Christianity 201

November 10, 2021

Recognizing Sin, Trusting God’s Assurance

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Today, after a four-year break, we’re returning for the fourth time to The River Walk, produced by Two Rivers Church in New York State.

The Weight Of The Story

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.
Romans 3:22-24

Read: 1 Chronicles 22:1-23:32, Romans 3:9-31, Psalm 12:1-8, Proverbs 19:13-14

Relate: In Islam, right behind Muhammad in importance, is a group of people called the Companions. In many ways, they are like the Islamic version of the Apostles found in the gospels and Acts. One of the first of these companions, and many would say the most important of them, was a man named Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr was one of the first men to come to believe Muhammad’s message. He had been a very wealthy man, but he contributed much of that to Muhammad and to the cause. Beyond that, he gave his six year old daughter to become Muhammad’s third wife. He accompanied Muhammad on his famous flight to Medina (the date by which Islamic calendars measure time). He also succeeded as the first Caliph after Muhammad’s death. If ever there was a man who, under Islam, should be confident of entering Paradise, it would be Abu Bakr. But Abu Bakr knew better than that. He said, “I would not rest assured and feel safe from the judgment of Allah, even if I had one foot in paradise.”

Growing up, I was taught something called the Romans Road. Perhaps you might have heard of it, perhaps not. The Romans Road takes five verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans and uses them as a “road map” to explain the gospel. There might be different versions of this, but the way I learned it is as follows.

Step 1: We are all sinners – Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Step 2: Because of sin we all die and deserve hell – Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Step 3: Jesus died for our sins – Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Step 4: All we have to do to be saved is believe – Romans 10:9 “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Step 5: Because we are saved, we have peace with God – Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

React: Taken as a whole, the Romans Road is a beautiful and simple way to present the truth of the gospel. Unfortunately, it has always seemed to me that the first two steps seem to get nearly all the time and focus. Maybe my perception has been skewed, but I feel like I hear far more people talking all about how we are all sinners and we are all going to hell than I do about the confidence we can have in the grace of God.

Sometimes I feel as though we are talking, perhaps unintentionally, just like Abu Bakr did. Even if we’ve got one foot in the grave and the other in heaven, we better watch ourselves and not step out of line or we might backslide. (Or, if it is a Calvinist talking, prove that we were never truly saved.)

This is especially true when I hear people talking about the doctrine of original sin. One of the key texts on which this doctrine is based is Romans 3:23. The other is Psalm 51 where David, in poetically expressing his sorrow says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful since my mother conceived me.” Even if we are to take David’s lament literally, it should be balanced against Psalm 139 where David speaks at much greater length of his birth. He says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts concerning me, God! How vast is the sum of them!” Before getting too caught up in original sin let us not also forget these three truths: 1. God is good (Psalms 100:5). 2. God made us (Psalm 139:13). 3. Everything God makes is beautiful (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

So, yes, all have sinned. Sin is a willful choosing to do evil. We are not born as sin, but we all commit sin, and this sin causes us to fall short of the glory of God. There is no denying that truth, but even in conveying it, Paul sets it between two far greater truths. First, he leads it with, ” We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.” Then he follows it with, ” Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.”

Most people do not need to be convinced they are sinners. In fact, I do not think I have ever met a single person when they were honest with themselves and me, that was not already absolutely convinced that they were sinners. So perhaps, instead of spending 90% of our time and energy ranting about this, perhaps we should use it as our brief intro so that we can get to the heart of the gospel. God loves us. Because He loves us, He came, He died, He rose, and He saves. That is the gospel. That is the weight of Paul’s true Roman’s Road. And that is what people really need to hear.

Respond:

Dear God,
Let me never forget the heart of the gospel. I am loved by You. You fearfully and wonderfully knit me together in my mother’s womb and from that moment of Creation, I have held a special place in your heart. Because of that love, You came. You pursued me long before I was ever aware of You. Yes, I have sinned and turned from You, but you loved me even still. You came and You died, taking on Yourself the weight of my sin. But that weight did not hold You down. On the third day, You rose from the grave proving Your power over both sin and its consequences. Now the offer of salvation is freely open to me. I believe it. I believe that Your love, Your mercy, and Your grace have made a way for me to come home. So I do.
Amen


Second Helping: From the same source, check out A Passing Shadow.

December 10, 2020

A Messy Faith, But a Merry Christmas

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:27 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

How do you believe something when everyone around around you says that what you believe is ridiculous? How do you question anything when everyone around you says that your doubts are ridiculous? Faith can get messy. Should we believe? Can we believe?

This Christmas especially, many people may be questioning their faith. God sent baby Jesus. Can he not send a vaccine? Science seems to be doing well on that front.

As the Christmas story unfolds in the Gospel of Luke we encounter someone whose faith gets messy. I will let you read the story for yourself:

When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.

While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”

Luke 1:5-20 (NLT)

Zechariah had all the credentials of a good religious man, he was as a priest, he was mature, he was righteous, yet he wavered in his faith. It is clear that when the angel appeared, he was not prepared for an experience of the supernatural!

Perhaps there are many good religious people today, who are not prepared for an experience of the supernatural.

Christianity exists as a response to the supernatural, as an outcome of God’s direct involvement in our world. Though there are many examples, let us focus on three occasions:

  • The creation. Everything we consider to be “natural” is a result of the supernatural.
  • The incarnation of God in Jesus through the virgin conception.
  • The resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

When Christmas comes along, while some children begin to question if Santa Claus is for real, some adults and youth begin to question if a virgin conception is for real. Faith wavers. If we believe there is any possibility that God exists, that God conceived the universe then brought it into being, then for God to be involved in the conception of a child is no problem at all, especially if there was good reason to do so.

And there was good reason.

It is often said that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” That is not true, extraordinary claims require good evidence. There are many books and resources available regarding that evidence for the reality of God and Jesus.

Let us try this statement instead; “God’s extraordinary love provides extraordinary evidence.” The story of Christmas with the miracle of the incarnation is extraordinary evidence of God’s love. The story of Easter with the miracle of the resurrection is extraordinary evidence of God’s love.

Zechariah did all the godly things, yet he doubted the power of God. Do we? Faith gets messy when we doubt the power of God. Faith gets especially messy when we doubt the love of God.

There is another side to this coin. Zechariah had his moment of doubt, of asking a question. Since the angel seemed to scold Zechariah for his doubt, we might be tempted to scold anyone, including ourselves, for ever doubting or questioning. However, to do so is to miss the bigger story here.

Zechariah’s doubt did not disqualify him from being part of God’s people, from being a priest, or from the wonderful calling of being John the Baptist’s Dad.

You will not be disqualified for asking a question, for sharing a doubt. As messy as our faith gets, it does not mess up God’s love.

Questions and doubts can sometimes be a necessary part of faith. Wouldn’t the world have been a safer place if the men that took control of planes to fly them into the Wold Trade Centre had less certainty and more doubt? While we might claim that their faith was different, for they were Muslims of a fundamentalist variety, does it sometimes happen that we as Christians cause harm by our certainty on things where perhaps room for doubt or questions would be better?

A friend shared a video with me of a woman dealing with panic attacks and depression. Turning to Christian friends and professionals she was told to look for whatever sin was hindering her, or to have more faith. She eventually got better help beyond the Christian circles she was moving in. We can bring harm into people’s lives by our certitude.

We have questions and doubts. Questions and doubts are part of a growing faith, a growing relationship with God. We want to be careful that we are not acting like we know everything when the Bible does not tell us everything. While faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit, certitude is not.

Zechariah was not disqualified because he expressed doubt. On the contrary, just imagine how his faith must have grown when he saw the power of God at work. Perhaps our questions and doubts can be an important part of the journey of faith.

We may feel a pressure from society to never believe anything the Bible says. We may feel a pressure from our faith community to never doubt anything the faith community says about what the Bible says. As a father seeking a miracle from Jesus for his child said:

“I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

Mark 9:24 (NLT)

Is it time to take a step toward trusting the power and love of God, of trusting Jesus? Is it time to give yourself permission to have questions and doubts? When our faith is messy, it does not mess up God’s love. Zechariah’s faith was messy. It didn’t ruin Christmas.


Clarke Dixon is a Baptist pastor — not that Baptist, the other one — in Southern Ontario. He writes at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. Today’s thoughts alone on video are at this link or may be seen as part of this “online worship expression

January 28, 2013

Three Assurance-Giving Metaphors

This is from a new book, Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How To Know For Sure You Are Saved by J. D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; a book about assurance of salvation.  (Published by B&H Books.) Normally here at C201, all scripture references are in green — because the scriptures have life! — but because all the quotations today are the words of Jesus, I thought we’d revert to the familiar “red-letter” format.

Jesus knew how important it was for His disciples to be assured of His love. In the final conversation He had with them before He died, He used three metaphors that showed them how committed he was to them. They were about to go through hell on earth, and He wanted to give them something to hang onto that would sustain them in that hour of great tribulation.

His Beloved Children

In John 14:18, Jesus said,

“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”

Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart - J. D. GreearA faithful father does not leave his kids wondering whether or not he loves them. When I go away on a trip, I don’t say to my kids, “Daddy will be back soon…or maybe he won’t. Maybe I’m not really your daddy at all. Maybe my real family lives somewhere else. You’ll just have to wait and see if I come back. Sit around and think about that while I’m gone and let that compel you to become better children.”

That would not produce love and loyalty in my children. It might produce a little fear-based obedience, but it’s only a matter of time until fear-based obedience turns into farther-loathing rebellion. If I don’t want my own children fearing they might be orphans, would God?

Do we really think we are better fathers to our children than God would be to His? Hardly. The love God has for us is the highest in the universe.  Jesus said,

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you.” (John 15:9)

Jesus loves us like God the Father loved Him; and He wants us to have the same assurance with Him that He had with God…

His Betrothed

In that same conversation Jesus told His disciples,

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14: 1-3)

Some have noted that Jesus’ language in these verses is laden with Jewish wedding imagery. In Jesus’ day, a young suitor would travel to his beloved’s home; throw a party, and request her hand in marriage. Assuming she said yes, he would return to his father’s home where he would begin construction on a room attached to the family living space. When their “place” was completed, he would return for her. Before he left, he would promise that he was coming back.

He did not want her to worry. Worry might lead to doubt, and doubt would cause here to be open to the advances of other suitors. He wanted her assurance to be so strong that she would not be moved by the flirtations of another…

…Jesus gives us, His beloved, that same confidence. He spoke to us in wedding language so that we would have the confidence of the wedding bride. Only in that confidence are we able to resist the enticements of sin.

His Friends

Finally, in John 15:15 Jesus calls His disciples His “friends.”

“No longer do I call you servants…but I have called you friends.”

Do you want your best friends questioning your loyalty to them? One of the greatest aspects of friendship is the feeling of safety that comes with it. You can be yourself around them and say what’s on your  mind without worrying about them betraying your confidence or abandoning you. You can give them access to the most vulnerable parts of your life without  any fear that they will violate them. Until you get to that point, it’s not really a friendship, or at least a very enjoyable one. True friendship only grows in security and trust.

I’ve had a few “friends” who broke my trust. I was never sure if they were guarding my reputation or trashing it. We didn’t remain friends very long. The friends I have developed the deepest bonds with are those I know I could trust with my very life.

Jesus wants us no less sure of His friendship to us. he said,

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

His commitment to friendship is no less than ours; it is infinitely more! Perhaps you’ve had a friend betray you or discover about you that led to their rejection of you. Jesus never will. From the beginning, He saw it all and chose us anyway. (John 15:16) When we revealed our worst side to Jesus, He bore our shame and consequences in our place. Friendship doesn’t get any more secure than that.

Those three images show us for certain that God wants us to be sure. He couldn’t have chosen three more intimate and precious relationships! We are His children, His bride, and His friends.

~Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart, pp 18-21

Read a review of the book here

January 16, 2011

Psalm 23 Continues to Comfort

Doug Koop is the editorial director of Christian Week, Canada’s national Christian newspaper.  This appeared at his blog under the title, Why Psalm 23 Comforts Christian Souls

Psalm 23 is often on my mind. This is partly because the well-known shepherd’s psalm is source of great comfort to many. Partly it’s because as a boy I memorized it in old-fashioned King James English. And it stuck. I can still recite the words by heart. They come quickly to mind especially during hard times, especially in the dark watches of the night when sleep is elusive and the cares of life weigh heavily.

To repeat a psalm like this verbatim is not the same as saying that I know it by heart. I like that phrase, “by heart.” It somehow imbues a mere collection of words with great meaning and significance. It implies deeper understanding and more profound belief.

Psalm 23 has a powerful reassuring effect on many people, myself included. And although it is the Scripture of choice for funerals, it’s really about life in this world. It describes a perfect, pastoral setting and speaks to the yearning of every human heart. We all want our every need provided. Everyone wants to be protected. Everyone wants a soul at perfect peace. Everyone wants to live well.

But everyone also knows that the world we inhabit is rarely this hospitable. Many people lack even their daily bread. Hostility harries both innocents and aggressors. Those who live in great comfort and safety are still at risk for distressed spirits. There are very few truly righteous people in this world, which can be a very hard and lonely place.

Perhaps the reason why this psalm is so comforting is precisely because it speaks a strong message of hope in full awareness of the harsh realities of our deeply troubled world. It acknowledges want. It embraces the vexatious presence of enemies. It admits death.

The key to its comfort is that Psalm 23 confronts these situations with the mighty hope of a loving God. Its core message bombards the power of evil with images of bounteous provision, total protection, glorious honor and a soul at peace amidst even the most severe of circumstances.

Sustenance, deliverance and restoration speak to our most basic human needs, addressing the deepest desires of our heart and the yearnings of our very beings. It satisfies them with good things.

The psalm ends on a note of casual confidence—calm assurance—in the benefits of knowing God and living according to His will and ways. I like that word “surely.” The psalmist concludes with shameless certainty that the pathway of those who put their trust in the Good Shepherd leads to eternity in His loving presence, and that their legacy will be heartening to others.

“Surely,” writes the psalmist, those who follow the Lord leave a trail of goodness and mercy in their wake. They are harbingers of comfort and joy. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

~Doug Koop, Winnipeg, Canada