Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was a Catholic priest, scholar, theologian, and philosopher. His masterpiece, the Summa Theologia, is considered one of the most influential works in Western thought. Many churches commemorate him on January 28.
The quote above provides timeless guidance for all Christians as we examine our motives in prayer. Do I seek to draw closer to God by allowing Him to lift me higher spiritually, or do I try to bring Him down to my level? Do I ask to know God’s will? Do I seek wisdom and courage from Him to do what He desires? Or, do I decide what I want to do, without considering God’s will, and then ask Him to bless my self-centered choices?
“Lord, teach us to pray…” (Luke 11:1).
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“If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:29; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
The Bible frequently calls Christians “children of God.” He is our Father. We are His sons and daughters. Children resemble their parents. Thus, children of God should be similar to their heavenly Father. One way in which we should do that is by bearing His righteousness.
1 John 2:29 tells us that God is righteous. In its comments about this verse, The Disciple’s Study Bible (Nashville: Cornerstone Bible Publishers, 1988) says, “God is righteous, meaning that He not only opposes what is evil but is the source of what is right.” The Old Testament even uses it as one of the names of God, when Jeremiah 23:6 calls Him “Jehovah-Tsidkenu,” meaning “the Lord our righteousness.” Many Christians like to quote another of John’s descriptions of the Lord, that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16), but God’s righteousness is just as essential as His love. We cannot ignore it. We cannot think that God’s love is somehow divorced or detached from His holiness and righteousness.
Likewise, we cannot assume that we are true Christians without resembling some of His attributes. We will not be as holy, loving, righteous, or just as He is, and we will always fall short of Jesus’ standard during our earthly lives. We will not be perfect on Earth. However, if we do not bear some of God’s righteousness and justice, we cannot claim to have His Holy Spirit within us. If we are not practicing righteousness—as defined by Scripture, not by the secular media and pop culture—we cannot claim to be children of God and followers of Jesus Christ.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of a season of anticipation and preparation for the celebration of Jesus becoming human; it is also the first day of a new year on the church calendar. The world will wait until January 1 to make its New Year’s resolutions, which most people will give up within three weeks. Last year, on the first Sunday of Advent, I challenged readers to pursue a “One Year, One Thing” challenge, inspired by a quote from Thomas a’ Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ: “If every year we rooted out one vice, we would soon become perfect men.” Take some time over the next few days to look at your life: Is there an area of unrighteousness in your life? Is there an aspect of God’s righteousness that you are lacking? Aim to grow in one attribute, turning from one form of unrighteousness, in the coming year. You can read more about this challenge here.
May the coming year be a time of greater righteousness and justice in your life.
How do you think God wants to reveal more of His righteousness through you? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
Today, I am re-sharing a post that I published for All Saints’ Day in 2016. While the world calls us away from God to worship its idols, let us continue to recognize our calling to be saints, consecrated to God and His glory.
“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…” (1 Corinthians 1:2, ESV, emphasis added).
As I am writing this, Halloween is ending. Children on Long Island have finished trick-or-treating, and most are no longer dressed like superheroes, cartoon characters, or any of the other alter egos they have adopted for the day. Now is the time to start eating all of that candy!
Like those who celebrate the day, Halloween wears a mask that clothes it in mystery. Some people choose to emphasize the “dark side” of Halloween. They talk about how October 31 was originally set apart to worship the Celtic god of death, Samhain. How evil or satanic their rituals were is a matter of debate; some authors will claim that our Halloween traditions are sanitized versions of abominable activities such as human sacrifice, while others claim that we know almost nothing about Celtic religious rituals.
Regardless of how the ancient Celts worshipped Samhain, the church adopted November 1 as All Saints’ Day, and thus October 31 became All Saints’ Evening. In older dialects of English, these would be “All Hallows’ Day” and “All Hallows’ Evening” (abbreviated as Halloween), respectively. Thus, while some seek to draw attention to the devil, the church traditionally focuses this day on those who lived and died by faith in Jesus (and, through them, to Christ Himself). While All Saints’ Day primarily honors heroes of the church, November 2 commemorates all who have died in faith and joined “the great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1); that day is known as All Souls’ Day (or, according to the Book of Common Prayer, the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed).
So, why would we honor saints, or give them any thought? What is a saint? In 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul tells the Christians at Corinth that they are “called to be saints.” They did not live up to the standard many of us associate with sainthood. First Corinthians is filled with reprimands for their immorality, divisiveness, pride, etc. They were far from perfect. Yet, Paul calls them saints.
A “saint” is simply “one who is holy,” yet we tend to be confused about that term as well. A holy person is not perfect. Holiness, in both biblical Greek (hagios) and Hebrew (kadosh), implies that something or someone has been set apart for sacred use. For example, if we say that a church building is holy, we are not saying anything about the quality of its architecture or that it was built out of magic bricks; we are saying that the building has been set apart as a place to worship God. You don’t play volleyball on the altar! Likewise, if your body and mind have been set apart for God’s glory, you realize that these parts of your personality should honor Him.
A Christian is holy not because he or she is perfect, but because he or she has been bought with the price of Jesus’ blood (1 Corinthians 6:20). We belong to Him. He has claimed us as His own. He has set us apart to live for Him. While perfection may not be realistic for us in this life, many of us are living below our spiritual privileges because we do not act like those who belong to Jesus.
As we take off the disguises of Halloween, let us remind ourselves on All Saints’ Day that we are called to clothe ourselves in the Christ, to mark ourselves as those who have been set apart for Him. “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13:14, NIV). When we think of the great saints of church history (such as Saint Patrick, Saint Francis of Assisi, etc.), let us remember our place in the body of Christ. We should not merely honor and commemorate the great saints of church history; we are challenged to imitate them, because we also are called to be saints.
“Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you. Though all things pass, God does not change. Patience wins all things. But he lacks nothing who possesses God; for God alone suffices” (Teresa of Avila).
Teresa of Avila (March 28, 1515–October 4, 1582) was a Carmelite nun who is commemorated as a saint in several denominations on October 15. She is best remembered as a contemplative writer, whose books about prayer, meditation, and spirituality have inspired many people for centuries.
The following is another favorite quote from Teresa of Avila that I have read in several places. When disaster strikes or hard times come, we might be tempted to ask God why He is allowing people to suffer. Teresa gives us the answer. God usually works through His people in the lives of others:
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes with which Christ looks out his compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now” (Teresa of Avila).
Let us go forth today and always to be Christ’s hands, feet, eyes, and ears through which He can extend His love to the world.
Feel free to share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
An important key to expressing God’s holiness in your life is to recognize Him as holy and worthy of reverence:
“If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth…” (1 Peter 1:17).
In Revelation, a multitude of Christians in heaven says He should be feared:
“And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU, FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED’” (Revelation 15:3–4).
Many Christians have eradicated the fear of the Lord in our lives. Our worship exalts our feelings; we enjoy the bouncy music and uplifting feel-good message of the lyrics. We think God’s main responsibility is to make us feel good about ourselves, build up our self-esteem, and remove any sense of guilt. If God’s Word says anything that makes us uncomfortable, we try to rephrase it to suit our opinions, ignore it entirely, or claim that we know better than He does. Many Christians think they can mold God into whatever image they desire.
“Fear of the Lord” does not mean we expect God to beat us up over every little misstep and mistake. He is our Father, but He is not the abusive kind of father who comes home drunk and starts beating the kids for no good reason. He does not want us to fear Him like that. In fact, the true love of God casts out that kind of fear (1 John 4:18).
Here is how I can best illustrate the fear of the Lord. Like most Long Islanders, I drive slightly above the posted speed limit at times. However, if I see a police car along the side of the road, I will take my foot off the accelerator. I respect the police officer. I know he can pull me over and write me a ticket if he catches me speeding.
I do not live in fear of police officers, though. The same cop who inspired me to slow down on the road may be the one whom I was chatting with while standing in line in a coffee shop a few minutes earlier. The badge, uniform, and car do not scare me. However, they do remind me that it is in my best interests to show them some respect.
So it is with God. We know that He is always with us. We know that He knows everything. We should know that He is holy. But, do we respect Him? Do we give Him the honor He deserves? Or, do we try to reduce Him to our level? The Bible tells us that God made humans in His image (Genesis 1:26–27), but we often try to reshape Him into our image.
Do you believe God is holy? Are you aware that He is always with you? If so, live as though you believe that. One of the classic writings of Christian spirituality is a short book entitled The Practice of the Presence of God. Practice that presence. Live with the awareness that He is always with you since He dwells within you. In so doing, you will be inspired to live in a way that allows His holiness to shine forth from within you.
Do you respect God? How can you cultivate a genuine respect for Him in your life? Feel free to share by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
A Bible teacher, writer, editor, and former pastor, with a B.A. in Psychology and Journalism from Syracuse University (1987) and an M.Div. in Pastoral Counseling from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (1991).