The Poetry of Wisdom

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The Poetry of Wisdom

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“Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you desire cannot be compared with her.” ~Proverbs 8:10-11

There is just a little more overview of the first nine chapters that I wanted to take note of before I go on into considering specific verses….

1) Note that this instruction is written as poetry. It is beautiful in form and delightful to the ear, even in the English translation, and thus addresses the whole heart of a person. This thread of delighting in beauty, together with the assumption of the very real value of physical beauty, is a theme woven throughout this entire book.

2) Note that this teaching is conveyed verbally – it is doctrine – even though it is lovely in its linguistic form. There are multiple layers of the literature to appreciate and learn from; for the first nine chapters are filled with repeated word-figures and illustrations, each building upon one another in both form and content. Yet, the harmony and beauty of the poetry does not mask the profound truths being taught as the foundation for all of life and as the groundwork and wellspring of a wise man’s thinking.

3) Note also how in this book of Solomon draws upon the Shema Israel as well as on the Decalogue throughout. His instruction is based upon the Lord’s character and his law, as he expounds on these things, applying them very practically for many various settings and occasions.

4) Note as well how it goes back to Genesis, sourcing wisdom in God and setting it contrary to death. Allusions to Eden and outright references to God’s creation of the world are prominent in this first section of the book of Proverbs. Even though Folly and Wisdom are not described as being directly at war with one another in these passages, it is made clear that the attainment of wisdom is a matter of life and death.

5) Note that the personifications of Wisdom and of Folly are both women – women who are presented as inviting the attentions of the youth to whom this book of instruction is addressed in very different manners. In this, there is no conflict set up between men and women and there is no disparaging of either men’s or women’s ability and duty to gain wisdom. In a way, by the use of this illustration as wisdom personified as a woman, the idea is conveyed that Wisdom is the woman that the youth must win in order to become a mature man. She is to be as the wife of his bosom to him, his constant companion – and she, in turn, will be his guard from the woman Folly, whose ways lead to death.

6) Note that what is contained in this book is what Solomon wanted his son to know. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, wanted to pass down to his son this framework of understanding, this paradigm upon life. He had much wisdom, understanding, and insight – and, of all of it, this very practical book is what he wanted to give to his son as his inheritance from his father. He wanted his son to perceive and interpret the world as he did – hence, the writing of this book for instruction. This is no generic series of wise sayings – rather, it is the fruit of a multi-generational perspective of wisdom and understanding, completely devoid of the elements of peer-segregation and pop culture. Indeed, when peer-segregation is even perhaps alluded to, it is always with a negative connotation.

All in all, I think there is much to learn from in the book of Proverbs, even beyond a consideration of the wise sayings and proverbial statements themselves, as useful as that in itself is. For these must be understood within the Biblical framework of thought provided in the first several chapters if they are to be fully understood and applied aright to the heart of an individual. Practical understanding and prudence is worth a very great deal – but the fuller knowledge, understanding, and insight of wisdom is grounded in the wellspring of faith.

“…to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.” ~Colossians 2:2-4

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” ~Hebrews 11:1-3

Solomon, Son of David, King of Israel

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Solomon

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“The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel.” ~Proverbs 1:1

 

Now, getting into the first section (chapters 1-9) of this book of instruction in a little more detail, I’d like to begin at the beginning in the first chapter with a brief look at the author. Who was Solomon? Clearly, he was the son of David, king of Israel, and he himself was also king of Israel. He was the first of the lineage of David to sit upon the throne in Zion. He was the builder of the first temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, for which he was both prepared and commissioned by his father. He was the wisest man who ever lived, for, when he asked of the Lord wisdom instead of long life, wealth, pleasure, or power and security, the Lord saw fit to bless him quite abundantly in every way for the sake of his covenant with David.

 

But there is another aspect that I particularly want to note in looking at the author of this book of instruction: that is, that there are a number of ways in which Solomon was a type and figure of our Lord Christ. He was the heir of David, inheritor of a united nation of the children of Israel – as would be the Christ, the promised everlasting heir of David’s throne. He was a great and powerful king whose reign was characterized by prosperous expansion, peace within its borders, and wealth – as would be the coming Seed of David whose kingdom would have no end. He was called the teacher of Israel – as would be the coming Servant of the Lord. He was the builder of the temple in the city of God – as would be David’s greater Son and Lord. He was an intercessor for the people of Israel – as would be Jesus, the one who would take away the sins of his people. He was king and judge of Israel – as would be the coming Seed of the woman. He was wisdom to the Gentiles – as would be later spoken of the coming Anointed One. He was also called the bridegroom in another work of his, the Song of Solomon, which is often attributed to our Lord Christ and his church. I suppose there may be more ways in which the shadows of the Messiah might be seen in the life of Solomon, the son of David, but these are the ones that I can think of at this time.

 

I happened to think of this when I was contemplating Solomon’s authority for writing such a book for instruction in wisdom. Clearly, he was writing under the inspiration of the Spirit in a prophetic act of speaking the word of the Lord. In this, he, as every other prophet, foreshadowed the Christ, who would come and reveal the Father in his person, being God himself. For it is truly only our Creator who is the fountain of wisdom, for it is in Christ that all the treasures of wisdom are hidden – and from him that they are brought to light. “But none says, ‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds of the heavens?’ ” ~Job 35:10-11 The book of Proverbs turns our eyes back to the ultimate Teacher of Israel.

 

That said, Solomon the king of Israel was writing this book to his son, but it was clearly intended for a further audience, for within the space of the first few verses he specifically mentioned not only the purpose of his book of instruction, but also for whom it was written and how they would benefit from it. Thus, we see in the first nine verses of Proverbs a number of specific things: 1) who the book is from; 2) who the book is written to; 3) what the book is for; 4) and a summary groundwork premise for all that follows (vs. 7).

 

Immediately following this brief introduction, Solomon begins into the illustrative stories for the instruction of the youth of verse four that fill the first nine chapters of the book. The sayings and riddles for the meditation for the wise of verse five begin in chapter ten and fill the remainder of the book. So we see that the instruction builds upon itself and is purposeful in both arrangement and method.

Proverbs – A Study

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Proverbs

I’m beginning something new here on my blog. I’ve been planning an intensive study of the book of Proverbs for quite some time now…and I’m finally getting around to it. I plan on posting my notes here as I go along, even though at times they might seem rather incomplete. Nevertheless, I hope that this exercise of delving into the Word of God will prove to be of some little value for you – it already has been for me!

Without further ado, then, I shall begin at the beginning with some overview sort of observations regarding this book for instruction….

This book was written by Solomon, the son of David and the king of Israel, for the express purpose of teaching wisdom and instruction. He quickly introduces, by way of personification, what is wisdom and what is foolishness, and proceeds to weave stories of these two women throughout the first nine chapters. It is in this first part of Proverbs that the theological and epistemological foundation is laid for the sayings of the wise that follow in the remainder of the book.

In these first few chapters in particular, Solomon specifically addresses his son; but he does so with the express mention that this is the instruction of his mother as well as of his father, thus solidifying the unity of the parents in the rearing up of godly covenant offspring. Even though particularly written to his son, Solomon also establishes the use of his book of instruction even for those of more mature age and understanding, for the increasing of their wisdom. Throughout the entire book, he speaks to his son’s inner heart as well as for the guiding of his hand, giving him practical counsel for relationships and business dealings, so that he might live holy to God in all his life.

Solomon also speaks of the foundational, logical truths in which his godly counsel is rooted and grounded – he does not presume to speak wisdom, counsel, or instruction without the warrant of Scripture. Throughout the entire book, the antithesis is maintained between the righteous and the fool who does not fear God – yet, in this very bluntness, he fosters an attitude of humility in his son, rather than pride in his lineage as a king’s son. For the King of Israel does not teach his son that he is counted a worthy or a good man on account of his heritage or of his actions in and of themselves, but that a man may only be considered wise by the possession of the fear of the Lord – a holy, reverent fear leading to obedience and righteousness.

Sanctification to Holiness

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Westminster Larger Catechism in modern English question number seventy-five:

Q. 75. What is sanctification?

A. Sanctification is a work of God’s grace, by which those whom God has, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are, in time and through the powerful operation of His Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ to them, renewed in their whole person after the image of God. This is accomplished by their having the seeds of repentance unto life and all other saving graces put into their hearts and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, so that they more and more die unto sin and rise unto newness of life.

Adoption into Christ

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Westminster Larger Catechism in modern English question number seventy-four:

Q. 74. What is adoption?

A. Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, in and for His only Son Jesus Christ, by which all those that are justified are received into the number of His children, have His name put upon them, the Spirit of His Son given to them, are put under His fatherly care and administrations, admitted to all the liberties and privileges of the sons of God, and made heirs of the promises and fellow-heirs with Christ in glory.

Memory…

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Memory

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.” ~1 Corinthians 2:14-15

Sometimes I think that age is somewhat relative – and this may especially be true for those who must live under the influence of neuroborreliosis (a.k.a. “Lyme-brain”). For example, the calendar tells me that I am twenty-six years old, but in more than one aspect I am in a situation in life more akin to that of a seventeen year old. (Besides, I think there is a part of me that is always going to be seventeen…but that is beside the point…. :-) )

Anyways, I’ve been noticing lately that I’ve begun getting glimpses now and again of how a “normal” mind perceives and remembers things. That is interesting. But one of the strangest things about it is that whenever my spirochete-affected mind does get those vistas into “normal perception,” the last few years seem to become rather dim and actually difficult to remember, similarly to how a dream in the night becomes unclear and often has parts missing when you try to remember it upon awaking. It is as if the recently past season in my life has been lost in a sea of blurriness amid the warm, dull feeling of a feverish and inflamed brain.

But it isn’t only the past few years that I find difficult to remember. There are previous spaces of time in my life when the memories are limited and those that I do have all seem dim and unreal – times in which, as I now know, I was most likely under an increased influence of the microbial parasites which have dwelt in my body for so long. And it is not only events, but also things I have studied and learned in the past that have eluded me more and more as the systemic infection made progress deeper and deeper into my flesh. Now, by the grace of God, the inflammation is subsiding and many of these things I am needing to re-learn, as it were….

I’ve stopped to consider these things a number of times in the past few weeks because I’ve been noticing that my more recent memories are clearer and more real and I actually seem to remember things a little more properly of late. Actually, even day to day life seems more real, though it might sound strange to say it like that. All this causes a sense of wonder to come up within me…which also gives rise to considerations of what the Scriptures have to say about memory….

In addition, the recent passing of one of my grandfathers also has brought the significance of remembering into my contemplations. Due to his ill health over the past year, he had a great deal of time living in a fictitious, hallucinatory world layered over reality. His perceptions were frequently distorted, due to aberrations occurring in his body, which often presented the figments of his imagination to him as if they were true. And he responded accordingly, as anyone else might do, even though he was often aware that he was seeing things that other people weren’t…sometimes I think he thought we were crazy; while other times I’m pretty sure that he thought that he was going crazy…. On his better days, he certainly knew that something wasn’t right.

At any rate, in his case, as in mine, a less-than-healthy physical state affected both perception and memory. Nevertheless, the normative command of God still stands: we are called to be future-oriented people in context of the past. When the Psalmist expresses what he sees as the purpose of his salvation, he is describing this paradigm in action:“For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.” ~Psalm 56:13 

Our God is eternal and infinite, but we are creatures set into time and we cannot cross that line into knowing as God knows. Instead, we have been created as his image, having memory, recollection, and remembrance in order that we might know what God has done and build upon this increasing knowledge by acting in faith and confidence that his word shall be accomplished and that the name of Christ shall prevail in history – including in our own lives.

I once heard a pastor speak of the telling of “war stories” as a way of passing on to others, particularly to the next generation, what God has done in our own lives. If we are believers, spiritual warfare is real and we ought to draw hope from this, knowing that God does not abandon his children, but provides strength for them in the day of testing. If we are to tell war stories, that, of course, implies that we have a remembrance of what has happened – and not only a remembering, but an analyzing of it in light of the Scriptures. Our memories and remembrances – whether fresh in our minds or dim and blurry – serve to little real value if they do not turn our eyes to Christ. If we do not recognize sin and righteousness, gauging all things against the holy law of God, if we forget to acknowledge the providence of the Lord of history, if we fail to consider how the kingdom of God is built up or torn down by and in our own histories, all our remembering of no real use. Concerning this, I think that Moses spoke as an example for all of us when he prayed, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” ~Psalm 90:12 We are supposed to remember our days for the purpose that we might grow in the knowledge of the Lord….

There is also this phenomenon that can be described as forgetting to remember. This especially is the case about remembering the Lord and his commandments and our covenant duties and proper responses to our gracious God. This is also one reason why it is so important to remember what God has done in our own lives and in the history of his people. The delight in and study of the works of God (Psalm 111) is a buttress for our faith for the future, that God will accomplish his word – that he will provide for us, that the kingdom of Christ shall prevail on earth, that death shall be abolished, and many, many other things…. If we are not of a mind to tell spiritual war stories, we are trying to operate outside of the context of the kingdom of God. It is not at all an infrequent command in Scripture that the people of God are to remember certain things, as well as to actively not remember other things.

Yes, our gracious Redeemer Lord is sovereign and our proper, entire covenant duty towards him even includes the use of our remembrances. We are to love and reverence our great God with our memories, for this is part of what makes us up a whole person. Indeed, nothing about the Christian’s life is left unchanged by the power of the Word of Life, nothing is beneath the reach of the transforming power of the Christ, nothing in our nature is useless to the advancement of the kingdom of God – not even our memories…. So let us glorify God with them.

Lyme

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Lyme

If you’re reading this, you likely already know that I have that strange, politically-incorrect illness known as chronic Lyme disease. I have repeatedly heard about a documentary called Under Our Skin, but have only just today actually watched it. (I have an odd aversion to watching video clips and such-like, especially online. I guess I just haven’t ever made a habit of it.) The entire way through, I nearly cried – one reason being that, except for the intervening grace of God, at one time not too long ago I was well on my rapid way to some of the severer symptoms manifested by some of the people in this film. Even so, there have been times when it has been difficult for me to say that “I have Lyme disease,” because I well know that so many have it so much worse than I have had it and many have even died as a result. It has been a painful thing to see what I myself have had to face – and it stirs up much compassion to think upon those many who have equal and often worse things overcoming them from the same, nearly-mysterious root cause that is the borrelia spirochete.

Sometimes, in researching it, I am quite fascinated by my findings – other times frightened – other times disgusted – and other times just plain sorrowful on account of the terrible consequences it has caused in so many lives. Sometimes it is just too overwhelming and I take a break from thinking about it for a while. That’s what I’ve been doing recently. Until today.

One researcher mentioned in Under Our Skin said that he found borrelia spirochete and the person’s genetic material in the same molecule. Or something like that. Which very much sounds to me that “Lyme” actually, physiologically, becomes a part of one’s body (which makes a lot of sense if the spirochete is actually formed from a spiroplasma…but that is another topic…). No wonder the body’s immune system ceases destruction of the invading parasites when Lyme disease has become a chronic systemic infection!

Anyways, all this reminded me of how sin pervades our very beings. Even when we are born again by the Holy Spirit of Christ, sin yet remains within us. He gives us a knowledge of this and a new heart and new desires – but he does not immediately remove all our sinful will from us. Instead, he ushers us into progressive sanctification, that warfare to overcome our own will-to-power with the strength that comes from God and out of dependence on him and his word of truth. I think that the apostle’s description in Romans 7 of how he, as a regenerate son of God, still had to wage war with the sin remaining in him is well-illustrated by the destructive spirochetes invasion of our bodies’ very substance:

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me…So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” ~Romans 7:15, 21-25

Also, I can’t help but remember this passage from the Pentateuch when I think about Lyme disease and how prevalent it is in the Western nations – and how it is growing because this fatal and very destructive disease is a politically incorrect illness – meaning that the U.S. health care system, in general, refuses treatment for it, redefining it as some sort of psychosomatic occurrence or classifying it under some other unhelpful label. I am so thankful that I, unlike so many others, didn’t have to go through scores of doctors and scads of diagnoses in order to begin to get treatment for the root problem! But here is the passage I was thinking of earlier today – Exodus 28 is a chapter that, as God’s people, we ought to be familiar with, but it is verses 58-61 in particular that were ringing through my mind by the end of Under Our Skin:

“If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the LORD your God, then the LORD will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sickness grievous and lasting. And he will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you. Every sickness also and every affliction that is not recorded in the book of this law, the LORD will bring upon you, until you are destroyed.”

Yes, the Word of God stands – to and for every generation.

But this post isn’t explicitly about covenant theology, theonomy, or judgment – it’s just a few of my thoughts about Lyme, spirochetes, and reality….

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” ~1 Corinthians 15:58

Hallelujah. Amen.

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Hallelujah. Amen.

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“And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.'” ~Nehemiah 8:9-10

Among many other passages in Scripture, the example of the eighth through the tenth chapters of the book of Nehemiah teach us that the first response of the man of God to his word of the covenant and to his law is praise; the second response is repentance for prior breaking of the covenant; and the third response is a pressing on towards greater obedience to our covenant Lord, who keeps steadfast love forever.

I’ve been pondering on this lately, considering what are our appropriate responses, as God’s people, to our Lord and to his great mercy and justice. It seems to me from Scripture’s teaching that seasons of repentance, both personal and corporate, are indeed very fitting along and along, but that praise and thanksgiving to our God must be constant, for this is how we press on towards greater understanding, love, and obedience.

Some of the Psalms, in particular, express the saint’s overwhelmingly deep sorrow; a surpassing sorrow that can barely lift eyes of faith to stir the mouth to praise the Lord. Nevertheless, there is ever, even in these passages, a thread of hope, the light of trust in the God who is and who has spoken. Numerous passages in the Bible provide example and command for us to repent of our sins and of the sins of our fathers; but these same places open to us that the purpose of the repentance is that we might turn and walk after the ways of righteousness with joy and thanksgiving – because we are the people of God.

The apostle Paul shows us of the reason for this in no uncertain terms: “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” ~Galatians 2:19-20

Hallelujah. Amen.

The People of God

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The Bay of Naples, 1845

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“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” ~1 Peter 2:9-10

Busy Days…

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Busy Days...

“Go, eat your bread in joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.” ~Ecclesiastes 8:7-8

There are those seasons in life when the days seem to stream by quickly…too quickly. This week has been like that…busy, full, long, and yet over already…. Many older people have told me that as one gains years, the faster the time seems to fly. I am yet young, it is true, but I do believe them. One time I had a long conversation with a lovely one hundred year old woman. She told me that when one gets to be old, not only does time go by so quickly, but also that it is hard to not live in the past – and that living in the present was something she had to work at every day. However, it seemed to me that this godly old lady most definitely was living in the present, seeking to honor God however she could where she was currently. I was very glad that I had the opportunity to get to know her a little bit. She was an interesting person….

Anyways, by my own nature and personality, I tend to be a future-oriented person, so I sometimes need to stop and remind myself of some of the lessons I learned from that little one hundred year old Christian woman. One of those lessons is to remember to take the time to enjoy the blessings that God has given to me. But let me rephrase that – the blessings which God has absolutely showered upon me. Even though Ecclesiastes, with its “dark sayings and riddles,” may be better known as a somber book, I often find it refreshing and a joy to read. I used to be saddened every time I came across it – now I turn there purposefully, especially when I know I need my head screwed back on straight and my perspectives on life sorted out – again – in a more Biblical fashion.

One thing that is impressed upon me about the book of Ecclesiastes is the Preacher’s focus on the fact that we are God’s people and that God is God; and especially how he is the one who cares for us in every way. We do not have to slave throughout our lives in fear, as do those who worship demons – we are, rather, to labor in hope, in joy, building up what has been broken, cultivating what is there to be cultivated and disciplining what there is to be disciplined, knowing that history is not repeating itself in a futile, pagan cycle of life, but is working out to the glory of God and that our place in history is just that – a place in God’s history.

This reminds me of another verse in this book: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (1:9) As the apostle said so many years after the preacher wrote his book, there is no temptation we endure that is not also experienced by our brothers in Christ. Surely this is one way that there is nothing new under the sun. Nations rise and nations fall. Peoples aspire towards nobility wherever the revelation of the law of God goes – and then they transgress and fall. Individuals draw near to God, repent, obey, and he blesses them – and then they sin, despite his bountiful blessings. 

Yet, for all this – all this which seems futility to those who would make their own way, to those who would make their own mark on the world and would see their name handed down for generations because of their own power, those who name their land after themselves, only to die and leave it behind to those who will not remember them – for all this, we, as God’s people, are called to live in hope, to live in a new song of praise, to live in joy – why? – for he has already accepted our works, he has already approved what we do. The words “in Christ” usually follow up verse 7 every time I read it or think upon it. For, as the New Testament makes very clear, that is how it is. In Christ – in Christ Jesus alone – we stand accepted before the Father. Our works, done for his glory, imperfect though they be, futile though they may seem to us when we look around at the swirling sin, raging unrepentance, the sorrows and griefs all around us – we are accepted in Christ Jesus and counted as holy in the eyes of the Almighty God. 

And thus it is that we are to live in this world – as dying, yet alive; as alive, yet dead already. In Christ, we are accepted, made righteous, brought near to where we can praise the God of creation, worshipping him in the beauty of holiness, filled with hope and confidence that his law will be kept, his word sealed by its fulfillment, and assured that ourselves – our whole selves, body and spirit – will be brought near before the presence of Christ at the last day by the power the word of his never-failing covenant.

Therefore, the end of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.