On the Surface – Part III

This is the third post on the topic of outward appearances versus heart attitudes. Our first post reviewed Jonathan Edward’s thoughts on wheat and tares in the church. A second post explored Abel’s obedience and Cain’s disobedience to God. This post examines our relationship to God the Father. The apostle Peter warns us:

If you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile. 1 Peter 1:17 English Standard version (ESV)

Calvin comments:

And if you call on the Father …From the character of the Father himself, [the apostle Peter] shows what sort of obedience ought to be rendered. [God] judges, he says, without looking on the person, that is, no outward mask is of any account with him, as the case is with men, but he sees the heart, (1 Samuel 16:7) and his eyes look on faithfulness. (Jeremiah 5:3) This also is what Paul means when he says that God’s judgment is according to truth, (Romans 2:2) for he there inveighs against hypocrites, who think that they deceive God by a vain pretense.

The meaning is, that we by no means discharge our duty towards God, when we obey him only in appearance; for he is not a mortal man, whom the outward appearance pleases, but he reads what we are inwardly in our hearts. He not only prescribes laws for our feet and hands, but he also requires what is just and right as to the mind and spirit.

A person might hide their defection from all others, but not from Him. Calvin then shows how Peter presses home the lesson:

According to every man’s work He does not refer to merit or to reward; for Peter does not speak here of the merits of works, nor of the cause of salvation, but he only reminds us, that there will be no looking to the person before the tribunal of God, but that what will be regarded will be the real sincerity of the heart…

The fear that is mentioned, stands opposed to heedless security, such as is wont to creep in, when there is a hope of deceiving with impunity. For, as God’s eyes are such that they penetrate into the hidden recesses of the heart, we ought to walk with him carefully and not negligently.

He calls the present life a sojourning [i.e., time of your exile], not in the sense in which he called the Jews to whom he was writing sojourners, at the beginning of the Epistle, but because all the godly are in this world pilgrims. (Hebrews 11:13,38)

This world is not our home. We all travel to one destination or the other. Therefore, seek the Lord while he may be found.

R.C. Sproul – Fear and Trembling – Fear and Trembling, JvDaP

God or Money?

Which will it be, God or money? The God spoken about in this context is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; one God in three persons. Money, or mammon, on the other hand, is any earthly means of exchange or gain (i.e., possessions).

While speaking with His disciples, the Lord Jesus Christ was overheard by the religious rulers of the day. They scoffed at what He said to His disciples:

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Luke 16:13 English Standard Version (ESV)

Christ then turned to these rulers and addressed how their heart attitudes kept them out of His Kingdom.

Christ spoke the same words to a different audience who listened intently to His Sermon on the Mount. He spoke about the heart attitude that His disciples and the crowds that followed Him should possess in the Kingdom of God. As part of that sermon, Christ said:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Matthew 6:24 (ESV)

Although the disciples were common to both groups, many in the first audience sneered at what He said and in the second, they hung on His every word.

John Calvin commented on this two-thousand-year-old chronicle over five hundred years ago:

No man can serve two masters. …[Christ] had formerly said, that the heart of man is bound and fixed upon its treasure; and he now gives warning, that the hearts of those who are devoted to riches are alienated from the Lord.

For the greater part of men are [inclined] to flatter themselves with a deceitful pretense, when they imagine, that it is possible for them to be divided between God and their own lusts. Christ affirms that it is impossible for any man to obey God, and, at the same time, to obey his own flesh…

We commonly call this a ‘divided heart.’ Calvin goes on:

True, it is not impossible that those who are rich shall serve God; but whoever gives himself up as a slave to riches must abandon the service of God: for covetousness makes us the slaves of the devil…

So it isn’t the riches themselves, so much as setting our hearts on those riches to the partial (or total) exclusion of Him. Calvin then extends this principle to all our vices.

…As God pronounces everywhere such commendations of sincerity, and hates a double heart, (1 Chronicles 12:33; Psalm 12:2); all are deceived, who imagine that he will be satisfied with the half of their heart…

The covetous, the voluptuaries, the gluttons, the unchaste, the cruel, all in their turn offer the same apology for themselves: as if it were possible for those to be partly employed in serving God, who are openly carrying on war against him.

But wait, we are beset with sins that, the scriptures say, so easily entangle us. Are we double minded and in danger of hell fire? To this, Calvin, the shepherd, says:

It is, no doubt, true, that believers themselves are never so perfectly devoted to obedience to God, as not to be withdrawn from it by the sinful desires of the flesh.

But as they groan under this wretched bondage, and are dissatisfied with themselves, and give nothing more than an unwilling and reluctant service to the flesh, they are not said to serve two masters: for their desires and exertions are approved by the Lord, as if they rendered to him a perfect obedience.

But this passage [Luke 16:13] reproves the hypocrisy of those who flatter themselves in their vices, as if they could reconcile light and darkness.

So there we have it. The question now becomes: “Do I serve the devil or do I serve the Lord.” For, we all have to serve somebody.

Serve Somebody, Johnny Q. Public, Lyrics by Bob Dylan