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Deeper Roots + Wider Branches

Pursuing Sanctification, Community & Mission

Category Archives: Theology

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. [Psalm 42:5]

I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. [Psalm 34:1]

Woke up this morning feeling down about some things, and reminded myself of a few passages that have become anchors for my soul in the past several months. I find the contrast between Psalm 42:5 and Psalm 34:1 to be really helpful.

Psalm 42:5 teaches me that it’s ok to feel down sometimes, and just to acknowledge it. There are days when I just don’t feel happy. There are things I’m sad or anxious about. And that’s ok. I can be honest about these feelings: “Why are you cast down, O my soul,  and why are you in turmoil within me?” This verse also teaches me to preach to myself in these moments: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him…” This verse speaks to the times when it feels nearly impossible to praise God, while at the same time recognizing that God will bring me through. He is my “salvation and my God”.

Psalm 42:5 seems to address emotions we feel like we can’t control, and pushes us to hope when all hope seems lost. I’ve had times when this is all I can cling to. Psalm 34:1 on the other hand calls me to make a choice to praise God regardless of my circumstances. We have a great example of this in Habbakuk 3:

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. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. [Habakkuk 3:17-19]

There are times of dissapointment and depression that are like walking on the most miserable winter day with the wind blowing in your face. And God can give us the grace and strength to hold our heads high, to face the chilling winds, and to walk with confidence that God is good, that he will provide for us, and that he will bring us through.

While these 2 truths that I’m talking about might seem sort of contradictory, I’ve come to treasure both of them. I have a God who is my refuge and shelter when all I can do is barely keep my head above water. And this same God is a God who nurtures and sustains me, who little by little nurses me back to health, who actually brings to a point where there are days when I really hurt or am really confused, yet somehow almost take joy in pressing on because I know that God is somehow working for my good and his glory.

 

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PSALM 1

1Blessed is the man
   who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
   nor stands in the way of sinners,
   nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
   and on his law he meditates day and night.

3He is like a tree
   planted by streams of water
   that yields its fruit in its season,
   and its leaf does not wither.
   In all that he does, he prospers. 4The wicked are not so,
   but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
   nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
   but the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 1 presents a stark contrast between the life of a righteous person who is blessed and that of the wicked who will come under God’s judgement. Verses 1 and 2 are very straightforward: This is what a righteous person does; this is what they don’t do. If you’re anything like me though, these sorts of biblical contrasts can be a bit confusing or even frustrating. The psalmist makes it sound so easy and natural. I think most of us experience life a little more in the gray in the sense that while there are times that we are certainly “delighting in the law of the Lord” and meditating on his law “day and night”, there are a lot of times that we’re not! As Christians, we often find ourself committing these sins of omission- not doing thing we should be doing. But it gets worse. We also experience times in the course of any given day, week or month when we find ourselves thinking and maybe even acting a lot more like the “wicked” than the “righteous”, thus committing sins of comission- Doing those things which we should not do. We identify with Paul when he cries out in frustration in Romans 7:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. ForI delight in the law of God, in my inner being,  but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:21-24)

So what do we do with the apparent conflict between what we should be, and what we are? Is there any hope that we will ever be any different? Here is where some technical theological terms become helpful. The theology of our justification, santification, and glorification gives us 3 helpful lenses through which to view our identity and our everyday experience.

I’m sure I there are some great theological-dictionary-type definitions for these three terms, but for now let me simply use scripture to define/illustrate these concepts:

JUSTIFICATION. Let’s keep reading Paul at the end of Romans 7 and the beginning of chapter 8. Paul answers his own question (“Who will save me from this body of death?”): “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!…” He elaborates on this joyful declaration in the first verse of chapter 8: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” So here’s the idea: Though we continue to struggle with sin as Christians, we have been covered because of Christ’s work for us. When God looks at us (even on our worst days), he sees Christ. We are justified!

SANCTIFICATION. Let’s go back to Psalm 1. In the middle of the Psalm there is an image of a tree planted by streams of water. One of the characteristics of this tree is that it “yields its fruit in its season.” This little line seems obvious and is easy to miss. We might also find ourselves imagining this tree not as a process of growth, but as a finished product- strong, healthy and full of fruit. I think that’s the way we all want to be. We want to believe in Christ, and we want to instantaneously be super-Christians who no longer have deep struggles with sin. But notice the phrase “in its season.” This implies time. I don’t point this out to discourage you, but rather to encourage you. Bearing fruit is something that happens over a long period of time. Our job is to plant ourselves by the stream, to drink deeply of Christ and his word by faith, and to let our roots dig deeper and get stronger through prayer. We may not always bear the fruit we want on our time-table, but we most certainly will bear fruit. Hear the words of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and take heart: And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) This is sanctification.

GLORIFICATION. There will come a day where we are delivered from this “body of death”, this great burden that we carry throughout our lives. In one sense we are delivered already (positionally), i.e. justification. But one day this virus we call sin will be totally and completely eradicated. Romans 8:22-24 speaks to this future “glorification”:

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.

Although the title of this post sounds like I’m accusing the psalmist, I actually don’t think he is telling us that we need to be perfect. We know from David’s own life and the testimony of his psalms that he struggled and failed at times. It seems to me that the heart of this psalm is the image of the tree planted by the streams of water (v. 3). The point is to be rooted by the life-giving stream. As we are sustained by this stream (Christ) we will progressively mature, bear fruit, and begin looking more and more like the person described in verses 1 and 2 (not to mention being delivered from God’s wrath against the wicked). If we do not drink from this stream, the logical conclusion follows: we will dry up, we will live lives that don’t matter (v. 4), and we will perish (v.6).

Let us drink deep from the stream of Christ, bear fruit, and live!

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And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ.  (1 John 5:20)

Last night at community group a discussion came up about the idea of knowing God vs. knowing about God, and whether or not this distinction is helpful or unhelpful. I’m hoping to explore this topic in several posts, this one being the first. While on the one hand it seems quite obvious that there are many in the world who know about God but clearly do not know God, scripture passages like this and many others point out the necessity of a Spirit-given understanding of God. The progression seems to be that God opens our eyes by his spirit and that this spiritual healing  leads to an intellectual ability to take in and comprehend information (knowlege) about God. We then respond to this information in faith (“faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”- Romans 10:17), entering into a relationship with “him who is true”.

This is just me trying to connect the theological dots (not 100% confident of my analysis here), but it would seem that sanctification then becomes much more than a process of behavior-modification (becoming more “Christ-like”), but rather a progressive process of cultivating an intimate relationship with Christ where we actually know him…and of course this will have implications for our behavior as well. This verse (the 2nd to last verse in 1 John) encourages us that Christ came not just to give us knowlege about him (although that is important), and not just to know him in the sort of way that acquaintances know eachother, but tells us that we are actually somehow “in him who is true.” I can’t say that I fully understand this phrase, but these words are clearly speaking of our relationship with Christ using the language of intimacy. To think of sinners not just being pardoned by the God of the universe but actually being in an intimate relationship with this God is truly an amazing thought!

So back to the initial “Knowing About God vs. Knowing God” question. I suppose my hypothesis is that creating a dichotomy between knowing about God and actually knowing God is unhealthy and unbiblical. To merely know about God is to divorce this knowledge from the work of the Holy Spirit. To minimize the importance of intellectual knowledge about God seems to me to be an unhealthy elevation of subjective emotional experience, and a rejection of the riches of God’s revelation to us in his word. Those are my hunches. But like anything, I need to go to scripture, and confirm or challenge these thoughts. That is what I hope to do in the coming posts.

Feel free to join the conversation.

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“No one gives grace better than one who is convinced he needs it himself.”

-Dr. Paul Tripp (from a sermon preached at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, January 16, 2011)

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For more a more conceptual/theological approach to what I was trying to express in my last post/prayer, check out Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Worship & Idolatry series on the Resurgence blog.

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