In him thou hast given me so much that heaven can give no more.
– from The Gift of Gifts
The Valley of Vision
In him thou hast given me so much that heaven can give no more.
– from The Gift of Gifts
The Valley of Vision
Isaiah 48:9–11 “For my name’s sake I defer my anger;
for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.
So, God saved us. Some of you might be asking the next logical question: Now what?
What do we do now? This life I was living before: lying, sexual deviances, pride, foolishness, rage, gossip—these are sins that I was dwelling in before, and I know how they are not pleasing to God. So do I go back to the way I was living?
Or maybe you are saying is that I don’t want to go back. This deal that I have received is much so much sweeter than what I had. I have dealt with abuse, addiction, disease, and sickness. I can’t go back.
For both of the newly minted Christians and everyone else in between, let us never forget that when God saves us, we are most certainly changed, but we are not instantly perfect. Like, my circumstances are still the same, and it takes so much effort and energy just to react differently than I did previously. And for some who suffers and had suffered from mental health issues like PTSD (like myself), your circumstances are maybe good, bad, or neutral, but God didn’t instantly heal you of your past trauma. So the triggers might still happen. For me, I was saved for several years and was in an unhealthy marriage where triggers were not stopped.
And just because God saved me didn’t mean everything magically gotten better. For some of us, it got a whole lot worse.
Now, I can throw the following verse at you, and take a moment to highlight the key phrase in verse to make sure you understand the nuance in the text:
Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
I think most of us get that. All things mean all things. All means good and bad. But exactly does that mean and what does it mean for me?
In other words, I signed up to be a Christian. What should I expect from God now that I am predestined, called, justified, clean, protected, regenerated, and adopted?
What we should expect from God is that we should bank on his absolute promise that we will be perfect in every way. Not “saved but still do some light sinning on the side”. No, we will stand before God, we will look like his Son.
We have a two-fold process. One, it is the wrath-absorbing death of Jesus Christ that produces a spotless robe so that God covers your sin. But it is the blood-drained body of that same Jesus that cleanses you from the inside—yes, even those wicked, sinful thoughts you have in your mind and heart. When you stand before God, you are going to be covered by Christ’s work and you are going to be perfect by the work of the Holy Spirit.
And this will take a lifetime.
For some I know who got saved, they were immediately broke free from crippling addictions. It happened to me. The moment I got saved from a decades-long addiction to porn. But what I learned later is that doesn’t mean the temptations doesn’t come after you. And it doesn’t say you won’t fall. I certainly did. But was the difference between my old self and new self? I got right back up. By the grace of God, I kept getting back up after every time I fell.
Proverbs 24:16 for the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.
Let us rejoice in the fact that this is not some absolute limit of how many times a Christian can sin before he is let go by God. What it does mean that the righteous ones of God will always get up one more time they all the times they have fallen. That is because of the strength, love, and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Which is indeed true but I think we need to flip back over to his previous letter get a stronger point:
Romans 6:1–14 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but grace.
In other words, that old self is dead. When God saves you, Christ took your old self with him when he died. However, unlike Christ who is holy and righteous, your sin, your old self, wasn’t raised from the dead. It remains dead. You are alive in Christ. Live in that!
Ezekiel takes it one step further and declares a complete heart transplant by God the Good Surgeon:
Ezekiel 11:19–20 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
Notice the order. First, he gives us a new heart. Next, a new spirit. He does so by removing our stony, hard, cancerous sin-filled hearts and replaces it with a soft, healthy, fleshy heart. But it is only now we have this new heart, we get to walk in his statutes and keep his rules and obey them.
So you see, this is the work of God in your active obedience to God that He will transform you to the image of His Son. 1
But we just established that this process doesn’t often happen overnight but rather in a lifetime. I think we know our part: we see it in the Bible. But what is God’s part in all of this?
To know God’s part, we have to look at the promises he has for his children when comes to molding, transforming, shaping, growing, and renewing us to look like His Son.
First, he will sanctify, or that is, make us holy by our faith. Look at what Paul says when he gives a testimony of God saving him on the road to Damascus:
Acts 26:15-18 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
It is your faith, which is a gift from God 2, that makes you holy. Not only you are declared holy because God is holy 3, you will be holy because of your faith in the God who the angels in heaven declare is “holy, holy, holy!”
You are declared and made righteous because of your faith in God. If you believe in his word and trust his promises, you will live as though you believe. Not to do so is hypocrisy.
It is this very idea that separates the theologies and doctrines of the Roman Catholics and the Protestants: It is not that the little things we do that have no heart and no meaning behind them in order to pay for our sins, but it is that we, Protestants, believe that Christ took care of all of my sins once and for all and now, he sits at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. We contend that the righteous shall live by faith. 4
Second, he will continue to refine us by allowing us to be put into certain situations or experience certain afflictions so that we would grow and mature. God gave Paul a messenger of Satan to harass him so that “it would keep him from being conceited.”
We might think of that is insanity or even cruel. I am going to use a phrase that only the most serious gym-goer would understand: progressive overload. Progressive overload is the idea that for you to be faster, stronger, and have more endurance; you will need to keep increasing your weights, reps, and your time. In other words, you cannot keep going to the gym, keep doing the same thing over and over again. In fact, if you do, you will become weaker because the body is exceptionally terrific at being efficient.
Likewise, whatever God sends our way, even suffering, will produce not only endurance, and not only a godly character, but ultimately produces a hope that does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 5
Third, when we mess up, He will discipline us as a good parent would.
Hebrews 12:5–6 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
When we mess up, we are given the strength to get up that once more time. But our Father does not want us to suffer the sins that we keep committing. So sometimes, discipline is involved.
I hesitate to share this story, but I know that this is the clearest example I know of my Father disciplining me. I was dating a gal that I should not been dating. It wasn’t she was a harlot or nothing like that. I just knew I shouldn’t be seeing her. Despite all of that, I made the mistake of telling God, “Do your work in me”. And I cannot begin to tell you the immense amount of suffering that I endured including loss of job, losing a place to stay until we finally broke up.
So, what will all of this sanctifying conformation look like?
Some of it will look like suffering. To be heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, we will have to suffer with him so that we may be glorified with him. But we are not to consider the sufferings of this present time to be worthy of comparison to the glory that will be revealed to us. 6
Some of it will look like Israelites wandering in the desert (see the book of Exodus) but know it is God that drew you out in the wilderness but He also is the same God who will be closer than a whisper and will never leave your side. 7
Some of it will look like death as though we are walking through the valley of the stench of death but never forget that Jesus Christ is the lily of the valley whose fragrance smells of life. 8
I perish without you.
I cannot live without you.
Apart from you., the hole in my inner being remained infinitely empty. Without you, I strived and pushed and pulled and made idols and did whatever I need to do in order to fill my soul.
But all of it comes up empty.
But you, O Lord, not only fills my heart to the brim but gives my soul brand new life. Now, I run after you. Now I walk with you. Now you are with me and I am with you forever.
Lord, give me the fullness of your Spirit so I might walk in your statues and obey your commands. More than that, that I would have the strength to do you what you have called me to do.
For my joy and your glory.
I love you.
And here is love: … and those whom he called he also justified...
This is the steadfast chain of salvation that links us to God forever and ever.
Predestination is God’s mere thoughts, affections, will, and decisions towards us. From eternity past, God thought of us specifically and was mindful of us intentionally.
Calling is the voice of God that actively makes us alive in our dead and sinful state. The calling of God is the voice of the Father bringing us to life and calling us according to His purpose.
But, to be justified by God? That is the awesome grandeur splendid of his glorious majesty.
How come? The justification of God for his people alone was not done as predestination in the secret community of God himself before time and space were created. Also, being justified by God was also not clearly observed by the intended target, namely the individual saved by God.
Justification of the people of God was done on the grandest scale that changed the course of mankind for all of eternity. Atheists disbelieve in God. Agnostics question the existence of God. But since it happened, there is no human with access to written history can ever deny the historical evidence nor significance of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ upon that cross on Golgotha as ordered by Pontius Pilate some 2000 years ago.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Death, who laid so many claims to so many lives, would have its own existence claimed by the death of the Son of Man upon that same hill.
But why such extremes? Why did the Son of God have to perish so that others will live?
For you see, apart from God and without God we stand before God with no representation. We stand before a good and right judge who rightly judges his people from not his people.
Divide those who called upon His name to be saved and those who suppress their own knowledge in order to defy his plainly observed existence. 1
Bifurcate those who have the gift of the Holy Spirit from those have experience and claim the deeds the power of the Holy Spirit for themselves. 2
Separate those who live according to the Spirit from those who live according to the flesh. 3
Redirect those who have entered the narrow gate of life away of the masses on the wide gate to destruction. 4
Justification is often referred to as a legal term because one, it is and two, a trial actually occurred.
Matthew 27:15–23 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
Barabbas is us and Christ is Christ! There is no coincidence nor mistake in the timing of the feast of the governor and the trial of Jesus.
And there is no mistake that the gospel of Matthew has more details about this occasion than the other gospels. This was the rhythm of the Old Testament: animals killed and drained of their blood and then grilled to a burnt crisp upon the altar. Also, the priest praying, laying on hand upon the goat and to release that scapegoat into the wilderness with all the sins of the people to be forgotten forever and ever. All of that didn’t accomplish what it represented but it pointed to this one singular day. Barabbas versus Jesus.
Barabbas was guilty as sin. Yet, Christ stood in his place to appease the blood-thirsty crowds.
We are guilty as sin. Yet, Christ stood in our place to satisfy the just and holy wrath of God upon those do not believe and obey the Son of God. 5
And here is love, the cross of Christ where “steadfast love and faithfulness meet and righteousness and peace kiss each other”. 6
In the end, we will all stand before that same Son of Man. I will stand before my Savior. But instead of Jesus being mocked, stripped naked, shamed, and in excruciating torturous pain crying out to His Father, Christ Jesus will be glorious, sitting in majesty and at the right hand of the Father.
And I imagine that one person right after the other attempting to talk their way out be damned apart from him. They will give the grandest defenses and blame everything everyone but themselves. They will even claim that they were able to exercise the power of God by prophesying or casting out demons. They will even claim all of their good deeds that they have done all of their life. And Christ will simply say, “Be gone from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
I have heard some good intentioned Christians hope they have the sense of mind and spirit to claim the blood of Christ while standing before him.
But don’t you see? What do you think the Triune God would appear to us? Would he dare soften and lessen his glorious state just for our sake? I think not.
We will stand before him in complete awe and shock. Likewise, what do I have before my sweet Savior who loved me and gave himself up for me?
I have not enough tears to express the depth torment of my sins that plagued me since birth. But I have no song that will be good enough to express His worthiness of my praises. I will have no joy great enough that could properly convey the loveliness of my beautiful God.
How can I defend myself?
I lay prostrate, my face hot with tears, as his glory is too bright and my eyes are too blurred to take it all in. I cannot imagine I will know what to do or what to say.
But then I hear the whisper of the One who has been with me from the moment my Father called me out of the darkness and despair. He tells me, “Do not be afraid”.
In that same sweetest and most joyous voice, I hear His Spirit bear witness with my spirit, “Father, this is your son!”
Christ turns to His Father and My Father as if to say, “What do you say?”
The Father bellows out in a voice that shakes the heavens, “This is my son in whom I am well-pleased!”
It is then my glorious God, the Son of God who is the Son of Man, the Living Word, the Spotless Lamb, King of kings, and Lord of lords, descends from this throne comes to me, sets me upright before him, drapes his own spotless robe over me, and declares with once and for all to hear, “NO CONDEMNATION!”
I stare into the face of the loveliest face that I have ever seen in my existence and for the first time, I know that I am truly and fully known. I simply mouth these words, “Thank you, My Lord.”
He looks into my eyes, and with the sweetest smile, he says to me, “Enter in the joy of your master.”
It is only by the sovereign grace of our Father, through the power and might of the Holy Spirit, by the glorious life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus that we are justified to God forever.
When I think upon and converse with thee ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up, ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart, crowding into every moment of happiness.
– from Praise and Thanksgiving
The Valley of Vision
We have fully established that we are not fully alive despite being biologically alive. Throughout the Bible, starting in Genesis 2, God states that sin separates the soul of man from the spirit of God. And without God, we are dead.
And just being dead is not enough:
Ephesians 2:1–3 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
And just when we think that Paul is being too critical or even too harsh, look at what the Apostle John has to say 1:
John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
So you see, by being born and apart from God, we are doubly both dead in our trespasses and by nature children of the wrath of God.
Paul explains this in the best way by way of comparing our original father, Adam, and the second Adam, Jesus Christ:
Romans 5:12–21 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now I know that is a long passage, but let me put together a pros and cons list to help better see Paul’s point:
Sin came into the world through him
Righteousness came into the world through him
Death came into the world through sin
Life came into the world through him
Death spread to all men because all men have sin
Life given for many because Christ was sinless
Sin was the trespass of Adam
Grace is the free gift of Christ
Judgment brought condemnation because of trespass
Free gift brought justification despite many trespasses
Death reigned through Adam
Life reigns through Jesus Christ
Adam’s one trespass led to condemnation for all men
Christ’s one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men
Adam’s disobedience the many were made sinners
Christ’s obedience the many will be made righteous
the law came in to increase the trespass
where sin increased, grace abounded all the more
sin reigned in death because of Adam
grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ
So why so much focus on the distinction between the unbeliever and the believer?
The easy answer is because God makes that distinction quite clear in his word.
But the difficult answer lies with the beliefs of many Christians today.
A couple of years ago, I was put to the task of debating classic Calvinist Non-Calvinist views of Scripture after dinner with a friend. The debate was thoroughly enjoyable and quite full of passion.
My friend and I started shaking the word of God down to its core teachings (doctrines). I did not want to start off with hard-hitting verses on faith and regeneration (the question of which came first) until we established the what we did have in common: namely, the goodness and loveliness of our Lord Jesus Christ.
To make a long story, short, I contended that we must first have a new heart in order to choose God, have faith in Christ, and obey His commands by the power of the Holy Spirit. I argued, without God, we cannot choose God. I pointed to this verse (backed by John 1:12-13)
1 John 5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.
In other words:
So my friend said, “Exactly”. Colored me confused.
She contended that every person ever been born (which God calls “born of man”) is born of God. We ended our debate there.
God makes the clear distinction between unbelievers and believers. Calls them goats and sheep 2. Chaff and wheat 3. Weeds and wheat 4. Many of those who are on the wide road of destruction versus those who go through the narrow door of salvation 5. Those who set their mind on the flesh versus those who set their mind on the Spirit. 6
A life lived by absolutes is wholly not recommended. It is only where God makes clear distinctions between one way and the next is where we can be sure that there is no in-between.
So what can we say to all of this?
If we are saved by God, then God is our Father.
Romans 8:12–15 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
And if God is our Father, God absolutely promises we will look like His Son (and God does not break promises).
Romans 8:29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Hebrews 12:3–11 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
And if God is our Father, we will not stand before Him in our own defense as though we could do so in our own self-righteousness. No! God himself bears witness with our witness that we belong to Him.
Matthew 7:21–23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Romans 8:16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
And then God is our Father, and the Holy Spirit of adoption is our witness, then it stands to reason that Christ is our Eldest Brother. If that being the case, we are then co-heirs with He whom is heir to all things.
Romans 8:17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Hebrews 1:1–2 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
And to that end, you believe and trust in God, then the Father of Christ is your Father. We are His sons forevermore because a Perfect Father never loses his kids.
John 10:28–30 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
In some states, when a child is adopted, the law ensures that the adopted child is given an inheritance no matter what (assuming there is an inheritance to be left to the child) even if the natural born children are left out of the will. But even still, sometimes adoptive kids can feel like second-class family members in their own home; nevermind the reality of not being with your original parents.
But here’s why adoption has to be rightfully seen according to the Bible. By birth, we are children of wrath. All of us are born very much related to Adam in every conceivable way and that is terrible news. By Adam’s blood, we are born into sin and destined to die.
Christ takes it even a step further:
John 8:39–47 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
There is no neutral ground. Christ himself was perfectly clear. If God was our Father, we would love Christ and we would do his will. Otherwise, the devil is our father and we only do his will.
We were born in a sin state. But by God’s grace alone, we are born again. Because we were of a different family other than God’s, God adopts us into His own family. Furthermore, He saves us to himself forever. He promises that our being will look like His own Son because His own Son gives us his own robes of righteousness, and seals us with His Spirit. And because we are His children, we are given the world in order to go and proclaim the gospel of peace to every person and baptizing them in the name of our Father, our Savior the Son, and our Holy Spirit.
Mark 9:42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”
John 21:15–19 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
My Lord, You are the fountain of true life. I am dead without you. It is not that I can find this water on my own. For I am lost. and, my soul is dried-up and dead. I have no wisdom, strength, or spirit to find you. But you, O Lord, rescued me. You have brought me into your life and in your life alone, I am fully alive. My soul is no longer dried in sin but restored, covered, and filled with your never-ending grace. God, please keep me close so that I stay refreshed and satisfied in all of life.
And here is love: Romans 8:30b And those whom he predestined he also called…
So if there was nothing in us to attract, sway, or convinced God to love us and save us, what did God see in us before He saved us?
There is a war in our world to determine the value of a human’s life. Life today is no longer precious. Consider the life of a newborn or the life of a refugee. What are they to the world as a whole but lambs up for a slaughter.
But even biologically speaking, life of a human is determined by lungs breathing air, heart pumping blood. We could take it one step further that a life being lived to it’s capacity is one that is functioning on a brain or muscle capacity. And even further still, one that contributes to society.
But I am here to tell you that without the mark of the Spirit of God upon our lives as sons and daughters of God the Father, we are not fully made alive.
All humans born, or as the Bible puts it as all those born of Adam, do breath air and hearts pump blood. But to be born is to be born under the curse of our original father. That is, to be born is to be born into sin.
And there is no escaping that. It is impossible for any baby to be born without the sperm of a male to be joined to the egg of the female. It would take a miracle of God to be borned of a woman alone and thus, not to inherit the curse of Adam’s first sin.
Now, because we are born into sin, we are born to die. Consider Paul in Ephesians:
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” 1
or this in Titus:
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 2
Because of sin, we are dead. We are nothing more than spirit-less corpses toiling around until we fully expire. But the world wants to convince us all that there is actually life apart from God. And not only the world, but we ourselves as believers are strongly tempted to sin and stray outside the grace of God.
We are not fully alive until we are saved by God, given a new heart, and His Spirit within us.
So how does God go about that?
First, salvation by God starts with God’s sovereign choice. But salvation certainly doesn’t end there.
All throughout the Bible, there is a certain thing that God does over and over again—constant and perfect—prior to someone experience God’s salvation. While we would never know God’s choice in all matters but we can see the effects of some of his choices. And none quicker and clearer than the powerful and effectual calling of God.
Now, we see this in Genesis 12 when God called Abram to trust and obey him. We see the calling of God upon the birth and life of Isaac. Onward with Jacob, Joseph, Noah, Moses, and on it goes.
But we only see where it was 100% effective. Does God ever call on someone and they don’t follow him? Jonah tried but was made to be convinced otherwise.
The Bible never lists those who don’t follow God upon his calling because God’s almighty word never returns void. In other words, His word does not return back to him without fulfilling what God wants to do. 3 Consider this parable from Jesus:
Matthew 13:1–9; 18-23 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”
“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Christ said to himself that many will hear the word of the kingdom and yet, only a few where that word takes root, grows, and thrives. But we cannot confused the blanket preaching of the gospel to everybody to the ends of the earth (which we can joyfully participate in) along with the effectual calling of God.
For all that God intended to save, God will actually saved. So where we see when God calls individuals, God actually saves individuals. And now, we who possess His Holy Spirit now take the fullness and the power of gospel to everyone and everywhere, proclaim it forth and it is God who still saves.
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. 4
So God predestines. From there, God calls. When He actually calls, He actually saves. Salvation includes and new heart that springs forth new desires for God and His Spirit dwells within us.
If God charged a prophet to a call out to the valley of dry bones and they live, how much more powerful is the calling of God on those who are far from Him.
Consider the ultimate calling of God from death unto life.
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” 5
We know Jesus has raised those who were extremely ill to the point of being thought of as death. But Jesus quickly corrects with, “She’s just asleep”. But Lazarus was someone who was dead for four days. His body was wrapped and laid in the tomb.
This is the first time we’ve seen Christ step before not just His friend’s dead body but at Death itself. Through the deepest and darkest grief and pain of losing his friend, even for a moment, Christ looked upon His Father and with tears running down his cheeks, he simply prays, “Father, I thank you that you hear me and have heard me. I knew that you always heard me but I want everybody around here to know that as well so that they believe in me.”
It is Jesus Christ—the lord ruling over heaven, earth, and hell; the upcoming victor over Satan and his demons—faced death and with His own voice cut through Death’s power and call his friend back to himself: “Lazarus, come out!”
This was the first time Christ faced death and won. But wasn’t the last.
As Christ broken, hunged, and blood drained upon that cross, through excurciating and tortorous pain and grieve as he had taken all of all the sin of all believers of all time everywhere and as He was absorbing the wrath of God for us, He called upon His Father and declared, “It is finished”, and gave up His Spirit and died.
We might think that Satan, demons, hell, and especially Death absolutely believe that God was defeated and Christ was dead and by what they have seen, all of mankind would perish forever.
But no! It was when Christ died and gave up his life as ransom for many is the precise moment that Satan was crushed, demons were lorded over, hell was controlled, our sins abolished, and Death defeated once and for all.
That is a love that is simply unfathomable but that is exactly the fullest of God’s love for us.