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Love One Another

 

Author: Charles Hegwood

 

As we enter the season of Lent, we reflect on Jesus’ journey to the cross. Today we look into Jesus’ conversation with His disciples in the upper room. The upper room teachings were some of the most highly concentrated teachings of Jesus. Since this was the last night he would spend with his disciples before the cross, Jesus focused on the most important things. In John 13: 31-35 that thing was loving each other.

 

So what does it mean to love one another? I know the word ‘love’ gets thrown around a lot these days. Even in Jesus’ day, he was concerned about the way his disciples would and did love each other. Love would be the foundation of the relationship they shared. So as we ask the question of what it means to love one another, we have to look at what Jesus has to say about the matter. We will see that our love is a command from God and it is an identifier of our belonging to God. So as we go through Lent, let us focus on these words of Jesus by looking into John 13:31-35.

 

The Set up

 

Jesus had just said that one of his disciples in the room they were in would betray Him. This was upsetting. Judas then leaves the room to betray Jesus. Upon Judas’ exit, Jesus switches to a teaching moment about how he is about to be glorified by the Father, but where he is going, they will not be able to come with him. Again, this is upsetting to the disciples. He is talking about his death, resurrection, and ascension. They do not yet understand. There is now fear of betrayal from one of their ranks and Jesus’ troubling words that he is going away to a place they cannot be with him. This is the setup for teaching about love. It is born out of the context of betrayal, the cross looming like a storm cloud on the horizon, and the context of the Son being glorified with the Father.

 

A New Commandment

 

Jesus then gives them a ‘new’ commandment to highlight the importance of this love. Not that the command to love was new in itself, but that the application is now in the context of Jesus’ followers. This application would extend far beyond the nation of Israel to the whole world.

 

Jesus used commandment language because it was familiar to the disciples and to highlight the importance of loving one another. The disciples knew that when Jesus gave a command it was to be followed. This is how the Father in the Old Testament spoke to the people. He gave them commandments. Jesus also did not give them a helpful suggestion. We are commanded to do so. Understand, it is not an, “I have to love that person even though I don’t want to,” kind of thing. It is to be a characteristic of a follower of Jesus to love their brothers and sisters authentically. Just as Israel embraced with love the 10 commandments, so Jesus’ disciples were to embrace this new commandment with love as well. It should be with us, too. We should view the command to love one another as a wonderful way to love each other and God.

 

So what will this commanded love look like? It will look like the love Jesus had for his disciples. We need the Holy Spirit for that. Jesus loved his disciples through their ignorance, misunderstandings, and constant wandering away. He loved them with a shepherd’s love. He laid down his life for them. We are to love one another like that.

 

Love is an Identifier

 

So why was Jesus so keyed in on this idea of brothers and sisters in Christ loving each other? The reason is that loving one another as Christ loved us is an identifier to whom we belong. This means that how you love the people of God identifies you with God and his family. This is a love the world does not understand. Therefore, when they see it, it points to the glory and power of God. Such love shows that we are indeed a new creation and born again. Love like this is not a trait of a sinful, selfish nature.

 

This is wonderful and frightening all at once. It is wonderful because the love the church has for each other is to be a glimpse at heaven and a taste of the love of God. We get to be identified by those wonderful realities. It is also frightening, because when we fail it says the opposite to the people around us. We all know churches or people in churches who are not loving people. These kinds of people can sour the gospel of a church. The world will know we are the disciples of Jesus, by how we love and treat our spiritual brothers and sisters. This is a global, group identity in God’s family.

 

Conclusion

 

We know that John was heavily impacted by Jesus’ teaching captured in these verses. Read 1 John and you will see how John taught this exact type of love. So as we go into the Lent season, let us love our brothers and sisters as Jesus loved us. Let us build church communities that identify us as disciples of Jesus by the way we interact with each other, so that we can point people to Him. The way we love should be an attraction to those outside the church. Let your love for your brothers and sisters this Lent, and beyond, point all the people you run into every day to Jesus. Let them see Christ in you.

 

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All Christian History Digging Deeper into the Word Spiritual Development Studying the Bible Uncategorized

Three Phases of the New Birth

Author: Rachel Kidd

 

Throughout the ministry of Jesus, we see His conflict with religious leaders of the day and are presented with the profound impact of His grace and mercy. It was so antithetical to the orthodoxy of the time and unprecedented in tradition, that it upended everything that came before.

 

Jesus came to change the world, to set humanity free from the bondage of sin and death. His ministry proves this over and over again, demonstrating His divinity and His incredible grace and mercy, even when He spoke harshly.

 

Mercy To The Adulterous Woman

 

Mercy is not receiving deserved discipline. In John 8:1, we see Jesus and a group of religious leaders in an intense stand-off. They bring Him a woman “caught in the very act of adultery” and ask if they should stone her, as the law dictates.

 

Jesus tells them to do what they must, but that the blameless and sinless among them should cast the first stone. Unable to find themselves without sin, the men drop their stones, from oldest to youngest, and leave.

 

Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” – John 1: 10-11

 

Jesus embodied mercy to those standing face to face with their deserved condemnation, and gave them a way to be set free and remember their true identity.

 

We tend to remember what God forgets and to forget what God remembers.

 

Jesus sets us Free

 

“I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. – John 8:34

 

Jesus explains to the people that He has come to set them free from their sins, calling it bondage that enslaves them. He speaks matter-of-factly, even harshly at points with the people, making it apparent to them that their sin is not to be taken lightly.

 

“You are from below; I am from above. You belong to this world; I do not. That is why I said that you will die in your sins…–John 8:23

 

Jesus tells them that they are of Satan, of evil, while He is of God and heaven. He says they are doomed to die in sin unless they believe that He is the Son of God and are born again. Jesus then explains the steps to the new birth in Him, broken down into three phases.

 

Three Phases

 

  1. Belief (repentance, belief, receiving the Holy Spirit)
    1. “…for unless you believe that I am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.” –John 8:24
  2. Fellowship & Discipleship
    1. You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. –John 8:31
  1. Experience
    1. “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” –John 8:32

 

These phases are especially helpful for us today, mapping out our journey to aid in our spiritual development. As you read through the book of John, it might be helpful to ask yourself and ask God, where am I in these stages? Do I have the assurance of eternal life like John describes? Am I walking in obedience as a faithful disciple of Jesus? How am I allowing freedom in Christ to shape my joy, understanding, character, or tendencies, to name a few?

Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your savior, as the son of God? Have you been discipled and mentored in your faith?

 

Jesus Gives Sight to a Blind Man

 

As we continue in the book of John into chapter 9, we meet a man who was born blind. The people around ask if he was blind because of the sins of his parents or his own sins, perhaps in a past life.

 

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. –John 9:3

 

Jesus continues, comparing His task on earth to work that must be done before nightfall. He calls Himself the light of the world, sent by God Himself to save humanity from darkness.

 

“We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” –John 9:4-5

 

Many religious leaders realized that He was accusing them of rejecting Him, the Light so that they could remain in their sin. He explained that He gives sight to those who know they are blind.

 

Jesus creates a salve from spit and mud, placing it on the eyes of the blind man. He tells the man to wash it off and when he returns, he can see for the first time. Through this miracle, Jesus demonstrates His power and the call He came to fulfill, the light He is, and the sight He came to restore.

 

Repenting, believing and receiving the Holy Spirit is an initial act that follows us throughout our journey to be made more into the image of Christ. We are to never stop repenting, believing and abiding with His Spirit. Jesus sent His Spirit to care for us and guide us as He is our Good Shepherd.

 

The Good Shepherd

 

Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. –John 10:9-10

 

In John chapter 10, Jesus compares Himself to a good shepherd, whose sheep recognize and find comfort in His voice. Shepherds in this time before nightfall would construct primitive corrals of sticks and brush, placing their bodies across the entrance where a door would be. The sheep then cannot leave without waking the sleeping shepherd, who would then direct them back inside the pen and safety. No predator either would be able to get inside to attack the sheep without first crossing the shepherd, keeping the flock secure.

 

Jesus says that He is the only gate to the sheep pen and that those who enter can only do so through Him. We are the sheep, He is the door. Because of Jesus, we are not only taken care of inside the fold but we are also protected from the enemy.

 

The Resurrection of Lazarus

In John chapter 11, we witness one of Jesus’ most dramatic miracles, when He solves life’s two most unsolvable problems — sickness and death.

 

Jesus had three close friends, siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus who lived in Bethany in Judea, several days’ travel from where He was preaching. He received word that Lazarus was sick and close to death. Instead of coming as soon as He heard, Jesus waited.

 

Jesus said:

“Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. –John 11:4-6

 

And so Lazarus died before Jesus’ arrival. For four days his body lay in the tomb as mourners grieved him. Mary and Martha wanted to know what could have kept Jesus for so long, knowing that if He had come sooner, their brother would still be alive. Jesus tells them that their brother will soon walk again.

 

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” –John 11:25-27

 

Jesus asks for the stone to be rolled away from the tomb, calling out to Lazarus to come out. Lazarus appears, alive and well, still wrapped in tomb-cloths. Jesus commands for him to be unwrapped so that he may be free.

 

John records these specific events, words, and instructions to pass on the faith once delivered to the saints. He wanted those that knew they were blind to truly see. He wanted His flock to be cared for and protected. He wanted His friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus—and all who read their story—to learn that He is the victory over death and the key to eternal life.

 

Because those who believe in Jesus and live in union with Him will never truly die.

 

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All Can You Trust the Bible? Christian History Digging Deeper into the Word Spiritual Development Studying the Bible

Missing Jesus in God’s Word

Author: Charles Hegwood

 

Reading God’s word is essential to following Jesus. We need those marching instructions. The Bible is a place that we meet with God as we read. Reading scripture invites us into the presence of the King of Kings. At least this is what reading the Bible is supposed to be. Many times we read with an assortment of motivations. But we must hear John as he writes to us, “Don’t read the Bible and miss Jesus.” Finding Jesus in the text is the greatest invitation to the greatest scavenger hunt in the history of the world. As you study God’s word make sure that you do not miss the Word, Jesus, God in human skin.

 

A Read and a Miss

 

In John 5:39 Jesus essentially says, “go and find me in the Scriptures.” By the way this includes the Old Testament as well. In the immediate context of John chapter 5, the Pharisees, “pore over the Scriptures.” That is a reference to the Old Testament. John is saying that it is more than simply finding Jesus in the Scripture. Instead, this verse implies we must find Jesus. I find Jesus’ words both a blessing and a warning. The blessing is that we can go to all Scripture with the expectation of finding Jesus. But it is also a warning. We must not miss Jesus in the Scriptures. This was the problem with the Pharisees.

 

Earlier in chapter 5 Jesus healed a lame man on the Sabbath. This was a big problem for the Pharisees. Jesus’ healing violated their rules regarding the Sabbath. They begin to confront Jesus and turn up the pressure. It is in this context that we arrive at the conversation that is going on in 5:39. Jesus does not deny the fact that the Pharisees knew the Scriptures. On the contrary, they “poured over them.” The Pharisees and the scribes were experts in knowing their Bible. They should have seen Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. They should have had no problem with Jesus healing on the Sabbath. They should have known Jesus was the Lord of the Sabbath. The problem lies in their motivation and interpretation. Jesus did not fit what they wanted. They missed the Word of God despite knowing God’s word.

 

The Mirror of Scripture

 

We often read the gospel accounts of Jesus and the Pharisees with blinders on. We think, “those Pharisees just did not get it.” And yet we must see that when we read Scripture it is a mirror. We cannot simply laugh at the ignorance of the Pharisees without seeing the warning of Jesus to the modern reader. Let the Holy Spirit use the Bible as a sword to cut away our callousness. We are often like the Pharisees. When we read scripture it should be like looking at ourselves in the mirror in the morning. We might not like what we see, but that is what we need to repent and change. As Jesus called out the Pharisees’ mistake, we too are being called out.

 

Brothers and sisters let us not pore over the scripture everyday and miss Jesus. This is the warning that John, in writing this account, is trying to tell us. Read the Bible and find Jesus in the text. Meet with Him there. When we do, we will see our sin laying out exposed. We repent and are ushered into the presence of Jesus. But when we read with wrong motivation and interpretation we miss Jesus and miss time with Him. How sad it would be to spend time reading the Bible and never see Jesus, and never seek Jesus. We miss the whole point when we do this. The results are that we become the Pharisees. We become calloused toward the working of the gospel in our lives and in the lives of others. If that is you today, the good news is it is not too late.

 

Conclusion

 

It would be a tragedy to miss Jesus as we read, but if that is you, as it has been me in the past, then I have good news. You can meet with Jesus in His word today. Open your Bibles to the Old Testament or New Testament and find Jesus. It is like the greatest scavenger hunt you could ever embark on. When we seek Jesus in the text it brings a sense of excitement as we read God’s word. And something else begins to happen.

 

We begin to see how wonderfully interconnected the Bible really is. We see how truly all of Scripture is telling one story. It is telling the story of how God steps down into human history to take on flesh and redeem His lost children. Jesus is whispered throughout every corner of the Bible. Only go and find Him. See the wonderful tapestry that Scripture weaves. Embrace it and be inspired by it. Read the Bible with the expectation to find Jesus and you will find Him. The more you do this the more you will see. This truth has guided me throughout my journeys through the Bible. It has been one of the increasing joys in my life. So enjoy the blessing and heed the warning. Do not read the Bible and miss Jesus.

 

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All Christian History Digging Deeper into the Word Spiritual Development

Lifted High

Author: Charles Hegwood

As we go through this season of Lent, we want to take a moment and reflect on the conversation that Nicodemus had with Jesus. Their conversation went from being born again to the cross. The mention of the cross may sound odd to our ears. However, as John wrote his gospel, the shadow of the cross and the promise of the empty tomb is found throughout. Even in the conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, we see that the cross has much to do with our spiritual birth and our spiritual birth has much to do with the cross.

 

So let us first talk about this term born again. What does being ‘born again’ mean? This is a phrase that is tossed around Christian circles throughout the world. The reason we hear this phrase so much is that Jesus uses the term in John 3. Today we will look at what Jesus meant by being born again and its relation to the cross. We will see that Jesus is telling us that our spiritual birth is from and accomplished by the power of God. Therefore we must run to God to have a spiritual birth. It is the only way we can be saved.

 

The Context

 

Before we dive into Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, we need to look at what happened right before this story. Jesus went into the Temple and drove out those who were selling sacrifices to make dishonest money. The old way of belief and spiritual practice was broken down. Sin had polluted people’s worship of God at the Temple. This part of the story is important to understand what follows. We, like the people in the Temple, have polluted our worship of God. Sin has corrupted us. We thus need to be cleansed and cleaned. What we need is the same as the Temple needed. We need Jesus to purify our hearts. We need a new heart.

 

Jesus’ purifying the Temple by running the people out with a whip earned him the ire of the Pharisees. This is why Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. He does not want to be seen talking with Jesus. This would be hazardous to his career. But Nicodemus is interested in Jesus’ teaching. He desired to hear what Jesus had to say about the matter.

 

New Birth

 

Nicodemus realized that Jesus was from God. That is how the conversation began. However, Jesus side stepped Nicodemus’s comment and instead talked about a second birth. Here Nicodemus is confused. He knew that Jesus was not talking about a literal second birth. That would make no sense, but what was a spiritual birth? And how do you do that? How does someone get spiritually born again? To Nicodemus’ ears, both a literal and spiritual rebirth sounds odd and impossible. He is not far off.

 

Jesus first pointed to the reality that we must have a spirit change to be born again. New birth results in a new creation, a new nature. So how do we do that? Jesus’ answer to that is spiritual birth comes from God and God alone. This is not something we accomplish. Your work will never lead you to a new spirit. You cannot purify your own heart. But God can and does.

 

The Shadow of the Cross

 

As mentioned earlier, John wove the shadow of the cross in this story. And to this point, you may be wondering where it is. Jesus then shifts the conversation to a story from the book of Numbers in which venomous snakes were attacking the people of Israel in the wilderness. A bronze snake was raised up and all that looked upon it were saved, quite literally from the poison.

 

And now you are thinking that the Old Testament story is all well and good, but it is not the cross. But let us look a bit closer. Jesus now connects the story of the bronze snake to Himself. The story from the Old Testament was a shadow and illusion to the cross. He will be raised up when He is crucified. All that looks to his death and resurrection will be saved. But whereas the story in Numbers was a shadow, Jesus is the substance. Looking at the bronze snake may have saved your life for a moment. Looking to Jesus will save you for eternity. It leads to new birth and being purified by the blood of Jesus.

 

Jesus said that through his death on the cross we can experience new birth because his death creates in us a new spirit. This is the way that Jesus chose to purify our very souls. So that now the old corrupt sinful nature is dead and we are given a new nature, one that desires God. This is a new birth. We are, as Paul said, a new creation in Christ.

 

Conclusion

 

So let us take a moment and reflect on the cross. As we think about what it means to be born again, let us never forget that new birth is entirely God’s strength and work. His death on the cross purifies us and brings us into a true fellowship with the Father. Being born again is looking to the cross, so that Jesus purifies our heart, birthing us into a new creation that longs to worship God rightly. We cannot have a new birth without the cross. Jesus did not hide that reality. He embraced it. So should we.

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All Christian History Church Development Digging Deeper into the Word

The Sign Language of John

Author: Rachel Kidd

Objective: To introduce the Gospel of John and understand its major themes and purposes.

The Gospel of John is the favorite gospel of millions of people because of how God has used it to bring them to faith in Jesus and to show them who He really is. It is unique in many ways; its purposes, its literary style, and its content are different from those in the other gospels.

Literary Style and Codes

The Apostle John wrote in a specific style, a beautiful and inspired Hebrew language of signs. Breathed by the spirit, John wrote a message to the people of God in a sort of code in both the Gospel of John and in the book of Revelation. In order to understand that message, you need the key in order to break the code.

1. Uniqueness

The Gospel of John is unique in that it was written approximately 60 years after the first three Gospels. The book is also made up of 90% original content, diverging from the content covered in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

2. Purpose

There is an idea that comes from Paul’s words in 2 Timothy, that scripture is addressed to the believer. That its purpose is to perfect and mold Christians to become more Christ-like.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God  may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. –2 Timothy 3:16-17 

God wants us to be prepared, to be equipped to be good servants. The book of John contains quite a bit of these teachings that would prepare good and faithful servants of Christ.

However, the Gospel of John also serves another purpose; to present the Gospel, the Good News to the unbeliever. John records signs, miraculous evidence that proves that Jesus was and is the Messiah, the savior of the world.

The Purpose of John’s Gospel

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. –John 20:30-31

John presents a compelling record of Jesus’ ministry that proves to all readers that Jesus was and is who He says He is; the Son of God, the Messiah.

3. Sign Language, a Deeper Meaning

The Gospel of John is written on two different levels, one which a child just learning to read can understand, and another more complex and symbolic.

On the surface, the language reads simple and is easy to understand. He uses more one-syllable words than any other Gospel writer.

While it appears to be simple, John uses complex allegory to delve into the complexities of faith.

4. A Systematic Argument

Unlike the other Gospels that simply recount the life of Jesus, John presents a cohesive and systematic argument. He is proving that Jesus is the Son of God with a very clear through line that you can trace from start to finish.

Now that you have the code, how should we approach the book of John? As you read, ask yourself these questions to help you understand the deeper meaning of John’s rich language.

1.      Who is Jesus?

2.    What is faith?

3.    What is life? (What is eternal life?)

Ask the Holy Spirit to give you a revelation as you read the Gospel of John, to help you see Jesus for who He is.

The Word

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. –John 1:1-2

John tells us that Jesus is the word of God. A word is a vehicle of thought, a way to communicate. As John says in the first verses, Jesus was the expression of God’s thoughts, the manifestation of His thoughts to humanity. 

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. –John 1:14 

God wanted us to experience Jesus, to see him and know him in the flesh. So He sent Jesus to earth, becoming flesh and bone, to show great love in the most tangible of ways. 

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. —John 1:12 

John also tells us that while His own people, the Jews, rejected Jesus, He offers eternal life to those who believe. He calls them children of God, who have been born of God, or of Spirit. Those who believe and follow Jesus are born again and given the birth right of children of God.

John the Baptist

John presents the case of John the Baptist and his relationship with Jesus as further evidence of His identity as the Messiah. Most importantly, we see the baptism of Jesus and how John the Baptist continually pointed to Christ.

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” –John 1:19-20

John tells us that when John the Baptist was questioned by the Jewish council, he adamantly denied being the Messiah himself, like many of his followers believed he was. Instead, he continually redirected them to Jesus.

“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. –John 26-27 

John’s unique style presents a compelling case for Jesus, written in a deceptively simple style that is layered with deeper meaning. In this Gospel, we see illustrations of who Jesus is, the light of the world, the Son of God, and a beautiful story of faith and eternal life found in Him.

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All Christian History Church Development

The Power of a Story

Author: Charles Hegwood

There is power in a story. Stories can slip past our defenses and engage our hearts. In some ways, God designed us to engage with stories. It is no wonder that the gospel is presented as a grand story woven throughout all sixty-six books of the Bible. Jesus also loved to tell stories called parables. He used parables for a variety of reasons. Some of the parables were relatable to the culture. Others were only meant for His disciples to understand. And others were shock-factor parables, meant to expose sin in the listener’s hearts. Today let us look at one such parable. It is the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector. We see that God is merciful to those who come to Him in humility.

The Shock Factor

 In our modern culture, we lose much of the sting of this parable in Luke 18:9-14. If you grew up in the church setting you instinctively view the Pharisee as the ‘bad guy’ in every story. Even in the culture outside the church, the word Pharisee carries a negative connotation from years of Christian cultural impact. However, to Jesus’ audience, Pharisees were seen as the spiritual role models and the standard for whom God approves. In some ways, they were the highly esteemed spiritual rockstars of their day. Jesus, however, was not impressed. And that shocked the crowd. When Jesus then told a parable about a Pharisee and then contrasted him with a tax collector, it was jarring. They would have naturally picked the Pharisee to be justified. We must ask, why.

Shocking Characters

You see after the exiles returned to Jerusalem, they began to study the scriptures. The leaders realized that the reason they were exiled in the first place was because they disobeyed God’s commands. So, call it a slight overcorrection, but a group formed called Pharisees, who were determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past. They built fences of commands around God’s commands. And while their method missed the point of God’s Word, their hearts initially were in the right spot. However, over time the added rules became more important than God’s law. Their laws became a burden that God never asked His people to carry. By the time of Jesus, many Pharisees, though not all, had become arrogant and proud of their perceived ‘spirituality’.

By contrast, tax collectors were some of the lowest in the social order. The tax collectors were often placed below ‘sinners and prostitutes.’ They were seen as traitors for giving their countrymen’s money to Rome. They were also thought of as cheats, taking more than their fair share of tax money. So they were social outcasts. How could a tax collector even pray? And if he did, how would God listen? And yet we have this parable where the tax collector is justified over the Pharisee. They asked the same question we should be asking, “why would God listen to the prayer of the tax collector over the prayer of the Pharisee?”

The Heart of a Worshiper

Jesus was addressing a crowd, who as Luke stated trusted in themselves for righteousness. This context clue is key to understanding the ‘why’ of the parable. Jesus is telling the people and us what kind of heart a true worshiper of God must have. And we quickly see that job and behavior have nothing to do with it. I find this intriguing as a story. Back in the first century people were doing the same thing we still do today. We find ourselves trusting in our job status and morality. You may call it human nature, but Jesus called it sin. If you are trusting in your righteousness you are not worshiping God. The shock in this story sneaks past our defenses and self-righteousness and confronts us with the brutal truth.

We can dress well, say the right things, and show up to church every time the doors are opened, but none of these things will save us. If you trust in those things, you will find that the sin of arrogance and pride are quick to follow. The Pharisee is doing all the right things in life. He is somewhat generous, he is moral from an outside standpoint, he fasted twice a week, and gave the tithe. He was dedicated to His religious life. You would see him and think he is good and that God is with him. However, Jesus’ story has the Pharisees praying a prideful prayer. He trusted in all of those things to justify himself before God. While actions are important Jesus is saying that our ‘good works’ must come from a humble heart. We are justified through Christ’s blood as we seek God with humility.

Unlike the Pharisee, the tax collector does not even go into the temple. He would not even lift his eyes to God. He knew that he was a sinner and felt the weight of that sin. He felt the weight of shame that sin brings. And yet he was undeterred. He called out to God. It was not a flattering prayer, but it was a heartfelt and passionate prayer. He knew he could do nothing to redeem his state. So he called for the mercy of God. According to Jesus, and the shock of the crowd, God justifies the humble prayer of the tax collector because his heart humbly sought after God.

Bridge it

Now, this story has slipped by our defenses. We are face to face with a raw mirror image of our spiritual state. Maybe we see the Pharisee looking back at us. We know we must respond by crying for God’s mercy. When I see the Pharisee looking back at me, I become the tax collector calling for God’s mercy and forgiveness. If you see the tax collector staring back, what do you do? You do just what the tax collector did. Call to God for mercy. God seeks the heart that is humble before Him. Trusting in Him alone for grace, mercy, and hope. Stare into the mirror of scripture through this story today and have a humble heart. God seeks such people.

Categories
All Christian History

Christmas Thinking

Writer: Rachel Kidd

Who do we serve and why?

Luke, an accurate historian and scholar, provides us with the manifesto of the messiah in his gospel. Luke reports the life and ministry of Jesus to us, demonstrating how Jesus proclaimed, proved, and applied His manifesto.

Like the manifestos of other world leaders, it is intended to be a guide to life, a lens of divine providence through which to view the world. We are meant to ask God, what will you have me to do? Viewing Luke through this lens, understanding it as a report of Jesus’ manifesto, helps us understand Him better.

Do Your Christmas Thinking Early

You’ve probably heard the old adage, ‘do your Christmas shopping early,’ but what would happen if instead, we did our Christmas thinking early? As I write this in January with the very last of the Christmas decorations still lingering around the house, I think about how sad I usually am this time of year. With the holiday celebrations and gatherings over, I tend to feel let down in the gloom of winter. And yet, the book of Luke reminds me that Christmas is not just a season, it’s a message that rings true all year round.

According to Luke, when God intersected human history and became a man, He invited certain people to participate in His great miracle. Luke gives us a detailed look at the birth of Christ in an extensive 132 verses that can be divided into six paragraphs. This tells us how important the story is, how crucial every detail is to the message of the Gospel. The first paragraph tells the story of the Birth of John the Baptist, the last of the messianic prophets. He pointed to the coming of Jesus Christ and baptized Him in God’s will.

John’s birth was a precursor miracle, if you will, of the virgin birth of Jesus. Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth were elderly and unable to conceive. The angel Gabriel tells the priest Zacharias that his wife will bear the last messianic prophet and herald in the birth of Jesus. Zacharias is dubious, unable to believe the angel’s prophecy. In turn because of his unbelief, Gabriel strikes Zacharias mute until the birth of his son. This priest has a great vision for God’s people, and yet is unable to share it aloud. How difficult must it have been for Zacharias, to be given this great message but unable to share it with others? I can imagine it was an incredible burden to carry for him over those nine months, likely a deep shame he felt in his unbelief. How can we learn from Zacharias?

The angel Gabriel then appears to a young, virgin peasant girl, Mary. He tells her this same good news, that God is going to become man and that she is highly favored among women. He tells her that God has chosen her to bear the child and be the mother of God. Mary is confused and disturbed, she is unsure what the angel could mean. She asks the angel, “how could this be? I am a virgin.” Here we see a distinction, between sincere questioning and even doubt and a lack of faith or unbelief. Mary is not punished for her questions, rather she is reassured by the miracle of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist. The baby in Elizabeth immediately recognizes Mary as the mother of God, leaping in the womb with joy. We see Mary opposite of Zacharias as someone who faithfully and dutifully believes in God’s call on her life. How can we respond like Mary to God’s calling, no matter how impossible it might seem? We also see that God encourages our sincere questions, wanting us to wonder and be curious. He doesn’t seem to expect a blind allegiance, rather a secure foundation of faith anchored in reassurance.

The next event in Luke details the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus, giving us precise historical details. He tells us that Cesar Agustus issued a decree for a national census when Corinueus was governor of Syria. The records tell us that while the Roman emperor at the time Corineus was governor was a man named Octavious, he was given a name that signified divinity; Augor or Augustus. This tells that Luke is incredibly accurate and his history can be verified. Because of this census and based on Old Testament prophecy, Mary and her fiance Joseph are required to travel to their ancestral home of Bethlehem.

And on the night that Jesus was born, God sent angels to tell shepherds to go see the newborn King. All of these people experienced the miracle of the greatest event in human history. The miracle of Christmas is that God became man so that He could bring salvation to mankind.

Why the Shepherds?

There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” —Luke 2:8-11

We see here that the message of the Christ is not just for one tax bracket, race, color, or nationality. The Good News is for everyone, for the entire world. The shepherds, low of status as they were, are the first to hear of the birth of Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. Jesus wasn’t born in a palace, instead He was born in a stable and placed in a feed trough. Everyone who was brought into the story of Jesus was told for a reason, and informed for a specific, divine purpose. So, why the shepherds? Because they stopped and told everyone they possibly could. We can only imagine how fast and far the news from the shepherds traveled.

The hope of the Christmas story is knowing that God became man. The Old and New Testaments tell us that Jesus will physically intersect human history again in the miracle of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Just as the first Christmas was the only hope we have for salvation, His Second Coming is the blessed hope of the Church and the only hope of the world. We must follow the example of the shepherds with sincere belief and faith, telling everyone this Good News before we see it for ourselves.

Study our free course Genesis and Exodus here.

Watch this complete lesson here.

Categories
All Christian History Digging Deeper into the Word

Genesis 1: Genesis and Creation

Author: Jon Slenker

Genesis Chapter One

Genesis chapter one. Those words are profound in themselves. So much is wrapped up in those three words. Opportunity, beginnings, hope, life, love, the galaxies, volcanoes, pigs and plants, seascapes and mountain vistas, smells, colors, texture. Creation is truly marvelous! Evil will come and distort God’s good creation, but for now, we sit back in awe and wonder at God speaking earth into existence and his plan for it.

Creation and the Nature of God

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Genesis 1:1

God exists outside of time and space. He is Spirit who creates as part of his nature (John 4:24). The creation account tells us much about God’s nature. God values order, prescribes value, and mandates his creation fulfill their identity and purpose. He is creative and orderly. He is intentional and desires to relate to and care for his creation. God spoke and it came to be. Out of nothing, God created.

The doctrine of the Trinity finds solid evidence for a Triune God in the creation account. In verse 26 God says, “let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”

Order, Harmony and Intentionality

The author of Genesis records the events of God’s creation as one of order, harmony and intentionality. Most creative people lack the ability to be orderly. In fact, sometimes following the rules impedes the creative process. God, however, is perfectly creative and orderly. We can see beyond having an orderly, harmonious and intentional plan that he values action. But to what end? What is his plan of action? That all creation would fulfill its purpose and therefore propagate a more vibrant and full life. His mandate is that we would worship and obey through being fruitful and multiplying. Healthy things are fruitful and fruitful things multiply.

As God brought order from disorder and did it in a timely fashion, he also built it into nature that plants, sea and land creatures and man would reproduce, each of their own kind (Gen. 1:11-12, 21-22, 24-25, 28). Each thing in creation  is unique and in a constant state of changing.  A law in Physics states there is a set number of molecules in existence. None can be added or destroyed, they merely change states. One concept within Thermodynamics is entropy, which states that left to its own creation will naturally fall into decay and disorder, the effect of sin marring God’s good creation.

Day 1 – God created light (1:3-5)
Day 2 – God separated the water and created the heavens (skies) (1:6-8)
Day 3 – God separated the waters from land (1:9-10) and created vegetation (1:11-13)
Day 4 – God created the stars and the moon and sun (1:14-19)
Day 5 – God created living creatures in the sea (1:20-23)
Day 6 – God created living creatures on land and man (1:24-31)

There is harmony in creation, an interdependent relationship among all created things and beings. Each aspect of creation is dependent on the other in some way. How glorious is our God that we would all excel in certain abilities and require the assistance from others in areas we don’t. God built community into nature and His intentions are that creation would exist in perfect harmony with itself and Himself.

Identity, Value and Purpose

God is relentless for his creation. He proves it by giving identity, value and purpose. There was a purpose behind creation. God did not want to create and then leave it to itself, it was too valuable to him. He wants to be intimately involved with his handiwork as the author, shepherd, high priest, king, judge and redeemer. He is ever present in the creation event with his Spirit hovering over the face of the waters, and reviewing his work and calling it good (Gen. 1:2). God is ascribing worth and value to his creation by calling it “good” or “very good” six times (1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25; 1:31). This tells us that God cares for his creation and that it brings him joy.

God displays order and harmony within identity through the unique individuality of each thing according to its kind. Everything plays its part and has a role in God’s creation order. The heavens, land, sea, vegetation, birds, animals, fish and humans all play a vital role in different life cycles that regenerates and reproduces life and the atmosphere for it.  Life is important to God. You are important to God and have an incredible purpose.

Imago Dei

One theologian writes that “Genesis 1 and 2 provides the backdrop for God’s relationship with humanity and with the rest of creation.”[1] Five times God calls his creation “good”, but on the sixth, he said “behold, it was very good” (1:31). ““Good” does not exist abstractly apart from God. Rather, God’s pronouncement that His work was “good” conveys that creation was rightly related to Himself and thus His work was “good” conveys that creation was rightly related to Himself and thus existing as a display of His glory.”[2] Man was made in the image of God, or “imago dei” in the Greek, as his special creation whom he wanted to be after his own image and heart. This emphasizes that we are more like God than like other creatures.[3] We were made to reflect God’s image on earth as his vice regents, children, stewards and ambassadors. We are to be like him. To conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of our calling and nature (Phil. 1:27).

The Creation Mandate

“God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.”
Genesis 1:28-30

The creation mandate is the foundation of the great commission. Jesus echoes his creation mandate in Matthew 28:18-20 to his disciples and thus to the Church and to you and I. We see the creation mandate restated multiple times throughout history in the scriptures. First to Adam and Eve, then to the animals, Noah, Abraham, Jacob that we should be fruitful and multiply.  One Teacher writes that “few understand that the mission “to make disciples of all nations” is actually grounded in God’s original “Creation Order.”” This first command carries with it the implication to “worship and obey.” The Teacher adds, “the means by which dominion would be exercised would be through the intentional multiplication and dispersion of image-bearers throughout the earth.” God’s first commandment to Adam and Eve carries the same thrust and importance as Christ’s commission to us. He promises that he will be with us even to the end of the age (Mt. 28:20). This is an incredible promise and blessing![4]

God has entrusted his creation to man and woman. We are to be his stewards, ruling over ourselves and his creation as he would. We are therefore covenanted image bearers of God. What a blessing! As his image bearers we are to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth with other image bearers. Healthy things grow and growing things multiply. How are you stewarding, or managing what God has entrusted to you? Are you caring gently for God’s creation? Different cultures value and honor and mistreat different things,  creatures or people. To the best of your ability, small or large, are you treating God’s people and his/our creation as He would?

Conclusion

How are you fulfilling the creation mandate by worshiping and obeying as God’s vice regent and ambassador? What does caring for his creation and making disciples look like for you right now? What is your favorite way that you ‘image’ God? What areas of life are you orderly or messy? When are you most creative? What drains your creativity? How are you intentional or accidental? What does it look like? Like a mirror we are to reflect God’s image to the earth, creative, intentional, What a privilege to be welcomed into God’s work and entrusted with his creation.


[1] Robinson, George, article, published in www.GlobalMissiology.org October 2015  “Grounding Disciple-Making in God’s Creation Order: Filling the Earth with the Image of God”
[2] Robinson, George, article, October 2015
[3]  Robinson, George, article, October 2015
[4] Robinson, George, article, October 2015

Categories
All Digging Deeper into the Word Studying the Bible

How to Study the Bible

Author: Jon Slenker

God chose to speak to mankind through the bible. This is why it is referred to as his “word”. It has been said that when you open the word of God, you open the mouth of God. It is important to know how to study the bible not just to know the book, but to know the Author. Learning how to study the bible is an incredible journey filled with excitement, beauty, wisdom, deep love and strong justice. Sometimes it makes perfect sense at the perfect moment, other times you set it down and have more questions about your circumstance than when you started.

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
Joshua 1:8

God’s people are commanded to study his word (Josh. 1:8). The benefits of studying the bible are profound and eternal. When you study, take it slow, be patient, prayerful and cautious not to jump to conclusions. Learning how to study the bible for yourself gives you freedom to know and relate to God in more personal and practical ways. It also helps to know when someone is mishandling the text’s meaning and purpose. The bible warns us and encourages us to entrust it to those that will remain faithful hearers, students, and doers of it. The challenge remains that many interpret the bible wrongly either intentionally or accidentally. Interpreting God’s Word is an art and science to be practiced with care.

3 Phases of Bible Study

1 Observation

The first phase of bible study is Observation. As you open God’s word, approach it with reverence, humility and a healthy curiosity. Sometimes we study for different purposes. We may study a topic or doctrine, a word, verse, or entire book or letter. A healthy practice for studying the bible is one book at a time. Read the book in its entirety like you would watch a movie. Then start back at the beginning and practice observation, interpretation and application for each chapter. Observation, interpretation and application may be used for a passage containing a few verses or one. Remember the broader context. Don’t miss the forest for the trees. A student of the bible is like a detective attempting to see the big picture by correctly piecing together important data.

Taking your time studying an entire book or letter over weeks or months is helpful  to understand the bible in its entirety. The student should not approach a text simply to gain knowledge, but allow it to affect their heart, mind, soul and to put it into practice. Becoming a good observer is an acquired skill. It is our first line of defense for not misreading the text or making it about ourselves. Observation rightly aligns us and places us in the audience, not on stage.

Questions for Observation

  • Who: Author, audience, characters?
  • What: Events, occasions, theme, topic?
  • When: What was life like, global events that occurred during that time period?
  • Where: Place and culture, weather, distance, geography, topography, market, temple, home?

As you build evidence, record things that stand out to you and are emphasized, repeated, related, alike, unlike, or true to life. During observation, fight the feeling to make meaning of the clues. Note the questions you have, but avoid chasing them at this time. Keep inspecting!

2 Interpretation

The second phase is Interpretation. Now that you have collected your data, it’s time to make sense of it. This can be difficult at times due to language, cultural or communication barriers. Interpretation is important. Across the world, the Church gathers in different denominations solely for the purpose of how we interpret the bible. It is important for you to study the bible to know God and his ways to develop your own convictions and beliefs without needing to solely rely on someone else’s. Knowing how to study the bible as a faithful observer and interpreter reveals to us the pillars and principles that God established. He wants us to be knowledgeable, wise and aware to live an abundant, quiet and peaceful life (John 10:10; 1 Thess. 4:11).

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17

Characteristics of the Bible

Like God, his word is unchanging and eternal (Psalms 119:89). It does not contradict itself or contain errors. It is inspired, meaning it was “breathed out” by God (Psalms 119:105). The bible affirms itself as the holy, inspired word of God (1 Cor. 2:12-13). The bible tells a unified story centered around the primary character, Christ (Rom. 1:1-4). Jesus himself modeled how to interpret the things concerning Christ in all the scriptures beginning with “Moses and all the Prophets” (Luke 24:27). Peter would follow his lead preaching at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36). Stephen, mimicked this in Acts 7 when he was martyred for preaching from a christ-centered interpretation of the bible. Paul teaches that the righteousness of God comes through faith and not works, explaining that “the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (Rom. 3:21-22). These passages show us that the Old Testament is the foundation of the New Testament and the New Testament assumes and affirms the Old Testament.

Begin your interpretation by establishing the context. Using the information from your observation, determine the author’s intent for writing this book or letter. Ask the following questions to build the original context, meaning and purpose. Answer the questions that relate.

Questions for Interpretation

  • What is the main point or big idea of the book or letter?
  • What is the structure of the book or letter? Are there sections of the book that transcend the chapters? The 5 ‘books’ or sections of Psalms is a good example of this. Chapters 1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106 and 107-150 each have a unique tone or theme.
  • How does this text or passage fit into the book as a whole?
  • Does the author talk about this topic elsewhere?
  • What is the occasion?
  • What events are taking place and why is the author including them?
  • Determine a timeline of events as is helpful
  • What is the genre of writing? (Is it historical narrative, poetry, prophecy, an eye witness or secondary account?)
  • What does it say about God’s or man’s nature?
  • How does God relate to, or treat man and vice-versa?
  • How does man relate to, or treat man?
  • Is there a truth being told?
  • Is there a promise to believe?
  • Is there a sin to avoid?
  • Is there a command to obey?
  • Is there a principle to follow?
  • Is there an example to follow?
  • Has the pace of an account sped up or slowed down to emphasize something important?
  • What is being left out?
  • What is clear or unclear?

As you work to put the pieces together, fight the urge to apply it to yourself or others. Determine what the main point of the text is. What does the author want the recipient to know, believe or do? Is there a theme, topic, or belief the author explicitly or implicitly highlights? Christ-centered interpretation does not mean you should turn over every rock and pebble attempting to find some relation to Christ, but it does seek to know how Christ fulfills, relates to or affirms the main point of the text either in his birth, life, ministry, leadership, sacrifice, resurrection, or teachings. Finally, Utilize other sources like dictionaries, concordances, atlases, or commentaries. Let scripture interpret scripture before consulting outside sources.

3 Application

The final phase of studying the bible is Application. This is where we apply the truths and teachings of the passage studied to our own lives. Remember, the interpretation is one but the application is many. Paul tells Timothy to know himself, therefore, we should continue to inspect and know ourselves (1 Tim. 4:16). Our beliefs, traits, tendencies, emotions, weaknesses, inabilities, how we respond or react under mild or extreme stress (Rom. 12:3). We have to know God to follow him and know ourselves to lead ourselves. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Questions for Application

  • In what ways did the original audience apply the truths passed down to them?
  • How might they have applied it in their context?
  • How are we like or unlike them?
  • How should we be like or unlike them?
  • Is there a tendency or trait that the Spirit is bringing to mind?
  • O.S. Acrostic
    • What is God SAYING to me?
    • How should I OBEY?
    • Who should I SHARE this truth with?
  • How should my character, conduct, or conversation be affected by the Word of God?
  • How should this truth affect my:
    • Attitudes – toward God, others, circumstances, myself
    • Knowledge of God
    • Behavior – habits, reactions, positive or negative
    • Relationships – Where do I need to forgive, seek forgiveness, encourage, rebuke, submit, lead?

Application requires a decision and a specific plan of action in order to allow the Holy Spirit to make scriptural principles part of us. It takes around three months for habits to be replaced. Our tendencies are hardwired in us, and God desires behavior that honors ourselves, our people and him. But studying the bible is not just behavior modification or comprehension, it’s about salvation, truth, transformation, and relationship with God and man. Studying the bible should ultimately prepare you for a life of worshiping God and seeking the highest good of others.

Application is “best served” with prayer and meditation. What is God saying to you? Ask him. What does he want you to know, cling to, be warned of or comforted by? Let his word be ointment for healing, iron for sharpening, sweeter than honey, green pastures filled with peace, a rod for discipline and a staff for direction.

Categories
All Can You Trust the Bible? Digging Deeper into the Word Studying the Bible

The Purpose of the Bible

Author: Jon Slenker

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17

That God would reveal himself to mankind is no mystery! The very act is representative of who he is. His nature, character, personality, virtues and values, mission and vision, is all made known to mankind through the bible. God is a relational God who desires to know and be known. The express purpose of the bible is that we may know God, what he has done for us and how we should live in light of his revelation.

Three Kinds of Revelation

  1. General Revelation: Things that were made by God, like the galaxies, sun, sky, trees, and living things, are all ways that God has revealed himself and his handiwork. No one is without this evidence or knowledge of God. Refer to Psalm 19:1-6, Romans 1:18-25 for further study.
  2. Special Revelation: God interacting in special ways with his creation, include speaking audibly to man, revealing himself and his power through the Flood, a burning bush, a pillar of cloud and fire, the parting of the Red Sea, handwriting on stone tablets and palace walls, his written word the Bible, Jesus, his Spirit, miracles, dreams, and visions. Refer to Exodus 32:16, Psalm 19:7-13, Hebrews 1:1-3, Luke 1, John 1:1-14, Acts 2:1-4, Romans 1:16-17, 10:9-10.
  3. Progressive Revelation: The teaching that God has continually revealed more and more of his character, will and mission over time. Refer to Psalm 78:1-4, John 16:12-14 and Galatians 1:11-12. 

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
1 Corinthians 3:12

How to Know God

“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’”
Isaiah 46:9b–10

There is only one God (Deut 32:39; Isa 45:5-7; 46:9) and “the most fundamental need of humanity is to know God, and to know Him with ever-increasing clarity and intensity.[1]’” More than anything, the bible reveals God’s character, purposes and principles. It has been said “when you open the word of God, you are opening the mouth of God.” God uses the bible to speak to you and me so that we may know him, trust him and live out our identity and calling as faithful worshipers.

“For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
Ps. 100:5

Identity, Character and Attributes of God

The bible reveals God’s character by how he relates with and rules sovereignly over his creation. In the bible, God self-identifies as and is called: Creator, the I AM, Abba Father, the Ancient of Days, the Living God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Lord of Hosts, Alpha and Omega, the God of Knowledge, God Most High, Mighty God, the Anointed One, the Word, the Lord Who Provides, the Lord Who Saves, Our Dwelling Place and more!

As we read the Scriptures observing how God interacts with his creation, we find that God’s character is upright and just. He does not lie, he does not change, does not do evil, is relentless for his people, is all powerful, all knowing, full of grace, truth, mercy and love. He is the light of men, holy, hallowed, a helper, and unique. He is the one true God.

“Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
Psalm 90:2

To Know God’s Will and Mission

One of God’s purposes in giving us his Holy Scriptures is to follow his will, not simply discover it. We read in 1 Timothy 2:2-3 to pray for all people, kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. Paul continues, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

God has already revealed his will to us through the bible. If there is any discovering for us to do surrounding his will, it is to know God’s character, attributes and personality with greater wisdom and affection than before. God’s will is clear, to be a righteous ruler, on mission to seek and save that which is lost and marred by evil, sin and death. Since creation, God’s will has been to establish a people for himself and to reign as a benevolent and just Father, Counselor, and King. We do not need to seek out God’s will for our lives, it is not hidden from us or kept in secret to be found out later to see. God’s will was established from the beginning and he has already revealed it to us in his word!

If you want to know the will of God, devote yourself to his word and discern the times. Author, J. Grant Howard, Jr. writes that “God doesn’t want confused, bewildered, frustrated Christians wandering around anxiously searching for His will. He wants people who are walking confidently and peacefully in His will.”

Our God, the God of the universe, is a missionary God. Since Genesis 3 and the Fall he has relentlessly pursued to the point of sacrifice for the salvation of his children from every tribe, tongue and nation (Rev. 7:9-10). Jesus entered humanity, put on flesh, forgave sin, granted new life, gave confidence to the broken-hearted and destitute, humbled the proud and corrected poor theology and practice. He laid the foundation for the establishment, the Church, and sits as the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:19-21). He began and ended his three year ministry with a focus on character as we live out, preach and disciple others on the good news that Christ has come and revealed himself and his salvation to mankind!

To Know Ourselves and Our Purpose

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–”
John 1:12

Identity and Calling

Another overarching purpose of the bible is to know our own identity and calling in relation to God. We were made to worship and obey. We were created for a spectacular purpose. Therefore, we must know who God is in order to truly know ourselves. We find our meaning, hope and peace in our identity in Christ. The bible is God’s way of telling us who we are and how to live out our days as “Children of God” (1 John 3:1), “ambassadors” of his Kingdom (2 Cor. 5:20), a “holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), and “pilgrims”, in a world that is not our home (Hebrews 13:14-16).

The bible reveals our purpose, tells us how to live, grounds us in our physical and spiritual lineage and heritage, and gives us historical context for our lives and the times we now live. It teaches us about the past, present and future.

Every believer can be sure of their identity as adopted children of God, called to worship, obey, love others and make disciples. God gave us his word, so that we might know how to act  and behave in ways that honor him and others as we join him on his mission (Matthew 5; John 13:35). The author of Hebrews tells us an incredible purpose of the bible in chapter 4, verse 12 stating, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” It seems at times when we read the bible, it is moreover reading us.

The Great Commission passages in Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:14–18, Luke 24:44–49, John 20:19-23, and Acts 1:4–8 lay out our calling and responsibility as God’s ambassadors and Church. We are to preach the gospel, baptize, teach to obey, gather in community for the breaking of bread, worship, pray, make disciples and give of our time, talent, treasure and table as others have need (Acts 2:32-36).

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Ephesians 5:1-2


[1] Merida,  Faithful Preaching, 2009