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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Imitating the Godly

“I think my mind has been too intent on things which I look upon as services for the Church. But God will have us know that he has no need of me nor them, and is therefore calling me off them. Help me with your prayers that I may, through the riches of his grace in Christ, be in some measure ready for my account.” John Owen, Letter to Charles Fleetwood

One of the defining differences between the Bible and the purported holy books of other religions, is the fact that the Bible does not seek to paper over the faults of its main characters. From beginning to end, the Bible shows the lives of the protagonists in its narratives with their many virtues, but also with their many warts. Although it calls Abraham the “friend of God” (James 2:23), it also tells of the unbelief that led him to seek to have a child with Hagar (Genesis 16) and to lie about Sarah (Genesis 20). Although it says that David was a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22), it also tells of his adultery, murder and unbelief (2 Samuel 11). (As an aside, the Qur'an, and Islam in general, considers all its prophets sinless).

And therein lies one of the most important lessons that the Word of God seeks to impart to all of us who believe it. Although there have been men of great faith and amazing trust in God, no one except Christ has been able to go through life with a totally clean slate. When Isaiah contemplated the holiness of God in Isaiah chapter 6, he felt himself literally coming apart at the seams. His mind could not take in the holiness it was witnessing and it was a though it had imploded. But God is a God of mercy, and although He understood that Isaiah was an unclean creature, He nevertheless cleansed Him and appointed him to do a great work.
One of the greatest benefits of reading the biographies of great men of God, is the fact that they show us how human they really were. We have a tendency to want to put people on a pedestal and see them as super humans who never did anything wrong or sinful. But the fact is that they, just like us, were subject to the same temptations: pride, arrogance, selfishness and many others. Although they certainly did an amazing work for God—in the saving of souls, for example—they nevertheless showed their human weaknesses and faults. Such serve as an example for us. Not so that we can use them as an excuse for our failings, but rather so that we can understand that no one is completely above reproach and that only the blood of Christ can cover our every sin.
I recently finished reading a biography of Puritan preacher and Oxford Vice-Principal, John Owen. If you know anything about any of the Puritans, you will know that Owen was in every respect first among equals. His theological mind and his study of the Word and exposition of it were incredible. Owen lived at a time of tremendous challenges for the England of his day. The country was undergoing continuous upheavals as one party or another sought to gain the upper hand, first during the aftermath of the Reformation, and then as it struggled through civil war. Even in the midst of such problems Owen was ahead of his time in supporting freedom of conscience in matters of religion. At a time when sacramentalism was the law of the land and was accepted by just about everyone, he argued that spiritual faults should be dealt with spiritually and not with the force of the government.
But as the quote at the beginning of this article so eloquently puts it, Owen, near the end of his days, understood that none of us are indispensable. God does not need us, as some would have us believe. He simply chooses to make use of the talents He Himself has given us to accomplish His ends through us. The weakness of our flesh will never be a limiting factor to God. Although many of us are struggling with one sin or another, we can find solace in the fact that many men and women, better than we, have gone before us and have experienced the same fiery trials that assail us today. Although God requires perfection (Matthew 5:48), He understands that we are but dust (Psalm 103:13-14) and that we will never be perfect in this life. But Christ’s perfection makes it possible for us to stand whole in His presence. It is only through Christ that we can stand before God with “confidence in the day of judgement” (1 John 4:17), because He has made it possible for God to “be just and the justifier of those who believe in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).

 

 


2 comments:

  1. The true notion that "God does not need us" is missing from much of evangelical Christianity....which is convinced that God desperately needs all (or at least most) of humanity to be whole or complete. Nonsense.

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    1. In his great work, "The Attributes of God," Arthur Pink makes the point in the very first chapter that God created solely because it pleased Him to do so. He did not need creation, as we are led to believe. Sometimes I get the impression that people conceive of God as a grandfatherly figure seating up in heaven fretting about what we do and what we're going to do next. It's as though He is completely helpless to do anything about His creation because we have "decided" to do such and such. What a poor, puny God some people have. Thanks for your comment.

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