More On Sin

Last week, I wrote about Paul’s paradoxical passage in Romans where he suggests that with the Law, sin increases (see last week’s post for details). As is usually the case, there was much left unsaid – so I would like to expand on the topic of sin.

Again, we human beings are broken. This is of our own doing and we are helpless to resolve this predicament on our own. We can’t work our way into God’s good graces. This is true of every person who has walked the Earth since the beginning of time, whether it be Charles Manson or Saint Teresa of Calcutta – we are all sinners in need of reconciliation with God.

This has helped me understand this concept a little better; Theologian J. Gresham Machen points out that some of the early Jewish followers of Christ still held on to the idea that we should believe, then obey, then we are saved. Machen cites the letter to the Galatians where Paul corrects the order to; we believe, we are automatically saved and therefore, we obey. When we try first to obey (try to not sin) to earn God’s favor, we can never know how we’re doing versus what we think God expects. In addition, we are likely motivated by our need for self-satisfaction. When we fully believe that we are first accepted, forgiven and loved by God, we then obey out of joy and gratitude. We are doing it for Him, not for us. Our works (obedience) are not of our own, premeditated doing – they are the work of the Holy Spirit – which takes our self-interest out of the equation.

There’s a lot here, we’ll have more on this in upcoming posts.  

Thanks for reading, please comment below.

Sources:

Notes on Galatians, Machen, J. Gresham

The Centrality of the Gospel (Sermon by Tim Keller on YouTube)

Sin, Increased

One of the Bible verses that I struggled with (until my pastor straightened me out) is Romans 5:20 (NASB) where the Apostle Paul writes: “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,”.

This doesn’t seem to make sense. Why would God give us the Law only to have us sin more? Is it that He wanted to give us an abundance of grace, perhaps as a display of His great love for us? Though it is true that the scale of God’s grace is displayed in this passage, He had more in mind. God’s Law was handed down not so that we would sin more, but so that we would (will) become more aware of our sin and of our sinful nature. Even Paul, in 1 Timothy 15-16 called himself the “worst of sinners”, twice! A good way to understand this is examining Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 5:27-28, on the commandment prohibiting adultery, Jesus says, the law extends to include lustful thoughts.

In this example, compliance does not come overnight, it takes the work of the Holy Spirit in a committed Christian to improve in this area. So the new Christian might think, “O.K., I just can’t sleep with anyone other than my spouse and I’m good.” But as the Spirit transforms the believer, he/she becomes aware of more nuanced sins like the one Jesus warns us about in the example above.

God will continue to give you grace, but expect as you proceed in your walk with Christ that He will reveal ways that you are sinning that you didn’t even think of. Thanks for reading, please comment below.

Thanks!

It being Thanksgiving week, it seems obviously appropriate to write on gratitude. Though this opening probably sounds a little dismissive, gratitude is the essential fuel that runs the Christian life.

Many, if not most of our problems in this world, particularly in wealthy nations like ours, can be traced back to unmet expectations based on the inherent human trait of self-centeredness. As I have noted in several prior posts, we are fallen beings living in a fallen world and thus have an upside down view of success, happiness and purpose. When we look to the Cross, that is, what God has done for us – giving up His very life in the most humiliating, torturous way possible to a profoundly undeserving populace simply out of His deep love for us, we see the ultimate act of selflessness. When we humbly come to God, surrendering all to Him, knowing that there is nothing we have or do that He values, the Holy Spirit occupies our hearts and informs our thoughts and actions for eternity. We begin to transform and suddenly, the needs of others become more important than our own. We are freed from the prison of our prior expectations, priorities and perceptions of our purpose. We begin to feel deep gratitude for the breadth of the gift that we have been given and the peace that comes with it and feel empathy to those that have not yet accepted this gift.

This Thanksgiving, look to the Cross and know that it’s where our gratitude begins.

Happy Thanksgiving! Thanks for reading, please comment below.

Mission Impossible?

In church yesterday, our pastor spoke about mission. Not only as in mission trips, local outreach, etc., though the message encompassed those things, but in a much larger sense. The pastor cited Acts 1:1-11; the event of Jesus’ ascension into heaven, to make the point that the restoration of God’s Kingdom was not a political or military event, but a responsibility (mission) that we all must undertake with the help of the Holy Spirit to bring the Gospel to individuals, towns, cities and nations.

The command was to his disciples, but it was really to all of us. This is daunting to many, myself included. We might ask, “What makes me qualified to do this?” or “What gives me the right to impose my religious views on others?”. As pastor pointed out, God (Jesus) constantly and intentionally uses imperfect vehicles to accomplish His purposes, in this case His primary purpose of restoring His Creation (Kingdom). Jesus explicitly gave His authority to the disciples to carry out this mission, despite their well-documented flaws – and He does the same to/for us.

Many of us ask ourselves, our friends, families or counselors, “Why am I here?”, “What is my purpose.” Pastor astutely cited verse 8 in Acts 1 in response to such questions. Jesus told his disciples that, “…you will receive the power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” If you’re a Christian, this is why you’re here; it’s you’re purpose. If you’re not and like most people, you are looking for your purpose, pick up the Bible today (you may want to start with Acts 1).

Thank for reading, please comment below. 

Poor Me

The mission of BBNF is to serve the needy and as such, I have written much on the topic before. I recently came across a sermon by Tim Keller that to me is spot on regarding this charge. In this post, I will attempt to summarize Keller’s sermon, but I encourage you to listen to it for yourself (link below).

Keller cites Jonathan Edwards in saying that there is no clearer command in the Bible than to serve the poor – this is not an option; indeed it is talked about in over two hundred passages in the Old Testament. To understand the poor, we must first understand that due to their circumstances, the poor end up with nothing that the world values; no skills, property, influence, etc. As a result, they have no neighbors – they are thrown away by the world. Of the many Bible passages referencing the poor, the overwhelming majority conclude that any irresponsible behavior by the poor is the result of their poverty, not the cause of it. We therefore must respond to their condition with mercy; the Bible commands that we “Give until his need is gone” (Deuteronomy 15:7, 8).

Most impactful for me is the biblical assertion that we must become poor in spirit. This is not about our economic condition, rather, it’s about the condition of our spirit. Keller notes that the Gospel only comes to those who confess they have nothing of value save for the power and grace of Jesus Christ. Religion says “be good”, the Gospel says, “nobody is good – our only hope is in the King who became a poor man for us. We must come to Him with nothing and in a posture of owing Him everything. When we give up our worldly spirit, we realize that we are exactly like the poor.

Thanks for reading. Please listen to the sermon and comment below.

Tim Keller Sermon – Blessed Are the Poor

A Stroll on the Lake

In the very well-known Bible narrative of Jesus walking on water, Jesus’ disciples find themselves in a boat, struck by a storm in the middle of the lake. They are badly shaken by their circumstances and as the storm rages, they see a figure walking toward them on the surface of the water. Unable to identify the figure in their fear, he identifies himself as Jesus. Peter, in a moment of faith and bravery, asks Jesus to call him out on the water with him upon which, like Jesus, he walks, but ultimately he panics and sinks – Jesus pulls him up.

There is deep wisdom behind the descriptions of events in the Bible. True, within the events as related are self-evident lessons, but there are also less obvious lessons for application in our lives today. The above narrative is a picture of us in turmoil, of our failure to trust Jesus at times and his of power to save us. Think of the events in your daily lives and how much stress they cause. Now relate that to the men in the boat, wasn’t their stress level pretty high? It’s very easy under these circumstances to not look to Our Savior, and when we do, for our trust in him to fail. When Peter finally recognized Jesus, he took a leap of faith, but was then overwhelmed by his circumstances and took his eyes off of his Savior. Jesus rebuked him for his lack of faith, but saved him from his situation and ultimately calmed the seas.

We can expect to be upheld by Jesus when we are going through difficult times. He will pursue us despite our failure to trust him sometimes – we must however, keep our eyes fixed on him and not on our circumstances.

Thanks for reading, please comment below.

Am I A Sinner?

I’m a Christian, I try to do good, to put others’ needs ahead of my own, I don’t kill or steal; I’m pretty sure I’m going to Heaven. OK, all those things are true, but so are these things: I sometimes lie (or tell half-truths), I gossip, I am prideful, lazy and often make decisions based solely on my best interests – and a lot more. I’m not being unnecessarily hard on myself, I really do these things, which doesn’t make me “bad” – however, it does make me a sinner, in other words, it makes me a human being.

We were created by God in His image and were perfect. God gave us the gift of free will, but it did not take long for us to misuse this gift, which put us in opposition to God. This is the legacy that we are all left with; it’s now part of our nature. True, it was necessary for God to intervene, to sacrifice His only Son so that we can be reconciled to Him, but that does not mean that we no longer sin, it only means that the penalty for our sins has been paid.

So yes, I am a sinner. But I am also a child of God. I have the gift of His grace. I have the help of the Holy Spirit to guide me and to mold me. As I inevitably continue to grow spiritually, some sins will subside, but surely I will become aware of other sins. Though in this life I will never be sinless, I have the assurance that God will always love me anyway.