Saturday, April 24, 2010

From a Ransomed Sinner, With Love

We are all sinners. Every single person on this planet is a sinner. All of us, including you & me, have sinned against God. We have chased after money & possessions, we have harbored anger & unforgiving attitudes, we have had sex outside of marriage, we have not been thankful to Him for His innumerable provisions, we have ignored Him, we've been prideful, & the list goes on. None of us should be self-righteous, because we're all equally guilty of these things - you, me, & everyone else in this world. The difference between true believers & the rest of the world is that we rely on Jesus Christ's righteousness as our own. I know you know the story, but please read it with fresh eyes, as though you didn't, & try to picture it in your head. God has existed from eternity past. He is holy, righteous, & just. He is our Creator. He created the earth in perfection, without sin. But, when Adam & Eve rejected His authority over them, they sinned against Him, & all of creation - including us - have been in bondage to sin ever since. And we can't get out. We are slaves to sin, dead in our sin, completely unable to free ourselves. In order for us to be free, we must have a Redeemer, someone to buy us back from the slave master that is sin. The whole Bible is the story of redemption, of God's plan to save mankind. Not because we are worthy (Scripture shows mankind's repeated rebellion against God, which we carry on today), but because He is merciful. He saves us because our salvation brings Him glory. Glory that is rightfully His, as our holy & just Creator. At just the right time, Jesus Christ became part of His creation in His incarnation. He became human, but He wasn't just any human. He was both fully God & fully man. Fully man to represent us & fully God to be a sinless sacrifice for us. Only God is sinless, & only a man can stand in the place of another man. Therefore, Jesus had to be - & was - both. He lived a perfectly sinless life. No unrighteous anger, no malice, no sexual impurity or immorality - perfectly sinless. He lived in perfect communion with God, day-in & day-out. His every word, thought, & deed was perfectly righteous & one with the Father. That's what makes His death for us so heart-wrenching & so beautiful at the same time. When He cried out in the garden for God to remove the cup from Him if it was His will, He wasn't focused on the beatings & crucifixion He was about to endure. He cried out in agony & sweat drops of blood because, for the first time in all of eternity, His oneness with the Father was about to be severed. God can have no part of sin, He can't even bear to look on it, because of His perfect holiness. Jesus was about to become sin for us. He was about to bear our sin & God's wrath toward that sin on the cross. For the first time in all of eternity, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was going to be utterly alone. Why did this have to be? Why did Jesus have to die? God shows all through the Scriptures that sin requires a sacrifice. Not because He's some sadistic deity, but because He is holy. He is righteous. The opposite of righteousness is evil, & evil must be punished. We all want that, too, don't we? We all want murderers punished. We all want child molesters, rapists, & thieves punished, for things to be set right. The only time we seem to have a problem with it is when we're the guilty ones. Then, we want mercy. But just as any judge who just let a rapist or murderer go with an apology is considered corrupt & unjust, so would be God if He simply let us go when we've sinned against him. Even more so, because while sin against another human is evil, sin against the only One who is perfectly holy & righteous is infinitely more evil. Sin has to be paid for, & the only One who could pay for our sin had to be both God & man. Only Jesus could ransom us from sin & exhaust God's wrath. How do we know that He accomplished this? Because after laying in the grave for 3 days, the Father raised Him from the dead. Some people don't think this is all that significant when you realize that other people were raised from the dead - Lazarus, for instance. The difference is that each of these other people died again. Only Jesus alone was resurrected & still lives. This is how we know that His sacrifice paid for our sins, exhausting God's wrath & justifying us.

My question at this point isn't, "Do you believe this?"; after all, an awful lot of people claim to believe this & they continue in their sin. My question is, "Do you see your sin as repugnant & worthy of damnation? Do you feel sorrow & grief over your sin?" If so, repent! Repentance is not just an apology for sin, it's a deliberate turning away from sin towards righteousness. Repentance also isn't a one-time thing - "I repented of my sin when God saved me, but never since." No, our problem isn't that we sin, it's that we've never done anything but sin. So, repentance is something we do over & over throughout our lives, as God convicts us of our sin. And repentance is His gift to us. Without His Spirit's work in us, we can't feel sorrow over our sin & be led to repentance. Without that understanding, it's easy at this point to begin a works-salvation practice, where I have to white-knuckle it to be good enough. But we can never be good enough. This isn't cause for despair, though, it's cause for celebration, because for the believer, Christ has already won the victory. We can't be good enough, we can't be holy enough, but Christ already is for us! When Christ lived His perfectly sinless life in complete oneness with the Father, it's as though the believer who truly trusts in His sacrifice, lived that life. God the Father sees His Son when He looks on us. His righteousness is credited to us! That's the other side of the coin: we repent & we rely on His righteousness in our stead & His strength to enable us to turn from our sin. I'm coming to realize that this is a life-long process, & I'll never be completely rid of my sin in this life. But a believer's life is characterized by a fighting against sin. We hate the sin in our lives, & we fight against it. Not in our own strength & power, but with the Word of God & with prayer. He helps us to overcome it, & little by little, we reflect Him more & more.

If you feel this sorrow over your sin, don't despair. Yes, our sin is reviling & we can sometimes feel hopeless that we will ever be rid of it. I certainly can feel this way at times. But, if you feel sorrow, you can take heart, because it's an indication that God is working in you, that He loves you & wants to redeem you. And God always accomplishes His will! Sin won't have the victory over a believer. Christ already won that victory, & now we can live from that victory!

I'm writing this letter to you for one reason: if you are not a true believer in Christ as your Lord & Savior, I pray God uses this letter to bring about conviction & sorrow over your sin, as well as hope & freedom in His saving grace. I pray that you come to know Him, love Him, cherish Him, & rejoice in Him with all of your heart, soul, mind, & strength. What joy, freedom, & love is to be found in Him! If you are a true believer, then I pray that you will take this time to evaluate yourself & your life. 2 Corinthians 13:5 says to "examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?---unless indeed you fail to meet the test!" We are all called to hold up our lives next to Scripture & examine to see if our lives reflect God & His Word. In any area that we do, we should praise God for His sanctification in our hearts that reflects itself in our lives. In any area that we don't reflect Him, we must conform our lives to His Word through His power. We conform to Him, we don't expect Him to conform to us. He is the standard. Matthew 7:17 reminds us that "every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down & thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits." And Galatians 5:22-23 says that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." These are the characteristics that we are to aspire to, out of love for God. Remember, no one is ever able to do these things perfectly. You will never look at your life & see perfection. Not this side of heaven. The important thing is to rely on Christ's righteousness & His power to overcome your sinful desires as they rear their ugly heads. And to repent when you fail to overcome them, relying on His forgiveness.

*Our most gracious heavenly Father, thank You for Your salvation.  Without Your sacrifice for us in the death of Your Son, Jesus Christ, we would be under Your wrath for our sin for all eternity.  Thank You for Your mercy, grace, & adoption of us as Your sons.  We love You!  We praise You!  We worship You!  Lord, for anyone reading this who is not Your child, please reveal Yourself to them & save them.  And please remind all those who are truly Yours to always examine ourselves by Your Word, so that we continue in the faith.  In Christ's holy name we pray, Amen.