a monthly devotional journal
Issue No. 73
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. John 1:12-13
"Communication between them was not allowed. Day after day they filled their places without speech; in hours of labour they could not see each other's faces; their short respites were given to sleep and the snatching of food. They never laughed; no one ever heard one of them sing. What is the use of tongues when a sigh or a groan will tell all men feel while, perforce, they think in silence? Existence with the poor wretches was like a stream under ground sweeping slowly, laboriously on to its outlet, wherever that might chance to be.
"In the labour of the rowers there was not enough art to give occupation to their minds, rude and simple as they were. The reach forward, the pull, the feathering, the blade, the dip, were all there was of it; motions most perfect when most automatic. Even the care forced upon them by the sea outside grew in time to be a thing instinctive rather than of thought. So, as the result of long service, the poor wretches became imbruted--patient, spiritless, obedient--creatures of vast muscle and exhausted intellects, who lived upon recollections generally few but dear, and at last lowered into the semi-conscious alchemic state wherein misery turns to habit, and the soul takes on incredible endurance."
A more wretched existence can scarcely be imagined, than the one describing the slave life of the fictional Judah Ben-Hur. Day after monotonous day, year after relentless year, the galley slave would man his oar in the service of the Roman Empire. Nothing more than chattel, and chained to his post, the slave would live or die at the mercy of others. If the ship were to be rammed and sunk, the slave would perish along with it.
The Hebrew prince has been falsely accused of an assassination attempt on the life of Valerius Gratus, the new Procurator of Judea, and condemned to the galleys by his childhood friend, Messala.
But then a new tribune and commander of the fleet comes aboard at Misenum: Quintus Arrius, who takes an immediate liking to the strong, strapping Jew that labors in the great cabin of his flagship, the Astrëa.
In preparation for battle, Arrius orders that the chain be removed from Ben-Hur's ankle, so that subsequently, with their ship disabled and boarded by pirates, the slave is able to make good his escape.
Thrown into the sea, and clinging to a board for survival, Ben-Hur suddenly finds himself responsible for the life of his benefactor, Quintus Arrius. In gratitude, Arrius vows to adopt Judah Ben-Hur as his son.
"Upon his return from the cruise, Arrius had warm welcome on the mole at Misenum. The young man attending him very early attracted the attention of his friends there; and to their questions as to who he was the tribune proceeded in the most affectionate manner to tell the story of his rescue and introduce the stranger, omitting carefully all that pertained to the latter's previous history. At the end of the narrative, he called Ben-Hur to him, and said, with a hand resting affectionately upon his shoulder _"'Good friends, this is my son and heir, who, as he is to take my property--if it be the will of the gods that I leave any--shall be known to you by my name. I pray you all to love him as you love me.'
"Speedily as opportunity permitted, the adoption was formally perfected. And in such manner the brave Roman kept his faith with Ben-Hur, giving him happy introduction into the imperial world."
The wretched slave is miraculously adopted by the wealthy aristocrat, and now, attired in fine Roman robes instead of a filthy loincloth, Judah Ben-Hur returns to his homeland to avenge his family's treatment at the hand of the wicked Messala.
... because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." Romans 8:14-15
When Judah Ben-Hur became the adopted son of Quintus Arrius, he acquired full rights and privileges under Roman law. He became Arrius' heir, to acquire, upon his death, all property and wealth.
The believer in the Sonship of Christ enjoys His same rights and privileges. There is only one Christ, and the believer has no share in His portion of the Godhead; there is no handing down of "Godness." But the Christian does share in His rights as Son of God.
The Christian who walks with Christ is a true brother with his companion. Not a stepchild, or far-distant cousin; the one who has believed in His name becomes full brother or sister to the one standing at the right hand of God.
So the quality of our daily walk with Christ will depend on our understanding of who we are in Christ.
The challenge is not for our companion, Jesus, to know who we are; He already knows us inside and out. No, the challenge is for us to know who we are in Him. This requires a deeper excavation than would be necessary were our friend anyone else.
"I am not saved by believing--I simply realize I am saved by believing. And it is not repentance that saves me--repentance is only the sign that I realize what God has done through Christ Jesus. Is it my obedience, consecration, and dedication that make me right with God? It is never that! I am made right with God because, prior to all of that, Christ died. When I turn to God and by belief accept what God reveals, the miraculous atonement by the Cross of Christ instantly places me into a right relationship with God. And as a result of the supernatural miracle of God's grace I stand justified, not because I am sorry for my sin, or because I have repented, but because of what Jesus has done.
"The salvation that comes from God is not based on human logic, but on the sacrificial death of Jesus. Sinful men and women can be changed into new creations, not through their repentance or their belief, but through the wonderful work of God in Christ Jesus which preceded all of our experience." Oswald Chambers
The most critical component of our walk with Christ--the most important thing to remember about who or what we are--is that we are no longer what we were. Because of a selfless act by the One beside us, we are now different from what we were before meeting Him. And unlike the story of Judah Ben-Hur, our actions or personality had nothing to do with the change; our condition and standing have nothing to do with ourselves, and everything to do with Jesus Christ.
So what were we? Just what were we prior to our regeneration through Christ?
God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. Psalm 53:2-3
There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins. Eccles. 7:20
"This only have I found: God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes." Eccles. 7:29
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Isaiah 64:6
For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. Romans 7:5
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, Ephes. 2:1
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. Col. 1:21
This is what we were before we accepted the fact that Christ died for us. But our acceptance is not the agent of change; the saving catalyst is the blood of Jesus shed on the cross. So we begin this walk with the understanding that our companion is the one responsible for the relationship.
We are fundamentally different when we begin our walk with Christ, and there are several "churchy" words that describe this state:
And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Cor. 6:11
We have heard them so often, it's easy to forget what they really mean.
* Redeemed: "The conception of redemption is rooted not in Greek culture or in Roman law, but in Old Testament revelation. Redemption is a family matter, an expression of the deepest possible relationship. It is never a stranger who has the right to come to the aid of a person who is owned by another or burdened with an unpayable debt. Only the near kinsman, with the resources to rescue, is able to act.
"Each person in our world is in the grip of sin. Sin's bondage can be broken only through Christ's blood. Redeemed, the believer is given a place in the family of God and is called to live a life that reflects his new standing. Redemption reveals a helpless humanity; and redemption affirms a God whose love drives Him to take the part of the near kinsman. At His own expense, He paid the price needed to win our release."
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:45
(There is a beautiful picture of this family-type of redemption in the story of Ruth and her near kinsman, Boaz, in Ruth 2:1-4:22.)
* Justified: "The word 'justification' has important judicial meanings. A person whose actions are in question will be justified if those actions are examined and found to have been right. Thus 'justify' can mean both 'found innocent' and 'vindicated' in a particular course of action. God is the ultimate judge of all beings in the universe. He will evaluate their actions and will not clear the guilty.
"The Greek word dikaioo means 'to acquit,' 'to vindicate,' or 'to pronounce righteous.' Paul [in Romans] shows that the substitutionary death of Jesus provided a basis on which God can make this judicial pronouncement [that sinners are righteous]. As human beings always fall far short of the divine standard of righteousness, humanity's only hope is a righteousness that comes apart from human actions."
... know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. Galatians 2:16
* Sanctified: "'Sanctify' and 'sanctification' are translations of the same Greek words--hagiazo ('to make holy' or 'to sanctify') and hagiasmos ('sanctification' or 'holiness'). Thus, the concepts of sanctification and holiness are related (sometimes identical) and should be studied in connection with each other.
"A basic distinction must be made between the Old Testament and the New Testament doctrines of holiness. In the OT, the holy is that which is set apart from the common so that it is isolated for God's service. In the NT, holiness is a dynamic process. The holy is actually the common, infused now by God's Spirit and transformed for His service. Thus, our sanctification has to do with God's transformation of us into persons whose actions in daily life are expressions of the Lord."
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thes. 5:23
So this is who we are. This is how our companion, Jesus, sees us: righteous and holy--because of Him.
The concept of family is writ large throughout our relationship with God in Christ. All through Scripture the words of home and family are used to describe our connection with the Godhead.
In His words to the inquiring Nicodemus, Jesus explained "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." John 3:3
The kingdom will only be found by those who seek it as a helpless newborn, carrying with them nothing more than their unblemished innocence and honesty.
We all begin at the same place. Just like the newborn, every believer begins with his hands empty, yet helplessly clenched. Every believer _ in a Spiritual sense--begins his walk naked and exposed, unable to hide anything but his childish thoughts--except, that is, from an all-knowing heavenly Father. And every believer, at the moment of redemption, begins his walk wholly dependent on people and things outside of himself--being ill-equipped, Spiritually speaking, to do little else.
Elsewhere in Scripture believers are referred to as children.
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1a
As would little children, we gather around Jesus with eager, unabashed anticipation, hanging on His every word. Our Lord and companion understands that we are not His equal and, like an attentive older brother, He patiently instructs us out of a loving heart.
1 John 3:1-2
1 John 3:10
1 John 5:2
1 John 5:19
Children eventually grow up. They're given greater responsibilities; more is expected of them.
"I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." 2 Cor. 6:18
There is the sound of honor in the Lord God bestowing upon us the privilege of being His sons and daughters. What other god does such a thing? What other god is so filled with love for His people that He graciously makes them a part of His own family?
It follows, then, that anyone who is a son or daughter of Father God, would also be brother or sister to Christ.
Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. Hebrews 2:11
Here is one of God's most powerful statements: This one who died on the tree for us--the one who paid the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf _ this one, Jesus the Christ is not ashamed to call us brothers. The very Son of God who holds power over the living and the dead happily refers to us as kin.
"And thus, dear brethren, our brother does not stand above us only to show us God, but comes down amongst us to show us men. Out of His example of faith we may take both shame and encouragement--shame when we consider the awful disparity between our wavering and His fixed faith; encouragement when in Him we see what humanity has in it to become, and what by the path of faith it may become." Maclaren 
Brothers & Sister
2 Thes. 3:14-15
1 Tim. 6:2
Finally, we are joint heirs with Christ.
Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:17
The current western system of inheritance is closely associated with death. One who is an heir, inherits certain tangible or intangible property or rights upon the death of the one to whom the property or rights originally belonged.
But the idea of inheritance in the New Testament is based more on the ancient Roman idea, based on birth, rather than death. In the Roman family it was one's birth into the family that made one an heir--the child actually considered a co-owner of whatever belonged to the father. So, since our heavenly Father will never experience death, at the moment of our new birth into the family of God--a birth by water and the Spirit--we immediately acquire full rights of inheritance, and sweet communion with Him.
1 Peter 3:7
It's true that when we step into the family of God by taking Christ as Lord we are changed, instantly, irrevocably. But it is equally true that as we walk with Jesus--day in, day out; year after year--we are slowly being changed into His image. It is impossible to walk with Christ without being somehow changed--for the better.
Just ask the apostle John ...
The Time: AD c.95
The Place: The Island of Patmos
[John, the aged Apostle, enters with deliberation. He has the appearance of incredible age, but there is still color in his cheeks and a twinkle in his eye. He is a cantankerous man of humor, and a man possessed of a peace that comes from great age and from walking with the Savior.
Enter Naomi, a woman of middle years, the wife of a local fisherman. She and John are already friends, having met each other shortly after John's exile to the island because of his testimony for Christ. John carefully sits down and closes his eyes. Shortly thereafter, Naomi enters.]
John. John! (with some irritation) Are you sleeping again?
A man of God does many things with his eyes closed (opening his eyes and turning slightly) only one of which is sleeping.
I have great news for you!
Your husband has come ashore with fresh fish!
No, no, I--
The runner has come with new papyrus for me.
Try my patience more and I'll forget you are a man of God!
I'll be good.
I've just come from the docks and I heard soldiers--
Oh, there is fresh fish, at last--
Would you just wait! (pause) I overheard the soldiers talking. They'll be here shortly to take you back to Ephesus! John! You're going home!
Hmmmm ... that is good news, Naomi.
Aren't you excited? At last, you'll be getting off this rock.
Oh, Patmos hasn't been so bad. I've enjoyed the quiet and accomplished much. (pause) But I do miss Ephesus.
There was something else. Tell me, John, has anyone ever called you, ugh ... thunder?
Why do you ask?
That husband of mine. As soon as the soldiers stepped off their boat, he asked them their business. When they said they were here to release the disciple of the Nazarene, he said, (mimicking) "Oh, you mean old 'Son of Thunder'" What does it mean: Son of Thunder?
It's been many years ...
It seems a strange name for you.
Naomi, you're a person who spends much time outside--much time with the creatures of this island.
You mean like my husband?
You know that before the moth, must come the worm; before the butterfly must come the caterpillar. (she nods) Then, likewise, before the man you see now, there was ... Son of Thunder. Actually, it was 'Sons.' (wistfully) I had a brother. Many, many years ago. (to her) James. (smiling) He was mother's favorite. (soberly) Now he's gone. He was the first of the twelve to die for our Lord. (pause; ruefully) I will be the last. (long pause; brightening) Ah, there we were. Young, vibrant, alive! Twelve ugly caterpillars who thought they were already butterflies. We were just old enough to know it all--and too young to know any better.
But the name--where did that come from?
You see! Just like my brother and me. So impetuous. So impatient. (louder; as if going into a trance) So ready to call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans!
What Samaritans? What are you talking about?
Pardon me, woman. I was carried away.
I think it's a good thing you are getting off this rock
There are many memories stored in my head. Occasionally one pops out.
Who called you "Sons of Thunder"?
My brother and I had a habit of making much noise ... with little being said. So Jesus named us Sons of Thunder.
I can't picture it.
My dear, you're forgetting: The caterpillar goes through the metamorphosis. There is a change. A cleansing from the ugliness of the old to the exquisite beauty of the new. We, too, went through a change. You could not walk with Jesus for three years without there being a change--a tangible change. You could not see His resurrection, His return to the Father without there being a change in your life. (turning; intensely) You cannot receive the Holy Spirit without change.
So often you've spoken of this Jesus.
I have. I never tire of it. And when there is no one around to listen, I talk to myself about Him. (pause) The rest of the time I talk to Him.
And now they call you the "Apostle of Love".
Everybody has to have a title these days! (quieter) If I am, it is only the love of Jesus working through me. Without Him, I am still "Son of Thunder." With Him, my heart is tender. I know compassion. It doesn't come from me--it comes from Him.
I wish I had known Jesus.
I keep telling you: You can!
But He's no longer living!
He is! He lives on with the Father! How many times have I explained it to you? (pause) Well, there's still breath left in this body; I'll keep telling you more about Jesus until you do know Him. (shuffling toward exit with Naomi's help) Meanwhile, you can help me down to the dock. (as they exit; to the audience) I just know they have fresh fish!
[Naomi takes John by the arm as they exit.]
... and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. Col. 3:10-11 NKJV
Years ago my good friend and I met once a week for Bible study. One of the first books we studied together was Paul's epistle to the Ephesians, and I remember quite vividly the gathering apprehension in my stomach as we drew closer to a most troubling passage:
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife ... Ephes. 5:22-23a
Being a firm believer in equal rights for all--male and female--I approached this passage with both trepidation and strong-willed anger. How dare God use the word "submit!" To my way of thinking at the time, this conjured up visions of men with their hobnailed boots pressing firmly down on the necks of their whimpering wives.
Well, I used to be an idiot. That's not what Paul is saying at all, for the passage goes on to describe the ideal marriage relationship as one of mutual respect, honor, and love--using as the example the relationship Christ enjoys with His church.
Many people have the same problem with the word "obedience." They stiffen at the very notion of having to obey anyone, much less an invisible God. They mistakenly believe that if they aren't obeying God, then they're free, all the while ignoring the fact that in their 'freedom' they have signed over their obedience to the one in opposition to God.
"The Christian is a person who recognizes that our real problem is not achieving freedom but in learning service under a better master. The Christian realizes that every relationship that excludes God becomes oppressive. Recognizing and realizing that, we urgently want to live under the mastery of God." Peterson
Who are we in Christ? We are people being renewed, being slowly yet inexorably changed into the image of the One who has given us life.
Part of that renewal process is our obedience--but not by force; believers are people who are obeying Christ because they want to. It is an obedience similar to that which takes place within a marriage: one based on mutual love and respect, one based on the mystical union in which two people become one.
Just as a man and woman become one flesh by marriage, the believer becomes one flesh with Christ, sharing in His suffering,
Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:17
in His joys,
Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Romans 5:11
in His victory,
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. 1 John 5:1-5
and in His life.
Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" John 11:25-26
Walking with Jesus Christ is a strong, enveloping, life-enriching process full of joys and pain and growth and change. It is not static; quite to the contrary, by its very nature, a Christ-walk involves unavoidable change and renewal.
Walking with Christ is like playing tennis with the very best tennis player there is, like being taught the piano under Vladimir Horowitz, the cello by Pablo Casals, or how to write by William Shakespeare. One cannot participate without change resulting.
For Jesus, the walk is pleasant moments with a friend, a brother or sister, an opportunity to let even more of His life become a part of ours.
The walk is an exercise in mutual love--not a sweet, syrupy kind of feel-good affection, but a strong, purposeful love based on a bond of heart and soul.
"The final test of love is obedience, not sweet emotions, not willingness to sacrifice, not zeal, but obedience to the commandments of Christ. The Christian cannot be certain of the reality and depth of his love until he comes face to face with the commandments of Christ and is forced to decide what to do about them." Tozer
The world will know we walk with Christ because they will see the result in our behavior. Jesus will know we walk with Him because He will see more and more of His character being written into our life. We will know we have been walking with Jesus because we will find ourselves happily-- joyfully--obeying Him out of a full and grateful heart.
Issue No. 73
[1.] Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, by Lew Wallace (1880), Book Third, Chap. II, p122f. (return to footnote 1)
[2.] Ibid, Chap.VI, p148. (return to footnote 2)
[3.] This issue of Aspects is a companion to last month's issue: Taking Pleasure in the Lord, which dealt with knowing and understanding our friend and brother, Jesus Christ. From the November issue: If our desire is to have a more intimate, more consistent walk with Jesus Christ, the answer lies less in programs or methods than in recognizing and understanding two foundational things: First, knowing the person and personality of our Friend and, two, understanding who we are in His eyes. (return to footnote 3)
[4.] From My Utmost for His Highest (Discovery House, 1992). (return to footnote 4)
[5.]This, and the following quotations, are from the Expository Dictionary of Bible Words (Zondervan, 1985), by Lawrence O. Richards. (return to footnote 5)
[6.] Revelation 1:17-18. (return to footnote 6)
[7.] Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture (Baker, 1984), on Hebrews 2:11-13, p245. (return to footnote 7)[8.] John 3:5-8 (return to footnote 8) [9.] Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church _ for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery _ but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephes. 5:22-33 (return to footnote 9) [10.] Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (InterVarsity Press, 1980), p61. (return to footnote 10)
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