Trust God at all times

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” ― Corrie ten Boom

This is a great quote from someone who practiced its truth in conditions far worse than most people ever experience. It reminded me of one of my favorite verses of Scripture, Psalm 62:8 – “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”

Although I’ve never faced the kind of evil Corrie ten Boom experienced, I’ve learned that the key to trust at all times is to pour out your hearts to Him when times are dark and difficult.

Psalm 62:8 parallels two NT references:

  • I Peter 5:7 – “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (NLT).
  • Philippians 4:6-7 – “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (NLT).

At the opening of Psalm 62, the Psalmist wrote, “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62:1-2). 

Still learning to trust at all times,

Steve Cornell

Christ appears in Heaven for us!

When the apostle encouraged us to “set our affections on the realities of heaven,” he specifically identified it as the place “where Christ sits at God’s right hand.” 

“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands… he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence” (Hebrews 9:24).

 What makes heaven so desirable is not the absence of anguish and suffering (as great as this will be), nor the presence of angels and fellow believers. Heaven is so desirable because it is the place “where Christ sits at God’s right hand.”

The apostle Paul spoke about his death with this perspective. “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23).

After Jesus finished His mission of bearing our sins and being raised from the dead, He returned to heaven and took the seat of highest honor to appear before God “for us.” These two words “for us” are amazing!

In the highest court, those who know Christ as their Savior are represented. Let these words settle deeply into your heart: “Christ went into heaven itself to appear in the presence of God for us.”

In Colossians 3:3-4, the apostle reinforced his call to focus on heaven by writing: “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is our life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”

Reflection

“The Christian’s whole and only status before God is in Christ. True and wonderful though this is, however, the sphere of the Christian’s existence is still here on earth. He is still beset by temptations; he is hampered by weakness and frustrated by failings; he falls short of ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13); the perfection for which he longs is not yet. He needs a holiness not his own, made available to him by the Lamb of God who has made atonement for his sins and who now interposes himself as his representative in the heavenly sanctuary. And this is the representation which Christ fulfills as he appears in the presence of God for us” (Philip E. Hughes, Hebrews, p. 349).

For deeper meditation on Christ’s representation, see: Romans 8:33-34; Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:23-27; John 2:1-2. The apostle John said those who confess their sin (I John 1:9), have an “advocate” with the heavenly father (I John 2:2). The N.I.V. translates advocate as, “one who speaks to the Father in our defense.” It pictures a legal setting with Christ as counsel for the defense. And His position as advocate is based on His redeeming work (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5-6).

“Our advocate doesn’t plead that we are innocent…He acknowledges our guilt and presents His vicarious work as the ground for our acquittal” (John R. W. Stott, I John, TNTC, pp. 81-82).

We must guard against misguided understandings of representation. We should not picture a dualistic situation where a well-pleasing son is trying to persuade a hostile father to look on us with favor. God was the one who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (II Corinthians 5:18-21).  God “spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32; cf. 1 John 4:9-10).

Reflection

“The intercession of the Son, then, is in no sense a pleading with the Father to change his attitude toward us. Nor does the Father have to be reminded of the full redemption that he himself has provided for us in his Son—the very thought is preposterous! The presence in heaven of the Lamb bearing the marks of his passion is itself the perpetual guarantee of our acceptance with God, who gave his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. In ourselves, however, though we have the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ and though we are united to him in love and trust, we are unworthy because Christ has not yet been fully formed within us (cf. Gal. 4:19) and we still sinfully fall short of the glory of God (cf. Rom. 3:23). This consideration explains our continuing need of the advocacy and intercession of him who alone is accounted worthy before God (cf. Rev. 5:1-10). It is in his worthiness that even now we rejoice in the blessings of the divine favor, for by the grace of God his merit has been reckoned to us as our merit, his heaven has become our heaven, and his eternal glory our eternal glory” (Philip Hughes, Hebrews).

 Do we need the assistance of saints or angels to bring us to God?

“To imagine that saints or angels can be influenced to intercede for us is not only delusion; it is to cast doubt on the perfect adequacy of the intercession of Christ on our behalf and thus to deprive ourselves of the fulness of the security which is available to us only in Christ. Our Lord clearly taught that no man can come to the Father except by him (John 14:6) and that our requests to God are to be made in his name (John 14:13f.; 15:16; 16:23, 24, 26), precisely because there is no other name which avails and prevails with God (cf. Acts 4:12) (Philip E. Hughes, Hebrews, p. 353).

Christ alone is our mediator, advocate, intercessor, high priest, and way of access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; John 14:6). “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He (Jesus Christ) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2; cf. Hebrews 7:26-27). “And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:18). 

Let your heart dwell on these great words: “Christ went into heaven to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24).

Steve Cornell 

 

The Holy Spirit and the Church

The six phrases below (mostly from Galatians 5 & 6) remind us of the importance of the Holy Spirit to the life of the Church.

  1. Walk by the Spirit
  2. Be led by the Spirit
  3. Bear the fruit of the Spirit
  4. Keep in step with the Spirit
  5. Sow to the Spirit
  6. Be continually filled with the Holy Spirit! (Ephesians 5:18)

The same Spirit who placed us in the Church (I Corinthians 12:12-13), dwells in each believer (I Corinthians 6:19-20) and transforms us into the image of Christ (II Corinthians 3:18). This transformation is both an individual and community experience.

Notice the connection between the Spirit of God and relationships in two sets of verses:

  • Galatians 5:15 – “But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.”
  • Galatians 5:16 – “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

  • Galatians 5:25 – “Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives”
  •  Galatians 5:26 - ”Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.”

“The life giving power of God’s Spirit is effective only in those who continue to let the Spirit change their lives” (Douglas Moo)

The work of the Spirit is evident enough to distinguished people by it: 

  • Description of Barnabas - “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” (Acts 11:24).
  •  Acts 6:3 – “choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. ” 

Being “full of the Holy Spirit” is treated as an objectively measurable and visible description of character and life.

What is the evidence of Spirit-filled character in an individual or a community? 

  • “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT).
  • “Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.” … “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you” (Romans 8:5,9, NLT).
  • “You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit” (Galatians 6:7-8, NLT).
    • Sow to the flesh – a choice to cultivate and plant thoughts, attitudes and behavior in the direction of:  Galatians 5:15; 19-20, 24-25.   
    • Sowing to the Spirit – a choice to allow the Holy Spirit to be the permeating and dominating reality in your life. Turning yourself – your thoughts, attitudes and actions to the fruit of the Spirit. Since each part of the fruit of the Spirit is also found in the N.T. as a command to obey, walking by the Spirit is dependent on choices we make.

The Spirit’s work and the five primary resources God provided for our growth:

  1. God’s Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-21; Galatians 5:16-17, 22-23)
  2. God’s People (Hebrews 3:13-14;13:17; Ephesians 4:11-16) (Dwelling place of the Spirit) 
  3. God’s Word (Hebrews 4:12; I Timothy 3:16-17; James 1:21-25; I Peter 1:23) (Sword of the Spirit)
  4. God’s throne (Hebrews 4:16; Colossians 4:12; I Peter 5:7-8) (Intercession by the Spirit)
  5. God’s discipline (Hebrews 12:1-11; James 1:2-5) (Transformation by the Spirit – II Cor. 3:18)

My prayer for you - “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Ephesians 3:16).

Steve Cornell

How do we walk by the Spirit?

 Play Audio!

Galatians 5:16 –  “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

  • Command – “live or walk by the Spirit.”
  • Promise -  “you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  

Walking by the Spirit is presented in Galatians 5:15-16 as the solution to destructive relationships. Note the connection made in these verses -

15 – “But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.” 16 – “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

“so I say”, (but I say) – This is a common formula used by Paul to introduce an emphatic point. “Here is my advice.” Or, “Here is the remedy for the situation described in v. 15 - “always biting and devouring one another.” To protect the community from destructive relationships (15), each member must “live or walk by the Spirit” (present tense) —“go on walking…” (16). 

He is not saying, “Try not to fulfill the lusts of the flesh   and then you will walk by the Spirit,” -  as though the latter were a reward for the former. I am convinced that many believers subtly fall for this reversal of Galatians 5:16. But we cannot depend on the flesh to accomplish anything spiritual. 

When the apostle says, “live” or “walk” – “by the Spirit,” he means, “let your conduct be continually directed by the Spirit.” This is a command with an emphatic promise (based on a double negative in the Greek language) — “you will by no means fulfill the desires of the flesh (or sinful nature).”

Play Audio!

Additional audio resource from my conference ministry: How to be filled with the Spirit

Steve Cornell

A command with a powerful promise

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is well-known for its twelve step program to help free people from the controlling power of alcohol. In the steps, you’ll discover themes that appear prominently in the first two.

Step #1 – We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step #2 – We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 

Most recovering alcoholics admit that these two steps are crucial to ongoing freedom from the controlling power of alcohol (or any other addictive influence). They’ll also quickly tell you that an alcoholic’s unwillingness to admit that he is powerless is a clear warning sign of a potential return to alcohol.

What they have recognized in AA about gaining freedom from alcohol’s power is something Scripture already taught about gaining freedom from the controlling power of the flesh. What is it?

Step #1 – We cannot do it in our own strength. 

Step #2 - We need the power of God to live a life that pleases God (to restore us to sanity).

Truth - God gives this power to us through His Spirit whom He caused to live in us when we believed (see: Ephesians 1:18-20; 3:16).

We are not passive recipients

When we speak of the power of God by His Spirit, we should not see ourselves as passive recipients of this power but as actively seeking God’s power.

When the apostle says, “live” or “walk” – “by the Spirit,” he means, “let your conduct be directed by the Spirit.” 

Command with a promise

It’s a command that requires our obedience and it comes with an emphatic promise based on a double negative in the Greek language — (aorist subjunctive) “you will by no means fulfill the desires of the flesh (or sinful nature).”

Four verbs are used in Galatians 5 to describe the involvement of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, (all of them roughly equivalent in meaning).

v.16 – “live/walk by the Spirit”
v.18 – “led by the Spirit”
v.25a – “live by the Spirit”
v.25b – “keep in step with the Spirit”

All of these fit under the command in Ephesians 5:18 to “be filled with the Spirit.” And these verbs send a strong reminder of how completely dependent we must be on the Spirit’s presence and power.

Galatians 5:16

“so I say”, (or ςέ “but I say”). This is a common formula, used by Paul, to alert his readers to an emphatic point: “Here is my advice.” Or, “Here is the remedy for the situation described in v. 15 - “;if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.”

To protect the community from destructive relationships (15), each member must “live or walk by the Spirit” – present tense —“go on walking…” (16). 

  • Command: “live or walk by the Spirit.”
  • Promise:  “you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (or flesh).” 

The RSV translates this as two commands, the second being, “do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Yet, while we do have similar commands in the NT (e.g. Rom. 6:12-13; 13:14; I Peter 2:11), Galatians 5:16 is a promise or a word of assurance indicating the means for gaining victory over flesh.

He is not saying: “Try not to fulfill the lusts of the flesh and then you will walk in the Spirit,” as though the latter were a reward for the former. This is the error of depending on the flesh to walk by the Spirit.

Conflict

Verse 17 expands on the conflict that confronts every believer. We could look at it as a conflict between two wills:

  • My will and God’s will.
  • Or between: “the ought to” and  “the want to.”

It’s great when these come happily together, when “I will to do what God wills for me to do” Or, “I want to do what I ought to do.”

But so often we experience an ongoing conflict or tension between these two and it sometimes gets incredibly intense and unrelenting (cf. Rom. 7:19, 21-25). So where do we look for the strength and power to overcome?

Galatians 5:16— “Walk by the Spirit…” present tense—“go on walking…” This is not something you must do from time to time. It’s a way of life!  It’s long obedience in the same direction.

There is no way to get to a place where we no longer experience the tension. There is no secret spiritual technique or second blessing that will put us above the battleground. To make this point forcefully, the moment you think you’re invulnerable to the allurement of the flesh — you are most vulnerable.

If you think you have reached some higher plane of spirituality — above the conflict between flesh and spirit — you are perilously self-deceived.

One has written,–“No Christians are so spiritually strong or mature that they need not hear his warning, but neither are any so weak or vacillating that they cannot be free from the tyranny of the flesh through the power of the Spirit… In the battle between the forces of flesh and Spirit there is no stalemate, but the Spirit takes the lead, overwhelms, and thus defeats evil.”

A man came to his Pastor and explained how impossible it felt to live a Christian life. The Pastor fully agreed and the man was taken back! He expected to be rebuked and set right. Instead, the Pastor congratulated him for learning the most important lesson for living the life of victory. What is it? That you can’t do it! You must live in continual dependence on God.

This is not the “let go and let God” approach. This is a constant practice of humbling oneself before God and learning to lean on Him, rest in Him and look to Him.

It involves commitment to all the spiritual disciplines out of a strong sense of need and dependence (akin to hunger and thirst) (cf. Deut. 8:1-3- God will teach you this).

Not without a battle

But, as v. 17 indicates, walking by the Spirit is not done without a battle or conflict. 

“For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you.” (NIV)

“Does man choose evil, the Spirit opposes him; does he choose good, the flesh hinders him.”

Be encouraged by the presence of such a battle. It’s another evidence that God dwells in you by the Spirit (James 4:4-5; Rom. 7:14-25).

Yet the conflict is real. As one has written:  “In the battle between the forces of flesh and Spirit there is no stalemate.” One wins and one loses, — always in relation to our response! 

We must take an active role with regard to the powerful ministry of the Spirit! It begins with an admission that says, “I am powerless in myself” and “I need God’s power to overcome the flesh.”

If I really mean this, I will humbly pursue all that God has made available to me (see: II Tim. 3:16-17; Rom. 8:5; 13:14; I Peter 2:11)

A final thought 

These passages focus on a contrast of desire – what the Spirit desires and what the flesh desires.

Perhaps we struggle so much with wrong desires because we need to become captured by stronger desires. I think of the great command – “To love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” This is a positive desire. This is an offensive not just a defensive posture (see: Psalm 42:1-2).

 Steve Cornell

The pathetic idea of flesh trying to be holy

There are countless Christians fighting a battle that is already lost, trying in their own strength to overcome the subtleties of sin. 

That is a battle you can fight all your days, but I tell you now, you cannot win! It is a battle already lost, lost in the first Adam, who was made a living soul, and died; but the last Adam, Jesus Christ, has already defeated sin and death and hell, and Satan himself!  Why not accept in Him the victory that He has already won?

Victory over the flesh is not to be attained — it is to be received.

“Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). No matter what it is that threatens you, if you walk in the Spirit, you can turn around and face your enemy.  You can find him helpless because God has already bruised the serpent’s head! (see Gen. 3:15; Heb. 2:14). In other words, to walk in the Spirit is to assume by faith the victory with which He credits you. God will vindicate your assumption and make it real in your experience.

Now the devil loves to invert truth and turn it into a lie, and probably what he has been saying to you is this: “Try not to fulfill the lusts of the flesh, and then you will walk in the Spirit,” as though the latter were a reward for the former.  He knows that in this way, he will keep you preoccupied with yourself, instead of being preoccupied with Christ. 

Nothing is more nauseating or pathetic than the flesh trying to be holy!  The flesh has a perverted bent for righteousness — but such righteousness as it may achieve is always self-righteousness; and self-conscious righteousness is always full of self-praise.

This produces the extrovert, who must always be noticed, recognized, consulted, and applauded. On the other hand, when the flesh in pursuit of self-righteousness fails, instead of being filled with self-praise, it is filled with self-pity, and this produces the introvert. 

The devil does not care whether you are an extrovert or an introvert.  He does not care whether you succeed or whether you fail in the energy of the flesh, or whether you are filled with self-pity or self-praise. He knows that in both cases you will be preoccupied with yourself, not with Christ. You will be egocentric and self-centered rather than God-centered.

Don’t let Satan deceive you into believing that, ‘walking in the Spirit’ is the consequence of your effort not to fulfill the ‘lusts of the flesh’ (adapted from a devotional by Ian Thomas).

_____________________________________________

Take time to reflect on this truth. Discuss it with others. Share it.

Steve Cornell

 

The way of wisdom

Wisdom is only available when God is honored. “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6).

This God-centerd focus is what distinguishes Biblical proverbs from other ancient proverbs. In Proverbs 3, the father used five verbs to describe life with God.

1. Trust in the Lord with all your heart (v.5)
2. Acknowledge Him in all your ways (v.6)
3. Fear the Lord (i.e. don’t be wise in your own eyes) (v.7)
4. Honor the Lord with your wealth (v.9)
5. Do not despise the Lord’s discipline (v.11). 
-
Here we have five action points for walking with God. They describe a relationship — not a religion. Here are five essentials to a life of wisdom — because the fear of the Lord is the ongoing prerequisite to such a life.
  • “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).

A person who fears the Lord accepts wisdom and instruction; takes advice; trusts in the Lord with all his heart; and acknowledges the Lord in all his dealings. This person does not see himself and his own opinion as basis for what he believes and does. He recognizes his own inadequacies and God’s superiority. Therefore he is teachable and accepts counsel.

Fools, by contrast, despise wisdom and instruction and scoff at rebuke. The fool’s way seems right to him; he is wise in his own eyes. The fool does not fear the Lord and only accepts advice and counsel if it agrees with what he already concludes— he thinks he knows better.

The fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom does not mean it’s the first step and after taken, you move on to other matters. It is the beginning in that it is the primary and controlling factor in the pursuit of wisdom. To profit from proverbs and gain wisdom you must start with an attitude that recognizes God’s superiority, especially over your own opinions.

Steve Cornell

God-centered, Mission-focused purpose for our troubles

I am speaking to a group at Sandy Cove Conference Center this week (Monday-Wednesday) on the theme of meeting the God of all comfort in all our troubles.

My primary text is II Corinthians 1:3-4 where we learn that God is an active presence in our troubles and hardships.

These verses provide a God-centered focus for our troubles that fills them with purpose and mission. 

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

The Apostle Paul, the one who wrote about the God who comforts us in our troubles, was no stranger to hardship. He was marked out for these experiences by the Lord Jesus. 

At Paul’s conversion, the Lord said, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15-16). 

The most extensive list of Paul’s hardship and suffering is found in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 (Read it).

It’s tempting to think that being a Christian should minimize the challenges and troubles of life. We have God with us! Shouldn’t He protect us from hardships? Shouldn’t life be easier? 

But Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33) and Paul told new believers in Antioch that, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). 

In the book of II Corinthians, the primary occasion for emphasizing God’s comfort and purposes in suffering was the accusations leveled against Paul. Those who wanted to harm Paul were claiming that his suffering called into question his ministry and apostleship. 

It’s an old accusation to suggest that a person’s hardship is a sign of God’s displeasure.  In this case, however, it was being used to accomplish an evil and subversive plot. Paul’s critics were trying to discredit God’s apostle with the intention of taking over his place of leadership in the church at Corinth.

But Paul opens his letter praising God for the very thing his opponents are using to discredit his ministry. Instead of suffering and hardship being a sign of abandonment by God, he revealed the truth that God is an active presence in our trouble and hardship (cf. Hebrews 12:1-15).

Here in II Corinthians 1:3-4 we find a God-centered, Mission-focused purpose for our troubles. These are truths that hold us in our troubles.  

Look more closely at II Corinthians 1:3-4

  1. Verse 3 - who God is. – “He is the God of all comfort”
  2. Verse 4a - what God does. – “Who comforts us in all our troubles”
  3. Verse 4b - God’s purpose in what he does. – “So that we can comfort those in any trouble”

God brings us into His school of comfort where we study His ministry of comfort so that we can be equipped to be His instruments of comfort. This is the mission-focused part of going  through hardships. 

Everything God does to and for me is designed to equip me to serve Him by serving His people (Hebrews 6:10).

Reflect deeply on this truth

Our God is so personal that He meets us in our troubles and comforts us through them. People who know God can say with confidence, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”

It’s a very personal relationship. And because the Lord is my Shepherd, I can say, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”(Psalm 23:4; cf. II Timothy 4:16-18).

The apostle Paul reminds us to be good students of divine comfort. God is preparing you for a ministry of comfort when He comforts you!

Steve Cornell

(More to come on this theme as the conference continues)

A Great Statement of Faith

“God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably, ordained whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (The Westminster Confession of Faith).

Two applications

John R. W. Stott

“Why is it that people do not come to Christ? Is it that they cannot, or is it that they will not? Jesus taught both. And in this “cannot” and “will not” lies the ultimate antimony between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. But however we state it, we must not eliminate either part. Our responsibility before God is an inalienable aspect of our human dignity. Its final expression will be on the Day of judgment. Nobody will be sentenced without trial. All people, great and small, irrespective of their social class, will stand before God’s throne, not crushed or browbeaten, but given this final token of respect for human responsibility, as each gives an account of what he or she has done” (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, pp. 95-96).

J. I. Packer

“The unbeliever has preferred to be by himself, without God, defying God, having God against him, and he shall have his preference. Nobody stands under the wrath of God save those who have chosen to do so. The essence of God’s action in wrath is to give men what they choose, in all its implications: nothing more, and equally nothing less. God’s readiness to respect human choice to this extent may appear disconcerting and even terrifying, but it is plain that His attitude here is supremely just, and poles apart from the wanton and irresponsible inflicting of pain which is what we mean by cruelty . . . what God is hereby doing is no more than to ratify and confirm judgments which those whom He visits have already passed on themselves by the course they have chosen to follow” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 139).

Steve Cornell

Challenges and Opportunities

When we ignore or reject God or try to define God on our own terms, we ultimately sabotage ourselves.

We end up living with the beguiling notion that little finite beings like ourselves can be the managers of life. We foolishly think that we’re in control.

When we sin against the vertical dimension of life (by ignoring God), we progressively disorient life on the horizontal. We choose fantasy over reality thinking we can define our own reality and follow an individualized morality without consequence.

Foolishly we act as if we are the captains of our fate and the masters of our soul.We turn the good gifts of the Creator (meant for our benefit) against ourselves by failing to honor Him as the Giver. 

Just look around at the horrible mess we’ve made! Our homes are pervasively dysfunctional and broken, our police, judicial and prison systems are straining under unimaginable burdens. Our economy is out of control due to reckless and self-indulgent spending. Many of our social programs are barely holding up (if they can get beyond their own dysfunctions). Our educational system is surviving at best under the strain of major economic challenges and intrusive government policies.

All of this has left pervasive feelings of emptiness and pessimism about the future. 

On the positive side, there is a growing hunger among younger people for what is real, lasting, hopeful, eternal and spiritual.  I realize that you won’t find much of it among the crusty self-appointed intellectual custodians of the academy.  But you will find it among their students.  The students are tired of being stuffed into the culturally mandated, narrow, little world without windows! 

All of this presents the Church of Jesus Christ with a great opportunity to speak truth into the confusion and the mess we’ve made of ourselves and our planet. Never lose sight of the fact that the bad news of our fallenness is the back-story to the good news of the gospel.

We need wisdom to speak truth to others because many forces remain at work to discredit what God has revealed. Mainstream media sources will continue to spread a propaganda-based, anti-God ideology disguised as news. Mainline denominations will take their cue from whatever they perceive to be the cultural mandates of the elite. 

We’ll need courage and boldness tempered with wisdom, patience and redeeming love. We’ll need to follow the pattern of our Savior who humbled himself to love and serve us, not considering His equality with God something to leverage to His own advantage when opposed (See: Philippians 2:3-11). 

As the culture moves further from God, we have an even greater opportunity live out the identity Jesus assigned when he said, “You are the salt of the earth. … “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14).

Jesus encouraged his followers to see themselves as “a town built on a hill” that “cannot be hidden.” He reminded His followers that when “people light a lamp” they don’t “put it under a bowl.” “Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house” (Matthew 5:14-15).

Application to the followers of Jesus? “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Steve Cornell