Author Archives: grantataberfoyle

The Holy Spirit helps us be holy

Every Christian knows that when they believe in Jesus Christ, they should then live as a Christian. For example, instead of being angry, immoral or lazy, they may say, ‘I should now be helpful, pure or useful’. The new life we have—the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:2) is holy and we know this is now the way to live.

It doesn’t take long for any of us as Christians to realise that change isn’t as easy as we thought it might be. We all discover the same problem, that when we try to say ‘No’ to the past, the old inclinations and habits are still expecting to be noticed. And the world around us is travelling in a very different direction and calling us to conform. If we don’t find help for this problem, we may give up and say that the Christian life doesn’t work.

We need the help of the Holy Spirit.

Our life began as a Christian because God gave his Holy Spirit to us. We turned from being ‘good enough’ and trusted in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. Then, we received God promised gift, the Holy Spirit.

Jesus calls the Spirit ‘anotherHelper’. Until that point, hehad been the Helper for the disciples—answering their questions, connecting them with God, showing them the way to live and what to hope for. In particular, he showed them how to deal with their own failures. But now he says the Holy Spirit will do this work.

In fact, Jesus says it is better for him to go and for the Holy Spirit to come, so, the help he brings must be as real as what Jesus has brought, or better. He is God’s gift when we trust in Christ, but now, what help can he give to struggling Christians?

Paul deals with this matter when he writes to some young Christians in Galatia. He says that if we walk by the Spirit we won’t do what the flesh wants (Galatians 5:16). This is a big claim. Will one action—walking by the Spirit, fix the whole problem?

What the flesh wants is plain to see—being free with our use of sex, coveting what other’s have, pride and slander to mention a few. Paul mentions numbers of things (5:19-21). So does Jesus (Mark 7:20-23). Elsewhere, Paul says our natural tendency—our flesh—doesn’t want to do what God wants (Rom. 8:7). Will all this just go away if we walk by the Spirit? Well, yes, so long as we understand what Paul means by this.

Walking by the Spirit isn’t just being directed by some kind of heavenly GPS—saying ‘Go here!’ ‘Do this!’ or ‘Keep away from this.’ What Paul has said already in his letter to this young Galatian church shows that the Holy Spirit supplies everything we need to get going as Christians (3:2-5).

First, he enables us to relate and talk to God like Jesus did—he is ‘the Spirit of his Son’ in our hearts enabling us to say Father or ‘Abba’—a word that Jesus used (4:6 with Mark 14:36). Second, this relationshipsis so clear and firm that we know that what God has done in us will last until we meet God—we will be welcomed as righteous people in God’s sight (5:5). That is a life changing hope to have and to live by.

Now, he says, ‘Walk by the Spirit.’ Every day, we need to know we are not on our own. We have a helper.

Every day, we know we are righteous because of God’s gift and not because of our performance (3:2-5). For example, if we do wrong, we are not immediately back on our own having to stand before God as condemned—under law. We are in the presence of his grace—grace made real to us by God saying he will live with us by his Spirit—grace that is seeking our restoration.

Real changes in life don’t happen because we simply listen to different instructions. They happen because we find ourselves in a different relationship. We are God’s children.

It is true that the desires of our flesh fight against the new life God has brought to us, but then, the Holy Spirit within us also has strong desires—to master what we have been (5:17). He is present as our helper!

The result of this is that we can’t do what we want to do. We are not as free as we thought we were. One way or another, we need a master. And the Spirit is present, telling us that we are children of God, and that we will stand righteous before God on the last day. And he is making us feel awful about giving way to the flesh! That’s helpful!

When the battle is on, what will we choose? Will we make choices based on the fact that God doesn’t matter? The things our flesh keeps us working at are plain enough—and sometimes, hard work! Pleasing ourselves isn’t all plain sailing! Do we want this—for ourselves, or for the world?

On the other hand, the Spirit produces fruit. We may tend a garden but we can’t make an apple! Fruit grows and the good that grows in our lives as we walk by the Spirit is not forced, not us. God is working, and he is producing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and much besides.

So Paul says, look at what you get when you go your own way (6:7-10). If you sow wild oats, that is what you will get. If you give way to yourself without God, again and again, you will get the results of that—corruption. But if you ‘sow to the Spirit you will reap eternal life. That is not only what you get when you die, it is the dignity and joy and permanence of doing something eternal right now.

Think about what happens if you remain your own person. Think about the fruit God produces. Live in line with the Spirit God has sent. You can’t see him. You can’t control him. But you can listen to what he is telling you about your Saviour and his grace, your Father God and your relationship to him, and the hopes he has for you, and you will see his fruit. And you can be confident that what God produces is real and will last.

Every Christian Receives the Holy Spirit as a Gift

When people first begin to trust in Jesus Christ, they are told that if they believe in him they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. They are not told they will go to heaven, or even be forgiven—though that is certainly true. They are not given a list of dos and don’ts or activities they should now go to—though these things may be important. They are told they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is what it means to become a Christian.

This is not something you can manage or commit yourself to or promise. This is something that happens to you. Christians are people who’ve had enough of what they can manage and are looking for what someone else can do—what God can do.

Christians are people who realize God is serious about the mess we are in—serious enough to let his own Son be our victim. Yes. That’s what the first people to hear the Christian message were accused of—they had killed their Messiah—God’s Son.

So God sends a Saviour into the world, and we, that is, the part of humanity that were there at the time, kill him. That’s how big our problem is.

We know better than that now! Or do we?

When people say they can make up their own mind about what is right and wrong, they have to end up ‘killing’ Christ all over again. Jesus says he is the truth. He is saying you can’t live truly in God’s creation without him. If you say that too loudly in the world today you may find out how much people hate Jesus Christ.

The world, or our part of it, doesn’t crucify people they disagree with now but they have many other very effective ways of silencing those they don’t like.

So we say to the world today, ‘You are killing Christ!’ Here is Jesus, the one who teaches us to love, not kill; to do good, not merely look good; to be wary of our own motives, not critical of others; to love God, not manage him; to trust God, not make out he doesn’t exist. Those who want to be their own person with no-one above them, no-one to tell them what is true, will have to silence Christ—one way or another.

We may not carry a hammer and nails, get ourselves in a frenzy and shout in the streets that Jesus should die, but we will have the same hate and the same distain and same ruthlessness to remove the evidence about who he is and what he can do.

It was those accused of exactly these things who became the first Christians. So how did it happen, and does it happen now? And here is the surprise. We find out how God treats his enemies. This is how this opening scene in the Christians story unfolds (see Acts 2).

First, God sends his Holy Spirit, and all the apostles Jesus has chosen are given remarkable ability to speak in languages that people understand. More than this, they are filled with the truth Jesus has given them, and are bold to speak regardless of the consequences.

Then, the apostle Peter tells them about God’s Son, Jesus whom they had crucified just a few weeks before. ‘You killed him’ he says. And God raised him up from the dead. More than that, he lifted him up to heaven to sit beside him and to manage all his affairs.

That’s the basic Christian message. Everything is in the hands of Jesus Christ—he is Lord. The very one the world hates is in charge, and he is the one we have to deal with. That puts us in a very dangerous position. So what can we do? At this point, we get a surprise. God doesn’t treat his enemies like we do.

Effectively, God says to us, ‘You made the wrong choice. You said Jesus was wrong, and I have shown that he was right—by reversing the results of your murder. And I have given him responsibility for all my affairs.

‘But you can choose again! You can believe that Jesus Christ is my Son and the world’s Leader and Saviour. If you do, I will give you my Holy Spirit!’

We don’t turn our life around. God gives his Spirit to us. Something has to come from heaven for us to change.

Earlier on, a leading academic called Nicodemus visited Jesus. He was impressed with him—with what he was saying and what he was doing. But he was puzzled too. He could see God was with Jesus and, perhaps, could see that God was not with him in the same way.

Jesus said, ‘You need a new birth. You need to be born of the Spirit or you will never be part of the world God is making—his kingdom.’ Here is a respectable, intelligent and responsible man, and Jesus is telling him he needs something he can’t control or make—something ‘from above’.

What God said to Nicodemus is now happening. God says through his apostle Peter, ‘Say “Yes” to Jesus Christ. Identify yourself with him by baptism, trust him to forgive your sins and you will receive a gift—the Holy Spirit.’

So many are baptized—for forgiveness. That is what they want. They don’t want to live with the guilt of killing Christ. But what do they get? Not just forgiveness but the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t just tick a box in heaven to say we are forgiven. He actually comes to live with us. That really is practical forgiveness.

It is important to know that the Holy Spirit doesn’t attract us to himself. We may not be aware of him as a person because he is pointing to Christ, and to God who is now our Father. But, like Jesus told Nicodemus, the Holy Spirit is like a wind you can’t see but whose power you can recognise.

Receiving the Holy Spirit is not just about feeling better or even getting closer to God. It is about him coming to do something we can’t do ourselves—that is, know and love God and trust him like a child.

Are you ready for a miracle? Through faith in Jesus Christ, a proud person is made grateful for God’s mercy. A fearful person calls God Father. And we can all see God for who he is—wonderfully kind. And we can see our neighbor, not as a rival but as someone to help.

This is what one of Israel’s prophets had said:

‘…I wilI remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules’ (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

© Grant Thorpe; October 2019

 

 

Eternal Life

It’s important to know what happens after this life, and Jesus Christ has not left us guessing. There is a lot that remains a mystery, but we have been told enough to be sure that there is an eternal life and that life after our death will be real and wonderful—that is, for those who trust in him.

How real is all of this? Guesses are not much help. Wishing won’t make it happen. We need to hear from someone who knows and we need to be persuaded that what they say includes us. Jesus said numbers of times that he could give us eternal life—that is, a quality of life that would begin now and continue after our death. But all this came together when he was killed and then rose from the dead. Here is where he gained the credibility to tell us what is to come.

Some think faith in God and in Jesus Christ is a leap in the dark, but it’s not really like this—especially when it comes to knowing what happens after death. Jesus Christ died. Pure and simple—he was dead. Then, he was seen alive by numbers of people, even by many people at one time. We know the conversations he had with various people and the effect he produced on those he met.

Some claim these records are just made up, but they are people who have already decided that miracles don’t happen. If you read the Bible text as it is, it passes all the usual tests of historical reliability. This is important because faith in Jesus Christ is not an idea or a philosophy or a wish. Jesus shows it is real by dying, and rising from the dead with a new body—same person, same body, but transformed now into something eternal. So what happened?

First, Jesus appeared to two women. Perhaps they needed to know first. Perhaps they were better at assimilating something that was totally unexpected. Whatever, they told the apostles Jesus had chosen, and two of them raced to the empty tomb. The body wrappings had collapsed. Apparently, Jesus didn’t need to unravel anything to get free.

Then, Jesus appeared in a locked room—without breaking in. The disciples had locked themselves away because they were nervous about what the authorities might do next. The locked door was no trouble to Jesus. He just came in.

Now clearly, the disciples were dealing with the same Jesus they had known. They knew who he was. He repeated what he had said before he was killed—’Peace be with you.’ He had more reason to say this now that before, because death was not a threat any more. He hadn’t just ‘cheated’ death by escaping it. He had defeated it by rising from the dead.

He was the same Jesus who had hung on a cross, and had the same body—even though it was now changed. The disciples were still having trouble believing a crucified Jesus could  be talking to them. It must be a spirit they thought. So he asked them to feel the holes made by nails in his hands and feet. He asked for some fish to eat so they could see it disappear!

He also reminded them that he had prophesied all this. He showed them that this is what their religion was about—the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead, and God’s forgiveness for sin must be announced everywhere. Forgiveness and eternal life belong together. God can see what we are of ourselves, and it doesn’t warrant eternal life. But Christ died in the way sinners deserve to die—and he did it for us and in our place. His resurrection is not just saying that there is a thing called eternal life, it is saying that we can have it because we are relying on what he has done about our sins.

Put in another way, Jesus came to remove the shroud—the death garment—in which we are all wrapped . God had said earlier that he would ‘swallow up death for all time’ and ‘wipe away tears from all faces’ (Isaiah 25:7-8).

A week later, Jesus repeated his visit to the apostles, and this time, Thomas, who missed the first meeting, was present. The others hadn’t convinced him that Jesus was really alive, so Jesus told him to do the feel test—’Check these wounds  in my hands and in my side!’ Thomas is the prototype for all of us who were not there when Jesus rose. The Lord expected him to believe without seeing for himself. But he did say, ‘You are blessed because you saw and believed.’ And then he added, ‘Blessed are all who haven’t seen and yet believe!’

Jesus doesn’t need to pop up out of nowhere to make people believe. He has appeared to chosen witnesses and told them to go everywhere announcing, not only that we can live after dying, but that we may be forgiven by believing his message. This is what makes life after death believable. We are forgiven because Jesus died in our place. We don’t have to fear death because we are forgiven. It will be good to meet God, not dreadful.

There were other remarkable meetings with Jesus, especially at the side of a lake when Jesus told disciples where to put a net to catch some fish, and then he ate some with them, sitting around a fire. At that time, Jesus completely rehabilitated Peter who had failed badly. Peter now had confidence, not only in Jesus but in what Jesus would do in him.

For a final time, Jesus came to his apostles. He told them he had all authority in heaven and earth. He said he would be with them to the end of time. Then he ascended into heaven. He was lifted up until he was lost to sight in a cloud. The Jesus Christ in whom Christians believe has returned to his Father, God, but returned as a human being, raised from the dead.

Now, where does this leave us? We have  no way of finding out what happens after death, but Jesus does. He says he will give eternal life to all who believe in him. ‘Eternal life’ is literally ‘life of the ages’. It’s what you have beyond this present life, but it is also what you have when you give up making our you are good enough as you are. Simply, you are trusting him to forgive you. It is a quality of life, not merely a length of life. In that sense, eternal life has begun already. Jesus said, ‘This is eternal life, that we know the Father (God) and Jesus Christ whom he sent.’ If you know God, you can be sure of the future.

 Jesus is called ‘the first fruits’ of all who have died, meaning that he is the first of the ‘crop’. He rose from death, and those who trust him will rise—like he did. He had a body and could relate and converse and eat, and his followers will also have a body and converse and eat. Jesus no longer had restrictions as to what his body could do, and it certainly wasn’t going to die again, and we will have a body in which we will know one another and relate and converse, and we will never die.

That leaves a lot we don’t know, but then, it is amazing to know this much. Jesus is the key to it all. He said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies’ (John 11:25).

Suggested reading: John 20:19-29

© Grant Thorpe, 2/8/2019

 

 

Imitating God

Paul says, ‘…be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’ (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Copying God! That sounds like a big ask! Jesus said something similar. ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matt. 5:48). He had in mind letting our kindness shine on people whether they are good or bad, just like God does every day.

What I like here is we are to copy God ‘as beloved children’. That makes all the difference. He likes us. He made us to be his children. He has good things planned for us. We are not likely to copy someone who doesn’t like us!

So how can we be persuaded that we are God’s beloved children? It is a very big thing to say that we know God and know that he loves us and to know it in a way that stops us being jumpy and irritable and scared and selfish. A huge thing!

Paul continues by telling us about Jesus. He is the example. He ‘loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’. This is very interesting.

When Jesus died on the cross to take our place, what he had in mind was that this was what his Father wanted. He knew how much the Father loved us. He knew the Father didn’t want us to die as sinners. He knew his Father’s forgiveness would flow freely to us if he took away our sins. So he died so we would know the same loving Father he did.

How amazing! Can you doubt that you, like Jesus, are a beloved child of God? Is there any reason not to live a life of love?

The best way to live for others is to live for God, as we are told here that Jesus did. Other people don’t always inspire our loving, but God succeeds all the time.

Wedon’t succeed all the time. Sometimes we forget God’s loving of us and treat people as those who should serve us rather than as those we can serve. We get proud of ourselves instead of proud of our loving Father. Then things go wrong, sometimes, terribly wrong.

Doing people harm is one thing but what is really sad here is that by not living in love, we hide God’s Fatherly care from others. There is nothing more important than that people know the truth about God, so Jesus said, ‘let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven’ (Matt. 5:16).

Remember that God always remains Father to us when we fail. He continues to put good things before us. For example, when Peter was told he was going to deny Jesus, the first thing Jesus said to him was, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms…’ (John 14:1-2).

We need to know that God remains our Father while we struggle to live as his children. Gradually he gets us reflecting what he is like. We, ‘…beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another’ (2 Cor. 3:18). We don’t reflect God by competing with him—that is, by trying to be as good as he is! Rather, we look at the Lord, and get transformed by him. So, let’s imitate God, as beloved children!

How Good it is that God is Judge (3)

This is the third article in a series about God as Judge. I have hoped to show why Christians can savour this truth and in what way. The other two articles are further down in the blog.

What does it mean that God is Judge of the whole world? It’s easy to dismiss this because he doesn’t seem to do anything, and the powers we answer to are more likely to wear wigs, or blue uniforms, and our brush with them has probably been minimal. Then again, our popular teachers say we are our own masters and that the idea of any external arbiter should be dismissed.

I am unlikely to persuade someone that God is Judge if they don’t already believe that Jesus is the world’s Saviour. Our persuading begins with him. He is the way God has explained himself. He explains what he means by judgement by sending his Son in the likeness of our sinful flesh, and as an offering for sin (Romans 8:3). What happens to him and how he receives what happens to him is what God means by judgement. Jesus said, ‘Now is the judgement of this world,’ and he was speaking about his own death (John 12:31). It is this event that gives all that we are saying its moral credibility.

The Apostle Paul had a conversation with a Roman governor, Felix, about faith in Jesus Christ. That was his starting point, but his conversation included, necessarily, ‘righteousness, self-control and judgment to come’, which left Felix frightened, and the discussion ended (Acts 24:24-27). The same thing would probably happen today. But I’m not primarily interested in what modern people are likely to believe but rather, what is true. At the end of the day, that is what is going to matter.

In fact, God is always doing what he needs to do to tell us that this world is his. When the gospel is being preached, he is revealing his righteousness—the true way of being right before God. Paul puts this in the present tense because God is revealing himself, and revealing how to relate to him, by having his servants preach the gospel. At the same time Paul says God is revealing his wrath (Romans 1:16-18). How this happens may seem surprising, and, I suspect, is often misunderstood.

Paul lists a number of things that are going wrong with his first century world, a list not too different from one we may compile for our own century. But he is not telling us that these things are wrong. He assumes we know that. He is saying that when people do these things, God is revealing his wrath—to them and to the world at large. The sin in this passage is not bad behaviour but repressing what God is revealing about himself. So when people do whatever they like, give way to lusts, degrading passions including homosexuality, depraved minds, wickedness, greed, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, insolence, boasting, untrustworthiness, lack of mercy, and pride in doing these things, God is revealing his wrath. People don’t just do these things, they can’t help doing them because God has given them up to them. This means that the very people who think there is no God to assess or reward their actions are actually in the hands of God.

Contrary to popular belief, God is not naturally angry but is provoked to anger by those who live their life as though he were not around. He is jealous for the affection and obedience of the creatures he has formed. He wants to give himself to them and to give them a full life. When he gives us up to our own choices, it is as though Christ himself is saying, as he said to Paul earlier, ‘It is hard for you to kick against the goads’ (Acts 26:14).

Paul’s letter is written to Christians and it is we who need to know how God acts as Judge. If we take judgement into our hands, we get it wrong. Wrath is God’s affair, not ours, but he is doing what is right in regard to people who ignore him. Our task is to be witnesses to Jesus Christ, and, in the context of that revelation of love, to tell people about judgement.

If we know God is gracious, we can see these things. We can see how God gives people over to their sins and to the social consequences of them. The world can’t see its own dilemma. Nor can it see the way God is caring for those who trust him.

The prophet Isaiah refers to this phenomenon (Isa. 26:1-12). He describes God caring for those who honour him and his law and who long for him to intervene in their world. They may be afflicted and helpless (v. 6) but know that God’s hand is ‘lifted up’ (v. 11) to save them. Their path is ‘smooth’ and ‘level’ (v. 7). They have ‘perfect peace’ (v. 3). On the other hand, God’s hand is ‘lifted up’, not only to bless his people but also to be angry with those who ignore him; his judgements are in the land (v. 9). As a result of this, things go wrong, terribly wrong (vv. 5-6). Still, says Isaiah, they can’t see it (vv. 10-11).

I wonder if we can see the parallels to this in our situation. God’s judgements are being revealed in our land. This can be tricky because there is often no direct correlation between evil and suffering. Many people get away with evil for many years and others seem to suffer innocently. But then, there are social consequences of some actions that ought to register as a moral result of actions.Here are some examples.

  • When people give free reign to their passions, they release a euphoria that can’t be sustained. Freedom and good will are eroded by permissiveness because demands for selfish pleasure increase. Peter Lowman has some articles that show Western secular writers over recent centuries confessing that without God, we have no substantial basis for purpose, meaning, ethics or love. You can read them at http://www.bethinking.org/atheism/after-god.
  • In economic terms, we are trying to build a generous economy out of selfish people and it’s not working. Our politicians try their best and speak to us warmly about how we should be able to live but they can’t produce it. And the pie we are trying to share is shrinking. We think capitalism will spread the wealth but it was not designed for that. It was put forward as the best was to generated wealth, not spread it. Only generous people can make a generous economy.
  • Then again, we are trying to make happy families by changing partners, and that’s not working either. Just ask the children affected by this. On a wider scale, we want the nations to behave like a family and be reasonable, but we have no Father God to call us to account and demonstrate tender strength.
  • And again, we are trying to define goodness by majority decisions and are becoming more polarized than united. Is this just because other people are unreasonable? Or is it saying that goodness must be defined by someone greater than us all of us put together?

In many respects, our postulating in the West about knowing what is good for the world sounds to me like the Emperor who paraded naked because he had been persuaded that his invisible ‘clothes’ were beautiful. A young boy in the crowd said, ‘The Emperor’s got no clothes’, not realising he was supposed to make out that the Emperor did have clothes on. The fact is, we are not doing well. This may sound like the naïve cry of someone uninformed about public affairs, but it should be obvious.

These dysfunctional aspects of our way of life are God’s judgement. He loves us too much to let us indulge our fantasies and is speaking to us by being what he is — our Judge. The world may not be willing to acknowledge this. Rather, as someone quipped, we look for ‘a breakthrough a day to keep the crisis at bay’. Something else must be the problem, not us.

It is important for Christians to know these things because they are the background for our announcing the good news of Jesus Christ. Somewhere, there will be people who can no longer be sated with the goodies of this world and who know life cannot proceed without righteousness, not in this life or the next, and they will hear our good news with different ears.

It is important for us Christians to know, also, that God’s hand has been, and is being, ‘lifted up’ in our favour. Have we seen the enormity of Christ rising from the dead to abolish death? Do we know how amazing it is to be forgiven for all our sins and to stand righteous before God, forever? It is easy, when things are going well, to ‘not need’ the favour of God because the world already favours us enough. We slip into thinking God is only interested in the present world and that he doesn’t want to give us any more. Let us remember that his hand is ‘lifted up’, as Judge, in our favour, and nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). That is what we need to know.

We have stood where judgement fell on this world because God sees us as united to Christ in his crucifixion. Judgement fell on us well and truly. We know the fervour of his wrath and the heat of his holiness. Jesus Christ endured its pain, but we know it as a moral power (Rom. 6:4-6; Gal. 2:20; 5:24; 6:14; Col. 3:3-6). We love God for his holiness and for his love in reaching out to us in this way. We see the need for people to know this gracious God and cannot think God unkind when his wrath is revealed. God gives us confidence to stand before him, even when things are tough, and this is evidence, at least to us, that we are being saved. It may also be evidence to some that they are not (Phil. 1:28; 2 Thes. 1:5).

The world’s Saviour is still our Judge. We call on him as Father but should fear him as one who judges impartially (1 Peter. 1:17). Then again, Peter tells us, ‘It is time for judgement to begin with the household of God’ (1 Peter 4:17). He then talks about judgement coming to those who reject the gospel. We have to get the balance right because we will not be convincing to the world about God being Judge if we do not live before him ourselves. All the letters Christ sends to the churches in the book of Revelation (chapters 2 and 3) talk about Christ standing, effectively, as Judge among his people. He speaks about what he has for and against them, what they should do to remedy defects and what he promises to those who hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He does this, not to throw doubt on the salvation of his people but to ensure that the light from his churches burns brightly.

Picking up the exhortations Christ gives in these letters, let us ask ourselves these questions. Do we love Christ fervently, endure under trial, hate what he hates and love what he loves, live by his word and trust in his righteousness alone? These are the things Christ watches over us to produce in his church. Those Christ loves he rebukes and chastens.

If we know God is our Judge and that this judging has been entrusted to Christ, we have the proper sense of how our gospel must come to those who don’t know Christ. Paul said, ‘Knowing the fear of God, we persuade others’ (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). Through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, we have a proper understanding of our responsibility to God, a deep gratefulness for the love of Christ, a due sense of its cost and a hearty enjoyment of our new place in God’s favour. As such, we can say to others, with moral earnestness, ‘Be reconciled to God’. The stakes are high, and the rewards real. It is no fiction to say, ‘How good it is that God is Judge!’

I wrote the following poem some years back and I hope it captures some of what I have been saying in these articles.

§§§§§§§§§§§§

Sovereign Lord your hand is guiding

All the destinies of man.

Nations, families, cultures, kingdoms,

Flow as water through your hand.

Yet your rule is kind and good, Strong and wise and gentle;

Leaving none who seek you crushed

But calmed and gladly humbled.

 

Sovereign Judge the world is aching

Through its shame and wrongful ways.

You are showing your displeasure

In the tumults of our age

Yet your wrath is righteousness,

Purging our pollution;

Wishing not we be condemned,

But that we be chastened.

 

Sovereign Father, all your actions

Lead us to your own dear Son,

By whose death all failure’s terrors

Are absolved, forever shunned.

By your unexpected love You have won us Father.

Let us do what pleases you,

Be your new creation.

 

Sovereign Lord and Judge and Father,

Hallowed by your holy name.

May your kingdom come in glory,

May your gracious will be done.

 

 

How Good it is that God is Good (2)

I read an interesting opinion piece by Stuart Waiton in The Australian (30 Dec. ’13) that referred to the frequent public apologies being offered in recent years. He claims it is an attempt by those in authority to regain honour for our justice system by giving it a more humane face. 

My reason for drawing attention to the article is that our world sees judging as cold, rigid and unforgiving and that this attitude may well carry over into how we think about God. If he is Judge, what chance is there of having a relationship with him? I have sought to show in an earlier blog, that God being Judge arises from his relationship with us and expresses that relationship, something for which we are grateful and rely on. But let me continue by showing what it means that Jesus, to whom God has entrusted all judging activity, came and died among us.

Jesus said, ‘Now is the judgement of this world…’ (John 12:31), and the context shows he is talking about his death. If all judgement has been entrusted to him, we have to understand that, from his cross, Jesus, far from being only a victim, is actually judging the world. Jesus said, “This is the judgement: Light [Jesus] has come into the world.” People then either prefer darkness or come to the light (John 3:19-21). The Jews and Romans who encountered him hated the light and crucified the Son of God. They, on behalf of us all, reveal the truth about humanity (John 9:39-41). We have judged ourselves by condemning Jesus.

The early preaching of the apostles regularly drew attention to this. ‘You nailed [him] to a cross by the hands of godless men’ (Acts 2:23). This is our sin really, that we kill the Son of God (John 16:8-9) and crucify him again, so to speak, when we are awakened by the truth and then turn away from it (Heb. 6:6).

Notice that Jesus, from the cross, is not only revealing the truth about us; he is disempowering the Prince of the world; Satan is thrown down from his position of eminence. Clearly, all who continue to follow the world and its Prince, share his fate. Judgement is not only being announced, it is being executed. Then again, with the downfall of the world’s Prince, Jesus becomes the rightful leader of humanity and will gather ‘all men’ to him. This means all who believe in him—people of all nations and all who will inherit the world to come. History is being rearranged, the truth needed for the future of the world is being established and the new people are being gathered. This great throng will find that the judgement of the world has already occurred and that it has not led to their condemnation but to their life (John  5:24).

We should note that Christ’s death does not look like a judge declaring what is right and wrong and then executing his decision. His weakness rather than his strength is what we see. This is why the Church cannot preach the gospel from a position of strength. We need to live in the love that took Christ to his cross and suffer the scorn and pain of those who reject him. Going to the world with a message that judgement is being worked out when Christ is crucified is not a message of vindictiveness but of forgiveness. This leads us to a second way in which Christ’s death is the judgement of this world.

Jesus did not come to judge but to save (John 3:17). Strange mission for a judge! But God is a Saviour. His Son is a Saviour. He has been given all responsibility to judge the world so that all will honour him as they honour the Father. If we stand before our Judge, and what he says will happen, he tends to have our attention! But Christ has also been given authority to judge so we will believe in him and not be condemned (John 5:22-24). He wants our attention so we will be saved. We could say that Jesus Christ, the Judge, has come over to our side of the courtroom to act as our Advocate (1 Jo. 2:1). He intercedes or intervenes for us so we will not be condemned (Rom. 8:34). He does not change roles but brings his authority as Judge into his role as Advocate. But how can he be an advocate for those deserving condemnation?

Christ becomes the subject of the judgement he has come to reveal. In the Bible, this is spoken about in three ways.

First, the prophet Isaiah (53:5-12) foretells that a Servant of God will be chastened with a view to our wellbeing. He says we will be healed because of the scourging he receives. God lays our iniquity on him, and he makes himself a guilt offering for us, we who will now be declared righteous. Christ becomes this suffering Servant. He brings justice to the nations (Is. 42:1-4) but in this strange way of suffering for those whose fate lies in his hand. He is highly exalted because he sprinkles many nations (52:13-15). He becomes great by pouring himself out to death and interceding for his people (53:12). He takes the place of the people he condemns and wins a new future for them.

Second, Christ is made a curse for us (Gal. 3:10, 13). This is the penalty for breaking God’s law, but it also expresses the revulsion God has when we turn from him to make idols of things he has made and live by our lusts instead by his commands. This becomes clear by reading Deuteronomy 28. Jesus Christ loved his Father, felt his jealous love for the creatures he had made, and made himself an offering for the sins of his people.

Third, Christ makes propitiation for us (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 Jo. 2:2; 4:10). That is, he turns God’s wrath away from us by submitting himself to the holy wrath of his Father against us. Looked at from God’s point of view, wrath is expressed by giving us up to our sins (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28) but now he gives up his Son to our sins (Rom. 4:25; 8:32). He becomes all that we are in our ignorance and hatred of God. Quite stunningly, Paul says God made him to be sin for us—the one who had never sinned—so we would be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Co. 5:21).

Whole books are written on this matter, as they should be, but my point here is simply that Christ’s death is the place for the world’s judgement. At one time or another, all of us must come to terms with this. God’s desire is that we will not run from, but to the one he has appointed as our Judge.

The biblical term for a judgement that is favourable to us is ‘justification’. This is not saying we are justified in what we have done but that God has announced that we are justified in his sight on the basis of what Christ has done. No amount of pleasant words or happy thoughts can hide the truth that we are answerable to God. We need to know that the court has sat, that all the facts are known and that God is now righteous in declaring us righteous. Only Christ can secure this for us and he has done so, fully and freely.

Many try to know the love of God by avoiding the fact of judgement but it doesn’t work. No number of human platitudes, or even divine providences, can break through to us that God is love. His loves comes to us as justification (Rom. 5:1-5; 8:31-38). Then it has moral validity and is convincing. The real holy God has come to a real sinner and really announced that he or she is justified. Christ has really come to us as our Judge, to save and not condemn, but his ‘no condemnation’ is still the word of our Judge! His word is final because it is just.

Then again, our righteousness is not just a formal acquittal; it is an unassailable righteousness before God forever. It comes to us with all the dignity of Jesus dying willingly because he loved his Father (John 14:31). It is not called ‘the righteousness of God’ for nothing! He is its author and sustainer, and we ‘are made the righteousness of God in [Christ]’ (2 Cor. 5:21). All this is done so we will never sin again, but then, we do, and we have an Advocate who is righteous and who has made propitiation. There is no real peace outside of this.

How necessary this is! It is necessary now because no one can properly function when they live under condemnation. It is not surprising that we spend so much time justifying ourselves! How much better to hear it from our Judge; that is, from our Saviour. It is necessary, too, in regard to the final judgement. None of us can avoid standing before Christ at the end of our life. God has appointed him as the world’s Judge and assured us of this by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:31).

Christ has brought the final judgement into history, while he was among us, so we could hear this word of justification now. Those who hear this word have no remaining threat standing against them; not here or hereafter. Love has hit home. This is very heaven! It is also the one moral incentive that gives us a ‘head of steam’ in our fight against the world, the flesh and the devil. It’s called gratitude, or perhaps just holy love.

I want to consider how God’s judgements may be working out in our present history. It is of no value to have an idea of God being Judge if he himself is inept or inactive. God willing, I will look at this in a further blog.

Get to know God while you are young!

I spoke last Sunday on Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 and thought you may be interested in some observations from that. I will return to my series on God as Judge soon.

The passage describes old age, or so it seems to me. The alternative is that it is describing a funeral. Either way, it is saying to young people, ‘Remember God while you are young’, and three times he says, ‘…before’ all the stuff that happens when you are old seems to destroy the evidence that life can be enjoyed.

Joy is quite a strong theme around this end of the book. He tells young people to delight in their youth, and ‘also’ to remember God in their youth (9:9; 12:1), and then the editor of the book says the Preacher sought to find delightful words to help us (12:10). Clearly, when he talks about old people saying thay have no more delight in life (12:1), he is saying that young people need to find where true delight is before the discovery of it becomes difficult.

There are lots of things for young people to enjoy, well most young people anyway. It is during this time that they do themselves a favour by living their enjoyable lives before God, according to his law, and discover the depths of life that will never fade.

Young people, and all of us, are not just left to have a good time, we are told to do so! It seems that real joy is a choice rather than just a happening. If joy is sought in things ‘under the sun’, the material world, there will never be enough of them to satisfy us, and certainly not enough to last. Life gets more difficult with old age. The good things of this world are not so much the source of our joy as the occasion for it. A good thing received, with thankfulness to God, becomes the source of ongoing joy, not just an event. We need lots of these experices while growing up in order to go on having joy in old age.

On the other hand, if we have sought meaning and joy merely in having and doing things, old age is proof that we have been grasping at a vapour. ‘Where is the fun I used to get out of this?’ ‘Why doesn’t this seem significant any more?’ With this observation, the Preacher brings his argument to a close by repeating his opening claim, ‘All is vanity’ (1:2; 12:8). Finding delight in the creation of itself is a lost cause, and he has driven his last nail into the coffin of this hope by talking about where this hope ends.

Psalm 23 is an example of finding joy now that lasts into the future. The writer recounts what God has done for him, leading him to food and water, restoring his life and leading him in right paths. But then he sees the possibility of dark valleys looming and says God will still be with him. He is persuaded that goodness (what God called the creation at the beginning) and steadfast love (what God promised to his covenant people) will always be with him. His earlier experiences told him what God was like and what he would do. His future experiences will not be able to alter who God is or how much he can be trusted.

As believers in Christ, we have every reason to remember our Creator, while young, and when old. Surely, God is with us! Christ is God with us! It is his presence that gives our present life quality, delight and permanence. He is not with us in things as they should be but in things as they are. He has entered into the sorrows of our hearts, borne our griefs and sorrows, endured their wrongness and judgement before his Father, and risen from the dead to give us peace. Christ gives us abundant life—both at work and in pleasurable company. He enters into our sorrows and joys agains as we pray, and gives us joy.

Of course, old age comes with increasing troubles. The question this passage poses is, ‘Is that all there is?’ The obvious answer is, ‘Not if we remember our Creator!’ There is much to enjoy now, and not least, the fact that our present life includes a foretaste, and is preparation for, a new heaven and earth. It’s good to get going on this as soon as possible.

If you’d like to hear more, you could listen to the message. You’ll find it online at http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?sermonID=1214132216541.

You may also like to listen to Don Carson say some parallel things, at http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=9813224462. It’s based on James 1:12-25.