Beloved Child of Mine

Buried in the minor prophets of the Old Testament is a prophecy that I believe came true in you and me.  Looking ahead through the centuries, God said through the prophet Zephaniah, “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.  He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph 3:17).

Is there a day coming when God will take great delight in you and rejoice over you with singing?  If you have believed and embraced God’s message of forgiveness through Jesus Christ, that day of singing over you is today.  That day of delighting in you is now.

One place this prophecy is fulfilled, among many other places, is in a short verse in Ephesians in the New Testament.  “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph 5:1).  The fulfillment is wrapped up in three words – “as beloved children” – and there is so much depth of meaning in that phrase.

All of us have a father.  It is a fact of being human.  I had the joy of having a good father.  But I know that is not always the case.  Having a father and having a father who calls us beloved (and treats us that way) is not always the same thing.  Many in our circle have been hurt by fathers who were heavy on the rebuke and shame and light on the affirmation and love.  But no matter your father background, you do have a heavenly father who delights in you.

First, you are God’s child.  It is that simple.  When you trusted Christ to take away your sins, you were adopted into God’s family.  This adoption into the family of God is incredible.  But even more incredible is that you are not only God’s child, but you are a beloved child.  God loves you with an everlasting love that cannot be broken.

And this takes us back to the first part of Ephesians 5:1, “Be imitators of God.”  When you read this command, what is your first thought.  For most of us it might sound like, “Well, that’s impossible.  Good luck with that.”  An imitator of God?  Who can reach that high standard?

I contend that you can because of the rest of the verse.  Yes, in our own strength, in our own power, in our own effort, it is impossible to live up to imitating God the Father.  But look at the rest of the verse.  You can move in that direction because you are a beloved child; made able through the blood of Jesus Christ and sealed by His Holy Spirit.

If you had an affirming and loving mom and dad, you wanted to imitate them.  You saw something noble in them, even if you did not know what to call it, that made you want to be like them.  Their example was something you wanted to follow.  As God’s beloved child, we feel the want to.  Who would want to disappoint such a loving Father?

But He does not just give us the desire.  He gives us the ability to imitate Him by giving us something no earthly father can give a child; himself living inside the child.  You father may have set a great example.  Your father may have taught you many skills.  Your father may have taught you how to carry yourself such that you had a toolbox of how to imitate your father.

But God goes way beyond that.  Through Jesus, God is actually living His life in you.  And not just living it.  He is loving it; to the point of taking “great delight in you and rejoicing over you with singing.”  You are a beloved child!

Overcomer

Rhonda and I recently went to the movie “Overcomer”.  It is a message of hope, forgiveness, and restoration.  We follow along as the main character, a high school cross-country runner, finds new life in Jesus.

Following her conversion, she begins to learn who she really is by listing all that God says about her as a new believer.  She started in the book of Ephesians.  And her list is incredible.  “I am loved, I am chosen, I am redeemed, I am forgiven, I am a child of God, I am raised up with Christ, I have been brought near to God… and so much more”.

At the end of the film, she shared her story with her new college friends.  One line of her testimony touched me deeply.  After talking about some of the new labels God has pronounced upon her, she said, “The Creator is the one who defines the creature.”  The Creator is the one who defines who you are.

Who we are in Christ is not left to our description, not left to how we feel, or how we experience life, or our past, or how we describe ourselves.  Who we are in Christ is defined by what God says about us.  And these new and beautiful ways we are described are not just theological jargon or blanks to fill out in a notebook.  They really are who we are.

But we will only experience the freedom, the joy, and the peace of these new truths about us if we really believe they are true.  If we believe, by faith, that we are loved, chosen, redeemed, forgiven, a child of God, raised up with Christ, brought near to God … and so much more.  If we believe that God Himself, and His grace, live inside us, we will walk in this broken world with His guidance leading us.

I love this thought from Ted Dekker in his book, The Forgotten Way, “It is never what you believe about yourself that defines you; it is your Father’s opinion of you that defines you.  Your opinion of yourself only defines the experience you have in this life.”

My prayer and my passion in writing on our new identity in Christ is to help each one of us bring our thoughts about ourselves into alignment with what God says about us.  But it is even more than this.  This alignment in our thinking is just the start.  The next step?  To let what God says about us penetrate beyond our minds to our deepest heart and not just be our theology, but be our actual every day experience as well.

And the experience of being an overcomer, of seeing everything God says about us come to life in our day-to-day walk, is brought about by faith.  “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (I Jn 5:4).  If you have embraced the gospel message, you are a child of God; a son or daughter who has overcome the world by faith.  Believe what God, your heavenly Father, says about you!

To Love as God Loves

Love is not just an attribute of God.  Love is His very essence.  And as His child, love should be our essence as well.  It should be our aroma, our inclination, our motivation, our choice.

The book of I John can be summarized by chapter 4, verses 7-9.  “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and every one who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.”

God is love.  Love is God’s essence.  And He demonstrated that love by sending His only Son into the world that we might live through Him.  And because love is God’s essence, the one who is born of God, a child of God, will also be known by their love; demonstrated by their love for one another (I Jn 4:7).

While the love we practice has its foundation in our identity in Christ and He living His life through us, there are some specific reservoirs from which our love flows.  The apostle Paul writes, “The goal of our instruction is love that flows from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (I Tim 1:5).  Paul’s goal is to teach us to love in a way that taps into our pure heart, our good conscience, and our sincere faith.

When you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you received a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.  These were pure gifts of God’s grace.  You did not earn them by your genius, your popularity, or your good works.  But even though we received these for free, the act of seeing love flow freely from these gifts requires some choices on our part.  The flow of love is not automatic.  It is up to us to tap into our pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith.  It is our choice of how we experience and maintain this flow of loving one another.

Suppose someone gave you a gift of a new Maserati, one of the most expensive cars in the world.  If you settled in behind the steering wheel and then just stared out the window, what would happen?  NOTHING!  If you just sat there with no action on your part, what would happen?  NOTHING!  For you to enjoy and experience the gift, you have to take some action.  You have to turn the key, rev the engine, put the car in gear to get something going.  You have to steer, turn, accelerate, and brake to experience all the car is offering to you.  You have to take some action.

In your spiritual life, all that Christ offers to you; a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith is sitting there under the hood as it were.  But we have to turn the key, rev the engine, and put it into gear to tap into the spiritual energy we need to let the love flow.  Take the first step of offering your love to the one who needs you, to the people God has brought into your life.  Start somewhere even if the first step is small.

Loving one another from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith is a tangible expression of the Christ who lives in us.

Victory is Waiting

Let’s take a last look at the symbolism in Israel’s Old Testament journey to the promised land.  Recall that the wilderness represents the believer who, having received the Holy Spirit, is not experiencing His presence.  He struggles to live the Christian life by his own efforts as if the Spirit were not there on the inside.  The promised land, on the other hand, represents the Christian life at rest; a life of walking in the Spirit by faith.  Or put another way, a life lived in the power of the risen Christ.

If you think about it, there is a brand of Christian teaching today that is basically how to survive in the wilderness.  It holds no promise of a life at rest, only a life at work.  We must keep the work level up to be accepted and approved by God.  And if it has a soundtrack, this is what we hear.  “The Christian life is going to be very difficult, but God said to do it.  You are not going to want to walk in His ways, but it is what is required.  This obedient life is going to be a drudgery, but buck up and stick to it.  All of this will feel like a burden, but take courage heaven is coming.”

There is not a lot of joy or optimism in that kind of teaching.  And it is also not what the over-arching message of the New Testament teaches.  Not only do you have a new heart, a new nature, a new power, and a new Spirit inside, but in a very misunderstood and underappreciated promise, you also have a new hunger, a new “want to” inside you.  As Andrew Murray wrote in The Two Covenants, over a hundred years ago, “The New Covenant’s central promise is a heart delighting in God’s law and capable of knowing and having fellowship with Him.”

God is inviting you out of the wilderness.  God is inviting you to cross the symbolic Jordan River.  God is inviting you into His rest in the here and now.  And we enter that rest by faith.  Faith that even when we are not feeling it, we do indeed have a new heart, a new nature, a new power, a new Spirit, and a new hunger to follow God’s ways.

Once we recognize God’s offer of rest and embrace it by faith, those negative voices of shame we saw at the top of this blog post are replaced by the incredible promises of God.

  • His burden is light and His load is easy (Matt 11:30).  Why?  Because Christ Himself is in the yoke doing the heavy lifting.
  • His commandments are not burdensome (I Jn 5:3).  Why?  Because you were made for this.  God is good and His instruction is for our good.
  • Our old self and its evil practices have been laid aside (Col 3:9).  Why?  Because sin is no longer your master.  Christ is our guide.
  • His divine power has given us everything we need for godliness (II Pet 1:3).  Why?  Because Christ is always near to give us the energy and desire.
  • We are no longer slaves to sin (Rom 6:7)  Why?  Because our old nature died with Christ and sin has lost its power over us.
  • Christ is living His life through us (Gal 2:20)  Why?  Because He came to indwell us and as instruments of good, we show His goodness to the world.
  • We are motivated by love, not by selfish ambition (II Cor 5:14).  Why?  Because we have the Spirit to influence and check our motives.
  • There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1).  Why?  The price has been paid in full by our Savior.  There is no more shame or rejection from God.
  • Christ has set us free (Gal 5:1), and He invites us to walk in that freedom.

Of course, these promises are just the tip of the iceberg.  Just the New Testament imagery of God as our good and tender and kind Father – that one concept alone – carries incredible implications for resting in Him.

By God’s grace, I believe the church and it’s teaching on discipleship is headed in this direction.  I am seeing so many musicians, artists, teachers, and preachers recognizing this supernatural provision of Christ and His Spirit living in us.  And it is leading to freedom, joy, and peace in the our Christian experience.

Will you join us?  Is the path in this promised land always smooth?  Not at all.  Just as for the nation of Israel, there are battles to be fought even in the promised land.  Sin, though no longer our master, still presses upon us with its ugly and lying influence; it’s guilt and shame, it’s fear and worry.  But victory – powered by our faith and the sureness of God’s promises – is waiting!

The Defeated Enemy

Over the past few months, we have been considering the connection between our path to spiritual growth and the experience of the children of Israel on their path to the promised land.  We have compared Israel’s escape from Egypt with our initial salvation which set us free from sin’s penalty.  We have compared God’s promise to take Israel into the land with His promise to us of a Sabbath rest.  This is not a one-day-a-week rest.  This is a life of rest in Him.  A life of walking in the Spirit by faith.  A life of peace and victory.

Finally, when Israel shrunk back and refused to go into the land due to a lack of faith, they were destined for a generation of wandering in the wilderness.  This detour is a picture of today’s believer who shrinks back from God’s promise of freedom from the power of sin.  The wilderness Christian is content to live the life in his own power, going around in circles without direction; without progress along the path of spiritual maturity.

If this gospel analogy between Israel and us is awakening something in you, we have one more passage about Israel’s journey that, quite frankly, blows me away.

Let’s fast forward from Israel’s initial rejection of entry into the promised land.  Forty years of wandering in the wilderness have now passed.  A new generation of the children of Israel are camped across the Jordan River from Canaan, ready to cross over and enter the land of promise.  Joshua, Moses’ successor and leader of the nation, has sent two spies into the land reminiscent of an earlier spy mission forty years before.

When the spies arrived in the house of Rahab, the Canaanite, in the city of Jericho, they made a startling discovery.  Listen to it in Rahab’s own words to the spies.  “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away [become demoralized] before you.  For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.  And when we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (Josh. 2:9-11).

What did the spies discover?  That for forty years, Canaan had been a defeated foe.  The people of Canaan, who the original Israelite spies said were giants that would devour their woman and children, were only paper tigers.  They had already conceded victory to Israel forty years ago when Israel crossed the Red Sea.  Their Canaanite “hearts melted” and they had “no courage” to take on the children of Israel.  But instead of claiming this victory when they were on the doorstep of the promised land, Israel shrunk back and marched around the wilderness completely unaware that the so-called giants of the promised land had already given up; had already lost hope of defeating God’s people.

Faithless Israel had no idea that the victory was already theirs.  The enemy had already given up.  So how does this compare to our experience today?

When you look at the path ahead, do you see giants?  So you see besetting sins that cannot be conquered?  Do you see a past that holds you in prison?  Do you see unrelenting guilt and shame, fear and worry, pride and selfish ambition?

Did you know that all of these enemies were defeated by Jesus at the cross?  Yes, the victory is ours even when we are unaware or unsure if that is really true.  How can I know that for sure?  Because the Bible tells me so.  Because God not only told us about it; He promises to do something about it.  He sent Jesus to die in our place, the righteous for the unrighteous, for two purposes.

One to take away our guilt before a holy God and remove the penalty of sin from our future.  But He also died to remove the power of sin in our present by literally coming to live His life in us.  This is what the Bible means by us “being justified by Christ’s death and being saved by Christ’s life” (Rom 5:10).  So in the here and now, He is offering you a promise to set you free from guilt, shame, fear, worry, idolatry, pride, and sin’s mastery in your life.

This is the lesson of Joshua chapter 2.  Read the whole chapter and you will see a beautiful picture unfold of laying claim to victory over an already defeated enemy.  For us, the power of sin still raises its ugly head in the life of a believer, but pick up your sword of faith and lay claim to the victory that is in Christ Jesus.