Resolved.

new years resolution

New Year’s is just a few days away, and many New Year’s resolutions will be made.  Have you started thinking about yours?  Will you aim to eat better?  Or exercise more?  Perhaps you will simplify your schedule or get more rest.  Many will aim to be more spiritual – praying more, meditating, reading the Bible daily, and the like.

But there are also many who refuse to set a resolution because they know they will break it.  I knew someone who struggled so much in school and discipline that he simply refused to set any goals.  The fear of failing to meet them was so great and the guilt associated with it led him to remain as he was, as a guy in his late twenties.  He said, “I would only be setting myself up for failure”.

It is true, any goal that is set is an opportunity for failure.  But it is also true that unless we set goals or make an effort, nothing will ever be accomplished.  It is true on the micro level:  if you do not make a plan for the day, you will forget to go to the grocery store after work, or bring your workout clothes to hit the gym.  But it is also true on the macro level:  you have to apply to college and start classes to earn a degree, you have to send out your resume to get a job, and start lessons to learn a skill.

But the reality is that our relationship with God is more than just a goal.  Our spirituality is more than just dedication.  Goals, however, can enhance a relationship and a Spirituality.  Even in the midst of our emotion-driven society that believes love should be easy and euphoric, most will ultimately admit that marriage is hard work, and relationships take effort to maintain.  They might be born in emotion and initially driven by passion, but after time that can fade and commitment must mark our choices in order to maintain intimacy and happiness.

In the same way, there are times that our Spiritual walk and relationship with God will be easy and natural.  But there are other times when we are distracted, too busy, frustrated, or over stimulated and pleased with our physical lives that we neglect our relationship with God, and it will take a conscious effort and decision to pray, read the Bible, meditate and listen to the Holy Spirit.  And the nature of having discipline or a goal does not take away from the authenticity of the relationships – quite the opposite, in fact.  It portrays our convictions and passions to intentionally set aside that time, even in the midst of everything else.  A wife feels loved and valued when a husband takes time out of his day to call, to stop for flowers or to take her on a date where they can talk deeply.  She actually feels more honored that he would value her enough to go through to effort of planning.

Not only is it not disrespectful or disingenuous to set aside a specific time to pray or have a quiet time every day, it is also not an expectation or sin for which God will condemn us if we fail.  If you have a standing phone date with a friend, and you forget once or twice, that friend will forgive you if it is not your habit to forget.  If you need to reschedule a lunch date with your wife, she will understand if you are not in the habit of blowing her off.  If you consistently forget or blow off your relationships, however, there will grow a distance between you and a very real problem is established.  The same is true with God.  You cannot have a relationship with God and be Spiritually healthy if you neglect Him.  If you oversleep one morning, however, or have a change of schedule and have your quiet time in the afternoon instead of the morning, He will not consider you a failure.

“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

Jesus commands us to abide in Him.  The term abide can be difficult to understand, as we rarely use it in day-to-day language.  The Greek term used translates as “to remain, to not depart” and also “to continue to be present, to continue to be held or kept”.  The implication is continual interaction and relationship.  Jesus explains Himself with the imagery of the vine.  A branch depends on the vine for sustenance and life.  A branch cannot survive, produce fruit or grow unless is draws sap from the vine.  So we, when we are Spiritually born, must draw our Spiritual life from Jesus.  We cannot live, grow or bear fruit unless we stay connected to Jesus.

So as the new year approaches, let’s be bold to set a goal to go deeper with Jesus.  He will not be mad at you if you miss a day or two, and will not consider you a failure.  Quite the opposite, in fact, the commitment to and any progress towards greater intimacy with Him is a beautiful reality that will strengthen your Spiritual walk, health and maturity.  Let us not put a weight on ourselves that He hasn’t put on us, but let us abide in Him and draw our life and strength from Him as our source, as our vine.

You will find that as you begin those habits, it will soon turn into a situation where you long for your time with the Lord and needing to reschedule from the morning to afternoon will leave you ready and excited for that time.  Or missing a morning will leave your day lacking.  Let’s change our attitudes about resolutions, not seeing it as an opportunity for failure but rather an opportunity to grow and change.  Let’s not beat ourselves up and give up if we miss a few days, but find commitment anew by the encouragement and strength we draw from the days we succeed!

How will you commit to the Lord this year?

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.

Let’s get you saved.

u turn

We, as a society (and as Christians), are becoming more and more timid and fearful to discuss sin.  We do not want to sound judgmental, we do not want to be labeled a bigot, we think we will be hypocrites for defining sin if we ourselves do not live a perfect life, and we are afraid that we will push people away.  Political correctness, in all of its glory, is making us into a people with soft sin who think that we can ignore reality by burying our heads in the sand and pretending nothing exists.  And in church-ese, we have become very comfortable to invite people “as you are”, we want everyone to feel comfortable and welcome to be a part of our weekly gatherings and worship services, because we just want to “get you saved”.

But what does being saved actually mean?

When we talk about Jesus, forgiveness and salvation with children, we often use terminology like, “ask Jesus into your heart”.  Not only is this concept unbiblical, it is extremely dangerous.  It is superstitious.  It will damage many people for a long time.  Why?  Because salvation the culmination of a person understanding his position before God, grasping the weight of his sin and consequences thereof, confessing his sin and repenting from it, asking God for forgiveness based on the sacrifice of Jesus, being covered by His blood and clothed in His righteousness, and living a lifestyle that is continually dying to self, obeying God and persevering through trials.  Yes, there is a mutual abiding that occurs – us in Jesus and Jesus in us (John 15.4-9).  Yes, God does also place the Holy Spirit within us to convict us of righteousness, sin and judgment (John 16.8).  And yes, we are a temple for the Holy Spirit to indwell (1 Cor 6.9).  But Jesus never commanded anyone to ask Him to come live in his heart.  Paul never preached the Gospel as thus.  Rather, it focused on repentance and making Jesus the Lord over everything.

What this all means is that the salvation experience beings with understanding of sin.  We cannot “get you saved” until you understand that every single human being who has walked the face of this Earth (besides Jesus) is utterly wicked (Rom 3.23), is an enemy of God (James 4.4), is dead Spiritually (Eph 2.1), and deserves an eternity in Hell as just punishment.  And since this is true of every single human being, this is true of me and this is true of you.  I am, by nature, wicked.  You are, by nature, wicked.  We are, because of our nature, separated from God and bound towards Hell.

God hates sin.

God hates all sin.

And because God hates sin,
God will not overlook any sin.

God will, at the end of time, judge every human being by the deeds they preformed in the flesh.

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

 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

– 1 Cor 3.8

“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”

– Rev 22.12

“I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.”

– Rev 2.23

And God, being perfect, will not sweep any sin under the rug.  He is just, He is righteous, and He does not show leniency towards any sin that is preformed.  This is a terrifying reality.  Because while it is true that murderers deserve to go to Hell for killing another human being, we also deserve to go to Hell for eating a cookie that our moms told us not to eat when we were six years old.  Think about it: that is exactly why God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden, damned to Hell, and the entire world put under the curse:  eating a piece of fruit that God said, “Do not eat”.

Would you have cursed all of creation over that?

Probably not, because we are comfortable with a level of sin.  We know, in our hearts, that we are all sinners and we show grace to the little sins and pretend like they are nothing.  But God will repay everyone accordingly, and His standard is perfection:  the Law.

“Vengeance is Mine, and retribution,
In due time their foot will slip;
For the day of their calamity is near,
And the impending things are hastening upon them.”

– Deut 32.35

We cannot find salvation until we understand from what we need saving.  We are not simply trying to introduce people to Jesus so that they can have a relationship with Him, we are trying to help people understand the dire situation in which they are living and flee from it.  Jesus will not enter into relationship with you until you recognize, confess and repent from your sin.

Now, hear me.  This does not mean that we have to get all of our sin in order before we come to Jesus for salvation.  Only Jesus can empower and enable us to fight and conquer sin.  We cannot clean ourselves up enough to make ourselves acceptable to Him.  But the salvation process and experience begins with us recognizing our wicked nature, its consequence, and our turning from sin to Jesus.

Jesus came to the world and lived a perfect life – one not deserving of death – but yet He died in our place.  We have been sentenced to death – physically and Spiritually – and Jesus stepped in and paid our debt.  God does not, by our asking for forgiveness, overlook our sin, He pays our penalty in Jesus.  He does not just say, “It’s ok, I forgive you”, He says, “I have poured out all of my wrath for your sin on Jesus.  He suffered so that you do not have to.”

When we grasp the weight of our sin and fate, and when we then grasp the weight of our forgiveness – that it is not flippant but cost Jesus His life – then we begin the life of getting to know Jesus, learning what God has to say about how we are supposed to live and how we are supposed to act, and changing.

Yes, Jesus wants to have a relationship with you.  But that relationship is fundamentally Him as Lord and you as servant, follower and lastly friend.  Jesus is not your homeboy, He is God.  He is king.  On a throne.  And He will be respected.  He will be worshiped.  On the day that we meet Him, every knee will bow (Phil 2.10).  We will not even be able to stand up in His presence.

And Jesus takes the sin matter extremely seriously.  So seriously, in fact, that Scripture teaches us that if we come to Jesus for salvation, but then continue sinning, we are not saved.  There is very little hope for us, in fact:

“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 does not mean that will not sin.  Scripture offers us great comfort and peace when we stumble in a moment of weakness:

“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

What this means, then, is that we cannot make peace with sin.  We cannot go on sinning willfully and assuming that Jesus will forgive us.  Jesus wants us to love Him and obey Him out of that love.  If we are striving to honor Him in our daily lives, but falter in a moment of weakness, He will forgive us.  It is covered by His blood.  But if we think that we are buddy-buddy with Jesus and that we can live however we want and assume His forgiveness, then we are not saved.  True love for Jesus is rooted in a sober understanding of our sinful nature and overwhelming gratefulness for His sacrifice – paying our debt – and is exemplified in our complete surrender to His will and desire.  In short, because of what He did for us, we do everything that we can to honor Him and to make Him proud of us.

This is what abiding in Him means.  Not that we just ask Jesus into our hearts and obtain some eternal fire insurance.  It means that the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us and convicts us of sin and helps us to change.

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

– John 16.8

In summary, God wants to have a relationship with us.  And that relationship is based on love – God is love, and we only know love if we know God.  But that relationship also is built on our submission and obedience to Him.  And the outpouring of our love and appreciation for the gift of salvation is getting to know Him by reading the Bible, applying His truths to our lives, turning away from sin and glorifying Him in everything that we do.

I am a pretty good person.

I like to think I am a pretty good person.  I go to church, I give money to charity, I work for a non-profit organization and talk to my neighbors as I come home from work.  I smile and wave at strangers and try to honor my parents, I pay my taxes and usually drive the speed limit.

That makes me pretty good, right?

I suppose it depends on the standard by which we judge and are judged.  In the New Testament, Paul makes some pretty bold statements about our sinful state.  He calls us “children of wrath” by nature – that the very essence of who we are is that which deserves wrath (Eph 2.3), and more clearly he defines humanity as children of disobedience (Col 3.6).  We are so disposed to disobedience against God that it is as though disobedience is our father.  By nature, the devil is our father and we are slaves to sin (John 8.44, 34).

David, “the man after God’s own heart”, observes the reality that he was “brought forth in iniquity, and in sin [his] mother conceived [him]” (Ps 51.5).  It does not take long observing a young child, one who cannot yet even communicate verbally, to see the sinful, disobedient and rebellious nature emerge.

“Everyone is under sin.”

 – Romans 3.9

We often talk about God’s fairness, equality and common love to all of humanity.  This is true.  But the verse which states “There is no partiality with God” is from Romans 2.11, where Paul makes the argument that God will judge all the same, justly and without special allowances.  All who have sinned will be condemned.  We are all under sin.  And being under sin, our relationship with God is destroyed:

“There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands; there is non who seeks for God…There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom 3.10, 18).

And because we are all under sin, our relationship with others is destroyed:

By our mouths and what we say:  “Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness” (Rom 3.13-14)

By our actions and what we do:  “Their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known” (Rom 3.15-17).

But there is hope!  The righteousness of God has been manifested (Rom 3.21)!  Unless your righteousness is perfection, unless you have never sinned, you cannot enter into God’s presence.  None of us, therefore, by our very nature, can enter into God’s presence.  But Jesus lived a perfect life and through His death and resurrection offers us His righteousness.  We can be found covered by Him, such that when God looks at us He sees Christ’s righteousness and welcomes us in.

“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Rom 3.21-16

Let us be reconciled to God.  And through that relationship with Him, let us be reconciled to one another.