Thursday, May 25, 2017

Is there a ‘worst’ sin?

God does not think the same way I think. In my mind, the people responsible for bombs and destruction of young lives will suffer the very worst condemnation because that is such a horrible sin. But that is not what His Word says.

The big picture is that everyone sins because we are all sinners. Sin is going our own way, which can lead us to simple ignore God or far worse. Either way, sin is sin and not measured like we measure it.

However, John 3:16 is wonderful. It says God loves us so much that He sent His Son into the world so our sin could be forgiven and we could receive eternal life. Yet even this well-known verse has a caveat: God’s holy nature cannot tolerate sin and merely save sinners. Something must change — our attitude toward Him and toward sin. This pivotal point is about who we trust, not about sinning less and less.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:17–18)

“The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:35–36)

Today’s devotional from Donald Fortner is strong. He says that the greatest sin in all the world is the sin of unbelief. I agree. The Bible is clear that God can and will forgive any sin, even the worst we can do or imagine, but not that one. Since our salvation is based on believing in the Son, there is no salvation for those who refuse to do so.

Fortner says that unbelief makes God a liar. Unbelief says the gospel is a lie. Those who do not believe it have determined that the Son of God is not worthy of their trust. Unbelief exposes a prideful distain of God. It says, “I will do as I please. I will be religious (or not) as I please. I do not need Jesus.”

Here is where faith in Christ slams against my natural inclination. I assume horrid sins ought to fall under the wrath of God more than other sin, and normal people caught in the blast of horrid sin do not seem to fit in the same category. Human judgment assumes that those who do the unthinkable evils in this world are worse sinners than those who simply go about their lives without God.

However, this is not what Jesus said. Again, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God . . . Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

My eternal destiny is not about my sins of word and deed because they can be (and are) forgiven. It is decided on the basis of faith, on the basis of what I do with Jesus Christ.

The stock response is: “But what about those who have never heard of Jesus?” My response is: God knows the human heart. If a sinner acknowledges their sin and their need of salvation, God is perfectly able to reveal to that person whatever they need to know and believe. Evangelism is important, but it is also useless without the work of the Holy Spirit. In other words, God is not limited; He can save whoever calls out to Him.

Jesus, my desire for justice so easily overrides Your desire for faith. I know that folks who go deep into sin are abhorrent to You, but also realize that those who merrily go their way without giving You a thought are in grave danger as well. No matter if I rate sins on a scale — unbelief is the universal sin. Give me a broken heart for the lost, whoever they are, but also the ability to hope. Help me to speak up when I must, but to trust You — I cannot open hard hearts. Also, keep me aware that without You, we are all under the same condemnation, but with Your grace, whosoever will may come and receive the gift of everlasting life.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


The news feed on my computer allows me to select news concerning my interests. Besides world and local events, I’ve added specifics like ‘landscape painting’ and ‘modern quilts.’ Before our trip, I selected the city where we were going and was given tidbits of what was going on there.

Another news feed choice has been ‘Christian persecution.’ Most of it is horrifying but there are some positive reports. However, one report bothers me because it says Christians in North America are reporting persecution when there really isn’t any. This could be correct, but if people are reported to be exaggerating when they really are being persecuted, this seems to me just another form of persecution!

God does not intend that sincere people who live for Christ should suffer because of it, but He did warn us that this would happen. He also tells us how to respond:

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:13–17)

The Bible says we may suffer for doing good, but it should never be for the opposite reason. In other words, don’t earn persecution by being a jerk!

After reading this passage a few times, I thought of something else. It says I am to be prepared to give a reason for my hope. My reason is that God assures me of eternal life because my hope is firmly grounded in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His promises. I know that my best efforts fall short and there is nothing I can do to earn or deserve eternal life or any blessing from God.

However, on occasion I’ve asked people if they have assurance of eternal life and received this answer: “I am doing my best and just hope that God will accept me.” This is an answer to the same question, yet it is based on their reliance on their own goodness and a vague idea that God will honor them for doing their best.

It seems logical. Our fathers, teachers, mentors and many others tell us to “do your best” and that is all that a person can do. This may be true when it comes to baking bread, drawing a horse, riding a scooter, or acting in a play, but in the kingdom of God, my best is “like filthy rags” (see Isaiah 64:6).

No regard for best effort seems unfair, but compare the evaluation of my life to an omelet. Some of the ingredients are fine, but toss in one rotten egg and the entire omelet is ruined. Further, I cannot claim perfection; I know the rotten eggs are in the mix. Like any chef, God will not accept less than perfection. How could I worship Him if He did? My hope is in Christ, the only one who passes that perfection test.

This is the reason I need Him: He stands for me as my substitute who took my penalty for sin — and is also my righteousness who meets God’s standard on my behalf. In Him, I am made perfect.

“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” (1 Corinthians 1:28–31)

God does not honor those who do their best; He chooses those who are lowly and who realize they have no ‘best’ that measures up. God honors all who are in Christ Jesus. He is our wisdom, righteousness, and perfection, our only boast.

Comparing these thoughts, persecution becomes more understandable. No one who assumes they are good enough is likely to tolerate anyone who says otherwise. However, I’m not referring to people who preach ‘turn or burn’ and act as if they are better than everyone else.

It is easy to say ‘you have no right to tell me what to do’ to a jerk, but much harder to say ‘you do your best’ to a person who already realizes that salvation does not happen that way. Offensive people may experience that false persecution the news reports because they are smugly self-righteous.

On the other hand, those who live for Christ in the grace of the Holy Spirit often get the real persecution because they convict sinners of their pride. Those who are too proud to listen will try to turn off their voice.

Jesus, I need You to enable me to live as Your child. I need Your wisdom and grace, Your ability to draw people to Yourself. I don’t want to be a jerk who flaunts what You have given me as if I am somehow better than everyone else.  However, I also realize that if I am like You, truly like You, some will want to nail me to a cross.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A torrent of truth

This morning I woke up in my own home and for a few seconds was uncertain of where I was! How odd! Jet lag? Old age? Whatever the reason, it didn’t stay long even though I briefly felt disjointed.

This morning’s Bible reading is a few long sentences, short on punctuation and rich in truth. If read it too quickly, I need to go back and read it again because I lose my place and am not certain of the connections between the descriptive phrases. It makes me feel disjointed also, but in a very pleasant way . . .  

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:3–14)

As I read, it seemed a good idea to break this down into a cause/effect diagram. Out of that came this:

  • God-blessed in Christ –––––––––––– that I might be holy and blameless
  • Predestined for adoption –––––––––– to fulfill His will / to the praise of His grace
  • Redeemed and forgiven –––––––––––– to make known to me the mystery of His will: unity with Him
  • Given an inheritance in Christ –––––––––– to the praise of His glory
  • Heard and believed the gospel –––––––––––––––– sealed with the Holy Spirit . . . to the praise of His glory

The bottom line is that God saved sinners like me for the praise of His glory. All that He has done points to the wonder of who He is, the wonder of grace (God’s riches at Christ’s expense), the wonder of a plan made before the world was formed — to make rebels who resist Him into blessed, holy and blameless, sons and daughters who are redeemed, forgiven and united with Him, sealed for eternity — because He promised this is our destiny.

Jesus, what can I say? I understand Paul’s mindset when he wrote this. You woke him up to the truth of where he stood before You, and he could not help himself — the words tumbled out, a torrent of truth, a shout of the glorious reality of Your amazing blessings. He knew it; I know it. It is like waking up to the incredible reality that because of You, I am in a glorious place. I’m not physically with you yet, but Your Spirit guarantees that my home in heaven is a reality — to the praise of Your glorious grace!