YEAR 2, WEEK 16, Day 5, Friday, 21 April 2023

Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Friday, 21 April 2023:

Job 41:10-11 —   No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up.  Who then is he who can stand before me?  Who has first given to me, that I should repay him?  Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.

There are some things about God’s Creation we would never handle carelessly.  Who would be complacent around a wild lion or a poisonous snake?  Who would attempt to defy gravity or the rushing waters of a powerful flood?  Yet, we often take God’s word for granted or refuse to trust in His perfect providence.  If you really believe God is God, what else do you need to know?

Romans 8:16-17 – The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

“It is impossible to perceive all that became ours when we were born again.  There is no way we can understand all that heaven is like.  How could we ever comprehend all that is ours as fellow heirs with Christ?  The knowledge that we will share Christ’s inheritance with Him absolutely astounds us!  Left to our own, we could not begin to understand all that we received once we became children of the King.  The Holy Spirit convinces us that we are indeed children of God and helps us understand the riches of our inheritance.

Perhaps you did not have a loving father.  The Spirit’s role is to teach you how to respond to a Father who relates to you only in perfect love and how to live like a child of the King.  Perhaps you grew up in poverty.  The Spirit will show you the inexhaustible riches available to you as a child of God.

If you were simply declared an heir and then left on your own, you could not begin to use your inheritance.  But the Father has given you His Spirit to serve as your Guide and Teacher.  The Holy Spirit will lead you to the magnificent promises and resources that became available when God adopted you into His family.  Take time to meditate on the wonderful promises of God that are available to you.  Let the Holy Spirit convince you of the reality that you are, indeed, a child of God and a fellow heir of Christ.” (Henry T. Blackaby)

Romans 8:29-30 – For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Your life is a part of God’s grand design.  God has known about you and had a plan for your life since before time began.  He knew everything about you before you were even born (Jer. 1:5).  God predetermined that you would become like His Son.  Your life, therefore, has a destiny.  Christ is the model upon which the Father is developing your life.  You are meant to have a relationship with the Father that is as intimate as the relationship between Jesus and the Father (John 17:21).  Every event He allows into your life is designed to make you more like Christ.

God’s call came when He invited you to join Him in the process!  His call was extremely personal, designed specifically for your response.  How wonderful to realize that at a particular moment in history, almighty God spoke personally to you and invited you to become His child!

Because of your sin, you could never live blamelessly.  But God forgave your sin and justified you, declaring you righteous.  All the spiritual debt you carried with Him was forgiven, and you were freed to enjoy God and to serve Him for the rest of eternity.  In Biblical times, the glory of God’s people was His presence.  You, too, are glorified because the fullness of God now dwells within you, and you will one day be with Him (Col. 1:27; 2:9).  He invites you to join Him in working out His will in your life–conforming you to His image (Phil. 2:12).

Romans 8:29 – “…be conformed to the image of his Son….”

“So how does a Christian develop character?  The character development process is a perpetual cycle – your thoughts and desires turn into decisions; your decisions turn into actions (what you do); your actions become habits (your pattern of behavior) which, over time, solidify into your character (who you are); and the cycle continues as your character guides your thoughts.  Everyone is continually becoming more of who they are through either a virtuous character cycle (conforming to the image of Christ – Romans 8:29), or a vicious character cycle – “while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:13) 

To develop a Christ-like character, the Bible will instruct you to target all areas of the character development cycle, simultaneously and persistently, through a changed heart, changed mind, changed thoughts, changed decisions, changed habits, and, overtime, a changed character (be the new you that you already are).  In other words, the perpetual (hopefully virtuous) cycle of change is not simply linear (one step to another), it is interdependent, mutually supportive, synergistic, and continuous.  The Bible also explains that your decisions and actions both reflect your current character and shape your future character.  Most revealing are the decisions you make when no one is looking. 

The secular world sees character development as a wholly human endeavor, a product of the human will.  Many religions hold the same viewpoint.  However, though the Christian understands the importance of willpower in the process of sanctification, the Christian realizes their total dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit for both salvation and for sanctification (Christ-like character development – oneness with Christ). 

Without Christ, character development is a house built on a foundation of sand.  Without Christ, one can obtain the appearance of character without the true life and power of character.  A person can act out character like the Pharisees who Jesus called hypocrites (hypocrite is the Greek word for stage actor) and whitewashed tombs – outwardly impressive but dead inside.  The worldly version of character can produce results in life, but not eternal results.  It is easy for Christians to be deceived by the many popular secular teachings on character development which promote placing faith in the inherent goodness of people, a goodness which supposedly only needs to be unleashed through proper education and practice.  However, the Bible teaches that “love” and “self-control” are fruits of the Spirit, not a fruit of human intellect and willpower (Galatians 5:23). “Let no one deceive you with empty words (Ephesians 5:6).”  Christians can also make the mistake the Pharisees made by pursuing good behavior (moralism) rather than Christ Himself –

  – John 17:3 — And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

  – John 14:6 — Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

  – John 15:4-5 — Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

  – 1 John 5:3 — For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

 – 1 John 4:16-21 — So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  We love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Christian character development is not about modelling Jesus’ behavior but rather growing to share His heart – His focus, thoughts, feelings, passions, attitudes, and choices.  Behavior is the natural fruit of what is in the heart.  The ultimate character virtue is love, and God is love; He is the foundation, the source, and the catalyst for all true love; apart from Him, there is not true love, only desires, which may at times have the appearance of love, but which cannot ultimately stand the test of love — “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

Christian character development is not building up a better you but rather sacrificing yourself for Him – being crucified with Christ and no longer living for self but for Christ alone.  As stated above, the Bible gives many instructions on how to personally develop Christ-like character, instructions which demand daily discipline (disciples require discipline) and long-term perseverance, but we must recognize these disciplines as acts of worship and as acts of denying self rather than self-denial – there is a big difference between denying self and self-denial: 

Jesus said the first step was to “deny self” (Matthew 16:24), while the secularist says the key to success is self-denial.  Self-denial has been described as giving up something you want now in order to get something you want more later – making daily sacrifices to achieve long-term goals.  For example, you don’t eat that cheesecake so you can look good at the beach this summer, and you motivate yourself by saying things like, “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.” Ultimately though, the focus is still on self, self-control for self-glorification. 

Conversely, denying self is putting an end to self-seeking, self-serving, self-justifying, self-glorifying, self-centeredness, and self-confident living.  It is dying to self, no longer living but Christ living in you, abiding in Him.  “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) Instead of resisting what you want now for sake of what you want later, it is no longer wanting what you wanted but rather wanting only Him and His will, appreciating that you have Him, walking in fellowship with Him, and passionately sharing Him with others because you love them like Jesus does and desperately want them to know Him like you do.  It is an end to chasing after the worries of this world.  Jesus said that eternal life was knowing Him. (John 17:3)  Are you experiencing eternal life today and the fullness of joy which comes from knowing Jesus intimately?  What might be standing in the way?  Ask yourself this question: “Why do I do what I do?”  What is your true motivation behind your actions and ‘good deeds’?  What is the foundation of your character?  “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11)

A key virtue of godly character is humility.  “The Lord lifts up the humble.” (Psalm 147:6) “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12 ) “Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” (James 4:6) Someone once said, ‘Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but rather thinking of yourself less.’ Humility is obtained by not focusing on humility but rather by focusing on Christ.  Humility is something that can only be attributed to you by others, not self-assessed.  As soon as you begin to consider your own humility (thinking of yourself), you have begun to lose it.  The key to growing in Christ-like character is keeping are your eyes affixed upon Him, rather than yourself or on others, and following Him one step at a time — “We keep looking to the LORD our God for his mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal.” (Psalm 123:2)” (Henry T. Blackaby)

Romans 8:32 – He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

“If you ever feel that you are so insignificant that God does not care about you or that He does not want to listen to your prayers, you will be encouraged by Romans 8:32.  There, you are assured that your heavenly Father loves you unconditionally.  There was nothing so precious to Him that He would not give it up in order to provide for your salvation.  When the Father gave His precious Son to save you, He proved once for all that His love is boundless.

The apostle Paul concluded that if God would not spare His own Son in order to provide for our salvation, how would He not willingly give anything else at His disposal in order to care for us?  He sacrificed so much to give us eternal life that we can rest secure in the knowledge that He also wants to give us abundant life (John 10:10).

In light of what God did for us at the cross, should we not approach the throne of grace with confidence?  God’s response to our prayers is not based upon our worthiness but upon His love and grace.  Our confidence in prayer comes not from who we are but from who He is.  Nothing we could ask of Him could ever compare with the price He paid for us at the cross.

How wonderful to know that God loves us so much!  We can live with confidence and anticipation knowing that almighty God is willing not only to give us eternal life, but also to help us experience it fully!” (Henry T. Blackaby)

Romans 8:35 — Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

“Nothing you could ever experience, no matter how terrible or frightening, could ever separate you from the love of God.  No tribulation and distress you might ever suffer could be so intense that God’s love for you is not even more fervent.  No persecution could be so painful that God’s love cannot bring comfort.  Famine might starve you of food, but you will never hunger for the Father’s love.  Poverty cannot strip you of God’s compassion, just as even death itself is incapable of robbing you of your heavenly Father’s infinite love.

If you base your view of God’s love on your circumstances, you will become confused.  There may be times when you will ask, ‘How could a loving God allow this to happen to me?’ You may begin to question what you find clearly stated in the Word of God.  God promised that you would never be separated from His love; He did not say that you would never face hardship, persecution, poverty, or danger.  If you doubt that God could love you and still allow you to experience difficult experiences, consider the life of Jesus.

If you allow the death of Jesus on the cross to forever settle any questions you might have about God’s love, you will approach difficult circumstances with confidence.  Knowing that there will never be anything that could separate you from God’s perfect love, you will watch to see how God expresses His love in each circumstance.  Don’t ever judge God’s love based on your circumstances.  Instead, evaluate your circumstances from the perspective of God’s love.” (Henry T. Blackaby) “Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 21 April 2023: Today, don’t focus on simply obeying God’s commandments, focus on being just like Jesus in every way, being God’s image bearer on earth as you were created to be.  Trust that all of your circumstances were allowed by God for the purpose of making you just like Jesus.  (Romans 8:28-29)

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