Saturday, January 29, 2011
Monday, January 24, 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 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 clicking this link:
Friday, January 21, 2011
Have you ever thought that God is a show-off? I’m pretty sure He is. It’s a sort of divine hobby for Him. And He’s not going to stop anytime soon.
God wants everyone and everything to know how incomparably good and capable and faithful and loving and perfect He is. Why? So the truth about Him will be known, and so everyone will want Him—and get everything they’ve been looking for and everything they need. He is the source of life itself, and He has designed us to find all of our longings for life satisfied in Him.
Figuring that out is difficult, I know! There’s so much that offers fractional satisfaction. A clear sign that I’ve been looking for satisfaction in the wrong place is that I fall to the ugly suggestion to pretend I’m satisfied. I hate that.
Fortunately, you and I are still God’s workmanship, which means He’s going to convince us—over and over and over again—that He is amazing toward us by doing good to us. And, much as I don’t like my many slips and repeated neediness, still His over and over and over again display isn’t a bad thing, at least not for Him. Sometimes I think I’m the vacuum of neediness—“Lord, please rescue/restore/renew me again!” And He does. And His riches are on display in me. Who sees? Everyone and everything, and all those watching on the big screen in heaven. “Wow. Look at God. He’s incredible with Ralph.” And with you.
"And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus." (Ephesians 2:6-7, italics mine)
If you’ve been suspicious that God has you on display, it’s not because He’s asking you to be a good example for Him. He’s bragging on you because He’s made you a good example of Himself.
Brag on, God.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
You’ll never have to wonder if God is with you. Never ever. In fact, he thinks you’re with Him. It might be difficult to imagine that, seeing as how it’s from His point of view, which might be a tad better than yours. But go ahead. Imagine.
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:6-7
Think how secure you are, having taken your seat in Christ. Nothing to worry about, nothing to make happen—it’s all on Him because you’re seated. And what a view you’ve got.
Yeah, God did it, and that’s what He thinks of you.
What do you think?
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
While walking out the door on your way into the world this morning, did you think, “Well, here I go; God’s sacred mobile home into the day. . .”? No? If you did, you’d be right. Consider the following:
“Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” 1 Corinthians 3:16-17
See, sacred-mobile-homey? It’s true. God did it, and that's what He thinks of you.
What do you think?
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Religion suggests we become fascinated with the fruits and benefits of knowing God but not with the reality. It’s a despicable fraud, particularly when we were designed for the incredible reality.
If you’re dissatisfied lately (and I’ve found that common in post-holiday January), go for the simplicity of knowing God—that’s the goal that brings life.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
2 Cor 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Monday, January 10, 2011
(Here's a terrific post from a great guy I've "met" on facebook--one of the many friendships I have received from grace-minded people all over the world. It's about one of my favorite topics, Christ being formed in us, something I and others have called "The Immanuel Agenda." You may read more of Ole Henrick's posts by going to his blog at http://crossingtheriver.wordpress.com.)
It might seem to most of us that there are some inconsistencies between what the Bible say is the truth about us and what we experience in our daily lives. We learn that we are holy, righteous, and perfect from the Bible, but it seems to us that we are entrenched in a perpetual battle against temptations, mood swings, a variety of ordeals etc. We do not feel very holy when we lose our temper or are depressed.
It is in this context that the following verse makes a lot of sense and brings comfort to those of us who are confused by those seemingly inconsistencies between what we somehow know is the truth and our personal experiences: “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrew 10:14)
This verse contains a statement which at first inspection seems like a paradox. How can we be perfected in one instance and in the next instance we are in a process of being sanctified? As redeemed humans we inhabit two realms. We operate both in the invisible and the visible, the eternal and the temporal. These realms of course intermingle. We cannot separate them. However, in order to understand our predicament we will treat them as two separate spheres of influence.
From God’s point of view, that is, the eternal, we are perfected. We are holy and righteous in the invisible. Simultaneously we are in a variety of processes in the temporal something which the author of the letter to the Hebrews points out when he says that we are in the process of being sanctified.
What does it mean to be sanctified in the temporal? It simply means that our faith is exercised so that it increasingly is aligned with the facts of the eternal. Paul calls this process as Christ being formed in us. God moves us from being external beings to internal so that we ultimately find Christ in our center and not out there somewhere. In this process we learn to trust Christ in us as us, which signifies that we learn to trust His life in us and that He manifests Himself as us.
Our major challenge is our desire to do good, be good and establish an identity in which we can clothe us. We try keeping the law to be good, and make any effort to avoid evil. This means that we still derive our identity from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Our identity is in the beginning also tied other externals. I am a Baptist pastor. I am a preacher. I speak in tongues. I am a charismatic.
Those ties to the externals are quite powerful, hence God repeatedly have to shake our worlds so that we can come to our senses and leave those rudimentary teachings and mature into Christ, who is our life. I am not saying that God permits abuses and other evils to rear us. I am saying that he lets us fail miserably and encounter a variety of temptations so that we can shake off those external fixations.
Notice how the letter to the Hebrews is written. It deals extensively with how far superior the new covenant is compared to the old. The author goes to great lengths to accentuate Christ’s perfect work and in what ways it affects us. He very lucidly establishes our new standing with God and who we are in Christ on account of His finished work. Then he writes the famous faith chapter. The whole letter is permeated with the following idea: This is the truth, but you have to attain it by faith.
We are reared to think of sanctification in terms of conduct and behavior modification. We can ascribe this approach to the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It is evident from the Bible that our character and behavior is expected to change due to who we are in Christ. However, the Bible speaks in terms of fruit. Fruit gives rise to associations such as juicy, colorful, diversity, tasty, sweet and healthy. A single focus on conduct induces notions such as dull, empty, passionless, and uninteresting. Fruit is the Spirit! It is simply His life being manifested in us and this life derives from the tree of life, that is, Christ.
Those who have matured into Christ and ceased from their works are spontaneous, free, genuine, authentic, rough, edgy, un-rehearsed, un-prescribed. The resemblance between those free spirits and how God has created this earth is striking. Our planet is definitely edgy, rough, un-rehearsed and un-prescribed, but it is good (Gen 1). Those adjectives also very distinctively describe Jesus when He walked this earth.
It is on this backdrop that the Bible calls for spiritual judgment. Who we truly are can only be appraised spiritually as long as we are sojourners in this temporal realm where we daily are confronted with our human weaknesses.
Sunday, January 09, 2011
Unless I see myself as in Christ—as God knows me to be—then whenever inexplicably difficult and odd things happen I will wonder what's gone wrong and what I have to do to make things right. That means endless days of pressure. I'll see myself as separate from God, perhaps needing my inner battery charged up so I can then run off on my own to make things work right.
But I'm His vessel, and how things go around me are for the two of us, united forever, His life and ability at the ready. That’s how Christ is formed in me—it’s what I and others have called The Immanuel Agenda. That's the crucified and Spirit-filled life, and that's for me.
And if you're a Christian, it's for you. . .Hooray!
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
Growing up I learned that there were very desirable groups and clubs to which I could belong; Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Kiwanis, and baseball teams. Join those and fun was on the way. Good to go.
In college (Go USC!) I took the necessary steps to join another kind of group with benefits galore—a fraternity. Say what you will about “frats,” but I liked the idea and wanted in. Near the end of our probationary period, those already “in” began to make those of us not yet feel like we would never make it. In fact, after putting us through incredibly rigorous tests, they kicked us all out in a single night, one by one. Many of us felt like we deserved it, having failed the tests, but others were incensed at the seeming injustice.
Anyway, with great fanfare, they then welcomed virtually all us into the fraternity, telling us that the whole rejection had been an elaborate ruse. We had been redeemed, and were now bona fide members, all rights and privileges given. Hooray.
That was probably my first biggish lesson in redemption—I needed to be rescued, and I was. But that first exercise was nothing compared to the one I was to receive from God. That first lesson attempted to get me to believe I deserved rejection when, in fact, I didn’t—just kidding. You’re not bad enough for us to kick you out! Welcome! I was still the same, only now I belonged.
That’s nothing like biblical redemption. To the Ephesians, Paul writes, “In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (Ephesians 1:7,8; italics mine.)
To put it another way, in keeping with God’s staggering grace, He knowingly lavished upon us the grace of redemption. Of course! That’s how He is. We really were in bad, rejection-worthy shape. But God, Mr. Grace Himself, determined to show Himself through redemption.
Redemption means not only to be brought out of a terrible condition and fate, but also to be brought into an incredible condition and future. It’s similar to the word, “Justification.” This often used Biblical word means that not only has God made you so that you have never sinned (having put all of your failures upon Jesus, and treating Him as though He were guilty of them all), but God has made you as though you have always done everything perfectly (having given you the perfect righteousness of Jesus as your own).
Redemption means that never again will I be a sin-natured flesh bag on my way to hell, sins paving the way. Never again. Jesus has made me (and you) a son, a Spirit-born, Spirit-filled son of God on my way to heaven. No matter how it looks, no matter how I look, Jesus redeemed me because He took me into Himself. And in Him, I have redemption, the absolute and eternal forgiveness of sins. And I don’t minimize how great and terrible my condition and sins were—no! In fact, His lavished grace is all the more glorious in light of my previous terrible condition.
Look, I don’t particularly want to be the poster boy for Romans 5:20—“…where sin increased, grace increased all the more;”—but, frankly, I already am! I know pretty much what I was before redemption, a pagan-natured flesh bag on the road to hell, and I rejoice over what I have been made!
Forever and always have I been redeemed. Hebrews 9:12 says that Jesus obtained eternal redemption. To believe that is not only pleasing to God (“Hey! Ralph’s getting it—he believes!”), it’s a great exercise in my daily life.
Just call me Redemption’s Poster Boy.