Made in God’s Image, Understanding Human Activity in God’s World

Part 4 of 11

I grew up in a house that was in a constant state of flux:  we were always remodeling something.  Now I own my own home and it is in the same state.  I was thinking about this class and maybe a better title for this study would be:  Made in God’s Image:  Remodeling the Unbiblical Portions of the Framework of Our Thinking About Human Activity.  It doesn’t flow as nice as:  Understanding Human Activity in God’s World, but it is certainly more descriptive.  I say this because we all have frameworks of thinking, a portion of that thinking relates to the place for and impact of human activity, and we are currently using these frameworks.  We are living in the home that we are remodeling.

With this in mind, during the following weeks, we will move between lectures concerning the reformation of our thinking, where that is necessary, and lectures concerning the necessary outpouring of biblical thinking into biblical practice.  Remember the goal of this class:  To motivate Christians to take an active role as parts of the body of Christ, and specifically, to motivate Christians to consistently and proactively reach out to those in need.

It might be tempting to think that theory and practice are two unrelated things, or can be divorced from one another.  It might even be tempting to hide in the shadow of the “should-be” in order to avoid the reality of the “should-do.”  But an unavoidable truth is that our practice reveals what we truly believe.  At a given moment, our behavior can be identified as that which was associated with the strongest motive.  Actions flow from belief like water from a spring.  And a salty spring will not produce fresh water any more than a fresh-water spring will produce salt water.

Another temptation, found at the other extreme, is to think that if we believe all of the right things, good actions will automatically follow.  This error is based, to an extent, upon the idea that we are neutral and – much like a computer – will behave according to the program entered.  As you know, we are not neutral.  We require not only the right information:  that which comes to us through the Scriptures, and the illumination of the Holy Spirit to understand it – but we are also morally destitute and in desperate need of God’s regenerating and sustaining power.

We all know the ending of:  “He is so heavenly minded that he…”

Right.  “He is so heavenly minded that he is of no earthly good.”  I propose that the Christian who is described as “heavenly minded” but is useless during his or her stay upon this earth is not heavenly minded enough.  For true heavenly mindedness will lead us to reach out to those around us in charity.  Indeed, true religion is inextricably linked to the care of the needy:  the fatherless and widow, the poor and the hungry.

To what extent is your life built in accord with what the Bible tells you?  Are you about the things that God is about?  The way I have framed the previous two posts is instructive:  You can see by the way I have approached this subject that I know that what we believe makes a difference.  Further, the way the Bible approaches us is instructive.  We learn of God and His attributes, we hear what He requires of us, and we learn who we are.  Then we hear these things again, and again, and again.  This is instructive in the sense that we see that knowing the right information does not constitute the whole left side of the equation equaling a godly life.  How many times was the covenant with Israel repeated; and how many times did the people promise to obey; and how many times did they break God’s covenant and do detestable things in God’s sight?  Had they forgotten what was required of them?  No.  Had they forgotten who had made such requirements?  No.  To that left side of the equation equaling a godly life we must add to knowing the right information:  admonishment, and exhortation, and correction, and reminder, and prayer, and, most importantly, the authorship of God Himself:  His Holy Spirit working in us.

It is detestable in God’s sight to neglect the poor and the needy.  For example, when we think of the city of Sodom, we usually remember the destruction brought upon it by God and we associate this destruction with sexual sins.  But is that the whole story?  Please consider Ezekiel chapter 16, verses 48 through 50.

“‘As I live,’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘Sodom, your sister and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done.  (God is comparing Sodom to Judah and Jerusalem.)  Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.  Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me Therefore I removed them when I saw it.’”  Their gluttony, laziness and neglect of the poor and needy led to arrogance and the committing of abominable acts.  In turn God brought the city of Sodom and it’s inhabitants to nothing.  As I said, it is detestable in God’s sight to neglect the poor and the needy.

Please also consider Ezekiel 18, verses five through 13: “If a man is righteous and does what is just and right – if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully – he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord GOD.  If he fathers a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things (though he himself did none of these things), who even eats upon the mountains, defiles his neighbor’s wife, oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore the pledge, lifts up his eyes to the idols, commits abomination, lends at interest, and takes profit; shall he then live? He shall not live. He has done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself.”  We see listed among the actions of the righteousness the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked and the showing of mercy and justice.  These are placed alongside worshiping God alone, avoiding adultery, and walking in God’s statutes.  We see among the list of abominations to the Lord, such as idolatry, fornication, adultery, usury, and theft, the oppression of the poor and hungry.

Good is as active a verb as evil.  To be pronounced good is to be found as one who does good, just as the evil one is described as a worker of iniquity.  “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (Matthew 12:35).  The judgment of the sheep and goats, which was discussed in the first posts, is a judgment of all people and it is a judgment of all people concerning how we responded to the needy among us.  Remember the words of Paul in Romans chapter 2, verses six through 11: “He will render to each one according to his works:  to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.  There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.  For God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:6-11).

Let us return to the book of Ezekiel once more; to the 22nd chapter; consider verses 23 through 31.  What we will read here is a statement by God concerning the coming judgment of Jerusalem by the hand of the Babylonians and why this judgment is coming.

“And the word of the LORD came to me:  ‘Son of man, say to her, you are a land that is not cleansed or rained upon in the day of indignation.  The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured human lives; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in her midst.  Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.  Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain.  And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, “Thus says the Lord GOD,” when the LORD has not spoken.  The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice.  And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.  Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord GOD.’”

The outpouring of ungodliness and evil will produce fatherless children and widows.  Evil and sin leads to broken families:  children without fathers and mothers without husbands.  Evil and sin leads to neglect of the weak among us.  Little ones with little food wandering on sidewalks with diaper rashes and empty stomachs.  This is happening around us:  the little ones wandering – it will happen this very night.  Isn’t this part of what makes abortion such a despicable abomination:  the strong preying upon the most defenseless among us?  What is God’s disposition toward the poor and the needy?   Will God act on their behalf?  There are some wonderful promises in Scripture concerning what God shall do:  He will place them in the safety for which they long (Psalm 12:5).  He will deliver them from the one too strong and from the one who robs him (Psalm 35:10).  He will hear them (Psalm 69:33).  God will defend the cause of the poor, give deliverance to the children of the needy and crush the oppressor (Psalm 72:4).  “For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper.  He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.  From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight” (Psalm 72:12-14).

How shall God bring about these wonderful promises of protection and deliverance?  He will do it through his people; through those who have positions of power and authority – people like you and me.  The context of those last verses I read is important, and instructive.  They are from Psalm 72; please consider Psalm 72 and hear a prayer of David for his son Solomon: “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son!  May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice!  Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness!  May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!  May they fear you while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations!  May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth!  In his days may the righteous flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more!  May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!  May desert tribes bow down before him and his enemies lick the dust!  May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts!  May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!  For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper.  He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.  From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight” (Psalm 72).

I recently read an essay by Ben Aalbers entitled:  WEIGHTIER MATTERS:  A PRESBYTERIAN’S REFORMATION.   An Essay Concerning the Tendency of Conservative Presbyterians, And the American Church At-Large, to Neglect Ministries of Justice and Mercy.  The title struck me; it struck me because I perceive the same situation, not only in my own life but also in the church.  An excerpt from that essay also struck me:  “We must feel the insanity of the homeless who cannot get a job because they do not have a home but who are unable to buy a home because they do not have job; the inconvenience of not having private transportation; the pain of hunger; the chill of a room without heat; the feeling of intimidation that accompanies the alien nearly every hour of the day; the loneliness of a prisoner or widow; the distress of not being able to afford prescriptions or healthcare; the boredom and frustration that millions of people feel as they perform menial jobs because they cannot afford an education; the helplessness of an abused spouse who feels that she does not have the financial means or family and church support to leave; the futility of a single mother whose paycheck is barely enough to pay for her daycare expenses; the anxiety of a person with depression as they are discharged from the hospital knowing that they are too ill to work and too fearful to approach a church full of ‘normal’ people to ask for help. We must go to those who we are tempted to abandon to their fate.  The rich are not called to trade places with the poor. They are called to share and remedy their afflictions.”

Shall God say to you when He comes in His glory: well done good and faithful servant?

Made in God’s Image, Understanding Human Activity in God’s World

Part 3 of 11

For my first year of college I went to a small school in El Cajon, CA called Christian Heritage College; I lived in the dorms.  My roommate had quite a collection of Christian music that we listened to often.  And even though that was many years ago I still remember a portion of a song by David Meece entitled “All Is God’s Creation.”  Here is a portion of the lyrics from that song: 

I see ten thousand wars fought on a distant shore
In a baby’s toy
I see hunger and thirst but the last shall be first
So I sing for joy
All is God’s creation
Fashioned by one hand
Satan and salvation
Under one command
I see a poet in a cell in a cold wintry Hell
That has no voice
Though he’s tortured and weak he turns the other cheek
And says rejoice, rejoice
For all is God’s creation
Fashioned by one hand
A day of celebration
Is coming to this land
All is God’s creation
All is in His hands
A day of celebration
Is coming to this land

Those words:  “Satan and salvation under one command” caught my attention.  I had not thought about that before I heard the song, and I have not forgotten those words since.  Indeed, “the Lord has made everything for His purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil” (Proverbs 16:4).

In the previous post (part two) I began the difficult task of examining the Sovereignty-of-God, responsibility-of-man paradox.  Today, we will take some time in the Word examining what the Spirit has to say to us concerning this.  Remember the title of our class:  Made in God’s image:  building a biblical framework for human activity.  It is important that our understanding of the sovereignty of God be formed as we are led by the torch of the Word.

Following is a collection of verses; as I read through them please think on what they are saying.

The first is in the context of a request by Moses to see God’s glory.  In response to this request God replies:  “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19).  The very name of the Lord is tied to a statement concerning His freedom to show grace and mercy to whomever He chooses.  As you know, these words are quoted by Paul in the ninth chapter of Romans as he discusses the choosing of Jacob and the rejection of Esau.

King Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, upon regaining his sanity and his position of kingship after being made to dwell in the wilderness and eat grass like an ox said this of the Lord:  “At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored Him who lives forever, for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34, 35).

This theme of God’s freedom to act is also shown to us in the book of Isaiah concerning His statement of judgment upon Assyria:  “For the LORD of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:27).

Please also consider God’s words about Cyrus, the king of Persia, in Isaiah chapter 45, concerning the return of exiles and his proclamation that the temple be rebuilt.  “Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed:  ‘I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.  For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name; I name you, though you do not know me.  I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.  Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the LORD have created it.  Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots!  Does the clay say to him who forms it, “What are you making?” or “Your work has no handles”?  Woe to him who says to a father, “What are you begetting?” or to a woman, “With what are you in labor?”’ Thus says the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him:  ‘Ask me of things to come; will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands? I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host.  I have stirred him up in righteousness, and I will make all his ways level; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 45:1-13).

Did you notice the phrases “I name you, though you do not know me” in verse four, and “I equip you, though you do not know me” in verse five?  What are the purpose statements given for doing this in those same verses?

“For the sake of my servant Jacob and my chosen Israel” (verse 4) and “that the people may know…that there is none besides me” (verse 6). 

Up to this point we have seen, in these four examples, statements of God’s freedom to act as He interacts with the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth.  There is a section in the book of Jeremiah that addresses this again, but also highlights the responsibility of nations to respond to God’s call for righteousness.

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  ‘Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’  So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel.  And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.  Then the word of the LORD came to me:  ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD.  Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.  If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.  And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.’  Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem:  ‘Thus says the LORD, behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds’” (Jeremiah 18:1-11).

So here we see God stating that destruction will come upon a nation unless it turns from it’s evil, and conversely, that a nation planned for establishment in good, if it turns from that good and does evil before the Lord, He will cease from the good He planned for it.  Also we see this relationship of sovereignty and responsibility in the book of Isaiah and the 64th chapter.

“From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.  You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways.  Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?  We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.  There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.  But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.  Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever.  Behold, please look, we are all your people” (Isaiah 64:4-9).

Truly, the Lord meets with those who joyfully work righteousness and those who remember His ways.

Again, the words of Proverbs chapter 16 remind us of God’s sovereignty over all things:  from the words of our tongue to the toss of the dice.  But they also address the responsibility of man – and this in the context of blessing for righteousness and judgment for sin.

“The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.  All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit.  Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.  The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.  Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished.  By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil.  When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.  Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.  The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps…The highway of the upright turns aside from evil; whoever guards his way preserves his life.  Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.  It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.  Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD…There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death…Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.  Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.  The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16).

As I said in our last class, God has not revealed to us how true fault is fixed upon those who are bound to sin.  So we rest in humility in what God has revealed and say with John Calvin that when the Lord closes his lips, we will desist from inquiry.  We must be careful not to move too far away from the reality of man’s responsibility.  This will place us in the unbiblical realm of necessatarianism or fatalism where there is no room for the impact of human activity and God becomes the cause of all things and, ultimately, the author of sin.  We must also be careful not to move too far from the reality of God’s sovereignty.  This will put us in the unbiblical realm of libertarianism where God is divested of His sovereign control and man becomes the free one – the one who is the primary cause of events.

Now, I hope that as we study this we never loose site of our glorious Lord and his merciful character, please remember the words of Paul in First Corinthians:  “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,but have not love, I gain nothing”  (I Corinthians 1:1-4).

Please consider the words of Isaiah 55 in closing:

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.  Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.  Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.  Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.  For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.  Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 55:1-13).

Made in God’s Image, Understanding Human Activity in God’s World

Part 2 of 11

In this and the following posts I plan to give definition to the title:  Made in God’s Image:  Building a Biblical Framework for Human Activity.

In the introductory post I highlighted the necessity of consistent and active care for those in need, I also highlighted that this expression of charity is at the root of our profession to know Christ.  Let us keep the words of James fresh in your minds.  Let us take a moment to consider verses from chapters one and two.

“…prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.  But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.  If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.  Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world…What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?  Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 1:22-27, 2:14-17).

In the introductory post I also asked the question several times:  What is God’s disposition towards the needy?  It is a valid question and I hope that you have thought about it.  I hope that in the following weeks we can sift through the ideas, assumptions, and presuppositions that we hold as true, and reform those which do not reflect what is taught in Scripture.

Many factors bring us to the point of forming a belief on any matter.  It is my job, as I function as a prophet to you, to bring God’s word to bear on the beliefs you hold as true.  And in the context of this series, your beliefs concerning the place for, and impact of, human activity in this world which is under God’s sovereign rule.

When a person is saved by God, tremendous changes take place:  the perfect obedience of Christ is credited to their account, the penalty for sin is paid in full, and their heart of stone is replaced with a heart of flesh.  This conversion also begins the process of growth and purification.  At the root of this sanctification process is the renewal of our mind.  Remember the words of Paul in Romans 12, verses one and two.  “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  So the framework of our thinking must be built according to the plan of God, not according to the forms of this world.

In the last post I identified a problem:  most of us, indeed much of the church, do not understand, or take seriously, or know how to consistently express Christian charity to those in need.  Early on in preparation for this series I identified a goal:  To motivate Christians to take an active role as parts of the body of Christ, and specifically, to motivate Christians to consistently and proactively reach out to those in need.  Not only must we feed on God’s word and so renew our thinking, we must request the gift of grace bestowed that we will show mercy to the poor as God has shown mercy to the poor in spirit – as God has shown mercy to us.

In the previous post I listed some of the subjects we are going to cover in this class:  the necessity and power of persistent prayer, God’s sovereign rule over all things, the will of man, the necessary connection between sound theology and charity, precept-breaking human agency, and freedom found in agreement with God’s perfect will.  These are some of the pieces in the framework of our understanding concerning human activity and these must be built in accord with the revelation of Scripture in order for the actions which flow from them to be biblical as well.

So let us begin the process of evaluating the framework of our thinking and, where necessary, the remodeling of it, by looking at the sovereignty-of-God, responsibility-of-man paradox.  I’ll begin by defining that term.  A paradox is an apparent absurdity, which is in fact true.  The sovereignty-of-God, responsibility-of-man paradox can be illustrated by considering two verses.  First, please turn to Joshua chapter 24 and verse fifteen.  “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

The second verse to consider is in the fifteenth chapter of the gospel of John, verse 16.  Please turn to John 15:16:  “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.”

So in Joshua we receive a call to choose whom we are going to serve.  In John we are told that whom we will serve is determined for us.  So which one is it?  Could both be true?

How is it that God is sovereign over all things and yet holds us responsible for our choices and actions?  The answer:  I don’t know.  Actually, no one knows.  It has not been revealed to us by God; and isn’t He the one from whom all knowledge comes?  Think about this statement:  Not only is the circular boundary of human knowledge set by God, but the revealed things – those things inside the circle – are reveled by Him.  Further, the revealed things are perceived by creatures bearing His image; and they are apprehended in accord with His will.

Remember the words of Deuteronomy 29:29:  “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

So we cannot answer the question concerning how God attaches culpability to us while we live under His sovereign control.  However, we do know that He does, for His word tells us so.  The fact that there is truly human responsibility gives meaning to the call for repentance.  The fact that God is sovereign allows us to rely upon Him as we proclaim the gospel.  Indeed, we can learn many truths from Scripture that allow us to paint a picture of true reality.  It is like on of Monet’s impressionist works to us, which when viewed from the proper vantage point pictures a God of perfect justice and great love bending to extend mercy to the works of His hand.

The chief thought which I want you to learn is that we must submit our minds to what God has been pleased to reveal to us.  Let us not become arrogant and succumb to the temptation of reinterpreting what Scripture has to say just because it does not make sense to us.  Humble yourself before the Lord; receive the Word with humility.  There are probably no better words to remind us of place concerning our proper posture before the Lord than those of Paul in Romans chapter nine.  Please hear what the Spirit has to say to you in this portion of Scripture; this is Romans nine, verses 13 through 24.   “As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’  What shall we say then?  Is there injustice on God’s part?  By no means!  For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’  So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.  For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’  So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.  You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’  But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?  Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’  Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?  What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory – even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”

Indeed, let us act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8)

In conclusion please consider Psalm 119:33-40:  “Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end.  Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.  Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.  Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!  Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.  Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared.  Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good.  Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!”

Made In God’s Image – Understanding Human Activity in God’s world

Part 1 of 11

I don’t necessarily like to be around people who don’t have consistent access to showers.  I feel uneasy around those who may say the wrong thing at the worst possible moment.  I don’t seek out the hungry and offer them food, or the fatherless and give them guidance and instruction.  I don’t make it a consistent practice to meet the needs of the widow or clothe those subject to exposure.  I prefer the company of those who make me feel comfortable – those who are comfortable themselves – people who are clothed well and well fed.  I may hand money to a needy person as they approach me in a parking lot or a gas station, but I do not actively seek out those in need and care for them.  It is not popular to associate with the needy; probably never has been.  As I read portions of Scripture I am forced to ask:  do I share God’s disposition toward the needy, or have I adopted the culture’s attitude toward those in wont?  One such section of Scripture which addresses this well is Matthew chapter 25, verses 31-46.  Please see here Christ’s description of judgment; it has everything to do with how we respond to the needy.  In these verses we have a description – Christ’s description – of the final judgment.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’  Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-46, ESV throughout).

What is God’s disposition toward the needy?  As we see here, the very basis for the final judgment is how each of us treated those who were in need.  Indeed, when we get right down to it, the very basis for judgment is whether or not we obeyed God’s commandments – all of which are summed up in the one:  Love your neighbor as yourself.  In Proverbs – turning back to the Old Testament, where we find many statements which are repeated in the New – we find both a negative and a positive statement concerning giving to the poor:  in Proverbs 19:17 a positive statement; in 21:13 a negative statement.  Proverbs 19:17 reads:  “One favoring the poor lends to Jehovah, and for his dealings Jehovah will reward him.”  Proverbs 21:13 reads:  “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.”

So, what is God’s disposition toward the needy?  Do we share His attitude toward them?  The way we treat the needy – whether or not we actively reach out to them – is at the root of our Christianity.

What about me? the one who doesn’t necessarily like being around those in need?  Do you share this struggle with me?  Am I one who looks at the perfect Law as if looking at my face in the mirror, and then forgets what I saw – what kind of person I am – as soon as I walk away?  Am I like the one James speaks about in his letter?

Consider James 1:21-2:17:  “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.  But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.  If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.  Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.  My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.  For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?  Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?  But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?  Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?  If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.  But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.  For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.  For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.  So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.  For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.  What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

So we see again in James, as we did in Matthew, how important it is to God that the needy are cared for:  that they be loved and not despised.  At the root of both of these sections of Scripture is the emphasis that there not be an incongruity between what we say we believe and how we live.  John Murray has summed this up well in his book entitled Christian Baptism:  “To divorce faith and assurance of faith from faithfulness to our covenant responsibilities is to be guilty of an abstraction which does not exist in God’s arrangements.  And faith exercised in such abstraction is not the faith of God’s elect but the presumption that will at the end receive the rebuke of disillusionment:  ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; Depart from Me, all you evildoers.’ (Luke 13:27).”

Now for those who tend to get concerned when discussions concerning saving faith arise, let us not think that James, or John Murray, is critiquing faith-alone salvation, as if he is in conflict with Paul when Paul says that it is by grace that you have been saved through faith, and not through works.

See also the words of I John 3:13-24:  “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.  We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.  Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.  But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.  By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.  Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.  And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.  Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”

So, as we consider what Jesus says, and James, and John, we see this:  that the type of faith that the Bible talks about and the type of love that the Bible talks about, are active.

As I have considered these ideas a thought keeps reoccurring:  as local churches we have been placed by God in the middle of a community of people who are in desperate need of God’s grace.  Not only the beautiful common grace of God which allows them to live and move and have their being, but the special saving grace of God which comes through the preaching of His gospel, and this they must hear from those who are sent.

May we never be subject to the rebuke which Jesus gave the Pharisees when He told them:  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law:  justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23:23).  Or the rebuke of God given to the Israelites through Amos:  “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.  Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.  Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.  But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).

There is one other section of Scripture that I would like you to consider:  the Gospel of John and the fifteenth chapter, one through 17.  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch of mine 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.  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.  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.  This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.  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.  These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

In the following posts we will look at:  the necessity and power of persistent prayer, God’s sovereign rule over all things, the will of man, the necessary connection between sound theology and charity, precept-breaking human agency, freedom found in agreement with God’s perfect will, and others.