Questions on Having Been Completely Forgiven – #1

Aren’t we supposed to be sorry for our sins?

Being sorry or saying sorry for sins is not the same as asking for forgiveness. And sorrow is not the same as repentance, but godly sorrow leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:10) — a change of mind, opinion, attitude and heart that results in a turning away from sinful actions. An authentic Christian has already changed his mind and ceased from a lifestyle of continuing in sin (Rom 6:2). His new mindset from the Spirit of God has put him on a course-correction from death into life (Rom 8:5-6). His new Attitude directs him like a rudder directs a boat (Gal 5:16, 25) His aim is now in line with the will of God.  The problem for Christians is not the mindset or the turning away from continuing in a lifestyle of sin, the problem is that we still sin even after having turned away from our former manner of life. We do this because the flesh wars against the Spirit and we get carried away by the lust of the flesh and do things that are contrary to the Spirit of Christ in us (Rom 7:15). When an authentic Christian sins, he doesn’t need to change his mind (repent) because he has already agreed with God (confessed) about faith and unbelief, right and wrong, good and evil, dependence on God and independence from his Creator. His spirit is aiming in the same direction as his Lord’s life — in submission to the will of his heavenly Father in thought and deed. He sins, but he no longer ‘practices’ sin (1 Jn 3:4-6) — he no longer lives in the lifestyle of pursuing sins. He may be continually tempted with the same lusts of the flesh, whatever those may be, whether it’s the gluttony of eating Coconut Cream Pie or the proclivity toward homosexuality, but he does not run in the same wild abandon to sin that he did formerly (Eph 4:22).

An authentic Christian detests all that is contrary to God’s character, will and purpose. Whether it’s the darkness of the world or the darkness that lives with him. Sorrow for sins? Consequences for sins? Yes, but there’s more.  Our sins can cause us sorrow, but that doesn’t mean we need new forgiveness.  The problem is our conscience, and the answer to our conscience is the blood of Christ, by which we draw near to God in full assurance of faith, having already had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience (Heb 10:22). Asking for God to do something again that He has already done once for all time is unbelief and rejection of the perfect one-time sacrifice (Heb 9:25-26). There is no forgiveness without blood (Heb 9:22), and Jesus died once for sins, never to die again, and nothing can earn new forgiveness (Heb 10:18); now He lives to God and intercedes for us. The solution is to apply faith in the one-time sacrifice already offered, to draw near to God on the basis of Christ’s work (Heb 10:22) and to thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 7:24-25)

There’s the Sabbath rest of God where we cease from our works to obtain righteousness (Heb 4:9-10) and trust the Rudder to guide us in life. (Jn 16:13).


“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10 NAS95)

“May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2 NAS95)

“For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,” (Romans 8:5–6 NAS95)

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16 NAS95) “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25 NAS95)

“For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing (accomplishing) what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15 NAS95)

“Everyone who practices (making, doing, actively producing) sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.” (1 John 3:4–6 NAS95)

“that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,” (Ephesians 4:22 NAS95)

“let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, [having had] our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22 HCSB) (note: the Greek tense is ‘having had our hearts sprinkled clean – perfect tense, meaning it was done once and its effects continue)

“nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” (Hebrews 9:25–26 NAS95)

“And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22 NAS95)

“Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10:18 NAS95)

“Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:24–25 NAS95)

“So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.” (Hebrews 4:9–10 NAS95)

““But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” (John 16:13 NAS95)

Complete, Total and Final Forgiveness — Again

repentI often hear Christians reject the notion that we are already, 100%, completely and totally forgiven in Christ without any need for new forgiveness. The Lord’s prayer and 1st John 1:9 are typically presented as the proof-texts to maintain that we need to keep asking for new forgiveness. The argument is that John wrote to Christians, so verse 1:9 must be a for Christians to practice, over and over again. Sometimes Christians even claim that we have to keep repenting again and again when we sin. But is that what the apostles really taught as they were moved along by the Spirit of God to instruct the churches?

I agree that John is writing to believers about Christians, but just consider for a moment the possibility that John is writing about ‘false Christians’ — people in the church who aren’t really Christians, but they call themselves Christians.

When John writes “If WE confess our sins” he seems to be making a black and white distinction. It appears there is a group of people (Christians) who do not confess their sins and are in darkness. The idea isn’t that true Christians must go to Mass or Confession weekly, or that true Christians have to have their eyes on their sin all the time (in order to confess and get new forgiveness), but that a true Christian “says the same thing” God says about sin. The Greek word for “confess” is homo-legeo, and it means, literally, “to say the same thing, agree, admit”.

If we don’t agree with God about sin, we walk in darkness and are not truly Christians. This reminds me of a present situation in America where some ‘Christians’ don’t agree about the sin of homosexuality. But if we do agree, we are in the light, and we have fellowship with the Father, and we are forgiven.

It’s an oxymoron to repent every day. Repentance is a ‘change of mind’ that results in a turn from sinful behavior. If we’ve already changed our minds about sin, do we really need to change our mind again? In the norm, ‘repentance’ is something that unbelievers or false Christians need to do.  The problem — for an authentic Christian — is not that he needs to change his mind again, but that he walks around in an unredeemed body, housed in flesh that will not inherit the Kingdom of God and is tempted by ‘sin’. The flesh wars against the Spirit, but the answer is NOT to keep asking for forgiveness, it’s to THANK GOD through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 7:25) Christians are in this position of ‘futility’ and groaning so that their hope will be on the resurrection instead of this world (Rom 8:20-25).

But confession — since it is ‘agreement / admitting’ and not a ritualistic prayer that brings new forgiveness — is something authentic Christians continue in. Agreement with God about sin is a sign of an authentic Christian. Any Christian who doesn’t agree with God about sin is a lawless anti-christ.

So repentance and confession go together. We change our mind from making excuses for sin and justifying it and in doing so, we agree with God about our sins. We go from disagreement and excuse-making to agreement and admitting our faults – i.e., we change our minds.

John is distinguishing between true believers and heretical ‘Christian’ leaders who are in positions of authority in the church. Consider 3rd John, where he wrote to ‘the church’ about supporting those brothers who went out for the faith, but Diotrephes didn’t accept what John wrote and excommunicated believers from the fellowship if they supported the brothers who went out for Jesus. John tells the readers not to imitate what is evil. It’s clear that Diotrephes was a leader in the church (ie, a “Christian”) with enough authority to intercept John’s letter and to put other Christians out of the church.

John always writes about these same heretics in all his letters. Even in his gospel, he addresses their error when he says “The Word became *flesh*”. He addresses their error straight on (One of their errors was that Jesus didn’t come in the flesh).

So instead of reading first John as though he’s telling authentic Christians what ritual they need to perform to get new forgiveness, try reading it from the perspective that he’s addressing damaging heresy and heretics *inside the church*… that’s he’s making distinctions between true believers and heretics. He’s writing about people “who went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”

Immediately after John makes his black and white distinction between believers and heretics, he addresses his ‘little children’ in one of the most overlooked passages on this topic. And he says:

“My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1–2 HCSB)

So if we sin… as true Christians… “we have an Advocate with the Father”.

So the issue isn’t about confession — but about new forgiveness. We are currently 100% forgiven in Christ, in faith. And that forgiveness, which we now possess by faith will be pronounced and shown to be true at the judgement when we receive the crown of righteousness. In Christ, we are righteous and forgiven now, through faith. At the resurrection, when our hope is realized (and we hope no more, since we will have the realization of our hope), we will be pronounced righteous and forgiven formally.

Forgiveness doesn’t come via confession / agreement of sins. It comes through the blood of Christ. Christ died once for sins and there is no longer any sacrifice for sins.

Heb 7:27 — [our High Priest] does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did *once for all* when He offered up Himself.

Heb 9:26 — Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now **once** at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

Jesus has put our sin away. Done deal. Nothing more to do about it!  But if we don’t accept that reality, and instead cling to ritual sacrifice (and that’s basically what we’ve turned confession into — a ritual sacrifice that earns new forgiveness) then we run the risk of

going on sinning willfully (by rejecting the one-time sacrifice of Christ for forgiveness and reverting to a system where continual forgiveness is needed) after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, (by rejecting the one-time sacrifice of Christ for forgiveness and reverting to a system where continual forgiveness is needed) and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:26-28)

Asking for forgiveness over and over is the same as regarding the blood of the covenant as unclean.

Sometimes Christians quote Romans 8:13 and the dangers for the Christian “walking in the flesh”. But here Paul is also distinguishing between believers and non-believers (though in a different context), not giving a prescription for how to make the flesh better.

… For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)

Those who are in Christ Jesus do not walk according to the flesh are not the same as those who walk according to the flesh. An authentic Christian has already put to death the deeds of the body:

Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? (Romans 6:3)

knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. (Romans 6:6-7)

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

Those who are in Christ Jesus are those who do not walk according to the flesh. This doesn’t mean that authentic Christians don’t sin — this is not a so-called holiness doctrine that teaches that a Christian can stop sinning — Paul had just explained in the preceding verses that Christians do sin, and he detailed the war that goes on between the flesh and the Spirit. Here, he’s giving the answer to that problem.

The righteous requirement of the law (complete righteousness or death for sins) is fulfilled already for those who do not walk according to the flesh. An authentic Christian walks according to the Spirit.

To be in the Spirit is to have a new mindset (weird that repentance means ‘change of mind‘, eh?) The body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness! Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Those who live according to the flesh are those who walk according to the flesh and are in the flesh. They have the mindset of the flesh, which is death. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. (Romans 8:5, HCSB)

Thus … you (dear Christian), are not in the flesh! You are in the Spirit.

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. (Romans 8:9)

To be in the Spirit is to have a new mindset — a changed mind, a repented mind.

The condition is real:

… if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, (Romans 8:10a)

But…

… the Spirit is life because of righteousness. (Romans 8:10b)

The body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness! Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ! That’s why there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Nowhere do any of the apostles ever refer to a true Christian as having the capacity of “walking in the flesh” (though we tend to throw that phrase around a lot in modern Christianity as though it could pertain to true Christians).

In repentance we became united with Christ in His death and put to death the deeds of the body. (Romans 6:1-4, 8:4, 8:13, Ephesians 4:22, Colossians 3:9) and we are led by God’s Spirit and are God’s children. Anyone living in or walking according to the flesh needs to die (be united with Christ in His death) and put to death the practices (usual, everyday normal practices) of the flesh. Thus repentance, “change of mind” includes an agreement with God about sins AND a turning away from those sins.

Consider the difference in the Old Covenant, under the law of Moses, when Jesus (who was born under the law) was speaking to Jews under that law and gave the model prayer to the Jews under the law. He prayed “forgive us our debts AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS” and then said, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father WILL NOT FORGIVE your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:14–15 NAS95)

The law was a covenant that gave blessing based on ones own personal righteousness. “It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the LORD our God, just as He commanded us.” (Deuteronomy 6:25 NAS95)

Grace gives blessing in Christ’s righteousness, given to those who are IN HIM.  “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NAS95)

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,” (Ephesians 1:3 NAS95)

But later in the new covenant which became effective at the cross, being instituted in Christ’s blood, the Spirit of Christ moves Paul to write about those who are in union with Christ:

“WE HAVE REDEMPTION in Him through His blood, THE FORGIVENESS OF OUR TRESPASSES, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7 HCSB)

“And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just AS GOD ALSO FORGAVE YOU in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:32 HCSB)

“We HAVE REDEMPTION, the FORGIVENESS OF SINS, in Him.” (Colossians 1:14 HCSB)

“And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and FORGAVE us –>ALL<– our trespasses.” (Colossians 2:13 HCSB)

“accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as THE LORD HAS FORGIVEN YOU, so you must also forgive.” (Colossians 3:13 HCSB)

“Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer an offering for sin”  (Hebrews 10:18 HCSB)

After the cross, forgiveness is a DONE DEAL for those who are in Christ.

Not even confession can get new forgiveness because there is no new forgiveness needed (though every true Christian agrees with God about sin and sins).

What must we do – to become Christian?

“When they heard this, they came under deep conviction and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what must we do?
“Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” And with many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation!”
So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers.
Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles.”
(Acts 2:37–43 HCSB)

What must we do – to become Christian?

Repent – this has become a ‘loaded’ word in American culture. Hollywood loves to show us images of wild-eyed, rabid, Christian ministers foaming at the mouth and yelling “Repent!” But repentance is simple — literally, it means “change your mind”. Go from one way of thinking to another way of thinking. Have a new mindset. Adopt a new attitude about ourselves, God and the world around us.

Be baptized – water baptism is an outward expression of an inner reality. In this case, ‘baptized in the name of Jesus Christ’ is the outward expression that declares to the world that we have died to our way of thinking — and the actions associated with that old mindset, and that we have entered a new life, with a new way of thinking — resulting in a new way of acting that is accordance with our new mindset. We go down into the water to show that we have died to the old way. We are raised up from the water to show that we have been born new — in Christ. No longer is fallen Adam our father. Now we identify as children of God in our unity with Christ. Just as Christ died on the cross and was raised on the 3rd day, in our union with Him, we have new life.

Forgiveness of sins – forgiveness is received and applied only in our union with Jesus Christ. Our union with Christ is inward, in the Spirit, in the heart. God’s mercy and kindness draws us to ‘put off the old self’ and ‘put on the new self’ — to die with Christ so that we may have new life in Him. Union with Christ, including union with His death then with His life, is the key to authentic Christianity.

The promise – of the Holy Spirit is for all who are united with Christ, in every land, beginning in old Israel, extending to all the nations, dependent on whom the Lord calls.

Be saved — from the perverse generation. The word ‘generation’ here refers to ‘an interval of time, an age, a course of life or culture in respect to its interests or character’. Thus, in our union with Christ, we say goodbye to the old way of life, and we say hello to the new way of life in Christ, abandoning the interests and culture of the perversion which enslaved us.

Devoted themselves – authentic Christians submit their minds and opinions to the apostles’ teachings, share with each other in communion, fellowship with one another and pray to God together. Authentic Christians share the same mindset. In death to the old way of thinking and acting and life to the new way of thinking and acting, the teaching of the apostles is the foundation that forms the Christian’s new mindset, with Christ as the cornerstone of that foundation. When we change our minds, our attitudes from the old dead way, we then allow our minds and attitudes to be formed from what the apostles taught.

Early Morning Mercy Ramblings

sunrise1

I can’t shake this thought:

“So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” (Romans 9:16 NAS95)

As much as I appreciate good doctrine as laying out the proper map for the journey, beyond certain essentials, I don’t care what factoids about God I know if they take my attention away from knowing God. I don’t care what little family doctrines one person has, and I don’t care about how good of a ‘behaver’ another person is… I don’t care about my intentions, motivations, excitement, exuberance, passion, zeal, knowledge, etc…

I just wanna know God – this God of Mercy, who I can trust and depend on in my life and beyond.

I know factoids about my wife, daughter, mother, brother, sister, and all my family… I can tell you what they look like, how tall they are, a little about their personality. Yeah, those are necessary facts perhaps, to make sure we’re talking about the same people, but that ain’t the same as *knowing* them. I know them, I talk to them, and I love them because they belong to me and I belong to them. They are mine and I am theirs. As time moves along, we grow in knowing each other because we *interact* with each other and *share* ourselves with each other.

So – after a certain time of day, I’m done with the factoids. They serve their purpose and I love them… but I’m convinced that for myself and much of Christianity, we confuse ‘doctrine and knowledge‘ with ‘knowledge of God‘. And I have this sneaking suspicion that knowing God must happen both with *and apart* from doctrine – that real ‘knowing’ goes beyond ‘knowledge’, so to speak.

I want to look at God. I just can’t shake this thing about Him and His mercy and how great He is. Paul talks about this mercy in Romans and goes on later to say that God has wrapped up all the nations in disobedience so that He can show mercy to all. This just blows my mind. As much as I – with my new self, having abandoned the old ways – want to do God’s will, from His working inside my mind and heart, I find also that I’m stuck in futility along with all creation. There’s no way I can bring my own personal righteousness to the table with the Lord. It has to be Jesus’ righteousness given to me – that gift that comes on the basis of faith, not my own merit (and not from how many factoids about God I know).

I see the nations whenever I get in front of a TV and turn on the news. I see complete and utter rebellion toward God. From Muslim ISIS in the Middle East to Hollywood ISIS in the USA, and I cringe at what I see and ask God to open up a can o’ whoop-ass. Then I remember this passage. I remember that God has designed it this way, and that He has big plans for His mercy. And I check my own heart. What are my plans for His mercy?

When I consider God’s mercy, and that it is He Himself who has locked up all in futility and disobedience for the express purpose of showing mercy, I find myself better able to show compassion and kindness, even to those who are violently opposed to my Father. And I know beyond a doubt that this is God’s heart in me, so I must be on the right track. How do I know this is God’s heart? Easy – I know Jesus.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7 NAS95)

“and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19 NAS95)

“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,” (Philippians 3:8–10 NKJV)

“You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.”
(James 2:19 NAS95)

“For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:30–33 NAS95)

“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:20–21 NAS95)

Old Righteousness, New Righteousness

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Old Covenant:

“It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the Lord our God, just as He commanded us. Deuteronomy 6:25

New Covenant:

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; Romans 3:21-22

The Purpose of the Old:

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. Galatians 3:24

Now What?:

But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. Galatians 3:25

____
Questions we are all free to ask ourselves:

When I became a Christian, what was the reason for my decision?

Did I come legitimately in acknowledgment of my own failure to be righteous, seeing my need for a Savior to rescue me from my wrong-doing, or did I come for one of the many illegitimate reasons being billed as “Christianity” today?

Now that I’ve come legitimately, am I now living by faith in Jesus, or am I still trying to find personal righteousness before God?

Do I try to grow by keeping rules?

Am I in charge of maintaining my righteous standing before God or is Jesus in charge?

Do I feel far from God when I fail, and if so, why?

Am I responsible for initiating and getting God to respond to me? Or do I respond to Him as I get to know Him better?

Last but not least:
How do I know, right now, that I have eternal life? Do I know this with absolute certainty?

Old Man Winter’s Religion

winter_religionWe just came out of winter in the midwest, USA. I suppose it’s the same every year — by early March, people start to crack. They become unhinged.  Social media is hot with pictures of the tropics and friends can be heard exclaiming, “I’m sick of this!”

Seriously, people go crazy here just before the end of winter. It’s a predictable phenomenon.

It’s easy to understand, really. It starts out nice. There’s the pre-winter celebration at Thanksgiving when things are starting to get really cold and a bit dreary. Days are shortening and cold rain falls, but we have family, food and good times. Then there’s Christmas – more of the same, but it’s even better because we give and get things. Following that is the New Year’s celebration — typically on New Year’s Eve. Then there’s the First of January. And that’s it for the fun folks! Now there’s a good two months of managing the cold to be done.

From there on out, every morning we pile on layers of clothing. We plow the streets. Shovel the driveway. Endure the bitter cold. Hope the blizzard misses us. Learn to deal with it. Learn to endure. Take extra time for travel, or don’t travel at all. Cough syrup. Frozen pipes. Shivering day in, and day out. By the time March rolls around, we’ve given up. We stay in, trying to stay warm. We can’t handle it anymore. We dread going out. We’re done, finished, kaputt.

It occurred to me recently that Winter is like my own experience with the Christian religion. It started out great, I was introduced to and enjoyed the company of a new family, I got gifts and served others, and I celebrated the new life. Then came my First of January. This is the day I learned to be religious. Or really, it’s the day I discovered my religiosity. The joy stopped. That’s the day I decided to endure the misery . It was the day I learned to manage the old life.

My story is a story I’ve heard countless times from others. It’s common. It seems to be an almost predictable phenomenon. Sure, there are some hard-liners out there. The tough types. You know, those who use pickle juice for communion. But I’m convinced that Jesus didn’t come into the world to offer us a Winter Management Plan.

God is greater than our winter. Winter is snow-covered death, not life. And if that’s all we’ve got, this Winter Management Plan, then friends, we don’t have much at all! Seriously, there’s absolutely no need to establish marketing campaigns to the world to Come to Our Winter and Be Healed. The world is smarter than that. They know we’re just managing blizzards. There’s more for us and for them. And many of us are missing it.

God has something better for us in Christ, and it’s the End of Winter. It’s that day when suddenly the cold air is replaced with warmth, the birds chirp, the sun shines down with it’s amazing heat and we throw our arms up and out exclaiming “Yes! Finally! Winter is over — It is Finished!” In Christ, we have new life, and this new life is not like the old life! It’s the real good life! It’s not about managing the cold wet snow that covers our death. It’s about birds chirping, flowers growing, trees budding, the smell of grass in the air, heat emanating, short shadows, long days, glorious sunrises, hot dogs and hamburgers and coconut cream pie.

We go through stuff, that’s for sure. Our Father let’s us have our own personal winters so that when we’re ready, we can step into the warmth of the Son and be filled with joy, knowing we don’t have to manage the cold. Somebody has already plowed our streets and shoveled our driveway. A new day has dawned!

Friends, whatever is holding us back and holding us down today — that stuff belongs to the winter. We have new life now. Depression, anxiety, worry, pride, self-absorption, man-made religion, apathy, antipathy, “good” works, faithlessness, bitterness — all that stuff is old stuff. Religion doesn’t cure that stuff, because it can’t. New life replaces the old life, it doesn’t manage the old life! We walk in the new life by faith. We believe, and we walk. You’re not alone if you’re scared because sometimes it’s scary — as our faith is stretched, the ‘unfaith’ in us is afraid. But we have a secret weapon: Jesus Christ. God’s Spirit is there with us and we’re really just hanging on to Him and the faith of Christ. Our faith doesn’t have to be big, because it’s Christ’s faith that really counts, and His was enough to make it into the throne room where He intercedes for us. So today, when we walk, we only need small faith, little faith.  Our faith is just enough to connect us to Him, His faith and faithfulness.

‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ (Isaiah 41:10)

And the real joy, in this life of Spring with the Spirit, is that wherever we go today — since God’s will for us is a wide open plain in which we’re free to roam and discover — we have the pleasure of dropping fruit that comes from Christ in us, wherever we go and in whatever we do.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;” (Galatians 5:22–23)

Losers Win

loserAbraham was called out by God to a land that would later be shown to him. He grew old, and he and Sarah were far beyond the time of having children. In all of their efforts so far, they were unable to produce fruit, to have children.

Moses wanted to serve his God and lead His people. But it didn’t work for him. He went into the wilderness, grew old and developed a speech impediment. He became a nobody, a desert dweller, a hermit. He was a man on the run, hiding out, disconnected from society, living in the original BFE, having Bailed From Egypt.

Jesus went to the cross, and from all appearances, the devil had won. The eternally living Son of God had died, and there was no restoration of the kingdom. The Romans were still in control. The rabbinical priesthood had won. Jesus failed.

So here we are with three terrible examples, the greatest being our Lord’s. What do we see? Failure. Inability. Outcasts. They were Nobodies with nothing to offer to no one. Losers.

Imagine the disappointment. Abraham was called out, but there they were — old and dried up like raisins. Moses had prestige and honor, living in Pharaoh’s house. But one impetuous act assigned him to nothingness for the rest of his life. And what about Jesus’ disciples, how would they have felt after following Him for 3 years, expecting the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. These guys had had a one-track mind for the Kingdom and just didn’t get it when Jesus said he would have to suffer. Three years wasted! It all looked so good and so promising, but in the end, they were duped. It had all been for nothing.

But God.

Abraham was childless. But God promised Abraham that he’d have a son and be the father of many nations. And then he had son with Sarah and became the father of kings.

Moses was a stutterer who could barely speak. But God spoke to Moses. And then Moses led God’s people.

Jesus was dead. But God raised Jesus from the dead. And then Jesus established His kingdom in the power of the Spirit of God.

This is the way God works. He chooses losers with failed plans to do His great things. God is not looking for winners. He is not looking for great people. Why? Because winners are great people doing great things, and they just can’t help but trample on God’s glory.

“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are,”  (1 Corinthians 1:26–28)

God chooses and uses the Not Wise, the Not Mighty and the Not Noble. He’s looking for the Foolish, Weak and Despised.

We all know that’s D-U-M-B! If you want to win a war, you pick the cream of the crop for soldiers – everyone knows this. Even children, when selecting teammates for sports know to pick the best players. It was always the little one, the one who couldn’t shoot, aim, run, skate or fight well who was last to be chosen. Sometimes we even argued over who had to take the worst players. Right? You take him! No you take him!  We know instinctively how this works! The strong survive, and the weak fall behind and become McPlatter for the wolves. It’s the law of the jungle out there.

Here’s why God chooses the foolish, weak and despised:

“so that no one may boast before him”(1 Corinthians 1:29)

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

He did it so He could get the credit for putting us in Christ, and so that Jesus could be our man.

“so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.” (1 Corinthians 1:31)

So what will we walk in and present to the world today? Will we present our greatness, our accomplishments, ourselves — to God and to the world — or will we point to Jesus and tell the world to look at Him, so that God gets glory? Is our ongoing testimony a spiritual selfie or a portrait of Christ?

What will you be? Will you be a winner? Or will you be one of God’s losers so that Jesus can be the Winner?

The Severity of Severance

severance

Romans speaks of being severed from the law in union with Christ in His death, so that we can be united with Christ in His life.

“But now we have been released [severed] from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” (Romans 7:6)

This is a hard fact for some to get. Many Christians assume exactly the opposite is true – that once saved from wrath, we now grow by obeying the law. God’s Spirit breathed out the scripture that was written by Christ’s appointed messenger to the Gentiles (Paul, in this case), and the God-breathed message from the Christ-chosen apostle is firm: we are severed from the law, having died to that which we were bound.

To reject this truth is common. So common in fact, that the rejection seems normal. It seems, by observing the majority of Christian teaching, books, commentaries, radio shows, television shows, etc., that the normal Christian life is to live by rules, precepts, principals – law.  But friends, normal is the wide gate.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” (Matthew 7:13)

Normal is not God’s way. It’s man’s way. All religions, including the Christian religion, have one thing in common: humans perfecting self to obtain something from God. This way is the wide gate. Jesus is the narrow gate, and it is through Him that we have our access to our Father.

“for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.” (Ephesians 2:18)

Perhaps it seems harsh to class Christians who live by rules and precepts with unbelievers of other religions. After all, this is the age of tolerance, is it not? But this is Paul’s doing, and if we desire to be obedient to Christ’s message, sent through one of His chosen apostles, as opposed to our books, TV shows, radio shows, commentaries, schools, pastors, churches, bishops, elders, popes, then we must repent – change our mind – and form a new opinion that is aligned with God’s opinion. It may seem harsh, but that’s because the consequences of legal living are severe.

Regarding tolerance of the many opinions and teachers within Christendom, Paul chided the Corinthians with a little sarcasm when he said this:

“I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.  Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise!  In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!” (2 Corinthians 11:16–21)

As for the consequence of the Christian’s legal living, Paul wrote this:

“You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:4)

This is harsh and intolerant language, and it is both of these things because the consequence is dire! To seek to be found worthy before God in rule-keeping is to be severed from Christ.

Look, if we vacation in the Middle East and are found by ISIS, and they sever our body from our head, we won’t be coming home to tell our friends about our experience. We won’t be coming home at all. Severance un-joins what was once joined.

Just as the head has no benefit any longer for the body once it has been severed, so  it is also in union with Christ. We are, through our reliance on rule-keeping, severed from Christ and He is no longer of any benefit to us:

“Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.” (Galatians 5:2)

And if we think Paul is speaking only of our experience, we have to consider why he also wrote, “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19). To live by the rules apparently shows that we missed something so great that we may need to examine ourselves to see if we are indeed in the faith. We cannot be both in the faith of Christ and in the religion of Christianity. The two are mutually exclusive!

So while Romans speaks of being severed from law in union with Christ in His death, Galatians mirrors that truth and speaks of being severed from Christ in trying to live the Christian life by law.

Seeking to be justified [made righteous, blameless] in Christ cannot coexist with seeking to be blameless through adherence to rules, commands – law. Justification is not only about coming into faith initially, but also about continuing in faith in living out our lives. Man’s theology makes the doctrine of justificationsalvation event. But for Paul, justification was an “any time” event that always had to be based in Jesus. Justification is for now!

You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? (Galatians 3:1-5)

So we find then two truths that are paramount to our life in Christ, as well as our experience of that Life.

1. Union with Christ in His death = severed from the law.
2. Walking in law after being united with Christ = severed from Christ.

Who is the Least among Us?

Sheep

Things I wonder about…

“I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Luke 7:28)

Luke records Jesus speaking of John the Baptist and how great he was — that no one was greater than John, except the one who is least in the kingdom of God.

Every time I read or think of this passage lately, I can’t help but wonder who the “least in the kingdom of God” is, exactly. We all know that the greatest ‘man’ in heaven is Jesus, but who is the least? The obvious answer is that it’s any believer alive after the establishment of the New Covenant via the death of Jesus.

Yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if when we get to the other side of eternity and have chance to take a roll call and filter out the Greats, the Mediocres, the Not-So-Greats and the Leasters, that we find — least among the least — Jesus.

Before the rocks start flying, hear me out.

Who is the greatest of us? Isn’t he the one who has become servant of all? (Luke 22:26-27) Isn’t God’s way of measuring greatness wrapped up in meekness? (Matt 5:5) Is the Messiah only the Lion, or is He also the Lamb of God? When we read the prophecy of the Messiah in Isaiah 53, do we find Happy-Smiley-Calvin-Klein-Model Jesus, or do we find that he’s normal in appearance, in fact, nothing special in appearance, and even that people are so ashamed of Him, they look away.

And what did Jesus do for us? Didn’t He become sin, so that we would become the righteousness of God in Him? (2 Cor 5:21) He took our curse and became a curse for us. (Gal 3:13) He died a shameful death for us, in our place. And, isn’t the message of the cross foolishness? (2 Cor 1:18) Isn’t God’s wisdom foolishness? (1 Cor 1:25)  Didn’t the spotless lamb take our spots and our burden for us?

After reading scripture, we have to conclude something about God — something very strange to us — that He often works ‘backwards’, doing things that make absolutely no sense to us at all!

So, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get to heaven and find Jesus there, in the place of the least, and when we see Him, we fall down in front of him, casting our crowns of righteousness at his feet, saying with John the Baptist, “Behold the lamb of God who took away the sin of the world!” And in honor, we prostrate, lowering ourselves in His presence and exalting Him to be the greatest of all, the One who is worthy.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we go loose in the knees seeing how God’s economy works, because God is great that way… in the way that He is so magnificent beyond comparison yet humbles Himself below what some deem respectable. Good people say stop right there, enough is enough, retain some dignity for yourself Son of God! But God goes Low! So low that He didn’t consider being an angel but a lowly man, and not just a man, but a baby. And he wasn’t a baby in a King’s house, but in a house shared with farm animals on the outskirts of a little village that didn’t even have a Starbucks.

This is what the world doesn’t understand when it mocks Him; they see God as a bully, demanding and punishing when He doesn’t get His way. But for those who have come to know Him, His way of doing things, His backward way, is exactly the thing that breaks us — the thing that finds its way into the dark crevices of our hearts and explodes inside with joy and love and kindness and humility — great things. Lowly things. Things that make hurt go away. And in this we are filled with a growing knowledge of Him that is both able to be known and at the same time so great that it’s inexpressible. We look at our Servant who has become the least among us and we cry out immediately in contradiction, “No Lord! We will lower ourselves and exalt you, for you alone are worthy!” (Rev 5:8-12)

“But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
(Luke 22:26–27)

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
(Matthew 5:5)

“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:1–12)

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
(2 Corinthians 5:21)

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us — for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE” —”
(Galatians 3:13)

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
(1 Corinthians 1:18)

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
(1 Corinthians 1:25)

“And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!””
(Revelation 5:8–12)