Category: Christology

How Can I Be Both Perfect And a Screw-Up?

Matthew 5:48 says: Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

But at the same time Romans 3:10-11 says:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
 there is no one who understands;
 there is no one who seeks God.

What? The Bible tells me to be perfect, but then it tells me I am a perfect screw-up? How can both things be true?

To answer, I must tell you how much I love the cation words. These are several rhyming words that describe what Jesus did, what Jesus is now doing, and what Jesus will do. Let me start by giving you “cation” word #1 for today: It’s justification. Justification says you do not bear the full penalty for your screwups or moral failure since Jesus took all your blame on the cross! Since Jesus now stands in your place, you can claim this stunning verse:

 I lead a blameless life;
deliver me and be merciful to me. (Psalms 26:11)

What? Blameless? Yes, I am:  Christ set me right with God. And his righteousness comes from outside of me, not based on anything I ever did. In Romans 3:22 it says:

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

But despite this, I still screw up. What happens when I do sin? Do I just laugh and blow it off since I have already been declared righteous? I don’t think so.

Sam, a missionary pastor who gave a sermon at our church, is a mature Christian who’s served the Lord faithfully in his international organization for decades. Yet, he confessed that he really started to lose it in a discussion at a recent meeting that degenerated into a futile argument.

I admired Sam for being man enough to admit his foul-up in front of our whole congregation and for how quickly he got the meeting back on track by rapidly repenting and asking forgiveness.

Why was Sam able to react correctly?

His reaction leads to our other “cation” word today: sanctification. This means becoming more like Christ over time. Ephesians 4:24 talks about progressively growing in sanctification:   put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Because I’m striving to walk as a mature man of Christ, I am not planning to yell on the phone at anyone ever again. I am not planning to lust ever again.

But what if I do?

I trust that the Lord will lead me to repent and ask forgiveness more quickly than I ever have before. And that he’ll continue to replace an impatient urge to get my own way with more of the good attitudes that Jesus gives.

I am glad I am not alone in this process of achieving change. I’m in a good men’s fellowship group called Battleground at my home church that is a huge help in this.

Our motto in Battleground is that we seek an authentic experience of God’s word, meaning that we want to not merely put Bible verses into our heads, but to allow those words to change us to reflect the character of Jesus. We confess when we fall short of that and we rejoice when we see the Lord at work building that into each other.

This quote from John Piper gives a great description of what we strive for in Battleground. Each of us is:

a godly man,
who knows he is a sinner, pardoned for God’s name’s sake,
justified by grace, trusting God’s mercy,
depending on God’s Spirit, taking refuge in God’s protection,
delighting in God’s beauty, keeping God’s covenant,
and therefore walking in integrity and honesty and uprightness.1 

What John Piper described cannot be achieved in isolation. In strong fellowship God gives us a solid way to care for and encourage each other to grow to be more like Christ.

May you have fellowship in a group like that, too.
Amen.

1 https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/can-anyone-really-be-blameless

A Post From Leviticus??

It may surprise you to see that today’s devotion starts from the book of Leviticus.

Leviticus is often viewed as a book that’s full of puzzling and outdated rules, but amazingly it can spur our passion to follow our Lord God today. I’ll warm up by giving you one command from Leviticus that is appealing for people of a certain age……….

Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.  (Leviticus 19:32)   If you are old enough for young people to stand up for you, this is a nice command. (Of course on a more serious note, think how our culture venerates youth and discriminates against talented older workers.)

But now on to today’s main point. Many ceremonies described in Leviticus seem quite strange to our 21st century eyes. But there’s one ceremony that points straight to the heart of what Christians believe. In talking to the people of Israel, God says: On the tenth day of the seventh month atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you…. from all your sins. The …. high priest is to make atonement. (Leviticus 16:29,30,32)

And in verse 34 God says: “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”

Can you imagine having your sins pile up for a full year……and then having an annual cleanup? It’s good to get rid of sin but still …. something about this remedy is defective.   

Speaking of defective, I vividly remember one episode on the original Star Trek. It’s called The Changeling.Here the Enterprise crew meta space robot called Nomad. Nomad approached and then probed some crew members, and was not pleased with what it found. Indeed, in its robotic voice, Nomad would exclaim: “This unit is defective,” and the consequences were rather dire…. say goodbye to that crew member.

But now, let’s hear what Leviticus says about defective units.  Here, someone is not allowed to approach God’s altar: 

  No man who has any defect may come near; he must not come near to offer the food of his God. …. because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the LORD (Leviticus 21:18,21,23)

This passage focuses on people with physical defects like crushed testicles, but aren’t we all defective when we stand on our own before the Lord? Yes, but are we hopeless?

No, we have hope because God chose to come in the flesh. Born a baby, Jesus grew up to become the man who lived the one and only perfect Christian life. He then was crucified to become the perfect, once for all sacrifice for our sin.

Jesus’ death and resurrection tore the curtain before God’s altar in the temple so that we can enter God’s presence. And now, free from sin, God no longer views us as defective units! We are presented “without defect” because of what Christ has done……….. What a joy!

Now to him that is able to keep you from falling, and make you appear in his glorious presence, without defect, and full of joy: (Jude 24)

Once we are freed from defect, what happens next? Do we just sit back and chill out? I don’t think so. See my next post.

If the River Dries Up, What Can We Depend On ?

low danube     resized begg

This past August we went on a cruise on the Danube river, led by Pastor Alistair Begg.

We saw many wonderful sights in Germany, Austria, and Hungary but were faced with a major issue: due to drought in central Europe, the river was too shallow. Because of this, our Viking cruise ship was in danger of running aground.

At two different locations, one in Germany and one in Austria, the water was so shallow that we had to leave the boat, take a bus bypass around the shallow area,  and then embark on a different, almost identical ship downstream. It was a Bizarro world experience — we got the same stateroom number and room type, but tiny details might be different—for example, the bathroom sink might be black instead of white, or the electrical sockets might be different.

We did finally get to where we were supposed to go —Budapest —  but definitely not by the route that had been planned.

Doesn’t something similar happen in our Christian lives ? We embark on our plans and get detoured. Sometimes our lives seem like a bizarre, inexplicable variant of what we originally expected.

When such detours occur, do things “just happen” to go the wrong way ? Are the bypasses in our life some kind of chance or accident ? No, God is sovereign over each of those twists and turns.

But, does God’s lordship mean we are responsible for nothing ? Not at all. When a detour happens that seems out of our control, at least we are responsible for our attitude. When the spit hits the fan,  we can choose whether to dwell in contentment  or to whine. On our river trip, we had an example of that choice : did all the extra packing and unpacking lead to grumbling ?

Anyone who depends on the Danube’s water level faces conditions which are always fluctuating. But Jesus never changes.

 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

What Jesus supplies does not waver or vary and is totally dependable.

Yes, we can rely on him. What a wonderful lifesaving truth to cling to during the unexpected  detours  in our lives!

 

Does God Give us a Theology Exam?

pass exam

Sometimes I hear someone skeptical about Christianity asking: “What is the minimum you have to believe to be a Christian?”

I have a problem with that question. It assumes that becoming a Christian is simply assenting to a list of propositional truths or facts or dogmas. But this is a misunderstanding of what it means to believe.

Why? Because in the Bible “to believe” has a much deeper, wider meaning than just saying that a list of facts is true. To start, let’s look at what Jesus said to Martha about faith. The regular NIV translation says:

 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; (John 11:25)

That translation gets part of the meaning. But the Amplified Bible expresses the full meaning of the original Greek word:
Whoever believes in (adheres to, trusts in, relies on) Me [as Savior] will live even if he dies

So, an effective way to rephrase the skeptic’s question is: Who do you need to trust to be a Christian? And the simple short answer is Jesus.

But then the next question is: Who is this Jesus that I trust?

John’s gospel is especially helpful here:
 but these have been written so that you may believe [with a deep, abiding trust] that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed), the Son of God; and that by believing [and trusting in and relying on Him] you may have life in His name. (John 20:31AMP)

John’s whole Gospel explains why Jesus is worthy of deep, abiding trust. It explains who Jesus was, describes the miraculous things he did, expounds his commands to love, and shows how he gives eternal life to those who repent of their sins and trust him.

Taking all of this to heart, try to imagine what it would be like if you died and met God — would he give you a theology exam, asking “Which facts and propositions did you believe?”

Or would he say, “Did you live your life by fully relying on my Son Jesus?”