Monday, July 12, 2010

"This Is the Victory"

(Friends: this is a bit longer than usual, but if I could communicate one thing to every believer in the world, this might very likely be it. Thanks, Glen).

"This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not grievous, for whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world. And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (I John 5:3-4).

The Apostle John's affirmation of triumph in Christ calls us to a completely different perspective than often characterizes our thinking.

First, John declares that it is the love of God whereby His will is maintained in our hearts, minds, and practice (the literal translation of "keep His commandments"). We might rather think it is our love for the Lord that causes such devotion, and certainly we are called to respond in love. However, any interest in us for the will of God flows not from ourselves, but from the indwelling presence of the Lord Jesus who declared unto His Father: "I delight to do Thy will, o God" (Psalm 40:7; Hebrews 10:7). He is always the source, motivation, and enabling of devotion to God, even as the Apostle Paul wrote, "It is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). We respond to His working in freely determined faith and submission, and are actively engaged in "working out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). Nevertheless, we always know that all credit for our loving and performing God's will is His alone.

"His commandments are not grievous." In the original language of the New Testament, this means that God's will is not weighty or burdensome. Our thinking must reflect this Truth if we are to consistently experience it in our lives. Do we instead think of obedience as being difficult? Many believers do, and reveal that their understanding of the will of God is based on their flesh rather than John's "this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments." Past experience, present feeling, and prospects of the future direct attention to our flesh, telling us that obedience to God is either difficult or impossible. For our flesh, that is, for our human faculties and members, this is true. "The flesh profiteth nothing" (John 6:63). Obedience is utterly beyond our human capacities. If we are thinking Biblically, however, we realize that the source and power of obedience is "the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5). The commands of Scripture must not be viewed as directed to merely ourselves, but to ourselves united with the motivating and enabling Spirit of the Lord Jesus. "I have overcome all things" He proclaimed, and by Him we must view ourselves as abundantly equipped to do the same. "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."

"Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world." Salvation births the living Christ in our spirits. He lives in us so that we may live by Him. The keeping of God's commandments must always be viewed in this dynamic context of "He lives, we live." "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him" (I John 4:9). Keeping this perspective leads to keeping our Lord's commandments, that is, we have great expectation of faith and obedience because our focus is not on ourselves, but on the Christ who "is able to do exceeding, abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Ephesians 3:20).

Paul declared that obedience to God was not only the desire of his innermost selfhood, but the very delight of it - "I delight in the law of God after the inward man... I myself serve the law of God" (Romans 7:22-25). This affirmation of joy in obedience to God resulted from Paul being united to the Christ who declared, "I delight to do Thy will, o God." Do we hold this perspective of ourselves? Do we believe that our delight is to glorify our Lord and do His will? If not, obedience will seem burdensome and weighty because we are not adequately believing the Truth of God's Word. Again, "this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." Believers are called to an abundantly confident expectation of obedience based on the fact of who dwells within us. The thought of obeying God should thrill us because we are supercharged through Christ to do so. Indeed, if the word "grace" fills our hearts with delight, but the word "obedience" seems heavy, we can be sure that we are not understanding grace or obedience as defined by the New Testament.

Regardless of past experience, born again believers in the Lord Jesus are called to believe that this moment - and all to come - are more likely to be characterized by faith and obedience than by sin. We know the latter is possible, recognizing that we still possess flesh inhabited by a "law of sin" (Romans 7:23). We nevertheless affirm that "ye are not in the flesh but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you" (Romans 8:9). We also know that "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2). The New Testament's continual affirmation of "so great salvation" calls us to confident expectation of the indwelling love of God motivating and enabling reciprocal love for Him. Indeed, it is this confidence whereby we "wait for the hope of righteousness by faith" that firmly establishes our feet on the path of faith and obedience (Galatians 5:5). Any other perspective reflects the carnal mindedness Paul pronounced as "death" (Romans 8:6). "To be spiritually minded is life and peace" wrote the Apostle, calling us to affirm the Christ who is our life and our peace (Colossians 3:4; Ephesians 2:14). This is the victory, His victory, that overcomes the world and honors our Lord as we keep His commandments.

"Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places."
(Ephesians 1:15-20)

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