Eternally Secure

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39)

The lyrics go, “No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand; Till He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.” I love the song In Christ Alone. Not just these words, but the whole song is so rich with the truth of the gospel. It was Christ alone who paid the full penalty for our sin in order to make us right with God. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross atoned for the sin that separated us from God. As a result, there’s nothing that can ever separate us from the love of Christ. No passage in Scripture makes this truth more clear than does Romans 8:38-39.

There will always be aspects of God and His work in salvation that we’ll never be able to wrap our minds around. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and inscrutable (beyond finding out) His ways” (Romans 11:33). When people think of salvation, sometimes they have in their mind that God does His part and we do ours, but that’s not the testimony of Scripture. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” It’s good for us that salvation is God’s gift and that it doesn’t depend on us, because if it did, we would surely lose it. Think about it, if we could earn salvation what would make us think we couldn’t lose it.

There’s another reason it’s beneficial that salvation comes by faith alone. Let’s face it; no matter our level of spiritual maturity, there are times in all of our lives when we don’t feel saved, times when we don’t feel like God is present. But just as feelings aren’t the basis of God’s truth, they aren’t the basis of our salvation either. Salvation is based solely on the objective reality of what God has done for us in Christ. To believe Jesus paid less than the fully penalty for sin for all time is to deny the truth of the gospel. There is no joy in that, there is no security in that, and lastly, there’s no God in that!

No Hope, Without God…But Now

“But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13)                                                                                                                                                  

In April, I began reading Ephesians. My plan has been to read the whole book every day for the month. The idea came from a friend who told me about an article written by John MacArthur on the topic of how to read the Bible for a deeper level of understanding. As I’ve been reading, Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 2:12-13 has been particularly meaningful. What the apostle is teaching in these verses is the unity and peace that exists in Christ. In context, he is teaching that the Jews and Gentiles are no longer two distinct groups, but are one “new man” in Christ. This is a pretty amazing considering the social and spiritual disadvantages the Gentiles had relative to the Jews. You see, the Gentiles weren’t part of the covenant community. They weren’t given a divine promise. They didn’t even recognize the true God. So, in fact, they were without hope and without God. But you know what, so were we.

Sometimes it’s easy to fall into a casual approach to reading God’s Word. It’s like we treat it as if it’s part of our “to do” list as opposed to an opportunity to meet with our heavenly Father. I believe this is particularly the case if we’ve studied the book or passage before. We assume there’s nothing more to be gained from it. It is true that a verse says and means only one thing, and it’s true that it says and means the same thing every time we read it. But it is equally true that the Holy Spirit is capable of taking God’s Word and impressing it upon our hearts in different ways at different times. That’s what’s happened as I’ve been reading through Ephesians this month. I’ve read Ephesians many times, but what has really struck me this time is that the Gentiles story is my story. And it’s also your story. All of us were without hope and without God. The Bible says we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). But then God intervened, and because of His mercy and grace, even when we were dead in our trespasses, He made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). Christ’s substitutionary death was not only for the Jew, but also for the Gentiles. It was for us as well. Christ’s death for us is the greatest expression of love ever known. It brought near those who were once far off. I believe the “But now” in each of our lives means even more when we realize our desperate condition apart from Christ. How can we truly appreciate grace if we’re oblivious to the degree with which we need it? God doesn’t love us because we’re lovable. He chooses to love us simply out of His own free will. The cross is the proof. Let us respond by loving Him in return.

Thankful

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

As part of our Thanksgiving service at church each year, we have the opportunity to hear testimonies of God’s work in people’s lives. At some point in the service we are always reminded that whether our current circumstance has on the top of the mountain or in the deepest of valleys, God is the author of both. The theme verse for this service is 1 Thessalonians 5:18.

Let’s face it; it’s easier to give thanks in certain circumstances than others, but God’s Word says we are to give thanks in ALL of them. What Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 has a tendency to strike us the same way as when James writes, “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). The call to obey is clear, but obedience to that call is easier said than done. In fact, without the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, it’s impossible.

Over the last couple of years, many of the testimonies in this Thanksgiving service have been from people dealing with difficult and often uncertain circumstances in their lives. But in spite of that, they testify to God’s faithfulness and grace. I always leave this service encouraged yet reminded that the problems I have aren’t really problems at all.

God’s love and faithfulness is threaded throughout the Bible. That love was demonstrated most clearly in the person of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul wrote about the importance of joy and contentment not being based on our circumstance, but rather on our relationship with Christ. He also demonstrated it in his life. Paul prayed less about a change in his circumstance, only that he would glorify God through whatever circumstance in which he found himself. He trusted that God could take any circumstance and work it for good. And though he may not have known why what was happening was happening, he knew there was a purpose behind it (Romans 8:28-29). So, when we give thanks during this year, let us remember how much we have to be thankful for. Let us remember that it’s not only on the mountaintop that God is faithful, but also in the valley. Let us remember that the Author of our circumstance has also written its ending. It is in that truth we rest our hope and give our thanks!

To Your Name Alone

“Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory” (Psalm 115:1)

God’s greatest desire is to be glorified. It was also Jesus’ greatest passion. G. Campbell Morgan once wrote, “The deepest passion of the heart of Jesus was not the saving of men, but the glory of God; and then the saving of men, because that is for the glory of God”. In church, we talk a lot about God’s glory, but the truth is it’s hard to define. The most common word for glory in the Old Testament is the Hebrew kabod, which means “heavy in weight”. In the New Testament it is the Greek word doxazo, which means “to magnify, praise or hold in honor”.

As humans, we are incapable of adding to or taking away from God’s inherent glory. However, we are called to respond to it. Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” God has done amazing things for us in Christ. By His grace, He has saved us. If we are to be about God’s glory, we must have as our central goal to make Him look as glorious as He is. We don’t do this privately, but in full view of the world. We also don’t do this in our own strength, but in the strength supplied by the Holy Spirit as we seek God in His Word.

Our God has done great things! Let us live and speak in such a way that honors the reality of who He is and what He has done. He deserves nothing less. Seek Him each day and let His light shine in you, never for your glory or mine, but always and only for His.

Being Christian

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

Mahatma Ghandi once said, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are not like your Christ”. When I first heard this quote, I was intrigued as to why Ghandi might have said this. What is it he doesn’t understand? The point the Apostle Paul is making in 1 Corinthians 2:14 is that non-Christians will never understand the message of the cross because it’s only the Holy Spirit that allows humans to comprehend its message.

Though Ghandi’s quote clearly lacks of a true understanding of what it is to be Christian, it does give pause for us as Christians to consider our witness to an unbelieving world. I think perhaps what he meant by his quote was that he sees no distinction between those who call themselves Christian and those who aren’t. Unfortunately, many have bought into the cultural definition of Christianity; a definition that has no expectation that a changed life follows a changed heart, a definition that fails to recognize that Jesus’ dealing with sin on the cross wasn’t so we would remain in it, a definition that expects God’s standards to conform to ours instead of ours to His. This definition not only falls short of the biblical one, it’s not even Christian.

On the other hand, it shouldn’t surprise us when non-Christians fail to understand or accept what it is to be Christian. They can’t. They may have their own misperceptions of what it means. They might even call it religion. Christianity has never been about the perfect Christian, but instead about trusting in the perfect Savior who made a perfect sacrifice for sin, Jesus. It’s about His faithfulness, not ours.

There will always be a disconnect between Christians and non-Christians. So don’t be shocked when you find the non-Christians comments to be antagonistic and their criticism great. We must minister as Paul urged Timothy when he wrote telling him to “not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting opponents with gentleness that God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to knowledge of the truth…” (2 Timothy 2:24-25). This may be a hard course, but it’s the right course. It doesn’t mean you deny biblical authority, compromise your beliefs or tolerate ungodliness. It simply means that you live out who God calls you to be, share the good news of Jesus Christ and rely on the Holy Spirit for the rest.

About Sin

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)

The fact that we are all sinners is clearly taught in Scripture. Speaking to both Jews and Gentiles, Paul spent the first two and a half chapters making the case that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Known as the Apostle Paul’s most theological letter, Romans spells out the whole of the gospel more than any other letter. It’s not an accident that in doing so, he began with sin.

There are two dangerous attitudes toward sin that we need to be cautioned against. The first is the attitude that shrugs off sin with words like, “I’m just a sinner; God knows that”. While we are sinners, and yes, God does know that, our attitude toward sin matters. God has commanded us to “be holy, for I am holy!” (1 Peter 1:16). A casual attitude toward sin never brings glory to God. A second dangerous attitude toward sin is an attitude that believes we are incapable of great sin. It is often manifested by judging someone else by saying something like, “I can’t believe what they did. I would never do that.” Be careful, we all have a sin nature and are capable of great sin. If you believe you’re not, you’ll be less likely to guard against it. The Christian life requires discipline. We must train ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7).

I once heard a sermon where a pastor in preaching to prospective pastors in seminary training said that if in their preaching they do not confront their congregation about sin, it not only brings into question their love for their congregation, but also their love for God. When your pastor confronts you with your sin, be grateful. He’s preaching the Bible. However, also know that the natural extension of confronting you with your sin is for him to tell you of its cure, Jesus Christ. It has been said that “the first act of faith is to believe what God says about sin”. It’s true. And what brings people to saving faith is what God did about it. He gave His Son to pay sin’s penalty. Have you placed your faith in that truth? Jesus really did pay it all. He paid it willingly, perfectly and for all time. After such a display of love, how could we be so casual about what Christ came to cure?

A Repeating Theme

2 Cor 5 21

A theme is defined as the main thrust of what is being promoted, discussed or described. Its purpose is to help people remember the key messages or takeaways from whatever is being talked about. We find prominent themes used for many things such as movies, lectures and writings. We find themes in business, in advertising and in politics. We even find themes in the church as there is often a primary theme for each year, for individual sermons or a sermon series.

Of all the verses in Scripture, I’m not sure there’s a single verse that captures the overall theme of the Bible better than 2 Corinthians 5:21. Personally, it’s my favorite verse. I can still remember when I first grasped the meaning of this verse and the freedom that came with it. That Jesus was my substitute—that He would take the penalty for my sin so I wouldn’t have to just blew me away.

Sometimes in my writing, I wonder if I reference 2 Corinthians 5:21 too much. I wonder if because I love this verse so much, I force its use when it doesn’t belong, where perhaps it doesn’t fit the context of what I’m writing about. But the more I think about it, the truth is, this verse belongs everywhere. Its theme can never be repeated enough. That’s because these twenty-four words take us straight to the cross, the center of all that God has done for us.

There is no greater expression of God’s love than what we find at the cross. On the cross, Jesus not only took our sin, but also the guilt and shame that goes with it. There’s freedom in that, not freedom to sin, but freedom to live in response to His grace. I don’t think we can even begin to fully grasp the depth of God’s love, and for what He has done for us in Christ. Christ’s atoning work has saved us from an eternal hell our sin deserves. But more than that, He has saved us to a living hope, a hope we are to enjoy today, but also to look forward to in its fullness for all eternity.

Come and Rest

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Though the Mosaic Law served specific purposes for the Jews, its ultimate purpose was for them to recognize their sin and thus their need of Christ for salvation. The Pharisees, however, taught a sort of self salvation, the thought people had to do something in order to be saved. That’s not what Jesus taught.

A “yoke” is a wooden framework placed over the necks of animals to hold them together in order for them to pull objects. The idea of being under a “yoke” implies being under submission to another. Being bound by the demands of the law was an oppressive burden, a “yoke of slavery” for the Jewish people. In contrast, Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden light.

It is easy to fall into the false belief that we have to “do something” to earn or keep our salvation. It’s a heavy burden trying to do that. In fact, it’s impossible because salvation can’t be earned. The beauty of the gospel and the words spoken by Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30 is that they make clear the only way of salvation—by grace, through faith, in Christ. Salvation isn’t based on our religious affiliations, a certain set of rituals or our good deeds. It’s based on death, burial and resurrection. Jesus did it all. Honor and glorify Him by resting in His redeeming work.

Draw Near

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16)

The “Christ alone” message challenges us to let go of what comes most natural to our human nature— control. God appointed Christ to suffer and pay the penalty for our sin. It was a debt we couldn’t pay, but one that Jesus lovingly paid on our behalf. Christ has redeemed us, perfectly and for all time. All of salvation is by God’s grace, and it comes through faith alone in Christ alone. Jesus lived a life we couldn’t and He died a death we wouldn’t. We don’t have to add to what Christ has done because we can’t. Instead, we are to trust in His finished work.

As believer’s, our confidence to “draw near” is not because we’ve worked up enough goodness in and of ourselves to be worthy enough to draw near. No, it’s because Jesus, our Great High Priest has made atonement for sin and thereby opened the doorway to grace. It’s Christ who is worthy! So, let us do as the Hebrew writer says. Let us draw near to the throne of grace, and to the cross, the central symbol of all Christ has done on our behalf. We don’t have a God who is unapproachable, but one who calls us to come boldly and confidently before His throne knowing that it’s there where we will find mercy, ever flowing grace, and help in our time of need.

Why “Being Good” Can’t Be Good Enough

“All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 10:12)

I imagine all of us at some point have wished that “being good” was good enough to spend eternity with God. There are people we love that one day leave this world making us wonder if they ever put their trust in Jesus Christ. And even with the best of intentions, we wish God would grant salvation based on their “goodness”. The problem in wishing that is it’s not what the Bible teaches. To think otherwise is to misunderstand the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, to ignore numerous passages of Scripture and to read others out of context. Our beliefs must conform to God’s inerrant Word.

The Bible teaches that we’re saved by faith alone in Christ alone. That is the distinguishing characteristic between Christianity and all other religions. The Bible says that “none is righteous, no, not one” that “no one seeks God” and that “no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). And about our righteous deeds it says, they’re like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). God really is that holy and we all fall short of the perfect standard He set, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But thankfully, God didn’t leave us in that condition. By His grace, He has provided a way of salvation for us in Christ. Our stains have been washed clean by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13). Jesus willingly traded His righteousness for our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) and by His wounds we have been healed (1 Peter 2:24). This is the message we share. This is the good news. This is the gospel. Let these truths never be lost. Though perhaps we might sometimes wish salvation rested on our goodness, the Bible clearly teaches it doesn’t. Salvation results from one thing—trusting in the finished work of Christ, because, unlike us, He was good enough!