Wednesday, August 29, 2012

O, Timothy!

How do you really summarize and bring closure to the transformation that has occurred from memorization of and meditation on a book of the Bible? How could I possibly, in one succinct place, completely explain the amazing effect that Paul's first letter to Timothy has had on my life? How could I do it justice? How do I count the ways?

Well, same way I would count to 14. Or at least, I listed to 14 and then just stopped. This should at least scratch the surface. So, in no particular order, and acknowledging much overlap, here, almost two months after the fact, are the 14 themes from 1 Timothy that have changed my life:

1. Stewardship from God

God had a plan, has a plan, and is executing a plan, of salvation, not only for the world, but for me. Personally. The entire Bible, and even all of life, is revealing that plan. The Christian life should be a constant, active experience inside the redemptive plan of history, pointing to the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. He has taken great care to present that to us in a way that is understandable, and deserves our attention, adoration, and devotion. In light of this reality, how and why would we devote ourselves to myths, endless genealogies, and speculations? That is a dead end; but in Christ, we have truth, and life, created and sustained for us by the great Redeemer.

2. The aim of our charge is love

What is the end game? When we get to heaven, and our faith is sight, and our hope is fulfilled, what will remain? Love. It is God's nature, and we know it in this: that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And so we make it our aim now, and flowing from that central aim is a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. What God promises in us and through us will not be in vain, and so we make it our aim to love, since He first loved us.

3. Good conscience

The importance of a good, or clear, conscience, has definitely dominated my time in 1 Timothy. The understanding and practice of this is liberating. Paul identifies a good conscience as one of the key elements in our main aim as Christians. In other words, without a good conscience, we likely fail in our aim to love others, and certainly to love God. Paul charges Timothy in light of the battle of the Christian life, to hold faith and a good conscience. In reference to deacons, and those who serve in the church, Paul says that they are to hold onto the faith with a clear conscience. He says about those that have devoted themselves to deceitful spirits, the teachings of demons, and the insincerity of liars, that their consciences have been seared. The picture here is striking. Think Ahi Tuna. To Titus, Paul says that to those who are corrupted, and not pure, their consciences are corrupted. Paul has much to say to the Corinthians about conscience, and how to act in such a way as not to cause those with a weaker conscience to stumble. Weak, in this sense, is not necessarily bad or unclear, it is just sensitive, perhaps from past experience or former vulnerability. We should be building those with a weak conscience up, instead of causing them to stumble, further de-sensitizing their conscience. The author of Hebrews says that the Old Testament sacrificial system was not able to clear the consciences of the worshippers, yet, the blood of Christ is able to cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God. And later, he says that we are to draw near to God with a sincere heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience. The author says that we are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.

Are we sure? Are you sure? How is one sure? Clearly, this is a theme in the Christian life, and 1 Timothy highlighted this for me powerfully. The image of my conscience being seared, no longer able to distinguish good from evil, and launching me into ruin and destruction, is terrifying. Yet, not debilitating! How do we prevent it? By having our powers of discernment trained by constant practice. How do we do that? I thought of it this way. In every part of my life, is there an active pursuit to flee sin and run to God? And even when I fail in that pursuit, is my conscience clear through repentance, and repeated "sprinkling" with the blood of Jesus? Or are there areas where, even subtly, my active pursuit for holiness has become passive, my ability to discern whether my daily actions, even small ones, are pleasing to God, and my attentiveness to react or repent has been weakened (or less prioritized)? If so, probably my conscience is being weakened, even seared. This can play out is such basic ways.

For example, I avoid at all costs being alone with another woman in a business or social context, and tell my wife when it is unavoidable, even for a short time. The other day I told her that I was at lunch with two people, one a man and one a woman, and when the man went to the bathroom, I was alone at the table with the woman. Why did I bother to tell my wife that? For one thing, because someone could have seen just the two of us in passing and perhaps been confused. But almost more importantly, I told her so that my conscience was aware and clear that in general, being alone with a woman, not my wife, is bad. And so if I train myself to be sensitive to this when it is unavoidable and no big deal, doesn't it stand to reason that my conscience will prevent me from either accidentally, or intentionally, being in this situation when it is a big deal? I think so. This is just an example that works for me. Perhaps, if you are a man, and wouldn't think twice about this kind of situation, you should consider doing so?

How about another one. Do you struggle with pride? Let me answer that for you: yes. For me, not having someone (or multiple someones) in my life pouring into me, holding me accountable, asking whether I'm checking my convictions against Scripture, asking whether I'm living my convictions with others, and challenging me when I'm not teachable, would be devastating to my conscience. I know because I didn't really have this for about 7 years. By the grace of God, now I'm married, and under the authority of a local church, and in close fellowship with other men! And my conscience is clear. 1 Timothy reinforced this in so many areas in my life. Am I looking for up to 3 seconds at a racy photo online, on TV, or on a billboard, or at a woman in a restaurant? That is too long. Am I avoiding conversation and dialogue with my co-workers? That is the path to laziness and lack of compassion. Am I drifting toward unloving disagreement with fellow Christians? That is hardening my heart. Am I hitting the snooze for too long? That is demolishing the opportunity for precious time with my Savior. Is my prayer life more characterized by random conversation with God, rather than intentional pleading with him in supplication, thanksgiving, and intercession? That is the way to no prayer life at all. Are my possessions dominating my thoughts? Do I think more about what is the next addition to my library, than about what God is teaching me through any of the various books included in that library, or more importantly, through His book?

You may say all this is overkill, and even legalistic, but O, that the consciences of Christians would not be weakened, seared, or killed in our life to our everlasting shame! The joy of a clear conscience in the presence of Jesus is so sweet.

4. Swerving from the faith

All that talk about conscience is a good transition to the next theme, namely, Paul's repeated focus to Timothy about the danger of swerving from the faith. Think about the concept of swerving from the faith. If it does not frighten you to some extent, you might be doing so. I say that with a firm and unbreakable conviction that Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of your faith. He will not lose one (see my post As Sure as the Sun Will Set, for more on this). But if the healthy fear of your proneness to wonder is not actively acknowledged and addressed by seeking Jesus, you may have a problem. Think of yourself on a raft in a river with a strong current. If you're not making an effort to move towards the shore, which direction do you think you'll go? John Piper has painted this picture for me before, but in 1 Timothy I see Paul pleading with people, through Timothy, who may be relaxing on the raft with the earphones of this world distracting them from the cliff they are approaching.

Paul says that certain persons have swerved from a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith, which create the aim of love in our charge, and they have wandered away into vain discussion. He says they desire to be teachers of the law, but do not understand either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. So the raft imagery is not always people relaxing with the distractions of the world dominating their attention; it could also be people standing up and saying or advocating things that are just untrue or dangerous. Perhaps Jesus is not central in their assertions. That would certainly take them towards the cliff, and they may not even know it!

Elsewhere Paul, after charging Timothy to hold faith and a good conscience, in light of the prophecy made about him, says that some have rejected this and made shipwreck of their faith. So now picture the raft as a boat, and the rejection of faith and conscience is a straight path into a reef, and a shipwreck. Those do not end well. And if it wasn't enough, people in this category Paul says he has handed over to Satan, that they may learn not to blasphemy. A lot more could be said about that concept, but suffice it to say, that does not necessarily mean hand over to Satan for eternal torment (hopefully!), but for the purpose of them seeing the error in their ways and coming back to God.

This theme is so present in this letter. Chapter 4 begins with the statement of truth that in later times, some will depart from the faith. They will. They are among us now, they may me in a small group, God forbid, they may lead a small group. But the Spirit expressly says - not might be saying - but expressly says, that there will be a time when they won't be here anymore. They will have devoted themselves to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, and through the insincerity of liars their consciences will have been seared. They will be confused about food and marriage. They will depart. How do we prevent this, in ourselves, or others? The rest of the chapter gives the method, and I will highlight that later.

But lets take a quick second to imagine how this could happen practically. Paul says that everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. We may not abstain from foods, or forbid marriage (my wife and I love cooking while watching the Food Network, which I guess would be the double whammy), but Paul says everything. What all do we fail to recognize from God and fail to give thanks, and fail to even consider the connection to the word of God and prayer? This is very convicting and powerful. Saying a prayer before a meal is not a burdensome routine. It can and should be a precious application of Scripture to the glory of God. Same thing when you have a good day at work. Or when you have a bad day. Or when you have fun with friends. Or when you experience nature. EVERYTHING created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. What will stop us from departing from the faith if we are not considering this perspective with everything in our lives?

Paul is not done. About the rich, he warns that the desire for riches leads to temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that cause ruin and destruction. He says that through the craving for riches some have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. Ouch. At risk of oversimplifying, what is the application here? Don't desire money. You can have it, but check your desire. It could destroy you. Paul ends the letter pleading with Timothy to avoid irreverent babble and contradictions that are falsely called knowledge, because by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Paul doesn't want us to swerve. Hold faith! Train your conscience! Take hold of eternal life! Don't coast!

5. Sound doctrine

I am writing too much. But how could I not?! This theme is dear to my heart. God has convicted me of it for some time, and if you've read any of this blog before, you know that. See This is the Word of God, or The Whole Counsel of God for more from me on this. Paul encourages Timothy to charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine. He says that the law is for those who practice whatever is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. He says that if you put these things, namely the practice of giving thanks for everything God created, before the brothers, you will be a good servant, trained in the words of the faith and the good doctrine you have followed. He says that if anyone teaches a different doctrine, and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. Nothing. He says, O Timothy! Guard the deposit entrusted to you.

What is he saying? Well, one thing he is saying is that there is unsound doctrine. One things he has to mean is that there is a different doctrine. There are words that are contrary to those of Jesus. There is teaching that does not accord with godliness. How in vain we dismiss our different interpretations of Scripture as reason to think there is no correct interpretation! There is. What else would Paul be saying here? While I have labored over this point in various posts, here I will take you to Luke 24. Jesus, after he rose from the dead, appeared on the road to Emmaus, and later to his disciples. What did he say to them? What did he care about? He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. He opened up their minds to understand the Scriptures. He said, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Thus, it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem." Was that just Jesus' interpretation? No. Those are the sound words. That is the sound doctrine. We are to hold it!

And we are to watch it. If we watch it closely, alongside our life, which should confirm it, what does Paul tell Timothy will happen? We will save both ourselves and our hearers. This charge has transformed the way I think about and live the Christian life. I first was taken by it through a conference talk by Matt Chandler on 1 Timothy 4 and what it looks like to "shepherd unregenerate sheep". Chandler says that this verse is saying that there is a way to preach (proclaim) and a way to live (demonstrate) that confirms the presence of the Spirit, or the absence of the Spirit, in people's lives. We have to do both, though. We can't just preach by our actions, and we can't just make our actions preaching. But there is a way to balance both faithfully that reveals what God is doing in other people. This has informed the way I interact at work, in church community, and in my family. God blessed me greatly at my wedding rehearsal dinner where my dad, during his toast, confirmed the effectiveness of this in he and my mom. Amazing grace! My wife has confirmed the same. And I confirm it in her! Praise God! I pray this is just the beginning, as balancing this is a lifelong challenge, for me, and for you!

6. Faith and love

These two words are together a lot in the Bible. Often, they are accompanied by hope. In 1 Timothy though, just the pair is used in several places. Paul says that the grace of our Lord overflowed for him, with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Grace through faith and love, which is in Christ Jesus. He says about women, that they will be saved through child-bearing, if they continue in faith and love (and holiness). Faith and love saves? Paul tells Timothy to set for the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in faith, in love, and in purity. Faith and love as an example. He says to flee from the temptations of riches, and to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness. Faith and love, among other things, as a means to flee those things that would cause us to swerve away from Jesus. What are we to make of these words used together so often? Well, certainly, they are not used exclusively; many other words are used with them that are of great value to us. But they do appear to be highlighted by Paul for a reason. What I can gather is that they embody Jesus. Faith in Jesus brings us to him, love is what flows from Him through us once we are in Him, and faith is what holds us in Him, made possible by His love. So faith is what brings us to, and keeps us in, Jesus, and love is what made and what makes faith possible, and is what embodies Jesus so fully that once we are in Him it flows through us also. They cannot be separated.

7. But I received mercy

Can anyone say that Paul's testimony is not also their own? But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief. We're all ignorant. We lived in unbelief and the only way we could have escaped that ignorance and unbelief is if God opened our hearts and minds by his mercy. He did not have to do that, and be God. But he did! That is mercy. And the grace he gave in this overflowed! It is unending. Paul goes on to say that he received mercy for a reason. What reason? Did I receive mercy for a reason? Yes! What? So that Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example for those who were to believe in Him for eternal life. That truth requires a doxology. Bring it Paul: To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever! Amen!

Peter talks about how we are now marked by mercy. It is like we are branded. He says that once we were not a people, but now we are God's people. Once - we had not received mercy, but now, we have! It should define us! Does it?

8. Jesus came to save sinners

This theme is so straight forward, yet transforming, I need not bother to write more than required. Why did Jesus come into the world? Why did the Second Person of the Trinity, who by whom and through whom the world was created, and who upholds the universe by the word of his power; why did he come to earth as a human baby? There must have been a reason! Yes. It was to save sinners. Let's not add to that. There is so much depth to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so much purpose and plan set in motion before the foundation of the world; so much was happening and so much was accomplished, and it is bigger than any of us, and more wonderful and profound than we could ever articulate. But we know this: He came to save sinners. Period.

9. I am the foremost

And guess what? I am the foremost. I am the worst sinner I know. And he came to die for me. And for you! I recently had a dialogue on a blog about whether we needed to refer to ourselves as the worst sinner we know. Some didn't think this was necessary. Such self-hatred is unhealthy, they say. Clearly, there are worse sinners than us. Right? I mean, like Hitler. Come on! I went on to explain why I think this misunderstands sin just a tad. Here is what I said:

"The reason I think it’s important for you and maybe others to consider is that it’s kind of built-in accountability and humility. If I am the worst sinner I know, than I can never look down on someone else as worse than me, puffing up my spiritual pride and derailing my trajectory within the grace of God, and reducing my ability to love them as more important than myself (1 John). God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. So that’s where I try to be, and it’s not easy. But if I wasn’t the worst sinner I know, and I know my sin (I don’t know anyone else’s), than it would be really hard!

"Don’t take this concept to the extreme, comparing to Hitler or serial killers or what not. I’m trying to live where I am. I don’t interact with the Hitlers of the world. But if Paul, converted by the power of the Holy Spirit, and conformed into the likeness of Christ to the point where God commissioned him to take the gospel to the Gentiles, and inspired him to write much of the NT, giving clarification and perspective on the Christian life, and encouragement and rebuke to churches, if this man considered himself the chief of sinners, what does that make me? If I were to compare, I clearly would fall short of even the standard he sets, not to mention Jesus!

"So considering myself the worst of sinners is just perspective for me that the sin I have, and have been freed from the penalty of, yet still subjected to the power and presence of, is the same sin as the next guy. Not Hitler (although theologically I would argue it is), but my neighbor who lets his dog poop on my lawn, or my friend from college who struggled with sexual temptation two times a week more than me. If I didn’t consider myself the “worst”, what would stop my prideful heart from ranking those people “less godly” than me because all observable evidence shows I am slightly better? The internal, unobservable evidence is more significant.

"When I say 'worst sinner', I don’t mean 'commit the worst sins', even though in some cases that may be true. I mean I have indwelling sin that is capable of the worst sins, and since I know my sin and what I’ve done (I don’t know what you’ve done), than logically I am the worst sinner I know. I think this is very helpful for the Christian life, and frankly, the alternative is unimaginable to me."

10. Household of God

Church is a family. How awesome is that? Paul writes to Timothy and says that he hopes to come to him soon, but is writing so that if he delays, Timothy may know how we ought to behave in the household of God. We are the family of God, and not just God, but the living God. Coming to church during the time I have been meditating on this book has been so sweet, and although I don't know everyone at my church the same way I know my family, there is something special about being among the people of God in corporate worship. God didn't have to reveal His glory this way, but he did! He does! The element of community that this theme highlights is so important to me. We need arms and legs and elbows and hands and feet and earlobes in the body of Christ, all walking in the manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

11. Pillar of truth

Not only is our community to be the household of God, the church of the living God, but it is to be a pillar and buttress of the truth. Our charge is to guard the truth that leads to life. I said much about this is my previous post. The church is to guard the truth that leads to life. That is a weighty charge. It has life and death implications. The truth isn't just fun, or helpful, or prestigious, or profitable; it leads to life! Without it, we get death. Think about that. Truth is not a component of the pathway to life. It is the pathway. Jesus said to Pilate, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." After this, Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?" Why didn't Jesus answer his question? Well, maybe he did. It's just not recorded. But by the grace of God, this truth is not elusive to us. It is Jesus. And Jesus leads to life. He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, and taken up in glory. 

12. Train Yourself for Godliness

Godliness matters. Holiness matters. Paul wants us to the keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. Cheap grace is a different doctrine. Kevin DeYoung has said that one thing that the young reformed resurgence in the church has not been clear enough about is the pursuit of holiness. I think he is right and at least for me that is very convicting. I just finished reading The Disciplines of Grace by Jerry Bridges, and that is perhaps another post. I also am embarking on a small group community life experience on the concept (Biblical concept, by the way) of mortifying (killing) sin, so I know God has only scratched the surface of his speaking to me in this area, and I will have much more to communicate in the near future! But for now, Paul charges Timothy to actively pursue godliness.

What is godliness? God-like-ness? What is God like? Jesus? So, we are just to be like Jesus? Is that even possible (in this life)? What if we just shoot for Paul-like-ness? Isn't that more obtainable (the answer is probably no)? Is that sufficient?

No. Even though Paul said to imitate his way of life, he also said, I am the foremost. Which is it? What is his way of life? How can an active pursuit of "godliness", which is Jesus-like-ness, be a good thing, if it is virtually unobtainable? Aren't we just setting ourselves up for disappointment? How about if we just continue in sin, so that grace may abound?

If that were the case, what does Paul mean by "train yourselves for godliness"? Apparently, there is a value to actively pursuing godliness. And thankfully, we are not left with little or unclear instruction on how this works, or what the benefit is. What is the benefit? Bodily training is of some value, but godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and the life to come. It is of value in every way. It is beneficial in every way possible! Now, valuable and beneficial does not mean we pursue it for our own gain. Oh, no. Paul doesn't let us get away with that. In fact, if we stray from the teaching that accords with the godliness that we are to pursue, we are puffed up with conceit and understand nothing. That would be idiotic. If we do that, it shows that we have an unhealthy craving for controversy that causes envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people. If we do that we show ourselves to be depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. God forbid!

But how does it work? How do we train ourselves for godliness? How was Paul saying it could work for Timothy? It could work for Timothy because he had been trained in the words of the faith. That means he had been nourished, brought up in the words of the faith, the Scriptures. It gave him spiritual strength. Does it give it us strength? Are we letting it? How else does it work? By avoiding things that are silly, and irrelevant, and by making an intentional effort to set apart your life for God's purposes. Intentional effort, because this does not happen automatically.

But Paul says that godliness is ultimately a mystery. And the fact that it is a mystery does not mean it is unimportant. Quite the contrary. It means it is amazing. It means that the gospel is that God is making us like Him; He is making us holy. How is he doing that? Through His life (he was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels), and through the church (he was proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory). How is our church life? Well, that is where Christ's work is being proclaimed and believed, so that is where we need to be. I am so thankful it is where I am.

And how do we make this reality, this mystery, our own? How do we move past being disciplined, or active in our pursuit of godliness, just for the sake of itself? Train yourself for godliness, so you can be godly, because God is making you godly. Is that it? What if he doesn't? How do we know? Paul says, "to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on God, who is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe." We hope.

13. Hope set on God

We hope! To this end we toil and strive. How could we do that without hope? We can't. Paul prays for the Colossians that they would be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy! So we need strength to hope. We need to understand that the Christian life is not easy, but that is so far from meaning it is hopeless! Any notion in our society, or in some cases even within the church, that implies that the Christian life brings prosperity and health as a direct result, is blasphemy, and blown out of the water by Colossians 1:11. That type of promise would leave so little room for hope. Who hopes for what he sees? Paul prays that we have power, so that we can endure and be patient. Endure what? Be patient in what? Our good health? No! In hardship, which is common life for the Christian. And he prays that we can have this endurance, and patience, with joy.  You can't really force joy, you know? Think about being in the middle of a trial, perhaps loss or serious illness, or lack, and just trying to be joyful. Like an apple tree trying to push out an apple by sheer force. But you can't. Its not automatic. You want to have joy, but it doesn't come. What do you do?!

Root your life in hope. What hope? I just lost my job, my life is a wreck, I can't pay the bills, I feel physically terrible. What hope? Hope that these light and momentary afflictions are producing for you a weight of glory far beyond all comparison. Hope that the sufferings of this life are not even worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us. Hope that Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, died as a sacrifice and payment for our sins, and God raised him from the dead, conquering death and revealing that the sacrifice he made on our behalf was approved by the Father and we can one day raise with him in glory. And there is coming a day, when he will come back and make all things new. He will wipe away every tear, and there will be no more suffering or death!

Stop for a second.

Think about that. Quantify the comparison. 80 years of suffering. Eternity of perfect joy. It is real! Hope in that!

Paul says to the Colossians that we were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds. He says to the Ephesians that we were dead in the trespasses and sins in which we once walked; we were at one time alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. No hope! Are we still there? No! We have had the eyes of our hearts enlightened, Paul says, that we may know the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe. What power? The power that God worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. The same power that Paul is  praying about for the Colossians so that they would endure with joy. And the same power that is what we need as we toil and strive (not coast) in the Christian life. The same power that the widow, for example, rests in as she has been left all alone. She hopes! And continues in supplications and prayers night and day. What a model for all of us, in our various situations.

And if even this hope does not come at first, my experience has taught me that the application is to not shift. Sometimes, we can't force hope or joy, even when we want to. Intellectually Christ is more beautiful than our sin and is worth our suffering, but we just can't talk our hearts into feeling this reality and acting on it. What do we do? We don't shift. We plant ourselves at the cross. Paul says in Colossians that if we continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, then he will present you blameless on that day. Don't shift! Sometimes it is hard to hope. But if you remain steady, not shifting one way or the other from the hope you may not yet even have, it will come.

How do you know if you've shifted from the hope of the gospel? Here are some questions that help you know: Do you have a heart for the lost today? Do you have a heart for the poor? Do you have an eternal perspective in trials? Are you enslaved to selfishness? Are you enslaved to the fear of man? Are you not confessing sin? Are you seeking satisfaction in other things? Are the spiritual disciplines a part of your routine? Take heed! You may be shifting! Go back to the hope of the gospel, and wait there until God shows up. And he will! O, that you would know that he will!

14. Take hold of eternal life

Finally, the charge to take hold of the eternal life to which I was called and about which I made the good confession, has been life-changing. I have looked for, and have seen, daily applications of this. I suppose it will take a lifetime to completely articulate this wonderful reality. But suffice it to say that the picture of me, as a Christian, taking hold of something - like, physically grabbing it - has been helpful and transforming. How do you grab eternity?

Flee! Run from those things that are obviously bad (Galatians 5). You are a man of God! And pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. What does that look like, specifically? Well, I reckon there are a million ways to describe what that looks like. I'll mention one: Look to Jesus.

I mean, look to him! Do you see him? What does he look like? Is he smiling? What is his nature to you? What is his relation to you? I mean, specifically, who is he?? Do you see him? What about him is striking to you? Surely, something is. Look!

Consider his Father: He is invincible. He is immortal; he alone has immortality. He just is. He dwells in unapproachable light. He is beyond the reaches of sinful people. He is invisible. He is beyond human sight and comprehension. He is Eternal. He is Sovereign. He created the structures of language that make this sentence intelligible. He created the resources in creation and capacity in human brains for the Internet to function and this blog to be available.

Yet, Jesus is the image of the invisible God. He is the exact representation of the Father. What? In his face, we see the glory of God. Look to Jesus, and you will see God! He was made visible for our sake. He is not beyond our reach and his nature and work is not beyond our sight or comprehension. And he upholds the universe by the word of his power. Look! Draw near the throne of grace with confidence, made possible by his blood. Look! Do you see him?

With this conviction and desire, and my eyes to Jesus, I approach Paul's letter to the Colossians.