My Joy and Your Joy

sepia photo of man with arms raised standing on rocky ground facing towards large body of water on cloudy day

“These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be fulfilled” (John 15:11).

The Joy of Christ

“My joy” here means the joy that is Christ’s. This is what He desires for His disciples to possess, by which He can then, as a consequence, guarantee that we will be truly blessed. And what was His joy?—absolute self-surrender of Himself to His Father—the joy of doing what the heavenly Father sent Him here to do. He declared, “I am come to do thy will, O God” (Hebrews 10:9).

His joy was the joy of self-sacrifice in continual obedience to His Father.

Jesus also said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful” (John 14:27). And just as Jesus gave the disciples His peace, He gave them His joy—the joy of self-sacrificing love. He said, “These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be fulfilled” (John 15:11). The love of Christ was not the ordinary kind, but the highest kind—the kind that is the greatest and most free from concern, resulting in the greatest self-sacrifice. And the greater the self-sacrifice is, the greater the joy is. Both were perfect in Christ—because He had the joy of perfect self-sacrifice.

Christ’s Confidence of Success

Jesus also had the joy of steady confidence in coming victory and success. He never entertained the slightest doubt concerning the ultimate success of His mission and the result of His coming into this world. But no one else has ever been tried as severely as He was. He was rejected and crucified by His own. But, in spite of this, His joy remained poised and serene. It did not destroy His happiness, nor His confidence in God the Father. His faith in the justice and successful outcome of His cause was never shaken.

The source of the joy Jesus had, and the joy of all His followers, is the joy of union with Him and the Father, of obedience to Him and His commands, and of love to Him and each other.

It is the joy of self-sacrifice, even to the point of suffering and death. It is also the joy of His perfect confidence of the righteousness of their cause and principles, and of total victory in the end. Consequently, the joy of the disciples and their Master came forth from the same source which flows out into an ocean of joy without end.

Christ the Example of joy

Jesus pointed out the source of happiness to His disciples. Both by His rule and His example, He revealed that the only path of real joy is the path of duty. We need to walk this path as He did. We need to dwell in Him as He dwelt in His Father. We need to obey as He did and love as He loved.

We need to be willing to sacrifice ourselves as He was willing to sacrifice Himself.

Then His joy will be in us, and ours will be fulfilled in Him and in ourselves. This is when His joy will be ours–while still being His own. The joy of our Master is fulfilled in the joy of His disciple. And the disciple’s joy is satisfied in his Master.

The Self-sacrifice for Christ

The sacrifice of self at the request of Christ is the path to the highest, most superb, and most godlike joy and gladness of which our human hearts are capable. If His joy is ours, then we can rest assured that our joy will last. We’ll find that it will be filled up to the highest measure of its capacity. It will be elevated and will move forward, always going on to fuller possession of His joy. Our joy will be able to maintain a deeper calm of pure and continual ecstasy. This will create a settled and heavenly bliss for all to whom the Lord has said, “…enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew 25:23).

Jesus was the most perfect, beneficial, and inspiring example to His disciples. In one sense, His joy in relation to believers is an illustration of this, while also being a very efficient aid to achieving the same ourselves.

He helps us so that we can help ourselves—by careful imitation of Him as our example.

Jesus prayed that our joy may continue being fulfilled until it is the same as His joy. The question is, will we permit Him to introduce this joy of His to us? And will we continue on to the point of self-sacrifice to obtain the ultimate joy—like He did?

 

[Image credit:Bjørn Heidenstrøm/Flickr]

Would You Die For Your Enemies?

“…God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

The Lord was pointing here to His reconciling death, which both His friends and enemies alike needed very much. The idea here is that sometimes a need is so compelling that a man might choose to die for the ungodly and his enemies even over the self-sacrifice involved in dying for the godly and his friends. This kind of love was the kind that Jesus had for man—demonstrated by His voluntary death on man’s behalf—which is the greatest love that there is.

“Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Rom 5:9).

Being now justified” means being pardoned, or accepted as His friends. When we were still His enemies, Jesus overcame everything that would keep us from being saved. So how much more reason we now have to expect Him to give us His protection, since we have become His friends. “By His blood” means by His death. Our value to God is in direct proportion to the value of the price of our redemption. We have been purchased and purified at the price of Jesus’ own shed blood, which makes us holy in God’s eyes. He will certainly keep His promise since we have been bought with such a very dear price.

“…if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom 5:10).

Jesus undertook this work while we were still His enemies. But it was by this very work that we were changed from His enemies into His friends. God laid its foundation while we were still opposed to and resisting Him. This revealed that God was determined on His part to perform it. And He has consequently made the solemn promise that it will be made perfect. “We were reconciled” means that we have been brought to an agreement in a state of friendship and union with God. We became His friend, laid aside our opposition, and welcomed Him as our friend. The great design of God’s salvation plan was to accomplish this very thing.

This means that obstacles existed before which had to be reconciled on both God’s side and our side. But His death removed them, on His part. And on our part, we were reconciled when we honored His Law which showed His hatred of sin and upheld His justice. A Christian is reconciled to God by overcoming man’s hatred of God and His Law, and by bringing man into submission to His rule. He is also reconciled when his former unwillingness to be reconciled is removed by bringing his heart under control—by changing and setting it apart unto God. Now man is able to become the friend of God. All of this was accomplished by the sacrifice of His Son as an offering in our place. The two opposing sides have now been reunited!

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).

How perfect the love of Jesus is to us. He described the people He died for as “His friends.” And His object and purpose was displayed by “laying down My life for My friends.” But they were not His friends originally. They were enemies and hated God—all at the very same time that His Son laid down His life for them in order to reconcile them to God!

By ‘friends,’ Jesus did not mean those who love Him, but those whom He loves. These ‘friends’ Jesus died for are the same people Paul referred to by the opposite name—he said Jesus died for His ‘enemies.’ They weren’t the kind who had behaved themselves like friends, or shown any love and affection to Him at all—they were the opposite. They were only called friends because He chose them to be His friends. And by dying for His ‘friends,’ Jesus reconciled the ones who were His enemies by His Spirit and grace, and made them His friends.

Therefore, this love of Jesus, shown in giving His life for His people, is greater than any example of love among men. A man might lay down his life for others who deserve it, or he might even be forced to do it. Some may die hoping for worldly applause and glory. But when Jesus laid His life down for His enemies, He had no evil or selfish views—He freely volunteered to do it at the highest ultimate cost to Himself. Jesus would never have had His friends if He had not died for His enemies. He shows the way we are to deal with those who are alienated and hostile to God—by pouring out His unselfish, self-sacrificing affection on them, which will conquer all in the end. The death of Christ has therefore become both the pattern for our life and the hope for our heart.

When Jesus hung on the cross dying, His enemies rejoiced and triumphed over defeating Him. Yet the true, ultimate outcome of His humble and weak condition was to reconcile us to God.

And if He had the power to accomplish such a great work as reconciling us when He was humble and despised and dying, then how much more can we expect Him to be able to keep us safely in His care now that He’s the living, lifted up, triumphant Redeemer! If His powers which were weakened in dying were enough to reconcile us, how much more will His full, vigorous powers as an exalted Redeemer be enough to save and keep us! Judas “…betrayed Him…saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is He…” (Mt 26:48). But Christ “kisses His enemies with the kisses of His mouth”, and makes them His friends—because He loves them! Now what He Himself said: “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19) is made clear. He willingly died for His enemies; will we willingly live as His friends?

This is a companion article to one written about Jesus dying for His friends. Please click here to read more.

 

[Image credits:(angry man) Rene Asmussenfoto/Freeimages; (angry woman) Cristina Matei/Freeimages; (cross) abcdz2000/Freeimages]

Would You Die For Your Friend?

graphic of blue background with a silhouette of person kneeling at a cross

“Greater love hath no man than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

This verse emphasizes that Jesus laid down His life for His friends. There is no better way to show a dear friend how much you care than to lay down your life on his or her behalf if it becomes necessary. And this is the kind of love Jesus has for us if we are His friends. He laid down His life for the ones He loved, and He wants us to be willing to do the same for our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

God lives in all those who belong to Him. Others are thereby able to see God, because He is in us. They can recognize Him in us by His love shown forth to them through us. God approves of the kind of love that we transfer from ourself to our brothers and sisters in Him. He is looking for this kind of love which makes us forget ourself and pursue the good and well-being of others.

The love referred to here is the love of God in Christ—because Christ is love. And how do we know for certain that He loved us? He was willing to give up His life for us on the cross.

“Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us…” (1 John 3:16). And if we have the love of God in us like Jesus did, then we will be willing to die for one another if necessary to prove it is so. Therefore, the life of a believer should not be more important to him than the life of God’s own Son was to Him. “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11) emphasizes what the love of Jesus really is, and what our love should be.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another(John 13:34). Not long after He said this to His disciples, Jesus did lay down His life for them. This explains what He meant when He said “as I have loved you.” And those who believe in Christ should come up to this level of love also. When Christ came down from Heaven to Earth, He laid His royal majesty and glory aside. He loved man more than all of it—enough to give His very life for those who are so very dear to Him. This was the great love of Christ for His people, the very highest example of love among men.

The love Christ has for us He demonstrated in “laying down My life for My friends.” Jesus was referring to His atoning death which everyone needs, whether His enemies or His friends. It was His high purpose to display the greatest love there can be—the sacrifice of ourself for those we love. Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). He confidently stated that the friendship kind of love He had was so strong, so intense, that He was willing to make this ultimate sacrifice for those He loved so dearly.

There are some people who would be willing to give time, or money, or position, etc. to benefit their friends. But the one element we all recognize as proof of love and friendship is when a friend is willing to deny himself on our behalf.

And the highest proof there can be of human love is when someone is willing to give up his or her life for the sake of a friend’s life. God gave the very highest proof possible to prove His love. Nothing could be more precious than the life of the One who is the Word of God, who was made flesh for our benefit. The most precious proof was the sacrifice Jesus made of His own life on behalf of His friends.

It was by Christ’s teaching that man received knowledge about God. But it was by His death on the cross that man was able to receive salvation. Jesus willingly sacrificed His life to win our hearts and make us His true friends. He brought a spiritual principle and power to our nature to tie us to Him in devotion and thankfulness for all time. Jesus was saying that we should love our brothers and sisters in the Lord with love of the same kind and high degree that He manifested for us. For the good of our friends, we must be ready even to die. Christ is love, and if we love as He loved, then we must be willing even to die for each other—one of the greatest needs among God’s people today. Ask yourself today—how high is my love for others, compared to Christ’s love for me?

 

[Image credit:Gerd Altmann/Pixabay]

“Surely I Come Quickly”

sun streaming through brownish clouds

Jesus’ last words spoken from Heaven were, “Surely I come quickly” (Rev 22:20). And it won’t be long before He speaks once again—when He comes down from Heaven with a shout! In the meantime, the hearts of those waiting and watching for Him need to remain glowing hot, focused, and faithful concerning this blessed hope set before us. Nothing less will satisfy the cravings of our hearts for Him! But if we deny this hope, then we are not correctly understanding prophecy.

Here we are coming closer than ever to the very end of the age, and we find, as predicted, that many have given up hope in Jesus coming back to Earth at any moment. But it doesn’t matter whether many today believe this or few—it still is true. When will Jesus come? It could be at any time now. No, we don’t know just what day or hour our Bridegroom will come for His bride. Therefore, it could just as well be today! No prophecy concerning Christ coming for His bride remains to be fulfilled before we will hear His shout from Heaven to come up and be with Him.

Certainly the true Church, the bride of Christ, will go through tribulation while she remains on Earth. But the horrible ‘Great Tribulation’ to come of the last days is not promised to the Church. The True Church is not in the Great Tribulation at this time, and it won’t be here when it does occur. The wrath of God is not for His children. This is the other aspect of our blessed hope as we wait for Jesus’ appearing at any moment.

Many verses of God’s Word teach that Jesus is coming soon, so the bride is to be ready and waiting for her Savior to come:

  • “The Lord is at hand” (Phil 4:5).
  • “For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry” (Heb 10:37).
  • “…nearer than when we believed” (Rom 13:11).
  • “…the coming of the Lord draweth nigh [near]” (James 5:8, emphasis mine in each passage).

All of these leave us with the distinct impression that Jesus is coming soon!

This is just the impetus we need to dedicate our lives to active service for our Lord in a pure and unselfish way, not of this world. Many have preached that we should strive to work diligently for God and live a holy life, because death will come soon enough and then we can do these things no more. But the Bible argument is always that Jesus is coming soon, and we need to be sure we are ready for Him! In the meantime, we need to be constantly waiting, watching, and praying. We should be active in service to and for Him—so we will be found as faithful stewards carrying out what He has called us to do while we await His return.

Jesus is the only one in scripture who ever said to us, “I come quickly.” And our proper response should always be, “Come.” We need to be patient while maintaining our hope as we watch and wait. We want Him to come quickly—but we know the timing is up to Him. We know He loves us and that we can always trust Him. If He delays, it is not because He is “slack concerning His promise” (2 Pet 3:9). He waits because His longsuffering will allow an opportunity for many more to be saved. We could never deny others the privilege of joining our ranks. Therefore we are not dismayed that He lingers to bring more in.

“And the Spirit and the bride say [to Him], Come” (Rev 22:17). There is no one else they can properly say this to! God’s Spirit strengthens the desire of the bride as she repeats this word, while others are also being wooed by it. They are also being urged to cry out for His reappearing. All who share Jesus’ favor and grace while here will be filled with joy when He appears and takes us home to be with Him there. By His grace, we are being made fit for it and are preserved unto it. Therefore, keep joyfully expecting His glorious return.

Meanwhile our responsibility is clear. We need to—

Be ready for service.
Be like the others who wait for their Lord.
Be sure our lights are burning bright.
Teach this message passionately while our lives glow with the truth.
Not give in to false teaching that we have no right to expect Jesus’ return at any moment.
Continue to watch for and believe in His return at any time.

“Surely I come quickly”—this is the pleasing note prophecy ends on, and Jesus’ last message to the hearts of believers. What an encouragement, after waiting for Him so long, through so many difficulties, trials, dangers, and woes. We are blessed to know that the holy and true One speaks these words to us. He has given our hearts a faithful pledge, and He won’t fail to fulfill it. He is surely about to return. Soon He is coming! Coming for you! Coming for me!

Can love ever be satisfied before the One most desired makes His long-awaited appearance? Our hearts will freely respond to Him in love and truth. And who wouldn’t respond right away to a free invitation that is so divine? If only we could in some way properly relay just how loving and tender our beloved Lord is!

Jesus said He is coming to bring an end to the hard work and suffering of those who serve Him. He is coming to receive to Himself the ones who have been faithful and continuing the course in spite of opposition, discouragement, or any other influences to the contrary. He is coming with the reward of His grace with Him. Every faithful work, every labor of love, He will repay. And He will take His beloved bride to live with Him forever in Heaven—the state and place of complete happiness. To this we heartily reply, “So be it—come quickly, Lord Jesus!”

“Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent, that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (2 Pet 3:14).

“The Well is Deep”

old water well

I once went hiking near the massive rock formation of Sugarloaf Mountain, with its great, striking view, toward the low forest area of the lower footpath. After a while, it brought me close to a beautiful meadow. I could have taken a longer way around which would have led me to the main road. But it was one of those sweltering summer days. So, when I spied an opening in the weathered split-rail fence surrounding the vast open field, I took the well-worn footpath cutting through the middle of the open meadow instead.

Taking the footpath shortened my walking distance during the intense midday sun of this picture-perfect summer day. After I had hiked almost the full length of the path, it directed me down, going from side to side, to a wide, picturesque sight of numerous wildflowers growing throughout the meadow. It finally led to an old, dusty crossroad where I saw an insignificant, weathered, wooden structure nearby, originally a farmhouse. I discovered a long-standing, isolated, stone well there, sharing the same spot with an ancient oak tree, whose canopy of branches and leaves extended out far and wide providing welcome shade. Tiny, tightly-closed blooms peeked out from scattered morning glory vines nearby, while beautiful wildflowers in full bloom grew near where I stood. Then a small breeze stirred the very dry dust of the road, and the summer sun finally succeeded in penetrating the canopy that had been sheltering me from the midday heat.

I moved closer to the old well, hoping its water would quickly satisfy my thirst. Then I discovered that it was very deep. A tattered rope once held a bucket, but now swung freely back and forth around an old, rusty, cranking mechanism. And there I was, sitting under the shade from the massive oak tree at the well, with no means to draw water!

“The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water?” (John 4:11)  

“The well is deep….” The well here was a lot deeper than expected. And this woman of Samaria could see that Jesus had nothing to lower into the well to get a drink of water. There are troubles and issues inside our human nature that can be very deep too. And we know we have nothing to draw them out with ourselves. But do we believe that Jesus has nothing to work with also?

He may come to us as we worry about issues in our heart that we cannot penetrate or come to understand and say to us, “Let not your heart be troubled.” But we shrug and argue, “Lord, this well is deep. I have tried and tried, and I can’t get any calm or comfort out of it. I don’t really see how You can do anything either.”

Why do we think Jesus is poor and powerless in dealing with our situation? He does not draw our help from deep wells of trouble anyway. He reaches up and brings our answer and comfort down from above.

We recall something we let Him do for us in the past, thinking: “Yes, He helped me that time, it’s true, but this time I can’t expect Him to solve this situation.” Why do we limit Him? Is He God Almighty or isn’t He? We want Him to comfort us, and to sympathize with us, but we don’t welcome Him as Almighty God in relation to our problem.

We have attributes and experiences that are Christian, but we don’t abandon ourselves to Jesus. What poor examples we are of Christianity, because we don’t draw on an Almighty Christ. We get into hard situations, and, instead of turning to Him, we say He cannot help us—that He is not able to do what we need. Then we try to go down into the deep well and get the water out ourselves. But the answer isn’t there anyway. We should know that if we look to Jesus, He can give us what we need. The Samaritan woman came for water at the well. But Jesus addressed her deepest unspoken problems and situations instead, and she left with her life totally turned around!

Yes, the well is deep and you are very thirsty. Don’t try to get the water yourself, though. Draw on the One who is the “Water of Life,” and you will never thirst again!

A Death and Life Matter

cross in clouds

“…I am the resurrection, and the life:
he that believeth in Me,
though he were dead,
yet shall he live:
and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.
Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26).

Before He went to the cross to die, Jesus told His followers that He is the resurrection and He is the [eternal] life. Then He told them that whoever lives and believes in Him will die also—yet they will live! This means that they will also be raised from the dead (resurrected) and will live with Him forever in Heaven. Then, when Jesus’ time came to be hung on the cross to pay for the sin of all mankind, He told those who believed in Him that He would go through with it. Afterward, He said that the heavenly Father would raise Him up from the dead and glorify Him (make Him bright, shining and magnificent, like God). Jesus could not be glorified unless and until He was resurrected. And all of His followers will also be saved, and glorified after they die, because He promised that they will be like Him.

The one main thing that makes Christianity different from other faiths is the supernatural power of the living God. And the highest demonstration of this power was Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

The only way the truthfulness of what He taught could be checked out was by Him being raised from the dead like He had promised. First He was alive—then He was crucified and buried—and then He was alive again, just like He had promised! He became known as Lord of the living and of the dead. He said “…I am…the living one…I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore” (Revelation 1:17-18).

Jesus also said that His followers would be able to live again like He did, because they believe in Him. His death on the cross, and God raising Him from the dead, were for everyone—in order that they would live for Him, not just for themselves anymore. He convinced His followers that they would be taken where He went when they died. His resurrection guaranteed the work He did on the cross.

Everything mankind lost when Adam fell, Jesus took care of on the cross. But His people only have part of what He won for them. The rest will come when we are resurrected too.

In the meantime, those who now live for Christ are eager to join Him. We groan and sigh as we wait and hope for God. When He comes back, then our bodies will be transformed to be like Jesus. We will go from being corrupt to being glorified and immortal.

True faith in Christ doesn’t come from thinking of Him raised from the dead, though. True faith only comes from thinking of Him hanging on the cross to pay the price for our sins that kept us from God. He is not only the way to eternal life—He is the eternal life we are after! This means that being “in Christ” is even more important than being raised from the dead. We who belong to Christ (symbolically) died with Him—we were buried with Him—and we will be resurrected in Him, to “newness of life.” He is the life which He gives in order to give life back to our dead souls.

Jesus’ voice commands dead souls to wake up. He has the authority to do this. His command makes those who are dead in sins become alive. They that hear His voice live. And His voice, speaking to you through His Word [the Bible] will cause you to die to sin. It will also encourage you to leave everything and follow Him.

Jesus died on the cross so that He could raise us from death in sin, which He proved by His own resurrection first. If you don’t hear the voice of Jesus, you will remain asleep and will die in your sin. Then you will never go to Heaven where He has gone.

One day a trumpet will proclaim Christ’s call to believers, like the military call to depart. This signal meant that it was time to march to another place. God is going to take us to another place to be with Him. Suddenly, in only a moment, those who have died in Him will be raised in glorified bodies, never to suffer from disease and death again. The believer’s hope in Christ is not just for the time they are here on Earth. Our hope is to be raised from this life to be personally with Jesus Christ, in order to rule and reign with Him forevermore. Then, when “Death is swallowed up in victory,” our triumph over death will be complete in every way. Let these words of Jesus Christ become a part of you: “… because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19).

If you have just read this and you would like to know more about how to be free from the bondage of sin and the assurance of life for eternity please click here.

Character Pleasing to God

young woman sitting by tree

What we say and what we actually do can be miles apart. But God doesn’t judge us by these as much as He judges us by our character. The one thing He really wants to see is godly character being built up in us. This means the way we behave according to our code of correct behavior, which is then demonstrated by the actions of our body. But we seldom think of character in terms of our body. The character we form is made known by the disposition that rules within us—referring to our customary moods and attitude toward life around us. God can change our disposition, but He is not the one who forms our character. We have to do that ourselves.

There is no quick and easy way to Heaven. This is also true in forming godly character. Choosing a quick and easy way to the ways of God does not benefit us. The only sure way is long and careful. We therefore need patience in the process. We can choose to ignore God and refuse to obey Him, or we can obey Him by bringing every thought and imagination under control. Then His life will be displayed in our body. The issue is not simply keeping us from going to Hell. The issue is that we have been saved for the very purpose of displaying Christ in our everyday life—in everything we do. “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them,” said Jesus (John 13:17 emphasis mine).

headshot of a middle aged man

Patient striving for godly character shows the power of our love for God. Jesus did not choose the quick and easy way to the throne and kingdom He was destined for. He chose the long way of humility which took Him first to the Cross of Calvary. The heavenly Father’s perfect standard for a man’s character is represented by the life of Jesus. The Father does not make us walk right. Instead, He gives us the very life and Spirit of His Son, so His patience, love, and gentleness can be displayed in us. Then consistent godly Christian character is formed as the life of Jesus is made evident in our mortal body.

The only way to clearly understand the will of God is by developing godly character. Different Christians interpret His will in various ways at various times, but the Holy Spirit is the only true interpreter. When we first receive the Holy Spirit, we learn the most valuable lesson of spiritual life—that God’s will is revealed according to our character’s condition. But His will doesn’t change our character. It is our attitude toward His will, expressed in our newly-forming character, which begins to reflect His will. Paul said to work out our salvation, and to be consistent in character with what God has worked in, “That ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).

two indigenous children washing dishes

Our character cannot earn or make us deserve a right to come before God. It is only by His grace that we can ever stand before Him. Let’s be wary of having an arrogant interest in our own character, which can then turn into our reason for believing in God. Be careful that nothing interferes with our proper relationship with Him. Anything that damages this relationship will interfere when God wants to use us to influence others toward Him. It will also mar our reflection of Him in the eyes of others.

“The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin” as we are “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (1 John 1:7; 2 Corinthians 7:1 emphasis mine).

Are we guilty of encouraging a false, unhealthy holiness that does not come from the fear of God? If we focus on our own holiness, a subtle pride of the flesh which is not in the Word can slowly rise up in us. It does not lead to building character, but only to having experience. Then we tend to take ourselves too seriously and God not seriously enough.

three crosses in a field

God gives us the right disposition through the Atonement (Jesus shedding His blood on the cross for our sins). He puts it into us when we are born again. But it is up to us to work it out in everyday life, in and through our physical body. This is also the way our character is made and displayed. It cannot be expressed in any other way except through our body. And how can we tell if our emerging character is of the nature of God? only when the life of His Son is being made manifest (evident) in our body.

Strength in moral life depends on the quality of our morals. But in spiritual life, we need to deal with things that oppose us by drawing from the life of Jesus. This will produce holy character which is wholly pleasing to God. Can we save ourselves or set ourselves apart unto holiness? No, only God can. Our treasure in Heaven is the wealth of character we are storing up by remaining true to Jesus’ faith, not to our faith in Him. But it is dangerous to allow holy character to replace our faith in God. Let’s think long and hard about our development of godly character, and work out what these thoughts concerning what God have worked into us. Then we will know that the character we have developed is pleasing to God.

God is a Rewarder

Jesus reaching out to Peter on the water By François BoucherUnknown, Public Domain, Link

Jesus told His “…disciples to get into a ship, and to go before Him unto the other side, while He sent the multitudes away…[then] He went up into a mountain apart to pray…” (Matthew 14:22-23). Jesus wanted His disciples to go to either Bethsaida or Capernaum in the boat. These two cities were only a few miles apart on the same side of the Sea of Galilee. They made their way along the western coast of the sea, most likely expecting Christ to meet up with them along the way.

Imagine how they felt after nightfall out in the middle of the sea, as storm clouds rapidly forming in the distance came toward them. This time they were alone, without Jesus in their midst. Strong winds and enormous waves came and continually beat against the boat. It wasn’t long before it began to take on water and they thought they were going to sink. In vain they tried to bail water out of the boat, while enormous waves continued crashing all around. When they looked at their terrifying circumstances, the situation appeared hopeless. Satan, the prince of the power of the air, most likely sent the storm. But the Lord would not allow it to harm His disciples, because it was designed to test their faith.

Sometime between three and six o’clock in the morning, Jesus came to them “…walking on the sea….” When the disciples saw Him walking on the water, they became very troubled. They said to each other, “…It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear” (Matthew 14:25-26).

How often have we also cried out in fear in response to the stormy tumult of the world? And how often have we been distracted by our circumstances, and failed to keep our eyes on the presence of Jesus in our midst?

Our doubts, fears, and unbelief hinder us in our walk with God. When we face any type of difficult circumstances, Jesus wants us to reach out to Him in true, believing faith. He wants us to trust Him no matter what type of circumstances or difficulties we may go through. “…without faith it is impossible to please [God]: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Jesus calls for us to “come” to Him, just as He told Peter to do. He wants us to become a chosen ‘living vessel’ unto Him, “…which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). Those who are a ‘living vessel’ are unconditionally chosen to do the works of God. He wants us out of our comfort zone of life. Peter was able to actually walk on the water when he turned to Jesus to help him. When we respond to the divine presence of the Lord in the midst of our storm, He promises to provide for us also. He will encourage us to ‘walk on the water’ in spiritual pursuits. But we cannot come to Jesus unless He upholds us by His divine power.

If we understand that God sustains all life, then we can begin to better understand who He is. Jesus said, “If you have known Me, ye should have known My Father also (John 8:19).” He is Jehovah-Elohim (“Lord God”)—the Creator-God—who is not detached from His creation. He attends to the needs of His people. In fact, the Lord Himself came down in person to help and save us all, demonstrating that He really is the covenant-keeping God. And when Jesus manifested Himself to His disciples on the sea, He revealed who He really is.

The greatness of Jesus’ power and grace was demonstrated to Peter when he trusted Jesus and stepped out of the boat onto the water.

But Peter took his eyes off of Jesus when he looked down fearfully and saw his own weakness of faith. He failed to keep his eyes on God there with him when he started to sink, because he was overcome by his doubt, fear, and unbelief. So he cried out to Jesus, “Help me, Lord, save me!”

When we look fearfully at the magnitude of the difficulties that come against us, we also take our eyes off Jesus. Then we, like Peter, begin to sink. But when we call out—“Save me, Lord, from these difficulties opposing me!”—He stretches out His arm and rescues us! Jesus shows Himself with more grace for the sake of those who believe in who He is. For all who have Jesus near them, and know that He is theirs, nothing should overwhelm them to an extreme degree with fear and anxiety—not even death itself. Jesus Christ is fully able to take whatever divine action He desires to save His people.

Are enormous waves beating against you right now? This same Jesus is right there with you and is coming toward you—His ‘living vessel’. The same One who stretched out the heavens and walked “…on the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8) is now calling with His gentle voice of peace—“Come to Me.” He walks on the water so that you will know His power.

But He also does it so that you will know your weakness in yourself, as you step out of the safety zone of your life as His disciple. We are never brought to this position on our own—until we find ourselves sinking.

Then this same sense of need drives us to Him. Come to Him as you begin sinking in the deep waters of your own difficulties. Cry out to Him, “Lord, rescue me!” He will stretch out His arm and rescue you.

The Lonely Ones of God

young Japanese woman looking over railing

Many people fear loneliness. But for a child of God in His service, being alone is a necessity—because God’s way is a lonely way. If you are going to lead others as God directs, it requires a certain amount of loneliness. You cannot take friends along with you, even though they may provide you a great deal of comfort.

Anyone can go with the crowd. But how many can turn and go in the other direction—alone? Nothing but God’s grace can make it possible for a man to face any obstacle—alone.

You need to be able to stand like a solid rock that nothing can move, even if the whole world pushes against you! It is boldness like this in the name of the Lord that is worthy of His grace. Do you count all the difficulties that you encounter? You don’t need to. Why not count how many times God has gotten you through difficulties you considered insurmountable instead! In fact, it is better to have more difficult situations, and fewer friends, because more grace will be poured out on you to help you stand firm in your lonely situation—with your faith resting solely on God.

O man or woman of God, don’t think of yourself as alone! God never leaves you unprotected. You would be amazed if you could see all the mighty angelic bodyguards surrounding you all the time!

You have no right to complain of loneliness, therefore, because you never really are alone. Nor do you have to fear evil, because “thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4). When you know the Lord is with you, you will be able to go through loneliness, illness, grieving, poverty, and even terrifying torment. Yet you never need to doubt the Lord, or give up on Him, in spite of what you may go through. In fact, your song can still be full of joy, even if you have to pass through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4). This is the victory that your faith in Him provides!

man sitting on bench with distant mountains

Are you a child of God in some remote place, far from any friend, known by no one? Even if you have only a hut to live in, and are not near any group of Christians, don’t let your spirit be down. Lift up your voice and sing to God! He will hear you and comfort you and remain with you. Maybe you rent a room in the middle of a crowded city, without even one person you can call a friend. The Lord sees you and can help you to thrive in the midst of your loneliness, even in a crowd. He has not forgotten you and is not neglecting you.

You can’t see God’s presence when He is working on your behalf. But those who know Him and fellowship with Him can sense His presence, nevertheless.

When your ears have been constantly trained by faith, you will hear God’s ‘footsteps’ nearby. Do you ever sit in sorrow, feeling all alone at times? Every so often, lift your head and listen for that gentle whisper telling you “It is I; be not afraid” (John 6:20). “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him…” (Psalm 25:14). Instead of trying to avoid loneliness, retreat every once in a while to a private corner alone. Tell your heart to rejoice, and then break into a song of praise unto God.

 

woman standing water at sunset

Sometimes the Holy Spirit stirs you inside, calling you to come away and be alone with God. Do not take your own good time responding to His call. If you are truly born again, you need private prayer time just to live! The Spirit calls you to spend much time in loneliness. This is to your advantage, so you will have a chance to prove whether you are truly trusting only in God. There are also times when you can get very alone, and then discover that no one will be kind to you. At times like this, lean solely on the Lord. He has the power to provide the comfort you need and He will prove it to you. Then you will discover more of what God is to His people. Get alone with God and the damage done by the noise and worry and shouting of the world will be repaired in your life.

Man of God, woman of God, you don’t need to feel the pain of being lonely. No matter where you may be at any given time, God is there. All you need to do is to pray, and you and God will be together. Bring Him to mind, and you’ll find Him walking with you that very moment. Go to Him with all your needs and He will lay His hand upon you. He is your dependable, inexhaustible source of supply and support. Devote yourself to Him and you will find that lonely, narrow path which leads to His unending love.

man looking out window

No one who ever lived experienced more loneliness than Jesus did. He knows just what it’s like to be lonely and forsaken—even by His own brothers. Therefore, His sympathy is endless for all who feel alone and forsaken. But who did Jesus turn to when He was afflicted and set apart from others? Who could He uncover His innermost feelings and thoughts to? No one but His Heavenly Father. He prayed and asked for His assistance humbly and earnestly, time after time. All of His sorrow and complaints He brought to Him. And His heavenly Father answered them all and comforted Him.

Lonely one, you are not truly alone. The Spirit of the One crucified on the cross of Calvary is with you right now, whispering gently in your ear: “Fear not: for I am with thee” (Isaiah 43:5). He “is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). He promised that He will never leave you, nor forsake you. Let Him be your source of comfort whenever you are in danger of succumbing to the pain of loneliness.

Asserting Your Individuality

 

a silhouette of a man with fists raised in victory

The devil tempted the first man by trying to convince Adam that God is not the final authority over each individual. He also tried to get him to believe that man is his own god. When Adam fell for these temptations, he also fell from his position with God. Ever since then, there is no part of the human personality that has not been negatively affected by his fall. The mind, the will, the emotions—all have been affected. Man’s inner personality has been warped so much by sin that we cannot even trust ourselves anymore. There is, therefore, no need to look anywhere else but inside ourselves to find the source of all sin.

We think of freedom these days as being independent, having no master over us. But for the child of God, our first obligation before our heavenly Father is not to convince Him that we are free agents now, but that we have found a new Master we can willingly submit to. No Christian should submit to any of his former masters any longer, particularly sin and the Law. Paul declared himself a willing slave of Jesus Christ, because he realized that the only way to find the freedom we all desire and need is to submit to our new Master in Heaven.

The devil also attempted to deceive Jesus, the Second Adam. But Jesus did not come to Earth to represent Himself; He came to represent all mankind. The devil tried to convince the Second Adam to proclaim that He is the Son of God, to assert Himself before mankind because He had special rights, privileges, and powers. This was his central stronghold when he tempted Jesus. He told Him to remember who He is and to make use of His divine power. Then the world would fall at His feet. But Jesus replied that He did not come to do His own will, even though He is the Son of God. He came to Earth at this time for one purpose only —doing His Father’s will. “…not My will, but Thine…,” He said (Luke 22:42).

Anyone who becomes a child of God is set apart unto Him. He then becomes a target for this same kind of temptation. The devil wants the child of God to declare that he has achieved something to be grasped for—something he has a right to be proud of. But what was God’s purpose in saving us and setting us apart unto Him? so that His will could be done in us—like it was in Jesus. Jesus walked this Earth totally dependent on His Heavenly Father. But the devil kept trying to move Him away from this attitude to one of independence of God. Thankfully, he could not lead Jesus astray. Jesus displayed to us instead a perfect example of obeying, submitting to, and depending on God.

assertive woman writing

In some situations we may feel a strong need to be self-assertive. Feeling this need shows that we are struggling over who is going to be in charge. But if we continue to go around asserting ourselves, spiritual progress will end in our lives. What it all comes down to is—who will rule my life—Jesus, or me? We often try to raise our attitude of independence and stubborn self-will to the level of God, but without wording it that way. We say things like “strength of will,” etc., as if that was good. God does not see it as good, but as a disgusting weakness. The Man with the greatest will of any who ever lived on Earth was Jesus, but He never used His will the way we think of it. He led a life of gentle submission to God instead. Never did He act independently of God the Father. Never did He assert Himself or demand that His own will be done. Instead, He said, “…learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart…” (Matthew 11:29).

A personal life merged with God starts displaying His characteristics, but not so with individuality. It only shows natural characteristics and they mock His meek and lowly Son. We learn from His Sermon on the Mount that individuality needs to be destroyed, while personality needs to be lifted up. How very important we think we are!—until God’s Holy Spirit gets hold of us. When God becomes all-important to us, we cannot totally abandon ourselves to Him until our own self-importance humiliates us. Human nature was designed by God for Himself. But when we declare our own individuality, our human nature is brought down to the selfish level of being just for me. Personality is a different matter. It involves being merged with someone else, like a young man who is totally changed when he falls in love. He is transformed from being someone out to please himself, to suddenly wanting to please his beloved in all things. He desires to be merged with the one he loves, as if they were one new person together. The two no longer remain as two, insisting on being separate individuals. Love changes all that.

What is the natural man’s main characteristic? Individuality. The spiritual man’s? Personality. Becoming a Christian means entering into a personal relationship with our Creator, which can never be an individual act.

Jesus never mentioned a need to be an individual, but only a personality, so “that they all may be one.” His own personality was a perfect copy of His Father. Once we become born again, God’s Spirit enters our personality and we receive strength and life from Him. He transforms our old selfish motives and desires into His own pure ones. Our personality is set free as we are changed from being an individual into God’s intended purpose for us. How does He do this? The key word is love—in becoming personally, passionately devoted to Him. Then we are able to extend this same love to others. We have not yet arrived at what we are going to become, because God’s grace is still working on us. He is altering our flawed old personalities. He does this by taking our human personality and merging it with His own power—just what the Gospel is all about! Our business as Christians is to make our individuality conform to God’s Son in us. If we truly want to be disciples of Jesus, we will cut the ties of individuality that hold us back and go forth with unsparing zeal toward our Savior, and Master—Jesus Christ!