Affections: Disordered by Nature – Reordered by Grace

I ought to begin this by defining first what an affection is, and second what my affections are as a human made in the image of God. First, an affection is a feeling or emotion. Secondly speaking then, the affections of mankind are the feelings or emotions of man, given by God for our good and His glory, wherein we find the seat of the soul’s activity. This leads directly to the conclusion that man was made by God to feel greatly. But sadly due to our fall in Genesis 3 we must admit that we do not feel as we were intended to, or as we ought to. We too often find a strong feeling toward that which we should feel little for, and a small feeling toward that which we should feel largely for. Or I could say it like this, we have disordered affections, and must believe that part of my sanctification will be the ongoing progressive work of God’s grace in my soul to reorder my soul. We ought to be glad for such work. Though we do not find it so, most of us do find that we deeply desire to feel the right way about right and wrong things. On one hand we want to deeply delight in God, His nature, His ways, His Word, His Son, His Spirit, and His Church. On the other hand we want to deeply hate sin, of all kinds, especially the kinds that affect me the most. The more God does this in me the more useful I’ll be for Him, for my family, and for His Church.

After the second giving of the Law in Deuteronomy 5, v1-2 of chapter 6 reveals the greatest of commandments or decrees of God. What is it? That I and my family ought to fear the Lord. This is where we begin in thinking over our affections, with the fear of God. This is not servile fear or having a fright of God but maintaining and seeking a proper reverence toward Him. How long are we commanded to this fear? All the days of my life. Why are we commanded to this fear? So that our days may be long. This notion of land to Israel is a reference to their time in Canaan. Does this apply to us? Yes and no. No, we are not physical Israelites looking to cross into a physical Canaan. But yes, we are spiritual Israelites and true descendants of Abraham from our faith in Abraham’s Descendant Jesus Christ (Gal. 3), and we are wandering through the wilderness of this present evil age, awaiting the greater Canaan. As Israel was told we are told, fear the Lord, all the days of my life, not that our life would be long (length of days isn’t promised me) but so that our life would be full and abundant here (John 10:10, 15:11).

So what does it mean to fear God rightly? At it’s most basic it means honoring God as God, recognizing His exalted state and nature, His supremacy, His Lordship…while simultaneously recognizing my low condition as man, and fallen at that. He deserves all praise and is worthy of it. This fear is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7), I should serve the Lord with fear (Ps. 2:11), the fear of the Lord is clean (Ps. 19:9), from fearing the Lord I will turn away from evil (Prov. 16:6), the fear of the Lord is safe (Prov. 29:25), and fearing the Lord is part of what brings my holiness to completion (2 Cor. 7:1). Since fearing God is all of these things, not fearing God is the beginning of folly, impure, an entrance into sin, arrogant and dangerous for my soul, and the increaser of corruption in me.

After being asked which commandment was the greatest Jesus responds in Mark 12:30 by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Does this go against my definition of affections as the seat of the soul’s activity? No, I take heart, soul, mind, and strength here in v30 to be synonyms all referring to the activity of the soul (or heart). We may truly love many things in this life, but above them all must be our love for God. If this is absent we begin in the wrong place and that wrong beginning will naturally overflow into wrong action. So if we want our lives to be lived accordingly we ought to keep first things first, and the first thing above all other things is to love God over all things. Not just for the sake of living a well ordered life but for the sake of God, who is in Himself beautiful and worthy to be the cream of our delights and well of our joys. I do not think there needs to be a contrast between fearing God and loving Him, I also take these to be synonyms speaking of the same reality because I do not rightly fear Him if I do not love Him and visa versa. We must admit though, we can only love God because He has loved us in Christ first. So at the root of this ability of mine to rightly fear and love God, lies the gospel grace that changes our hearts and gives us the ability to do so.

So I see these things this morning. I was created with affections, with the capacity to feel deeply, and this is a good thing. But I am a fallen man who doesn’t feel as I ought to. So God must command my disordered affections to feel deeply about Himself as part of re-ordering my affections. He commands me to do this through the gospel, as a reaction to how He has loved me greatly in Christ. I must submit to this command, and when I do, I find that to fear God is to love God. If this beginning is present and active in me, many good and beautiful flowers will blossom in the garden that is my heart.

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10 Reasons I Got Teary-eyed Over Deuteronomy

The title of this blog may seem a little surprising. 

When most people think of reading Deuteronomy they probably picture it being as moving as watching the grass grow, but for those people I feel very sorry. Relatively recently in my Christian walk I have discovered the treasure of reading through books of the Bible in one sitting; usually those books I’ve read through in one sitting have been New Testament books which consist of only 2-3 pages. 

A friend of mine created a Bible reading plan that allows you to fall behind a little and still stay on track with reading the Bible through in a year; the catch is that he has you read certain OT books in one sitting. I was intrigued by the idea of reading through an OT book in one sitting, but knew the challenge that it would involve. Today, I read through this quarter’s OT book of Deuteronomy in one sitting. It took me about and hour and forty-five minutes, and my eyes were a little red afterwards; but let me just say, my eyes were not red primarily because of staring at a page that long (though that may be part of the reason). They were red primarily because I was overwhelmed with God and the way he dealt with his chosen people Israel. What led me to be teary-eyed over Deuteronomy specifically? Here are ten glorious truths that stood out to me about God (fitting, as it goes along with the Ten Commandments):

1. God alone is totally sovereign over all that he has made. There are no others gods really. God himself testifies that all other gods are no more than the work of men’s hands and cannot truly deliver the people who follow them.

2. God deserves the worship of all peoples, yet all peoples have rejected him. Sometimes we forget that the people of Israel were once not a people at all, but rather entailed only Abram, who was himself a worshiper of false gods and lived in the region that would later become a symbol of enmity against God.

3. God chose, of his own grace and purpose, to set his love on a people. God’s choice of Abram was not because of anything in Abram. I love Deuteronomy 7:7-8, which reads, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” Abram wasn’t looking for God. God wasn’t sitting around in heaven on some recliner waiting for man to respond. God sought out Abram. Why? His grace! Glorious grace!

4. God graciously delivers these people he has chosen from slavery and destroys their enemies. The repeated theme of Deuteronomy is a call for the people of Israel to remember that they were slaves for 430 years in Egypt and God delivered them by his almighty power.

5. God lavishes these people he has chosen with rich blessings. God chooses to lead these people out of their slavery and through the wilderness for forty years, yet they never starve or have to change clothes or shoes. God not only provides for them, but leads them to defeat all their enemies during that wilderness wandering and promises to bring them into a land with seven nations mightier than they, assuring them he will destroy those peoples and give them the glorious land of Canaan.

6. God calls these people to a radical lifestyle of worship to him that acknowledges his saving them. Moses repeatedly reminds these people to live their lives within the framework of a rebellious people who were once enslaved and serving their enemies, whom God has graciously redeemed and set free. Moses calls them to constantly remind themselves of their once slavery and so to treat others with the grace they have been given, except when those others will turn their hearts away from the God who alone has saved them and who alone is worthy of their praise. Moses even calls them to teach their children they were saved by nothing but God’s grace.

7. God calls these people away from pride by calling them to remember his gracious salvation. God knew these people he had chosen, graciously redeemed, and blessed would turn away from him after they entered the promised land; all because they would think they did it by their own power and efforts. We are still so prone to think we have earned the grace of God by our efforts, but we must guard against such ridiculous lies, for they minimize the true power of God.

8. God disciplines the people he has chosen when they rebel. God is not content to let his chosen people be destroyed by their own sins, so he disciplines them and reminds them whose they are.

9. God graciously forgives these people he has chosen when they repent. The result of God’s hand of discipline always achieves from his people a repentant heart, which is why he disciplines them in the first place. Our God is not angry with his people, but disciplines those he loves, so they will come back close to him.

10. God promises to one day set a people free from slavery to their own sinful desires so they can worship him from the heart

But perhaps the sweetest truth from Deuteronomy was the way the people of Israel were so rebellious and never seemed to learn these lessons fully, yet God promises: “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut. 30:6). 

God was not a fool. He knew that the people of Israel would not obey the 10 Commandments. In fact, Paul tells us much of the reason God gave these commands to rebellious people like Israel was to remind them how they were in desperate need of a Savior to live them on their behalf. In the New Covenant, God has graciously cut away the wickedness of our hearts through the new birth and has stamped his law on our hearts. Jesus has obeyed where we have rebelled and by faith in his finished work and victorious resurrection, God credits his righteousness to our account. This doesn’t mean believers obey all the time from the heart, but it does mean that believers are no longer bound by their sins, but have the power of the Spirit of God within them to kill their sin…more radically than the people of Israel had to destroy all that tempted them to turn away from God.

I have pages of Scripture from Deuteronomy I have underlined and may include more of it here, but for now I’m content to let these glorious truths of our gracious saving God keep me ever close to him, rejoicing in his grace towards me in Christ, and in the company of those he has redeemed to himself. May your eyes ever be teary and red from our God’s grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Why Calvin Wanted to Study the Word

Many people tell me they do not like John Calvin.  Of all the reasons I hear (which is many) one rises to the top.  People tell me the reason they don’t like Calvin is because “systems of doctrine rid our faith of the mystery that is present and eradicates true love for God.”  I obviously do not agree with such thoughts.  In my opinion that claim is theologically lazy, because everyone does theology.  The real question is whether one does it well or poor.  But let’s hear from Calvin himself on this:

Consequently, we know the most perfect way of seeking God, and the most suitable order, is not for us to attempt with bold curiosity to penetrate to the investigation of His essence, which we ought more to adore than meticulously to search out, but for us to contemplate Him in His works whereby He renders Himself near and familiar to us, and in some manner communicates Himself. (Institutes Book 1, chapter 5, paragraph 9)

You see why Calvin sought to do such deep theology?  You see what Calvin sought to avoid?  It is clear from the above quote that Calvin thought it was wrong for us to “meticulously” search out God and His works.  What are we to do instead?  Adore Him and His works.  How do we do that?  By contemplating (studying, pondering, thinking deeply about) those things where God renders Himself near to us because it is in His works that He communicates Himself to us.  Where has God communicated His works to us?  His Word.

This is nothing more than Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but what is revealed belongs to us…”

There are things we cannot ever know about God – they are secret, and we should never try to meticulously search them out.  But notice that’s not all of what God is.  So for us to remain in the “secret” or the “mysterious” is sinful neglect the knowledge of God, like I said it’s lazy.  God is more than mystery, there are also things He has revealed about Himself to us.  Where are these revealed things?  In His Word.  Those things which are revealed we ought to press into, devote our life to, and study with all our might.  Hear Calvin again:

Not to take too long, let us remember here as in all religious doctrine, that we ought to to hold one rule of modesty and sobriety: not to speak, or guess, or even to seek to know, concerning obscure matters anything except what has been imparted to us by God’s Word.  Furthermore, in the reading of Scripture we ought ceaselessly to endeavor to seek out and meditate upon those things which make for edification. (Institutes, 1.14.4.)

 

Not Empty for You, but Your Very Life

In the context of Deuteronomy the people of Israel on the border of the Promise Land. After being enslaved and afflicted harshly in Egypt. God rescues them out of bondage to bring them to Himself at Mt. Sinai. After receiving Gods Law, hearing God promise to bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey, and wandering for 40 years because of their stubborn refusal to trust that God can indeed bring them to that land, the people of Israel are on the banks of the Jordan by the time they hear the glorious words of Deut. 32:46-47 which say,

“Take to heart all of the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For they are not vain or empty words for you but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”

Did you hear it? “This Word is not vain or empty for you, it is your very life!” God let His people know that His Words were full, useful, and life for them and their children. Is it not the same with us? Indeed it is. Gods Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.

Therefore if you feel like you’re in darkness and have no clear path before you in life. If you hear me talking about the Word of God being life to us and all you feel in your life is death, use the Word to light up the darkness! He will, He always will. If you do, if you turn to God through His Word, you’ll feel roses blooming in the desert, raging waters flooding dry ground, life will enter your soul. This is why Jesus said while being tempted by Satan, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.”

“O’ That They had Such a Heart in Them!”

In reading recently I came to Deuteronomy 5. Moses here is repeating the Law for Israel, who is just about to cross over into Canaan to possess what God has given them. After repeating the ten commandments, God says the following in 5:29, “Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” I have never previously in my reading heard God speak with such an intense passion. (Psalm 81:13 and Isaiah 48:19 show this as well) It is a feast for my soul to hear Him speak in such a manner about His people’s obedience to His commands. It also shows me how much God cares about my own obedience.

(This intense, passionate, zeal for obedience in God’s heart becomes a reality in the new covenant people of God. See Deut. 30:6, and Eph. 6:6b)

Upon reading this statement, I almost instantly thought of an implication of this zeal for preaching to the lost. In sharing the gospel with the lost, I yearn for my language to be like God’s language in Deut. 5:29. I want it to be full of zeal, passion, and intensity, because it would then be a reflection of how God speaks to His people. In preparing for these chats I must labor for language that is worthy of my God! Because if I enter the dialogue to share, and sound disinterested, I convey to people that what I am speaking of does not grip me, and that I do not have a heart that treasures what I am saying! As a pot of boiling water boils up and out over the pot, shooting steam here and there, so must the Christian’s mouth be who has tasted of Christ!

May our word’s echo God’s Words, and not be “lagging in zeal, but boil in the Spirit” (Romans 12:11)