Do people reject your gospel?

conversation

Many people today are terrified of talking about their faith with others – especially when they know that the listener does not share a common faith.  We have been indoctrinated by society to believe that faith is personal, it should be kept separate from the workplace and schools, and since religion is only a crutch everyone should find what works for himself and we are all right in our own way.  This worldview has paralyzed many believers who truly do care about other people,their Spirituality and eternity by handcuffing them from being open in conversation and able to communicate truth.

But this worldview has developed a greater evil and danger within the evangelical community:  we have rewritten the Gospel such that very few – if any – would ever reject it.  Paul and Pascal eloquently argued that if Christians are wrong about Jesus we have only wasted our lives – but if everyone else is wrong about Jesus, then they have wasted their eternity.  We have skillfully manipulated that logic to our advantage, urging people to simply “give God a chance” or “say the sinners prayer”, just in case.  Cover your bases.  Get baptized so that when you die, if Jesus happens to be the judge, you will know the right answer to get into Heaven.

Unfortunately, that is not what Jesus had in mind when He introduced conversion and Spiritual life.  Jesus gave radical warning about admittance into Heaven:

“Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

– Matt 19.24

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”

– Matt 10.34-36

“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”

– Matt 10.37

“And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”

– Matt 10.38

Jesus promises Spiritual peace and peace with God, but He also promises to set family members against one another.  He promises to bring a sword.  He promises that anyone who follows Him will suffer and be hated, just as He was.

We, however, have candy coated the Gospel.  Campus Crusade for Christ’s four Spiritual laws begin with “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”.  The prosperity Gospel states that God desires for us to be happy, healthy and wealthy – we only need to claim it and have enough faith.  We use logic to convince people to “give Jesus a chance”, and “If I am right then you have wasted your eternity” – just to get people in the door.

The Gospel, however, is offensive.  Jesus had entire towns come out to meet Him and follow Him, and when He preached the hard truths, everyone went away except the 12 (John 6.67).  He regularly made people so angry that they sought to murder Him – even in the wake of healing their sick (John 8.59, 10.31).  And Paul teaches us clearly that the Gospel is foolishness to those who are not being saved:

“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

So we must ask ourselves, is our Gospel the power of God to some and to others foolishness?  Or is it palatable to everyone?  Do outsiders examine your life, your habits, your finances and think you are crazy?  Or do we look just like the world, with a few major vices exempted from our lives?

Salvation and godliness is not avoidance ethics or covering our bases.  Being a Christian is a having revolutionary and all encompassing God-centeredness whereby we draw our daily strength to live from Him and pour out our everything before Him to His glory and for the salvation of all people.  Yes, that is undoubtedly rooted in the truth that God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives – and also that God causes everything to work together for good for those who love Him, but it is so much more than that.  It is our soul wrenching understanding of the fact that we are desperately wicked and deserve damnation, but Jesus loved us enough to take our place on the cross and in Hell so that we might become His righteousness before God.  When we believe that and accept it into our lives, Jesus begins the process of purifying and perfecting us, causing us to look foolish in the eyes of the world.

In short, we cannot take the forgiveness offered by the cross and resurrection without being transformed and made righteous by it.  John Piper says we cannot have Jesus as our “pardoner and not as our purifier”.  If we are not being purified, we were never pardoned.

Apologetics and logic are good.  God has given us science, reason and philosophy – and those disciplines should all be utilized to His glory and honor, and those disciplines will all point us back to Him and His praise when understood rightly.  But our evangelism technique must be so much more than systematic argument.  It must be the power of God.  If your Gospel has no power, it is not the Gospel at all.

So let us reflect today.  Have we known the power of the Gospel?  Or did we buy in on a logical argument aimed at securing our salvation without impacting our lives?  Has the Holy Spirit taken up residence in our lives, giving us new, Spiritual life?  Or are we going through the motions hoping to make ourselves better people?  Is the word of the cross the “power of God” in your life?  And if so, let us start boldly proclaiming it as such.  Let us lay aside the minimization of the Truth, let us expect that people will have bold and profound reactions to the Gospel.  If some people do not hate it, if others are not radically transformed by it, then we are not proclaiming it.

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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!

His law is love and His Gospel is peace.

o holy night

Many hymns are packed with great theology and doctrine, many Christmas carols are marked by the same.  One of my favorites – musically and doctrinally – is O Holy Night:

O holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine!  Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine, Oh night divine

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from the Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.

He knows our need, to our weaknesses no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

Before Jesus came to walk this Earth, he world lay long in sin and error pining.  God had written His perfect Law and explained to the nation of Israel exactly how He desired to be obeyed and honored.  For centuries the people tried and failed to keep the Law, revealing to them and to us that it is impossible to live up to God’s standards.  In sin they were pining away at life, needing hope and a savior.  But with the birth of Jesus came a thrill of hope.  He was here as the king of kings and the savior of souls, to conquer sin and to set the prisoner free.  And yet, as sovereign king, He was born amidst our trials and struggles to be our friend.

Thus our appropriate response to is fall on our knees in worship, in respect, and in love.

What did He teach us?  To love one another:  His law is love and His Gospel is peace.  He fulfilled the Mosaic Law and wrote an amendment:  to love our neighbors and our enemies as we love ourselves.  God will execute justice and judgement through the authorities and eternally, we are to express the love and forgiveness we have been offered to others freely.  His Gospel has freed us from the guilt and weight of sin by paying our debt of punishment and giving us the Holy Spirit who enables us to obey.  Thus we have peace with God.

Chains He shall break for the slave is our brother:  physically and Spiritually.  He has broken the social and hierarchical casts that separate us, as well as the spiritual bondage of sin.  One might still work in service to another, one might still be a slave to a master in life, but our eternal state is free and before God we are on equal playing grounds, and when He returns all oppression shall cease.

What shall we do in response?  Sing praises and hymns, proclaiming his power and glory forever.

Sing His praises today.  Engage your mind as your Christmas Pandora station continues to blast those carols.  Sometimes the melodies have become so familiar that the words pass our lips without engaging our minds and hearts, but let their deep and rich truths remind you again of the beauty of the Gospel and your eternal forgiveness.  All which started by Jesus’ birth as a baby, laid in a manger.

Preach the Gospel [to yourself] every day.

Jesus

One of the most influential teachers in the history of Christianity is Marin Luther.  He spearheaded the reformation of the church by defying the Pope and proclaiming the heresy of indulgences (purchasing favor with God by money).  He was born to a nominally religious family, baptized as an infant into the catholic faith, and raised with the highest education so that he could become a lawyer.  After nearly being struck by lightning, he called out for help to Saint Anna and promised to become a monk if he survived, and later felt obligated to fulfill that vow.  He thus dropped out of law school and entered an Augustinian monastery.  He was drawn to philosophy and was troubled over the afterlife and spent much of his time trying to understand and prepare Himself for eternity.  He described his time in the monastery as a time of deep spiritual despair:

“I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul.”

After two years he was appointed to the priesthood, and then he began teaching theology, spending his entire career at the University of Wittenberg.  While he was there, he became convicted of the Gospel found within the Scripture – that faith is by grace alone through faith alone, and that the catholic church was not only a wrong application of the Scriptures, but that through deceiving the public with ideas like indulgences was actually a false prophet.  Luther went so far as to declare the pope the antichrist.

Luther had a passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and making the Bible accessible to everyone.  While hiding for his life in exile, he translated the entire New Testament from Greek into German so that people could read the Word on their own and know Christ personally.  He also preached the Gospel for the salvation of people, every week at church, because he perceived that his congregation was not grasping the weight of it and being transformed.  But most influentially, in contrast to today where pastors and leaders are continually falling into sin, Martin Luther lived a life devoted to Jesus Christ and wrote (as an example for us) that he needed to preach the gospel to himself every day.

Preach the gospel to yourself every day.

If you grew up in the church, the story of Jesus dying on the cross and raising again three days later might be very familiar to you.  Occasionally there are efforts made to renew the reality and grotesque nature of the cross like “The Passion of the Christ” which came out some eleven years ago.  And while we teach the story and the Gospel to our children so that they can recite the key points as toddlers, we must always remember that our eternity rests in this single historic event.  Were it not for Jesus and the cross, we would be left dead in our trespasses trying to earn our salvation and appease God through sacrifice and ritual.

The Gospel is the pivotal point in history, to which all things before it pointed and on which all things after rely.  We must never grow tired of the Gospel.

If we would follow Martin Luther’s example of preaching the Gospel to ourselves every day, we would avoid many of the temptations and sins of the flesh.  If every morning we would remind ourselves that we are sinful and worthy of death and damnation before God, we would hate our sin and run from it.  If we would wake up considering that Jesus gave His life and unity with God so that we could be forgiven, we would praise Him and worship Him with our entire being throughout the day.  If we would remember that He offered forgiveness and relationship with God by His life, death and resurrection, we would be quick to die to ourselves and to forgive one another their offenses because we would understand that no offense we have suffered is as great as our offense against Jesus.  If we would remember His resurrection and promise of eternity, we would live with a focus on eternal treasures and not for those which moth and rust destroy.

Do you believe the Gospel?  Does your hope rest fully in the person and work of Jesus Christ?  Are you dying to your flesh, and living for eternity?  If not, preach the Gospel to yourself today.  Instead of using the normal Roman’s Road or gap presentation which offers salvation to anyone who would believe, put your name in those verses and phrases.  For the wages of my sin is death.  But God so loved me that He gave His only begotten son.  If I will call upon the name of the Lord I will be saved.  Now, these promises are given to the world and all who believe – do not twist the scriptures to believe that this is primarily about you (because it is primarily about God and His glory).  But it is indeed the greatest act of love that Jesus laid down His life for you and for your eternity.  Therefore, preach the Gospel to yourself today, let it humble you and transform how you make decisions.  Let it set your focus on Jesus and eternity.

“But know that to serve God is nothing else than to serve your neighbor and do good to him in love, be it a child, wife, servant, enemy, friend.…If you do not find yourself among the needy and the poor, where the Gospel shows us Christ, then you may know that your faith is not right, and that you have not yet tasted of Christ’s benevolence and work for you.”

– Martin Luther

Why was Jesus the “Man of Sorrows”?

man of sorrows

Even in the midst of walking through difficult circumstances and tragedies, we Christians often like to believe that life should be comfortable and easy.  Much of our sorrow in trials is centered around the fact that we believe we do not deserve whatever it is through which we are walking.  “Why me?” we cry and bemoan before God.  We now believe that not only the pursuit of happiness is our right, but happiness itself.  Jesus, however, was God and He came to Earth and was called the “Man of Sorrows”.

For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.

– Is 53.2-5

God chose to give Himself no physical stature, no natural attraction by which to draw others, and He intentionally bore our sorrows, griefs and debt of sin.  Since those around Him did not understand His purpose, they considered Him to be “smitten of God and afflicted.”  Remember Job?  He was a man of great faith, and God decided to purify His faith by testing him through Satan’s attacks, and Job lost everything:  His wealth, his family and his health.  Job’s friends understood God to be the type of judge who would only reward good for good and evil for evil, and thus they accused Job of great sin and encouraged him to repent.  But we learn that Job’s situation was not judgment, rather it was purifying refinement of his faith – not a result of sin.

Those who witnessed Jesus being crucified on the cross similarly considered Jesus to be smitten by God.  And while Jesus was smitten and ultimately crushed by God for the purpose of saving sinners, it was not as a result of sin.  Smitten by God for our sake, Jesus was indeed the man of sorrows.  He lived a perfect life and yet suffered physical torture and death as well as Spiritual separation from God and damnation, all so that we would never have to spend eternity in Hell.

He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows.  He was pierced for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities.   

And by his wounds we are healed.  

Man of sorrows what a name
for the Son of God, who came
ruined sinners to reclaim:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
in my place condemned he stood,
sealed my pardon with his blood:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Guilty, vile and helpless we;
spotless Lamb of God was he,
Full atonement, can it be:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;
“It is finished” was his cry;
now in heaven exalted high:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

When he comes, our glorious King,
all his ransomed home to bring,
then anew this song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

When Jesus Won’t Forgive You.

forgiveness

As Christians, we like to give ourselves a lot of leniency.  We claim boldly the wonderful offer of grace and forgiveness, yet sometimes forget the price that was paid so that we ourselves could be forgiven.  We forget that it is only because Jesus humbled Himself to the point of becoming a man, taking on flesh, and suffering physical and Spiritual death that we can be forgiven and welcomed into the presence of God (Phil 2).  And in that spirit of leniency, we allow room for ourselves to not offer grace to the extent that we have been shown.  Jesus, however, gives the harshest and most terrifying of stipulations on that very point:

“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

We must be diligent when we read Scripture to place it in the context of the Bible as a whole, and in the context of the passage.  Otherwise we can distort the Truth and end up believing heresies.  For example, we know that grace is a free gift from God and that there is nothing we can do to earn it (Eph 2.8-9, Rom 6.23).  But this teaching of Jesus implies that we earn our forgiveness by forgiving one another.  We will never and can never earn our salvation and forgiveness from God.  What Jesus is teaching here is the sobering reality that anyone who has been forgiven by God will forgive others.  We will prove that we have repented and been forgiven by forgiving others.

When we hear the Gospel, we must understand it in its fullness.  We must grasp the reality that we have sinned (Rom 3.23), and that the just punishment for sin is death and damnation (Rom 6.23).  We cannot repent and be saved until we realize our sinfulness and the penalty for it.  The moment we realize that there is no hope for our souls, but then we see Jesus crucified and raised from the dead in our place, we receive that free gift of salvation and we repent.  We die to our flesh.  We allow the Spirit to lead us to quit sinning, and to confess our sins in brokenness when we do sin.

Ultimately, when we have been through that Spiritual process of grasping the weight of our own sin, confessing it, repenting from it and accepting God’s magnificent gift of forgiveness, there is no way that we can not forgive someone else when they sin against us.  If you have been forgiven by God, you will forgive others.  It is only by having not walked that path of repentance and confession that you can harbor a grudge.  Because there is no sin that someone can commit against you that is greater than the burden of sins you have committed against God.

No one can sin against me more deeply than I have sinned against God.
And God forgave me.
Therefore I must forgive those who sin against me.
If I refuse to forgive someone, it proves that I have not been forgiven by God.
I am still lost.

Now, forgiveness is a tricky bird.  There are people who have not been forgiven by God, even though He offers forgiveness to everyone.  What is the determining factor?  We must ask.  We must confess.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

– 1 John 1.9

“Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away…”

– Acts 3.19

Our sins are not forgiven us until we confess them.  Our sins are not wiped away until we repent and return.  If there were not a condition on forgiveness, then no one would go to Hell.  Jesus’ death would cover everyone.  But Jesus did not die for everyone, His death covers only those who repent and confess.  Those who do not repent and confess their sins will go to Hell, because the wages of sin is death.  Jesus will forgive anyone who asks.  We have only to ask.

And not only that, Jesus gave us very clear (and difficult) instructions on how to handle someone who claims to be a believer but will not repent for his sins:  He teaches us to kick them out of the church (Matt 18.15-18).  Paul says we should disassociate with them to the point that we will not even go out to eat with them (1 Cor 5.5, 11).  The reason for taking such an extreme approach here is because such a person knows the Truth.  They can recite the Gospel.  They even claim to believe it and to be a Christian.  But the fruit of their hearts reveals them to be unbelievers, and thus they are wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7.15), they are false prophets (2 Peter 2.1), and they will destroy the Church by leading people astray (Matt 24.24).  They will tell us what we want to hear so that we can live how we want to live with a false assurance of salvation (2 Tim 4.3-4).

As Christians we should continue to eat with those who are not Christians and claim to not be Christians, because these people need to hear the Gospel and these people might still be saved.  It is still possible for the person who has been removed from the Church to be saved, too, and Paul teaches us that it is in fact for the hope of their salvation that they would be disciplined by being removed from the Church (1 Cor 5.5).  Our ultimate goal in everything that we do is to exemplify the Gospel and to see people saved.  For those who do not claim Christ through reasoning and prayer, and for those who falsely claim Christ by distance, discipline and prayer.

This is what separated many of the Pharisees from the penitent.  This is why Jesus hung out with repentant people:  both pharisees and what many considered sinners.  And it is because of this reality that Jesus taught plainly:

“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 understand the weight of your salvation, you will forgive others.  It is only by not understanding the forgiveness offered that one can harbor bitterness and not forgive.

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

– Eph 4.31

Therefore, let our hearts and attitudes towards those who have offended us be a test by which we examine ourselves.  We are instructed:

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”

– 2 Cor 13.5

It would be a terrible thing to think that we have been forgiven and to think that we are Christians, and arrive at the judgment seat to find out that we never were saved.  And this is one test by which we can examine our salvation:  Do we forgive others?  Are we ready and willing to forgive others when they ask?  Or do we harbor bitterness, and therefore set our righteousness and worth above Jesus’?  An unforgiving Spirit fundamentally says, “this offense against me is greater than any offense that Jesus has forgiven”.  And we all know that Jesus has willingly forgiven every sin under the sun, including murder, adultery, theft, deceit, abandonment, and anything you can name.  Jesus said that if we are unwilling to forgive, we prove ourselves to have never been forgiven.  Therefore let us become people of grace and forgiveness, let us prove ourselves to know God.  Let us confess our sins to one another and let us forgive.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

– James 5.16

Election and Wisdom

growth

What is the primary reason that you do not talk about Jesus with people – specifically non Christians?  Most would answer some variety of fear:  Fear of rejection, fear of not knowing what to say, fear of the topic, etc.  Are you afraid that people will not believe if you tell them about Jesus?  We try to pump ourselves up in a variety of ways when we consider evangelism or just making Jesus known, but the reality is that Jesus and the Gospel, to those who are not chosen, is foolishness.

“For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

– 1 Cor 1.22-24

To the Jews, who had the history of the Old Testament Law, Jesus was (and is) a stumbling block.  They understood in part that they were looking for a Savior, but when He came they did not recognize Him because they did not exactly for whom they were looking.  Jesus is a stumbling block for them to come to salvation, as they still are waiting for a savior.  The Gentiles, everybody else, hear the story of redemption and consider it – naturally – foolishness.  So, in short, everyone who is either a Jew or not a Jew will hear the story of Jesus and in and of themselves will hear it as foolishness.  They will reject it.

Does that give you hope?

It gives me hope.  Because the conclusion of the verse is that to all who are called, Jews or everyone else, Christ is the “power of God and the wisdom of God”.

It can sound a bit cliche these days to remind ourselves that when we talk about Jesus and people mock us or do not want to hear about it, that they are rejecting Jesus and not us.  It is true, and it should give us comfort to remember that Jesus was hated and He promises that those who hate Him will (and should) hate us.

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”

– John 15.18-20

Therefore, we should begin to develop thicker skin.  Jesus promises that the world will hate His servants, and people who look like Jesus.  If no one is hating you, then you might check yourself to see if you are standing for truth and telling people about Jesus.  Now, I am not saying that we should be obnoxious, and make ourselves hate-able, rather I am saying that the Gospel is so offensive to people, that when we live how Jesus lived, when we speak how Jesus spoke, and when we share the good news of the Gospel, it is offensive in and of itself.  No one wants to hear that they are wicked and that they deserve to go to Hell for their sins.  But that is what the Bible says, and if we do not know our current state apart from Jesus, then we do not know from what we need saving.

But what I find particularly glorious about this passage in 1 Corinthians is that the contrast is painted between wisdom and folly.  People can understand and articulate the outlines of the Gospel without knowing it as wisdom.  It makes logical sense, and some can portray it as mythology or as a “great story”, but only those who have been chosen find it as wisdom and power.  Clearly, by this teaching, we see that not everyone is called.  It is a supernatural ability to love and believe the Gospel as truth, wisdom and power.

So why does this give me hope in evangelism?  Simply this:  I do not have to get someone from one camp to the other.  I do not have to take the one who finds Jesus as a stumbling block or foolishness and convince him that Jesus crucified is the power and wisdom of God.  Now, there are some who will not hear and believe immediately, and there are some who will know the truth of the Gospel and believe year and decades later.  This does not mean that they went from the unchosen camp to the chosen camp, it means that God had a plan and timing for their conversion.

In short, it is our responsibility to share, and it is God’s responsibility to call, save, and bring about growth.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

– 1 Cor 3.6-7

We know that God has chosen people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  There are people who will believe in every corner of the Earth.  And until there are believers in every people group, Jesus will not return to bring about the end of the age.  But, He has already set these people aside.  It is only our job to go out there and tell them!  That is why Jesus said,

And He was saying to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

– Luke 10.2

The Spirit has already prepared hearts to hear the Truth!  The harvest is plentiful.  The fields are white.  When we get out and start talking about Jesus, there will be many who say it is foolishness and stumble over Jesus, but there will be those who are ready to hear it and who hear the wisdom and glory in the Gospel.  So get out there and start talking about Jesus.  He promised us that people will hate us for talking about Him and acting like Him, so let it roll off your back when people turn down your invitation to believe.  And as you continue sharing, you will find that there are some out there who are waiting to hear and who are ready to believe.  It’s our job, people.  When we get to Heaven, let’s not stand before the judge having not done the primary thing that He told us to do.