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Suitably Sustained: Depending on God

‘Yahweh is my rock and my fortress and my deliver, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.’

- Psalm 18:2 -

 

Jesus loved to preach in pictures. Even ardent atheists admit that He brought theology alive with vivid illustrations. John’s Gospel overflows with vivid images that stop us in our tracks. The bread of life summarizes spiritual life. The good shepherd encapsulates eternal security. But the true vine hits at the hardest truth for many to accept: our dependence on God. After sharing the Passover with the apostles, Jesus leads His little band through the dark streets of Jerusalem and declares: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Their Lord was about to depart and what did He make sure to remind them of? Their utter dependance on God.


 

All believers struggle with one foot in the spirit and another in the flesh. We wage war against fallen urges, not least of which is self-reliance. But on that last Passover, Christ promised joy to all who relied on Him and became branches in His vine. He also warned that “if anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned” (John 15:6). His lesson was plain. The stakes are high whenever someone encounters Christ. Either they trust in God’s plan of salvation and become inseparably joined to their Savior, or they try (and fail) to blaze their own trail in life and their ‘part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death’ (Rev. 21:8). There is either devoted dependance or there is unending death.



Whether gazing through space telescopes or dissecting DNA with electron microscopes, our infinitely complex universe points to a Creator. Scripture takes this truth and uses creation itself to consider our dependency on God. Psalm 121 asks and answers: ‘I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come? My help comes from Yahweh, who made heaven and earth’ (1-2). The point is clear. Sinful mankind innately knows its Creator because we’ll even look to imposing landscapes as if towering rocks had the ability to save us. Truth is, God places this urge in us to direct us to His singular creative might so we will return to rely on Him. Nothing else makes sense!

 

The rock-solid reality that God is the source of all life helped Paul preach fearlessly in a dangerous pagan world. The Holy Spirit revealed to Paul that God’s ‘invisible attributes, both His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made’ (Rom. 1:20). With this as his bedrock, Paul knew he could do ‘all things through Him who strengthens me’ (Phil. 4:13). The apostle to the Gentiles didn’t lean on his own feeble will or false gods of wood, stone, or metal. He saw God for who He is. The Alpha and Omega. The powerhouse of the universe! Paul took those facts to the bank and evangelized until God said he could come home to heaven.



At key times in Israel’s history, Moses and David remind the Jews how God sustains them through material blessings. On the edge of the Promised Land, Moses them that God “is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers” (Deut. 8:18). Israel was to trust God so that He might display His glory to other nations by blessing His elect. We know that Israel fell miserably short, but despite their disobedience, God was still good to them. As the years passed and a monarchy was launched, David showed gratitude to God by raising vast funds for a majestic temple. At other culture would have puffed out its chest at such an offering, but David knew better than to boast. Instead, he asked God: “who are my people that we should be able to offer as willingly as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You” (1 Chron. 29:14). David needed the people to see that God alone sustained the kingdom.

 

Even though Jews knew God was the giver of life and wealth, it offended the religious elite when Jesus called their benevolent God His own Father. Even worse, the upstart rabbi from Nazareth taught others (even unschooled fishermen!) to call God their Father too: “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’…for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteous, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:31-33). If only the elite had engaged Christ with an open heart. His point was that while the Creator is everyone’s Father in a sense, true blessing only comes to those whom He adopts. Only they can overcome sinful self-reliance and trust God for their earthly needs. What a tragedy that they hardened their hearts against Christ’s true vine.



God sustains believers by His love. The apostles felt this firsthand through their time with Christ. His miracles demonstrated that the Creator was both awesome and compassionate. So is it any wonder that Peter told scattered and scared believers to humble themselves ‘under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you’ (1 Pet. 5:6-7). Likewise, Paul reminded Christians surrounded by paganism that they had ‘not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry out, “Abba! Father!”’ (Rom. 8:15). As God’s adopted children, we are blanketed by His love. This must cause us to rejoice and be about our Father’s business of gospel proclamation!

 

Yes, God is the Creator. He blesses us materially. But it would all be for naught if He didn’t also guard us supernaturally. David treasured this heavenly protection when the Philistines seized him in Gath, declaring: ‘In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?’ (Ps. 56:4). Jewish tradition says Moses wrote Psalm 91 as the Tabernacle was built in the wilderness. With the cosmic Sustainer now dwelling in Israel’s midst, Moses rejoiced that God ‘will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you will take refuge; His truth is a large shield and bulwark’ (91:4). David and Moses depended on God during feast and famine, good times and bad, and the same should be true of us today!



The final way God sustains us is with His revelation. After meeting the Word made flesh on the Damascus Road, Paul was no longer ‘ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith’ (Rom. 1:16-17). The former Pharisee was taught by Christ to trade man’s traditions for the purifying Word. He learned only Scripture can ‘confirm [believers] to the end, beyond reproach in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corin. 1:8). Satan, the father of lies, has attacked God’s revelation since Eden, ‘but the Lord is faithful, who will strengthen and guard you from the evil one’ (2 Thess. 3:3) if we only allow Scripture to sustain us.

 

Christ vanquished Satan in the wilderness by wielding Scripture with devastating precision, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 for good reason. In it, Moses tells Israel that God “humbled you and let you be hungry and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of Yahweh.” Christ’s point was that God blesses us with His creation, but only the wise find shelter by feeding on His Word. There are trials and temptations to endure in this life. But only by trusting in God’s written promises are we shielded and sustained. It is only then that we bear fruit as part of Christ’s true vine and gain a sure footing into eternity.

 


‘Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, might, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen’ (Jude 24-25)

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