The things we know
When we come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, it is not as if we instantly download a bank of spiritual knowledge. We must go through the work of pouring over the scriptures, of studying with fellow believers, and of learning from our spiritual leaders so that we can come to know God’s truths. What strikes me about certain scriptures, however, is that they seem to assume that believers will know certain critical truths. The following New Testament passages are of this kind, and they are a call to us to simply accept that we know these things about God and about ourselves. This is knowledge that marks the true believer, and each of these bits of information really directs how we live out our sanctification. Let us explore these precious few truths that we all should know and hold dear.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
When it comes to the stretching and building of our faith through various kinds of trials, the struggle is real. I can attest that I have been one of those Christians who looks at the battle and cries out to God, “why me?” It is that moment of self-pity and perhaps even that moment of doubt during which we forget what we know about the trials we endure for the sake of Christ. Namely, we forget that we must endure trials if we are to enjoy spiritual growth. There is no other way to go about this. Sure, some of us will have to endure more than others, and there are some people who appear never to be tried at all, but that is not for us to consider. The expectation that we know trials must come our way indicates that we also will be prepared for them. At a minimum, it should not surprise us when our faith is tested. It is simply something that comes with the territory, and it occurs for our good. Yes, the trial is a treasure.
The above passage indicates something else about our knowledge of these necessary trials. They actually should cause us to have joy. Instead of seeing these tests or tribulations as a negative, we should be seeing them as a positive. If we really know what these trials are all about, if we really understand their purpose, then we would be elated at the opportunity to grow more spiritually as a result of these experiences. In this context, our having the proper understanding will allow us to have the proper attitude. The trials should not bring us down, but they should lift us up. As crazy as it may sound, we should look forward to these periods of development. We must remember that the point behind all of this is to bring us to complete perfection, lacking nothing. We certainly desire to arrive there. However, there is only one way to complete that journey. We must expect the trial, endure it gladly and seek the fruit it produces.
1 Corinthians 6:18-20
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Ask every Christian you know, and I guarantee that they all will tell you that they belong to God. They all know that they are no longer their own. The fundamental truth for us that we have exchanged our lives for that of Christ is not news. He died on the cross, was resurrected and ascended to the right hand of the Father. We fully understand that He gave his life for us. We also fully understand that we confessed during that moment of prayer that we would give our lives to him. Yet, our knowledge of these things sometimes eludes us as we try to take back control of our lives instead of relinquishing ourselves to God daily. Although this scripture speaks specifically of sexual sin, there are so many areas of life to which this issue applies. From our relationships to our finances to our leisure time, it seems like we so often forget who our master is. We forget that we do not belong to ourselves.
The fact that we are temples of the living God, dwelling places for his Spirit, should cause us to be very careful about how we conduct and care for ourselves. Imagine that God had a physical house in which He resided, and He gave you the privilege of caring for that house for him. You probably would make sure that the lawn was cut, the gardens were manicured, and the structure was sound. Of course you would want God’s house to be clean and comfortable for him with every one of his needs met. The truth is that we are that house, that garden and that lawn. We are to be not only his dwelling place but his joy and his glory. If we truly know that, we should be incredibly meticulous about how we care for these temples. Beyond physical purity we also should strive to continually improve ourselves for him in every way we can. We only need think about making sure we are temples worthy of God’s dwelling, and that should bring us to change.
Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
I like to think of the last sentence of this passage as my spiritual backbone. We live in a world in which romance and beauty can be difficult to find. It is a place of physical degradation because of its fallen state. There is much to weigh us down if we let it. We hear so many times that our faith, our attitudes and our emotions cannot be dependent on our circumstances, and this certainly is true. The reality, however, is that it is just too easy to get wrapped up in those circumstances and forget the simple truth that God has planned all things to work out for our good. He does not reserve some things or most things to benefit us, but He uses all things to create something positive for his children. This is a truth which cuts through the darkness that tries to infiltrate our lives hour by hour and minute by minute. It is a truth which defies logic when we are under attack, and perhaps that is why we sometimes forget it.
This passage talks about someone who is in such dire need that the right words to pray do not even come. This is someone going through something so tough that the only thing to do is ask the Spirit to pray for what is needed at that time. It is in the context of such dire straits that God comforts us with this promise. He is telling us that even the worst of the worst which could possibly befall us will be worked out for our good. It may be very difficult to see, and we may have severe doubts, but we must be able to gather ourselves and stand firm on this knowledge. If we know that God works all things for our good, then we know that nothing which comes our way is really that big of a deal. The dark times are not only temporary and manageable, but they can bring us to incredible places of light. We only need stand firm on God’s promise and allow him to do what He needs to do to bless us through those experiences.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
Do you know that we have two new lives as a result of our salvation through Jesus Christ? First, we experience spiritual rebirth which allows us to live a new spiritual life here now. Once we were slaves to sin, but now we are free from sin and are slaves to righteousness. This means that our allegiance, our devotion and our dedication are now to God and the things of God. We are able to overcome the power of sin and death, which means that we can overcome temptation and thus overcome the consequences of falling to temptation. This spiritual rebirth is actually a union with Jesus Christ. We are no longer simply ourselves, but we have been resurrected with him so that we can live in this new way. If we know this truth, it should be evidenced by the fact that we live as people who are indeed free from the power of sin. Our lives should exhibit the spiritual freedom and newness that we have gained through this resurrection.
Second, there is a new physical life that awaits us upon the return of Jesus Christ. These bodies which break down over time and eventually fail us, these physical vessels which once were made for eternity but now have been ravaged by sin, will be replaced by glorified bodies. One day we will be physical beings who do not age, do not wear down and do not get sick. There will be no pain and no injuries, the imperfection within which we reside today will be gone, and we will be covered in perfection. The question is whether we live today as if we are confident that this will be our future. Those who have such great expectations awaiting them certainly would live as if these temporary, clunky, old bodies are of no real consequence. They may pray for healing today, but they also are content in knowing that one day God will bring his children perfect wholeness whether physical or mental. That promise is certainly more than enough.
1 John 3:13-15
Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
This is another verse which gives us a way to measure where we are spiritually. It tells us that there is a certain evidence to indicate that we have passed out of death and into life. There is a way for us actually to confirm that we have made that change for real. The evidence is that we abide in life by our deed and our word. Love brings life, and hate brings death; this is a basic truth. Those who have passed into life exhibit that by passing on life to others. The brother or sister who lives this out correctly only has words of help and encouragement. That is a person who desires to bring down no one with insults or offense. That is a person who is careful that every action is measured so that others are respected and encouraged. To live a life which breeds life simply means that we desire in all things to lift others and bring them light because to do otherwise is like speaking death over them.
This passage may come with conviction, and we will welcome that if it is necessary. Some of us walk around this earth thinking that we are being gentle and loving, but we have not properly measured our speech and our actions. Every interaction is a good opportunity to check ourselves against this instruction. The Bible tells us what it is that love pursues and produces. We must look at the fruit of our speech and behavior to make sure that they pursue and produce these very things. If we are not walking in love, that is an indication that we have not passed from death to life, which is rather serious. If we know that walking in anger or hatred reveals that we are still living in a state of death, this should get our attention and prompt us to act. This is literally a matter of life and death. We cannot say that we walk in this newness of life yet continue to sow death in those around us.
As I read these scriptures I can hear so many adults from my childhood telling me that I certainly knew better than to do certain things I should not have done. As Christians, there are many ways in which we simply should know better. We all have struggles, and we are all growing in our transformation, but we cannot rely on excuses when the word of God tells us what his expectations of us are. It is for us to continually measure ourselves against the word to make sure that we live as if we really know God’s truth and believe it. The knowledge we gain from God always should produce some good fruit. That is how we know we actually get it. That is how we know that God’s word is doing its purposeful work in us. If we see that we continue to fall short in any certain area, then that just gives us something to do today. This knowledge will not come to us magically. We must pursue learning it. Consider that something else we know.