Hebrews: Perfection

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Many profess Romans 8:28 as their favorite verse: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” But what is God’s purpose? That we would be “conformed to the likeness of His Son” (v. 29). Our purpose is to be like Jesus.

In our ongoing study of Hebrews, we’re looking at several reasons why the Father sent His one and only Son to earth to die for humanity.  One of those reasons also answers the question – “How does God accomplish His purpose?” Hebrews 2:10 says “. . . it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Jesus was made perfect through suffering.

Now wait just a minute, you’re thinking, Jesus was always perfect! What does this mean? The word used here is teleioo and it means “to accomplish, bring to a planned end.” Its root word is telos. Another word that shares that root is in Jesus’ last words on the cross: “It is finished!” (John 19:30)  Jesus was “made perfect” in that His purpose for coming to earth was accomplished – it was perfected.

But back to our question: How does God accomplish His purpose? Through suffering. Through the cross. Through beatings and a crown of thorns and nails through His hands and feet. Will be any less for you and me? Suffering is the hammer and chisel He uses to shape us into the very image of His Son. This was important to the Hebrew recipients of this letter who were undergoing intense persecution for the name of Jesus. They were contemplating giving up. The author was encouraging them to stay firm in their faith because their suffering had a purpose to make them perfect. Just like Jesus.

The same is true for you and me Beloved. The “all things” from Romans 8:28 includes suffering. But the teleioo – the perfection is worth it. We will be like Jesus! Beloved, suffering means that God is perfecting you, just as He did His Son. Oh, but when He’s finished you won’t believe how good you’re gonna look!

Romans 8:28 – But Wait -There’s More!

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I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve turned to the Bible for encouragement and hope and help and wisdom. The Word of God is the only thing that can soothe my sometimes weary, broken heart. One verse I and many others turn to often is Romans 8:28: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” When everything is falling apart around you, that’s a good, solid rock on which to stand.  God works in all things. Good things and bad things. Happy things and painful things. Exciting things and mundane things. There’s great comfort in that. But is that all this verse offers? No my friends, in the words of Billy Mays Hayes, “But wait! There’s more!”

I’m going to skip over the part about “those who love Him” – we’ll pick back up on that in a couple of days. I want us to zero in on the end of this verse: “who have been called according to His purpose.” For me, this is the most hopeful part of this verse because it tells me that my life and all its struggles are not a haphazard crazy quilt of circumstances. There is purpose in everything God does and allows, things that work toward the purpose for which He created and called me. Now there are many things I am called to: wife, mother, grandmother, employee, friend, student, Bible teacher, writer – and all of these are important. But they are not God’s purpose for me. That’s in the next verse.

“For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son . . .” (v. 29). God’s purpose for me – and for you – is to be like Jesus. It’s His purpose for all of His children. There are things we are called to do, but God is most concerned with what we are called to be. The power God exerts in my life is not about making me a good teacher or grandmother or any of the other roles in my life. It’s about making me His daughter. Who looks like His Son. Who looks like His Father. That what “all things” are working toward in my life. And yours too, Beloved.

When it seems like the sky is falling, know that God is perfecting you into the image of His Son. On purpose

Death to Life

You may not know this, but I have a granddaughter – I know, I rarely ever speak about her. 😊 She is awesome. Funny, loving, generous, a wonderful dancer, brilliant conversationalist, and gives hugs that can cure whatever ails you. She is so very sweet and precious. Almost perfect – but not quite. At 17 months, she can be rebellious and stubborn. She knows she is not to stand on her toys. But she will do it while looking you dead in the eye. She also has a temper. I may know where that comes from. Bottom line: she has a sin nature. She got it from her parents. They got it from their parents, who got it from their parents, and on and on it goes all the way back to the original sinners, Adam and Eve.

This semester I’ve been digging deep into their story.  Uniquely made above all God’s creation, they were fashioned by His own hands out of the dust of the earth and given His own breath to bring them to life. They were also given His image to enable a relationship between the Creator and the created. They were perfect. But sin entered the picture through a chatty serpent who deceived them into doing the only thing they were forbidden to do: eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That one act condemned every human being ever born to share in their punishment – death (Romans 6:23). Not merely the ceasing of life, but death in the sense of separation from God. He alone gives life, and apart from Him, there is no life. Oh, we’re breathing and walking around in this world, but spiritually, we are dead. Dead people walking in our sin nature. Meanwhile, the image of God has been put to sleep in man.

We need to reverse that. Paul wrote, “Wake up, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Eph 5:14). The sin nature needs to be put to death and the image of God in man reawakened. It’s the only hope we have. I can’t do it and neither can you. But Someone did. Paul said, “Those who received God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:17). Through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the sin nature is put to death and the image of God is awakened. It’s not just the only hope you have Beloved, it’s the only hope you need.

Bitter or Better?

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I don’t know much about Josh Shipp, other than he had a rough start to life. Abandoned at birth and passed from one foster home to another, he was on a self-destructive path until a foster family intervened and invested in his life. I don’t know his faith story – of if he even has one, but I love his quote:

You either get bitter, or you get better.

It’s that simple.

You either take what has been dealt to you and allow it to make you a better person, or you allow it to tear you down.”

For something outside of Scripture, that is a powerful truth. His words immediately took me to a familiar verse: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Both of these speak volumes, especially for those of us who have had to struggle in life. Like my daughter-in-law who is preparing to start college this fall. She wants to be a child psychologist. She wants to be for other children the person she needed in her childhood. She could let the hard things in her life make her bitter, but she’s put them in God’s good hands and is determined to let Him use them to make her better. And make other kids’ lives better too.

It’s a story repeated often in Scripture and in human history. Difficulty + God + time = purpose. Ask Joseph. Ask Ruth. Ask Paul. Ask me. I grew up the butt of everyone’s jokes at school and at home because I was naive and often said and did dumb things. My sense of self-worth was shot. I was stupid. So I determined to keep my mouth shut and learn so that when I said something it was well thought out, sensible, and would build others up. In the process, God built a fire in me for the Bible. The words you’re reading now are the product of God taking bullying, shame, and abuse and turning it into a ministry of The Word and words.

Beloved, whatever hard thing that has happened in your life can either make you bitter or, placed in the hands of God, become the mission and ministry of your life. It’s your choice. Choose the better path.

Becoming Like Jesus

See the source imageI asked God to teach me how to love people as Jesus did. He brought people into my life who were hard to love. I asked Him to help me trust Him and He took away everything else I trusted in. I asked Him for peace and He set me in a storm – then sat with me as it raged. I asked for greater faith and He put mountains in my path. I asked Him for wisdom and He set challenges before me. I asked Him to give me a kind and gentle heart, and he allowed me to face heartbreak and disappointment. I asked Him for joy and – well – He sent Joy!

I thought He would just make my heart grow three sizes, and make trust and faith shoot up like a well-watered plant. I thought He would just infuse me with peace, and give me a shot of wisdom. I thought he would just change my nature from grumpy to kind and gentle. I thought it would be easy.

Maybe it’s been different for you, but God and I have always had to do things the hard way. I don’t think I’ve learned a single life-lesson without some blood, sweat, and tears along the way. Even the Joy in my life came with a struggle.

We love to quote Romans 8:28 in times of trial and trouble: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” But what is His purpose? Read on. “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (v. 29). Everything in your life is designed to make you more like Jesus. The writer of Hebrews said that God made Jesus “perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10). Why, Beloved, do you think becoming like Him would be any different?

All Things for Good

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“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

It is one of the most quoted verses to encourage others in difficulty. You’ve probably heard some variations of it:

“God works all things to good.”

“God makes all things good.”

“It’s all good.”

I know that might seem helpful in hard times – but if we’re going to quote the Bible, we need to quote it correctly.  For at least two reasons: because it is God’s holy, living Word and because it has a far greater and more encouraging word than we are offering.  Well, three reasons: when we misquote it, we misunderstand it and we misapply it.

When Paul says that “God works for the good” he isn’t saying God’s going to make all bad things good.  He is saying God is working for the good, even in the bad things. He may not change the bad thing to a good thing, but He will ultimately bring something good from it.  Just a side note: that almost always takes time. Sometimes a long time.  And sometimes when the good comes, so much time has passed that we don’t make the connection – and we don’t see that God was faithful all along. That why the Bible says “remember” so frequently.

Back to our verse.  Don’t miss the qualifier: “God works for . . . those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  God works on behalf of His beloved.  Does that seem unfair?  Hold that thought for just a minute – I’m coming back to it.  It’s important to know that when Paul wrote this letter, he did not divide it into chapters and verses, so when we isolate this one verse, we lose his point.  Let’s read a little farther: “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers” (v. 29).  Now I’m not about to get into predestination – that’s way too deep for Facebook, but I will draw your attention to three words in these two verses: purpose, conformed, and likeness.  God works all things for one good purpose: that His beloved child would be conformed to the likeness of His Son. That explains the qualifier – God cannot fulfill His purpose in someone that does not love Him.  Surrender is the mark of love – and God can only work in those who have Surrendered to His Son. That’s what it means to be a child of God.

Do you see the greater picture and how it applies to your life?  God is working in and through those bad things to bring about His one good purpose for you as His child – that you might look just like Jesus.  Like a master sculptor, He looks at His Son and applies the hard blows of the chisel to shape and mold you into the image before Him. God is not just working to make all your bad things into good things, He is working to make a you into a beautiful reflection of perfection.  That’s the bigger purpose He has for you Beloved.  Now that’s an encouraging word!

Guest blogging today…

I am so pleased and blessed to be a guest blogger today on Beverly Varnado’s site, One Ringing Bell. Bev is a novelist, screenwriter and blogger, her books, Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees and Home to Currahee are available on Amazon.

I invite you to read my devotional on Bev’s site: If You’re Having Trouble Seeing the Master Plan.

Thank you Beverly for this wonderful opportunity!