Belonging for the Nonconformist

Sunday, April 18, 2021


I recently found myself freshly in awe over the book of Galatians during a trip to Virginia in January. While seated in my quaint little hotel room, I returned to the small book that had already blessed me so greatly only hours prior in the airport. This passage stopped me in my tracks:

"I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God" (Galatians 4:1-7). 

The word for "Slave" in Greek is "Doulos" which gives the idea of someone who is a bond-slave with no rights of their own. In this passage, doulos is used in the most dignified way, describing a Christian who has voluntarily submitted themself to Jesus' authority over their life [1]. Son is the word "Huios" which signifies a person who shares the same nature as their father [2]; in Christ, this starts when a person surrenders their life to Jesus Christ--becoming a Christian. Huios also points to the importance of a similarity of likeness between the father and the child. Help's says it well:

"5207 huios - Properly, a son (by birth or by adoption); (figuratively) anyone sharing the same nature as their father. For the believer, becoming a son of God begins with being reborn (adopted) by the heavenly father - through Christ (the work of the eternal Son) [...] Hyios ("Son") emphasizes likeness of the believer to the heavenly Father, i.e. resembling His character more and more by living in faith ("God's inwrought persuasions") [...] Hyios ("Son") highlights the (legal) right to the Father's inheritance, i.e. as the believer lives in conformity with the Father's nature (purpose)" [3].

Our sonship as believers--being the children of God--began with being adopted by God when He worked in our hearts, causing us to confess our sins and believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead on the third day (Rom. 10:9, 1 Jn. 1:9, 4:15). This reality of salvation and belonging was initiated by God.

A.W. Tozer, in his powerful book "The Pursuit of God," has a remarkable insight thereon:

"Christian theology teaches the doctrine of prevenient grace, which briefly stated means this, that before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man. Before a single man can think a right thought of God, there must have been a work of enlightenment done within him; imperfect it may be, but a true work nonetheless, and the secret cause of all desiring and seeking and praying which may follow. We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. 'No man can come to me,' said our Lord, 'except the Father which hath sent me draw him,' and it is by this very prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming. The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him; and all the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand: 'Thy right hand upholdeth me.' In this divine 'upholding' and human 'following' there is no contradiction. All is of God, for as von Hugel teaches, God is always previous. In practice, however, (that is, where God's previous working meets man's present response) man must pursue God. On our part there must be positive reciprocation if this secret drawing of God is to eventuate in identifiable experience of the Divine. In the warm language of personal feeling this is stated in the Forty-second Psalm: 'As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?' This is deep calling unto deep, and the longing heart will understand it" [4]. 

We have a God who has gone before us, working in our hearts and drawing us to Himself. We have been specifically pursued and sought out by our Maker; part of this beautiful sonship is sanctification--becoming more like Jesus, through His work in our lives. As Tozer states, there is a vital aspect of response in our own hearts toward God. We must actively pursue our loving Savior. When the book of Galatians (4:7) describes us as Sons--no longer slaves--and heirs though God, we know walking out this faith leads to conformity. In our broken society, many of us as Christians have become used to leading lives of nonconformity to the world. This is vital, as we are called to: "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16b), and "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Rom. 12:2b). But there is one place in my life where conformity is absolutely necessary. Conforming to the image of Christ.


I want my life to be described as Help's Word-studies had put it:

"Conformity with the Father's nature" [5].

Dear fellow nonconformist, I want you to know there is a place to set down that counter-cultural living. I want you to know there is a place you belong. In an evil world, a counter-cultural lifestyle and actions are often necessary, but there is a place--with our hearts bowed before our faithful God--that the culture is right and virtuous. In quiet communion with my God, the culture there is right, because it is owned by a just God who is always Right and True. There is a place you can "walk into" that you may set aside the dread--normally feeling the discomfort of being amongst people who delight in ungodliness, thus you will have to walk against the current--not here. In the presence of God, I belong. I am at home. I am safe to conform to Him, for He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We may exit the doors of our home and enter into a society that does not reflect Him--being salt and light, through His grace, every place we walk amongst men--yet we may also be deeply comforted in the truth that there is a haven of safety for us. I have a God in heaven and He is reigning!

God created you to be conformed--not to this culture, the world at large, the peers around you, or to the pervading thoughts of the day--but to Jesus Christ. 

How freeing it is to know that in a world with so many polluting influences that often pull us away from God, we can come before Him in quiet devotion and be conformed in a wonderful way that will lead to greater closeness with Him and a more accurate representation of Jesus being made in and through our daily living. 

Tozer warns us, though, that if we are not seeking out time with our God, we should not expect to become like Him:

"The man who would know God must give time to Him! He must count no time wasted, which is spent in the cultivation of His acquaintance. He must give himself to meditation and prayer hours on end. So did the saints of old, the glorious company of the apostles, the godly fellowship of the prophets and the believing members of the holy Church in all generations. And so must we if we would follow in their train! May not the inadequacy of much of our spiritual experience be traced back to our habit of skipping through the corridors of the Kingdom like little children through the marketplace, chattering about everything but pausing to learn the true value of nothing?" [6]

We have the Holy Spirit crying in our hearts: "Abba! Father!" (Gal. 4:6), and we have been brought near to our worthy Savior who no longer counts us slaves, but sons--heirs though God. I have a belonging with Jesus Christ that far surpasses any acceptance I could experience amongst people. How many of your friends would stick around if you rebelled against them, broke every one of their laws, and murdered their son on a cross? All our friends of earth would be nowhere to be found. They would cut us out of their lives in the name of self-preservation and self-protection. Not so with our God. When we deserved eternal condemnation in hell, God made a way for us to be redeemed. Prior to the time in history in which Jesus died, God's eternal redemptive purposes were at work--the Lamb of God was slain before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). 

The same Savior who intervened for your eternity is pursuing your heart today. Will you respond to His pursuit by seeking Him above all else, or will you miss out on the one relationship that most matters in light of eternity?

"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God [...] For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die--but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:1-2, 6-7).

--

[1] Help's Word-studies. “Strong's Greek: 1401. Δοῦλος (DOULOS) -- a Slave.” Bible Hub, biblehub.com/greek/1401.htm. 
[2] Help's Word-studies. “Strong's Greek: 5207. Υἱός (Huios) -- a Son.” Bible Hub, biblehub.com/greek/5207.htm.
[3] Ibid
[4] Tozer, A.W. The Pursuit of God, Good Press, 2019. ch. I. 
[5] Help's Word-studies. “Strong's Greek: 5207. Υἱός (Huios) -- a Son.” Bible Hub, biblehub.com/greek/5207.htm.
[6] Tozer, A.W. “Tozer Devotional: Give Time To God.” The Alliance, 2 Dec. 2019, www.cmalliance.org/devotions/tozer?id=178. 

Through the Painful Path: Trusting Christ When All Seems Bleak

Monday, January 4, 2021

What words would you use to describe your experiences in 2020? Have you had moments of challenge, difficulty and pain? I have yet to meet one person whose life was not in someway changed by the pandemic, national unrest or political happenings last year included. No one gets to check off all the boxes on their to-do list this trip around the sun. 

With so much uncertainty can also come the aches and pains of a hurting soul. Everyone has been at least somewhat more isolated than normal. When away from those we love, there is less accountability on how we are actually doing. 

Some people share, "Well, it's been crazy, but this was actually the best year of my life!" 

I don't know about you, but I can't quite resonate.

2020 was possibly the most painful year of my life. It has pushed me much harder than I thought I could endure. It has overworked me and taken community away many a time. It has set me back on academic goals. It has been the time of fickle friendships. Yet, we can be confidently assured that not one pressure or pain of our lives exists outside the sovereign hand of our faithful God. 

We look at the unexpected events and feel a wave of grief. Yet, somehow, our mighty God is able to bring redemption and accomplish His purposes through all that appears to us to be bleakly uncertain. We have no way of knowing what our tomorrows will contain, but we may simply abide and rest knowing the One who sent Christ to rescue our souls for all eternity is also in control of this challenging moment of history.

Wouldn't it be lovely if there was a simple solution to the pain of this year? I wish I could offer you words here that I felt could free us from the depths of the ache many of us are feeling now, but I am not sure what would give such a freedom. I must come back to the central truth that sometimes God is most glorified in my suffering. We would like to imagine that God is most exalted in our happiness, but sometimes it is by walking with Christ through the fire that I may fulfill His will for me this day. These present events may seem like a dark storm cloud settled over us, not soon to move on. We do not know what will unfold with the virus, shut downs, or the future of our nation as a new administration takes power. Our confidence will tremble and not find security if we set it in these temporal things. But I have a powerful God in heaven and He is reigning! No matter what I am seeing now, there is a bright future ahead because no matter what unfolds in my earthly years--if it's much more suffering--I know that someday I will enter heaven and be with Christ forevermore. That is one place we may be certain pain will be no more.

"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.' And He who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.' Also He said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.' And He said to me, 'It is done! I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:3-8).


The only reason we are not named with those who will suffer for all eternity is because of the power of the Gospel, mightily setting us free from sin and making Christ the Lord of our lives. Not only did Jesus care for you on the day He set you free and made you His own, but now, through the monotonous, repetitive, sometimes heavy moments of our every day life, He cares and He is here. My Father is not far off! He is not some distant dream, but the very hope of my soul through every further thing--good and bad--that will happen to me. I have a confidence that I take with me when I walk through the fire; this present challenge cannot surprise my God. He has seen my aches and hurts through already, and sees fit in His perfect will for me to cause this day to be as it is--one of easy rejoicing, or a time that we will yet bless the name of the Lord from the dust and ashes. 

Do you find yourself easily rejoicing or dwelling in the ashes, my friend? If you feel you've been transported out into the middle of a desert, now walking through the wilderness, will you worship Him there? When you want nothing more than for the pain to relent, will you yet bless the name of the Lord? The One who is fully able to give or take anything away has provided us with challenges. Will you walk this dusty path with a faithless moan, or in the exhausted depths of your soul, will you give Him all of the little you may have, knowing your Father is worthy, present and good even when your circumstances are wearying, long, and bad?

My wildernesses of my life are graciously ordained by the God who providentially directs my life. He is an Author who may be trusted. He has already shown us the ending in His Word; we don't know all the details of how our years will unfold, but we know that at the end, if Christ is our Lord, we will indeed have our every tear wiped away. We may not feel strong or refreshed now--perhaps such things seem far off--but there will be a day all our earthly trials come to an end. And when we give a report of our lives to God, may we reflect on weary and broken seasons and see that they were offered up to Him. May the places in our journey we most feel tempted to doubt and give up instead become places we pursue our Christ harder--knowing even when all we are feeling is pain, He is yet as present with us as ever. 

Pain is a gift because it causes me to realize all in this world is empty apart from Christ. Earthly things don't fulfill us. Friends betray and gossip. Life doesn't go as planned. Our hearts ache. And it is right there that we find the world fails and Christ never does. 

"Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). 

"You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end" (Hebrews 1:10-12).

"For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him [Jesus]. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for His glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put His seal on us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee" (2 Corinthians 1:20-22). 

I have a powerful God, and it is because of His strength--and not my own--that I will purpose to offer up my most painful life chapters to the One who absolutely can be glorified in my suffering. If we are to ache and hurt according to His will, may we do it with joy in our hearts; the joy that is sourced in Christ and may never be taken away by this mysterious world and its unprecedented events. There is hope not because of material things, my own successes, or current life happenings, but because Hope is a person who has suffered in my place, having died for my sin: Jesus Christ.

"Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good" (1 Peter 4:19).

"Thus says the Lord: 'Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit" (Jeremiah 17: 5-8).