Long time no post...part 2
When the testimony began with what was central or most important, I was hoping I would hear that the central message was the cross. But I didn't. I'm not sure I even heard the cross mentioned. It was the same message I had always heard. The most important part being our contribution to salvation. The speaker talked about those who would believe they had salvation because they had repented of their sins being in deception or having a false hope. He emphasized what I heard all my life, that Jesus died to forgive "the sins that are past" or our "old sins."
I have nothing against the speaker personally. I'm not sure I even know who he is. It just made me sad to listen to his understanding of what the central message of the Bible is. It made me sad to hear him profess that the essential doctrine, the essential element of our salvation is our victorious life. No. It's not. The essential element of salvation is the life Jesus lived and his perfect sacrifice on our behalf. It is our faith in his blood to cover our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness, yesterday, today and tomorrow. I agree that we are to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. I agree that we should live lives of obedience once we receive God's grace and forgiveness through Christ. I agree that we should not live sloppy lives or choose to willfully continue sinning once we know the Lord. We should grow up in Him. But this is not the core of our salvation or the central doctrine of the gospel. The central message of the Bible and the gospel is Jesus and what HE did for us. It is the cross. It's not US or OUR righteousness.
These are Paul's words to the Corinthians:
"For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."
1 Cor. 2:2
Surely this statement from the apostle Paul reveals to us with clarity what is the foundational belief, the core message, the roots of who we are as a people, the central thing, and the essential doctrine of salvation. He did not die simply to wipe our slate clean of past sins. He IS our righteousnenss!
And then a little further into the service, I heard a testimony that brought tears to my eyes and caused me to rejoice. Someone I dearly love got up and gave a completely different message. He shared what God had shown him about salvation, forgiveness and the love of God. He quoted the same scriptures that God showed me after I left my old church. Listening to him speak, I felt such an excitement in my heart. (The service is 9/26 and the testimony is at the 1:13:38 mark in the service.)
I can't express the thankfulness I feel for having heard this testimony. I could just about count on one hand the times I have gone to that website and listened to services. It normally would take someone calling something to my attention and suggesting I see it for myself because I'm not drawn to do it on my own. Today, I know that God wanted me to hear this testimony and that was why I felt to click on that service. I pray for my family regularly and for others in that church to know the truth of the gospel. This one testimony confirmed that God is hearing and answering those prayers. Perhaps He will do it one person at a time. But I believe He will do it.
1 John 1:5-10 says:
5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
John says that the blood of Jesus purifies us from "all sin" not only our sins before we come to know Him. His blood purifies us from our past sins and every sin we will ever commit. That is not an excuse for continuing to live a sinful lifestyle. A true believer will not want to continue in sin. But it is a promise to those who believe. And it is a reminder that we are to confess our sins in order to be forgiven and purified from all unrighteousness.
I was reading today about the fear of the Lord. Edward Welch explains it this way:
Do you ever think that your sins are too bad, and that forgiveness for those sins requires you to get your act together first? If so, you don't fear God. You are minimizing his forgiveness. You are acting as though his forgiveness is ordinary, just like that of any person or make-believe god. If you think like that, you don't believe he is holy. In contrast, the fear of the Lord leads us to believe that when God makes promises too good to be true, they are indeed true.
He goes on to say:
God's holiness should startle us. When (to our minds) forgiveness for our sins seems impossible, we are not startled by the self-sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. We minimize it to conform to our assumption that such forgiveness is impossible. Similarly, when forgiveness of sins seems ordinary to us, we are not startled by the holy righteousness of God that leads to his holy hatred of sin. Instead, we minimize both his righteousness and the seriousness of our own sin.
We need to listen again. All disobedience is personal. Our sin is not just against God's law; it is against God. Any time we stray away from the kingdom of God, whether by following our own desires, following other gods, or imitating the Father of Lies, we provoke the jealous God to anger. His anger will accept only death as the appropriate penalty for treason (Deut. 6:14-15).
When we complain, we hold him in contempt. The white lies we tell are against the God of truth. The anger we display is murderous toward others and stands in judgment of God himself. And it is not just what we do that is so serious; it is also what we don't do. We don't love God and neighbor with our whole heart. In our spiritual indifference we can go for days thinking that our personal interests are paramount; that is, we forget God. When there is persistent sin, there is no fear of God (Rom. 3:18).
For all this, the wrath of God is poured out. It will fall on us, if we insist on living in the anti-God kingdom and trust in ourselves, or it falls on Jesus. Either way, the wages of sin is death.
...The holiness of God, expressed in both his love and justice, finds its zenith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel announces the liberation found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In that death we find the seriousness of sin: the Son of Man was crushed instead of us; Jesus himself drank the cup of God's wrath in our place. God's anger and righteousness are truly holy. Yet in the gospel we also find unprecedented mercy, love, and forgiveness. The penalty our sins deserve is redirected so that all we receive is grace.
...He both hates sin and delights in forgiving sinners...His holiness leaves me amazed at both the magnitude of his forgiveness and the seriousness of my own sins. Because he is holy I want to obey him wholeheartedly.
In the next section of the book, Welch writes about judgment. Hebrews 9:27 tells us that "Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment." 2 Corinthians 5:10 tells us, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad."
This has been hard for me to reconcile with grace in the past (because of the teaching I received most of my life about the requirement of perfection). But Welch explains it in a way that is very similar to the way my present pastor has taught me. They both use the analogy of a marriage. Welch writes:
If a man says he loves his wife and is committed to her, you look for the evidence in his actions. If he is truly committed, he will not be a perfect husband, but he will be circumspect in his relationships with other women, he will guard his heart so lust isn't given free rein, he will show kindness and affection to his wife, and he will ask forgiveness when he doesn't. Genuine commitment is verifiable. It can be witnessed by God and others.
Did you hear "not perfect?" Keep the marriage analogy in mind. No spouse is perfect, but there are many spouses who are faithful and make good faith efforts to love.
...The problem is that every Christian with an intact conscience can acknowledge that he or she has broken and continues to break every command. Selfish ambition, language that tears down rather than builds up, and an imperfect love for God and other people reside in the heart of every believer. At issue for us, however, is not perfection (1 John 1:8). That can only be given to us by Christ alone, and it awaits eternity. The issue can be put this way: which direction do you face? Is your face turned toward Christ or away from him? To use the marriage analogy, my wife is not expecting sinlessness but faithfulness. She will not divorce me because of my many sins and weaknesses. Divorce, the sign of broken commitments, would only come after my face has clearly turned away from her and toward someone else.
...As followers of Christ, we live for him rather than ourselves. When we see sin, we turn from it.
Welch addresses the sources of condemnation and conviction. Romans tells us there is no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ. But the Holy Spirit will convict us of sin and expose the hidden motives of our hearts. He explains it this way:
When you belong to the King, how can you discern the difference between the Devil's condemnation and the Spirit's conviction? How can you determine if you are in the bogus courtroom or the real one? In the real courtroom:
- you know your good deeds are not enough
- your hope is in Christ alone for your deliverance
- when convicted of sins, you are pointed past your sins and on to Christ
- the last word is always hope.
In the Devil's counterfeit:
- the attention is all on your sins
- you stand and fall on your own behavior
- you are alone without an advocate
- questions are raised about the extent of God's forgiveness
Christ alone, Christ alone -- that is your defense. When you are feeling weak, ask for the Spirit to teach you more about how righteousness is not inherent to you but has been given you by the righteous acts of Jesus (Rom. 5:15-21). We are given this when we put our faith in Jesus rather than ourselves. How can you know when you are trusting in yourself? When you think that your good deeds will outweigh your bad.
...The very fact that you are convicted of sin is a work of the Spirit (John 16:8), so you can accept conviction with a smile on your face, knowing that it is just one more evidence that you belong to Christ...When God tests you and reveals your mixed allegiances, simply turn to him.
The only surprises in heaven will be for those who think they are particularly righteous or good, which certainly does not include those with scrupulous consciences (e.g., Matt. 7:21-23).
...One piece of evidence of kingdom life is that you will see more sin, not less. Outside the kingdom of heaven, there is no concern about sin. That doesn't mean that unbelievers are so bad; it means that they are indifferent to the fact that their sin is against God. They hide the more shameful sins, but they don't do battle with them. When you are brought into the kingdom of light, you both see sin and, for the first time, get in a battle with it. The battle means you are alive.
The rules of engagement are simple. When you see sin, you confess it as ultimately being against God. You respond in gratitude for the forgiveness he already gave you because of Jesus' death, which was the payment for sins. Then, knowing that you have been given the Spirit so you can do battle with sin, you attack. You ask for the power to love. You ask others to pray for you and counsel you. You adopt a zero-tolerance policy with sin. When you fall in defeat, you learn from it and get right back into the battle.
You will see more and more sin, but you will also notice that the Spirit is changing you. There have been times when you responded in humility rather than arrogance, love rather than indifference or even hatred. The change will be gradual but noticeable...When you see it, the apostle John says that you can allow that evidence to assure you that you truly belong to God.