Hope of Salvation

When the angels announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds who were watching their flocks at night, they proclaimed, “glad tidings of great joy.” Angels made an actual appearance and they were couldn’t contain their joy as they told the shepherds, “For unto you is born this day, in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” They explained to the shepherds where they would find the Christ child. He was born in a lowly stable. The shepherds worshiped Jesus when they found him.

Worship, adoration, gratitude—those are the appropriate responses in an encounter with Christ. In fact, this is what naturally overflows from our hearts.

John the Baptist introduced Jesus thirty years later, to a crowd, as, “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

Each of us has to reckon with Christ. We can worship him as the Son of God, whom he claimed to be, or we can reject him.

Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man (or woman) hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and sup with him.”

The image is one of intimacy, of enjoyment of fellowship, eating together, sharing life.

Jesus wants to be part of your life. And because he is God, one with God, the Son of God, as he himself proclaimed, he must also be Lord of your life, if you invite him in. Only he knows the purpose for which you were designed. Only he can direct us to live life as we were meant to live.

Jesus came to this earth out of his great love for us. He came to offer us a new way of living. He came to give us a new start. He offered forgiveness of sins of the past and deliverance from evil. He showed his great love to us by enduring death on a cross. He took the punishment for our sins in our place. It is a great mystery, how this was accomplished, but millions have accepted Jesus and experienced the joy of salvation when they opened the door of their heart to him.

Jesus offers us hope in this dark world. All we have to do is invite him in to our hearts and lives, make him a part of everything we do. “Practice the presence of Christ” daily, in every situation, as a Benedictine monk, Brother Lawrence, wrote centuries ago (Practicing the Presence of God). He had discovered the secret of the happy Christian life, which is abiding in Christ, resting in his presence, his goodness, his faithfulness to us. “He who freely gave his Son for us will he not also freely give us all things that pertain to life and godliness?” Of course he will. “There is no fear in love, for fear has torment, but perfect love casts out fear.”

The most cherished possession I own is my Bible. In the New Testament I read about the life of Christ, and about the Christian life. Jesus said that the Old Testament speaks of him, too. He explained to his disciples how the Old Testament related to him and foretold his coming, and his purpose of bringing salvation. At first his disciples did not understand because they thought their Messiah would be a great king, with an earthly kingdom. Even with all their religious training in their synagogues and in the temple, they failed to understand fully what would happen. The message of Jesus challenged them because it was one of humility and faith and service. His kingdom was not of this world. It is a heavenly kingdom. When we invite Christ into our hearts, our outlook changes. We begin to see heaven touching earth.

We pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.”

“Jesus, come into my heart. Forgive my sins and make me clean. Help me to live this life as you intended, as you designed for me to live it. Help me to acknowledge you in all my ways and to follow you every day. Thank you for your unspeakably great gift of salvation. Now, fill me with your Holy Spirit, as you promised, so that I will be empowered from on high to live for you. Amen.”

This is the good news. Salvation. In fact it is the best news, ever. It is the power of God, delivering us in every situation from evil. It is the power of righteousness in this world. God sets things right, through his Son, Jesus. He also gives us the hope of eternity with him, so we no longer fear death.

Related Scriptures: Luke 2, John 1:29, John 1, Revelation 3:20, John 3:16, John 10, John 15, John 17:11, Romans 8:32, 1 John 4:18, John 5:39, Luke 24:27, Matthew 5, John 18:36, Revelation 11:15, Matthew 6:33, Romans 14:17, Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4, Luke 24:29, Acts 1:4, Ephesians 1, 2.

False Teachings in the Church

There are false teachings in the churches today. We can only discern them when we seek God and submit ourselves to his ways.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sins and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

As believers we war against principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places.* We pull down spiritual strongholds. We cast out demons. We heal the sick. We declare the kingdom of God. We shine a light in the darkness. We expose sin.

Today we commemorate the death of Christ. There were false teachings among the believers in Jesus’ day, as well, and the religious leaders were the ones who incited the mob to demand that Jesus be crucified. Jesus, who cast out demons, who healed the sick, who proclaimed the kingdom of God, who never did any evil or harmed anyone. If that is not enough evidence that we are at war against evil forces, then there is nothing that will convince us.

A very strange thing is happening in the world today. We are seeing death on every side as a result of the coronavirus. People are helpless in the face of this tragedy. We are also seeing economic hardship as businesses are shut down to prevent the disease from spreading. Even places of worship are closed.

In the past decade there has been a renewed interest in “spirituality” as a significant aspect of people’s lives. “Meditation” has become increasingly popular. However, there is extreme care taken not to specify the object of this faith. Supposedly it can be applied in any direction with the same result. Well, this is not true. My prayers will only be as effective as the power of the one to whom they are directed. Apart from this, the outcome is left to chance, or to evil and deceptive forces eager to participate in our undiscerning spirituality and meditation. While a lot of good can come from positive thoughts and actions, we are still left to decide whether we will choose to honor and worship a holy God, and follow his ways, or limit ourselves to our own understanding and refuse to acknowledge the designer of our universe and the forgiver of our sins.

The Rev. Bill M. Ferg stated the following in his book Every Believer’s Authority (1995): You and I are the greatest problem that satan has on the earth.

Satan has a problem with the believer. He had a problem with Jesus too. He succeeded in nailing him to the cross. When we confront heresy in the church, the response is often to try to nail us to the cross, in the sense that every effort is made to effectively silence our voice. But truth will not be silenced.

Some errors within the church are more serious and have more dire consequences than others. There is still value in gathering with believers, and we are exhorted not to forsake going to church. But let’s not be gullible and accept false teachings.

As a young teen I was part of a church that erred in its teaching. I turned to my Bible to find the truth. Eventually I found another church with a fuller understanding of the Bible. I experienced a great renewal and blessing in this church.

The errors of churches include distortion of Scripture, over-emphasis of certain teachings, exclusion of other teachings as irrelevant, adding to what the Bible teaches, changing the meaning, or being indifferent.

Even Jesus was frustrated over what he saw happening in the temple. He declared, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.” Greed had corrupted the house of God. We also see in the book of Revelation that God rebukes churches and requires that they change.

God is a God of mercy and grace, but he is also a God of wrath against men who hold the truth in unrighteousness. God hates sin. He who gave his own son to die for the forgiveness of the sins of the world will not in turn tolerate sin in the believer. Believers have lost their authority because they have rationalized that they can still harbor sin.

Psalm 103:3 says, “I will set no evil thing before my eyes.” The Bible admonishes us to be holy as God is holy. We are also not to think of ourselves as beyond temptation. If we are trying to help someone who is struggling there is the likelihood that we too could falter and fail. For this reason we walk in humility. Our susceptibility teaches us to have compassion for others. Jesus had compassion too, but he did not have tolerance for sin. In fact, he came to “destroy the works of the evil one.” (1 John 3:8) Sin is the work of the evil one.

God is purifying his church. He is preparing a bride. This is the symbolism used in the Bible for the church joining Christ for eternity. He is looking for a holy church, without spot or wrinkle.

The church does a disservice to believers when it fails to teach about the undeniable significance of being Christ-like in every respect. We are seated in the heavenly realms with Christ, having all dominion along with him. All authority is given to us as believers, along with Christ, when we walk in his will.*

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

*References from Ephesians 6:11-12, 1:20, 2:6, Matthew 28:18, Luke 10:19

Can a Person be Righteous?

I have long been fascinated by the story of Job. When I was in Bible College I was taught that Job was a righteous man and his friends were wrong when they insisted that he must have done some evil to cause this calamity to fall upon him. Through the years I have met Christians who insisted that Job’s friends were right and Job was indeed presumptuous to claim to be righteous. This caused me to dig deeper into the text, and every time I do so I come out believing more firmly that Job was righteous.

Today as I read the book of Job, something leapt out at me.

The story begins, “This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” Job even offered sacrifices for each of his children after they had enjoyed a time of feasting and reveling on their birthdays, just in case they had sinned and “cursed God in their hearts.”

What an interesting thought, cursing God in their hearts. Later, in chapter two, Job’s wife tells him to “curse God and die.” Job said she was speaking as a foolish woman. The text continues, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”

What stood out for me today was Satan’s response to God. When Satan appeared before God with the other angels, God asked him if he had considered his servant Job, “There is no one like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Satan’s reply is, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not…blessed the work of his hands….But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

Job’s wife essentially told Job to give up on God. Why would you serve a God who sends such calamity? What is the point? This is exactly what Satan was saying. Job would no longer serve God if God stopped blessing him. People only serve God for what they can get. The big question is, Will Job still trust God if God removes his hedge of protection from him?

Satan argued that Job’s reverence for God was conditional. It was dependent upon God’s goodness to him. Satan was convinced that if God would strike Job, Job would indeed curse God.

Job’s response to his wife, however, was, “Shall we accept good from God and not evil?”

Throughout the Bible we see a pattern of God blessing his people when they obeyed him and causing evil or harm to come to them when they disobeyed. The Bible literally says it will be well with us if we obey God. The King James Bible version puts it this way:

Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess (Deuteronomy 5:33).

As a result of this scripture and others like it, people have concluded that if something bad happens to us, we are somehow at fault. Presumably we have sinned or not been righteous enough. Job’s friends took the view that the trouble he was experiencing was evidence that he must have some sin he needed to confess.

Jesus challenged the belief that if something bad happens it is because a person has sinned. When he was about to heal a man who was blind from birth, Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus if the man was blind because of his own sin or the sin of his parents. This association of sin with affliction was deeply rooted in their understanding. Jesus responded that neither was true. Rather, this would bring glory to God (John 9).

If we look in the Bible we find stories of people who were not evil and still experienced great trials. Think of the story of Joseph, as an example (Genesis 37-46). The Bible teaches that God will give us the grace and strength to endure trials (2 Corinthians 12:9), that God can cause good to come from harm (Romans 8:28), and that he will not allow us to be  tempted beyond what we can endure (1 Corinthians 10:13). Clearly trials will come.

While the Bible says God will bless us if we are faithful, it does not promise that nothing bad will ever happen to us. After all, it happened to Job.

The Bible also does not say that God will not bless us if we are unfaithful. In fact scriptures like Psalm 73 wrestle with the fact that sometimes the wicked prosper.

We tend to read the story of Job through the grid of our New Testament understanding that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We understand that “…by one man sin entered into the world….” (Romans 5:12), speaking of Adam and Eve in the garden. In light of this it could appear presumptuous for Job to claim that he is righteous.

When Jesus healed the man who was born blind, the leaders of the synagogue questioned the man, wanting to know what had happened to him. His response was “All I know is that once I was blind but now I see” (John 9:25). I propose that Job knew he was righteous because he experienced the difference between being blind, living in darkness, and seeing. He recognized what his friends were trying to pin on him. It may have been his past, but of one thing he was certain. It did not describe his present.

Christians who cannot accept that Job was righteous are in fact aligning themselves with his friends. At the end of the story we read that God was angry with Job’s friends and required a sacrifice of atonement from them. He accused them of not speaking the truth about him. He also instructed Job to pray for them, “My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:8).

We see here that the very knowledgeable friends of Job were wrong in their conclusions about Job, and that this, in the sight of God, was a serious offense which required sacrifice and intercession.

Although all that Job valued was taken away and he suffered incredibly, he possessed what his friends did not have. Job possessed righteousness. To say he was not righteous would have been to slander God. The truth Job spoke was about God.

I think today the “Christian” thing to do, if we were in Job’s place, would be to offer a show of humility and say something like “we all sin.” Job’s friends would probably have been satisfied if Job had just conceded that much. But Job refused. Job possessed an incredible understanding of God and righteousness.

Job’s relentless refusal to yield continues to challenge me, personally, especially when I think of how easily we confess to sin. Job’s testimony of righteousness was so powerful that God and Satan engaged in a contest to test its veracity. Wow!

Some people would accuse Job of self-righteousness and pride. This is exactly what his friends did. But God didn’t see it that way. There was a purity to his confession that could not be any further refined in the furnace of affliction. The trials he suffered only proved that what he had was real.

He is Risen Indeed

I struggled to fully embrace Christianity. I saw the value in living by the Golden Rule, to love your neighbor as yourself. I appreciated the Ten Commandments as laws for a successful society. I even believed in God, the Creator. But could I accept Jesus as more than a man who did good?

In our pluralistic society there used to be an “everyone to his own” attitude back in the sixties and seventies. But that has changed to everyone conforming to a new set of values which essentially oppose some of the very basic tenets of the Christian faith. In other words, we are facing an anti-Christian mindset.

In view of this it is imperative to be convinced of one’s faith. We not only need to know what we believe, but why we believe, or we will be easily shaken.

Recently I have been challenged by those in Christian circles who are taking issue with several basic tenets of the Christian faith, including the atoning death of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

This brings me back to the time when I chose Christianity above other faiths. Not only was I drawn to the character and life of Christ, I believed in his atoning death and resurrection.

One day during the time when I questioned Christianity it became apparent to me that the validity of the Christian faith rested entirely on whether Christ was indeed resurrected from the dead. I visited a Mosque once where I had a conversation with a Muslim who said, simply, that Jesus never died on the cross. When Jesus prayed for this cup of death to be removed, God answered his prayer.

On another occasion I sat with a Muslim man on a flight and was reading Psalm 32 in my Bible.

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.

We had an interesting conversation and he claimed, rightly, to know more about the Christian faith than I did about the Muslim faith. He told me that Muslims believe in the Old Testament. I still intend to do a deeper study on how the Muslim faith is informed by the Old Testament. What we know, however, is that Muslims are descendants of Abraham, as well as Jews, only through the line of Ishmael, not Isaac.

The Jewish and Muslim faith are closest to Christianity but both reject Christ as the Son of God or Savior. They are the two faiths I have been inclined toward, besides Christianity.

In my search I saw that I had to establish for myself, as satisfactorily as possible, whether or not Jesus died and was resurrected. I pondered the evidence over a period time and finally came to the conclusion that indeed, Christ died and was resurrected. No, his disciples did not steal the body out of the tomb and start a new religion. They went and hid, afraid for their own lives. And the Jewish leaders themselves asked Pilot to set a guard before the tomb to prevent theft, already anticipating this possibility. When the stone was rolled away and the grave was found empty, the soldiers were not punished with death. That was remarkable. The Jews, instead spread the rumor that the body of Christ was stollen.

Well, we could say the writers of the gospels made up this complex story. I don’t think the gospels would have gained much momentum if they were known to be a clear fabrication. What finally cemented my faith was the book of Acts. It was seeing how these timid followers of Christ turned their world upside down preaching the gospel of salvation through the atoning death and resurrection of Christ. They could not all have been willing to give their lives for a lie. No, they were completely convinced, and faced extreme opposition.

This opposition continues to this day. And that is another thing that adds credibility to Christianity. Major world governments consider Christianity to be a threat. The beliefs of Christianity are peace loving, living by the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. The church, historically, has not always been effective in communicating the essence of the gospel and so we have seen unpardonable atrocities. Even today we see gross misrepresentations. In the words of J. I. Packer (Knowing God), “it is a long time since theology has been so weak and clumsy at its basic task of holding the church to the realities of the gospel.”

The notion that is gaining popularity today is the idea that God would not require atonement. That he would not sacrifice his son. This teaching also casts doubt on the entire Old Testament, reducing it to inspirational stories and myths. The reason behind this is the difficulty people have with reconciling the wrath of God with their view of a God of love. Of course, hell does not fit in either.

For decades now the church has emphasized the love of God in an effort to be seeker friendly and it has largely avoided reference to wrath, judgment and hell. Of course, if none of these are to be considered, then why do we need atonement? They don’t go so far as to say that we don’t need forgiveness, but God can forgive without requiring a human sacrifice, they claim. I happen to agree with them and this may be a surprise to some. I believe God can do as he pleases.

I think God can indeed forgive without a sacrifice. But I believe he chose to sacrifice his son and he had his reasons. For those who don’t believe this, you will have to do your own study, as I did.

The atonement causes the entire Bible to make sense. In fact, for me it causes life to make sense. My faith informs my life and gives it meaning. The atonement means there is justice.

The atonement means there is justice. There is judgement. There is just reward. And there is mercy and grace and forgiveness and newness of life. The old dies and the new is resurrected to life in Christ. Christian baptism is a symbol of this experience.

I don’t claim to fully understand how God became man in the form of his Son. Or how the Son of God could die. How he was able to descend to the depths to preach deliverance to the captives. How he was resurrected. But I know his forgiveness and his power in my life. I have his abiding peace and joy. I experience his indwelling presence. And today I declare, He Is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

 

 

When My Best Isn’t Good Enough

As a Christian I admit I have often struggled with what to do when I sense that my best isn’t good enough. Yesterday I made a few choices and later in the day I felt like they were the wrong ones. I had done my best but it wasn’t good enough. I had even prayed, however, in the end I thought I had let myself down and I had let God down.

I’ll tell you what it was. I put a purchase on a credit card with the intention of paying it off over a period of months. I did not have the cash at the moment to pay it. At the time I thought it was the right thing to do because I found just the item I had been looking for. But when I got home I suddenly second guessed myself. It was not like I committed some great sin, but maybe I got it wrong.

For Christians, Christ is set before us as a standard of perfection. In the Bible we are called to perfection, to holiness. How do we do this? Is this even possible? And if not, do we end up in a state of constant disappointment and even discouragement over our failure?

I have heard Christians get around this one by saying that God’s grace covers all of our sin–past, present and future. Does this mean, then, that I no longer need to concern myself with whether what I am doing is good enough?

In the Old Testament (the first section of the Bible before the record of the life of Jesus begins) we read that God’s chosen nation, the Israelites, were given the “law” by God to instruct them about right and wrong. In the New Testament Jesus said that basically all that was written in the Old Testament could be summed up as, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.”

While this may sound simple, Jesus also taught that no one is good, except God. He told his disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone to enter the kingdom of God. His disciples asked him, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus’ response was, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27.

Jesus set an example of how we should live. He set an example of true, sacrificial love when he died on the cross. And he came to do the thing that was not possible with man. He came to forgive sins. He actually demonstrated that he had the authority to forgive sins. When Jesus forgave a paralyzed man of his sins, religious leaders challenged his authority to do so, saying that only God can forgive sins. His response was, “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” Jesus then healed the paralyzed man and demonstrated that he had the power both to heal and to forgive sins.

Before Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph, an angel appeared to Joseph to tell him that Mary, a virgin, would bear a son and he was to call him Jesus, because he would “save people from their sins.” The angel earlier told Mary that she would give birth to “the Son of God.” Jesus, the Son of God, came to save us from our sins. To forgive us.

It grieves me when I fail to live up to the standard Christ set for me. It seems as though Christians live in a constant state of depravity. Are we not “empowered from on high” by the Holy Spirit who indwells believers and is this not sufficient for us to no longer fail him? Apparently not.

Martin Luther, the great Reformer, struggled so intensely with the issue of sinfulness that he almost had a breakdown. Finally he received a transforming revelation: “The just shall live by faith.” This verse was penned by the apostle Paul in the New Testament and we also find it in the Old Testament, in the book of Habakkuk, chapter two verse four.

I looked up a few different translations of the verse and noted some interesting variations below:

“I, the Lord, refuse to accept anyone who is proud. Only those who live by faith are acceptable to me.”
Some people’s desires are truly audacious; they don’t do the right thing. But the righteous person will live honestly.
Behold, he that is unbelieving, his soul shall not be right in himself: but the just shall live in his faith.
This message cannot help those who refuse to listen to it, but those who are good will live because they believe it.
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith. (Scriptures from Bible Gateway.)

The above verses reveal our tendency to be proud, unbelieving, and dishonest about our condition, rather than humble, faithful and obedient.

The gap between who I am and who I want to be, is a consequence of my humanity. I am not a ‘god.’ I cannot be god-like without help from God. Simply said, it is pretty much arrogant to think I can live rightly on my own. I need to be “instructed in the way of righteousness.”

I find it humbling to have to face my inadequacy every day. But I can draw a little bit of comfort from the above verses which seem to indicate that humility is a necessary posture, one from which I can move forward, by faith.

When I turn my face from my failure to God’s faithfulness and forgiveness I find my heart suddenly filled with hope and joy and gratitude. I feel like a child who is let out of “time out” and is free to run and play again. Until next time.