The number one question young college students ask me is “What is God’s will for my life?” and “How do I find it?” I’m not sure I communicate it sufficiently to them, but I try to help them understand it is much more important to know that God will faithfully guide you than it is to know where He wants you to go.
As soon as the children of Israel left Egypt, God began the process of guiding them with a cloud, a pillar of fire, and the Holy Spirit:
“Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the desert. By day the pillar of cloud did not cease to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them...” Nehemiah 9:19-20
They knew their destination, the Promised Land, but God didn’t give them the map or specific directions. Instead, He guided them daily “on their path… on the way they were to take”.
Of course this is familiar to us, for He is the “light to our path” just as He was for the Israelites. But this is usually only enough for a few steps. The Way is clear, for Jesus said that He was the Way, and that should be sufficient for us, but we are often found demanding more than a few steps… we want the map and the detailed directions.
But God isn’t a Map. He is our Guide.
Which means we are to have a moment-by-moment eye upon Him… a constant watching and listening.
But what are we looking for? Are we seeking something that isn’t there?
Let’s look closer at the “light to our path” passage:
“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105
Most of us want something more than the Word to guide us. We are more interested in specific answers to our personal, all-about-me questions. We are impatient with the general wisdom and moral guidance of the Word and less inclined to desire the walk by faith and more inclined to just getting a direct answer to our question. This way we don’t have to wrestle or spend time in contemplation or study of the Word, or wait on Him in prayer, or seek godly counsel from others, or patiently watch for His providential Hand, or any of the other tedious and laborious things that are simply known as “walking by faith”.
There is something interesting throughout the passages that reference God “guiding” us, for it appears as if this is one of the key roles of the Holy Spirit. The Israelites were “instructed” by the Spirit in conjunction with the pillars of cloud and fire in the way they were to go. It was the Spirit that told Peter to “go downstairs” and eventually to the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:19-20); it was the Spirit that set apart Saul and Barnabas and sent them on their way to minister to the Gentiles (Acts 13:2-4); it was the Spirit that turned Paul’s path away from Asia (Acts 16:6). And Jesus said it would be the Holy Spirit that would “guide us into all Truth”.
The question is do we believe this is really real? Do we believe that God truly “guides” us by His Spirit? Isaiah spoke it this way:
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” Isaiah 30:21
In this context, it was this still small voice that led them to turn from their idols, throw them away with disgust and say “Away with you!”
So, we come to the key to all of this: the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit will always be in accordance with His Word or will remind us of the guidance in His Word. Too many have run asunder by confusing the voice of the Spirit with the voice of their inner desires, when their inner desires are far from the guidance of the Word.
One can also go to the other extreme and think that God has to guide them in every thing. However, the vast majority of things we do in a day are “adiaphrous”… meaning they are without an ethical right or wrong. We don’t have to be “guided” as to whether we are to tie our left shoe first or the right. We don’t have to pray for guidance about wearing the blue shirt or the green one, or if I am to sit on the sofa or in the armchair. We have freedom in all of these things.
But for the child of God, there is clear guidance when we come to those things that please God and those that don’t. And that guidance comes from His Word. The Word is the lamp unto our feet. And it is the Holy Spirit that prompts us with the Truth from His Word. This is similar to what we read in Proverbs 6: 21-22 where the commands of the father and mother, bound on the heart, speak to the son:
Bind them continually on your heart; tie them around your neck. When you walk about, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk to you. Proverbs 6:21-22
It is to be conversely understood that if they are not bound upon the heart, then you won’t hear them guide you. In fact, this reality is even a test of whether or not we are His children:
“… those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Romans 8:14
And so, we must say some things that are hard.
Every child of God has heard the Spirit guiding him from the Word. It isn’t audible. It doesn’t come with a chirp from our smartphone that a divine text has arrived. This is the recognized, still small voice of God that guides us as we walk along the Way. And I will be so bold as to say that if you don’t hear Him then you are either not His child or you are doing something that stills His voice.
One of the great mysteries in the Word of God, yet a fact, is that the Holy Spirit, our guide, can be silenced, doused, extinguished. 1 Thessalonians 5:19 says that it is possible to “quench the Spirit”. Similarly, Ephesians 4:30 says we can “grieve the Holy Spirit”. How do we do this? Well, the context of each of these passages may help us. In the former, do you find yourself always rejoicing or complaining? Are you diligent in your prayer or is it often forgotten or clinical? Are you giving thanks in everything or constantly murmuring? Are you abstaining from evil? In the latter, looking at chapters 4-6, do unwholesome words come out of your mouth? Are you angry, bitter? Are you unkind, lacking compassion, unforgiving? Are you walking in immorality or impurity? Are you not treating the members of your family right?
I know how much our culture is caught up in the Hollywood “show” of gushing over each other, saying the smooth things, the affirming, sweet things. But I don’t apologize for saying the hard things for God speaks them to us in His Word. If we think we will continue to hear His voice clearly when we are quenching the Spirit, then we don’t understand the Word nor how our Father deals with us as His children.
One of the simple clues that tells us we have grieved or quenched the Spirit, or run off on our own and no longer walk close or abide in Him, is that He we no longer hear His still small voice. I don’t know if this is because He grows silent or our ears grow hard, but this is the time, dear brothers, to awaken from our sleep and turn back to Him that we might enjoy His fellowship and guidance once again.
The true child of God cannot stay away very long for we, too, become grieved in our spirit. This is, also, a faithful guidance from God, who, though we stray, provokes us and guides us back to Him.
How full of grace is the guidance of God.
P.S. For those who are frustrated at this point because you do have a desire to find the “will” of the Lord in key decisions in your life, we will address this in another post. But it will not deviate much from this, for our guidance comes from the Word of God and the means to gain answers to those key questions in our life are found there as well.
Verses to ponder throughout the week:
... in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. Nehemiah 9:19-20
And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. Isaiah 30:21
Do not quench the Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 5:19
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Ephesians 4:30
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters. Psalm 23:1-2
…this is God, our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever. Psalm 48:14
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Psalm 73:24
And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us[a] from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:79
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak… John 16:13
You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode. Exodus 15:13
Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Psalm 25:4-5
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Psalm 119:105
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:9-10
I have directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths. Proverbs 4:11
Bind them continually on your heart; tie them around your neck. When you walk about, [a]they will guide you; when you sleep, [b]they will watch over you; and when you awake, [c]they will talk to you. Proverbs 6:21-22
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Isaiah 58:11
After the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked, “What have you given us?” His famous response was, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
Most focus on the fact that the Founders had established a Republic—a point that needs to be continuously made. But seldom do we ponder seriously his wise admonition that it must be “kept”, for the reality is that in a fallen world, it requires toil and sweat to grow and maintain both crops and Republics. Just as weeds will take over an untended garden, so will the relentless tide of political and societal weeds destroy our liberty and freedom if we are not diligent to tend our Republican garden.
If one were to step back and assess the health of our nation today, it would be easy to bemoan what appears to be a loss of rational civility—witness the recent call by a congresswoman to personally and publicly harass anyone in the current administration. That call was immediately carried out as an administration’s family was harassed and refused service in a public restaurant. Personally, I am increasingly fearful of the unchecked hatred that is openly seething in the left—with absolutely no accountability from the blue media.
These are tenuous times for the Republic.
So what do we do to “keep” it?
Well, other than the obvious: prayer, which the Scripture calls us to, the number one task that we have is to insure that our children are well schooled in the principles of liberty and freedom, which I believe are biblical principles—God’s design for the state. And, we have a responsibility to speak of them to our neighbors.
“These are the things that you shall do: speak the truth to your neighbor...” Zecharaiah 8:16
And third, we need to speak of them in the public square. When you can, write an attractively winsome letter to the editor or use some other public forum to graciously speak the truth. There was a time when most of the nation understood these principles—but now they are no longer taught in our schools. Instead, political and societal weeds are sown in our children’s minds throughout all academia. Those weeds are sown continuously from every quarter as well—especially from the media and the morass of entertainment—the fountain from which teens consume 9 hours/day and adults six.
That’s a lot of weed seed.
Teach and promote the foundations. Resist the false notion that the “keepers” are the elected officials or the cleric.
We are the keepers of the Republic... if we can.
P.S! addendum. Facebook refused to let me "boost" this post (Facebook doesn't release posts to all followers of a page, charging a fee to "boost" it to more followers). They refused because it was "political". Here we are, ironically on the 4th of July, facing the increased hostility towards those who express opinions from a biblical or conservative perspective. I believe Facebook has the right to refuse service to anyone, but if they censor this one, which is so benign, what will they do when I speak directly against things I believe are biblically wrong? Take note, we are going to have to find other means to communicate with each other as Internet companies like Facebook and Google use their worldview leanings to only allow postings favorable to their worldview.
Although this is one of the most oft-stated attributes of God: “God is good!”… “All the time!” we dutifully reply, it is also one of the most misunderstood and disbelieved. Misunderstood because we have crafted our own personal definition of “good”; and disbelieved because we “say” God is good, but often act as if He were not.
The former happens when I begin to think that I can define what is “good” for me and conversely what is “bad” for me. Notice here the prominence of “me”. When I do so, I have developed a false god because I believe that my golden calf or my Jesus doll should do what I want… not only bringing about what I believe to be “good” in my life, but also keeping me from any “bad”.
The latter is best described when Jesus quoted Isaiah: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8) He was describing the ugly situation in which people pretend to give praise and glory to God, but they don’t really believe it. Paul echoes this in Titus when he says “They profess to know God, but by their actions they deny Him.” (Titus 1:16) These are troubling statements for us because we, too, are deeply prone to say Christian phrases about God, but in the every day reality of our lives, act as if they aren’t really true.
Both of these deformities in our thinking are really from the same pathology. When I form in my mind what I think is “good” for me and then that “good” doesn’t happen, I begin to internalize the lie that God isn’t really “good”. And even more so, when something that I define as “bad” hits me, it reinforces in my heart, where my real beliefs are found, that God is not only not “good”, but I might even begin to think that He is “bad”. This is rapidly followed by bitterness toward God and/or disbelief and a rejection of Him.
There are many who have stumbled over this lie and are now trapped in a deep hostility or even hatred of God over some very difficult event in their past that didn’t turn out the way they wanted it to turn out. This self-centered thought process has given rise to the modern “problem of evil” where we can’t reconcile in our minds that a good God could exist if there is evil in the world. I actually see this from the totally opposite perspective. I am convinced that the presence of evil in the world actually confirms that God is good, for when the entire universe fell because of the rebellion of Adam, God could have evaporated everything and started over.
But He didn’t.
And not only did He not wad everything up and throw us in the cosmic waste bin, but He promised that He, Himself, would make the necessary sacrifice to save some and eventually restore all things. This only comes from a God who is truly good… a God whose steadfast love endures our rebellious hearts every day.
This is the ultimate demonstration of the goodness of God.
However, in response, we whine and protest about it all. We are like one who fell into the rapids, headed hopelessly over the raging falls that descend into a bottomless pit, and yet, having been miraculously rescued at the cost of the Rescuer’s son, we complain of a rope burn.
Trying to make even a partial list of the infinite ways that God is good would take days. For sure, He sustains all things and gives us breath; He pours out His generosity to us in a multitude of ways, giving us life and breath, sun and an earth that yields sustenance for us; He grants us sleep at night and the joy of community and fellowship and familial relationships; He gives us a mind and senses to think and feel and sample the world around us; He brings rain to refresh and the cool breeze to delight; He dazzles us with the colors of the sunrise and the beauty of the wildflowers in the meadow.
The goodness and generosity of God is innumerable.
Though much of what we have listed would match our own personal definition of “good”, we must not forget that the God who prunes is also good when He does so.
The problem is found in redefining “good” into “my pleasure” and thinking that God is somehow, because He is good, obligated to conform to my definition. And, conversely, He is obligated because of His “goodness” to keep me from all forms of discomfort or pain or loss or grief or lack of control or broken relationships or tragedy or just not feeling really chipper.
Do we mindlessly profess, “God is good” and yet when tragedy strikes or my plans get totally wrecked, become angry or upset or frustrated? If so, it reveals a heart that has embraced something other than “God is good… all the time”.
Now, of course, we aren’t saying that we should be happy when our dog dies or the sewer backs up into our basement. But any sense of inner joy in the midst of trials and tribulations is ultimately fed by the deep and unassailable belief that God is good.
As I write this, I am in South Carolina where I have come to spend time with family for a special event, yet I find myself isolated in a bedroom because I don’t want to infect my loved ones with whatever crud has descended upon me. I could sit here and fume about all of this, or I could rest in the goodness of God. I know that there are some who would say that God doesn’t want me to be sick, but physical wellness has never been promised to me. Paul instructed Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach ailments… ailments which must have been significant for Paul to write about in a time when it took weeks or months for correspondence.
And… death will someday take me as well.
Not only have I not been promised perfect health, but I have also not been promised perfect relationships or eternal dogs or dry basements. Our very dear friends lost their entire house and everything to the Black Forest fire several years ago. They didn’t have a divine promise that wouldn’t happen. But they do have, and we do as well, the surety that God is working everything out for “good” for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.
And it is here that we have the key to God’s goodness: He is faithful to fulfill the promises that He has made to His children according to His good purposes and plans.
I remember very clearly a talk I had with Joni Eareckson Tada. I asked her what she thought God was thinking just before she dove into the water and broke her neck, leaving her quadriplegic for the rest of her life. I was stunned by her answer. It went something like this: “Well, I think God was looking at me and saying, ‘There’s Joni. She’s been walking a path that isn’t for her good. But soon she will learn the depth of my love for her and the special way that she is going to bring glory to Me and have the most fulfilling life she could have ever imagined.’”
Now some would be astonished at this. But Joni isn’t. For she has learned the reality of what it means to say “God is good, all the time”… even in the most tragic of circumstances.
Peter, in his first sermon, declared that Jesus had been “delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God”. It is here, in this act of God, we find the greatest suffering bound up inextricably within the greatest good that has ever been graciously and generously poured out upon mankind.
How blessed is the man who sees the goodness of God in the trials of life, for he has gazed upon the face of God and is filled with a never-ending spring of joy that will sustain him through the valleys and the summits, the smiles and the tears, both in life and death.
Verses to ponder throughout the week:
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. Habakkuk 3:17-18
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7
And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. Exodus 33:19
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6
I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. Isaiah 63:7
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness.
They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. Psalm 145:3-7
For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty! Zechariah 9:17
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
In 1936, a humble shepherd in Montana became ill and was taken to the hospital. His dog, Shep, refused to leave his side and remained at the hospital doors day and night. When the shepherd died and they put his coffin on a train, Shep was there at the depot, whining terribly as the train and his master departed without him. For the next five years, Shep remained faithfully at the tracks. He met every train, four times a day, running up and down the cars, examining every person who got off, looking for his master.
There are many stories about dogs being faithful to their masters. Maybe this is one reason God made dogs... to teach us.
It has been said that faithfulness is one of the most critical characteristics a human being can posess and yet, in an “all about me” culture, it is one that is unfortunately waning. It is in these times that we turn our attention to the One who is forever Faithful.
Sometimes, when thinking about the nature of God, it is helpful to ponder what it would be like if God did not possess a particular attribute. This is one of those cases. We are quick to confess or even sing songs about the faithfulness of God, but rarely do we spend time meditating upon it or what it would mean if He were not faithful. Were we to sufficiently do so, I suppose it would bring us to our knees in thankfulness and deep gratitude.
The word “faithful” is somewhat unique, for it does not seem to follow the normal suffix pattern: meaning a “fullness” of something. “Joy-ful” means that someone is full of joy… so, too, “helpful” and “thankful”, “doubtful” and “sinful”, etc. As Christians, we are a “hopeful” people, meaning we are full of, and filled with, “hope”… or we should be.
But to say that God is full of “faith” because He is “faithful” doesn’t sound right. And it shouldn’t because the “faith” in “faithful” has a different meaning than we are normally used to. It is best illustrated in Deuternonomy 32:15, where God declared to Moses that he would not enter the Promised Land because of his actions before the people at the waters of Meribah-kadish. In speaking this, God said that Moses had “broken faith” with the Lord. Here the word “faith” is used to mean a commitment to a covenantal relationship. God had raised up Moses and put him in a special position of leadership. He was a representative, a messenger, an ambassador of God to the people. Moses was therefore in a “faith” relationship with God and he broke that faith when he acted in a way that did not, as God said, “treat Me as Holy in the midst of the sons of Israel”.
If we were honest, we would have to confess that we daily, if not more frequently, “break faith” with God, for we who are new creatures in Christ, sons of the living God, having God as our Father, are now witnesses, ambassadors, representatives of Christ to the world around us. When we, as sons and daughers, act in a way that is contrary to the nature of our Father, we “break faith” with Him. That is why we are in daily need of His forgiveness by the eternal sacrifice that cleanses us from all sin. This is, indeed, amazing grace!
But though we are not, God is fully faithful in everything that He does. He is true to His Word. He is true to His promises. He is true to His covenants and all of His purposes and plans.
This is why we are a people of hope. For if God were not faithful, we would be a most miserable lot. There would be nothing to trust in, nothing to hang on to, nothing to look forward to… for if God were not faithful, there would be no heavenly Jerusalem awaiting us nor a resurrection after death. There would be no hope of a time where sin will be no more, where tears are wiped away, where the lion does indeed lie down with the lamb and the viper does not strike. There would be no end of death, the grave would still sting and my constant sin would forever condemn me.
But God is faithful and always will be. To be otherwise would be to deny Himself and this He cannot do:
… if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself. 2 Timothy 2:13
Great is His faithfulness.
Amen and amen.
P.S. Shep remained faithful until the end. After years of greeting each train, fed by the depot staff, Shep grew old and began to lose his sight and his hearing. He was eventually struck by one of the trains and died. There is a statue honoring him at the Benton train station to this day.
To some extent, there is a parallel here. Our humble Shepherd also physically departed our world. May we be just as faithful awaiting Him.
Verses to contemplate throughout the week:
He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. Deuteronomy 32:4
In all that has happened to us, you have remained righteous; you have acted faithfully, while we acted wickedly. Nehemiah 9:33
For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. Psalm 33:4 Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Psalm 36:5
Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Psalm 86:11
But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Psalm 86:15
I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. Psalm 89:1
Who is like you, Lord God Almighty? You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you. Psalm 89:8
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100:5
He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them— he remains faithful forever. Psalm 146:6
This is what the Lord says— the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel— to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: “Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” Isaiah 49:7
Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, Israel with deceit. And Judah is unruly against God, even against the faithful Holy One. Hosea 11:12
“See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright— but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness— Habakkuk 2:4
But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. 2 Thessalonians 3:3
… if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself. 2 Timothy 2:13
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. Revelation 19:11
 If you recall, this where God told Moses to “speak” to the rock and it would bring forth water. Moses got caught up in himself and his anger, saying “shall WE bring water out of this rock again for you!?!” and instead of speaking to the rock, he struck it, as he did earlier in the Desert of Zin (Exodus 17). Moses struck the rock twice, probably because it didn’t work the first time. Paul tells us in 1 Cor 10:4 that the Rock was Christ… a typology that Moses had obviously disrespected by his actions.
I tremble writing this devotion of gazing upon the face of God, for I sense it could be the most important of all. J. I. Packer writes that the whole of the New Testament could be summed up under the heading “the Fatherhood of God” and that it is in this name that we find the “climax of the Bible”.
I fear my words are not capable of doing justice to this aspect of God’s nature. My prayer is that His spirit will make up for all that is lacking here.
When God introduced Himself to Moses, He gave him the name by which those under the Old Covenant were to primarily know Him: “the great I Am”… “Yahweh”. Appropriately, this Name focused our eyes upon the self-existence of God, his majesty and sovereignty, His holiness and purity, His utter transcendence and the absolute separation that existed between God and man. Nothing illustrated this more than the Holy of Holies, where only the High Priest was allowed to enter once a year and then only after a thorough ritual cleansing. Moses was not permitted to see the face of God lest he die and was told to take off his sandals, for while Yahweh was present he was walking on holy ground. The Law, therefore, became central in the Old Covenant—a revelation and daily reminder of man’s inability to sufficiently purify himself before this Holy, Transcendent Yahweh. A personal relationship with God was not primarily in view here.
But under the New Covenant, something radically changed. God did not change, but because of the work of Christ, the relationship with God changed and the New now revealed what the Old held in the shadows. Not only is Christ unveiled, but through His propitiation, God has acted to make us His children and He, our Father. This title has become the primary name of God for those who are now in Christ Jesus.
In fact, under the Old Covenant, the Jews considered it blasphemous to call God “Father”. They wanted to kill Jesus for saying such. But now, under the New Covenant, the Scripture explodes with this name of God. Jesus teaches us to pray, addressing God as our ‘Father’: “Our Father, who is in heaven, holy is your name.” Notice that God has not changed. He is still “Holy”. But because of Christ, our relationship to Him has changed… radically.
The veil has been torn!
As we read in Hebrews, we have been granted to enter the holy place, through the veil, because of the work of Christ. But this is not just getting to go in to the holy place… we walk in there because we are a son or daughter of the great I AM.
We are even enjoined to come boldly before Him!
… and call Him Daddy!
And this is not because of anything we have done, but because of the grace of God and His act of adoption whereby we are now declared to be His children.
My daughter and her husband have adopted two special needs children from China. It was totally their doing, under the providence of God, of course. But the point is that adoption is not a mutual selection process. It was initiated by the parents-to-be, paid for by the parents-to-be (with the gracious help of others, I must add), the children were chosen by the parents-to-be, the parents-to-be went a long distance to take them to themselves, etc. There was nothing my now grandchildren did that was necessary in this process. They didn’t sign any papers, they weren’t consulted, they didn’t choose their parents-to-be, they didn’t pay anything—no down payment, no closing costs, no co-pay… they didn’t even have to say “I do”.
So too, is God’s sole action to adopt us into His family… given rights as sons and daughters… now a child who has the privilege to call the holy, transcendent, I Am, our Father.
By the way, have you ever noticed just how “family” all of this is? We now call Him Abba, Daddy, Father. He calls us “sons”, children. Jesus is not only called our brother, but He is also called the Bridegroom and we are called the Bride. These are “family” names… and that is what we are now.
Maybe there is a clue here as to why the enemy is so fiercely dedicated to destroy the family on earth: he is determined to destroy any relational meaning behind these precious words.
When we contemplate the immensity of what it means to have God as our Father, the implications are profound. We are rightly in awe of the grace extended to us for our salvation—the justification that comes to us through Christ’s sacrifice. But we too often fail to realize that the grace of God did not stop there, for He then extended that grace in His adoption of us. I suppose one could imagine that it might be possible to be justified but not adopted. This, unfortunately, is the unattainable lot of those who are trying to be justified by their own works. Not only do they fail to reach that level of holiness before God, but they are left with no way to then force their adoption. The Scripture makes it clear that adoption only comes to those who are justified through Christ… and Christ alone:
“No one comes to the Father, except through me.” (John 14;6)
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 3:26)
“But as many received Him [Christ], to them He gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
“… God sent forth His Son… in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
“He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” (Ephesians 1:5)
So if we try to justify ourselves, we not only fall short in that justification, but we are also left without the means of adoption to become God’s child… and He our Father. This is why, for those under Islam, there is nothing beyond the Law… no sense or assurance of any real relationship with God.
But the truth is that the grace of God both justifies and adopts. And it will be the grace of God that will one day restore us in the last resurrection.
So, we contemplate the unfathomable reality that God has made us His children and that He is therefore now our Father. This truth provokes within us our deep desire to now please Him in all we think and say and do. Not because of some “quid pro quo” or obligation to earn something from Him, but simply out of love for Him in response to what He lavished upon us.
“See how great a love the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are.” 1 John 3: 1
There is an extremely radical difference between the obedience of a child to their Father and the obedience of someone seeking to gain acceptance or even salvation by their works. The former is motivated by their deep love for the Father and carried out in the safety of His love for them; the latter is motivated by a fear of ultimate rejection and carried outside of the security of a “family” relationship with God.
How often do we fail to walk as a child of the King? How often do we take for granted the right that He has graciously given to us? Are our minds and hearts continually filled with an awe of this deep relationship that has been freely given to us? Are our thoughts and words and actions motivated by our eternal family position?
If we really believed that God was truly our Father, and we were really and truly His child… would it change our prayer life? Our Christian walk? Our attitudes?
May we, the “children of God”, come to an ever-deeper understanding and reverence of what it truly means to be given the right to call Him Abba, Father.
Verses to contemplate throughout the week:
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1
God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Galatians 4:4-5
He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, Ephesians 1:5
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, John 1:12
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6
Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil… Hebrews 10:19-20
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26
For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. Hebrews 12:18-24
For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Galatians 1:3
Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:6