Romans 3:10-12, Romans 5:1, Psalm 14:2-3, Genesis 15:6

Good News for Sinners

According to Genesis 9, Noah was a “righteous man” and that’s why God chose to save him and his family from the flood. Thus the natural conclusion is that if we hope to be saved from God’s judgment we too must be “righteous.” There was several others pronounced “righteous” in the Old Testament; Enoch, Job and Boaz are a few.  These three involved some kind of deliverance as well and it’s still natural to see that the salvation was dependent on their being “righteous.” I am hard pressed to count myself among “the righteous.” I know I’ve fallen short a lot of times in my life. Just yesterday I said unkind words to my wife and harbored ill will toward others. If I am to have any hope I have to understand the declaration of these people and others being “righteous” in a different way. If it doesn’t mean one must be righteous to be saved, what does it mean then.  Jesus, Himself, said that if we want to go to heaven our “righteousness must be greater than that of the Pharisees.”  Ouch! Is that what it means?

I’m so glad that it does not mean that any of these men, including Noah, were sinless. Clear passages in both the Old Testament and the New Testament make that clear. Paul quotes from the Old Testament in Romans 3:10-12 and says, “as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” He is quoting from Psalm 14:2-3. It says, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” Isaiah 53:6 also says, “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own.”

The cleanest resolution of this apparent problem can be reconciled by acknowledging a “declaration of righteousness” versus an actual living state of righteousness in the individuals. There is much Bible support for this as well. One of the strongest passages comes from the Old Testament. In Genesis chapter 15 we come to one of the high-water marks of Old Testament revelation, summarized for us in verse 6: “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” None of these Old Testament folks were delivered from their particular circumstance because they were sinless. No, it was because they had faith. This is played out in Hebrews chapter 10 as the writer goes through what we know as the “hall of fame of faith.” Each example explains that it was by “faith.” There is more doctrine from Paul regarding this truth. Romans 1:16-17 says, “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life.'” Then Paul points this truth at us! In Romans 5:1, he says, “Having been declared righteous, then, by faith, we have peace toward God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” If personal righteousness is a requirement for salvation, no one could truly have “peace with God.” That only comes when our faith in Christ gains a deposit of His righteousness into our bankrupt accounts. Only then, through faith, can I truly experience “peace with God.” This is why the Gospel is good news to sinners like me.

 

Luke 4:18-19, Colossians 1:13-14

The Fairy Tale is True

I loved fairy tales growing up. Still do. I especially enjoy good fantasy novels where the heroes overcome impossible odds to save the world from some evil, oppressive tyrant. As a young teenager, I couldn’t get enough of these stories. And I loved to daydream. Whenever I was bored, I would simply imagine myself as a hero in one of these tales, slaying dragons and rescuing princesses.

Most of these stories pretty much followed a remarkably similar plot structure. They begin in a happy kingdom, with a wonderful and honorable king who has a beautiful daughter and life is good for everyone. Yet somehow in spite of this, there is always someone in some dark corner who hates this king and has dedicated his life to finding a way to destroy him and his kingdom. Eventually, he accumulates enough power and resources to put his nefarious plan into action. Unable to attack this great king directly, our villain goes after his lovely daughter.

Upon realizing his daughter has been kidnapped by his enemy, the king puts out a call to his kingdom for a champion to step forward and mount a rescue. Once the news goes out, a valiant warrior boldly steps forward and vows to destroy this enemy and bring the king’s daughter back unharmed. He rides a great distance, braving the elements and the hardships of travel, to the very gates of this wicked tyrant behind which the princess is bound, held captive in a tower. The villain torments her with threats of impending doom, assuring her that everything she loves or could ever hope for is now forever lost to her.

The hero easily crashes through the gates, eager to climb the tower and rescue the maiden but upon entering the fortress, he is confronted by a beast so terrifying, no mortal man can stand against it. This creature towers over the champion, covered from head to toe with thick scales, teeth the size of swords, claws as sharp as spears, a whip-like tail, breathing smoke and fire, forged from the pit of hell itself. The warrior dismounts, draws his sword, and advances on the beast for not only did he make a vow to his king, but he is also deeply in love with the princess.

Hours later, the smoke clears. The ground is littered with bits of broken armor still smoldering from the brutal conflict as the figure of a man covered in blood and soot steps down from the carcass of the slain beast. Despite his broken bones and ribs, he makes his way to the tower and proceeds to climb, coughing up blood with every step. He reaches the princess with strength enough to break her chains, setting her free. How grateful the princess would be after seeing how much the hero suffered for her! Surely, she must know now, beyond a doubt how much he loves her and that she can trust in him completely.

I have come to realize that this story is in fact the story of my life, only not how I imagined it in my youth. In my daydreams, I was always the hero. I was fearless. I slew dragons and I rescued princesses. The king and his entire kingdom would celebrate me and reward me for my courageous exploits. What vanity! No, it turns out in this story, my true life story, I was the damsel in distress. I had been taken captive. I was being held prisoner and I was very much afraid. I could not even escape my own chains let alone fight my way past a towering hell beast. I was completely without hope.

But God sent forth a hero, His champion and Son Jesus Christ. At the beginning of His quest, He announces His purpose to the world in Luke 4:18-19 by reading from Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the downtrodden will be freed from their oppressors, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” Christ followed His reading with an announcement that this prophecy was fulfilled that very day. Yes, Christ himself was the hero sent from God to deliver us from our oppression and captivity.

The Apostle Paul confirms this in Colossians 1:13-14 which reads “For He has rescued us from the one who rules in the kingdom of darkness, and He has brought us into the Kingdom of His dear Son. God has purchased our freedom with His blood and has forgiven all our sins.” Through the sacrifice He made on my behalf, He demonstrated how much He loved me and I know I can trust in Him completely and am confident that my story ends with “and they lived happily ever after.” Like King David in the 23rd Psalm, I too can say, “Surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” The fairy tale is true!

James 2:10, Romans 3:23, John 3:19, John 19:30

The Double Good News!

D. James Kennedy, of “Evangelism Explosion” fame put the Gospel in these words; “Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead to pay the penalty for our sins and to purchase for us a place in heaven which he offers as a free gift.” I’ve used that sentence hundreds if not thousands of times over my 40 years of ministry. I never get tired of reviewing that truth in my life. There are two sides to the Gospel of Jesus and they are alluded to in Kennedy’s statement. Both of them are “Good News” indeed! First, Jesus died for my sins! He was perfectly holy and righteous! I am a sinner of a pretty bad variety. I don’t think I was as bad as some, but it doesn’t matter. If you’ve fallen at one point of the law you have fallen at the whole law. That’s the way James put it in 2:10: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” One blogger explained it this way, “If I break a speed limit I have broken the law of the land, if I murder I have broken the law of the land in the same way it doesn’t matter which of God’s laws you break you have broken his law and are guilty in his sight.” Wikipedia says that repentance is “sincere regret or remorse.” I disagree! I believe a biblical understanding of repentance is to acknowledge the reality of my own sinfulness. It’s not just admitting a particular sin, but acknowledging my true sinful nature. As the cliche puts it, “I owe a debt to God that I cannot pay! Jesus paid the debt that He did not owe!” That’s Good News!

The other part of the Good News as Kennedy states is that Jesus not only died to pay the penalty for my sins, but he purchased for me a place in heaven that is offered to me as a free gift that is received by faith. Just believe it! Sin disqualifies me for heaven. I must be perfectly righteous and that cannot happen of my own accord. My sinful nature guarantees that we all have fallen short of God’s standard (Romans 3:23). But the Good News of the second part of the Gospel is that Christ’s righteousness was put into my account. God sees me mercifully through the blood of Christ. One side of the Good News is that of God’s wrath for our sin has been absorbed by Jesus! The other side of the Good News is his undeserved grace that has been deposited in our account.  I am  justified! I am standing in a right relationship with God, not on my own merit or on the basis of what I have done but on the basis of what Jesus did.” Now that’s Good News too!

The Good News, both sides, are objective truths that stand forever. They are not dependent on me in any way. It’s not my effort, will or goodness that contributes anything to my eternal destiny. Jesus promised eternal life to those who believe (John 3:16) and God can never be unfaithful to His promise even when I am unfaithful in this life. This objective truth gives me joy! Not only does it comfort and encourage me, it transforms me from the inside out as only God’s love can do! Daniel Bush and Noel Due conclude their discussion about the Gospel being objective truth and not a subjective experience by saying, “Transformation occurs precisely because when the gospel is viewed objectively, we’re assured of God’s love located in the person and saving event of Christ, which is outside us—not dependent upon us. But if we view the gospel subjectively, God’s love is held captive to our emotions and becomes dependent upon our performance, which is never complete. Instead, let Jesus’ words from the cross echo in your heart: “It is finished!” (John 19:30).”

Galatians 1:3-5, John 1:13-14, John 3

Thy Will be done!

In the book of Galatians, Paul enters into battle with the religious experts who try to force a legalistic life upon the new believers. Right from the first few verses of this letter Paul makes clear that our relationship with God the father is by God’s grace.  It is God’s grace that saves sinners. He writes in Chapter 1, verses 3-5, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,  to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” It is a true gift as Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9, “it is a gift of God. It’s not of yourself. It’s not of works lest any man should boast.” But like the Galatians it’s so easy to turn from Grace to Works again. It appeals to our human nature and seems to be the default setting for mankind. Commenting on the radical grace of God Bush and Due write in their commentary, “The gospel’s radical negation of ceaseless striving and hard work is unfathomable to us. Our thoughts can’t produce it; our will doesn’t originate it. It’s otherworldly, ‘according to the will of our God and Father’ (Gal 1:4). Christ suffered not because we are worthy, or because we moved him to act, but only because it was the will of God.” They quote Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:23 then, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Their conclusion is, “It’s hard to imagine a statement better calculated to oppose the intrusion of human will in salvation.”

Many will argue that it’s human will that initiates our salvation and it’s human will that maintains our salvation. Yet John chapter 1 argues a more secure perspective on it.  John 1:12-13, says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” When Jesus talked to Nicodemus about what he needed for salvation, Jesus said you must be “born again.” But he was talking about a spiritual birth of course. Jesus explained it all: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.  Nicodemus said to him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

If it’s up to me and my weak will, i’m in a tenuous situation in my relationship with God. But since it’s not my will that saved me it’s not my will that will preserve me! I was a pretty rebellious teen at times and I often regret the things I said to my parents. But there was something truer than my feelings, desires, or attitudes that maintained my relationship with them. I could denounce them and say “I’m not your son.” I could even change my name if I wanted to and try to be somebody else. I could ignore my parents and live a life without any relationship with them. But none of the efforts of my will, attitudes of my mind, dispositions of my heart make me less my father’s son. There is a force greater than me that maintains the bond! That’s what it’s like for all those born of the Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ.  The older I get, the more grateful I become for this fact!

Luke 17:11-19

Praise God, I’m Healed!

In the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 17, we read a story I’m sure most of us are familiar with. Jesus is making His way south from Galilee to Jerusalem for the last time. By now, people everywhere had heard countless stories of Jesus’ many miracles and without a doubt, those with incurable ailments and diseases paid the most attention. As He enters a village on the border between Galilee and Samaria, He sees ten lepers crying out to Him from a distance “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Leprosy was a highly contagious life-threatening skin disease that had plagued the region for centuries.

When He hears their cry, Jesus shouts back to them “Go show yourselves to the priests!” To have been noticed by Him and given an instruction to follow was all they could have hoped for, and besides, showing oneself to a priest was something a leper did to demonstrate he had been cured. No doubt these men felt a hope they had not felt in a very long time. They quickly started out toward Jerusalem for in order to see a priest, you had to go to the temple in Jerusalem. Unless you happen to be a Samaritan.

And it just so happens that one of these ten lepers was a Samaritan. The Samaritans were reviled by the Jews who would go to great lengths to avoid any contact with them. The descendants of Jews and foreigners, they were considered unclean, half-breed, heretics who had rejected the priesthood in Jerusalem and established their own priesthood on Mount Gerizim. I can’t imagine what terrifying and conflicting thoughts must have gripped this poor fellow as he and his companions headed south. Would he leave them to go to his temple at Gerizim while the other nine continued on to Jerusalem? Since Jesus himself was a Jew, did this instruction to see a priest mean that he had to see a Jewish priest? Would a Jewish priest even see him? Would he even be welcome in the city of Jerusalem? Definitely not. If he saw his priest on Gerizim, would that be enough or was he now doomed to be a leper forever? He wanted to obey. In fact, his very life depended on it. But what should he do?

However, the men had not made it far when they noticed their leprosy had disappeared! The nine who were confident in the knowledge of what they had to do, continued on their way. In fact, they were beginning to realize now, that one of their number was an undesirable. As lepers they were all brothers, each an outcast from his family and his people, crying out in unison “Have mercy on us!” Now that they had been healed, there was only one outcast in their midst. It would not go well for them to be seen in the company of a Samaritan in Jerusalem.

The Samaritan however, upon realizing he had just been healed of his disease, also experienced immediate relief from his inner conflict and anguish over what he was supposed to do. This even greater burden had also just been lifted off his shoulders. It’s one thing to live as a leper because that’s just your lot in life; it’s something else entirely to be stuck as a leper forever because you made the wrong choice, you went to the wrong priest. Overwhelmed with gratitude, the outcast comes running back to Jesus shouting “Praise God, I’m healed!”

Jesus, as he so often did, brings the point home with his questions, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Why does only this one outcast return to give glory to God?” It wasn’t the healing of their bodies through an act of obedience that moved them to respond in worship and gratitude, otherwise the other nine would have returned as well. It was the healing of a man who knew he couldn’t follow Jesus’ instruction that produced a veritable tidal wave of worship and thanksgiving.

I’ve studied the Bible for years and I still don’t understand many of Jesus’ instructions. Maybe a lot of you feel the same. Is it not the greatest miracle in the world that Jesus gives healing to all who ask him without requiring us to understand and follow His instructions? When I reflect on that, I experience a peace and comfort that can’t be found anywhere else. It is not even possible to hold back the shout from my heart, “Praise God, I’m healed!” As Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, it doesn’t matter whether one travels to worship at Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim. True worshipers will worship God in spirit and in truth.

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