Our Devotion to God

Rev. John C. Rankin

When Christ came preaching the gospel, calling men to Himself and making disciples of them, He taught them to follow Him. He said to them, "Follow me", and, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me". They were to leave all for Him, take His reproach; and follow Him.

Naturally a great many things are included in this. It involves faith and repentance, loyalty to the truth, obedience to His commands, and love and devotion to Him. It means walking with Him and being followers of God. It signifies a personal relation to Christ, and so to God in Him and to the people of God, and it means to be followers of and with those that are Christ's insofar as .they are followers of Him.

There arises the question of the extent of our love and devotion to God and to Christ. One may think within himself, "I want to be wholly God's". One may find this feeling, this desire, in his heart of hearts. If so, then he may justly conclude that in principle at least he is already wholly devoted. But if this person—that is to say, each one of us personally—is truly wise and wholly honest with himself, he will recognize the fact that he also, at the same time, does not want to be Christ's and devoted to Him. His honest confession will take this form: "I don't want to be wholly devoted-or rather, there is that in me, a part of what I was prior to my conversion which yet remains in me, which definitely does not want to be devoted to God; its nature is to rebel against God and against being His in absolute and perfect love and devotion to Him".

The inward state here discovered is indeed deplorable. One thing signified in it is the presence of certain remaining obstructions still in us which come between us and God, and hinder us in the fullness of devotion to Him. Who is there, for instance, who can say that he has achieved the fullness of obedience to Christ and to His Word in all of the particulars of its teaching? Or who can claim to have attained the proper order, balance, and arrangement among all these things in His devotion of himself to God? And what are some of the things which are amiss, which actually obtain in our hearts and lives?

Loved ones, friends, and people generally, groups and organizations, religious and otherwise-these are allowed to stand in the way between us and our Lord. What happens is that we may say: "I want the Bible; I want the gospel; I want the church; but I don't want this or I don't want that, which, nevertheless, is an integral part and portion of the Word of God, the things of God, and of our duty to God". So it is that many times we actually put Christ against Christ, the Word against the Word, salvation against salvation, the Christian life against the Christian life, and God against God. Also, when this sinful state obtains, it follows that those who stand by the truth and administer rebuke in word and life are not "highly esteemed in love for their work's sake" but are simply looked upon as troublemakers.

Yet who is there of all the friends of Christ and the servants of God who does not to some extent put men and the things of men before the things of God? Yet when this is done, as we all do it! a creature, a human being, is put before God the Creator, and we make more or less of a god of that person. Thus we all need to be reminded of this saying of our Saviour, "He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:37).

What we have just been considering is not to be wondered at when we remember that to be devoted to God means to know and to live up to the Word of God. How much there is in the Bible! How much to be learned in the system of truth and life which is given therein! Yet we are holy and good only to the extent to which we live according to the Bible, and our thoughts and lives are in subjection to the law and the authority which exists in every word of God.

Over and against this obedience and conformity, and always opposed to it, is. the divided state and condition of our hearts. One may be able to say with Paul, "I delight in the law of God after the inward man", and, if so, may praise God for it; but must go on to say, "But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members". In the depths of the heart one may indeed be "dead to sin", even as dead to sin as Christ was dead to sin for him, in His death for his sins on Calvary. By that same grace of God, as one sees Christ's death applied to him in heart and life, he may justly reckon himself to be "dead indeed unto sin". Yet there it is: sin in us; sin in ourselves, as well as in others; in the world and in the invisible realms outside the bounds of our visible life.

Thus one may be absolutely and in principle Christ's and "in Christ" and devoted to God, and yet be compelled to acknowledge sin in the heart and sin in the life. Indeed, to the very extent to which we are, in ourselves, both in principle and in practice devoted to Christ, will we recognize the presence of sin in ourselves. And as we grow in grace and progress in the Christian life, there will be not only a progressive intensification of the sense of sin but also the discovery and elimination of actual sins. As we grow in grace we learn to' distinguish the things that be of God from those that be of men (Matt. 16:23), and the determination of the one, in distinction from the other, will tum wholly and solely upon the teaching' of God's Word. All thoughts, all feelings and impressions are to be tested by it; and the principle of propriety as determined in accordance with Scripture is one which applies to everything in the world and in life.

It would be rather futile and vain to bring this to a close without attempting some sort of practical application. There is, as we can clearly see, no limit to the number of things which might well be suggested. Yet one thing seems to impress itself, and that is the matter of the appropriate attitude in the circumstances..Let us say, for instance, the matter of our attitude in prayer. Would it not be appropriate to pray to God that the Spirit of God might put us under conviction of sin in one way or another, perhaps in several ways together, possibly in many ways? "In many things we offend all" (James 3: 2 ). Is not this the first great need, at the first and from first to last, in our Christian lives, that the Spirit of God might perform His work in us in putting us under conviction of our sins?

The other side of this matter, and ever a most blessed thing to consider, is that there is never anything in us and in our hearts more pleasing unto God than the sinner's cry, "God, be merciful". The sad fact is that idols of various sorts have been usurping God's place in our hearts and lives. We may as well confess to them here and now for one day we shall have to confess them in the presence of Christ, Then out with them and away with them here and now! And let us say with Ezra to the Lord our God, the God of Israel: "Behold, we are before thee in our trespasses" (Ezra 9:15).

The late Rev. John C. Rankin was pastor of Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church located in Worcester, New York.

Reprinted from the Presbyterian Guardian, Volume 13, No 1, January 10, 1994. The OPC Committee for the Historian has made the archives of the Presbyterian Guardian available here.


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