Scott Aniol

Forming Hearts of Repentance with the Psalms

Because David delighted in God’s Word, he knew that a just God punishes sin. David also knew that forgiveness was possible, because he knew God’s character through his Word. He knew God would be merciful to him because of his steadfast love. David knew God would blot out his transgressions according to his abundant mercy. 

True delight in the Law of the Lord will produce hearts of repentance. We see this clearly in David’s response to God’s Law in Psalm 19. God’s revelation reveals to us our incompatibility as sinners with the holiness of God and the way he designed his creation to operate for his glory. Scripture explicitly teaches us that the payment for sin is death; it reproves and corrects us. As David says in Psalm 19:11, God’s Law warns us. It explicitly teaches us that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). And so that is exactly what David does: he confesses his sin:
12 Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
and I shall be innocent of great transgression. (Ps 19:12–13)
Have Mercy on Me
Church tradition has identified seven psalms as “penitential psalms” (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143), but several others also include themes of sorrow over sin, including 25, 39, 40, and 41.
There is perhaps a no more well-known confession of sin in all the psalms than Psalm 51. Book II of the Psalms is all about the extension of David’s rule over the nations. We remember stories of David’s exploits against the Philistines and all of the pagan nations surrounding Israel. “Saul has slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands!”
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Does Revelation 5:9 Prove That All Kinds of Cultural Expressions Will be in Heaven?

While it is certainly possible (and even probable) that lots of different kinds of cultural expressions will be present in the worship of heaven, there is no Scriptural proof of this, and there is certainly no proof that all cultural expressions will be there. For one thing, it is at least instructive to note that at least one aspect of cultural diversity is eliminated in this heavenly picture—their clothing (Rev 7:9). All of these people from various tribes, peoples, and nations are wearing the same thing: white robes. Where is the cultural diversity in that?

A passage often cited by evangelicals to prove that every cultural expression is legitimate since people from every nation will be admitted into heaven is Revelation 5:9:
And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe [phylēs] and language [glōssēs] and people [laou] and nation [ethnous].1
Here John uses four terms related to ethnic identity, but it is important to recognize that John uses the terms not to emphasize cultural distinctions between various people groups but rather to signify all peoples without national or cultural distinctions. For example, Mounce states of the terms in this verse, “It is fruitless to attempt a distinction between these terms as ethnic, linguistic, political, etc. The Seer is stressing the universal nature of the church and for this purpose piles up phrases for their rhetorical value.2 Likewise, Thomas argues, “The enumeration includes representatives of every nationality, without distinction of race, geographical location, or political persuasion.3
In other words, terms like ethnos, (“nation”), phylē (“tribe”), glōssa (“language”), and laos (“people”) do not refer to the culture (behavior) of people, but rather to the people themselves, and ethnic distinctions among people in heaven will be absent.
MacLeod summarizes common definitions for such ethnicity-related terms:
(1) The word “tribe” (phylē) denotes “a group bound together by common descent or blood-relationship.” In the New Testament most references are to the tribes of Israel. In Revelation 5:9 the word includes the redeemed from the Gentile world, which also includes tribal groups (Christian Maurer, “φυλή,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 9 [1974], 245–50, esp. 245, 250).
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God of Order: The Holy Spirit’s Work Today

This overarching characteristic of ordering describes much, if not all, of what the Holy Spirit does throughout Scripture, including giving revelation, creating life (both physical and spiritual), and sanctifying individual believers: “the Spirit orders (or re-orders) and ultimately beautifies God’s creation.”10

Ultimately, current expectations concerning the Holy Spirit’s work today must derive, not from experience, but from Scripture. How does the Bible characterizes the Holy Spirit’s activity?
Scripture contains roughly 245 explicit descriptions of the Holy Spirit’s actions, 80 in the Old Testament, and 165 in the New Testament.1 Overwhelmingly, the dominant action ascribed to the Holy Spirit in both Testaments is the giving of revelation (37 times in the OT and 64 times in the NT). God the Spirit speaks through prophets and apostles, and ultimately inspires the Holy Scriptures themselves (2 Tim 3:16, 2 Pet 1:21).
Second in order of frequency in the OT and third in the NT is special empowerment given to individual leaders whom God has called to perform special ministry on his behalf, often closely associated with giving revelation. This act of the Holy Spirit occurs 20 times in the OT and 18 times in the NT. For example, the Old Testament describes the Holy Spirit being “upon” Moses and the elders of Israel (Num 11:17), Joshua (Deut 34:9), judges such as Gideon (Judg 6:34) and Samson (Judg 13:25), and prophets such as Elijah (1 Kgs 18:12). He also uniquely came upon Israel’s kings, Saul and David (1 Sam 16:13–14). This act of the Holy Spirit was never permanent (1 Sam 16:14; cf. Psalm 51:11) and was only given to special leaders of God’s people, often resulting in unique wisdom, physical strength, and revelation from God. It was even applied to non-believers on occasion (e.g. Balaam, Num 24:2 and Saul, 1 Sam 16:14).2
OT prophecy also foretells a similar empowerment given by the Spirit to the coming Messiah (Isa 11:2, 42:1, 48:16, 61:1). Not surprisingly, then, the earliest examples of this in the NT apply specifically to Jesus Christ, first pictured when the Holy Spirit descends upon him at his baptism (Matt 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22, John 1:32). The Holy Spirit also uniquely empowers other spiritual leaders in the NT, such as John the Baptist (Luke 1:15) and the apostles (Acts 2:4, 4:31, 9:17, 13:9).
Actions of the Holy Spirit in the OT fall off considerably in frequency after the top two categories. They can be described as follows: The Holy Spirit participated in creation (Gen 1:2, Job 33:4, Ps 104:30), gifted Bezalel and Oholiab with skill to build the tabernacle (Exod 31:1–5, 35:30–35), and dwelt in the midst of Israel (Neh 9:20, Hag 2:5; cf. Exod 29:45).
In the NT, however, the second most frequent action of the Holy Spirit after revelation is the sanctification of believers, appearing at least 24 times. This work of the Spirit characterizes Spirit filling (Acts 6:3, 11:24, Eph 5:18) and describes the Spirit’s work to progressively produce holy fruit in a believer’s life (e.g. Rom 15:16, Gal 5:22). In the NT the Holy Spirit also indwells (17 times), regenerates (13 times), assures (5 times), convicts (2 times), and illuminates (2 times).
Finally, Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12–14 discuss gifts that are given to believers; although absent in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 explains that these gifts are given “through the Spirit” (v. 8) or “by the one Spirit” (v. 9), and chapter 14 calls them “manifestations of the Spirit” (v. 12). Since these passages explicitly ascribe the giving of these gifts to the Holy Spirit, other passages that discuss such gifts may also safely be attributed to a work of the Holy Spirit (e.g. 1 Tim 4:14, 2 Tim 1:6). These gifts are supernatural abilities “given for service within the ministry and outreach of the local church,”3 including miraculous gifts, which involves what Rolland McCune describes as “a suspension, a bypassing, or even an outright contravention of the natural order”4 (e.g. prophecy, miracles, healing, and tongues), and non-miraculous gifts, which Stitzinger describes as abilities that “operate within the natural realm of order even though God’s hand of providence is involved”5 (e.g. evangelism, teaching, mercy, administration, etc.).
Characterizing the Holy Spirit’s Work
This brief survey of the Holy Spirit’s activity throughout Scripture helps to lay an important foundation for what Christians should expect his ordinary work to be. Taking all of the biblical data concerning the Holy Spirit’s work throughout history into account, there is no doubt that he sometimes works in extraordinary ways. Yet extraordinary works of the Spirit are not the ordinary way God works his sovereign will through the course of biblical history. When extraordinary experiences occur, they happen during significant transitional stages in the outworking of God’s plan. Sinclair Ferguson helpfully explains:
In the Scriptures themselves, extraordinary gifts appear to be limited to a few brief periods in biblical history, in which they serve as confirmatory signs of new revelation and its ambassadors, and as a means of establishing and defending the kingdom of God in epochally significant ways. . . . Outbreaks of the miraculous sign gifts in the Old Testament were, generally speaking, limited to those periods of redemptive history in which a new stage of covenantal revelation was reached. . . . But these sign-deeds were never normative. Nor does the Old Testament suggest they should have continued unabated even throughout the redemptive-historical epoch they inaugurated. . . . Consistent with this pattern, the work of Christ and the apostles was confirmed by “signs and wonders.”6
In other words, to focus on the relatively few cases in biblical history of extraordinary works of the Holy Spirit and draw from those a theology that assumes this to be his regular activity fails to take into account the purpose of these works in the overarching plan of God. Furthermore, even the extraordinary works of the Spirit in Scripture, such as giving revelation or empowering for service, hardly resemble the kinds of extraordinary manifestations contemporary worshipers have come to associate with the Holy Spirit, such as emotional euphoria or “atmosphere.” Even if Christians in the present age should expect extraordinary works of the Spirit to regularly occur, what most contemporary evangelicals have come to expect does not fit the biblical pattern for how the Holy Spirit works.
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God’s Music

As the Five Books of Moses are the Torah for the mind, so the Five Books of Psalms are the Torah for the heart; God intends for this collection of psalms to form and shape our image of what it means to be blessed, our image of what it means to flourish as we meditate on these songs, as we muse on the music of God-inspired psalms.

God has given us the psalms to form our hearts, which in turn lead us on the path to true blessedness. As James Sire argues, it is heart orientation that “provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.”1 The inner image of the world formed within us—sometimes called our moral imagination or worldview—interprets reality and thus affects how we evaluate and respond to what we encounter. It is what motivates and moves us to act in certain ways within the various circumstances of life. This is why the Bible commands, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Prov 4:23). As David Naugle suggests,
From a scriptural point of view, therefore, the heart is responsible for how a man or woman sees the world. Indeed, what goes into the heart from the outside world eventually shapes its fundamental dispositions and determines what comes out of it as the springs of life. Consequently, the heart establishes the basic presuppositions of life and, because of its life-determining influence, must always be carefully guarded.2
Evangelicals today love to talk about Christian worldview, what will guide us to live according to Scripture. But the common evangelical discussion of worldview focuses primarily or even exclusively on what we think. Thinking is important; doctrine is important. But to focus exclusively on the mind misses what Psalm 1 is setting up as the fundamental purpose of the psalms: they don’t primarily inform our minds, like the Prophets do, or our wills, like the Law does—the psalms form the innate inclinations at our core, what James Sire calls the “fundamental orientation of the heart.”3
This is important since our imagination is the way we interpret facts and is thus the way we make sense of God’s world. George MacDonald explains:
To inquire into what God has made is the main function of the imagination. It is aroused by facts, is nourished by facts, seeks for higher and yet higher laws in those facts; but refuses to regard science as the sole interpreter of nature, or the laws of science as the only region of discovery.4
Our perception and interpretation of the world around us depends upon our imagination of the good life. Leland Ryken helpfully explains how imagination affects how we view truth and what we do with truth:
It is a fallacy to think that one’s worldview consists only of ideas. It is a world picture as well as a set of ideas. It includes images that may govern behavior even more than ideas do. At the level of ideas, for example, a person may know the goal of life is not to amass physical possessions. But if his mind is filled with images of fancy cars and expensive clothes and big houses, his behavior will likely follow a materialistic path.
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Illumination—I Do Not Think it Means What You Think it Means

Praise be to God for his Spirit’s supernatural work of illumination in our hearts. Without it, we would not be able to accept the things of the Spirit of God, we would not recognize them as the truthful, authoritative revelation of God that they are, and we would not willingly submit ourselves to them.

I am convinced that a charismatic theology of the Holy Spirit has infected most of evangelicalism in ways we don’t often recognize. Carl F. H. Henry was right when he observed, “The modern openness to charismatic emphases is directly traceable to the neglect by mainstream Christian denominations of an adequate doctrine of the Holy Spirit.”1
This influence can be seen in a number of ways, but one that I’d like to focus on here is with our understanding and use of the term illumination. Often we hear prayers like, “Lord, please illumine your Word so that we can understand what it says,” or other similar language. Intentional or not, many believers seem to expect that the Spirit is going to help us understand what Scripture means or that he is going to “speak” to us specific ways that the Word applies to our personal situations.
Neither of these are what the biblical doctrine of illumination means.
Biblical Teaching on Illumination
The term illumination does not appear in Scripture; rather, it describes a collection of concepts involving the Spirit’s work in relation to his Word in the believer’s life.
1 Corinthians 1:18–2:16
One of the key texts is 1 Corinthians 1:18–2:16. In this passage, Paul describes the fact that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). Though the concept of illumination or enlightening don’t really appear in this passage, it does clearly teach that a key difference between believers and unbelievers is the fact that unbelievers simply do not recognize the truthfulness, beauty, and authority of God’s Word (specifically the gospel), while a believer is one who has come to recognize Scripture as such, not because of any human persuasion, but simply through “the Spirit and of power” (2:4).
2 Corinthians 4:1–6
Second Corinthians 4 makes a similar assertion, this time using explicit language of “enlightening.” The gospel is “veiled to those who are perishing” (2 Cor 4:3), Paul argues. Believers accept and submit to the gospel only because God has enlightened their hearts:
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
2 Cor 4:6
This is illumination—a work of God’s Spirit upon a believer whereby he recognizes the beauty and glory of the gospel and therefore willingly submits himself to it.
It is important here to recognize that this concept of enlightening happens at the moment of conversion and is always true of Christians. Once our hearts are enlightened, we will always recognize and accept the Word of God as true and authoritative for us. An enlightened believer does not doubt or reject God’s Word.
1 Corinthians 2:10–16
Another text frequently cited in discussions of Spirit illumination is 1 Corinthians 2:10–16.
10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
Two points are important to recognize in this text: First, the “us” and “we” in verses 10–13 are the apostles and other authors of Scripture. Charles Hodge notes, “The whole connection shows that the apostle is speaking of revelation and inspiration; and therefore we must mean we apostles, (or Paul himself), and not we Christians.”2 These men certainly received direct revelation from the Spirit of God to the degree that whatever they wrote can be considered “inspired” by God (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 20–21). But we must remember that such inspiration was unique. The Spirit uniquely revealed the truths of Scripture to these men, and these truths are now inscripturated in the 66 canonical books of Scripture. The Spirit does not “reveal” truth to us in the same manner. These verses describe inspiration, not illumination.
This is important to remember in any discussion of illumination: the primary way the Spirit brings God’s Word to us is not illumination, rather, God’s Spirit has already brought God’s Word to us perfectly and sufficiently through inspiration.
However, second, verses 14–16 do touch on what we may describe as Spirit illumination.
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
The key phrase is “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God.” When the natural man reads Scripture, he does not accept it as God’s authoritative revelation. Rather, he sees it as foolishness. He does not understand its spiritual significance.
On the other hand, the spiritual person recognizes the Word of God for what it is and therefore submits himself to it. These verses do not speak of intellectual understanding but spiritual understanding. If we want to use the term illumination to describe what’s going on in these verses, it refers to the Spirit’s work to cause believers to recognize the significance and authority of the written Word of God. Furthermore, this act of the Spirit is not something that necessarily happens in separate points of time as we read the Word; rather, it is something that comes as a result of the new birth—the Spirit gives us new life and enlightens our hearts to recognize the significance of his Word.
In other words, 1 Corinthians 2 refers to two acts of the Spirit: inspiration, whereby the authors of Scripture wrote the very words of God, and illumination, whereby believers are enabled to recognize the spiritual significance of the Word of God.
Ephesians 1:17–22
A text that more specifically refers to what we may call illumination is Ephesians 1:17–22. Here Paul specifically uses the phrase “having the eyes of your heart enlightened” (v. 18). And what is the result of such illumination? Like with 1 Corinthians 2, the result of this enlightening is that the believer recognizes the value and authority of the truth of God’s revelation. No new revelation is imparted; rather, illumination causes believers to accept God’s Word for what it is—the sufficient, authoritative revelation of God.
Philippians 3:15, Colossians 1:9
In Philippians 3:15, Paul tells believers, “if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” Here, too, “reveal” refers not to new knowledge but to a kind of spiritual maturity that rightly submits to and appropriates God’s written revelation. Likewise, in Colossians 1:9, Paul prays that believers “may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”
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Corporate Worship’s Essence: Spiritual Response

It is important that we recognize the proper function of our physical expressions of worship and the fundamental spiritual essence of worship. The physical expressions themselves are never the essence of our communion with God; plenty of people do the physical stuff without truly worshiping. Rather, the physical aspects of worship should be an expression of the spiritual responses of our hearts toward God in the true heavenly temple. We cannot be satisfied with just going through the motions, assuming if we sing and pray and read the Bible and listen to a sermon, we have communed with God. No, the essence of true communion with God is in our hearts, hearts set on things above.

One of the clearest ways you can determine someone’s fundamental theology of worship is to ask them the following question: “How do you know that you have worshiped?” If our goal in worship is to commune with God, how do we know we have accomplished our goal? How do we know we have worshiped?
Embodied Expressions of Corporate Worship
As physical beings, much of what we do in corporate worship is embodied. In Colossians 3, we find a command to sing—the Greek word translated as “singing” literally means “make a melody with the vocal cords.” That may seem obvious, but some Christians in times past have argued that this passage refers to singing internally, not externally. No, we are supposed to sing with our voices in corporate worship. We cannot teach and admonish one another with singing unless we use our physical voices to do so. Likewise, Paul says in Ephesians 5:19, “addressing one another”—you can’t do that with internal singing—“in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” The word singing there is the same as in Colossians 3, but he also adds the word translated as “making melody,” which literally means “to pluck a stringed instrument.” So, clearly, the music of our corporate worship is a physical, audible expression.
We also necessarily use our bodies in other ways in corporate worship, don’t we? To let the Word of Christ richly dwell within us, as Paul commands in Colossians 3, we must use our eyes and voices to physically read the Scriptures. We use our ears to listen as others speak and sing. We even use our mouths and fingers as we eat and drink at the Lord’s Table. We cannot worship God corporately according to his instructions without the use of our bodies.
Indeed, the Bible teaches that the human body is good. God created the body and, therefore, by nature the body is good. Furthermore, Jesus Christ took on a human body at his incarnation, and he will have that body for the rest of eternity. Jesus died bodily, and he was raised bodily from that death. He ascended bodily into heaven, and one day he will return to the earth in his body. Job affirmed, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25). The Bible teaches that God, through Christ, has saved our souls, but he has also saved our bodies (1 Thess. 5:23).
Some Christians in the first couple centuries of the church adopted a Platonic philosophy that believed the body to be inherently evil. This resulted in what is known as the Gnostic heresy, which denied that Jesus Christ really had a physical body or that he rose bodily from the grave. Gnosticism also taught that we must try to completely free ourselves from our bodies by denying our bodies what we need to survive physically and instead attempt to become one with God’s spiritual essence. This heresy is specifically what Paul was addressing in Colossians as well as in other letters, such as in 1 Timothy when he said that Jesus “was manifested in the flesh” (3:16) and that “everything created by God is good” (4:4). And John explicitly condemned Gnosticism when he said, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” (2 John 1:7). Orthodox theologians continued to fight against this heresy until it was officially condemned in the fourth century. The body was created by God, Christ took on human flesh, and therefore the body is good, and our corporate worship is embodied worship.
This embodied reality of corporate worship is one reason that we must physically meet together. We cannot sing to one another without physically being together. The New Testament frequently emphasizes the importance of meeting together. John said in 2 John 1:12, “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete,” and he wrote similarly in 3 John. Paul stressed several times to the believers in Rome his desire to be there with them, so that he might enjoy their company and be refreshed together with them (Rom. 15:23–24, 32). He longed to physically gather with the believers in the church at Thessalonica, saying that he “endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face” (1 Thess. 2:17), and he urged Timothy to be diligent to come to him quickly (2 Tim. 4:9). Paul recognized the importance of physically being together for fellowship.
And so, the author of Hebrews commanded, “Do not neglect to meet together.” It’s why passages about corporate worship in the New Testament frequently emphasize the physical gathering of corporate worship. In 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, Paul repeats the idea multiple times: “when you come together” (11:17), “when you come together as a church” (11:18), “when you come together” (11:20), “when you come together to eat” (11:33), “when you come together” (11:34), “when you come together” (14:26). Corporate worship assumes the necessity of a physical gathering where we do physical things. “Where two or three are gathered in my name,” Jesus said, “there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20).
Spiritual Essence of Corporate Worship
Yet that very statement leads us to the primary point of this essay. Jesus said that where two or three are physically gathered in his name, there he is among them, but is Jesus physically in the midst of us when we gather? No, not since he ascended into heaven. Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God the Father (Acts 7:56). Colossians 3:1 says that Christ is “seated [bodily] at the right hand of God.” So, if Jesus is bodily in heaven, and we are gathered bodily here on earth, how can he be in the midst of us?
Notice how the verse opens: “If then you have been raised with Christ.” The first point to recognize here is that all who are united with Christ are also seated with him in heaven. Verse 3 alludes to this reality: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Paul says it even more explicitly in Ephesians 2:6 when he states that God has “raised us up with [Christ] and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Christ is seated in heaven, and since we are in him, we are with him there. Remember what Paul says a few verses later in Ephesians 2:18: “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” We have access to the Father because, in one Spirit through Christ, we are actually there in the presence of God in heaven.
This is a reality, and yet we also recognize that it is not yet a physical reality. Our bodies are still here on earth, while we really are seated with Christ in the heavenly places. What this reveals is the important spiritual essence of our relationship with God through Christ. As Paul says, we have access in one Spirit. The Spirit of God is the agent who makes this possible because it is a spiritual reality.
This is also part of what Jesus meant in John 4 when he said that God is seeking those who will “worship the Father in spirit and truth” (v. 23). Since “God is spirit” (v. 24) and does not have a body like man, true worship takes place in its essence in the Spirit, which is why it is essential that the Holy Spirit dwell within the NT temple—the church—in the same way he dwelt in the temple of the Old Testament. Back then, worship was limited to that physical, Spirit-indwelt temple, but “the hour . . . is now here” (v. 23) that worship takes place wherever two or three Spirit-indwelt believers gather together, for there Christ is “in the midst of them.”
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The Basis for Communion with God

This is the source of communion with God—Someone hears the truths of the gospel, God supernaturally shines light into his heart so that he recognizes the beauty and value of the gospel of the glory of Christ. And when that happens to a person, he will give up everything for Christ; He will value Christ above all else. That is true Christianity. 

The king raged with fury.
How dare they say I have no right to be here? he steamed. I have done right in the sight of God. He has blessed me. He thought of all the rich spoils of battle adorning his chambers. I have grown strong. My fame has spread far. I deserve to be here.
“My lord, you must leave!”
What is his problem? How dare he say I must leave? The king picked up the censor to burn incense on the altar. I am trying to honor the Lord with this.
The priest persisted. “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense.”
The king turned. A crowd of strong priests stood behind Azariah in the doorway.
The priest moved a step closer. “Go out of the sanctuary,” he pleaded, “for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the Lord God.”
How dare he challenge the Lord’s blessed servant? He lowered the censor toward the altar.
He trembled, the censor dropping from his hand. What is that? White scales appeared all over his outstretched hand. His left leg collapsed beneath him. A sharp pain spread across his forehead.

King Uzziah was a leper until the day of his death.He dwelt in an isolated house, because he was a leper;for he was cut off from the house of the LORD.(2 Chron 26:21)

Barriers
“Let us draw near” (Heb 10:19).
The Son of God himself invites you to draw near to the presence of God and enter into the eternal communion enjoyed by the three persons of the triune godhead.
But any reader of the invitation in Hebrews to draw near would have immediately recognized its inherent problem—this God to whom we are supposed to draw near is holy; he cannot tolerate sin. Yet we are sinful.
The fall of mankind into sin destroyed the possibility of drawing near to God. After Adam and Even sinned they no longer enjoyed the privilege of walking with God in the garden; instead they hid from him in fear and desperately tried to cover their guilt with leaves. And ever since that time, any attempt to draw near to God results in a profound recognition of guilt and unworthiness.
The Israelites experienced this when they drew near to Mt. Sinai; when they witnessed the majesty and greatness and white-hot holiness of God, they trembled in fear and begged Moses to go in their behalf. This is the reason that although God inhabited the holy place in the tabernacle and later the temple, no person could enter his presence except the high priest once a year on the Day of Atonement. This is what Isaiah experienced when he saw the Lord high and lifted up in all of his glory and holiness and cried out with, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isa 6:5).
Second Corinthians 4:3 says that every person is born in the condition of perishing, and thus the beauty of a relationship with God is veiled to us: “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.” Even worse, Paul says that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (v 4). All people are perishing and blind; all people are depraved. The Bible says that no one seeks after God (Rom 3:11); the natural mind cannot understand the things of God (1 Cor 2:14). And because of this, perishing, blind people do not even recognize the wonder and beauty of communion with God.
The problem with the command in Hebrews 10 is that we have neither the right nor even the desire to draw near to God; we do not have access to him because of our sin. The only way God enabled people to partially draw near to him is through temporary sacrifices, and even then there are barriers keeping us from the very presences of God himself; there is a veil hiding the holy place, only the high priest can enter there and only once a year, and we know what happens if you even touch the symbol of God’s presence, the ark—Remember Uzzah? Even Psalm 100 calls people to come only into the outer courts of the temple, not into the actual presence of God. The people had no direct access.
The point is that we cannot obey this command. God commands us to draw near, but this entering into the presence of God to worship him is not possible.
Or is it?
Through Christ
Hebrews 10 explains the solution to the problem through two “since” clauses. The first is found in verse 19: “Since we have confidence to enter the holy places . . . draw near.” Now the term translated “confidence” in most English translations has the idea of free and open “access” to someone or something. “Since we have access to enter the holy places . . . draw near.” So this verse is specifically addressing our problem. God commands us to draw near to him, but because of our sin we do not have access to him. Yet this verse tells us that such access is possible; it is possible to have access to the holy place of God’s presence.
Here is the first term in our text that is meant to conjure up images of Old Testament worship. The holy place was that most sacred of places in the tabernacle and temple, and several boundaries prevented access to God in this place. The first was the wall that enclosed the outer court of the temple, then was the wall of the temple itself, and finally the veil that hid the holy place where the Ark of God dwelt. In each successive stage, fewer and fewer people had access. No Jew would ever even consider entering the Holy Place; they knew what happened when Uzziah did that.
In fact, if you go to Jerusalem today, you’ll find out that there’s a certain area of the temple ground where it is forbidden to Jews to ever walk, because it may be the area where the Holy of Holies once stood, and no Jew would ever put his foot on the Holy of Holies. So that’s why there are big signs outside the gates of the temple area that say, “Orthodox Jews have been forbidden by the rabbi to enter in this place lest they step on the Holy of Holies.” Orthodox Jews have a fear still today of ever going into the presence of God.
Jesus our Substitute
But Hebrews 10:19 tells us that we have access, not just to the outer court, not just into the entrance of the temple, but beyond the veil into the very presence of God. How can this be? Keep reading: “by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh.”
Access to God is possible through a sacrifice, and this is no ordinary sacrifice; this is the vicarious, substitutionary atonement of the Son of God. At the beginning of Hebrews 10, the author revealed the insufficiency of animal sacrifices to purify those who come to God in worship: “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.”
But this sacrifice can perfect those who draw near. This Jesus is fully man, and thus he can stand as our substitute, and he is fully God, and thus he can pay an eternal punishment to an eternal, holy God that no normal man could. And because of the perfection and eternality of this sacrifice, it need not be offered day after day after day to atone for sin; it is offered one time and the complete wrath of God is fully appeased.
This is what God pictured when he slew the animal in the garden and covered Adam and Eve’s guilt. This is what was pictured when Moses offered a sacrifice at the foot of Mt. Sinai so that the elders of the people could approach God. This is what was pictured each year in Israel on the Day of Atonement when an animal was sacrificed and the high priest entered the holy place to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat. This is what was pictured when the seraph took a burning coal from the altar and placed it on Isaiah’s lips, saying, “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
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David Delighted His Heart in God’s Word

There is a great danger when Christians today talk about knowing God apart from his Word, as if they have some sort of mystical experience, or they think they can simply know God in nature, or through some sort of direct magical connection, or through their own reason. No—we come to know God first and foremost through his Word.

When King Saul sinned against the Lord and forfeited his rule over God’s people, the prophet Samuel said to him,
But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”1 Samuel 13:14
And the Lord did find that man after his own heart. The apostle Paul said in Acts 13,
And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, “I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.”
David: A man after God’s own heart. What a description! A man whose heart follows God’s heart. This is a man who truly knew the Lord.
What would it take for that to be a description of you? What kinds of qualities characterized David such that God described him as a man after his own heart?
We know it certainly wasn’t external qualities that characterized David this way. When God sent Samuel to anoint a new king from among Jesse’s sons, Samuel assessed the sons on the basis of their outward qualities—surely Eliab the eldest is the Lord’s anointed. “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’mmm” God was not seeking height of stature; he was seeking a man whose heart followed his heart.
And he found such a man in David. What qualified David as such?
We could go to 1 Samuel and look at some of the narratives of David’s life to discover such qualities, and we will do some of that. But the narratives mostly focus on what David did—the outward appearance; if our goal is to truly discover David’s heart, then there is no better way to do that than to look at the God-inspired window into David’s heart, the Book of Psalms.
At least 73 of the 150 psalms are attributed to David—David is a major focus of the psalms. But this is not just a randomly compiled collection of songs by David and a few others. Christians today often don’t recognize that the 150 psalms were intentionally organized by Ezra or someone like him following the Babylonian exile into five books, and these five books of psalms were arranged to teach us some very important truths, largely centered on David and his relationship with God.
The psalms don’t trace David’s life chronologically—that’s the purpose of the historical books; David did write the psalms during particular experiences in his life, but the psalms primarily unfold David’s inner life. They communicate his heart to us. And so if our goal is to uncover David’s heart, to discover David’s deep inner knowledge of God, then it is fitting that we explore his heart in the Psalms.
The Law of the Lord
Almost every psalm in Book I of the Psalter—the first forty-one psalms—was written by David. Most of these psalms are characterized by songs of lament about the wicked; uncertainty; conflict. The wicked are surrounding David; they are prospering, and the righteous are suffering.
Think about experiences in David’s life that could be characterized like that. King Saul is chasing David through the mountains, intent upon killing him. Bloody battles against the Philistine armies. David’s own son, Absalom, tries to kill his father and take the throne. And what is perhaps the most famous story about David? His battle with Goliath! A huge giant threatens God’s people.
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The Dangers of Syncretism and Idolatry

God is concerned not only with heart motive—although that is certainly central—nor is he simply concerned that people worship him alone—although that is, of course, true. He is also concerned that his people worship him in the right way, which includes not worshiping in ways that he has forbidden or inventing new ways to worship that he has not commanded.

In the Old Testament Law, God gave his people very specific instructions about how they were to relate to the people around them, including in their culture and worship practices.
Deuteronomy 12:2–8 reveals important principles in this regard. God commanded that the people destroy the places where pagans worshiped, including their altars, their pillars, their images, and even the names of the places. This is clearly more than simply insisting that they worship Yahweh rather than false gods; this is stark evidence that God rejects worship that imitates pagan worship in any way. Everything in pagan culture embodies religious commitments, and those elements that are imbibed with pagan religious meaning must be rejected for use in worship. One might ask why they had to destroy, for example, the altars and pillars; wouldn’t these be useful even for the worship of the true God? Yet God commanded that they be destroyed. He summarized his desires with the words, “You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way.” Instead, they were to listen to his instructions and find a place of his choosing for their worship.
Yet the people disobeyed these principles even as they waited at the foot of the mountain for Moses to return from receiving the law tablets. The golden calf incident is a terrible failure for this newly formed worship community, but unfortunately one that foreshadows many other failures in the days and years ahead. Fearing that Moses would never come back, the people demanded a physical representation of deity, just like the pagan nations had. Aaron complied, forming a golden calf, similar to the practice of both Egypt and Canaan, and the people celebrated with an orgiastic festival so noisy that it sounded to Joshua’s ears from a distance like “a noise of war in the camp.”
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Come to the Feast

Communing with God is like eating with someone around your table in your dining room. In that kind of setting, you can let your guard down; there’s no need for pretense. Dining with someone is an opportunity for you to listen to them, to get to know them, to enjoy their company. It is an opportunity to share your heart, to communicate something of yourself. There is a mutual give and take that happens around a table. You listen as the other person speaks, and then you respond in dialogue with that person. And as you do, your relationship with that person grows deeper as you get to know them better.

The man was a scoundrel, certainly not worthy of the invitation he had just received. He had stolen before—he had even stolen from the king’s treasury. And now he was eyeing the fat purse on the richly-dressed nobleman headed his way on the main road, when he felt a tap on his shoulder.
Oh no, he though. Caught at last.
“Sir,” a voice behind him said. He turned around.
“Sir, the king is giving a wedding feast for his son.” This was clearly one of the king’s servants. He continued, “He has prepared the dinner, his oxen and fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready.”
And what would someone like me have to do with that?
“The king would like you to come,” the servant said. “Come to the wedding feast.”

And those servants went out into the roadsand gathered all whom they found,both bad and good.So the wedding hall was filled with guests.(Matt 22:10)

Let Us Draw Near
Imagine—the sovereign, holy, all-powerful Ruler of the universe invites lowly, finite, severely flawed creatures into his presence.
This is exactly what he calls us to do. The end of Hebrews 10 contains such an invitation:
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb 10:19–22)
“Let us draw near.”
This idea of drawing near is an important focus of the book of Hebrews, evident by its presence in the three major climaxes of the book. Here in chapter 10:22 we find the second of these climaxes. The first is found in 4:16, which says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” And the final climax of the book is 12:22, which says, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,” and that phrase “you have come” is a translation of the same Greek term translated “draw near” in Hebrews 10:22.
Not only does this concept of drawing near appear in the book’s main literary climaxes, but it also appears in several other places in the book as well. Hebrews 7:25, 10:1, and 11:6 all focus our attention on the call to draw near to God, the basis for drawing near, and the means for drawing near. The concept of drawing near is critical in this book.
So what is the importance of this command? What does “drawing near” mean?
This idea of coming or drawing near is a translation of a term that means more than just a casual coming toward something. Rather, it specifically refers to approaching God, and we can see this by how it is used in the book of Hebrews; we find commands to draw near to God, draw near to the throne of grace, and 10:19 implies that we are to draw near to the holy place of God’s presence. So it is clear that this drawing near is coming to God, and throughout the book of Hebrews the author compares this idea of drawing near to the Hebrew worship practices—they are in chapter 10 as well, terms like “holy place,” “the veil,” “high priest,” “sprinkling” and “cleansing”; drawing near to God is what the author defines as the essence of worship—communion with God.
Drawing near to God in worship permeates the storyline of Scripture. It is what Adam and Eve enjoyed as they walked with God in the cool the day (Gen 3:8). Exodus 19:17 describes it when Moses “brought the people out of the camp to meet God” at the foot of Mt. Sinai. He had told Pharaoh to let the people go so that they might worship their God in the wilderness, and this is exactly what they intended to do at Sinai. It is what Psalm 100 commands of the Hebrews in Temple worship when it says, “Come into his presence with singing and into his courts with praise.” It is what Isaiah experienced as he entered the heavenly throne room of God and saw him high and lifted up (Isa 6). To draw near to God is to enter his very presence, to bask in his glory, to fellowship with him. It is the plea of the psalmist when he says,
One thing have I asked 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 gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple. (Ps 27:4)
Koinonia
This idea of “drawing near” is a central picture of communion with God throughout Scripture, but the word most often translated “communion” or “fellowship” in the New Testament is the term koinonia. The core meaning of this term helps to further uncover the essential nature of communion with God.
At its root, koinonia simply means sharing something or having something in common with another person. For example, Luke uses the term to describe the “partnership” in fishing shared by Peter, Andrew, James, and John (Luke 5:10). Similarly, Paul uses the term to describe the sharing of material goods to meet the need of Christians in Macedonia (2 Cor 8:4).
This helps us begin to understand that communion is not something mystical or mysterious; rather, it is a relationship between individuals in which they share of themselves with each other.
Tri-Unity
The Tri-unity of God presents the perfect example of, and is indeed the ultimate source of this concept of communion. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each individual and unique persons within the singular godhead, experience perfect fellowship one with another. The very truth of three-in-one and one-in-three reveals the amazing communion shared by the persons of God. Their communion is so complete that to divide their being would be to divide God himself; as persons they are distinct, but in essence they are One. Jesus himself tells us of the unique relationship that he has with his Father; it is a relationship so profound that in reality, no one knows the Father except the Son, and no one knows the Son except the Father (Matt 11:27).
This reality about God—something that is unique to the God of Scripture compared to the gods of other religions—provides the basis for all discussions of communion with God and with others.
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