Communion Meditation: Focusing on God’s Grace Rather Than Our Guilt

(This is a meditation used at my local church to prepare our hearts for communion. I hope it encourages you with the good news of grace in Jesus.)

This morning, I want to remind us Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper so we might feed on and be refreshed by him.

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A Theology of Feasting

picIn our kitchen we have this framed chalk art in the image to the left. “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (Psalm 104:14-15).  It’s a reminder that food and drink are both God’s provision to care for us but also an evidence of his goodness in giving us food to add to our happiness. God wants us to enjoy our food, our drinks, and our feasts!

The Bible describes feasting in very positive terms—although there are obviously times where it’s corrupted or misused like all of creation. It seems God created us to thoroughly enjoy food as a gift but also to prepare our hearts and minds for something even more satisfying.

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Should the Perception of others be a driving force for ethics?

imageThe King James Version translates 1 Thessalonians 5:22 as “abstain from all appearance of evil.” While studying verses 16-22 in preparation of a sermon I came across this quote from Gary Shogren. Having been raised in a church culture where the appearance of holiness rivaled actual holiness, his remarks were a helpful antidote to obsession with any “appearance” of evil we might give off. Obviously this could be taken too far if we exercise no cautious wisdom at all when it comes to appearances of sin that might be detrimental, but his words are still worth considering.

Verse 22 clearly is instructing the church to test prophecies so that they hold onto what’s from the Spirit (5:21) and reject any evil, false prophecies not from the Spirit (5:22). That context shines light on what Paul is and isn’t saying in this text, which is why Shogren writes the following.

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Comparing Romans 5 to Romans 8

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During Pastor Mark’s message this morning–which was a great one–he mentioned the connection between Romans 5 and Romans 8. Whereas some might use the language of bookends for these two chapters, he more aptly described Romans 5 as the foothills of Romans 8. As we noticed this morning, as we ascend up Romans 5 we’re stunned by the heights of glorious truth only to catch a glimpse of the towering mountain called Romans 8 just ahead. You could give me either chapter to live on and I think I’d be okay.
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Sweeping Statements in Colossians

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As I’ve been studying Colossians the last few weeks I’ve been amazed by the glorious, sweeping statements about the supremacy and sole-sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Colossians is all about clarifying just who this Jesus is and why nothing and no one else needs added to him. Even when it seems like it’s not about him it is all about him. For example, the whole point of the vain and empty ascetic lifestyle that can’t stop the desires of the flesh (2:20-23) is to demonstrate the supremacy of Jesus who puts to death the flesh in us and resurrects as new people (2:11-14; 3:1-4). As our eyes are redirected towards him we see equally glorious, sweeping statements made about us in him. We’re told not only who we now are in Christ but what’s true of us and what belongs to us because we are in Christ. The book has a lot less than other NT books on how to live the Christian life but it more than makes up for this by showing us the blueprint of truly living (Jesus) and reminding us we are now being remade in him. When you can’t get him out of your mind he will show up in your life (your affections and actions). Here are some of those gigantic statements about Jesus and then about us in him I’ve found in Colossians.

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A Few Links

Here are the links to a few recent things I’ve written for other websites.

Our church is hosting Dr. John Piper this weekend for our THINK|14 conference. To start tilling the soil of our hearts I provided two blogs.
Why Theology Matters…For Everyone
A Primer on Philippians

Here was an article giving three reasons the ascension matters for us right now. The Ascension: What’s Jesus Up To?

On this blog I did seven individual articles on ways God the Father loves us. I condensed them into a summary article for Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

Kingdom of God Intro: Jesus’ people in his kingdom under his rule

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The Kingdom of Jesus: His Rule, His Place, and His People
“Though we do not have kings in America, or want them, our unconscious mind both has them and wants them. We all know what a true king is, a real king, an ideal king, an archetypal king. He is not a mere politician or soldier. Something in us longs to give him our loyalty and fealty and service and obedience. He is lost but longed for and will some day return, like Arthur.”[1]

The Bible is the story of kings and kingdoms through and through.[2] From Genesis 1 when God commissions his image-bearers to exercise dominion until Revelation 21-22 when Jesus restores a kingdom on the new earth, the whole story smells thick with the aroma of kingdom. And yet, in the opening quote Peter Kreeft pins down an interesting reality that has haunted American evangelical theology.[3] Because we are a people who prize democracy—which means we dislike, dread, or don’t understand kings—American churches have taught very little about “the kingdom of God.” Not that this is the only reason we’ve avoided teaching on the kingdom of God.[4]

The shock of it all is that we haven’t downplayed a theme on the margins of the Bible but one of the primary themes in the NT—and the Bible as a whole. It’s clear that for Jesus, the Kingdom of God was both at the heart of his teaching and his role. John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus by preaching that the kingdom is nearing (Mt. 3:2). Jesus tells the Jews—who would have heard him with Messianic and Kingly expectations from the OT—that the kingdom is now among them (Lk. 11:20; 17:21). He commissions his disciples before and after the resurrection to preach the good news (gospel) of the kingdom (Lk. 9:2; Acts 1:3). In the Epistles, the exact phrase “kingdom of God” becomes less prominent but the same ideas are retained (Col. 1:13; Heb. 12:18-29). All of that to say, if the Kingdom of God was a priority in Jesus’ teaching and mission, and if it’s at the heart of NT theology, then we should probably make it a priority in our understanding of the NT.

A thorough investigation of kingdom would require tracing its importance and development through every epoch, as well as more in-depth exegesis on a host of NT passages rich with a theology of the kingdom. That can’t be done here—and others have already done it—so I will try to give a fast-break summary of major ideas and descriptions of kingdom in the NT. I will also be arguing for the present (already) aspect of Jesus kingdom being the Davidic kingdom Israel had been looking for. My hope is that by providing a basic framework of the kingdom of God we can begin to take next steps in understanding and then living in light of Christ’s Kingdom we are a part of right now.

A View from the Chopper
Recently I’ve enjoyed doing travel research. I’m a huge fan of history but also like good food, different cultures, and beautiful sights. Researching a location usually begins with the 30,000 foot view. What are the eye-catching zoomed out views of a worthy site (city, landmark, scenery)? How is the place generally described and what gives you a basic feel for the place? It’s similar to a helicopter tour that shows you the city as a whole. But, soon after that, you have to start getting into specifics. What are the specific buildings to see, where is a good hotel, where do I get on a bus? The helicopter view is great in its breadth but walking in the streets is where you really see the depth of a city. This summary will start with the helicopter view and then later on allow us to start navigating the roads and stepping into the must see landmarks when it comes to the kingdom of God. As we take this tour, there will be sites I don’t have the time to point out—not because they aren’t important—so you’ll just have to go back and check them out on your own.

Where We’re Headed
There is much to be said so I will unpack this important idea in 7-8 posts. If you stick with this you will not be an expert on the kingdom of God, but, you will hopefully know a little bit more than when you started. I’ll be honest up front, I’m primarily summarizing a Reformed understanding of the kingdom of God in the NT in its present (already) form, and making a theological defense for why this present kingdom is the promised Davidic kingdom. Here’s a summary of the upcoming posts.

• The OT backdrop on kingdom
• Two misunderstandings on the kingdom
1) Jesus fundamentally understood the kingdom of God promised in the OT differently than the Jews of his day.
2) The kingdom is already present in a real sense and is not wholly future
• The already-not-yet temporal pattern to the kingdom
• How the kingdom of God could be described
1) Working off of Graeme Goldsworthy: God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule
2) Working off of Geerhardus Vos: It’s theocentric, powerful, righteous, and based on God’s graciousness.
• The importance of Ascension to understanding that it is the Davidic Kingdom
• The importance of Pentecost to understanding that it is the Davidic Kingdom
• The Kingdom of God is the eschatological new creation kingdom

Footnotes:
Header image courtesy of the images & graphics Jedi, Greg Pilcher.
[1] Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 44.
[2] The word for “kingdom” is used 162 times in the New Testament.
[3] Kreeft does not here make the connection between American democracy and the misunderstanding and downplaying of kingdom from the Bible. In the beginning of the section on Kingdom, Faithmapping does hint at the connection. Daniel Montgomery and Mike Cosper, Faithmapping (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 29-30.
[4] Two other reasons could be mentioned. First might be our need for proof texts where the word “kingdom” is used rather than being able to make connections with thematic allusions like “throne,” “reign,” “David’s Son,” and others. Second, the prominence of dispensational theology in much of America, which until the last 20 years saw the kingdom of God as almost entirely future, minimized preaching and teaching on the kingdom of God.

Casting Your Cares on God

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A Not-so-brief Description of Casting Our Cares on God
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” I Peter 5:6-7

There are some things it can be hard to convince people of—spiritually speaking. It can be difficult to persuade people sin really is a big deal or that their own hearts are often a bigger problem than the people we blame. One thing needing little convincing of is that life is hard and the struggles prove wearying. The phrase “cast your cares on God” has been both a hope believers cling too and an encouragement for how to respond in life’s hardships. For some, it might be evident what the words require of us as the one letting something go and what it promises from God as the one taking something from us. Or, like what is often true for believers, while the meaning might be apparent what seems ambiguous is how we actually go about doing it. My hope is to clarify the phrase’s meaning—primarily from I Peter 5—[1]but also explore both how we might cast our cares on God as well as why we don’t do it in the first place.

Foundations for Casting
In I Peter 5:6-7 the first and primary action is “humble yourselves.” Both the larger context in I Peter of the suffering church and the language of the verse itself—“suffering under the mighty hand of God”—remind us that our attitude in struggles, suffering, and trials should be humility. In verse 6 and again in verse 11 Peter tells us that God is the Sovereign One who allows into our lives whatever comes to pass. These things neither catch Him off guard nor are they evils outside of His control. His Providence means that while He neither does evil to us nor tempts us with evil, he allows and orchestrates all of the events and circumstances in our life. This doesn’t imply that every single thing in our life is by itself good—the world is still broken and sin is still seen as evil—but that every single thing does have a good purpose for those who are God’s children (Rom. 8:28-30). Peter therefore admonishes us to respond with submission to God’s Providence and humility as finite creatures who don’t always know why things are happening or what the intended results might be.

Peter—and the Bible as a whole—ground God’s trustworthiness not only in His Sovereignty and Power but also in his Goodness and Care. In verse seven there are four simple but significant words for why we should cast our anxieties on God: because “he cares for you.”[2] God pairs the magnificence of his Sovereignty with the goodness of his Love. In a parallel passage from Matthew 6:25-24, Jesus roots his command to not be anxious in the connected realities that God knows what we need and he cares or values us (v. 26). Thus, our fears are assuaged by knowing God is strong enough to handle any storm and good enough to care for us in the midst of it.[3]

Returning to the exhortation to humility from verse 6, this is important because in verse 7 the phrase “casting all your anxieties on him” (ESV) is a clause following on the heels of humble yourselves. Unlike how it might read in the NIV translation (“cast all…”), this is not a new verb but a participle explaining how we humble ourselves. This might initially catch us off guard since we don’t think of carrying burdens in the forms of worry or fear qualifies as pride. But, the Bible always gets the diagnosis right and reveals the heart issue at work, and here it is our pride. We carry burdens because we either think we have too or because we’re capable, neither of which are true. Rather than resisting God’s hand or striving to take care of things independently of him, we’re given the freedom to be honest about how small and weak we feel and trust in the bigness of God as God. The reason we don’t let go of worry, fear, shame, and stress is because we’re trying to carry responsibilities we’re not meant to carry. God brings struggles into our lives not so we can prove how strong and competent we are but so we’ll see how strong and competent He is. As our vision adjusts and we realize how small and weak we are we’re at the same time awakened to just how large and strong God is, and that He is those things for us.

The Meaning of Casting
Hopefully having seen a little bit more clearly the relationship between casting our cares and taking on humility, we can briefly define what “casting” means before describing how we might do it. Most of us don’t use the word “cast” in day to day conversations but it’s familiar enough we understand it. Some of the definitions and synonyms include throwing something off or away from you, to redirect, to let go of, or to put something away. When someone casts a fishing line they let it fly. The word in I Peter 5:7 appears one other place in the NT, Luke 19:35. When a colt (donkey) is brought to Jesus for his “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem, it says “throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.” They take their cloaks and cast—throw or toss—them from their own backs and onto the back of the donkey.

Definitions are helpful in providing parameters to a word but illustrations put a picture in our mind. If fishing or riding donkeys isn’t your thing then here’s one that helps me. In every sport there is the possibility of injury. For example, in football, it seems like every few minutes there’s a TV timeout because of an injury. How many times have you seen someone severely injures their ankle, foot, or leg? What happens is they’re not strong enough to walk off on their own so teammates pick them up and do the walking for them. As the injured player leans—casts himself—onto his teammate and takes the weight off his own legs, the stronger teammate carries the weight for him. All of these definitions and illustrations convey a simple idea. Casting suggests taking something off of yourself and placing or throwing it onto something or someone else. Therefore, when we cast our cares on God we throw the burdens we’re carrying on our weak and worn-down backs onto God’s sturdy and unbending shoulders.

The “how-to” of Casting
While the explanation of casting isn’t all that difficult, the doing of it can be. If burdens were physical things it would be easy to transfer them to someone else. But, since burdens aren’t physical and since God isn’t standing next to me what how do I cast my cares on Him? Casting our burdens on God is an act of faith. When something is an act of faith it is no less real despite it being something that isn’t necessarily done physically.

Hopefully the explanation above has already provided more clarity as to what it means to cast our cares on God and how it might happen. We do it by humbling ourselves before God and giving up trusting in ourselves and controlling our own lives, and instead, we let God be in control and we place our trust in him.[4] We give him our worries, fears, shame, guilt, stress, despair, and control. We don’t deny how hard a situation is, we don’t hide behind feigned smiles and crossed fingers, and we don’t resort to a fatalistic mantra of “whatever will be, will be.” Instead, we’re honest about how hard things are and how much we’re struggling under the weight of it while simultaneously asking God for his help. We learn to trust Him to take care of us, to keep us trusting, to help us endure, to and learn of Him and from Him in the midst of these unwanted circumstances. We keep working and praying but the weight of responsibility is transferred from us to God. It’s no longer up to us to figure it out, fix it, clean things up, or make things right.

Attitudes, affections, and actions all overlap here. Humbling ourselves before God and under his mighty hand requires a change of attitude: God is God and I am not. It also provokes a change in our affections: I should and will trust in my Almighty and Loving God. The turn-around in our actions might just be new attitudes and affections, but it also might be demonstrated externally in our behavior: I will pray instead of worrying or fretting.[5]

To say it differently, burdens in the Bible are different and yet comparable to how we might think about and respond to gifts. God gives us gifts in part as avenues of creating gratitude in our heart that leads to giving thanks to God. The gift from God is given back as gratitude to God. Similarly, God gives us burdens in part as avenues of creating dependence in our heart that leads to trusting God. The burden from God is given back as trust to God.

Take the example of worry, which has family ties with fear and control. We worry, fret, and stress out because we don’t know what’s going to happen or if things will turn out okay. We can’t control the situation and we don’t know what’s next around the bend. But, only God can know the future and only God can control the lives and circumstances of people. If God is not real in my life or cannot be trusted either because a lack of might or lack of goodness then I will try to take his place. That’s all worrying is, acting as if God doesn’t know or can’t control the future so I better figure it out and handle my business. We cast our burden of worry on God by trusting He has a good plan for our lives and will carry us through whatever struggle he brings to us.

Worry isn’t the only burden we carry. Don’t we needlessly carry alone fear, guilt, shame, and sorrows? We’re paralyzed by fear of what might happen instead of trusting God as Helper in whatever comes our way. We hold onto guilt and shame when Jesus—the only judge of who’s guilty and what’s unclean—says your sins and stains have been washed by my perfect blood. We break under despairing sorrow instead of grieving as those who still have hope. Like most Christians, at times I’m tempted to hold onto all these different burdens but for me fear is usually the one I most struggle to let go of. I fear the future. I fear something happening to the people I love. I fear rational and irrational dangers. I have to continually massage the Scriptures back into my heart so that I trust in God more than I fear the “mights and coulds” in my head. It’s not that I say hard things won’t happen or there’s nothing to fear, since neither is promised to me. But rather, it’s knowing that I can’t figure out or change the things coming down the pipeline and then believing that my perfectly loving and perfectly strong God has a good plan for me. I trust He knows what He’s doing and He cares for me in doing it. As I trust, I let my tight grip on figuring out and controlling fear go and grip onto God himself as my security.

Trusting is living as the Father’s child. Most of us as adults now nostalgically remember our largely carefree lives as children. As a child you’re not supposed to have worries because your parents bear all of your worries. A child is—or at least should be—carefree because their parents love them, provide for them, and know what’s best. The child doesn’t fret about mortgages and new clothes because their parents will take care of them. Oh that we would be the children of God marked by trust in a perfect Father who loves us, provides for us, protects us, and cares for us.

Objections to Casting
If you think like me then there’s always a “but what about” or “but I feel like.” Despite all that is true above and even despite our experiences—which we forget—of those truths why don’t we cast our cares on God? What are the reasons we’re hesitant to entrust them to God? The first answer has already been noted: we take God’s place and try to run our own lives. Saying we get into trouble when we try to take God’s place isn’t meant to be harsh but to be honest. The lie that we can be like God has been the snare in our lives since the garden. I daily need to check myself with the reminder that God is God and I am not…so act like it.

In addition to idolatry and pride, I think there are some unstated whispers in the back of our mind that make us slow to cast our cares on God. It’s always a matter of belief, not so much the truths we mentally assent too but letting those truths permeate our hearts until they become our gut reaction. Instead of giving God our burdens because we trust “his mighty hand” (I Peter 5:6) and “he cares for us” (I Peter 5:7) we often listen to lies from self or Satan. The problem is we listen to the wrong voices instead of telling or preaching to ourselves what God has already said. Satan’s common lies designed to keep us carrying our own burdens usually make us thing wrongly of ourselves—as if we’re like God—and wrongly of God—as if he’s like us.[6] Satan will whisper, “The Father doesn’t love you or doesn’t care about you.” He will do everything to make you think, “Your sins can’t be forgiven and you’re guilty” or “you will never change and you’re still the same old you.” This is why go back to the Bible and anchor ourselves in the truths that God is both Sovereign and Caring, that Jesus has paid for all of our sins and taken our guilt, and that the Spirit has been given to gradually change us into new people by his power.

When it comes to listening to our own selves (which might also be influenced by whispers by Satan) I find that the following are our most common reasons we don’t give our burdens over.
God doesn’t care, He isn’t good, or He’s disappointed
God isn’t big enough, the situation is too large or too daunting or too far gone
God doesn’t listen to me or doesn’t know what’s going on.
I got myself into it so it’s up to me now, or I’ve used up all my second chances.
All of these thoughts are based on our subjective failings and not God’s objective truth. Our feelings are like waves that toss us back and forth but God’s Word is rock-solid and unshakeable ground. We will trust and cast our cares on God as we believe the truths about Him shown to us in the Bible. He does care for us. He invites us to come to him with our burdens, our struggles, our sorrow, and our sins. He is powerful enough and strong enough to handle anything. He has a good plan and good purposes for us. He doesn’t want us to figure things out or handle it on our own. In fact, he wants us to give up on self-sufficiency and lean on him alone.

Dig deep enough in the Word that you have truth to push back against the whispering lies of Satan and the deceptive thoughts from self. The cycle is that we speak these truths to ourselves and silence the lies, which allows us to trust God as we cast our cares on him, which in turn convinces us through experience what we believed as truth. The cycle gets stronger and deeper then as we’re led back into the Scriptures to see him more clearly and to trust him to a greater extent. What we usually then find is that the issue wasn’t primarily about the struggle or the trial itself. The issue behind our issues was whether or not we would run our lives or if we would be children who trust in their Father.

Obviously not everything could be said that I would like to say. The explanations could be clearer and deeper. If time permitted we might look at the number of OT heroes who trusted in God as they endured through many hardships. Or, we might look at the life of Jesus and how time and time again he in all his compassion released people from the burdens they carried. We might even go to Galatians 6:2 and see how Christians play a role in carrying one another’s burdens. While not exhaustive, my hope is that this short study puts us on solid footing as we think in more detail about what it means to cast all our cares on Him and then how we might go about doing it. I wanted to close with some wise and encouraging words by Charles Spurgeon.

“Why do you continue to stagger beneath a weight your Father would not even feel? What may seem to be a crushing burden to you would not amount to the weight of a speck of dust to him.
O child of suffering, be patient. Your sovereign God has not passed over or forgotten you. He who feeds the sparrows will also provide everything you need. Don’t give up in despair—hope on! Hope forever! Use the weapons of faith against the seas of trouble and ultimately your foes will be defeated and your distress will come to an end.
There is One who cares for you. His eye is fixed upon you, His heart beats with pity for your suffering, and His omnipotent hand will not fail to provide you help. Even the darkest storm cloud will be scattered into showers of mercy and the darkest night will give way to the morning sun.
If you are a member of His family, He will bind your wounds and heal your broken heart. Never doubt His grace because of the troubles in your life, but believe He loves you just as much during the seasons of trouble as in times of happiness.”
[7]

I’d also recommend this video by Tim Timmons where he sings “Cast Your Cares.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCabdAAy7-M&feature=share&list=RDbyWYXGD7laI&index=1

Footnotes:
Top image found at: http://www.worshiphousemedia.com/worship-tracks/15036/Cast-Your-Cares
[1] Other primary texts in mind would be Ps. 55:22; Matt. 6:25-34, 11:28-30; Gal. 6:2; Also, compare James 4:6-7, 10 with I Peter 5:5-9.
[2] “But this fear arises from our ignorance of divine providence. Now, on the other hand, as soon as we are convinced that God cares for us, our minds are easily led to patience and humility….having cast our care on God, we may calmly rest. For all those who recumb [rest] not on God’s providence must necessarily be in constant turmoil and violently assail others. We ought the more to dwell on this thought, that God cares for us.” John Calvin, The First Epistle of Peter, trans. Henry Beveridge, vol. 22 of Calvin’s Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 149.
[3] “Giving our anxiety to God makes eminent sense ‘because he cares for you.’ God is not indifferent, nor is he cruel. He has compassion on his children and will sustain them in every distress.” Thomas Schreiner, The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Peter, Jude (Nashville: Broadman & Holdman, 2003), 241.
[4] “It is rather a trusting commitment to God in the assurance that God indeed cares and that his caring does not lack the power or the will to do the very best for his own.” Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 188.
[5] In the NT, encouragement to prayer is often tied to trusting in God instead of stewing in anxiety. See Philippians 4:4-7.
[6] Look at I Peter 5:6-11 and James 4:4-6, 10—which parallel one another in multiple ways—where resisting the devil is tied to humbly submitting ourselves and trusting God.
[7] Charles Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, ed. by Jim Reimann (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008) 6. http://www.spurgeon.org/morn_eve/this_morning.cgi

The Father’s Love in Disciplining (Part 7)

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In the first post on the Father’s love I introduced both the challenge and the importance of seeing God the Father as loving. As we meditate on the biblical truths of the depths of his love and begin resting in that love we will be refreshed with newfound freedom and security to keep drawing near. Therefore, thinking rightly of God our Father is not just a matter of having our theological ducks in a row but it’s a game changer in living the Christian life. We will consider seven NT examples of how God puts his love on display for us, wanting us to know about it and be wrapped up in it.

1) The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself.

2) The Father’s love for us is seen in that Jesus is sent to reveal the Father to us. The Father desires to be known and understood.

3) The Father’s love can be seen in the friendly and familial vocabulary describing a believer’s relationship with God. He is not only our God, he is our Father.

4) The Father expresses his love in the comfort he gives, and even in the fact he calls us to find our comfort in his fatherly embrace.

5) The Father loves us by giving good gifts. He enjoys us enjoying him as we enjoy his gifts.

6) The Father’s love is seen in the making and fulfilling of promises to his people.

7) The Father loves us not despite disciplining his children but through disciplining his children. I know this point is a hard sell. Even as Christians who believe God’s Word, we often struggle to comprehend how discipline can actually be a demonstration of God’s goodness. We might even go so far as to acknowledge it’s for our good but can it really be categorized as a proof of God’s love? I think the Bible and our experience both tell us yes.

Maybe you had a parent say something like, “this is going to hurt me a lot more than it hurts you,” and as a child you would have been more than happy to trade places. You might have experienced discipline that wasn’t fair or was done more out of punishment and rage than discipline and control. God’s discipline is never done in a fit of rage. His discipline is a calm but firm correction done out of love. He has our best interest in mind. God never rejects or punishes us, but rather, he teaches as he disciplines.

There are a number of verses in the Psalms pointing to the instructive and corrective value in discipline (Ps. 94:12; 119:67, 75). Paul says that through discipline we’re protected from pursuing our destruction (I Cor. 11:32). Several Proverbs pick up on this theme and exhort parents to discipline their children if they love them. “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Prov. 13:24; cf. 23:13; 29:17).

The NT actually connects discipline to love at least twice to help cement in our mind that God’s discipline when we sin proves he loves us (Heb. 12:3-11; Rev. 3:19). He will do the hard things good parents do who care for their children, exchanging a few hard moments of discipline for a life of walking in righteousness. Let’s consider these verses from Hebrews that connect discipline and love.
“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as son? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:5-11).

The fact that God disciplines us should encourage us just how much he cares for and loves us. Knowing his discipline comes from his goodness and wisdom, we can trust that he chooses the discipline that we most need. Just like children respond to rebuke in different ways and a parent treats each child based upon their unique personality and needs, so our Father knows what discipline we most need and can handle. The depth and breadth of God’s love encompasses loving discipline as well as gifts of grace. God disciplines us because he loves us and we should regard such discipline as the evidence he will never give up on us or leave us to ourselves. He disciplines the one he loves and his discipline proves he loves.

Earthly parents who love their kids discipline them because they know their role as a parent is to teach and instruct them. The children must learn right from wrong and they must learn what will harm versus what will help them. A parent will discipline the child who tries to put a fork in the light socket, walks into the road when they shouldn’t, skips school, or makes destructive choices. No good parent delights in the discipline itself, but they do it knowing it has a good effect.

There’s a beautiful scene in the television show Parenthood that illustrated this for me. There’s a mother and father who adopt a young boy. Early on he doesn’t feel accepted and continues to misbehave. The mother thinks they should keep looking the other way but the father reminds her they’re his parents now. He’s their child so they need to treat him like family, not like a guest or stranger. Since he’s now their boy and they want what’s best for him they make the choice to explain what he’s done wrong and let him know it’s not okay. God treats us not as strangers or guests who he has no relationship with but as a father who loves his children deeply.