When we read about the garden of Eden in Genesis 1 and 2, we can’t help but feel drawn to its beauty and abundance and innocence. It must have been wonderful to live in such a pristine environment, with every need met, to experience an intimate marriage full of delight in each other, and to have a satisfying sense of purpose in ruling over God’s creation together.
In fact, we often hear people talk about the future in terms of a return to, or restoration of, Eden. But to speak of the new creation in terms of a restoration of Eden is actually a reduction of what God has planned for his people and for his world. Eden was never intended to be the end. It was always headed somewhere — somewhere even more glorious: new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1–2).
Rather than thinking of Eden in terms of perfection, we should think of it in terms of potential. Eden was unspoiled, but it was also unfinished; it was unsullied, but it was also incomplete. As Adam and Eve were fruitful and multiplied, more offspring in the image of God would come to glorify God by enjoying him forever. As they worked and kept the garden, the boundaries of Eden would expand, and the glory of their royal rule would increase.
Just as Eden was not yet all that God intended the home he shared with his people to be, so Adam and Eve were not yet all that God intended his people to be. They were sinless, but they were vulnerable to temptation. They were alive, but they were vulnerable to death. They were made in God’s image, and crowned with a measure of his glory, but they weren’t yet as glorious as God intended them to be. If they obeyed God regarding the forbidden tree, they would be able to eat of the tree of life and enter into the unending, glorious life promised by the tree of life. But, of course, that’s not what happened.Garden Gone Wrong
When Satan slithered into Eden in the form of a serpent, Adam did not crush his head then and there but listened to and obeyed him. So rather than extending the boundaries of Eden, Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden. Rather than more fully sharing the glory of the image of God, the image of God in them became marred. Rather than entering into the endless Sabbath rest, they were plunged into the restlessness of the wilderness of this world.
But God’s plan for his people and the place he intends to share with them could not be hindered by human sin. God’s plan for his creation was then, and remains now, to establish his kingdom in a new creation, ruled by his Son and his Son’s bride who will share his glory and enjoy his presence in an eternal Sabbath rest.
So why does this plan matter? Why does it matter that we understand that God’s original and still-in-place plan always has been headed toward an escalation of the excellencies of the original Eden?Understanding Eden orients us toward a better home.
Sometimes we get sick of this world, and we find ourselves very homesick for the next. But what we long for is not merely a return to Eden. Eden was beautiful, but it wasn’t secure. Evil made its way into Eden and brought ruin with it.
The new creation, where we will make our home forever, will be completely secure. “Nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false” (Revelation 21:27). It will be a vast garden city, filled with a “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). As the bride of Christ, we will share this home with our perfect Bridegroom. We won’t just hear his sound in the garden (Genesis 3:10); we “will see his face” (Revelation 22:4).Understanding Eden compels us to be joined to the true Adam.
The first Adam failed in the work God gave him to do. Jesus, the second Adam, accomplished the work he was given to do, declaring from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). The first Adam failed to obey regarding a tree. Jesus obeyed regarding the tree of Calvary. The first Adam failed to love and protect his bride. But Jesus loved his bride by giving himself up for her. Understanding the failure of Adam in Eden compels us to take hold of the true Adam, Jesus.
We all are born connected by our shared humanity to the first Adam, physically alive but spiritually dead. Unless something supernatural happens, we remain spiritually dead. It is when our eyes are opened to the beauty of Christ, and we respond in repentance and faith, that something supernatural does happen. We become joined to Christ by faith so that we are made spiritually alive with his life.Understanding Eden fills us with anticipation for future glory.
To be joined to the risen Christ is to have the newness and glory and life of the greater Eden breaking into our lives in the here and now. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). We find that the glory of the future transforms our sense of shame now. A settled sense of the security of the future soothes our fear of death now. A growing sense of our identity as citizens of heaven changes how we see ourselves now. Truly taking in the love relationship we’re going to enjoy forever warms our hearts toward Christ now.
But the glory we experience now is nothing compared with the glory to come. One day Christ is going to come and call us to rise from our graves. He’s going to give us resurrected, glorified bodies that are fit for living forever with him. We’ll experience all that God has planned, and been preparing, to share with his people from the very beginning.
We’re not merely looking forward to a restoration of what Eden once was. Instead, we’re looking forward to the consummation of all that Eden was intended to be. Jesus, the true Adam, our glorious Bridegroom, the Seed who crushed the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15), will not fail to lead us into all that God is preparing for us — a home even better than Eden.
Satan is powerful and active, but he has no authority apart from God. He may be a roaring lion, but he may not attack where God forbids.
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How many pastors would be ordained if Jesus examined them?
Let me be more personal. Would Jesus have ordained me had he sat on my council of examiners? When I look back on my ordination exams, I wonder if I got off too easy.
It’s not that the brothers who examined me pitched me softballs. They grilled me with difficult and complex questions. They required me to give clear evidence that my theological understanding was sound. Some of their questions exposed my weaknesses.
But a text that sets me wondering is this:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14–16)
My examiners focused their questions almost exclusively on what I thought, which is, of course, very important for effective pastoring. But I don’t recall any pointed questions about how my intellectual theological understanding was producing the shining light of good works. I wasn’t required to give clear evidence that I was an actual doer of the word, and not just a well-informed hearer of the word (James 1:22).If Jesus Had Examined Me
Now, my brother-examiners no doubt gave me the benefit of the doubt, assuming I would not have been recommended for ordination if my life wasn’t consistent with my words. But I think Jesus would have been harder on me, knowing me as he does, knowing how I can often talk a better game than I actually play.
I think he would have wanted me to demonstrate that my theological knowledge was in fact fueling the burning of my visible lamp. He might have asked me to describe how those in my neighborhood and relationships were tangibly receiving the benefit of my “light.” He might have required specific examples of the last time I was reviled and persecuted on his account (Matthew 5:11–12). He might have asked me when I was last aware of someone giving glory to my Father in heaven after seeing my good works.
Those questions would have been harder to answer. They would have exposed even more weaknesses, and in certain ways more important ones. My intellectual theological understanding from years and years of hearing the word would have only satisfied him to the degree that it was producing light through my doing of his word.What Makes Us Light?
Jesus called himself the light of the world (John 8:12). What made him shine? Certainly it was his words (John 7:46). But it wasn’t only his words; it was also his works. He said, “The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me” (John 10:25). Jesus’s works made who he was manifestly clear. His works shone, and they still shine.
Jesus called us the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). What makes us shine? It isn’t only our words, but our works. The works we do in Jesus’s name bear witness about us and about him. Our outward, observable, public works make who we are and whose we are manifestly clear. Just like Jesus, our works cause some to revile us and persecute us and utter all kinds of evil against us falsely on his account, and they cause others to give glory to our heavenly Father.Shining People
“A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” What kind of good works shine like that? It’s not a difficult question to answer. Ask yourself, What good works have other Christians done that stand out most in your memory? Who are the people you’ve known who have been most radiant with the light of Jesus?
The shining people haven’t necessarily been the smartest, or most articulate, or most talented, or had the most publicly influential platforms. They’ve been the most servant-hearted and sacrificially loving people. They’ve been the ones who find God’s steadfast love better than life (Psalm 63:3). They’ve consistently loved others in both word and deed (1 John 3:18). Their words and deeds have sometimes been tender and other times tough, depending on the need. Their actions have demonstrated that they truly consider others more significant than themselves (Philippians 2:3), and that they pursue others’ good more than others’ approval.
It’s not merely what the shining people do, but why they do it and how they do it that makes them literally remarkable — people talk about them. Some praise them, and others slander them. But it is their doing, not talking, that sets them apart. And we’ve found ourselves both drawn to them and unnerved by them, because the light of their humble, word-and-deed love has both warmed our chilled hearts and exposed our selfishness and pride.Whatever It Takes
Would Jesus have ordained me? I trust that through the Spirit operating in my brother-examiners, he did. Seeing how Jesus patiently dealt with his original band, it’s clear he graciously chooses disciples like me whose intellectual knowledge initially outpaces their actions. But he expects that to change. He expects our works to grow into our words and bear shining witness to the reality and power of his words.
I’m grateful for the gift of theological equipping God has provided me. But these days I am asking him to press me harder than ever before, to examine me fully, to search me and try me and transform me so that I shine more with the light of Jesus through my works than I ever have. I don’t want to merely articulate glorious truth more accurately, but to incarnate it more fully, especially in the dark places of the world where it’s most needed. I want to live it more — to so love God and others for his sake that, whether I provoke persecution or the praise of God, my light is more clearly seen.
So, Lord, whatever it takes, make me a doer of your word so that my life shines like a city set on a hill and gives you glory, in Jesus’s name, Amen.
Millions of books compete for our attention, but only a fraction of them are worth reading. So where do we start when trying to grow our library?
How Christians handle money speaks volumes about our Christ. It’s one of our greatest opportunities today to show ourselves distinct from the world, or just like it.
Jesus talked about money more than anything else. More than sex. More than power. More than heaven and hell. Some of his best-known words, in his most-remembered sermon, strike right at the heart of the polar reality deep beneath all the practical shades of gray: “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24).
C’mon, Jesus, we might think. Money isn’t evil in itself — which is true. It’s just paper and coins (or now digits on a screen). Money represents value, the value of God’s created world, and humanity’s God-commissioned efforts to “subdue it” into goods and services for our flourishing (Genesis 1:28) and to move around and exchange such God-ordained value with others. Isn’t “love of money” what the apostles warn us of (1 Timothy 6:10; Hebrews 13:5), not money itself?Money Talks
It is “love of money,” but that might not create as much wiggle room as we first think. When Jesus explained the parable of the sower, he identified the thorns choking out his gospel as “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19). “Love of money” wouldn’t be an unfair summary. When the apostle Paul warned of the climactic evil to come “in the last days,” he said, “People will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive” (2 Timothy 3:2) — anticipated by the religious leaders of Jesus’s day, the Pharisees, who were also “lovers of money” (Luke 16:24).
Jesus also told the parable of the rich fool, who instead of trusting in God for his future, built bigger barns to trust in his surplus. The fool said to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19). Yet in an ironic twist on the saying “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” he didn’t even see tomorrow. God said, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you” (Luke 12:20).
Jesus’s point for his people is plain: be “rich toward God,” which means handling money in such a way that we show God, not money, to be our greatest treasure. Or, to put it negatively, do not “lay up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Luke 12:21; Matthew 6:19–20) but “be on your guard against all covetousness” (Luke 12:15) — for which Jesus gives this penetrating rationale: “for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).Showing the Soul
Christians, of all people, have come to know that our life does not consist in what we have on earth but whom we have in heaven. We look upward, with eternity in view, to “take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19), not the temporal and earthly. And yet the money-loving world in which we live constantly dulls us to what is truly life.
Money is a powerful revealer of the human soul. What we do (and don’t do) with money puts the depths of our inner person on display — in ways we often do not see (and show) otherwise. Money provides a wonderful and terrible objectifying glimpse into one’s heart.
The human heart is deep and complex, the very seat of subjectivity. Who knows the heart of man besides his maker? Well, one startling peek into a man’s subjective heart is his treatment of objective dollars and cents. Which is why our handling of money is such a wonderful opportunity for Christians to show the world the value of Christ — and for pastors and elders to lead the way for their people.Not Greedy of Filthy Lucre
“Not a lover of money” is an especially vital qualification for Christian leaders. The way the leadership goes, the church soon will follow. God appoints a plurality of pastor-elders in the church (Acts 20:28; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1) not only to teach and govern together (1 Timothy 5:17), but also to serve as a collective example to the flock of the healthy Christian life (1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Peter 5:3). What leaders do with money — and all Christians besides — is no small thing.
Of the fifteen qualifications mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 for the church’s lead office, “not a lover of money” (memorably in the KJV, “not greedy of filthy lucre”) may be the most conspicuous when compared with other lists. The synonymous attribute “not greedy for gain” appears both in Titus 1:7 and 1 Peter 5:2, as well as for deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8, while Titus 1:11 rebukes false teachers who are “teaching for shameful gain.” The single word translated “not a lover of money” in 1 Timothy 3:3 (Greek afilarguron) appears again in Hebrews 13:5, this time for the whole church: “Keep your life free from love of money.”
Why is it essential to have pastors who aren’t seduced by money? Not simply so that pastoral teaching and decisions aren’t sold to the highest bidder, but chiefly because of how pointedly our handling of money shows what we believe about God. Hebrews 13:5 makes the connection crystal clear. Why “keep your life free from love of money”? “For he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Why do you need more money when you have God? Why pine over more earthly resources when you have a Father in heaven who owns everything?
The pastor who drips love of money, subtle as it may be, tells his church and the world that having God is not enough. And added to that, those who love money, Jesus says, do not truly love God. Rather, we need leaders who show the church and the world that God, not money, is our refuge and hope and safety and comfort and peace.Root of All Evils
At the heart of Christianity is the claim that God is our true life (Luke 12:15). It is tragic beyond words for a professing Christian to pursue life in more and more earthly possessions — and an even greater tragedy for leaders in the church. Modern society constantly inundates us with messaging that implies true life consists in more stuff and greater spending power. And if the pastors of the church aren’t cutting unambiguously against the grain, in their teaching and in their lives, who will rescue the flock from this deadly trap?
Besides the all-important message it sends, the love of money is not a small danger in the human soul, only to be magnified in our leaders. Paul says, literally, it is “the root of all evils” — meaning, according to John Piper, that love of money
corresponds to the root longing for the things money can buy minus God. That is why all these many desires “plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). . . . [A]ll evils come from that root desire — the desire for anything minus God. No exceptions. . . . all sin, “all evils,” come from this desire, this love — represented in 1 Timothy 6:10 by love for the currency of satisfaction minus God.” (“Is Love of Money Really the Root of All Evils?”)
In other words, the kind of heart that loves money (more and more human resources) in place of God is the kind of heart that produces all manner of evil, and the very essence of evil. Love of money, then, is not an isolated flaw or foible. It is a penetrating peek into the recesses of a soul’s rebellion against God. In due course, the truth will come out. And the repercussions will be all the more disastrous when it comes out among leaders.Cheerful Givers
But thankfully we have more to look for, and pray for — in ourselves and in our leaders — than simply “not a lover of money.” Hebrews and 1 Timothy both are explicit about the positive virtues as well: “be content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5; also 1 Timothy 6:8) and “be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18). Why line our lives with gold when copper will do? When God does the miracle of unseating love for money in a human heart, he grows in its place an increasing eagerness to give, and do so with joy. “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
The church needs leaders who are not only free from the tyranny of money, but who know, and regularly recall, the words of Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). We need leaders who are not reluctant givers, but cheerful ones — and not just individually but together as a team of leaders, in order that our churches too become cheerful givers as a body.God’s Money, Wise Managers
Note well the call is not to pinch every penny and refuse to spend God’s money, but to spend it well. Jesus wants his people to be spiritually smart with their cheerful generosity, righteous managers of his resources, using them with eternity in view, serving God, not sin (Luke 16:9). Pastors who love money cannot fulfill their calling to be righteous managers of God’s money. “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13).
Could the stakes be any higher for our pastors and elders not to love and serve money? As gray as it can seem in practice, Jesus assures us that at bottom it’s binary. It is one or the other. Test your heart. Not just once but regularly. We want to be free from this as Christians, and we want leaders who love and serve God. Which means we look for leaders content with what they have and cheerfully generous with others. We cannot afford leaders who love and serve money.
The most important and valuable things in life are not always obvious to us. For example, both we and our children need to be taught from the Bible just how amazing marriage really is. Most children know a lot of married people — their parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors, or teachers. To them, marriage doesn’t seem amazing. They do not know that it is a wonder of the gospel.
Our world says that marriage is something we invented for ourselves. So, we can reinvent it in any way we want. And, indeed, our world is doing just that. It is aggressively saturating our children with a new and unbiblical vision of marriage and sexuality and human flourishing. Families with different parental arrangements and interchangeable roles and titles cause confusion in our children.Tell Them the Story
But God tells us something better. He tells us that he created marriage for a sacred purpose. Your children and grandchildren deserve to learn about that purpose at an early age. Who better to learn it from than you?
Help your children see that there are two ways to think about everything — the world’s way and God’s way. You can give them a glorious biblical vision of what God intends marriage to be.
Start back at the creation of marriage in the perfect garden of Eden (Genesis 2). Teach your children that even in that beautiful place, with all the animals surrounding him, God knew that Adam would need something more. God knew that Adam needed someone like him, but also different from him. And so, God made the first woman in a different way than he had made anything else — he made her out of Adam’s body. And then, like the father of the bride in the very first wedding, he brought Eve to Adam. What God did in the garden of Eden is why people get married even today. It was all God’s amazing idea!
Be sure that your children know that, just like everything that comes from the heart of God, marriage is good and beautiful. If you are married, show your children what a valuable treasure your spouse is. Talk often about your gratitude for your marriage. Let your children see the affection you share toward each other. Make sure they hear you speak kindly to and about your spouse.
Draw attention to other solid marriages in your family, church, and community. Show them pictures from your own wedding day, and let them see your joy in celebrating your anniversary year to year. As they get older, take them to a wedding and discuss the vows and promises the couple make to God and to each other.God Sees One “Us”
Your children need to hear God’s definition of marriage from you — one man and one woman giving all of themselves to each other for their whole lives (Matthew 19:4–6). That’s why a married couple shares everything. They share their hearts, their name, their home — even their bodies. Explain why Daddy and Mommy kiss and hold each other.
You can help your children understand that when a man and a woman marry, God doesn’t see two “me’s” anymore. He see one “us!” You could illustrate it this way: make two large paper hearts to symbolize two people in love who get married. Glue them together and let it dry overnight. The next day, try to separate them. The two have become one, and you can’t separate them without hurting both.
Talk about divorce in the most tender of terms. When sin hardens our hearts (Mark 10:2–5), we can hurt the ones we are supposed to love the most. Help your children learn how God cares for those who are hurting (Psalm 34:18; Isaiah 40:11).The Big Romance
It would be wise to introduce same-sex marriage very carefully. Children need to understand that, when we are born, we don’t know what will make us truly happy. But God does, and he tells us about our true happiness in the Bible.
Some people think that marriage can be between two men or two women, or that a husband can have more than one wife. That is not what the Bible teaches. Part of trusting God is following what he says about marriage and happiness, because God created us and God created marriage for our joy and his glory.
You can help young children understand that each country has its own laws about marriage. Talk to your children about marriage laws in your country. Be very clear that these laws are not always the same as God’s laws about marriage — and God’s laws are the most important laws in the whole world. Teach your children that what God says about marriage matters most. He can be trusted. His way is always best.
This matters because a biblical marriage shows the world a tiny picture of the Big Romance — the one between Christ and his church in love together. Marriage is meant to be an up-close display of the forever love of Jesus for his people. May the little ones around us grow up secure in God’s design for marriage. May they treat it with sacred honor all throughout their lives and pass on the legacy to their children.
What prayer have you given up praying?
We all have deep prayers, sensitive prayers that we have prayed over and over, but that feel a little heavier with each passing week, month, and year. For physical relief or healing or strength. For a new position or opportunity in our work. For the fighting to finally stop. For purity. For the salvation of someone we desperately love.
As the years go by, miles may begin to emerge between our head and our knees — between our desire for God to move in some dramatic way and our enthusiasm to pray and ask again.
He has told us to call him “Father,” but at times it can seem like he’s too busy with more important pursuits. He’s out saving the whole world, while we’re here in our own little room, worrying about tomorrow’s little trials. He’s out covering the globe with his glory, while we’re kneeling at home asking for something smaller and less significant.
But in Christ our trials are not trivial in his eyes. Our burdens are not small or irrelevant to him. His global purposes do not draw him away from us. Our prayers are not peripheral in his priorities, because our trials and prayers are deeply and intimately connected to his greatest burden as a good Father: his own glory.Greatest Motive to Pray
John Piper says, “The great ground of hope, the great motive to pray, is God’s awesome commitment to his name. The pleasure that he has in his fame is the pledge and passion of his readiness to forgive and save those who lift his banner and cast themselves on his promise and mercy” (Pleasures of God, 107).
We will only start believing that God doesn’t have time for our prayers when we begin to divorce our prayers from his glory — when we disconnect his moving in our lives from his being lifted up in our lives. God will not stop doing good for his children, even in the most minute and mundane details, because his name is on the line even in the most minute and mundane details. If he ignored our pleas, he would be an unreliable God and a negligent Father. He would be less glorious.
Our God and Father ties his tender mercy and loving care toward us to his fame in the world:
“For my name’s sake I defer my anger;
for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 48:9–11)
Good earthly fathers don’t talk like that: “For my own sake, for my own sake . . . ” But our unique, extraordinarily good, heavenly Father — the first and best father — does love his children that way, and it is good news. His pleasure in his own name perfects his love for us, and inclines his ears to our prayers. The prophet Daniel knew this and prayed, “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God” (Daniel 9:19). Hear me, O Lord, for your sake — a strange and yet deeply promising and emboldening prayer.Hallowed Be Your Name
For us to persist in prayer over months and years will mean we tune our hearts to the mysterious beauty of the first line in the Lord’s Prayer:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:9)
The most surprising aspect is not that God is so unashamedly committed to his own glory, but that he would love us, and not just love us, but adopt us — and be our Father. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). Tim Keller marvels that in Christ, “We have the most intimate and unbreakable relationship possible with the God of the universe” (Prayer, 69), and R.C. Sproul says to call God “Father” affirms “the very uniqueness of Christianity” (Prayer of the Lord, 23).
Jesus teaches us to call God “our Father.” Those two words are loaded with more hope and wonder and security than we can adequately feel. But then Jesus anchors the whole prayer in the hallowing of our Father’s name. How can God be a good father and be so focused on himself? Because the goodness of God’s fatherhood is intimately tied to his love for his own fame.
His desire for his own glory doesn’t limit how much he loves us but unleashes his love in greater depths and in even more ways.He Wants You to Ask
God wants you to ask again — for healing, for reconciliation, for salvation — because God loves to reveal his strength and wisdom and worth again. And because he loves you. And because he loves you, he wants you to see and experience more of his glory. In prayer — in what we ask by faith — we ask to see more of him. The details of our specific prayers are real and important, but the thread through them all — the prayer of prayers — remains the same: “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18).
His glory does not distract him from our pleas — from our cries for daily bread, for forgiveness of our sins, and for protection from temptation. His glory drives him into our true needs. Because he takes pleasure in his name, he will love us with fatherly ferocity — not indifference, reluctance, or impatience.
If we picture God taking a break from more important pursuits to address our little needs and desires, we’ll soon suspect that he doesn’t have time for us, or that we’re not a priority. But if addressing our little needs and desires actually plays a part in his most important purpose, we can have confidence that he’ll never stop hearing our prayers. He wants us to ask again, not simply because he told us to pray, but because when we pray, we open another window for his glory to stream through.One Thing Have I Asked
But is his glory good news for us? It is, if we pray like King David,
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple. (Psalms 27:4).
We can fall into ruts in which we ask for just about everything but that — for bread, forgiveness, protection, healing, guidance, reconciliation, but not for glory. When we pray, are we consistently longing and asking to see and spread the beauty of God?
If we can say that David’s one thing is our one thing, we will not begrudge God making our prayers occasions for his glory. His glory will be music to the ears of our soul. As we pray and ask again, we’ll gaze again. And we’ll want others to gaze with us. His glory in and through us will be beautiful to us, because we will want his glory more than anything. We will want his glory more than whatever else we pray for ourselves.
The next time your patience and passion flag in prayer, remember what Jesus prayed for you, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). Press in and ask him again. Your Father loves to answer your prayers with his glory. And because he loves his glory, he will love you in every circumstance and trial with more of himself.
How do people not waste their lives if a chronic illness has stolen their strengths, taken their time, and put them in bed all day?
The war will be lost against lust by those who stop fighting it by the power and promises of God.
Self-control can sound so appealing. Until the time comes to actually say no.
Outside the moment of temptation, what Christian doesn’t want to present his members to God as instruments for righteousness (Romans 6:13)?
But then temptation comes, knocking on the door of our flesh like an old lover. We open the door a crack, and there she is: lust, bitterness, a cutting word — any one of our former darlings. Her appeals sound so reasonable. “Don’t I make you happy?” she asks. “Don’t you deserve to have me — just one more time? I promise I won’t come back again.”
And in a moment of insanity, our self-control disappears like a dream.Say No
God knows. He knows that our temptations awaken something fierce within us.
When God describes self-control, he doesn’t downplay the agony of it. As Paul writes to Titus, self-control means we must “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions” (Titus 2:12). The word for renounce here is a severe word — the same word Jesus uses when he says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). When we renounce ungodliness, we take something once precious to us and put it to death.
The “No” of self-control is not the calm “No” of a wedding RSVP. It is the terrible “No” of self-denial — of refusing to gratify the inner beast that barks for satisfaction. Self-control can feel like severing an arm or tearing out an eye (Matthew 5:29–30).
But God’s word doesn’t merely describe the anguish of self-control. God meets us in that dreadful moment, and tells us how we can meet our sin at the door, hear its desperate pleas, and still say “No.” Consider two simple but powerful reasons Paul gives to Titus: the grace of God has appeared, and the glory of God will appear.Grace Has Appeared
Before Paul talks about renouncing ungodliness, he talks about grace: “The grace of God has appeared . . . training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions” (Titus 2:11–12). Once, we went to bed every night with our paramours, wrapped in the arms of God’s enemies. But now, the grace of God has appeared in the crucified and risen Christ. He has found our address, beat down the door, and like Hosea with Gomer, carried us out of the brothel.Grace’s “No”
When the grace of God appears, he does not merely lift a calm hand and pronounce forgiveness over our adultery. Grace rolls up its sleeves and starts to fight. Grace hunts down every graceless enemy of our souls. Or, as Paul puts it, grace takes us by the hand and begins to train us to say “No” to sin (Titus 2:11–12).
Everyone in Christ knows something of grace’s “No.” After we embraced God’s gift of justification by grace through faith (Titus 3:7), we have then felt a new principle at work within us, training us to renounce ungodliness.
I still remember the first moments of feeling grace’s thrilling power. Soon after I came to Christ, some friends of mine began to gossip about a mutual acquaintance. I knew the scenario well; my own tongue was well trained with these swords (Proverbs 12:18). But then I heard a new voice rise up within me, sweet and strong and new: “No. Not anymore.” Grace had begun to train me.Grace’s “Yes”
But notice that “No” is only half of how grace trains us. The grace of God trains us not only to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions,” but also to “live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11–12). The “No” of self-control becomes possible only as the “Yes” of holiness becomes beautiful.
Christians say “No” to pornography because purity, a barren rule for so long, has begun to burst with life. We say “No” to gossip because love for neighbor, an obtrusive ought until now, has finally found a home in our hearts. We say “No” to the love of money because generosity, a mere nuisance to us before, has breached the walls of our selfishness. We say “No” to sin because Jesus, a dim religious figure for so long, has lit up with startling beauty.
The same grace that first bid you to say “No” is still with you. When your former lusts appear on your doorstep today, grace will be with you to train you. He will give you everything you need to say, “I’m not yours anymore,” and shut the door. For the grace that has appeared is the man Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom who came to make you his (Titus 2:14).Glory Will Appear
For now, grace has appeared, training us to say the agonizing “No” of self-control. But grace’s training is not eternal. Grace will train us to renounce ungodliness only as long as we are “waiting” (Titus 2:13). Waiting for what? For “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). One day soon, grace’s work will finish, and glory will appear.
For now, Christians follow Jesus through “the present age” (Titus 2:12), an age dominated by evil (Galatians 1:4) and ruled by the devil (2 Corinthians 4:4). In this age, God is ignored, rebellion is celebrated, and righteousness seems banished from the earth. Satan has made sin look like a native in this world, and self-control like a stranger and an exile.
But one day soon, God will bring a great interruption: the earth will reel, the sky will tear open, and the glory of God will appear. And when it does, all the world will see the worth of self-control. Those who refused to leave the arms of their sin will be given over to those terrible arms fully and forever — and with them, the wrath and fury of the God they rejected (Romans 2:8). But those who submitted to grace’s training will find, at last, that self-denial has given way to eternal life (Romans 2:7).
For a moment, we must say the terrible “No” of self-control; forever, we will feast on the abundance of God’s house (Psalm 36:8). For a moment, we must refuse our former lovers; forever, we will see our Groom face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). For a moment, we must be ready to cut off an arm and rip out an eye; forever, we will touch our feet on the soil of the New Jerusalem, and romp through the new creation with laughter on our lips.
Jesus is almost here. This life of self-control, as long as it may seem, is merely the morning of our wedding day. Just a little longer, and we will see him.
And with that “blessed hope” abiding in our hearts (Titus 2:13), we can say no to sin today.
Grace is not only pardon from sin, but power to do good. And as we trust God for grace, more and more will keep on flowing.
Your singleness is more noticeable since you left college. You say that you stick out, as an awkward tooth does in an otherwise pleasant smile. You feel inconvenient. Crooked. Left out.
You have developed a habit of diverting your eyes when asked whether you have a family. You hear a world of commentary hidden behind their bashful reply, “Oh, okay!” You go there, and return home, alone.
You say you don’t think that the other believers mean to exclude you. They are busy with baseball practices, birthday parties, dance recitals, and anniversaries. They have other responsibilities, you understand that. But for some reason, that doesn’t ease the ache on lonely nights. You watch more television. You remember having more friends once.Even on Sundays
Sunday comes. You both love and fear it. As you enter the doorway, you feel like you did when you used to wait to be picked for recess. Will everyone watch as you stand there alone, the only unchosen on the team? You search the crowd to find someone you know. You can only eat so many pastries and refill your coffee cup so many times without drawing attention. You start coming to church late and leaving early.
No one means to say that the single life is second-class. But the pastor is married. The elders are all married. Few to none of the small group leaders are single. The Sunday school teacher has six kids. Sermon illustrations usually reference quirky aspects of family life. You assume that the married life is the godly life while you fear that people assume that because you’re single, you’re unstable, defected, or addicted to porn. You wonder if mature biblical manhood and womanhood is largely displayed on one’s ring finger.
I know you hear a lot of clichés about how wonderful your singleness really is. You have grown a bitter aversion to married men and women offering you unsolicited advice or encouraging you that the perfect spouse is just around the corner. You’ve looked around those corners. Hearing counsel from those who’ve escaped the loneliness of singleness tempts your eye to twitch. I know. But please permit me to share some things God has said about singleness that you may not have realized. I hope it ignites a greater vision for how you use your life while single.Is Singleness a Curse?
Allow me to begin in an unexpected place: the Old Testament. And with a surprising truth: singleness was despised by God’s people of old. In the garden, God gave Adam a command and blessing that the Jews would come to take very seriously: “And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it’” (Genesis 1:22, 28; 9:1; 35:11). Childbearing was a sign of God’s blessing (Deuteronomy 7:11–14). Whereas barrenness was a sign of curse (Deuteronomy 28:15–18). To remain single was to disobey this command to be fruitful and to undermine God’s blessing.
You are not alone in your late-night frustrations. Singleness was labeled a curse for many in the Old Testament. Singleness was seen as a dead end. To be single was to functionally blot out one’s own name from under heaven because you wouldn’t continue your lineage through your children. The prophet Jeremiah, one of the few singles mentioned in the Old Testament, was commanded to be single — as a sign of impending doom for Israel (Jeremiah 16:1–4). Encouraging, right?
But consider what the unmarried Messiah did to singleness. Jesus comes and challenges how God’s people then — and now — think about the single life devoted to his kingdom. Where previously singles were benched from God’s kingdom expansion (from physically going forth and multiplying), now, his cross changes everything. Biblically, singleness is not weird, second-class, or an afterthought to God.
In an encounter with the Pharisees, Jesus spoke of singles who embrace their singleness for the glory of God. He called such men and women “eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:12). Jesus, in answering a question about who should remain single (Matthew 19:10), replied first with two groups that didn’t have the option to marry. But then, Jesus does something unusual: he makes up this third group of voluntary eunuchs (something extremely reprehensible to the Jews, who saw the command to go forth and multiply as a primary command).
A theologian of the first century, Origen, took Jesus’s words literally and castrated himself. This, I argue, was an unfortunate misunderstanding of the text. What Jesus creates here is a group of people who are single for his kingdom.A Mission for Singles
What we take for granted, the Jews would not have. How can singleness, an undermining of God’s cultural mandate, be used for the kingdom? The answer is that Jesus redeems singleness. Jesus, by his cross work, changes the mission of God’s people to include married and unmarried alike:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20)
The expansion plan of God’s kingdom in the Old Testament was through physical multiplication, something that excluded singles. Now, God’s people march towards glory in the New Testament age through spiritual multiplication by disciple-making (2 Timothy 2:1–2). The procreation mandate given to Adam is reissued through the coming of Christ: Go forth and multiply spiritual children.No Afterthoughts
We see the great, unmarried apostle doing this all across the Roman world. Although childless, Paul had many children, calling the churches (like those in Corinth and Galatia) his beloved children (1 Corinthians 4:14; Galatians 4:19), and also individual men like Timothy, Titus, and Onesimus (1 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philemon 10). Although unmarried, his spiritual offspring would be his hope and joy and crown before the Lord on that day (1 Thessalonians 2:19).
I write to encourage you that you are not without amazing purpose. You are not a mistake. You are not overlooked in the grand plan of subduing the world to Christ’s reign. There is work for you to do. The grand mission of life is not marriage. It is to love him with all our being and our neighbor as ourselves. And you have such a sweet opportunity for both.
Wielded properly, you can be one of the greatest tools in the hands of God for his kingdom. You are fit to be a glorious sniper in the Master’s regiment. Whereas the married person is divided between a spouse and the Lord, the content single person can wholeheartedly serve him (1 Corinthians 7:25–35). What a glory. Those single saints now resting in glory — John the Baptist, Joseph, Martha, Nehemiah, and Paul (to name a few) — do not look down from heaven and envy me because I am married.Single and Complete
The single life, instead of being an agony of incompleteness, can be one of the most joyful under all of heaven. You have a chance to stride past many marrieds in your knowledge of God and service to him. While many of us scurry off to put out fires in our homes, concerned about this world’s affairs, you can more undistractedly gaze upon him and remain seated at his feet. If we saw things rightly, more would envy, not pity you.
Despite how some may treat you, and I am grieved to hear some stories you had to share, your singleness is not a shameful thing or a waiting room before real life and ministry begin. It is no longer a curse for the follower of Jesus. It can be a gift for those who are willing to pursue the Lord and fish for souls.
Because of the cross, the married life is not better than the single. Both can be blessings from God (1 Corinthians 7:7) and each can be deployed to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 7:17). I pray that you can forgive your brothers and sisters in Christ when we make insensitive comments or consume ourselves with family concerns and neglect you. You are an indispensable part of the family.
A relentless pursuit of self-esteem can increase your confidence and soothe your emotions. And it can also ruin your Bible reading.
Let’s say you were given this assignment: construct a book that will remain relevant for millennia and radically influence the greatest civilizations in the history of the world. How would you do it?
Would you think that compiling the book’s contents over 1,500 years, employing at least 40 different authors, incorporating numerous and very different genres, and originally composing it in three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) is a good strategy? I doubt it.
It’s good God doesn’t consult us on things like this.
The Bible is the most amazing book in the world. And when we’re tempted to feel bored with it, we may need to step back and remember how marvelous and unique and powerful this piece of literature is. The Bible is simply unequaled in its influence, audacious in its claims, and unrivaled in its power to transform hardened sinners into humble saints.Unequaled
Just think about what God was aiming to accomplish in the Bible. He purposed to convey the truth of redemption (the gospel) in ways that would be understood and believed by people in thousands of diverse cultures, speaking thousands of different languages, over thousands of years. Have you ever thought how incredible it is that the message of the Bible can be believed, and the gospel can be lived out, in the most primitive and most sophisticated cultures on earth — in every age?
Not only that, but God determined to make the most important parts of the Bible comprehensible to small children and uneducated adults, and yet be able to withstand the most rigorous pounding of academic literary criticism. The Bible has taken, and continues to take, more critical cannon fire than any other book in history, and the ship just won’t sink.
The Bible would not likely be chosen by the literati who give out the Nobel Prize for literature, though it certainly contains remarkable works of art. Nevertheless, it has and continues to shape the course of world history like no other book ever has. As a historical phenomenon, it is simply unequaled.Audacious
And the Bible is unashamedly audacious in its claims. That’s why it either inspires devotion or hatred in its readers. Because as J.C. Ryle says,
If the Bible is not the word of God and inspired, the whole of Christendom for 1,800 [now 2,000] years has been under an immense delusion; half the human race has been cheated and deceived, and churches are monuments of folly. If the Bible is the word of God and inspired, all who refuse to believe it are in fearful danger; they are living on the brink of eternal misery. (Old Paths, 11)
The Bible claims it is “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), “perfect” (Psalm 19:7), and “living and active,” able to discern “the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
And at the climax of the written word is the recorded life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, who the written word calls the Word incarnate (John 1:1). And the incarnate Word claimed audaciously that he was the same word that issued from Moses’s burning bush (Exodus 3:14; John 8:58), and declared unequivocally that he was “the way, and the truth, and the life” and that no one comes to God except through him (John 14:6).
Take the written word at its word, and take Jesus at his word, and a reader must either bow to Jesus as Creator of all and Savior of those who repent, or reject him as the most dangerous megalomaniac of all time. Either Bible-believers are deluded fools, or Bible-unbelievers are in terrible peril. There is no real middle ground. The only people who are lukewarm about the Bible are those who don’t take its claims seriously.Unrivaled
But in the lives of those who do take it seriously, who embrace its claims and its Savior, we see the greatest evidence of the power of this book. As John Piper writes,
The peculiar glory of God in Scripture is reflected in his people: they are transformed from self-centered, self-exalting people to God-centered, Christ-exalting servants, who live for the good of others. In this, they are like Christ, the perfect embodiment of the peculiar glory of love through lowliness. This change extends the self-authenticating evidence of the glory of God through the word into the character and the good works of God’s people. Thus the people who are most transformed by the word become evidences of the reality of the God of the word. (A Peculiar Glory, 260).
The Bible is often accused of inciting all manner of violent historical horrors. It is an ignorant, foolish, and at times willfully misleading interpretation of the violence recorded in Scripture and the violence recorded in extrabiblical history. Since the dawn of time, human beings have been manipulating every form and level of power and every religion to slake their evil, self-glorifying desires for money, sex, and more power. The real story is not that the Bible has been abused in such ways — in fact, the Bible teaches us not to be at all surprised when this happens.
The real story of the Bible is its unrivaled power to transform murderous, covetous, sexually immoral, pathologically selfish people into humble, self-sacrificing, servant-hearted lovers of God and other people. There is a reason Christians, more than any other group of people throughout history, have been on the forefront of aiding the poor, tending the sick, educating the masses, and standing against injustice: the Bible’s teaching.
You really want to change the world? History would teach you to take the Bible seriously and obey what Jesus says in Matthew 22:37–39.
Yes, there are glaring, tragic, shameful historical failures. But examine closely the larger (usually greed-driven) cultural failures (like the African slave trade and the repeated betrayals of the Native American peoples), and who are most likely to be the few, courageous people advocating for the rights and needs of the oppressed at the times when it’s most costly and dangerous to do so? The fashionably and liberally religious? The atheists? No, serious Bible-believing, Bible-obeying Christians — because of the Bible’s unparalleled power to move believers toward others' real, desperate need, even at the risk of their own lives.Anything but Boring
The Bible is the world’s most amazing book. You can love it and believe it, or you can hate it and despise it. But you cannot deny its unequaled global influence, its audacious claims, and its unrivaled power to beautifully transform lives. The Bible has achieved what no other book has been able to do.
And you can hold one in your own hands!
Are we bored with it? Oh, boredom! That plague of our finite, fallen, self-oriented flesh that so easily loses appreciation for the most precious treasures simply when they become familiar! Forgive us, Father, and hasten the day when we lose our amazing capacity for boredom and gain an amazing capacity for sustained amazement!
If the Bible has grown boring to you, fight it! Remember what makes it marvelous and marvel again. Look at it again, and take time to look. If it bores you, that’s when you really need to keep looking. Look until the peculiar glory begins to shine again, until you don’t want to stop looking. For those who see this glory just never get to the bottom of it.
Saying no to lust is not enough. We must turn to a superior pleasure — the everlasting pleasure of knowing our God.