Category: The Gospel

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.

Wrath or Favor ?

I pulled in to park for my 7:00 a.m. men’s meeting one Thursday this past September. On the eastern horizon was a blood red sun and I stopped to take a picture of it. But suddenly there was a monstrous lightning bolt followed instantly by an ear-splitting thunderclap. I quickly decided to take shelter inside, not willing to risk being struck by the next lightning bolt! (That’s why today’s picture is only a stock shot!)

Reflecting on that narrow escape leads to two quotes from God.

 I will gather you and I will blow on you with my fiery wrath (Ezekiel 22:21a)                                                                                      I am concerned for you and will look on you with favor (Ezekiel 36:9a)

At first glance these verses seem incompatible with each other. How can they both be true?

The first verse sounds like such bad news.

Did you ever walk through the long corridor from the Port Authority terminal in NYC to the 42nd Street subway stop? Often, you’ll see someone in the tunnel giving a loud warning about the wrath of God. This is not very winsome, but it is not because speaking of wrath is incorrect. The problem is that they are only presenting the bad news and leaving out the good news.

Thank God, the good news of entering God’s favor via Jesus outweighs the bad news of wrath. God does not enjoy spewing wrath on anyone but offers every one of us the opportunity to turn around.

Wonderfully, it is true that as we repent and move into living in and for Christ, we live in God’s favor. This is not a magic entrance into my best life now, where everything goes the way I would like, but it is a life with God and with his people. We are together no matter what happens, even when things are hitting the fan.

Just as I took shelter from the lightning bolts, we are offered shelter from wrath. Our shelter is Jesus Christ. We get a loving escape from wrath. God wants to win your heart. Then his mercy triumphs over judgment.

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.

Why refuse mercy?

We love singing about God’s mercy and love. But not everybody dwells in God’s mercy. Is God depriving them of something? Does he have a mean streak?

To answer that, first consider this question:  If someone sincerely cries out “Lord, have mercy” would God ever say no?

Never, because “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13b)

But what if someone says, “God, I don’t need your mercy”? And they repeatedly say “No.” Will they receive mercy? No, God lets them stay where they are.

Here’s a friendly warning:

Don’t have a hard heart! To see this at work consider the book of Exodus. Pharoah was warned to let the Israelite people to go. But Pharoah said no and God sent a plague each time Pharoah disregarded the warning. Each plague was worse than the one before it, but Pharoah still did not listen. With each plague he got more stubborn and hardened.

The same thing happens today when people say no. The more they say no the more they become hardened.

King David wrote the following after plotting the death of the husband of a woman he had slept with. David deserved the death penalty for that. Yet, forgiveness was available! Mercy is what we receive instead of the wrath that we deserve.

 Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
 Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.
(Psalm 51:1-2)

King David’s plea gave a sneak preview of what was fulfilled later in the arrival of King Jesus.

 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:4-6)

Here is my cordial plea: Please don’t be like the Pharoah. He did not ask for mercy and it did not work out very well for him. Do you want mercy? Just ask for it in the name of Jesus Christ.