18. Things Beyond Choice

Meditating on the Will of God: 18:  Things Beyond Choice?

Phil 2:12,13    “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose

In an earlier meditation we wrote, “Of course there are some things we can choose and others that are beyond our choice and we will examine this in the days to come, as well.”  Our ability to choose is closely tied to the subject of God’s will because, as we have noted a number of times, there is every appearance in both scripture and life that we have free will and the ability to choose which path to take, God’s will or not!

As an aside, let’s just consider that yet again because it is so important. There are different levels of choice. There is the simple, ordinary choosing between things or people – who to invite to a party today – “Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe.” (Josh 3:12). No big issue there. But then there is choosing moral or spiritual paths and they may have deep and lasting consequences, for example,  “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh 24:14,15) That was a matter of serious choice with serious consequences.

Now, to reiterate the point we have made a number of times before, unless these verses are pure gobbledygook, then they have to speak of real abilities to freely choose between different options and those options bring different consequences, and the Bible is full of such instances – of choices and consequences.

But what are the things that influence the way we make our choices? Are we always free to make whatever choices we like. Obviously there are restrictions. A five year old cannot go to university. Most of us cannot jump the heights of great athletes or run as fast. We cannot play wonderful music like great musicians or sing like opera singers because we are limited physically, we are the people we are. Yes, there are very obvious things that limit us as human beings. We cannot be in two places at once.  We cannot read people’s minds (well most of us can’t). Some of us are not good at maths, others are poor with languages. We have limited financial resources and so money limits what we can do sometimes. There are, in fact so many things that limit us.

So what ARE the main things that influence us. Well genetic makeup appears to have a strong influence on us but contrary to opinion often espoused in the media when a new gene is found, we are NOT bound by the things we’ve inherited from our parents. We ARE strongly disposed to act in certain manners like them but we do not have to be bound by those things; we can choose not to be.

Some things children learn from their parents such as manipulative anger, but this has taken us into the ‘nurture’ part of the ‘nature versus nurture’ discussion and without doubt many of us make choices on the basis of what we have learned as our parents have brought us up.

And then we became Christians and found that God has designed life in a certain way whereby we work best as human beings. We might not have seen it like that initially, just that we had a Bible full of “do this” and “don’t do that” things and we slowly began to realise that there was a way of life that was different from  the way we had lived it so far – and this was the will of God, what He wanted for us.

And from the moment we realised that, we had a new set of choices to make, but they really all come under the umbrella of ‘surrender to God’. If we truly surrendered our lives to God when we came to Christ, then every else is easy – or relatively easy. The first decision has been made – to go God’s way. From then on Paul’s injunction to “work out your salvation”  was about learning what God’s will was for every aspect of life and then living it.

But that is where we realise it was not so easy. We had existing relationships and we need God’s wisdom to know how to handle them in the light of His will.  We find we have prevailing attitudes and habits, things we have learned, accepted and developed over the years and, to our horror, guilt and shame, we find they are contrary to God’s will and we struggle to overcome them.  It is at that point we find the apostle Paul’s instructions to “put them to death” relevant. At that point his teaching about being alive to God becomes relevant. We need the help and power of His Holy Spirit to change, to come in line with His will.

It IS a given in the Christian life that we are to conform to HIS will and that means often overriding our will. I would like to get back at an enemy, but Jesus says pray for them and love them, and there are many such instances of our wills clashing with His. Transformation, or sanctification, is all about our lives changing to conform to His will and as we enter into that process so we face up to the things we have inherited, or the things we have learned along the way and we have to challenge them to see if they fit with His will, and if they don’t then they will have to go. For, as we have seen previously, His will is good and pleasant and perfect and that is why He wants us to conform to it, so that we may be blessed by Him.

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32. The Obligation

Meditations in Romans : 32:  The Obligation

Rom 8:12-14   Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation–but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

Oh look, there’s a ‘therefore’ which means that what follows, flows on from the logic of what has just been said, so let’s pick out the positive bits of what Paul has just said: You, however, are controlled … by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And …. your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And ….he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” So, the Spirit lives in us because of what Jesus has done and the way we responded to him, and He will bring life to us in a new way.

But we need to remember that the Christian life is a combination of what God has done for us and is doing for us AND what we do. We cannot save ourselves but we do contribute to who and what we are and how we end up. So there are some Christians who simply totter into the kingdom and hardly move on. Yes, they are saved but there is little more. But then there are others who get saved and go on and mature and become glorious servants of God who achieve great things and the world is changed by God through them.

This is why Paul now starts this next paragraph, “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation….” When you have an obligation or duty, it is to DO something, to take part in something, to be a player. He is saying, because God has put His Holy Spirit in our lives, He looks for our co-operation because He did not take away our free will when we came to Him. Yes, He wants us to submit it to Him but He still wants us to choose and He still wants us to act of our own volition (as led and guided as it may be by Him).

So what is he saying we are to do? Well first he takes the negative, what we are NOT to do. “it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it.” It is still there, lurking in the background but it has been overcome by the power and presence of God and we could, if we wanted, still live according to it (and some do) but actually when we came to Christ we rejected the old life and the old ways and died to them, so they neither have the power to break through again, nor the inclination to do so. We gave it up for something infinitely better so why ever would we go back to it? Some do but you wonder whether they ever truly came right through will full conviction, full repentance and full understanding.

Some do fall away undoubtedly but that is a choice, and act of the will and Paul warns against that. Indeed he takes his warning a step further: “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die.”  If you go back to that old life with its old ways, you will die, not physically maybe, but certainly spiritually. God does not relate to that old nature and, indeed, cannot, because it is self-centred and godless. It’s like we turned our back on Him and do not, therefore, relate to Him. If we do not relate to Him and He does not relate to us, His life will not flow to us and in us and spiritual death will prevail. It is no wonder that some unbelievers say, ‘well I never have any sense of God; if He does exists He must be a million miles away.’ Of course that is how it seems for they are spiritually dead because they have never come alive by the Holy Spirit.

So, Paul continues, “but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” The Holy Spirit is in us as new Christians, we said, and He is working within us to bring God’s will into being in and through us. But, we also said, it is a partnership and we have a part to play, to use our will to conform to what the Holy Spirit is prompting. So Satan and the world – and the old nature – will say, ‘Stand up for yourself, don’t let them treat you like that, you tell them what you think,’  but the Holy Spirit prompts and says, “No, you respond with grace. Be Jesus to them, surprise them.” At that point we have a choice to make: will we stand up for self or will we put to death the misdeeds of the body?

Then, just to really encourage us, Paul reminds us of what has happened and who we really are now, these people who have the Spirit within and are led by Him: “because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”  Do you remember John declared, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (Jn 1:12,13) We are children of God because of the work of the Spirit within us, sons of God as Paul describes us.

Sons have a particularly special place in the Old Testament because they carried on the father’s business, they inherited and carried on the father’s business and thus all of us who are Christians, male or female, are called sons of God by Paul because we have inherited a new life from the Father and He wants to lead us in His business – the business of saving people, changing people and transforming the world. How amazing! How wonderful! Hallelujah!

45. Obedience & Spirit

Meditations in 1 John : 45 : Obedience and Spirit

1 John  3:24   Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us

We live in an age of individuality and even married couples today seem to take pride in remaining unique individuals but the purpose of marriage as laid down by the Lord is that the two become one, and that means more that just physically, even though the word ‘flesh’ is used: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) Jesus added a comment: “the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one.” (Mk 10:8) The final sentence appears to take oneness beyond merely physical oneness.

We say all this because John speaks about Christians as those who “live in him, and he in them”, a oneness of spirit. There is a unity in this that transcends anything found anywhere else in the world. There is also a link between obeying Him and knowing Him: “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands,” (2:3) and there are ongoing references in John’s letter to be in Christ, for example, “This is how we know we are in him(2:5) and “See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father,” (2:24) and “his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him.” (2:27)

He’s said it before and now he says it again: “Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them.”  We saw the logic earlier that obedience is a prerequisite of a relationship with Christ being formed and a proof of its existence. Those who are ‘in him’, who are part of the body of Christ, have come to be there because they submitted to his will and now live a life of obedience to that will expressed in the many commands or instructions found in the New Testament. They live ‘in him’ and he lives in them by the presence of his Holy Spirit.

“Oh, come on,” cries the skeptical unbeliever, “how do you know he lives in you as you claim?” It is quite simple: by the Spirit. “But what does that mean?”  It means that since he came into my life I have had an awareness of an inner joy, I have had an awareness of inner guidance, and I have had an awareness of an inner power that is beyond me; it is something that just wasn’t there before I became a Christian and it cannot be explained in any other way than it seems there is an inner power that now lives in me that urges me, guides me, informs me, strengthens me, and when I read the New Testament, I find that it says that this is God’s own Holy Spirit, part of Him Himself.

There is therefore, a twofold aspect of living out the Christian life. On one side there is me making acts of choice, acts of obedience to God, using my intellect and my will to submit myself to Him and His will. God doesn’t take my free will away from me when I become a Christian, I still have to go through life making decisions, choices to obey Him. That is where the struggle comes because sometimes everything in me fears or is uncertain and I have to come to a place where I make a decision to trust him and obey.

The other aspect of this life is that He, by His Holy Spirit, lives within me and thus communicates with me and helps, guides and teaches me, and when I go to step out in faith, He strengthens me and gives me power to achieve what He’s asked me to do. It is a human-divine partnership being lived out here.

Another way of putting it, is that I do what I alone can do – and that is make the choices to obey, and then He is there to help, guide, assist, and empower me to work it out practically. Yes, the Lord may be there working in circumstances and people around me, but we have been thinking about how He works within and through me. It is the relationship, this partnership, where he allows me sovereignty of will, but is there to prompt, help, guide and empower as I choose to obey. And it works, and this is why we know, as John says, it is “by the Spirit he gave us.” Hallelujah!

Walk of Potential

WALKING WITH GOD. No.33

1 Kings 11:38 “If you do whatever I command you and walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you.”

They do say that some people have a better start in life than others. I suppose this is so when you consider a child born to a wealthy, healthy, united family compared to a child born to a poor single mother in a ghetto. The potential for each child is the same in that they are a human being capable of much if they reach for it, but the truth so often is that the child from the slum is rarely able to overcome all the awfulness of that environment and what it means, and climb to great heights. The child from the wealthy neighbourhood, we might say, has it all going for them.

Yes, a good start in life is a real help and Jeroboam certainly had that, and that is who our verse is about today. Jeroboam had been an official for Solomon (v.26), a young man of standing (v.28) who had been appointed a manager. Now Jeroboam was minding his own business going out of Jerusalem, presumably on business, when he was joined by a man named Ahijah, who happens to be a prophet. Once they have walked some distance from Jerusalem, Ahijah takes off his new cloak and tears it into twelve strips and gives ten of them to Jeroboam saying, “Take ten pieces for yourself, for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give you ten tribes.(v.31). In other words God is appointing him the new king over Israel although He is going to leave Solomon’s family two tribes, for the sake of David (v.32), and He goes on to explain, “I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molech the god of the Ammonites, and have not walked in my ways, nor done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my statutes and laws as David, Solomon’s father, did.” (v.33). Now it is important to see this because the Lord is giving Jeroboam clear insight into why Solomon’s family is being removed from office – because they had false worship. That is important to bear in mind in all that follows. By way of contrast, the Lord goes on to promise him a lasting dynasty if he doesn’t go that way.

From this point on Jeroboam has potentially a great future. He and his family will be the future kings of Israel . All they have to do is stick with the Lord and avoid the foolish ways that Solomon had gone, into foreign idol worship. As Jeroboam looks to the future, his walk with God is a walk of potential. He has everything going for him. He has God on his side and he has seen clearly the cause of Solomon’s downfall, so he knows what to avoid. The future looks good. If only!

To cut a long story short, Jeroboam was made king of the ten tribes (12:20) and God even told Rehoboam in the south not to go to war against Jeroboam. In this manner the Lord protects him, and the word of this must surely have reached Jeroboam. He is at a place of peace and he has the Lord on his side. Potentially everything is great, and then this man shows his true colours. Does he refer to the Lord when he has a concern? No! He starts worrying, thinking about the Temple in Jerusalem, and thinks that the people of the north under his reign might drift back south to go and worship the Lord in Jerusalem . So what does he do? He sets up a substitute religion with an idol at either end of the country, and high places with shrines for worship all over the place, making sacrifices and creating festivals. It is truly a substitute religion with all the trappings of the old – except the Lord! For this he was rebuked by a word from God. Jeroboam squandered all the potential that had been his and disregarded the Lord.

What is the lesson here for us? When we come to Christ we have tremendous potential. We know what we have been saved from and gradually we come to see what we have been saved for.  In Christ we have the potential to become the people we were designed to be. As we receive all of our inheritance in Christ we become whole people, who have every aspect of their lives touched by God. The path ahead is a path of blessing. All that is required of us is that we remain true to the Lord. The potential is enormous! However, there is that awful thing called free will to consider. Yes, the terrible thing is that the Lord still gives is free will and we can choose to follow the Lord, or not! The blessing of God is not on the ‘or not’! God has wonderful things He yet wants to do in and through you. The potential for your life in His hands is enormous. Will we fulfil it or squander it? The choice is ours! You can be a child of the slums but yet with Christ rise to great things. You can be a child of the affluent West, yet squander all the potential you have. Consider these things carefully.

Coincidences

Readings in Luke Continued – No.7

Lk 4:16-17 He went to Nazareth , where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him

When I look back over my life I can see lots of ‘coincidences’, lots of things that ‘just happened’ and coincided with other things that then produced a good outcome. Sometimes you can see that actually these weren’t coincidences but events brought about by subconscious choice – but that in itself raises questions. Sometimes it is a set of circumstances that are already preset which then run into other ‘random’ circumstances which make us speak of ‘coincidences’.

In the Old Testament, the account of Abraham’s servant going to search for a wife for Isaac, is one such time when a series of ‘coincidences’ come together to bring about a good end. (Gen 24:1-51). We have already seen in Luke 2 the account of Mary & Joseph going to the Temple to present offerings according to the Law, only to encounter the Spirit-directed man, Simeon. It was a case of word and Spirit bringing about a good outcome. Jesus is about to proclaim himself for the first time; that is the significance of what is about to happen. So how did it come about?

Jesus, we read in the previous meditation, has been teaching in the synagogues around the area of Galilee and has been obviously gaining a reputation for himself as a teacher. Now he ‘happens’ to be back in his home town. Whether this was by design or accident we are not told, but it is his home town which may explain some of the subsequent reactions to his declaration. Then we observe it is the Sabbath day and for all good, pious Jews this was the day when they went to the synagogue for teaching, so Jesus went, as was his custom.

There were usually prayers and also readings from the Law and from the Prophets. It is when they come to the reading of the Prophets that the scroll of Isaiah is handed to him. Now as far as the synagogue leader was concerned there was probably nothing more of significance to this than the fact that Jesus was considered an honoured guest invited to read – probably for the reason that we’ve already noted, that he has a reputation in the synagogues of Galilee. Was it a coincidence that the Isaiah scroll was being read that morning, or did they work their way through the Prophets to a known and prescribed schedule? Did Jesus thus know that this would be the scroll of the day and did he choose to be in his home town to take this opportunity and make this point there? We aren’t told! Frustrating isn’t it, but Luke is just giving us what he’s been told and presumably those who conveyed it to him didn’t know either. Jesus is about to declare himself by means of a prophecy on this scroll and it seems more than coincidence that it happens in his own home town!

When we try thinking our way into the interweaving of the workings of God and the workings of man, we soon find ourselves out of our depths and we are left wondering just how much was God-planned. If you are a Christian, can you look back at the circumstances that brought you to the Lord and see His hand behind all that was going on? The Lord will use a variety of means, a variety of people and a variety of circumstances to help us to the place of commitment. Were the things that brought you to Him coincidences? Had God been speaking into your mind? Had He been speaking into the minds of others, to bring about the things that happened? In the Christian world there are many and varied testimonies about coming to salvation, about receiving healing or deliverance and about receiving God’s provision, and the more you listen to them, the more you discern the many ‘coincidences’ that came together to bring about this end encounter with the Lord that resulted in blessing.

The book of Acts is full of instances of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but it is also full of the acts of hostile unbelievers who brought pressure to bear on the Christians, and so we see a combination of guidance by God and by circumstances. Yet the Bible tells us that God works within all the circumstances; He works within the bad motives of sinful men – He doesn’t make them do things but He uses even their sinful motives and builds them into His plans.

The conclusion to all of these thoughts, about what theologians call ‘Providence’, is that when you are a Christian you can rest in the knowledge that God will be working there in the background (as well as the foreground!) of our lives, taking and weaving actions and circumstances to bring good for us. As the apostle Paul was later to say, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” (Rom 8:28). Note that it doesn’t say He brings all the things He uses, because they will even involve the sinful acts of men (e.g. Acts 2:23 ), but he will use and work within all things to bring good somehow for us in it.

We may not be able to see the hand of God moving, we may not know if certain circumstances are originating with Him or with men, and we may not be sure of what our responses ought to be, but as we commit all these things back to Him and seek to be obedient to His word and to the leading of His Holy Spirit, we just have to trust that He will guard us, keep us and guide us and that there will be a good outcome. That’s what living by faith is often all about!