sin

Free - From The Penalty And Power Of Sin

Over and over in the opening of Genesis, we read that God created and declared  the world ‘good’ (towb, good in the widest sense; some would say it meant the world was prepared or completed,). As opposed to other ancient creation stories where everything was created by an act of violence, this was an act of artistry, care, and design.

This was a world where ‘shalom’ characterized life. Shalom is a Hebrew word found throughout the Old Testament that means peace, interconnectedness, wholeness, fullness of life. It’s life as it ought to be in a world without sin, brokenness or despair. 

There is a problem.

Adam and Eve are given a choice – to be obedient to God and live within God’s design or choose their own way. God said, “You can have all these things, but there is one thing here that I don’t want you to have.  You don’t need to know why, it’s just not good for you. There are some things that will make life worse.” 

But of course, Adam and Eve focused on that one thing they couldn’t have in the midst of all they could.  And being people with free will – the means and the capacity to do what they choose – they did what any of us would have done.

They chose their own way, and immediately the world began to break apart in what we call The Fall.  God said to them, “What have you done? (Literally, “Why did you make/craft this?”)  Now they have to live in a world in which the blessing of God is distorted; now they have to live in a world that they broke.

Now, a life that was supposed to be characterized by harmony and wholeness would be full of chaos and brokenness.  Now, there would be violence instead of gentleness, deception instead of truth, rebellion instead of obedience.

As Genesis unfolds, we see the original version of “that escalated quickly.” Cain kills Abel; soon men are bragging that they’ve killed a ton of people; before long, the whole world is evil in God’s sight. It really doesn’t get any better as you read the Old Testament. Paul would eventually write to the church in Rome that all of creation groans as it waits for redemption. We are in ‘bondage to decay’ and ‘subject to futility’ (Romans 8). A modern writer put it this way:

Countries like ours are full of people who have all the material comforts they desire, together with such non-material blessings as a happy family, and yet lead lives of quiet, and at times noisy, desperation, understanding nothing but the fact that there is a hole inside them and that however much food and drink they pour into it, however many motor cars and television sets they stuff it with, however many well balanced children and loyal friends they parade around the edges of it…it aches.” (Bernard Levin, British columnist)

We know the source of the problem: sin.

For all the criticism we have of Adam and Eve, we would have made the same choice they did. They are what we call archetypes, real people who in a broader sense are all of us. Their story would have been our story. We default to sin.

  • All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23)
  • Apart from God, we are enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6, 16-17)
  • The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
  • We have bodies of death in need of deliverance (Romans 7:24)

The Bible doesn’t use the word ‘sin’ in the original language. The word sin comes from the Old 
English word synn, which is from the Germanic sunta or the Latin word sons, both of which mean guilty.[1] The Biblical writers were pretty creative with how many ways they expressed the many reasons we are guilty:

  1. hamartia; to miss the mark. “We all fall short of (or “miss”) the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) The devil has done this from the beginning (1 John 3:8)
  2. Paraptoma; trespass. A blunder.  (Matthew 6:14-15)
  3. Parabasos; crossing a specific line.  Think of an athletic field in which there are boundaries you cannot cross without penalty (Galatians 3:19)
  4. chatta’ah : willful going against what one knows is right and accidentally going 
against the divine order of things (Leviticus 4:14; Exodus 32:34)
  5. pasha: rebel; breaking a rule that has been established (Jeremiah 3:13)
  6. avon: willful 
or continuing sin (Genesis 15:16)
  7. adikia; injustice (Luke 18:6; 1 John 5;17).  Action that causes visible harm to another person in violation of divine standard
  8. Anomia; lawlessness.  When we read, “Whoever commits sin (hamartia) also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23; 1 John 3:4), we see that even the most accidental of well-intentioned moments of sin are like the worst.

Eskimo and Inuit cultures have around 50 words for snow. [2] There is a lot of snow and a lot of different conditions, so they want to be very precise. Apparently, the biblical writers saw a lot of sin, and they wanted to be precise. 

We look around at all the atrocities around us and think, “How can this be? Why do people fly planes into building, and wipe out entire tribes?  Why do people abuse other people?  Why do so many people exploit others sexually and financially? Why are people mean?

Is it poverty?  Then economic wealth should fix everything.

Lack of education?  Then we can throw more money at our schools and all will be well.

Lack of information? Free internet for all.

Corrupt political parties?  We can elect a new president and resolve the problem.

Greedy corporation and people?  We can picket and boycott.

But have any of those responses ever offered a long-term, lasting solution to the problem? No. The problem lies in sinful human hearts.  Or as G.K. Chesterton famously said when asked what the problem with the world was: “I am.”

It is important to humbly embrace this harsh fact of the world.

  • I embrace behaviors and make lifestyle choices that destroy me and hurt those around me. Others do the same to me, but at the end of the day I make my own choices.
  • I decide my way is better than God’s way.
  • I say mean things, and lose my temper, and gossip, and lie, and cheat, and feel jealous when other people succeed, and wish the world revolved around me, and view people as things, and treat things better than I treat people?

We don’t fail our spouses, or badly raise our children, or hurt our friends because we can’t get Dr. Phil on our cable. Our core lack of inner peace is not because our health care provider does not give us enough coverage, or Big Oil makes a lot of money, or the stock market is out of our control, or politics is corrupt, or fake news is fake.

This sickness is within us. We must own up to this or whatever diagnosis and treatment we choose will not make us well.

But this is where the story makes an important turn. It does not have to be this way. God is not stumped by the human capacity to undermine ourselves. God did not forsake Adam and Eve  - he covered them and promised them an ultimate victory over the very thing that tempted them. We fall, and there are consequences to that fall, but God does not forsake us. 

Like God covered up the shame and nakedness of Adam and Eve and showed them the role of sacrifice as a means of redemption, Jesus covers up our shame, our spiritual nakedness, and offers us Himself as the means to triumph over the power and destructiveness of sin.

“People who believe in me, though they are dead, they can still live.” - Jesus, in John 11:25

“When the Son has made you free, you are free indeed.” (John 8:36) Literally: “When Jesus has set you free from the restrictions of sin, you will be truly free to live.”

So sin is a problem, but there is a solution. The only way we can be saved is through Jesus Christ.

The objective basis and means of salvation is God's sovereign and gracious choice to be "God with us" in the person of Jesus Christ, who is described as both author and mediator of salvation ( Heb 2:10 ; 7:25 ). But the movement of Jesus' life goes through the cross and resurrection. It is therefore "Christ crucified" that is of central importance for salvation ( 1 Cor 1:23 ), for "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" ( 1 Cor 15:3 ) and was handed to death for our trespasses ( Rom 4:25 ). What Jesus did in our name he also did in our place, giving "his life as a ransom for many" ( Matt 20:28 ). And if Christ demonstrated his love by dying when we were still sinners, how much more shall we now be saved by his life? ( Rom 5:8-10 ). So critical is the resurrection to the future hope of salvation that ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins’ ( 1 Cor 15:17 ).  (“Salvation,” http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/salvation/)

We are meant to be free from the wages and power of sin. We are meant to be free to pursue shalom once again. The death and resurrection of Jesus is proof that we who are dead can be raised to new life spiritually in this life and physically for eternity.

So freedom - yay! – but let’s not forget the cost.

We observe Memorial Day to honor those who gave their life so that others could live. It’s what we mean when we say, “Freedom isn’t free.” We must never forget to honor a Savior who gave his life so we could live and be free.

Forgiveness involves suffering on the part of the one forgiving. The greater the forgiveness, the greater the suffering. We experience this in small ways all the time. When we forgive people, we not only take the pain of the original hurt (against our happiness, reputation, self-image, etc), but we give up the right to inflict the same in return. We give up making them feel what we felt. True forgiveness will cost us something. And the greater the sin that needs to be forgiven, the greater the cost of forgiveness.

“God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the Cross absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself… this is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that someday he can destroy all evil without destroying us.” (Tim Keller)

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, we are freed from the eternal PENALTY of sin; a overwhelming debt we build all our lives will be covered because Jesus has gone to the Cross to take our just penalty upon himself. The wages or cost of sin is still death; it’s just that Jesus paid it for you.

Justice must be served because God is just; to save just one of us, it would have cost him a crucifixion. This should always humble us, because it reminds us that we are more sinful than we want to admit. 

But mercy must be offered because God is merciful. To save just one of us, Jesus was willing to do this. This should always encourage us, because it reminds us that God’s love for us is so much deeper than we can ever imagine. 

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, we are freed from the present POWER of sin. We were once dead in sin. We were incapable of bringing ourselves to life, and we were going to inevitably default to sin. Because the Holy Spirit is now in us, we have God’s power to break what the Bible calls “chains” of sin. We will struggle with temptation, but we are not doomed to failure. God will work in us (sanctification).

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, one day we will be freed from the very PRESENCE of sin. In heaven, shalom will be restored.  The New Heaven and New Earth will not be broken, and neither will we. This is the solution that frees us from a life of brokenness and sin and an eternity of despair.

 

[1]  (HT John Oakes, “What Are The Origins of the Word Sin?”)

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/there-really-are-50-eskimo-words-for-snow/2013/01/14/e0e3f4e0-59a0-11e2-beee-6e38f5215402_story.html?utm_term=.a0cbcb729310

 

Trustworthy Sayings (1 Timothy 1: 8-17)

Last week we talked about the importance of a pure heart, a clean conscience, and a genuine faith that comes from sound doctrine. We also noted there are those who wander from this, who bring arguments and confusion rather than welcoming in the Kingdom of God as expressed by the presence of the church on earth. Paul continues by showing a contrast between a life that rejects the reign of Christ and a life that embraces it, and why embracing Jesus brings life.

You and I know the law is good (if used in the right way), and we also know the law was not designed for law-abiding people but for lawbreakers and criminals, the ungodly and sin-filled, the unholy and worldly, the father killers and mother killers, the murderers, the sexually immoral and homosexuals, slave dealers, liars, perjurers, and anyone else who acts against the sound doctrine (“teaching as it extends to a necessary lifestyle”)[1] laid out in the glorious, holy, and pure good news of the blessed God that has been entrusted to me. (8-11)

First, Paul establishes the standard: God’s law reveals God’s will for the world. We want our hearts to align with God’s so that we love what God loves; we want our consciences to be clear by then doing what God wants us to do. There is a ‘necessary lifestyle’ that is supposed to follow if we commit ourselves to Jesus – not because it saves us, but because it expresses our commitment to the one who has saved us.

We talked last week about how part of the problem in Timothy’s church was that the Judaizers were teaching that keeping the Law would save people. But that’s not the way the law was meant to be used. It was meant to be a schoolmaster, a teacher, showing the way that pleases God. God has revealed His will so that we know if our actions are pleasing to Him, and if what we are doing is promoting or undermining life in the Kingdom of God.

But even the best lawkeeping cannot save us, so Paul immediately moves into the necessity of the intervention of Jesus in our life.

I thank our Lord Jesus the Anointed who empowers me, because He saw me as faithful and appointed me to this ministry despite the fact that at one time I was slandering the things of God, persecuting and attacking His people. (12-13)

 The verb means to "treat or use others despitefully," "to outrage and insult" them. The full phrase says he sinned against God, himself and others – and, ironically, he did it while keeping the Law (at least as it was understood by the Pharisees). Those in the Jewish community would have seen him as the ultimate law keeper, and yet he was one of the worst. Keeping the Law is not enough, especially if it's a flawed human understanding of what God’s Law really says.

He was still merciful to me because I acted in ignorance apart from faith. But He poured His grace over me, and I was flooded in an abundance of the grace and faith and love that can only be found in Jesus the Anointed. Here’s a statement worthy of trust: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and I am the worst of them all.  (14-15)

There were a number of hymns of catechetical teaching in the early Church. This appears to be one: "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." But then Paul adds to it: “I am the worst of them all.”

He talks about his new life in other places (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20), but nothing can alter the fact that Paul was the man that did all these things and is capable of doing them again without the presence of God in his life.

You’ve heard the phrase, “That’s gonna leave a mark?” Sin leaves a mark. I will bear the scar of my shoulder surgery. No matter how healthy I get, I am the man with a repaired shoulder. It doesn’t define me, but it is a part of me. Paul bore the scars of his sin even as those scars revealed the kind of healing only God can give.

The apostle Paul never forgot his former sins and the grace of God that transformed him. The story of Paul’s conversion is repeated multiple times in the New Testament (Acts 9, 22, 26; Gal. 1 & 2; Phil. 3; 1 Tim. 1).  And as Paul himself tells it, his awareness of his sinfulness actually escalates:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:9 - “I am the least of the apostles.”
  • Ephesians 3:8, written later – “I am the very least of all saints.”
  • 1 Timothy 1:15, written later still, and after probably about 25 years of walking with God -  “I am the chief of all sinners.”

He does not say, “I was the chief of sinners.” He says, “I am the chief.”  He does not single out the sins that previously defined him. He does not say, “I am the chief of persecutors.” He is not wallowing in a past that haunts him. This is more of a general realization.

“The sign of growing perfection is the growing consciousness of imperfection.... The more you become like Christ the more you will find out your unlikeness to Him.” – Alexander Maclaren

“When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less.”  C.S. Lewis

Paul doesn't kill Christians anymore, but he is more aware than ever of his constant need for God’s mercy.  The closer people walk with God, the more they are aware of the depths of their sinful nature, which in turn drives them to a deeper appreciation of the grace of God.

But it is for this reason I was given mercy: by displaying His perfect patience in me, the very worst of all sinners, Jesus could show that patience to all who would believe in Him and gain eternal life.  (16)

Notice: the main reason Paul was given mercy was not so that he could be awesome. It was so he would have a testimony for the Kingdom of God. Christians can see in Christ's dealings with Paul the pattern which they can expect for themselves. (The word translated “who would believe” is literally “who are about to believe.”)

Any testimony that points to the saved instead of the Savior misses the point. Paul didn’t want Timothy to think about Paul; Paul wanted Timothy to think about Jesus.

God saves us not because we are awesome, but because he is awesome. We give our testimony so that others gain hope: if God is patient and loving with them, God will be patient and loving with me.  No case is too hard for God. He delights in hard cases. If Paul can be saved, you can be saved. [2]

Every testimony counts as a story of how God has shown patience and love to a sinner in desperate need of salvation. ALL have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. While WE were sinners, Christ died for us.

We have a tendency in Christian circles to put certain kinds of testimonies on a pedestal. I know why we do that – it is meant to find a “chief of sinners” whose life gives us hope (if God can save them, He can save me). I wonder if, at times, we kind of slip down in our chairs and think, “I will never give my testimony. I am just too ordinary…my sins are not that exciting…no one will be in awe when I am done talking.”

Don’t ever think that God can’t use your life to show the glory of his patience and love. Every testimony counts as a story of how God has shown patience and love to a sinner in desperate need of salvation.

May the King eternal, immortal, and invisible—the one and only God—now be honored and glorified forever and ever. Amen. (17)

Paul’s acknowledgment of who he is does not push him into a dark corner of shame and despair. It brings out worship, as if the only way we can appreciate the beauty and grace of God’s forgiveness is by continuously seeing the ugliness of who we are without God.

The “gospel” we hear preached in our day is often a positive message that will help you achieve your full potential or feel good about yourself, succeed financially, or solve your problems.

That’s not the heart of the gospel. Biblical principles will help you in practical ways, but that’s not the good news. The Gospel is that Christ came to save sinners. If you think you’re a basically good person, you are not going to fully understand why Christ came to save you. If you think you have few faults and shortcomings, you will not understand what it means that Christ came to save you.

In Luke 7 we read a story about the connection between honest acknowledgment of who we are and deep response to Christ.  Jesus contrasts the casual and even disrespectful way that one of the Pharisees treats him and the way a local prostitute responds to him. She knew she was in desperate need of Christ and needed an ocean of forgiveness. The Pharisee thought he was tight with God and barely needed any.  What does Jesus say? “Those who are forgiven little love little. Those who have been forgiven much love much.” 

In other words, grace flows from us to the degree that we recognize the grace that has flowed into us.

Do you ever find yourself in a place where you don’t care about other people, or you lack empathy or kindness, or you feel lukewarm in your faith? If so, you may not need to work on feeling kinder or more passionate. You probably are forgetting how much you have been forgiven, how much God loves you, how much he has given you grace when you were a mess.

To remember how much we have been forgiven is the surest way to fill our hearts with gratitude. Paul says, “May the King eternal, immortal, and invisible—the one and only God—now be honored and glorified forever and ever.”

Look at the God he praises: eternal, not limited like us; immortal, not mortal like us; Spirit, not bound in flesh like us. In other words, only a God can save me – more specifically, only this God, revealed in Christ, can take the disaster of a man and make something beautiful.

I often hear the longing expressed that it’s hard to have a heart of worship.  A heart of worship cannot be taught. It cannot be forced or orchestrated. You can go to the biggest conference with the biggest band and the most emotional preacher and the coolest arts and have a great emotional response to all that’s going on around you. That’s an experience of a particular kind of worship, but I don’t think that’s the heart of worship.

We see hear in Paul’s letter to Timothy where the heart of worship begins: a recognition the wretched, broken life that we bring to the table – followed by an awareness of an indescribably powerful and holy God who loves us anyway, who offers us enough grace and forgiveness to cover any amount of sin and damage we have accumulated. That’s when the overflow of our hearts becomes the worship of our lives as we humbly take the grace we have been offered and pass it on to those around us.

That’s a statement about life in the Kingdom of God that is worthy of our faith and trust.

Questions to Consider

  1. I suspect we tend to gravitate toward either seeing ourselves as either “chief of sinners” or “saints in Christ.” How do we balance these two realities in a spiritually healthy way?
  2. Is Paul suggesting we need a past full of really obvious, significant sin in order to understand God’s grace? What is a part of your life that can show others the tremendous depth and power of God’s forgiveness?
  3. Check out the entire story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7. Do you see a connection in your own life between your expressions of empathy and grace for others and how aware you are of your need for forgiveness?

 

“Unless you have been down into the depths of your own heart, and seen the evil that is there, you will not care for the redeeming Christ, nor will you grasp Him as a do those who know that there is nothing between them and ruin except God’s strong hand… Unless we feel the common evil, and estimate by the intensity of its working in ourselves how sad are its ravages in others, our kindness to others will be as half-hearted as our love to God…. Those who know the plague in their own heart, and how Christ has redeemed them, will go, with the pity of Christ in their heart, to help to redeem others.”
- Alexander Macleran

We may say, “I am a thief,” or, “I am a liar,” meaning that I have committed these sins, they weigh upon my shoulders, they are the splinters of my self-hewn cross... We say so in shame. But we do not thereby express an ultimate or God-ordained identity. Quite the contrary. We mean, “This is what I am in a disordered sense, because of what I have done, and because of the evil that I am still fearfully tempted to do.”  Or we might put it this way: “This is the fashion in which the image of God has been deformed in me, so that I am not myself, and my face, my very identity, is sludged up with sin.” - Hutchens and Esolen, “Identity Thievery,” Touchstone

__________________________________________

[1] http://biblehub.com/greek/1319.htm

[2] A side note about testimonies: Paul is writing this to Timothy, who knew Paul’s story. Paul is trying to show Timothy the proper kind of humility he needs to have. I think Timothy is supposed to take up this mantra: “I, Timothy, am the chief of sinners. If anyone is in desperate need of God’s grace, it’s me.” Yet Timothy did none of the obviously bad things Paul did.

 

The Counselor Has Come To You (John 16:7-14)

It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor (or Advocate) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince (or convict) the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:7-14)

This is part of the last recorded teaching of Jesus to his disciples in the gospel of John, which was the last of the gospels to be written.[1] If there was ever a time to look for Jesus to bring home the most important things, it’s during this teaching. This passage is not long, but it’s loaded.

“It is to your advantage that I go away.”

So this is a big deal. Here’s Jesus, the one and only incarnation of God in the flesh – and he’s telling his disciples it’s to their advantage that He leave so that the Holy Spirit’s presence will now be a part of their life in some way that it was not before. That’s huge. It’s not that the Holy Spirit is more important that Jesus; it’s just that Jesus had done Jesus’ work, and it’s time for the Holy Spirit to do the Holy Spirit’s  work. So what is this work?

  • Bringing conviction or convincing to the world of humanity’s sin, Jesus’ righteousness, and the coming judgment
  • Giving the inspiration for what would become known as the New Testament[i]
  • Pointing toward the glory of Jesus, which seems to be a direct reference to how the written Scripture will glorify Jesus – something which John explicitly claims to be doing at the end of his gospel.[ii] (John 20:31)

I have some extra explanation for the second two points at the end of this post. My main focus is on what the Holy Spirit will do for the world.

The conviction of our sin, because we do not believe in Jesus.

The Holy Spirit convicts of sin in a way that drives us to the only one who can forgive us and save us. This requires a conviction about who Jesus is, obviously, but it also requires a conviction about the reality of sin. How can we appreciate a Savior when we have no idea we need saving?

It’s the lead here in Jesus’ teaching. If you want to know if the Holy Spirit is at work in you, you will know this because God will put the reality of your sins in front of you. We can walk away from the work of the Holy Spirit with a lot results – hope, peace, encouragement, conviction -  but no one walks away from a genuine encounter with the Holy Spirit proud. “Godly sorrow brings repentance.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) Before the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, we might think we’re not that bad. We might think, “I’m doing pretty good on my own; my sin is not that big of a deal.” Not when the Holy Spirit is working in us. Charles Spurgeon wrote in a sermon:

The Holy Spirit does not come to make sinners comfortable in their sins, but to cause them to grieve over their sins. He does not help them to forget their sin, or think little of it, but He comes to convince them of the horrible enormity of their iniquity. It is no work of the Spirit to pipe to men’s dancing. He does not bring forth flute, harp, dulcimer and all kinds of music to charm the unbelieving into a good opinion of themselves, but He comes to make sin appear sin, and to let us see its fearful consequences. He comes to wound so that no human balm can heal, to kill so that no earthly power can make us live.

The flowers bedeck the meadows when the grass is green, but lo, a burning wind comes from the desert and the grass withers and the flowers fall away. What is it that makes the beauty and excellence of human righteousness to wither as the green herb? Isaiah says it is “because the Spirit of the Lord blows upon it.” There is a withering work of the Spirit of God which we must experience or we shall never know His quickening and restoring power.

The Holy Spirit convinces us that we are not just mistake-prone; we are rebels at war with a holy and righteous God. The Holy Spirit shines a light on our sins and then makes us look at them in all their ugliness. If you pray for the Holy Spirit to get to work in your life, buckle up, because you are going to end up on your knees at the foot of the cross.That’s a daunting but beautiful thing. As several testimonies highlighted the past several weeks, repentance is a gift. In the great awakening of 1860-61 in Great Britain, a high-ranking army officer described the conviction of sin in his Scottish town:

"Those of you who are ease have little conception of how terrifying a sight it is when the Holy Spirit is pleased to open a man's eyes to see the real state of heart. Men who were thought to be, and who thought themselves to be good, religious people . . . have been led to search into the foundation upon which they were resting, and have found all rotten, that they were self-satisfied, resting on their own goodness, and not upon Christ. Many turned from open sin to lives of holiness, some weeping for joy for sins forgiven." (J. Edwin Orr, The Second Evangelical Awakening in Britain) https://enduringword.com/commentary/john-16/

Godly sorrow brings repentance, and repentance is crucial not just to entering into the Kingdom of God but experiencing life within it to the fullness.

I want to be careful here. If we are crushed into hopeless despair by our sin, that’s a different thing. Satan can distort our awareness of our guilt  (the debt we incur because of our sin) so that it drives us to self-destructive despair.  When that happens we increasingly see us and our sin, and we just spiral downward into self-loathing.

Godly sorrow always points us to God, which means we will always have hope in the midst of our conviction. God will make us kneel before He raises us up, but he will never make us grovel and then kick us while we are down. If that’s what you are experiencing, that’s not the Holy Spirit. That’s what the Holy Spirit will free you from.

Repentance is a gift. So is the conviction that brings us the initial awareness of our guilt. This godly awareness is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work. It is a gift of love. It’s in our awareness of our guilt that we know God has not given up on us; he is pursuing us like ‘the hound of heaven’ - relentless, close, involved. He’s not an Orwellian Big Brother, waiting to stomp a holy boot in our face and grind us under his tyranny. He’s a loving Father who wants spiritual boys and girls to grow into righteous men and women; he’s a Master Builder who never stops turning the shack of our lives into a mansion.

In our peace we feel God’s presence; in our hope and joy we feel His presence. We can’t forget that in our awareness of our guilt we feel His presence too. It’s a sign that God is at work in us. Spurgeon again:

“A sinner is a sacred thing: the Holy Ghost hath made him so… a man truly convinced of sin by the Spirit of God is a being to be sought after as a jewel that will adorn the crown of the Redeemer.”  http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols28-30/chs1708.pdf

 

The conviction of Jesus’ righteousness

Righteousness is another way of saying ‘being right with God.’ We have what the Bible calls a Counselor or Advocate in Jesus. This is a legal term; we have someone who defends us in God’s court. He is the attorney for the accused – us – and on our own, we have only plea: “Guilty.” Jesus is not there to excuse or explain away what we have done; he’s not there not to argue for our awesomeness. He’s there to display His.

Jesus makes it so that His intrinsic righteousness – that is, the holy perfection of his nature in which there is not even a smudge of sin or evil – is given to us through his forgiveness and by his grace.  In Jesus, we see how a God whose holiness demands that He judge sin and evil is also a God whose holiness demands that He provide a way of escape. So God did not turn a blind eye to our sin; instead, He satisfied His own demand for justice.

  • “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
  •  “So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God's wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:21)
  • “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
  • “There is, therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
  • “God has united you with Christ Jesus… Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

When we are convicted of sin, we will feel the daunting weight of justice. We will be convicted of the impossibility of paying for our own sins. But this godly conviction will turn our eyes to Jesus, and we will be amazed by the goodness, holiness, and righteousness of the perfect savior who took our sins upon himself, who died that we could live.

One way you know the Holy Spirit is at work in you is that you are convicted of sin. The next way is that in the midst of that conviction there is a growing appreciation for the righteous love and provision of Jesus.

 

The conviction of a final judgment of evil

First, God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world (Act 17:31). Jesus singles out the  ‘ruler of this world,’ another way of referring to Satan, but this includes all that has plagued the world because of Satan’s destructive work.  It’s not just Satan; it’s the havoc he has unleashed on the world.[2]  All injustice, pain and suffering will one day have their reckoning.

Tim Keller likes to say that in the day of final judgment ‘all that is bad will be undone.’ The answer to the question, “What will God do about evil?” is that He will judge it.  Why He waits as long as He does is not necessarily ours to know. But what He will one day do is known. God will have the final word. God wins.

 

So how does this impact our life today?

First, if you are not aware of your sinfulness, pray to God that the Holy Spirit convicts you. You need to be at the foot of the cross.

Second if you are aware of your sinfulness, don’t be discouraged by it. Remember that God loves you enough to convict you. If you are retreating into shame and despair, pray that the Holy Spirit’s conviction brings about a godly sorrow, one that leads you to repentance and takes your eyes off of your sin and onto Christ.

Third, pray that God uses His Spirit to increase your appreciation of Jesus. Pray that you can truly appreciate the goodness, holiness and majesty of Christ.

Finally, don’t forget that one day evil will be judged. Satan’s power will be obliterated. One day there will be a New Heaven and New Earth where God will wipe away all tears and all sorrow, and we will live in its fullness with our Savor.

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[1] https://carm.org/when-were-gospels-written-and-by-whom

[2] http://biblehub.com/commentaries/revelation/20-14.htm

[i] In verses 7-11 Jesus talked about what the Holy Spirit will do for the world; in versed 12-14, Jesus appears to shift and talk specifically now to the disciples about how the Holy Spirit will help them in their writing of Scripture (John 16: 12-14; John 15:26). As I have been studying commentaries on these verses, almost everyone is in agreement that, considering the context, this is about God’s role within the writers of Scripture so that they get the sacred text right. This particular passage was a promise to the disciples that the Holy Spirit would be present and faithful in the apostolic founding of the church so that they could record and teach all that Jesus had taught, and even inspire them on issues that Jesus had not directly addressed. Lots of good commentaries that further explain this are available at biblehub.com.

The Holy Spirit would even instruct them on “things to come,” which most likely includes two things: insight into the future as we look toward the judgment followed by the rebuilding of the New Heaven and Earth, as well as guiding the founders of the church by helping them understand how the Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and teaching will impact the newly formed church that is now inhabiting God’s spiritual kingdom here on earth.

Some commentators note two potential implications of this passage: First, an ongoing sense that the Holy Spirit leads us into truth as we study that same Scripture. In other words, the Holy Spirit inspired the writers to record truth, and the Holy Spirit also works within us so that we understand it. Second, an implication that the Holy Spirit will work from then on in all believers to lead them into truth, which typically means giving personal guidance or insight.

Both of those inferences offer truth about how the Holy Spirit works within believers. If I look at this teaching in this context, it's hard for me to see that was what Jesus intended to convey in this particular passage. However, I believe support is found elsewhere in the Bible.

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[ii]He will glorify me.” The Holy Spirit always points toward Christ. There are different ways this happens – through the convictions I mentioned earlier, through the gifts the Holy Spirit gives, or through the fruit of the Holy Spirit displayed in our lives. But in all these things, we know the Holy Spirit is at work if Jesus is glorified.

If people are glorified, or churches, or ministries obscure the glory of Jesus, that’s a problem. If events overshadow the glory of Jesus, that’s a problem. If the gifts and their manifestation point toward the people using them, or if people are inclined to seek the gifts and not the giver, that’s a problem. It doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit is not at work, but if anything or anyone increases while Christ decreases, something has gone wrong.

Freedom From Slavery (John 8)

As part of the series we are in on the Gospel of John, I (Jeff Martin) will be speaking from John 8:31-59. This passage in John 8 continues to focus on Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem.

It describes an encounter in the Jerusalem Temple between Jesus and a group of Jews from Judea, which included a number of Pharisees. Recall the context from last Sunday – this is right after the incident with the Woman Caught In Adultery. The Pharisees were very publicly reminded of their sinfulness.

There is quite a bit of back and forth in this encounter with Jesus. The Pharisees rarely concede an inch to Jesus on any of His points. Almost every time Jesus makes a proclamation, the Judeans, led by the Pharisees immediately make a rebuttal or negation of Jesus’ statement. At one point, Jesus just unloads. It’s quite stunning, and shows the passion that Jesus has for the truth, specifically how He defines it. Let’s read this passage together.[1]

John 8:31-59

31b So Jesus said to the Judeans who had trusted him, “If you obey what I say, then you are really my disciples, 32 you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33 They answered, “We are the seed of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone; so what do you mean by saying, ‘You will be set free’?”

34 Jesus answered them, “Yes, indeed! I tell you that everyone who practices sin is a slave of sin. 35 Now a slave does not remain with a family forever, but a son does remain with it forever. 36 So if the Son frees you, you will really be free! 37 I know you are the seed of Abraham. Yet you are out to kill me, because what I am saying makes no headway in you. 38 I say what my Father has shown me; you do what your father has told you!”

39 They answered him, “Our father is Abraham.”

Jesus replied, “If you are children of Abraham, then do the things Abraham did! 40 As it is, you are out to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did nothing like that!  41 You are doing the things your father does.”

“We’re not illegitimate children!” they said to him. “We have only one Father — God!”

42 Jesus replied to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me; because I came out from God; and now I have arrived here. I did not come on my own; he sent me.  43 Why don’t you understand what I’m saying? Because you can’t bear to listen to my message. 44 You belong to your father, Satan, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. From the start he was a murderer, and he has never stood by the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he is speaking in character; because he is a liar — indeed, the inventor of the lie!  45 But as for me, because I tell the truth you don’t believe me. 46 Which one of you can show me where I’m wrong? If I’m telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?  47 Whoever belongs to God listens to what God says; the reason you don’t listen is that you don’t belong to God.”

48 The Judeans answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying you are from Samaria and have a demon?”

49 Jesus replied, “Me? I have no demon. I am honoring my Father. But you dishonor me. 50 I am not seeking praise for myself. There is One who is seeking it, and he is the judge.

51 Yes, indeed! I tell you that whoever obeys my teaching will never see death.”

52 The Judeans said to him, “Now we know for sure that you have a demon! Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, ‘Whoever obeys my teaching will never taste death.’ 53 Our father Abraham died; you aren’t greater than he, are you? And the prophets also died. Who do you think you are?”

54 Jesus answered, “If I praise myself, my praise counts for nothing. The One who is praising me is my Father, the very one about whom you keep saying, ‘He is our God.’ 55 Now you have not known him, but I do know him; indeed, if I were to say that I don’t know him, I would be a liar like you! But I do know him, and I obey his word.  56 Abraham, your father, was glad that he would see my day; then he saw it and was overjoyed.”

57 “Why, you’re not yet fifty years old,” the Judeans replied, “and you have seen Abraham?”

58 Jesus said to them, “Yes, indeed! Before Abraham came into being, I AM!”

59 At this, they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus was hidden and left the Temple grounds.

In verses 31 through 59 of John chapter 8, I believe Jesus is offering a way to freedom from slavery to sin.  The Jews reject Jesus promise for freedom. Instead, they make a claim to freedom via their inheritance as the seed of Abraham. Jesus assures the Jews that His way is the only way to true freedom in this life and eternally, and that they would do well to “do the things Abraham did!”, if they want to make the claim to his inheritance.

We will look at why would we want this freedom Jesus offers, what this freedom looks like, Jesus’ promise ( You Will Know The Truth and The Truth Will Set You Free!), and where we begin.

WHY WOULD WE WANT THIS FREEDOM JESUS OFFERS?

So we can be free from sin (v.34).  One of the effects of sin is shame. Our shame ultimately causes us to withdraw from those we love, including Jesus, our family and friends.

  • To honor God as our father (v.42)
  • To gain eternal life (v.51)
  • To carry out God’s desires (v. 43), which will help us grow deeper in love with Him and strengthen our faith and trust in Him.

As our love, faith and trust in Him grows, we will look to Him no matter the circumstances of our lives. Jesus quoted Isaiah 61 [2], which states that He was sent to:

  • heal the brokenhearted;
  • proclaim freedom to the captives;
  • let out into light those bound in the dark;
  • comfort all who mourn.

We see Jesus doing this all throughout the gospel of John (the Samaritan woman, the lame man, the woman caught in adultery), and I have clearly seen him do this in my life (more on this later). The love we experience as we move deeper in relationship with Him, enables us to do these things for others as well.

As I grow into deeper faith in Jesus, I understand one major difference between the old me and the new me, and that is:   My faith was shallow and weak. I did not trust in the leadership of Christ Jesus then, as I more fully do now. 

WHAT DOES THIS FREEDOM LOOK LIKE?

Maybe this is best described by Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians in that all of us, who have turned to Jesus as Lord, will see, as in a mirror, that we are slowly being changed into His very image. Not into Him, but someone that we, and others, would begin to recognize as reflecting Jesus, in our thoughts, words and deeds. [3]

So, from the time we begin to place our trust in Jesus as Lord, until the time of His return, or until our last breath, we should see progress in the transformation of our lives, to be more like Him.  From the old to the new, we are reborn!]

JESUS’ PROMISE - YOU WILL KNOW THE TRUTH AND THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE!

In verses 31 and 32 below, we see how Jesus calls into obedience, those Jews who have placed their trust in Him, with freedom as the outcome. Please note the logic or sequence in verses 31 and 32: first trust and obey, then freedom follows.

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had trusted him: “If you obey what I say, then you are really my disciples, 32 you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Immediately thereafter, in verse 33, the Jews make the appeal to their inheritance.

33 They answered, “We are the seed of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone; so what do you mean by saying, ‘You will be set free’?”

What does Jesus mean?

34 Jesus answered them, “Yes, indeed! I tell you that everyone who practices sin is a slave of sin.  35Now a slave does not remain with a family forever, but a son does remain with it forever.

Paul explains in Romans 6:16, when we present ourselves as obedient slaves, then to the one we obey, we are slaves. Either we are a slave to sin, which leads to death. Or we are enslaved to obedience to God, which leads to our being made righteous. Jesus then reinforces that He is the source of freedom from slavery to sin.

36“So if the Son frees you, you will really be free!”

There is a kind of natural deconstruction of verses 31, 32 and 34. What do we need to do? Be a disciple. How do we become a disciple? By obeying Jesus. What do we need to know?  The truth. Why do we need to know the truth? To be set free from slavery to sin. So, obeying Jesus by being His disciple leads us to the truth, and the truth leads to freedom from slavery to sin.

WHERE DO WE BEGIN? Be a Disciple!

In Jesus’ era, there were many rabbis (which means scholar or teacher). Rabbis had disciples who were their students or followers. The use of this word “disciple” by Jesus is intended to describe this relationship. The relationship between a disciple and their rabbi is very close:

  • not only did the disciple learn facts,
  • reasoning processes and
  • how to perform religious practices from their rabbi,
  • the disciple also regarded their rabbi as an example to be imitated in conduct and character.

The rabbi, in turn, was considered responsible for their disciples. [2]

You can see from Jesus’ use of this word disciple that He expects us to go deep in our respective relationships with Him:

  • By learning truth from Him, through reading the Word and in prayer,
  • Understanding His reasoning processes,
  • Participating in His religious practices, and
  • Imitating Him.

This requires us to engage in more than just a head level knowledge of who He is and what He is about. He in turn has a responsibility to us! Which He fulfills via His Holy Spirit who is the comforting Counselor who convicts us of sin, leading us to righteousness and the Spirit of Truth, guiding us into all truth – primarily through the study of His word and by prayer.

CONCLUSION

The Lord encounters us every day, in His creation, and most importantly in His word and through prayer. He has sent His Spirit, the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. To bring revelation of scripture, to guide us into His truth. The Lord loves us. He desires us, to be in relationship with us. He wants our hearts. To this there can be no doubt. Just consider what He did for us on the cross. He wants to free us from bondage to sin and usher us into an ever deeper understanding of what it means to be children of the Living God.

I can’t escape this sense that I am to share my story, about the sin in my life and the goodness of the Lord in setting me free from the bondage of sin bit by bit as we move deeper together in relationship.

I am a modern example of the prodigal son. That is, I spent about 35 years of my life, living life my way, which was away from the Lord and deep into sin. I was knee deep in the “miry clay” of sin and it is Jesus who has lifted me out of the clay and set me on the rock of His salvation.

I grew up in a Christian home. We went to Church nearly every Sunday. We attended Bible Camp in the summer, attended missions in the inner city of Detroit with my Grandmother, and I read my Bible regularly. But, as a teenager, I engaged in activities that were in rebellion, otherwise known as sin, toward God. These activities included a fair amount of partying with various drugs and alcohol.

More critically I entered into a very intimate emotional and physical relationship with my first girlfriend, which, given our ages, neither one of us was prepared for. This relationship resulted in her pregnancy, which was terminated. I have not interacted with her since that time, but given how this impacted me, I can only venture that she was impacted far more deeply than I can imagine. This was a pivotal experience that shook the foundation of my life, and rather than repenting and turning to the Lord, I turned away and I decided I could “fix” the emotional mess I was in, on my own.

This was a bad decision.

What started out as an attempt to resolve the emotional issues I was facing as part of my losing a child and the inadequacy I felt about not being able to live up to my responsibilities – due to my age, I lived my life by going deeper and deeper into behavior that was in clear rebellion against God, resulting in my having multiple marriages, and my not walking in the light of the Lord’s Word for nearly 35 years.

Fortunately for me, God is gracious and merciful and He never stopped pursuing me.

I finally began to respond to the Lord’s pursuit of my heart. And the best way I knew how to respond was to start going to church. This was in 2009. We attended church in the typical Sunday morning manner. But there was a problem for me. You see, I can get pretty uptight about being late. Adriana, in contrast, doesn’t. We are, thankfully meeting somewhere in the middle on this issue. So, we frequently arrived late to church, where we were ushered right up to the only empty seats – in the front row. To say the least, my heart was not postured in a way that allowed the Lord to penetrate it.

I think by providence, my sister and her family were attending a church here in town that met at 5:00pm on Sunday. Ahh, now I had plenty of time to get to church on time.

We started to attend this church at 5:00. Many of the times in worship were spent by me on my knees weeping as I began to turn my eyes away from me and toward Him. The Word of the Lord that our Pastor, Pastor Jim Roe shared, went straight to my heart. I can recall many times sitting in the pew just weeping over the Lord working me over – about the way I lived my life, calling me into repentance and more importantly about how much He loves me. Through continued worship, time in His Word and in prayer, I have been in Jesus’ school of character development ever since, as He sets me free from my sin.

Here’s the big question: What are we to do? We are to be obedient, obedient to Jesus as His disciple, by:

  • Worshipping Him.
  • Serving Him
  • Learning the truth about Him and what He taught by studying the scriptures.
  • Understanding His reasoning processes – thinking like He does.
  • Participate in His religious practices  (communing with Him and receiving truth of and from Him, through study of His Word and by prayer)
  • Imitating Him, by being gracious and loving others as He does.
  • Trusting in His promises.
  • Interceding via prayer with Him on our behalf and on behalf of others.

The questions are - how will you respond? Will you go deeper? Do you desire the freedom from sin Jesus held out to us in His promise?  Imagine your life becoming freed from those chains that bind us.

In closing, I would like to read a couple of stanzas from an old hymn.

In 1887, at a revival meeting hosted by Dwight Moody, a young man stood to speak, and it soon be­came clear he knew lit­tle Christ­ian doc­trine. But he fin­ished by say­ing, “I’m not quite sure—but I’m go­ing to trust, and I’m go­ing to obey.” These words were jotted down and turned into the hymnal, “Trust and Obey”.[3]

 

When we walk with the Lord In the light of His word

What a glory He sheds on our way

While we do His good will He abides with us still

And with all who will trust and obey

 

But we never can prove the delights of His love

Until all on the altar we lay

For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows

Are for them who will trust and obey

 

Trust and obey For there's no other way To be happy in Jesus But to trust and obey

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[1] Stern, David H.. Complete Jewish Bible: An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B’rit Hadashah (New Testament). Messianic Jewish Communications. Kindle Edition.

[2] Luke 4:18-19.

[3] http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/t/r/trstobey.htm

Sin and Salvation (Pillars of Faith Series)

From our statement of faith:

Sin: We believe that we sin when we disobey the commands of God’s inspired Word and reject His authority. All of us have sinned and are therefore, in our natural state, lost and separated from God. We believe men and women were created in the image of God (Genesis 2:26). However, by a voluntary act of the will, Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Genesis 3:6). As a result, mankind began to die spiritually (Romans 5:12-19). Sin separated humankind from God (Ephesians 2:11-18) and left us in a fallen or sinful condition (Romans 3:23; Genesis 1:26,27; Genesis 2:17; Genesis 3:6; Romans 5:12-19).

Salvation: We believe that God the Father showed His love for all people by sending His Son to die as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. (Luke 18:27; John 3:16,17; Romans 11:33; 1 Peter 1:16; 1 John 4:7-10; Revelation 4:8.) We believe Jesus’ death paid the penalty our sins warranted, and His resurrection grants us the life we could not attain - both of these being necessary to reconcile us to right-standing before God.” (Matthew 16:16,17 and 25:31-46; Mark 14:61,62; Luke 1:34,35 and 2:7; John 1:1 and 1:14 and 5:22-30 and 10:30 and 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22-24.)  It is not through our efforts (Acts 4:12 John 3:3; Romans 10:13-15; Ephesians 2:8; 
Titus 2:11; Titus 3:5-7)When we admit our sin, confess that Jesus is Lord, and repent, we become a new creation and are gradually transformed into the image of Christ (Galatians 5:22, 23; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 2 Corinthians 3:18)

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God made the world good.

Over and over in the opening of Genesis, we read that God created and declared it ‘good’ (towb, good in the widest sense). As opposed to other ancient creation stories where everything was created by an act of violence, this was an act of artistry, care, and design.This was a world where ‘shalom’ characterized life. Shalom is a Hebrew word found throughout the Old Testament that means peace, harmony, interconnectedness, wholeness, fullness of life. It’s life as it ought to be in a world without sin, brokenness or despair.

There is a problem.

Adam and Eve are given a choice – to be obedient to God and live within God’s design or choose their own way (the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil). They choose their own way, and immediately the world begins to break apart. “And so sin entered the world, and death by sin.” Now a life characterized by harmony and wholeness would be full of chaos and brokenness.  Now there would be violence instead of gentleness, deception instead of truth, rebellion instead of obedience.

As Genesis unfolds, we see the original version of “that escalated quickly.” Cain kills Abel; soon men are bragging that they’ve killed a ton of people; before long, the whole world is evil in God’s sight (and the New Testament writers say we will repeat those days). After the Flood, it’s not too long before people are building a tower to God to make a name for themselves. Paul would eventually write to the church in Rome that all of creation groans as it waits for redemption. We are in ‘bondage to decay’ and ‘subject to futility’ (Romans 8).

We know the source of the problem: sin.

It’s deeply embedded in all of us from the moment we are born. For all the criticism we have of Adam and Eve, we would have done the same. They are what we call archetypes, real people who in a broader sense are all of us. Their story would have been our story. “So sin entered the world, and death by sin; so death has passed on to all people, for all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). Contrary to those who think we are born good or innocent, the Bible insists that we are not only born sinful, we default to sin. It’s our natural programming.

  • All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23)
  • Apart from God, we are enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6, 16-17)
  • The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
  • We have bodies of death in need of deliverance (Romans 7:24)

The Bible doesn’t use the word ‘sin’ in the original language. The word sin comes from the Old 
English word synn, which is from the Germanic sunta or the Latin word sons, both of which mean guilty. (HT John Oakes, “What Are The Origins of the Word Sin?”) The Biblical writers were pretty creative with how many ways they expressed the many reasons we are guilty. 

1)   hamartia; to miss the mark. “We all fall short of (or “miss”) the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) The devil has done this from the beginning (1 John 3:8)

2)   Paraptoma; trespass. A blunder.  (Matthew 6:14-15)

3)   Parabasos; crossing a specific line.  Think of an athletic field in which there are boundaries you cannot cross without penalty (Galatians 3:19)

4)   chatta’ah : willful going against what one knows is right and accidentally going 
against the divine order of things (Leviticus 4:14; Exodus 32:34)

5)   pasha: rebel; breaking a rule that has been established (Jeremiah 3:13)

6)   avon: willful 
or continuing sin (Genesis 15:16)

7)   adikia; injustice (Luke 18:6; 1 John 5;17).  Action that causes visible harm to another person in violation of divine standard

8)   Anomia; lawlessness.  When we read, “Whoever commits sin (hamartia) also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23; 1 John 3:4), we see that even the most accidental of well-intentioned moments of sin are like the worst.

You've heard how people in very snowy countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland) have 300 different words for types of snow? There is a lot of snow and a lot of different conditions, so they want to be very precise. Apparently, the biblical writers saw a lot of sin, and they wanted to be precise.  

Why is sin so pervasive? Because we want to rule ourselves. We want to do life on our own terms: like Adam and Eve, we want to be like God, deciding what’s right and wrong. We want to worship and obey a god of our choosing. If we don’t live for God, we will live for something else that will function in God’s place. We will worship things other than God. We will order our life in the service of things other than God that we think will bring us happiness and fulfillment if we can just do them right or better.

  • Sex/Sexuality
  • Jobs/Vocation
  • Toys/money/things
  • Children and Family
  • Reputation (what you are know for)
  • Comfort/Pleasure
  • Intelligence
  • Talent
  • Political or Social Causes
  • Appearance (personal and social)
  • Self-control/orderliness

 You may be looking at this list and thinking there is a pretty clear hierarchy here. Someone who lives to be really smart is obviously a better person than someone who lives to greedily accumulate stuff. A self-controlled person is clearly better than someone who lives for their own personal comfort or just pursues any pleasure they can find, right? Basically, you may be looking at this list, seeing one that applies to you, and finding ways to convince yourself it’s better than the others.

 It’s not, and here’s why.

We begin to ‘lean on’ these things to bring us peace, or happiness, or hope. Instead of ordering our life around Jesus, we turn to one of these things and just try to do them more and better so that that broken shalom within us and around us will heal. We tend to think in this in terms of the scandalous sins, but the Bible doesn’t. Paul wrote in Romans 14:23 that any action that does not have its foundation in faith is sin.

We begin to build our identity on these things. We don’t turn to Jesus to find the value, worth and dignity we have as image bearers of God (or children of God if we have committed our life to Christ). We look to these other things, and we begin to identify ourselves by them. All sin leads to us building a false foundation for who we are and why we matter. Any of these can become that thing that we rely on to give us value, worth, dignity and even hope.  Without actually saying it, we think doing these things just right will save us from the groaning of this broken world in us and around us. And when we begin to put that much pressure on these things…

 We become enslaved to these things, and we enslave those around us to our cause. We become zealots on behalf of our own sinful cause.

  • We overparent. We smother our kids because they bear the terrible weight of our worth, and we judge those around us whose kids aren’t as outwardly put together as ours.
  • We pursue as many partners as we can to continually validate our desirability; we pressure those we are with to complete us; and lash out at anyone who criticizes.
  • We spend inordinate amounts of time making money, or looking good, or studying so we can justify our existence. Anyone who gets in our way pays the price, and we look down on those who aren’t as focused and driven as we are.
  • We are consumed by keeping every aspect of our life in our control on our terms. Any disruption receives our scorn or wrath, and we just assume people who aren’t as controlling of their circumstances (“as purposeful and put together”?)are either dumb, lazy or bad.

Do you see the destructiveness of this sinful pattern? How even small things lead us here? Because we have given our lives to a false savior – and that’s idolatry. That’s a breaking of the First Commandment. All sin begins in idolatry - which is why all sin deserves an equal judgment.

In maybe the worst kind of idolatry, we turn to religious works – keeping the rules, always doing more to feel closer to God or earn God’s favor, showing others how important we are by the crucial things we all do, desperately trying to get rid of the bleak, relentless, gnawing emptiness. And we aren’t worshiping God at all but ourselves. That kind of religious grandstanding is “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), the most ritually unclean thing you could imagine in Jewish culture.

 There is a solution. 

 That fact that we can be saved from our sinfulness is the heart of the gospel, the "good news." And the only way we can be saved is through Jesus Christ. 

The objective basis and means of salvation is God's sovereign and gracious choice to be "God with us" in the person of Jesus Christ, who is described as both author and mediator of salvation ( Heb 2:10 ; 7:25 ). But the movement of Jesus' life goes through the cross and resurrection. It is therefore "Christ crucified" that is of central importance for salvation ( 1 Cor 1:23 ), for "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" ( 1 Cor 15:3 ) and was handed to death for our trespasses ( Rom 4:25 ). What Jesus did in our name he also did in our place, giving "his life as a ransom for many" ( Matt 20:28 ). And if Christ demonstrated his love by dying when we were still sinners, how much more shall we now be saved by his life? ( Rom 5:8-10 ). So critical is the resurrection to the future hope of salvation that ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins’ ( 1 Cor 15:17 ).  (“Salvation,” http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/salvation/)

Because of Christ, we are saved from hell, the eternal PENALTY of sin; a overwhelming debt we build all our lives will be covered because Jesus has gone to the Cross to take our just penalty upon himself. The wages or cost of sin is still death; it’s just that Jesus paid it for you. 

Justice must be served because God is just;  and to save just one of us, it would have cost him a crucifixion. This should always humble us, because it reminds us that we are more sinful than we want to admit. But mercy must be offered because God is merciful. To save just one of us, Jesus was willing to do this. This should always encourage us, because it reminds us that God’s love for us is so much deeper than we can ever imagine. 

Because of Christ, we are being saved from the present POWER of sin. We were once dead in sin. We were incapable of bringing ourselves to life, and we were going to inevitably default to sin. Because the Holy Spirit is now in us, we have God’s power to break what the Bible calls “chains” of sin. We will struggle with temptation, but we are not doomed to failure. We will see all those idols for what they are, and we will increasingly see Jesus for who he is. God will work in us (in a process we call sanctification) so that we lean on him; we build a real foundation of value worth, and dignity (our identity) in how Christ sees us, not how we or other see us.  

One day, we will be saved from the PRESENCE of sin. In heaven, shalom will be restored.  The New Heaven and New Earth will not be broken, and neither will we. 

“But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

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 So why a cross?

Forgiveness involves suffering on the part of the one forgiving. The greater the forgiveness, the greater the suffering. We experience this in small ways all the time. When we forgive people, we not only take the pain of the original hurt (against our happiness, reputation, self-image, etc), but we give up the right to inflict the same in return. We give up making them feel what we felt. No one just forgives as if it is nothing. True forgiveness will cost us something. And the greater the sin that needs to be forgiven, the greater the cost of forgiveness.

 “God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the Cross absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself… this is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that someday he can destroy all evil without destroying us.” (Tim Keller)

 

What Is Christian Unity (Build Up Part 2)

 I got a lot of really good questions about unity after last week’s sermon. Does unity mean we never confront sin? Do we just ignore false teaching?  Does unity mean we avoid any type of tension at any cost? So this Sunday I am going to offer four points to clarify what biblical Christian unity looks like.

 1) Christian Unity Is Between Christians

As a prisoner of the Lord, I urge you: Live a life that is worthy of the calling He has graciously extended to you.  Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Tolerate one another in an atmosphere thick with love.  Make every effort to preserve the unity the Spirit has already created, with peace binding you together.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)

We should show Christian love to everyone, but we simply can’t have the kind of unity that should happen between disciples of Christ with those who are not also disciples.  I have great friends who do not share my allegiance to Christ. We unite around other things - a love of philosophy, sports, books, social issues - but we don't unite around Christ.Unity must be with regard to something. Saying "we are unified" as Christians doesn't mean anything unless we have a common cause, allegiance, motivation – in this case, the unity the Holy Spirit brings through Christ.

2) Christian Unity Has Boundaries.     

There are plenty of “secondary issues” within the faith that Christians legitimately disagree about and should not break our unity.

  • Is the earth old or young? 
  • How will End Times unfold?
  • How is the Holy Spirit active today? 
  • What is the purpose of church services and how should they be done? 
  • Does God predestine who will be saved, or do our choices make a difference?
  • Is Song of Solomon about marriage and sex or is it an allegory for Christ and the church?

Yes. Sure. Different perspectives are found within the boundaries of united allegiance to Christ (Check out Romans 14:1-12 for a practical example). However, there are things that will either make Christian unity impossible or will destroy unity within the church if left unchecked. 

Theological Boundaries (the person and work of Christ)

 The Bible clearly shows that Jesus was God in the flesh (a member of the Trinity), who lived, died and rose again. Sin destroys peace within us and between God and others, and  punishment is our just reward. God (through Christ) provided a way out of that penalty of eternal death, and Christ alone has brought salvation and made peace between us and God. Once we give our allegiance to Christ, we can be “conformed” to increasingly reflect His image but we will never be Him.[i] One day we will stand before God to give an answer for our lives. Those who enter into reward instead of  punishment will do so only because they have accepted Jesus' offer to pay their debt.

Christian unity is not possible if we don’t agree on these things, because these points are all integral to the person and work of Jesus. I can think of at least five different phrases I have heard about Jesus from others who claim allegiance to Christ that give me a lot of concern.

  • “I am a Christian because I follow Jesus’ teachings. I don’t think he was God, but He showed us how to live.”[ii]
  • “Jesus is one of many ways to God.”[iii]
  • “Jesus is only about love, not anger. We have to lighten up on all this talk about sin and wrath and hell.”[iv]
  • “You can be just like Jesus! You can be a little god too!”[v]
  • “Jesus and the Holy Spirit are just names or titles for different ways God has shown himself.”[vi]

 We can’t be in Christian unity if we are fixing our eyes on a different kind of Christ.

  • If he was just a good man, Jesus is not divine and should not be worshipped.
  • If there are many ways to make peace with God, then Jesus is not the only way and is certainly not the necessary way, and his death and resurrection were unnecessary.
  • If sin and its eternal consequences aren’t important, then Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection aren’t important, and the day of judgment should not concern us.
  • If we can become just like Jesus, then the bar for what it means to be God is incredibly low, and there is no way Jesus should be worshipped.
  • If there is no Trinity, then Judaism and Islam have been right about the nature of God all along, and Christ was not who we thought he was. If thats true, then his life, death and resurrection did not accomplish what we claim they did.

When Paul is writing about the importance of unity, he’s not saying that anything goes as Christians when we look at Jesus. He clearly calls out false teachers numerous times in his letters (Galatians 5:7-12; 1 Timothy 1:3-11; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:14-19). Even if we attend church together, if we are not united about the most important thing, we may be respectful friends who genuinely like each other, but we are not united around the same Christ.

Moral Boundaries (Committed Discipleship)

Christian unity does not require perfection. Sinfulness will always be present within our Christian unity on this side of heaven. When that happens, we don't just step over our brothers and sisters when they fall down, and we certainly don’t kick them while they are down. We don’t enable sin, and we don’t berate and humiliate sinners. We help them back up like we have constantly been helped up, and we revisit the foot of the cross not to regain our salvation, but to ask for the forgiveness only Christ can give.

However, unity doesn’t mean we act like sin is no big deal. Paul writes numerous times about how to confront sin in the context of church (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13); (1 Corinthians 5:6-7; (2 Corinthians 2:5-8). Why? Because sin can begin to permeate the church, and that will destroy our unity. There’s a reason God says not to do these things that goes beyond our individual holiness. True unity cannot be sustained if these things are allowed to flourish in a church.

Unity does not require that we overlook sin.  If we are going to be unified around Christ, we have to have a healthy respect for the reality and devastation of sin. The more our personal sin hurts others or draws others in, the more crucial it becomes to confront for the purpose of the individual and the unity of the group. If we overlook or enable these things, they will take our eyes off of Christ, our walk as a disciple will erode, our unity with others will crumble, and our witness for Christ will be compromised. So the fact that we are sinners is not the thing that divides us; it should actually unite us at the foot of the cross. It’s what we do with or how we respond to the sin that cannot help but bring disunity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together:

“Reproof is unavoidable.. Where defection from God’s Word in doctrine or life imperils the family fellowship and with it the whole congregation, the world of admonition and rebuke must be ventured. Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin. It is a ministry of mercy, an ultimate offer of genuine fellowship…”

As a church community, we are in this together. Unity requires a community of grace, forgiveness and hope that always points us toward a Christ who offers all these things to us. But sin corrodes, and it must be addressed.               

3) Christian Unity Confronts Tension

Ephesians 4:25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 

Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-14)

Unity is not the absence of tension.  If it were, we would never be unified. We would always hide our true self from others, or avoid people or situations that make us uncomfortable, or never have the hard conversations about protecting doctrine or living holy lives.We must confront it instead of retreat from it. The Bible does not say blessed are the peacekeepers, it says blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). Keeping peace is easy, passive, and ultimately destructive. Making peace is uncomfortable, but necessary and always fruitful. The unified do not hide.

We must learn how to say, “I love you and I am for you, so we must have this conversation.” Then we pray for wisdom, we may seek godly counsel, and we turn to the Bible for our foundational truths because it is” profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…”(2 Timothy 3:16)

 4) Christian Unity displays Christ-like love

“ Since you are all set apart by God, made holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Put up with one another. Forgive. Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you, because you should act in kind. But above all these, put on love! Love is the perfect tie to bind these together. Let your hearts fall under the rule of Jesus’  peace (the peace you were called to as one body), and be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-16)

Love is the ultimate gift of the Spirit as seen in 1 Corinthians 13.[vii] It’s the glue that is meant to hold the church community together. The Bible is really specific about what Christ-like love looks like (and I am pulling this list from 1 Corinthians 13).

  • Patient (good things take time)
  • Kind (it’s a basic human quality)
  • Content (not jealous)
  • Humble (not boastful or proud)
  • Decent (never rude or crude)
  • Other-centered (not self-absorbed)
  • Composed (not easily provoked or resentful)
  • Forgiving (doesn’t keep tally of wrongs)
  • Rejoices in Truth (doesn’t avoid it)
  • Rejoices in Justice (is not content to let injustice unfold)
  • Bears all things (endures and protects insults, burdens, and hardships)
  • Never loses faith (does not become cynical or jaded)
  • Hopeful (never forgets that Jesus saves)
  • Persevering (keeps going even when it's tough

This kind of love is the greatest gift given us to preserve the unity that Christ brings, Is far more than emotional connection. It comes from fixing our eyes on Christ and walking with others in loving, faithful discipleship. Paul gives an example of how this looks in Romans 12:14-18.

If people mistreat or malign you, bless them. Always speak blessings, not curses. If some have cause to celebrate, join in the celebration. And if others are weeping, join in that as well. Work toward unity, and live in harmony with one another. Avoid thinking you are better than others or wiser than the rest; instead, embrace common people and ordinary tasks. Do not retaliate with evil, regardless of the evil brought against you. Try to do what is good and right and honorable as agreed upon by all people. If it is within your power, make peace with all people.” (Romans 12:14-18)

This kind of loving unity will never compromise truth or holiness, but it will always guide the attitude and presence we bring to any situation.

 

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[i]  Paul’s Creed (from 1 Corinthians 15:3-11) often considered the earliest creedal statement: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.” Note the three key subjects: Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; the fact the Jesus died for our sins; and the reality of grace as the means of salvation.

The Apostles Creed(150 AD) reads: “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
 and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
[‘he descended to hell’ was added much later in response to doctrinal challenges].
The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
[‘the holy catholic (universal) church' was added in the 4th century], the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.” As a response to different doctrinal challenges, this creed is more broad (and more specific) than Paul’s.

 The Nicene Creed (325 AD) reads: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man; And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end. And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets; And we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. We look for the Resurrection of the dead, And the Life of the age to come. Amen.” This was written in response to the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ. In 381, it was revised to address the Macedonian heresy, which denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit.   

[ii]  Google the term “moralistic therapeutic deism” to see this in action. Michael Horton provides a good overview of this position at http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var2=917

[iii] " I don't believe making disciples must equal making adherence to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts.” (Brian McClaren)  For a good response, check out a book by Ravi Zacharias called Jesus Among Other Gods.

[iv] The fact is that the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse—a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that, however, is that such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement: "God is love". If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil (Steve Chalke and Alan Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus, pp. 182-183).”John Piper has a good response at http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/defending-my-fathers-wrath

[v] “Man…was created on terms of equality with God, and he could stand in God’s presence without any consciousness of inferiority…. He made us the same class of being that He is Himself…. He lived on terms equal with God…. The believer is called Christ, that’s who we are; we’re Christ.” (Kenneth Hagin, Zoe: The God Kind of Life, pp. 35-36, 41).

“Why didn't Jesus openly proclaim Himself as God during His 33 years on earth? For one single reason. He hadn't come to earth as God, He'd come as man.”  Kenneth Copeland, Believer's Voice of Victory magazine, Aug. 8, 1988. p.8.

"The most remarkable "messiah" at (the time of the writing of this book) ... is to be found at camp Manujothi Ashram in the desert in South India. It is the extreme American evangelist, William Branham, whom Christians have to thank for this false messiah. His name is Paluser Lawrie Mathukrishna. When Branham was on (a) tour of India, Brother Lawrie became a disciple of his, and Branham described him as the "Son of God" and "Christ returned." (Kurt Koch, Occult ABC, 1978, p. 66) Read more at http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/thirdwaveteachings.html

This is also a key teaching of Mormonism. Here is a short but good response from Hank Hannegraaff: http://www.equip.org/perspectives/little-gods-are-we-little-gods/

[vi] This is a position called Modalism, which has been considered heretical (so far from orthodox Christianity that it cannot be authentic Christian belief) since almost the beginning of the church. Two popular names associated with this movement are Tommy Tenney (because of his Oneness Pentecostal roots) and T.D. Jakes (who is a Oneness Pentecostal). Here’s a link to a great article that gives a very thorough discussion of this issue: http://thecripplegate.com/modalism_oneness_and_td_jakes/

In an unusual (and false) twist, Benny Hinn has been promoting Tri-theism, the idea that each member of the Trinity is its own Trinity. ”God the Father, ladies and gentlemen, is a person; separate from the Son and the Holy Ghost. Say, what did you say? Hear it, hear it, hear it. See, God the Father is a person, God the Son is a person, God the Holy Ghost is a person. But each one of them is a triune being by Himself. If I can shock you - and maybe I should - there's nine of them. Huh, what did you say? Let me explain: God the Father, ladies and gentlemen, is a person with his own personal spirit, with his own personal soul, and his own personal spirit-body.” (Benny Hinn” program on TBN, 10/30/90) 

[vii]The apostle bookends his famous chapter on love (1 Corinthians 13) with these two (perhaps surprising) charges: “earnestly desire the higher gifts” and “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 14:1). God means that we desire all of his gifts, not to glut our selfishness, but to selflessly strengthen others — “so that the church may be built up” (1 Corinthians 14:5)… Desire all the spiritual gifts, knowing that “the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13; cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:3). Compared to other “higher gifts” (such as tongues, healing, and prophecy† among others), love is “a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).” 

 Read the entire article at http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/10-reasons-to-desire-all-the-spiritual-gifts.

 

Trustworthy Sayings (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

"I thank our Lord Jesus the Anointed who empowers me, because He saw me as faithful and appointed me to this ministry. Despite the fact that at one time I was slandering the things of God, persecuting and attacking His people. He was still merciful to me because I acted in ignorance apart from faith. But He poured His grace over me, and I was flooded in an abundance of the grace and faith and love that can only be found in Jesus the Anointed. Here’s a statement worthy of trust: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and I am the worst of them all." (12-15) 

There were a number of hymns or of catechetical teaching in the early Church. This appears to be one: "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." But then Paul adds to it: “I am the worst of them all.” He talks about his new life in Christ in other places in his writings:

  • ‘If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation; old things are passed away’ (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in this body I live by the faith of the Son of God’ (Galatians 2:20)

So Paul is new!  There is no doubt about it! But nothing can alter the fact that Paul was the man that did all these things and is capable of doing them again without the presence of God in his life. You’ve heard the phrase, “That’s gonna leave a mark?” Sin leaves a mark. I will bear the scar of my shoulder surgery. No matter how healthy I get, I am the man with a repaired shoulder. Paul bore the scars of his sin even as those scars revealed the kind of healing only God can give.

 The apostle Paul never forgot his former sins and the grace of God that transformed him. The story of Paul’s conversion is repeated no less than six times in the New Testament (Acts 9, 22, 26; Gal. 1 & 2; Phil. 3; 1 Tim. 1).  And as Paul himself tells it, his awareness of his sinfulness actually escalates:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:9 - “I am the least of the apostles.”
  • Ephesians 3:8, written later – “I am the very least of all saints.”
  • 1 Timothy 1:15, written later still, and after probably about 25 years of walking with God -  “I am the chief of all sinners.”

He does not say, “I was the chief of sinners.” He says, “I am the chief.”  He does not single out the sins that previously defined him. He does not say, “I am the chief of persecutors.” He is not wallowing in a past that haunts him. This is more of a general realization.

“The sign of growing perfection is the growing consciousness of imperfection.... The more you become like Christ the more you will find out your unlikeness to Him.” – Alexander Maclaren

“When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less.”  C.S. Lewis

Paul doesn't kill Christians anymore, but he is more aware than ever of his constant need for God’s mercy.  The closer a person walks with God, the more he is aware of the depths of his sinful nature, which in turn drives him to a deeper appreciation of the grace of God.

"But it is for this reason I was given mercy: by displaying His perfect patience in me, the very worst of all sinners, Jesus could show that patience to all who would believe in Him and gain eternal life." (v. 16)

Notice: the main reason Paul was given mercy was not so that he could be awesome. It was so he would have a testimony for the Kingdom of God. Christians can see in Christ's dealings with Paul the pattern which they can expect for themselves. (The word translated “who would believe” is literally “who are about to believe.”)

Any testimony that points to the saved instead of the Savior misses the point. Paul didn’t want Timothy to think about Paul; Paul wanted Timothy to think about Jesus. God saves us not because we are awesome, but because he is awesome. We give our testimony so that others gain hope: if God is patient and loving with them, God will be patient and loving with me.  No case is too hard for God. He delights in hard cases. If Paul can be saved, you can be saved.

A side note about testimonies: Paul is writing this to Timothy, who knew Paul’s story. Paul is trying to show Timothy the proper kind of humility he needs to have. I think Timothy is supposed to take up this mantra: “I, Timothy, am the chief of sinners. If anyone is in desperate need of God’s grace, it’s me.” Yet Timothy did none of the obviously bad things Paul did. Every testimony counts as a story of how God has shown patience and love to a sinner in desperate need of salvation. ALL have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. While WE were sinners, Christ died for us.

We have a tendency in Christian circles to put certain kinds of testimonies on a pedestal. I know why we do that – it is meant to find a “chief of sinners” whose life gives us hope (if God can save them, He can save me). I wonder if, at times, we kind of slip down in our chairs and think, “I will never give my testimony. I am just too ordinary…my sins are not that exciting…no one will be in awe when I am done talking.” Don’t ever think that God can’t use your life to show the glory of his patience and love. Every testimony counts as a story of how God has shown patience and love to a sinner in desperate need of salvation.

"May the King eternal, immortal, and invisible—the one and only God—now be honored and glorified forever and ever. Amen." (v.17)

Paul’s acknowledgment of who he is does not push him into a dark corner of shame and despair. It brings out worship, as if the only way we can appreciate the beauty and grace of God’s forgiveness is by continuously seeing the ugliness of who we are without God.

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The “gospel” we hear preached in our day is a positive message that will help you achieve your full potential or feel good about yourself, succeed financially, or solve your problems.

That’s not the heart of the gospel. Biblical principles will help you in practical ways, but that’s not the good news. The Gospel is that Christ came to save sinners. If you think you’re a basically good person, you are not going to fully understand why Christ came to save you. If you think you have few faults and shortcomings, you will not understand what it means that Christ came to save you.

In Luke 7 we read a story about the connection between honest acknowledgment of who we are and deep response to Christ.  Jesus contrasts the casual and even disrespectful way that one of the Pharisees treats him and the way a local prostitute responds to him. She knew she was in desperate need of Christ and needed an ocean of forgiveness. The Pharisee thought he was tight with God and barely needed any.  What does Jesus say? “Those who are forgiven little love little. Those who have been forgiven much love much.” 

In other words, grace flows from us to the degree that we recognize the grace that has flowed into us.

Do you ever find yourself in a place where you don’t care about other people, or you lack empathy or kindness, or you feel lukewarm in your faith? If so, you may not need to work on feeling kinder or more passionate. You probably are forgetting how much you have been forgiven, how much God loves  you, how much he has given you grace when you were a mess.

You know when I love my wife the best? On the days I realize how much she puts up with from me. I melt inside. I am humbled and amazed at her love.  In fact, the more I am aware of my faults, the more it keeps me in a place of humility, gratitude, and service. On the days I forget, I am a jerk. On those days, I am better than her; I deserve her respect and admiration; I have the right to be treated as if I am awesome! And that never ends well. But if every day I am humbled by an awareness that I must be forgiven much – that in our marriage I am the worst of spouses, the chief of sinners – than I have to approach every situation from a place of gratitude and perhaps even awe at her capacity to love me.

To remember how much we have been forgiven is the surest way to fill our hearts with gratitude. Paul says, “May the King eternal, immortal, and invisible—the one and only God—now be honored and glorified forever and ever."

Look at the God he praises: eternal, not limited like us; immortal, not mortal like us; Spirit, not bound in flesh like us. In other words, only a God can save me – more specifically, only this God, revealed in Christ, can take the disaster of a man and make something beautiful.

I often hear the longing expressed that it’s hard to have a heart of worship.  A heart of worship cannot be taught. It cannot be forced or orchestrated. You can go to the biggest conference with the biggest band and the most emotional preacher and the coolest arts and have a great emotional response to all that’s going on around you. That’s an experience of a particular kind of worship, but I don’t think that’s the heart of worship.

We see hear in Paul’s letter to Timothy where the heart of worship begins: a recognition the wretched, broken life that we bring to the table – followed by an awareness of an indescribably powerful and holy God who loves us anyway, who offers us enough grace and forgiveness to cover any amount of sin and damage we have accumulated. That’s when the overflow of our hearts becomes the worship of our lives as we humbly take the grace we have been offered and pass it on to those around us.

That’s a statement about life in the Kingdom of God that is worthy of our faith and trust.

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“Unless you have been down into the depths of your own heart, and seen the evil that is there, you will not care for the redeeming Christ, nor will you grasp Him as a do those who know that there is nothing between them and ruin except God’s strong hand… Unless we feel the common evil, and estimate by the intensity of its working in ourselves how sad are its ravages in others, our kindness to others will be as half-hearted as our love to God…. Those who know the plague in their own heart, and how Christ has redeemed them, will go, with the pity of Christ in their heart, to help to redeem others.”
- Alexander Macleran

We may say, “I am a thief,” or, “I am a liar,” meaning that I have committed these sins, they weigh upon my shoulders, they are the splinters of my self-hewn cross... We say so in shame. But we do not thereby express an ultimate or God-ordained identity. Quite the contrary. We mean, “This is what I am in a disordered sense, because of what I have done, and because of the evil that I am still fearfully tempted to do.”  Or we might put it this way: “This is the fashion in which the image of God has been deformed in me, so that I am not myself, and my face, my very identity, is sludged up with sin.” - Hutchens and Esolen, “Identity Thievery,” Touchstone

Righteousness (Romans 1-2)

I suspect you’d agree with me that a life of ease is what most of us want. If given a choice, I’d take a life of abundance: good health, adequate finances, trouble-free relationships, and cars that never rust! But despite our wants, the reality is that life has a fair amount of trials and difficulties that often result in great emotional pain and even physical pain.  In the process, we begin to live guarded lives. We shut down in one or more areas. We certainly don’t automatically experience the rich and full life that we so desire. 

This pain in our lives that we’ve been examining in our recent series on emotional health not an accidental blip on the radar screens of our lives.  It’s not an inexplicable interruption in an otherwise smooth and productive life.  Struggle is actually a very normal part of this thing we call life.

We live in a fallen and broken world  that our sinfulness has created (read Genesis, chapter 3).  And ever since the fall of man we have experienced this struggle in our human existence. If you’re tempted to think it’s an isolated thing, listen carefully to the people around you this coming week.  Listen to their stories.  You’ll hear a common tread running through them.  Life is beautiful…but it’s also hard. This struggle that is so much a part of our human existence is necessary and purposeful. 

Our inability to do the very thing that we so desperately desire; to live happily and successfully on our own, free of all outside intrusion (emphasis: our inability to do this) is the very thing that ultimately makes us attentive to God, and to His offer of relationship. When life no longer works for us, when the pain or struggle or loneliness is too great; when questions are too many and answers, too few --- we look up in search of God.

 And all of this seeming tension is by God’s design! He created us, and our existence, with the full knowledge that we would struggle and that the pain would often be hard to bear. He knew that when we could no longer make sense of our lives we would begin to search for Him. 

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The Book of Romans presents the most complete explanation of the Christian faith found anywhere in the Bible.  Romans supplies the “who, what, where and why” of Christianity. Romans explains things like:

• Who is God?

  • What does He think about me?

    • What does God require of all of us?

      • Why is Jesus Christ so important?

        • What does the Holy Spirit do?

          • What happens to people after they die?

            • What does it mean to be saved?

              • How can I know for sure that I am saved?

                • Does God care about how I live my life?

In the coming weeks we will deal extensively with the the primary them of Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome: the idea of RIGHTEOUSNESS.  To begin, it would be helpful to define the term.

Righteousness is not the following: atrocious, awful, bad, base, black, blamable, censurable, corrupt, criminal, crooked, culpable, debased, debauched, decadent, degenerate, degraded, demoralized, depraved, disgraceful, dishonest, dishonorable, disreputable, dissipated, dissolute, errant, erring, evil, evil minded, execrable, fallen, ignoble, immoral, improper, incorrect, indecent, indecorous, infamous, inferior, iniquitous, knavish, libertine, loose, low, low grade, mean, mediocre, middling, naughty, nefarious, objectionable, offensive, pathetic, perverse, perverted, poor, profligate, rascally, reprehensible, reprobate, roguish, rotten, scoundrely, second class, shameful, sinful, substandard, terrible, unbecoming, unethical, unfair, unholy, unjust, unprincipled, unscrupulous, unseemly, unworthy, venal, vicious, vile, villainous, wicked, wretched, or wrong.

RIGHTEOUSNESS, or right standing with God, is not having ANY of that stuff.  I’ve already noted our inability to DO RIGHT (to be righteous) on our own, and about the value of the “struggle” as that process that shows us we need an answer outside ourselves.  So, now we come to Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter one. Paul begins a step-by-step explanation of how we who are sinful can become righteous.

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scripture 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord… I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” (Romans 1:1-4;16)

So God desires relationship with us, but because He is Holy and we are sinful, it is impossible without something occurring outside of us; something beyond our control, and    certainly beyond our capability. That “outside thing” is the gospel. The most compact and clear explanation of the gospel message occurs in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that (A) Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that  (B) he was buried, that (C) he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that (D) he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also…"

 God could have chosen any method He wanted to provide our salvation. He could have chosen to package it in a pill that we swallow. But He didn't. He chose to bring about salvation through the gospel message. It is the power of God that does the saving, and the message of the gospel is simply the method that God chooses to make it happen.

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NOTE: The idea expressed by Paul throughout the book of Romans regarding salvation is one of a journey that begins when we first put our faith in Christ but continues, day-by-day in faith, as well.  The phrase,” The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17) is found several times in the New Testament, but it begins in the Old Testament.  Almost three thousand years ago the prophet Habakkuk wrote, “Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked; but the righteous will live by their faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)  The righteous (those who put their faith in God) will live  --- (be productive and sustained) by their faith (demonstrating a faithful trust in God and His promises)

Backpacks, Burdens and Blessings (Galatians 6:1-10)

"If someone is caught in a sin, you who live in step with the Spirit should restore that person gently instead of ignoring or shaming them. But watch yourselves; you could get too close to the sin and be drawn in, or you could begin to feel superior and become proud. If either one happens, you will not be able to effectively bear the burdens of those around you. This is crucial, because it’s in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. This is fruit-bearing faith expressed in love." * Christians are called to challenge people caught in sin with the goal of gentle restoration. We need to walk with the Spirit toward them…and then with them.  The burdened might not like the help at first. The Greek word here is a term to describe setting a dislocated bone back into place. To put a bone back in place will inevitably inflict pain, but it is a healing pain. It’s crucial that we are gentle and clear about what we are doing. We must listen, understand, empathize, care, and speak truth boldly and carefully.

If the sin becomes compelling, we need some distance. If we become proud because of how spiritual we are, we need to repent and take a good honest look at ourselves.

If anyone of you smugly thinks you are too spiritually pure or important to get involved, you are deceiving yourself. If you are tempted toward pride, refocus on your own life. If you are living well in the midst of trials and temptations, take satisfaction in your personal integrity.  Don't worry about comparing yourself to others. If you are honest, you will see that the load of your own life – circumstances, gifts, weaknesses, struggles –  is challenging enough. You might not have the burden your neighbor has, but your backpack has enough to keep you humble and gentle with others.  You don’t know what God has given others to carry. They may have more or less than you. Don’t judge; worry about yourself - but don’t live in isolation."

God has given each of us a different set of difficulties and opportunities, a different set of weaknesses and gifts: personalities, family of origin, economic reality, skill sets, right brain/left brain, introvert/extrovert, broken home/intact home, /math/sports/music, pride/low self-image, a particular area of sin that is a temptation…

We carry this personal load by ourselves. We shouldn’t compare ourselves with someone who has done less than us (and feel conceited) or someone who has done more (and feel envy). If we see life this way, we keep our attitudes in check. We don’t know what their load is, or how well they are actually carrying it.

"I’ve already talked about those whose burdens come from sin and failure, but people can also become weary as they live well for Christ. That’s why you need to be generous with those who are instructing you in the Word of God.  Don’t be a consumer who takes and never gives. You can bless others by sharing of resources, friendship, and service. In this way, we share our mutual gifts from God as an act of deeply committed fellowship."

We also see the necessity of looking to helping those who are weary. Ministry is costly no matter who does it or where it is done. People burn out. In true Christian community, we should look for ways to ease that kind of burden too.

"There is a spiritual principle at work here.  Don’t be deceived: God cannot be mocked. Just like a farmer, you harvest what you plant. Whoever plants a crop of self-centered gratification, personal pleasure, and arrogant pride will harvest rottenness, corruption, disillusionment. Whoever plants a crop of self-sacrifice, humility, gentleness and love will be walking in step with the Spirit of God, and from the Spirit of God will harvest an eternally enduring life. This is life indeed."

God’s moral universe has processes. Sin makes things fall apart. If you eat bad foods, you harvest poor health. If you give in to your sinful nature, you reap spiritual breakdown and destruction. Dishonesty produces distrust; honesty produces trust. Jealousy produces bitterness; contentment produces affirmation of the success of others. Harshness produces anger; gentleness produces vulnerability.

"This is a sacrificial life, but don't become weary; you will inspire others. When God decides the time is right, we will have a harvest full of blessings if we do not give up. Therefore, as we see the opportunity, we should do good to everyone around us - but especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

We should do good to all “as we have opportunity.” We can’t personally meet all the needs of all people all the time. Opportunity and ability must work together.  Sometimes, we are not able to step up because carrying our own load is taking all we’ve got. Other times, our load feels light, and we look around for ways to match opportunity with ability.

This is the lifestyle from which, “if we do not give up,” we “will reap a harvest”—real, fulfilling, lasting life.

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* I have drawn from numerous commentaries and translations for this presentation of Paul's writing in Galatians. Think of it as a commentary.

Understanding Forgiveness

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At the time I wrote my last letter, I was suffering terribly. My eyes were full of tears, and my heart was broken. But I didn’t want to make you feel bad. I only wanted to let you know how much I cared for you. I don’t want to be hard on you. But the man who caused all the trouble hurt you more than he hurt me. Most of you have already pointed out the wrong that person did, and that is punishment enough for what was done. When people sin, you should forgive and comfort them, so they won’t give up in despair. You should make them sure of your love for them. I also wrote because I wanted to test you and find out if you would follow my instructions. If you forgive someone, so do I. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did in the presence of Christ for your benefit. I have done this so that we may not be taken advantage of by Satan. For we are not unaware of his intentions. (2 Corinthians 2:4-11)

The man to whom Paul is referring ( see 1 Corinthians 5:1-2) had damaged his relationship with God, his family, the community within the church, and the witness of the church in the city of Corinth. The church’s discipline had accomplished the purpose of humbling him and bringing him to repentance. Now, Paul gives them the ultimate goal: forgive, comfort, and keep him from the despair of a broken spirit.

As an idea, the idea of forgiveness sounds really good. It’s a principle that we really want other people to grasp. But what if we are the one damaged by sin?

“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” -C.S. Lewis

What is Paul actually asking of Christians here? Is this "forgive and forget"? Do we have to feel really good about the perpetrator? Do we have to like them in order to forgive them? Do we have to be friends? Must we hang out? Are we supposed to move on and act like nothing happened? Let’s look at some principles of forgiveness as we see in this situation and in the rest of Scripture.

1) Forgiveness of those who repent is mandatory. The Bible is clear that if you want to be forgiven by God, you must forgive those who wrong you.

“But if you don't forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failures.” (Matthew 6:15)

“But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too." (Mark 11:25)

“If a believer sins, correct him. If he changes the way he thinks and acts, forgive him.” (Jesus, in Luke 17:3)

2) Forgiveness comes from the forgiven. Paul wrote elsewhere, “For he [Jesus] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. “ (Colossians 1:13-14)
I was in the dominion of darkness. So were you. Jesus in his mercy paid the penalty for us so that forgiveness is available to us. We are hardly in a position not to extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” – C.S. Lewis

3) Forgiveness requires honesty. We have to be honest about the nature and depth of the offense. Sin leaves a mark on individuals and communities, and we minimize its true nature at our peril. Those who harm others need to understand the price they are asking others to pay in order to forgive them.

If someone says, “I’m sorry,” we don’t have to just say, “That’s okay. It was nothing.” It wasn't okay (though it might be eventually); if it were truly nothing, it would not need forgiveness.

4) Forgiveness does not cancel accountability. Extending forgiveness is not the same as overlooking the impact of sin. Accountability and forgiveness are not enemies.

  • After Adam and Eve sinned, God provided a means of forgiveness…but also explained what the fallout was going to look like. 
  • God forgave Moses…but Moses did not enter the promised land.
  • Jesus forgave the thief on the cross…but the thief still died that day.

We have a tendency to think that the offended person should just get over it and move on, as if somehow the fact that our actions had consequences has now become the other person’s problem. But life is not an etch-o-sketch. We can’t just shake the picture that we’ve drawn and pretend it never happened. We hurt them. It’s going to take time to draw a new and better picture. Consequences are a gift; they make our path clear. Circumstances may or may not adjust in connection with the forgiveness; if they don’t, it does not mean no one was forgiven.

5) Forgiveness does not delete history. Paul didn’t unwrite his first letter to the church in Corinth; I don’t get the impression that anyone in the church was trying to act as if nothing had happened. “Forgive and forget” is not a biblical command for us. Have some survivors of the Holocaust forgiven the prison guards? Of course. Have they ask for the Holocaust Museum to close? Absolutely not.

Forgiveness is meant to fully bring repentant people back into fellowship with Christ and healthy fellowship in church community. If this process requires memory loss, we will not fully appreciate the power of forgiveness and grace.

Remind Me Who I Am

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While in Ephesus, Paul wrote a letter to the fledgling church in Corinth. He had to tackle a couple of serious issues that were not only dividing the church, but also harming their witness in the city of Corinth. Though Paul dealt with specific moral issues, his goal was far more encompassing. He wanted to say something important about life in the Kingdom of God.

Imagine (if you will) PauI taking a break after writing the first couple of chapters. He decides to meet a friend for breakfast to talk throughs some of the issues as he prepares for what is now referred to as 1 Corinthians 5 and 6. ( I should note that all the cultural details I give in this conversation are taken from some very detailed history of the Greeks and Romans culture of that time. Sarah Ruden's "Paul Among The People" provides an excellent historical background for this imagined conversation).

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“So Paul, how’s the letter going?”

“Well, I took a little time to talk about humility and pride, and how God has a way of using the unnoticed and overlooked to build his kingdom. I told them they were like a field that God farms – the dirt, specifically, that just nourishes what it’s been given. That was to bring them all to the same level. Then I told them they were like God's building – they are all still chosen and placed in the structure by God, but He’s building a presence in Corinth that provides safety and stability. I finished with the claim that they were like a temple. God’s presence and spirit inhabits them, which makes them holy. “

“I like it. Dirt’s humble, but temples are holy. Good combination. There's both a humility and honor that comes with committing to the service of Christ.”

“That's true. I hope those analogies connect.”


“So what’s the next topic?”

“Well, I told them in my last letter not to tolerate sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:9-11). They took that to mean that they couldn’t hang out with anybody who was immoral, which meant pretty much everybody in Corinth. That wasn’t my point. I was hoping they would read that as “raising the bar” within the church. On the one hand, they got super spiritual and disconnected from the community. On the other hand, they overlooked a huge problem right there in the church. I don’t know if I told you, but there’s one guy in the church who is sleeping with his father’s wife." (1 Corinthians 5:1-2).

“Yikes.”

“She’s his stepmom, but it’s still adultery and awfully close to incest.”

“That’s not good.”

“That's an understatement. Then there’s all the people throwing lawsuits at each other and making fools of themselves in the courts in Corinth (1 Corinthians 6:5-8). And if that’s not bad enough, they aren’t just looking for justice – they are cheating other people in the church. As if they weren’t having a hard enough time spreading the message of Jesus’ love and forgiveness. I have to get through to them that this is not the Kingdom of God. This is not a life of grace and peace – and holiness.”

“Why is it that these kind of issues pop up in Corinth and not, say, in Thessalonica?”

“The Thessalonicans were busy staying alive. It’s not like that in Corinth. Power isn’t their enemy; pleasure is. Have you ever been to Corinth?”

“No, but I’ve heard stories.”

“Well, there’s a lot to learn about what it means to be a Corinthian. There’s a lot of idol worship. There are 10 temples at least, and maybe up to 24 or 25 holy places. And all the gods are in competition, so all the followers are in competition too. So when people decided to follow Jesus, the transition was a little messy. They didn’t all like each other, because they were following different gods before. It was easy to copy the pattern, just this time it was, “I’m was with Apollos” instead of Jupiter, and “I was with Paul” instead of Artemis,” and “I was with Peter” instead of Poseidon. They still thought they to earn the favor of the gods by being impressive; they had to follow just the right person to be on God’s good side depending on what they want.
     I don’t think they ever came to church with actual idols, but the old mindset was still there. They didn’t believe God was actually interested in them unless they could get his attention. The idea of grace – God “leaning in to you”, being on your side - was brand new.

“So you’ve got a church full of people trying to impress God like they tried to impress their old gods.”

“Yep. And if you have the mindset that God’s love is based on how impressive you are, then most of the people in their church have their work cut out for them. You can’t earn God’s love, but even if you could, they were in for a rough road. For example, there are plenty of men joining the church who were into the symposiums.

“I’ve been to symposiums here, and it was just a bunch of old guys sitting around and talking about ideas.”

“Symposium literally means “drinking together.” For some people, that’s just a way of saying it’s a social gathering with some wine, but not in Corinth. A bunch of guys would get together, ban their wives, and drink themselves under the table… where the flute girls were waiting for them, and they weren’t playing music. It was a rare symposium that got anything constructive done.
     But the symposiums were just entry level. The komos guys were worse. They were the ones who led the late night parties, the ones who would drink excessively all night, then walk around the town and kidnap and rape people in the name of having a good time.”

“Sounds like a’ reality play’ waiting to happen – 'Keeping Up With the Corinthians.'”

“It’s hard to keep up with the Corinthians, let me tell you. It’s not just alcohol and parties either. There are thousands of temple prostitutes, and huge parties that eventually end up with everybody sleeping with everybody else.
     In Corinth they have a word, “porneia.” which describes a particular type of woman. The men would parade the slave girls, the "pornos," through the marketplace naked. Many of the men would buy them and beat them – you can buy vases in Corinth with drawings that celebrate their sexual and physical brutality. These men treat these women as objects, and they see sex as a simply a thing to buy and sell. As you can imagine, this mindset effects every woman to whom they relate."

“Sounds like it’s tough to be a woman in Corinth.”

“It’s tough to be a young man, also. In Corinth, it’s not unusual to find an adult man who targets a young boy, and basically owns him sexually until he gets tired of him. The conqueror is considered manly and admirable, I guess because he has shown that he is powerful and can take a young man full of potential and life and break him.
     But the boys they choose are from then on considered soft or effeminate – the Corinthians use a word “malakos” that means soft, like a garment - and less than manly, and socially they are ruined and shamed for the rest of their life. Believe me, fathers keep a close eye on their sons in Corinth.

 

“Is all this just no big deal in Corinth? Is there any kind of social stigma attached to any of this – the prostitutes, the affairs, the homosexuality?”

“There are only two kinds of people that the Corinthians reject: the boys I just mentioned, and those who commit adultery with a married woman. Adultery is off limits. Men get beaten, castrated, and even killed if they choose married women; the women lose their households and their children are declared illegitimate, which means they lose their inheritance and their citizenship. And the boys who are targeted by the adult men become outcasts as soon as the men are done with them. Other than that, men can do what they want. It’s not a great town for women or young men."

“That’s a lot of people in need of healing – not just the victims, but the abusers.”

“That’s true. I’m glad the gospel of Christ is up for the task. The church is the only place to provide a place of grace and peace.”

“It sounds like the Corinthians brought a lot of Corinth into the church with them. That makes peace a difficult thing to achieve, doesn’t it?

“That’s not the half of it. Corinth has a ton of money parading through its streets, and it’s so easy to get caught up in the money game. Some people don’t go to temples to worship idols; they sit in the bank and worship. They would steal, they would run these schemes where they would learn people’s secrets and run this extortion racket – and believe me, there are a lot of skeletons in Corinthian closets. They are used to getting what they have through bribery and corruption. They are used to using the legal system to sue people and take what is not rightfully theirs. We’ve brought in some people whose objective in life was to acquire of more wealth, and that’s not a habit that is easily broken."

“I know a guy named Ponzi who is really into that.”

“Yep, he’s got quite a following. Anyway, collecting the offering is tricky.”

“I have to think that it’s hard for people to ignore the histories of the people in the church. I’m assuming everybody knows about the others?"

“Slander and gossip is practically a game in Corinth. Have you seen all the scrolls at the checkout out lines at Jebediah’s Coconut Mart?"

“Pilate was an alien, apparently.”

“Right…. Anyway, they are nothing compared to what happens in Corinth. Any rumor is a good rumor, and people have been made and broken because of the sharp tongue or sharpened pen of some babbler who constantly destroys other people with their gossip. So add that to the mix in our church."

“So let me see if I have this right. You started a church with some serious partiers, actual idol worshippers, people who will do anything sexually, prostitutes and rapists and abusers – AND their victims. You have greedy thieving, gossiping, slanderous people. And that’s the Corinthian church?”

“I have a different way of looking at it. Who needs Jesus more than these? They are all desperately in need of a community of people who will accept them, love them, forgive them AND challenge them to be a temple for God. Jesus himself said he didn’t come for the healthy and the righteous, right? He came for the sick and the sinners (Mark 2:17). Is there a better message of hope than one that says God can turn these people into a temple in which His Holy Spirit dwells?

 

“So when you went there, you were surrounded by people with all this sin. It must have been easy to think, ‘Thank God I’m not like them! I only did…THIS!’ How did you stay humble? How did you keep this all in perspective?

“Well, look who you are talking to. The ‘I only did this’ is that I killed people. I hunted Christians down and stoned them to death. And Jesus appeared to me and called me into his service anyway. So if they can’t be a church, well, I can’t be the church either. But even if a sin wasn’t so noticeable, we all have sinned. Sometimes sin is really obvious; other times it’s far more subtle, but just as real.
     God’s love is for everyone, so we started a church with the humiliated, the shamed, and the broken, with no future for them in Corinth. And we talked about grace, and peace, and forgiveness, and holiness and what life in the Kingdom of Heaven looked like. “

“I've heard you preach the same message here. Because of Christ,  people who did evil things and people who had evil things done to them – they all can be restored and used in the service of God to bring truth, justice, peace, and grace to the world.”

“Precisely. That’s the piece of the puzzle the church is missing right now. They are having a hard time letting go of the their own past as well as the brothers and sisters in Christ. On the bad days, they still think there is no way they are good enough for God, or that they can ever overcome their past. They are still very Corinthianized. It's hard to overcome a lifetime of experiences.

“So here’s my summary: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God“ (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

“That’s a pretty grim list when you put it that bluntly.”

“It’s honest.”

“Yes, it’s honest…but it’s incomplete. I also need to remind them that their history is not their destiny. They don’t have to be stuck with the guilt and punishment of sin. Put next, “And that is what some of you were" (1 Corinthians 6:11). They may think their identity is based on what defined them in the past, but that’s not who they are now. If they are feeling guilty and condemned, I want to point out that through Christ their penalty has been paid, so add this too: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:12)

“You might have to clarify your terms here. I think the Jews know all the terminology – will the Corinthians get it? They are mostly Gentiles. ”
 
 “Washing is purifying. They had been made pure by the sacrifice of Christ. That’s one of the symbols that goes with baptism, or with washing each other’s feet during the Lord’s Supper – they were dirty, but now they have been made clean.

     Sanctified is just the ongoing process of purifying. If you walk across Ephesus, you’re feet get dirty. You wash them again. As we walk through life, our souls and lives get dirty. God washes them again.
     Justified is a legal term, and believe me, this church knows about legal terms. Even though they are guilty of a lot of sin, when they stand before God He will pardon them because the penalty has been covered by Christ. They will own nothing, even though they once owed everything.

“That’s always good to hear. All of us need God’s mercy and grace. It’s easy to think that all of our past failures somehow define us, and even thought I know in my head that’s not the end of the story of my life, it’s not always easy to really let that sink in. I know what I was, and that can be depressing if I stop there. Thank God that’s not who I am now."

                                           

                       Jason Gray, "Remind Me Who I Am"

 

Always Mardi Gras and Never Easter

From a much longer, thought-provoking article that is worth reading as we head toward Easter:

 The Mardi Gras of Protestantism didn’t celebrate the day on just a yearly calendar, though, but, much more importantly, on the calendar of a lifespan.

The typical cycle went something like this. You were born, and reared up in Sunday school until you were old enough to raise your hand when the teacher asked who believed in Jesus and wanted to go to heaven. At that point, you were baptized—usually long before the first pimple of puberty—and shortly thereafter, you had your first spaghetti-dinner fundraiser to raise money to go to summer youth camp. And then, sometime between the ages of 15 and 20, you’d go completely wild.

Our view of the “College and Career” Sunday school class was somewhat like our view of Purgatory. It might be there, technically, but there was no one in it. After a few years of carnality, you’d settle down, start having kids, and then be back in church, just in time to get those kids into Sunday school, and start the cycle all over again. If you didn’t get divorced or indicted, you’d be chairman of deacons or head of the women’s missionary auxiliary by the time your own kids were going completely wild. It was just kind of expected. You were going to get things out of your system before you settled down. But you know, I never could find that in the Book of Acts, either.

I never really went through the wild stage. But years later, having externally lived a fairly upstanding life, I found myself envying a Christian leader as he gave his “testimony.” This man described his life of mind-blowing drugs, manic sex, and nonstop partying in such detail that, before I knew it, I was wistfully thinking: “Wouldn’t that be the best of both worlds? All that, and heaven too.” I’d embraced the dark side of Mardi Gras, in my own mind. As much as I thought I was superior to both the drunken partiers on the streets and the dour cranks condemning the revelry, I had internalized the hidden hedonism of it all. I was under the lordship of Christ, but, if only for that moment, wishing for the lordship of my own fallen appetite.

  - from Russell Moore's Always Mardi Gras and Never Easter