Sunday, June 24, 2018

Grieve not the Holy Spirit – Ephesians 4:30

It has sometimes been argued that the Holy Spirit is an influence or a power, but not a person.  Our text should put such thoughts to rest once and forever.  You can’t grieve an influence, whereas you can grieve a person.  The Holy Spirit is not just a reference to the outworking of the power of God in the world, the Holy Spirit refers to the third person in the Trinity.  This is of course a mystery, but we believe it because the Scriptures teach it.  The Holy Spirit is God, as is taught in Acts 5:3-4, where the apostle Peter equates lying to the Holy Spirit with lying to God.  The Holy Spirit is distinct from the Father and the Son, as can be seen in the baptism of our Lord, but also in his relationship to the Son and the Father in John 14:26 and 15:7: proceeding from the Father and being sent by the Son.  When you put these things together, that the Holy Spirit is given personal, Divine, and distinct properties, the doctrine of the Trinity emerges with respect to the Holy Spirit.

You don’t take statements like the one in our text and pull them from the context in which they were found.  And I don’t just mean that we should look at the verses right before and right behind in order to establish the context.  You have to look at the entire book or letter in order to do this properly.  In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the holy Spirit of God figures prominently.  In fact, we meet him for the first time in the third verse of the first chapter: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.”  As we noted when we looked at that verse, the “spiritual blessings” are spiritual because they come from the Holy Spirit.  We become partakers of the blessings that come to us in Christ when we become connected to Christ through the Holy Spirit.  Thus, the apostle writes in 2:18 that “through him [Jesus Christ] we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.”  The Spirit is the link between the righteousness of the Son that brings us into the presence of the Father. 

There are some who think that the difference between the OT and NT is that in the OT the Spirit operated upon people, but in the NT the Spirit operates within people.  Some take this from our Lord’s saying in John 14:17, “the Spirit of truth . . . dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.”  Certainly, our Lord was pointing to the Day of Pentecost and all that would follow.  And there is a difference between the ministry of the Spirit in the OT and the ministry of the Spirit in NT.  But the difference was not that the Spirit did not change people from within in the OT whereas he does that now.  People needed to be born again in the OT era just as much as they need new birth now (cf. John 3:3-8).  The difference is that before Pentecost, the Spirit was not yet given as the One who mediates the presence of the risen Christ. 

This is the point of our Lord’s promises throughout John 14-16, when he prepared his disciples for his departure.  Knowing their apprehension and fears, he comforts them with the promise that he is not really leaving them: he will return through the Spirit.  “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter [Paraclete], that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth.  . . .  I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (14:16-18).  “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (14:26).  “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me” (15:26).  “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (16:7).  “When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.  He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.  All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore I said, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you” (16:13-15).  The profound implication of these promises is that the ministry of the Holy Spirit consists primarily in representing Christ in his physical absence and in continuing his ministry on earth.  We thus can have no connection to Christ apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

It is thus that Paul prays in Ephesians 3:16-17, “That he [the Father] would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.”  There is a definite connection here between being strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man and having Christ dwell in our hearts by faith.  In fact, some commentators on these verses see these as complimentary aspects of the same reality. 

We also see this in the unity that the apostle speaks of in Ephesians 4.  In verse 3, he describes the unity of the church as “the unity of the Spirit” and goes on to say that “there is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling” (4:4).  The body that is given unity through the Spirit is the “body of Christ” (4:12).  The apostle explains why this is true in 1 Cor. 12:12-13, when he writes, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”  We come to be partakers of the body of Christ and therefore of the salvation that comes through him when we are baptized into this body by the Spirit. The work of the Spirit is the point of entry into the salvation enjoyed by all who belong to Christ. 

This being baptized into Christ is another way of talking about the new birth that our Lord spoke of to Nicodemus.  It is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit and it is a necessary work of the Holy Spirit.  You cannot experience or enter the kingdom of God apart from it.  It is by him that we are washed and regenerated: we are saved “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior; that being justified by his grace we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:5-7). 

This language of washing is not a reference to baptism per se, although in baptism it is symbolized.  Rather, it is a reference to the promise in Ezekiel 36: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.  A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.  And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them” (36:25-27).  All these verses imply that we are absolutely in no condition to save ourselves.  We are dirty and filthy because of our sin, our rebellion against God.  We cannot enter his kingdom or come into his presence.  And there is nothing you can do to yourself or for yourself that will fit you to come into God’s presence.  Indeed, such is our wickedness that we will never even want to enter God’s kingdom or submit to his rule.  We do not desire to come to Christ that we might have life (Jn. 5:40).  We need God to change us.  In particular, we need the Spirit of Christ to come and give us spiritual life and to cleanse us from our sin and to write God’s law upon our hearts.

However, we should not think that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is complete when we are born again.  There is an ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.  This is indicated in our text, and also in Ephesians 1:13-14, where the apostle describes the work of the Spirit in terms of a “seal” and an “earnest.”  The first word points to assurance of our salvation that the Holy Spirit gives to us (cf. Rom. 8:14-16), and the second points to the present experience of our future salvation, the foretaste of the hope of glory.  We are not only dependent upon the Holy Spirit for the initial reception of salvation; we are also dependent upon the Holy Spirit for working out our salvation day by day.  We need the Spirit to produce in us the daily fruit of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Gal. 5:22-23). 

You see this illustrated most clearly in the book of Acts.  On the day of Pentecost, we read that the apostles “were filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4).  It was the Holy Spirit who enabled the apostles to speak in the languages of their hearers of “the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11).  Later, when the church faced persecution, after praying for help to preach without fear, we are told that God answered their prayer: “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).  We are told that Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit, which is clearly meant to help us understand the unusual power that he was given in speaking the word with power and in working miracles (Acts 6:5,8).  This should not surprise us, because this was also true of our Lord during his earthly ministry: “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.  And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all” (Luke 4:14-15). 

One thing you notice about these passages is the connection between being filled with the Spirit and speaking God’s truth with authority and power.  It is no wonder that Paul will go on to exhort believers to “be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:18-20).  Speaking in song and thanksgiving is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. 

And that brings us directly to our text.  Most commentators on this verse connect it with the previous one.  Thus, the apostle is saying that a principal way we grieve the Holy Spirit is when we use corrupt and unedifying language.  The Holy Spirit influences us to speak what is right, and healthy, and edifying.  So when we intentionally speak that which is wicked and unhelpful, we grieve the Spirit.  Note the word “and” connecting verses 29 and 30.

We are now in a position to understand the seriousness of this exhortation.  “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God.”  We are totally dependent upon the Holy Spirit for every blessing of our salvation.  We are dependent upon him for entrance into the kingdom of God and we are dependent upon him for living a kingdom life in this world.  To grieve him therefore is to cut ourselves off from his blessed influence and power. 

Now I am not saying that a genuine believer can lose his or her salvation.  Paul is addressing true believers here who are “sealed unto the day of redemption.”  Whatever else that might mean, being sealed certainly seems to convey the idea that the salvation of the believer is sure.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38-39).  Our Lord himself said that “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my Father’s hand.  My Father, which gave them to me, is greater than all: no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (Jn. 10:27-29). 

This does not negate the reality that unsaved people can be influenced by the Spirit to some extent and yet remain unregenerate.  This is the kind of person described in Hebrews 6:4-6.  Such people can reject and resist the Spirit of God (cf. Acts 7:51).  And it is a very fearful thing to do despite to the Spirit of grace (Heb. 10:29).

However, the apostle is not addressing the unsaved in Eph. 4:30.  The assumption here is that they are saved, sealed unto the day of redemption.  If we cannot fatally lose the influence of the Spirit, what is meant here?

It means, first of all, that we are in danger of losing the sense of the assurance of our salvation.  I am talking about that inward sense and awareness of the love of God toward us as his children.  It is what the apostle is talking about in Romans 8:14-18.  He writes, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.  For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear: but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.  The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be glorified together.”

Note the connection in this passage between obedience (ver. 14) and the experiential enjoyment of belonging to the family of God (ver. 16).  The Spirit bears witness to [better, “with”] our spirit that we are God’s children when we are being led by the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the body (cf. ver. 13).  This is an amazing blessing.  Being able to come before God and cry out to him, “Abba, Father!” with assurance that he hears us as a father hears his child is the crowning privilege of our salvation. 

Commenting on these verses, theologian Sinclair Ferguson explains, “The fact is that the Christian’s own spirit does display an awareness of sonship . . . amazing though this is.  The problem is that this awareness is often weakened, and God’s children may even find themselves doubting their gracious status and privileges.  What Paul is saying, however, is that even in the darkest hour there is a co-operative and affirmative testimony given by the Spirit.  It is found in the very fact that, although he may be broken and bruised, tossed about with fears and doubts, the child of God nevertheless cries out, ‘Father!’ as instinctively as a child who has fallen and been hurt calls out in similar language, ‘Daddy, help me!’  Assurance of sonship is not reserved for the highly sanctified Christian; it is the birthright of even the weakest and most oppressed believer.  This is its glory.”[1]  We should rejoice with Ferguson that this assurance can never be totally taken away, but we need also to be aware, as he admits, that this assurance can be weakened.  And one of the ways this is often weakened is through sin.

I think this is why, after saying, “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God,” the apostle goes on to say, “whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.”  Can we be unsealed?  No.  But our inward sense of this sealing can be strong or weak.  And when we sin, when we refuse to walk in the path of obedience, we lose this sense of closeness to God as Father.  We sense instead his displeasure.  It is an awful place to be, but thank God it is this way, for this is often precisely the way we are brought back to obedience and joy.  The true child of God cannot do without the sense of her father’s smile.  We would rather give up our sins than lose the sense of his pleasure. 

But the apostle is saying, “Don’t go there in the first place.  Don’t grieve the Spirit through sin.  Don’t grieve him by wicked and worthless speech.  Be holy.  Speak holy and helpful words.  In doing so, you will not lose that sense of belonging to the family of God and will continue to be able to rejoice in your salvation.” 

This has been the testimony of the people of God in every age.  If you belong to God, if you are truly one of his, then you cannot sin with impunity.  You cannot live in sin and be happy about it.  It is a mark of the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart.  King David describes his own experience in this way: “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.  For day and night thy hand was heavy upon: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer.  I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid.  I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD: and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” (Ps. 32:3-5).  As long as David had unconfessed and unrepented sin in his life, he was miserable, he could not get comfortable.  Have you been like that?  But then when he got honest with God, things changed.  He then experienced the blessedness of forgiveness and justification (32:1-2).  Even so it is with every child of God.

But there is another reason implied in this verse for why we should not grieve the Holy Spirit.  I take it from the connection between verse 29 and 30.  As we have seen, the ministry of the Holy Spirit is especially connected to the ministry of the word in the NT.  If you use wicked words, you are undermining this aspect of the ministry of the Spirit in your life.

This is important because we not only have this great privilege of knowing Christ but also of making him known.  However, the gospel is only powerful in a saving way when it is accompanied by the witness and power of the Holy Spirit.  Our witness is not effective because we are eloquent or brilliant in our gospel presentation.  It can only be effective when we are presenting in the power of the Spirit, when he takes our broken words and takes them like arrows shot at a venture and causes them to pierce the heart.  This is how Paul himself explained the effectiveness of his ministry among the Corinthians: “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:4-5).  In fact, Paul studiously avoided the rhetorical flourishes of popular speakers, afraid lest people would be attracted to a preacher rather than to the Lord. 

I sometimes think we do not adequately appreciate just how helpless we are in terms of our witness.  There is so much emphasis in our day upon techniques in evangelism that it gives the impression that if we just do it “right” we will win souls.  But this is not the impression you get when reading the NT.  Yes, we need to speak the word faithfully and humbly and meekly, but in the end we are absolutely dependent upon the Holy Spirit to make our words convincing and powerful to those we speak to.  The power resides not in us as the speaker but in God, the author of the gospel.

And this is true in every other aspect of our lives as followers of Christ.  We are completely dependent upon the power of the Spirit to strengthen us in the paths of obedience.  To grieve him is to undermine our ability to grow in grace.  It is to undermine the path to joy and peace and assurance and fruitfulness in the kingdom.  We are like a man shooting at his own kneecaps.  It is spiritual idiocy.  Why would you do that? 

Finally, this verse confronts us with the reality that the most important thing to a true Christian is to please God.  “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God.”  That ought to be the greatest motivation to obedience right there.  Don’t sin.  Why?  Because it grieves God.  It grieves the Holy Spirit.  Why would you grieve One who has done so much for you and in you?  Why would grieve him who unites you to Jesus Christ and makes you a partaker of all saving blessings?  The godly man or woman is one who lives before God, and who lives for Him before anyone else.  When faced with pleasing human authority or God, Peter responded, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).  The Christian man is the man who lives before an audience of One.  He studies to show himself approved unto God (2 Tim. 2:15); he cares little for the approval of men. 

Does this describe you?  Are you a man or woman who lives before God?  Is your religion something you are doing because of what other people think of you, or can it only be explained because of who God is to you and what he has done in you?  Are you a person to whom this exhortation means something?  Does it move you to obedience and holiness when you hear the apostle say, “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God”?  If not, then you need to examine yourself.  Above all things, we need to be men and women who can stand before God, for we shall all do this in the end.  You cannot escape it, either.

And therefore, we need Jesus Christ because it is only through him that we have access to the Father, through the Spirit.  It is only through the blood of Christ that we will ever be able to stand before God without fear and shame.  You cannot live before God and for God as long as you are condemned by him.  We need the guilt of our sins to be removed.  We need to be released from the grip of sins.  We need the redemption from sins that comes through the death of Christ upon the cross.  Thank God that the promise is ours that all who come to him and believe on him, trust in him and turn from their sins will be forgiven and receive eternal life in the presence of the Father forever.

[1] Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, (IVP, 1996), p. 184-185.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Godly Man – Deuteronomy 6

The Bible is not replete with long or detailed sections on how to be a good father.  To be sure, there are verses that are directed explicitly to fathers as such, but these are few and far between (cf. Eph. 6:4, for example).  Neither will you find passages that celebrate fatherhood the way you will find it celebrated in Father’s Day cards.  I am reminded of this every time Father’s Day rolls around because as I try to think of a relevant passage to preach from, I quickly realize that the standard stock for Father’s Day sermon texts is short and sweet. 

This does not mean, of course, that God has a low esteem of fathers.  After all, he is presented to us in the Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  As believers, we relate to God as Father through the Son in the power of the Spirit.  We pray, “Abba, Father,” and receive with joy the Spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:14-17).  As our Lord was about to ascend back into heaven, he reminded his followers that he was about to ascend to his Father and their Father (John 20:17).  When we pray, we are taught to pray, “Our Father which art in heaven.”  There can be no higher praise for fatherhood than the fact that God condescends to take such a title upon himself.  It tells us that fatherhood is good and very good, a noble, holy, loving, and essential institution among men. 

But that does not take away from the fact that direct instruction to men as fathers is few and far between.  Why is this the case?  The reason is not hard to find, and once found, neither is it hard to understand.  It is because God wants men to be, first and foremost, men of God.  Once a man is a man of God, everything else falls into place.  A man who follows God, who imitates him in his character as Father, will be a good father.  He will love and lead his children as he ought.  He will not provoke his children to wrath but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. 

Furthermore, those men who seek the Lord and model their lives after the instruction that God gives us in his word will also avoid the pitfalls and extremes that befall fallen cultures when it comes to fatherhood.  They will avoid what some have called toxic masculinity on the one hand, and on the other, the effeminate behavior that is being commended to men in our generation.  The idea that men should be more like women is foreign to the Bible.  We need to heed Paul’s word to the Corinthians, and act like men (1 Cor. 16:13).  The church has fallen down on the job in the respect, which is why secular prophets like Jordan Peterson have risen up to take the mantle of calling men to be men in our day.  But of course, that does not mean that it’s okay for men to adopt harmful attitudes that lead to physical and emotional and verbal abuse.  And the Bible prevents us from going there.  God word commands men to so lead their families that, like God, they command the respect of those they lead (cf. 1 Tim. 3:4-5). 

But all this does not mean that the Bible has nothing to say to men.  It does.  And perhaps the best place to look and see what God expects men to be in relation to their families, especially their children, is to be found in the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy.  Now often, when this text is cited with reference to family life, the first nine or so verses are considered and that is it.  However, I think that is a mistake.  In order to see what God wants men to be, we really need to consider the entire chapter, and that is what I want to do this morning.  As we consider this chapter as a whole, the contours of a godly father become clear.  In particular, we see that a godly father is one who understands and believes the Biblical portrayal of who God is, and who relates to him in ways that are appropriate to this understanding and faith.  He understands that we can only relate to God in a holistic way, in which the entire life is brought under the Lordship of the true God.  Only in this way can he model to his family what it means to follow and know God.  Only in this way can he be willingly given the respect owed to him in the Fifth Commandment, and only in this way can he pave the way for future generations to follow and love and obey this same Lord of all.

At the very beginning, we notice something that we are likely to miss in our very individualistic culture.  It is this: God is very interested in the continuation and preservation of godly families.  Why are they to obey the commandments of the Lord which he has given them (6:1)?  It is so “that thou mightiest fear the LORD thy God, to keep all his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days might be prolonged” (6:2).  There is this wonderful emphasis upon the transmission of the faith from father to son.  He is very concerned about men passing the baton of truth onto their children.  He is pleased when there is the continuity of faith in the family line, when father passes to son and son to his son the faith once delivered to the saints.  That is in fact the whole point of Deuteronomy 6, if not the whole book.  It is not enough for fathers to see to their own hearts, but they must look to the hearts of their children as well.  Like Job, the godly man is concerned about what goes on in the minds and hearts of his children (cf. Job 1:5).  He does not just preach the gospel to himself, he preaches it to his children as well.  He models it for them.  He seeks to convince them that it is not just right but good for them.

Fathers, it is not enough that you practice the spiritual disciplines for yourselves.  You must of course start there.  But you must also care about the spiritual wellbeing of your children.  It is part of what it means to be a godly man.  You cannot follow God if your life is not a continual invitation to your family, your wife and your children, to follow you as you follow the Lord with all your heart.  This is not something you leave to others, not even to your wife.  A lot of men do that.  They rely upon their wives to bear the burden of the spiritual leadership of the family.  But that is not what God’s word calls us as men of God to do.  Even if you think that your wife is more spiritual than you are (and she very well may be!), that does not that you take the back seat in the spiritual leadership of your family.  (Neither does this mean you ignore your wife or her ability to contribute to the spiritual well-being of the family, but it does mean you so lead so that her gifts are amplified the way they should be.)

So, what does a godly man look like?  Let’s look at the text of Deuteronomy 6.

First of all, a godly man is a man who hears the word of God.   You will notice this emphasis upon hearing: “Hear therefore, O Israel . . . . Hear O Israel” (6:3-4).  What are they to hear?  It is clear that they are to hear the words of God.  It is the same way the Decalogue is introduced in the previous chapter: “And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep and do them” (5:1).  They were called to hear the word of God primarily because in those days that is the way information was passed on.  People didn’t own their own copies of the Bible, so they would go to the priest to hear him read the word of God to them.  At the borders of Canaan, Moses is relating the word of God to the people of Israel again, reminding them of its truths.  For those of us with the privilege of owning multiple copies of the Bible, it is all the more important for us to pay attention to its message.  And given the fact that we not only have the Law, but the Gospel, and the fact that God has not just spoken to us through Moses but through his own Son, it is all the more important for us to hear what God has to say to us.  As the author of Hebrews argues, we ought to take God’s word to us through his Son with infinite seriousness: “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.  For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation: which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard them?” (Heb. 2:1-3). 

We need to hear the word of God because this is the starting place of all theology and godliness.  It is vain to say that you are following God if you have not heard him speak.  All religion that is the product of our own thoughts and feelings is vain.  How can even dare to think that we can grasp the infinite?  It is supremely arrogant to think that we can figure God out.  The only way we can have hope that we know who God is and what he expects of us is if he has spoken to us.  This is exactly the argument that Paul makes to the Corinthians: “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?  Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (1 Cor. 2:11-12).  You cannot know my thoughts unless I reveal them to you; neither can we know God’s thoughts unless he reveals them to us – but he has done just that, in the Bible, through his apostles and prophets.  It behooves us to hear what he has to say.

Second, a godly man understands who God is.  “Hear, O Israel, The LORD our God is one LORD” (6:4).  He understands who God is because God has revealed himself to him in his word.  The central affirmation, and the basis upon which everything follows, is the truth that the LORD God is one.  This is in contrast to the polytheism of the surrounding peoples among which Israel found itself, and from which it had been redeemed.  But though we are no longer tempted by the polytheism of pagans, their many gods represent the many, many voices that still call us to place our allegiance in things other than the true God.  There is the god of work and achievement, and the god of money, and the god of pleasure, and the god of entertainment, and the god of food and drink, and the god of human praise.  Like the gods of old, they each have their reasons for our affections and loyalty.  However, the oneness of the LORD God is meant to show us that there is only One who deserves our ultimate allegiance.  He does not and will not compete for our affections and trust.  He is a Jealous God (cf. 6:15), and rightly so because all other gods are fake and false; they have no right to claim our service. 

However, a godly man not only understands God’s unique claim upon his allegiance because he is the one true and living God, but also understands that this God stands in relation to him as his redeemer.  We often forget that the premise to the Law is redemption.  God gives the law to the people whom he has redeemed: “I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.  Thou shalt have no other gods before me. . .” (Deut. 5:6-7).  Note the story that is told the inquisitive son in verses 20-25: they are premised upon the fact of redemption from Egypt.  The reason for the commandments is to be found in their redemption.  The motivation to serve God is not one of servile fear, but of gratitude and love for what he has done for us.  And it puts the commands in perspective for us.  This reminds us that the God who redeems is the God who loves with a steadfast love, and therefore his commandments are not grievous (cf. 1 John 5:3).

You see this throughout the passage.  Why are they to hear and obey?  So that “it might be well with thee” (6:3).  “And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as it is at this day” (6:24).  The godly man is the man who knows that God’s way and will is for his good, that it is a good thing to draw near to God.  It is not something that you have to hold your nose in order to do.  It is a delight to obey God and follow in his ways.  He knows that God is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6).

Of course, for us who live on the other side of the cross, we don’t just look back to a temporal redemption, we look back to the redemption accomplished by Jesus who died so that we might have eternal life.  He didn’t just die to rescue people from earthly slavery, but from slavery to sin and its consequences, slavery to the fear of death.  We don’t serve Christ in order to win his favor, we serve him because through grace we have his favor.  We don’t serve him in order to gain the forgiveness of sins, but because we already have the forgiveness of sins.  We have been redeemed and that is why we serve him.  The obedience of the godly man is gospel-oriented.

A godly man understands that no one else can do what God has done through Jesus Christ.  He knows that there is no real redemption apart from the cross.  He knows that Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life and those who know him will never truly die; they have eternal life in him.  No one else can make such a claim and hold good on it.

Then, a godly man is a man who relates to God as he ought.  If we believe what the Bible says about God, then it ought to affect the way we live. 

Above all else, a true understanding of God ought to cause us to love him, and that is exactly what the godly man does: “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all think heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (6:5).  Years later, when the Savior was asked what the greatest commandment in the Law, he responded by pointing to this verse.  You see, it is not enough to have an intellectual knowledge of who God is, you must love him.  To know God and look away from him in disgust is to be like Satan.  There is something profoundly wrong with the person who cannot see the beauty of God.  And there is something wrong: it is sin!  It is sin that warps our understanding and affections and bends them in directions that are wrong and ugly and depraved.  To fail to love God, therefore, is the clearest evidence that we are still captive to sin.  We must love God because there is no object worthy of love as God is worthy of love.

We must love God also because there will be no true obedience apart from it.  This is why our Lord said this is the great commandment.  All obedience starts here.  Without love to God, our service to him is merely external and perfunctory and vain.  Love is the fuel of obedience.  The engine of service to God will lie dead on the tracks without the fire of love energizing the soul.  Our thoughts about God must be right (ver. 4) and our affections to God must be right (ver. 5) in order for a life of godliness to even get a start much less flourish. 

If this is settled, then everything else will follow.  People praise and talk about what they love.  Therefore, it is no wonder that the Lord goes on to say that they will evidence this love and obedience teaching it and talking of it to their children (6:6-9).  Our religion is a farce if we never talk about it in our homes.  If religion is nothing more than something we do once or twice a week, our religion is in vain.  If your thoughts and affections are centered on God, then talking about him with your children should be something that naturally follows.  Family life should reflect the priorities of your heart.  If God is front and center, then this will show itself in the home.  But if God dwells on the fringes of your heart, if religion is nothing more to you than something you do in order to salve your conscience, then this too will show in the home.

There are of course things we must be careful of here.  For one thing, I’m not saying that there should be no discipline in instructing your children in the things of the Lord.  Yes, it should be natural, but that is not the same thing as being undisciplined.  In particular, it is a good thing to have regular times of devotion with your children, something that is planned.  But on the other hand, we also have to guard against introducing religion in our homes in a purely mechanical way.  It comes back to the father taking heed to verses 4-5 and guarding his heart so that the Lord is the one to whom his allegiance and affections belong.

This means that a godly man is watchful over his own soul.  This is the point of verses 10-15.  You don’t lay your guard down, because the devil is going about like a roaring lion seek whom he may devour.  We are always in danger of taking God’s blessings and turning them into idols, and allowing them to dull our spiritual appetites.  You don’t rest on past laurels.  You don’t take God’s grace for granted.  You don’t fall asleep on your post. 

There are many, many men who have done great things for God and then crashed and burned, and it did incredible damage to their family.  King David is the unfortunate preeminent example for this.  He was a man after God’s own heart, and yet because of his sin his family suffered the consequences.  And they were terrible consequences, involving rape, murder, and betrayal, among other things.  If it could happen to David, it can happen to me.  It can happen to you.  “Beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.  Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name” (6:12-13).

A godly man thus relates to God in love and obedience and watchfulness.  Another thing that characterizes the godly man is that he continually trusts in God.  The problem with many of the Israelites coming out of Egypt is that they never seemed to be able to fully trust in God, even after all that they saw.  This is the point of verse 16: “Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.”  This is a reference to the story told in Exodos 17:1-7, where the people of Israel came to a place and there was no water to drink.  Their lack of faith was so complete that they began to complain that they had even left Egypt (ver. 3).  God still provided for them there (with water from the rock), but that did not excuse their unbelief.  So Moses is reminding them that they should always trust in God’s provision for them, even when it isn’t clear how this is going to happen.  The God who can bring water from a rock can provide for his people in the direst of circumstances.

It’s going to be hard to make the case to your children that God is worth following if their father can’t trust him.  And believe me, your children have already figured out what or whom you trust.  There is no more powerful apologetic for the gospel than parents who trust in the Lord with all their hearts and show it with their lives and emotions and decisions, and in the way they react to life in general.  I can tell you that the very best gift that my father gave to me was his faith in God.  I saw it in a thousand tangible ways.  It was clear to me that God was real to him, and under God played no small part in bringing me to trust in God as well.

Now if you live in this way, what is going to happen?  I will tell you what will happen.  Your children will come up to you and ask you questions about your faith.  Or if they don’t ask you directly, I guarantee you they will be thinking about it themselves.  Like the son in Deut. 6:20, “And when [not if!] thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the LORD our God hath commanded you?”  Do you notice that the hypothetical son here already feels like the God of his father is his God: he says, “the LORD our God.”  If you have shown them that God is real by our love to him, your obedience to him, your watchfulness and your faith, then they will want to know more about him as well.

And how will you answer?  You answer by telling them how God redeemed you (cf. ver. 21-25).  You don’t tell them about yourself and what you’ve done and what you’ve accomplished.  You tell them, like the father in Deuteronomy 6, about what God has done.  Notice the emphasis in these verses upon the action of God.  There is nothing about what the Israelites did for God here.  It is all about God’s powerful and redemptive acts in history for them.  You point them to God’s ultimate redemptive act in history: the cross of Christ and the empty tomb.  You tell them how Jesus Christ took our sin upon himself and purged it forever, demonstrating once and for all that God’s holy and just wrath was satisfied.  And you tell them about God’s promise that those who trust in his Son will have the forgiveness of all their sins and the presence of the Holy Spirit to sanctify them and make them holy.  You preach the gospel.

And that is what a godly father is like.

No Compromise (Rev. 2:12-29)

Pergamum and Thyatira were two very different cities.  Pergamum was the capitol city of the Roman province of Asia, whereas Thyatira was com...