Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
There are times in each of our lives where we might be holding unforgiveness towards someone else. If you take that statement at face value — “If you don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive you” — it would mean there are unforgiven sins in your life. If there are unforgiven sins in your life, and you were to die without them being forgiven, then I suppose you would be separated from God forever, wouldn’t you? At the very least, we would be in big trouble even in this life if God looks at us and sees unforgiven sins.
Not surprisingly, this teaching creates a lot of anxiety among Christians. Others might preach at us and tell us we ought to forgive. They make it sound so easy. But it’s not easy. All of us have been hurt by others; some of us severely. We do people a disservice by heartlessly pounding on them to forgive those that have injured them, and it can be even more heartless when we use Bible verses to pound them with. How much greater is the damage when our teaching causes people to feel that God rejects them because they have been unable to forgive others for inexcusable actions.
However, we still need to make good sense of the Bible’s teaching on forgiveness, because the difficult verses in question come from Jesus Himself. Jesus says at the end of His model prayer (that we’ve called “The Lord’s Prayer”),
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 you your transgressions. Matthew 6:14-15
If we read those words alone, then it seems like game, set, and match. How could we come to any other conclusion than to believe that our forgiveness totally depends on our forgiveness of others? However, we must never forget that verses must never be interpreted on their own out of context, but must always be interpreted in light of the whole Word of God.
Jesus did say those words, but let me remind you again of the need to consider when Jesus was speaking, to whom He was speaking, and what he was doing. Those are things you have to remember whenever you interpret the Scriptures. Not everything Jesus said is to be applied to you personally, because everything changed at the cross.
TAKE A FRESH LOOK AT THE SCRIPTURES
When Christ died, the Old Covenant was made obsolete, and the New Covenant was brought into existence. The night before He died, Jesus took the cup and passed it, saying,
This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. Luke 22:20
Covenants in the ancient world were almost always inaugurated by the blood sacrifice of an animal. That practice was similar to a contract today being put in force through signing on the dotted line. Jesus was indicating beforehand that His death would bring into reality the long-promised New Covenant. This New Covenant is both different and superior to the Old Covenant, the Law of Moses:
But now He [Christ] has obtained a more excellent ministry, by a much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant which has been enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. Hebrews 8:6-7
This means that Jesus’ death not only inaugurated the New Covenant, but it also simultaneously brought the law, the Old Covenant, to an end:
When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. Hebrews 8:13
I can’t overemphasize the importance of getting this: When Jesus taught, He was speaking according to the law to people living under the law. Whenever you read the words of Jesus recorded in the gospels, you must keep this in mind. When Jesus taught, “You must forgive in order to be forgiven,” He was magnifying the demands of the law in order to provoke people to understand their need for Him as Savior. But when He died, was buried, and rose again, the New Covenant was inaugurated by His death, and things changed.
That’s why you read in later New Testament writings a different order of reasoning. First, the New Testament teaches us that we are forgiven already:
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace. Ephesians 1:7
When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions. Colossians 2:13
Then, on the basis of the forgiveness we have already received, the New Testament urges us to forgive others — but notice the change in order:
Be kind to one other, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Colossians 3:12-13
Do you see the distinction there? Before the cross, the Bible says you forgive to be forgiven. But after the cross, the Scripture teaches that we forgive because we have been forgiven.
CLARIFY YOUR THINKING
The idea that if you don’t forgive others God won’t forgive you is an Old Covenant teaching, even though we hear it from the lips of Jesus. It was prior to the cross, which is where the law ended. Why did the Lord teach it? Because He often held up the law to raise the awareness of sin in the people’s hearts, so that it would pave the way for them to recognize their need for a Savior. By His death, burial and resurrection, He accomplished the work, and the good news is now preached in His name.
Today, to tell someone that if you don’t forgive others God won’t forgive you is to tell a lie. That’s not applicable in the New Covenant. The truth is, we forgive others because we have been forgiven. As I acknowledged in the beginning of this challenge, forgiveness is often difficult, if not impossible for us on our own. We need supernatural power to find forgiveness in our hearts. The best source of that power is a heart that has been changed by first receiving the amazing grace and forgiveness of Christ.
(This blog is one of the chapters in my new book, 52 Lies Heard In Church Every Sunday (And Why The Truth Is So Much Better) You can order a copy by going to this link:
Friday, November 25, 2011
Through every difficulty, failure, or triumph my daughters experience, they are still in Christ and have everything because of it. My wife, Sarah, and I work to keep that foremost in our thinking and approach. We work to keep that secure foundation in our girls’ thinking as well. And we’re careful not to send them any confusing, false message that tells them they don’t already have everything in Christ—they do! We want to be so positive about God’s grace to us that earning God’s favor and blessing remains something Jesus already did for them—and not something they have to do for themselves.
Some people will say we’re giving them a license to abuse the grace of God. We believe we’re holding them to His grace and keeping them in awe because of it. We’ll take the risk.
Consider Paul’s thoughts on this subject:
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Titus 2:11-14
What is it that teaches my daughters best? The grace of God. God’s grace is not only the condition in which we stand with Him but also the power by which He works in us. Knowing God and how well-off they are with Him through Christ works and teaches my girls to say “No” far better than any list I could come up with and drill into them.
(Excerpted from my book, “God’s Astounding Opinion of You,” chapter 12: “Aliens Have Landed—The Proper Care and Feeding of the Everyday Foreigners in Your Family.”)
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Here’s to fruitfulness.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
God is so good with sin. And failure. And frustration. And agony. And devastation. And depression. And lunacy. In all of it, He is in us. In all of it, we have Him—the Antidote. The Life. The Comforter. The Security. The Lover. The Promise. The Treasure.
He is with you. And He's delighted.
Monday, November 21, 2011
(This outstanding post is from one of my friends and heroes, Steve McVey. If you'd like to learn more and read more from Steve, you may find him at http://www.gracewalk.org/.)
"Why are so many Christians stuck in a cycle of condemnation and rededication? Because the truth is hard to believe: When God forgives, it’s a done deal."
After I became a Christian, I said the following prayer hundreds of times: “Dear Lord, I’m so sorry. I want to ask Your forgiveness for how I have failed You in my Christian life. Lord, You know my heart. I want to serve You faithfully, but I can’t stay on track. Help me, Lord, to live for You. With Your help, I promise to start doing the things that glorify You. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
Maybe the words varied over the years, but the essence of the prayer was always the same. It started with me groveling in self-condemnation, asking for forgiveness. Then came the rededication part of my prayer, when I asked God to help me keep my promise to do the things He wants. Sometimes I was specific about the stuff I vowed to do -- things like reading my Bible in a year or getting up early to pray every morning. Once I even promised to not eat until I had verbally witnessed to at least one person. By the end of the day, I decided that a gospel tract left for the waitress could count toward that quota.
I don’t pray that way anymore. Every time I prayed like that, I sensed a gnawing awareness that it wouldn’t be long before I was praying the same prayer again. Yet I always had a heartfelt desire to please God. It finally dawned on me: I didn’t have a heart problem; I had a head problem. I wanted to keep my promises. I just didn’t know how.
In the last few years, God has begun to reveal spiritual truths to me that have totally transformed my life. These biblical truths will set a person free to live more effectively than he would with a lifetime of rededication prayers.
1. Realize that you can’t keep your promises. That may seem like a strange first step toward the goal of keeping promises, but it’s true. Miss this one and it’s like being told you didn’t touch first base when you come across home plate. Consider this question: If we could keep our promises, wouldn’t we have done it by now? How many times have we made the same promises? Let’s face it, rededication to keep promises won’t work. If it did, we wouldn’t find it necessary to keep rededicating ourselves.
Many of us have struggled with promise-keeping for one reason: We have focused on our performance more than on Jesus Christ. We have tried to keep our promises, but the Bible teaches that effective Christian living doesn’t come by trying. It comes by trusting Christ to express His life through us. He is the only One who can successfully keep promises. Before we can be effective promise keepers, we must become promise receivers. The Bible is clear about God’s promise: the One who has given us His life will be the One who lives it for us. Only Jesus Christ can effectively live the perfect life. He lives inside believers today and wants to reveal His perfect life through us (See 1 Thess. 5:24; Gal. 3:3-5).
2. A godly identity, not good intentions, must sustain our lifestyle. My own prayer of rededication always focused on my sense of sinfulness and my perceived need of God’s repeated forgiveness. Many men regularly pray to receive God’s forgiveness. We sometimes feel like there is a bad guy deep within us who is eager to come out. We ask the Lord to help us, hoping to suppress that “old man” so that he cannot have his way in our lives. But we fail again, either by doing what we should not have done or not doing what we should have done. And so we conclude that the “bad guy” within us has escaped our control and must be put back in his place. Then, once again, we seek forgiveness and recommit ourselves to keeping various spiritual disciplines.
This scenario sounds logical, but it is far from the teaching of the Bible. You don’t have a “bad guy” deep within you. To the contrary you are righteous at the very core of your being (See Rom. 3:22). The Bible refers to us as “saints” 63 times. God would not call you a saint if you were rotten at the core. At the cross, God took our old sin-filled spirit, with which we were born and crucified it (See Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:3; Rom. 6:6). He then placed His own life into us, imparting to us His nature (See 2 Pet. 1:4). We now have a new identity. God did not simply change us; He created a brand-new person (See 2 Cor. 5:17).
When we live independent from Christ, we are doing what Paul called walking “according to the flesh” (See Rom. 8). In other words, we sin. We then see that our sin is not consistent with who we really are, but only how we function when we are not depending on Christ to animate our lives. So it is possible to behave in a way that totally contradicts who we really are.
The Bible teaches that we are righteous by nature (See 1 Cor. 3:16-17; Eph. 4:24). When you believe that fact, it will begin to totally transform how you live. You will find yourself practicing godly behavior, not because of disciplined determination, but because that is how you want to live -- and because freedom from condemnation opens the door to God’s power. You will not act out of good intentions, but from a godly identity. Ultimately, people behave according to what they truly believe.
3. Experience the freedom of forgiveness instead of the curse of condemnation. My rededication prayers often began with the words, “I’m so sorry. I want to ask Your forgiveness.” I believed that it was by my continuous confession that I maintained a righteous standing with God. Much of my time was spent begging for forgiveness. Even when I could not think of any unconfessed sin, I thought that surely there must be covert sins down in me somewhere.
Like many today, I believed that when I was saved God forgave me for all the sins I had committed up to that point. Then it was like He deposited forgiveness in a heavenly account with my name on it. From then on, every time I sinned all I had to do was make a withdrawal by asking for God’s forgiveness. If I asked, He would forgive. Until then, I was unforgiven.
That perspective puts a person in a bad predicament. If remaining in a state of forgiveness depends on one constantly asking to be forgiven, our focus must be on ourselves at all times. After all, what if we sin and then suddenly die before getting forgiveness again? It’s hard enough to keep up with the wrong things you might have done, but to never miss doing something you should have done? Talk about pressure!
The liberating truth of the New Testament is that we are totally forgiven. God did not deposit forgiveness in an account for us at salvation. Because of the cross, He emptied the whole account on us! God is not restricted by time. He saw the sins of our whole lifetime and placed them upon Jesus at the cross. God has poured out forgiveness for the sins of a lifetime upon us. One might ask, “Do you mean that our future sins are already forgiven?” That’s exactly what I mean. Remember, when Jesus died for our sins 2,000 years ago, they were all future sins.
This is where God’s grace can seem absurd, even scandalous. After all, if all future sins are already forgiven, why not just go and sin all over the place? But the amazing fact is that, when we receive forgiveness as a finished work, it has the opposite effect. We see ourselves as the forgiven “new men” that we are in Christ, and we set our minds on that fact. The love of Christ expands within us, and He motivates us and empowers us toward a Christ-like life.
We are called to utter dependence on Christ, completely living by faith. It is humbling. But without it, we will never really know where we stand with God. When we stay in that place of certainty in Christ, the works of righteousness will burst forth. It will move us to repent (change our minds and our behavior) when necessary, confess our faults to others and seek forgiveness of people we have wronged. In other words, we will grow in living a life of love.
This ancient truth will sound new to some, because certain scriptures have been misinterpreted which weaken the truth. We have often blurred the lines between the Old Covenant (before Christ’s death) and the New Covenant. When we cross that dividing line and embrace New Covenant grace, we will discover how radical His grace really is.
The reality of grace is what sets Christianity apart from all other religions. It is the truth that Jesus spoke about, a radical forgiveness that enraged the Pharisees but delighted the humble and needy follower.
So if we want to keep our promises, we must start trusting. Let us choose to enter God’s rest and receive His love. Then we will discover that we begin keeping our promises, not because it is our duty, but because it is our delight.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
If you agree with the enticing combo of God’s standards and the side dish of you keeping them, something sinister will always happen—always. “Thou Shalt Not Covet” immediately stimulates another law in you which invariably produces wretched living—invariably. That means “no exceptions.” (Romans 7) However, God’s grace to us in Christ’s death and resurrection has set us from The Law and the other law of sin and death (the combo). We have been set free from the life-goal of attempting to manage ourselves, and are released to life by God.
If now you set your mind on obedience (“I must! I must!”), you will express flesh, in all of its deathly ugliness. Invariably. (Romans 8:5-8) On the other hand, if now you set your mind on the Holy Spirit and His task of revealing the gospel of Christ Jesus to you and in you, growing faith in Him will produce the life you were always meant to enjoy and express—Christ’s life. It's the new combo. (Romans 8:9-11)
What will that be like? You will delight in an abundance of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Everything you most want will be produced by Him in you. It's fantastic. And shouldn't it be?
So since we live by the Spirit and His work of revealing Christ to us, let’s stay in step with the Spirit, and we won’t satisfy the “I must!” cravings of the flesh in the old combo.
There’s a new law.
Friday, November 18, 2011
"As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!" Gal. 5:12
Thursday, November 17, 2011
God has made His home in you and in me, and He will never, NEVER withdraw Himself or forsake us. He has made us righteous royalty in His family, and even if our radiant robes should drag in the mud of this world, like the father of the prodigal, He will never lawyer-up and prosecute us for waywardness or distant country visitations.
Monday, November 14, 2011
(Here's a brief review of the summertime movie, The Tree Of Life, which I just saw last night with my home church group.)
Nearly 24 hours after seeing it, I’m still thinking about the movie. Afterwards, I immediately liked the first half better than the last. I was very moved and kept thinking, “Oh, God, what is man that you are mindful of Him? You created the heavens and the earth and are right now sustaining all of life—and still you are with us.”
I found the second half difficult to watch. . .and then I began thinking about it in the middle of the night. I was deeply moved all over again. The wife and mother signifies grace. She is secure and loving and far from judgmental while fully involved in her son’s lives. Her family thrives from her involvement. She has nothing to achieve—only to love and share. The husband and father signifies living by the flesh and the futile attempt to achieve a life apart from Christ. He is terribly insecure because there is always something he has to do, something he has to accomplish. The difference between the two is stark and stunning. When the father leaves on an extended trip, the whole family emerges healthy and vibrant and full of love and grace for each other. When he returns, everyone tenses and returns to living by instruction and the fear of failure. The difference is amazing. . .and uncomfortable.
I felt deep sorrow for the husband and father, who tried so hard to teach and shape his sons and wife—even for their good, or so he believed. Each measured attempt added distance to their hearts until love, given and received, was lost amid the classroom that had become their family life. They became disconnected, and intimacy lost exploded in frustration and anger amongst them all.
I’ve seen that before.
The end was pretty great. The truth—that we have no kingdoms to create, no castles to erect and guard because God Himself is Planner and Creator and Sustainer and Fulfiller—beautifully dawned upon each person. Rest had always been available, but was now accomplished. They got it. I think I did too.
So now I really like the movie. A lot. I’m going to watch it again and I suspect I will like it even more. Maybe make it onto my Top Ten list.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
I hope you've had a great weekend. . .After this, it's on to more serious stuff. Right?
Friday, November 11, 2011
What a wonder that is.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
In case you're interested in Christianity and growing in Christ, here's a link to an excellent resource. Furthermore, the ministry has published one of my articles: "Never Beggars." Click on the link, and off you go.
Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection was not God’s Plan B. He didn’t make something up because we messed up. Jesus was always the Lamb slain before the foundation of the earth. God’s plan is right on time—always. Even today. Even for you.
Sunday, November 06, 2011
Saturday, November 05, 2011
Friday, November 04, 2011
Thursday, November 03, 2011
We have become all-together different creatures. Not only does God have no record of our sins, not only does He not impute them to us, not only has He made us as having never committed them; He has made us as having always done everything right. “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).
Here's a great resource, but only if you're interested in Jesus and the incredibly fantastic things He's done for you through the cross and resurrection. Plus, something I've written ("A Shuffling Ninja") is the featured article.
Have a look. http://www.lifetime.org/2011/11/a-shuffling-ninja/
Wednesday, November 02, 2011
Sons and daughters of God, rest and sleep as though you have never failed God or committed a single sin in your entire life, and you will be sleeping by faith in Jesus. Good night.
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21)
Tuesday, November 01, 2011
For those who don't know what I do for my real job, you can find out at http://lifecourse.org/. I'm a speaker (you'll find video and audio messages from various churches and locations on the "Downloads" page), author (click "Ralph's Book" to find out about "God's Astounding Opinion of You"), and sometimes pastor (click "What We Do" or "Face To Face"). And if you'd like to have me speak to your group or church, click "Schedule Event".