Monday, June 26, 2017

Where do I say NO?

God’s first ‘revelation’ of Himself is that He exists. The Bible tells how He does this: He puts eternity in our hearts; His creation reveals His glory and makes it plain:

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19–20)

This passage adds that people who refuse to acknowledge God exists are not thankful. Their hearts are darkened and their thinking becomes futile and foolish. They slide into deeper sin and are lost. At that point, what good would further revelation do if a person already rejects that He exists?

If a person believes that God does exist, this is good, but not a saving faith; even the demons believe and tremble. More revelation is required. This may involve a deeper understanding of who God is and what He does, yet eventually the most important concerns God’s high standard of righteousness and that we fall short. In this revelation, the Holy Spirit convicts people of sin. No one can get past this without agreeing with God.

Many will agree that all people sin, even that Jesus died for everyone, but when it comes to believing that “I am a sinner” and “Jesus died for my sin” there is resistance. A helpful illustration is to imagine everyone lined up on the west coast of the USA and given the task of swimming to Hawaii. Good swimmers might go several miles, but no one will make it; it is too far. So also is the high standard of God. Even the best ‘good’ people cannot reach it.

No person can be saved without agreeing that they need to be saved. Remember, God is not asking for a robot-like love. He wants our hearts engaged in saving faith. Saying no to our need of it will not produce it. Not only that, when God says I have sinned and I do not agree, I am calling Him a liar. What more can God say to convince me?

In today’s devotional reading, the author makes a difference between God’s general call to everyone, and His specific call to those who will be saved. He says the latter invitation is irresistible, but the first is not. Interesting, yet the Greek word used for ‘calling’ is the same, whether the invitation is accepted or rejected. In some mysterious way, people can resist the will of God. Jesus explained it this way:

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.” ’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1–14)

Some accepted, some did not. What makes the difference? Perhaps it is that reference to a “wedding garment” required for being at the feast. In those days, it was supplied by the host, the person who sent out the invitations!

John Piper writes that salvation is a combination of two things that happen at the same time. God reveals the good news about Jesus Christ to a sinner and as that invitation is heard, He gives us the ability to believe it.

That is, the gift of faith and the gift of eternal life are God’s grace. This does not happen to those who reject His existence, or who refuse to believe that they sin and fall short. Yet for those who do go that far, it is still outside of our ability to say yes to God’s invitation. We need repentance and saving faith — both gifts from God. At that point, these gifts are irresistible because we have already agreed with God about our deepest need.

Jesus, I’m trying to balance Your sovereignty with our responsibility. My efforts may fall short because the real question is why should You save anyone? Denying that You exist blinds us to see our sinfulness and need for You. Some of us will often fall and fail and fall and fail many times before admitting we cannot reach Hawaii by our own efforts. We often try over and over to please You, totally stubborn in our attempts to establish our own righteousness. Yet You are incredibly merciful. You keep calling, inviting, revealing, patiently saying, “Come to me . . . .” What a wonder that You should be gracious and change our NO to YES and transform us from darkness into light, from self-rule into Your kingdom, from lost lambs into Your children. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

He paid my debt and now provides all I need . . .

Sometimes the simplest illustrations are the most effective. Here is one favorite: a person ahead of you at the checkout offers to pay the bill for the person behind him. It is not his order or expense, but he takes it upon Himself to pay it and you can go through without owing anything. Your bill is paid.

This is what Jesus did for me concerning sin. He took what I owed and wrote it on Himself. Even though He owed nothing, He was willing to pay for everyone else, including me.

“You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” (1 John 3:5)
“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)
“That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19)

The purpose of Jesus paying my debt is kind but not merely so. His intention was that I might be free from sin and tell others the good news — that the sinless Christ pays our debt and reconciles us to God so we can serve Him instead of sin.

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:8–12)

 The simple reality is that I’m set free from the tyranny of only one choice — “my way” — and can now live my life “His way.” Yet to do that, I must abide in Him. How can my message of reconciliation be convincing if my life does not demonstrate that what Jesus did has had an impact on me? The fact is, it cannot. Besides, that effect on me is so important that God says it is the ‘proof’ that Jesus Christ has set me free from the power of sin.

“No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:5–10)

It is not that I cannot sin, but as a redeemed person, I now have a choice. Prior to Christ, my sin nature remained my only motivation. However, with Christ I can say ‘no’ to sin because of His power given by His presence in me. Now I have two motivations: my old nature of sin (dead to God and still wanting to run my life) and that new nature that can abide in His presence and practice righteousness.  

In other words, in Christ, I am set free from sin’s grip. In myself, I am a sinner. I cannot deny this, yet I also must declare the reality that Jesus died for me to take away my sin.

Jesus, forgive me for thinking at times that I am helpless and cannot overcome, but also forgive me for failing to abide in You and trying to battle sin on my own. Just as I cannot pay the penalty for my own sin (and remain alive), I cannot overcome the power of sin without Your grace and strength. Your Word says I can do all things through You, yet so often I stop short. Instead of reaching for Your hand, abiding in You, and trusting You to graciously supply whatever is needed to tackle ‘all things.’ Your grace and goodness is incredible. You saved me from sin and You keep on interceding for me and helping me live a life that overcomes, a life that can now choose righteousness and declare the incredible reality of Your grace and power. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Pride is a blinding force

As a young person who did well in school, my classmates made fun of me if I fell below my usual test scores. It didn’t take long to pick up the idea that excellence was expected. Worse yet, I became ridiculously sensitive to criticism. Long after those classmates stopped picking at me, my own self-talk remained negative. It seemed to me that I never quite reached some invisible and vague higher standard.

Now I realize this was personal pride, but for a long time those notions were not easy to shake. Not only that, they made me a sitting duck for Satan. All he had to do was suggest I’d failed and I was beating myself up and thinking that God was upset with me.

For a time, the idea of ‘try harder’ appealed, but that didn’t rid me of the desire to do better, be smarter, be a better person, a better Christian. Nothing worked. I began to think I was a total failure.
Again, the problem was pride. I’d become a Christian and knew that I could not save myself, but I didn’t want to fully acknowledge that I cannot do anything else apart from Christ. When that reality finally got through to me, I could see that I loved me and my skills more than I loved Jesus and depended on Him.

At that point, I asked Him to restore me to that first love, even to a greater love for Him than I’d ever had. Satan didn’t like it and began hitting me with all sorts of things. Yet God used the enemy attacks to show me many attitudes in my life that had pulled me away or that had stepped between me and God. I had so much to deal with and God revealed most of it by trials that I could not overcome by myself, combined with an incredible sense of His presence and loving care.

Over the course of time, Jesus kept drawing me back to the gospel and what He had done at the cross to prove His love for me. He reminded me of all the ways He revealed His care for me — regardless of my failures, insecurities, even despite my foolish pride. In this painful process, He set me free from my proud desire to be more than I am, and from that self-condemnation. He used verses like this one:

“Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34)

One of Satan’s big lies is that God really does not love us. People try different ways to compensate for that. For me, it was mostly intellectual performance. For others, it could be sports or other skills. Some seek love elsewhere. Some try to be more attractive, the best dressed, richer, more popular. It has been said that there is a God-shaped void within us. Money, fame, possessions, relationships, nothing else fits.

For me, my pride blinded me to the problem of pride. I only saw the symptoms. If I failed, I thought success would fix it, forgetting that the only solution to pride is humility, and true humility only comes when the gospel is heard, understood, and accepted. I felt like a failure because before God, I am. I fall short. I need Jesus. He is my righteousness and my wisdom, my substitute for sin, but also all that I need to please God and to live as God wants me to live. I cannot do anything apart from Him.

Pride also blinded me to the truth that God loves me totally, even when I’m behaving like a jerk, even when I’m thinking He doesn’t. He proved it at the Cross and He proves it every day by His continual presence, kindness and great compassion and patience. I might feel like giving up, but He never does.

"The LORD appeared to me from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you." (Jeremiah 31:3).

Jesus, dearest Lord and Savior. Thank You and all glory to You forever!