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)

Advertisements

Snapshots: Day 12

Snapshots: Day 12

The Snapshot: “they hid from the Lord God.”  Guilt alienates – us from ourselves (not facing who we really are), from others (not being able to relate properly to others), from society (who we see as hostile and cruel) and from God (who we fear), the One we were designed to relate to as loving Father. Thus all these other things tend to be dysfunctional, not working as they should. Guilt robs us of the potential of who I could be, of how I could be blessed by others and bless them, of how I could enjoy the wonder of the world and the wonder of God, especially the wonder of God. (“What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.” A catechism) Do I need to let Him restore that togetherness, that joy?

Further Consideration: Yesterday we considered the way we, as sinful human beings, cross the many boundaries built into creation, giving way to temptation. But so much of the time it isn’t that we are disobeying specific prohibitions, but more that we ignore the wisdom of God that is inherently there for each and every one who has entered into a real relationship with God through Jesus Christ, each one who has received the now indwelling Holy Spirit. It is He who conveys the wisdom of God to the children of God and it comes from within when we are living this genuine, real relationship. But then we choose to ignore Him; the ‘fruit’ before us looks so enticing and we submit to the temptation.

And then comes the guilt. One dictionary defines guilt as, ‘a feeling of worry or unhappiness that you have because you have done something wrong.’  There are a number of ways that we try and deal with this inner feeling and we’ll consider some more tomorrow but here in the verse from Gen 3:8 we see the response to this fresh sense of guilt was to hide away from God.

The world tries to hide away from God by pretending He is not there, by coming up with lots of implausible reasons why He can’t be there; some even write lengthy books to try to convince themselves and others (so they will not be alone in their deception) while all the time ignoring the massive piles of evidence that He is there.

Christians try and hide away from God by hiding behind piles of ‘good works’ or ‘religious ritual’ and thus create these piles of refuse that they think will blot out His all-seeing eyes. We let ourselves think that perhaps our guilt can be covered up by the undergrowth of these things, like Adam and Eve hiding among the trees – but God still sees, God still knows, so the best thing is to be open and honest and confess, “I blew it.” Maturity is being able to do that quickly for the longer we put it off, the more we miss out on God’s goodness.

14. A Guilt-Free People

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 3 – Making of Believers

14. A Guilt-Free People

Rom 3:23-25   all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.

A tighter focus: In this third Part we are going to move on from the general ways Christians are different from non-Christians to considering just what happens when a person does actually become a Christian, in God’s eyes as declared in the New Testament, AND is some practical ways. Yes, we have observed that there is a God-difference, that Christians are first and foremost believers in Jesus Christ, that they have had a supernatural experience or encounter with God that Jesus called being ‘born again’, and this followed their conviction by the Spirit and repentance. We also noted in passing, so to speak, the basic need to be saved and meaning of becoming a faith people, but now we are going to move on to see the things that happen to the believer as part of and following this experience of being born again. I want to approach it by recognising the needs that we have as we come to God and what He does to meet those needs. The contents of this third Part will be as follows:

  1. A Guilt-Free People
  2. No Longer Orphans
  3. Growing in Sonship
  4. The Yeast of Humility
  5. Getting on a Learning Curve
  6. The Reality of Sacrifice
  7. No Add-ons
  8. Servant-hearted (1)
  9. Servant-hearted (2)

We start with the guilt that we have and how He removes that, expanding on the things we considered in Study no.11, ‘Repentance and Conviction’.

A Basic Problem: There is a problem that is at the heart of human experience. It is the problem of guilt. Wikipedia comes up with a good definition: “Guilt is a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes or realizes—accurately or not—that they have compromised their own standards of conduct or have violated a universal moral standard and bear significant responsibility for that violation.”  Now we may try and deny that – and modern thinking desperately tries to do away with standards in order to do that – but the truth is that deep down each of us feels that somehow we are falling short of some standard or other, and yes we may go to great efforts to cover that up but it is still there.

Cover-up Jobs: Oh how varied are the means people use to cover up this sense of guilt, a guilt that is sometimes very shallow, the guilt of not living up to one’s own expectations or even those of our parents, or it may be a deeper guilt where we know our behaviour towards another, or even against society, in the past was less than glorious! We try to cover up these feelings by appearing nice, trying to be good, trying to be respectable, aiming for achievement, fame, status, things that make us look good in the eyes of others.

Why? But why do we have these feelings. Well, the apostle Paul wrote that it was because we got it wrong (sinned) and fell short of the incredible potential that each of us have when we are in harmony with God (falling short of God’s glory). I have watched various Christians struggling with their lives, struggling to achieve and I have found myself saying, “Don’t you realize that God desires more success for you than you desire for yourself?”  Sometimes that success may be to simply make ends meet and create a great home for a family, sometimes it is to make millions to bless the world with jobs and so much more (consider Bill Gates), sometimes it is success that has nothing to do with money. I suggest Mother Teresa was a staggeringly ‘successful’ person, but that requires us to readjust our thinking about what success means.

The Answer- Justification: OK, we’ve faced the fact that so many of us in the human race struggle with guilt so now I am going to make a possibly surprising suggestion: Christians are possibly one of the only groups in the world who are not guilt laden – or at least should not be.  Now how am I able to say that? It is what I briefly referred to earlier, the doctrine of ‘justification’. If I say I was justified in taking a particular course of action it means I was actually right to take it. If I appear in a court case accused of murder and I plead a case of self-defence and am found ‘not guilty’ we might say I was justified in the eyes of the Law for accidentally killing someone while defending myself.

The use of the word ‘justified’ means I am found not-guilty, or innocent. Now the problem we have been facing when we come to such verses as our starter verse – “all have sinned,” is that I have to acknowledge that I am a sinner – and we all are – because I have fallen short in my life because I did not get God’s help, i.e. I was self-centred and godless. It appears to leave us in a hopeless state where we will be condemned by God, and with no hope of change or escape. But that is where we come to the wonder of the plan of God for salvation, ‘the Gospel’: I am guilty and I do deserve the punishment that justice demands BUT Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has died on the Cross in my place and when I accept that truth, the Bible tells me I am justified, I am put right in God’s eyes and in the eyes of justice because the punishment has been taken for my Sin.

As the apostle Paul wrote, This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” (Rom 3:22) and then he explains, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” (Rom 4:3) and applies that to us,  The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Rom 4:23-25) When we believe (and remember we’ve seen previously faith means belief in action, i.e. we respond to what we hear) that Jesus is God’s Son and that he died for our sins and was raised from the dead to prove that this was right and acceptable to God, we are justified.

In God’s eyes it is faith that He uses to measure our righteousness. He declares us righteous (right before Him) when He sees this faith in us – this belief accompanied by action, belief in Jesus. As it was in the case of Abraham in the Old Testament period, so it is with us today. That, and only that, is why I and all of us who know we are Christians, born again of His Spirit, can say we are not burdened by guilt.

Freed! This is the wonder for the true believer, we know our propensity to get it wrong but we seek with God’s help not to; we know we are less than perfect and yet we know that the basis of our relationship with God relies upon what Jesus has achieved on the Cross, him taking my punishment and satisfying justice, leaving me to simply believe that and receive all that He has to give me as we live out this new life of relationship. I am thus freed from guilt and free to live in the wonder of this relationship with God whereby He provides for me through His Spirit.

Dealing with Failure: For the believer living in relationship with God, brought about by the work of Christ on the Cross and now enabled by the indwelling Holy Spirit we are, in line with the apostle Paul’s teaching, to consider that we “have died to sin,” (Rom 6:2) and so we are to, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:11) Nevertheless, although our objective is never to sin, there will be times when we trip over our feet, if I may put it like that, and get it wrong.

The apostle John recognized that when he wrote, ”I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) and he had just written, if we freely admit that we have sinned, we find God utterly reliable and straightforward—he forgives our sins and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil.” (1 Jn 1:9) To summarize: we should not sin, but if on the occasion we do, we are to confess it to God, repent of it, and Jesus’ work on the cross applies again to us. We do not need to go on feeling guilty, but just get on living positively for Christ. This is what all true believers are called to. Do you remember the first study in this Part (no.8) was all about the fact that a Christian is different from a non-Christian? Here is the first of the things that come about when we are born again that make us different: I am justified (put right) in God’s eyes by what Jesus has done for me. I don’t have to struggle to get right with God, just believe that Jesus has made it possible, and receive it and live it! Hallelujah!

41. Faith hindered by guilt

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 41.  Faith hindered by guilt

Matt 15:28    Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”

In the previous meditation we started to consider our role as bringers of God’s goodness in acts of faith, into this war torn world, devastated by Satan and by Sin and we suggested that ‘faith opens the way for things to change’, and we noted the case of the paralysed man and in so doing, noted Jesus forgiving him. This led us to start pondering on the stance that many good evangelicals take of bringing judgment and condemnation on sinners which, inadvertently hinders or stops faith flowing.

But if it is true about how we so often think about others, it is also true about ourselves. I had not intended to go in this direction with these last two meditations and yet I sense a real need to be addressed. Put most simply fear and guilt hinder or quench faith. We have considered this Canaanite woman before in a recent meditation but we need to think about her again. We read, A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” (Mt 15:22)  Three things stand out to me about her: First, she is desperate (the way she cries out indicates that), second she appeals to Jesus’ mercy (she presumably has heard about his ministry and knows he can do this – if he wants to), and third, there is no sign of repentance or even guilt in her cry.

Now I say this last thing because many years of experience teaches me that people – and especially children – do not ‘just’ get demon possessed. For actual possession to take place there has to be severe occult or even satanic activity in the life of either this child or her family. In those times and in that place, it may well have started with idol worship which went deeper and deeper into the occult or satanic things. There is a cause of this, a bad cause but what is startling about this whole affair is that neither the mother nor Jesus refer to it. For her it may be that she is so shredded by the horror of the manifestations in her daughter that she is now desperate. Link that with what she has heard about Jesus and she now comes crying out to Jesus for help. As we noted before Jesus didn’t initially respond to her and when he did he appeared to be prevaricating, yet she persists and so, “Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very moment.”

Now I am sure that there are Christians who have history – something that was not good. Yes, it is in the past and you have tried to forget it and indeed you cover it up by being a ‘good Christian’ and yet in the deep background there is this nagging that “I cannot be a man/woman of faith and so all these studies about faith are all very well, but that can’t be me.”  This account of this woman says that it is not so. She acted in faith, she responded to a desperate situation by crying out to Jesus because ‘something’ inside her said he was who the rumours said he was – the one who could deliver her daughter – and that is all.   She didn’t go pouring out her guilt and the folly of worshipping idols or whatever else it was. Yes, she knew it had been wrong but the big thing now was to get her daughter delivered – and Jesus did it without rubbing her nose in the past.

I find Jesus encounter with the woman at the well in Samaria similar. In that case Jesus did face her with the truth of her situation: The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.” (Jn 4:14) but he doesn’t pursue it or tell her to go and get her life sorted out. It almost seems as if he only said it to reveal to her that he was at least a prophet, which she immediately picks up on.

We also noted in the previous meditation the account of Zacchaeus who was almost certainly a nasty crooked, cheating chief tax collector and how does Jesus challenge this crook? “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.” (Lk 19:5,6) The next thing we read is, “Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount,” (v.8) yet Jesus had not challenged him about his crooked dealings. It was just, in the face of Jesus’ loving acceptance, Zacchaeus recognized he didn’t like his life and what he did and he wanted to change it, to which came Jesus’ response, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” (v.9)  Why the reference to Abraham? Because he was known to be the first real man of faith.  Faith!!!  Zacchaeus has just expressed faith, NOT in response to chiding rebuke but in response to loving acceptance.

Am I saying that loving acceptance is always the way? Yes, and no. Yes it is, but sometimes (probably far fewer times than we think) it is right to challenge directly, like Jesus did with the rich young man (Mt 19:16-22) or with Nicodemus (Jn 3:1-14). Yet even with those two Jesus did not go picking over ethical failures. Jesus focused on a relationship with God – or the absence of it – and sought to remedy that.

I think the difference is that we so often want to use a person’s past sin to leverage them into a place of guilt which we hope will turn into conviction and subsequently repentance and then salvation, but as I say, the testimony of the Gospels is that Jesus majored on God’s love and the possibilities of knowing God. Don’t let your past guilt hinder receiving His power to change today, not by your efforts but by His grace.

I may have told this story before but it bears repeating. Quite a lot of years ago I encountered a man who was clearly being spoken to by the Lord. We talked about the Lord and he argued himself into a corner where the only thing to do was to surrender to God and be born again. We became good friends but he had a problem – he smoked. For sometime this persisted until the day I baptized him. I then went on a ministry trip abroad. Now I had never told him to quit smoking and later on he asked me why I hadn’t. My reply was, “Well as a believer I knew the indwelling holy Spirit would convict you of it, and then you would deal with it.” To cut a long story short he had a power encounter with the Lord in his House Group the week after his baptism and never wanted to smoke again. Before he came to the Lord he didn’t have the power to stop. When he met the Lord in power, the Lord took all desire to smoke away. His absence of relationship with Jesus was the big issue; smoking was just a sub-issue. When he met Jesus, that could be dealt with. The Lord knows when we are ready to face past issues with him and he loves you while he’s waiting for the time to be right. It doesn’t make you a second class citizen that there are yet things he wants to deal with – we ALL have those!  You CAN be a faith person while you are waiting; it not we are all doomed!!!!

8. Righteousness by Faith

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 8.  Righteousness comes by faith

Heb 11:5,6   By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

The sense of guilt (and even shame) is so often seen in human beings that we might almost think it is a natural characteristic of being human, this sense of not quite having made it, of getting something wrong. Of course we try to cover it up and steel our conscience against such things but on occasions of rare honesty most people will confess to having a sense of guilt about something. But there is something about this sense and it is that we human beings have this awareness of right and wrong. Of course we have been through a period in history where some have said everything is relative and therefore there are no fixed rights and wrongs – well, at least people say that until they have been wronged by another and then it is different!

The Bible uses this word ‘righteousness’ and perhaps the most simple definition of it could be ‘the state of being right in God’s eyes’. We would all like to think that we are all right in God’s eyes, because, after all, God is loving and so turns a blind eye to our imperfections doesn’t He? But no, actually He doesn’t. So much human behaviour, and indeed religious behaviour, is given over to trying to be ‘good people’ If not good in God’s eyes (because atheists struggle to pretend He’s not there) then at least good in our own eyes and the eyes of those around us. We do like to put on masks to cover up the real person who is there.

It is clear when you read through this hall of faith in Hebrews 11 that the writer is working chronologically through the key Old Testament figures and so it is not surprising that he next mentions Noah, but what is surprising it that he mentions him in  the context of righteousness. If we know our Old Testament we perhaps might not expect that to get mentioned until Abraham but, no, Noah is spoken about in the context of both faith and of righteousness.

For those who try to pretend the account of the flood is fictional this passage comes as a wake-up call to its reality. The Son of God spoke of him as an historical figure (Mt 24:37,38) as did the apostle Peter (1 Pet 3:20). In fact Peter in his second letter referred to Noah as a preacher of righteousness.” (2 Pet 2:5) Interesting!

Explaining Noah’s faith, the writer speaks of his actions in terms he expressed earlier in the chapter, “when warned about things not yet seen.” Faith, he said earlier, “is being … certain of what we do not see.” The Lord told Noah to get ready to cope with a coming flood by building a large Ark.  The flood was a future event: it had not yet happened and so when Noah responded and “built an ark to save his family,” he was responding to God’s word and that was faith.

Now Noah’s faith was not something in isolation, it was something he did in the face of the godless and unbelieving world around him. Building the Ark may well have taken a couple of years and so even if Noah hadn’t actually challenged his neighbours outright, his activity building the Ark would have brought comment and questions, but ultimately no one said, “Can I come along please?” Simply he and his family responded. In that “he condemned the world.”  Belief in God was possible for all people but only Noah believed and responded to God.

Perhaps we need to see the realities of the state of the world as laid out in Genesis 6: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (Gen 6:9) Before he did anything in respect of the Ark he was seen to be a righteous and blameless man, and in that he stood out, for look at the description of the rest of the world that follows: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them.”  (Gen 6:11-13)

Now I am not going to get into whether the Flood was worldwide or local, the main point is all about that state of the earth and why God was acting against it – and how Noah stood out. He was already, please note, a man of faith in that he, like Enoch who we have already considered, “walked with God”. But now the writer to the Hebrews emphasises his faith by the way he responded to God’s call to build an ark and thus stood out from the rest of the world. I like how the Message version puts it: His act of faith drew a sharp line between the evil of the unbelieving world and the rightness of the believing world.” The Living version is also good: “Noah’s belief in God was in direct contrast to the sin and disbelief of the rest of the world.”

But as we noted at the beginning, his act of faith was also equated with righteousness and he became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”  He was seen as being right in God’s eyes for his act of faith, being obedient to God’s leading. An heir is an inheritor. Yes, that is going to become clear in the case of Abraham later on, but it is almost as if Noah is the forerunner to ‘justification by faith’, that is seen in Abraham. In other words, although it had not yet been declared or made clear yet, that was what he was experiencing by his act of faith. Faith is thus always equated with righteousness.

It was Habakkuk who declared, “the righteous will live by his faith.” (Hab 2:4) A righteous person – one living in the light of God and being accredited as righteous by God – will be a person of faith.  We will see this in various New Testament verses – Rom 1:17, Gal 3:11,  Eph 2:8,  Heb 10:38.

Christians are first of all believers, but life flows in them as they respond to belief and that is faith. Faith is belief in action. Noah exemplified it by his belief in God which led him to ‘walk with God’ which led him to ‘hear’ God and then hearing he responded to God (building the Ark) and thus revealed both righteousness and faith to the rest of the world who were condemned by their absence of either thing. Don’t be just a believer.

8. Motivation

Meditations in 1 Thessalonians

Part 2 :  8 :  Motivation

1 Thess 1:3   We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

We said in the previous meditation that we would consider in Part 3 of these mediations in this particular series, the instructions that come in this letter to work out your Christian life and we noted a number of verses that cover such things. However, before we do that, here in the  second part we will consider a number of principles that come in verses in this little book and to start, in order to avoid falling into the trap of legalism, we need to consider the whole subject of motivation. Legalistic Christians take the instructions found in the Gospels and letters of the New Testament and turn them into ‘laws’ to be followed. The problem with trying to keep laws, as Paul found and showed in Romans 7, is that we constantly fail to keep them and failure produces a sense of guilt and guilt stifles a relationship with the Lord.

So how are we to see such instructions? Well, they should come as guidelines that come AFTER we have committed our lives to God through Jesus. The Christian life starts from a point of surrender. At conversion, or rather leading into it, there has to be repentance and confession and a willingness to throw yourself entirely on the mercy of God, putting yourself into His hands for Him to lead and guide you through the rest of your life. Anything less than this causes problems.

So, we put ourselves into His hands for Him to bring us into a good place with Him through the work of Jesus on the Cross. He forgives us because He justifies us and He adopts us. From that point on He is working into our lives to bring good to us; He is bringing blessing upon blessing into our lives, His decrees of goodness for us. Because we are so tainted with Sin we struggle to believe this but it is true. He is working to restore us to Himself and to the image of the person He has designed us to be. Within that overall process He has given us many what I have called guidelines because they are indeed instructions on how to live a life where His goodness and blessing flow. They are NOT the means of our salvation and keeping them does not mean He loves us more and failing with them does not mean He loves us less.

It is important to understand that we don’t keep these instructions to win His approval or win His love. We don’t keep them to make ourselves feel more approved or more loved or more worthy of His love; we keep them simply as a means of developing our relationship with Him, so that His blessings can flow more and more in our lives. We are, after all, talking about a relationship with the One who has given His one and only Son to bring us to Himself so He can love and bless us. As the apostle John wrote, This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10) Our love is a response to His love.

And so we come to this verse which is all about motivation, at the beginning of the letter which speaks of “work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” We have noted it previously but we need to think more about it now. We have three end products – work, labour, endurance and each of them is brought about or motivated by something else – faith, love, hope. The Greek word for ‘work’ is the general term for work or business, employment, task. The word for ‘labour’ means toil or hard work. It is easy then to see the flow to ‘endurance’ or ‘tough struggle to keep going’ in our work. What we find, therefore, is Paul moving on from easy work to tough work or toil to really tough work or a struggle to keep going. That is how life can be sometimes.

If the outworking of the Faith is work (meaning any expression or outworking of the life of Jesus in and through us) and we also know it is a battle, sometimes, as the Thessalonians well knew, it could be really tough. But at whatever level we are at, there is something provided for us that helps and motivates us. Initially whatever we do is a response to what we have heard from God (which may come through His word or through His Spirit.) That response is faith because Paul tells us that faith comes from hearing (Rom 10:17). So initially we start off motivated by what we have heard from God, but then, perhaps, the going gets a little harder and we have to toil at the Christian life it seems. But now there comes an awareness of the love of God. That had been there at the beginning but now we seem to appropriate it more fully. Aware that we are loved we find strength to continue.

But then the opposition digs in and we find ourselves seeking to look beyond the present circumstances to the long-distant future when God will come and deliver us for eternity. It is what Paul does again and again in the letter as he talks of the Lord’s second coming which, as we have seen previously, he does to take their eyes off the present and realise they are in it for the long haul which WILL mean good. The writer to the Hebrew showed this is how Jesus worked: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame.” (Heb 12;2)  As he faced the Cross with all of its awfulness, Jesus looked beyond it focusing on the wonder that would be on the other side of it. Thus we look beyond the present trying circumstances to realise that one day we are going to be with Him and all these present things will be dealt with by Him.

So here we find examples (and there are more in Scripture) of things that will motivate us on. It’s not by ‘trying harder’ but by receiving the grace and goodness of God by word and by the Spirit, and so we prevail and overcome Hallelujah!

36. The Real Need

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 36. The Real Need

Mk 2:4,5 they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Sometimes Jesus says things that are completely unexpected. This is one of those times. The four friends know what is wrong with their friend – he is paralysed. That is quite obvious. He cannot move and he’s probably been like that for a long while. The diagnosis is simple – he needs healing of this paralysis and so they are expecting simple words of command to be healed, like they had seen and heard many times before.

But what do they get? “Son, your sins are forgiven.” What? What have sins and forgiveness to do with this? It’s healing we’re looking for, not forgiveness. It’s another of those challenges: do you think that Jesus knows best?   Was this paralysis linked with sin? We don’t know for we aren’t told. Whatever is going on here?  Sometimes we aren’t told and we’re just left to speculate! I can only assume that deep in this man was a sense of guilt. Was it linked with specific things that he had done? Or was it just suddenly being in Jesus’ presence, he was aware of Jesus’ holiness (like Peter – see Lk 5:8)?  We don’t know, for we aren’t told, but I suspect that both answers could be true, for one thing I have learnt over many years of being a Christian and a good number being a Pastor, is that we all of us suffer a sense of guilt and it is that which keeps us from receiving God’s love.

Yes, even with mature Christians I have observed it. Perhaps we have sinned and then we have confessed and said sorry but the enemy plays on it and challenges it and we wonder if that thing still remains between us and God. So, thus, we need reassuring again and again that we are loved and when God says He forgives us, He really does forgive us!  Then there is a widespread sense that lurks deep down that we are not worthy of God’s love. He is holy and perfect and we are not!  Thus we feel guilty and we need God’s continual reminder that we ARE forgiven by the completed work of Jesus on the Cross.

There are those who sound very spiritual and say, “Believe it, brother,” but I have to tell you that my experience tells me that even those people, when you get behind their façade, need reassuring. We all do, it’s part of being tainted by sin and it is one of those things we need God’s help with until the moment we leave this planet!