Category: The Christian Life

God’s Love for Sinners

Here’s a devotion I shared recently at our Battleground Men’s group.

We know that our great God loved us sinners so much that he brought us to salvation in Jesus Christ. Note what Jesus said in Mark 2:16-17: And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

It’s easy to think of repentance as a one-time event when we first came to recognize our sin for what it is, but today let’s consider God’s continuing love for us as sinners!

What, me a sinner? I thought I was past all that!

But Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

Importantly, Paul does not say he WAS a sinner but that he IS a sinner.

You may have heard of Martin Luther nailing up his 95 theses. But do you know what the very first one was? It reads: “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent,’ He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” With no exceptions, Luther was calling Christians to repent.

Turning from sin and trusting in the good news that Jesus saves sinners isn’t merely a one-time inaugural experience but should be a daily experience for us as Christians. Our daily repentance and faith means living in constant realization of our tendency to abandon God. It is a daily re-orientation of our eyes onto Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Luther’s last known words scratched out on a piece of paper in February of 1546 said: “We are beggars! This is true.” That’s the heart of daily repentance and faith — living in a way that we continually recognize that our only hope is Christ. That propels change in us. And that change comes from God’s continuing love for us as sinners!

We are rebels, prone to wander, as the song says—- but God loves us too much to let us stay there when we wander. His love brings us the gift of repentance. Our rebellious condition meets with the beauty of God’s loving grace in the gospel of Jesus —a gospel deep enough to cover all the little and massive flaws of a beggar like Luther and beggars like us.

First and foremost, repentance is a gift. By his grace, God grants repentance to us, his adopted children whom He patiently disciplines. In Revelation 3:19, he says “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent”.

In conclusion, living a life where we know that we are sinners, in ongoing need for correction from the God who loves us,  is a great launching pad for how we bring God’s love in Jesus to those sinners who haven’t  gotten  saved  yet.

My Vengeance?

 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:17a, 18-19)

 I was watching a Met playoff game recently. I wasn’t in a good mood, seeing how poorly they were playing against the Padres. At the conclusion of one inning, what initially appeared to the usual between-innings ads began running. Suddenly, an ad appeared for a congressional candidate in my state. He and some women appeared, and they were extremely angry. Why? Because they said his opponent would take away the right to abortion.

I was angry and infuriated – I yelled and called down God’s judgment.

My wise wife reproved me, asking what right I had to take over God’s role! I accepted her rebuke. I was reminded to be glad that God is slow to anger – he gives people time to repent ……. guess what, God was extremely patient with me! Otherwise, I would have been doomed!

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

The hymn “At Even, Ere the Sun Was Set” by Henry Twells gives me good attitude guidance for handling my disagreement with the other side in any debate:

“And none, O Lord, has perfect rest,
For none is wholly free from sin;
And they who fain 1 would serve Thee best
Are conscious most of wrong within.”
1 gladly and willingly

Twells’ point is not that I am so filled with sin that I dare not express an opinion, but rather that I express my opinion without having a sense of my own moral superiority. If I am on the right side of an issue, I am meant to be a humble expositor of God’s truth. Sometimes I might even be wrong and need to be corrected!

It’s especially easy to be enraged right now. Social media, Twitter, and political ads are not known for calm rational discourse and winsome arguments! Yet, we are called to be irenic 2.
2 irenic – favoring, conducive to, or operating toward peace, moderation, or conciliation

How are we doing in our battle of rage and division versus love and seeking common ground? In our furious view that only we can set things right, how easy it is to forget who is really in charge!

Playing With House Money

I am not much of a gambler. I get so anxious about whether I will lose my money that it takes away from the enjoyment of the game. But I do notice the point spread for the NY Giants games. And after several terrible years, they are playing so well this year that I am no longer ashamed to drink from my Giants coffee mug.

In view of the Giants’ newfound success, I found it hard to believe that they were 5 ½ point home underdogs to the Ravens last week. And there was a message from a certain legal online betting site that I had $5 of house money to play with. This meant the site would put up the money for my bet! I would not have the anxiety of having my own money riding on the game. Since I had nothing to lose, I placed the bet.

(Mike Francesca used the same expression “playing with house money” in his podcast. He applied it to the Cleveland Guardians in their recent playoff series versus the Yankees. Since no one had expected that Cleveland would even be in the playoffs, they wouldn’t face the anxiety-inducing pressure of lofty expectations.)

It looked like I’d lose my bet as the Giants fell behind by ten in the second half. Then they closed within three so I would win the bet with the Giants covering the spread. Finally, the Giants won outright. I won the bet without needing any points!

Of course, I like to see a spiritual analogy in this:  There is a way in which living the Christian life is like playing with house money. First, there is nothing we can contribute to get salvation. It is a free gift that we say yes to. Second, I don’t need to be anxious that I can get un-saved if I mess up. Living with free grace, what do I have to lose?

Take the lyric from the modern hymn “In Christ Alone.”

“No guilt in life, no fear in death.
This is the power of Christ in me.
From life’s first cry, to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.”

So, as I follow Jesus’ commands, I am free from facing anxiety about whether I am doing enough to please God. The more I gain awareness of this truth, the freer I am to grow in grace living.

As it says in John 8:36, So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

For Me Above All?

 “I, even I, am he who blots out
    your transgressions, for my own sake,
    and remembers your sins no more.”
(Isaiah 43:25) 

A popular worship tune today repeats over and over again about Jesus: “You took the fall and thought of me above all.” But is Jesus’ death on the cross mainly a delightful personal favor to me?

Today’s verse contradicts that idea by saying that God forgave my sins for his sake; that I was saved for his pleasure rather than my own pleasure. Some people say this makes God into an egomaniac.

But look at it this way: if God saved me for my sake, then wouldn’t I need to be on my most excellent behavior to stay in God’s good graces? However, if I have been saved for his sake, then God is touching me out of mercy —- not because of anything good that I have done.

Further, if I have been saved for my sake then isn’t God obliged to keep me feeling happy? If anything went wrong, I could exclaim to God: “Excuse me! How dare you allow disaster, calamity, sickness, death, etc. into my life! I thought you were thinking of me above all!”

So, knowing I am saved for God’s sake helps me grapple with when I do not get my best life now. Say we’re being hounded to pay a bogus medical bill for money we do not owe at all. And hey, my wife and I had Covid the last couple of weeks. How does that fit into thinking of me above all? Don’t I need to be catered to?

Let’s now spotlight what God is like: He is consistent and unchanging even when events in my life are hitting the fan. Divine qualities like “God is wise,” “God is faithful” and “God is good” are true even when the day is not going just the way I want it.

I am grateful for all Christ’s provisions. But how easy it is to start enjoying them for their own sake, even so much that it feels like they are owed to me. They are not! They are a gift pointing to how great he is, not to how deserving I am.