What exactly is “Done”?

service

It is a glorious truth that the Old Covenant, the Law which God commanded to Moses and by which the Hebrew people sought to maintain their favor with God was a list of commandments and expectations.  It’s sole purpose, we learn in the New Testament, was to point forward to Jesus and prove the depravity of man.  There is no man who can keep the Law – the holy expectations of God – and make himself acceptable to God (Rom 7).  The New Covenant, the provision which God has offered us through the perfect life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the relief from that bondage.  It had been said that the Old Covenant proclaims, “Do” while the New Covenant proclaims “Done”.

There is no greater gift than grace, the fact that we are incapable of earning God’s favor and yet He loved us enough to punish our sin in Jesus and offer us His righteousness.  Since we are incapable of being good enough, He gave us a substitute.  Jesus took our punishment and paid our debt.  We can be made pure in the eyes of God by being hidden in the blood of Jesus.

When we recognize, however, that Jesus died because of our sin, and when we recognize the weight of the price He paid to free us from the bondage of effort, we learn to love the things that God loves and hate the things that God hates.  We hate our sin.  We hate our sin because it cost Jesus His life, because it displeases God and because it dishonors God.  If there is any sin in our lives that we love or over which we are not broken, it is very possible that we are not saved.

How can we know that?  Simply put, the moment we come to Jesus for salvation – when we recognize our guilt, confess our sins and ask Jesus to cover us by His redemption, we are made Spiritually alive by being given the Holy Spirit to indwell us.  The role of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin and push us on to righteousness:

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

– John 16.8

Therefore, if we are not recognizing our sin, if we are not being convicted of it, and if we are not repenting of it, then we can understand that the Holy Spirit is not at work in our lives.  What should we do if we are in such a state?  Confess our sins and ask Jesus for the gift of the Holy Spirit!  As we develop the Spiritual disciplines of prayer, reading the Scripture and spending time with God, we will know His heart and the Holy Spirit will convict us.  We must be on guard against sin – sin is what condemns us before God.  We cannot drift and expect to grow Spiritually.  We cannot be passive agents in our Spiritual life.  We must press into God and the allow the Holy Spirit to transform us.

“Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer.”

– John Bunyan

Does that mean that the New Covenant does not really mean, “Done”?  This oversimplification of the two covenants can be extremely helpful and at the same time extremely dangerous.  There are different aspects to our salvation, and perhaps the most glorious is justification.  Justification is a legal term by which one is declared redeemed.  It does not mean “Just as if I had never sinned”, because we are not restored to a place of innocence and our sinful nature removed.  It means “punishment paid”.  We all deserve the eternal death sentence for our sin, and Jesus paid that for us.  This is our legal standing before the Heavenly courtroom in which God is the judge, Jesus is our advocate or lawyer and Satan is the prosecutor.  Jesus does not respond to God and try to disprove our guilt when Satan accuses us, He stands there and simply says “time served” for every offense.

In this sense, the New Covenant proclaims “done”.  Once we have been justified, all of our sins past, present and future have been covered.  We are not declared welcome into eternity because our punishment has been served.  However, the ongoing process of sanctification – that change by which we die to our sins and are made more like Jesus – is not completed, and we must be active participants in it.  John Owen paraphrased 1 John thus:

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Jesus said that we will be known by our fruit.  Paul teach us to work our our salvation with fear and trembling, being diligent to fight against sin.  We are not passive in sanctification, we are killing our flesh and pressing on to holiness.  In this sense, our salvation is not “done”, but is in process.  It does not mean that our justification is capable of being lost, rather we prove our justification by pressing on in our sanctification.  We prove that we have confessed our sins and turned to Jesus by hating our sin and ceasing from it.  When we are saved, when we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we love God and we want to honor God, and we understand that our sanctification glorifies God.

“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”

– John 15.8

How then do we balance law and grace?  Do we do what we want, and hope that it is not sinful?  Do we despair when we have to choose to do the right thing even though our hearts are not in it?  C.S. Lewis offers us this beautiful help:

“A perfect man would never act from a sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people) like a crutch which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it is idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits, etc.) can do the journey on their own.”

There will be times when our hearts long for revenge, for sinful pleasure, for indulgence or any other worldly sin.  Even after we have been saved (justified), and even after we have walked for years down the path of sanctification.  Only a perfect man would always long to do what God commands, and we know that we will only be perfected when we shed our Earthly bodies.  Until then, we will be left with the dichotomy of flesh and Spirit.  We are saved and yet still have our sinful nature.  We enjoy the pleasures of sin and the world and yet long for the pleasures of Jesus and eternity.  Thus we utilize the commandments of Jesus as a crutch by which we choose to do the right thing, even when we do not desire to do the right thing.

We continue to “Do” even though our salvation has been secured by what Jesus has “Done”.  We act out of love for God and thankfulness for His salvation, and at times out of discipline – not to earn God’s favor, but to please the one who gave everything so that we might be saved.

Is it wrong to strive?

work

Since the beginning of time, there have been false prophets.  The greatest tactic of Satan is not to completely dissuade people from God, but to twist His words just enough to get people off the straight and narrow – though often times believing they are still on the path to Heaven.  In the Garden of Eden, Satan twisted God’s words – nothing he said to Eve was untrue, it was just a distortion of the truth.  They did not die right away, they did “become like God”, knowing good and evil – but they disobeyed God and brought the curse upon mankind (Gen 3.4-5, 22-23).

The failure of the Pharisees and Sadducees was that they distorted the Law of God, keeping the letter of it without obeying the first and primary one:  to love God.  They added to the Law in order to make their reputation great for being pious without knowing God, thus while they appeared to be holy, they were far from the heart of God.

Jesus Himself warned strongly of false prophets.  He foretold that there would be many who would arise within the Church, who were wolves in sheep’s clothing, who were tares among the wheat – they look just like believers but truly are not (Matt 7.15, 13.25-30).  The apostles and epistles deal with many heresies and distortions of the Gospel in the early church and also continue to warn against false prophets.

And we have seen this trend continue throughout Church history.  This is why councils were held, doctrines defined, heretics discredited and sadly many cults and false churches started.  In the early days there were major disputes about the nature of Christ:  was He man, was He God, was He both?  And these debates led to conversations about the trinity.  Such doctrines we now take for granted, but were difficult in the beginning.  Other false doctrines have been believed at various times throughout history, such as the belief that human nature is good, apart from God, and will seek God on its own.  While it was condemned as heresy early on, as Christianity has become a major world religion and Christians have less conviction to the knowledge of the Word and doctrine, such heresies gain more traction.

Another dangerous teaching was the Keswick movement that started in England in the early 19th century.  Also known as the Higher Life Movement, it influenced many of our heroes in the faith.  The core of the belief system was that the true Christian life required two major crises:  the first led to conversion and the second led to maturity or the “deeper” things of Christ.  They defined these as justification (salvation or conversion) and sanctification (maturity, the deeper things).  This second crisis is similar to the Pentecostal belief of the baptism of the Spirit, and it is called a variety of things, such as “entire sanctification”, “second touch” or “second blessing”.  The benefit of this experience, they believe, is the Christian realizes his unity with Christ and thus can stop striving.  He has that fullest communion with Christ, His joy is complete, the Holy Spirit is living through him, and he can even attain perfection.

As Christians are less and less learned, we are doomed to repeat history (and believe false doctrines)- just like all other disciplines of study and life.  And while there are those who still believe in a second touch – namely the baptism of the Spirit – there are also those who are adapting the “cease striving” aspect of Keswick theology all across the United States today.  This appeals greatly to our culture who has defined herself by individual autonomy, lack of absolute truth and tolerance.  Essentially they are saying it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict of sin and I am a passive agent in my (and other’s) sanctification.

It is indeed the Holy Spirit’s job to convict of sin and righteousness:

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.”

– John 16.8-11

No one can be convicted of sin and long to turn to righteousness without the work of the Holy Spirit.  We cannot drum that up in our own hearts, and we cannot force it upon someone else.  But just because the Holy Spirit works in and through us does not mean that we are off the hook in terms of responsibility before and to God.

Even under the covenant of grace, even with salvation by faith alone through grace alone, the entire New Testament continually commands us to strive, to work, to obey, to die to our flesh, to live unto the Spirit (Luke 13.24, Phil 2.12, Heb 5.9, Rom 8.13, Gal 5.25, etc.).  We must root out sin from our lives, we must be active in our Spiritual lives, and through that we will have peace knowing that our sanctification is being established.  There is a dual responsibility:  the Holy Spirit enabling us, and us doing what He leads and enables us to do.

If we do not work, if we do not fight, the battle between the flesh and Spirit will allow the flesh to prevail:

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.16-17

And we are also solemnly warned that if we continue in sin and do not submit to the sanctifying work of the Spirit and commands of Jesus, we are not saved:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

It is sin alone that separates us from God, and therefore when we are saved, when we are born again and have Spiritual life, the Holy Spirit enables us to fight sin.  We abide in Christ, drawing the life-giving sap through Him, the vine, and thus we are able to die to our flesh.  We see the work He does through us, and because of that we have peace and rest, knowing that our eternity is secure.  The rest is a Spiritual rest.  The peace is the knowledge that no matter what happens to us on Earth, we will one day be glorified with Him.  It is not necessarily temporal peace or rest.

Unfortunately, we take promises that are not for us and try to claim them, like Ex 14.14.  God wanted to show His power to the Israelites and reveal to them who He was, as He was preparing to bring about the Mosaic Covenant with them, write the Law, lead them through the wilderness and into the promised land.  He was revealing Himself to them, and exemplifying His power by parting the Red Sea, providing a way for them, and destroying the Egyptians – all at once (after He had shown His power by the plagues in Egypt).  Thus Moses proclaims:

“The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.”

This was a situational promise, this was to the Israelites while they stood on the shore of the Red Sea.  This is not an ongoing command for how we are (or they were) to live their lives.  As they conquered Canaan, there were times that they fought, there were times that God fought for them.  He likes to change it up and be unpredictable.

There is another verse that Keswick Theology loves,

Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

– Ps 46.10

What does this mean?  If the command is to cease striving, and the response instead is to “know that I am God”, then this is not a command against working towards holiness.  It is a command against proving God.  John Piper gives this illustration:  imagine that you commit a substantial amount of time in prayer, asking God to reveal or give you something.  We ask, we communicate our need, we are emotionally involved.  While we are deep in prayer, imagine God walking up to us with the provision on a tray, handing it to us.  When we finish our prayer, however, we turn around and go right back about our day, instead of looking up and receiving that which He is handing to us.  When we rely on and depend on God, when we ask Him for things, there is a moment where we must receive that which He is giving us.  God has given us provisions for the Christian life, and often times we ask for those things instead of taking them up, even though they are already ours.  If we know that He is God and recognize His gifts and provisions, we receive and our striving in satisfied.  Our sanctification, however is a life-long process for which we continue to work, in partnership with the Holy Spirit.

Sanctification (becoming more like Christ, growing in Spiritual maturity) is part of our salvation.  God promises that all who are justified will be sanctified:

“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 8.29-30

We will have a variety of experiences with God throughout our life, and we might even have a variety of crises.  But there is no Biblical teaching of a second revelation whereby we go into a deeper relationship with God, and the exhortation is clear that we are to work out our salvation continually, and not be passive.  Not only that, but we are to hold one another accountable and help each other work out our salvation.  That is why God gave us the body.

Are you actively working out your salvation today?  Are you fighting for holiness and sanctification?  Or are you just coasting through life, expecting the Holy Spirit to work through you without your participation?  Let’s get up close and personal with Him today.  Let’s be aware of the false prophets and false teachings that have led many astray and fight for the purity of doctrine and belief within our own hearts and churches.  Let’s unite with those around us to push one another on to holiness, and give the Holy Spirit glory for enabling us to obey!

What is a relationship with Jesus?

relationships

If you have been to pretty much any church, Christian concert, Spiritual rally, Bible study or para-church meeting in the last fifteen years, then you have probably heard that Jesus Christ wants to have a relationship with you.  The twenty first century Church has thrown away religion with the mantra of relationship.

I am no longer a Christian, I follow Jesus.

Don’t label me.

 What exactly does this mean, however?  What does a relationship with Jesus look like?  How do I start a relationship with Jesus?

First of all, we must understand that while Jesus does desire to have a relationship with us, there is a barrier in between us.  Every human being who has ever lived is by nature a sinner.  The Bible teaches us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3.23).  And every single sin, no matter the scope, deserves the present punishment of death and the eternal punishment of damnation (Rom 6.23).  So we, as sinners, have an impending judgment (Heb 9.27), and the verdict has been warned in advance.  But not only that, we are incapable of having a relationship with Jesus now because that sin is an offense against Him and has put a barrier between us (James 4.4).  As long as we love the world, continue to sin, and are guilty, we cannot enter into God’s presence, we cannot have a relationship with Him, and we are bound for an eternity of suffering in Hell.

But since God loves us, He sent His only son – Jesus – to live a perfect life on Earth without sin, and then died on the cross taking the punishment that you and I deserve.  Since Jesus never sinned, He did not deserve to die.  But He died in my place, and He died in your place (John 3.16, John 15.13).  The good news is that God loves us so much that even though we are wicked, guilty, and deserving of death and damnation, Jesus paid our penalty so that we would not have to.  In essence, if we receive the free gift of salvation, our verdict from the Heavenly court will read “Time Served” or “Paid in Full”.

But the most beautiful part of the exchange is that when Jesus assumed our guilt, He covered us in His blood and we became righteous.  Holy.  Acceptable before God.  We cannot rid ourselves of sin on our own and be acceptable before God, but by confessing our sin and asking Jesus to forgive us, and turning away from that sin, Jesus’ blood covers us and we are now not only forgiven, but righteous.

“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

When we come to this moment, we have now been forgiven we have now been made acceptable before God, and we can now begin that relationship.  We cannot start a relationship with God until we have gone through that experience.

So, I ask again, what is that relationship?

Consider any relationship.  How do you get to know someone?  You talk to them!  There are a variety of ways that we talk in today’s age:  face-to-face, over the phone, emails, letters, etc.  We tell them about ourselves and we listen and learn about them.  We as Christians are really good at telling God about ourselves in prayer, but we do quite poorly listening to Him.  God created the world and has been at work in His people throughout all of history.  He Himself had scribes write down everything that He felt it necessary for us to know about Himself and His plan for redemption, salvation and the future.  It is all contained in a single book:  the Bible.

“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”

– 2 Peter 1.2-3

Imagine if your new boyfriend or girlfriend wrote you a letter and you only skimmed a bit of it.  Imagine if you kept writing letters to him or her, and never read what your significant other had said to you.  Imagine your embarrassment if you were asking questions that had already been answered in the letters you had!  This would be a one-way relationship that would not last long, because you would be going to get your needs met and not caring about the other person.  Both people need to hear and be heard.  Both people need to love and be loved.  Both people need to be engaged in the relationship, giving and taking.

God is only different in the fact that He does not need us.  But He wants us.  He will not, however, entertain one-sided relationships.  We cannot ask Him to forgive you and then just keep living as though He does not exist.  We must abide in Him, get to know Him, enjoy Him, read His book to us, trust His promises, apply those promises.  We must also talk to Him, confide in Him, tell Him what we are thinking and feeling.  Imagine our embarrassment if we get to Heaven and do not know the things He revealed about himself to us in His word!  Imagine trying to walk through a difficult situation with Him, when He has told us how to handle it in His word, and yet we have not read it yet!  What must God think when we enter into a trial and we pray out, “God I don’t know what to do!” and He has given us clear instructions in the Bible?

And as we get to know Him, through His revealed Word and enjoying His presence, we will learn the majestic reality that Jesus Christ, while He calls us friend, is also King, and Priest and prophet (Heb 7).  Yes, He grants to us to become part of His family, part of His body, and we can approach God in great confidence and crawl up in His lap and call Him “Daddy” (Rom 8.15).  But He is still holy, He is still God, He is still King, and He is still our Lord.  Lord, while an outdated term, is still easily understandable as the one who has final say.  He is in charge and He expects us to do what He says.  If God has defined pride as sin, He expects us to die to our pride and quit sinning.  If God has defined getting drunk and living with someone who is not our spouse as sin, He expects us to stop getting drunk and move out or get married.  If God has defined worldliness as sin, then we need to quit looking and acting like the world and acting like people who love and know God!  He is our Lord, and He expects us to act like it.  That is a facet of the relationship that we hold with Him.

He is also our priest.  This is one of the most difficult realities to grasp, but it is ultimately one of the most comforting.  When we understand the punishment for sin and when we grasp the price Jesus paid to ensure our eternity, the Spirit will convict us greatly when we do sin.  The role of the priest is to stand before God and make a sacrifice to pay for our sins.  He is the one who appeases God’s wrath.  He is the one who intercedes for us.  The doctrine of justification teaches us that Jesus’ death on the cross covered all of our sins in completion, but the ongoing relationship we hold necessitates that Jesus stands before God and acts as our advocate as Satan stands before God as our accuser.  Every time we sin, the accuser says to God, “Did you see that?” and Jesus holds up his hands and says, “It has already been punished”.

“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

“Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

– Heb 7.25

And lastly, He is our prophet.  He has promised us salvation in the end, and He has even given us a foreshadowing of the coming events.

There are many ways that we need to relate to God: through Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We cannot enter into a relationship with God until we take care of our sin problem by confession and repentance.  We cannot get to know God unless we spend time with Him both speaking to Him and listening to Him.  He has given us everything that He desires us to know about Himself in the Bible – and He has even promised that He will not give any new revelation of Himself until He returns to take us home (Rev 22.19).  We must read His Word and we must spend time in prayer.  We also see that God has created us to serve, love and worship Him.  So we will, as believers, spend time praising Him.  Singing of the wonderful things that He has done in history, in salvation, and in our lives today.

Get to know Him.  Read His letter.  Let Him change you.  Spend time with Him.  And Praise Him.  Let Him know what you are thinking and feeling.  And when you need direction, turn to Scripture.  This is a relationship with Jesus.

When does God not hear us?

prayer

You probably read the title of this article and, if you know any of God’s attributes, thought to yourself, “God knows everything, sees everything, hears everything and is in control of everything”.  That is completely true in every way.  But Scripture teaches us that there are times when God does not “hear” our prayers.  This does not mean that God was not present and incapable of hearing, or that something occurred without His knowledge or influence, rather it means that God has chosen not to listen to us or to give credit to our prayers.

“We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him.”

– John 9.31

Wait, what?  Did we not learn in Sunday School that God’s love is unconditional and that He will never leave us and never forsake us?  Scripture actually teaches us that there are a variety of reasons that God chooses not to listen to (regard or answer) our prayers.  The man who was born blind and healed by Jesus stood before the Pharisees and the Jews to give an account of his miraculous healing.  He framed his defense of Jesus for healing him on the Sabbath with this teaching from the Law (the Old Testament) that God does not regard the prayers of sinners but only those who do His will.  This is clearly taught in the prophet Isaiah:

“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short
That it cannot save;
Nor is His ear so dull
That it cannot hear.
But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.”

– Is 59.1-2

God’s ear is not dull of hearing, but sin can separate us from God’s provision.  The people were still God’s people, they had not lost their status, but their choices to disobey had alienated them from the presence of God.  Repentance was required before they could resume normal relationship with the Lord.

We learn in Jeremiah 11.11-14 that worshiping idols will keep God from listening to our prayers, Isaiah 1.15 says that violence and shedding of blood will close God’s ears, and Jeremiah 14.10-12 says that a general forsaking of God will break that fellowship.  There are all varieties of ignoring God’s Law:

“He who turns away his ear from listening to the law,
Even his prayer is an abomination.”

– Prov 28.9

Apart from blatant disregard for the Law, there are also sins of omission and general life-choices that can distance us from God, like ignoring the poor:

“He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor
Will also cry himself and not be answered.”

– Prov 21.13

And perhaps the most convicting of all is to ignore the calling of God on your life:

“Because I called and you refused,
I stretched out my hand and no one paid attention;
And you neglected all my counsel
And did not want my reproof;
I will also laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when your dread comes,
When your dread comes like a storm
And your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
When distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call on me, but I will not answer;
They will seek me diligently but they will not find me,
Because they hated knowledge
And did not choose the fear of the LORD.”

– Prov 1.24-29

God is very clear that coming to Him for salvation requires repentance.  It will not be complete, and it will be a life-long discipline, but if one chooses to refuse to repent and continues in sin, He will not hear his prayer.

Now, you might be tempted to object with the observation that most of these quotes are from the Old Testament and the Old Covenant.  When Jesus died on the cross, he justified us – He paid for every sin that we would ever commit.  He adopted us as sons and daughters, made us family, and promised to never forsake us.  YES!  This is the glorious truth of the New Covenant and the promise of grace.  Nothing you can do is unforgivable.  But the life of the one who has been justified is marked by continual repentance.  We will be known by our fruit.  If we refuse to give up a sin, if we refuse to repent, then we prove ourselves to have not been justified.  That is why we have ominous warnings like that found in Hebrews:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

This is also why Jesus taught us that we cannot have any unresolved conflict in our lives when we come to Church to worship:

“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”

– Matt 5.23-24

Our prayer, praise, offerings and presence at Church will be fruitless if we have any un-repented sin in our lives.  God will not honor it.  Not only that, but there may be consequences and ramifications for dishonoring God in such a way:

“Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.  But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.  For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.  But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.  But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.”

– 1 Cor 11.27-32

Paul taught the Corinthian church that by taking the Lord’s Supper with un-repented sin in their lives, God was disciplining them – some to the point of death!  God takes sin, repentance, and His glory so seriously that He will not excuse it.  Notice here, that this is not condemnation but discipline.  Those who have been forgiven are still the children of God and He is disciplining them by bringing sickness and death for unrepentance, in order to keep them from falling away completely.  God uses discipline:  sickness, persecution and even death to make us holy.

Scripture also teaches that if we choose sin over God continually, that there can come a time when we are unable to repent:

See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.  For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.

– Heb 12.15-17

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.

– Heb 6.4-6

This is a terrifying situation.  We know that God is sovereign and working out the salvation of all who have believed (Phil 1.6, Phil 2.13), so those who have been justified will not be lost.  He will not forsake us (Heb 13.5), Jesus will not lose any whom God has given to Him (John 6.37-39).  But it is entirely possible for us to come to God with the wrong heart and motives, and to deceive ourselves into thinking that we have been saved when we indeed have not.  That is why John says some will go out from the Church – and in that they will prove that they were never truly saved.

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”

– 1 John 2.19

So what is the take home in all of this?  God does not heed the prayers of the unrepentant.  We know that believers can have a season of unrepentance and sin, but God will draw them back ultimately.  He will not regard their prayers in that time, however.  We also know that people can believe that they are saved by but by living with sin in their lives and choosing not to repent, they prove themselves to not truly be believers.  Peter teaches us plainly that a man who does love His wife as God loves the church will not be heard by God:

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.  To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.  For,
“THE ONE WHO DESIRES LIFE, TO LOVE AND SEE GOOD DAYS,
MUST KEEP HIS TONGUE FROM EVIL AND HIS LIPS FROM SPEAKING DECEIT.
HE MUST TURN AWAY FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD;
HE MUST SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT.
FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE TOWARD THE RIGHTEOUS,
AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER,
BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL.”

– 1 Peter 3.8-12

If you have come to God for salvation, repent of your sin.  Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any sin in your life and to give you the strength to fight it.  This is the heart that God hears.  This is the prayer that God answers.  And ask in faith, because the one who is blown about by doubt will not be heard either:

But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

– James 1.6-8

If you can repent today, do it!  Walk in union and harmony with God.  Be at peace.  God’s love and forgiveness is indeed conditional:  you will not be forgiven and welcomed into His presence and eternity unless you confess Jesus as your Lord, and let Him reign over your life.

“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

– Rom 10.9

This does not mean that we will live lives of perfection.  We will all sin, and when we do sin we have an advocate in Jesus (1 John 2.1).  This means that we live lives of repentance.  When you screw up, when you tell a lie, when you steal something, when you cheat on your taxes, do you hear the voice of the Holy Spirit convicting you?  Do you confess what you did as sin, and seek to make restoration for what you did?  Do you repent?  If so, then you can be confident and assured of your salvation because you can see the fruit of the Spirit redeeming you and making you more like Christ.  Ask God to give you a heart of repentance and to recognize sin, and He will perfect in you the work of salvation.

“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

What does Mardi Gras tell us about ourselves?

mardi gras

Yesterday was Mardi Gras, 2015.  While it came and went for many of us without notice, it was celebrated in all its glory in New Orleans and many societies around the world in a manner we can all describe and know.

It originated as a day of self examination and repentance.  A few hundred years after Jesus returned to Heaven, Christians began practicing forty days of fasting before Easter, to examine their lives and repent of any sin that was present, following the example of Jesus fasting in the wilderness for forty days.  Taking into account the six Sundays that would stand between the Easter celebration (which were not days of fasting), they came to note “Ash Wednesday” as the marker for the beginning of the fasting season.  Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday, was an opportunity for the believer to consider the changes that needed to be made in his life, and eat one last fatty, heavy meal before the season of fasting and repentance began the next day.  It was a feast, celebrating “Three Kings Day” , or the Epiphany, which celebrated the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Over the years, it has been greatly distorted and abused, culminating in its current form of debauchery.  Here in Denver last night, I saw a neon sign on the side of the road that read “Beads for boobies”, and we are familiar with the traditions.  I am pretty confident that celebrating Jesus’ incarnation and self examination of sin is not best exemplified by drunkenness, exhibition and partying.

So what does our current state of “celebrating” Mardi Gras say about us?  I fear it exemplifies a lack of understanding about grace.  There are many protestant denominations that claim a doctrine loosely defined as “Once Saved, Always Saved”.  This is an elementary explanation of the doctrine of Justification.  Justification is that exchange that happened when Jesus took our guilt and punishment on the cross, and we take his standing of righteous.  It is erroneously defined as “just as if I’d never sinned” by many – but the heart of the understanding is correct:  We can now stand before God righteous, holy, clean and acceptable.  It is not “just as if I’d never sinned” because Jesus paid the penalty.  The punishment was not wiped away, the guilt was not overlooked, it was dynamically judged on the person of Jesus.  But the exchange of our guilt for Jesus’ righteousness is what happens.  The doctrine of “once saved always saved” looks at that exchange and argues that Jesus cannot un-pay our debt of punishment.  Once the debt has been paid, we are found pure in Jesus.  Once we are given Spiritual life by repenting, we are Spiritually alive – we cannot be unborn.

And while these things are true and taught throughout the New Testament, they are not a license to sin.

“Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.”

– 1 Peter 2.16

“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

– Gal 5.13

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?  May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?  Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?”

– Rom 6.1-3

These types of verses had to be written because people misunderstood (and still misunderstand) grace.  Because Jesus has paid our penalty, we should stop sinning.  Why? Because every time we sin we essentially put Jesus back on the cross.  And if we understand from what we have been saved and if we love Jesus and praise Him for what He did, we will never want to dishonor Him and put Him back on the cross (Heb 6.6).

But Mardi Gras shows that we think little of sin, that we consider ourselves good enough, and that God – if He even exists – will accept us just how we are.  It shows that a season of fasting and focusing on God is actually a chore and a burden, so we are going to take a night (or a few days in some places) to binge on worldly pleasures and make ourselves feel good.  We are Spiritually anorexic.  We binge and purge on sin, hoping that we will be skinny and beautiful while still getting to enjoy those things that we like the most.

Please, consider the origins of the debauchery we now call a “Christian holiday”.  Do not consider it an opportunity for the flesh, but examine yourself today to see if there be any unrepented sin in your life.  And on this Ash Wednesday, remember the call of the season:

“Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

And

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

(Roman Missal:  Ash Wednesday)

What does it mean to abide?

The beauty of Christianity is that in order to become a Christian, one must admit and realize that he is desperate and damned to an eternity of Hell (suffering, punishment, fire and brimstone) because of our sin, but Jesus offers us salvation through His perfect life, death and resurrection.  Jesus lived a life without sin and died and suffered our punishment in Hell so that we can be forgiven.  Jesus paid our debt so that we no loner owe anything.  He does not simply wipe away our sins or just let them slide by, He paid the penalty for us.  This exchange is what happens at the moment when we are “justified” – this term literally means, “Paid off”.  There is nothing we can do to pay off our debt, Jesus already did it, so we simply have to receive it.  But when we receive it God makes us into new creatures who are being transformed progressively more into the image of Christ.  We obey Him, in short.  But what impact does obedience have in the long run?

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.

– John 15.4-6

Abide.  What in the world does that mean?  Every once in a while we hear someone call his house “my humble abode”.  The noun form of abide.  That is helpful:  a house.  A place where you live, where you reside, where you stay.  The Greek word here can reference time: in the sense of endurance.  It can also refer to place:  to stay put, to not wander off.  And it can lastly refer to a state of being:  to remain of constant character, to not change.   It is translated as “abide (61x), remain (16x), dwell (15x), continue (11x), tarry (9x), and endure (3x)”.  But I think the most helpful insight to the meaning of the word is the picture that Jesus paints explaining it:  He is the vine and we are the branches stemming from the vine.  We derive our nutrients from the vine to survive, we receive our support that holds us up from the vine.  We would wither and die without the vine.  So to abide in the vine would be to remain connected to it.  This would deal with time, place and state of being.

Remain in Jesus with your time.  Have your quiet times every morning, but pray continually.  Wash your mind with Scripture so that it is your first response to situations.  Have the testimony of Jesus and the testimony of what He has done in your life so fresh that situations remind you of Bible stories or your own encounters with Him.  Then the bridges are natural!  Soak in Him, in His word, in praise, worship and prayer with Him.

Remain in Jesus temporally.  No, I do not mean go to church and never leave.  I mean establish yourself in such a way that your home, your office and those physical places you go you are able to focus on Him and rest in Him.  Do not go places that by their very nature disrespect God, or that lead you to wander from Him in your heart or mind.

But the foundation of it all is to remain in Jesus in your state of being:  your character.  We will be sanctified (made more like Jesus) throughout our lifetimes, if we keep studying His word, praying and getting to know Him.  Our character should be transformed into the character of Jesus.  What does that look like?  This is where obedience comes in:

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.  Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.  These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.  This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.  You are My friends if you do what I command you.”

– John 15.7-14

Notice that Jesus says that bearing fruit is the proof of our discipleship.  We do not earn our role as disciples by obeying, but we prove our discipleship through obedience.  And it is our fruit bearing that glorifies God!  Jesus did not earn God’s love by keeping His commandments, He proved that He loved (and ultimately that He is God) by keeping His commandments.  And the branches that are not connected to the vine are kindling for the fire and thrown into the fire.

What, then, is the fruit?  Growing up in a evangelism oriented Church, “just get them in the door” was our motto, I misunderstood “fruit” to be new believers.  But Scripture is clear on the definition of the fruit that God demands and offers:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22-23

If we remain in Jesus, if we soak Him up in our minds, in our hearts and with our time and energy, the result will be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.  It is by exemplifying these characteristics and keeping the commands of Jesus that we prove to be His disciples.  And if we abide in Jesus we will exemplify these traits.  Do you want to test yourself and examine your faith?  Just ask yourself if your friends would describe you with those words.  Do you keep Jesus commands?

You will not earn your salvation by obeying the biggies.  You will also not earn your salvation by exemplifying love, joy, peace, etc.  But you can be assured of your salvation when Jesus enables you and transforms you into that person.  It is not believers who are cast into the fire to be burned up, it is those who do not abide in Him.  Those branches that are not connected to the vine, receiving nutrients, support and strength.  Remain in Him today.

vine-and-branches

Let him who has no sin cast the first stone.

stoning

Dear stone-throwers,

Stop it.  

When I was in High School, I was extremely active in my youth group, never had a season of wild rebellion and was often called “Goody Two-Shoes”.  There was another girl who was very active in the youth group who was a grade younger than me.  We both had our own circle of friends as it was a big church and we rarely connected.  During my senior year, a rumor started circulating that she had gotten pregnant and had an abortion.  Having never experienced anything like that, I immediately began to judge her and the situation.  But not knowing if it was true, and not wanting to be part of the gossip train, I went to my dad.  His advice to me was very simple but deeply profound.  He said,

“Alison, this is your chance to love her as Christ loves us.”

There was no conversation as to the validity of the rumor.  There was no judgment call made on anyone’s character.  Just a simple observation that no matter what, she was hurting.  And I, as a fellow sinner who is loved by a forgiving God who paid the penalty for my sin and her’s, could embrace her or I could shun her and make her feel unloved and unwelcome in the very place where she should be receiving love and care.

My eyes were opened.  Painfully.  Widely.  My sin of pride and judgment was (and is) wicked in the eyes of a God who reserves vengeance and judgment for Himself.

I vividly remember the next time I saw her at church.  I made my first sincere effort to befriend her.  Over the next few months we built a quick friendship, and I learned a lot from her.

Jesus rocked the religious mindset when He came to the Earth.  The Law that God gave Israel in the Old Testament was established on law and consequence.  If you do this, then there is a consequence.  Death, stoning, losing what had been desired, and “an eye for an eye” retribution was not only taught, but commanded.  The religious leaders were given the authority to judge accusations and execute these judgments.  Thus, it was an established, normal and holy part of their culture that judgment was exacted, under the authority of the religious leader, to instill a fear of God and drive for holy living in the Hebrew people.

But then came Jesus.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.  Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?”  They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him.  But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.  But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.  When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.  Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either.  Go.  From now on sin no more.”

– John 8.3-9

Jesus did not condone this woman’s sin.  He told her to leave it behind.  Her lack of condemnation was unquestionably and intentionally linked to her changing of lifestyle.  But He also put a quick stop to the sin of pride of those who would kill her by calling them to consider their own sin.

I was recently told that no one who has been divorced can ever be of good reputation.  Even someone who went through the Biblical process under the authority and direction of a Church in dealing with the situation, he said, can never be “above reproach”.  Divorce, this man thinks, is the scarlet letter and sin which God cannot redeem – apart from reconciliation of estranged spouses.

Friends, this is not God’s heart.  There is no condemnation for those who are Christ Jesus (Rom 8.1).  Why?  Because Jesus paid the full penalty for every. single. ugly. damnable sin.  Divorce.  Abortion.  Murder.  Adultery.  There is condemnation for those who are not in Christ Jesus.  If we have not repented of our sins, confessed them and turned away from them and turned to Jesus, then we are dead in our trespasses (Eph 2.1).  There is no forgiveness of our sins, and we will be held accountable for them in eternity.  Jesus did not tell the adulteress to go on sleeping around.  He said, “Go.  From now on sin no more.”  And to those who are covered in His blood, we are now no longer condemned.

But Jesus also taught us to love one another as we love ourselves (Matt 22.39).  Do you judge and condemn yourself for saying a wrong word on occasion?  Do you consider your worth based on your outfit?  Do you damn yourself for telling a white lie or speeding or taking a few extra minutes at lunch time?  Probably not.  And if you do, you need to talk to Jesus about it.  Ask Him for the strength to change you.  But the same grace that we extend to ourselves we must extend to others.

He who is forgiven little loves little.  

 – Luke 7.47

The more you understand your own sin, the better you can love others.  The more deeply you experience the grace of forgiveness poured out over your life, the more grace you can extend to others and help them find forgiveness and redemption in Jesus Christ.  This is why Jesus said, “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone”.  No to minimize sin or say that it is acceptable, because it is by no means acceptable.  None of it.  Not my pride, not your lie, not his adultery and not her theft.  None of it is acceptable.  But it is all forgivable.  And redeemable.  There is no sin that will disqualify you from God’s love or serving Him.

Period.

So let’s get over ourselves.  Let’s examine our lives.  Let’s die to our sin and let’s lovingly help others to do the same.  Because Jesus died for us, while we were yet sinners and while we were His enemies (Rom 5.8, 5.10, 1 Cor 1.21).

Now, please do not misunderstand me.  Sin is terrible, it is ugly, and it is the only reason Jesus went to the cross.  We do not and we should not accept, condone or allow it to go on in our churches or in our own private lives.  We should fight sin with everything in us.  Jesus said, in dealing with our personal sin, that if our hand causes us to sin we should cut it off (Matt 5.30).  We need to run from it, turn from it, and hate it with everything in us.  But when our brother or sister is repentant, trying to honor God and hates their own sin, it is not our place to add our judgment above the wrath and vengeance of God.

“Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” 

 – Rom 12.19, Heb 10.30

God does not need my vengeance.  I help nothing by adding personal retribution.  He has it all covered.  All sin is punished, either on Jesus on the cross or on the sinner in eternity.  I cannot add to the just condemnation, it is only my place to forgive and extend the love of God to all around me.