Monday, March 19, 2018

Change of Address

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

The Apostle Paul asked and answered his own question in Romans 6:1-2. The question came in response to his teaching on grace in the previous chapters; he anticipated his audience’s conclusion would be that sin is actually a good thing, because the more we sin, the more God gets to display His amazing grace. To paraphrase, Paul predicted they would say, “If we sin more, God gets to forgive more.” That is how “grace may abound.”

But he answered his own question with an emphatic no. After all, he was saying, if we have died to sin, how can we continue living in it? The Greek word that is translated live more literally refers to a permanent address. Some of you maintain more than one residence, but you have only one legal permanent address. Your vacation house or time share are not recognized as a legal residence; that designation is reserved for the place where you spend 51% of your nights.

Paul’s careful use of the word live implies that we will still sin from time to time. He understood that he was writing to human beings who would not attain perfection under the sun. The point is not that those who have died to sin (Christians) will never sin, but that they cannot live in it. Our permanent address cannot be in sin. Maybe some of you have run back to the sin you once died to. I recommend that you move. Go to the post office, fill out a change of address form, and get out of town.

Have you died to sin? You cannot live there any longer.

Monday, March 12, 2018

A Tangled Web

Dr. Charles Lowry, a pastor, psychologist, and author, has written about the behavior patterns of those who practice deception. He shared a humorous story about a lady that bumped into him at a grocery store when he was a pastor in Dallas. She raved about what a great man of God he is, and as her proof she cited that her husband has to be at work at 6:30 AM, and he drove by the church on his way and saw the pastor’s car already in the parking lot. This lady thought her pastor was so spiritual for being at the church so early.

Faced with a decision, Dr. Lowry humbly thanked her for the compliment and chose not to tell her that he had carpooled home with his wife the night before and that she drove him to the church that morning at 9:00. That moment of deception led him to continue digging himself into a deeper hole.

He became worried that if his car was not in the parking lot at 6:30 each morning, he would not appear to be as spiritual. After all, he is a great man of God. He began to use his energy to find ways to leave his car at the church over night more often, using his wife and the youth pastor as his chauffeurs. His strange behavior began to alienate the pastor from those around him, and his important duties were being neglected in pursuit of the impression of holiness.

While I imagine that story was embellished for comedic effect, the principle applies. When we practice deception we waste so much time and mental energy trying to keep up the lie. We often engage in strange behavior during this charade, alienating ourselves from the people around us. It is so much easier to just come clean, but we often times delay the process in our stubbornness.    

In his poem Marmion, Walter Scott famously wrote, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” The deceiver expends his energy having to remember what he has told everyone, and before long, he has himself tangled in a web of his own lies.

The Bible offers a simpler way of living. It is called honesty. Not only is it the Ninth Commandment, Colossians 3:9 further instruct, “ Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices.” Honesty is not the best policy, it should be the only policy.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Jesus: Human or God?

A fundamental Christian belief is that Jesus was and is divine. Some have tried to reduce Him to a prophet, a teacher, or a manifestation of God; others have gone so far as to brand Him a heretic, a lunatic, or foolishly say that He never existed. The evidence, however, does not leave room for any option other than the full divinity of Jesus. True, Jesus was not the only person to perform miracles, but He forgave sins and accepted worship (Mark 2:7, John 20:28), two things that are undoubtedly reserved for God alone. The Bible also teaches that Jesus is co-eternal, existing from the beginning with God (John 1).

But if Jesus is really God, then we must address the fact that He acted very human. He wept (John 11:35), grew weary (John 4:6), and had other human needs like food and water (Matthew 4:2). At times He even appeared to be limited in what He knew (Matthew 24:36). If Jesus was divine, why did He act so human?

We need to understand and appreciate the beauty and necessity of the incarnation. If Jesus were only God, He could not save us because God cannot die; if he were only human, He could not save us because no human is sinless, and our substitute had to be pure. In order to do what Jesus did, He would need to be the God-Man, or “all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form (Colossians 2:9).”

Athanasius of Alexandria, a 2nd-3rd Century bishop, put it this way: “Thus, when it was necessary to raise up Peter’s mother-in-law, who was suffering from a fever, it was a human act when he extended his hand, but a divine act when he caused the disease to cease. Likewise, in the case of ‘the man blind from birth’ it was human spittle which he spat, but it was a divine act when he opened the man’s eyes by means of clay. And where Lazarus is concerned, he uttered human speech in his capacity as a human being, but it was a divine act when, in his capacity as God, he raised Lazarus from the dead (Orations Against the Arians, Book III).” 

We could add to that this thought: Jesus drank water because He was human. He walked on water because He was God.

Jesus was fully man for 33 years, but He has been fully God from before time began. He alone can save, so put your trust in Him today.

Monday, February 26, 2018

They Shall See God

In His famous Sermon on the Mount Jesus gave the disciples a list of beatitudes. The sixth one on the list is this: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8). What does it mean to see God? Does this passage mean that you and I can get some glimpse of God if we are pure in heart?

That would contradict God’s own words to Moses in Exodus 33:20, “You cannot see my face, for no man shall see me and live.” What did Jesus mean if we cannot see God?

This was a reference to the policy practiced by ancient kings. Far from the fashionable photo ops we see in Buckingham Palace, kings in those days were kept hidden away from commoners. Seeing the king was reserved for special people. We get a glimpse of this in the Old Testament when even Queen Esther was hesitant to approach her husband when she had not been summoned by him (Esther 4:11), an offense she knew could be punished by death. God is not like those ancient kings. Even though we cannot get a physical glimpse of His face this side of eternity, Jesus was letting us know that God is approachable. That is why the author of Hebrews said we can boldly approach the throne of grace (4:16), which happens whenever believers pray. 

So how can we have access to God? We must be pure in heart. The Jews were used to being purified physically to be ceremonially clean as part of their law, but Jesus wanted them to purify their hearts—their inner person—by removing the filth of the flesh. Jesus’ half brother James would later write, “purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:8).”

The pure in heart, and only the pure in heart, can talk to God now and will get to see Him in heaven. Are you pure in heart?