R. C. Sproul, Jr. and other prominent godly men like him tend to struggle with a familiar problem. How do we handle the praise of men? We cannot deny the gifts, accomplishments, or works of such people. We are called to do them. God says in Matthew 5:16, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." Further in Ephesians 2:10 He says, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." The people of Sproul's circle are most learned of the Scriptures. As such, they are to use them according to II Timothy 3:16-17, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
Thus is the beginning of this chapter rightly handled as the author relates the story of a rather difficult introduction. Our praise is not of men, but of God. Not of our good works that we are called to, but to the glory of God. Indeed we are gifted, accomplished, and full of good works. But all is for naught if we exclude God.
And that is precisely what gets us into trouble as this chapter explores the love of God. How quickly we forget it when our eyes are upon anything else, anyone else than God. I was reminded of that this morning by the Holy Spirit. While I was not guilty of shedding praise and worship on another, I was guilty of omission of God over a period of a few days.
Outwardly there was nothing wrong going on. Nothing at least that anyone could point to. But there were two things missing. One external and one internal. Externally missing were the good works. They were missing not because they didn't get on my calendar, but because of the internal situation.
The end of my confession and prayer this morning was to know of God what good works to do today, at the very moment. He gladly answered. Just before that part was a cry for God to show me those internal things, those hidden things that keep me from Him. These are things that in outward expression seem perfectly normal to me, my family, and the world. No one would question them. But God does.
The query went something like this: What internal "television" is in your mind that distracts you from fully paying attention to Me" Just as the TV can distract me from listening to my wife or anyone else for that matter, there are little conversations and live-action pictures going on in my mind that distract me from God. I personally cannot listen to and participate in two conversations at once so one of them has to be ignored (though I give a pretty good outward impression of accomplishing both).
When I turn inward, I listen to my own thoughts, follow my own ways. Yes, God says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)
So God asked me, "What is your desire?" I said, "I hunger and thirst for righteousness. My desire is to see you." Psalm 27:4 comes to mind, "One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple." "I want to be One with you right now, just as Jesus says we are."
And immediately it was so, upon the name of Jesus and the boldness to enter God's presence through Jesus' blood. And then I knew the love of God.
Here is where the truth of Sproul's words of this chapter ring clearest. He says, "Perhaps the soundest escape route is to affirm the obvious. God’s character is such that He cannot ultimately love that which is unlovely. And we, in ourselves, are decidedly unlovely. Christ, however, is altogether lovely. Thus, what He loves in us, that we might be called His children, is Christ in us. So when the text says He loves us, it really means He loves His Son. Once again, it’s all true. But what is likewise true is that we are in union with His Son. Our union with Him is not a mere legal fiction, but has a reality grounded in reality. It is so real that not only are we allowed to be called His children, but as John tells us in the very next verse, “Beloved, we are God’s children now” (1 John 3:2a, emphasis added). God our Father really loves us because He really loves Him, and we are really in union with Him. Our calling then, for the rest of our lives, and on into eternity, is to seek to get our hearts and our minds around this staggering reality that, if we are in Christ, then the God of all the universe actually, truly, really, emotionally loves us, and loves us as His children."
He goes on to describe a variety of terms to help us understand the essence of God's love. He writes of adoption, covenants, and inheritance. These are all outward evidences of God's love for us. We need to pay attention to them. But we must never let go of the internal reality of the basis of that love as just described above. Should we do so, we end up back at the beginning of the chapter. Our eyes are on the external, the praise of men and the works of men.
God's love for us is hidden in the life of Jesus Christ in us. Jesus prayed to His Father in John 17 that we all may be One with Him and the Father just as the two of them are. God HAS to answer that prayer. As Sproul says in conclusion, ours is simply to believe the reality that "...what will delight us into eternity, is God
Himself. He is His greatest possession, and as His heirs we will inherit Him."