Forgiveness of Sins

It is a tragedy to watch Ireland abandon centuries of Christian tradition to become a bastion of anti-christian sentiment, atheism and humanism.

I believe that the main reason that this has happened is that the majority of the people of Ireland have rightly turned with horror from the abuses of the Roman Catholic churches hierarchy which have been laid bare in these last few years like rarely before.

However, we are throwing out the divine Baby with the bathwater.  Ireland needs to return to Christ and the Word of God as it was preached by Patrick when he first arrived in this country in 430 AD and not to return to the paganism that predated him.  And for that we need to remind ourselves of some basics:

“A pope or a bishop has no more power than the humblest priest where the remission of fault is in question. And even where there is no priest, each Christian, were they a woman or a child, can do the same thing. For if a simple Christian says to you, ‘God pardons sin in the name of Jesus Christ,’ and you receive the saying with firm faith, as if God himself had spoken, you are acquitted. If you believe not that your sins are pardoned, you make your God a liar, and declare that you put greater confidence in your vain thoughts than in God and his word. Under the Old Testament neither priest, nor king, nor prophet, had power to proclaim the forgiveness of sins; but under the New Testament every believer has this power.”

(From Martin Luther @1518 AD quoted in Volume 1, Book 3, Chapter 10 of the HISTORY OF THE REFORMATION by J. H. MERLE D’AUBIGNÉ. http://www.DelmarvaPublications.com. Kindle Edition.)

The point Luther was making is that the truth that Jesus Christ was crucified so that we could know forgiveness of sins stands independently of the means by which it is delivered.  It only takes faith in the hearer of the truth itself for it to be effective – and as Paul says in Ephesians 2 that faith is itself a gift of God.

Luther goes on to say (from the same source):

“Repent, and do all the works that you can do; but let the faith which you have in the pardon of Jesus Christ stand in the front rank, and have sole command on the field of battle.”

This is the faith Patrick taught when he first arrived in Ireland @430 AD.  It was hundreds of years later that St. Anselm and others brought the errors of the Roman churches teachings on forgiveness to Ireland and enforced them on the people by Norman arms.  It was for control then that the Pope and the Roman Catholic hierarchy abrogated the power to forgive sins to themselves and it is for control over naive people that they continue to do so.

We need to stop being children in our thinking and become men in our understanding (1 Corinthians 14:20).

Easy to Understand, Hard to DO

Jesus’ definition of a hypocrite was someone who did not practice what they taught (Matthew 23:3).  In my experience this is a surprisingly common phenomenon especially in my own life!

James also said this about the same type of thing:

22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror.24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. 

(James 1:22-25)

So, here are some things that are easy to understand but hard to do that are challenging me lately.  Perhaps you can identify with some of them:

  1. The cure to being overweight is to eat less.  In my case, if I simply cut out eating cakes and biscuits with my teas and coffees I would do all I need (taking into account point 2 below) to get to my best weight.  The trouble is I really like cakes and biscuits with my teas and coffees.
  2. The cure for flabbiness is more exercise (and point 1 above).  In my case a few exercises every morning for about 15 mins coupled with 30 mins walk or a 20 mins cycle will do the trick.  The trouble is I don’t like going out in the rain.
  3. The cure for impure thoughts is to catch them as they come up and bring them captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). The trouble is that deep down I enjoy them (yuk!).
  4. The cure for poverty is to live within my income, not to spend more than I earn.  The trouble is I want the “freedom” that comes with being able to buy something when I want it.

The reality is that we are all, by nature, hypocrites to some degree or another.  We can be no other way.  Paul talks about this phenomenon in Galatians 5:17 (see also Romans 7:22, 23):

17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 

He also tells us the cure:

“Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfil the desires of the flesh.”

That is the real challenge.

Out of the same spring

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”  Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.

21 From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. 22 Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.”23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”

Matthew 16:17-23

It seems to be in the nature of Peter that he was capable of being the very best and the very worst of men at the flick of a switch.  He walked out on the water in an unsurpassed show of faith one minute and then begins to doubt and sinks the next.  He professes that he will go to prison and death with Jesus and then soon after denies Him.  In the above passage he gets a revelation from God that Jesus says He will build His church on, and then goes on to try and prevent God working out His purposes by looking at things from a very human viewpoint.

James asks the question: “Can a spring produce both salt water and fresh?” (James 3:11).  He goes on to say that a salt spring cannot produce fresh water.  However, to take the analogy further, the Christian life seems to indicate that those who have the fresh springs of the Spirit in them are still capable of producing bitter waters at times.  Or at least Peter did in the above passage.  [Some people argue that that was before Pentecost – or even before Jesus breathed on him and the other disciples saying to receive the Holy Spirit but I don’t see that changing much in Peter’s life after Pentecost (e.g. see Galatians 2:11-14).]

So it seems we are all capable of doing this especially if we have the sudden, mercurial temperament of a Peter.  We can all say something completely in keeping with God’s will one minute and then, maybe in the same sentences, say something that in no way reflects His purposes.  It is to be noticed that, in the passage above, Peter is most wrong when he is saying something that seems most reasonable and loving from a human point of view.

As the hymn writer says: “I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ Name.”

Following Jesus

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. 25 He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” John 12:24-26.

One of the noteworthy things about Jesus, as He is described in the synoptic gospels especially, is His indiscriminate healings of everyone who was sick around Him.  This was most obvious in the physical healings he did so often but Jesus also healed people from sin, guilt and shame.  He spoke words of healing that minister to us to this day and into eternity.

Healing ought to be a sign that He is in our churches also.  If Jesus is truly with us then one of the signs that this is so is that our church is a place of health and healing in all senses of that word.

Losing your life

If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. Matthew 10:38,39.

Everyone lives every day in the shadow of death whether we want to acknowledge it or not.  The physical life of our body is a precarious thing.  It can dissipate easily under the influence of sickness or accident.

As a result many people spend a lot of time and energy trying to ensure it lasts just that little bit longer or isn’t taken away suddenly.  This extends to our immediate loved ones as well.  Telling people to “take care” is such a common phrase that we hardly notice it.

This is all very natural but runs counter to what Jesus tells us to do if you want to be His disciple.

It also doesn’t make sense, especially if you are a Christian who believes in the resurrection of the dead and a better life to come because of what Jesus did on the Cross for us all.  Why spend all this time and energy trying to put off the inevitable when what comes afterwards is so glorious?

However, no where in the bible does it say that it is a good thing to be reckless with your life or to take it so you can get to heaven sooner.

What Jesus does say is this:  Trust your life to Me and I will take it and do what I want with it.  Don’t worry about your life, how you will get your next salary, for your heavenly Father knows you need these things.  Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well.

Difficult Passages

Jesus is the most lovely person that ever lived but He sure said some difficult things at times.  Some of the more difficult are those things He said concerning those who will call Him “Lord, Lord” on the Judgment Day:

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ Matthew 7:21-23.

I don’t know about you but I can’t say I have seen many people who prophesied in Jesus’ name, cast out demons in His name and performed many miracles in His name.  It seems hard to imagine anyone doing those things and then going on to break God’s laws, never mind the many that Jesus says will.  But Jesus says there will be many who will do this.  I guess “many” is a vague term but it certainly is not a few.  It could be tens of people I suppose.  Maybe it is not that hard to imagine that of the billions of people that have ever lived that there could be tens, hundreds, thousands or even millions that fall into this category (don’t worry, everyone struggles, except God, when it comes to handling numbers this large).

But there is one category of people that you will never hear Jesus saying that they won’t make it.  Despite the fact that the way is narrow into the kingdom of Heaven and few find it (again “few” is a relative term, it could be millions) the poor are always welcome.  There are those among us who will be first and others will be last.  You may overlook them.  Jesus doesn’t.

 

Faith Tests

So God speaks to you, not once but often, promising something huge.  He tells you to do something about it and you obey.  And then all hell breaks loose.

First of all, the exact opposite to what God promises happens.  You pray for healing believing God has spoken to you saying that that person, or yourself, will be healed and you feel more sick.  You pray for money because God has promised you will be rich financially and your poverty gets worse. You ask for that deliverance from addiction that you know He has promised and you fall more heavily than ever.

If that is your experience you are in good company.  Moses had exactly the same experience in spades. You can read all about it in the first 6 chapters of the book of Exodus in the bible.

There was no doubting God had spoken to him in that burning bush.  He had seen the signs of the rod turning into a snake and his leprous arm miraculously clean.  Aaron, his brother, was with him and he also knew that God had spoken to them both.  Then they went and did what they were told.  They went right up to the ruler enslaving their people and told him that the Lord had commanded him to let the people of Israel go.

So now Pharoah rolls over and out walk the people of Israel taking with them a bunch of Pharaoh’s people’s goods and money.  You wish!!

No, the first thing that happens is the very opposite of what they asked for: the slavery gets worse.  The people are discouraged and no one believes Moses and Aaron anymore.

22 Then Moses went back to the Lord and protested, “Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord? Why did you send me? 23 Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to rescue them!” (Exodus 5:22-23).

God then repeats His promises and explains why He is going to deliver the people of Israel.  Moses is still not convinced that it will happen if it has anything to do with him:

12 “But Lord!” Moses objected. “My own people won’t listen to me anymore. How can I expect Pharaoh to listen? I’m such a clumsy speaker!”

In my own experience I have found that when something God has said to me is challenged I don’t doubt God, I usually doubt myself.  The promise is clear enough and there is no doubting God’s ability to bring something about.  So I reckon that the reason it is not happening must be to do with me.  It seems the most logical explanation.

Moses did have something to do.  He and Aaron were given orders from God for the people and for Pharaoh.  The Lord commanded and they obeyed.

Now if you are reading the passage that I am referring to in Exodus 6 you will notice a strange thing happening at verses 14-30.  The writer goes into this seemingly pointless listing of Moses & Aaron’s ancestors.  I can just imagine this story being told around a camp fire by a Jewish village elder to children and others who may have been hearing it for the first time.  The suspense is deliberate.  Our heroes have been told by God to do something and all that has happened has been the opposite to what they have been promised.  Instead of taking us out of our suspense we are left waiting.  What will happen next?  How will God deliver His people as He has promised?  When will it happen, next week, next month, next year? In 400 years?!

In this case we know the story.  The miracles of the rod and Moses’ leprous arm are almost petty in comparison to what God does next.  It doesn’t take God long to fulfil His promise to deliver the people out of slavery and it sure is spectacular when He does.

There are, of course, other stories in the bible of people who got a promise from God and then experienced the exact opposite immediately or soon afterwards.  Abraham is one example, David is another.  In their cases the time spans between the promise being given and being fulfilled were quite different and called for even more patience.

However, in every case the promises God gave were fulfilled.

If you are in the middle of waiting for a promise from God to be fulfilled and it looks like the opposite – or nothing – is happening, take heart, you are in good company.

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

Hebrews 11:1,2.