Snapshots: Day 13

Snapshots: Day 13

The Snapshot: “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid….”  Failure means guilt; guilt means fear. Fear means we run in shame to hide, or we kneel in need. Hiding and denial or honest acceptance; I need saving from me.  This is the place that would reveal my need for God’s salvation to save me from myself – if I dare face myself honestly.   God knew it would be like this, God was not surprised, and so when He banishes from the garden it is not the end but the beginning, the beginning of a self-centred life, a godless life where it is now God who hides only to come when we call. The life to come was to teach me, will I face me and be honest and call on Him, or will I still pretend and hide?  Lord, help me be honest.

Further Consideration: We finished yesterday saying the wisest course when we fail is to own up to it, but the trouble is that so often we are so unsure of the wonders of the Bible and of God, or we listen to the distorted truths of the enemy or his outright lies, that we fear retribution, we fear what He is going to do to us.

There are those preachers of the past who have majored on the awfulness of God’s wrath, completely misunderstanding it (and we’ll consider it later in the Bible) and ignoring the wonder of the truth that the apostle John declared, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16), so clearly demonstrated in Jesus’ wonderful parable we refer to as ‘the Parable of the Prodigal Son’. The harsh and legalistic preacher would have the son starve to death at the pigsties, fearing to return home to the anger of the father. Instead the son clearly knows something about the father still, and risks returning home and all that might follow.

What followed? The father was out looking for the son and when he saw hm on the horizon he ran to meet him with open arms, welcomed him and reinstated him into the family and threw a celebratory party for him. So how can God the Father do that for His sinful, failing children? Because of what Jesus has done.  It’s not a case of ignoring the sin but of consigning it to the Cross where the eternal Son dealt with the guilt by taking the punishment. It defies rational thought but that is what happened.

When we truly hear this and understand it, we can come in repentance and, yes, contrition, and seek the forgiveness that is readily available to the repentant who own up to their misdeeds. That can come more easily in the security of the gospel, in the security that God is for us, but still wants us to ‘own up’ so we can then receive the forgiveness that is waiting for us. Maturity, for the Christian, is learning to ‘own up’ – quickly! We said it before but it bears repeating. Don’t let fear keep you from God, instead receive His perfect love. (see 1 Jn 4:18)

10. Recap 1

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 10. Recap 1

Matt 7:13,14  “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Narrow Road requirement: Jesus’ illustration of the narrow and wide gates reminds us that many people go through the wide gate leading to destruction because the road leading through it is ‘broad’ and unrestricted and people want to do their own thing, ignoring God and running on ‘self’. We observed at the start that going God’s way – the narrow road and narrow gate – requires a dying to self and dying to the old self-centred and godless life, what the majority consider a restricted life, but the more we progressed, the more we saw the reasons why that is necessary.

‘Follow Me’ Requirements: When Jesus called Levi to “Follow Me”, it was a call to trust him, but in following Jesus it was also a call to submit to the sovereignty of God. Why? Very simply because God knows best – and we don’t. In fact it was our failure to think and act rightly that enabled the Holy Spirit to convict us and bring us to repentance. Part of that deal meant us giving up or dying to the old life we had lived.

People Problems:  As we looked further at this, we recognised that our ‘not getting it right before’ also meant not getting it right with people. In fact, if it wasn’t for people, this life would be easy, but the trouble is their ways and wants are different to mine, which can mean conflict, so if I am to walk the Jesus way of peace and harmony, it will mean I have to die to my desires and learn to understand others and have care and compassion for them. If I am to achieve that, I will truly have to die to my wishes.

Facets of Forgiveness: But that led us on to consider the difficult question of forgiveness, both our need for it when we have wronged others and to give it when others seek it of us. Perhaps this is one of the hardest areas where we need to die to self if we are to be like Jesus.

Modern Idols: But then we looked more widely at life and recognised that in our old life, although we would perhaps never countenance wooden images of eastern religions, we did, never the less, exalt people and we did rely upon methods, and both of these to the exclusion of God. Oh yes, idols are still very much alive in our modern society and wherever we put our trust in them, it means we will not be putting our trust in God, and therefore we cease to come to the fountain of all wisdom and understanding. We do indeed need to die to the alternative supports where they exclude God.

Aware of Anxiety: While we were looking at the world more widely, we recognised that living life on our own, so often meant that we were full of anxiety which, if we accept as the norm, will settle to become what I called angst, a more deep-seated anxiety which comes from not living in harmony and receiving the resources of The Lord of all. The attitude of self-reign leads so often to a short-fall of ability and that in turn leads to anxiety. The way to overcome that anxiety is to lay down the old life, lay down the self-reign and submit to the Lord of Glory.

‘Less’ or ‘Ish’: From there we considered the conflicting lives of the selfless versus the selfish, the godly versus the godless. We noted that the latter in each case was how we used to live but those lives brought us to failure. We noted how rejecting the selfish or self-centred life requires an application in every area of our lives and that in turn required a discipline and effort, often helped by others. The starting place is death to self and the continuing process requires the effort of me with help from the Holy Spirit. It is a continual challenge to die to self in every new situation or confrontation.

Pleasure: This brought us to the last one, a consideration of the wonder of pleasure that God has given us, while at the same time confronting the very real danger that is rife in our day, of making pleasure the beginning and end of all things. When we do that we are making it a substitute for God, but fortunately or unfortunately it soon creates a jaded feeling in us, together with a need for more and more. Satisfaction is illusory and flits away like a butterfly on a warm summer’s day. It is this recognition that we see results in a need to die to the old life that was pleasure and experience orientated and to the pleasure-seeking attitude that prevails so much today. Pleasure in its right place is a gift from God. When we make pleasure all-important, we stumble, feel jaded and become vulnerable.

Versus God: I want to finish this Part with something about which I have increasingly become aware in recent days. Where we fail to get to grips with these things, as I believe many Christians do, it means that we create both an anger and a yearning in God’s heart that desires to bring His people back to Himself. As the world increasingly (in the West at least) turns its back on God, it opens itself up to the leading of the enemy and so we see ever more strange, weird and, without doubt, ungodly and unrighteous behaviours, an increase in blatant unrighteousness as people reject God’s design and totter down the wide road towards self-destruction.

“Hands Off” Discipline: Romans 1 leads us to believe that this is God’s judgment on the Western world where He has “given them over” to more and more destructive behaviours. For the world, and especially for the Christians who may be drifting alongside this cultural collapse, His desire is for these things to act in a disciplinary manner, i.e. they act as agents to drive people back from the abyss and back to God. Now in the midst, the Lord allows Satan to act as a disciplining agent and we see it when Christians make themselves vulnerable by not dealing with the issues we have been considering throughout this first Part and failing to put them to death. I believe the strength of his activities has been increasing in recent years and I have watched Christians becoming more and more vulnerable to illnesses, problems, difficulties, stresses, anxieties and many other things that should not be in our lives.

Responses/Effects: Now a problem with this assessment is that most of us, the good, the bad, the indifferent, in the kingdom of God, often seem prey to these things. Now there are two responses to this. First, like Jeremiah being carried away to Egypt in the remnant, so we too can suffer the things of the age. Second, I believe it has been like the tide has been turning and so there is greater effort needed to stand and resist these things.

Answers?  So what is the answer? It is twofold. First, it is to do the thing we have been emphasising throughout this first Part – put to death all these things we have considered, that belong to the old life and should not be in the new life. Second, we are to live out the Christian life as it is portrayed in the New Testament, a resurrected life, empowered by God and living differently to the rest of the world, and that is what we will consider in the next Part.

(As we are in the period of Lent, we will pause up this present series four weeks while we do short meditations on the Cross and the crucifixion)

5. Fanciful Forgiveness

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 5. Fanciful Forgiveness

Mt 6:14,15   For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

A Difficult Relational Aspect: In the previous study we started to consider how we have in the past viewed people and struggled with them, and how it is so easily transferred into the Christian life, and so it is another of those things  where ‘death to self’ has to apply if we are to grow. But we concluded that there is another really big area to do with personal relationships that can be a hindrance to growth that we need to consider and it is that oft-raised subject of forgiveness. Now don’t shy away because I may have something different to say than you’ve heard before.

Abuse = Hurt = Injustice: The subject arises when someone offends you or abuses you or worse, and when some well-meaning preacher, with little thought, preaches, “You must forgive them!” everything in you screams out, “But it isn’t fair! It is unjust! They hurt me, they harmed me and that is wrong!” and I have to completely agree with you. So how do we handle it?

Traditional but Inaccurate Approach: The traditional and, I suggest, somewhat thoughtless and cheap approach, is to simply say, “Yes, they hurt you but the Bible teaches that you are to forgive them.” I immediately think of two examples, one of a Christian girl who was raped in her home by an intruder, and the other a family who lost loved ones in a terrorist attack.  Both ‘hurt’ parties declared their simple forgiveness for the offenders. This then becomes a guilt laden area for the rest of us who struggle. (I also suggest their actions are unbiblical and diminish sin)

A Different Approach: The only trouble is that that is not what the Bible teaches. May I present an alternative to traditional thinking and simply ask that you check it out and see if it is reasonable. Put aside all emotions and consider what the Bible teaches. For instance at one point the apostle Paul wrote, Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Col 3:13) then there is apparently contradictory teaching: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk 2:7) and, “he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (Jn 20:22,23). I have done a major study on this in the past, so may I present it as brief conclusions:

  • The harm done to you was sin, and God is not casual about it. It need punishing.
  • So important in God’s eyes is sin, that Jesus had to die on the Cross to take the punishment.
  • God only forgives when we have repented.
  • The forgiveness is available the moment we repent because Jesus died for those sins.
  • Where the sinner never repents and never comes to Christ, the forgiveness may have been there waiting for them when they repented, but in the absence of that repentance, they still go to hell.
  • Only God can in fact forgive, and it is a legal transaction based on the Cross, and so when we forgive it is simply ratifying what has already happened in heaven.
  • (It is the same as blessing and loosing or releasing or binding in prayer; it is only real and effective when we are led by the Spirit to declare the will of heaven).
  • True forgiveness can only be given when there has been repentance BUT while we are waiting for it – and it may take a long time to come or never come – we are to have a good attitude towards that person or persons, that desires the best for them
  • This means we pray for them and do all we can to help them to come to a place of repentance, because at the moment they are living with an issue with God which will hinder blessing in their life (unconfessed and unacknowledged sin) and only their repentance can change that.

An Offender? Now it may be that you suddenly realise that you are in reality an ‘offender’ and you have unconfessed sin which will stop you growing, a sin against another, and you need to ask their forgiveness. Well, the way is open, unless you have completely lost contact with them, and you simply need to seek God’s grace to be able to say sorry to them.

Offended: But I am more aware, at the moment, of those of us who struggle with the remaining pain and the scream against ‘forgiving’. This is going to sound hard, I’m sorry, but put all that aside for the moment. The bigger question is can you get God’s grace to desire God’s best for that person? Yes, it will be them coming to repentance but why is that so important? It is because without it they are in a place where  they are not receiving God’s best, they are not in a place of receiving His blessing and changing and feeling really good about life – because they still have an issue before Him that needs dealing with. Do you see this? In some ways this is harder that almost casually saying, ‘I forgive them,’ because we are dealing with spiritual realities here and the future of another person’s life.

Love for Enemies? Do you remember yesterday we considered Jesus’ teaching: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt 5:44)  It is probable that you still consider your ‘offender’ an enemy. Now on the Cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34) Now so often I have heard that applied as ‘forgive everyone’ but the truth is that so often, if not mostly, your offender knew exactly what they were doing to you. In the Old Testament sacrificial law, in respect of sin or guilt offerings you read, “When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands….” (Lev 4:1 – also 4:13,22,27, 5:15,18 etc.) Intentional sin was much worse.  So yes, Jesus’ words fitted the occasion but most occasions don’t match! But it still brings us back to praying for our offender, wanting the best of them, because God wants the best for them and will do all He can to bring them back to a right place – which includes their repentance. Can we have the same attitude?

A Seeker of Forgiveness: But then there is the equally big issue of forgiving another when they come saying sorry. For some of us this will be just as big a struggle. “It’s all very well for you to say sorry, but do you know the effect what you did (said) had on me that I’ve had to live with all this time?” Yes, it is natural to feel like that but we aren’t called to be natural but supernatural, for we have the enabling of the Holy Spirit. Having been through this from all angles in the past, I have concluded that if I had been the offender and I had come to repentance, how would I desire others to respond to me?

Do unto others…. Many years ago it happened to me and I repented of an outburst (provoked, but that is not the issue) and two close ‘colleagues’ said, “We can’t work with you,” and utterly rejected me. What I wished they had done – and it would have saved so much anguish all round later – would have been to say, “Old friend, we’re so sorry, what has happened to you to get you to come out with that? How can we help you? How can we help you get back into a good and right place?” but they didn’t, they knifed me. A learning exercise, which is why, whatever your sin, whatever your failure, I want to put my arms around your sobbing shoulders and say, “How can I help, how can I stand with you. I am here for you.” Jesus collected the sinners around him because he had care and compassion and forgiveness. Dare we be anything less?

41. The Unforgiving Debtor

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 41.  The Unforgiving Debtor

Mt 18:23   Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.

Context, you may have gathered through my many comments throughout these studies, we consider highly important, especially when the current verses start with a ‘Therefore’. That presupposes a logical flow, so what has gone before? Since our last study where Jesus sought to show that we are each very precious to God, he then taught how to resolve differences (v.15-17) to eventually re-establish unity so ultimately we do all we can to ensure none of our brothers or sisters are lost, and then a little on spoke about authority (v.18-20). These teachings led Peter to wonder about those who do offend, those who do threaten unity and harmony in the body: Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” (v.21) to which Jesus then replied, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (v.22)

It is in the light of this that Jesus then tells this parable that is often referred to as the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. The account has three parts: first, how a master dealt with a debtor-servant (v.23-27), second, how that same servant then went and dealt with another debtor-servant (v.28-30) and third, the consequences of his behaviour (v.31-34). So let’s consider it part by part.

First Part: Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.  “The servant fell on his knees before him. `Be patient with me,’ he begged, `and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.”

The basic facts: a king holds an accounting. One particular servant owes him a lot but was unable to pay it off. As punishment and a means of settling it, the king ordered that he and his family be sold as slaves. The man begs for more time to pay and so the king, in pity, cancelled the debt completely and let him go.

Second Part: “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. `Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, `Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.”

The basic facts:  The first servant was owed some money, a small amount by comparison, by another servant who, when he failed to pay off his debt, and despite his pleas for patience, he had thrown into prison.

Third Part: “When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. “Then the master called the servant in. `You wicked servant,’ he said, `I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

The basic facts: The King (or master) is told what had happened and calls the first servant in and confronts him with his actions and casts him into prison. His logic is very clear: he had forgiven the first servant so shouldn’t he have had mercy on his fellow servant.

Following this Jesus declares, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (v.35) The inference is obvious: God has forgiven us, so shouldn’t we forgive others?  Now the theology of forgiveness is slightly more complicated than this simple parable, for remember Jesus is making the point that when forgiveness is sought, it MUST be given.  That is the crucial lesson here.

Now the overall teaching of the New Testament, which I have implied into this parable is, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you,” (Col 3:13) but the question arises, which many Christians never consider, “How did God forgive us?” and the answer in Scripture is always – when we repent. Jesus has died so that justice might be seen to be done and the punishment for your sin and mine has been taken. Thus when we repent and turn to God, what he has done on the Cross then applies – but it doesn’t apply if there is no repentance. The whole of Scripture – and especially the End – makes this very clear; there is an accounting and either Jesus died for you or you have no option but to take the punishment – death.  Perhaps we just take for granted this teaching, so consider, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times (and if he – implied) comes back to you and says, `I repent,’ forgive him.” (Lk 17:3,4) Forgiveness is always conditional.

But there is also another major aspect to all this. How are we to feel about our offender while we are waiting for him to repent and come and ask for our forgiveness? We are to have his/her wellbeing at heart and desire and do all we can to help them come to repentance, and to be in a place of blessing with God – because that is what God does to us while He waits for us to repent. (A help in this is to realise that almost certainly when we were offended, we contributed to the situation, we contributed to their wrong doing. Joseph in the Old Testament is often cited as one who forgave his brothers but the truth was that he had contributed to provoking them to act against him by his pride and arrogance. Be careful; how we might look down on our offender; we may not be in such a strong position as we thought).

So two things: first, how do you feel about the person who has offended you (and it may be in a really bad way)? Is your desire for them to repent, and perhaps be saved, or at the very least their offence be put right before God and before you and then be reconciled to you and you to them? Second, when they do come and ask your forgiveness, are you ready to give it, for this is what this parable is all about?

Do you see something here? This requires much more grace than that ‘cheap forgiveness’ that sometimes appears in the media that simply says, “It’s all right. I forgive him/her/them.” No it’s not all right, it diminishes the awfulness of the sin and denies justice. Forgiveness in the Bible is a legal declaration of what has already been declared in heaven once the words of repentance have been spoken. God does not forgive blatant sin when there is no repentance. If someone sins, they have an issue with God. Yes, as Christians, our salvation is not at risk for a single (or few) sin, but we do have issues before God if we have not repented and we will have to face them one day, whether on this earth or in the time to follow.

When we repent God WILL forgive: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and WILL forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9)  So if our brother or sister comes to us and confesses their sin and seeks our forgiveness, we MUST make sure we give it. Amen? Amen!

13. Peace in Relationships (2)

Short Meditations on Peace 13. Peace in relationships (2)

Prov 17:1  Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.

We started to think about how our own insecurity may make coping with people difficult, and also about why people are ‘nasty’ suggesting understanding them may help cope with them.

However we understand them they still say and do unpleasant things which requires grace to handle, and for that we need to seek the Lord. Our starting place is to reject lies and pray for them. After all, Jesus did say love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mt 5:44) But they are still obnoxious! So pray, be patient and look for an opportunity to bless them, yes bless them, showing the character of your Father in heaven who loves them.

But then comes the matter of forgiveness. We first have to clear up our own indiscretions and so if you have wronged another or spoken to them in a way your Father would not approve of, go, pray, seek them out at an opportune moment, and ask their forgiveness.

But what about the other way round? They have sinned against you. Popular opinion is just forgive them but forgiveness is a legal action based in heaven. There are three things to be noted here: First, forgive as your father in heaven forgives, was Jesus’ teaching but the truth is that God doesn’t forgive until there has been repentance. It’s true, look throughout the Bible.

Second, the Bible’s teaching does declare that when someone does repent and come seeking our forgiveness we MUST forgive, we cannot hold back forgiveness after repentance, because God always forgives us when we repent. But what about in the meantime? What if they never see their sin and never come to seek you out?

Well, third, the Bible shows God’s example towards us which we are to follow towards others, and that is always to look for the best for every person, desiring the best for them, that hopefully they may come into a good place with God (because at the moment they have an unresolved issue with Him in respect of their sin against you) and eventually come to repentance. Thus we need to have a good heart towards them, even while waiting for them to repent.  That may require more grace than casually saying, “I forgive them.”

Forgiveness, when it is sought but refused, is a main cause for stress and absence of peace. Holding bad attitudes (even when we think they are justified) towards others is another main cause for lack of peace. Working and praying positively for the good of others, even those who have hurt us, lifts us into the realm of heavenly blessing and there, in the presence of God, we said, is peace.

15. Forgiven

Meditations in Colossians 2: 15:  Forgiven

Col 2:13,14    He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.

Paul is listing off what has happened to us, starting with being made spiritually alive and now by us being forgiven. Perhaps the matter of our forgiveness is almost so simple that many of us take is for granted, or we don’t appreciate the wonder of it. It is foundational to the teaching of the New Testament  and it could be argued that it is the most important issue of our salvation.

When Joseph was told in a dream that his Mary was going to have a baby, he was told, She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21). Dealing with sins was clearly at the heart of the work of Jesus. Forgiveness of sins was emphasised through the ministry of John the Baptist as his father prophesied over him as a baby, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,” (Lk 1:76,77) Thus we find when he was grown up, “the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Lk 3:2,3)

Now strangely it does not feature strongly in Jesus’ ministry; he is more concerned to emphasise the coming of the kingdom. When it came to the Cross he simply majored on what was to happen, not on why: “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:18,19) it is only as he approached his death did he start to spell it out: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins,” (Mt 26:28) and then after he was raised, on the road to Emmaus, we find, “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations,” (Lk 24:45-47)

That was fulfilled as on the Day of Pentecost Peter preached, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 3:38) and then later, “God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel,” (Acts 5:31) and then to the first Gentile believers, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)

Forgiveness of our sins is THE great thing that opens the way for us to have a relationship with God. From our point of view, we feel guilty and fear the wrath and judgment of God and so being told that we are forgiven gives us the hope of something more wonderful. From God’s point of view, it is possible because Jesus has taken the punishment that justice demands and so the way is open for Him to receive us.

But Paul says, “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us.”  Prior to Jesus death, the Law of Moses stood as God’s requirement of righteousness but the trouble was we could never perfectly keep all God’s laws. Paul spells that out in Romans 7: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Rom 7:15)  He explains further, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:18,19)

Earlier he had explained this in respect of the Law: “Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire.” (Rom 7:7,8) As soon as a prohibition was put before us, we found something rise up within us that wanted to do it. That was Sin.  When you focus on your guilt, it just makes it more hard to stop it – and then Jesus comes along and forgives us and the guilt is dealt with. He takes our eyes off the rules and puts them on him.

Paul concludes in respect of Jesus’ work, “he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”  It’s like Jesus took all the demands and nailed them to the Cross as if to say, ”Dealt with!  Paid!  End of story!”  Every time Satan whispers to you, “You are a guilty sinner,” point him towards the Cross and say, “Yes, that’s right but Jesus has dealt with it!”

When we came to Christ we sought his forgiveness – and received it, once and for all. Yes, it is right to confess and say sorry for individual incidents where you stumble and get it wrong, but Jesus HAS dealt with the  big issue of your guilt. Hallelujah!

1.1 God’s Loving Forgiveness

Meditating on the Judgements of God: General Introduction

We start to move into a new area of consideration, possibly the most difficult area of meditation we have ever sought when writing these various series’. Yes, the heading is right; we are going to focus on God’s judgments.  Now when we put it like that it doesn’t sound as bad as if we had said simply, ‘The Judgement of God’ because so often when we speak of ‘the Judgement of God’ we have in mind the acts of death and destruction that apparently God brings about  – and He does! But when we speak about ‘God’s judgements’ I want to focus more on God’s ‘decisions’ and that is really what is more important, because every time in Scripture we witness an act of death or destruction, before that happens, something even more significant happens: God chose to do it and it is the thinking behind that decision of His that we want to look at, with His help.

Having paused at the end of Part 6 (and I will continue) I must confess that  working through the specific judgments has not always been easy and I am sure that I have not, when considering the individual judgments, examined them in the light of all the criteria you will find in this first Part. I am fairly sure that I will have to return here and revisit some of them again after further thought and prayer.

Perhaps from the outset we should ask the question that may arise in many, “Why study judgment? Isn’t it a miserable subject?”  My answers, and they have to be the reasons for this series are as follows:

  • first we need to consider the subject because death and destruction (apparently at the hand of God) DOES appear so often in the Bible and we need to understand it and,
  • second, we should not be afraid of facing up apparent contradictions, such as how a loving God can kill people and,
  • third, no it is not miserable to face and understand the grace, mercy and justice of God; it is actually freeing.

The structure of this series will be as follows:

  • Part 1 of this series will be studies that will focus on God Himself, on His nature or His character, the person behind the judgments we will go on to consider.
  • Part 2 will go on to consider aspects of judgment things, I am going to suggest, that we mostly don’t think about. There is bound to be a little overlap within these first two Parts.
  • In Part 3 we will start to work our way through specific judgments of God in the book of Genesis,
  • Part 4 will cover Exodus and Leviticus and
  • Part 5 covers the book of Numbers.
  • Part 6 will look in depth at the struggle for Canaan.

I hope eventually to continue and cover all the judgements of God in the Old Testament but time will tell if that is possible.

Crusading atheists pound at God for being a vindictive and destructive being (who they don’t believe exists!) and Christians tend to cower and hope that in some way they were wrong, while in their sub-conscious minds having this horrible feeling that perhaps God is a ‘hard man’ (Mt 25:24), and that He does do nasty things – and they don’t know why! Well, in these studies we are going to try to give some answers. To do that I may have to repeat what I have written in other studies, especially the more recent one on the Will of God.

Meditating on the Judgements of God: 1.1 God’s Loving Forgiveness

Prov 3:19,20     By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.

Our starting point has to be what we know of God or, rather, what the Bible tells us about Him. If you have never trodden this path before, I have to warn you that you are about to venture into an area that will challenge your mind and your faith like never before. We are going to look at the character of God and then the acts of judgement of God and struggle to see how the acts can possibly be the works of the One with the character we will see.

This is not a new struggle, it has gone on since the formation of the church and some early heretics answered the problem by creating two Gods, one of the Old Testament, and another of the New. But let’s be quite clear from the outset, philosophically and theologically, that doesn’t work. There is one Creator God who made all things, who brought Israel into being and who had dealings with Israel and eventually brought His Son into the world to save it and who still works to bless it. So what does the Bible tell us about God. Well I’m going to take them in the order they impressed upon me.

Well, this Creator God is all-powerful, all-wise and all-knowing, eternal and unchanging. Those are givens you will find in any basic book on theology and so we won’t take up space providing quotes for that. But then I found I was impacted by the apostle John who declared, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16). Yes, he said it twice to make sure we took it in. Is that just a New Testament teaching I wondered?  No, definitely not. Listen! Moses caught something of this when he sung with Israel, In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.” (Ex 15:13)  He saw the Exodus deliverance as an act of love, and that even before Israel had been constituted as a nation at Sinai.

It wasn’t a temporary, frail love but an “unfailing love” which suggests strong and enduring. But then later Moses has a particularly close encounter with the Lord and receives the Ten Commandments, and we find there is a ‘love element’ built into them at one point describing the Lord as, “showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Ex 20:6). Now that offsets the verse before it that speak about God who is described as “punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” (Ex 20:5b) i.e. a God of judgment. He may punish up to four generations (and we will look at that in a later meditation) but He will bless a thousand generations.

At an even closer encounter a little later, the Lord describes Himself to Moses and we read, “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (Ex 34:6,7) So, yes, He is a God who deals with sins and brings judgement but the stronger emphasis is on His love. He abounds in love and He maintains His love. Somehow love and punishment sit together in this description, two aspects of the same God. In a later study we will look at why God punishes but of the moment we simply note that He does intervene in His world and bring punishment to sinners, those who are guilty and are unchanging in their Sin.

We should note that point in passing because it did just say that He forgives “wickedness, rebellion and sin.”  So how does forgiveness equate with punishment. The forgiveness is there for the repentant, the punishment is there for the unrepentant. As the Lord declared through Ezekiel,

  • “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) and
  • “Rid yourselves of all the offences you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:31,32) and
  • “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek 33;11).

THREE times there in Ezekiel the Lord makes this point. He does NOT relish death and would far rather Israel repented and were saved.  This is God who longs to forgive “wickedness, rebellion and sin.” All it needs is our repentance.

So here is our starting place. If we are going to talk about the judgements (decisions) and judgements (acts of punishment) of God, then we must first observe His character. This is vital and we will say something even more earth shattering about it in the next meditation. If you are new to this area of thought, read back through this one before continuing to the next.

May I state from this opening meditation what I am intending to do. I am suggesting we do something that is quite unusual: that we

  • see what the Bible says is the character of God and then
  • what thing LOGICALLY flow from that.

If the Bible says God is love, what LOGICALLY flows from that? What MUST flow from that if that description is accurate. Before we move into the next study, I am going to state four propositions as foundations for this book:

  1. We will see what the Bible states about the character of God
  2. We will consider what are the LOGICAL things that MUST flow from them if they are true
  3. We will examine the judgments in the light of both those things
  4. We will see that the end conclusion MAKES SENSE like nothing else does.

7. The Way of Return

Meditations in 1 John : 7 :  The Way of Return

1 John  1:9   If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness

The whole thing about the Christian faith is that it is about returning to God. The work of salvation on the Cross by Christ was so that we, who were hostile to God and His enemies, could be reconciled to Him: 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! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Rom 5:10,11) The Christian life is all about being brought near to God with our sins forgiven and dealt with on the Cross, so that He, by His Spirit, may work in us to conform us (make us like) His Son, Jesus. That was why Paul said, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness.” (2 Cor 3:18).

This reconciliation was made possible by Christ’s work on the Cross, and came into practical being when we surrendered our lives to him and became a Christian. From then on it was all about access to God and Him having access to me.

But of course we all know the experience of having blown it and feeling a million miles away from God. Yet that isn’t actually how it is, it’s just how it feels it is. We briefly mentioned this previously but from God’s side He has not turned away from us, but Christ is active on our behalf: “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1)  Yes, this is the truth: when we get it wrong, Jesus speaks up on our behalf. I imagine him turning to the Father and saying, “Father, I died for them. Please send the Spirit to draw them back to us, send Him to draw them back into that daily relationship with us, for I have done my part by dying for them, so their sins are dealt with.” This is the intent of the Godhead, to draw us back into relationship with them.

So how does He do that? The Spirit comes and convicts us of what we have done wrong. How does he do that? He simply speaks to us again and again and reminds us that it was wrong and that we will lack peace until we have dealt with it. Our conscience is that part of us that weighs ethical issues, moral issues that need facing, and the Spirit comes and speaks to us at conscience level and reminds us what, deep down, we already know: we got it wrong – and we can’t just leave it.

This latter issue is an important and significant issue. As we said, deep down we know within ourselves that we have done wrong and we know that we have hurt or offended the Father and that there is an unresolved issue between us. You see exactly the same thing when a child breaks lose against a parent. Nothing may be said but the child knows that it has offended the parent and done wrong. We see it in children and in adults; there is often a ‘making up’ behaviour that follows by the offender, an artificial brightness that tries to gloss over what happened. Yet the truth is that we know that this is not right and experience tells us that the only way to properly deal with it is to own up, face it and say sorry.

Perhaps because of this, throughout the Bible forgiveness only follows repentance, that facing up to our wrongs and saying sorry. And that, at last, brings us to our verse above which, when we have come to the place of confession, acknowledgement of our wrong and request for forgiveness, brings great reassurance. Unlike some world religions, or even misguided parts of the Christian Church, we will never get back to God by working to appease God and show Him how good we really are – because He knows the truth and knows that this side of heaven we will always need the sanctifying work of the Spirit changing us. And, of course, He has laid down the appropriate way for our sins to be dealt with.

Christ has taken every sin in his body on the Cross and so every sin has been dealt with, but that has to be applied to every individual human being and it can only be applied when they acknowledge their state and their need and accept what Christ has done for them. Then and only then does the work of Christ on the Cross apply to them.

But it is more than that because as we have noted in both this and the previous meditation, this side of heaven we will still need the sanctifying work of the Spirit changing us, because we can still get it wrong. Yet even every new failure has already been dealt with on the Cross, for Christ died for every sin ever committed, past, present, and future. But that still needs applying and the way it is applied is by us facing the sin and confessing it.

It is at that point – and the first part of the verse is down to us – that the work of Christ kicks in and we can be assured that God will remain true (faithful) to Himself and to His word, and so we can be guaranteed that when we do confess, then He WILL forgive. It is that simple but sometimes we struggle to accept that simplicity and so feel after we’ve confessed we still need to prove to God that we are good. No we’re not, but our intent is to be.

So, if you are aware that you have a bad attitude towards God or against any other person, or if you are aware that you have said or done something you know you ought not to have said or done, then realize the truth and respond according to this verse. Amen? Amen!

6. Believing the Unseen

Meditations in 1 Peter : 6 :  Believing in the Unseen

1 Pet  1:8,9 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Now I have to confess that these two verses have a very special place in my life. In the early months of my Christian life I was working with a youth evangelism team and one Saturday evening was having a good conversation with a non-believer, and prayed and prayed for him to respond positively to the Lord. He didn’t and, in my immaturity, I went home that night muttering to the Lord, how can I believe in you if you won’t turn up and answer simple prayers? The next morning I went to church and the preacher spoke on these two verses. I took note. In the afternoon I attended a young people’s organisation where I regularly taught Bible (yes, within my first year as a Christian) and it was their birthday and there was a visiting speaker – who spoke on these two verses. I sat up and took notice. Twice in one day! In the evening I went to a little mission hall where the youth evangelism team took Sunday evening services and the group leader spoke on these two verses. Three times in one day! I took serious note!

Verse 8 challenges the very core of faith. It is about believing in a God who you cannot see and often cannot hear, yet His word has come to us and convicted us and we now live in response to it and to what His Spirit says today. This is the hardest thing about the Christian faith – you cannot see God! Peter was writing to believers in Asia Minor who had come to the Lord after Jesus had ascended to heaven. They had never seen him. They had heard about him as the Gospel was preached and so now they were in the same position that we are: they believed in one who they had never seen. The writer to the Hebrews started out his famous chapter on faith with these words: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1).

This is the reality of the spiritual life; we believe in a spiritual dimension and a spiritual God and a spiritual heaven – all of which exist just as much as anything else exists – yet we cannot see them with our physical eyes; we only discern them in our spirit, and that is a faith issue. When Jesus had been on the earth, the apostle John had been able to write,That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched.” (1 Jn 1:1).  That was true for those earliest believers and so today we believe in their testimony, today we live a life of love for the unseen One who died for us and who is now seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven ruling. But it is all faith because we do not actually see him. This is what I had to learn as a very young Christian and I am naïve enough to believe the Lord prompted three preachers on the same day to preach this message – purely for me (and no doubt for a number of others as well!!)

Now you may have known the Lord for a long time and so perhaps I need to remind you what it was like in those early moments, those early days, those early months. There was this inexpressible and glorious joy that you felt as a witness to something wonderful that had happened to you. In the passing of the years it tends to become a more deep-seated joy that is more there in the background but it is still there. It is the reminder and recognition of the wonderful thing that has taken place and continues to take place –  the establishing of a relationship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords whereby He grants us forgiveness and cleansing and Sonship and eternal life with the presence of His own Holy Spirit.

This, says Peter, is us receiving the goal of our faith. It is both the reason why we have faith and it is also the outworking of our faith. As we’ve noted previously, it all comes from us believing God when He has shared the Gospel with us as He convicted us of our need by His Spirit. We believed he came to give us a new life and we grabbed it like a drowning man grabbing at a straw, and we found that it was real, it was true, and we were saved. This we came to realise was what salvation was all about, about Him saving us from our sins and from death so that we could live with Him for the remaining years on this earth and into eternity. Oh what a glorious thing it was! What joy!

39. Atonement

Meditations in Romans : 39:  Atonement

Rom 3:25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.

Some of us don’t like talk about ‘the blood’ or ‘the Cross’ but, fortunately or unfortunately, they are at the heart of the Gospel. In fact there are words in our verses above that bring great revelation to what the Gospel is all about – if we hadn’t caught Paul’s flow in the previous verses we’ve been considering in a number of mediations: we are lost, helpless and hopeless and we need God’s help. In the previous verse Paul has just spoken of the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” We don’t often use the word ‘redemption’ in modern life, unless we have been unfortunate enough to use the services of a pawnbroker. If we have then we put an article into pawn in exchange for a loan which will need paying back with interest at some time in the future. In the getting it back by a payment, we thus ‘redeem’ the article. So when Paul uses that phrase he is referring to the fact that Jesus’ death mean that our lives could be bought by his blood and reclaimed from the death cell (life on earth) where we awaited our eternal punishment for our sins.

There is in all of us, this deep down knowledge that wrongs deserve punishing, which is why we spend so much time trying to justify ourselves and make out why such punishment shouldn’t apply to us!  Yet our innate sense of justice declares that wrongs should be punished. In fact when we hear of the existence of a holy God, we fear even more (and make more efforts to deny Him).

Then Paul speaks of ‘atonement’ which, in its simplest form means ‘making up for’. But what can make up for the myriads of failures that we have in life? What can make up so that we do not have to bear the punishment due to us? His answer is ‘the blood’ of Jesus, which is simply shorthand for meaning his death on the Cross at Calvary, taking our place, taking our punishment. His death was a sacrifice, in the same pattern as the sacrifices brought into the Temple in Old Testament times. Hence Jesus is referred to as the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29,36,  Rev 5:6,8,12). It is the picture of an animal dying in the place of the sinner, taking upon it their sin and guilt and death penalty.

It is perhaps only when we think on these things do we realise the awfulness of Sin. Much of the time we downplay Sin in our lives and think little of it, but the truth is that in God’s eyes, it is so important and provides such a division between Him and us that He was willing to pay the ultimate price of being separated from His very own Son: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (Jn 3:16). Surely if there had been any other way possible God would have taken it? Surely if there any other way possible, Jesus would have taken it. Yet, there throughout the history of the world was this enormous mountain of sin, the sins of every human being throughout history, with justice crying out to be done. If justice cannot be seen to be done, then God can never speak to and correct a single human being, for all that is left is their utter judgment and so why bother to restrain sin? Why not let it just run and get worse and worse until we destroy ourselves?

But God is not a defeatist; He knew from the moment He planned to give us free will that we would first exercise it to reject Him. He knew from the outset that sin after sin would mount up and if nothing was done, it would cause the ultimate destruction of humanity. But, as we said, God is not a defeatist. He planned to call mankind back to Himself. Throughout the Old Testament He is there seeking to forge relationships with individuals and with the nation of Israel, so that they may be a light to the rest of the world, drawing the eyes of the world to God. But how could He do that with all the sins of the world still being there and being there as a barrier between us and God, as much for us as for Him?

We feel guilt-ridden and incapable of changing. He sees us constantly doing our own thing and ignoring Him. How was there a way to break into this cycle? It was to provide a means for this guilt to be dealt with, for somehow justice to be satisfied and the price paid for each and every sin that we feel bad about and the millions we don’t.  The only way, and we really can’t take it in even though we seek to explain it, was for the eternal Son of God to take it for us, for him to step into our place and take the punishment – and that was what was happening on the Cross.

How does it happen for us individually? It happens, as we saw in a previous meditation, when we respond to this news in faith. It is faith in his blood, faith in Jesus’ death on the Cross on our behalf, which opens the door to God’s heart and which brings salvation. It is an act of faith to say we believe God when He has said that this is the way to be saved, by simply believing that Jesus has done it for us.

As we act in faith and declare our belief by coming to God to receive the forgiveness that Jesus has earned for us, it enables Him in return to declare us forgiven and declare us adopted, so that He is then able to put His own Holy Spirit within us, so that a new experience can be ours for the rest of our years on this earth and into eternity. This new experience of life means we can live free from guilt, and free to have a relationship with God, whereby He guides and leads us. All of this is the outworking of the atoning work of Christ on the Cross when it is received by us. How wonderful!