Today we are continuing to consider God’s many gifts to us and the response or the effect that each gift has in our lives. When the series started three weeks ago, we reflected on God’s mercy and our response of worshipping God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind. Then a couple Sundays ago, Pastor Karl shared with you about the incredible gift of grace that God has given us through Jesus, and we respond by being people who share God’s grace with others. And last Sunday, Pastor Karl spoke about forgiveness and how it is through forgiveness that we have joy. And today we are reflecting on God’s gift of godly knowledge and the impact in our life of godly living.
Now with all of God’s gifts, we don’t receive the blessing and benefit of the gift if we don’t open it up and use it. And we won’t open God’s gifts if we don’t think that we need them. We won’t open up God’s gifts of mercy, grace and forgiveness if we don’t think that we need them. And our resistance to opening one of God’s gifts is perhaps greater when it comes to the gift of knowledge from God, because our pride kicks in and none of us want to admit that we are lacking in knowledge. But our behaviour reveals that we do lack knowledge.
Let me give you an example to show you what I mean. This summer, on one of our many trips back from the Prairies, Susan was driving and I was sitting in the front passenger seat. As we approached a spot on the highway where we were going to turn off, I gave Susan some advice about her rate of speed and direction. Now here’s the thing: My advice was not asked for, my advice was not needed and my advice was not given in a gentle and loving manner. I was back-seat driving, except I was doing it from the front passenger seat. And, as a result of my back-seat driving, a chill settled over our relationship. And when this kind of thing happens in our relationship, Susan and I both know that eventually we will have to talk about what happened in order to re-right our relationship. But we also know that some time needs to pass before we have that conversation.
So, a little while later, Susan and I got together and began talking about what happened. And the conversation went like this. Susan said, “You don’t trust me and you don’t trust the way that I drive.” And I said, “That’s not true. I trust you to drive our kids all over the place.” And she said, “No, you don’t trust me. You say that you do, but the way you act tells me otherwise.” And I knew that she had nailed the truth of the situation. Susan was right. I didn’t really trust her driving and my lack of trust was revealed by my nagging behaviour. You see, our behaviour reveals what we truly believe. And I realized in that moment that both my beliefs and my behaviour needed to change if I was going to live like I really trusted Susan.
In the book Faith and Doubt, John Ortberg refers to three levels of belief or conviction that we tend to have: 1. There are our public convictions, the things that we say we believe. 2. There are our private convictions, the things that we think that we believe. 3. And there are our core convictions, which are the things that we actually believe at the core of our being. And here is the thing, though it is possible for us to say we believe one thing and do another, and it is possible for us to think we believe one thing and do another, it is impossible for us to hold a deep, inner conviction about something and then behave in a way that violates that deep, inner conviction. You will not act in a way that opposes something that you believe to be true at the deepest level of your inner self. And so, our behaviour reveals what we really believe to be true at the core of our being. So what does your behaviour reveal about what you really believe to be true? If you are like me, your behaviour reveals that there are some discrepancies between what we say we believe and what we really believe.
In Freedom Session, participants are given a questionnaire called a Spontaneous Inventory that they are encouraged to fill out whenever they find themselves experiencing emotional upset or backtracking into old bad habits. And I have to be honest with you, I do not like these Spontaneous Inventories because they force me to face the truth about what I believe at the level of my core convictions.
In order to give you an opportunity to examine what you believe at the level of your core convictions, I am going to invite you to do part of a Spontaneous Inventory with me. First, I am going to ask to think of a challenge you are facing in life and the way that you are reacting to that challenge. The challenge could be a relational conflict, or a health challenge, or a relapse of a bad habit or addiction, or something else altogether. And let’s pause for a moment and ask the Holy Spirit to bring our minds the issue that he wants us to think about.
Dear Holy Spirit, you know what is going on in our lives better than we do. We pray for the courage and the strength we need to go where we do not normally want to go. We pray that you would bring to our minds the issue where there is the greatest difference between what we believe to be true at our core and what you know is true. Lord, we pray for your wisdom and your godly knowledge. Speak to us through your Word so that we can align our core convictions, and our behaviour, with your truth. Sanctify us by the truth, your Word is truth (cf. John 17:17). Amen.
So, with an issue in mind, let’s consider these questions:
- Do I believe that God cares about this issue?
- Do I believe that God can help me to deal with this issue in a better way that I can?
- What kinds of things do I keep doing or thinking when this issue arises in my life?
- How would a person who believes that God cares about this issue respond in this situation?
- How would a person who does not believe that God cares about this issue respond in this situation?
- What do I really believe about God on this issue?
- Why is it difficult or painful for me to believe God cares and can help me deal with this issue?
- Am I willing to believe that God cares about me in this issue and that He is able to help me? 
Unless we are willing to answer a whole-hearted yes to this last question, there is no point in trying to move forward towards healing and wholeness. You see, there are two keys when it comes opening the gift of godly knowledge and the first key is our core beliefs about the Giver. If you want to your life to change, then your core beliefs about the nature of God need to align with what God says is true. If you don’t believe that God is powerful, wise, good and able to help you with your problems then you are stuck with a God of your own making that is too small to really help you.
The real God, the one described in the Bible is an infinitely wise God. We read in Psalm 8, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? (Psalm 8:3-4) How many of you have been outside the city sometime and stared up at the stars in wonder and amazement? The infinitely wise Creator who placed all of those stars up in the sky is same God who has an infinitely wise solution for the challenge you are facing in your life right now.
The real God tells us that he loves us, both at a universal and a personal level. For example, God’s love for all humanity is made known in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). But God also tells you that he loves you as an individual. In 1 Peter 5:7 we read, “Cast all your anxiety on him [that is, God] because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7). God’s love and knowledge of you and your personal circumstances is so intimate that Jesus tells us that God knows the number of hairs on your head (Luke 12:7). For some of us, God does not need to count as high as He used to.
The real God also tells us that he has a grand plan to restore you and all of creation. In the beginning, God created all things good. Then the Fall came and all Creation became broken. Sin and death infiltrated the whole world and a huge chasm opened up between heaven and earth, between human beings and God. But God, in his wisdom and love, sent his Son Jesus to pay the full price of forgiveness for all sin in the whole world. By suffering and dying on the cross and rising again, Jesus became a bridge between God and humans, between heaven and earth, between death and life, between guilt and forgiveness, between shame and a new identity as a beloved, forgiven child of God. And one day, Jesus is going to return to this earth and purge all evil, correct all injustice and restore all creation to the life-giving wholeness God originally intended from the beginning. Jesus will raise you from the dead and give you new resurrection bodies that will never grow old, get sick or die and you will see Jesus face-to-face.
When it comes to the gift of godly knowledge, our core beliefs about God’s wisdom, love and plan need to line up with the truth. But there also needs to be receptivity towards that godly knowledge in our hearts. And receptivity consists, first of all, in having a heart that is soft towards God. A heart that is soft towards God will trust God. To flesh this out a bit, having a heart that is soft towards God means trusting that God loves you and wants what is best for you. It means trusting that God cares about the everyday situations that you face. And it means trusting that God has a better solution for the challenge you face than anything you could come up with.
Receptivity in our hearts also means having a teachable spirit. To have a teachable spirit means that if you have the character flaw of pride, like I do, you will have to admit it and ask God to help you deal with your pride. Having a teachable spirit also means being willing to change your thinking and behaviour. Having a teachable spirit means being willing to make a decision to stop thinking and doing old thought and behaviour patterns and to start thinking and doing new thought and behaviour patterns that align with what God tells us is true.
And so, with a true understanding of the Giver and receptivity in our hearts, we are now ready to open the gift of godly knowledge. And opening the gift of godly knowledge simply means listening for the guidance of God’s Spirit speaking to us through His Word and applying what God tells to our lives. Opening the gift of godly knowledge means taking off the old self (Eph 4:22) and putting on the new self (Eph 4:24) and it results in godly living. And what does godly living look like? Eugene Peterson, in his paraphrase of the Bible called The Message, says it far better than I ever could in Ephesians 4:
Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.
25 What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.
26-27 Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.
28 Did you use to make ends meet by stealing? Well, no more! Get an honest job so that you can help others who can’t work.
29 Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.
30 Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.
31-32 Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.(Ephesians 4:22-31 The Message)
That’s what godly living looks like.
The Christian faith is different than any other religion in the world. Every other religion says that the purpose of godly knowledge is to show us how to live godly lives so that we can be saved. Christianity says that we are already saved because of Jesus Christ. And the purpose of godly knowledge is to show us how to live out the new life that Jesus has already given us.
And Jesus is here with us in a special way today. In this sacred meal we call Holy Communion, Jesus gives us His Body and Blood. It is in Jesus that we have the life, the forgiveness, the joy and the peace that we need. And so, in this meal, Jesus gives us Himself so that we will know that he really loves us, he is really with us and we really are forever safe with him. Jesus is both Giver and Gift, and that is the best kind of knowledge we could ever have. Amen.
(Shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on August 17, 2014.)
 John Ortberg, Faith and Doubt (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 42-49. Also found in “Faith and Doubt: Week Three,” http://www.southportpc.org/old_pdf/faith_doubt_week03.pdf. Ortberg is referencing the work of philosopher Michael Novak in describing the three levels of conviction.
 Ken & Bonnie Dyck, The Next 90 Days (Freedom Session Resources, 2009), 75.