Christianity 201

April 19, 2018

Utter Mess, Utter Grace

by Clarke Dixon

1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– Ephesians 2:1-8 NRSV

According to the apostle Paul we were all once in an utter mess, and in fact some people still are. While events around the world may confirm for us that yes, some people are in an utter mess, methinks there are many would say “others yes, but not me.”

Imagine, for example reading Ephesians 2:1-3 and then saying to a non-Christian friend that you just learned that they are ’dead in their sins’ (verse 1), or a follower of Satan (verse 2), or ’children of wrath’ (verse 3). Many fine folk would, I think, say something like “well that does not sound like me, I feel quite alive thank you, I have never been involved in Satan worship, and if there is a God I should not be judged by such a God for I am basically a good person.” How do we reconcile what we learn from scripture about our fallen nature with what a lot of what people think and feel?

First, you don’t need to feel dead to be dead. This mention of being dead takes us back to the story of the fall in Genesis. God said to Adam “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16b,17 ESV). Now we know that on the day Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit they did not die, but on that day we can say that death entered into the world, death becoming their inescapable future and a sure bet. In this sense when we are without God today we are “dead in our sins,” it only being a matter of time before death catches up to us.

Nor do you need to worship Satan to be listening to his voice. Again we go back to the story of the fall where we find the serpent tempts Eve, not to worship him, but to stop trusting God. Most people would never admit to worshipping Satan, but when pressed, might admit to not trusting God.

But what about the unbeliever who seems to be perfectly moral, in fact more moral perhaps than most believers; can we really say they are “children of wrath” deserving of what is commonly known as hell? According to the Bible you are either a child of wrath (Ephesians 1:3), or a child of God (see John 1:12). Many would like to say that by their moral actions they show themselves to be closer to being a child of God than a child of wrath. But this is like saying that a pregnant woman is a little bit pregnant, or very pregnant. I have heard and used such expressions but of course one is either pregnant or not. You are either a child of wrath or you are a child of God, you cannot be somewhere in between. Further, the symptoms may not be a good indication of truth.

There was once a show on TV chronicling the stories of women who gave birth despite not noticing any indications or “symptoms” of pregnancy until the last minute. You could say that with my middle-aged-spread — which began in my 20’s! — I have more symptoms of being pregnant than what some of those women experienced! What matters is not the symptoms, but the truth. And it does not matter how righteous or moral a person appears to beall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).

Consider the righteousness of Adam and Eve. When they were convicted of sin and banished from Eden they had no prior history of sin, and in sinning had not harmed anyone directly, nor done anything that most people might consider “immoral.” What they did was fall short of the glory of God, trusting the words of Satan over God, and so became children of wrath.

However, verses 1-3 are not the main point of our passage. They are verses that some will not get past in their denial of their need for a Saviour, but they are not the main point. Here is the main point: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4, 5 NIV). This passage is not really about sin or death or hell, but is about God’s grace, mercy, and love. No one need fear hell for anyone can trade in their status as a child of wrath for a new family tree, becoming a child of God and recipient of his grace though faith. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 NIV).

We can imagine God’s grace and our faith like this: we are stuck in quicksand and there is no way out. However, God reaches down and lifts us out in the palm of his hand. God’s love, initiative, and reach to rescue is the grace by which we are saved – we would be sunk without that. Our trust which keeps us in his hand is the faith through which we are saved – we’d jump back into the quicksand without that. What most people do not realize is that while we are alive we all, everyone included, experience a measure of God’s grace. That we can live at all, breathing, relating, enjoying life is a sign that we are experiencing God’s grace. God is under no obligation to grant us life but he does so as a sign of grace. This should help us to understand what we know of as hell. We tend to think of hell as punishment reserved for those who have done evil things to other people, making salvation and hell a matter of morality. Many naturally consider murderers as deserving of hell, but regular law abiding folk as not for example. But in the Bible, separation from God (hell) does not come just because one deserves it. It also comes because one desires it. Having experienced God’s grace by breathing some will curse the God who gave them breath and say “I don’t need you.” Having experienced the grace of God through loving and being loved, some will curse the One who has loved them the most and say “I don’t want you.” And so some choose to jump out of the hand that has been holding them, the hand that is ready to save them if only they will turn to in repentance, and not away from, the Giver of Life.

We have all at some point been in an utter mess, dead in sins, under Satan’s influence, and children of wrath, but utter grace is there for anyone who will take and trust that nail-scarred hand reaching for us in grace.!


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV. Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

Today’s post is from Clarke’s archives and was originally written in April, 2013.

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

April 10, 2018

Death and the Body

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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by Russell Young

The body, or the flesh, presents a big problem for humankind. It functions well and can accomplish many amazing things; however, it also imposes many desires and wants. It can cause the body to entertain and be tempted to sin, and sin destroys. (Rom 8:13; Gal 6:8) All are familiar with the body’s need for comfort and protection, for sexual gratification, for elevation or prominence in the sight of peers, and for general acceptance. All want to be valued and to feel comfortable ‘in their own skin.’

The issue of concern is the tendency for people to take excessive interest in the things of the flesh, to give the body more prominence in life than the LORD has allowed. Pleasing the body through excesses can result in an ungodly focus and a denial of the purpose and place of God in a person’s life.

Paul calls the flesh “the body of death.” (Rom 7:24 NIV) That is, he refers to it as the body that brings about death. He states, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of death might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” (Rom 6:6 NIV) To find God’s eternal kingdom the interest of the body to entertain sin must be “overcome”. (Rev 7:21) Concerning the nature of his body, Paul lamented, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:24 NIV)

Paul made it clear that deliverance from the death imposed by bodily interests was gained through Jesus Christ our Lord. But how? Deliverance seems to remain a matter of great confusion, but it is really the means of eternal salvation. When the believer is liberated from the “body of death,” he or she will have met God’s righteous requirements and will enjoy an eternal hope. (Rom 8:23) There have been many different postulations as to how Christ rescues a person from the death brought on by the flesh; many provide an understanding that is more philosophically than scripturally based. However, Paul has presented a clear theological understanding to the Romans in Chapter 8.

According to him, “the law of the Spirit of life set [people] free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:2 NIV) It is the “law of the Spirit of life” that has freed the believer from death. Many understand that the crucifixion of Christ has met their need when it is “the Spirit of life” who must do it. The sacrificial offering of Christ was made to cleanse the sin accumulated by the confessor from his or her consequent death, and to provide the Holy Spirit so that he might set the believer free from the “law of sin and death.” Paul has made it clear that the confessor’s redemption was to make the Spirit of life available to the confessor. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Gal 3:14 NIV Italics added) He is not saying that believers have received the fullness of the Spirit’s cleansing, but that we might receive the promised Spirit. The writer of Hebrews has stated that Christ died so that the confessor might be set “free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Heb 9:15 NIV)

Deliverance from the body that brings death is accomplished through obedience to the Spirit. “And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:4) Living according to the Spirit requires that believers hear and obey the call of the Spirit concerning their life practices. (Jn 14:15) This theme is presented in many places in the Scriptures and the believer would do well to understand it.

Earlier in his book to the Romans, Paul had addressed the need to “count” the flesh to have been crucified or to reckon that it has been put to death and has revealed that baptism is a proclamation of the believer to that effect. Chapter 6 goes on to develop and to explain this point. Death to the flesh is a matter of a person’s will and is proven by his or her choices. Paul told King Agrippa that he had preached that people “should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20 NIV)

Further, Paul wrote, “But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8: 1011 NIV Italics added) It is the Spirit who delivers the body of the believer–the obedient confessor—from its interest in sinful activities and gives it life, the life pleasing to God. Because of the saving power of the Spirit, Christ admonished that those who “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven.” (Mk 3:29; Lk 12:10) The LORD had defined blasphemy to the Israelites. “But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.” (Num 15:3031 NIV Italics added) The Spirit must actively “live” (Rom 8: 9, 11) in the believer; he cannot be denied, quenched, or thwarted.

Paul has reminded his readers that they have an obligation to live according to the Spirit, if they are to be a son of God (Rom 8:14)—they are to put to death the misdeeds of the flesh. (Rom 8:13) They are to do something! The death that the flesh would bring is to be avoided or overcome. It is for this reason that he calls the Spirit, the “Spirit of sonship.” (Rom 8:15) Death to the flesh allows Christ to live his life in the believer and so to become like him.

Many have accepted the idea that they have been adopted into the family of God, however Paul taught that the believer’s adoption is being “eagerly awaited”. (Rom 8:23 NIV) Adoption into the family will occur when the body has been redeemed (Rom 8:23) from its sinful practices and from death.

Even Paul recognized that he had more to do in order “somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3:11 NIV) He wanted to suffer as Christ did to overcome temptations (Heb 2:18). Although his conscience bore witness that he was progressing well, his life had not been completed. Christ requires that the believer remain firm in his or her faith to the end. (Mt 10:22, 24:13; Mk 13:13)

Because Christ has provided everything that is needed for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3), and because he indwells the believer as Spirit (Col 1:27), judgment remains for all concerning the things done in the flesh, whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:10)

Paul knew that Christ could rescue him from his body of death, but he also knew that his needed deliverance was being awaited (Gal 5:5) and that it came through obedience. (Heb 5:9) Christ has admonished believers “to make every effort” to enter through the narrow door, because many would try but would not be able to enter. (Lk 13:24)

 


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

April 8, 2017

Psalm 130

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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Twice in the last week I noticed someone referred to Psalm 130 in something I was reading and last week I attended a concert in a church which had one of the old “hymn board” signs at the front indicating that their reading that morning had been this same text. (Talk about ‘the writing on the wall!’) I decided to check out what one online writer called “The gospel in a Psalm.”

Psalm 130 (NLT)

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

From the depths of despair, O Lord,
    I call for your help.
Hear my cry, O Lord.
    Pay attention to my prayer.

Lord, if you kept a record of our sins,
    who, O Lord, could ever survive?
But you offer forgiveness,
    that we might learn to fear you.

I am counting on the Lord;
    yes, I am counting on him.
    I have put my hope in his word.
I long for the Lord
    more than sentries long for the dawn,
    yes, more than sentries long for the dawn.

O Israel, hope in the Lord;
    for with the Lord there is unfailing love.
    His redemption overflows.
He himself will redeem Israel
    from every kind of sin.

At Redeemer.com we find some general advice from Eugene Peterson for studying the Psalms as a whole:

  1. The Psalms teach us to pray through imitation and response. … Real prayer is always an answer to God’s revelation. The Psalms are both prayer and revelations about God — the perfect ideal soil for learning prayer.
  2. The Psalms take us deep into our own hearts 1,000 times faster than we would ever go if left to ourselves. … Religious/moral people tend to want to deny the rawness and reality of their own feelings, especially the darkness of them. … The secular world has almost made an idol of emotional self-expression. … But the Psalmists neither “stuff” their feelings nor “ventilate” them. They pray them — they take them into the presence of God until they change or understand them.
  3. Most importantly, the Psalms force us to deal with God as he is, not as we wish he was. “Left to ourselves, we will pray to some god who speaks what we like hearing, or to the part of God we manage to understand. But what is critical is that we speak to the God who speaks to us, and to everything he speaks to us … the Psalms train us in that conversation” (from Eugene Peterson’s Answering God).

At Daily Doorstep Devotional (Trinity Bible Church) we read:

…Even though we are not to be of this world, we do know that we are in this world and the things of this life do require our attention. Just as we are to rejoice always and pray without ceasing, so too are we to continually set the Lord before us. All of these are to be regular daily facets of our lives. We are to be so conscious of God, His presence, and His working that it shapes our view of the world and it becomes second nature to us to turn to God in all things. When we do, the Lord will be the center of attention and our affections, especially in those times when He is to be set before us without distraction. [W]hat times, circumstances, or occasions are necessary for our total attention to be placed upon God?

One such time is seen in Psalm 130. In this Psalm the Lord is mentioned in every verse either by name or personal pronoun. The Psalmist is clearly focused upon God without distraction. What has brought him to this? Verse 3 tells us it is his iniquities. The sin of the Psalmist has caused him to sink to the depths and it is from here that he cries out to the Lord and makes his supplication before Him. He knows he is a sinner and confesses it before God, acknowledging that he cannot stand before a holy, righteous, and just God. The sinner acknowledges that if God were to judge him based upon his deeds that he could not bear to stand before God and would be utterly consumed by God’s righteous wrath against his sin.

Yet the Psalmist knows the Lord. He knows He is a merciful God that forgives, and he comes before Him in confidence, waiting upon Him and trusting in the promises of His Word that He will forgive (Psalm 103:3). The sin of the Psalmist has left him in dire straits; he mourns over his sin, and he knows that apart from the Lord there is no deliverance. He knows that his only hope is in the Lord. Desperate men will give full attention to the One upon whom they know their very lives depend…

At Devotional Reflections from the Bible we read:

Psalm 130 is one of the most encouraging and compelling Psalms regarding our true estate before God and the perfect redemption that He alone provides. The Psalmist is calling to God out of the depths. Don’t you find that we are more often likely to cry out to God when we are laid low than when everything is great and we seem to be living on the mountain top? Don’t ever be sorry for that, because that is exactly what we should do when surrounded by obstacles that seem to crush us lower and lower.

There is no other help available; no one else has the power and love to pull us out from the depths. Why does God do this; is it because we are more worthy than others? No, the Psalmist says that if the Lord should mark iniquities who could stand? That’s a love we know little about; a love that is there even though there is nothing within us that deserves such love. Knowing this, the Psalmist waits for the Lord more than the watchman waits for the morning.

The message of the Gospel to everyone is: Hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption. I will never understand that, but I am so incredibly thankful to God for the complete redemption He provides, and the daily help to get through the circumstances of life.

Pray today that you would hope in the Lord and experience His steadfast love and plentiful redemption.

 

March 2, 2017

Scripture, Tradition, Experience, Reason

Do an image search for Wesleyan Quadrilateral and you'll find various attempts to explain it.

Do an image search for Wesleyan Quadrilateral and you’ll find various attempts to explain it. I’m not sure the one on the bottom left is what Wesley had in mind.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace – Eph 1:17 ESV

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.Colossians 1:13-14

And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:24-26 ESV

With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. – Hebrews 9:12 NIV

Capt. Michael Simpson is an officer in The Salvation Army in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. He wrote this originally for the local newspaper there as part of a rotation where area pastors and church leaders contribute a weekly article.

Some days I just have to pinch myself

There have been moments over the past few months when I have suddenly had the feeling I exist in an alternate reality. I won’t use this space to talk about “Red vs. Blue” or “The Left vs. The Right,” or even about “facts.” What does concern me? What does cause me to pinch myself at times; the concepts of critical thought, truth and its reverse…“post-truth.”

Back in November of 2002 I had the task of writing a paper for my very first theology class in seminary. The title of this paper was simply, God as Redeemer. With the birthing of The Salvation Army in Victorian England and its grounding in the Wesleyan Holiness tradition, it only made sense that I would apply a new-found tool of my critical thought/theological tool box in approaching and writing the paper; the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. This is a methodology for theological reflection that is credited to John Wesley, leader of the Methodist movement in the late 18th Century. In this method, tradition, experience, and reason are employed, while being subject always to scripture, when forming and applying our theology. Each of the “legs” of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral must be taken in balance, and none of the other three apart from scripture should be viewed as being of equal value or authority with scripture. None of these should be taken in isolation without the balancing effect of the others, and always Scripture should have the central place of authority.

The purpose of that essay was to look at the redemptive nature of God, specifically the idea of God as redeemer, working through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and what that means for humanity in this present age. First of all, what did the biblical story, and especially its focus on Christ, have to say concerning redemption? Secondly, how has the church throughout its history understood Christ as its redeemer? How is the notion of redemption viewed in our present context, both personally and communally? Lastly, what difference does the idea of redemption make in the personal and corporate life of Salvationists, or all those who identify with the Church.

While I will refrain from answering these questions in my remaining words I will put forth a challenge. That challenge is to think critically. Think critically regarding all that goes on around you in these days. When you read a news article or listen to a radio program… think critically. Apply these 4 “lenses”, if you will, in how you view and then respond. What does scripture say? What about tradition? Experience? What does reason have to say? At times I am guilty of allowing myself to get caught up in popular thought without really thinking for myself; without basing my response in truth. Ah, there it is… truth! My dislike of a truth does not make it less truthful. We understood this in grade school… but today… this is why I need to pinch myself sometimes.


After checking our archives, I realized we haven’t discussed the quadrilateral here and only briefly at my other blog. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, or Methodist Quadrilateral, is a methodology for theological reflection that is credited to John Wesley, leader of the Methodist movement in the late 18th Century. The term itself was coined by 20th century American Methodist scholar Albert C. Outler.

This method based its teaching on four sources as the basis of theological and doctrinal development. These four sources are scripture, tradition, reason, and Christian experience.

Upon examination of Wesley’s work, Outler theorized that Wesley used four different sources in coming to theological conclusions. Wesley believed, first of all, that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in “scripture” as the sole foundational source. The centrality of scripture was so important for Wesley that he called himself “a man of one book”. However, doctrine had to be in keeping with Christian orthodox “tradition.” So, tradition became in his view the second aspect of the so-called Quadrilateral. Furthermore, believing, as he did, that faith is more than merely an acknowledgment of ideas, Wesley as a practical theologian, contended that a part of the theological method would involve “experiential” faith. In other words, truth would be vivified in personal experience of Christians (overall, not individually), if it were really truth. And every doctrine must be able to be defended “rationally.” He did not divorce faith from reason. Tradition, experience, and reason, however, are subject always to scripture, which is primary.

Each of the “legs” of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral must be taken in balance, and none of the other three apart from scripture should be viewed as being of equal value or authority with scripture. None of these should be taken in isolation without the balancing effect of the others, and always Scripture should have the central place of authority.


wesleys-quadrilateralFurther reading: Travel back to 2009 and explore the elements of the quadrilateral as flour, milk and shortening, baking powder and salt. The author contends that like the recipe for baking powder biscuits, the elements are combined in different amounts.

January 31, 2017

As Moses Lifted up the Serpent

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is one of my favorite Old Testament passages and one which I think is strongly tied to New Testament salvation. We’ve discussed it before here in the context of the idea of an invisible transaction; that there’s nothing tangible or quantifiable that one does at the moment of crossing the line of faith. Today’s thoughts are more directed to the source of our salvation.

We’re paying a return visit to the blog, Counseling One Another by author and pastor Paul Tautges. Please click the link below and read this at source.

4 Lessons from the Bronze Serpent

The book of Numbers contains the account of a strange event which took place during Israel’s time of wandering in the wilderness. It is most often referred to as Moses and the bronze serpent. Let’s take a few minutes to think about this unusual biblical story, see its significance to Israel, and then learn from Jesus’ interpretation and application in the Gospel of John. First, read the original account.

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

There are four truths God wants us to understand and embrace.

Saving faith realizes the guilt of one’s sin and the justice of God to punish the sinner (Num. 21:7a).

Just as personal admission of one’s sickness is a prerequisite to being helped by a physician, personal admission of sin is a prerequisite to receiving forgiveness from God. Before the sinning people could be forgiven they had to admit “we have sinned.” The snake bites brought them to the place of personal conviction and then they were ready to make a plea for forgiveness.

One of the two guilty thieves hanging next to Jesus had a similar response. While one thief joined the crowd in launching accusations at Jesus, the other realized his sinfulness—he knew he deserved to die for his sin. So, before he died he looked to Jesus with the look of faith (Luke 23:39-42). As a result, he joined Jesus in Paradise that very same day. When we honestly face our sin and guilt then, and only then, our heart is prepared to confess to God and look to the Savior for mercy.

Saving faith recognizes the need for an intercessor between the guilty sinner and God (Num. 21:7b).

When the people realized the guilt of their sin they immediately turned to Moses saying, “Pray for us.” Instinctively, every guilty sinner knows he cannot simply waltz into God’s presence on his own. He must have a representative, an intercessor, a mediator. The sacrificial laws and prescribed rituals found in the book of Leviticus made this clear to God’s people.

Thankfully, God has provided the one and only perfect priest to intercede for us, to reconcile us back to Himself. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time (1 Timothy 2:5-6). When we confess our sins to God, while at the same time looking to Jesus, we have an advocate with the Father (1 John 1:8-2:1).

Saving faith looks to God alone to provide the necessary remedy (Num. 21:8-9).

The bronze serpent could not save the people. Only God could provide the remedy. In looking to the brazen serpent on a pole their eyes of faith looked to God. Sadly, the bronze serpent eventually became an idol that was worshiped during the time of Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kings 18:4). But true saving faith does not look to religion, statues, or human priests. It looks to God as the only one who can rescue us. We are desperate sinners who cannot save ourselves; we must be saved by God’s grace, as the apostle makes clear in Romans 5:6-10.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Saving faith looks to Jesus to be the Mediator, propitiation for sin, and the entrance into eternal life (John 3:14-18).

In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes it crystal clear that the bronze serpent was a type of Himself. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15). The word “as” indicates that Jesus was making a comparison. As God provided the means whereby the bitten people could be healed through faith, so He has provided the only means by which our souls may find healing and restoration—through faith. When we turn in faith to look to Jesus, as the only one who can intercede for us before a holy God, we are redeemed from sin and receive the gift of eternal life.

Saving faith looks to God alone. It does not look to self. It does not look to any goodness in one’s own heart, nor to the works of religion. There is only one way for the soul to find its healing—and that is in its return to God. To be reconciled to God we must first see our sin for what it really is—an offense to God’s holiness. Because our sin is offensive, God must punish it. But thanks be to God that He has already punished His sinless Son in our place. Are you looking to Jesus to save you?

[Adapted from last Sunday’s sermon at Cornerstone Community Church in Cleveland, OH, Look to Jesus]


Related: Story in Numbers Foreshadows the Crucifixion

December 10, 2016

Your Smell – Part Two

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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I subscribe to the morning devotional Breakfast of Champions by Andy Elmes, which originates from the UK ministry Great Big Life. He recently did a series of four posts, two titled “What Do You Smell Like?” and two titled “Your Smell Affects Others.” The following is an edited version of the second two.

Your smell affects others

2 Corinthians 2:14-16, NIV
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?

The fragrance that comes from your life affects three people, according to Corinthians. Let’s look at the first of these three this morning.

First of all, God smells you
“We are to God the aroma of Christ”. How awesome is that – when God leans over and sniffs us living our everyday lives, He smells the incredible fragrance of the beauty and righteousness of His Son, Jesus. You may say, “But you do not know what I did this week”. My response is that you need to know that, according to God’s word, your life is hidden (positioned in) Christ and when God smells you, He smells the fragrance of Jesus and of His finished perfect work of redemption.

A great comparison is found in Genesis 27:27, in the account of when Isaac blesses his son Jacob instead of Esau. Isaac was blind by this time, and knew His sons by touch and their distinctive smells. Jacob, acting on the plan of His mother, wore the smell of His brother to get his father’s blessing, and it was because of that smell that Isaac was convinced he was with Esau, not Jacob, and blessed him. (Read the account. It is a good read.)

Genesis 27:27, NKJV
And he came near and kissed him; and he smelled the smell of his clothing, and blessed him and said: “Surely, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the LORD has blessed”.

The smell that is upon your life is the smell of the Son He loves and the field (life of His Son) that He has blessed. How awesome is that! When you approach God you smell like Jesus. Also, you need to know that, unlike Jacob, this is not a con but rather an intention of God, because it is He who positioned you in Christ. Don’t feel like a fraud, like Jacob did, because you’re not. Your scent is the result of His intent and it is He that coated you in the Son of His delight.

Because of this you can again today approach the Father, knowing that His approval of you is established in Jesus. You can, as it invites us in Hebrews, “approach Him with boldness of faith.”

Know that the Lord your God loves the smell of you…

…Two groups of people are mentioned in the above verses, and two distinctive smells. If we let them follow their natural order I think we may be able to see that God intended both smells to exist and play their part.

Those who are being saved
Corinthians says that we are the smell of death among this group. Death? One way of looking at it could be that our lives should smell of the death we have experienced in Christ. When people (church folk) get to experience our aroma they should smell the scent of the death we have died in Christ on us. It is that divine death that separated us from everything we used to be and so liberating and enabling us to be the brand new creations we now are. They should smell the death of such things as selfishness, pride and other scents that were once common to us and also that there is a new creation smell to us now.

• Those who are perishing
Our aroma among the unsaved should be one of extreme life. When unsaved people get a whiff of us they should be overwhelmed by the scent of resurrection and new life that comes from every pore of who we are. Remember that through new birth (death, burial and resurrection) we have been made alive together with Him and so our lives should smell of life, not like the musty corridors of religion. Let’s face it, the smell of life is so much better than the smell of death. Life is more likely to attract followers than that of death. What would you follow?

As we move forward to possess our day let us be conscious of the aroma our life is giving out to the world God has called us to change.

December 9, 2016

Your Smell – Part One

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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I subscribe to the morning devotional Breakfast of Champions by Andy Elmes, which originates from the UK ministry Great Big Life. He recently did a series of four posts, two titled “What Do You Smell Like?” and two more titled “Your Smell Affects Others.” The following is an edited version of the first two.

What do you smell like?

2 Corinthians 2:14-16, NIV
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?

A better way of saying ‘smell’ would be to use the word ‘fragrance’, or ‘aroma’. Paul’s challenge to us is this: What aroma or fragrance is coming from our lives as we live them out daily?

God’s plan was that our lives would “spread everywhere the fragrance of Him”. Is that what your life smells like today? When people get a whiff of your life do they smell the scent of grace, and the aroma of someone who knows Jesus?

This is a good challenge for each of us to consider and, as with many things, there is a natural and a spiritual reality to smells and people. We can compare them both to make a point.

All of us have experienced, or been exposed to, at one time or another, a person passing us with a nice scent – maybe an expensive perfume or after shave. It’s also very likely you have experienced the smell of someone passing near to you with bad BO (body odor). Have you ever sat in the same room or enclosed place with someone who removes their shoes and they have really unpleasantly cheesy-smelling feet? Yep, we have all experienced both.

Naturally, our lives can release a smell or a fragrance that is either pleasing or not-so-pleasing to the senses of others, and spiritually this is a reality too. What does your Christianity smell of today. Smells are very interesting things. They can attract people or repel them depending on what type of smell they are. When people encounter you do they smell the sweet perfume of knowing Jesus or the odor of religion, with all its various scents of law and legalism – or worse, the pungent stench of hypocrisy?

We shouldn’t have to struggle to daily release the sweet scent of Christ from our lives, but simply remember that it is the natural reaction of His life resident within us.

Again, look at the natural body as an example. The reality is that whatever is in you, or put into you, can play a large part concerning the odor that comes from you. One of the times that I took Gina out to eat, I ate a very large chunk of garlic without realizing it was raw. By the end of the night it was manifesting its odor nicely from every pore in my skin and, by the next morning, had contaminated every inch of who I was – especially to my family who sadly had to experience my breath.

The fragrance of your life should be Christ-like in its scent simply because of two things:

• Jesus now lives in you. You are not a hotel He visits but rather His home (place of residence). He does not pop in and pop out when He feels like it but never leaves according to His promise. Christ in you is the hope of Glory but also so the source of the pleasing fragrance that comes from your life.

• You realize and accept that your life is now His home and, as you do, you daily yield and submit everything you are to Him. The fragrance of His life comes from every part or through every pore of who you are.

Also, while we talk about the principle of “what goes in affects what comes out”, it is important that you be daily feeding your life the stuff that you want your life to be smelling of. For example, if you keep feeding your life the law of Moses then it will be the law of Moses that you smell of. Feed your life daily the truth and grace that comes through Jesus and you will love the way your life starts smelling, and so will others.

Bless you and consider again the One who has now become the very contents of your life. Let His life flow out of you again today.

May our lives today release wherever we go that sweet aroma of Christ in us. May that smell attract people to follow Him.

Be smelly, in the right way!

 

December 4, 2016

Did Christ Have to Be Redeemed?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Russell Young

Did Christ have to be redeemed?  The simple answer to this question is that he did. This might sound absurd since he was God and the Son of God.  However, he was also man and the son of man and he had to meet all the requirements of God’s government to accomplish his own eternal life.

The writer of Hebrews states that “[Christ] entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Heb 9:12 NIV) His own blood was required for him to enter the Most Holy Place. That is, his blood was applied to his own state or to fit him for entry into the Most Holy Place. The earthly tabernacle, an exact copy of the heavenly sanctuary, was entered “once a year, and never without blood, which [the high priest] offered for himself and for the sins that the people had committed in ignorance.” (Heb 9:7 NIV) If Christ had been without sin, he would not have had to offer a sacrifice for himself; however, he was numbered with the transgressors. (Lk 22:37; Isa 53:12)

Did Jesus sin? Absolutely not!  The writer of Hebrews states that our high priest (Christ) was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (Heb 5:15 NIV) Although Jesus did not sin, he became the most sinful person who ever walked the earth by taking on the sins of humankind.  He had become a transgressor of the law and his own blood was required to cleanse him or to redeem him from the sins that he bore so that he could enter the Most Holy Place. (The reader needs to be mindful that his ministry there is to cover the sins committed “in ignorance” by those in him.)

Why is it important to recognize that Christ needed to be redeemed? The KJV has inserted the words “for us” after “having obtained eternal redemption.” (Heb 9:12) This phrase was not in the original Greek and should not be in the text.  Because of it an understanding has developed that a person’s redemption from the law is eternal, that he has been eternally and securely delivered from the righteous requirements of the law. Christ had obtained eternal redemption for himself only.

There are teachings that reveal that although a person might have been redeemed once from the law, he or she can make themselves subject to it once more.

Paul has written, “But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” (Gal 5:18 NIV) This is a conditional statement and if a person is not led by the Spirit, he or she will remain under the law.  Either a person can accomplish the righteous requirements of the law as led by the Spirit or it remains for them to accomplish their righteousness through the law using their own resources as in the manner of the house of Israel as they lived subject to the Old or first Covenant.

Paul admonished the Galatians not to re-engage life under the persuasions of their evil nature because if they became sinners while they were seeking to be justified they will have rebuilt that which they had destroyed and have become lawbreakers. (Gal 2:17─20) By their crucifixion –a pledge of death to self–they had brought to completion life under the law since a deceased person is no longer subject to rule by the law, but through their desire to re-engage their own life they are once more subject to the law.  Escape from the law only comes with obedience to the Spirit and the realization of their own crucifixion.  He also wrote, “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature…the righteous requirements of the law [will] be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:2…4 NIV)

Further, the Lord taught that “everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son [one led by the Spirit, Rom 8: 14] belongs to it forever.” (Jn 8:35 NIV) A lack of “permanence” in the family speaks against the concept of having been eternally redeemed.

Those who have confessed Christ’s lordship have been redeemed by his blood.  They have been purchased from the law and from the consequences of sins committed while under it so that they might enjoy the New Covenant. (Heb 9:15) This redemption is not direct.  It came about as Christ took their sins and bore them himself.  His blood then redeemed him from the sins that he bore for them.  The writer of Hebrews states that “if we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Heb 10: 26─27 NIV) The cleansing and freedom from past sins will only happen once. Redemption for Christ was eternal for those who walk this earth it has been provided once; unfortunately that occasion will not be sufficient for many.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young’s book is available now in print and eBook.  The title is Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? It is available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US


November 30, 2016

God’s Providence for His People

Today we’re paying a first-time visit to the blog No Condemnation. Click the title to read at source. (This Psalm appears in your Bible just a couple before the one we looked at yesterday, and is quite different.)

Let the redeemed tell their story

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever. Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story – those he redeemed from the hand of the foe …

Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle.

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.
Psalm 107:1, 6-7, 19-20 (NIV)

Read: Psalm 107

Consider: A few days ago we looked at the problem of praying when the words just won’t come. This can be because the problem we are facing is so enormous, or potentially life-changing. It is in times like these that the Holy Spirit takes our unspoken words and groans, and intercedes to God on our behalf. Prayer in difficult times is generally more heart felt than prayer in easy times.

The story of the people of Israel is one of bringing their troubles before God and, once the immediate danger had passed, they promptly forgot and rebelled against Him. As a Christian you are unlikely to go into open rebellion against God, but do you remember or forget God’s providence once the danger you have been facing has passed?

I love the opening verses of Psalm 107 where it says: ‘Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story …’ (v2). It speaks to me of the providence of God and how he cares for and loves us, but it also speaks to me about my response to God’s goodness in my life. When God rescues you in your trouble (note: not from your trouble) are you forgetful, or do you want to thank God so much that your can’t stop talking about it? Are you willing to share details of God’s rescue with your close relatives, home group members, the wider church membership? I’m not advocating being so talkative about yourself that you very quickly become a bore. What I am advocating is the willingness to recognize God’s hand in your circumstances and thanking him first and foremost for this. As the psalmist puts it : Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures for ever (v1). Having first thanked God, we should then be willing to share with others what God has done for us.

Look again at Psalm 107 and some of the words the psalmist uses to speak of God’s providence for his people. He uses words like redeemed, delivered, led, saved, healed and rescued. All these speak so clearly of God’s love.

Don’t let the fact that the immediate danger has passed prevent you from thanking God and telling others about his providence in your life. You never know who is going through similar circumstance to yourself, who needs to hear your words of encouragement.

Pray: Father, forgive us for being so quick to forget your goodness to us. May we remember to thank you and also to share with others what you have been doing in our lives. Amen

Every blessing.

 

March 25, 2016

The Theme of the Day

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.

But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
  He was whipped so we could be healed.

Isaiah 53:5, NKJV and NLT

Note: The story in the opening section of this first appeared here at Christianity 201 five years ago.

Three Crosses

In the little town east of Toronto, Canada where we find ourselves, the local churches come together for a Good Friday service that has grown to the point where it’s now held in the ballroom of a local hotel, and even at that we have to split into multiple service times.

I never miss this event.

It’s distracting however that we all come together. The “Christian unity” theme tends to interfere. Sometimes, it’s apparently rather difficult for worship leaders to choose pieces that stay tightly focused on the theme of Good Friday, especially when most of our best worship choruses are based on the resurrection we will celebrate on Sunday.

So although absolutely nobody heard me, as the soloist was singing his second song after the message, I put my head in my hands and internally screamed out loud:

God, what are we supposed to be thinking of today?

And that’s when it hit me: Sin. We’re supposed to be thinking about our sin. Our propensity to sin. Our sin condition. Our individual sins. The sin that necessitated the cross. Yes, we should think about the price that was paid for our redemption, but we should also think in terms of how we must appear in contrast to a holy God; mindful of our sin nature

…Usually our Good Friday services are rather somber. I’ve always felt that was appropriate, but on Thursday, I drove home listening to a Christian radio station where the announcer was proposing that Good Friday can be just as celebratory as Easter Sunday. He said that we can be ecstatic about all that Christ accomplished there that day, and then quoted a hymn lyric:

My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more

For him this was a cause for rejoicing and I certainly sense the triumph and the power of that lyric. But not all callers agreed with him. One woman suggested something to the effect that we need to own our sin. I believe this is the perspective of most Christian writers down through the centuries: We need to remember the pain and suffering that Christ endured because of our trespasses. We recognize that this was the completion of God’s plan; that the crucifixion of Christ is the central element in the incarnation; that this is why Christ came; but we don’t minimize the agony of the cross even if our minds sometimes fast-forward to Resurrection Sunday.

It was our sin and guilt that put Him there.

That’s another song lyric, taken from the previous chapter in Isaiah to our opening verses,

How lovely on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces peace
And brings good news of happiness,
Who announces salvation,
And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!

Isaiah 52:7 NASB

and one that is repeated in the New Testament:

14 How can people have faith in the Lord and ask him to save them, if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear, unless someone tells them? 15 And how can anyone tell them without being sent by the Lord? The Scriptures say it is a beautiful sight to see even the feet of someone coming to preach the good news.

Romans 10:15 CEV

So also says a line from the classic worship chorus “Our God Reigns” reproduced in full below.

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him,
Who brings good news, good news;
Announcing peace, proclaiming news of happiness.
Our God Reigns! Our God Reigns!

Our God reigns! Our God reigns!…

He had no stately form, He had no majesty
That we should be drawn to Him.
He was despised and we took no account of Him.
Yet now He reigns, with the Most High.

Our God reigns! Our God reigns!…

It was our sin and guilt that bruised and wounded Him.
It was our sin that brought Him down.
When we like sheep had gone astray our Shepherd came,
And on His shoulders He bore our shame.

Our God reigns! Our God reigns!…

Meek as a lamb, that’s led out to the slaughterhouse,
Dumb as a sheep, before it’s shearer;
His life ran down upon the ground like pouring rain,
That we might be born-again!

Our God reigns! Our God reigns!…

Out from the tomb He came with grace and majesty;
He is alive, He is alive!
God loves us so, see here His hands, His feet, His side;
And yes, we know, He is alive!

Our God reigns! Our God reigns!

I hesitated to post the last verse because again, it takes us into Easter Sunday when I feel we need to spend a few more moments with the women and friends who stayed at the cross. (Luke 23:49)

I do recognize however that the full message of the cross is God’s triumph over sin and death. So I couldn’t post the lyrics to Our God Reigns without posting the alternative set of lyrics from Isaiah which are also available. The first verse of both versions is the same. Here is a song that takes us more to the element of celebration that perhaps my radio announcer on Thursday was envisioning. In the end, both elements are part of the big story.

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of Him
Who brings good news, good news
Proclaiming peace, announcing news of happiness
Our God reigns, our God reigns

Our God reigns, our God reigns…

You watchmen lift your voices joyfully as one
Shout for your King, your King
See eye to eye the Lord restoring Zion
Your God reigns, your God reigns!

Our God reigns, our God reigns…

Waste places of Jerusalem break forth with joy
We are redeemed, redeemed
The Lord has saved and comforted His people
Your God reigns, your God reigns!

Our God reigns, our God reigns…

Ends of the earth, see the salvation of your God
Jesus is Lord, is Lord
Before the nations He has bared His holy arm
Your God reigns, your God reigns!

Our God reigns, our God reigns…


For more Easter-themed reading, check out Delivered From Death at Thinking Out Loud

February 6, 2016

Responses to ‘Sin Boldly’

NIV 1 John 1:8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Two days ago we ran a devotional post centered on the phrase ‘sin boldly’ which is a modernization of words spoken by Martin Luther. You can read that post at this link, along with Luther’s original quotation. I realize that we only scratched the surface on this, and sensed through one posted comment and an email that a few of you would like to delve into this a little deeper. So today we’ll take some extra time to hear from several voices.

First, Russell Young posted this (click the article link to read the full comment):

…There seems to be a common understanding that the believer is “free to sin.” This is not so! All, starting with the household of God, will be judged for the things done in the flesh whether good or evil. Will we sin? Yes! Can it be forgiven? John makes it clear that repentance and confession can result in forgiveness. (1 John 1:9) The believer must be led by the Spirit. He must be obedient and it is through “obedience” that he will gain “eternal” salvation. (Hebrews 5:9) The result of being led is that he will become a “son of God.” (Romans 8:14) If he lives according to the sinful nature he will die. He must put to death the misdeeds of the body if he is to live. (Romans 8:13) You are correct in stating that we cannot help but sin, but the Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ in the believer, will not sin and will provide escape from temptations and recourse for those who do…

…Although there are a great many references to the need to walk in the light and under the leadership of the Spirit, these are being ignored as spiritual educators hang onto the teachings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, etc. and set the Word aside.

The Lord’s own teaching should give cause for concern: “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.” (John 8:34-35) A son is the one who is being led. Also, He revealed in His Revelation that it is those who “overcome” who will be allowed entry into His holy city, the New Jerusalem. (Revelation 21:7)

At the website, The Grace of God:

…Replacing the word “sin” with the word “murder” we have this:  Be a murderer and murder boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.  Or how about this: Be an adulterer and commit adultery boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. Or perhaps your favorite sin is lying:  Be a liar and lie boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.  Do you steal? Be a thief and steal boldly! Just make sure you believe and rejoice in Christ more boldly!

Some may accuse me of taking Martin Luther’s words out of context, but I assert that his words have been used as a license to sin by many, and indeed seem custom-made for the job!  He said you can murder a thousand times a day and still remain in Jesus Christ! Have you ever heard such blasphemy? I know Luther is a revered reformer, but Christ’s sheep hear His voice and they follow Him. They will not follow the voice of the stranger, and this is the voice of a stranger if I’ve ever heard one. Test the spirits by which men speak!  Never assume that someone honored by others is the friend of your soul.

To the shamed adulterer, Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11)

To the man whom He had healed from a 38-year infirmity, Jesus said, “Sin no more lest a worse thing come upon you.” (John 5:14)  What could be worse than 38 years of perpetual infirmity?

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.” (I Cor. 15:34)

He also wrote, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Rom. 6:15-16)

Again, Paul wrote to Timothy, “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ DEPART FROM INIQUITY.’”  (2 Tim. 2:19)

The Apostle John testified that he wrote his epistle “that you may not sin.” (I Jn. 2:1)

Peter wrote of false teachers who would deny the Lord who bought them, bringing on themselves swift destruction. How do they deny the Lord?–through disobedience and teaching disobedience to the Lord’s servants. For they profess to know God, but in works they deny Him. Some of their distinguishing marks are:  they will receive the wages of unrighteousness (because they are unrighteous), they count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime (not even blushing for their sins, but doing them boldly even in the company of the Christian church), and they have eyes full of adultery, and they cannot cease from sin (2 Pet. 2:1-14; Titus 1:16).

They cannot cease from sin! Though Jesus said to cease from sin and gives victory over sin to those who abide in Him, and though His apostles taught that we must cease from sin and obey Jesus, these teachers not only cannot cease from sin in their own lives, but they also teach others, “Be a sinner and sin boldly…as long as we are here, WE HAVE TO SIN.”

Do you hear the hiss of the deceiver in those terrible words? …

The website Confessing Evangelical quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s response to sin boldly:

…Is this the proclamation of cheap grace, naked and unashamed, the carte blanche for sin, the end of all discipleship? Is this a blasphemous encouragement to sin boldly and rely on grace? Is there a more diabolical abuse of grace than to sin and rely on the grace which God has given? Is not the Roman Catechism quite right in denouncing this as the sin against the Holy Ghost?…

Taken as the premise [for our doctrine of grace], pecca fortiter [sin boldly] acquires the character of an ethical principle, a principle of grace to which the principle of pecca fortiter must correspond. That means the justification of sin, and it turns Luther’s formula into its very opposite.

For Luther “sin boldly” could only be his very last refuge, the consolation for one whose attempts to follow Christ had taught him that he can never become sinless, who in his fear of sin despairs of the grace of God. As Luther saw it, “sin boldly” did not happen to be a fundamental acknowledgement of his disobedient life; it was the gospel of the grace of God before which we are always and in every circumstance sinners. Yet that grace seeks us and justifies us, sinners though we are.

Take courage and confess your sin, says Luther, do not try to run away from it, but believe more boldly still. You are a sinner, so be a sinner, and don’t try to become what you are not. Yes, and become a sinner again and again every day, and be bold about it.

But to whom can such words be addressed, except to those who from the bottom of their hearts make a daily renunciation of sin and of every barrier which hinders them from following Christ, but who nevertheless are troubled by their daily faithlessness and sin? Who can hear these words without endangering his faith but he who hears their consolation as a renewed summons to follow Christ? Interpreted in this way, these words of Luther become a testimony to the costliness of grace, the only genuine kind of grace there is.

At the website authored by J. P. Serrano:

…First, it is an indictment of who we are.  Luther is clearly saying to Melanchthon that we (people) are sinners and because of our fallenness, we will continue to sin until the second coming.  I believe that Luther is using a hyperbole here in order for us to understand exactly who we are.  Our sins are real; they are not unimportant nor minimal…they do matter. Luther is trying to tell those people who think they are pretty good, except for those little sins here or there, that they are in fact really big sinners and should see themselves as big sinners.  Hence why he says, “be a sinner.”  What I hear in this is an admonition for me to own the state I am in now and a recognition that I am not a saint on my own.  Nowhere in here do I hear Luther giving permission to sin–which is the way I hear the quote often used.

Secondly, we need to own our sin and understand it to be real, in order for grace to be real.  If we have fake sin, then we don’t need grace.  If our sin, however, is real, then we in fact need a grace that is real.  What I hear in this is more about God’s grace to forgive and continually seek me out rather than doing whatever I want (or as it is more popularly summarized: SINNING BOLDLY!)

Lastly, what is missed in not quoting the whole phrase Luther uses is the admonition to let our trust in Christ be stronger than the sins we commit.  Luther is telling Melanchthon (and us) that our trust in Christ is of first importance.  It is to be stronger than our sin, and it is to cause us to rejoice in victory.  This is important because I often I hear a defeatism in Lutheranism that keeps continually reminding people that we are sinners (which we are), but doesn’t in the same breath remind us that we are in fact freed from sin in Christ whom overcame.

I want to thank Deb for getting us thinking about this two days ago and getting us started on the path where we’ve ended up today. She concluded that we can’t be “avoiding life and people to protect ourselves from sin.” In the real world we’re going to get our hands and feet dirty. We need to acknowledge that, which is a very nuanced difference from accepting that.

December 17, 2015

Christ as Burnt Offering

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we pay a return visit to Abundant Life Now, the blog of Robert Lloyd Russell. To read this at source, click the title below. This devotional study is packed with scripture references, and brings to life a book of the Bible that some struggle with when reading. (Note: When you’re done here, check out the “3 Men” series of studies currently running at Robert’s blog.)

Christ, Burnt Offering

~ 10 Previews of Christ in One First Covenant Offering ~

Some commentators consider the Book of Leviticus the greatest book in the Bible. It opens with five offerings (sacrifices) to the nation of Israel—with specific laws for each one. All five offerings present a picture of the Coming Messiah—Jesus Christ.

The first group of three offerings in Leviticus 1-3 (the sweet savor offerings) provide a glimpse of the person and character of Jesus Christ. He is lovely, He is our peace, and most importantly He is our substitute—He paid the penalty for our sin.

The final two offerings, the sin offering and the trespass offering, (the non-sweet savor offerings) are bitter. They provide a glimpse of the redemptive work of the person of Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary for us. In this post we will look at just the first offering—the burnt offering.

The Burnt Offering was listed first in order because it is first in importance! It is the only free will offering (voluntary, not required by God). It is likely the oldest offering known to man (i.e., Abel, the son of Adam, provided a burnt offering). God gave Israel this as the first offering and even called the place of the burnt offering the burnt altar.

This burnt offering is a clear “type” or foreshadow of Jesus Christ. Consider ten aspects of the burnt offering which point to The Messiah—Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Burnt ~ The Hebrew word means “that which ascends.” The offering was entirely consumed—nothing left but ashes. “If his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd … And the priest shall burn all on the altar as a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord” (Leviticus 1:3a, 9b). Jesus Christ gave His totality on the Cross of Calvary. Upon the completion of His once-and-for-all sacrifice for sin He exclaimed, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

Washed ~ The animal’s inwards and legs were washed with water. “He shall wash its entrails and its legs with water (Leviticus 1:9a). For us the inwards relate to our inner thought life and our character and legs represent our walk or lifestyle. In the New Testament we are washed the water of the written Word of God and by the by the blood of the living Word of God. “A new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:20-22). “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:5-6).

Domestic ~ It was a domestic animal. Wild animals were not acceptable. “When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the livestock—of the herd and of the flock” (Leviticus 1:2b). Domestic animals represent taming—or obedience. “Jesus Christ humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the Cross” (Philippians 2:8b).

Male ~ “… a male without blemish…” (Leviticus 1:3). Male symbolizes strength. The Lord Jesus Christ is “mighty to save” (Isaiah 63:1). He is able to “save to the uttermost” (Hebrews 7:25).

Perfect ~ The sacrifices of Leviticus required “… a male without blemish…” (Leviticus 1:3). Those sacrifices pointed forward to the true sacrificial lamb, the Lamb of God, who was “without blemish” (1 Peter 1:19) and Who lived a sinless life on earth—“in Him no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:22).

Choice ~ “…he shall offer it of his own free will…” (Leviticus 1:3). Jesus said, “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:17-18a).

Substitute ~ “The burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him (Leviticus 1:4b). The burnt offering was a substitute offering—a vicarious offering—on behalf of another. That is the great basic issue of The Gospel of Jesus Christ—that He paid for my sin, for your sin, and for the sins of all who will come to Him as their personal Savior. By God’s law “without the shedding of blood there is no remission [forgiveness] of sin” (Hebrews 9:22). “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7b).

• Important note: This is a major change in God’s dealings with mankind. No longer is sin covered over (atonement) as it was in the first covenant rather now it is paid in full and forgiven.

Death ~ “He shall kill the bull before the Lord” (Leviticus 1:5a). The animal had to die on behalf of the Israelites as a sacrifice for their sin. Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty of our sin. Who killed the Christ? I killed Him. You killed Him.

Separation ~ Later we learn in chapter 4 of Leviticus that the ashes of both the animal sacrifice and the fuel for the fire were required to be taken outside the camp. Jesus Christ while He was in the world maintained a perfect separation from sin. Christians today are to be separate from the world. “Come out from among them and be separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17).

His Radiance ~ “And the priest who offers anyone’s burnt offering, that priest shall have for himself the skin of the burnt offering which he has offered (Leviticus 7:8).

The only exception to the consuming fire was the skin of the animal which was kept for a covering (an atonement in the first covenant). Christians are priests (1 Peter 2:9) and are seen by God the Father as being covered with the Robe of Christ’s righteousness.

• The scripture revisited:   “Now the Lord called to Moses, and spoke to him from the tabernacle of meeting, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: “When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the livestock—of the herd and of the flock. If his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own free will at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the Lord. Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. He shall kill the bull before the Lord’” (Leviticus 1:1-5a).


Reprinted from “Abundant Life Now,” a free blog which offers inspiring moments, thought-provoking comments, and solid Biblical insight at http://RobertLloydRussell.blogspot.com/ .

May 12, 2014

Unpacking the Meaning of Redemption

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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While looking for something else today I stumbled across Experimental Theology, the blog of Richard Beck. As always, you’re encouraged to not read the articles here, but click through to read them at source. This appeared under the title Redemption and Goel.


 

What does redemption mean?

That was a question I was dealing with the other night out at the prison bible study.

It’s an interesting question as other than a vague sense that redemption is synonymous with “salvation,” I don’t know if many Christians have a ready definition for “redemption.”

What I pointed out in my study was how redemption has strong associations with Christus Victor views of salvation, the notion that “salvation” is fundamentally about deliverance, liberation, freedom and emancipation from dark enslaving forces.

The idea that Christ is a “redeemer” goes back to the Old Testament notion of the goel, what is sometimes translated as “kinsmen-redeemer.” The kinsmen-redeemer is related to the Hebrew word ga’al which means to buy back, to regain possession of by payment, or to ransom. The kinsmen-redeemer is the one who buys back and pays the ransom.

The basic function goes back to Leviticus 25. When Israelites fell into debt they sometimes would have to sell their ancestral property. When this happened the kinsmen-redeemer was to buy the land so that the land remained in the family:

Leviticus 25.25
If one of your fellow Israelites becomes poor and sells some of their property, their nearest relative is to come and redeem what they have sold. 

This role of buying back–redeeming–ancestral land to keep it in the family is nicely illustrated in the book of Ruth where Boaz, as kinsmen-redeemer, seeks to buy the ancestral land of Elimelek, Naomi’s deceased husband. 

But sometimes things would get worse and an Israelite would have to sell more than the land, he would have to sell himself as a debt-slave. When that happened the kinsmen-redeemer was to rescue their kinsman from debt-slavery by buying him back:

Leviticus 25.47-49a
If a foreigner residing among you becomes rich and any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to the foreigner or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, they retain the right of redemption after they have sold themselves. One of their relatives may redeem them: An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. 

Basically, the idea of “redemption” is rooted in the notion of debt-slavery. To be “redeemed” or “ransomed” is to be bought back from slavery, from the ownership of another person. And the one who makes the payment is the goel, the kinsmen-redeemer.

In the book of Isaiah God becomes identified as the goel, as the Redeemer of Israel. For example,

Isaiah 41.14
“Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the LORD, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. 

And while the name “redeemer” doesn’t occur in the New Testament, in many places Jesus is described as performing the role of the goel. For example,

Mark 10.45
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Ephesians 1.7
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace

1 Peter 1.18
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors…

The words “redemption” and “redeemed” in these texts tend to obscure the OT echoes. That is, I don’t think many modern readers know how to translate the word “redeemed.” Though you do notice echos of the OT economic, buying-back overtones when we do things like redeeming coupons at the store. Translation-wise, I think the rendering of the NLT does nice job of highlighting the kinsmen-redeemer overtones in some of these NT texts:

Ephesians 1.7
He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.

Ephesians 1.14
The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.

The connections here with Christus Victor theology should be obvious. The function of the goel–the “redeemer”–has to do with emancipation and liberation from slavery, the “buying us back” from the ownership of another person.

And as should be clear, there is little in any of the NT texts that suggests that we were once enslaved or in bondage to God. No, our bondage was to dark spiritual forces. Thus Jesus, as kinsmen-redeemer, saves us by securing our liberation from these enslaving forces.

That is the meaning of “redemption.”

 

March 6, 2014

God Places Our Sin Behind His Back

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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This is from Jerry Bridges Holiness devotional (p. 94) and is also a selection from his book, The Discipline of Grace.

I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake. Is. 43:25

God uses several metaphors and colorful expressions to assure us that our sins have been literally carried away by our Lord Jesus Christ. One of them is in Psalm 103:12: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (NIV). Here was an infinite distance as great as human vocabulary could express.

Jesus not only bore our sins on the cross, He carried them away an infinite distance. He removed them from the presence of God and from us forever. They can no longer bar our access to God’s holy presence. Now “we have confidence” – or “boldness” as the King James Version more strikingly puts it – to enter God’s presence. (Hebrews 10:19)

Reinforcing this message is Isaiah 38:17, where King Hezekiah said to God, “You have cast all my sins behind your back.” When something’s behind your back, you can’t see it anymore. It’s out of sight. This is how He has completely dealt with our sin and put it away.

There’s an emphatic ring to Hezekiah’s words. They suggest a deliberate, decisive action on God’s part. God Himself has cast our sins behind His back and He is not hesitant or reluctant in doing this. He has taken the initiative and He did so joyfully and gladly. God takes pleasure in putting our sins behind his back because He takes pleasure in the work of His Son.

Do we believe this? Do we believe the testimony of Scripture, or do we believe our guilty feelings? Only to the extent we believe God has indeed put our sins behind His back will we be motivated and enabled to effectively deal with those sins in our daily lives.

February 3, 2014

Salvation: Still Free (Last Time I Checked)

Although I don’t use eBooks, I’m always intrigued by the concept that publishers now routinely offer books completely free of charge. There are Christian bloggers who regularly advise their readers where to find the daily and weekly bargain downloads, but sometimes I’m reading an old blog post, so even though I don’t have an eReader, I’ll click through to learn more, only to find the offer is no longer in effect and there is now a price to be paid.

Fortunately, when it comes to salvation, there is currently no closing date on God’s offer. True, a day will come when that will change. Also true, you don’t know long you have to take advantage. But it’s a free offer.

Mercy there was great and grace was free
Pardon there was multiplied to me
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary

For some, this is simply too good to be true. “Surely there is a cost;” they say, and truthfully they are correct. While Salvation itself is a free gift, God offers so much for us for this life, and that is going to involve taking up your cross daily. It might mean sacrifice or it might mean being ostracized by your family, friends and co-workers.

But in our original coming to Jesus, we find the offer to “taste and see” is both easy and simple. The problem we have is putting this idea across to those outside the church, and I believe part of the challenge is that we are living in a culture that is not Biblically literate, and therefore are not, as music and literary people say, “familiar with the literature.”

The story that needs to be kept told for me is the story in Numbers:

Numbers 21:7-9

(NIV)

7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

This Old Testament story foreshadows, as do so many OT stories, what Christ is going to do. As God’s people sojourn, they are given pictures which are somewhat for our benefit. Sometimes we impute this into the text from a New Testament perspective, but sometimes Jesus spells out for us in words unmistakable:

John 3:14

(NIV)

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up…

Again, some of you are thinking, “this sounds really familiar,” and that’s because we covered this here in August, just a few months ago. But I felt directed that we need to return to this Old Testament picture, and furthermore we need to teach people how to teach people this story. While a testimony of “what God has done for us,” and a rudimentary knowledge of basic salvation scriptures are both helpful, it’s needful to be able to construct the offer of “God’s gift” in terms unrelated to the deeper, doctrinal considerations of Romans or Hebrews which the novice believer can’t fully process.

That’s why, for the fourth time, I’ve returned to this theme today. It can be explored more in each of the blog posts listed below.

But what if salvation is being commodified too much in this approach. As with all things, we need to be careful; we need to strike a balance. Tomorrow, we’re going to explore this in a way we haven’t in any of the preceding articles. Stay tuned.

The Great Exchange from Adam4d

Go deeper, read more:

Graphic: Adam4D (click graphic to source)

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