Cross Connections

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…the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. ~2 Timothy 3:15

I’d like to give you a window into my process of writing these Cross Connections. Over the course of about four months, I spent many afternoons sitting in McDonald’s with my computer, an open Bible, and a fountain soda, working on this manuscript. Why McDonald’s, you ask? It’s across the street from where I work, so it’s a convenient place to get stuff done. Also, french fries.

The result of these several months of writing, besides gaining several pounds due to increased french fry consumption, has been God turning my worldview upside down. Before I began writing Cross Connections, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I would say and what it would look like. But as I have sat here day after day looking at God’s Word and tracing these connections for myself, I have been completely blown away over and over again.

I thought I knew a lot about the Bible; it has been humbling to see that I have only just begun to scratch the surface. I thought I was already doing a fairly good job of living out these Cross Connections; it has been humbling to see how little of my life has really been transformed by the gospel, and just how big God’s dreams for his people are. No longer can I be content to live a “normal,” “safe” little Christian life; the fullness and depth and riches of glory that God has for those who will “go deep” and go radical and risky with him are too much to ignore now that I’ve seen a little of them. I want my life to count for eternal things, and for my moments and my days to be used in his praise– something I certainly wanted before, but which is now a desire that has been lit on fire by his Word.

My experience writing this has been some of the sweetest times alone with God that I’ve ever had (yes, you can be “alone with God” at a table in McDonald’s). As I have studied his Word more diligently and closely than ever before, my eyes have been opened to see things I never saw before, connections I had never made, depths of glory and beauty I had never fathomed. I see the cross is everywhere, blazing off of every page in Scripture, reflecting off of everything I see around me. And so most of my times writing this book have simply been me sitting at McDonald’s, worshipping over my keyboard and open Bible as the Holy Spirit has opened my eyes to see Jesus’ beauty in new compelling ways.

Please don’t hear this as me boasting about how super-spiritual I am. (“Look at me, I love Jesus more than you!”) That’s not my intention at all. Any good that has happened in my own life through writing this, and any good that may come about in your life, is the work of the Holy Spirit. Every growth in godliness, every fresh sight of Jesus, every new insight into his word, is all his work, his doing. I’m the beneficiary of amazing grace, nothing more. “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Psalm 115:1)

BEHOLDING IS BECOMING

The reason I’m telling you all this is to make a simple point: The way that God has turned my world upside down, filled my heart with joy, and opened my eyes to a thousand news ways to honor him… is through his Word. An open Bible has been the means of transformation in my life. And I’m not a unique or special case; the way that the Holy Spirit changes our lives and makes us more like Jesus is by opening our eyes to see his glory in his Word. 2 Corinthians 3:18 gives us the recipe for all true spiritual transformation:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

It is the Holy Spirit who lifts the “veil” of spiritual darkness from our eyes (2 Corinthians 3:14) and enables us to see “the glory of the Lord.” And a true spiritual sight of that glory, Paul says, results in “being transformed into the same image.” In other words, beholding is becoming. We will become more like whatever captures the attention of our hearts. If you watch television for four hours a day, you will become more like what you behold; you’ll find worldliness start to creep in and your patterns of thought shaped by what you see on the screen. If you spend all your free time thinking about your favorite sports team, your life will slowly start to be conformed to that image; you’ll wear the jerseys, schedule your time around games, and get more involved with friends who share that passion. What you behold, you become.

But if, by God’s grace, the attention and devotion of “the eyes of your heart” are fixed on the glory of the Lord, that’s what you’ll start to look like. His glory in the gospel– the glory of his love, his mercy, his meekness, his humility, his power, his authority, his kindness– will start to rub off on you and will begin to influence the way you think about and respond to things in your life. The way to become more like Jesus is to behold more of Jesus.

So here’s the question: how do you behold Jesus? He’s no longer walking around with a group of disciples to be observed. So how do we see Jesus? The answer is, the Holy Spirit shows us Jesus in his Word. Listen to how Paul prays in Ephesians 1. He prays:

that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you…

Paul prays that the Holy Spirit would open the eyes of our hearts, so that we would know things. And he calls him “the Spirit of revelation in the knowledge of him.” The Spirit’s job is to open our eyes in order to reveal knowledge about God. But that doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it doesn’t come by meditating on a mountaintop until the Holy Spirit gives you insight. No, the Holy Spirit does this through his word.

Towards the end of Colossians and Ephesians, Paul gives very similar practical instructions to both groups of believers. In fact, the advice he gives is practically parallel except for one important difference. Look at both parallel texts and see if you can spot the difference:

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Both texts command us to pursue a lifestyle of joyful, thankful worship “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” and giving thanks in everything. But look at what Paul says creates that lifestyle: in Ephesians he says, “Be filled with the Spirit,” and in Colossians he says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”

When we hold those two texts up side by side, I think the point that we’re supposed to see is: the way to be filled with the Spirit is to let the word of Christ dwell in us, and if we let the word of Christ dwell in us, we’ll be filled with the Spirit. The two are inseparable, parallel, and practically synonymous. You can’t have one without the other.

So, the way the Holy Spirit will open our eyes (Ephesians 1:18) to behold Jesus and be transformed into his likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18), is by causing his word to dwell in us (Colossians 3:16). As we put more and more Bible into our hearts, the Holy Spirit will stir up what we’ve stored up, and the result will be transformation.

I think the reason that so often our Christian lives are shallow, our faith is weak, and our transformation is lacking, is because we have not stored up God’s Word in our hearts. “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you,” (Psalm 119:11) the Psalmist says. The Holy Spirit has bound himself to work through his word; if his word is not in our hearts, he doesn’t have much to work with.

Furthermore, as we’ve seen over and over again in this book, the place in God’s Word where his glory shines most brightly and with the most transforming power is the cross of Christ. We will not be transformed by vague, generally true statements like, “Jesus loves me, this I know,” even if we know that the Bible tells us so. The way we will be transformed is by the Bible drawing our heart’s attention to specific ways, in specific verses, that Jesus loves us, and then connecting those to specific acts of obedience. The main reason that we should read our Bibles is in order to fill our minds and hearts with volumes of specific ways that God loves us. That is the meat that our souls were designed to feed on.

BORN OF BIBLE

Nothing could possibly be more important than seeing more of Jesus and becoming more like him, and so nothing in your schedule is more important than time in your Bible. Carve out time in your daily routine (don’t just try to “find some time” every day; your time will fill up with less significant things and it simply won’t happen); make a plan (I’d suggest to start by reading the gospel of John or the Psalms); and then, by God’s grace, make it happen.

As this volume of Cross Connections comes to a close, I want to give you solid encouragement to make the Bible a regular part of your daily spiritual diet. And so I want to show you, from God’s Word, just how central the Bible is to every step of the Christian life, and then end by connecting it all back to the cross.

How does the Christian life begin? How do we get saved? There are multiple true ways to answer that question, but one way to say it is that the Holy Spirit uses God’s Word to wake our hearts from the dead and cause us to be born again into a living relationship with God. That’s what Peter says in 1 Peter 1:23:

You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.

The very way we become Christians, are born again, and become spiritually alive children of God, is “through the living and abiding word of God.” James says the same thing in a slightly different way when he gives an invitation to salvation:

Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

Salvation is receiving God’s Word with humility and meekness, not standing in judgment over it but letting it stand in judgment over you. That’s what faith is: receiving with meekness the saving word of God. That’s what Romans 10:17 says:

Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Christians are called to be Bible people, to live our lives feeding on the Word of God, because we are literally born of Bible, brought to spiritual life and sustained in that spiritual life by God’s Word.

WISE FOR SALVATION

Once we have been brought to life by the Bible, how are we then to progress in the Christian life? The answer is: the same way you started, by receiving again again the word with meekness, hearing the word of Christ, and believing it. In 2 Timothy 3:15-16, our Cross Connections verse for this chapter, Paul gives us an incredible picture of what God’s Word really is, and how it functions in our lives:

From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

These “sacred writings,” says Paul, “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” The phrase “wise for salvation” literally means “wise unto salvation” or “wise, leading to final future salvation.” God’s Word, which causes you to be born again into a living relationship of faith in Jesus, is the means by which we grow in that faith and grow in the kind of wisdom that will keep us on the pathway to heaven.

The reason that Scripture has that power is that it has been “breathed out by God.” God’s Spirit, breathing through the inspired pens of people, created his perfect and infallible word. I heard a poem once that said it this way: “When God breathed on dust, he got man. When God breathed on man, he got Bible.” These words that you hold in your hand and store up in your heart are the breath of God, the very thing that creates and sustains life. The voice that spoke the universe into existence and spoke you into eistence spoke these words, and still speaks through them today.

Therefore, these are no ordinary words. The Bible is not just another book. A book like Cross Connections might be helpful to you (I certainly hope it is!), but the only true measure of its power and helpfulness is how closely it sticks to the words of God. God’s words have unique divine power to create spiritual life, sustain spiritual life, and strengthen spiritual life. That’s why Paul says that they are “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

These valuable, profitable words are meant to be taught– that means to inform the way you think so that you will “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). God’s words are for reproof and correction– they are like a mirror that shows the egg on our face and the true condition of our hearts and calls us to repentance and obedience. God’s words are for “training in righteousness;” just like an athlete trains and grows strong by repeated exercise, God’s Word works as we repeatedly, daily, exercise the discipline of reading it and meditating on it.

The goal of a disciplined life of Bible reading is that so that “the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Do you realize that if the Bible isn’t a regular part of your life, that you are literally incomplete? Without the breath of God breathing his words into our hearts, we are not all that we are supposed to be. God’s Word is the missing puzzle piece that makes us complete, equipped for a life of cross-connected good works.

ETERNAL LIFE

The best and greatest reason to read your Bible, however, isn’t simply that it will equip you to live the Christian life better. It’s so that you can know God better. He himself is the highest good, the greatest possible motivation. In John 17, as Jesus is praying on the night before the crucifixion, he gives us a window into the best news of the gospel:

This is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. ~John 17:3

The best possible news in the universe is that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose, so that we could be welcomed into an everlasting relationship with God. Jesus’ death makes it possible for me to know God– not just know about him, but to actually know him. “This is eternal life: to know God,” Jesus says. Jesus died so that I might have eternal life; Jesus died so that I could know God. “Let him who boasts boast in in this, that he understands and knows me,” God says in Jeremiah 9:24. The greatest thing in the universe is to know God.

This, then, is the greatest thing about the Bible: in its pages we come to know God himself. When I come to the Bible, I’m coming face to face with the living God, the living God is no longer against me but for me, the living God who died and is now alive forever, the living God who is my Friend and Father and Shepherd and Savior forever.

Oh Christian, don’t neglect your Bible! Jesus Christ gave up his life so that I could know God; and I come to know him through his word. This means that when your Bible sits collecting dust on your shelf, you are neglecting the very center of the gospel, the very reason why Jesus bled for you. When you neglect your Bible, you are neglecting the source of all joy, the most glorious Person in the universe, the One for whom you were made, the One for whom you were saved. The Bible is precious because it leads me to the One who is precious beyond all value, who gave himself to rescue me.

So give yourself to the study of God’s Word, to knowing God’s heart, to hearing his voice, to seeing the cross connections in Scripture. Don’t ever be content with what you know of God, for he is an ocean and everything you know of him is a drop. All the joy and glory you have experienced up until now is but a taste compared to the everlasting feast of knowing God. We will enjoy him forever, and we get to start now.

“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that whoever believes in him would have eternal life… and this is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God.” Open up your Bible and start pressing on, then, deeper and deeper, into the best gift of the gospel: knowing God. “Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord” (Hosea 6:3)

Precious Bible! what a treasure
Does the Word of God afford!
All I want for life or pleasure,
Food and medicine, shield and sword:
Let the world account me poor,
Having this, I need no more.

Food to which the world’s a stranger,
Here my hungry soul enjoys;
Of excess there is no danger;
Though it fills, it never cloys.
On a dying Christ I feed;
He is meat and drink indeed.

When my faith is faint and sickly,
Or when Satan wounds my mind,
Cordials, to revive me quickly,
Healing medicines, here I find.
To the promises I flee,
Each affords a remedy.

In the hour of dark temptation
Satan cannot make me yield
For the Word of consolation
Is to me a mighty shield.
While the scripture truths are sure,
From his malice I’m secure.

Vain his threats to overcome me
When I take the Spirit’s sword.
Then with ease I drive him from me;
Satan trembles at the Word.
‘Tis a sword for conquest made,
Keen the edge, and strong the blade.

Shall I envy then the miser,
Doting on his golden store?
Sure I am, or should be, wiser;
I am rich, ’tis he is poor;
Jesus gives me in his word
Food and medicine, shield and sword.

~John Newton

O God the Holy Spirit,
Direct me to the cross
Where I can see the suffering
My waywardness has cost.
In Jesus’ death please show me
The power of my sin
And by his life convince me
This battle he will win.

O God the Holy Spirit,
Put Jesus on display;
Remind me how my Savior
Took all my guilt away.
My sins were all forgiven
And satisfaction made.
Atonement was completed;
My captive soul was saved.

O God the Holy Spirit,
Come deepen and impart
These saving, loving lessons
Upon my desperate heart,
That I might loathe my evil
And flee from Satan’s snares,
Then run to my Redeemer
And cast on him my cares.