Tag Archives: Christ Jesus

Giving Attention To…The Most-Forgiven People In The World

I am grateful that my Doctor of Ministry pursuit at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) has me reading some great books … AND I am grateful that some of these books are already familiar to me! One of these familiar books was The PeaceMaker (by Ken Sande, a Reformed elder and Christian attorney). Proving the value of reading good books twice, I came across this phrase last month which I did not recall from my first reading nine years ago. Listen ~ and register an amen (or otherwise): Christians are the most forgiven people in in the world!
If you said and nodded amen, that means you agree ~ and so you regard this as true. Well, is that true?! If you are a Christian (and according to your public professions, most of you are Christians), do you often think of yourself as the most forgiven person? Just as critically, is this how the world thinks about us, that we are and we think we are the most forgiven people in the world … or do they think something else about our self-perception?! Since I am in the mood for great questions (sneaking in three of them already!), I may as well keep on charging ahead. Ask and answer these ones in your personal mental space:
· As part of that most-forgiven club, what is it you are forgiven of/from? There is a hidden, assumed word there, one which we must highlight: sin(s). So the most forgiven people in the world must have been great, low, chief sinners?
· Forgiven … by Whom? Surely not by the self, or by energy or a simple force. Forgiveness must be by a Person; Who?
· Why have you been forgiven? That is, on what basis? Who paid? What price?
· Forgiven … how much? … how often? … how deeply? That is, what does true and full and free forgiveness mean? What does that feel like ~ inside you?!
· Forgiven … for what purpose? Any reason, beyond mere guilt-clearance?
· Are you merely forgiven ~ or are you more-than-forgiven? Is “Forgiven-Sinner” the only label you wear now? Is that your best label? Did Jesus pay for more?
· Consider Bible connections between forgiveness, law, repentance, faith, and grace.
· Is there any Bible relationship between forgiveness and love? How about: God’s love produced your forgiveness which produces your love for God, for His gospel, and for other offenders, even those who have sinned against you? Especially since Jesus Christ put it thus: She who is forgiven much, loves much. And since we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” … is all of this true in your case?
· Does it follow in you (and in most Christians) that the most forgiven people are also the most forgiving people? Would there be evidence for or against this in your own trial?
· And what difference does all of this make concerning assurance of salvation, family and church life, on the job and at school, for your life in the community, in your dealings with this sinful world, and in your Christian witness?

Worship Meditation on Holiness … (the Manna Question: What Is It?!)

1 Peter 2:22 ~ ‘He [Jesus Christ] committed no sin.’  Christ’s life is meant to be an example of holiness for us, and Christ committed no sin.  The sinless, holy life of Jesus Christ is our example.  So consider this statement:  ‘I always do what pleases Him …’ (said by Jesus concerning His Father).  Is that to be your personal goal in life?!  A 19th Century Scottish theologian, John Brown, said:  ‘Holiness does not consist in mystic speculations or enthusiastic fervors or uncommanded austerities … but in thinking as God thinks, willing as God wills.’  Nor does it mean adhering to a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ (mostly don’ts).  Jesus Christ said:  ‘I have come to do Your will, O God’ (Hebrews 10:7).  This example we must follow.  In all our thoughts and actions and in every part of our character, the ruling principle to motivate & guide us must be the desire to follow Jesus in doing the Father’s will.”  (abbreviated from Jerry Bridges:  The Pursuit of Holiness)

Holy, holy, holy …”  This famous chant about God reminds us of the power of repetition in the Bible.  Triple holy … and actually doubled again, as the same sequence appears in both testaments (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8).  “Be holy, for I am holy.”  “… the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”  Joshua 24:19 ~ “The Lord is a holy God!

Holiness is the primary attribute of God, flavoring and balancing all the others.  Holiness, then, is to be a very high priority for all humans, and there are drastic consequences if it is missing in and for you.  I am sorry to observe, though, that holiness is what humans particularly lack:  We are not holy.  We are positively full of sin (from the inside out).  We are totally depraved.  We suffer under the condition called original sin.  In this world and age, people by nature are not holy … not even close.

But wait, we are going too fast!  Manna:  “What Is It?”  Holiness is a complex concept in the Bible.  It means:  set apart for special use (like Levitic pottery);  pure (cleansed; no sin or stain);  fully & wholly & strangely “other” (as different as is God from man);  devoted or dedicated (think of “holy” matrimony, pointing to exclusive relationship);  chosen and called (with the focus on the Chooser and the Caller).  So holiness can carry all five of these indications at once.  Moreover, due to God’s unmerited favor toward His people, He counts us as already holy in Jesus Christ … even as He charges us to continually strive to be like Christ, in the power of Christ, for the glory of Christ!

So keep in mind that five-fold description, and also keep clear in your thinking that God is all this and has all this, while man by nature does not.  But one way to describe the gospel of our salvation is through the Trinity:  God the Father is holy; He sets the holy standard & He demands perfect holiness if anyone wants to enjoy fellowship with Him.  God the Son offered up Himself, became a real man, and then lived the perfectly holy human life, yet still at the end paid the penalty for the unholy lives of all God’s people. God the Spirit moves into those saved people, to work in and to work out, over time, His holiness on the inside which God already credits via Christ on the judicial record.

So let us put away, and warn against, all aberrations about holiness in the worldly philosophies which are so tempting: * The temptation to define holiness down such that, amazingly, I find myself meeting the standards which I set for myself, all by myself, to the high praise of myself! * The temptation to invent “good works” or new law codes which I must add to the not-quite-good-enough holiness of Jesus Christ offered up on my behalf. * The temptation to emphasize what some call the Pure Grace, love, & mercy of God, such that we forget or ignore His eternal holiness and His justified anger against all sin, and thus we tolerate in ourselves the sins which so offend God, poison ourselves, corrupt our witness, and ultimately deny the holy purpose of the gracious cross.  Let us cooperate, co-labor, and work with (and not against) God in what He has promised to complete in His own:  “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).  Let us praise God (our holy Triune God) for this eternal, holy plan which He is working out in His perfect time.

COMMUNION MEDITATION: Because our children are asking …

The New Testament sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) are simple, by Christ’s design, so that even children can understand the basic truths which these signs, actions, and rituals are illustrating.  To quote Albert Einstein (in a limited sense), “If you cannot explain it simply, then you do not understand it well enough.”  Thus I have been impressed, over the years, with the ability of some to give excellent children’s talks which are very simple, yet meaty and profound for all who will listen.  Surely Jesus was encapsulating a world of truth as He proclaimed:  “The Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like little children” … but one simple application should be:  If only the professional scholars and theologians can grasp a doctrinal point, it may be that the truth claim has more of man than of God in it.  With just a few minutes, then, I ask you to consider two questions which children have asked, both of them deserving clear answers.

Last week, a child asked me:  “Pastor John, if God has always known everything, then why did He create Satan?”  I will interpret and extend his question to ponder:  Why did God create the angel Lucifer, knowing that Lucifer would lead an angel rebellion, become the devil, tempt our first parents, and produce the fall of all mankind and of the universe itself?  I did not claim that simple answers are easy ones!  A word for parents, teachers, and others:  Praise the Lord for such questions.  They could be evidence that the Holy Spirit is stirring.  Do not say:  “Shut up!  Stop asking silly or hard questions.  Just believe and behave.  Don’t think.  And above all, don’t go poking around behind the curtain, or you may discover that there is nothing there after all!”  So much better to respond with something, even an “I don’t know … but let’s dig into that issue together.”

This question (about God’s role in the origin of Satan) is a version of the classical query:  “How could there be a good and strong God in a universe with evil and suffering?”  Okay, this is an enormous subject, but here is a starting point:  Because the universe as it really is (with a Lucifer who would become Satan, with evil and suffering, with pain and sorrow and tears, and with sin under all of it) is the universe which God has allowed and even designed to bring the maximum glory to Himself, to display before Himself, His angels, human beings, and the universe the awesome collection of His own glorious attributes, and in this particular case, to show how He will defeat and destroy His and our archenemy, the devil and all his works.

Here is a second question asked by a child, much earlier than last week, and across many years:  “Father, why is this night different from all others?”  This, of course, is the classic and scripted prompting by children at the Seder (or the Passover), that annual memorial meal to remind Israel of “Exodus Night,” how the Lord delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt to bring them into the Promised Land.

Please recognize the connection of our first question with this second one, for if God really is good and strong, especially attentive to His chosen nation, then why did He allow them to be enslaved in the first place?  There are, of course, human reasons for why and how Jacob’s family ended up in Egypt, and it is clear that God held many Egyptians to be guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors.  But God allowed, even designed, Israel’s captivity to glorify and exalt Himself in their eyes, and in the eyes of Egypt, Canaan, and the whole world up until this very day.

Recognize, as well, the connection of the Passover and the Lord’s Supper, as Jesus instituted this Christian sacramental love feast at a Seder.  The Bible strongly connects the minor redemption (of Israel from Egypt) with the major redemption (of all God’s children from their captivating sin).

Recognize, finally, the connection of the Seder, the Supper, the cross, and the first question.  God’s design of a universe where Satan, sin, and sorrow could (would) happen surely had in mind this ultimate and glorious solution, the death of God’s dear Son, as the answer to the very big questions, the solution for all of our needs, and the ultimate display of the glory and grace of God.

Mull over this sentence.  If it is true, enjoy its truth, and turn it into personal worship:  “God in His grace provided what God in His holiness demanded.”  God allowed and designed a fallen universe, filled with fallen people, millions of whom would come to know their Lord as a God of grace, mercy, and faithfulness.  There is a popular book with this subtitle:  “What if marriage is designed by God, not to make you happy, but holy?!”  Well, what if time, space, the universe, and all history are designed to glorify God in His fullness, as He really is?  Would not an eternity of informed worship justify 6,000 or more years of drama, if that is the kind of thing it takes for us to get to know God as He really is?  Yes, and the cross, with the sacrificed body of Jesus Christ, is at the center.