When it comes to the future, are you more optimistic or pessimistic? We need more qualifications before answering that. When it comes to the future of what? Of world history? Of your house remodel? Of your chances to get married? And what qualifies as optimism or pessimism? Are you allowed to think that the surgery will hurt, and badly, but make you feel better after six weeks of recovery? What if you joyfully plan to give up eating all desserts forever?
As we begin a study of the prophecies in the book of Revelation, we will consider different approaches and different results related to one’s take on the global, sociopolitical timeline. Is the world metanarrative a tragedy or a comedy? Some of what we expect to happen later necessarily colors some of what we expect sooner.
So for this moment let’s narrow the optimism/pessimism question to your sanctification. I’m not talking about your glorification; negative-ninnies about glorification are just little-faithed fools. But do you have high hopes for increased holiness today? Or do you have suspicion, if not cynicism about whether you will actually obey?
You may have a pattern of unconfessed sin that is dragging down your perspective. You may have experiences of disobedient crashes after obedient climbs. But, beloved, your sanctification depends on Christ and happens by faith through His Spirit. Is it hard? You are in the war against the seed of the serpent? Have you been beaten before, and accusations stick? These are not reasons to give yourself to hopelessness, these are reasons to keep giving yourself to Christ.
Sin is awful. More Christlikeness highlights how awful sin is. But though Jesus does not promise us perfection in this life, He does promise us help. So reckon yourself dead to sin in Christ and raised to walk in newness of life. Repent, and repent of defeatist faith.
I gave the following talk at our ECS Convocation yesterday afternoon.
Or, Paying Attention to Curriculum and Character
There is an ancient Egyptian myth about Osiris, a god known for many things, including being the ruler of the dead. This is not a Bible story, but it is its own kind of mirror to problems that people have.
Osiris represented tradition, and even more than tradition, he came to represent dangerous failure to change. Osiris had a scheming brother named Set who was eager to overthrow and destroy Osiris. It wasn’t that Osiris was dumb or even deceived by Set, but Osiris didn’t want to see his brother’s evil intentions. Osiris chose to be blind. Eventually Set took a chance and attacked his brother, hacked him into pieces and sent his parts throughout the kingdom and his spirit to the underworld. Humpty Dumpty would have had an easier time pulling himself back together.
Some time later Osiris’ son Horus came to fight Set. You may have seen the symbol of Horus as the single Egyptian eye. He was also represented as a falcon-headed man; falcons are known for incisive vision. One story teller put it like this: “Osiris is tradition, aged and willfully blind. Horus, his son, could and would, by contrast, see. Horus was the god of attention” (12 Rules for Life, 222).
Seeing is not less than, but it is more than, mere knowing. This seeing beyond what is already grasped. Because Horus could see, he could see the wickedness of his uncle and fought him. He defeated Set, but not before Set tore out one of Horus’ eyes. Later Horus took back his eye, and then in a surprising twist, Horus went to the underworld and gave the eye to his father so that Osiris could see.
There are a couple angles in this story. The first is that it may hurt to see; Horus saw his uncle’s evil and lost one of his own eyes fighting the evil. The second is that seeing is the necessary act to move forward. Seeing was necessary to defeat Set. Seeing was what Osiris needed. If we do not see, if we refuse to learn and mature, our knowledge will grow stale or corrupt.
“Every bit of learning is a little death” (ibid., 223). It is death to our pride to acknowledge that we didn’t know everything already. It is death to our reputation as our ignorance is exposed, or worse, our pet blind spots. But when we learn, when we pay attention, we are sacrificing what may feel secure for something that is better. To get perspective, it’s easier to stand on a dead long than climbing a growing tree, but the dead log will only let you see so far.
There are two general categories that I want to exhort you to open your eyes to see this school year. For simplicity sake, let’s refer to them as head and heart, or we could summarize them as curriculum and character.
Pay attention to the curriculum.
This may surprise you, but our school does not exist as a proving ground for experts. Our school is a provoking goad to learning. What I mean is that we don’t meet here in order for you to Show and Tell all that you know, let alone that you know it all. One thing we know is that you don’t actually know it all, and more importantly, what you know should become a foundation to see more, not a fence to keep you from going further. Knowledge should increase your attentiveness, not your apathy.
One of the most fundamental principles at ECS is that not only are we permitted to, but we are accountable to, grow in Christlikeness. But what does that mean? It does mean that we should obey the Father like Christ did. But it also means that we should observe what Christ has made. Being like Christ means being interested in the things that He is interested in, and He made the world. “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3).
Christ made the heavens and the earth, He made the visible and the invisible. He not only created but He continually sustains all things. “He upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). We don’t keep the stars in place, but we can at least pay attention to them. Science, subtraction, Logic, letters, poetry, and history are all His delight.
Your current knowledge is not absolute, as in, you do not know everything. There will be times when you wish you knew more than you do, but the solution to that frustration is not to complain about the work required to see more. Teachers must keep seeing, and so must parents, so that you can keep seeing. The mission of ECS is that you would carry and advance Christ honoring culture. If you don’t have anything more to learn, then here we are, and here we’ll stay.
I remember my first day of 7th grade, and in particular my literature teacher Mr. Brenner. He had a sign hanging on his podium that he made sure to emphasize: “Hire a teenager while they still know everything.”
Pay attention to your character.
It often hurts to look at our own hearts. We don’t like what we see, so we go out of our way not to see. I mean, who wants to see his own sinfulness, more deeply, more clearly? Considering how we’ve offended God is nerve-afflicting. Looking at ugly things is not a good time, especially if we are the ugly ones.
But this is where you make or break your joy. You cannot be one of God’s children and thrive with unacknowledged sin. Willful ignorance about your sin, or proactive defensiveness of your sin, will choke out your joy. What is true for each individual is also true for a culture made up by those individuals. One weed can get its root deep, but if there are a lot of weeds in the garden, things are going to be a snarled mess.
If you don’t watch your heart, the sin in your heart will cut up your gladness into little pieces and scatter your soul all over the place. It won’t feel good. Paul told Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself,” and that such attention had effect not just on himself but for those Timothy led (1 Timothy 4:16). It requires looking, and admitting, and sometimes even getting help to grow.
There will be all sorts of exposures of your heart this year. You will get to see how much patience you really have, how much diligence you really have, how much truthfulness you really have, how much skill you really have. Will you look for the opportunity to repent?
Don’t lie to yourself, or to others. You need to grow. We’re not going to freak out that you have immaturities, ignorances, and sins. Don’t you freak out either, and also don’t cover your eyes.
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15)
Do you know what you don’t know? What do you want to learn more about this year? You don’t necessarily need to have a plan, but your teachers will help. They have books for you to read and homework to assign and tests to give. They have curriculum, they have maps to show you more places that Christ loves and wants you to love. Listen to them, follow the path of their dry erase marker. Knock on their doors until they open up library of their own looking.
And also, are you prepared to become more like Christ in head and heart? Do you have an eye for learning the right loves, for seeing more ways to obey, for attending to the parts of your heart that need to be wrapped into integrity?
Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. (Ecclesiastes 4:13, ESV)
The apostle John makes an interesting, and optimistic, argument in 1 John 5. He says:
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith. (1 John 5:3-4)
The second half of verse 4 is the first sentence I remember memorizing in Greek: hay nikay hay nikaysasa ton kosmon, hay pistis haymone. “This is the victory that victories the world, our faith.” Faith is sort of a big deal.
Consider the connections:
Love must obey, and is made known as we obey.
Love for God comes from those who have been born of God.
The born-of-God-ers are world-overcomers.
World-overcomers are also believers.
So, we are born again by God to believe in God and love God and obey God which is overcoming the world.
Both love and faith come from God who caused us to be born again. We know love as it obeys, and we know faith as it overcomes.
Alternatively, disobedience is a sign of the world’s victory, and disobedience is a sign of faith’s faltering, or perhaps that there is no faith at all.
So, Christian, how are you stimulating your faith? You cannot conquer the worldliness in your own heart, let alone the worldliness of the world, without faith in Jesus, the Son of God.
In a few weeks I plan to start teaching verse by verse through another book of the Bible: the book of Revelation. There are good reasons to study The Apocalypse on Sundays, and I’ll probably explain some of my intentions in the introductory message. I’m telling you know, ahead of time, not just so that you can make plans or prepare arguments (one way or another), but so that you can be excited.
On a higher level, God also reveals many things He plans to do and often some of His reasons. God does not only tell us what was and what is, but also what will be. When the Lord sent a prophet with a word, and that word came to pass, the Lord demonstrated that His Word is trustworthy. That He knows the end from the beginning distinguishes Him from other gods (Isaiah 46:10). It also shows God’s nature as a God who communicates. So prophecy, including future plans, causes us to worship God. For those who hear and keep His Word, it also causes us to be excited.
Think about Isaiah 53 from the perspective of Isaiah’s original audience. We know who the Suffering Servant is. We know His name: Jesus, the son of Mary, from the city of Nazareth. But what the Israelites knew around 700 B.C is that they were sinners, that they were in a cycle of sin and then in need of sacrifices to cover their sins. Though the promised deliverer in Isaiah 53 did not fit all of their expectations, and even though He didn’t come for about 700 years, they had every reason to be excited for His coming.
We worship the Lord because of who He is, what He has done, and what He has said about tomorrow. Don’t be anxious. A farmer is not pessimistic about all the seed deaths in his field, he knows those deaths will make for an abundant harvest. Listen carefully to the word of the Lord about the future, and believe.
Presumptuous sins are sins of undue liberty, of going beyond the bounds. They are willful, understood, and so directly culpable. It’s still breaking the law even when you don’t know the law, but with presumptuous sins we make eye contact with the judge to make sure he’s watching.
David was especially concerned about the enslaving nature of presumptuous sins. When we sin knowing full well what our will is doing, we actually give our wills over to bondage. That’s why David asked, “let them not have dominion over me!” He was concerned that he would be overtaken. Being under the dominion of sin increases our responsibility, ironically.
As believers, the way to deal with this is to submit to the law, the testimony, the precepts, the commandment, the fear, the rules of the Lord. When we submit to His Word we also learn to submit to His righteousness altogether, and we demonstrate that submission by eating His body and drinking His blood by faith. We war against taking unrighteous liberties when we receive the liberties of righteousness in Christ.
We live in the Information Age. We have data and statistics and algorithms and pages and podcasts. More information will be posted on the internet today than you could consume the rest of your life; you don’t have the time. We have all of this info, and not a lot of understanding to prove it.
Along with many of you, I’m continuing on the #samepagesummer Bible reading plan, and we’re more than halfway to finished. In studying Psalm 19 for the sermon this morning, I also read through Psalm 119 which is the longest love song of the Word in the Word. There are a lot of good names for Scripture in the long song, and a lot of prayers for God’s help. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18).
But one line that turns up four times, the line that I think best embodies the psalmist’s cry, is “give me understanding.”
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law (34)
give me understanding that I may learn your commandments (73)
give me understanding that I may live (144)
give me understanding according to your word! (169)
Pray like David, yes. And beware. Understanding does not mean merely collecting information about God’s Word. Understanding means you will see how you are not keeping His law, how you have not known His commandments, how you have not been living right, and how you have not been actually paying attention to His Word.
True understanding can be painful. It’s humbling. It is why many Christians prefer to read or study their Bible like students rather than as servants. They would prefer to have their eyes opened to it rather than to have their eyes opened by it.
I don’t have any complaints about or disagreements with it at all, though I do want to add an observation.
When I think of “Big Eva,” a dozen plus names come easily to my mind. And when all those names come forward what does not come anywhere near my mind is cosmological Calvinism.
God has greatly blessed me through the ministries of many of the men who occupy prime bookshelf space in Reformed circles. I’ve attended many conferences of shepherds and been together with many Christians who really do love Jesus, the Gospel, and reading the Bible verse by verse. We’re already cut down to a sliver of the Evangelical pie when using the shibboleths of “Calvin,“ or Solas, and our kind of Evas eagerly embrace all of the above in fives.
However, if one of the characteristics of manliness is taking responsibility, many preaching men (and those who listen to and become like them) are limited, by principle, to responsibility in two dimensions. We are Men of the Page, not men of the public square. Our commitment to the truth doesn’t mean that we only talk about truth in private, but the way we hold that commitment means we only know how to swing the sword of truth when it relates to things that are Bible Proper.
The Bible, though, reveals that God is concerned about more things than just the things that are in the Bible. This was an obvious, biblical conclusion that brought me to repentance some years ago after too many years of blindness. Jesus made the world, and He is interested in, and has standards for, all that He made. That includes nations, governments, laws, and courts, as well as cultures, flags, relationships, genders, libraries, and dictionaries. But a certain type of Bible-defended dualism paints over much of the Evangelical scene I’ve seen, and that creates a Kuyperian-sized blind spot. Instead of seeing all the thumb’s-widths of Christ’s domain, we’ve got our thumb covering the lens on the camera.
This isn’t to say that the Big Eva preachers don’t know better. But I’m not sure they know what they don’t know. They should. It’s written in neat serif font in the Bibles they read, teach, and defend. Yet our manliness can only mature so much because we’re taught that we should only take responsibility for so much, which is basically a responsibility for reading the Bible (which, as I’m arguing, is something we’re ironically not even doing well).
So there is an existing effeminacy of silence about all the things the Bible is good for before there is a silence on drag queens in the libraries. I agree with all of Wilson’s “reasons for such silence,” I’m just adding this one. Much of the silence about, for example, the sexual revolution comes from a myopic doctrine of God’s sovereignty. I know that most of my Reformed, baptistic brother-preachers, along with the Big Eva squad, fully believe that they are engaged in the “fight,” but their chosen field of battle has the same size footprint of their calfskin leather Bibles.
When we think about world missions and reaching the unreached people with the gospel, when we think about being salt and light to our city, when we think about loving our neighbors in a way that benefits their souls, we should not underestimate the centrality of the Lord’s Supper.
Communion is a meal of victory and harmony. When we eat the bread and drink the wine by faith, we remember the Lord’s death, and victory over sin, until He returns, and His final victory over ever enemy. Also, when we eat and drink together, we share as one body of Christ and in one cup of blessing.
Paul quoted Psalm 18:49 in Romans 15:9. It is the first of four quotations in a row (two Psalms, one Deuteronomy, one Isaiah), all making the point that the hope of the Gentiles is in Christ.
But before and after those verses, Paul refers to our receiving one another.
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (verses 5-6)
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (verse 13)
When we receive one another as Christ receives us (Romans 15:7), when we live in harmony with each other, and have hope that God Himself will make us one, we are giving reason for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy.
There are at least four different expectations when it comes to good works.
A man could expect that his good works will please the wrong god. Or, a man could expect that his good works, by themselves, will please the right God. Or, a man could expect that his good works mean nothing to God and that God only cares about faith. Or, a man could expect that His good works will be blessed by God because he has faith that God said so.
We know that idolatry is wrong; offering costly sacrifices in a ritual context don’t matter if those sacrifices are to a false god; prepaying for $80 worth of gas doesn’t matter if you pump the gas into the trash can. We also know that without faith it’s impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and that the best a man can do on his own is nothing noteworthy to God (Isaiah 64:6). We are not saved by works (Titus 3:5).
But, how often do sola fide kind of people not actually have fide that God blesses obedience? We believe that God wants us to believe, but we don’t believe that God uses believing obedience as a means to His ends of giving us good.
Wisdom speaks in Proverbs 8 about the life and honor and value and enduring wealth and fruit that comes from finding wisdom.
And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. (Proverbs 8:32-34)
The place of blessed, happy good is obedience by faith. Do you believe God about that? And then to you commit to keep His ways? What do you expect?