We Are Graven on the Palms of His Hands


I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.

John 10:28-29 NLT

Security is something we all long for in our in our relationships, especially in our relationship with God. We want to know that God will not turn his back on us in our greatest hour of need. We want to know that God the Father will be there when we fail. We want to know that God’s love for us is not dependent on the quality of our prayer lives or the perfection of our walk.

Jesus gave his disciples a word about their security in him and that word is for us as well (Isa. 49:15-16). Jesus said that he knows us personally and intimately in that he calls us by our individual names (John 10:3). Jesus grants us eternal life, not a finite experience, or temporary thrill, or a fickle fate, but a life lived in the presence of God, secure in his love forever (John 10:28). Jesus promises us that we will never perish, we need not worry about being cast off (John 6:37) or abandoned to Satan’s devices (John 10:28).

We are secure, we are engraved in Jesus’ palm (10:28) and we are held in the Father’s hand (John 10:29). We are a gift of the Father to the Son, the Father does not take back his gifts (10:29). Jesus and the Father are in complete unity of being, purpose, and goal: no conflict between them over their determined love for us (John 10:30).

If God would commit to rebellious, stiff-necked Israel his covenant love (Isa.49:15-16, 54:10), how much more are we secure in the work of the cross, the power of the resurrection, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the promises of the new covenant.

What matters supremely is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it — the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind.

All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is not a moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.

This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort — the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates — in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.

J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 41–42, emphasis added.

HT: Desiring God 


Truth Obeyed Will Heal

If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.

John 7:17 ESV

Obedience is truth obeyed. Obedience is synonymous with the idea of surrender: we choose to yield our wills, desires, and goals to the control and leadership of the Holy Spirit. Obedience is driven by the desire to please our Heavenly Father through our attitude and actions. We value the leading, guiding and directing of the Holy Spirit more than our personal preferences and opinions. Obedience not only involves acquiescing to the direction of our Father, but also involves delighting in his purposes for us. We acknowledge that God’s Word is true and always trumps our our selfish wants and wishes.

Healing is made effective in our lives not by navel gazing, but by obeying the will of God. Often we wait for some great supernatural experience to take away our hurt, but God challenges us to abide in him, to love him, and serve others. Obedience, not self-centeredness, brings a deep inner healing of the heart. At times our inner pain is great, but God’s grace received through obeying his word brings deep and abiding healing.

Truth obeyed, said the Puritans, will heal. The word fits, because we are all spiritually sick — sick through sin, which is a wasting and killing disease of the heart. The unconverted are sick unto death; those who have come to know Christ and have been born again continue sick, but they are gradually getting better as the work of grace goes on in their lives.

The church, however, is a hospital in which nobody is completely well, and anyone can relapse at any time. Pastors no less than others are weakened by pressure from the world, the flesh, and the devil, with their lures of profit, pleasure, and pride, and, as we shall see more fully in a moment, pastors must acknowledge that they the healers remain sick and wounded and therefore need to apply the medicines of Scripture to themselves as well as to the sheep whom they tend in Christ’s name.

All Christians need Scripture truth as medicine for their souls at every stage, and the making and accepting of applications is the administering and swallowing of it.

J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 1990, reprint (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 65, paragraphing added.

HT: Justin Taylor

Do We Care About Communing with God?

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.

Eph. 3: 17-18 NLT

Communion with God is sharing in the presence of God: speaking and being spoken to by Him. Communion with God is participating in the life of God: an encounter that is loving, grace-filled, and life-changing. Communion with God is experiencing the constant, conscious presence of the Holy Spirit: we are never alone or forgotten. Communion with God is heaven on earth: a foretaste of the life we will live in heaven. Do we make it our daily goal to pursue communing with God as we go about our daily tasks? Is his presence our heart’s desire?

Whereas to the Puritans communion with God was a great thing, to evangelicals today it is a comparatively small thing.

The Puritans were concerned about communion with God in a way that we are not.

The measure of our unconcern is the little that we say about it.

When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christian acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology—but rarely of their daily experience of God.

Modern Christian books and magazines contain much about Christian doctrine, Christian standards, problems of Christian conduct, techniques of Christian service—but little about the inner realities of fellowship with God.

Our sermons contain much sound doctrine—but little relating to the converse between the soul and the Saviour.

We do not spend much time, alone or together, in dwelling on the wonder of the fact that God and sinners have communion at all; no, we just take that for granted, and give our minds to other matters.

Thus we make it plain that communion with God is a small thing to us.

But how different were the Puritans! The whole aim of their ‘practical and experimental’ preaching and writing was to explore the reaches of the doctrine and practice of man’s communion with God.

J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (reprint ed., Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 215.

HT: Justin Taylor


Common Mistakes in Hearing God

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

Col. 3:15 ESV

As believers, we enjoy the God’s personal presence through the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we can and should experience an on-going conversational relationship with God: speaking to God and being spoken to by his Spirit. The normal Christian life is God speaking, directing, and immersing us in his love. In turn, we can respond in delight by honoring his leadership through obedience to his will. This process of being directed, guided, and led by the Holy Spirit in the affairs of everyday life is called hearing God (John 10:25-30).

God’s guidance rarely involves hearing an audible voice, the Holy Spirit mostly leads through a nudging, quiet, gnawing impression in our spirits. Often, the Holy Spirit uses “sanctified reasoning” and “the peace that passes all understanding.” (Phil. 4:7) to lead us. Not every word from the Lord need be dramatic or overtly supernatural.

We must be careful when we feel “leadings of the Spirit,” caution should be our watchword. Our moods can mislead, our emotions are fickle, and our impressions change with the weather. Our sense of guidance must be saturated with the Word, our direction needs to be affirmed by spiritual leadership, committed friends, and loving family members. Our prayer time needs to be focused, deliberate, and yielded. Laying our desires, wants, and ambitions at the foot of the cross will protect us self-deception.

In the late nineteenth century . . . it became common among evangelicals to expect something . . . startling . . . whenever far-reaching decisions had to be made, particularly with regard to career and marriage. People hoped and prayed for, and expected, some sort of supernatural indication from God as to what they should do, and in its absence they felt obliged to say, “Well, I haven’t received my guidance yet.” What kind of indication was being looked for?

At the very least, a powerful feeling of “rightness” in connection with one of the options, or possibilities, between which one was trying to decide. But was their expectation of guidance by distinctive feeling, or vision, or voice, in such cases really warranted? Moses, Paul, Gideon, and Amos were being directed to forms of service that they themselves never would have dreamed. Therefore, only through a conscious encounter could God communicate to them the task he had in store for them. Decisions about whether, or to whom, to commit oneself in marriage or whether to offer [oneself] for the pastorate, at home or abroad, hardly come in that category. Expecting special, supernatural direction for these and similar decisions was surely a mistake . . . .

Certainly, the fallout from the mistake, if mistake it was, has been decidedly unhappy: bewilderment, depression, guilt, inaction, desperate dependence on inner urges, random decisions at the end of the day—all because no supernatural indication of this kind of desire has been given. The root of the mistake, it appears, was twofold: (1) an underlying mistrust of Christian reasoning, as not in itself a sufficiently spiritual activity, and (2) an undue reliance on significant gusts of emotion, whether euphoric or gloomy, to show how one stood with God in relation to this or that particular problem. . . .

Yet the way to pray about these matters has not really changed. With regard to a career, the proper prayer is: “Give me clarity as to what line of work I can happily follow for life, should the form of employment with which I start last for life.” And with regard to marriage, the proper prayer is: “Give me clarity as to whom I can loyally and wholeheartedly love for life, assuming many years together before death brings a parting.” The answer to both prayers will be, precisely, the clarity that is asked for, and the sign of its attainment will be an inner peace that says in effect, “You need not churn over this matter in your mind any more; now you know, so you can proceed.”

J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom, God’s Will: Finding Guidance for Everyday Decisions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012).

Wriggle and Make Noises

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

Matt 1:20-21

The doctrine of the incarnation means that Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, is God in human flesh. The great act of God: the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, took upon himself our nature (Phil. 2:6-7). The incarnation is the miraculous bringing together of humanity and divinity in a single person, the Lord Jesus Christ. As Wayne Grudem stated so succinctly, “Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man in one person, and will be so forever” (Systematic Theology, 529). Meditate on these thoughts: God in all his glory, came down from heaven and took on the all vulnerabilities and weaknesses of a newborn child: crying, wetting, hungry, and pooping.

The divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needed to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child . . . The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets.

J. I. Packer


The Disease of Individualism


All Members of Christ’s Body 

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:12-13 ESV

Individualism in the Christian life is a destructive force. Individualism says that I can live the Christian life without the joy of fellowship, without accountability, encouragement, guidance, and the sacraments. An individualistic mindset avoids authority, responsibility, and community. It says that I can live the Christian life without you, the body of Christ. I don’t want to be challenged. I don’t want my blind spots exposed. I don’t want to minister to needy people and serve others. I want to do my own thing  just me, my Bible, and God.

Individualism says that I am not answerable, responsible, or obligated to anyone including friends, family, and church leaders. It is a form of self-deception, masking itself as a “leading from God,” but portraying an attitude of rebellion toward God and his delegated authorities.

Individualism fails to understand that the day we were baptized, we were ushered into the Body of Christ and placed in covenant relationship with other believers (1 Cor. 12: 12-14). Individualism refuses to acknowledge the biblical truth that we cannot grow in our relationship with Jesus without the help and assistance of other believers (Eph. 4:11-13).

The Christian life is a “new community: a new family, a new pattern of human togetherness which results from the unity of the Lord’s people in the Lord, henceforth to function under the one Father as a family and a fellowship.

J. I. Packer, “The Gospel and the Lord’s Supper,” in Serving the People of God: Collected Shorter Writings of J.I. Packer, 4 vols.  (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 1998), 2:44

By becoming a Christian, I belong to God and I belong to my brothers and sisters. It is not that I belong to God and then make a decision to join a local church. My being in Christ means being in Christ with those others who are in Christ. This is my identity. This is our identity. . . . If the church is the body of Christ, then we should not live as disembodied Christians.

Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church (Wheaton, Ill, Crossway Books, 2008), 41.


God-Given Impressions

God’s Leading

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.

2 Cor. 2: 14 NKJV

As believers, we enjoy the Blessed Trinity’s personal presence through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Therefore, we should experience an on-going conversation with God: speaking to God and being spoken to by his Spirit. The normal Christian life is God speaking, directing, and immersing us in his love. In turn, we can respond in delight by honoring his leadership through obedience to his will. This process of being directed, guided, and led by the Holy Spirit in the affairs of everyday life is called hearing God (John 10:25-30). God’s guidance does not usually involve an audible voice, but the Holy Spirit leading through a nudging, gnawing impression in our spirit.

Impressions need to be suspected before they are sanctioned and tested before they are trusted. Confidence that one’s impressions are God–given is no guarantee that this is really so, even when they persist and grow stronger through long seasons of prayer. Bible–based wisdom must judge them.

J. I. Packer, God’s Plan for You (Crossway, 2001), 105.

Conversing With God

A Still Small Voice

And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.

1 Kings 19:12 NLT

Prayer is an ongoing dialogue-a real and intimate conversation-between the Abba Father of Jesus and us, his beloved children. Since prayer is a conversation between us and God, we can expect to be heard by the Holy Spirit and to be spoken to by God. Our conversation with God involves sharing, asking questions, clarifying, and responding. Prayer opens our hearts to God’s presence, our ears to his direction, our minds to his will, and our spirit to his great love. Prayer makes us great receivers of God’s most gracious grace.

Prayer is standing before God transparent and open in a real on-going back-and-forth conversation. In that conversation, we share our hopes, fears, needs, and desires knowing that our Abba Father who cares for us will respond. He will hear our cry and answer: he will move on our behalf and provide what is best for us.

Does God, then, really tell us things when we pray? Yes. We shall probably not hear voices, nor feel sudden strong impressions of a message coming through (and we shall be wise to suspect such experiences should they come our way); but as we analyze and verbalize our problems before God’s throne, and tell him what we want and why we want it, and think our way through passages and principles of God’s written Word bearing on the matter in hand, we shall find many certainties crystallizing in our hearts as to God’s view of us and our prayers, and his will for us and others. If you ask, “Why is this or that happening?” no light may come, for “the secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29); but if you ask, “How am I to serve and glorify God here and now, where I am?” there will always be an answer.

J. I. Packer, Growing in Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994).

What Theologians Are Supposed to Do!

Theology that Quickens the Conscience and Softens the Heart

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

Hebrews 1:1-2

Several years ago, Bishop Charles W. Jones graciously appointed me as his canon theologian. A canon theologian is responsible for advising his bishop in theological matters, teaching the classic truths of the Faith, and encouraging his fellow clergy in the study of the Word of God. I take the task seriously, perhaps too seriously. But, I feel a responsibility to equip the people of God in the truths of God for the upbuilding of the church of God for the advancement of the kingdom of God. Theology need not be a purely intellectual exercise: theology should elevate the people of God into the presence of God for the worship and love of God. Theology should be birthed in prayer, pastorally sensitive, and understandable to the everyday believer. As J. I. Packer states below, theology should clean out the church’s sewers so that God’s truth might flow to the benefit of all.

If our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both; if it does not encourage the commitment of faith, it reinforces the detachment of unbelief; if it fails to promote humility, it inevitably feeds pride. So one who theologizes in public, whether formally in the pulpit, on the podium or in print, or informally from the armchair, must think hard about the effect his thoughts will have on people — God’s people, and other people. Theologians are called to be the church’s water engineers and sewage officers; it is their job to see that God’s pure truth flows abundantly where it is needed, and to filter out any intrusive pollution that might damage health.

J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990), 15.

HT: Ray Ortlund

What Does the Word, “Atonement,” Mean?

The Sacrifice for Sin

For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past . . . .

Rom. 3:25 NLT

Last week, a young man in my parish, asked what the word, “atonement,” meant. His request made me go back and rethink my answer. In summary, atonement is the work that Christ did in his life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, which provided the way for us to come back to God in right relationship.

J. I. Packer writes “Atonement means making amends, blotting out the offense, and giving satisfaction for wrong done; thus reconciling to oneself the alienated other and restoring the disrupted relationship” (Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Belief). I have heard several preachers reflect that atonement means “at-one-ment,” Jesus’s sacrifice has given us the opportunity to be in “oneness” with our heavenly Father.

God displays his righteousness by judging sin as sin deserves, but the judgment is diverted from the guilty and put on to the shoulders of Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God acting as wrath absorber. The atonement had to be costly because it was necessary in light of the nature of God, which must inflict retributive punishment on sin. A marvelous wisdom of God consists in his establishing the Lord Jesus as our representative and our substitute because only he could bear and absorb the judgment due to us. Being our representative makes him our substitute, and so he suffers and we go free . . . .

J. I. Packer, “The Necessity of the Atonement” in Atonement, ed. Gabriel N. E. Fluhrer (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2010), 15-16.

HT: Of First Importance