justification

No Condemnation

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. – Romans 8:1-11 ESV

No condemnation. Let those two words sink in.

Don’t allow yourself to blow past them by treating them with that brand of apathy that so often accompanies over-familiarity. Many of us have read this passage so many times that it no longer carries any meaning for us. But if you keep in mind all that Paul has said in the first seven chapters of his letter to the Romans, the words, “no condemnation” should carry much greater significance for us.

Paul opened his letter with the sobering words: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18 ESV). The truth they suppressed was God’s revelation of Himself through creation. People had no excuse for refusing to acknowledge God because He had made Himself visible and knowable through all that He had made. But mankind chose to ignore God. And Paul states that “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:28 ESV). And Paul provides a less-than-flattering list of the things they did that “ought not to be done.” It includes every kind of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, slander, insolence, pride, disobedience, foolishness, faithlessness, and gossiping. And in chapter two, Paul drops the bombshell that “the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things” (Romans 2:2 ESV). And just so there’s no question as to what Paul means by judgment, he states, “There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil” (Romans 2:9 ESV).

So, who does evil? According to Paul, everyone. There is no one who will escape God’s judgment because all stand before God as guilty.

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” – Romans 3:10-12 ESV

No one will escape God’s judgment, because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). And just so we understand what that judgment entails, Paul tells us: “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV).

Now, look at those two words again: No condemnation.

Those who are in Christ Jesus are no longer under God’s righteous and just condemnation. Which means that His judgment of guilt, which brings with it a mandatory penalty of death, has been lifted. We stand before God, the judge of the universe, as those who are no longer condemned because of our sin. But why? Is it because we got our proverbial act together? Has God removed our guilty sentence because we have somehow reversed our behavior and made ourselves more acceptable in His sight? Of course not.

Paul’s whole point is that we stand uncondemned because we are in Christ. At one point, we stood before God as His enemies, but “we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10 ESV). We were made right with God, not because of anything we did to earn or deserve it, but because of what Jesus did on our behalf.

We now enjoy “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1 ESV). His death paid the penalty for our sin. He gave His life in our place, presenting Himself as the sacrificial substitute who took away the sins of the world. And His death was necessary because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).

His death on our behalf has provided release from condemnation, complete forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with God, and the promise of eternal life instead of eternal judgment.

But what does this have to do with sanctification? Everything. Notice how Paul links our release from condemnation to our freedom from the law of sin and death. That word “freedom” is vitally important to understanding what it means to stand as uncondemned before God. Our release from condemnation was not temporary or limited to a point in time. We weren’t released for a moment and then left to live under the threat of future condemnation. And yet, that is how many of us view the Christian life. We live under the constant fear of falling back under God’s condemnation based on what we do or don’t do. In other words, we see our behavior as the determiner of our status before God. And in doing so, we display a flawed understanding of what it means to stand uncondemned before God.

But look closely at what Paul says:

By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he [God] condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. – Romans 8:3-4 ESV

Back in chapter three, Paul told us the sobering news that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20 ESV). No one can be made right with God through adherence to the law. Why? Because the law was designed to make man aware of God’s holy requirements. It told us what God expected, but had no power to assist us in living up to those expectations. Like a speed limit sign on the side of the road, the law displayed God’s expectations and condemned our violation of them. It couldn’t make us obey, but it could expose us when we failed to do so.

But Paul says there is a new law at work in our lives. He describes it as “the law of the Spirit of life.” When we hear the word, “law,” we tend to think in terms of restrictions and binding requirements that keep us from doing what we want to do. But the Greek word Paul uses is nómos, and it has a much broader and more pleasant meaning behind it. According to Strong’s Concordance, it is derived from the Greek word “νέμω némō (to parcel out, especially food or grazing to animals). The law was intended to be prescriptive, not restrictive. The Mosaic law had benefits. It gave directions for life and provided God’s prescribed way for living in unbroken fellowship with Him. In the 23rd Psalm, David describes this prescriptive nature of God’s law. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:1-3 ESV). Through the law, God guided, directed, and protected His people. But the law was weakened by man’s flesh or sin nature. Man couldn’t follow willingly or obediently.

So when Paul speaks of “the law of the Spirit of life,” he is telling us that God has provided us with a new way to live in fellowship with Him. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4 ESV). The key is the last phrase in these verses. We are to walk according to the Spirit, not the flesh. We are to live our lives in obedience to and dependence upon the Spirit of God. He is the nómos or prescribed way to live in fellowship with and obedience to God. And Paul provides us with a vivid contrast of the choice that lies before us each and every day as God’s children. “Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God” (Romans 8:5-8 NLT). 

Our sinful nature is alive and active. But we are no longer slaves to it. We have been set free from its control. We now have the Spirit of God also living within us, providing us with direction for living a God-honoring life and the power to accomplish it. But we must choose to live under His control and not our own. We must submit to His leadership. We must desire what He desires and long for those things that He has determined as best for us. But in his letter to the Galatian believers, Paul reminds us of the constant battle going on within us. “The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other…” (Galatians 5:17 NLT). If we try to please God through our flesh, we will fail. But if we live our lives in dependence upon the Spirit of God, His prescribed means of living a godly life, we will experience life, peace, joy, contentment, and the transformation of our lives into the likeness of Christ. And no threat of condemnation.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

God’s Love In Our Hearts

1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – Romans 5:1-5 ESV

This passage contains some remarkable truths that, because of their over-familiarity to us, have lost much of their weight or glory. Because we have heard these phrases so often, we have become immune to their significance. But look carefully at what Paul is saying. First, he reminds us that we who believe in Christ have been justified by faith, and the result is that we have been restored to a right relationship with God.  We have peace with God because of what Christ accomplished on the cross on our behalf. Just a few verses later in chapter five of Romans, Paul states, “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10 ESV). Paul pronounced the same undeniable truth to the believers in Colossae:

…you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him. – Colossians 1:21-22 ESV

But there is more. Because our faith is in Christ, “we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” For Paul, restoration to a right relationship with God was made all that more significant because Christ’s death also made it possible for us to enter into God’s presence. In fact, Paul told the Ephesian believers that their union with Christ placed them with by His side in heaven.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:5-6 NLT

We enjoy unhindered access into God’s holy presence, right here, right now. And the author of Hebrews challenges us to take advantage of our access by faith into this grace.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. – Hebrews 4:16 NLT

But along with a sense of boldness, our gracious access into God’s presence should cause us to rejoice because we know that, just as Jesus was resurrected and received a new, glorified body, so shall we. And it is that hope that allows us to rejoice in the face of any kind suffering we may have to endure in this life because we know this is not the end. There is more to come. There is a life after this one. And Paul reminds us that, for the believer, even our suffering has a divine purpose behind it: “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.”

And the author of Hebrews uses Jesus as an example of someone who benefited from the suffering He endured in his short, earthly life.

Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him.  – Hebrews 5:8-9 NLT

There is little doubt that Jesus suffered. Yet, He remained committed to the cause of His heavenly Father, and obediently fulfilled His divine mission even in the face of opposition, ridicule, physical pain, and a gruesome death. It was His death that made possible our justification by God and our access into the presence of God. And like Jesus, we can experience the amazing truth that suffering can produce endurance, which strengthens our character and focuses our hope on the reality of eternity. Any suffering we have to endure in this life reminds us that the day is coming when “there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever”(Revelation 21:4 NLT). And Paul points out that present troubles fade in the light of future glory.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! – 2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT

This hope that we have is based on a remarkable truth that we sometimes find difficult to grasp and even more difficult to believe: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Everything we have just discussed has been made possible because God has poured out His love, not on us, within us. Think about that. His love is not just some external expression of affection. It cannot be relegated to an outer display of care and concern that shows up in forgiveness or a willingness to overlook our sin.

No, God poured His love into our hearts by placing His Holy Spirit within us. This is a doctrinal truth that contains massive implications. Remember, it was while we were still enslaved to our sin that God sent His Son to die for us. He didn’t love us when we were lovely. He loved us in the midst of our sin-stained degradation. He loved us while we were still His enemies. But He showed that love by placing His Spirit within us. He poured His Spirit into our hearts. And it was that action that provided us with the capacity to respond in love to Him. The Spirit resurrected us from death to life, opening our formerly blind eyes, and placed a new heart within, a heart capable of loving God and others. Paul went out of his way to ensure that his young disciple, Titus, understood this amazing truth.

…he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. – Titus 3:5-6 ESV

And it was God’s act of placing His Spirit within us that made it possible for us to return to Him the love He showed toward us. The capacity to love God is not something we manufacture. It does not come naturally to any human being. In fact, Paul paints a very bleak but realistic picture of man’s incapacity to love God.

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. – Romans 3:10-12 ESV

So, for sinful man to experience justification, peace with God, and access into His presence, he must be filled with the love of God in the form of the Spirit of God. And the apostle John presents us with a powerful explanation of this gift of God’s love works itself out in the life of the believer.

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. –1 John 4:16-21 ESV

Notice what John says: “whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” It is God’s love for us, as expressed by His love within us, that perfects us. And because we have God’s love present in us, in the form of His Spirit, we can have confidence in the day of judgment, because “as he is so also are we in this world.” That’s an incredible statement that we must take lightly or treat flippantly. John is not suggesting that we are sinless in this life. He is not saying that we bear the exact image of Jesus. But He is saying that, because of our union with Christ, we have His Spirit within and the capacity to love God and others just as He does. And, as Jesus is now glorified and seated at the right hand of the Father, so are we. Our future glory is guaranteed because of the Spirit’s presence within us.

Paul reminds us that God has “given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 1:22 ESV). A little later on in the same letter, Paul repeats this promise.

While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:4-5 NLT

God has placed His Spirit within us, and by virtue of that fact, we have the capacity to love God as He has loved us. This ability to love comes from God, not us. And while we do not experience perfectly in this life, the very fact that we can love God is proof to us that we have been adopted by God. We are His children.

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. – Romans 8:16-17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Past, Present, and Future

1 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours… – 1 Corinthians 1:2 ESV

1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. – 2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect. – Hebrews 12:22-23 ESV

The four passages above provide us with clarification concerning the doctrine of sanctification, but they have also resulted in much confusion and debate over the centuries. Taken out of context or rad apart from one another, they can leave a range of different conclusions regarding sanctification and man’s role in it.

It seems that the Bible treats sanctification using three different tenses: past, present, and future; and with each occurrence a different aspect of sanctification is being communicated. These three different ways of looking at sanctification provide us with a multi-multidimensional frame of reference that helps us better understand the rich nature of this often overlooked and underappreciated doctrine.

But these verses, and others like them, have also been used to propagate a wide range of conclusions regarding sanctification. For some, the fact that sanctification is communicated as having taken place in the past, suggests that it is a one-and-done doctrine. They treat it as they do justification, concluding that it was accomplished at the point of salvation and is, therefore, complete. They rightly state that each and every believer has been set apart or sanctified by God at the point of their salvation.  As the letter of Jude so clearly states, they have been called by God.

To those who are called…  – Jude 1 ESV

The word, “called” in the Greek is hagiazō, and refers to those who have been sanctified or consecrated to God for His use. And the author of Hebrews tells us that who God has called or sanctified “have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10 ESV). That calling cannot be revoked. The believer’s state of sanctification cannot be lost. As A. W. Pink so aptly puts it:

…his sacrifice has purged his people from every stain of sin, separated them from the world, consecrated them unto God, setting them before him in all the excellency of his offering. – A. W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification

As Paul told the believers in Thessalonica: “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13. ESV). So, there is a sense in which our sanctification is a past occurrence, having been accomplished through the Spirit when we placed our faith in Jesus Christ. At that point, we became God’s holy possession, set apart for His use and bearing the full righteousness of Christ. That’s why Peter describes us as “a chosen people,” and he calls us “royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession.” And then he tells us the wonderful consequences of our sanctification: “As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9 NLT).

But if we have been sanctified by God and it is a completed process, why do we still struggle with sin? If we have been made holy by God, why does unholy behavior still make up such a large part of our daily experience? When the Scripture talks of the believer as having been sanctified once for all, it is not speaking of a complete eradication of sin from the life of the one sanctified.

…scriptural sanctification is neither the eradication of sin, the purification of the carnal nature, nor even the partial putting to sleep of the “flesh”; still less does it secure an exemption from the attacks and harassments of Satan. – A. W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification

Even Jesus, praying in the garden on behalf of all those who would place their faith in Him, said to His heavenly Father, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:15-17 ESV). 

Jesus prayed for a specific group of people. He refers to them as “the people whom you gave me out of the world,” and Jesus reminds His Father, “Yours they were, and you gave them to me” (John 17:5 ESV). They had been set apart by God as His possession, and God had given them to Jesus to save. And on the verge of accomplishing His divine mission of substitutionary atonement, Jesus tells His Father, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:9 ESV).

And Jesus asked that His Father “keep them from the evil one” and “sanctify them in the truth.” Yes, they had been set apart by God, and Jesus was going to seal their designation as God’s possession with His death on the cross. But Jesus knew that all those whom God had given Him would still wrestle with the attacks of Satan and the ever-present reality of sin. The New Testament repeatedly points to the reality of indwelling sin. Our own experience as believers provides ample proof that sin is far from eradicated in our lives. Yes, we have been set apart by God for His use. We now belong to Him, and we have even been given a new nature by virtue of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, but we still have to do battle with sin each and every day. That is why the author of Hebrews tells us: “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1 ESV).

It’s why Paul pleaded so strongly with the believers in Ephesus, telling them to “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4:22-24 NLT). And He warned the believers in Galatia to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16 ESV).  Paul also demanded that the Corinthian believers cleanse themselves from anything that defiled the body or spirit so that they might bring their holiness to completion (2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV).

So, while believers have been set apart by God for His use, we must live in keeping with our holy status. In other words, we have been dedicated by God and cleansed from our sin by the blood of His Son, so we must maintain the purity of our lives so that we might continue to bring Him glory through our lives. That is what Paul meant when he wrote to his young protégé, Timothy.

In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work. – 2 Timothy 2:20-21 NLT

We are to see ourselves as “expensive utensils” reserved for special occasions and for honorable use. That is the motivation behind our efforts to remain pure. We are not attempting to earn favor with God or gain access into His presence through good works. We are striving to live in keeping with His will for us.

…this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 ESV

We are to pursue holiness because we have been deemed holy by God. As Paul told Timothy, we are to “Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11 NLT). Why? Because it is God’s will for us and the very reason Jesus gave His life for us. Paul would have us remember that Jesus died so that we might live in newness of life.

For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives…We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. – Romans 6:4, 6 NLT

And the hope that motivates our pursuit of ongoing sanctification is the promise of our future glorification – when our sanctification will be complete and whole. The day is coming when we will become “the righteous made perfect” (Hebrews 12:13 ESV) and “we will be like him”(1 John 3:2 NLT).

We have been sanctified by God. We are being sanctified by God. And the day is coming when we will be perfectly sanctified by God – not just positionally, but practically and permanently.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Miracle of Salvation

31 Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved… – Acts 16:31 ESV

The salvation spoken of in the Scriptures is both simple and complex. As the verse above illustrates, from a human perspective it requires nothing more than faith. In fact, as the Reformers so aptly put it, it is faith alone in Christ alone that saves. That’s why Paul told the Philippian jailer all he had to do was “believe in the Lord Jesus.” There is no “and” in Paul’s statement. He added no further requirements to the process. There was nothing more the man had to do other than believe, and we know from Luke’s account that he did.

And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. – Acts 16:34 ESV

Luke also records that this man’s belief took place after Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house” (Acts 16:31 ESV). In other words, they took the time to explain in detail God’s message of salvation made possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son. That is why Luke states that the man rejoiced “that he had believed in God.” He recognized that the gift of salvation was based on the grace of God alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It was God who had sent His Son into the world to pay the penalty for mankind’s sin debt and to remove the verdict of condemnation that applied to each and every human being.

But all the jailer had to do was believe. His part was easy. And, later on in his ministry, Paul would expand on the remarkable nature of salvation by explaining, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT).

But while man’s role in the miracle of salvation is simple and based on nothing more than faith, it is anything but a simplistic event. At the moment that the Philippian jailer placed his faith in Jesus, something incredible happened. To put it another way, some incredible things happened. A series of God-ordained and instantaneous actions took place that remained totally invisible to the jailer but were indispensable for his salvation to be sufficient.

As this man was processing and accepting the message as delivered to him by Paul and Silas, God was working behind the scenes, orchestrating a host of invisible elements necessary to turn this man’s simple faith into saving faith.

In theology, salvation denotes a work of God on behalf of men that encompasses a wide range of divine initiatives that includes conviction, regeneration, redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, justification, sanctification, preservation, and glorification. These sophisticated-sounding words connote different actions on the part of God that accompany the miracle of salvation. And, in order for us to fully appreciate what God has made possible through His Son’s death and resurrection, it is essential that we comprehend the unseen and inexplicable nature of God’s work on man’s behalf.

For the Philippian jailer to believe in Jesus as his Savior, a change of heart was required. Like all men, he was a slave to sin, and “lived in this world without God and without hope” (Ephesians 2:12 NLT). He was far away from and an enemy of God, separated from him by his evil thoughts and actions (Colossians 1:21). He was spiritually dead because of his disobedience and many sins (Ephesians 2:1). His mind was blinded by the god of this world “from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT).

So, what happened? How was this man suddenly able to see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ? Paul tells us.

…he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. – Titus 3:5-6 ESV

The Greek word translated as “regeneration” is paliggenesia and it is comprised of two other Greek words: palin – again, once more, and genesis – birth, beginning. It is where we get the idea of being born again. It refers to a new life or, as Jesus put explained it to Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 ESV). That phrase can also be translated as “born from above.” In other words, this is a divine rebirth that is completely dependent upon God. That is why Jesus told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6 ESV). Why is this new birth necessary? Because man was born spiritually dead, having inherited the sin of Adam and the death penalty that accompanied it. The Philippian jailer needed spiritual resuscitation. And Paul reminds us that all men require this regenerating work of the Spirit of God if they are going to have the capacity to place their faith in the gift provided by God.

And when the jailer’s eyes were opened and he was able to see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ,” he believed. Where before, even his righteous deeds had been no better than filthy rags, the jailer was now able to do the right thing and choose Christ. His blinded eyes had been opened and his state of spiritual death had been replaced with new life. And, as a result, he became a new creation.

But that’s not all that happened. As a result of placing his faith in Jesus, he received redemption, what Paul describes as the forgiveness of sins.

He [God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. – Colossians 1:13-14 ESV

The Greek for redemption is exagorazō, and it means “to redeem by payment of a price to recover from the power of another to ransom, buy off.” Tony Evans describes it this way:

Redemption involves paying a purchase price, and it was often used in the context of the slave market. This is how the biblical writers used the term to describe the purchase price that Jesus Christ paid on the cross. – Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On

At the moment of his salvation, the Philippian jailer was set free from slavery to sin. Not only that, he had all his sins – past, present, and future – completely forgiven. God had redeemed this man from the marketplace of sin, paying the price with the life of His own Son.

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. – 1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT

And Jesus Himself described the redemptive nature of His death.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. – Matthew 20:28 NLT

And what did this redemption accomplish?

  • Jesus freed us from the curse (Galatians 3:10, 13; 4:4-5; James 2:10)

  • God adopted us into His family (Romans 8:15)

  • We are set free from fear (Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

In giving His life as a ransom, Jesus made it possible for sinful mankind to be reconciled to God. Reconciliation is one of the key doctrines of Scripture because it means the sinner, separated and alienated from a holy God, can be restored to fellowship with Him. The Greek word is katallasso and it means “to bring back to harmony, make peace.” In reconciling the Philippian jailer to God, Jesus changed his state from one of enmity and disharmony to that of friendship and peace with God.

Paul reminds us: “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10 NIV). And that reconciliation has tremendous ramifications for our life on this earth as children of God.

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. – Romans 5:1-2 NLT

But how can a sinful man be made right with a holy God? What has to take place for this amazing transformation to be made possible? That brings us to two essential New Testament doctrines that are often overlooked and under-appreciated. The first is justification. It helps us understand what God does at the point of man’s salvation to transform him from a state of unrighteousness to righteousness. Charles Ryrie states the problem this way:

“If God, the Judge, is without injustice and completely righteous in all His decisions, then how can He announce a sinner righteous? And sinners we all are. There are only three options open to God as sinners stand in His courtroom. He must condemn them, compromise His own righteousness to receive them as they are, or He can change them into righteous people. If He can exercise the third option, then He can announce them righteous, which is justification. But any righteousness the sinner has must be actual, not fictitious; real, not imagined; acceptable by God’s standards, and not a whit short. If this can be accomplished, then, and only then, can He justify. Job stated the problem accurately when he asked, ‘how can a man be in the right before God?’” – Charles Ryrie, Systematic Theology

God has three possible options. The first is to condemn mankind for its sin. The second would be to compromise His own righteousness by accepting man in his sinful state. The third is to make sinful men righteous. And justification is the doctrinal explanation of this third and final option. Justification is an instantaneous legal act in which God reckons our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us. And, as a result, He declares us to be righteous in His sight.

That brings us to the next remarkable doctrine associated with salvation: Imputation. Because all of the righteous deeds of men are considered to be no better than filthy rags to God, they stand in need of an alien righteousness, a righteousness outside of themselves. And in the miracle of salvation, God imputes the righteousness of Christ to the one who places his faith in Him. It is what has come to be known as “The Great Exchange.” For God to consider sinful men to be righteous, God first had to transfer the sins of man to His Son on the cross. Then, when men place their faith in Christ, they are imputed the righteousness of Christ

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV

I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. – Philippians 3:9 NLT

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. – 1 Corinthians 1:30 NLT

So, the Philippian jailer believed, but there was far more going on behind the scenes to make his believing faith saving faith. He was regenerated, justified, redeemed, forgiven, and sanctified, or set apart as God’s son. And it was all the gracious work of a merciful, loving God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

False Confidence

4 If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. – Philippians 3:1-4a ESV

What does Paul mean by “confidence in the flesh?” Remember the context. He has just warned the believers in Philippi to “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh” (Philippians 3:2 ESV). This was a direct broadside delivered against the Judaizers, a group made up of Jewish converts to Christianity who were attempting to bring the legalism associated with the Mosaic Law into the church. They were demanding that Gentile believers first be circumcised and then agree to keep the Jewish laws, religious festivals, and sacrificial requirements. In other words, they had to become Jews before they could be considered truly saved. 

So, when Paul mentions having confidence in the flesh, he is stressing the teachings of this group. They believed that their human efforts, those things done in their own strength, somehow earned them favor with God. As Jews, they put a high priority and value on the rite of circumcision. It was an outward sign of their unique relationship as God’s chosen people. And they were of the strong opinion that circumcision was necessary for any and all who would hope to enjoy the salvation offered by Jesus Christ. But for Paul, this was nothing short of another gospel. It was a false gospel. And it was to be exposed for what it was: a dangerous heresy. 

The Greek word Paul used for “flesh” is sarx and, while it was often used to refer to the actual physical body, it could also be used in a metaphorical sense, to refer to human nature. The Judaizers put a lot of stock in human nature and their own human abilities, believing that they were able to keep the laws of God and live up to the holy standards of God. But Paul rejects that mindset, stating that believers were to “glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3 ESV). Salvation was based on the work of Christ, not the works of men.

But Paul decides to take their argument and use it against them. He somewhat sarcastically paints a picture of what the kind of credentials that might earn someone favor with God would look like. And he uses himself as an example. Paul boldly states:

“If someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human credentials, I have more…” – Philippians 3:4 NLT

It is as if Paul is saying, “So, you think you can earn a right standing with God based on your accomplishments and status? Well, check this out!”

What follows is a laundry list of Paul’s off-the-chart credentials.

  • He was a card-carrying member of the nation of Israel

  • He was from the tribe of Benjamin

  • He had been circumcised according to the Mosaic Law

  • He was a Hebrew of Hebrews (a hard-core traditionalist)

  • He had been a member of the Pharisees, an elite religious group

  • He had been a passionate and zealous persecutor of the church

  • He had been painstakingly dedicated to keeping the law

Look at that list and then consider who he was comparing himself with. He was placing himself in direct competition with the Judaizers. If they thought they were somehow better than everybody else because of their Jewish heritage and law-keeping ability, they had nothing on Paul. His resume made them look like third-string players trying to win a spot on the varsity squad.

But notice what Paul says next. He takes his list of accomplishments and credentials and describes them “as liabilities because of Christ” (Philippians 3:7 NLT). His relationship with Christ, based solely on faith in the work of Christ done on his behalf, made any of his so-called assets amount to nothing. They earned him no credibility with God and bought him no favor from God. Paul understood that his righteous deeds were of no value when it comes to his salvation. He firmly believed what the text in Isaiah clearly states:

We are all infected and impure with sin.
    When we display our righteous deeds,
    they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

Paul’s lofty list of accomplishments and personal assets were worthless. Which is why he could say, “I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8 NLT). Rather than placing any stock in human nature or his ability to produce righteous-looking deeds, Paul saw those things as hindrances to his spiritual walk. They were liabilities. Because they were all tainted by sin. So, Paul had given them all up. He had decided to treat them like what they were: Liabilities, not assets. All so he could know Christ. And Paul gets a bit graphic in trying to describe his new relationship with those things he once held near and dear. They were like dung to him now, to be tossed aside and treated for what they were: worthless and detestable.

The bottom line for Paul was righteousness. A holy and righteous God demanded that His people live holy, righteous lives. But man’s sin nature made that impossible. And no amount of law-keeping, ritual-observing, or efforts at God-pleasing were going to make a difference. Paul states, “I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness” (Philippians 3:9 NLT). In other words, Paul’s righteousness was not based on self-effort, but on Christ’s faithfulness. Jesus died a sinner’s death to satisfy the just demands of a holy and righteous God. As Paul explained to the Corinthian believers:

For our sake he [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV

And as Paul stated earlier in this letter, Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV). His faithfulness to do the will of His Father resulted in righteousness for us.

The Judaizers were not right before God because they had been circumcised. They were not right before God because they were Jews. They could not claim a right standing before God because they kept the law. In fact, Paul vaporized that idea in his letter to the Galatians.

So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, "It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” – Galatians 3:11 NLT

He said the same thing to the believers in Rome.

For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. – Romans 3:20 NLT

We have no reason to boast. We have no ground on which to stand and from which to proclaim our own self-righteousness. Our righteousness is actually Christ’s righteousness imparted to us when we place our faith in Him. When Christ died on the cross, He paid in full the debt that was owed for sins of mankind. He died in our place, bearing the penalty we deserved. And that act justified us before God. He now sees us as righteous and just, not sinful and worthy of death. We have been cleansed by the blood of Christ. And with that thought in mind, Paul refocuses the attention of his readers on that which is really important. Not effort and earning, but the pursuit of an ongoing and always growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. – Philippians 3:10-11 NLT

Paul is not talking about cognitive knowledge. He’s not suggesting a purely academic understanding of who Jesus was and is. He is describing a deep and intimate relationship that features an ever-intensifying awareness of all that Jesus Christ has done and will do for him. In the immediate context, Paul wanted to experience all the power that Christ’s resurrection had made available to him. Jesus had been raised back to life by the power of the Holy Spirit, and each and every believer has that power living within them.

But Paul knew that the resurrection power he so desired to see is most often revealed in the context of suffering. Just as Jesus had to suffer and die before He could experience the resurrection, we will find ourselves suffering so that we might experience the resurrection power of God’s Spirit in our lives. Just as Jesus experienced humiliation before His glorification, so will we. And then, Paul reminds us, it will all end in death. The ultimate form of suffering we all face is our own physical deaths. But Paul wants us to remember that there is a resurrection of the dead. Death is not the end. It is really the beginning of something greater. And Paul told the believers in Corinth what they could expect when death finally came.

For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” – I Corinthians 15:53-55 NLT

Why put confidence in the flesh? It’s of no value and will ultimately be left behind. And why put stock in our own worthiness before God? Without Christ, we have no righteousness of our own. As Paul told the Colossian believers, it all boils down to this: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Righteousness From God Through Faith in Christ

1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. – Philippians 3:1-4a ESV

Here, Paul drives home a message that was common to virtually all of his letters – that of true righteousness. And his reason for bringing it up seems to be due to the fact that the Philippian believers were undergoing intense opposition, either from within or without, regarding the issue of circumcision. As a Roman colony, Philippi would have had a large Gentile population and, therefore, the church in Philippi was most likely made up predominately of Gentiles who had converted to Christianity from paganism. In A.D. 50, when Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy had arrived in Philippi on their missionary journey, there would have been few Jewish residents in the city. But by the time Paul wrote this letter some 10-12 years later, the Jewish population could have grown and there may have been Jewish converts to Christianity within the congregation at Philippi. The presence of Jews outside the church and Jewish converts within the church had evidently raised an issue that had become a point of contention for Paul: Circumcision.

Paul opens this section with a reminder to rejoice, even in the face of opposition. This is in keeping with his message to them earlier in the letter:

“…it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” – Philippians 1:29 ES

And Paul had used his own life as an example of joy in the midst of suffering. After all, he was writing to them from house arrest in Rome, facing a trial before Nero and uncertainty as to his fate. But he had been able to tell them:

“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.” – Philippians 2:17-18 ESV

So, even though they were facing opposition, they had every reason to rejoice because they were privileged to suffer for the sake of the gospel.

But it doesn’t take long for Paul’s tone to turn much more serious and sarcastic. He warns them to “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh” (Philippians 3:2 ESV). Now, while this statement is clearly intended to paint the opposition in an unflattering light, there is more going on here than meets our modern, western eyes. 

Paul, writing in Greek, uses a play on words in describing those who were of the pro-circumcision camp. He refers to them as “those who mutilate the flesh.” But that is a translation of a single Greek word, katatomē, which means to cut up or mutilate. In Leviticus 21:5, the priests of God were forbidden to “make any cuts on their body.” In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures, the word katatomē was used to describe this forbidden practice.

Here is where Paul’s cleverness and open hostility can be seen. The Greek word normally used when speaking of the Jewish practice of circumcision was peritomē and Paul uses it in verse 3.  You can see what Paul is doing here: katatomē vs peritomē. He is comparing the Jewish ritual of circumcision with the forbidden act of self-mutilation. But it’s important to remember the context. Paul is addressing a predominately Gentile congregation. These would have been pagans who had placed their faith in Christ, but now there were being told that their faith was incomplete and insufficient. There were those who were telling them that they must be circumcised and keep all the Jewish laws and religious rituals in order to be truly saved. This message was common in the 1st Century and was propagated by a group that came to be known as the Judaizers. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what Paul thought about these people. He calls them dogs and evildoers. And his intense anger for them was due to the fact that they were adding to the gospel message he preached. His feelings about this matter are made perfectly clear in his letter to the believers in Galatia.

You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. – Galatians 1:6-9 NLT

And Paul had strong words for the church in Corinth because they were being led away from the simple message of the gospel and buying into a false narrative that essentially claimed true righteousness was based the false formula of Jesus + something = salvation.

As far as Paul was concerned, the Judaizers were the enemy. Although they claimed to be followers of Jesus Christ, they were demanding that everyone become as they were. Their demand was that all the male members of the church in Philippi be circumcised and, essentially, convert to Judsaism before they .could be considered truly saved. And this left Paul in a state of rage, especially because he was unable to do anything about it while under house arrest in Rome. Which explains the strong nature of his rhetoric. 

And he completely invalidates the message of the Judaizers, instead offering the Gentile converts to Christianity as the true circumcision.

“For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort…” – Philippians 3:3 NLT

This verse summarizes Paul’s view on the matter. To him, circumcision was nothing more than a work, an outward act that left the one circumcised with a false sense of spiritual well-being. For the Jews, it had become a symbol of their unique status as God’s chosen people. But in his letter to the church in Rome, Paul exposed the flaw behind the Jewish thinking regarding circucision.

The Jewish ceremony of circumcision has value only if you obey God’s law. But if you don’t obey God’s law, you are no better off than an uncircumcised Gentile. – Romans 2:25 NLT

In fact, uncircumcised Gentiles who keep God’s law will condemn you Jews who are circumcised and possess God’s law but don’t obey it. – Romans 2:27 NLT

The problem lies in the dangerous misperception being perpetrated by the Judaizers. In their way of thinking the rite of circumcision was the non-negotiable doorway all must enter on their way to justification before God. But this teaching stood in direct opposition to the gospel message of salvation made possible by the grace of God alone through faith alone in Christ alone. There was no other step needed. To add circumcision to the gospel message was to distort the good news and to make it another gospel altogether. Rather than basing salvation on the grace-gift of God’s Son, the Judaizers were introducing a form of works-based salvation. They were making justification a matter of rule-keeping and self-effort. But Paul reminds the Philippian believers, “We put no confidence in human effort.”

And then he goes on to expose the absurdity of the Judaizers’ argument. If they were going to make it all about human effort and rule-keeping, Paul could have been the poster-boy for self-justification. And he will go on to describe his relative merit as a good Jew who had all the criteria to make him a candidate for justification before God through works. But for Paul, this way of thinking was ridiculous and dangerous. It stood in direct opposition to the message of the gospel. And in a direct attack against the pride-filled Judaizers, Paul sarcastically states: “I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!” (Philippians 3:4a NLT). And he will go on to describe his so-called credentials for justification before God. But he knew that his curriculum vitae had nothing to do with his right standing before God. His salvation was not based on anything he had done or any worth he brought to the table. It was all the result of the finished work of Christ on the cross. And Paul drove home that point in his letter to the Galatians.

“…we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” – Galatians 2:16 NLT

For Paul, the formula was quite simple and concise. Righteousness was made available by God through man’s faith in the finished work of Christ. No more. No less. Circumcision becomes nothing more than self-mutilation when used to earn favor with God. Law-keeping becomes disobedience to God when used as an attempt to justify oneself before God. For as Paul stated, no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Heart Disease.

 33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” – Matthew 12:33-37 ESV

At first glance, these verses appear to contain some confusing and contradictory messages from the lips of Jesus. In His continuing confrontation with the Pharisees, His rhetoric intensified and some of His statements seem contrary to the Gospel as we know it. As usual, we must take into account the context and the individuals to whom His words are directed. The Pharisees were considered part of the religious elite and Israel. They were revered for their piety and their strict adherence to the law of Moses. But they had just accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. In other words, they had judged His works as being evil. So, Jesus determined to address the issue of works or fruit.

He began with what appears to be a command that, from a Christian perspective, sounds a bit strange coming from the lips of Jesus. 

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.” – Matthew 12:33 ESV

Can a tree make itself good or can a tree make itself bad? The real issue here has to do with fruit. The nature of the fruit is in direct relationship to the condition of the tree. A good tree bears good fruit. A bad or unhealthy tree bears bad fruit. The fruit merely proves the condition of the tree from which it came.

This was not the first time Jesus utilized this metaphor of trees and fruit. He had previously used it in His sermon on the mount.

16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. - Matthew 7:16-20 ESV

The Pharisees had accused Jesus of casting out demons in the name and power of Satan. But by restoring the sight and speech of the possessed man, Jesus had done a good thing. His actions had released a man from the control of a demon and restored him to health. The “fruit” was self-evident and should have been recognized for what it was: A work of the Spirit of God. But instead, the Pharisees had attributed it to Satan.

So, Jesus addressed the Pharisees on terms they could understand. They were self-righteous men who truly believed that their actions were the determiner of the justification before God. They were confident in their own righteousness, believing themselves to be law-abiding and God-pleasing. But Jesus knew their hearts and called them out for their hypocrisy. He used what would become a favorite term of His when referring to these men: “You brood of vipers!”

This was the same term John the Baptist had used when the Pharisees and Sadducees had showed up in the wilderness seeking to be baptized by him.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:7-10 ESV

These men, who by all appearances were godly and righteous, were actually deadly and dangerous. They were the offspring of Satan himself, and the fruit of their lives was proof. They could no more change the nature of their fruit than an apple tree could decide to bear oranges. Notice what John the Baptist said to them: “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” In other words, the only way they were going to change the fruit of their lives was by repenting of the way they lived their lives. They were going to have to change their whole outlook on what it means to be righteous before God. Their belief that good works and obedience to the law earned a man a right standing before God was going to have to be replaced by faith in Jesus. First, they would have to agree with the assessment of the prophet Isaiah.

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

They would need to accept the less-than-flattering conclusion of Solomon:

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV

Or as the apostle Paul would later put it:

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. – Romans 3:23 NLT

Jesus pulled no punches, but harshly assessed the true state of the spiritual condition.

“How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” – Matthew 12:34 ESV

He leaves little doubt as to His opinion of these men. They were evil and the very words that came from their lips were proof. They were suffering from a serious heart problem. And the Old Testament was full of warnings regarding the heart.

Keep your heart with all vigilance,
    for from it flow the springs of life. – Proverbs 4:23 ESV

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the heart. – Proverbs 21:2 ESV

“How sick is your heart, declares the Lord God, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute…” – Ezekiel 16:30 ESV

Jesus made His view of them crystal clear.

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. – Matthew 12:35 NLT

They were suffering from an internal disorder over which they had no control. They couldn’t change the fruit they bore because they were incapable of altering their sin natures. The true condition of their hearts would eventually manifest itself. There was no hiding it. And Jesus dropped a bombshell on them that had to have left them reeling in disbelief and anger.

“…on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” – Matthew 12:36 ESV

The day is coming when God will judge all men. And Jesus seems to be saying that He wil judge them according to their words. But it is important to consider all that Jesus has said. His emphasis has been on the condition of the heart. He told them, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” The word translated as “abundance” has to do with surplus or that which fills and overflows the heart. Whatever fills the heart will overflow through the mouth. So, at the judgment, men will give an account for the words they have spoken, because those words will give evidence of the content of their hearts.

Then Jesus summarizes His comments with a statement that seems in direct violation of the Gospel.

“…for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” – Matthew 12:37 ESV

Is Jesus insinuating that our speech will save us? Do we have the capacity to talk our way into the Kingdom of God?

Obviously Jesus did not mean that if a person was able to say all the right words he or she could deceive God and win salvation by clever speech. The basis of justification and condemnation is character, but words reveal character and so become the instruments by which God judges. – Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes of Matthew

Once again, the point Jesus was making had to do with the condition of the heart. As the prophet Jeremiah so boldly put it: “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT). Our words and our conduct are merely expressions of the condition of our heart. And we can do nothing to change our words or actions because we can do nothing to change our hearts. That is the work of God. And God had long ago promised to give the people of Israel new hearts, doing for them what they could have never done on their own.

“I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:26-27 NLT

The Pharisees were convinced of their own righteousness. They viewed themselves as justified before God because of their outward adherence to the law of Moses. But Jesus knew their real problem was a heart condition for which their was only one cure: Faith in Him. Their words would end up condemning them because the wicked hearts within them. Had they been willing to pray the same prayer that King David prayed, they would have found Jesus ready, willing and able to answer.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. – Psalm 51:10 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Great Invitation.

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  – Matthew 11:25-30 ESV

After pronouncing a warning of pending doom on the cities of Bethsaida, Chorizin and Capernaum for their refusal to accept Him as Messiah, Jesus offered a brief prayer of thanks to the Father. The placement of this little prayer seems as strange as its content. Because of the flow of the narrative, it would appear that Jesus prayed this prayer within the hearing of His audience. It was a verbal aside that acted as a prayer to His Father in heaven, while at the same time offering His audience insight into the mysterious ways of God.

Jesus addressed God as His Father, a statement of their intimate relation. But He also addressed Him as the Lord of heaven and earth, indicating God’s sovereignty over anything and everything. God is all-powerful, all-knowing and in complete control of all things, including the mysteries of His will. And Jesus makes it clear that the inability and unwillingness of the Jews to accept Jesus as their Messiah was all within the divine will. God had “hidden these things from the “wise and understanding.”  The Greek word translated as “hidden” is apokryptō and it means “to hide, conceal, or keep secret.” The stubborn refusal of the Jews to accept Jesus as their Messiah was actually part of God’s redemptive plan.

In his Gospel, John makes it clear that Jesus came to the Jews but that they refused to accept Him.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. – John 1:10-11 NLT

The will of God was that Jesus would come into the world but that the vast majority of the people would refuse and reject His offer of salvation. And Paul provides us  with further insight into this mysterious aspect of God’s will.

1 I ask, then, has God rejected his own people, the nation of Israel? Of course not! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham and a member of the tribe of Benjamin.

2 No, God has not rejected his own people, whom he chose from the very beginning. – Romans 11:1-2 NLT

God had not rejected the people of Israel. In fact, Paul pointed out that he was a Jew who had accepted Christ, and he was not alone. There were others. But they were in the minority. And there decision to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior had been due to the grace and mercy of God.

5 It is the same today, for a few of the people of Israel have remained faithful because of God’s grace—his undeserved kindness in choosing them. 6 And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is—free and undeserved. – Romans 11:5-6 NLT

This small remnant of Jews who had accepted Jesus as their Messiah, had done so because God had chosen to open their eyes so that they might see the hidden mystery of His Son’s sacrificial death on their behalf. But Paul pointed out that the majority of the Jewish people had rejected Jesus.

7 So this is the situation: Most of the people of Israel have not found the favor of God they are looking for so earnestly. A few have—the ones God has chosen—but the hearts of the rest were hardened. 8 As the Scriptures say,

“God has put them into a deep sleep.
To this day he has shut their eyes so they do not see,
    and closed their ears so they do not hear.” – Romans 11:7-8 NLT

Their hearts were hardened by God. He put them into a “deep sleep.” He “shut their eyes” and “closed their ears.” But that begs the question: Why would God do this to His own chosen people? Why would He send them a message of salvation, but then prevent them from hearing and accepting it? Paul provides us with insight into the answer to these questions when he quotes from a psalm written by King David.

9 “Let their bountiful table become a snare,
    a trap that makes them think all is well.
Let their blessings cause them to stumble,
    and let them get what they deserve.
10 Let their eyes go blind so they cannot see,
    and let their backs be bent forever.” – Romans 11:9-10 NLT

The Jews were convinced that they were safe and secure because of their relationship with God. They were His chosen people. They were descendants of Abraham and heirs to the promises God had made to Abraham. But if you recall, both Jesus and John the Baptist had arrived on the scene preaching a message of repentance. They were calling the people of Israel to change their minds regarding their beliefs about God and their own standing before Him. They were to radically alter their thinking about everything from sin and righteousness to justification and judgment. But they refused to do so. And God simply allowed them to remain in their state of rebellion by refusing to open their eyes to the truth. He didn’t make them rebellious, but simply chose to leave them that way. And Paul provides us with the why.

11 Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. 12 Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it. – Romans 11:11-12 NLT

The rejection of Jesus by the Jews had a divine purpose behind it. He was the Jewish Messiah and, as such, He was the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham. It would be through Jesus that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. God had told Abraham, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Genesis 22:18 NASB). And Paul, writing to the Galatians, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would provide the proper meaning of this promise.

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ.
 – Galatians 3:16 NASB

Jesus was to be the means by which the nations of the earth would be blessed. And the rejection of Jesus by the Jews made possible God’s fulfillment of this promise as He opened up the offer of salvation to all people of all nationalities.

15 For since their rejection meant that God offered salvation to the rest of the world, their acceptance will be even more wonderful. It will be life for those who were dead! – Romans 11:15 NLT

God is not done with Israel. As a nation, they are still suffering from spiritual blindness, unable to see the mystery of God’s redemptive plan, but Paul makes it clear that their future acceptance of His offer of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone will be wonderful.

But Jesus makes it clear that the only means by which men can come to a true knowledge of God is through Him. He is the door. He is the access point through which a right relationship with God is obtained. Which is why He so boldly and flatly proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). The Jews, who believed that had a right relationship with God, would one day discover that their hope of justification before God would come through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.

And that is why Jesus offers His Great Invitation, and He extends it to all those who labor and are heavy laden. His focus is on those who find themselves burdened by the legalistic and moralistic requirements of the law. They are pressed down by rules and regulations that place on them a burden so great, they feel crushed by its weight. And Jesus offers them an attractive alternative: Rest. Notice that He does not promise them a cessation from work. He invites them into a yoke, a farming implement that would have been very familiar to His agrarian audience. Jesus was inviting them into a partnership with Him, joining Him in the yoke beside Him. It is only in a relationship with Him that we can find true rest and peace. It is only in partnership with Him that our burdens become light and our souls can find rest from the daily toils of life.

Jesus wasn’t offering them an escape from life or a panacea from all troubles and trials, but a source of strength found in the promise of His presence. Laboring alongside Jesus is a blessing, not a burden. And Paul would testify to the truth of that reality.

11 …for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

Jesus was grateful to God for revealing the truth of who He was to “little children” – those who were innocent and dependent. The prostitutes, tax collectors, pagan Gentiles and others to whom Jesus ministered tended to be the ones who accepted His message and placed their faith in Him. They were burdened by sin, weighed down with their own guilt and their hopeless circumstances. But they had turned to Jesus in faith. And Paul would remind the Corinthian believers that this state of weakness and hopeless is shared by all those who accept the Great Invitation offered by Jesus.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Just and Justified.

Woe is me because of my hurt!
    My wound is grievous.
But I said, “Truly this is an affliction,
    and I must bear it.”
My tent is destroyed,
    and all my cords are broken;
my children have gone from me,
    and they are not;
there is no one to spread my tent again
    and to set up my curtains.
For the shepherds are stupid
    and do not inquire of the Lord;
therefore they have not prospered,
    and all their flock is scattered.

A voice, a rumor! Behold, it comes!—
    a great commotion out of the north country
to make the cities of Judah a desolation,
    a lair of jackals.

I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself,
    that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.
Correct me, O Lord, but in justice;
    not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.

Pour out your wrath on the nations that know you not,
    and on the peoples that call not on your name,
for they have devoured Jacob;
    they have devoured him and consumed him,
    and have laid waste his habitation. – Jeremiah 10:19-25 ESV

In the opening lines of this section of chapter 10, Jeremiah speaks on behalf of the people, expressing the dismay they will express at the coming destruction. He personifies the nation of Judah as a nomad whose tent has been torn down and his children, lost. He has no one to help him rebuild his home and he has no idea where his children might be. Understandably, he is distraught and filled with grief. But he realizes that there is nothing he can do about it. He must simply endure the pain.

But Jeremiah blames the religious and political leaders, those men who had been tasked with shepherding the people of Judah. He describes them as stupid and accuses them of refusing to seek the Lord. They led the people according to their own wisdom, rather than trusting and obeying the word of God. Their failure was imminent and they would be held responsible by God for the moral decay and inevitable destruction of His people. But that did not mean the people were guiltless and innocent before God. They had allowed themselves to be misled because they wanted to be. Their leaders were simply telling them what they wanted to hear and setting an example they were more than willing to follow. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul addressed the problem of allowing bad leadership to infect and influence the church.

Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.” Think carefully about what is right, and stop sinning. For to your shame I say that some of you don’t know God at all. – 1 Corinthians 15:33-34 NLT

There were evidently so-called leaders in the church in Corinth who were denying the doctrine of the resurrection. They were teaching that this life is all there is, and encouraged the people to “feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (1 Corinthians 15:32 NLT). In other words, there is not afterlife, so grab all the gusto you can in this one. That kind of message was popular because it appealed to man’s base desire for pleasure and self-gratification. But Paul warned the believers in Corinth to consider carefully before following the advice of these individuals. He wanted them to do what was right, not what was most appealing. Paul would also warn Timothy about this problem, telling his young protege, “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT).

Telling people what they want to hear may make you popular, but it won’t win you any brownie points with God. Along with the crowds, you’ll end up attracting the judgment of God. And judgment was coming on the leaders and the people of Judah. The Babylonian invasion was looming. And this led Jeremiah to offer up to God a personal prayer of repentance. Even though he was God’s prophet and had faithfully fulfilled his duty to deliver God’s message to the people, he knew he was not without guilt. He was one of the people of Judah. They all shared in the responsibility of their corporate sins against God. So, Jeremiah pleaded with God to correct them, but not in anger. He didn’t ask God to refrain from bringing judgment, but begged Him to be gentle.

I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own.
    We are not able to plan our own course.
So correct me, Lord, but please be gentle.
    Do not correct me in anger, for I would die. – Jeremiah 10:23-24 NLT

But Jeremiah also asked God to judge the Babylonians. He fully understood that God was going to use this pagan nation to discipline the people of Judah, but Jeremiah wanted to know that God would also bring judgment upon them for what they were about to do to His people. As a citizen of Judah, Jeremiah was willing to accept the judgment of God and suffer the consequences for their unfaithfulness. He knew God would be just in His judgment and perfectly justified in bringing it. But He also appealed to God’s sense of justice when it came to those whom God would use to mete out His judgment. Jeremiah simply wanted to know that God would do the right and just thing when it came to the Babylonians. And near the end of the book that bears his name, Jeremiah receives a message from God letting him know that the Babylonians will one day face a judgment of their own.

This is what the Lord says:
“I will stir up a destroyer against Babylon
    and the people of Babylonia.
Foreigners will come and winnow her,
    blowing her away as chaff.
They will come from every side
    to rise against her in her day of trouble.” – Jeremiah 51:1-2 NLT

The Babylonians would be judged by God as well. God would eventually raise up the Medes, who would defeat the formally indestructable Babylonians. And God will remind Jeremiah:

“For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    has not abandoned Israel and Judah.
He is still their God,
    even though their land was filled with sin
    against the Holy One of Israel.” – Jeremiah 51:5 NLT

God can be counted on to do the just and right thing. He is always right in all His ways.

The LORD is righteous in all his ways… – Psalm 145:17 ESV

God's way is perfect. All the LORD's promises prove true. – Psalm 18:30 NLT

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

Therefore, the LORD has brought upon us the disaster he prepared. The LORD our God was right to do all of these things, for we did not obey him. – Daniel 9:14 NLT

Destruction was coming on Judah. They deserved it. The judgment of God was justified and He would be proven righteous in every action He took against Judah. He would also be just in His dealings with Babylon. While His ways may not seem to make sense to us or appeal to our sense of fairness, we have no right to question His motive or means. He is the sovereign God of the universe who not only has the right to deal with His creation as He sees fit, He is righteous in all that He does. He will not sin because He cannot sin. He is holy in all that He does. And His will for mankind is not based on a whim or subject to emotional instability on His part. He is not driven by His emotions or susceptible to sinful reactions. He can be trusted to do the right thing each and every time and in each and every circumstance.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Approved By God.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:1-12 ESV

Jesus wastes no time. Once the crowd has taken their seats in front of Him, He jumps right into His lecture, and He begins with what has come to be known as the “beatitudes”.  This portion of His message derives its name from the repetitive use of the word, “blessing” that appears at the beginning of each line. The Greek word for blessing in the original text of Matthew’s gospel was makarios. In the Latin Vulgate, the word is beati, which is derived from the Latin beatitudo/beatus. Therefore, the name of this section of Jesus’ message became known as “The Beatitudes”.

In order to fully understand what Jesus is saying, we must know what He meant by using the word, “blessed”.  There is no doubt that it has a positive connotation. To be blessed is a good thing. But what kind of blessing did Jesus have in mind? We tend to use the word quite loosely and indiscriminately. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say something like, “He has been blessed with good genes” or “Grandchildren are such a blessing.” From our perspective, we can be blessed by good health, a new job, a strong constitution, a loving spouse and with good friends. Even in Jesus’ day, the word carried the connotation of being “supremely blest; by extension, fortunate, well off” (“G3107 - makarios - Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 21 Apr, 2017). The problem we face in reading The Beatitudes is applying our definition or understanding of what it means to be blessed and missing out on what Jesus was actually saying. Our natural tendency, just like the 1st-Century Jews sitting in Jesus’ audience that day, is to think that the blessings to which He refers are purely physical in nature and apply to our personal prosperity and happiness. But Jesus had something far more significant in mind.

Warren Wiersbe states that the blessing to which Jesus referred is “an inner satisfaction and sufficiency that does not depend on outward circumstances for happiness.” So while we might connote blessing with personal prosperity and a lack of problems, Jesus was speaking of something quite different. The root idea behind blessing is approval. God does not bless that which He does not approve. If you take the full context of Jesus’ message, it becomes clear that He is teaching about the kingdom of heaven and the character of those who belong to it. In essence, He is teaching about justification: how to be made right or approved by God. In the very next section, Jesus will bring up the Mosaic law. For the Jews in His audience, the Law had always been the sole requirement for attaining a right standing with God. It was through the keeping of the Law that man attempted to gain God’s approval or blessing.

All the way back in the book of Deuteronomy, we have recorded the words spoken by Moses to the people of Israel on behalf of God.

“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster. For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy.” – Deuteronomy 30:15-16 NLT

They were to live in obedience to the commands of God. If they did so, they would be blessed by God. If they refused to do so, they would be cursed. In the previous chapter, Moses had made clear just what the blessing He promised would entail.

“You are standing here today to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God. The Lord is making this covenant, including the curses. By entering into the covenant today, he will establish you as his people and confirm that he is your God, just as he promised you and as he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 29:12-13 NLT

By obeying God, they would enjoy the approval and presence of God. They would know what it was like to have His protection and to enjoy His provision. The curses would be the result of having lost that relationship. But the Jews had ended up placing a higher value on the material blessings they enjoyed than on God’s approval. The idea that the God of the universe approved of them was less important to them than the personal prosperity they enjoyed as God’s people. And this misunderstanding of the blessing of God had resulted in them turning the Law into a means to an end. They tried to keep the Law in an effort to keep God happy, so that He would keep blessing them with the things that kept them happy. He had become nothing more to them than a conduit to more important things: health, happiness, material goods, crops, children, peace, long life, or whatever else they desired.

So here comes Jesus, preaching a message of what it means to be truly blessed by God. And what He has to say will rock the world of His listeners. He will tie the blessing of God to poverty, mourning, meekness, deprivation, and persecution. He will talk about heavenly rewards versus earthly ones. He will command His listeners to rejoice when they are persecuted, to turn the other cheek when they are slapped, to willingly go the second mile, to love their enemies, and to give to those who ask to borrow, expecting no payment in return. None of this would have made sense to His listeners. None of it would have sounded the least bit appealing. In the mind of the average Jew, it was the wealthy who were blessed by God, while the sick and the lame were cursed by God. They believed material prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing, so poverty must be a curse.

But what Jesus has to say in this passage will turn the tables on that kind of thinking. A great deal of what Jesus says will be in direct contradiction to their skewed understanding of the Law and what they believed was necessary to be right with God. They tied proof of righteousness (a right relationship with God) closely to outward signs of His blessing. But Jesus was going to blow up that presupposition. He was going to go to the heart of the issue – literally. Because Jesus was out to change the hearts of men. With His coming, the days were finished when men would be able to judge their righteousness based on outward evidence. God looks at the heart. And Jesus came to die so that men’s hearts might be redeemed and their behavior radically changed. What Jesus describes in this passage is a new way of living, based not on human effort, but on divine empowerment. He is speaking to a pre-cross crowd, explaining to them a post-cross reality. He knows something to which they are oblivious. He recognizes that all He is saying to them is not only impossible for them to understand, but impossible to pull off until He has died, been resurrected and the Holy Spirit comes. His words are preparatory in nature. He is expanding on His previous message of “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV). Things were about to change. The Messiah had come. The Savior of the world was in their midst. And the means by which men might be made right with God, permanently and perfectly, had finally arrived. But before anyone could accept what Jesus had come to provide, they would have to recognize their need. That is why Jesus would later offer the Great Invitation: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 NLT).

The Sermon on the Mount is not intended to be a new list of laws, rules and requirements for people to follow in order to gain God’s approval. It is a glimpse into the lifestyle of those who will find their approval by God through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. It is a pre-cross explanation of how right behavior will flow from having a right relationship with God, made possible by the sacrificial death of Jesus for the sins of mankind. The key message behind the Sermon on the Mount is the approval of God. And Jesus is in the process of helping His audience understand that right behavior stems from having a right relationship with God, not the other way around.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Of First Importance.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. – 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 ESV

After having spent three entire chapters dealing with the issues surrounding the use of spiritual gifts, Paul now shifts his attention to what he refers to as “of first importance.” the Corinthians had lost sight of the overwhelming significance of their salvation made possible by the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. In other words, they had allowed the gospel and its life-changing message take a back seat to what they believed to be the spiritual significance of the gifts. So Paul reminds them of the gospel he preached to them. It is the gospel message they had received and, by doing so, allows them to stand as justified before God as His adopted. And it is that same gospel,that is making possible their daily salvation – their transformation into Christ-likeness. The spiritual gifts do not accomplish any of this for them. It is the gospel and the gospel alone that redeems, justifies, sanctifies, and that guarantees our future glorification – our salvation made complete. And just to make sure they understand what he means by the gospel, Paul provides them with a summary statement that contains all the key elements that give the gospel its significance.

Jesus died – the death of Jesus is central to the gospel message. It was necessary that Jesus die in order that the penalty for our sins be paid and God be satisfied. Otherwise, we would still be guilty and under condemnation for our sins against God. But Jesus did die – in our place. He took our sins upon Himself and suffered the death we deserved.

according to the Scripture – Jesus’ death was not happenstance or just a run of bad luck. It wasn’t the result of the Jewish leadership and their behind-the-scenes plotting against Jesus. It wasn’t even the result of Pilate’s orders or the Roman government’s power. It was preordained by God. The Old Testament prophets spoke of His death hundreds of years before it took place. The prophet Isaiah wrote,

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:4-5 ESV

Jesus was sent by God to die. The penalty for mankind’s sins against God was death. And God, because He is just, required that the penalty be paid – in full. But out of His mercy, He provided a substitute, His own Son, to satisfy the just and holy requirement for a sinless sacrifice, because as the author Hebrews writes, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).

he was buried – Jesus’ death was real. He did not swoon or pass out. He was not put in the grave barely alive only to later revive and escape. He was buried because He was dead and the Romans were convinced of His death. It was His burial that paved the way for His resurrection. The rolling of the stone across the opening to His tomb and then sealed by the Roman guards convinced the disciples that their Messiah was dead and their hopes for a new kingdom were gone. They went into mourning and hiding. And the words of the two disciples whom Jesus encountered along the road after His resurrection reveal just how dejected they were.

Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.– Luke 24:19-21 ESV

he was raised on the third day – Jesus was not a martyr. He was the Messiah, the anointed one of God, who died, but who was raised back to life through the power of the Spirit of God. He was restored to new life and walked from the tomb in His resurrected body, living proof that He had accomplished what He had come to do and had satisfied the just demands of His Father in heaven. Just a few verses later in this chapter, Paul writes, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17 ESV). And he follows that up with the good news that “n fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20 ESV). It is His resurrection that assures us of our future hope of eternal life and glorification of these earthly bodies. The apostle John assures us, “we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 ESV).

in accordance with the Scriptures – Once again, the Scriptures predicted Christ’s death, but also His resurrection. The prophet Isaiah wrote,

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
    Out of the anguish of his soul he shall seeand be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities. – Isaiah 53:10-11 ESV

He was crushed, but He was also resurrected and restored. His days were prolonged. And as a result of His death and resurrection, many have been accounted as righteous.

and that he appeared – Jesus was seen by more than 500 people during the days after His resurrection. His appearances to His disciples renewed them hopes and revived their commitment to follow Him. He gave them their marching orders, commissioning them to carry on His work and to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. And He appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, calling him from a life marked by persecution of the church to a new mission of taking the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul’s work and words were given to Him by the resurrected Christ. And he had been faithful to do what Christ had called him to do.

Jesus died, was buried, resurrected and appeared. That is the heart of the gospel message. And when anyone accepts the reality of those facts, placing his or her faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ, they experience salvation. They are born again. They are given new life in Christ. Their sins are forgiven. They receive a new nature. They become a child of God and an heir to the Kingdom of God. They stand before God as righteous, not because of anything they have done or accomplished, but because of the blood of Christ.

 

A Mystery Revealed.

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles — assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. – Ephesians 3:1-6 ESV

Something once hidden, but now revealed. That is what Paul means when he speaks of the mystery of Christ. In the Old Testament, the Jews knew of and longed for the coming Messiah, but they viewed Him as the Savior of Israel alone. He was to be their king and redeemer, much like King David had been, leading them to great victories over their enemies and back into prominence as a nation. Any relationship between their Messiah and the Gentile nations would have been in the form of military victories over them and nothing more. The thought of the Messiah coming as the Savior of all mankind never crossed their minds. The only way a Gentile could partake of the blessings of Israel was through conversion to their faith, including circumcision and the rigorous keeping of the law of Moses. In the book of Exodus, God gave the people of Israel instructions regarding the “strangers” or non-Jews who had left Egypt with them. “If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you” (Exodus 12:48-49 ESV). While Gentiles could and did convert to Judaism in the Old Testament, it was relatively rare. The requirements for conversion were rigorous and kept many Gentiles from becoming fully-functioning members of the household of Israel.

That’s where the mystery comes in. Paul was commissioned by Jesus Himself to reveal to the Gentiles that they now had access to God. They could worship Yahweh, the God of the Jews, but it would not require conversion or circumcision. Any requirement to keep the law of Moses had been eliminated. But what Paul was preaching was not conversion to Judaism, but entrance into the Kingdom of God through faith in Jesus Christ. He was sharing the good news of salvation made available to both Jews and Gentiles because of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. In his letter to the Romans, Paul described the gospel as “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV).

With the coming of Christ, access to God was made available to all men through one means: Faith. It is not that faith was a new concept or that prior to Christ men had to gain access to God through works or the keeping of the law. The writer of Hebrews makes this clear in chapter 11. There he describes the Old Testament saints who “by faith” believed in the promises of God and were declared righteous by God. “For by it [faith] the people of old received their commendation” (Hebrews 11:2 ESV). He revealed that “without faith it is impossible to please him [God[, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Ephesians 11:6 ESV). Faith has always been God’s means by which men draw near to Him. And He sent His Son in order to make the life of faith available to all – Jews and Gentiles alike. Paul writes, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6 ESV). From the day of Pentecost forward, the church became the home of God’s people, those who had placed their faith in His Son. The church of God became the holy temple of God containing people from every tribe, nation and tongue. As Paul expressed earlier in his letter, “you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV).

The church of Jesus Christ is the dwelling place of God. It contains those who worship God as a result of the access provided to them by the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. It is their common faith in Christ and His death on their behalf that provides them with the righteousness they need to come into God’s presence. No one earns their way into God’s throne room. No one merits God’s favor or escapes His judgment due to their own efforts. As Paul state earlier: “Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us” (Ephesians 2:18 NLT). And as we will see just a few verses later: “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God's presence” (Ephesians 3:12 NLT).

None of this infers that God is done with the Jews or that the church has somehow replaced the people of Israel as God’s chosen people. We live in the church age. This is part of God’s plan for this period of redemptive history. But the day is coming when God will fulfill all His promises to Israel. He has not forgotten them. He is faithful and will keep every promise He has made to them. But at the current time, we are experiencing the mystery of the church – Jew and Gentile living together as the body of Christ, sharing a common faith in our crucified and resurrection Savior. We are the beneficiaries of God’s amazing grace and mercy. He has made a way for us to be restored to a right relationship with Him, based solely on His grace as revealed in His Son and made possible by faith.

 

More Than Conquerors.

As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:36-39 ESV

There are those two words again: “These things.” It is as if Paul is presenting us with a juxtaposition that presents all of the “these things” related to our position in Christ and all of the “these things” that are tied to our time of suffering in this world. They appear contradictory and in conflict with one another. On the one hand, we are sons and daughters of God. We are joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. We have the Holy Spirit living within us, empowering us to deny our sin natures and live godly lives. He helps us in our times of weakness, even interpreting our prayers and bringing them into alignment with God's will. We have the assurance of God's unstoppable purpose for our lives and the promise of our future glorification. And yet, while we live on this earth, we suffer just as Jesus did. We face temptation. We have to constantly fight our own sin nature and fend off the attacks of the enemy. But Paul asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35 ESV). Then he goes on to list just a few of the obstacles standing in our way: Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and the sword. These are just a few of the “these things” Paul is referring to in verse 37. And he adds to the list in verses 38-39: Death, life, angels, rulers, things present, things to come, powers, heights, depths, or anything else in creation. The New Testament In Modern English puts those two verses in language we can understand.

I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord!

We are more than conquerors, Paul emphatically states. We are over-comers and, ultimately, victors over anything and everything that stands in our way in this life. Why? Because of Christ's finished work on the cross. He loved us enough to die for us. He loved us so much He rose for us. He loved us even though He left us, because He sent His Spirit to live within us. He loves us enough to intercede for us with His Father. He loves us enough that one day He is returning for us. Jesus told His disciples, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3 ESV).

The problem we face is the constant temptation to judge the love of God based on what is happening to us at a particular moment in time. If we find ourselves in a desperate circumstance, we can easily begin to wonder whether God really loves us. We can be tempted to doubt His faithfulness. We may begin to question His power or even debate His presence. But rather than focusing on what is happening, we need to learn to keep our attention on has already happened. God has already sent His Son to die for us. He has redeemed us with the blood of His innocent, sinless Son. He has adopted us as His Son and daughters. He has justified us – removing our sin and replacing it with His Son's righteousness. He has given us His Spirit to live within us, providing us with the same power that raised Jesus from death to life. He has conquered sin and death. He has written our names in the Lamb's Book of Life. In other words, God HAS loved us, all the way to the end. And NOTHING will ever separate us from that love. Nothing can snatch us from His hands. No one can change what God has ALREADY done.

The writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12-14 ESV). Look at what he says. “He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” That is us. All who have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ are being perfected for all time. His sanctifying work in our lives is not yet finished, but it will be. The day is coming when we will be like Him. We will see Him. We will be with Him. The purpose of God for our lives will be finalized. We have been saved. We are being sanctified. And we will one day be glorified. We are more than conquerors, we are victors.

There is a wonderful song we tend to sing only at Christmas. It is by Thomas Kinkade and is called Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee. The closing lines fit perfectly with our verses for today.

Mortals, join the happy chorus, Which the morning stars began; Father love is reigning o'er us, Brother love binds man to man. Ever singing, march we onward, Victors in the midst of strife, Joyful music leads us Sunward In the triumph song of life.

.

Case Closed.

Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? – Romans 8:33-35 ESV

Not guilty! That is the verdict. Let the magnitude of that statement sink in. In these verses, Paul provides us with a stunning reminder of the staggering reality of our status as completely innocent and totally righteous sons and daughters of God. As he stated when he began this chapter, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 ESV). In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul gave them unbelievably good news. “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV). At one time, we were all guilty before God, condemned and deserving of His just judgment: Death. But how we stand before His presence not only forgiven, but sinless in His eyes. We have been justified. So not only have we had our sins forgiven and removed, we have been given the righteousness of Christ. And as a result, no one can condemn us. No one can bring a charge against us. Our debt has been paid. Our death sentence has been commuted. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). We have received the righteousness of Christ. He took on our sin and we took on His righteousness.

And nothing can change our forgiven, guiltless, uncondemned, fully righteous status. We are completely covered by the unfailing love of Christ. Even at this moment, He intercedes on our behalf. His very presence at the side of God the Father is a constant reminder of the payment that was made and the complete satisfaction of God's justice that was supplied by His death in our place. And Paul would have us consider the fact that nothing can separate us from that love. He rhetorically asks, “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?” (Romans 8:35 NLT). And the answer is: Nothing. Absolutely, positively nothing. Even when things appear to be less-than-perfect in our lives or it feels as if God is not there, Paul asks us to consider: “Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?” And again, the answer is, “No!” Christ died for us, as a payment for our sin. He was resurrected by the Spirit as a confirmation that His sacrifice was acceptable to God. And He ascended to the right hand of God, where He intercedes on our behalf. “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25 ESV). We must always remember that our salvation will not be complete until we experience glorification – our finalized adoption as sons and daughters and the redemption of our bodies. Until that day, we must not let the troubles and trials of this life tempt us to doubt God's love, Christ's work, or our status as God's children.

Our case has been completely settled. Our sentence of innocence has been pronounced. Our debt has been settled and our future is secure. Nothing can change that. No one can do anything to reverse God's declaration of our guiltlessness. Not even us. There is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Let that sink in. Don't take it for granted. Don't treat it lightly or flippantly. As the old hymn says, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.”

Called According To His Purpose.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30 ESV

All things work together for good. That's a promise given to us by Paul, but provided through him by the very Spirit of God. So we have God's word of assurance that our circumstances will always, ultimately, work according to His divine plan for our lives. Paul writes, “all things work together for good,for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 ESV). You see, God has a purpose, a plan, and a program that He is bringing about. This is not some fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, make-it-up-as-you-go-along affair. It may feel that way at times. We may wonder if God has a plan in place or whether that plan has somehow left us out. But God would have us remember that He is in control – at all times. The message of these two verses is plain. God did not look down the corridors of time and somehow see who it was who would accept His Son as their Savior. This isn't a case of God's foreknowledge of what we would do, but of what He would do for us. He predetermined or pre-ordained our salvation through His Son long before any of us were even born. Even before the universe had been spoken into existence. And the divine purpose of God was not just for our salvation, but our transformation. His plan was and is complete. It has a beginning and an end. He foreknew us. He predestined us. He called us. He justified us. He glorified us. All of these words are in the past tense. They are as good as done. His plan is complete, even though His work is not yet done. As Paul has made clear, we do not yet have glorified, redeemed bodies. We still battle with our fallen flesh and our old sin nature. We endure suffering of all kinds in this life. But our ultimate outcome has been predetermined by God. We are being conformed to the image of His Son. “For our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT). We have been justified, made right with God. While at one time we were sinners, condemned and destined to an eternity separated from God, we have been declared innocent, sinless and righteous by God. We stand before Him completely forgiven and entirely covered by the righteousness of Christ. And our future, glorified bodies are as good as ours – right here, right now. That is part of God's plan and God's plan for us is unstoppable and unchangeable.

This whole process of our salvation is the work of God. He is the one who foreknew, predestined, called, justified and glorified. This was His plan, from beginning to end. And because it is His plan and not ours, it is without error and totally independent of our effort or input. That is why ALL THINGS work together for our good. His plan cannot be stopped, altered or ignored. He WILL conform us to the image of His Son. He will do for us all that He predetermined to do. He has an end in mind and He will not stop until His plan is completely fulfilled. That is why we must learn to look past our circumstances and focus our attention on the future promises of God. Paul tells us, “So we don't look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT).

We must never forget that we have been called according to His purpose, not ours. He is out to accomplish His will for us, not ours. While we may suffer from tunnel-sightedness at times, we must constantly remind ourselves to see our circumstances through the lens of God's full redemptive plan. He IS conforming us, whether we see it or not. He IS glorifying us, whether we feel like it or not. “And the Lord--who is the Spirit--makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT). From “one degree of glory to another” as the English Standard Version translates it. God didn't simply save us and leave us to somehow make it on our own. He didn't redeem us and then leave us to fend for ourselves. His plan included sending His Son to die for our sins, as well as providing His Spirit to comfort, guide and empower us while we live out our days on this planet. Then one day He is going to send His Son again. He will complete the work His Father gave Him and finalize the plan of God. God promised it and we can count on it. 

We Are Debtors.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. – Romans 8:12-14 ESV

There is a sense in which, as Christians, we relish the idea of redemption. And we should. After all, the overwhelming debt of our sin has been paid for by Christ's death on the cross. We have been released from our indebtedness and that is good news, because the wages or payment for our sin was our own death. But Jesus Christ became our sin substitute, taking our place on the cross and bearing the righteous wrath of God as our unblemished, sinless sacrifice. As a result, Paul tells us, “we are debtors, not to the flesh” (Romans 8:12 ESV). We have had our debt cancelled. Our sin ledger has been reconciled, and it now shows a zero balance. No sin. Nothing owed. But wait. Even as good as that news is, there is something missing. Our sin debt has been paid, but we need righteousness. Jesus said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20 ESV). The absence of sin is not righteousness. Having our sin debt paid was just part of the equation.

Justification1
Justification1
Justification
Justification

Paul gives us the rest of the good news. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:20 ESV). Earlier in his letter to the Roman believers, Paul states that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 4:25-5:1 ESV).

You see, in verses 12-14 of Romans, Paul was careful in his sentence structure. He said “we are debtors”, but not to sin. The Greek word he used was opheiletēs and it means “one who owes another, one held by some obligation, bound by some duty”. Yes, we are free from slavery to sin. Our sin debt has been cancelled in full. But we “owe” Christ for our righteousness. He has deposited into our account the righteousness we could never have produced on our own. We are debtors to Christ. And we will never be able to pay Him back for what He has done. But we can live according to the Spirit. We can show our gratitude for all He has done for us by living our lives in obedience to the His Spirit who lives within us. Paul states that it is by the Spirit that we are able to put to death the deeds of the body. We should want to distance ourselves from our old way of life – our sin-controlled, debt-filled life before Christ. We have been given the righteousness of Christ and are therefore, justified in the eyes of God. He sees us as righteous and just. And we owe it all to Jesus.

Earlier in his letter to the Romans, Paul states, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Romans 6:22 ESV). Peter provides us with a similar admonition. “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God's slaves” (1 Peter 2:16 NET). We tend to overlook the fact that God paid a high price for our salvation. He gave His only Son as the payment for our sin. Peter reminds us, “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19 ESV). Which is exactly why Paul unapologetically tells us, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV).

We are sons and daughters of God. Not only have our sins been paid for and our debt forgiven, we have been adopted by God and placed into His family because we have had the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. And we have had the Spirit of God placed within us. So we are to live according to our new standing as God's children, with the help of God's indwelling Spirit. We are debtors to God. Our lives belong to Him. Our righteousness is not our own, but was made possible because of His Son's death on the cross in our place. We have eternal life secured for us by virtue of Christ's sacrificial death. We can't lose it. We can't do anything to un-earn it, because we didn't earn it to begin with. But we can live with a sense of gratitude for all that God has done to make it possible. We can choose to live like children of God and not children of this world. We can choose to live according to the Spirit rather than according to our old sin nature. While we can never repay God for all He has done for us, we can express our appreciation through the way we live our lives.

Believe and Love.

And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. – 1 John 3:23 ESV

Two simple things: Believe in Jesus and love one another. But oh, how difficult those two things can be to do. The first one seems so easy. In fact, all of us who have placed our faith in Christ as our Savior have already done it. We have already believed in Jesus. But there is a sense in which we must continue to believe in Jesus. The word “believe” that John uses is in the aorist tense. Typically, we end up translating aorist verbs as past tense, but in the Greek the concept of an aorist verb is considered without regard for past, present, or future time. We don't have an equivalent tense in English. So in reality, our belief in Jesus is to be past, present and future. It is non-ending. One of the reasons John put so much emphasis on abiding in Christ is that it is the key to our fruitfulness and without abiding we can do nothing. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5 ESV). To abide in Him is to believe in Him. We must continue to rely upon Him for our sanctification just as we did for our salvation. Without Christ, we cannot be fruitful. Without Christ, we cannot grow in Christ-likeness. Without Christ, we cannot love others. Without Christ, we cannot do anything.

Which brings us to the second simple statement we find so hard to do: Love one another. It would seem that our struggle with loving one another is directly linked to our unwillingness to believe in Christ. Yes, we believed in Him for our salvation, but we sometimes fail to believe in Him for all that follows after that. When Jesus said that He would send us the Holy Spirit, we must believe that what He said was true. We must believe the promise of Jesus even when we don't feel the Holy Spirit's presence in our lives. We must also believe that the Holy Spirit is our helper, comforter and guide just as Jesus said He would be. We must believe that He, the Spirit, is the Spirit of truth just as Jesus said He would be. We must believe that the Holy Spirit will teach us “about everything, and is true, and is no lie” (1 John 2:27 ESV). Our capacity to love one another is not some self-manufactured, man-made kind of love we conjure up out of our own will power. It is a fruit of abiding in Christ and relying upon the Spirit of God. Believing and loving go hand in hand. We love because He first loved us. Without Christ, we will find it impossible to love others. In the very next chapter, John tells us, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God, and knows God” (1 John 4:7 ESV). Our capacity to love comes from the love of God for us. But we must believe that. We must rely upon that. We must understand that all of our righteous deeds, apart from Christ, are like filthy rags. Even on our best day, our best efforts don't measure up. We are completely dependent upon Christ for all that we need to walk as He walked (1 John 1:6) and love like He loved ( John 15:12).

To believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ is to believe that Jesus is who God claimed Him to be. He is the Son of God. He is the Messiah, the Savior of the world. He is the sinless Lamb of God who died on the cross in order to satisfy the just demands of a righteous God. He is the risen Lord of lords. He is our advocate, our mediator, who sits at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf. He is our source of strength, hope, salvation, mercy, grace, and love each and every day of our lives. He is the vine and we are the branches. Without Him we can do nothing. We can't live without Him. We can't love without Him. But we must believe that. We must abide in that. We must remain totally dependent upon Him for all that we need, from our salvation all the way to our ultimate glorification, and everything in between.

Jesus Christ the Righteous.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. – 1 John 2:1 ESV

For John, a life without sin was to be the goal for every believer. But he was well aware of the fact that complete sinlessness was not a possibility as long as we live on this earth and in these bodies. Like every other believer, John had a sin nature and knew all too well the kind of influence it could have on his life. But he was also convinced that a life characterized by sin was no longer the inevitable fate for those who had placed their faith in Christ. We could and should “walk in the light, as he is in the light” (1 John 1:7). Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross, has made it possible for us to have fellowship with God. He gave us His Spirit to live within us and to empower us to live godly lives. Our sin natures were not eradicated at our conversion, but our helpless and hopeless enslavement to sin was. Paul explained our new post-conversion status: “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6 ESV). What made all this possible was the righteousness of Christ. It was His sinlessness that made Him the perfect, acceptable sacrifice. “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT). His righteousness made our right standing with God possible. We could have spent our lifetimes trying to earn favor with God and live up to His holy standard, and we would have failed. But the righteousness of Christ alone is what satisfied (propitiated) God the Father. His sinlessness allowed Him to become our substitute and pay the price for our sinfulness.

His death has given us life – life more abundantly in this age and the guarantee of eternal life in the age to come. Until He returns, we must still deal with the reality of sin in and around us. Our sin natures are alive and well. Our flesh, as Paul so aptly describes our sin nature, is alive and well. It is that earthly, unrighteous part of us that is driven by desires and passions that are contrary to the will of God. Paul puts it this way: “ The sinful nature [flesh] wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions” (Galatians 5:17 NLT). But the answer to this dilemma is to walk in the Spirit, to live our lives under the Spirit's control. Christ has provided a new source of strength through the Spirit's indwelling presence that can enable us to say no to sin. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Galatians 5:24-25 NLT). Elsewhere Paul writes, “Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace” (Romans 6:12-14 NLT).

We can walk in the light, as He is in the light. We can live our lives in the power of the Spirit. We can walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). But John reminds us, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1 ESV). It's not a matter of if, but when. We will sin in this lifetime. We are no longer slaves to sin, but we are still greatly influenced by its presence in and around us. We can sin less and we should. But in those times when we give in to temptation and listen to our sinful passions rather than the Spirit within us, we have an advocate – a paraklētos – an intercessor who is pleading our cause before God. Jesus Christ the righteous is our advocate. He sits at the right hand of God the Father and represents us before Him. He is a constant reminder to God the Father of our righteous standing because of His own righteousness. When God looks at us, in essence, He sees Jesus. We are clothed in His righteousness. As a result, we stand before God as justified. Because of what Jesus the righteous has done on our behalf, God is able to pardon, accept and declare us to be just in His sight. So that when we sin, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 ESV). Jesus died for our sins. Jesus lives for our sins. He is our advocate. He is our representative. His death paid for our sins. But in His resurrected life, He continues to redeem and save us from the condemnation of sin in our lives. “For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God” (Romans 5:10-11 NLT).

Our Faithful, Loving God.

 Isaiah 53-54, Revelation 10

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10 ESV

What is the response of a holy, righteous God to the persistent sin and rebellion of His people? He gives us the answer Himself. “‘For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,’ says the Lord, your Redeemer” (Isaiah 54:7-8 ESV). It would appear as if God had deserted them. From a human perspective, it would feel like God's anger had caused him to abandon them. But His compassion and everlasting love for them never diminished or truly disappeared. Even His punishment was an act of love. “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19 ESV). “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6 ESV). And the greatest expression of God's incredible love would come in the form of His own Son. In order to effectively deal with man's ongoing sin problem, God would send His Son as the permanent payment for the penalty due. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16a ESV). “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all…” (Romans 8:32a ESV). Amazingly, God's plan for man's redemption has always included His Son. His first coming was designed to provide intercession – His death in our place. It was intended to make propitiation for our sins, satisfying the just demands of a holy God. It was meant to provide salvation from the condemnation we deserved and replace our sentence of eternal separation from God with eternal life in His presence.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Hundreds of years before Jesus Christ appeared on the scene, God gave Isaiah a detailed account of what His earthly life and ministry would look like. In chapter 53 of Isaiah's book, we have an amazing description of the Servant of God who was to come. In this passage we see the painstakingly clear picture of the suffering Savior who was to come to the earth and take all of the sins of mankind upon Himself. We are told that He would be unattractive and unimpressive in appearance. He would be despised and rejected. He would be intimately familiar with sorrow, grief and suffering. He would be wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. He would take on all the sins of mankind and suffer the punishment of God's wrath on our behalf. And He would do all this willingly, out of obedience to His Father's will and out of love for mankind. God makes it clear that the suffering and death of Jesus was His divine will. “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10 ESV). Yes, God fully intended for His Son to die a criminal's death and be buried in a borrowed tomb, so that the sins of mankind could be fully atoned for once and for all. And God did all this out of love. The result of this amazing display of sacrificial love is truly incredible. “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11 ESV). Jesus would suffer and die, but also be raised again and see the fruit of His sacrificial love in the form of redeemed, justified sons and daughters of God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

How easy it is for us to overlook and under-appreciate the love of God. Just like the people of Israel, we can find ourselves taking for granted His incredible mercy, grace and love. We can underplay our own sinfulness and in so doing, diminish the price that God paid for our sins: the life of His own Son. The biggest problem we all face as human beings is our own sin and guilt. Every man or woman who has ever lived has had the same problem: Their inherent sin nature and incapacity to do anything about it. Isaiah would later write: “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). Solomon wrote, “Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 NLT). All stand before God as guilty and He is fully justified in meting out the punishment of death for our sin. But instead, God came up with a plan of salvation that provided a way for His wrath to be satisfied and His love to be displayed justly and rightly. God couldn't ignore or overlook man's sin. He couldn't turn a blind eye to man's inherent sinfulness and guilt. To do so would have been unjust and unrighteous. It was out of His character as God. So He came up with a solution that made man's salvation and His own satisfaction possible. And even though the people of Israel rejected His Son the first time He came, rejecting the very idea of a suffering Servant, God is still going to display His love to them a second time. The book of Revelation provides us with an end-of-the-story account of just how God will display His steadfast, unfailing love to His chosen people. He will keep and fulfill His covenant promises He made to them. “‘…my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:10 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God IS love. It is not just a character quality He displays. It is His very nature. He is love all the time – in all that He does. His disciplines are an act of love. His sacrifice of His own Son on my behalf was the ultimate act of love. When He sends His Son again, it will be the consummate act of love. It will be an expression of His steadfast, unfailing love for His creation, and will display His unfailing love for His chosen people – the Jews. For a brief moment, it appears as if God has deserted them. To our limited understanding it would seem as if God's anger with Israel has resulted in His rejection of them. But God would have us understand otherwise. He WILL show them compassion. He WILL display His everlasting love for them. His steadfast love WILL NOT depart from them. His covenant of peace WILL NOT be removed.  “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, declares the Lord” (Isaiah 54:17 ESV). In the book of Revelation, John is given a scroll to eat. He is told, “it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey” (Revelation 10:9 ESV). On that scroll was contained “the mystery of God.” It was an account of the final plan of God for the world. There would be further punishments involved. There would be more judgments to come. But in the end, the love of God would be displayed as His Son faithfully fulfilled His role as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Sin and death would be dealt their final blow. Satan would be eliminated once and for all. Righteousness would reign on earth. God's people, the nation of Israel, would be restored to favor in His eyes. All as a display of God's unwavering, matchless, unfathomable love. The very same love He showered on me when He offered me the gift of His Son's death on the cross in my place.

Father, thank You for Your love. I take it for granted far too often. I don't fully appreciate it or understand it. I don't think about it or thank You for it enough. Sometimes I just flat out miss it in all the busyness of life. When things don't go quite the way I want them to, I can feel unloved by You. But Your love does not exist to make me happy. It exists to make me holy. You love me so that I might be like Your Son. You loved me so much that You sent Him to die for me and so that I might have His righteousness in exchange for my sinfulness. There is no greater display of love I need from You. Amen

Victory Over Sin.

Isaiah 23-24, 1 John 3

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.  1 John 3:8 ESV

The people of Judah were well acquainted with sin. They were guilty of it and surrounded by it. God was punishing them for their sin and rebellion against Him. He was using sinful, godless nations as His tools to bring about that punishment. Greed, corruption, gross immorality, selfishness, perversion, apathy, idolatry, and every other form of sin was evident in the lives of the people of God and among the nations of the world. But God had called His people to live holy, set apart lives. He had consecrated them for His use and called them to be His chosen people. “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6 ESV). He had provided them with the Law as an objective standard for righteous living. But He had also provided them with the sacrificial system as a means of receiving forgiveness and reconciliation for the sins they were bound to commit. The Law revealed their sin. The sacrificial system provided forgiveness for their sin. But rather than rejoice in the holiness of their God and bask in the amazing mercy and grace He offered them, they turned elsewhere. God indicted them for their unfaithfulness. “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13 NLT). Like the rest of the world around them, the people of God were living in disobedience to and showing disregard for God. So God warns of the day of coming judgment. Over and over again, Isaiah uses the term, “in that day.” He warns of a coming day when God's judgment of man's sin will be complete and comprehensive. It will include all mankind and even impact the earth itself. As in the days of Noah when sin had infected the earth, God will “empty the earth and make it desolate” (Isaiah 24:1 ESV). “The earth shall be utterly empty and utterly plundered; for the Lord has spoken this word” (Isaiah 24:3 ESV). It will be a time of sorrow and suffering, devastation and despair. But even in the midst of the darkness, God's light will shine. He will spare a remnant who will “lift up their voices, they sing for joy; over the majesty of the Lord they shout from the west” (Isaiah 24:14 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

There is a day coming when God will deal with sin once and for all. He will wipe the earth clean from all the residual remnants of sin. Isaiah speaks of the coming day of the Lord, when Jesus Christ will appear a second time on the earth, but this time He will come as the Lord of lords and King of kings. He will come as a warrior dressed for battle to wage war with Satan and to destroy the last vestiges of sin on the earth. John reminds us that the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. The apostle Paul gives us a comprehensive list of the “works of the devil” as manifested in the lives of men and women. “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures,  idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21 NLT). Jesus came to destroy those works. And when Jesus died on the cross, we're told His last words were, “‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30 ESV). Jesus' death paid for our sins. Not only that, His death made possible our justification. We stand before God the Father as sinless and righteous, because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Our sins are paid for. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 ESV). But sin still impacts our lives. We still struggle with indwelling sin. Sin surrounds us every day of our lives. When Jesus died on the cross, He paid the penalty for sin, once and for all. He finished that part of His assignment. But there is one last thing He has to do. And the day is coming when He will complete that task as well. We read about it in Revelation 19:5-6: “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.’” On that day, when “the Lord of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 24:23 ESV), Jesus will have dealt the final death blow to sin and Satan.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Sin is inevitable. Like a cancer, it continues to spread throughout the planet, infecting not only the lives of men and women, but the creation itself. Yet, as God's children – those of us who have placed our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior – while we are far from sinless, we do have the capacity to sin less. Because of Jesus' finished work on the cross, we have the power to live righteous lives here and now. “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5 ESV). As a result of that reality, John is able to provide us with some stunning good news.  “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9 ESV). We have a new nature. We have the Holy Spirit of God living within us. Our redeemed nature cannot and does not sin. But we do have a sin nature, and it is alive and well. Paul gives us a vivid picture of these two forces doing battle within us. “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions” (Galatians 5:16-17 NLT). As long as we live on this earth, we will face the daily reality of sin's power and presence in and around our lives. But we do have the capacity to live righteously. We do have the power available to live as children of God rather than as children of the devil. We can love. We can live sacrificially and selflessly. We don't have to sin, but far too often, we choose to. We must constantly remember that Jesus Christ came to destroy the works of the devil in our lives – here and now. But we must also live with the hope that He is coming again, and when He comes He will eliminate sin from the earth and from our lives once and for all.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The story of mankind's redemption is not yet finished. God's divine plan is not yet complete. There is still one more thing that must happen. His Son must return. He must judge sin and Satan one final time. He must eradicate the last vestiges of sin from the earth. He must judge sinful man. He must right all wrongs and establish His justice over all the earth. And while I live on this earth surrounded by sin and daily putting to death the sin nature in my own life, I must keep my eyes focused on the end of the story. John reminds me that this world is not all there is. “And this is the promise that he has made to us – eternal life” (1 John 2:25 ESV). I must live with that promise in mind.

Father, it is finished, but it is not yet done. Jesus has paid the penalty for sin, but He has yet to destroy it from the planet. It is evident all around us. I can see it's influence in my own life. But the day is coming when sin will be no more. The day is coming when death, disease, sorrow, pain, hatred, greed, selfishness, and every other manifestation of sin in the world will be completely eliminated and Your Son will say, “It is done!” I look forward to that day. Give me the strength to live in light of that day and in the power of Your Spirit until it comes. Amen