He Who Justifies The Wicked Is An Abomination

“He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.”

– Prov 17.15

Wait.  What?  Doesn’t the entirety of our hope, doesn’t the core of Christianity center on sinners’ justification?  Doesn’t Romans 4.5-8 say: “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works, ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.'”

How then does God justify the wicked without being an abomination to Himself?

What does it mean to justify?  Merriam-Webster defines it as “to prove or show to be just, right or reasonable”.  Often times in church circles we like to play a word game with the gigantic doctrine of justification defining it as “just-as-if I’d never sinned”.  This is simply not true.  All of our deeds are written down.  And we will give an account for everything that we have done (2 Cor 5.10).  And God is holy; He does not sweep our sins under the rug.  He hates sin.  Nahum 1.2-3 says “the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.”  Yes, God is love.  But he does not just let things go.  All sin will be punished, one way or another.  Either eternally, in Hell by the sinner – or on the cross.

But the question still stands:  How does God justify the wicked?  How does he show the wicked to be “just, right or reasonable”?  How does he legally declare us not guilty, without being an abomination to Himself?

When one is saved, he is saved from his sin to Jesus Christ.  Being saved means being unified to Christ (Col. 3.13ff).  Salvation is a progressive story that first happened to Jesus.  The foundational problem that all of humanity has is that God is angry at sin.  He is a wrathful God.  So Jesus propitiated that wrath!  Jesus perfectly obeyed and kept the Law of God.  Jesus died, and was resurrected – receiving newness of life, regeneration, justification, sanctification, glorification.  Yes, I realize that these are all giant theological terms that speak to the different aspects of salvation.  But suffice it to say that Jesus was fully human and fully God.  He never sinned, and therefore he did not deserve to die.  Deut 21.23 says that the one who is hanged on a tree (cross) is cursed of God.  Jesus became the curse – he became sin (2 Cor. 5.21) when he died on the cross.  And when he was resurrected he was justified.  Therefore God justified Jesus – who was not wicked – and He took our punishment that we deserved.

If you are in Jesus, this justification is yours!  Because to be hidden in Christ means that when God looks at you, he sees the identity of Christ.  We are now one with Him, as He is one with the Father (John 17.11, 21).  If you are in Christ, all of the aspects of Christ’s atoning work belong to you.  Thus the Bible uses the imagery of marriage – when you get married, everything that your spouse owns now belongs to you as well.  Or the imagery of Jesus as the head and the Church as the body:  you cannot separate the head from the body and still have life!  The head cannot be saved without the body being saved as well!

In conclusion, God does not justify sinners – in the sense that he does not look at one who has offended Him and deserves His wrath and say, “It’s OK, no big deal”.  He does not sweep sin under the rug.  And therefore He is not an abomination to Himself, letting sin go.  God poured out the fulness of His wrath on His undeserving son.  He punished all of the sin that those who are being saved will ever commit in the person of Jesus Christ.  And those who are being saved are found IN Christ, and since Christ paid for those sins, we – being one with Christ – are forgiven.  Our sins were paid for, mind you, in the person of Christ.  When God looks at us, His anger is appeased and He sees the blood of Christ covering us.  The sins of those who are not being saved will also be punished.  In eternity.  In Hell.

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Why Did Jesus Speak In Parables?

I was brought up my entire life in church.  I have heard many parables that Jesus taught repeatedly, and without fail – throughout my lifetime – the teacher/small group leader/whomever has either stated or implied that the reason Jesus spoke in parables to the first century Jews was to make Spiritual truths understandable.  For instance the parable of the soils:

“And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, ‘Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up.  Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil.  But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.  Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out.  And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty , and some thirty.  He who has ears let him hear.”  (Matt 13.3-9)

To Jewish farmers the parable of the soils makes the spiritual truth of people’s reaction to Jesus and the Gospel understandable, right?  Well the disciples came up to Jesus and asked him why he spoke to the people that way.  His answer is astounding:  So that they will NOT understand.

“Jesus answered them, ‘To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted…Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”  (Matt 13.11, 13)

Luke’s account of the gospel notes the same truth in Ch 8.  This is huge.  I mean, it is completely the opposite of what we assume and tell ourselves about the mission and purpose of Jesus.  But if we keep reading in the passage, we see that Jesus – by speaking these things to them, but closing their minds so that they could not understand, was fulfilling two prophecies:  Is 6:9 & Ps 78.2.  He intentionally spoke hidden mysteries from the beginning of the world, and he intentionally hid them from some people.

Now, my western 21st century American entitled mind says “that’s not fair”.  This is a deep, and profound question:  Is it loving or good of God to hide things (namely His truth) from people?

In this blog, I want to speak specifically to the purposes Jesus had in His ministry.  Later we will discuss more overarching themes and doctrines.  But throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry he was slightly mysterious before his audience as to his mission/purpose.  The Jews were looking for a Messiah who would come as king – who would defeat the Roman oppressors, set them free, restore to them the land of Israel and reign as King David had.  So Jesus totally blasted their expectations out of the water.  He set them free eternally instead of temporally.  Throughout his Earthly ministry Jesus regularly told people not to tell others what He had done for them.  After raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead He warned them to not tell anyone (Mark 5.38), He told the leper whom He had cleansed to tell no one except the priest (Matt 8.4), and two blind men to whom He gave sight were “sternly warned” to tell no one (Matt 9.30).  There are many examples of Jesus’ odd statements where He preformed miracles and told the recipients to remain silent.  He did this and instructed his followers to not proclaim his identity as Messiah to fulfill prophecy:  “…I will put my spirit upon Him and He shall proclaim justice to the gentiles.  He will not quarrel, nor cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets…” (Matt 12.18-19, referring to Is 42.1-2).  He also was progressively revealed as God and as the Messiah, and Jesus was very purposeful about his timing – at one time choosing to not accompany his brothers to a feast because His “time had not yet come” (John 7.8).

Jesus was purposeful in the entirety of his earthly ministry.  He proclaimed truth, affirmed His own deity and conquered death by dying on the cross and raising again.  After his earthly ministry was completed, he instructed his followers to go to the ends of the Earth proclaiming this salvation.  But there was a period of three years where he was fulfilling prophecies, establishing his authority, training disciples, and setting the stage for His greatest work:  The work of redemption.

Yes.  There are eternal and doctrinal implications to the fact that Jesus spoke in parables such that people could not understand.  And only the small part of the answer is the fact of the timing and purposefulness of Jesus’ identity and plan being revealed to the world.  The rest, the greater, the more amazing and also more controversial doctrines – we’ll save those for another post.  But.  Let us rejoice!  Because if you do understand these parables, if you do embrace the grace of God over your life in salvation, “to you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven” and “blessed are your eyes because they see; and your ears, because they hear.  For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matt 13.11, 16-17).

Therefore Choose Life.

“I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.  So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give them.”

– Deuteronomy 30.19-20

I think it is so dynamic that God paints such a black and white picture here.  We can choose life or death.  We can choose to live under the blessing or the curse.  Who would knowingly choose death?  Or the curse?  But we do it everyday!  This is a direct quote from God.  And what does God say choosing life is?

  1. Loving the Lord your God
  2. Obeying His voice
  3. Holding fast to Him

The foundation is love.  We must know Him and enjoy Him!  Obedience without love is futility.  And we cannot hold fast to Him if we do not obey Him.  Choosing life is a progression.

Choosing life over death might sound good, but when we understand what it means exactly, perhaps it looses some of it’s appeal.  Less time living for ourselves, focusing on ourselves, pleasing ourselves and more time living for God, focusing on Him and pleasing Him.  But how do we come to the understanding that living for ourselves is death?  It is the curse?  For myself, it doesn’t take long to live for pleasure and realize that it is not satisfying.  Yes, I truly enjoy riding my motorcycle.  The road.  The solitude.  The scenery.  Working the bike.  But after a few hundred miles my rear end gets tired.  The sound of the pipes deafens me.  The hotels get expensive.  My dad likes to joke that he loves getting on his motorcycle, and he loves getting off.  Worldly pleasures are fleeting, but God does not disappoint.  His mercies are fresh and sustain for eternity.  If God is boring to you, the problem is not Him.  I guarantee it.

And once we know Him, obedience to Him deepens our connection because we need the power of the Spirit to obey.  And by relying on the Spirit to obey, we cherish and hold fast to Him.  Let us strive to know, obey and hold fast to God – and therefore have life and blessing!  This passage actually says that our obedience to God and our life are dependent on and determined by our love for Him!  Now, I in no way  am proclaiming a prosperity Gospel – God knows and determines our steps and he numbers our days.  But our days are full and established, according to this passage, by our love, obedience and clinging to Him.

Crown Him With Many Crowns

Crown Him with many crowns,
The Lamb upon His throne;
Hark! How the heav’nly anthem drowns
All music but its own!
Awake, my soul and sing
Of Him Who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King
Through all eternity.
 
Crown Him the Lord of love!
Behold His hands and side—
Rich wounds, yet visible above,
In beauty glorified.
No angel in the sky
Can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends His wond’ring eye
At mysteries so bright.
 
Crown Him the Lord of life!
Who triumphed o’er the grave,
Who rose victorious to the strife
For those He came to save.
His glories now we sing,
Who died, and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring,
And lives that death may die.
 
Crown Him the Lord of heav’n!
One with the Father known,
One with the Spirit through Him giv’n
From yonder glorious throne,
To Thee be endless praise,
For Thou for us hast died;
Be Thou, O Lord, through endless days
Adored and magnified.

 – Matthew Bridges & Godfrey Thring

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases…

This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.  The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.  “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.”  The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.  It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the Lord.

– Lam 3.21-26

This passage has long been one of my favorites.  I learned it in song form as a child, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end.  They are new every morning, great is Thy faithfulness Oh Lord…”

I have heard all sorts of arguments about whether it is necessary for one to have their quiet time, or time alone with the Lord, first thing in the morning.  Some argue that they just aren’t morning people, some don’t have time, whatever.  Some Christians wake up in the morning fully aware of their sinful nature and despairing of life and have nowhere else to turn but God, and they cling to him first thing.  Some wake up refreshed and invigorated but after the burdens of the day: trials, sin, life, etc, they need to run to the arms of the Savior in the evening.  I personally wake up grumpy.  I need God to transform my heart and mind.  Every. Single. Morning.  Those who know me well can tell within a few minutes of talking to me if I have spent time with the Lord yet.  Maybe some day I’ll grow up.  Maybe someday I’ll be that constant, steady, mature believer that I song long to be.

But regardless of when during the day you find that you must meditate on and turn to God, the fact remains the same.  His mercies are new every morning!  His steadfast love never ceases.  I hope that I can say with Jeremiah that the Lord is my portion, and that I wait on Him.  Let us wait on the Lord.  Let us seek after Him.  Because it is good that we wait silently for His salvation!

Now, I do not think that to wait silently means to be quiet about our faith.  No!  We are called to go, share, make disciples, speak boldly and firmly about the Truth of Jesus Christ.  But I think this means let us not question God.  Be silent before Him.  “Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God” (Ecc 5.2).  Because to wait on the Lord, to have hope in our future salvation is to trust Him and His perfect plan.  Have peace that He is in control.  Do not stand arrogantly before the throne questioning Him, but be confident in the creator of the universe to do exactly what He promised to do:  to “work all things together for good to those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8.28).  If you love God, you were called according to His purpose.  He has a plan.  Let’s trust Him.

Drifting Towards Hell

Life is a river, and it is drifting towards Hell.

– John Piper

One of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity is that of “human depravity”.  Traditionally all Christian denominations have embraced this Biblical teaching that man in-and-of himself is sinful and can do no good on His own.  That is why we are in need of a savior!  The Bible says that all have sinned (Rom 3.23), but more importantly that if you are not of God you are of the Devil (Matt 12.30, John 8.44, 1 John 3.8).  “By this the children of God and the children of the Devil are obvious:  anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” 1 John 3.10.

The mid 20th century saw an emergence of new thought in Western culture that has attempted to affirm that people are actually good in nature.  Because we have a God-given conscience, we can do good things of our own initiative.  It has so permeated our culture that we are teaching our children “I am a good person.  I will go to Heaven because I am basically a good person.”  And then we live to please ourselves.

The Bible paints a very different picture, however.  Hebrews 12.1-4 admonishes us that we need to pay extremely close attention and glory in our salvation “so that we do not drift away from it”.  And drifting away is defined in verse 3 as neglecting so great a salvation.  Jesus said that we must fight for holiness, that we are not of the world to the point that the world hates us (John 15.19), and James said that to be a friend with the world makes you an enemy with God (James 4.4).

To be lackadaisical, to not pay God attention is to not honor Him and to therefore be against Him.  This grates against our flesh – we think, “No I’m not doing anything wrong or bad” – but the Bible teaches us that to drift is to be of the world.  To not be purposeful about pursuing God is the way of damnation.  Let us be sober minded, and let us rejoice and meditate on the glory of our salvation (1 Cor 15.34)!  Let us not drift, letting the raging current of society sweet us into eternity separated from God, let us anchor ourselves to the Rock.

Run To Win!

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win.  Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things.  They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

– 1 Cor. 9.24-27

There are so many analogies of running a race in the New Testament, painting an imagery of life.  Heb 12.1-2 is one of my favorites, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…”  The idea of purposefully laying aside not only sin but the daily things that squander our time – things that are not necessarily bad in-and-of themselves, but things that take our eyes off of Jesus.

But this 1 Cor passage strikes me differently.  The reason is because I ran Cross Country in High School.  In Indiana the girls only ran a 4k race.  Only.  Each team had 7 runners, the fastest 5 scoring for their team.  So imagine an invitational.  Even if only five schools were represented, there were 35 girls running.  I was never the fastest on my team.  At best I ran 2nd, often 3rd.  So on average, that put me placing approximately 15th overall for a 5-school invitational.  The only blue ribbon I ever received was if our team won.  My coach always encouraged us: “the pack” he called us.  We had a couple of really fast girls but the strength of the team he said was in the pack and if we could all move forward as a group we would shave points off the overall score.  I bought his encouragement because I knew I would never run as fast as one of my good friends who could knock it out in 15 minutes.  So I just ran “my best race” and settled for being mediocre.

But this passage doesn’t say to settle for your best race.  This passage says to run in such a way so as to win!  And the way to do that is to exercise self-control in all things.  Olympic athletes – even most collegiate athletes – think about everything that they eat and drink.  They regulate sleeping time, plan work outs, disciplining themselves mentally and physically.  A term I have read in multiple books is “planned neglect”.  You will never excel in something if you try to do everything – therefore you must plan to neglect those things that distract you from your goal.  Do I plan to neglect Facebook or The Walking Dead, or anything else that will distract me from knowing God more?  Am I sacrificing, disciplining, scheduling, anticipating every aspect of life so as to excel in knowing God?  To win?