In my previous posts on the subject of how to grow, I explained that the human predicament involves our neediness and anxiety and our wrong and sinful way of dealing with it. The Gospel tells us that the God who meets our needs pursues us and wants to have a relationship with us through Jesus Christ. This relationship meets our needs in the way we were designed to function.
So, the largest part of our growth is seeing the God who meets all our needs.
We need to remember that us having a relationship with our Creator is not necessarily a foregone conclusion. If the Creator of the universe who is all-sufficient in Himself said, “I want you to be my son or daughter,” that would be an astonishing thing. For the Creator to say to those who had sinned and rejected Him and turned away from Him to find their own way, “I want you to be my son or daughter,” is almost inexplicable.
But God has done more than that. He pursued us. He went after us. He sought us out. That’s what Christmas is all about. God pursuing man to the point of becoming a human being so that we might reconnect with Him; God bearing our sin on the cross so that all the impediments to the reconnecting might be removed; and God overcoming sin in the resurrection to heal us and make us new.
Jewish Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel explains that this is what the Bible is all about. He writes, “Most theories of religion start out with defining the religious situation as man’s search for God . . . [but, a]ll of human history as described in the Bible may be summarized in one phrase: God is in search of man (emphasis his, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism, p. 136).
Our central problem is thinking that our needs won’t be met or finding them met somewhere else. Our restoration is seeing that all our needs are met in the God who pursues us.
The key thing, then, is to think about what God has done. There are many ways in which you can do this. You could take a passage of Scripture such as John 3:16 and meditate on it. You could memorize a larger passage such as Ephesians 1:1–14. You may have a different way. The key thing is to remember what God has done and how it benefits us. Let me suggest a few ways we can use to think more about what God has done for us.
Categories of Needs
One of the most helpful ways that I have found, for myself and those whom I have taught, is to explain what God does for us is by considering categories of needs.
- Acceptance – we need love more than anything, and we are accepted in the beloved (Jesus, see Eph. 1:7). Our sin would make us unacceptable, but God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
- Security – we are worried about our future, but God will turn everything to our good and take care of us. He will also keep us from falling and lead us to His eternal kingdom.
- Power – we have limited strength and often inability to do good. The Lord Jesus has risen from the dead and conquered sin. He empowers us by His grace to live a new life.
- Guidance – we often do not know what to do, but Jesus is our teacher who shows us the right way to live and think.
You can slice this up different ways, but I suspect that most people’s lists will come down to something like this.
One way to think of salvation is in terms of the particular blessings that are ascribed to us in the Bible as pertaining especially to one of the three persons of the Holy Trinity.
- The Father – The Father loved us so much that He sent His Son into the world to save us. He governs all things by His power for our sake. He cares for us so much that not a hair can fall from our Head without His permission.
- The Son – The Son willingly came into this world to suffer the terrible death on the cross, the just suffering for the unjust, to bring us back to God. United to Him, our sin is atoned for and our shame is covered. In Him, we have life, wisdom, strength, and communion with God.
- The Holy Spirit – The Holy Spirit dwells in each believer and is our companion every single day. He provides for us comfort, hope, guidance, direction, purpose, and love, applying to us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ (Eph. 1:3).
We are baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and have all these benefits. We live out our baptism by appropriating and meditating on the love the Triune God has for us.
The Work of Christ
One of the most ancient statements of faith of the Christian church is the Apostle’s Creed. It describes Jesus who became a human being, suffered, died, rose again, and is ascended into heaven. The Heidelberg Catechism (see Q/A 29–52) and Westminster Larger Catechism (see Q/A 46–56) describe in detail what each aspect of Jesus’ life means for us. Here is a brief summary:
- Incarnation – God identifies with us, wants to connect with us, and covers our imperfection with His perfection.
- Death – He suffers the penalty of sin in our place so all that separates us from God can be eliminated.
- Resurrection – He rises to a new life that becomes ours in connection with Him, a life that recreates us in the way we were intended to be.
- Ascension – Christ intercedes for us with the Father and continually secures our access to and connection with the Father.
- Return – Christ brings the hope that all things will be restored. What He begins in this life will come to full fruition in the new heavens and new earth.
The whole life of Christ is for our benefit and contains the sum of the blessings of God for us. Meditating on this helps us see that in Christ we have all we need.
The Order of Salvation
The Holy Spirit applies to us the benefits of salvation in our lives that Christ has won for us when He came to earth. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (see Q/A 29 38) gives a succinct discussion of this. Here is another summary:
- Calling – the Lord comes to us and call us back to Himself. By His Spirit He enables us to respond to that call and be restored to relationship with Him.
- Justification – God declares us righteous and acquitted of our sins because of what Jesus has done for us.
- Adoption – we are not only forgiven but given the status of sons and daughters of God, heirs of all things with Christ.
- Sanctification – God not only forgives and adopts us but changes us and restores us to what He originally intended us to be.
- Perseverance – God keeps us in faith by His grace so that we can continue to grow and remain secure in the blessings He won for us.
- Glorification – At our death, our souls are made perfectly cleansed of all sin and brought into His presence. At the resurrection, our bodies are restored to live in perfect harmony with Him, one another, and with creation for all eternity.
This is the way that the Holy Spirit enables us to experience the blessings of a relationship with God.
Systematic theology looks at what Scriptures says about particular topics such as forgiveness, the Trinity, Christ, etc. Biblical theology consider God’s revelation as a story. One way to think of what God has done for us is to think in terms of the history of revelation in the Old Testament and to think of how it is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. There are many different ways to do this, but let me suggest one way here.
- Abraham – God calls us to be sons and daughters of Abraham through faith and to experience blessing instead of curse in the seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ.
- Exodus – God frees us from the dominion and tyranny of sin and the devil and leads us out of the darkness into a glorious inheritance of life and hope.
- Moses – God sends Jesus to be a prophet like Moses and to teach us the way of salvation and guide us into a life that is pleasing to Him.
- David – God sends a King to rule us and deliver us from all His enemies and ours and to establish a reign of blessing in our lives.
- Exile – God calls us out of our exile and slavery to experience a restored life, forgiveness, and blessing with His people.
You could flesh these things out further in order to think more on the details of what God has done. Here you can definitely use your imagination to see what God is doing in the Old Testament and how it is fulfilled in the New.
These are just a few ways for thinking about how God pursues us. The key thing is that we have some ways to think about what God is doing and to see it in our mind’s eye more constantly and more clearly. We will talk about how to do that in the next installment.
1. Do you think more of you pursuing God or God pursuing you?
2. What way of describing God’s pursuit of us resonated with you the most and why?
3. What ways have you found helpful in the past for thinking about God’s love and pursuit of you?
4. What specific benefits of fellowship with God do you think would answer your current challenges, neediness, and sin?