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

Be A Blessing

If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. (Leviticus 26:3-4)

In the Old Testament there’s a close link between obeying God and material blessing.

But in the New Testament, Jesus does not guarantee that following him gives material blessing. I was not able to find a verse where Jesus says, “if you keep my commands you will have health and wealth.”  So then – we might ask – why should we even bother to obey his commands?

As I reflected on this, I saw that I have too often clung to a secret attitude that I would not admit aloud. I felt really glad that I didn’t need to follow the Old Testament rules; indeed my attitude was “Good —-I know I am in, I am saved and going to heaven. I have a lot of latitude. I’m free to do whatever I want as long as it is not too outrageous.”

But I missed something, big time. Because listen to Jesus — he says 
If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:15)

The more I seek to be driven by love, the more my old attitude of liking to see how far I can push things without sinning gets shoved aside. Now, much better, there’s a push towards loving service.

So what does it look like to seek after a life with a lot of joyful love for the Lord and for people? I don’t think it is the total quantity of one’s good deeds. Some folks simply have a more generous temperament and find it easier to pour themselves out, while others tend towards having a more Scroogelike temperament. I am closer to being an innate Scrooge.

But I can tell you for sure that I am not as much like Scrooge as I would be if I did not have Jesus!

Doing what Jesus says leads to genuine New Testament blessing. This applies especially during our time of pandemic, because now we have a time of material scarcity, not material abundance. A key difference walking with Jesus is being able to experience walking in blessing even when our circumstances are not abundant and fruitful.

You may be familiar with the late great radio preacher Robert A. Cook. At the end of each broadcast he would say: “Walk with the King today, and be a blessing!”  Let’s all join in!

Turning From Worthless Things

Starting a recent study of the book of Romans, I saw how the Roman and Greek societies in New Testament times were quite modern compared to the Ancient Near East societies in the Old Testament. Both the Greeks and the Romans were more cosmopolitan, more advanced technologically, and had more developments in philosophy and political theory than the societies who lived in the times when the Hebrew Bible was written.

Yet what God told the Jews in their Bible has never been replaced by something “more modern”. This truth would not change: There is one God Yahweh who is ruler over all creation.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4)

In the more advanced Greek and Roman societies there remained pantheons of gods to worship. Only the Jews proclaimed worshiping the one true God.

And the apostle Paul, born a Jew,  loved showing how Jesus was the Messiah that  God had long ago promised in that very Bible, a Messiah not only to the Jews but also to the Greeks, Romans and all the peoples and tribes yet to come.

Here’s a good mind game:  Imagine what it would be like if the Apostle Paul were first writing now, in the 2020’s. He would not change the core of the gospel message of salvation through faith in the crucified and risen Christ that he presented 2000 years ago.

But, as he did in his own time, he would contextualize by explaining the unchanging message of following the one true God in a way that would persuade and convince 21st century people. Indeed, successful pastors today knows how to do that. Men like Tim Keller or my local pastor Dave Gustavsen do that well today.

When Barnabas and Paul visited Lystra the Lystrans wanted to worship them because they thought that they were the gods Zeus and Hermes come down to earth in human form.

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. (Acts 14:14-15)

Nowadays we don’t have Zeus worship, but there are still plenty of worthless things that we “worship” today! Look at American greed and commercialism.

I had to laugh sadly as I read about a recent controversy in France. Businesses there usually shut down early on Sunday to allow people to rest. But one chain, Casino Group, attracted ire by wanting to keep their supermarkets open past the normal 1PM Sunday closing hour. And the criticism was that this chain wanted to turn France into a greedy commercial place like the US! Oh, the irony! The “Christian” country is greedy and the highly secular country has a more “Christian” view of Sunday!

But of course the real question, whether you live in France or the US or anywhere else, is not whether you close your shops on Sundays or not.  It’s this:  Do you want to follow the real God whose son is the resurrected Jesus?

OK Now I am Free and Without Defect —- But there’s a Pandemic!

In my last post, I showed how we are declared without defect and freed because of what Jesus did, and we got permission to enter God’s Most Holy Place.

And I promised to explain some of what that meant in real life in my next post, and I would have talked about a refreshed Christian life during normal times. But there’s been quite a change since I wrote that post.Within two weeks, we suddenly entered a time of pandemic, lockdowns, and panic!

Within two weeks, we suddenly entered a time of pandemic, lockdowns, and panic!

I did not have a particularly good start adapting to that change.  My attitude was Boo-hoo, there’s so much I can’t do. I miss March madness! I can’t go to the restaurant with my wife! I can’t join my friends in fellowship groups! Indeed, I saw a video from last month of one of our worship services – did you ever take the greeting time for granted? Oh the handshakes and hugs!  

So what does entering into the holy place have to do with the corona virus?

First, I needed reminding that that following Jesus is not a guarantee that we have a stable life with no unexpected changes. I was not able to find a verse where Jesus says if you keep his commands you are guaranteed to have health and wealth and no Corona virus.

But I can find where Jesus talks like this:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:27)

In the middle of writing my blog the dove in today’s picture was at my window cooing. Perhaps he’s a reminder that we will come out of this and there will be a time of peace………

Following Jesus leads to the joy of walking intimately with God and having peace outside of the crazed events that are happening. That’s a peace that endures during ongoing tests and trials.

And I like being reminded that I am not on my own. I am thankful that online communities using Zoom and Google Hangout are springing up to cut down on our isolation.

At our church, our services are now online only, with only the pastor and worship team there live.  A chat scrolls on the right side of the screen, allowing us to see a virtual congregation. Here is the link for our streamed services: https://thechapelnj.churchonline.org/

 Scripture doesn’t command me to thank God for this season, but it does ask me to keep thanking God during this season.  My prayer is that anyone reading this can take courage. You are not on your own!