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salvation

On one hand, salvation is a simple matter. When we trust Jesus to take away our sins, we are made right in God’s sight. C. S. Lewis said, “The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start.”

On the other hand, salvation is a serious matter—it cost Christ His life in order to free us from our sin. Sin created a deep valley between a perfect God and imperfect humans. We cannot bridge this gap on our own. We need help, just as a person who’s in debt needs someone with money to pay off the debt.

God sent Jesus into the world to pay our debt and to be the only way to be reconciled with Him. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin so that we could again be in a deep relationship with God.

Why didn’t God just snap His fingers and make sin go away? God is a just God. The debt for sin in our lives had to be paid. But instead of us paying the price, in God’s magnificent love He sent Jesus to earth to pay that price (see “The Power of the Cross” blog post). He died on the cross for our sins. After three days in the tomb, Jesus rose from the dead and appeared before many witnesses. The debt had been paid. Henry Drummond wrote, “The sense of the infinite worth of the single soul, and the recoverableness of man at his worst are the gifts of Christ. The freedom from guilt and the forgiveness of sins come from Christ’s Cross; the hope of immortality springs from Christ’s grace.”

Salvation changes our lives. It frees us from guilt, remorse, shame, and fear. We’ve all heard the motto Change the behavior, and you change the person. But most of us know that motto is bankrupt. The truth is: Change the person, and behavior changes.

Psalm 51

Sin is rarely a one-shot deal. On Wall Street they have a saying about bad news being revealed by a corporation. It is call the Cockroach Theory…because “there is always more than one.” That means that when a company announces bad news…there is almost assuredly more bad news to follow!

We are probably involved with repeated sin. Maybe our drug addiction led us down the slippery slope. Maybe our rage ate away at us and led us into sin. Maybe it was our lust or our greed. We’ve tried to change, but we can’t make it work. We become discouraged and hopeless. We begin to think that maybe we are hopeless too. Worthless. And that attitude is not what we need to get beyond the guilt and stain of our sin.

Read King David’s prayer written down in Psalm 51. It points us in the right direction. We need not only forgiveness but also cleansing. We need new hearts.

Only God can give us new hearts—clean hearts—with new attitudes and new values. Through the power of His Holy Spirit, He wants to give us spiritual heart transplants so that His desires will flow through us, directing our emotions and actions. He wants His thoughts to fill our minds.

David also knew he needed a “right spirit.” He needed to have God touch his attitudes.

We need that touch too. Often our spirits are full of negativity, hate, selfishness, greed, and lust. We need God to give us spirits that are full of hope, joy, peace, patience, goodness, and self-control. We need attitudes that help us reach out to each other, help us think the best about each other, and help us trust that God will use our lives to accomplish His good purposes. We need “right spirits.”

Sin2

Sinful behavior is frequently the result of many thoughts and actions. Sin isn’t a one-shot deal! Life-destroying sin is the result of many little sins feeding on one another until Satan has messed us up.

Satan messed up some of our marriages with adultery. Maybe our spouses were overweight or no longer as romantic as they once were. Our lustful hearts whispered to us that we deserved better than the partner God blessed us with. With that thought, the devil laid a small seed of sin that ultimately resulted in our unfaithfulness.

We may be reading this meditation in the courthouse awaiting trial or a motel after our wives threw us out…again! We may be wondering how we landed here…again. It started with feeling we had no one who understood us. Self-pity set in, along with the desire to be noticed. We craved acceptance, and self-centeredness dominated our thinking. To draw attention to ourselves and impress others, we gambled our paycheck to impress a lady. Small, sinful thoughts grew into sinful actions. Brokenness was the result.

Sin works in very subtle, sneaky, and dangerous ways. To be aware of sin’s evil nature and horrendous consequences is just the first step in our war against it. It’s like preparing to go off to war in the military. We know it’s going to be dangerous. But knowing that fact alone is not enough. Knowing it is dangerous makes us want to prepare for the danger. We train and discipline ourselves for the battles we know are coming.

In our Christian life we must move from knowing how sin works to training for battle with it. We can start by memorizing Scripture passages, praying for the Holy Spirit’s help in our time of need, and surrounding ourselves with Christian friends.

Sin

Sin is real. Anyone who truly believes that sin does not exist has not been paying attention! In real-life, when we are honest, we look anywhere and see the evidence of sin. We see greed, snarky comments on social media, and mean and angry attitudes. Just think about your language the last time someone cut you off on the freeway!!

But do we know anything about sin? Sin is as common to human beings as sliminess is to a worm. Yet, how many of us understand sin? Why is it important for us to know about sin?

If we choose to ignore our sin and its seriousness, our sinful hearts see it as normal behavior. Sinful deeds will no longer seem wrong to us. We disconnect our behavior from God and live as if our sin does not matter. It’s like when we were kids and started stealing. If we didn’t get caught, we didn’t think it was wrong. But, if we got punished, if people found out, we took it much more seriously.

Without knowing our sin, we can never fully know ourselves and the debt of sin we have racked up. Suppose you go away for many months and when you return your friend says that he paid your bills for you. That may seem like no big deal until you find out and recognize that your friend paid a 7-year IRS back-taxes bill that was going to make you lose your house and your car and your savings!

Then you find out your friend emptied his bank account and took loans to pay off your debt. That changes everything, doesn’t it? We understand our situation only when we appreciate the enormity of our debt the gigantic sacrifice and huge gift to us.

When we understand the enormity of our sin and the debt that Jesus paid for our sin, we can begin to appreciate God’s love for us. Our gratitude breaks down our pride, and we grasp that we have been saved from a terrible fate. This pushes us toward thanksgiving to God. Thanksgiving paves the way to humility. In humility, we can begin to walk with God in a new purpose for our lives.

love

Does it mean [Christ] no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death?… I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away… Nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39

We read about God’s love, but sometimes it’s hard to feel it. Bad stuff happens. Families fall apart. We get so overwhelmed by fear and pain, plus the difficulty of our own situation, that we begin to doubt that God’s love exists. We ask: Where is God? Has He abandoned us like so many others have in our lives? Does it mean He no longer loves us when tough things happen?

Remember the night some of you got busted and the madness of county jail? Or the shame we felt after walking up in someone else’s bedroom? Maybe we did drugs to take the pain of shame away. Do these things make it impossible for God to love us? The apostle Paul asked that same question. We should memorize his response because Paul declares that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Nothing. Our sins can’t. Our past can’t. Our being in jail can’t. Our estranged relationships can’t. Nothing can separate us from God’s love.

Think about it. If Jesus didn’t come down off that cross, if He didn’t leave us hanging when He was suffering the most, why would He abandon us now? Jesus’ love is solid. We can count on it.

LoveMany of us believe that because of the sinful we have done, God could never love us. The devil whispers to us, “God could never love YOU. You’ve had an abortion!” Or, he spits, “You’re a drug user, c’mon, get real, dude, you’ve blown it…God has thrown you aside” As usual, the devil’s got it wrong!

One of the amazing things about God’s love is that He loves us despite who we are, not because of who we are. That is radical grace. We all have spent too many years trying to be someone who was worthy of another’s love. We’ve tried to earn love from our parents, our pimps, the people we were sleeping with, drug dealers, and our bosses. We’ve worked hard to be rich enough, pretty enough, or tough enough to deserve their attention and love.

God’s love works differently. God sent His own Son to die for us while we were still sinners. Even when we were hooking up, using dope, or drinking like fish, God loved us. He doesn’t say to us, “Straighten yourself up and clean yourself off and then I’ll take a look at you.” No. He loves us as we are—period.

Another amazing thing about God’s love is that it’s extravagant, over-the-top. God doesn’t skimp on love. He shows His love by sending His own Son—not some low-level flunky—to die for us. He sent His own Son—His only Son—to die for us. Most of us have never experienced that kind of unconditional love.

That unconditional love is life-changing. It offers forgiveness and gives us value, hope, and peace. When it seems dark in the corners of our minds at 4:00 AM, we can hear His voice calling our name, saying, “I love you just the way you are. Come to Me. Accept My love. My Son has covered your sin.” Who wouldn’t want to say yes to that kind of love?

The Fruit of the Spirit, i.e., Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness (Generosity), Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control are things we all hope, trust and pray become apart of our everyday lives. Yet, so many of us are at a loss to figure out how to get the Fruit of the Spirit to grow in our lives.

Fruit

Let’s look at two things that I read about long ago when listening to a sermon by Dr. D. Stuart Briscoe, formerly the Senior Pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Dr. Briscoe mentioned two words in connection with growing the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives. I do not recall exactly what he said about the two concepts but here are the words: Climate and Cultivate. The ensuing commentary is from yours truly…

Climate: We need to create and maintain the right environment and climate for the Fruit of the Spirit to grow in our hearts. Consider this: Palm trees do not grow in Minnesota! Why, because every November (or earlier) a cold, northern blast of arctic air passes over the state and kills most vegetation for the winter months. This is necessary disastrous for palm trees. A killer frost and below zero winter cold kills them even if they got a good start of growth during the summer months.

We are all sinful and will fall from grace every day. When that happens, we fall to our knees. Confess our sin and receive forgiveness. But, if we allow and indulge a cold arctic storm of anger, pornography, adultery, drunkenness, greed or other sinful behavior to overtake our hearts and take up residence in our souls, the fledgling Fruit of the Spirit will die. For it to grow, we must have a climate that withstands the normal storms of our fallen characters, but if safe from the overwhelming, destructive sin of habitual killer frosts. We cannot expect to enjoy healthy growth of the Fruit of the Holy Spirit is we are drunk, sleeping around, watching porn, or the like, on a regular basis.

Once we stabilize our Christian walk, and refrain from egregious tsunamis of sinful behavior, the Fruit will prosper. But that is not enough…In the next installment, Part 2, we will discuss how to make sure the crop grows to harvest and completes its good work in our lives…

TombIn an earlier blog post we wrote about The Power of the Cross. We detailed that God was a Holy God that cannot abide sin in any form. That being the case, we as sinful human beings were in a lot of trouble in the eternal destiny department. We were going to have to pay for our sins somehow if we ever wanted to be with God in heaven someday. But we also noted that God’s love was so great that He realized we are powerless to pay the piper, so to speak, so God sent His son Jesus to die in our place. Our conclusion: We are more sinful and guilty than we ever dared acknowledge, but more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope!

The “take-away” of the Power of the Cross is this incredible fact: All of our sins went to Jesus on the Cross and all of Jesus’ glory, perfection and holiness comes to us, when we believe.

But the Power of the Cross is only half the story. The Power of the Tomb is the second part. If Jesus did not rise from the dead then all His teachings about forgiveness of sins, eternal life and a new heaven and a new earth someday are just some ancient philosophy devoid of any real power to change the fundamental structure of the human heart.

If we cannot believe the eyewitness accounts of the disciples and others like Paul, then our faith in Jesus is a dead end. Jesus would become just another wise prophet, philosophical teacher of love and forgiveness. Gone would be the heart changing power of new life in Christ. But Jesus did rise from the dead.

The difference between Christianity and all other world religions is that it offer a relationship with a living person. Other religions, while offering truths for daily living, simply point the way to God. Jesus claims to be God and offers us salvation through that belief. Through this free gift of The Cross and The Tomb, we are able to:

*accept forgiveness for our past;

**make peace with the present and;

***find hope for the future.

Jesus offers the power to achieve these things by giving us direct access to Him through prayer, devotions and the Holy Spirit.


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Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
    Hebrews 13:3

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
     1 John 3:18

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