Not the Word of Men

There are a few questions that a person must answer in order to be in any way pleasing to God. Miss the answers to these questions, and you will be far from the truth. A person needs to know where we come from. A person needs to understand who Jesus is. A person needs to understand what we must do to be saved.

One more extremely significant question is this: What is the Bible? This is one of the most important questions any person can ask and answer. Get this one right, and you will have a proper foundation set for knowing the ways of God. Miss it, and you will be like a rudderless ship, floundering about without direction.

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul, almost in passing, reminds the church there what the Bible is. Paul is here talking about his preaching to these people, and probably including the Old Testament Scriptures as well, but the point carries over to what we now have in the Bible.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 – And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

There are two things to note here. Paul calls his message to the Thessalonians the word of God. And then he goes on to emphasize that it is not the word of men. This is vital. Understand, dear friends, the Bible is the word of God and not the word of men.

Start from the end. What if the Bible is merely the word of men? It might have some wisdom. It might be a somewhat helpful thing. But, if the Bible is merely a collection of the opinions and best guesses of fallible men, it is merely a tool to be used or discarded as we see fit.

But what if the Bible is, as Paul says, the word of God and not of men? Then everything changes. If the Bible is the word of God, it is authoritative. God is our Lord. What he says we must obey. What he wills we must strive to do or be.

If the Bible is the word of God, it is trustworthy. God is perfect. God does not err. It would be insanity to believe that the perfect and holy God of the universe would somehow give to us an errant, flawed, unreliable word and then claim it as his own.

If the Bible is the word of God, then what the Bible says, God says. If we want to know God, we will learn to know him through the word. If we want to be right with God, we do so by the method prescribed in the word. If we want to set our standards in line with those of God, we find those standards in his word.

The Bible is the word of God, not the word of men. Yes, men were used to write it down, but they were carried along by the Holy Spirit of God as he inspired them to pen for us, not the words of men, but the perfect word of God. Let this thought give you the answer to the question about what the Bible is. Know the Bible is the word of God. And let that Bible lead you to faith in and obedience to Jesus.

A Prayer for Mercy

In Daniel 9, the prophet prays a prayer of confession. He acknowledges that the people of Judah have sinned against the Lord, ignoring the words of the prophets and violating the law of God. Daniel knows that the people are suffering the just judgment of God for their actions. But, Daniel, like any of us would do I would hope, is beseeching God for mercy.

Take a look at the section of the prayer that asks for God’s mercy, as there is something significant we need to see in it.

Daniel 9:16-19 – 16 “O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. 17 Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. 18 O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. 19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”

Take note in this section of how God-focused the prayer is. In verse 17, Daniel prays that God will make his face shine again upon his sanctuary for his own sake. In verse 18, the prophet points out that the city is called by God’s name and that God is merciful. In verse 19, Daniel asks God not to delay for God’s own sake and reminds him that the people he would be rescuing are called by his name.

Daniel asks God to have mercy for the protection of and the glory of God’s own name. This prayer is not about Israel’s comfort. Nor is this prayer about some sort of political advantage. The simple fact is that Daniel, after confession of a great many sins of the nation, asks for the Lord to have mercy based on God’s exaltation of God’s own name. The name of God is most important. The reputation of God as faithful to his word and merciful to his people is most important. And Daniel understands this as he prays.

We will face our own circumstances where we need to ask God for mercy. It might be in our churches. It might be in our families. But there will be times when we cry out to God for forgiveness, for healing, for mercies of all sorts. It would be wise for us to learn from Daniel’s prayer. God is good, even when we do not understand his ways. God is perfect while we are not. But God has put his Spirit in his people. God’s church is the people of God built together into a holy temple for his dwelling. God’s name is on his people of all nations who are united in Christ. Thus, when we pray, we need to be seeking that God’s name be honored by his actions. We need to focus our prayers on the defense of and glorification of the name of the Lord.

Consider, as you prepare to pray, how you can shape your heart so that you focus more on the name of God than on your own comfort? How can you ask god better for that which will honor him and display his faithfulness? How can you ask God for blessing based on his honor more than simply on your ease?

Friends, do not be confused here. I am not suggesting that if you somehow figure out a new way to word your prayers that you will be able to manipulate and control the Lord. Such a notion is pagan and evil. What I am saying is that, as we pray, our prayer should be more focused on the glory of the Lord. God’s name is and will be hallowed. His kingdom has come and will come. His will is going to be done on earth as it is in heaven. As you consider that for which you pray, remember that God’s name is of the utmost importance, it always has been. Then pray a sincere prayer that asks the Lord to do that which will, in eternity, most magnify his name through you, your family, your church, your nation. Ask God to act for his own sake and allow you to be a part of experiencing that glory.

The Complaint You Want

In Daniel 6, Daniel has been a faithful follower of God in a hostile foreign land for quite some time. Taken to Babylon likely in his teen years, Daniel is now an old man and well-respected by Darius the Mede.

Human nature, we all know, is often an ugly thing. The other government officials were jealous of Daniel and the favor that Daniel had with the king. Thus, as we see so often in politics, the jealous officials set out to discredit Daniel.

Daniel 6:4-5 – 4 Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”

The politicians looked and looked, but could find nothing with which to discredit Daniel. They knew Daniel to be faithful in all things. But then they decided how to get to him. They could go after Daniel’s faithfulness to the law of God.

You likely know the rest of the story. The officials pass a law that nobody can pray to anybody except King Darius. They then catch Daniel continuing to pray to the Lord as always, Daniel is put into the lions’ den, and God works a miraculous rescue.

The application point that I want us to make today is simple. If worldly people were looking to dig up dirt on you, Christian, where would they go? Would they go to your public character? Would they look to how you treat others around you? Would it be your social media feed that does you in? Would it be your Internet history? Would they find a point of accusation in how you handle your money, how you talk about your friends, or how you entertain yourself?

Would it not be a glorious thing if we could be like Daniel? Let’s strive to see to it that, if our neighbors want to discredit us, they must find their grounds for attacking us in the word of God. May we be a people who are so faithful to the word of God that people would know that we can be caught, regularly, in obedience to the text. May our flaws not be in genuine failings of character. May our guilt lie in the fact that we, no matter what, obey the word of God without pause or apology.

A Prayer for Salvation

What does it look like to pray that God save you? There is, of course, no “sinner’s prayer” as a prayer of salvation in Scripture. There is no prayer like the prayer at the end of the gospel tracts. That is, of course, good, as the point of coming to God in faith is not empty repetition of magic words to get yourself into heaven.

With that said, it is also nice to have something of an example of what it looks like when a sinner in need cries out to the Lord.

Let me preface. This Psalm is not a prayer for spiritual salvation. It is, in fact, a prayer for a physical salvation. But, if you study the Scriptures well, you will find that the physical salvation of Israel from Egypt or David from enemies is a picture for us of the coming and eternal spiritual salvation we find in Christ. There is a parallel that we can see. And with that in mind, I want us to see how David opens this prayer.

Psalm 143:1-2

1 Hear my prayer, O LORD;
give ear to my pleas for mercy!
In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!
2 Enter not into judgment with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you.

David cries out to God. Please hear me. Please have mercy. Be righteous as you always are. Please do not enter into judgment over me. I, like all people, cannot stand up to your perfection. Lord, have mercy.

That is a beautiful prayer. When a person comes to God admitting right away that we have no ground upon which to stand, that is good. When we realize that we can only fall upon the mercy of God, that is right. And, thanks be to God, the Lord is both perfectly righteous and wonderfully merciful.

Is the gospel here? Of course it is. God is just and merciful. The justice of God is perfectly satisfied as Jesus, God in flesh, took upon himself the right wrath of God for my sin. The mercy of God is perfectly evident in God rescuing me, a sinner, from the wrath I deserve.

And, let us not leave this prayer without a moment to focus on the state of all people. David says, “for no one living is righteous before you.” No living human being can be righteous on his or her own. If you are outside of Christ and think you are OK with God, you are thinking unbiblically. We are not righteous before the holy one. We are less than his perfection. We need to be forgiven. WE need to be saved.

Let David’s prayer be yours even today. If you are a Christian, let this prayer remind you of your state before salvation and your continuing need for God’s grace. If you are not a believer, know that you need the righteousness of God and his mercy to forgive you, as none of us can stand under the judgment of God and live.

A Death to Glorify God

The story of the apostle Peter is one that should encourage many of us who are prone to weakness and failure. Remember, after all, that Peter, in a moment of humiliation, denied three times that he even knew Jesus. But, by the grace of God, the Savior met with Peter and restored him.

The story of Peter’s restoration is found in John 21. Its contrast with Peter’s denial is clear. Before, Peter three times denied Jesus at night near a charcoal fire. IN John 21, to emphasize the parallel, Jesus will three times ask Peter, “Do you love me,” in the morning near a charcoal fire. Each time Peter will say that he loves the Savior. But we also can imagine the horrible emotion that Peter must have felt as Peter knows that his actions did not match his claims.

But each time Peter said he loved Jesus, the Savior responded with a call on Peter’s life. Peter was called to be a shepherd, a pastor. Peter was called to care for Christ’s sheep. Like the other disciples, Peter was to give his life in the service of the people of God and of the spread of the gospel.

Were that the end of the story, it would be great. Peter is restored. Jesus gives Peter a job. I’m sure that Peter knew how inadequate he personally was for the task. But Jesus tells Peter how it will all end.

John 21:18-19 – 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Jesus lets Peter know that, someday in the future, when Peter is old, Peter will be carried off to an execution. The language Jesus uses seems to refer to crucifixion. Just as Jesus had his arms stretched out on a cross in his sacrificial death, so Peter will follow his Lord’s example. No, Peter would not die for the sins of others. But Peter, like Jesus, would glorify God in his death.

How interesting it is that John uses the words he uses. Jesus told Peter by what kind of death he would “glorify God.” Peter, in choosing to preach to the end, by choosing to preach under the reign of a tyrant like Nero, by choosing to preach when it was illegal and unpopular, would glorify God by laying down his life. Peter’s death glorified the Lord.

What we want to learn from Peter and from John’s words here is that our lives, even up to and including our deaths, are to glorify the Lord. Like Peter we have fears and weaknesses. Like Peter, we will fail from time to time. Like Peter, we will need our savior to restore us and remind us of our task. But in the end, if we truly love Jesus, we will care for his church. If we love Jesus, we will worship him with the people of God, and that will be a tremendously high priority for us. And like Peter, we will be willing to honor God in all we do.

And, if we follow the Lord faithfully, we will also have the opportunity to glorify God in our death. Perhaps, like Peter, we will die a martyr’s death for our Lord. If so, praise be to God. But it is also quite possible that we will die of old age or disease as do so many. How we approach that death, how we witness to others, how we display our hope, these are all ways that we can glorify God in our deaths too. Friends, may we understand that all things in our lives have the possibility to glorify the Savior. So, even if we have failed him time and time again, even if we have gone so far as to deny him like Peter did, let us repent. Let us return. Let us seek the grace of God in Christ. Let us glorify God in our lives. Let us love the church. And let us look forward to glorifying our God, even in how we die.

The Backwardness of Sin

I wonder sometimes if we, as Christians, truly grasp what happens to the human mind that is captivated by sin. I think, theologically, we can speak true things about what it looks like when a person is dead in sin or is following the world, the flesh, and the devil. But, when we think of the world and its practices, I wonder if we really get it.

Consider some of the pet sins of our culture. I’ll not need to name them at this point, as you know if you are paying any attention. Have you noticed how, in our culture, there has been a pattern of acceptance of these sins? Years ago, they were sins that were abhorred by faithful folks. Then, though the sins were abhorred in general, we began to accept their presence. Then, acceptance led to normalization. We began to act as though certain sins were just part of the world we live in. WE began to act as though our best move would be to remain quiet, as culture around us was beginning to accept such practices. And then, before we know it, things that once were abhorred are now applauded and celebrated. Now, all who do not celebrate sins once abhorred are the ones despised by the culture.

That pattern, from abhorrence to applause, is only part of the problem. The other part of the problem is in the local church itself. You see, we want to be loved by the world. Thus, if we are not careful, we begin to compromise on things that the Lord has commanded. We become ashamed of the word of God because we do not want to be social outcasts. Perhaps we hide the word of God because we do not want the world around us to look down on us.

If you look at the words of Jesus, none of this should be a surprise.

John 16:1–4a – 1 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.

Jesus warned his disciples of hard times to come. He warned them of persecution. Jesus wanted them to understand that the persecution they face is not something he did not see coming.

But take particular note of the attitude of the persecutors. Jesus said that people would be killing Christians, and they would be convinced that they were doing a service to God when they would do so. That is the point that got my attention. It speaks not only to the sin, but to the mindset of those who will come and persecute Christ’s followers.

What I want us to grasp is that this mindset, this thinking that leads to persecution, this darkened thinking is utterly warped and inside-out and upside-down. Jesus warned that men would do that which is as evil a thing as possible, kill servants of the Lord, and they will think, not that they are doing evil, but that they are serving the very God they are attacking. This shows us what sin does to the human mind.

Dear friends, if we are not completely saturated with the word of God, we will let inside-out and upside-down thinking permeate our lives. It is surprisingly easy for Christians to learn to accept what God calls abomination. It is surprisingly easy for Christians to turn what God forbids into something that religious people celebrate. It is surprisingly easy to stop seeing evil as evil.

May we be a people who are biblically minded in all things. May we love the word. May we not allow the world to shape our thinking. May we battle with all our might against the sin that would deceive us into doing that which dishonors God and thinking it to be worship. May we be willing to stand in the face of hardships, knowing that our Savior promised that this world would be hard. May we live for the glory of our God even in a dark world, because we know that the Spirit of God is with us and the Savior we love will return and rule forever.

Children of God

Who is a child of God? All human beings are created by God, in God’s image, and for God’s glory. But this is not the same as being a child of God. To be a child of God, to be a part of his family, is something much different than simply being created in his image.

John 8:42a – Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here.”

In a conflict between Jesus and the religious teachers of his day, the issue of being children of God comes up. The Jewish leaders claimed that they were children of God. Jesus let them know that, no, in fact they are not.

According to Jesus, there is a simple way to know who is a child of God. Loving Jesus is a mark of being a child of God. Not loving Jesus is a sign that a person is not a child of God.

Is that exclusive? Yes, indeed it is. To be a child of God is to be adopted into God’s family. You see, we all start off as enemies of God because of our sin natures. God adopts people into his family. But none are adopted into his family who do not come to him through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only way to God. Jesus is the only way to be a child of God.

Be aware, then, that many will claim to be children of God. If they mean that they are creatures of God, they have a bit of truth in their words. But if they mean that they are Ok with God, or if they mean that they are part of God’s own forgiven family, they must have something more than creation to claim. Those who are part of God’s family love Jesus.