Christianity 201

August 27, 2018

Is Sin a Condition or a State of Being?

Today we’re introducing you to a new (to us) website, Faith, Fiction and Fatherhood. The writer holds a law degree from Baylor and attends a United Methodist Church in Texas. Click the title below and then check out other articles.

Is Sin Phenomenal or Existential?

In Matthew 5:28, in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: “‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’”

That’s a tough statement, especially given the following advice that if a body part is causing us to sin we ought to cut it off.

But let’s take a step back and think about this on a level deeper than the surface–and the shock that goes along with it. I’m a firm believer that many times when Jesus says something that seems very condemning, what he’s doing is simply laying out for us how the world works and what the natural consequences of a thing are. For instance, when Jesus tells us that, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” in Matthew 19:24, he’s not saying “God condemns rich people for being rich and no one should be.” Rather, I think, he’s saying, “The money and power that go along with wealth–and the accompanying desire to hold onto that money and power–make it very difficult to focus on what is good and true and righteous, because the love of power is seductive and addictive. Be wary that such things do not make you see the world in the wrong way, but keep focused on the way that I have told you to see the world.”

Likewise, in Matthew 5:28, while Jesus does say something that, if we’re being honest with ourselves, reminds us all of our sins, I think that his purpose is less about shaming us and more about telling us about the very nature of sin.

And that’s why this post is titled, “Is sin phenomonal or existential?” If you’ve read many of my other posts, you already know where I fall on this issue, but I’d like to develop the idea a bit more specifically.

When I ask if sin is phenomenal, what I mean to ask is whether sin is a matter of discrete and observable actions, specific behaviors violative of what is righteous. When I ask if sin is existential, I’m asking if, rather than being a matter of specific and easily-identifiable behaviors, sin is a condition or state of being.

The real answer, of course, is that it’s both of these things at once. What the question(s) really seek to answer is whether it is particular actions that lead to a particular state of sin or whether particular actions are the result of a state of being. Again, the best argument is likely that there’s a dialectic between these two things–bad acts make it easier to choose bad acts in the future, deepening a state of sinfulness, but without some existentially sinful condition, there would never be any sinful action, so the influence of one on the other must be mutually reinforcing. So, what should we focus on as primary when dealing with and discussing sin–actions or a state of being.

In Matthew 5:28, Jesus appears to be arguing against the legalism of the Old Testament law (here making specific allusion to the Ten Commandments) and instead showing us that sinfulness is a matter of mindset, perspective (compared to the objective, I mean to intimate no relativistic thought here), paradigm.

There are two quotations I prefer (and have used on the blog before) to encapsulate this idea, which is central and fundamental to existential thought. Having been a professional student and scholar of the Renaissance and early modern periods, both quotations are derived from that most elevated and rarified literary era.

First, some John Milton, from Book I of Paradise Lost: “The mind is its own place, and in itself/Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

Second, Shakespeare: “O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2.

Following existential thought in general, and Paul Tillich (my favorite theologian) in particular, we argue that humans, as a matter of course and necessity, make meaning in the world. We do this by relating things to one another in their existential aspects and phenomena, creating those relationships through storytelling. The “secular” existentialists see this as the fundamental cause of “existential angst”–we fail to detect any inherent and objective meaning in the things which we observe and with which we interact. But the Christian existentialist takes this farther, first positing that there is ultimate and objective meaning that comes from God, though we may detect such only through divine revelation; and, second, marvelling at the great opportunity, pleasure, power and responsibility we have been given in co-creating with God by establishing meaning through our own narratives, big and small. This process, as a fundamental aspect of man’s existence, is clear from the beginning of Creation–is not Adam creating meaning and relationships by naming the creatures of the Earth?

Upon recognition of this divinely-granted human power, we must immediately recognize the source of sin–the creation of meanings and relationships that are not in line with God’s plan and intentions. Put bluntly, seeing and thinking about the world in the wrong way.

And this is what Jesus warns about in Matthew 5:28–it’s not sin only when you take action to commit adultery; if you have created a mental concept of existence that sees women merely as objects of your lust, that permits infidelity and betrayal for the most fleeting of passions, you’re doing it wrong and you’re already in a state of sinfulness. It’s not enough to refrain from the commission of the action; you must change the way you think about and see the world and how all the things in it relate to one another.

When we compare this concept to other moral teachings of Jesus, we find great support for it. Jesus usually seems to be less concerned about specific actions and more concerned with the ideologies, social structures, theologies and existential states that lead to those actions: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” When we think about sin existentially, sin becomes about relationships, results and intents, not arbitrary restrictions. This comports perfectly with the Greatest Commandments.

Just as the plain language of Jesus’s words make clear, this is a higher standard of morality than avoiding the consummation of unrighteous intents; it is war on unrighteous intent itself. And it makes perfect sense; if you fall into the trap of lusting after people in your mind, that objectification likely affects more than just the questions of adultery and fidelity. In many ways, such thought is about a reduction of the humanity of a person into a personification of of desire and temptation, an indulgence of the self by the self that only needs the other person as a tool of that self-indulgence. Once we’ve stripped such a person of their humanity, however small a slice we may cut away at a time, we will treat them differently, and not in a better way, though the injury to the person may be so subtle as to go generally unnoticed without deep introspection or close observation.

But to focus on just how fallen the idea that sin is existential and caused by our own ordering of our idea of Creation makes us is to miss the point. The strong implication, as Milton shows us, is that just as unrighteous narrative and mental/idealist/ideological relationships make us sinful, righteous ones bring us closer to God. Every time we shift our conception of the world closer to God’s intention for those relationships as demonstrated in Jesus, we are both personally participating in the Kingdom of God and, as we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, working to bring the Kingdom of God to Earth.

In simpler terms, Jesus is implicating here that we create our own reality. Again, not in some relativistic way, because God’s intention for Creation establishes objective truth, but in the way we personally interact with the world and believe it to be. We have been given an astounding power of sub-creation inherent to our free will, but we are also called to use that power to seek righteousness, to become, as Jesus later calls us to become in the Sermon on the Mount: Perfect, as our Father in Heaven is perfect.

The scope of the Sermon on the Mount is not a collection of warnings and prohibitions; it is a call to participate in the infinite joy of existence as a child of God by seeking to create the kinds of narratives and mental conceptions that God would have us create.

 

 

 

August 15, 2018

His Words or His Works?

Jenny writes at Covered in His Dust. This is her first time showcased here at C201, and there are a number of other great posts on her site. This one appeared in February; click the title below to read it there.

What I learned from an unclean spirit

I started a study through the book of Mark a little over a week ago.  In true form, I’m only three days in, but they’ve been a good three days.  It’s interesting what things stand out when you read scripture slowly and really sink your teeth in.

In Mark chapter 1, starting in verse 21, it says Jesus went to Capernaum and started teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath.

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

~ Mar 1:21-22 NIV

Evidently these people had never heard anyone teach like Jesus before.  There was something different about Him.  He taught with authority and it was enough to make the people take pause.

But the enemy wasn’t having it.  Immediately following this verse, there’s a distraction.

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”

~ Mar 1:23-24 NIV

Jesus is right in the middle of teaching and the people are finding themselves being drawn to Him and boom…the enemy sends an interruption.  But here’s a couple of things I thought were interesting about this scene.

First, I wonder how long this guy with the unclean spirit had been hanging around the synagogue.  Like, who was he? And what was his influence on the people around him before now?  Did they know already that he was possessed or was it only in the presence of Jesus that he was forced to reveal himself?

Either way, I think it’s worth noting here how important it is that we stay connected to Christ and in constant fellowship with Him.  That we stay in the scriptures.  That we stay aware of what’s going on around us.  That we are in the habit of renewing our minds (Romans 12:2).  Because Satan is sneaky.  Who knows where he’s hanging around or how long he’s been there?  And if we are counting on our own eyes to see his schemes, we’re in trouble.

Second, it’s interesting how this unclean spirit decided to out himself.  There’s Jesus teaching like nobody ever and all of a sudden there’s this guy crying out and detracting from the moment, but he’s doing it by addressing Jesus as the Holy One of God.  It would seem like this demon is working against the enemy by confirming Jesus’ identity.  And while that might be a little true, the fact is that even sometimes things we think are God things can be distractions from the main thing.

Jesus wasn’t having any nonsense and immediately cast the demon out, but then in the next verse it says,

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching–and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”

~ Mar 1:27 NIV

Only a couple of verses before, the people were astonished by Jesus’ teaching.  They were listening to the Son of God talking about His father and they were enthralled.  Now it says they were amazed by His authority over demons and immediately His fame spread throughout the region.  I can’t help but wonder what spread the most from that occasion?  His words or His works?  Is it possible that the enemy thought that using a miracle would take the focus off what Jesus was teaching?  That people would be more interested in what Jesus could do for them than what He had to say to them?  Sorta like, fix their bodies, but stay away from their hearts?  Because the heart change was really the point, right?

Sometimes even things that seem good or right might not be best.  Sometimes the things we do for God can start to overshadow our walk with God.  Like it starts to be more about the doing than the being.  It’s like something Noelle said the Pursue the Passion conference this past weekend.

Walking with God is far better than walking for Him. 

It might seem like semantics, but think of it like this.  If I’m walking beside someone, conversation is easier.  Eye contact is easier.  But following along behind or getting ahead  can break the connection.  It’s easy to miss part of the conversation or even the direction the other person is going.

It’s not to say that doing God’s work is a bad thing.  But when our relationship with God gets off track because we’re fixed on this thing or that thing, God’s work really isn’t God’s work anymore.  Now it’s our work.  And I’ve come to realize more and more that if I’m going to stay in line with God’s will for me, then I’m going to have to stay in line with Him.

God, help me keep my focus.  When my eyes wander to great and mighty things instead of the Great and Almighty God, draw me back.

August 3, 2018

Lessons from the Searchlights

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Regular readers know that the philosophy here at C201 is to avoid example-based or illustration-based devotionals and studies, and to simply cut to the chase of Bible exposition or topical study.

Today, however, I had a strong impression that this simple devotional is what someone out there needs today…

Some of you know that while I’m not writing on a number of online platforms, I spend a few days a week at a Christian bookstore which we own. The shop is named “Searchlight” and it’s registered as a business although we don’t draw a salary. Some years it makes money, and some years it loses.

So what was I thinking when I named the company?

On one level, I was thinking of a song by Christian artist Nancy Honeytree from the 1970s.

On a higher level however, I had in mind the two definitions of the word.

The first type of searchlight is the type you see mounted on the back of a large truck. The lens is at least a metre across and the light pivots, pointed to the nighttime sky to attract people from a wide area to see what’s happening, whether it’s the opening of a new store or restaurant or the premiere of a new movie.

It’s saying, “There’s something happening here.”

The Apostle Paul is standing before Governor Festus…

At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”
“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.
”  – Acts 26:24-26 NIV

The Passion Translation states the last phrase as, “After all, it’s not like it was a secret!” while The Message renders it as, “You must realize that this wasn’t done behind the scenes.”

There’s something happening here. The Good News is changing hearts and lives. The message of Jesus is raising people to new life.

The prophet Habakkuk is told to write God’s message in a way that no one can miss it:

And the Lord answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. – Habakkuk 2:2 ESV

I love how The Living Bible (the predecessor of today’s NLT) renders this:

And the Lord said to me, “Write my answer on a billboard, large and clear, so that anyone can read it at a glance and rush to tell the others.

The word of the Lord is larger than life; not done in a remote corner, and certainly not about something distant, or ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far away.’

This is the best news ever.

The second type of searchlight is smaller, but much more important. It’s the type of light is mounted on a vehicle, a boat or a small plane.

It’s saying, “Someone out there is lost.”

It’s meant not to draw people in to a location, but rather to go out from a location to look for a missing person or persons.

Jesus is concluding his meeting with Zacchaeus:

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:9-10 NIV

(Jesus says the same words in Matthew 18:11, in a different context.)

This mirrors Ezekiel 34:11-12:

“For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. – NLT

This has led many to refer to “The God who pursues.”  (We’ll look at that tomorrow!)

Part one of the Gospel is “come and see” and part two is “go and tell.”

Something is happening that compels us; draws us; then like Andrew (who on meeting Jesus went to get his brother Peter) we go out and search out more who need to hear.


It turns out I mentioned Searchlight once before in this August, 2015 article.


The meaning of Searchlight in the Honeytree song is different yet again, asking God to shine his light into our hearts and souls.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139: 23-24 NLT

July 23, 2018

Seeing Jesus in Those Around Us

A year ago we introduced you to Ed Cyzewski who we’ve mentioned many times at Thinking Out Loud, but that was his first appearance at C201. We recently paid another visit and found an article we hope connects with people here. Click the title below to read at source.

Do I See Jesus in the People Around Me?

Why don’t I help people who are in need?

The possible reasons are plentiful:

Am I in a hurry? Are financial concerns making me less generous? Do I have other priorities for my time and resources? Do I think someone isn’t worthy of help and needs to be more responsible? Do I believe the other person is just looking for a way to take advantage of me? Do I feel unsafe because the person in need may be high or intoxicated?

Depending on the situation, I’ve been all over the map when it comes to helping others. Sometimes I’ve initiated help, sometimes I’ve responded positively, sometimes I’ve offered limited help, and sometimes I have not offered any help at all. Perhaps money really is tight during that month, but other times I just don’t want to be a sucker. Thoughts of self-preservation can be legitimate at times, but often it’s just a convenient way to sound reasonable in my own selfishness.

When I refuse to help others, the focus is often myself. I’m considering my needs and my personal comfort. I don’t identify with them. That is what makes a passage like Matthew 25 so striking. Jesus identifies with those in need to the point that any generous act toward others is considered a generous act toward Jesus.

Am I able see Jesus in other people?

More importantly, do I see Jesus in the people I am most likely to overlook or to dismiss?

That is the whole crux of how Jesus judged those who helped or neglected to help the sick, immigrant, poorly clothed, imprisoned, and hungry. Those who cared for these people were the ones who, perhaps unexpectedly, served Jesus by serving the overlooked people of this world. Those who neglected them had neglected Jesus himself.

“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”
Matthew 25:40, NRSV

“Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”
Matthew 25:45, NRSV

It’s as if Jesus is trying to snap us out of our self-centered daily outlooks in order to perceive the God-given worth and dignity of each person.  He wants us to imagine that we are serving Jesus himself so that we don’t get lost in the situation or the worthiness of the other person.

And if imagining such a thing remains a stretch for us when we serve others, perhaps we have a clue to consider the state of our own hearts and our awareness of God’s love for us. If we are even uninclined to serve Jesus himself, then we know we have a focus on self that must be addressed.

The hope is that the generous love of God in our lives transforms us, reminds us daily of how great God’s mercy has been for us, and prompts us to show the same love and mercy to others.

 

June 3, 2018

I Am

A worship liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson

In the gospel of Matthew, we read of Jesus asking his followers, “Who do you say that I am?

In the gospel of Mark, we read of Jesus asking his followers, “Who do you say that I am?

In the gospel of Luke, we read of Jesus asking his followers, “Who do you say that I am?

In the gospel of John, we read of Jesus giving us vocabulary to help us answer this question. To understand who he is.

Jesus told them, “I am the bread of life.
Anyone who comes to me will never be hungry, and anyone who believes in me will never be thirsty again.

Jesus spoke to them again: “I am the light of the world.
Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.

Jesus said again, “I assure you: I am the door.
Anyone who enters by me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture.

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth and the life.
Anyone who comes to the Father comes through me.

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches.
Anyone who abides in Me, and I in him, produces much fruit.
If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers.

Jesus told them, “I am the good shepherd.
Anyone who knows me knows my voice. I know My own sheep, and they know Me. I lay down My life for the sheep.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.
Anyone who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die — ever.
Do you believe this?

✞ ✞ ✞

He tells us to see him:

As the good bread, and the living water: the one who satisfies the most fundamental needs of our souls;
As the light of life: the one who makes our path visible, who gives us understanding, who kills our fear;
As the door: the only way in – to shelter – and the only way out – to freedom;
As the way, the truth, the life: the one who gives us access to the Father;
As the vine: the one who gives us roots and certainty, identity and provision, growth and fruit;
As the shepherd: the one who provides protection and gives guidance;
As the resurrection: the one who gives us hope, not only in the forever, but today and next Monday and right now.

But as with all of God’s promises, there’s a flip-side.

His promises come with the expectation, the demand, that we choose to receive. That we choose to say yes.

Yes, I will hear your voice.
Yes, I will come.
Yes, I will enter.
Yes, I will abide.
Yes, I will produce your fruit.
Yes, I will live.
Yes, I will die.
Yes, I will live again.
Yes, I will believe.

May 31, 2018

John 3:16: Should God Send People to Hell for Not Believing Certain Things?

Should God send people to hell for failing to believe certain things? Some will point to John 3:16,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NRSV)

Some object that God cannot be very loving if failure to believe results in punishment. Does the punishment fit the crime? However, John 3:16 will help us respond to the objection.

Before we get to 3:16, it helps to look at verses 1-15 where we are introduced to Nicodemus. Being a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus would have believed certain things about the way things are. He was no doubt well-versed in the Hebrew Bible and was looking forward to the coming Kingdom of God. He would have held onto certain beliefs about who would enter the Kingdom and how. You enter this kingdom by being born into the right family, the Jewish family, and doing the right thing, keeping the Jewish law.

Jesus challenges Nicodemus on his beliefs about these things:

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” John 3:3 (NRSV)

Being born into the right family is not what is important for the Kingdom, but rather “being born from above”, or “born again”.  Nicodemus takes the latter meaning of the term but Jesus is referring to the same idea we were introduced to in John 1:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.  He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,  who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:10-13 (NRSV emphasis added)

To boil this down to essentials, you will see God’s Kingdom, not because you were born into the right family, but because of God’s work in you no matter what family you were originally born into. Jesus continues:

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’   The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8 (NRSV)

Nicodemus would have known where he, as a Jewish person ,came from; Jewish parents. However, with Kingdom people, you do not know where they come from. In other words,  a Kingdom person can be from any background or nation, as long as God is working in them. Nicodemus had certain beliefs about the Kingdom, but Jesus challenged him on them.

Jesus goes on to challenge Nicodemus on his beliefs about who he, Jesus himself, really is. Nicodemus already believes certain things about Jesus:

He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” John 3:2 (NRSV)

Jesus challenges Nicodemus to go deeper than that:

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. John 3:13-15 (NRSV)

Jesus is not just a prophet with God’s presence, but the Son of Man coming from God. Nicodemus would likely have had Daniel 7 going through his mind at this point. He also would have been thinking of the passage of Scripture from Numbers where Moses is instructed to lift up a serpent so that everyone who looked to it could be healed from the consequence of their sin. The inference here is subtle, but important; namely, that Jesus is not like Moses, but greater than Moses. While Moses lifted up the serpent, Jesus is the One lifted up, meaning that he was to be crucified as a means of healing. Jesus is the One through whom healing comes, the One through whom we receive forgiveness for our rebellion against God. Which brings us to verse 16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NRSV)

Jesus is challenging Nicodemus to move from belief that something is true, to trust in Someone. Nicodemus believed certain things, namely that you enter into the Kingdom first by being born into the right family. Jesus tells him that anyone can enter the Kingdom by trusting that God has done the best thing.

What does this have to do with our objection: “should people go to hell for not believing certain things”?

Even when I know where I am going, I like using my iPhone’s Maps voice guidance on Highway 401. It shows me the traffic and has occasionally led me off the highway in order to rescue me from an upcoming traffic mess.

Now suppose I don’t listen to the voice guidance thinking that I know better. When I slow to a stop, would I then ask my phone why it sent me into a traffic jam? I chose that route, and I chose to trust my own judgement rather than trust my phone which offered a better path.

God does not send people to hell for failing to believe certain things. People choose a path that leads to death and separation from God. When God offers forgiveness and a better path, they choose to not trust Him. Being separated from God for eternity is not punishment for disbelief. It is the natural consequence of a life of walking away from God. It is sin, not disbelief, that separates us from God. Eternal life is not about believing certain things, it is about trusting God. It is about trusting that God has dealt with our separation from Him through Jesus at the cross. It is trusting that through His grace, we are welcomed as children, born from above.


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

 

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

May 11, 2018

Jesus Redefines Success

I’m currently reading and enjoying the newly-released book Evangelism in a Skeptical World by Sam Chan. What follows is not from the book, but I went hunting around online to see if I could find some other writing by him to share with you and found this at City Bible Forum.  As always, click the title below to read this at source.

How to be rich and successful without losing your soul

The road to success comes with much uncertainty – am I good enough? Can I stay successful?

I spent a large chunk of my life studying for exams. So why do we do exams? Because they are a gateway to success. If we can pass our exams, we get a qualification. If we get a qualification, we get a job. If we get a job, we’re successful.

We can define success as getting what we’re looking for. Maybe it’s wealth. Or respect. Or a trophy family. But if we can find it, then we’re finally successful.

According to our modern Western narrative, we have to earn our success. It’s not given to us. We have to gain it by being smarter, faster and better than those around us.

But this will lead ultimately to fear and insecurity. Because there are so many factors that are out of our control. For example, what if I get sick on the day of my exam? What if a GFC comes and wipes out my profits? What if one of my children is born with a learning disability?

And we’ll never know if we’ve done enough. How much do I have to study? How much money do I have to make? How much tutoring will my children need?

We will always fear falling behind. Because there will always be someone else who is smarter, faster and better than us.

In Jesus’ story about a rich fool (Luke 12:13-21), he teaches us how to re-define “success”. First, success is a gift from God, rather than something we gain. The hint is in verse 16 where the ground produced a good harvest for the rich man.

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.” (verse 16)

For us it’s the same. God controls the factors that determine whether we will be “successful.”

So we need to re-define “success.” If I get what I’m working for, I need to be humble and thank God for my success. But if I don’t get what I work for, then I need to trust that God has a better plan for me.

Second, true success is to be “rich toward God” (v. 21).

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (verse 21)

In the end, the most important thing is that we’re in a rich and flourishing relationship with God.

This also is a gift from God, rather than something we gain. Jesus dies for us and now lives for us. This new life is something we receive from God. I can never gain it by my own effort.

A man once told me his sad story. He said his dad never spent time with him. Instead, his dad would give him lots of money. But the man said, “My dad never got it. I didn’t want his money, I wanted him.”

It’s the same with us. God doesn’t want our riches. In the end, he wants us to be rich to him.


Sam Chan also blogs at his EspressoTheology.com

May 2, 2018

Extreme Love

While preparing an article for a book industry blog I edit, I came across the name of Pastor Ray Bentley, founder of Maranatha Chapel in San Diego, California. The two devotions which follow are from his blog. Click the titles to read each at source, and then if you have time, navigate to other devotionals posted there.

Extreme Love, Extreme Living

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”— 1 Peter 4:8

Extreme love. Love so great that it makes up for not just a few sins—but a multitude! And you know, we are not forced to live in this extreme stratosphere of love. We are invited.

Jesus initiated extreme love.

First He taught His followers, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15: 13); then He did it.

As He hung on the cross, He had few friends left to witness His suffering.

But He hung there anyway. He died for his friends, and for those who hated Him, who misunderstood His purpose, and who were lost in sin and hardness of heart. “While we were still sinners,” He died for us, so that we can know love. We are invited to experience it, to live it, to demonstrate it in our own lives.

Love is the most potent emotion and power in all of creation.Love motivated Creation, forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life for mankind. Abundant love, when accepted gratefully, gives us abundant lives, full of purpose, meaning, sacrifice, and ultimate love.

Hebrews chapter eleven is a partial list of daring individuals who chose to live in extreme love. They are as varied a group of people as you will ever encounter, and they laid the foundation for our faith.  

They were judges and farmers, rulers and prostitutes, prophets, and parents.

They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of flames, escaped the edge of the sword; their weaknesses were turned to strength; they fought battles, and saw their dead raised to life.

Some were tortured, some faced jeers and flogging, others were chained in prison.

They were stoned; they were tortured; they were put to death by the sword.

They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated. They lived in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

They were commended for their faith…and God declared that the world was not worthy of them.

Now that’s extreme living.

“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” —Amy Carmichael


Love Experienced

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” —1 John 4:8

The apostle John simplified everything when he stated, “God is love.”

But we can misunderstand that love. You might regard your relationship with God as an invitation you once answered when He knocked on the door of your life and you let Him in. Now you’re a Christian. Simple.

But don’t let that be enough. We’re not supposed to just start going to church, put a Bible on the coffee table, and figure, OK, took care of that. I’m right with God.

That’s not love experienced!

A life that knows true love is filled with a multitude of invitations, because of the nature of love. Love is a living relationship that never remains exactly the same, but grows deeper, more intimate, more secure. We can never get enough of it, and we will never come to the end of it, because God Himself, the Author of love, is infinite and His love knows no limits.

Every day, in a variety of ways, the Lord comes knocking on the door of your heart. Through circumstances, people, new opportunities, a change of venue, the beauty of nature, and sometimes heartache and tragedy—God gives us the chance to experience and live with His love in a new way, everyday.

Don’t miss your daily invitation to grow deeper in God’s love.

Seek Him in His Word.

Look for Him in the faces of the people around you.

Accept the hard things, as part of what makes you a deeper, more compassionate person.

Give the love God gives to you away freely, abundantly, wisely, and with a grateful heart.

April 20, 2018

The Duplicity of the Sadducees

Today’s author is here at C201 for the first time today, though I have encountered his writing before. David Ettinger has been widely published including “various LifeWay publications, Single Parent magazine (Focus on the Family), Zion’s Fire magazine, and Real Life magazine.” David was born and raised in a Jewish family in New York, and converted to Christianity in 1986.

What’s reproduced below begins about a third into the article, so if you’d like to know more about the Sadducees, I strongly encourage you to click the title below.

A Brief Look at the Sadducees

This is the second in a short series of brief blogs on some of the “players” who had a major role in the four Gospels: the Sadducees, Pharisees, and, to a lesser degree, the Essenes. The first was “The Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes: The Precursor.”

Religious Beliefs
Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees did not accept all of the Hebrew Scriptures, but only the first five books known as the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Ironically, in this way they were similar to the lowly-regarded Samaritans (read my blog, “A Brief Look at the Samaritans”).

Furthermore, they did not believe in the concept of an afterlife, which at that time was gaining great popularity in Judaism, particularly among the Pharisees (and is clearly taught in the Book of Daniel). They also rejected the belief of angels, demons, resurrection from the dead, and apocalyptic predictions of the last days. They likewise did not accept the oral law as developed by the Pharisees.

What they did advocate was the animal sacrifices at the Temple and the role of the priesthood.

The Sadducees and Jesus
Perhaps the most famous confrontation between Jesus and the Sadducees concerned their questioning Him on an issue regarding marriage and, especially, the resurrection of the dead. This, of course, was disingenuous on the part of the Sadducees because they did not believe in the resurrection; their goal was to discredit Jesus, not to discover truth.

In Matthew Chapter 22, the Sadducees ask Jesus the following:

Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her? (vv. 23-28).

The question is preposterous and Jesus exposes the duplicity of the Sadducees while at the same time shaming them most deservingly. The Lord replied:

You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead – have you not read what God said to you, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is not the God of the dead but of the living (vv. 29-32).

One would think that after being taken so soundly to the theological woodshed the Sadducees would reflect, reconsider, and repent. However, as Jesus elucidated, the Sadducees did “not know the Scriptures” nor did they know “the power of God.” They were ignorant on both counts, and had no desire to overcome their spiritual shortcomings.

The Sadducee “Legacy”
It is no wonder that absolutely NONE of the writings of the Sadducees have been preserved. All we know about them is what we read in the Bible and extra-biblical sources. They were theologically limited, have left nothing in writing for the generations to come, and denied both the messiahship and Deity of Jesus Christ.

This is the lamentable legacy of a sect of men who lived at the same time of Christ, interacted with Him, witnessed the miracles He performed, but in the end denied Him.

 

 

April 17, 2018

Seeking Jesus for What We Can Get

We’re paying a return visit to the website Catholic Daily Reflections. Readers are reminded that we include writings here from a wide variety of Christian websites, and today is an example of that. From three devotionals we considered, we selected this one. Click to read at source.

Seeking Jesus

Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” John 6:26-27

This Scripture goes straight to the heart of our priorities in life.  What are you working for?  Are you working hard for the “food that perishes” and only working slightly for the “food that endures for eternal life?”  Or vice versa?

For some reason, we can easily become obsessed with working for the “things” of this world.  In the passage above, people were looking for Jesus because He had fed them the day before and they were hungry again.  They were looking for food, literally.  Jesus gently rebukes them, taking this as an opportunity to point out the real reason they should be seeking Him.  The real reason is that He wants to provide the spiritual food of eternal life.  What is the food Jesus wants you to seek?  That’s a question you must let our Lord answer in your heart.

There are two key questions we should ponder here so as to let Him answer us.  First, “What do I want in life?”  Spend time with that.  Spend time all by yourself and try to be honest with this question.  What do you want?  What is your heart’s desire?  If you are honest and if you let yourself face your desires you will most likely find that you have some desires, or even many, that are not put in your heart by Christ.  Recognizing what these desires are is the first step to discovering what the true food is that Jesus wants to give you.

The second key question is this: “Are you seeking Jesus for the right reason?”  When we are sick we seek a doctor for a cure.  When a child is hurt, this child often runs to a parent for comfort.  This is OK.  We do the same.  When we are lost and confused we often turn to God for answers and help.  But, ideally, we will eventually seek God for more than just healing or comfort.  We will ultimately seek God for the reason of love.  We will seek Him simply because we love Him and want to love Him all the more.

Reflect, today, upon your desire to seek Jesus, or lack thereof.  When you can begin to seek out Jesus simply because you love Him and want to love Him more, you are on the right road.  And as you walk down that road, you find it is a road of the utmost delight and fulfillment.

Jesus, help me to seek You.  Help me to seek You for the help and healing I need.  But more than that, help me to seek You out of love.  My Jesus, I do love You.  Help me to love You more.  Jesus, I trust in You.

 

 

March 1, 2018

Judging Jesus

by Clarke Dixon

Everyone makes some kind of judgement about Jesus. Either he didn’t exist or he did. Either he is just a man or he is also God incarnate. Either he only teaches helpful wisdom or he also teaches truth about himself. Either he is not worth the time of day or he is worth living and dying for. We all make judgements about Jesus.

In our sermon series we are now looking at the time following Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem which is a time of judgement. The religious leaders judge Jesus. Consider:

  • In 11:18 there is a desire to kill Jesus. Jesus is judged as being a troublemaker who should be deleted.
  • In 11:27-33 the religious leaders question Jesus’ authority. They have judged Jesus as being a fraud.
  • In 12:12 the religious leaders want to arrest Jesus. He is judged as being an enemy.
  • In 12:13-17 the religious leaders ask Jesus about taxes. This is a very political question which betrays their judgement of Jesus as being a traitor.
  • In 12:18-23 the Sadducees question Jesus about marriage. They have judged Jesus as being naive.

All the way through we see the religious leaders standing in a place of judgment against Jesus. However, look again; it is the religious leaders who stand in the place of being judged by Jesus. Consider:

  • In 11:11 when Jesus looks around, it is not, as one Bible scholar says “as a tourist”, but rather as a “quality inspector” ready to make a judgement.
  • In 11:12-14 and 20-25 Jesus enacts a parable with a cursed fig tree representing God’s judgement against Jerusalem.
  • In 11:15-17 Jesus makes a scene at the Temple pronouncing judgement against the status quo of worship.
  • In 12:1-11 Jesus judges the religious leaders in “The Parable of the Wicked Tenants “.
  • In 12:24 Jesus says to the Sadducees: ‘you are wrong. you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God’.
  • In 12:35-37 Jesus in effect says ‘you don’t know the Scriptures as well as you think!’
  • In 12:38-40 Jesus is explicit in his judgement of the scribes.
  • In 12:41-44 Jesus may as well have come out and said ‘the poor widow is a better Jew than you religious leaders’.
  • This all leads to chapter 13 where Jesus teaches on judgement becoming effective, just as it had done centuries before, through the destruction of the temple.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day did not stand in a position of judging Jesus. Rather they stood in the place of being judged by Jesus. Do we think that we are in a position to judge Jesus? Where does the evidence lead? While we don’t have the time to unpack that here, it is worth investigating and there are many resources available including this resource by a cold-case detective who knows how to follow evidence. For now, here is where the evidence leads: We, like the people of the first century, do not stand in a place of judging Jesus. We stand in a place of being judged by Jesus. Regarding this we have some bad news and some good news.

First the bad news: We stand in a place of being judged by Jesus because of our sin. We do not need to go to a checklist of rules to realize this. The greatest sins should naturally be the breaking of the greatest commandments. So let us go there:

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31 (NRSV)

My faith dropped from my head to my heart on the day a good friend died. I knew in my head that I was sinful and needed God’s grace, but being quite good at keeping rules, had trouble really “getting it”. But on the day of my friend’s death, I got it. Though he was a good friend, sadly I knew that I was not. On that day I read 1st Corinthians 13.

1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 (NRSV)

While you often hear this passage read as a celebration of love at weddings, on the day of my friend’s death day I read it as a passage of judgement on my lack of love. I did not love God or people appropriately. I needed forgiveness and grace. We don’t need a checklist of rules to know that we stand in a place of judgement. The Great Commandments are enough to convince us.

Now for the good news. While we stand in the place, not of judging Jesus, but of being judged by Jesus, when we stand at the foot of the cross we stand in a place of grace.

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Romans 8:31-34 (NRSV)

Through Jesus God Himself stands in the place of judgement upon us. Will God judge us? He has already given His Son for the forgiveness of our sin, so no. Will Jesus, who has the power to condemn us, do so? No, not when he already chose to die for us and is now alive, interceding for us. God is for us and not against us. Unless, of course, in our “better judgement” we want to have nothing to do with Him.


(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (38 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

January 19, 2018

The Struggle With Judging

So there I was at the devotional page at Daily Paradigm Shift, reading the devotional which follows and I was thinking that it was a bit shorter than what we usually use, but something about it struck me as worth bookmarking for later use.

Then yesterday, I came back to the site and reexamined the article, and discovered it was written by Rebekah B. who is only 15 years old, and I’m asking myself, ‘Why do I have so many problems getting adults I know to consider writing devotional pieces, when here is a 15-year old doing so well at this?’

Crickets.

Anyway, when not at Daily PS — or six other websites where her material has appeared — her own blog is The Narrow Road for Teens.

Should Christians Judge?

What does God say about judging others?

Christians sometimes get confused with the concept of judging. Biblically we are commanded to judge (John 7:24 says, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make it right judgement). Then at the same time we are biblically told that we are not to judge. (Matthew 7:1 NIV, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.)

So, which is it?

Jesus knew that we would struggle with judging.  This is why He gave us a strict warning in His Word saying, Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure that you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? … You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5 NIV)

This verse is not telling us that we should never judge. Obviously, we make judgments every day between right and wrong. What Jesus is telling us here is to not judge others hypocritically. He is telling us to remove the plank from our own eye so that we may help the other person.

We should not be judgmental of others when our own sins need to be corrected as well.

Just as we are commanded to not condemn others, we are also commanded to not ignore sin. This requires the act of judging others in a biblical way.

It is important to be able to discern the difference between the judging.  There is judging that is mentioned in Matthew 7:1-5 and the biblical kind of judgement mentioned in John 7:24 NIV.Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”

If I am to see a fellow believer sinning, I am biblically instructed to confront the person. In a respectful and loving manner of course.  Matthew 18:15-17 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just go between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church, and if he refuses to listen to even to the church, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.  

The ultimate goal in confronting someone is to bring that person to repentance. We are called to judge sin with the goal of bringing repentance and reconciliation.

God commands us to point out the truth with hope, love, and Christ-like compassion.

Ephesians 4:15, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.

I hope this helped you understand the difference between biblical judgement and non-biblical judgement.

In closing I leave you with this verse. “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” – 2 Timothy 4:2 NIV

 

January 13, 2018

Bold, Protocol-Defying Prayers

NIV Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

This is a short excerpt from Draw the Circle: A 40 Day Prayer Challenge by Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. It was today’s selection from a devotional service I subscribe to, Devotions Daily from Faith Gateway.

Crazy Prayers, Crazy Faith

This woman is driving me crazy. – Luke 18:5

I love the parable of the persistent widow. I don’t mean any disrespect, but I think persistent is a nice word for crazy. This woman is crazy, but when the cause is a righteous one, it’s a holy crazy!

We aren’t told what injustice took place, but she was on a mission. Maybe her son was falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Maybe the man who molested her daughter was still on the streets. We don’t know for sure. But whatever it was, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. And the judge knew it. The judge knew she would circle his house until the day she got justice or the day she died. The judge knew there was no quit in the crazy woman.

Does the Judge know that about you? How desperate are you for the blessing, the breakthrough, the miracle? Desperate enough to pray through the night? How many times are you willing to circle the promise? Until the day you die? How long will you knock on the door of opportunity? Until your knuckles are raw? Until you knock the door down?

The persistent widow’s methodology was unorthodox. She could have, and technically should have, waited for her day in court. Going to the personal residence of the judge crossed a professional line. I’m almost surprised the judge didn’t file a restraining order against her. But this reveals something about the nature of God. God couldn’t care less about protocol. If He did, Jesus would have chosen the Pharisees as His disciples. But that isn’t who Jesus honored.

Jesus honored the prostitute who crashed a party at a Pharisee’s home to anoint His feet. Jesus honored the tax collector who climbed a tree in his three-piece suit just to get a glimpse of Him. Jesus honored the four friends who cut in line and cut a hole in someone’s ceiling to help their friend. And in this parable, Jesus honored the crazy woman who drove a judge crazy because she wouldn’t stop knocking.

The common denominator in each of these stories is crazy faith. People took desperate measures to get to God, and God honored them for it. Nothing has changed.

God is still honoring spiritual desperadoes who crash parties and climb trees.

God is still honoring those who defy protocol with their bold prayers. God is still honoring those who pray with audacity and tenacity. And the crazy woman is selected as the gold standard when it comes to praying hard. Her unrelenting persistence was the only difference between justice and injustice.

The viability of our prayers is not contingent on scrabbling the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet into the right combinations like abracadabra. God already knows the last punctuation mark before we pronounce the first syllable. The viability of our prayers has more to do with intensity than vocabulary. It has more to do with what we do than what we say.

Don’t just pray about it; act on it.

There are defining moments in life when we need to prove to God that we mean business – and I don’t mean “business as usual.” In fact, it’s only when “business as usual” goes out of business that we’re in business – the Father’s business. That’s when we’re on the verge of a spiritual breakthrough…

January 2, 2018

A Baby Was Born

by Russell Young

Christmas celebrates the birth of a baby and hope for humankind. He was born into the humble circumstances of a young mother and a new father. For them the stability of place and position had not yet been established.

That baby was as helpless as any new-born. He soiled himself, and required nursing and protection. He needed to be educated and allowed the right to develop and grow through play, discipline, and all forms of parental guidance. Although he was the Son of God, he was also the son of Mary. He was like you and me.  The writer of Hebrews states that “he [was] made like his brothers in every way.” (Heb 2:17 NIV) He had a body, soul, and spirit like all humankind.

The baby, Jesus, grew and became a man. He suffered the same bodily temptations as do all men. “[He] was tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (Heb 5:15 NIV) His temptations were not easy to bear. He suffered through them. (Temptations are not temptations unless they have a draw and their resistance causes some form of suffering.) “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb2:18 NIV) He had come to earth as a baby to learn of the human condition and to provide victory over weaknesses and over the evil one.

The resoluteness and commitment of Jesus to his Father should not be underestimated. His heart was fully committed to overcoming the frailties of the flesh that cause destruction. To live without sin, to deny the temptations of the flesh and to resist the deceptions and lies of the evil one and all that the world allows requires a heart determined to live righteously. We have been told, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7 NIV) No escape had been provided from the consequence of sin even for Jesus, the Christ. Sin would have brought about his own death. His Father did not interfere to make his earthly passage any different from our own concerning the issues of life. It was the heart of Christ devoted to pleasing his Father that allowed him to overcome the world.

There was a savior. The sinless man, through obedience to his Father’s will, became the source of eternal salvation for all people who would obediently follow him. (Jn 10:27)  “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 Jn 3:8 NIV) He was not sent to remove the consequences of the devil’s work, but to destroy it.

Confusion remains concerning the manner in which Jesus accomplished the provision of hope for a lost people. He bore the sin of the world and through his sinless life, “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all time by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption (for himself).” (Heb 9:12) His sinless life was the result of victory over Satan, over the flesh, and over the world. His propitiation for sin applies to those who “confess with [their] mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in [their] heart that God raised him from the dead.” (Rom 10:9 NIV) Those who would enjoy the hope offered by Christ must confess that “Jesus is Lord.” Confession is assenting to his lordship, promising it, covenanting it. “He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9 NIV) “He died as a ransom to set [people] free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Heb 9:15 NIV), and to provide eternal salvation through his resurrected life. He requires that those who he has freed and who have made the pledge of his lordship, follow him.

The sacrifice of the sinless Christ on the cross does not provide eternal salvation but release from the consequence of the confessor’s past sins and those repented and confessed following confession. (1 Jn 1:9) Just as the Lord lived without sin in the body that the Father had given him in the womb of Mary, he is prepared to live that sinless life in the body of the believer. “Christ in you is your hope of glory.” (Col 1:27; see also Gal 2:20 and 4:6) The saving ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ was not completed at the cross; he is the Spirit — “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18 NIV, italics added.) The Lord must be permitted to live his life through the believer. “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6 NIV) “He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” (1 Jn 3:7─8 NIV) “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.” (1 Jn 3:6 NIV)

 There is a judge. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10 NIV) The baby who became a sinless man, made provision for the Holy Spirit, and will be the judge of all. He dwells in us and knows the degree of our commitment to him. He holds the keys (Rev 1:18) and will decide each person’s eternal fate.

The baby born of Mary experienced the world and the flesh and overcame all the temptations that would have defeated him, and which would have provided victory for Satan. This baby grown into man victoriously fought the fight which has defeated all humankind. He knows the struggles and temptations of people and desires to be their helper and the source of their eternal salvation, but they must repent and allow him lordship of their lives so that they can become an offering acceptable to God. (Rom 15:16) Jesus the baby has become the light and hope of the world.


Author Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. His book Eternal Salvation: Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.


 

December 29, 2017

When is it Right to Judge?

I mentioned on December 20th that I was so impressed by the material by Colin Sedgwick at Welcome to Sedgonline, that we now return for an extra visit this month (plus a link to a third article) before our “six month rule” kicks in!  Click the title to read the first one at source.

Is it ever right to judge?

Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”. Matthew 7:1

The minister stood at the church door to greet people after the service. The sermon hadn’t been an easy one to preach. He had spoken about sexual morality, and had stressed particularly the biblical ideal of marriage – one man and one woman, for life – and he knew that not everyone would take it kindly.

(He knew too, of course, that the ideal is exactly that: an ideal. And that God is compassionate and forgiving towards those who may have failed to achieve it.)

One woman had just a very brief comment to make: “I prefer to live my life according to Matthew 7:1. Goodbye.” By which she meant, of course: “I believe in not making judgments on the way other people live their lives.”

Was her frosty comment right?

In one sense, of course, yes. We should not judge others in the sense of condemning them. We are all sinners, so the sins we should take most seriously are… our own. Jesus goes on to make this clear in his words about the speck of sawdust and the plank: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?… You hypocrite…” Point taken!  Ultimately, God alone is qualified to judge.

But in another sense she was wrong. Taking Matthew 7:1 as a stand-alone text – treating it as if it says everything that needs to be said – simply creates chaos.

Somebody has calculated that the Bible as a whole contains 31,102 verses (depending on which version you use), so if that minister had had the chance he could well have replied to the woman, “Er, yes, of course, Matthew 7:1 is great verse – but what about the Bible’s other 31,101 verses? What about verses that put a different angle on the matter – shouldn’t they be taken into account as well?”

For if you take Matthew 7:1 as the only word on the subject of judging, it implies that there are no rights and wrongs at all. Somebody commits murder? Oh dear, that’s bad – but, of course, Jesus says I mustn’t judge them. Somebody operates an internet scam and robs people of millions of pounds? Mmm, that sounds pretty dodgy as well. But of course Jesus says I mustn’t judge them…

Fact: some things are right and some things are wrong. And we shouldn’t shy away from saying so.

Jesus himself wasn’t afraid to point this out: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:13) Not exactly non-judgmental, that, eh?

In the early days of the church Simon Peter had to deal with a case of gross dishonesty by a couple called Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). So what did he say: “Ananias and Sapphira, you have done a seriously bad thing – but of course I am forbidden by the Lord Jesus to judge you”? Er, no. No: he spoke some quite frightening words: “… how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit…?” Non-judgmental?

A little later Saul (before he became known as Paul) was confronted on the island of Cyprus by “a sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus” (Acts 13:6-12). This man comes in for similar rough treatment: “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right!” Again, non-judgmental?

The fact is that when we see evil and wickedness, whether in others or mainly in ourselves, something is wrong if we don’t recognize it as such.

But, having said that, shouldn’t our main reaction be one of sorrow?

This, I think, is what Jesus meant in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4). He wasn’t talking about bereaved people or people attending a funeral; he was talking about people who shake their heads in sadness as they look into the darkness in their own hearts, and as they survey the sorry state of our world – the lies, the corruption, the greed, the vice and immorality, the violence.

Such people aren’t self-righteous or “holier-than-thou”; no, they are people who have looked a little into the heart of God, who have been moved by the beauty and purity they have seen there, and who long for things to be different. They are people who pray, as Jesus taught us: “May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) – and who add “including in my heart”.

Is that a prayer you can pray with sincerity? If it is, I think that means you can stand up for what is right, and denounce what is wrong, without being guilty of judging others where you shouldn’t.

Lord God, save me from fault-finding, criticizing and condemning others. Help me to see clearly my own sins and failings – but at the same time not to be afraid to uphold what is good, right and true. Amen.


This topic raises another important issue – how easy it is, like that woman at the church door, to misuse the Bible. It might be helpful to have a think about that next. See this article by the same author.

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