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Tag Archives: The Gospel

The Deepest Book in the New Testament

Hebrews, that is.

Don’t you think so? The writer, Mr. Anonymous, is not exactly skimming the surface. After all, there’s the question of “Sabbath rest” and Moses and angels. There are high priests and losing your salvation (or not losing your salvation!) and solid food.

And don’t get me started about Melchizedek.

But what is Hebrews really about…really?

When you get right down to it, isn’t it about the Gospel? I mentioned in a previous post that the theme of this letter is, “Jesus is better.” And in the end, that means He is a better way of salvation. And long about chapter 10, this starts to become really clear…

  • the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near…    Hebrews 10:1 (ESV)
  • For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins…    Hebrews 10:4 (ESV)
  • But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins…    Hebrews 10:12 (ESV)

Here’s what I’m driving at – there are those who say that the gospel is only for beginners in the Christian life. That’s what I always used to think. You get the gospel, that Christ died for your sins, and salvation is by grace alone through faith, and then you move on to the deeper stuff, the important stuff, you know, the discipleship type stuff. Grace would therefore only be for entry into the Christian life…doing would be for disciples.

But if Hebrews is really one of the most challenging books in the New Testament, and if Hebrews is really all about the Gospel, then maybe it doesn’t get any deeper than the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Maybe the Gospel of Grace is the ultimate discipleship curriculum.

And as someone has said, maybe the Gospel is not the ABC’s of the Christian life, but the A to Z’s. Maybe the Gospel is really what life is all about.

Consider, as a last thought, Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones on the Apostle Paul:

“Here is a man writing at the full height of his maturity as a Christian, the great apostle to the Gentiles. At the very height of his experience he says, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ He has not left it to go on to some higher reaches. The cross is still everything to him. Why? Because, he has found that everything proceeds from the cross. It is the source and the fount of everything that he has as a Christian, everything that he has become, everything that he can ever hope for.”

For tomorrow, Wednesday, September 30: Hebrews 11

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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What Made Jesus Weep

One of the hardest things we have to do as followers of Christ is keep the reality of eternity ever before us. Heaven seems so glorious…yet so far away, and Hell seems so impossibly horrendous that it is hard to think sustained thoughts about either destination.

And since we have a hard time reckoning with the reality of eternity, we naturally have difficulty generating a concern for the plight of the lost. Oh, it hits us sometimes with force, but for the most part we are perfunctory about it – we know we need to share the gospel. We know we need to be faithful witnesses. We need to love the lost more dearly, but too often our hearts are cold.

Enter Luke 19.

It begins with the story of Zacchaeus, a short, rich man who was desperately lost, but who nevertheless had an interest in Jesus. Jesus knows about this, and invites himself over for lunch, and before the day is done, the Lord declares that we will be meeting the tax collector in heaven:

“Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.” Luke 19:9 (ESV)

And then Jesus gives us deep insight into his mission and purpose:

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10 (ESV)

We may have a hard time generating a heart for the lost, but Jesus did not as it was His very mission and purpose. And this same heart is displayed clearly when He finally returns to Jerusalem and surveys the crowd…

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it… Luke 19:41 (ESV)

Jesus loves the individuals (Zacchaeus), and He loves the multitudes, and so, as in all things, He provides a wonderful example. But Jesus’ example here (and elsewhere) can put us under the pile, making us feel guilty for not measuring up to His high standard…which of course, we don’t.

And of course, we never do. We fall short in our heart for the lost, and we fall short in everything else, but here is where we remember that our hope is not in Jesus as an example to us, but a substitute. As Christians we are “in Christ”, and our ultimate hope is that He is our righteousness. Our record is spotty, but His is perfect, and because we are in Him, not only does our sin go on Him at the cross, but His righteousness becomes ours, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21…

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

And here’s the wonderful thing, knowing that Christ’s perfect standard of righteousness substitutes for our sinful record fills us with a peace and joy that ultimately leads us to live more righteously, to serve more wholeheartedly, and especially, in the case of the lost, to love more dearly.

This is the message of Jesus, and that is the reason we call it…good news.

 

For tomorrow, Tuesday, July 28th: Luke 20

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Hurricane Katrina, the Hand of God, and Other Bad Ideas

Heavily damaged homes in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. One block behind these homes is the industrial canal that collapsed during the storm surge of hurricane Katrina.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 and the levees broke, there was more than one accusing voice which said it was the Bourbon Street sin that caused the hand of God to unleash on the city.

Did you know that Jesus spoke to this? He said, “Not so fast.” Of course, he didn’t mention Katrina – he referred to another disaster caused by a wicked ruler, and then this one…

“…those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:4, 5 (ESV)

It’s what some tend to assume, isn’t it? When natural disasters or 9/11s come, they come because of the sin of those affected, or in the case of 9/11, the particular sexual sin of America, as some Christian leaders espoused at that time.

But Jesus refused to say why such things happened. However, He did clearly say it was not the particularly worse sin of those who died. That’s very instructive. And it’s important to remember so we don’t look foolish by calling the sin of others necessarily worse than our own.

But what’s even more instructive is what he said we are to learn from it:

“Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

It goes without saying that everyone who heard Jesus’ sermon that day 2,000 years ago is long gone – so you see, here’s what the Lord is saying:

Your own Tower of Siloam is coming. Katrina will come to your shores. But it will likely not be a hurricane. Perhaps it will just be a very old heart that stops beating in the middle of the night or, then again, it might be the doctor’s cancer diagnosis. It might be a slick road and a car skidding out of control, but it will be a Tower for you. It will be a Katrina, a personal one…meant just for you.

And unless you turn from your sin, your personal tower of Siloam or your personal Katrina will cause you to perish…everlastingly.

In other words, the tower is leaning, and the storm clouds are gathering…

Therefore, repent, and believe the gospel.

For Monday, July 20th: Luke 14

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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A God of the Law…or a God of Grace?

I have mostly happy memories of church life growing up. From age 7 – 17, I attended the Antioch United Methodist Church in our hometown of Antioch, Illinois. To be sure, church services were boring – that’s not a happy memory particularly, but the people were nice. There was friendly Bob Olson, and elderly Betty Lu Williams, the former librarian whom we often gave a ride to church. I had friends like Steve Skidmore and Chuck Duha and Anne Schmidt. And as a family we rarely missed church. It was just part of life. I remember the smell of the place and the huge live Christmas tree we would have during Advent season, and especially I remember the minister – we didn’t call him pastor – we said “minister”, and our minister was a man named Steve Williams, who was there for almost all of my formative years. I called him Reverend Williams.

I think of Reverend Williams because of a verse in Galatians 3, where Paul writes…

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Galatians 3:21a (ESV)

In other words, how can you have law…and grace? How can God both require obedience from people and also be gracious?

Many religions, all of them, in fact, except Christianity, don’t teach that you can have both – God is either a law giving judge, or He is God of love, but He is not both. But we Christians put both characteristics together. But how? How can you have law and grace together? Perhaps you think that the way to do this is to be gracious up to a point; then you lay down the law. Or perhaps you start with the law, but you aren’t a stickler about it – you give in with grace.

But a truly holy God can’t give in to wicked sinners. So which do you go with? A God of love, or a God of the law? In answer to Paul’s question, the law surely seems contrary to the promises of God.

That brings me back to my old minister Steve Williams. Sad to say that Reverend Williams died in 2005, and his wife Jo quoted him in his obituary. “He always said there is always more than one way to get to the top of the mountain. In other words, there is more than one way to believe and do good works, to be a Christian or a good person.”

So Reverend Williams was a classic liberal theologian, and therefore, he would have loved to talk about the grace of God, but I doubt he gave much attention to the law. And you know why, right? In Steve William’s eyes, God could not be both wrathful against sin, and merciful toward sinners. He could not be a God of wrath and a God of mercy.

And yet, in the Bible, we see God depicted both ways. He is both a holy law-giver, and perfect in love. He is both a holy God with perfect standards, and a loving, gracious God who welcomes sinners. But how? Look at what Paul wrote in verse 13…

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us– for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”– Galatians 3:13 (ESV)

The solution is found at the cross. We were under the curse of the law, liable to the wrath of a holy, law-giving God against sinners such as us. But this same God sent His Son who took the curse on Himself, enabling God to be lawful…and the perfect God of love we also see depicted in Scripture. As Paul wrote to the Romans…He was just, and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus.

And there is no contradiction between God’s law and grace after all.

For Thursday, June 18th: Galatians 4

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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On Cutting Satan’s Throat and the Joy of Luther

Martin Luther, who married a former nun named Katherine, called Paul’s Letter to the Galatians,

“…my epistle. To it I am as it were in wedlock. It is my Katherine.”

High praise from a man who adored his beloved Katie, and Luther’s commentary on Paul’s letter to the Galatians shows his love. So today, as we start our reading of this wonderful letter in Scripture, I thought I would include 5 of my favorite Luther quotes (we’re just scratching the surface here) from the first chapter of his commentary on Galatians. (By the way, a FREE electronic version of the translation I used is found here. Get the Kindle app and download it to your computer or smartphone.) Now, let me say, Luther is fun. He was, after all the guy who said, “I fart at the devil.” And so there is lots of fun to be had in this majestic work that had a part in saving John Wesley, but also some serious words about the good yet despair-inducing law, and of course, glorious words about the gospel.

1. Help in dying (Galatians 1:4): “Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for picayune and imaginary transgressions, but for mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded, but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained.

Practice this knowledge and fortify yourself against despair, particularly in the last hour, when the memory of past sins assails the conscience. Say with confidence: “Christ, the Son of God, was given not for the righteous, but for sinners. If I had no sin I should not need Christ. No, Satan, you cannot delude me into thinking I am holy. The truth is, I am all sin…”

2. Dealing with the Devil (1:4): “If he says, ‘Thou shalt be damned,’ you tell him: ‘No, for I fly to Christ who gave Himself for my sins. In accusing me of being a damnable sinner, you are cutting your own throat, Satan. You are reminding me of God’s fatherly goodness toward me, that He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. In calling me a sinner, Satan, you really comfort me above measure…'”

3. On the German people (1:6): “At first we Germans are very enthusiastic, but presently our emotions cool and we become slack. When the light of the Gospel first came to us many were zealous, heard sermons greedily, and held the ministry of God’s Word in high esteem. But now that religion has been reformed, many who formerly were such earnest disciples have discarded the Word of God, have become sow-bellies like the foolish and inconsistent Galatians.” (Unfortunately, Luther was a bit of a racist, but you gotta love that sow-belly epithet)

4. About the church he pastored (1:6): “A man labors for a decade before he succeeds in training his little church into orderly religion, and then some ignorant and vicious poltroon comes along to overthrow in a minute the patient labor of years. By the grace of God we have effected here in Wittenberg the form of a Christian church. The Word of God is taught as it should be, the Sacraments are administered, and everything is prosperous. This happy condition, secured by many years of arduous labors, some lunatic might spoil in a moment.”

5. The importance of the Bible (1:11, 12): “God creates faith in us through the Word…Hence the best service that anybody can render God is diligently to hear and read God’s Word. On the other hand, nothing is more perilous than to be weary of the Word of God. Thinking he knows enough, a person begins little by little to despise the Word until he has lost Christ and the Gospel altogether.”

 

For Tuesday, June 16th: Galatians 2

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Examine Yourself to See if You are in the Faith

The question today is important: Are you a Christian? Paul instructed the church at Corinth to…

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 2 Corinthians 13:5 (ESV)

This is an extremely important question, and in a previous post, I offered one way of examining yourself, and now I offer an even better one. This test also arises from 2 Corinthians, and while the previous test was a question of works, this test is a question of trust.  In short, do you trust that the following verse is true for you…

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

Here is what Paul means: When Jesus went to the cross, Paul says that God the Father made His Son to be sin for us. This is not saying that Jesus became a sinner, but that he took on our sin. Every thing you and I ever did wrong, Jesus took on Himself and was punished in our place. This is the “gospel”, which means good news. And it is extremely good news because it means we are no longer held guilty because of our sin. Jesus substituted Himself.

But there is a second half of this truth. It is not only that we are to trust that He took our sin on Himself, but also that He gives us His righteousness. This is the part of Christianity that even some Christians do not understand. It is glorious that we are forgiven for our sin, but that would just leave us “not sinners.” No, even better, at the cross, Jesus does more than erase our sins; He also passes on His righteousness to us. We “become the righteousness of God.” This means that all the positive things that Jesus did in His life get credited to our account.

So not only are we forgiven, but we are also perfect in righteousness. So when the Father looks at us, he not only sees people who have not sinned, but He also sees people who have actively obeyed Him perfectly and He therefore can say that He loves us like He loves His very own Son.

If I may say so, that’s glorious. And this truth is also meant to be the fountain of joy and life for the believer.

So…do you believe that Jesus took your place of punishment on the cross? And do you believe that He has therefore given you His righteousness? If so, then you are a Christian. This trust or belief is the great test to examine yourself with, and it also explains why the first test  of whether you are living an obedient Christian life also works, because everyone who truly believes that Jesus has done this for them is also controlled (2 Corinthians 5:14) by this demonstration of His incredible love, and therefore sets about to live for Him. They are not perfect, mind you – none of us ever will be – but they have a full heart to love and obey Him the rest of their days.

 

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Turning Point In My Life, Conclusion

(This is part 3.)

What had I done wrong? What was my problem? Would I ever be able to go into ministry? And then, in a flash, the Spirit of God led me to 2 Corinthians 3:5…

“Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.” (NASB)

Now, I still had Jim’s word’s floating in my mind, “Prove yourself in the marketplace,” but in a moment I heard different words, not audibly, mind you, but real nonetheless…

“What are you trying to prove? What makes you think you can prove anything?”

In the future, I would look back on this moment as another precious time in my life when the clouds parted and I saw the sun, bright and clear and distinct. Suddenly I understood. In a flash, in a moment of time, everything was absolutely different in my life.

Of course – why hadn’t I seen this before? Undoubtedly, this idea planted in my brain that I should prove myself had some logic to it, a secular logic to be sure, but logic nonetheless. But logical thinking and biblical thinking are often, not always, miles apart. The idea of “proving myself” was actually full of pride, as if I was operating alone in life.

Just suppose that I had gone on to be a 6 figure salesman or regional rental manager. Operating under the premise I had adopted, I would have assumed that I had done it, that I was able, and I would have taken this convoluted thinking into ministry. That would have been a disaster.

Moses warned the people of Israel:

“Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth…” Deuteronomy 8:17-18a (ESV)

What makes you think you can prove anything?

For years I had labored to show myself “worthy” of ministry. Now, I understood that the only way I could ever be “worthy” would be under His power, whether that was the marketplace or ministry. I thought I needed to show myself adequate. But I had failed to remember that everything comes from Him.

2 Corinthians 3:5 was doing a work on my heart. I was not adequate, not to be a salesman or a manager, not to be a pastor, or to be a husband or a father…not to be anything. I was totally dependent on Him. And so, that day in Virginia I determined to make a change in the way I prayed. No longer would I ask God for “help”. “Help” was for bodybuilders who had done lots of repetitions but needed a friend to press the weight just one more time. “Help” was what the person asked for who was already doing 90% of the work, who just needed another 10% to get over the top. But I saw that I couldn’t even really muster 1%. I stopped asking Him to help me, and I started asking Him to enable me.

I walked that trail with a song in my heart and a glorious freedom that I hadn’t known for years. Never had I ever been more thrilled to find myself weak and unable. It was a sort of gospel déjà vu.

How so? In days to come, I would see that this Spirit-driven insight – I am unable – was simply another aspect of the gospel for day to day life. Paul wrote to the Colossians: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,” Colossians 2:6 (ESV) Inability was the one key insight I needed to come to faith – I am unable to live a righteous life. I am a sinner. Therefore, I am unable to please God…I need Jesus – His work on the cross and resurrection. But now I was beginning to understand that I was unable to do anything apart from Him. And just as the gospel freed me to rest in Christ’s righteousness, now this fresh view of the gospel freed me to rest in His power for everyday life.   Of course, I would still need to step out and work hard in whatever He called me to do, but now I had a fresh understanding that even this stepping out was driven by His power and grace, and certainly all the results were His as well.

The greatest blessing of that day? I saw that I no longer had anything to prove.

I began to think about how I should go into ministry.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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