Mar 292013
 

EasterI’m taking a short break from my series on ‘Law and Grace’ as we find ourselves in Easter week. I want to offer some thoughts at this very special time in the Christian calendar.

I love Easter week and I try to take some time aside to meditate and think again about what Jesus has done for us. It’s just the same when I am taking bread and wine; a moment to pause and wonder again at Christ’s sacrifice.

My thoughts this week are from Hebrews 12:2:

“…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Fix our eyes on Jesus

What a good idea to fix our eyes on Jesus. It would seem the obvious thing to do wouldn’t it? But we get so easily distracted with the busyness of life, even church life, that we can forget about the centre of our faith. Our prize, our goal, is Jesus. He is the one we long for, the one we love, the one we want to please. Every week is about Him but especially this week when we remember His sacrifice.

He is our pioneer, our example. He has gone before and paved the way. He has shown us the way forward and He is still in the process of perfecting our faith, making us more like Him.

The joy set before Him

What was the ‘joy set before Him?’

As He proceeds to the cross, what possible thing set before Him could bring Him joy in the anguish and brutality that He was about to endure? What is it that will help Him endure such suffering and heartbreak on the cross, the shame of being nailed up, naked and alone?

Partly He did it because He was obedient to the Father. It was the plan and will of God that Jesus should do this. It was the only rescue plan and He suffered it willingly. Jesus wanted to demonstrate just what the father is like, He wanted to show the compassion and perfect sacrificial love of the Father. The joy he received was from doing the fathers will. But it was also from knowing He was on a rescue mission. He loves us so much that the joy of restoring our relationship with Him compelled Him to act.

That’s right, the joy that carried Jesus through was rescuing you!

He loves us so much that He willingly suffered agonising pain so that we could be rescued and spend eternity with Him. He considered you worth it.

God is so passionate about you. He was thinking about you before time began (Ephesians 1:4), He is thinking and praying for you now (Hebrews 7:25) and one day in the future He will bring you into His kingdom to spend eternity together with Him (Revelation 21:1-4). Past, present and future.

Joy for us too

For me, this means that whenever I go through trials and difficulties, I can call on the same joy that Jesus has because:

  • He has gone before me
  • He has won the victory over every work of the enemy
  • He is with me
  • He knows what I am going through
  • He won’t let me go
  • He has promised to carry me through to the end
  • He has RISEN!!

I don’t know about you but I think this is very good news!

 March 29, 2013  Posted by at 8:50 am Resurrection No Responses »
Mar 212013
 

Law and grace 2Last week we began looking at the subject of Law and Grace. We discussed “legalism”, this being a symptom of trying to obtain God’s favour by doing things in order to gain salvation; an attempt to maintain and keep salvation; or a platform for us to look down on others who do not match our supposedly high standards.

Christianity Unique

Christianity is unique in that it is a religion of ‘Grace’. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not emphasise what we have to do for God but rather focuses on what He has already done for us.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2: 8-9)

Grace is: “Something for nothing, for those who don’t deserve anything”.

So what is the purpose of the law then? This is covered in great detail in the book of Romans. Let’s take a look at what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 7:7-14:

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.

Personally I find I have to read through passages like these quite a number of times and quite slowly, in order to understand what the passage is saying. To help explain further lets look at 3 things that the law does:

(1) The law reveals sin

Each of us live to our own standards of right and wrong. I might do something that you consider sinful but I am OK about, it depends what your own particular conscience allows. By contrast, God’s law provides us with absolute standards about what is acceptable and what is not. The law is like a straight plumb line which we measure our lives against. It reveals just how crooked our lives have become.

(2) The law provokes sin

We generally don’t like being told what to do. We are disobedient and think we know best. We are generally happy with the idea of a loving God who just wants to be nice to everybody, but when we encounter a Holy God telling us there are things we should and shouldn’t do, we tend to rebel. This simply proves how sinful our hearts really are. The law actually provokes us to rebel.

(3) The law leads us to Christ

The law frustrates and condemns us because we are just not good enough to keep it in our own strength. The law should cause us to cry out for mercy when we try but fail to keep it. It leads us to the grace of God in Christ Jesus. We realise that if we are going to be saved at all it can only be by grace.

Christ’s death not only loosed us from our sin but also loosed us from the law. When we became Christians we died to sin (as demonstrated in baptism) and we also died to the law, therefore releasing us from its hold.

Isn’t it fantastic? Next time we will discover more about God’s wonderful grace. Until then have a great week.

 March 21, 2013  Posted by at 11:18 pm Grace No Responses »
Mar 142013
 

Law and graceEver since writing my recent review of the film ‘Les Miserables’ here, I have wanted to explore the themes of law and grace which were so evident throughout the film. I will be covering this subject in some detail over the coming weeks and I hope you will find it interesting.

According to the dictionary, one of the definitions of religion is: “The practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.”

The general idea is that by following a certain way, doing and believing certain things, you can get right with God. Religion is about living a good life and observing certain do’s and don’ts, try your hardest and you might be alright.

This way of living is very uncertain but to a greater or lesser degree this is the way of 99% of the world’s religions. You never have an assurance of salvation but can only hope that everything will be ok. This uncertainty can drive people to extreme religious observance, as did the Pharisees Jesus encountered. They were so religious that they memorised the whole of the first 5 books of the bible (Pentateuch) and went to extremes of tithing so that even their kitchen condiments were tithed (Matthew 23:23). The Pharisees loved the law, the problem was that they added to it.

Legalism

Next week we are going to look at the purpose of the law (the Pharisees missed the point altogether!). But for now we shall look at “legalism”, the way people try to keep the law.

In Christianity, legalism is the excessive and improper use of the law. This can often take 3 forms: Keeping the law to obtain salvation; keeping the law to maintain salvation; judging others by looking down on them.

(1) Keeping the law to obtain salvation

We will see later that it is simply not possible to keep the law to a high enough standard in order to be saved. We may find ourselves doing really really well at keeping the law, but the bible says that if we fail at just one point we are guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10). The bible also says that if we were able to keep the whole law then Christ would have died needlessly (Galatians 2:21).

(2) Keeping the law to maintain salvation

This is very common and one which is easy for all of us to fall into. We fully appreciate all that Jesus has done for us but feel we must add to it in order to keep our salvation. When we think about this we start to realise how arrogant this way of thinking is.

We are justified by faith alone, not by faith and works. The bible is very strong on this. In Galatians 3:10 it says “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” And Jesus further hammers it home in Matthew 7:22-23 where he says ““Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’

(3) Looking down on others

The third kind of legalism, where a Christian keeps certain laws and regards with contempt other Christians who do not keep his standard of holiness, is a frequent problem in the church.  It is of course clear that certain situations need to be judged carefully and lovingly where obvious sins are committed (murder, fornication, lying, stealing etc) but this is not the same as judging others in debatable areas which are not clear from the bible. We need to be very careful and this is where legalism is more difficult to define.

Romans 14:1-12 says that we are not to judge our brothers on debatable issues.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. (Romans 14:5).  As long as our freedom does not violate the Scriptures, then everything should be okay.

 March 14, 2013  Posted by at 8:34 pm Grace, Salvation No Responses »
Mar 072013
 

Large Group of Happy People standing together.In last week’s blog I talked about the fact that as Christians we have been adopted into God’s family. I started listing some of the benefits of being adopted into His family.

 

The benefits we looked at last week were:

(1) We are able to speak to God

(2) He takes care of our needs

(3) He gives many good gifts

If you missed it or want to read it again, click on the link here.

This week we will look at another 3 benefits:

(4) He gives compassion, care and protection

God cares and provides for us, not just physically but also emotionally. God provides in every area where a father should provide for his children. He provides completely where earthly fathers never can.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. (Deuteronomy 31:8)

You, Lord, will keep the needy safe and will protect us forever from the wicked, (Psalm 12:7)

The Lord is my light and my salvation whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)

For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. (Lamentations 3:31-32)

(5) God disciplines His children

Hang on a minute, what’s that doing in this list? Even though discipline is painful at the time, God disciplines us because He loves us. It is for our good, so that we can grow in righteousness and holiness.

And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (Hebrews 12:5-6)

(6) Inheritance & ‘sonship’

We have an everlasting inheritance.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you. (1 Peter 1:3-4)

Another interesting term from the bible is the word “sonship”. This is a term relevant to men and women. “Sonship” as used in the bible is a legal term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in Roman culture. This is the inheritance we gain as ‘Sons of God’.

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.  Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’  So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 4:4-7)

Meditate on these truths and verses over the coming week and let them change your whole outlook on life. As a child of God you have an amazing position which should affect how you relate to God and others.

 March 7, 2013  Posted by at 9:37 pm Community, God's family, The Church No Responses »