Simple Depth in Glorious Doctrine

Sometimes the simplest of doctrines are the ones we need to remember most. IN churches like the one I serve, there are always folks who are interested in the “deep” things. And, quite often, the things these folks consider to be deep are primarily things that are hard to understand or not broadly known. While we want to study all biblical doctrine, we can, if we are not careful, become fascinated with the obscure and fail to embrace and cherish the simple and true.

Christians, may I remind you that depth does not equal obscurity? May I also remind you that simple does not mean shallow. Sometimes deep study and deep faithfulness means learning to embrace with all of your being the things that every Christian should know.

Here is an example of a few things said in Psalm 18 that we all should love deeply.

Psalm 18:30-31a

30 This God—his way is perfect;
the word of the Lord proves true;
he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
31 For who is God, but the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?

Let me point out four doctrines, lovely doctrines, simple doctrines, deep doctrines, that we should love from those lines. First, note the perfection of God. David refers to God by saying, “his ways are perfect.” That is not a shallow truth. God’s ways are perfect. All that the Lord is and all that the Lord does is perfect. There is no flaw. There is no sin. There is no taint. God is absolutely, unquestionably, immeasurably perfect.

How important is that doctrine? How does it change us? When the Lord says that he will do a thing, our response must never be to measure it by whether or not we approve. God’s ways are perfect. Our response, when we see that the Lord does a thing should be to ask the Lord to reshape us in our sinfulness to love and embrace his perfection. Thus, when God speaks of things with which we are uncomfortable, we are the ones flawed, not the Lord.

Second, the word of the Lord proves true. This is a reminder that not only is what God does perfect in every way, all that God says is true. For David, this helped him to embrace the Pentateuch and the words of the prophets around him. For us, this develops for us our doctrine of holy Scripture.

Just like thinking of the ways of God as perfect, we now think of his word as true. So, what happens when our experience or our best understanding stands in contradiction to the word? WE have a choice to make. We either decide that we are more true than the word of God or that the word of God is more true than our experience. Christians, this is a vital piece of doctrine to get right, as it will shape everything you think you know.

Third, God is a shield for all who take refuge in him. What a glorious truth this is. God is a gracious God. God receives kindly those who come to him for shelter. Consider, there is no rule beyond God that says he has to do this. He could turn us away in our cries for his mercy. But he does not.

Here is a doctrine that helps us to understand the grace of God. We are all a people in danger. Our sin would cause us to be eternally condemned. But God is a shelter for all who take refuge in him. If you come to the one true God seeking shelter, he will grant it. We know from the rest of Scripture that there is only one way to come to God for shelter, through the person of Jesus Christ (John 14:6). But we also are gloriously encouraged by the truth that all who do come to Jesus in faith and repentance are genuinely saved (Rom. 10:9-10, 13).

Fourth, and finally, notice that David also tells us that there is only one God. Who is God but the Lord? Much of the world thinks in the terms of multiple divinities. Much of the world assumes all religions are the same. But the word of God tells us that there is not another God, period.

This doctrine is vital to the believer. We know that all other world religions are false, because we know that there is only one God who may only be approached through the person and work of Jesus. All other claims of authority are illegitimate, because we know that there is only one God. All that oppose God do not merely oppose a religion, they oppose the one and only Creator and Lord. And all who have the favor of God have blessing that can never be removed, because God is the only God. There is no competition for God. There is no alternative to God. There is only the one God.

You might say that all these things are easy to know. Perhaps they are. But that does not make these shallow. These are vital truths. And the more you think about them, the more you embrace them, the more you will love the Lord you serve. I’m glad that we have the opportunity as believers to delve into end times, to think about election, to seek to understand the intricacies of the trinity, to ponder the covenants. But I’m even gladder that we are given by God the chance to know that he is the only God, that is ways are perfect, that his word is true, and that he welcomes all who run to him for shelter. These things should change your daily life, and change it forever. So do not miss them as you seek to study the deep things of the Lord.

God Shows No Partiality

If you are paying attention to our culture, you will know that the topic of intersectionality and critical theory has become a significant part of the national conversation. This is sadly true inside the walls of the church as well as outside. Believers today in certain circles are focusing a great deal of interest on divisions between people in the church. People are particularly drawing lines of division based on skin color or gender. And these same folks are seeking to silence the voices of the privileged, those who do not belong to previously oppressed groups, in order to allow the formerly oppressed (or perhaps those still oppressed) to present their own narrative.

My goal here is not to weigh in on the theories themselves. Nor is my goal to pretend that there has not ben a great deal of harm done in many a society based on ethnicity, injustice, or cruelty. Rather, my goal is to highlight a simple statement from Scripture that I came across in my quiet time that should call believers to be very careful not to allow ourselves to set up new walls of division based on anything beyond the word of God, including walls based on our pasts.

In Acts 10, Peter has finally come to the home of Cornelius, a gentile centurion. This man was faithful to worship the Lord as best he could based on Old Testament law. HE was a God-fearer. But, since Cornelius was a gentile, there was a division between him and the people of Israel. After all, for a person of gentile birth to be a part of the nation of Israel would require a great deal.

There was a question that God was settling in Acts 10 that we need to pay attention to. What would God do? The gentiles had oppressed the Jews. Rome was certainly oppressing Israel. Cornelius was a privileged man, operating from a position of power whether he wanted to or not. Now Peter arrives and brings the gospel to the home of this man. What happens here will do a great deal to set the tone for Jew and gentile relations in the church going forward. And what happens should set the tone for how the church deals with how people often divide over ethnicity or social lines.

Acts 10:34-35 – 34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

Notice what Peter brings to the forefront and what he does not say. Peter was uncomfortable going to Cornelius’ home. But, when he was there, Peter realized that God had called him to bring the gospel to the gentiles. And Peter admits a thing that he had not previously understood. All are welcome in the family of God. Regardless of ethnicity and regardless of past, all are welcome. And peter is absolutely clear here and in the verses that follow that no walls of division are to exist.

There are no new requirements for Cornelius and his family. HE is not required to stop being a gentile. HE is not required to let go of his privileged status as a centurion. He is not required to do something extra to be allowed to be a part of the church, to be thought of as a brother. There is nothing that would give us any indication that Cornelius was supposed to just be quiet and let the more oppressed Jewish believers be in charge while he relegates himself to a lower position. There was no indication that Cornelius was being asked to do something to atone for being Roman or a part of the military.

No, what happened here was that, once Cornelius believed, once the Spirit of God came upon him and his household as happens in a few verses, he was baptized and welcomed into the church. All former walls of division were done away with. There was no place for them. Cornelius was as much a part of the church as was Peter. There was no call for Peter to stop being an apostle simply because he had been privileged to be Jewish and to have the gospel first. Nor was there any move to make Cornelius humble himself before Peter because Cornelius was a part of the Roman empire. These men were welcomed by God into his family without any distinction. Or, as Peter says, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

Christians, let’s be very careful never to embrace any social philosophy that undermines what Peter has said. WE must not pretend that God shows partiality. WE must never assume that one people group is more acceptable to God because of their high position or their low position in any society. Once a person is a believer in the Lord Jesus, that person is a part of the church. We are called to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God. WE are called to love one another and sacrifice our rights for one another’s good. We are called to shock the world by not buying into their lines of division, but to let the world know that we are Christ’s disciples as we love one another.

Am I pretending that all this is easy? Of course not. Nor am I suggesting that we do not have to listen and speak and think carefully as we deal with each other’s pains and pasts. But we must start with the understanding that God is not about to allow for us to divide his church based on skin color or social status. God will not show partiality. He does not set high the rich or the poor. HE does not elevate those who have had it easy or those who have been treated unfairly. God makes a new people out of formerly divided people. WE must not give the lie to that beautiful truth by developing divisions where the Lord sees none.

Faithful unto Death

Toward the end of the first century, Christians in the city of Smyrna were facing a very difficult persecution. It likely had to do with the imperial cult. People were commanded to show their devotion to the Roman empire by performing an act of religious devotion toward the emperor. And failing to do so could cost believers social status at minimum. Eventually, refusing to worship the emperor would cost certain Christians their lives.

Revelation 2:8–11 – 8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. 9 “ ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

Notice a few things in the text above. AS Jesus speaks to this church, a church full of people facing death, he first identifies himself as the one who died and yet lives. Jesus wants to be sure that the Christians who face persecution do not think they are alone. The Lord Jesus has been there and done that. HE has suffered. He has died. And he has conquered death. That should give hope to believers, as we realize that our hope is in the one who already beat the grave.

Second, notice that Christ knows what is coming. Jesus can tell the people that the persecution is coming. HE can tell the people where the persecution will come from. And he can tell them how long that persecution will last. Even if ten days is a figurative term for a short period of time, Jesus is clear that this season will come, and it will go. Do not think your troubles catch Jesus off guard. Nor should you think that, just because Jesus loves you, he will always keep you from pain. God uses our hardships to our good and his glory.

Then notice how faithful Jesus calls the Christians to be. They are to be faithful unto death. Jesus knows that the coming persecution in Smyrna will cost Christians their lives. People will die under this one. And Jesus calls on his followers to be ready.

It is good for us to recognize that our service to the Lord can cost us more than discomfort. It can cost us our lives. And when we grasp that we could in fact die for our faith, it should have the effect of strengthening us. I’m not suggesting that we develop a morbid fascination with martyrdom, or we develop an attitude of pessimism that assumes defeat at every turn. But, I am suggesting that the Lord wants us to be prepared to face death on his behalf. And when we have accepted that we could die for our faith, we will be strengthened by God to face whatever is thrown our way.

Then, at the end of this section, Jesus says that the one who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death. Christian, understand that it is not the first death that we are to aim to avoid, but the second. In Revelation, we learn that the first death is common to humanity; it is physical death. There is a day to come when all who die will be physically resurrected. There is a first resurrection, the resurrection of those under the grace of God. They will rise to life and blessing forever. They will never face death again. There is also a second resurrection, a physical resurrection of all who have never gotten under God’s grace and have died as his enemies. Those will face the second death, a spiritual death, which is to be cast into hell forever.

Jesus is telling this church that their hope is in the resurrection. There hope is in the life that Christ offers. There hope is to be found in Christ, under his grace, and to live eternally with Jesus in perfect joy. Their hope is to avoid the second death because they have entrusted their very souls to Jesus. And folks who have the resurrection and life in front of them will be willing to face physical death in the here and now, because they know that there is not a second death to hurt them.

The book of Revelation speaks much about the hardships that Christians can face in this life. Whether it be something at the end of the age, or whether it be first century folks facing persecution, the message is the same. Christ is victorious. Christ has conquered death. Christ will give eternal victory to those under his care. So we can stand strong. Even if the world tries to take our livelihood or even our lives themselves, the word cannot take from us what matters. The word and the devil cannot take from us the eternal life to be found in Jesus who conquered death and who will raise us up to live with him eternally.

Thinking about Being Saved Through Faith

Ephesians 2:8-9 – 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

When we say that a person is saved by grace through faith, we are attesting to what makes Christianity vastly different than any other religion in the world. We are saying that a person receives salvation, not because they do a thing, performing a ceremony, making an offering, but simply because God has changed them and allowed them to fully entrust themselves and their soul to him.

Just consider the difference. Other religions out there, man-made religions, tell people that they get into the favor of their deity by doing things. A person may believe that they will be in their god’s favor because they climb a particular mountain and drink from a sacred stream. Another might think that chanting a particular phrase is what makes them OK with the divine. Yet another says that if they do good deeds and do not do really bad things, they will be fine.

Only biblical Christianity tells us that we do nothing, we take no physical action at all, to gain the favor of our God. Instead, God does all the work. God takes all the action. God gives life to our dead and sinful hearts. And we respond to God by believing in Jesus. And God counts that faith as righteousness for us. God counts our belief as if we had lived perfectly before him. God grants us Jesus’ perfect record of righteousness when we entrust ourselves fully to him, believing him, having true faith.

Let me take this moment to say to you that, if you have never come to Jesus in faith, you need to do so in order to have the forgiveness of God. You are a sinner, just like me. Your only hope for salvation is to believe in Jesus. When you believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died for your sin and rose from the grave, when you believe that Jesus is willing to forgive you if you come to him, when you believe in Jesus in such a way that you fully rely on him and him alone for salvation, you are forgiven by God. If you are forgiven by God, he will change you and help you live to his glory. I urge you to turn from sin and believe in Jesus today.

My Good Things

One key difference between people in the world has to do with what we think are the good things in life. Some are content with the simple. Some seem never satisfied. Some seek their joy and their good things in the things that dishonor God. Some find their joy in the Lord himself.

Psalm 16:2-4

2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
3 As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.
4 The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips.

In Psalm 16, David is telling us what he treasures and what he avoids. And these things are simple. They need to be our good things too.

In verse 3, David makes it plain that the people of God are his delight. HE loves them. They give him joy. It is a good thing for him to be with them.

In verse 4, David is clear that those who worship false gods are not in his favor. He does not find his greatest pleasure with those who do not also know his Lord. And he most certainly will not join those folks in their practices or conversations.

Why is all this true of David? WE see in verse 2. David is clear that he has no good in his life apart from the Lord. God is his all in all. God is his joy. God is his hope. The glory of God is where he finds his purpose.

Do you think we can learn from this? You bet. It’s super-simple, but it is a great reminder. You have to start where I ended above. Love God. Acknowledge that you have no good apart from the Lord. Set your soul on such a course that things that are not the things of God are not your favorite things. Folks, this is a radical form of Christianity. This is also simply biblical faith. God made us. God is our Lord. God sent his Son to save us. Eternity with God is our hope. God’s glory is the reason we live. We have no good apart from him.

If you have no good apart from God, you will begin to find your joy in the presence also of the people of God. When you have the chance to share life with those who also love your Lord, you should find joy. The saints in the land are to be your delight. We love one another as we love the Lord together. We testify to the greatness of Jesus and to our discipleship when we love one another.

At the same time, loving the Lord and loving his people means that there is something different in our relationship to those who do not know and love our Lord. WE are not ever going to be cruel to those who do not share our faith. We are never to be violent or mean spirited. But we are not going to find our deepest delight in those who do not share the love of our God with us.

Christian, examine yourself. Examine your life. Examine what are your good things. Is it God and his people in which you delight? I hope so. If not, seek the Lord’s aid to love that which most honors him.

Where is Your Treasure?

Do you still love the familiar passages of Scripture? Do they still teach you and challenge you? Do you grow from words of God that you know deep down? I surely hope that you do.

In recent weeks, I’ve recognized that I need to be better at loving the familiar. God’s word is so good and so rich. God has told us such glorious things. And if we are not careful, we will wander far from the familiar looking for something new, something deep, something others do not know. And when we wander like that, we often wander into trouble.

Thus, it was sweet for me, in my daily reading, to have some time with a very familiar passage.

Matthew 6:19-21 – 19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus warns us not to lay up our treasures on earth. Here, moths, rust, thieves, and all sorts of calamities can take our treasure from us. Instead, we are to lay up for ourselves heavenly treasures. We are to find our joy in the Lord and in eternity with him.

Now, here is the place where the wandering reader will look for a new, deeper meaning for this passage. He or she will look for a way to say, “Well, most people think of the passage this way, but I think…” This is what I want to avoid, as the word here is clear, rich, convicting, and beautiful.

God wants you and me to know that heaven is our home. Heaven is where our treasure is to be found. And the treasures of this life pass away. Thus, we are to shape our lives in such a way as to focus our hearts on the eternity with Jesus to come.

Where might this convict you? Are you materialistic? Be careful before you say that you are not. Examine yourself. What things are treasures to you? It might be a particular possession—a car, an electronic device, a house, a yard. It is also possible that your treasure is something less tangible—a reputation, the approval of others, defeating an enemy. Maybe your treasure is experiences—traveling the globe, seeing a particular show, hiking a particular trail, or just having a certain comfort. We can make all sorts of earthly things our treasure, things that deflect our focus from the Lord God.

The key here is to remember that God has promised our souls eternal joy in Christ. There is nothing we must have or do in this life for joy that Christ will not infinitely surpass in eternity. Think about it. What sight do you need to see in this life that will hold a candle to the new heavens and the new earth? Honestly, for those of us who are pre-millennial, what sight do you want to see on earth today that will not be immeasurably better to see in that thousand-year kingdom? What experience of rest or pleasure or art or anything will even come close to what the Lord has in store for us? What can you possibly do to your home in the here and now that will make it look anything like as glorious as the home you will have with the Savior? What joy or approval can you have in the here and now that will even come to your memory as you stand glorified in the presence of the Savior?

I’m not suggesting what we do in this life is irrelevant. Nor am I trying to make you not take a vacation, appreciate art, or see the beauties of creation. All these things can help us to remember the kingdom to come. But if any of these things become our treasure instead of serving as hints at the treasure that we really want, we need to repent. We need to set our eyes on things above. We need to remember that we were made for eternity. We need to remember that heaven really is our home. We need to let Scripture remind us of what is important. WE need to remember that all the things we grab for as treasures in this life will pass away. We need to cling to what will last forever.

Focus on heaven. That’s a simple principle. That’ snot some new, profound word. It’s just challengingly, gloriously true.

Surprised by Judgment

A read through the New Testament repeatedly puts into our minds an eternal perspective. New Testament authors are constantly calling the church to look to the future, the return of Jesus, and the final judgment. Writers want us to hope, not in this life, but in Christ and in our reward in Christ at the day of the Lord.

Similarly, biblical authors regularly point out that the world around us does not set their minds on the day to come.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 – 1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

Paul tells the people that they do not need him to write them about the times and seasons. Clearly, even in his three-week sojourn with the church in Thessalonica, Paul had talked about the day of the Lord. The people to whom he was writing should have had a solid grasp of that doctrine.

But Paul also knows that those who do not know Jesus do not have a grasp of what is to come. And it is this which grabs my attention. Notice in the verse what marks those who do not belong to God. They will be shocked when they face the return of Jesus. They will be utterly stunned at the idea that life does not go on just as it always has.

So, Christian, stop and think. It is a mark of the lost that they live in this world as if it will go on without change forever. It is a mark of being lost to assume that the Lord will not break into history and bring his judgment. It is a mark of being lost to live for this life and this life alone.

Now the question: Do you think like the lost? Are you given to a mindset that expects all to go on without change? Do you live with a mentality that assumes that God is not active in the world now? Do you live like the world, believing that there is nothing to the future but the same old same old?

Christians, we are to have minds that see out into eternity. We are to have a thinking that knows that the Lord who created this universe will break into our history and bring all things to a proper conclusion. We serve a God who will judge the world for living in a way that opposes him. And we are to be those who, were the Lord to return even today, are not caught off guard.