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 15, 2018

May We Be Discontent to Live in Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re introducing a writer who is new to us. Sarah Jo writes at Blind Insanity. This is really part testimony and part teaching. I appreciate her transparency. To read this post at its source, click the title below.

Worship in Deed

[Friday] night, I went to a worship concert.

It was wonderful to worship with so many believers of Jesus. But as I looked around the auditorium, seeing so many hands raised, I was reminded of what Samuel said to King Saul:

“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)

Saul chose to disobey God’s commands, but he tried to cover up his disobedience with excuses. Obviously, God did not stand for his excuses, because He could see Saul’s heart. There was no excuse for Saul’s sin. He should have bowed before God right then and there, but he chose to stand in his sin.

Almost everyone at the concert raised their hands and sang praises to Jesus, but I know that so many of them choose to stand in their sin on a daily basis. They make excuses for their actions, so they worship God in vain, because they worship with their lips, but don’t bow down their hearts and surrender their lives to His leading.

How can I know that people are living in sin and rebellion against God? Because I am no different.

I believe in Jesus. I love Him. But so many times, I sin, and that, knowingly. I have the willpower to resist sin and do the right thing, but I still choose sin. By the grace of God, my guilt draws me back to Jesus, again and again, and He gives me grace upon grace. But His grace and His Holy Spirit are changing me; making me more like Him, teaching me what it means to be holy, and giving me the strength and will to follow.

I am only accountable for my actions and the condition of my heart, but I see a need for every professing believer in Christ to live a holy life before God.

Without Christ, righteousness is impossible, but anyone who has Jesus has put on His righteousness. Through Him, they are made righteous, and through His Holy Spirit, they are given the strength to live a holy life; to live in a way that glorifies Him. That means that, what would be seen as normal, and even “healthy,” by the world, should not be present in our lives.

Every form of sexual immorality, gossip, lying, hatred, drunkenness, cheating, and any other sin should no longer have dominion over us. That is not to say that we won’t struggle or that we won’t stumble, but we should grow to the point where we don’t fall into that sin again. And we should humble ourselves before God on a daily basis; asking Him for the strength to resist sin and live for Him.

We need revival in the Church. Revival starts in the heart, and it should produce good fruits that bring glory to Jesus Christ.

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will show forth Your praise. For You desire not sacrifice; else would I give it. You delight not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:15-17)

Abba, we need You to step into our mess and bring us to our senses. May we be discontent to live in sin. Teach us to be holy as You are holy; to be examples of You in word and deed. Please continue to shower Your grace and mercy over us, and may it be Your love that brings us to our knees and shapes us into the men and women that You intended us to be. Thank You for listening when we speak, and never forsaking us.
I love You, Jesus.

Amen.

March 13, 2018

Freedom from Sin through Death

by Russell Young

Paul has written that “anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” (Romans 6:7 NIV) This, of course, makes sense. If a person is dead, he or she can no longer sin. It is an impossibility. The intent that Paul is trying to convey is not so simple, however. Prior to these words he had stated: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom 6:34 NIV)

The thought of being baptized into Christ’s death should not be readily dismissed. Give it careful deliberation! Meditate on it. What does it mean to you? By choice the person who has been baptized has chosen to have died to this world making the claim to have died with Christ, to be whelmed by the death of Christ, and has identified himself or herself as being dead along with Christ. Being immersed in his death means that it has seeped into every pore of a person’s flesh. Nothing has been left untouched. The death is to be permanent and complete, one from which resuscitation is not allowed.

Although Christ physically died, we have not; however, we are to “count” (Rom 6:11), consider, or reckon that we have died. This may be more difficult than many would like to accept. By his or her will the person baptized into Christ’s death will not allow the flesh to command their attention; its interests can have no draw on the believer since it has been put to death.

It is easy to excuse earthly interests. The flesh demands pacification, the world’s interest is in the flesh, and the means for its appeasement is everywhere; however, to entertain fleshly interests can be flirting with destruction. (Gal 6:8; Phil 3:19) The Lord does not allow the freedom that many suppose. He requires that the misdeeds of the body be put to death (Rom 8:13), holiness (Heb 12:14), and commitment with all the believer’s heart, soul, and mind. (Mt 22:37) The believer in Christ cannot live passively but must be actively pursuing God’s will. Paul wrote: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Col 3:5 NIV) If the flesh has not died, the confessor has not died. If he has not died, he has not died with or in Christ, or to the world. It should not be accepted that a mystical death has occurred…a death without dying. Accepting such a perspective will grant licence to live in the flesh, satisfying its desires, while entertaining the comfort that death has occurred.

Paul wrote of his crucifixion: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20 NIV) Faith is not only a possession, it is evidenced through the practice of obedience to Christ.

Is the Lord expecting too much from those who would claim to be believers? Is his call reasonable? Many would claim that the idea of personal death is more than Christ demands; however, the Lord has said that only a few would find the small gate and narrow road that lead to life (Mt 7:17), and that those on the faith journey must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow him. (Lk 9:23) The cross is an instrument of death and when earthly or bodily interests start to emerge, the believer is to crucify himself or herself again. If a single crucifixion had been sufficient, the cross would not have to be carried daily, nor would it have to be constantly available.

Paul wrote that the purpose of the believer’s crucifixion was so that he or she “could live a new life.” (Rom 6:4 NIV) Baptism is a pledge (1 Pet 3:21) to God and to others that the confessor has acknowledged his or her death, having all their past sins washed away. (Heb 9:15,) Consequently, the confessor has been provided with the Spirit (Gal 3:14) so a new life might be lived.

Paul wrote of baptism saying, “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” (Rom 6:5 NIV) “If” is a conditional word. Accordingly, Paul has rested the hope of resurrection in a person’s willingness to be united with Christ in his death. The life of death to the world (Lk 17:33) and to its interests is lifelong (Mt 24:13) and is the life of faith.

Christ said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (Jn 14:6 NIV) and Paul has revealed that “Christ in you [is] your hope of glory.” (Col 1:27 NIV) The “life” is his life in the believer and he is their hope of glory. Those seeking his eternal presence must be united with Christ in his death.

As Paul told the Romans, “In the same way [Christ’s death to sin] count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in [through] Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:11 NIV) Freedom from sin is not an automatic state that is gifted to the believer; it must be a moment by moment commitment to deny the interests of the body that cause death. If the needed victory is to be gained a humble and obedient walk with Christ is needed. Such a walk is not an option that only “super” believers are to entertain. John has taught, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 26 NIV) The person who has died with Christ will also be resurrected with him. Even Paul professed that he “wanted to know Christ and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead,” (Phil 3:1011 NIV) and he confessed that he had not already obtained all of this. Being alive, he still had the option to entertain the flesh and to sin.

There is much to appreciate about the need for death to self, however, only through the practice of death to the body and through obedience to Christ can sin be defeated and victory gained.


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: 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.

 

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

February 27, 2018

Danger: Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees

by Russell Young

The way leaven or yeast works is interesting. Those who make bread will note that not a lot of yeast is required to affect a large quantity of flour. Only a suitable environment is needed to nurture its growth, and it grows rapidly. The Word often equates leaven or yeast with sin and it works much the same way in people’s lives as yeast does in flour. With feeding, a little sin soon grows into great sin. The Lord cautioned his listeners, “Be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Lk 12:1 NIV)

God condemned the sinful practices of the Pharisees. They likely did not intend to offend him or to defy him, however they had abandoned his sovereignty and the recognition of his holiness. Changes in their institutional attitudes and practices had evolved gradually until understanding and fear of God had become lost. Their focus had turned to ritualistic religious practices. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” (Mt 23:27 NIV) Later in the passage he called them “snakes,” “a brood of vipers.” The teachers of the law and the Pharisees would not have seen themselves in this light. In fact, they protested vigorously and sought the Lord’s death. However, the knowledge of God had been lost. Fleshly pursuits had displaced commitment of heart even though they had appeared righteous and proper. Luke has recorded Christ’s words: “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who are entering.” (Lk 11:52 NIV) By their misrepresentation of truth and through evil practices they had become disqualified from entering the kingdom of God and were preventing others from entering because they had lost their way. How did they arrive at this state?

Leaven had been introduced by way of their sinful natures and through the hollow and deceptive philosophies of men. Through Ezekiel, the Sovereign Lord said, “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves!” (Eze 34:2 NIV) By position and the laws of provision, the teachers were eating the curds, clothing themselves and eating the best meat. They enjoyed their status and its benefits. Their interest had become that of satisfying their own fleshly desires, both in prominence and through substance. Division of thought and philosophy between the Pharisees and the Sadducees has been well recorded. To some extent debate on spiritual issues had highjacked relationship and God’s purposes. Separating philosophical issues were being hotly contested. When a righteous relationship with God and instruction from him get displaced by the appeasement of the flesh and the philosophies of men, truth becomes lost and with it hope.

Leaven is small and insidious. According to their own understanding people are still trying to force their way into the kingdom through disregard of God’s sovereignty, holiness (Lk 16:1617), and instruction. To what extent has leaven entered the teaching of God’s Word through the hollow and deceptive philosophies of men? The Lord has clearly emphasized that the Law must be fulfilled. How often is this truth being promoted? The Lord admonished, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, nor the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices them and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:1820 NIV) Many dismiss the need for righteous practices and through their much-debated philosophical understandings declare that Christ alone has met their need for righteousness, even though its accomplishment is being awaited through the Holy Spirit. (Gal 5:5)

The issue of the law’s fulfilment should not be debated. Paul taught, “And so [God] 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 8:34 NIV Italics added.) Paul affirmed the need for obedience to the Galatians, “But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” (Gal 5:18 NIV) and further he revealed, “For if you live according to the sinful nature you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:1314 NIV) The way the confessor lives is important if the sonship status is to be maintained and hope achieved. In the end, judgment will prevail for things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10; Rev 20: 1213) and, it will be based on a person’s ‘doing.’ (Mt 13:41; 2 Cor 5:10)

Like the Pharisees of old, many have introduced yeast or leaven into their lives through the hollow and deceptive philosophies of the “wise.” They have left the truths of the Word and are trying to force passage into God’s heavenly kingdom by devising strategies presumed to meet their need and which require nothing of them and give license for immorality. The failure of humankind and of teachers to recognize the holiness of God and his “righteous requirements,” along with the Lord’s provision for accomplishing them, will lead to the destruction of many and cause them to fall from their secure position. (2 Pet 3:1617; Jn 8:35) They will be condemned along with those who through indifference to the Word rest in the philosophies of others. Those who present alternative means of entry into the kingdom of God are taking away “the key of knowledge” that could make confessors fit for an eternal hope.


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and 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.

January 1, 2018

Why Does the Apostle Paul Say There’s Nothing Good Within Him?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This fall, we ran eight articles in a weekly series of devotionals from Charles Price, Minister at Large for The Peoples Church in Toronto. We’re just doing one this season, but I encourage you to click this link if you wish to follow these teachings.

Nothing Good Within

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Romans 7:18 ESV

We might be tempted to think there is not all that much in us Jesus needs to forgive. Even if we have recognized we are sinners and asked Jesus for forgiveness, we might still think we are fairly good people on the whole. We might even be excited for God to use some of the inherent goodness we think we have to do His work. This is what makes Paul’s words in the opening verse difficult for many to understand. We like to think our ability to love, our artistic talents, the charity work we do are good things God can use for His glory. How then can Paul say nothing good dwells within us?

As Paul reminds us in Philippians 3, if there was anyone who could boast about his goodness before coming to know Christ, it was him. Paul was a perfect Jew, “a Hebrew of Hebrews” who was so faithful to God’s commands and the sacrifices required of him that he could be considered “faultless” before the law (Philippians 3:5-6). But Paul goes on to say he considers all of these good things “loss” and “garbage” for the sake of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).

Despite our attempts at goodness, they will always be marred by sin. We grew up being taught there are certain things that are good and certain things that are bad, and our natural selves apart from God will always be drawn to the latter. No matter how hard we try, how many charities we support, or how many promises we make to God that we will be good, we are deluding ourselves if we think we are anything but corrupt people apart from Christ.

To flaunt our claims to goodness is to be like a brand new car with all the bells and whistles, but no engine. We might attract attention from the people around us, but there is nothing good within us to make us function the way we are supposed to. For that, we need Christ. Any good deeds we do on our own is like trying to push that car without an engine up a hill, but a relationship with Jesus Christ gives us exactly what we need to do God’s work: Jesus Himself.

One day, we will all stand before God and have to account for our deeds. When that day comes, our good deeds and character will mean nothing if we do not have Christ. He alone makes the forgiveness of our sins possible, and it is only through His work in our lives that we come to have something good dwell within us to accomplish good in this world.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, You alone are good. I give up my claims to any goodness of my own and depend instead on Your sufficiency to conform me to Your likeness. Thank You, Lord.


It’s the start of a new year, and a good time to review the basics:

  • 201 means a little deeper than what’s found in many devotional books; and we tend to skip illustrations and go directly to the text. But we do appreciate the ministry of the organizations which distribute those resources.
  • On first time author appearances we try to check website statements about reuse, or send an email for permission to include material. Then we often repeat authors after six months or after one year. As of today, 2830 posts and only two take-down requests.
  • When you break a twig or branch off a tree, if it’s green inside the tree is alive. (I know you’re thinking, ‘Isn’t that an illustration?’ Oops) For that reason we print scripture verses in green to show that while all the content is helpful, the scriptures quotations contain life.
  • Not everyone presented here agrees with everybody else on everything. The site is a devotional mosaic; or if you prefer, a devotional potpourri. We do however try to check the compendium of a writer’s thoughts so we’re not steering you to any blog or website that might be problematic.
  • Submissions are welcomed. Click the submission page and use the form there to make contact. If you’ve never written devotional or study material before, here’s your opportunity. Start with a passage about which you’re passionate, but please, nothing deliberately provocative or controversial.
  • Christian music videos are often added if they relate to the theme of the devotional. There’s an index (see under ‘Pages’) listing all of the songs if that helps you locate a particular piece of writing.
  • Regular contributors aren’t bound by the six month rule; Clarke Dixon, Russell Young, and myself, Paul Wilkinson appear more frequently.
  • Topical articles, humor pieces, short stories, Christian news and current issues relating to faith are covered at our associate blog, Thinking Out Loud (see button in upper right).

December 28, 2017

Herod’s Messed Up Christmas

by Clarke Dixon

The Christmas Story as told by Matthew does not end like it does in the more sentimental telling of it we are used to. It ends in tragedy.

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Matthew 2:16

Technically speaking, the magi were likely not present with Jesus along with the shepherds as commonly portrayed in manger scenes. They arrived later. In fact the Church calendar encourages us to reflect on the arrival of the magi at the end of Christmas, on January 6th, with a celebration called Epiphany. Nevertheless, in the popular and sentimental celebrations of Christmas the magi are there at the manger scene and everyone is happy but Herod. However, in the Biblical account Christmas ends up going horribly wrong. What are we to make of Herod’s messy Christmas?

First, the unhappy ending of the Christmas story is a reminder from the get-go that we need a rescue.  While we tend to think Herod was a particularly evil person, the fact is that any one of us could have ended up being a Herod. People we think of as evil are usually ordinary people who have been swept up in evil. It could have been us. Hitler may have been particularly evil, but many regular folk committed evil deeds because they were too easily swept up with his evil. Charles Manson may have been particularly evil, but those who committed murder for him would likely have had very different lives had they become involved with a better crowd. That could have been us and not them being swept up in evil. Humanity has a sin problem. Even the most “naturally nice” of us have the potential for great evil. Therefore the sad ending of the Christmas story found at the beginning of the New Testament is a reminder of something we learned from the Old Testament, namely that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The massacre at Bethlehem reminds us that we need a rescue.

Second, the unhappy ending of the Christmas story is not the end of the story. Matthew goes on to tell us about the teaching of Jesus, pointing us toward a righteousness that is far better than that of the rule-focused Pharisees. There is a God-given and Spirit-driven righteousness ahead. Matthew goes on to tell us about the miracles of Jesus, reversing the effects of sin and curse we know about from Genesis chapter three. Matthew goes on to tell us about the death of Jesus. We learn early on that Mary “will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) The death of Jesus deals with sin in a way neither we, nor anything nor anyone else, ever could. God Himself brought His grace and justice together in rescuing us from the end result of sin. Matthew goes on to tell us about the resurrection of Jesus. Where Herod failed, the religious and political leaders finally seemed to succeed when Jesus was put to death at the cross. Only that didn’t last very long. Death could not hold him and the story goes on! Matthew goes on to tell us about the great commission of Jesus:

18 All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. Matthew 28:18-20

Here is a new beginning, a revolution! The implication is that the Herods of the world, if they become obedient disciples of Jesus, could not commit the kind of atrocities that we find in the Christmas story. Instead of being people who are swept up in evil, we are to become people swept up in goodness and godliness, a people swept up in God Himself.

Matthew goes on to tell us, in the final words of his book, some final words of Jesus before his ascension: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) There is an age to come after this age. In other words the ending of the Christmas story is not the end of the story. Far from it! The Christmas story is the beginning of a new beginning which will lead to a new beginning. The story goes on and it ends well! While Christmas has a sad ending, the story of Jesus ends well. In Christ your story can have a happy ending too!

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

December 7, 2017

Praying for God to Come Down. Or Not.

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence. Isaiah 64:1

This may not be everyone’s favourite prayer. Some would find the presence of God to be a frightening experience and some would prefer God not exist at all so they need not worry about it. Some have deeply thought through positions of agnosticism or atheism. Many, however, land there having heard or seen slogans like “God probably does not exist, so stop worrying and enjoy your life”, and are quite happy to not give it much further thought. So please don’t talk religion, thank you. Why? Because people assume that if God exists, then they should worry. If God is alive and well, then while we are alive and well for now, all will not be well when we are no longer alive. There is a feeling that we would never be good enough, or could never be good enough to meet our Maker. So please don’t tear open the heavens and come down Lord!

However, there is a tone of confidence in Isaiah’s prayer which runs from Isaiah 63:15-64:12. Isaiah is confident that if God were more fully present, it would go well for His people. Is this confidence based on the goodness or righteousness of the people, or even his own? Far from it, in fact the prayer is full of honest confession:

6 We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7 There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you; Isaiah 64:6-7

Given the fact that God’s people have strayed far, praying for God to “tear open the heavens and come down” is sounding like a risky prayer to make indeed. Isaiah alludes to times in the past when God had “come down”:

When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. Isaiah 64:3

The prayer for God to come down could be answered like the time God “came down” at the Exodus. While that went well for God’s people, it did not go well for the Egyptians with plagues and a sea that closed in on the Pharaoh’s army. Given the sinfulness of God’s people as confessed by Isaiah, perhaps this time the plagues will land on them?

So where does Isaiah’s confidence in God come from if not in the righteousness of the people? Why does he pray with anticipation of good things, and not plagues? This prayer for help is not made with an appeal to the justice of God, to rescue the righteous. That option is not open for God knows too much! Rather it is made with an appeal to the character of God and the relationship God chose to have with His people. Consider the following references in this prayer:

For you are our father,
though Abraham does not know us
and Israel does not acknowledge us;
you, O Lord, are our father;
our Redeemer from of old is your name. Isaiah 63:16

Turn back for the sake of your servants,
for the sake of the tribes that are your heritage. Isaiah 63:17b

8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people. Isaiah 64:8-9 (emphases mine)

Isaiah prays with confidence because he knows the relationship God has with His people is like that of a father to a child. While God as a perfectly just judge can expect, in fact must expect, perfection, a father can have compassion and mercy toward an imperfect child. So how can God be both perfectly just and yet act “fatherly”? How can God be both judge and “Dad”? The answer is given in God’s response to Isaiah’s prayer.

There is an answer to this prayer, but instead of the prayer being answered with plagues and punishment, it is answered with the arrival of a baby and the beginning of a new kind of Exodus. While the plagues on Egypt resulted in the firstborn of the Egyptians experiencing death, in this Exodus it is God himself that goes through it, both as the grieving Father, and as the dying son. Only a holy and perfect offering could stand in the place of sinful person, taking the consequence of sin. Only God Himself could do that, and in Jesus He has done that. In Jesus God is the perfect judge, taking care of sin at the cross, while also being the good father, being compassionate and merciful toward His children.

For those who feel that they have wandered so far from God that they could never turn or return to Him, it has nothing to do with how far we have travelled away, and everything to do with how far God has travelled toward us. He answered Isaiah’s prayer and has come all the way from heaven to a cross on earth in Jesus, so that we could be reconciled to Him. Turning to God has nothing to do with impressing the judge with our own efforts, and everything to do with the love of a compassionate heavenly Father.

Maybe you don’t think of yourself as God’s child. An opportunity is before you:

12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13

Our relationship with God does not begin with our goodness. It begins with His.

However, even if you recognize that you are a child of God, you may think of yourself as the wayward child, the messed-up child, the stressed-out child, the foolish child, the undeserving child, or even the stupid child. On the one hand these might be accurate descriptions and we have room to grow like everyone else. On the other hand, The Lord’s Table while being a reminder of many things, is also a reminder that there are other adjectives that can be used to describe you. You are the redeemed child, the reconciled child, the forgiven child, the embraced child, the loved child.

Although the presence of God can, and should, be scary to someone who has rejected the Lord’s invitation to a father/child relationship, a child of God can pray with confidence as Isaiah did: “tear open the heavens and come down”. Being in Christ we can pray with confidence the last recorded prayer of the Bible:

20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen. Revelation 22:20-21 (emphasis mine)


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Canadian Baptist pastor Clarke Dixon’s writing appears here most Thursdays; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

October 10, 2017

A Fire That Can’t Be Put Out

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re paying a second visit to Pure Devotion, the blog of Lori Thomason. Click here to read her story. There were two other items we considered for today, but they’re much longer than what we normally do here.

If you have time I hope you’ll consider those; for today’s click the title below to read at Pure Devotion.

Fan Your Flame

2 Timothy 1:6-7 (NLT)  This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

“You cannot put out a fire that burns on the inside.” (Bethel Worship)

I am reminded today of the spiritual gift that God has given me. I have been challenged in the last few days to test the temperature of the water boiling into passion for Christ. Have I become tepid? Is the river of life flowing inside of me lukewarm? God has not given me a spirit of fear or timidity – but have I taken it anyway? He is given me power overflowing from amazing and abundant grace – am I doused in it? Is love my passionate motivation in all things? I have self-discipline. It is produced by the Holy Spirit who tends the fire that burns within me. The passionate pursuit of Christ that began with just a spark of faith turned into confident hope.

Matthew 5:14-15 (NLT) “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.

I am back at the furnace of the three Hebrew boys. I can feel the flame of refinement. The purification process designed to produce gold in our life. The heat that burns away all impurity to reveal the faith that is hidden within. I wonder if that is not the purpose of our life. To go through the same trials, troubles, and tragedies or to face the same temptations (rise or fall) that will demonstrate the Glory of God to all who are a witness. The church has painted a pretty picture. Religion erases the need for grace to give way to a façade of perfection not yet manifested until the return of Christ. We hide our broken hearts. Shield are scraped knees. Hide our dirty hands. When what the world really needs to see is a relationship so authentic that nothing can separate us. The Light of the Word was not lit up hiding in an upper room – but rather on a Cross for all the world to see in His Suffering. A city on a hilltop must be a reference to us. Given credibility in the Kingdom by our witness, but not to be tucked away in time. We are the reflection of His Love in its bloody, messy form. It may not be pretty but it’s the thing that we hold on to.

It’s time to fan the flame of His Spirit invested in us. To blow fresh wind on the passion growing dim within us. See when the fire is within us – the stormy winds cannot put it out. The waves of conflict or controversy will not overtake it. Trials will only make it hotter. Fearless faith rises from the ashes of burned pride as God makes beauty from them just as He promised. Our confidence becomes our conviction. Impossibilities will be the fields where faith is planted confidently and boldly knowing miracles will come up through the fertile soil.

Song of Solomon 8:6-7 (NLT) Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, its jealousy as enduring as the grave.  Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame. Many waters cannot quench love, nor can rivers drown it. If a man tried to buy love with all his wealth, his offer would be utterly scorned.

The holy inhabitation of the Spirit of the Living God within us is the opportunity to experience true intimacy with Him. Jesus lives in us. Successful relationships thrive on intimacy. Intimacy is often considered in a physical sense but truly it is in the most spiritual sense that it is accomplished. Physical and material things change in life for they are in a constant and perpetual state of decay. Our body is born dying. Of course, we may try to maintain our appearance but truthfully the only advantage given to us is believers is new life that begins in our soul. As our soul prospers, so does our life externally. Intimacy is a close, familiar and affectionate personal relationship. It is the product of love and should encapsulate all of its characteristics. (I Corinthians 13) Those engaged in an intimate relationship know the other by close association with deep understanding and detailed knowledge of the other person. Intimacy requires openness by both individuals. It is an act of engagement that speaks, listens, knows and understands far deeper than words. Our intimacy with Jesus Christ gives us the opportunity to experience a passionate love so perfect it burns away every other perception of the word.

Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame. Is my love and commitment to Christ born of an intimate relationship filled with passion possessing the brightest kind of flame? It was the desire of Jesus to love us and live in complete intimacy with us that provoked Him to exhibit “love as strong as death” and “jealousy as enduring as the grave”. Nothing can separate us from God’s Love now. We are more than conquerors and confident overcomers in Christ. If believers truly believed that then there would be nothing that would keep us from the fire. We would jump in feet first in hopes to grow deeper in love with Christ.

I Peter 4:12-13 (NLT) Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.

For everyone will be tested with fire. (Mark 9:49) What if your present trial is actually an invitation to greater intimacy with the Lord? Could it be that He is trying to demonstrate His Love for you yet again with an outcome that is miraculous? Fiery trials will happen according to the Lord. We should be glad because it is through these incidents that we become partners with Christ. It is in His Suffering that our joy is made complete and dispensed in our life through passionate and fearless faith that will not back down from the fight or the fire but valiantly and victoriously fights for love. Are you passionate about your relationship with Jesus Christ? Are you investing in your partnership with the Lord? Fan your flame. Stir the fire deep within. Let your light shine. You will not be consumed but fully connected. A flame introduces to a fire becomes one with it making it burn stronger and brighter than ever before. You are part of something bigger than yourself – become one with Jesus. Jesus came to start a fire in us producing a light so bright it burns away darkness all around us. The Light is produced by His Great Love. How bright is your light day?

Luke 12:49 (NLT) “I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning!

September 9, 2017

“What is This You Have Done?”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re returning again to the blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The author of today’s piece is Lisa Rieck. This is another site you might want to bookmark and check back with from time to time. Click the title below to read this at source.

The Sorrow and Mercy of God

“What is this you have done?”

These words from God to Eve in Genesis 3:13 are always heart-wrenching to me when I read them. I imagine so much anguish in his voice.

Because of course God isn’t just talking about Adam’s and Eve’s one decision to eat from the one tree they were explicitly told by God, in his one command, not to eat from. This is the God of the universe speaking. A God who took exquisite delight in creating a world exactly as he wanted it. A God who was wild about these two people he had made in his image, and about their intimacy with each other and with him. A God nearly incoherent with joy regarding the eternity of beauty and goodness and rightness he could see stretching out before him.

It’s hard for most of us to imagine the glory of the world those first two chapters of Genesis describe because we’ve only ever known a world disfigured by sin. But try to picture it. Every plant vibrant with color. Every animal thriving, both on its own and in relationship to other animals. Human relationship free from blame or shame or fear or hurt or jealousy or dishonesty, with each person being fully known, fully loved, fully satisfied in the most complete way.

All of this and so, so much more was changed in a minute, in what seems like a flippant decision on Adam and Eve’s part. Of course, they could not have known what the full implications of their action would be, since they had no concept of sin or brokenness, imperfection or guilt. But God obviously did. And so, as he uttered his question, I imagine the span of history flashing before his eyes: Cain killing Abel. The Israelites enslaved in Egypt. Children sacrificed to idols. War between nations from the first civilizations to the present. John the Baptist being beheaded. Mary and Martha weeping at Lazarus’s tomb. The Black Death. Genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda and Ukraine and Germany and Guatemala. The Trail of Tears. Miscarriages and abortion. Affairs and divorce. Cancer and dementia. Families torn apart by deportation. Poverty. School shootings. Slavery. Mass incarceration. White supremacist rallies in Charlottesville. I wonder if it all rushed through his thoughts in an instant.

“What is this you have done?”

This is not to say that I think I would have chosen differently than Adam and Eve. I’m sure, had I been in their place, I too would have been persuaded that tasting the fruit, testing God’s words a bit, wouldn’t matter much. Isn’t that the way the devil always works? He tells me today that my jealousy, my bitterness, my judgment of others or my self-condemnation, my fears, my silence in the face of injustice, are not that big of a deal. He tells me that I have not contributed to racism because I did not march in Charlottesville this weekend. He keeps me dulled to the pain and far-reaching effects my sins of omission and commission have.

I imagine, though, what also flashed through God’s mind in that instant was what it would cost himself and his Son to make things right. His question was not without hope—but that hope did not cancel out or override his sorrow. Nor does it today; I believe he still suffers and grieves with us in the pain we experience from our own sin and from the sins of others, even though he has set in motion, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the redemption of all things.

Today, as on so many days, I am trying to hold those two things in tension as well—a horrified sorrow that does not end in despair, and a grounded hope that does not make light of the gravity of sin.

I’m also finding hope in ten other words from Genesis: “But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.” Amidst a world gone completely evil, where “every inclination of the thoughts of [people’s] hearts was only evil continually,” and “the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth,” God saw the (I imagine) quiet faithfulness of Noah.

Given the rampant wickedness he knew was coming, it seems like God must have been tempted to end things right away in Genesis 3. By Genesis 6, we know that his grief over the wickedness in the world was so great that he did, indeed, send the flood to destroy most of what he had made. But not all. As has happened over and over throughout the history of the world, God was merciful, seeing and saving the ones who could not be moved from their faithfulness to him, despite being surrounded by utter evil.

And that renews my faith that every seemingly small act of obedience matters. Every kind word. Every risk, in conversation or action, that helps me know someone different than me politically or ethnically or denominationally or religiously a bit better. Every dollar given away joyfully. Every “thank you” spoken, and meant. Every beautiful poem or painting created. Every act of listening that seeks to really understand. Every truth told. Every renouncement of racism. Every meal shared with every orphan and widow. Every hurt forgiven.

Most days, I feel more aware of the world’s evil than of God’s mercy, more cognizant of the fact that we have inherited the painful effects of Adam’s and Eve’s sin than of the truth that those who believe in Jesus have also received every benefit of his death and resurrection. But as Paul wrote in Romans 5, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Which means that every day, through God’s Spirit at work in us, we can choose differently than Adam and Eve did. We can—and must—choose obedience over disobedience, worship of God over worship of self, humility over pride, life over death.

And when we fail, as we will—when I fail—I can and must refuse to blame someone else, like Adam and Eve did, and refuse to listen to Satan’s lie that my own seemingly small sin is not that big of a deal. Each time I rebel against God, my work is to hear his question to Eve in my head, ringed with the sorrow of a Creator watching the destruction of the world he created to be good and beautiful. I must be willing to look straight at, to name, to reflect on and lament the ways my particular sin has contributed to that destruction, hurting others and myself and perpetuating the broader sinful structures and systems of our world.

Because though God’s question came from grief over the death that had entered and would continue to enter the world, even this weekend, even today, it can lead us to life if we let it move us, next time, to choose faithfulness. To receive God’s forgiveness, and then show forgiveness to others. To take every opportunity to be kind. To work for justice for all, even when it means giving up some of our own power and privilege. To live in genuine relationship with others. And, in the face of every evil, to choose obedience to the God who grieves with us, grieves over us, and still chooses mercy. Over and over and over again.

August 14, 2017

Owning It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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In Daniel 9, we see Daniel praying on behalf of the nation:

“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land.

I can’t help but think as I read this that what he prays collectively has to begin individually, it has to begin with me. This is often contrary to our nature. We think ourselves righteous. It’s harder to pray:

But I have sinned and done wrong. I have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. I have refused to listen to your servants…

And yet, each time I ignore the commands of God, or rationalize some behavior, or allow myself some license in some area of thought or action, I am scorning God’s commands.

When our pastor spoke on this on Sunday he said you can’t always choose the place you live in, but you can decide where you are going to live toward. He contrasted living toward Jerusalem with living toward Babylon.

Our service ended in a time of confession, and then I sought someone to pray with me individually. I admitted that I am not living toward Jerusalem 24/7. I am distracted by worldly ideas. If you’re a guy, are you tempted by the girl at the mall in the miniskirt? For me it’s ideas and concepts. One single phrase or sentence in an online article can be as devastating to me as the girl at the mall is to you. My worldview warps; my mindset skews.

Psalm 139 ends with the type of mind inventory I need constantly:

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

About two and a half years ago we looked at a quotation by Jerry Bridges where he says, “We never see sin aright until we see it as against God.”

In Psalm 51, David writes:

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
    I have done what is evil in your sight. (v.4a)

but he realizes he needs help to get back to the standard:

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and make me willing to obey you. (v.12)

If I were truly, truly sorry for past sins, I would never repeat them.

In the linked piece above, we included this graphic image:

We have to be truly sorry for our sin. Not the collective our, but the individual our.

I have to be truly sorry for my sin.

Heb. 10:25 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

Prov. 15:10 There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die.

 

 

 

 

 

June 27, 2017

The Waterfall of Grace

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to Living by Faith blog by Steve Fuller. This is their all-time most popular post, from 2013. Click the title to read this on the blog itself, and then check out the right-hand column for other popular posts.

Can I Deliberately Keep Sinning And Still Be Forgiven?

A Waterfall Of Grace

Imagine that it’s 120 degrees outside.  Hot.

But then imagine that you are standing under a waterfall — cool, clear, and refreshing.  Aaaah.

Through trusting Jesus Christ you are standing under a waterfall of grace —

  • All your sins are forgiven — past, present, and future.
  • You are seen by God as clothed in Jesus’ perfect righteousness.
  • God is your Father — loving you, guiding you, providing for you, satisfying you in Himself.
  • God continues to forgive your sins day after day, year after year — forgiven, forgiven, forgiven, forgiven.
  • God will keep you persevering in faith so you will surely enter heaven.
  • God will supply everything you need for the rest of your life.
  • God will ordain everything in your future to bring you the greatest joy in Him.

A waterfall of grace.

But This Raises A Question

Does grace mean someone can deliberately keep sinning and still end up in heaven?

One passage that speaks directly to this question is Hebrews 10:26-31.

Verse 26 is sobering —

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

What Does That Mean?

What does it mean to go on sinning deliberately?

“Sinning” means disobeying clear commands of Scripture — which would include unforgiveness, sexual immorality, and love of money.

So — if yesterday you harbored unforgiveness against someone, does that mean you can never be forgiven?  Not at all.

Notice that the author is not just talking about “sinning.”  He’s talking about “going on sinning deliberately.”

The words “going on” and “deliberately” mean that you are continuing in this sin without confessing it, without sorrowing over it, without battling it.

So if yesterday you harbored unforgiveness against someone, but today confessed that to the Lord and by faith fought to overcome it — then you are NOT “going on sinning deliberately.”

But — if yesterday you harbored unforgiveness against someone, and today you are continuing in that unforgiveness without confessing it and without fighting by faith to forgive them — then you ARE “going on sinning deliberately.”

Which means that unless something changes, there no longer remains a sacrifice for your sins.

What Does That Mean?

The author explains in the rest of the passage.  If, after receiving the knowledge of the truth, you go on sinning deliberately, then —

  • V.27 says you would face “a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire.”
  • V.29 says you would face a “worse punishment” than death.
  • V.30 says you would face God’s “vengeance,” and that He would “judge” you.
  • And v.31 says “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

I don’t see any way around it.  If, after receiving the knowledge of the truth, you go on sinning deliberately, then you will not end up in heaven.  You will face God’s judgment forever.

But Be Careful

At this point you could draw a very wrong, and very dangerous, conclusion.

Let’s say you are NOT going on sinning deliberately.  Not that you are perfect, but you are trusting Christ, which includes fighting sin by faith.  You often overcome sin.  And when you do sin, you turn back to Christ, confess your sin, and return to the fight.

So you are NOT going on sinning deliberately.  But you could let this passage make you fear that someday you might start going on sinning deliberately, which would mean facing God’s judgment forever.

But I’ve got good news for you.  If today you are trusting Christ — then YOU WILL NEVER FACE THIS JUDGMENT.

Because if today you are trusting Christ, which includes fighting sin by faith, that shows that God has saved you. And because God has saved you, He will —

  • complete the good work He started in you (Phil 1:6),
  • keep you from stumbling so far that you face eternal judgment (Jude 1:24-25),
  • not let anything (not even you) snatch you from His hand (John 10:28-29).

So no one who is saved by God will experience the judgment described in Heb 10:26-31.

But you might wonder — hadn’t the people described in Heb 10:26-31 been saved?

Hadn’t they “received the knowledge of the truth” (Heb 10:26)?  Yes, but that does not mean they were saved.  Because the parable of the four soils shows that there is a shallow way to receive the word that does not include faith in Christ (Mark 4:1-20).

And hadn’t they been “sanctified” (Heb 20:29)?  Yes, but that also does not mean they were saved.  Because the word “sanctified” can mean something less than salvation (see 1Cor 7:14-16).

So how can anyone know for sure they have been saved?  We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone (Eph 2:8-9).  So, to be assured of salvation, turn from whatever else you have been trusting to satisfy you, and trust Jesus Christ to forgive you, strengthen your weak faith, help you battle sin, and satisfy you in Himself.

If your trust is sincere, then you will want to fight sin by faith, and you can be fully assured that God has saved you.  Which means He will keep you persevering in faith to the end.  Which means you will never face the judgment described in Heb 10:26-31Never.

But What If You Are Not?

What if you are not fighting sin by faith?  What if you are going on sinning deliberately?

Lord willing, I’ll talk about this more in my next blog post.

But for now, understand that if you are going on sinning deliberately, then unless something changes, you will face God’s judgment forever.

But — if you will turn to Jesus now and confess your sin, admit your helplessness, ask His forgiveness, and trust Him to forgive you, strengthen you, help and satisfy you — He will.

And you’ll be under the waterfall of His grace — and kept there — forever.

June 25, 2017

An Unholy Collection

by Russell Young

The Word speaks of a collection of people that is going to take place at “the end of the age.” The gathering will be done at the command of the Son and will be carried out by his angels. In explaining the parable of the weeds Jesus said, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom, everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Mt 13:41 NIV) The collection will be of those who have defied his commands and have either caused sin to take place or have practiced sin. Only the holy will remain.

The Lord’s words should cause those who teach and those who claim his name and who presume eternal salvation to fully consider his revelation. That is, the gathering will not be according to a pardon for sin, but will be based upon one’s doings following the pardon…their causing sin or doing evil. This proclamation is consistent with the many teachings concerning the need for obedience. (Mt 7:21, 28:20; Jn 14:23; 1 Jn 2: 3─4, 3:7,24, 5:3─4; Rev 22:14 KJV)

Many accept that Christ’s righteousness was imputed to them and that obedience is a non-issue. They accept that he washed away all sin that they will ever commit. It is correct that he took the believer’s sin leaving him or her righteous through the imputation of his righteousness; however, this act was to bring them back to God so that they might gain the Holy Spirit. (Gal 3:14; Eph 1:4; Col 1:21─22; Rom 5:10) The imputation of his righteousness did not provide pardon for sinful acts beyond the point when the point of redemption unless the believer repents and seeks forgiveness. (1 Jn 1:9) If it did, the Lord would have to continue to bear any sins committed and he would remain separated from his Father due to his unholy state just as he was at the time of his crucifixion.

Further, the Word reveals that those who will be gathered will have been placed in Christ’s kingdom by the “enemy.” That is, some will be counterfeit “believers,” who have claimed faith but who have chosen to live on their own terms and according to their own purposes. 2 Peter 17─21 references these people as does the writer of Hebrews. “And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were unable to enter, because of their unbelief.” (Heb 3:18─19 NIV) The purpose of the weeds, those who cause sin and those who do evil, is to disrupt and negatively impact those who had a legitimate place in his kingdom and were endeavouring to live in the light. Such an approach by the enemy of Christ indicates that he can and desires to destroy those who are in the kingdom. These enemies can be discerned both by their incitement to cause sin and by their practice of it.

Paul taught: “For as I have often told you before and say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.” (Phil 3:18─19 NIV) They are seeking to satisfy the flesh rather than the Spirit. Even though Paul condemned the practices or doings of these people and identified their end as being destruction, many hold to the understanding that Christ expects nothing of them other that to believe-“belief” as determined by themselves; they dismiss commands to live righteously and to defeat the practice of sin because they accept that Christ has done that for them removing all concern or fear.

People will be weeded out because of their actions. Judgment will come for the things done in the body whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:10) Those who have despised the life of Christ in them, rather than for them, will be among those who have been plucked from his righteous kingdom. Paul taught, “continue to work out your own salvation, with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12 NIV)

Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:34) Entering through the narrow door requires effort and those who do not put forth the necessary effort will be part of the angel’s “unholy collection.”

May 14, 2017

Contending for the Faith

by Russell Young

Believers are not called to a relaxed, passive life. They are called to fight, to contend for the faith. Jude wrote, “I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 1:3 NIV) To contend literally means, ‘to compete for a prize, and figuratively means, ‘to contend against an adversary.’

Jude was encouraging believers to contend with “godless men, who change the grace of our God into license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” (Jude 1:4 NIV) That is, he was encouraging them to fight against those who misrepresented God’s grace allowing believers to feel free to engage in immoral acts. Giving this freedom was the result of allowing them to deny, reject, or disavow the sovereignty and lordship of Christ. Christ never lived, tolerated, or taught the allowance of immorality but condemned it. There are many today who preach Christ as saviour and reject the need to honour his sovereignty and lordship in their lives. Jude presented his admonition to contend for the faith to those who are “kept by Jesus Christ”, to believers.

The church has not done well at contending for the faith since the grace of God has been promoted as being a gifting that pardons all godless behavior that arises from the believer’s “doing” or practices, which results in freedom from judgment even for defiance of the Lord’s (Holy Spirit’s) right to their lives. The widely-promoted definition of God’s “sovereign grace,” as meaning ‘pre-creation election,’ has eliminated the need to recognize the practical lordship or sovereignty of Christ in the “believer’s” daily life; thus, it maintains that he or she will not suffer harm for any immoral behavior or unrighteousness of heart. Such teaching automatically gives license for ungodliness. However, Paul taught that God’s righteous requirements were accomplished through obedience to the Holy Spirit. “[H]e 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 8:3─4 NIV)

The church has not contended for the faith, but has endorsed the freedom derived from definitions of “belief” and “grace” that have given “licence” for immorality. Such allowance has been given to build numbers in the kingdom of God and to dispense with the need for personal righteousness. Jesus said, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.” (Lk 16:16 NIV) It must be appreciated that no one can “force” or crowd himself into the kingdom. Entry comes through Christ alone as revealed in the truths of his Word; no one can enter without having satisfied the “righteous requirements” of the Law…not one “stroke” can be left out.

Why has the church not contended for the faith? The message that God’s “sovereign grace” has met a person’s needs is both appealing to teach and to receive. It seems, as well, that as people flocked to press their way into the kingdom, or were attempting to be pressed in by evangelists, proclamations of such hope became popular and its presenters were to some extent idolized and copied. Their gospel, even though not that of Christ, has become accepted.

Why have the students of God’s Word not raised a hew and cry about neglect of the need for repentance and the development of righteousness and holiness? Those who love the Lord and his gospel need to listen to Jude and make their voices known. Long-accepted teaching that licences the “believer” to fearlessly neglect the Lord’s sovereignty in life and that gives licence to ungodliness needs to be re-examined and rejected.

Paul taught that in the last days people would have a “form of godliness but denying its power,” and cautioned them to have nothing to do with them. (2 Tim 3:5 NIV) The “power” is the Holy Spirit (Christ in you) and his power for achieving a sanctified life is often ignored and its necessity denied. Paul also cautioned Timothy, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Tim 4:3 NIV) Has this time come? In these, Paul also proclaims the failure of the church to contend for the faith.

The LORD prophesied concerning the end times through Isaiah, “The earth mourns and dries up, and the crops waste away and wither. Even the greatest people on earth waste away. The earth suffers for the sins of its people, for they have twisted God’s instructions, violated his laws, and broken his everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse consumes the earth. Its people must pay the price for their sin. They are destroyed by fire and only a few are left alive.” (Isa 24:4─6 NIV) God will bring his wrath on humankind in the last days, not because they have rejected his “grace,” but because the earth’s people will have rejected his government…his laws, statutes, and everlasting covenant. His prophesy should not be taken as referring to the non-confessing people but to all people. By the end a great deal of teaching from “learned” men and women will have set aside the need to satisfy God’s laws, statutes, and everlasting covenant. The licence of which Jude spoke will have been fully realized. If God’s requirements are not made know, those who are seeking him will miss the mark.

The Lord said, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 NIV) Matthew records this admonition as follows: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Mt 7:13─14 NIV) If an “effort” is required, its reality must be made known and not left hidden behind the curtain of God’s grace.

Believers must appreciate that their time on earth needs to be given to “contending for the faith” and the building of the kingdom of God. Judgment will befall those who neglect the service to which they have been called and for which they have been gifted. (1 Cor 3:14) That “contending” needs to be with those who have not heard the gospel, with those who have heard a misrepresented version of the gospel, and with those who are actively misrepresenting the gospel.


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514

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

March 29, 2017

The Three ‘R’s of Baptism

NLT Matthew 3:13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”

15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.[1] So John agreed to baptize him.

16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened[2] and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

[1.] 3:15 Or for we must fulfill all righteousness.
[2.] 3:16 Some manuscripts read opened to him.

One of the ideals we’re committed to here is allowing what I call next generation voices to be heard. Katie calls her blog The Hipster Ginger, and I loved her take on what her denomination teaches about baptism. Click the title below to read the full article at source.

Renounce, Reject, Repent

I love baptisms. I love the stories, the memories that are made, and the amazing promises that happen at a baptism.

I am a United Methodist through and through. My experiences are pretty freaking Methodist, so this post will be mostly Methodist.

When we make our initial vow in front of the body of Christ when we are presented for Holy Baptism, to “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin,” (Standard Book of Worship) we are not just renouncing the spiritual forces that we struggle with as individuals. We are also rejecting the evil powers that are loose in the world. Likewise, we are not just repenting of our sins as individuals.

We are also repenting of the sins of humankind as a whole.

Today we are going to have a VERY brief review of the three promises we make in baptism; renouncing, rejecting, and repenting.

To RENOUNCE is a fundamental act of treason. It is to break allegiance to a power or authority to which one had previously given allegiance and service. From the earliest examples of baptismal questions we have, renunciation of Satan or the devil (spiritual forces of wickedness, we say) always comes first. Because you cannot make new alliances until your old ones are broken.

This step follows biblical precedent. The very first story we hear of Jesus after his baptism in the wilderness is his renunciation of Satan. Jesus makes it clear where his allegiances lie, and he shows the way for all who would follow him. (Luke 4:1-13)

It also follows the pattern of centuries of practice when you seek citizenship in a new realm or country. You first breaks allegiance to the realm or sovereign of the people from which you have come from and only then you pledge allegiance to the new realm or sovereign.

To REJECT the evil powers of this world is a phrase that kinda makes me think I’m watching the exorcist. The English word “reject” comes from the Latin “reicere,” which means “to throw out”– and so translates the Greek verb “ekballein,” which is often used to describe what Jesus does to demons (to cast out, to throw out). When we pledge to reject evil, we are promising to do more than just not do evil things. We are promising to throw out, to cast out, to shut the door behind any evil powers that seek to control with us or use us in anyway. So we not only break allegiances, we also commit not to allow evil any sway in our lives. (Psalm 51:10) John Wesley’s first two simple rules cover this when he says “do good” and “do no harm.”

To REPENT of our sin (yeah, SIN. I did it on purpose) means more than feeling sorry or guilty for bad things we have done in the past. The Hebrew verb behind repent (shuv) means “to turn from.” The promise we make is not just to turn from “sins” (actions that bring harm) but “sin” itself.

The singular points less to individual actions and more toward whole patterns of life. So we here commit to turn and walk away from those patterns of life, habits, and behaviors that damage others and/or our relationships with God, with the earth, and with our neighbors. (Luke 5:31-32)


A few days later, Katie’s friend Melissa weighed in on a topic that often trips up Christians: Why should Jesus need to be baptized? We join that article in progress; click the title below to read it in full.

Jesus Got Dunked

…It is important to note that baptism is not exclusively a Christian ritual. Jesus and John were Jews, after all. Christianity gets the ritual from the Jewish cleansing rite, which symbolized a person’s changed nature – a new identification, new status, new creation.

People got baptized as a way to symbolize their repentance, or turning away from sin, and to be symbolically cleansed. So why did Jesus get baptized if John was only preparing the way for him?  Did Jesus need to repent and be cleansed from his sin?

Nah.

My suspicion is that Jesus was not baptized because he needed to repent, but because he was eager to show his devotion to God through baptism. He also was affirming the truth that John was preaching: The Kingdom of God is near, and Jesus would be the one to establish that Kingdom on earth.

After Jesus was baptized, the sky ripped open, God the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove, and God the Father spoke, affirming Jesus as God the Son. This was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth.

Because Jesus was baptized, we get baptized today as a way of following him and to remind us that when we live in the kingdom of God. We have a new identity, and that identity is in Jesus Christ. It is through the water that we experience God’s grace and enter into the Body of Christ.

The beautiful thing about the Kingdom of God is that all are welcome to this new identity. Our identity in Christ defines us more than what we look like, smell like, dress like, or talk like. God uses people as wild-looking as John the Baptist–the dirty, matted, smelly man with a weird diet.

How will you remember your identity in Christ today? How will you celebrate God’s grace in your life, and how will you offer that grace to others, regardless of what they look like?

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