our flaws. Grace is God’s bottom line. It’s purpose is to change us through combining the desires of our heart and our actions with what he knows to be true about us. Grace is the place your heart finally learns the “desire” to “take delight in the Lord.” Grace is the Simplicity of what it means to “glorify God” and sincerely “enjoy him forever.”
Jeremiah 18:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. 5b…“Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand…
I took a pottery class once. It’s not as easy as it may look to take an unwieldy lump of clay and make something out of it. This Scripture is a perfect analogy of life experienced with God as he reshapes us. If he can’t open your eyes through his Word he’ll get the message to you some other way. God sometimes uses funny ways I call his humor to point out the difference between what appears to be and what actually is in the life of those he loves. We can react to them in shame [which is not God’s choice] OR choose to see them as humorous interventions of a potter at work.
I have some carpentry and remodeling skills and had offered to help a friend with a few projects. I arrived early, made a pot of coffee and work was underway when I received a phone call from another friend standing on my own doorstep, reminding me Bible Study was meeting at my house that morning…and where was I? I think that’s kind of a funny situation to find yourself in.
I put the pot of coffee on the floor of our new car to race home. You see where this is going, right? I turned the corner, over went the coffee pot and thru my brain went an unspoken word of profanity. I pulled off the road shaken more by that word than the coffee spill. Sitting there by the side of the road in the mess of my own making and stunned at my own unbidden response, God taught me one of the most important lessons of my life. You don’t get over your desperate need for him and he can use the “funniest” circumstances to remind you to be thankful he loves you enough to remind you of that.
Ah, humility…it comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes a heart is moved by circumstances to act in secret on behalf of God to meet a need. Even in that secret act God’s humor seems to aim at what appears to be and what actually is in my life. We’d been privileged to be a part of meeting such a need. It was a heartfelt act…right up to the point the recipient gave a testimony about what a blessing it had been AND named the responsible person. It’s a heart-cleansing lesson in the humor of humility that reshapes you when the name given is someone else’s!
Humor is one of the tools the Potter uses to point out the difference between what appears to be and than reshapes it into what is in our life. It’s one way he gently accomplishes humility in us because “the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” 🙏😇
I noticed and interesting thing after I’d finished my list of word ideas to pursue in these next few weeks. The first word of each combination was capitalized but the second was not. It was only a function of digital grammar but it made me think about those combinations differently. The capitalized word became an attribute of God to be practiced and for sure the lower case one the challenge of practicing them. If I looked at them that way, how were they related? Where is it written?
Zephaniah 3:17 For the Lord your God has arrived to live among you. He is a mighty Savior. He will give you victory. He will rejoice over you with great gladness; he will love you and not accuse you.” Is that a joyous choir I hear? No, it is the Lord himself exulting over you in happy song. Living Bible [TLB]
It’s a fact! “He will love you and not accuse you.” YOU are the object of God’s Affection! Ponder what walking in that Affection might mean.
It’s the definition of that next word that’s the challenge of our daily life. God looked at the male and female he’d created and because they were the completed image of himself, they were by definition Perfect [with a capital P], weren’t they? Our definition of perfection has taken a turn for the worse and lost it’s capital “P.” Rather than being focused on practicing the Affection of God and who he’s created us to be our focus has become skewed by the complication our own ideas of perfection. God is determined to simplify our lives and change our ideas too. Here’s where it’s written.
Micah 6:6 With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. [NIV]
Our possessions and offerings are different now but they’re still what confuse our perfection. It’s much harder to give the simplest of things – ourself. He knows firsthand our possessions and our wealth are not the answer to our perfection because He personally experienced everything we struggle with. The substitution of Jesus Christ “for the sin of [our] soul” has made the capital “P” part of the picture again for us. It takes time and it’s not easy but it’s simple: Perfection will come with the practice of walking daily in his Affection for you.
“He [God] has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”