Suffering

In my last blog I spoke about the implications of the gift that came through the death of Jesus being stronger than Adam’s sin. I believe that, taken with other Scriptures that refer to the Book of Life (particularly Exodus 32:32), the implication is that everyone is by default in the Book of Life and you have to be erased from it to lose eternal life.

But when you read Paul’s letter to the Romans chapters 1 – 8, his main concern is not actually hope of eternal life though that is obviously important to him as well.  His main aim is to show how to harness the very real power that the death of Christ has in relation to overcoming sin here and now.  But this first:  we must be prepared to suffer to see that victory.  This is not a heavy thing (His yoke is easy) so Paul starts Romans 5 with a declaration of ascending comfort:

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”

I hope we can rejoice in suffering too.  Personally I struggle with that one but these words do help if only I would think of them when in the midst of trials.  Somehow it seems like it is hard to think of anything else but the trial itself when in the midst of it.

Jesus’ life better than Adam’s sin

In Romans 5 Paul states something a bit obvious – Jesus life is more powerful than Adam’s sin in its effects.

12 When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.  Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. 14 Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did.

Bad news, it only took one man’s sin for death to enter the world and for everyone to die.  We see that around us all the time.  The inevitability of death stares every man in the face no matter how good they are.

17 For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.

18 Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.19 Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.

I find it difficult to understand how the free gift of new life for everyone can be greater than Adam’s sin if, in fact, it doesn’t apply to everyone.  What I mean is, death applies to everyone so therefore life must also apply to everyone for it to be greater.  That seems obvious enough.

So I would argue from this and from Scriptures concerning the Book of Life, that the default position of every man is that they are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life because of Jesus’ death on the Cross.  You have to have your name erased from the Book of Life to lose that life.  Only Overcomers are guaranteed that that won’t happen to them (see Exodus 32:32 and Rev. 3:5).

However if you want to appropriate and see the effects of that life in this world then you need to receive it now.  Actually, if you are reading this don’t take the risk and presume you are there.  Make sure you are experiencing the reality of the love of Christ in your life now.  The only people who can really be assured they are in the Book of Life now are those who can hear God the Father’s whisper in their heart to which they respond: “Abba, Father”.  No amount of thinking it can give that assurance.

But let God be gracious in your heart, He is not willing that any should perish.  Who knows, perhaps the exclusive evangelical doctrine which says that every man must believe biblical-truththe way we do to be saved is not quite right after all?

Let us not think that everyone around us is going to hell just because they don’t go to our church.  God knows their hearts, very often we don’t.

Faith

“If we emphasize faith does that mean we can forget about the law?”  Paul asks at the end of Romans 3.  And then he answers himself:  “Of course not!  In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.”

It seems to me that the first 4 chapters of Romans are primarily about sin, law and faith and the relationship between all three.  And up to now we have learned that we all sin, that the law doesn’t help but instead just makes the sin more obvious and that faith is somehow the answer to it all.  Paul has also introduced the concept of grace/ undeserved favour. In chapter 4 Paul tries to explain faith using Abraham as an example.

First of all it is as well to establish that Abraham was a sinner.  He mistrusted God on at least two occasions we know of and put Sarah in a compromised position, he had a child by his wife’s servant – as well as several other liaisons.  He also committed murder on several occasions – or at least he was involved in war – and would have killed his own son if God hadn’t stopped him.  By the way, it looks like Sarah had had enough after that incident since we don’t see her with him again until she is dead.  You wouldn’t blame her for not wanting to stay with a man who said God told him to kill their son.

But the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”  Abraham, just like us, needed a saviour – a God who forgives sinners.  And it was the trusting relationship with God that enabled God to pass on that forgiveness to him.  There was no way he could be with God, believing God, and not be forgiven since he couldn’t stand before God’s holiness except in a place of forgiveness.

“Oh what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight.  Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of sin!”  as David says.  Another man who needed a saviour.

The death of Jesus looks back as well as forward in its effects.

None of us

“No one is righteous – not even one.

No one is truly wise;

No one is seeking God.

All have turned away; all have become useless.

No one does good, not a single one.”

For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands.  The law simply shows us how sinful we are.

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law.

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.  And this is true for everyone who believes no matter who we are.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous.  He did this through Christ Jesus when He freed us from the penalty for our sins.  For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin.  People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed His life, shedding His blood.”

The above is extracted from Romans 3 (NLT in case you didn’t recognize it).  It seems Paul wrote the first two chapters of Romans to make sure that he set the standard of God’s requirements out of reach for both the irreligious and the religious alike.  As he says later on: “For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone.” (Romans 11:32 NLT).  Which must surely be one of the most mind boggling statements in the Bible.  No wonder Paul goes on to say: “How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His ways!”

But understanding it all is not where it is at.  Believing and trusting in Him is.

Having said that Paul gives understanding its best shot in Romans.  I personally like that.

Hypocrisy

As I’ve mentioned in at least two of my other blogs (if not more) it is clear that Jesus reserves His harshest words for religious hypocrites.  Paul does something similar in Romans 2.  To make it perhaps more relevant I’ve changed a few of the words while attempting to retain the spirit of them.

But first of all have a good read of the whole chapter – there is nothing untrue about any of it.  None of it is abrogated by Jesus’ death on the cross even in the context of what later chapters say.  The key word is “continue”.  If you continue in sin and refuse to repent of it you will suffer punishment no matter what your experience has been or what you think you have believed in the past.

Starting in v. 17:

“You who call yourselves Born-Again Christians are relying on the Bible and you boast about your special relationship with Him.  You know what He wants; you know what is right because you have been taught by your pastors.  You are convinced that you are a guide for the blind and a light for people who are lost in darkness.  You think you can instruct the ignorant and teach children the ways of God.  For you are certain that the Bible contains all the knowledge and truth that is required.

“Well then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself?  You tell others not to steal, but do you steal from the Government in tax evasion or your employer or the Church by not contributing to it’s programs or God by not bringing Him your tithes?  You say it is wrong to commit adultery, but do you commit adultery every day with your eyes?  You condemn idolatry, but do you watch TV programs and DVDs glorifying pop bands and models and take selfies all the time?  You are so proud of knowing the law but you dishonour God by breaking it.  No wonder the man in the street blasphemes the name of God because of you.

“Being baptized by full immersion in water or in the Spirit has value only if you obey God.  But if you don’t obey God you are no better off than anyone else.  And if the man in the street obeys God’s law, won’t God declare them to be his own people? In fact the average joe who keeps God’s law will condemn you born again believers who have been baptized in the Spirit and possess a bible but don’t obey Him.

“For you are not a true disciple just because you were born of Christian parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of full immersion baptism.  No a true Christian is one whose heart is right with God.  And true baptism is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit.  And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.”

And if you think I’ve gone too far just read on further into the New Testament – 1 Corinthians 13, Hebrews 6 & 10, 2 Peter, Jude.  There is no shortage of places where mere religion, no matter how holy sounding, is condemned as useless before God.

But if your heart condemns you, remember that God is greater than your heart and He knows all things.

The Descent of Man

It is several decades now since the popular BBC documentary series called “The Ascent of Man” was aired.  Not for the first time it shows evolutionary ideas at odds with the Scripture.

Romans 1:18-32 speaks about the descent of man.  Man starts by knowing God but then starts the descent. First of all men suppress the knowledge of God, they do not worship Him and do not even give Him thanks.  Then their minds become dark and confused as they begin to think up foolish ideas of what God is like.  They traded the truth of God for a lie and they worship idols and created things rather than the creator.

As a result God abandons them over to their heart’s desires.  So they do vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies including homosexuality.  Then comes a long list including: greed, envy, quarreling, deception, gossip, disobeying parents, refusing to understand and breaking promises.  God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die.

So count me in, I too deserve to die.

Thankfully it doesn’t end there.

Wrestling Jacob

Jacob wrestles with God in Genesis 32.  Jacob was desperate.  God had told him to go in a certain direction and it seemed to him like certain death and loss to do so.  He had obeyed and now, it was the night before he was to die, he thought.  But God appeared to him and he held Him tight until God saw he couldn’t win the wrestling contest and so He permanently weakened him.  However Jacob still held on and would not let Him go.

Jacob Wrestles with an Angel, by Edward von Gebhardt

Many years ago Charles Wesley, similarly reliving the experience of the war of the flesh against the spirit, wrote a wonderful hymn that captures the whole process in emotive, experiential detail.  The next time you are striving with sin that seems to be the very essence of who you are maybe you also will find this hymn helpful.

As it turned out Jacob didn’t die.  But he never did walk the same way again.  This event was the pivotal point in a process that changed him from a schemer to a prince.

Judgement?

Some years ago, some people came up to Jesus and asked him about cause and effect.  They were wondering if the people who had died in a recent building collapse were worse sinners than those who died a natural death.

balcony collapse

Jesus’ response played down the manner of the physical death and drew attention to the state of the questioner’s hearts.  If you don’t repent, he said, then you also will die in like manner.

In another incident Jesus’ disciples ask him about a man that had been born blind.  Again they were wondering about cause and effect.  Was this man the sinner or his parents that he was born blind?  In this case Jesus said neither but that he had been born that way to glorify God.  He then healed him.

In both cases Jesus repudiates the idea that there is a direct link between a man’s (or woman’s) circumstances and his (or her) sin.  This is one of the main reasons Jesus also tells us not to judge.

Sometimes there is a link between a person’s lifestyle and an early death or a sickness or condition.  Man’s heart so easily judges in those circumstances.  One of the main reasons Jesus confounded the religious people of his day was because he was happy to be in the company of such people, sinners.  He saw a bigger picture and knew that the hearts of the ones who had fallen into various immoral or harmful lifestyles were more humble than the ones who prided themselves in not having lived that way.

Very often the only difference between a self-righteous, judgmental person and someone who regularly sins in some other more publicly obvious way is that the latter knows he needs a saviour whereas the former doesn’t.

Very often that was the only difference that needed addressing as far as Jesus was concerned.

Tainted Windows

Yesterday my teenage daughter came to me and said she was bored and needed money and could I pay her for washing the windows of our house?  I explained to her that I could get a professional window cleaner to do the whole house inside and out including the conservatory for less than €50.  I also explained that it was not a simple job and that it would take her several hours just to do the downstairs windows inside and out to the standard a professional would do.  But she insisted and we agreed on a price and I helped her out with some tips.  Only I forgot one and that was to ensure that the cloth she used for buffing was clean – or use newspapers which also works.

So she got through a lot of windows.  At the back of the house is our conservatory which is mainly glass.  The sun sets on that side and here in these northern climes we get long evenings of low sun.  Having spent 2-3 hours cleaning windows the sun began to reveal things as it does when shining low into windows in the early morning or late evening.  Every smear mark, every missed part of every window was shown up.  Needless to say she was quite discouraged.

However in the morning I came down to the conservatory.  It was a bright morning but the sun was on the other side of the house.  No joke, you couldn’t see any of the smears without looking very closely.  All the windows looked clean!home_windows

Yesterday I also was listening to a man giving a TED talk.  He had done more good in his life for more people than many a Christian man.  He claimed to be a humanist and gay and had helped raise millions for charity.  By some light he seemed a good man.  But still I wonder, if the Son shines His gaze on his life, will it look as well as in the duller light of our understanding of good?

Isaiah said all our good works look like dirty underwear in His sight. (Isaiah 64:6)

I think I’ll trust in Jesus for my righteousness.  I’ll also let Him do the judging about what that means in my life or in anyone else’s.  What about you?

Naming the Stars

In Psalm 147 v.4 and in Isaiah 40:26 the bible explicitly says that God named the stars.  The bible itself contains several of these names.  They are really beautiful, try saying some of them:

The PleiadesThe Pleiades

Orion:  Betelgeuse, Rigel

Aldebaran

Sirius

Regulus.  According to Wikipedia this name means:  “Latin for ‘prince’ or ‘little king’. Regulus was known to Persian astrologers as the Royal star Venant, Watcher of the North.”  Which ties nicely into the true story of the Bethlehem Star.  If you haven’t already been there, go to that site now!

You won’t be disappointed.