Did Jesus’ death pay for the sins of everyone?

the cross

Sometimes we get a little confused in our language when we communicate.  The telephone game is a childhood favorite that not only provides us an entertaining challenge but teaches the terrifying reality that communication is difficult.  One person intends to communicate a fact, but because of the cultural background, the vocabulary proficiency, the paradigms, and belief system of the hearer – let alone any physical malady that might impair hearing or ability to comprehend – more often than not that which is heard is not the true message of the speaker.  This is why we have tests in the educational system.  This is why we have checks and balances in the work place.  This is why we take classes on communication.  This is why we have marriage counseling.  Concepts can be lost, terms can be wrongly defined and intentions can be misinterpreted.  Therapists and counselors readily teach people the habit and skill of repeating back what they have just been told – in their own words – to confirm that they have rightly understood the intention and communication of the speaker.

Slight misunderstandings of truth have the ability to compound upon each other over generations and over time.  One such tragedy in the Church is today’s inclusivist teaching that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, therefore no one will go to Hell.

In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.  He created Adam and Eve and put them in a garden called Eden giving them one prohibition:  do not eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.  Scripture does not tell us how long they lived in the Garden in communion with God, but eventually Adam and Eve ate the fruit.  They disobeyed God.  They sinned.  And because of that one, very small sin, they were cursed, condemned and removed from the presence of God.  Through one man, sin entered the world, and all of creation was cursed (1 Cor 5.12-21).  God immediately took an animal, killed it, and used the skin to make clothing for Adam and Eve to cover them (Gen 3.21).  This was the first sacrifice for sins which set the stage for all of history.  Scripture teaches us that “the punishment for sin is death” (Rom 6.23), and that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb 9.22).  Therefore Adam and Eve continued to make sacrifices to atone for their sins throughout their lifetime, as did every person who feared God until the time of Jesus.

Everyone will die a physical death because we have all sinned.  The physical penalty for sin is death.  The Spiritual penalty for sin is eternal separation from God – damnation (Matt 25.31-46).  Sin is our problem.  Sin is what separates us from a perfect God.  God hates sin.  He condemns it.  He judges it.  He promises that He will never acquit the guilty (Ex 23.7, Nah 1.3).

The progression of our misunderstanding, however, began with a wrong understanding of our sinful nature.  For the last five hundred years or so, there has been debate over whether or not human beings are fundamentally good beings or evil.  When the conversation first began, the Church had councils and meetings and declared that Scripture teaches plainly that we are wicked (they used the term “depraved”), and they declared anyone who would say that human beings are fundamentally good are heretics – non Christians who pervert the Scripture and lead people astray.

Scripture teaches us that apart from God we are Spiritually dead:

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”

– Eph 2.1-2

Scripture also teaches us that there is none righteous and none who seeks after God of his own will:

“As it is written, there is none righteous, not even one.  There is none who understands, there is non who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, not even one.”

– Rom 3.10-12

We were enemies of God, we were sons of the devil, we hated God.

“…because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

– Rom 8.7-8

“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

– John 8.44

Unfortunately, this heresy and exceptionally dangerous teaching has continued to flow into conversation and hearts throughout the years.  It does ebb in popularity when we find ourselves in major crises, however.  The Church by-in-large believed that the world would continue to get better and morph into the thousand year reign of Christ between the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the dawn of World War I.  This is when the popular beliefs of a pre-tribulational rapture and a-millenialism were birthed.  However, once humanity returned to her true colors on a global scale through WWI and the atrocities of WWII, people returned to a Biblical understanding of our wicked nature.  The last seventy years in the West, however, have lent us to entertain this dangerous belief – even in the midst of wars in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq and many more, as well as the growing reality of terrorism and unrest even in our own communities.  It is almost like we have stuck our heads down in the sand and proclaim that a little love will reveal a terrorist to truly have a good heart, rather than recognizing our own tendencies towards evil.  But that is another conversation for another day.

Compounding the difficulty of our misunderstanding of the human nature is our misunderstanding of the nature of God.  We cling to those glorious biblical truths that “God is love” (1 John 4.7-8), that He is merciful (Deut 4.31), that He is kind (Ps 36.7), and most importantly He is gracious (Titus 2.11).

These truths have been erroneously applied to our worldview such that we think human beings are not really that bad, and God is gracious and loving, so He would never judge or condemn us – He will forgive us.  A loving God would never send someone to Hell, because we are all basically good.  We just make mistakes.  We cling to verses like 1 John 2.2 to appease ourselves:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

So we are left to simply ask the question, “for whom did Jesus die?”  The emerging popular belief is that Jesus died “for the whole world” – therefore He paid the penalty for every sin of every person, therefore everyone is safe.  The popular teaching for the last thirty years which has led us to this terrifying state of misunderstanding is “Jesus died for everyone, we only have to believe and receive it”.  This is a half truth that leads us to the heresy we are facing today.

Why?

Because either a sin has been punished or it has not.  If Jesus paid the punishment for my sins, then there is nothing left for which I would be condemned.  People go to Hell because of their sin, not because they rejected Jesus’ sacrifice.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

– 2 Cor 5.10

“But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.”

– Rom 2.5-8

Jesus came to the world to take care of our sin problem.  We could not appease the wrath of God by making sacrifices or tying to be good enough.  Every sin will be punished – either in Jesus on the cross, or in us eternally in Hell.

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

– 2 Cor 5.21

The answer to the question is simply:  Jesus died for those who would be saved.  This does not compute in our finite, worldly minds because we do not have God’s sovereignty or perspective outside of time.  God not only knows who will be saved, He chooses them, gives them to Jesus, gives them the gift of faith, sanctifies them, and makes them righteous.

“Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”

– Eph 1.4-6

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”

– John 6.37

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

– Eph 2.8-9

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

– Phil 1.6

“…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

– Phil 2.13

To summarize:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”

– Rom 8.28-3

What then does the Bible mean, “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2.2)?  And, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3.16).  In order to understand this, it is important to remember the context of the New Testament letters.  Throughout history until this point, God had chosen the Hebrew people as His own.  They were commanded not to intermarry with other nationalities, they were commanded to remain separate and to keep themselves pure from the world, other cultures, other religions, and other influences.  When Jesus came on the scene, He fulfilled the promise to Abraham that through Him, all the nations of the world would be blessed (Gen 12.2-3).  Jesus blew open the doors of salvation to include people from every tribe, tongue and nation (Rev 7.9).  It is not every person in every tribe, tongue and nation, but individuals from every tribe, tongue and nation.

This was difficult for the Jews of the day.  Many Jewish believers remained separatists.  Many Jewish believers tried to force the Mosaic Law on non-Jewish believers by compelling them to be circumcised.  The Old Covenant had taught them that an outsider could settle amongst them if and only if they were circumcised.  We even see Peter stumble in adapting to this paradigm shift – the very one to whom Jesus gave a vision about reaching non-Jews and the first one to lead an entire non-Jewish family to faith in Jesus (Gal 2.11-13).

Therefore we rightly understand John to be teaching us that Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of Jews, but also for the sins of people from every tribe, tongue and nation.  The whole world.  The word “world” here literally means cosmos, the sphere of the world.  It is, in fact, the Greek word “κόσμος” which transliterates “kosmos”.  We must take the context in consideration alongside the entire teaching of Scripture to come to the full understanding that God loves and has chosen people from every nation, and His sacrifice paid the punishment and debt for people from every nation.  We know those people whose debt has been paid by their belief and repentance.  Reading the fullness of John 3.16 shows us that Jesus’ death only paid for those who would believe, and those who believe are those to whom He gives faith:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

– John 3.16-18

There is an offering of grace to everyone.  Theologians call this “general grace” and a “general calling”.  Scripture is abundantly clear, “All who believe will be saved”.  But Scripture is also abundantly clear that God puts it within some to believe.  If you hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and desire to be saved, God Himself has put it in you to believe!  So believe and be saved!  To everyone else, the Gospel is foolishness.

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

– 1 Cor 1.18

We, however, do not have that insight of God to know who will be saved.  We also have been commanded to preach the Gospel boldly, at all times, and make disciples of every nation (2 Tim 4.2, 1 Peter 3.15, Col 4.5-6, Mat 28.18-20).  Thus we must proclaim the Gospel to everyone and trust God to provide the fruit.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.”

– 1 Cor 3.6

Will everyone be saved?  No.  Because not everyone will believe.  Those who believe have made an unthinkable exchange with Jesus whereby He took our guilt and shame and by paying the penalty for them was free to give us His righteousness (1 Cor 5.21).  There is now no condemnation because every sin we have ever committed and will ever commit has already been punished in Jesus.

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

– Rom 8.1

There is, however, still condemnation for those who are not in Christ Jesus.  And that is because their sins have not been punished and will be punished in eternity.

Therefore, let us take seriously the command of Jesus to get out and share the Gospel with everyone.  Let us have compassion on those around us who do not yet know Jesus, considering their eternity and be the mouthpiece by which Jesus may instill faith in their hearts!  Let us serve and honor Jesus by obeying Him in sharing and let us be used by Jesus to make disciples of every tribe, tongue and nation – all to His glory!

Excellence

respect

I work for a Christian NGO.  My full time job is managing volunteers who come in to help us sort, inventory and package donated product that we ship around the world for community development and disaster response.  We are big enough and offer enough volunteering opportunities that many non-Christian groups will come to volunteer, many having heard of us but unaware that we are in fact Christians.  The most beautiful part about my job is that I get to share the Gospel with these volunteers before we get to work!  I have had a variety of responses – believers are regularly excited and encouraged, I have led a few people to faith, and I have had some bawk at our faith.  The normal responses, all in all.  Last week I had a group of people in, and at the end of the shift a man in his mid to late forties caught me to chat.  He asked if we were always open for volunteers and I told him our schedule.  Then he stated,

“This is good.  Even though you are Christians, you are doing a good thing and I will come back!”

Of course I giggled to myself and quickly told my friends from small group what he said, but then I began contemplating and wondering what could his life experiences have been that this was his first positive exposure to Christians?  How could it be that he expected Christians to be doing not good things?

This reflection is cause for conviction on all levels.  Am I personally impacting my immediate world by serving them for Christ?  Is my Church actively involved in serving the community?  Or do we just host a private party every week?  Am I, are we, impacting the world?  Are we behaving in such a way that people expect us to be wicked, unloving, or confrontational – just like the world?

We have been commanded to glorify God in everything that we do (1 Cor 10.31).  Our primary drive and concern should be to do what pleases Him because we love Him.  When we spend time with Him, our hearts become aligned with his and we enjoy to do the things which He commanded.  We will not function in perfect love all the time, however.  Thus God gives us other incentives to obey.

“Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.  Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.  For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.  Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.  Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”

– 1 Peter 2.12-17

Out of love we obey God, and our obedience looks like excellence among non believers.  This is an easy test:  does our behavior look excellent to those around us?  Or is it just normal?  Acceptable?  We should go above and beyond – and part of our motivation will be so that they will glorify God, and part of the motivation will be so that we can “silence the ignorance of foolish men”.  Have you ever had someone lash out at you or watch you from a distance, expecting you to react like the world – and you shocked them by responding in love?  Have you ever had someone lash out at you or watch you from a distance expecting you to react like the world and you did exactly that – tainting your witness?

We are free.  God has forgiven us of our sins so that there is no longer any condemnation.  But this is not validation to act however we want, it is freedom from the bondage of sin to obey God and glorify Him.  We do not use our freedom as an opportunity for evil, rather we exemplify the love and grace that we have been shown to all around us, and in doing so we silence those who expect us to be wicked like the rest of the world.

Do you honor all people?  Love the Church?  Fear God?  Honor the president/government?  As we continue through this election season, particularly, let us be thoughtful and intentional with our words and actions.  Let us honor all people, love the Church, fear God and honor the president.  There are times that we honor the office and not the actions of the man or woman, but we must keep our behavior excellent among the world so that they will know God and glorify Him!

So you had an affair. Now what?

restoration

Yesterday I wrote from the offended spouse’s position on adultery.  But there are two sides to every story.  There are two players in marriage.  If one spouse is cheated on, then the other spouse is the one who cheated.  If you have come to God for salvation, confessed your sins and begun a Spiritual walk with Him, then chances are high that the Holy Spirit has been all over you throughout your experience of infidelity.  As with most sin, it did not start big, some naked woman did not just jump in your bed.  Perhaps a love scene in a movie caught your attention and you curiously sought out pornography, which after a while could no longer satisfy your desires so you sought out a living person.  Perhaps you reconnected with an old friend on Facebook, and after a few messages decided to meet up just to check in and say hi.  Perhaps you found yourself at lunch at the same restaurant as that hottie at work, and both being alone you decided to sit together and slowly lunch became a habit, and then lunch turned into a relationship.  Yes, it is possible that you intentionally went out looking for a rush outside of your marriage, but much more common is the “it just happened” story.

The first step in moving past any infraction is the recognition of the sin.  God says that any infidelity is sin:  fornication, pornography, a one-night stand, an ongoing affair and even lust.  We all feel badly when we get caught in our sin, and thus we must examine ourselves to see if our sorrow and grief is because we got caught or because we recognize our sin and its offense to God.

We also cannot justify ourselves in our sin.  There is no excuse before God for any sin, and that includes infidelity.  Will your spouse not be with you?  Perhaps you are serving in the military and are serving overseas for long periods of time.  Perhaps your spouse is incapable for the time because of an illness or injury.  There is always a back story, and usually a reason that some people might use to appease their guilt, but when you have fallen into sin it is of utmost importance that we recognize it, confess it, and leave it there.  God does not justify the guilty, nor should we.

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

– Prov 17.15

After we have confessed our sin, we then begin the long process of restoration.  Unfortunately, in the church today, adultery and divorce are the scarlet letter from which people are rarely restored.  Usually such a one will have to find a fresh start, move somewhere where no one knows him, find a new job and new church, and keep his secret until enough years have passed that he has proven himself “of good reputation”.  But this time of restoration and reconciliation is one of the greatest privileges and benefits of the Church body.  If your church is harsh and judgmental towards a repentant sinner, then spearhead the change!  Everyone who has been forgiven must forgive one another when they repent.  The greater we recognize our own guilt and condemnation before God, the more we can pour out grace on one another and push one another on to holiness.

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

– Matt 6.14-15

“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

– Luke 7.47

Scripture teaches us that sexual sin is indeed a “special” sin, in that by doing it you sin against your own physical body.

“Flee immorality.  Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.”

– 1 Cor 6.18

It is also the primary offense which allows people to divorce their spouses (Matt 5.32).  But it is not special in the sense that it will bring any extra judgment or disqualification upon you.  If a person has broken any of the Law of God, he is guilty – and that unto eternal damnation  – be it lying, greed, murder or infidelity (James 2.10).

Therefore, once we recognize and confess our sin, we must also recognize that there is nothing that can separate us from God, no sin that He will not forgive, and no sin that can forever disqualify us from serving Him.  Perhaps the most beautiful example of this reality is King David.  He was God’s chosen man, he served God tirelessly throughout the years that he was waiting to be appointed as king after Saul.  God blessed him, and he prospered. While the nation was at war, he saw another man’s wife taking a bath and he called to have her brought to the palace.  He slept with her and she became pregnant.  In an effort to try to cover up his sin, he had her husband brought home from battle so that he could sleep with her and believe the baby to be his, but the man was so honorable that he would not be with his wife while his men were fighting.  David’s response?  He had him killed.  That way he could marry the woman and have her for himself.  After all of this had taken place, David confessed his sin and repented, and while there were consequences for his sin, he was still king and still called, by God, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam 13.14).

Now, even if you have been engaged in an ongoing affair, I highly doubt that you have had your partner’s spouse murdered to cover up your affair.  And if you have, then there is still hope for you!

God can and will restore anyone who repents from his sin.

Before we move directly into fighting the sin, the offending spouse must also recognize that this is indeed grounds for divorce.  The offended spouse is required to forgive the offending spouse, but the trust may be broken to the point that the offended spouse chooses to leave, and is Biblically free to do so.  This is simply the consequence of the sin that the offender must be prepared to accept.  If the offended spouse does not choose to leave, then the road to restoration will probably be a long one.

Moving forward will require trust to be rebuilt and temptations to be fought.  Accountability and instruction will be key here.  In short:  get help.  We are given the body of Christ to hold one another up, to push one another on, and to help one another out.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

 – Heb 10.23-25

Chances are extremely high that there is someone in your church who has walked where you are walking.  Whether your marriage has remained together or not, if there is any variation in demographic within your body, someone has fallen and been restored.  If not, then your pastor will know of someone, or a solid counselor.  Confess your sin to such a one:  someone who can help you grow and hold you accountable.  And then set for yourself a structure of accountability.  When someone else knows your sin, you are much less likely to commit it again.  And when you know someone will be asking you directly about your temptations and weaknesses, you are even less likely to give in.

Replace the sin with something God honoring.  If you have been indulging in pornography, focus that time and energy into getting to know and enjoy your spouse again.  Find a hobby, pursue your spouse or pray.  We must have a “go to” when we are tempted.  The immediate response should be claiming the promises of Scripture and prayer to redirect our minds and hearts, and then another activity in its place.  If you intentionally fight for your marriage in the wake of those desires, you will achieve the goal:  restoration.

Understand also that trust takes time to be rebuilt, and you will need to be an open book to your spouse.  Answer any questions they have, and allow time to grieve.  If the offended spouse does choose to remain in the marriage, the expectation is to forgive.  The affair cannot be held over the head of the offending spouse forever, there must come a time when the marriage moves on.  The offended spouse will probably find help and counseling from the spouse of the person who is counseling you.  Meet as a couple with that couple who has found victory.  Or meet as a couple with a counselor or pastor.  Reconciliation is two sided and unforgiveness is not acceptable.  The offending spouse, however, cannot lord this over the offended spouse.  Patience will be key.

There are many books that have been written on the topic, and it is not my intention to exhaustively walk a marriage through restoration.  Simply to note that infidelity is quite common, even within the Church, and there is hope both for the marriage and for forgiveness.

It used to be believe that once someone has broken his vow of marriage, he is forever of ill repute.  The pious would quote the guidelines for Church leadership and automatically disqualify anyone (and usually only those) who has fallen into sexual sin.

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.”

 – 1 Tim 3.2-3

Some would even go so far as to say that the offended spouse, after choosing to leave the marriage, would forever be disqualified from serving God for having been divorced.  They would say, “You are no longer above reproach” – forever.  I have heard this very statement with my own ears.   Isn’t interesting that to such a one, the God of all grace can forgive every sin except infidelity?  And such a one would label divorce the unpardonable sin, when God Himself is the one who gave us instructions for how to rightly utilize divorce?

Do not listen to such a one.  In fact, run hard the opposite direction if someone tries to tell you that you are no longer fit to serve God.  Yes, it will take time for your reputation to be restored and for your office to be returned, but in the same way God loved, kept, forgave and used King David, He can and will love, keep, forgive and use anyone who repents.

This is a very serious sin, but God is infinitely bigger and is not shocked.  He can forgive; He will restore anyone who turns to Him.

Sin is crouching at the door.

door blood

In the beginning, God created man and woman.  He placed them in a Garden called Eden and they lived there happily with God, without any experiential knowledge of sin.  They did have intellectual knowledge of sin, having been given a command not to eat the fruit off of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and also the consequence for doing so.  But having not yet disobeyed, they could remain in God’s presence and were not yet separated from God.  We do not know how long Adam and Eve remained in the garden, but we do know that they ate the fruit and were kicked out.

They had two children, Cain and Abel, and Cain felt challenged by his brother being jealous that Abel found favor with God.  We see that God was not please with the type of offering that each boy made to God, but with the heart behind it, and thus God came and directly confronted Cain about his attitude:

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry?  And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?  And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’”

– Gen 4.6-7

Unfortunately, Cain did not listen.  Out of his jealousy, Cain lured Abel to a field and killed him.  One generation into the existence of mankind, and we have the very first murder – brother against brother.

God’s statement to Cain is profoundly simple.  Sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for him – and for us.  We must master it.  This is the theme of Scripture.  This is the theme of the history of mankind.  We have a problem, and it is our sinful nature, and we must master it, be freed from it, be forgiven for it.

The remainder of the Old Testmanet teaches us, however, that we are completely incapable of mastering it on our own strength.  We can never make ourselves good enough to remain in God’s presence again, because His standard is perfection.

This is the very reason that Jesus came.  He came as an act of love, but the reason He had to come was because of our sin.  Every sin has to be punished, because God is just and righteous – He cannot overlook any sin and just sweep it under the rug.  So Jesus died to pay our debt of punishment for sin, that we can be forgiven and welcomed into God’s presence without sin.

After wiping our records clean, Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to empower us to fight against sin.  We cannot glorify God in our actions on our own strength and conviction, we need His strength to push us along and enable us.  Thus the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives to convict us not only of sin, but of righteousness.

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

We must be careful to balance our attitude towards sin, however.  It is a restless evil, and it will destroy us.  Hebrews tells us that if we continue sinning after we come to Jesus for salvation, that we are not saved but still on our way to Hell (Heb 10.26).  Thus we must recognize that the reason Jesus came was to pay our debt, and we gratefully receive his pardon and respond by allowing the Holy Spirit to change us and quit sinning.

If we set out to earn God’s favor by changing on our own strength, we will fail because we can never reach perfection.

But we must change as an act of worship, reverence and respect for God and His salvation.

Many today err on the side of legalism, trying to earn God’s favor, but many more err on the side of our “religious liberty”.  When Jesus rose from the dead, He fulfilled the Law and therefore some of the ceremonial laws which were established to set the Hebrew people apart as God’s chosen race were fulfilled and therefore no longer need to be kept.  This is what Paul calls our freedom.  We incorrectly apply this reality to ourselves, however, and abuse Jesus’ death on the cross by continuing in sin and making excuses for ourselves.  We must hate those things that God hates, the mark of the believer is one who is being transformed into God’s image, which means conquering sin by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let us not deceive ourselves into resting in grace and continuing in sin.  Grace exists to free us from the sin that lurks at the door waiting to destroy us.

Let us be diligent.  Let us be aware.  Let us fight the good fight, and not allow sin to destroy us.  Let’s submit the power and conviction of the Holy Spirit anew, today!

Why is grace amazing?

amazing grace

Perhaps one of the most well known hymns for the past 250 years.  Isaac Newton was born in 1725, and after his mother died just before his seventh birthday, his father took him to sea with him at the age of eleven.  He grew up on the boat, drinking and carousing and was ultimately enlisted in the British navy.  Hating the service, he attempted to desert and was whipped with eight dozen lashes and lost his rank.  He then served on a slave ship but did not get along with his counterparts, and they left him as a slave to a slave trader in Africa.

John’s father sent a rescue mission to retrieve him and the ship suffered damage during a storm, nearly sinking.  Miraculously, some of the cargo shifted into the hole in the ship’s hull, and John understood this to be the intervention of God.  He continued to work in slave trading, though he began to have more compassion on the slaves.

He left the slave trade and became an Anglican priest, and thirty-four years after leaving the profession, John began fighting against slavery and wrote a pamphlet “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade”.  His efforts ultimately led to the outlawing of slaver in 1807 under the leadership of William Wilberforce.

John wrote the first verse of Amazing Grace while his ship was being repaired after the storm:

Amazing grace!  How sweet the sound,
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

While hunting in Londonderry, Ireland, Newton was climbing up a steep embankment and was pulling his gun behind him.  The shot gun went off, he describes it thus:

“As I climbed up a steep bank, pulling my shotgun after me, in a perpendicular direction, it went off so near my face as to burn away the corner of my hat.”

He understood this to be God’s intervention yet again, teaching him to fear – and finding fear’s only true hope:  Jesus Christ.

Grace indeed is amazing.  But what makes it so amazing is that which it counteracts, and that is the wrath of God.  Without the “bad news”, there can ultimately be no “good news”.  We often diminish the Gospel by placating ourselves and believing that we are good people at the core, that God loves us because of who we are, and that admittance into Heaven is just the icing on the cake.

The Gospel, however, teaches us that we are hopelessly wicked and deserve damnation.  Unless we believe in Jesus and are transformed by the Spirit, we will perish.  We have already been judged and the wrath of God is poured out upon us (John 3.18).  We must grasp this reality in order to understand and appreciate grace.  Otherwise grace is not amazing.

Grace is us receiving what we do not deserve:  eternal life.  The more deeply we understand Hell, damnation, and the wrath of God against ungodliness, the more fully we can appreciate the magnitude and glory of grace.

And it is grace itself which teaches our hearts to fear.  Did you go through a season where your heart feared damnation and a godless eternity?  Did you come to a point where you understood your sin and wickedness?  That was grace revealing your true state.  And grace turns around and relieves our fear by giving us hope through salvation.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ’d!

How amazing is God’s grace to you today?  Let us embrace the holiness of God and His wrath against ungodliness so that grace can be all the more sweeter and glorious in our lives today.

Do you know how much you are worth?

love

Counseling and self-helpism today focuses highly on one thing:  Know and love yourself.  We are already culturally ingrained with our “rights” and personal justice, but depression, frustration and discontentment often set in to our hearts when things don’t go our way, when we fail to achieve a goal, or when life turns out to be different than we hoped or expected.  Our response is to give ourselves a pep talk, and try to force everyone around us to acknowledge our worth.  Suddenly, everyone and everything is beautiful.  We are all amazing.  We all deserve the best.  And the result is expending exuberant amounts of energy making sure everyone is happy, all of our statements are politically correct, and no criticism is offered – aside from pointing out how companies or individuals in power are offending us and our worth.

Christianity has fallen prey to this wicked mindset.  We see it grossly on the macro level, from teachings like “name it and claim it” in the prosperity gospel.  We take promises of Jesus out of context like, “In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.” (John 16.23).  We twist this and believe Jesus to be saying that He will give us a new car, He will give us a new house, He will give us children, He will make our lives easy and comfortable – the only requirement is that we have enough faith!  Therefore say it.  Claim it.  And it will come to pass.  This heresy takes the glory and focus off of Jesus and places is squarely on our shoulders.  If you are suffering, if you are not happy, if your life is not going how you desire – then change your thinking!  If you believe it, it will happen.  God has gone from our Lord to our personal genie.

But we also see it slipping in on the micro level, with less obvious alarms.  We sing songs like: “There could never be a more beautiful you”, we study devotionals about our personal worth: “If you were the only person on the world, Jesus would have still died for you”, we encourage one another when we sin: “Everyone struggles with that, it is just a small sin, don’t beat yourself up over that”.  In fact, we call those sins mistakes, not sin.  And while it is a glorious and unfathomable truth that God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to live a perfect life on the Earth and to take the weight of sin upon His shoulders, suffer and die, the glory and the focus is not on our worth.  The glory and the focus is on Jesus.

Everything happens to the glory of God.  
We exist for the glory of God.
God does not exist for our glory.

“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

– Rom 11. 36

“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

– Phil 2.9-11

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

– 1 Cor 10.31

And the Bible is quite clear about our status apart from Jesus in regards to God’s glory:

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

– Rom 3.23

We have all fallen short of the glory of God.  Without Jesus, without His atoning work on the cross, without God’s merciful gift of salvation through allowing Jesus to pay the penalty for our sin, we deserve Hell.  We deserve separation from God.  We deserve nothing.  That is fair.  That is our worth.

God so loved us that He sent Jesus.  This is not a proclamation of our worth, this is a proclamation of the glory of God!  I am not worthy of Jesus dying for me.  The glory of the Gospel is that I am most assuredly not worthy of His death, but He suffered it anyway.

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

– Rom 5.6-8

Paul teaches us here that a good man, an honorable man might die in the place of someone who is righteous.  A body guard might offer his life for the president.  A father might offer his life for his child.  But none of us – of our own nature – would die for a wicked person.  But God did exactly that.  He saw a world full of people who deserve nothing but wrath, and chose to intervene by sending Jesus to die in our place.  We were sinners!  We were His enemies!  We were dead in wickedness and had no inclination towards Him, whatsoever.

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

– Rom 5.10

“And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach…”

– Col 1.21-22

“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

– Rom 8.6-8

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”

– Eph 2.1-2

There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God, all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”

– Rom 3.10-12

Jesus did not die for us because we were worthy of it.  The Love of God, in offering us a method to be forgiven from and freed from our sin is not because of our value.  Jesus died because of His value.  The love of God is most highly glorious because it worked for our good in spite of us.  The glory of love is not its object.  The glory of love is the one giving it.

The reality is that there can, in fact, be a more beautiful me.  The reality is that I am not worthy of God’s love.  The reality is that life is not fair.  The reality is that God is working all things for my good (Rom 8.28), and for some of us that means He will withhold certain pleasures (2 Cor 12), He will allow temptations and trials (1 Cor 10.13), persecution will come (2 Tim 3.12), and some of us will even be killed for our faith (Matt 24.9).

We will find out greatest joy and our greatest pleasure when we stop looking at ourselves.  We will grow old.  We will get sick.  Our physical appearance will fade.  Telling ourselves we are beautiful and wonderful will not appease those needs and desires within our soul.  We will suffer, we will be persecuted, and we will be required to endure trials.  But if we turn our attention, our focus and our worship to God then we will find the utmost joy and pleasure.  He will mature us Spiritually through trials.  Let us no longer ask, “Do you know how much you are worth?” but rather consider God and how great His love is – who offered His son for our salvation when we did not deserve it.  He is of highest glory and all worth.  He loved us in spite of ourselves.

We are not worthy of God’s love.  We are not worthy of salvation.  And this reality amplifies the beauty and worth of God, and should lead us to love Him more, the be more thankful, to seek to honor Him and obey Him.  Let out lives be a response to the glory and magnitude of God’s love and value, not the value we try to convince ourselves we deserve.

To forgive the inexcusable.

forgive

I was raised in a household that was relatively consistent and God-focused.  We had rules, we had expectations, we had family devotions, and doing the right thing – the God-honoring thing – was praised.  I experienced the loss of a few friends in High School, and learning how to process death and eternity only helped me to develop a more eternal focus as a young person.  The grace of God was praised and understood to be the greatest gift possible, but it was not until I was in my mid twenties that I first-hand understood the expectation, ability and grace of extending the grace that had been given me.

In order to become a Christian, in order to “be saved” or to “be born again”, we must first understand that we are sinners and the eternal consequence of our sin is death and damnation.  That is the very reason that we need a savior.  We will understand that fact on various levels when we come to faith.  A child might understand that disobeying his mother and lying to his friends is sinful and that God is angry about that sin.  An eighty year old man might carry the weight of a lifetime of one particular sin or set of various sins ranging from pride to theft, adultery or even murder.  Regardless of our life experience or age, we must understand the simple fact that we are hopelessly separated from God because of our sin.  This is why Jesus said,

“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

– Luke 5.32

Jesus is not stating here that there are righteous out there, He is making the point that there are none who are are righteous on their own and His purpose is to draw sinners to repentance.  No matter what sin, no matter what age.  If you feel the conviction of the Spirit in your life pointing out sins and drawing you to change, then you are a child of God.  Jesus’ death and substitution in our place is adequate to cover any and all sins, we need only confess them and repent from them.

As we grow in our faith and get to know God more intimately, we will realize progressively the depth of our sins.  Even the eighty year old man who understands a lifetime of sin will walk through a process of maturation and understanding with God after he repents of his sins and begins walking in faith.  And the more we understand our guilt, the more we will understand God’s grace and the depth of His forgiveness.  To this experience, Jesus states:

“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

– Luke 7.47

If you do not understand your sin, your sinful state, and the punishment you deserve, then the grace of God is of little or no consequence to you.  It is no big thing for God to welcome you into Heaven eternally because you think you deserve it, or you only committed small offenses which God could overlook or forgive easily.  The one who is forgiven little loves little.  This means he cannot love God, and he cannot love others.  He will be unwilling to forgive others who offend him, he will be unwilling and unable to offer grace, because he himself has not received it.

The one who has been forgiven much, conversely, loves much!  This person recognizes his sin guilt, is amazed at the grace offered, and responds in gratefulness and love.  This person, in return, can turn to others and graciously love and forgive others who offend him, because he understands the grace that has been given.  And the more deeply we understand the weight of the cross, the depth of our sin, and the measure by which we have been forgiven, the more deeply we will love and forgive others.

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

-C.S. Lewis

It is not every day that someone sins against us in what we would naturally consider an “inexcusable” way.  Different cultures respond to offense differently, and while there are some who tend to harbor grudges and allow feuds and multi-generational hatred develop, every culture and every person has forgiven someone something on some level.  Perhaps someone stepped on his foot, told him a white lie, ate his left overs or borrowed his car and did not fill up the gas tank.  These are easily forgivable offenses for most people.

But consider that God calls our focus and service to self adultery.  He has forgiven us the sin of adultery.  How many people would forgive their spouses the sin of adultery?  And not just a one-time offense, but serial adultery?

God, being holy in nature, cannot overlook any sin, and all sin is punishable by death and damnation.  Adam and Eve brought the curse upon all of creation by eating a piece of fruit that God had forbidden.  Have you ever eaten a forbidden cookie?  God’s holiness will not excuse that, it will only punish it.  If you have confessed your sins and asked Jesus to place that sin under the fountain of His blood, then that sin has already been punished and you are considered redeemed.  All sin will be punished.  Either in eternity through damnation, or in the death of Jesus Christ.  We cannot and should not seek to add to God’s wrath.  Rather, we are commanded to love as He loved us.

Thus, C. S. Lewis states that it is not an option for us to love and forgive, but it is the very mark of a Christian.  If you have been forgiven, Jesus says, you will forgive and love in like manner.

So how is your grudge level today?  How is your forgiveness level?  Are you resting in and praising Jesus for His grace and forgiveness?  Are you pouring out grace and forgiveness in the same manner you are receiving it?  Let us learn to love like Jesus, so much so that we will be known by our love and forgiveness.