Posted in 1John, John

The Life of God

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

The Greek word for life in this passage is “zoe.” Vines’ Greek dictionary defines zoe: “Life in the absolute sense, life as God has it, that which the Father has in Himself, and which He gave to the Incarnate Son to have in Himself and which the Son manifested in the world.” John 1:4 reads, “In Him was life (zoe) and that life was the light of men.” The gospel is not just the forgiveness of our sins or just a promise that we’ll go to heaven some day or just a guide that gives us better rules to live by. Praise God it is all of those things, but it’s more. The gospel tells the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection so that those who believe can receive the very life of God into their spirits. When we are born again we are born of God and His very life resides in us. “I have come that they may have life (zoe)…” Jesus came so that His life could be in you!

The key to the victorious Christian life is to let God’s life flow through us instead of getting stuck in our old carnal nature. “Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (1John 5:4) When we try to live by following our emotions, our addictions, our common sense, or our will power we are missing a much bigger plan. Let the life of God rise up in you; drink of Jesus’ life so that “rivers of living water” may flow out of your innermost being. (John 7:38) Stop analyzing the old and start meditating on the new.

If we walk in His life we will be lights to those around us without even working at it. “In Him was life and that life was the light of men.” (John 1:4)  Let’s get filled and shine more, so that the people who are around us each day might be drawn to Christ and His wonderful gospel.

Posted in 1John, John

Free from Condemnation

“’Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.’” John 8:10-11

Today I want to write about the first part of what Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either.” Tomorrow we will look at the second phrase, “From now on sin no more.”

The Pharisees witnessed an outward act of sin and were ready to stone this woman who they roughly threw before Jesus. Jesus looked at her and saw not just the act of sin but everything behind the act: the fear, the previous abuse at the hands of men, the financial need, the guilt and shame… whatever it was that brought this precious creation of God to this horrible place of darkness. This is why Jesus warns us about judging people.  We simply don’t know all of what is going on in a person’s heart or the circumstances that are behind their present behavior. When Jesus saw her, He saw the reason that He had come. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:17)

Jesus loves you and me. When He comes to our darkness it is not to punish or condemn us, but to call us into the salvation He has provided. When condemnation rests on our spirit we feel shame and guilt that only serve to keep us doing the things that brought the shame and guilt in the first place. If you think God is only saying in a stern voice, “Sin no more,” you won’t be able to stay free because the power of freedom is in knowing that He has freed us from condemnation.

Jesus gives the truth that frees us from the slavery of sin later in this same chapter: “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:35-36) The slave’s place in the house is only secured by performance and so the slave lives driven by the fear of not being good enough. The way Jesus frees us is by making us children that know they have a permanent place. The key is first believing that we really are children, dearly loved by the Father (1John 3:1-3), and then living out of that identity. This is easy to agree with in our heads, but it’s only when it is real in our hearts that we find the power to “sin no more.”

Posted in 1John, Hebrews, Matthew, Romans

Why a Blood Sacrifice? 

“Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Hebrews 9:22

Recently I received a couple of questions from a young adult about why a loving God would require the blood of His own son in order to accomplish His purpose. Here was my response.

It is critical in thinking about Christ’s sacrifice that we leave behind the puny reasoning of man and seek to humbly enter into the thoughts of God. When Jesus was explaining the need for His crucifixion, Peter rebuked Him, and then Jesus said, “Get behind Me Satan for you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:33)

The things of God. The unfathomable depths of the wisdom of God; who can possibly grasp the fullness of His ways or fully understand His paths? (Romans 11:33) Yet in the cross we see a partial revelation of three important truths:

  1. The Holiness of God. God is way more holy than you and I could ever grasp. The idea that God should just forgive on the basis of His loving us would deny His holiness. Because He is love and loves us, He gave His Son to die in our place so that justice for sin would be upheld. 
  2. The sinfulness of man. We don’t realize how sinful we are in the sight of God because we compare ourselves to other people. Jesus called His own disciples “evil” and told the self-righteous rich young ruler that there is no such thing as a good person, only a good God. Satan is the one who tells us we’re good people and accuses God of being unjust for calling us guilty.
  3. The love of God. “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and gave His Son to be a propitiation for our sins.” (1John 4:10) We will unpack this amazing truth for all eternity!

As far as “why blood.” God declares that the life of anything is in its blood and therefore there can be no forgiveness without the shedding of innocent blood on behalf of the guilty. (Hebrews 9:22) In the Old Testament it was the blood of innocent animals that God chose to use to cover over sins from year to year. But all of these sacrifices were only pointing to the Lamb of God whose blood alone could actually take away the sins of the world.

Posted in 1John, Hebrews

Dealing with Guilt

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.” Hebrews 10:1-2

My daughter Christina and I were driving to church early one Sunday morning to help with setup when our windshield started to fog up. I immediately put my glove out to wipe away the clouds when she quickly informed me that I was only going to make it worse, and that we needed to wait for the defrost to do it, which she then turned on high. After just a few minutes, we could see clearly and there weren’t any man-made marks that a glove often leaves.

It makes me think of how we often deal with the blinding fog of guilt. The quickest reaction to guilt in most Christians is to try to compensate for it by doing more. I feel I did something bad so maybe doing something good will please God and the bad feeling will go away. Pray more, read more, work more, serve at church more; we just want to feel forgiven again. Actual guilt, which has come because of the Holy Spirit convicting us of sin, will never disappear in this way. You only end up burying it under a bunch of religious works that lead to feelings of fear, rejection, and condemnation. We become spiritually blind when we react to guilt this way even though we still genuinely love the Lord.

Only the blood of Jesus is sufficient to remove the guilt of sin. Trying to work it off is actually us bypassing the blood that was shed on the cross. It may get stuff done, even Christian stuff, but in the end it only does us harm. When genuine guilt comes, instead of reacting quickly with performance, we need to wait for the Spirit to point specifically to the sin we need to repent of. We then need to confess it to the Lord and allow Him to wash the sin, guilt, and shame away, so we can immediately be restored back to a state of righteousness. Is it really that easy? Listen with your heart to 1John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Posted in 1John, 2Corinthians, Revelation

Overcoming the Accuser

“The accuser of the brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” Revelation 12:10b-11

The enemy of mankind tempts people to justify their sins and independence before they come to Christ, but when they become believers, he switches his strategy to persistent accusation. Notice in the text that he doesn’t accuse all people, but only those who call themselves believers. All believers succumb to accusation once in awhile, but it is possible to live overcome by so much accusation that there is no joy or sense of victory in our faith. God doesn’t want us to live under accusation so He tells us specifically how we overcome it.

First, by the blood of the Lamb. The power of Satan’s accusations is the truth in them. We have sinned and failed in the past. He can bring back something we did twenty years ago, or a bad attitude we’ve had recently, or a failure last week and make it seem like any victory is beyond us. It may be true that we’ve sinned in the specific way he is accusing us of, but that’s not the whole truth. The whole truth is that God loves me anyway which is why Jesus came and died for my sins, and now, His blood washes me completely clean when I confess my sins to Him. (1John 1:9) Remember the song: “Oh happy day, oh happy day, when Jesus washed, He washed my sins away.” That’s the other side of truth and must be what we agree with to find victory. Trying to defend yourself and your actions will only lead to deeper condemnation. The power to overcome is not in our righteousness, but in His. When we really believe in His cleansing, every day can be a happy day!

Second, by the word of their testimony. We must never lose the power of how our story intersects with God’s. His story is the gospel, sending Jesus to die for our sins. Our story is how we were drawn to Christ and became saved. Our testimony is a reminder of the new identity we have in Christ. The enemy will try to tie your identity to your old life in sin, but whenever we recite our testimony (to ourselves or others), we are reminded that our identity isn’t in our sin, but in His new life in us. 2Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”

Posted in 1John, Hebrews

Feeling Guilty

“When He (Jesus) had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” Hebrews 1:3b

Do you often feel guilty? Do you find that many things you do are really motivated by a sense of guilt and fear instead of love? “Well, I’d better do this, or my husband will be upset.” “We better go there or our parents will be disappointed.” “If we don’t offer to do that for them then they might not do this for us.”

It is easy to do the right thing for the wrong reason. God wants to break us of the habit of living out of guilt and fear, so that we can please Him by living in His love. But to get there we need to understand a little theology.

There is one piece of furniture in the heavenly tabernacle, the one Jesus entered into after He died for our sins, that wasn’t found in the earthly one: a chair. That’s because under the Old Testament sacrificial system the work was never done. The sacrifices the high priest made for sin had to be made again and again, year after year. Sin was covered but never removed. People still felt guilty because the sacrifice was imperfect. Hebrews 10:2 points this out:

“If the law and its sacrifices could make people right with God, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.”

The sacrifice Jesus made of Himself on the cross was enough to cleanse you of your sins. He sat down. The work is finished. You don’t get right with God by going to church, reading your Bible, doing good deeds, or by being a nice person. You could never be sure you were doing enough. Your own guilt would always demand that you try harder and do more. You couldn’t make yourself right with God, only Jesus could. And thank God He did. We must believe that truth to live free from guilt and fear.

“We who have believed enter that rest.” (Hebrews 4:2) Jesus has made a rest for you, have you entered it? Have you sat down on His finished work? Once you have you can enjoy going to church, reading your Bible, doing good deeds, and being nice. You’re not doing it to get right with God (fear and guilt), but because you are right with God and just want to serve Him out of love. If you blow it, and we all do, you just need to confess your sins and He will cleanse you again. (1John 1:9)

Posted in 1John, 2Corinthians

Taking the Trash Out 

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” 2Corinthians 2:14

Alice and I once returned to our home to a horrible smell. Something was rotting in our trash can so we quickly tied up the bag and moved it to the outside garbage bin in our garage. The smell was so bad that I was already looking forward to Monday morning when I would take it to the curb and the trash man would take it off our property forever.

A Christian’s life is supposed to smell like faith, hope, and love; “the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him,” but sometimes it smells like something else. In our trash cupboard there is one bin for trash and one for recyclables. There are at least three bins in the Christian life that need to be quickly tied up and given to God or a bad smell starts coming from our lives.

  1. The sin bin – When the Holy Spirit makes it clear to us that we have sinned against God or people we need to quickly and fully confess and repent. If we justify ourselves it doesn’t go away, it starts smelling like condemnation. The Holy Spirit exposes our sin because it comes between us and God and wants only for us to confess it so we will have confidence again. (1 John 1:9)
  2. The trouble bin – Part of living on this planet is that we face various types of troubles every single day. If we don’t get them to God right away our lives start smelling like anxiety and eventually fear. God allows troubles because He wants us to trust Him and to get to know Him through His intimate care of us.
  3. The disappointment bin – When we are disappointed with God or people we become vulnerable so we must give our disappointments quickly to God. When we don’t, they turn into discouragement and if we let discouragement go long enough, it becomes depression.

You know, there’s an interesting thing about our trash man – he will only take the things that are at the curb. He never comes into my garage looking for the garbage. If it’s not at the curb, it doesn’t get picked up. It’s time to let go and let God!

Posted in 1John, Luke, Matthew

Increase Our Faith

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” … “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” Luke 17:5; 10

In response to His disciples request for increased faith, Jesus told about a servant who shouldn’t think he deserves anything special for all his work. What does this have to do with faith?

If you approach God as a servant who is looking for pay you will limit grace in your life because grace isn’t given on those terms. Serve God and keep His commandments because you love Him, but don’t allow a spirit of entitlement to get on you because of your sacrifice or great devotion. After you’ve obeyed God completely, remind yourself, “I am an unworthy (undeserving) servant. God owes me nothing.”

In obedience, we must think of ourselves as servants, but in prayer we must take our position as beloved children. (1John 3:1)  A master gives a servant wages based on the servant’s performance, but a father gives his children gifts based only on his love and available resources. Jesus said to us, “If you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children how much more will the heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him.” (Matthew 7:11) In Luke’s gospel He says the Father gives “the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” The Father gives good gifts, natural and spiritual, not to those who are good, but to those who ask as His children.

Jesus said to pray as children of God, saying, “our Father.” We are adopted children who come to God through the blood of Christ with only the claim that we are loved, and we are His.

One of my favorite Dennis the Menace cartoons shows Dennis and his friend, Joey, eating a plate of cookies. Joey asks: “I wonder what we did that Mrs. Wilson made us a plate of cookies?” Dennis explains: “Joey, Mrs. Wilson doesn’t make us cookies because we’re good; Mrs. Wilson makes us cookies because Mrs. Wilson is good!”

The gospel is not about our performance, but about God’s generosity. To have increasing faith, we need to think of ourselves as both unworthy servants, and God’s favored children.

Posted in 1John, Hebrews, James

Cleansed from Dead Works

“How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Hebrews 9:14

What an amazing verse showing a glimpse of the Trinity working together in our redemption. Christ, who shed His blood for us, offers Himself through the Holy Spirit to God the Father who accepts His sacrifice on our behalf. The result is that we are cleansed of dead works. What are dead works? I think they may look like good works, but are from a wrong motive so they are dead in God’s sight even though they may be considered right in man’s. Hebrews 10:2 says that the power of Christ’s sacrifice is that we no longer need to feel guilty for our sins. It’s why His sacrifice is superior to the Old Testament sacrifices that could never remove the feeling of guilt but only added to the consciousness of sins.

It is easy as a Christian to live in guilt instead of grace. We feel guilty or condemned so we let that motivate us to do the right thing or, “to do our duty,” regardless of how we feel. We hope that by performing the act that guilt demands we will be relieved of guilt’s hold on us. The problem is that when we are done performing that act we will only feel guilty again for not performing another. Guilt is an insatiable taskmaster that makes you miserable and everyone around you miserable.

God has another solution for our guilt; He wants us to bring it to Him. If it is legitimate guilt because of sin, He wants us to ask forgiveness so that He can cleanse us, not by our performance, but by Christ’s performance for us on the cross. (1John 1:9) If it is illegitimate guilt, or condemnation, He wants to expose its source so we can take a stand against the accuser. “Submit yourselves then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) If Satan can’t keep us from Christ, He will try to make us unfruitful in Christ.

God loves us and He has died for us, so that we will have a life-giving and guilt free relationship with Him. “What can wash away my sin?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

Posted in 1John

Staying Free from Idolatry

“Dear children, guard yourselves from idols.” 1John 5:21

I received a phone call while I was pastoring in Minnesota from a third grader.

“Pastor Tom, this is Taylor, and I need to talk to you.”

In all my years of ministry, I had never been called by a little kid and had rarely heard such urgency in anyone’s voice.  Then his mom came on the phone to set up a time when she could bring Taylor in for a meeting. What could this possibly be about, I wondered. Has he been abused? Is he having nightmares? Why couldn’t it wait until Sunday, or why couldn’t he just talk to his parents about it?

The next day, Taylor and his mom arrived at the appointed time and he opened his heart to me. “I love a video game more than I love Jesus,” was what he finally got off his chest. “It’s what I think about in the morning when I wake up and it’s what I think about when I go to bed. I used to think about Jesus, but now it’s this game. What should I do?”

I knew I needed to be careful. His tender conscience could easily have been convinced that all video games are wrong and that he should never play one again. It also would have been easy to minimize an experience he was having, where the Holy Spirit was making him aware that nothing should be more important than God. I ended up saying something like this:

“Taylor, there’s nothing wrong with playing video games; God wants little boys to have fun and excitement. But it’s also important to keep God first, and to not have idols. Why don’t we ask God to forgive you for putting this game before Him, and then you take a time of fasting from the game. After that, you could try playing it again, and we’ll see if God doesn’t break the hold it’s having on you now.”

He thought that was great and we had a time of prayer where he poured out his young heart to Jesus and asked His forgiveness. 

The Apostle John tells us to guard ourselves from idols. An idol is anything you regularly look to as a source of comfort and motivation that’s not God; something that takes God’s place. It can be a person, an addiction, money, work, looks, education, television, and yes, it could even be a video game. We need to guard ourselves from even good things that become too central in our lives.