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Archive for February, 2010

Saved from Our Sin

February 28th, 2010

…because he will save his people from their sins.

Matthew 1:21

 

The Lord came not to save us in our sins but to save us from our sins. This may appear to be a slight difference but it is significant. He did not enter into the world and die on the cross so that He might remain among His sin-crushed people. Rather He came to lift us out of the darkness and filth of sin and bring us into the kingdom of love. God does not see us in light of our failures, rather He sees us in light of the righteousness of Christ that covers us in our sin. The Bible proclaims, “There is now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

 

That which has tethered and bound me to the baser instincts and urges of the human soul, that blackness of thought and value that runs contrary to the will of God, those feelings and urges that come from unbridled selfishness, unholy desires, and excessive pride – all of this that can be identified as sin within me I am saved from. God sees me not against the backdrop of my failures but against the backdrop of His righteousness and the future He has prepared for me.

 

He has saved us from our sin by dying in our place. Isaiah the prophet was inspired of God to look hundreds of years into the future and see the sacrifice for our sins that Messiah would make one day. He wrote these words in the prophetic past tense, to emphasize the sureness of their fulfillment, though the event in history was still centuries after Isaiah. “For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of his people he was stricken … the LORD makes his life a guilt offering” (Isaiah 53:8,10). A payment for our guilt was made in full, not just in part. If we are not aware of the greatness of His grace, we may think that we can help Christ by punishing ourselves. Yet by continuing to punish ourselves for our sins we diminish the sacrifice of Christ and pay an insult to grace, perhaps unwittingly so, but the result is the same nonetheless.

 

We are like poor beggars God has picked off the street and placed at a banquet table, and we may fumble through our pockets to try and find a penny or two that we will think may help pay for the lavish meal set before us. If we continue in this attitude there is the very real danger of spiritual pride, thinking that our weak and pathetic effort toward righteousness has somehow earned us the grace of God, and it has not. Our response should be gratitude, deep and profound, and humility realizing how greatly God has stooped to save us and how high He has lifted us up. No other response will do.

 

He has saved us from our sin and continues to remove us from the habit of it and the association with it. It is theologically correct to say that through salvation Christ has saved us from the penalty of sin, which is death, from the power of sin, through the presence of the Spirit within us, and one day we shall be saved from the presence of sin, in heaven as we live with Him in His paradise forever.

 

Not only are we like beggars set before a banquet table, but the Lord also dresses us in His righteousness that covers our shame. The one who still tries to put forth some payment for his salvation tries to retain the old filthy rags of self-righteousness, tries to fix them up a bit as he sits at the table of grace, not realizing how inappropriately he is attired. He seeks to come near to grace while holding on to the law. The one, on the other hand, who in humble repentance and deep gratitude ceases to struggle, admits his utter poverty of spirit before God and accepts the grace of God discovers that he is covered with the righteousness of Christ, like someone sitting at a banquet table dressed in the finest and most beautiful of clothes. As Paul proclaimed,

 

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. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:21-24

 

We are wise to retain the awareness of where we have come from, but it should not dominate our thoughts or lead us to think that God’s power is limited in our life. We are sinners saved by grace, and while we must grasp both of these realities in our lives and keep both thoughts before us, we also must choose one of them to focus on more. We may emphasize in our thoughts the word “sinners” or the words “saved by grace.” We must choose. God would have us focus on His salvation for us, for His grace is greater than our sin. Christ has come to save us from our sin, and to prepare for us a bright and beautiful future.

 

So who are you, believer? Are you the sinner who keeps trying to impress God, or are you the project of God’s grace in Christ, in whom there is no more condemnation, who in humble gratitude sits at the banquet table of grace? Note Kierkegaard’s prayer today and let it for the prayer of gratitude within your heart:

 

Father in Heaven! Hold not our sins up against us but hold us up against our sins, so that the thought of Thee when it wakens in our soul, and each time it wakens, should not remind us of what we have committed but of what Thou didst forgive, not how we went astray but of how Thou didst save us![1]

 



[1] Soren Kierkegaard, The Prayers of Kierkegaard, ed. By Perry D. LeFevre (Chicago. University of Chicago Press, 1956), p. 9.

Evening Devotionals, Lenten Devotionals (Fastenzeit)

Peacemakers

February 27th, 2010

Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the sons of God.

Matthew 5:9

 

Most people speak for personal reasons. Whether to be understood by others, to find sympathy, to advance our career, to put others in their place, or to get what we think we need, the majority of words that come out of our mouths, and the majority of our interactions with others, are for the sake of short-term, limited, personal goals. The Peacemakers that Christ spoke of here, however, are motivated by the glory of God.

 

In the seventh beatitude, we have the third spiritual trait in the journey back up. In these simple words Christ described the heart of those who would serve Him. He described an activity, to be a peacemaker requires that we try to make peace, but He also described an attitude and a value system. The peacemaker has put aside his own personal agenda and taken up the mantle of God, to go forth under God’s command to minister to others. It is absolutely required that the one who would make peace, who would bring together sides in conflict with one another, that he would not interject his own personal agenda in the discussion. Only such people would truly be worthy of the titles peacemakers and sons of God.

 

The fifth and sixth beatitudes prepare the way for this the seventh. To have understood the mercy of God and to have been purified and cleansed by the blood of Christ prepare us to serve as peacemakers. No one can serve Christ as a peacemaker with any degree of effectiveness who is not merciful and pure in heart. To be a peacemakers brings us into ministry that interacts with other people. In these beatitudes, many things that are clearly the teaching of Christ are not named. Witnessing for example, and evangelizing, encouraging, instructing, or making disciples. I believe that Christ was summing up all that is involved in ministry under this broad category of peacemakers. From an inward spiritual perspective it means, having put aside our own personal agenda, we accept with commitment and enthusiasm God’s program of ministry. From an outward activity perspective to be a peacemaker means to do that which reconciles people to God and to one another.

 

Francis of Assisi is credited with writing these memorable words in the form of a prayer:

 

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.

Where there is hatred let me sow love.

Where there is injury pardon.

Where there is doubt faith.

Where there is despair hope.

Where there is darkness light.

Where there is sadness joy.

O Divine Master grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console,

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to love,

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.

It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 

This is surely the gist of the idea of being peacemakers. The one who speaks the most beautiful words, or even gives the wisest counsel, but does so out of a personal desire to be heard, to be understood, or to be respected, and not out of a heart purified by the blood of Christ and filled with the reality of the Savior’s love, is generally annoying, sooner or later. As Paul wrote, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels but have not love I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1). Such men, no matter how marvelously they speak, are not worthy of the title sons of God.

 

The need for such people who seek to console others rather than be consoled themselves in the world and in the church is overwhelming. Where are these people who are called the sons and daughters of God? In Romans 14 the Spirit directed Paul’s words to deal with the tension-filled issue of what foods and drinks are off limits to believers. He laid down a principle to govern behavior: that though food was not unclean in and of itself, if someone felt it was wrong to eat a certain food, his conscience had convicted him. In such a circumstance our eating may become the tool of the evil one to tempt him into ignoring his conscience, and God only knows where that type of thinking would end up. And it brought discord into the church as well. His summary was, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food” (Romans 14:19-20).  This is what we need today. Again I ask, where are the sons and daughters of God who set aside their personal agendas for the sake of God? I see some, but we need many more.

 

People that let God govern their passions and surrender their rights for the sake of the gospel leave a legacy as the children of God. William Borden was a millionaire the moment he was born heir of the wealthy Borden Dairy estate. William, however, had a higher trajectory in mind than money could offer and felt called of God into foreign missions. He didn’t wait until he could go abroad before seeking to leave a legacy. While attending Yale University, 1905-09, he began student prayer meetings in small groups. By his graduation 1,000 out of Yale’s 1,300 students were attending these meetings. He also gave his spare time to seek to win homeless people to Christ, often picking them off the street and paying for their lodging and a meal. In addition, he served as president of the honor society Phi Beta Kappa. By the time he finished Yale, God had used him to change the entire campus. After university he went on to Princeton Seminary, and upon graduation he set as his life’s goal the evangelization of the Muslim population in China.

 

The aimed trajectory of his life was as high and noble as one could imagine. He was going places and going places for God. His first stop on his missionary career was Egypt to study Arabic in preparation for Muslim evangelization. While there he contracted spinal meningitis and within a month twenty-five year old William Whiting Borden was dead. His family, colleagues, and friends around the world grieved as world evangelization lost a great advocate. In the flyleaf of his Bible six words were written that gave some glimpse of the depth of his character and what his living for God meant to him: “No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.”

 

Was his life a waste? Not at all. He died with no regrets. His legacy continues to speak to us today. Following his death, as word of his sacrifice spread around college campuses, hundreds, perhaps thousands of young men and women surrendered to missionary service. A godly legacy can be much more influential to change the world than all that we accomplish in our lifetimes.

 

Are you willing to be a peacemaker for God? Are you willing to put aside your own personal agendas for the sake of others, that they may hear the gospel and grow in grace? Is the love of God that took Christ out of heaven and sent Him to the cross of sufficient reality in your life that you are willing to speak for the benefit of others and not just for yourself? The title “sons of God” is nothing to be taken lightly. One day you and I will be gone from this earth. Will there be anyone left here who in memory of our life would consider us as such?

 

Prayer:

 

Lord, we need Your love to stir our souls, that we might grasp how greatly You care for the common, ordinary people in this world. Lead us to become peacemakers, sharing Your grace with the lost and Your love with the saved. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evening Devotionals, Lenten Devotionals (Fastenzeit) ,