Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Paul is purposefully using a type of word play in much of this chapter that I didn’t include above. His words are meant to shift the focus of familiar concepts and challenge thought processes about how we interact with God.There were two things I read in preparing for this post that were helpful to me.One was a line from The Message version of Romans 3; “Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.”The second was from one of John Piper’s writings about this chapter where he referred to the Law as a track, not a ladder.
Ladder-thinking regarding God, sin, obedience to the Law, faith and justification seems to be part of human nature.I know my own tendency is to want a list to check items off so I can move on to the next rung.Instead God has provided reality.Life is filled with either/or’s, if/then’s and hide & seek’s. It’s like a track where the same laps must be repeated over and over in order to achieve the desired goal.That is exactly why Paul’s challenge from Romans is so important today.
• Sin hides us from God.
• The Law of self-preservation hides us from grace.
• Self-preservation hides us from obedience of the heart.
• Christ reveals the truth of the Law and obedience of the heart
• Obedience of the heart reveals faith
• Faith reveals grace
* Grace reveals justification • Justification reveals God’s righteousness.
These realities are a vital part of our relationship with the Sovereign God of the universe through Jesus Christ.There is not a ladder, only a track.Repeat laps as needed.
John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”…16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. ESV
Nicodemus is our mirror for today.He’s aware of Jesus.He’s heard the stories.He’s an inner-circle part of a well-established religious organization that desires to assure people of their position with God.But Nicodemus realizes desire isn’t the same as reality.He wants to make personal contact with Jesus because he sees Jesus is able to reveal the power of God in the lives of people that makes assurance more than just a possibility.He’s curious about that.Can you see yourself in Nicodemus’s story?I can.
Curiosity and contact with Jesus are the essence of the assurance of being “born of the Spirit.” God still uses them both to convert desire into possibility and then finally into reality…For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
EPH 4:26 “In your anger do not sin.” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. ESV
One easy response to conflict and anger is the the ostrich effect: a cognitive bias that causes people to avoid information that they perceive as potentially unpleasant.
The ostrich effect may be comfortable but it has no power to make things right.Anger is uncomfortable but it’s powerful and often feels right. Don’t miss the reality this Scripture warns us of; “In your anger do not sin.” Your personal faith is the power over those emotions of anger and conflict. “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” and give “the devil a foothold.” He plans to steal the power of your faith in the darkness.
I Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. [ESV]
I’ve Been Healed – by Shirle Bedient circa late 1980s
It’s lonely Lord, with people all around when no one knows what’s really deep inside.Give me the courage not to hide my hollow life from you for by your wounds my lonely heart is healed. I’ve been healed, I’ve been healed, praise the Lord for by His wounds I have been healed.
The guilt I bear is heavy on my heart.I want to hide my sin and shame from you.Lord, I’m not worthy but forgive me, show me once again that by your wounds my sins have all been healed. I’ve been healed, I’ve been healed, praise the Lord for by His wounds I have been healed.
My spirit Lord is sometimes very low, for I forget just where my strength comes from.Remind my heart to sing your praises all of my days, for by your wounds my spirit has been healed. I’ve been healed, I’ve been healed, praise the Lord for by His wounds I have been healed.
Earlier this Spring a little-known Gospel trio, The Followers, had their 40-ish reminiscence reunion and we recorded this song, from the “old” days. I hope you ‘ll listen to the audio file all the way to the end because it’s the very end that inspired the object lesson of this post. Many years have passed since I wrote this song but the lyrics still reflect truth; hiding, guilt and anxiety are realities of everyday life but “praise the Lord, for by His wounds” we can be healed. Jesus has given us access to an optional ending.“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” [and this is key] to guarantee every day our life could be “returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your soul…that we might die to sin…” That is the daily process the Lord has provided to teach us how to”live to righteousness.” That’s the reality that makes healing and laughter the “optional” ending to a life of hiding, guilt and anxiety.
I Peter 1:13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” NASB
We’ve seen the reality of many people who’ve chosen to overrule their natural anxiety during this coronavirus.People in many places and many jobs prepared their minds for action, and with sober spirits were willing to do what they were called to do.Some have openly done that in the name of Christ but others have come forward out of an intuitive obedience and goodness they’ve not yet assigned to Jesus.But…they’ve revealed a greater truth that I don’t want any of us to miss.
Some might call that the human desire of goodness.I am only an observer but I see an impact on too many hearts to believe only human goodness is involved here.Hearts have NOT been been called out of familiar patterns of life by the power of an enemy virus but by the intuitive memory of their Creator.Our hearts in this exile are being reshaped by God, NOT coronavirus!
Our hearts have witnessed something about holiness that in our human ignorance we never expected to see.The power of holiness isn’t always clearly identified but it’s never absent.We’ve seen a deeper truth that still motivates the intuition of the human heart to respond.“…Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.[NIV]
This is the middle of the week between Palm Sunday and Easter for us. The memory of that first “Palm” Sunday crowd raising their Hosannas for the Messiah of their own imagination along with this quote from John Piper is my reminder for today.“Many of Jesus’s followers [in AD33] thought Jesus came to rescue and reign now. They anticipated a physical and political freedom from the oppressive Roman rule. For them, the Christ was the key to their immediate, this-world issues.” [Your Sorrow will Turn to Joy]
Re-read that quote from Piper and replace “Roman rule” with coronavirus. As believers in Christ we are confronted today with the same challenge of that long ago crowd – choosing imagination or reality.We can’t imagine how Jesus will rescue us from the deadly coronavirus but we can find comfort in the reality of His own words “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Choosing to let Jesus’s Word be the reality of comfort for us is better than letting our imagination for this-world confront us in the midst of this coronavirus week between Palm Sunday and Easter .
2 Samuel 11:1-5 It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold. So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” Then David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house. And the woman conceived; so she sent and told David, and said, “I am with child.” [NKJV]
“While Joab is busy in laying siege to Rabbah, Satan is [laying seige] to David, and far sooner prevailed.” [Trapp]
God’s plan for marriage
The condition,1 the promise2 and the blessing.3 Genesis 2:24-25 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother.1 and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.2 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.3 The reality of the relationship…Deuteronomy 17:17aHe must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. The evidence of accumulated sin…2Sa 3:2-5 Sons were born to David in Hebron: His firstborn was Amnon by Ahinoam the Jezreelitess; his second, Chileab, by Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite; the third, Absalom the son of Maacah, the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur; the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream, by David’s wife Eglah. These were born to David in Hebron.
News flash! Deceit and cover up from a position of power are not new and the consequences of sin are not normalized by repetition or by calling it by some gentler name. How does a nation deal with the complete moral failure of its leader?Consequences aren’t just a dismal surprise resulting from corrupt acts, they’re a given. Heart-breaking consequences were the result for a whole family and a whole nation as a result of the accumulated sins of the very king who had captured God’s own heart.Satan found a way to expose those accumulated sins into the tragic reality of consequences that included adultery, murder and death.
Here’s the Good News from 2 Samuel this Sunday: God did provide for the king’s heart to remember the grace of repentance and restoration that could forgive accumulated sins even in the midst of heart-breaking circumstances. That should sound familiar to our heart too.God has provided for our hearts to remember the grace of repentance and restoration we have through the death of another child, His own Son. Jesus, is God’s provision for our hearts to find repentance and restoration in every circumstance.
John 15:20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. ESV
“Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.” Remember just a few verses ago when Jesus called you friend? Why does Christ remind us now of the servant/master relationship?
We live in a world of two polar opposite masters; Jesus who is God and the princes of this world who aren’t. All of humanity will have to choose which of those two powerful masters to serve. There’s no inbetween. You can’t be a friend to both. You’ll either have to organize your life without God OR accept and act in accordance [abide] with Jesus’s example.
Take a moment and consider just what that example is. Jesus has already declared himself to understand your past, believe in your future, and accept you just the way you are. He has called you friend. He wouldn’t have forgotten that when He said “A servant is not greater than his master.’ Remember “Jesus took upon him the form of a servant” [Philippians 2:7]. John 15:20 is not a reminder to us of His position as Master but of His complete identity with His own servanthood and His desire to prepare us for the reality of accepting that identity as our own.
John 15:18 “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. [NRSV]
Reading John 15:18 feels like I’ve fallen off the edge from one celebrated reality… the birth of the Promise of Advent as evidence of God’s love…and directly into a world of gray. That world is filled with inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change. The edge is real and the world of gray is real. That’s unsettling because this world is our only option right now.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said“I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith.” God’s Promise has not come to separate us from this world but to clearly define how different the options are on either side of that edge.
Jesus is our world-shaping option who’s provided another reality for navigating a complete life on the edge in this world while we learn to have faith: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.”[John 17:15 NRSV].
John 15:16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.[NRSV]
“Bear fruit, fruit that will last” is the curious qualification for the “whatever” in the response “SO…the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.” I’ve spent hours and typed many paragraphs these last few days trying to explain to myself what that specific “fruit that will last” is because it’s so important to that “whatever.”
In the end I’ve discovered to bear “fruit that will last” is something far simpler and more personal and it’s my tie-in to Advent. Jesus is our gift of faith. “Bear” usually implies the power to sustain without flinching or breaking and faith is the only “fruit that will last” long enough to make “whatever” a reality in our life.