“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Romans 3:21-22
The historical event of the resurrection has established a heavenly reality for all who are willing to believe. God is offering the gift of right standing (righteousness) with Him, when we trust Christ.
When we owe a speeding ticket, we are not in right standing with the law until it is paid. If we don’t pay our electric bill, we are no longer in right standing with the electric company until we remit the amount owed. If someone makes a payment on my behalf, I gain right standing even though I wasn’t the one who settled the account. This is the gospel. God has paid for my sins, so right standing is available to me.
What must I be willing to believe to access this heavenly reality?
- That I am guilty before a holy God and am unable to make things right on my own. Isaiah says that even our righteous acts are as filthy rags in God’s sight. (Isaiah 64:6) We may feel righteous by comparison to others, but God doesn’t compare us with other people. He views us through His own perfection.
- That God made payment for my guilt by dying for my sins. The cross is the greatest display of God’s holiness, and of God’s love. God’s justice demanded payment for sin while God’s love provided that payment on my behalf.
- That I must make it personal by receiving the gift of righteousness. The gospel will not affect me until I believe it. All who reject, or ignore Christ, will one day find themselves accountable to God for all their sins. But the only sin that condemns us is an unwillingness to accept the Spirit’s invitation to believe in Jesus. (See John 16:7-9)
Those who do believe can join in the ancient hymn with great joy, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ Name. On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.”
“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath when His righteous judgment will be revealed.” Romans 2:5
God wants us to contemplate hell now, so we don’t end up there. We are told to behold both His kindness and His severity (Romans 11:22) as a protection from us ever having to experience His severity. In His mercy toward us, Jesus spoke more about hell than heaven, not as a threat to His enemies, but as a warning to His friends. Jesus doesn’t want any of us to go to hell.
As we take a look into hell from this text, we can see three things:
- God doesn’t send anyone to hell; we send ourselves there. “You are storing up wrath against yourself.” Jesus died so we could be forgiven; He’s already tasted death for us. (Hebrews 2:9) No one needs to go to hell when God’s expressed will for all of us is to be saved. (2Peter 3:9) If we end up in hell, we will have only ourselves to blame.
- God’s anger and wrath against sin is being “stored” now, but will be poured out then. We all outlive our bodies and will face the day of judgment. (Hebrews 9:27) Those who have rejected Christ’s love and payment for their sins will make their own payment in the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)
- God’s judgment will be righteous. Those who have not received eternal life will eventually be destroyed in the lake of fire, body and soul. (Matthew 10:28) They died physically once, received back their bodies before final judgment (Revelation 20:13), and then will physically die again in the lake of fire which is called the second death. They will eventually perish in hell (John 3:16) but not before they pay, by conscious torment, for every sin they committed against humanity. (Luke 12:47-48) They will ultimately be consumed by eternal fire and will eventually be remembered no more. (Matthew 3:12; Hebrews 10:27; Psalm 37:38)
C.S. Lewis said in The Great Divorce, “Some would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven. And to those who reject Christ’s rule He will say: ‘Your will be done.’”
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope-the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Titus 2:11-14
More than clever, gifted, or successful, I want to be godly. We live in such a secular society that many people may not even know what that means. Here are four marks of a godly life from the text above:
- The godly live close to God. Jesus loves us and gave Himself for us so we could be forgiven and live close to God, in fact, in union with God every day. The godly don’t endure God; they make Him their greatest delight. (Psalm 37:4)
- The godly say “No” to all that is in them that would take them away from God. We have a sin nature that must be put off or died to every day. The sin nature is at war with the Spirit but the Spirit gives us power to overcome it. (Galatians 5:16-17)
- The godly are eager to do good. Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed. (Acts 10:38) The truly godly aren’t known for what they’re against, but for the good works they do. (Ephesians 2:10; Matthew 5:16) Their willingness to serve those in need gives people a taste of the goodness of God in this present age.
- The godly know the best is yet to come. Every problem will not be solved this side of heaven, and every pain will not be removed, but a better day is coming. Jesus will appear one day to take His bride and we will then be with Him forever. This is the living hope which burns in the godly and gives them strength for the journey. They are convinced that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2Corinthians 4:17)
“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:37-38
Desire without discipline will lead to defeat. All Christians have a desire for Jesus, but many don’t add discipline to their desire so when they are thirsty they go to wrong places. Some go to addictions, others to entertainment, some to human relationships, and others to work, but only Jesus Himself can satisfy the deep thirst of our souls. When we don’t take time to be in His Presence reading His Word, praying, worshipping and connecting with other believers we are ignoring the means by which He pours out His Spirit on us, and this leaves us in spiritual defeat. Many believers have the testimony Paul describes in Romans 7:19, “The good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” Instead of rivers flowing, many believers feel discouraged because of repeated failure.
Discipline without delight will lead only to us doing our duty. If Jesus becomes one more “have to” on our list, our relationship with Him will only be one more burden required of us. It is possible to read the Bible, pray, and go to church without ever drinking from Jesus. It is possible to have a Christianity defined but what “I” do for God instead of what God is doing in me. Trust me, I’ve lived this way and all it does is produce spiritual pride which results in hardness of heart. Discipline will always start out as a “have to,” but if we refuse to make it an end in itself, discipline will eventually give way to delight as our spiritual taste buds come alive to God’s presence and word.
No one is impressed by the discipline of a teenage boy who remembers to eat three times a day. Eating is his delight, not his duty. When we reach delight we stop noticing our discipline because it just becomes part of who we are!
“Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me.” Psalm 42:7-8
The Psalmist is in a time of mourning and desperation that has invited him to go deeper in God. God’s breakers have swept over him and they have broken him down to where all he has left is a thirst for God Himself. (Psalm 42:2) Have you ever been here? Are you there right now? God has a song He wants you to embrace; a song in the night.
David was in the wilderness being chased by Saul even though he had done nothing wrong. He had been anointed by Samuel and had an early victory over Goliath, but now an army was seeking to kill him and he was on the run with his men, hiding in caves. (Psalm 27:3) At this time David heard God say to his heart, “Seek My face.” (Psalm 27:8) In the midst of David’s great need for His hand (power to deliver), God invited David deeper, to seek His face (who He is). May our response be similar to David’s: “Your face, oh God, I will seek.” (Psalm 27:8)
Three things happen to us when we embrace the song in the night:
- Our joy becomes centered in God alone. Habakkuk says that when famine strikes and all external blessings are cut off, he will rejoice in God because God alone is his Savior, Strength, and Guide through life’s most difficult times. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
- Our identity changes. Hosea declares that experiencing God’s tenderness in the wilderness will lead to us calling God our husband instead of our master. (Hosea 2:14-16) It’s in the frustration and despair of the wilderness that God calls us deeper and changes us. David says it this way: “Your gentleness makes me great.” (Psalm 18:35)
- We prepare the way for our own deliverance. David says the rising waters will not reach him because God has surrounded him with “songs of deliverance.” (Psalm 32:7) Paul and Silas sang this song in jail and it led to an earthquake that freed all of the prisoners (Acts 16). Is it midnight in your life? Lift your eyes higher, seek His face, and sing His song.
“My house shall be a house of prayer.” Luke 19:46
In the spring of 2009 the woman leading our weekly prayer meeting requested prayer because the burden of leading was heavy on her. She was in charge because she was a known intercessor and I knew I wasn’t. Early one morning while praying for her, I received an impression of a large ship with a small rudder. A sentence came into my mind, “Lead the church from the prayer meeting.” With this thought came an immediate understanding of three things:
- I had been trying to lead the church from Sunday mornings to that point.
- Because of this I was leading the church politically (human effort) instead of spiritually (trusting God).
- The large ship represented the church and the small, unseen rudder; the prayer meeting. God was asking me to take my place as the leader of the prayer meeting.
From that time until this I have tried to lead our prayer meetings. From that time we tell all who come to our membership classes that we consider the prayer meeting our most important gathering of the week.
If you’ve ever been to a Tuesday night you know it’s not very impressive. Yet it’s the prayer meeting that gives me confidence God is in all the other ministries at church, including Sunday mornings.
Jesus said: “My house shall be a house of prayer.” Until we’ve prayed, we should do nothing. Once we’ve prayed, we should only go forward as God directs. This is true of a church, but it’s also true for individuals. We are the house God lives in today. (2Corinthians 6:16)
So what’s the rudder in your life? What is the underlying motivation for all you do? Is it money? Fun? Selfish ambition? Family? Responsibility? The same Jesus who turned the tables over in the temple knocks on our door today asking for our permission to enter. He is still filled with zeal to make us a house of prayer but has chosen to wait for us to make prayer a priority in our lives.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20)
“Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” Matthew 5:8
I was in an informal conversation with a young pastor recently when he said, “I really struggle giving grace to church people who are not fully committed even though they know better.”
I asked if he minded me using the word “mercy” where he had used the word “grace,” and he told me to go ahead. “So here’s what you’re basically saying,” I responded. “You struggle to give mercy to those you feel don’t deserve it.” He understood where I was going. If someone “deserves” mercy it isn’t really mercy, it’s justice.
Jesus made it clear that our attitude toward others determines the ground under our own feet. If we choose to judge others than the same measure we use will be applied to us. (Matthew 7:1-4) But if we choose to be merciful toward the faults of others, we will find a wide place of mercy under our own feet as well. The merciful obtain mercy.
In Micah 6:8 God laid out clear instructions of how to please Him: “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Our natural tendency is to give mercy to ourselves, love justice for others, and to walk in self-righteousness, independent of God.
We need grace to do justly instead of making excuses for ourselves. We need grace to not only give mercy, but to love showing mercy to others. And we need grace to simply walk humbly with God. No wonder Jesus said that the key was not us but Him in us. Apart from Him we can do nothing, but in Him we will bring forth much fruit. (John 15:5)
“Few things are necessary, really only one, and Mary has chosen the good part.” Luke 10:42
A recent quote I heard has really struck me, “It is almost impossible to overestimate the unimportance of most things.” Think about this for a moment. All talk about food and drink is really unimportant. All talk of sports is really unimportant. All talk of weather, past, present, and future is mostly unimportant. All speculation of how the rich and famous live is meaningless and most talk of others is to no valuable end either. It’s amazing how much we are able to talk without really saying anything important.
“Small talk,” is what we call it. It is purposely unimportant because it breaks the ice in relationships without causing controversy. I get that, but I hope our lives are aiming at something more valuable, or we may end up as empty as most conversations.
Mary was seated at the Lord’s feet listening to His Word. There is nothing more valuable than a life focused on a relationship with God. Proverbs 1:32-33 says, “…the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to Me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.” This is the good part.
Martha became distracted by her serving and ended up with the bad part; working for Jesus but no longer listening to Him; around Him, but not personally experiencing Him. Jesus is helping her to leave a distracted lifestyle by telling her that what Mary has, she has chosen. It’s as if He’s saying, “Martha, you are not a victim of your circumstances. You too can choose the good part.”
King David made this choice in the midst of his adventurous and busy life. “One thing have I desired and that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord (the Presence of God) all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.” (Psalm 27:4)
If something other than Him is the aim of our life, we’re on a tangent. Why not make a better choice today?
“No sign will be given except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now One greater than Jonah is here.” Matthew 12:39-41
Jonah is a unique book in the Old Testament. Not only does it foreshadow Christ’s resurrection; it also foreshadows the preaching of redemption to God’s enemies. The idea of transforming nations that Jesus introduced in the kingdom of God was not practiced in the Old Testament. Leaders, in that time, were appointed by God to restrain evil by staying separate from their enemies, or, if necessary, by engaging them in war.
So we can imagine Jonah’s shock when God tells him to preach to Israel’s arch enemy, Nineveh. Prophets spoke to Judah and Israel, not Assyria! (Nineveh was the capital of Assyria) Whenever other nations were mentioned by God to a prophet, it was a message about them, never to them.
“Why would God have me go to the land of my enemy and tell them He was going to destroy them in forty days?” Jonah must have pondered. There was only one answer he could come up with. God didn’t want to destroy them (or He just would have done it), He wanted to save them. When Nineveh repented, Jonah prayed this to God: “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:2)
Mercy, not judgment, was on God’s mind, but it wasn’t on Jonah’s. God gave Jonah a second chance after his rebellion, but Jonah didn’t want to give that same chance to others.
Today God has given us His grace and forgiveness in Christ and wants us to extend that same message to others. I hope we do better than Jonah!
“For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance…” Matthew 13:12
To walk in the kingdom of God we have to change our thinking from lack to abundance and it’s not easy. The disciples thought Jesus was referencing bread when he started teaching about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They immediately became afraid because they had forgotten to bring the left over bread with them. Jesus was frustrated by their assumption that He was concerned about the lack of bread.
“‘Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? Having eyes, do you not see? Having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ ‘Twelve,’ they replied. ‘When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ They answered, ‘seven.’ He said to them, ‘Do you still not understand?’” (Mark 8:19-21)
They were supposed to change their thinking. God fully resources those who are giving their lives for Him. Did you notice that He didn’t even ask them about how many were fed, but only about the leftovers. God has more than enough. There is an abundance in the kingdom which is why we reign in this life “through the abundance of grace” (Romans 5:17), and why Jesus said He came to give “life abundantly.” (John 10:10) Not just enough for us, but leftovers for others.
If we don’t embrace the abundance of the kingdom, we will end up living in the fear of self preservation. When we do this, the kingdom can’t spread. We must give our lives away with abandon knowing that God will take care of us. In the words of Jesus: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:23-24)