13. God of Purpose: Justice (3)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  13. God of Purpose: Justice (3)

Jn 1:10-13  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God

Continuation:  Let’s be honest, none of us can fully comprehend what we have been considering in the previous studies, that Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God, left heaven, put aside all the glory he had there, and came and lived in human form, experiencing everything we experience (but without sinning), taught and did good in amazing ways, but was then falsely tried, condemned and crucified. There’s more to come but even that bit is hard enough to swallow – it is too good to be true. (We also struggle to face our need and so make excuses!) And the truth, as I have suggested before is that you will only accept it with God’s help.

The Process: There is a process that all Christians go through, in a variety of ways, before they become a Christian. It is important to understand this, to understand how God works in this, because it all goes back to what I just said above, it is almost impossible to believe because we have too much pride hanging in the balance. But when I look back on my own experience, when I listen to the testimonies of many other Christians and when I see what the scriptures say, I have to say there is a common process that takes place.

The changes: The first thing that happens is either that the individual starts to find they are thinking spiritual thoughts, or having spiritual questions, or finding themselves in a spiritual context (being asked to church, say). The more they think and the more they read and the more they hear, the more challenged they find themselves getting. The challenge is a) about the sort of person they are and b) who they are hearing Jesus Christ claims to be. Sometimes this process is accelerated by a personal crisis in their life and maybe it is the crisis that provokes them to reassess themselves and their personal lifestyle. And so there will be these two things running in parallel, this growth in personal dissatisfaction and this growth in knowledge of who Jesus Christ could be. And then at some point they find a challenge, a call to recognize this personal dissatisfaction as a need to call on God for forgiveness and a call to recognize Jesus Christ as the Savior he wants to be.

The surrender: Before a person becomes a Christian, there comes a surrender. It comes as a confession of failure and a call to be forgiven, combined with a declaration, “I believe in Jesus.”  Sometimes it is a crisis of a moment and sometimes it may be spread over weeks or even months. And they pray. The transaction with God is always made through prayer. What is prayed? It varies according to the individual. For me initially it was, having just been at a meeting where I heard the gospel preached, “God, I’ve heard it all. I understand you want my life. I give it to you. Please take it and lead me. I’ve heard about Jesus and thank you for him. Amen”  Now looking back over fifty years, I think that was pretty basic and I am sure I prayed more things to do with forgiveness and belief in the following days, but from that moment, there was no doubt, I was changed, I was transformed, I was in Jesus’ words ‘born again’ (Jn 3:3-8).  The Bible speaks about being converted (Acts 15:3) which simply means to be changed.

Pray: I hesitate to proscribe a prayer but if it would help you and you find you want to do this (only pray it if you are sincere) then pray, “Lord, I recognize my failures, and my weakness and my need of you in my life. Please forgive me that I have been self-centred and godless, I want you to change me. I believe Jesus is your Son and he died for me to take my punishment and I invite you to come into my life to change me and lead me from now on. Thank you that you will do that. Amen.”

The Result: The process takes us up to the point of surrender. When we come to that point something amazing happens. This is what the Bible says takes place: God forgives us and cleanses us and sets us free from our past life, declares we are now part of His family (adopted), and that He has plans to bless us as we allow Him to lead us, and that will go on and on throughout our life here on earth and then on past death into eternity, a life with Him, a life blessed by Him. To enable us to live that life He imparts His Holy Spirit who indwells us and empowers us and is the changing force, cooperating with us to lead, guide, inspire, teach, empower and change us.

Death & Resurrection: Remember the Old Testament picture of sacrifices we considered previously, translated into the picture of Jesus dying as a sacrifice for our sins, taking our punishment? Well there are further death AND RESURRECTION pictures that are part of this whole package which we need to look at.

i) Jesus’ Resurrection: We haven’t touched on it yet but the great truth (and you can see more if this in that previous series of studies I mentioned, ‘Focus on Christ’) is that Jesus did not remain dead: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead.” (Acts 2:23,24) The same testimony is repeated again and again in the New Testament.

ii) Us: The apostle Paul in his teaching letters in the New Testament urges us to see this picture of death and resurrection as what has happened to us when we became believers. Let’s see it in the paraphrase version of The Message: “Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.” (Rom 6:6-11) What he is saying is that when you surrendered, as we said above, it was like you died to your old life (which you gave up) and were empowered by God with a new life, like you have been resurrected, you have a new life: if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17) When Paul uses the phrase ‘in Christ’ it just means united with him, one with him.

iii) A New Approach to Life: Listen again to Paul’s teaching: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom 12:1,2) See the language he uses: ‘your body’, i.e. the whole of your life; ‘living sacrifice’ – having an attitude of ongoing surrender for God to take you lead you, use you, change you (all things you can totally trust Him with); ‘renewing of your mind’ – no longer thinking in a self-centered, godless way, but having Christ as the central focus of all your thinking, making his will – which is ‘good, pleasing and perfect’ (it is for your blessing!) – the heart and foundation of the way you look at life from now on.

Justice? Oh yes, this is still all about how our past self-centered, godless lives that got so much wrong, can be dealt with so we can stand up in the court of universal assessment, pardoned and be set free, not just because of a whim of the judge but because Justice has been satisfied because someone else – Christ – stepped into the court and took your place and your punishment on the Cross. This is what the ‘gospel’ is all about: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn 3:16,17) Justice has been satisfied and a new life is offered for anyone who will accept Jesus as their Savior.  If you don’t do this, you have to ‘carry the can’ yourself and face judgment and rejection on the Last Day. What a decision to make! It’s a ‘no-brainer’ isn’t it. It can only be spiritual blindness that hold people back and the answer has got to be to pray with the blind man, “I want to see.” (see Mk 10:46-52)  My prayer is that everyone who reads these words, will respond accordingly if they have not done so already.   Amen.

12. God of Purpose: Justice (2)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  12. God of Purpose: Justice (2)

1 Cor 1:22-24  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Continuation:  In the previous study as we started to approach – and it is only a start – the subject of justice, we looked at the human need and considered some initial thoughts about Justice. In this study we go on to consider what happened on the cross and the potential of what follows, and later how that can be applied into individual lives. In some ways ‘the Cross’ (and putting it like that is shorthand for all that happened and all that was achieved by Christ’s death) is a mystery and, as the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth in our quote above, it was a problem for Jews who could not understand how any potential Messiah could die by what they saw as a shameful death, and it was pure craziness to the intellectual Greeks of the day, to talk about salvation through an execution.  Today it is still an anathema to ‘religious’ people who would rather work their way to God’s good side, as they see it, and an abhorrence to intellectual atheists who delight in mocking it (but of course they never have any satisfactory solution to the problem themselves.)

The problem restated: The problem we need to restate is that we are failures, we are dysfunctional, and we feel guilty. We may work hard to try to cover up those things but those are the truths about us. Now there is an even bigger problem than what we think about ourselves, it is what God thinks about us. Now some people try to say, “Well you say He is a loving God so surely He understand our frailty and so will not condemn us,” but that forgets a crucial issue – justice.

We have said that there is this thing called justice and justice demands that wrongs are put right and, so often, that necessitates dealing with the past in some way that satisfies all onlookers, if I may put it like that, who can say, “Yes, that is fair, that is right, that is just.” Now it is difficult to be objective about this and so imagine an alien from a distant planet where they still live perfectly according to God’s design, and the alien comes here and observes what goes on. He (let’s do the ‘legal’ he) is appalled. He sees all the negative things we considered in Study No.10 that we do to one another that are bad. He hears you say you want a new life that is free from all these things and he says that is great but what about all the guilt that is here to be dealt with?

He has the ability to see the whole span of your life, present, past and future and he jots down literally thousands upon thousands of instances where you were self-centred and godless (leaving God out of it) and left a trail of bad or unresolved consequences – you lied, you covered up, you blamed other people, you ran away, and so on – because that’s just how life is, and he says, “I see you struggle with facing this but when you see the totality of these things, on my planet such a creature would not be allowed to live!”  “But why?” you respond. “Well, think about it,” he replies, “Justice demands correction, even punishment (something needs to be done to satisfy everyone these things have been dealt with to their satisfaction) and there is no way that you can either make amends for every instance or indeed for the whole lot. If you say punish me a bit for each misdemeanor, they so mount up that we are talking about your life here, or rather taking it. You need to die to fully satisfy justice, that is how big the problem is.”

And then Jesus: So, we said, the third of the things to be considered is the coming and death of Jesus. Now Charles Dickens in his novel, A Tale of Two Cities paralleled exactly what happened when, in the story, one man is condemned to death and another steps into the breach and dies in his place. Dickens knew that that is exactly what Christ did.

The basic facts: Christ came and lived a spotless life. He went about, to quote the apostolic record, ‘teaching and doing good’. As the Gospels declare, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:5) Jesus said of God, “he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners  and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” (Lk 4:18) All of that so upset the religious authorities who were shown up by him to be heartless, self-concerned, religious bigots, that they trumped up charges against him and so pressurised the Roman governor that he had him put to death by crucifixion.

The biblical record: Now we might just look on that and say it was just a good man who got on the wrong side of the authorities and died for it, but this ‘good man’ proclaimed again and again and again (we see in the Gospels and affirmed by the rest of the New Testament) through a whole variety of teachings that he was the divine Son of God who had come down from heaven to both reveal God and to die in the place of humanity for their sins. (I said in an earlier study if you want to see the detail and biblical references for all this, please go to my previous series entitled ‘Focus on Christ’.)

The Significance of Jesus Christ: This is where unbelieving Jew & Gentile struggle. This IS the clear New Testament teaching, that Jesus Christ was God incarnate, God in the flesh.   Why is that important? It isn’t if all you want Jesus to be is a witness to God’s goodness, but for the claim to be substantiated that the individual sins of every single human being who has ever existed has been taken and dealt with, then no other person is big enough, if we may put it like that, to carry all those causes of guilt, only God Himself who is eternal and both inside and outside of time (we’ll look at that in a later study).

Now back in study no.5 about God’s revelation we noted what is called ‘the doctrine of divine accommodation’ which is about how God speaks in such ways that mankind at a particular point of history can understand. Throughout the pagan world sacrifice to idols was the norm. Thus, in the Law, God instigated the practice of sacrifices to act as substitutes for the offeror’s deserving to die for his or her sin (see the early chapters of the third book of the Bible, Leviticus). It was a picture, a way of the guilty Israelite performing a ritual, dictated by God, so that his conscience could be appeased; he has done what God has decreed to show that he was sorry and so the sacrificed animal carried his punishment. That is the picture built into the Law and seen with less clarity of appeasing purpose in pagan religions. The big difference for the Israelite was that he was doing it for Almighty God. This would be a picture that new believers coming from pagan backgrounds could understand.

But it was just a picture. In the New Testament, the remarkable ‘Letter to the Hebrews’ recaps all this for new Jewish but Christian believers and acknowledges that “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins,” (Heb 10:4) but what they had been doing for centuries was acting out a picture of what would happen when Christ came, even though they did not realize it. Very simply, their obedience to the Lord satisfied God that if they had lived in his time and heard about Christ, they would believe in him and be forgiven.

Perhaps an even clearer picture was what occurred at the first Passover, when the destroying angel of God ‘passed over’ Egypt but ignored every house where, at God’s instigation through Moses, a lamb had been killed and its blood put on the doorposts (see Ex 12).  When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming, he said prophetically to his disciples, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29 and again in v.35). As a good Jew or Gentile you may struggle with that but that is the New Testament clear teaching again and again. Your sin and mine, your guilt and mine, has been dealt with by Jesus, the divine Son of God, dying in our place. We cannot add to that, we cannot improve on that, we can only believe it, accept it and receive all that God has for us as a consequence. That will be the content of the next study.

11. God of Purpose: Justice (1)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  11. God of Purpose: Justice (1)

Ex 34:6,7  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;

Reassurance:  I am sure there are some Christian readers who may have been tutting about the last study in that I have dealt first with the end product and have not yet dealt with how that can come about – the Cross – and I want to reassure you that as with the apostle Paul, “Christ crucified” is first and foremost in my mind. Having said that I put the previous study about behaviour first for two reasons: first, it shows us the need that we have as fallen, dysfunctional human beings and, second, it shows us God’s end goal – to redeem us and that means to restore us, change us, remake us, and that very often gets forgotten in Christian circles.

Only the other day I came across the following quote (which may need a little thinking about) from a modern Christian writer who I respect: “Transformation of life and character is no part of the redemptive message” but that came just after references to, “the gospel of sin management…. behaviour modification, avoiding obvious sins through a kind of religious willpower.”  What that highly acclaimed Christian writer was saying – and I totally agree with it – is that ‘trying hard to be good’ is not what makes a person a Christian. Unless the foundation, that I am now going back to consider, is laid in a person’s life, ‘trying hard to be good’ is all that we are left with and that is doomed to failure.

Approach: In order to be as clear as I possibly can in this study (and possibly the next one that I may have to extend this into) this is how I intend to cover this subject

  1. Recap the human need.
  2. Initial thoughts about Justice.
  3. What happened on the cross and the potential of what follows.
  4. How that can be applied into individual lives.

 Recap the human need: I believe I have shown quite reasonably in the previous study, not only the amazing potential that there is for every human being, but also the reality of how it so often works out. We may wish we could live spectacular lives, lives that are positive, affirming myself and others, bring peace and blessing wherever I go, but left to my own devices that is not how it works out.

The Bible is very realistic without being depressing. For instance the apostle Paul addressing just this same problem  wrote, “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) and then, “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing,” (v.19) and then, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me ….. Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  (v. 24,25) and he then goes on to talk about what Christ has achieved on the cross and what power from God – the Holy Spirit –  now does to change him.

But he highlights the dilemma that confronts us: I am faced with my own fallibility, my own weaknesses, my own failings and I am uncomfortable with them.  Now there may be three responses here:

i) deny my failings, blame others for them, ignore all this and continue to be a self-centred, godless person getting it wrong, or

ii) start trying to be religious or good, still being self-centred, focusing on ‘my ‘ efforts, or

iii) we accept the Bible teaching.

Before I move on, I must note  that when people start thinking about these things – and being concerned about them – it is usually a sign of God moving. People do not move from a quick casual thought to deep reflection and conviction without help from God, yet the moment He sees there is an opening of heart, He will be there, gently speaking in the background, although we tend never to be aware of it at the time; it is only awareness retrospectively.

Thoughts about Justice: Justice is a strange concept. As the Internet puts it,  ‘Justice is the morally fair and right state of everything and, Justice is a concept … that means that people behave in a way that is fair, equal and balanced for everyone.’ We may watch TV police dramas and justice is always there in the background.

We take it for granted, yet when it comes to the way we think as a society, or as individuals within society, we find that today there are two prevailing moods or outlooks. One says don’t bother me with such things and lives in a happy state of blissful ignorance, but sadly it is neither happy nor blissful. The other says that absolutes and boundaries are restrictive psychological constructs, and so have been abandoned so that, in the eyes of many at least, anything goes and ‘right’ is what feels right to the individual and varies with the situation. (hence ‘relativism’ and ‘situation ethics’). To talk about ‘justice’ in this sort of environment seems quite alien. But when we have the nerve or courage to stop and think about these things, this relative morality backfires on us because a) we don’t want it to apply in my own life and b) we do have specific ideas of things that we consider ‘wrong’, and c) we are often uncomfortable with applying justice to my own foibles and failings.  In fact the second group become clearer when they have become personal in my own life. So let’s give some examples.

a) My own life: I can be very casual about behaviour in general until it impacts me personally, for example, someone breaks into my house and trashes it, I scream for the police, and demand justice; I want these vandals caught and punished. My mother is badly mugged walking down the street and ends up a bruised mess in hospital. Ditto response. My daughter is gang raped and severely traumatized. Ditto response. It is right to demand justice; it is right to demand an end be brought to such behaviour and the perpetrators be severely dealt with. That is justice, bringing rightness to a wrong situation.

b) My lists of wrongs: But each of us have, when we pause to think about it, a list of things we consider wrong. For example the moment I use the word ‘pedophile’ most right thinking people will say that sexual child abuse is wrong – always. We could, no doubt, create long lists of things that each of us say is ‘wrong’. Sometimes we may hesitate because we feel certain things get a bit close to home, for example anger if we ourselves struggle with it.

c) Hesitant Justice: Because so often we are unsure about ourselves, lacking confidence in who we are, and because we have so often succumbed to the false doctrine of relative ethics, we are so often hesitant to consider the thought that moral failure carries with it consequences, and one of those consequences is a sense of guilt. We can make excuses but deep down – and sometimes we try to suppress it – we know that there are standards and we are guilty of either not having reached them or of having broken them. We also so often have a feeling that there is nothing to be said here because this is just how life is, and I am stuck here. We may have read self-help books, even gone on courses, but then failure struck and as much as we try to deny it, we know it is our failure. For all these sorts of reasons we so often try to duck the issue: I am guilty and there are consequences.

And So? Well, we have run out of space for this study and have only managed to cover two of the four subjects I want to cover – 1. Recap the human need, and 2. Initial thoughts about Justice – and so we will leave the other two until the next two studies.

7. Loved

Studies in Isaiah 54: 7. Loved

Isa 54: 10  “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

 Grace Prevailing over Justice: In the previous study we saw how the Lord was using the analogy of Noah and the Flood to explain His faithfulness, we should say, in respect of Israel. Even as Noah had moved His heart and brought a promise of grace prevailing over justice, so that same grace would prevail today so that, although He had indeed cast them away for a moment because of their disobedience, now He would come to them and restore that previous relationship. We did go into verse 10 as we mentioned the covenant of peace, but there is something even more wonderful there that we must take hold of.

In a Shaken World: The first phrase of this present verse may be skimmed over by many (me included often) but it is highly significant: “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills removed.” In other words it doesn’t matter how disastrous the world seems, God’s love is going to be there. Now don’t take this casually because very often (along with Chicken Licken) we feel the sky is falling down as things around us seem to deteriorate. At the time I write, the political landscapes of the UK and USA have been transformed and in the UK in particular (although some in the USA say they feel the same) chaos seems to ensue. For many this has created a world-weariness, almost a mental and emotional exhaustion that is only helped by turning off and ignoring the news.

But it is more than just than the political landscape. Older generations feel lost in a world that has been utterly transformed in their lifetime. The world has been shaken for them by technology. Younger generations complain that because of the self-centred carelessness of older generations they have been put into a situation where financially they are disadvantaged; their world has been shaken.  But this ‘shaking’ can be much more personal; when illness strikes or downsizing comes to your workplace and the job you have held for thirty years is suddenly gone, it comes like an earth-shattering loss. In many ways it feels like the earth is being shaken and things we have taken for granted for so long (the hills) are removed from our lives, and it makes us feel very vulnerable.

Need of Security: It is at such times that we desperately feel we need security. When the ‘ground is shaking’ and when ‘the hills are being removed’ we suddenly start thinking about these things. While everything was going along fine, we just took life for granted.  There was food on the table, the sun shone and day followed day without a worry or care in sight. And then the ground shook. We felt it but it would pass quickly. But then it continued shaking and then ‘the hills were removed’ and suddenly everything was different. It happens all the time in the Fallen World, especially this modern world where change is the name of the game every day it seems. It can be highly disconcerting but such shaking can wake us up to the realities of our life – we have taken so much for granted, we had become complacent with our relationship with the Lord, almost superficial if we are honest. Then comes the shaking – usually a loss, of a job, of health or of a loved one – and we start praying, we start crying out, “Are you there?” Of course He is but we had become things-focused instead of God-focused and so lost that sense.

The Word Comes: Then comes the word of the Lord: my unfailing love for you will not be shaken.” The psalmist says the same thing: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” (Psa 46:1,2) He doesn’t mention the word ‘love’ there but that is what it is all about and why he does not need to fear. The earth may be shaken but God’s love will not be shaken. David knew this same love: “save me because of your unfailing love.” (Psa 6:4) Whatever else might change, God’s love would not. All other resources might run out, but God’s love will never fail, will never be exhausted. Jeremiah was prophesying against the same thing when he declared, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jer 2:13) Not only had the people turned away from God who was an everlasting source of life and love, but they had tried to manufacture their own forms of provision and security and those always failed! No, God’s love is unfailing, that is why He is so often referred to as ‘faithful’ because He is unchanging.

Beware Appearances: I often teach on the fact that Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand ruling in the midst of his enemies, and will continue to reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet, and it is at such times that I sense that readers or listeners have the same query as Gideon had that we considered in the previous study. It is so common we need to repeat it here: if God is around, why are all these things happening? In another context recently I wrote the following:

Point One: we live in a Fallen World where, because of sin, things go wrong and people say and do nasty things because they have free will.

Point Two: God does not override our free will and so permits the world to proceed as it does with things going wrong and people acting badly BUT He does expect us, His children, to act as His representatives and to be salt and light in it.

Point Three: He a) expects us to change the circumstances and b) be changed by the circumstances. We are to be one of His means of bringing change in this world while being changed into Jesus’ likeness as we do it.

That is the ‘big picture’ that we need to remember. Jesus IS ruling but he doesn’t do it with a heavy hand; he uses us (yes, he does sometimes move sovereignly without us as well) and sometimes waits for us to catch on to that, but the Father’s love IS always there, it is unfailing and it does not change because we are slow to understand or slow to act. It is still there despite whatever we do. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) the apostle John declared. Hold that truth firmly, never let it go, despite the appearances of what is going on around you. He IS there for us at all times, every day. Hold that, rejoice in it and be at peace in whatever is going on.

Snapshots: Day 6

Snapshots of the Bible Story: Day 6

The Snapshot: “In the beginning… God chose…” Having chosen to redeem what would be, He (they) saw the only path open to them to satisfy justice, for the Son to step into mankind, be part of mankind, live and die as mankind and as God take the punishment of mankind. They saw the necessity for parting, for him to leave heaven, for him to be limited on earth, for them to sense utter separation as he carried the sins of the world on the Cross, for his walk into hell to complete the punishment, before a return was possible; they saw the horror of it all for themselves, the anguish in the sense of separation and, instead of rejecting all that,  they chose it. Why? Love.

Further Consideration: Most people don’t think about justice; we just take it for granted. It isn’t something that exists as a living entity but it is a concept that we human beings have, even if we so often ignore it, pretend it is not there or simply hope it will go away. But where did it come from? Surely beings that evolved, beings who survived by being the fittest, as we’re told, surely these beings have no such concept, for surely nature is ‘red in tooth and claw’ and the biggest and toughest survive or go to the wall. And yet, we have this concept of justice. The word ‘just’ is about fairness, unbiased correct goodness, morally and ethically, putting right wrongs, balancing out unfairness with fairness. Justice is the administration of that. We see it in small children when one cries, “Daddy, you’ve given her more sweets than you’ve given me. It’s not fair” There is an appeal to an imaginary rule that we should all be treated equally well, and when that is not so, we speak of injustice.

Now why is this such a big issue in the Bible? It is because since the Fall we have a world full of sinners, people who fall short of what is good, and that means any person who opens themselves up to criticism because of their behaviour. If we were able to see and record every wrong thought, wrong word and wrong act of any individual we would probably run out of paper doing it. We try and ignore this but in any other context we would say that “getting away with that,” is unjust. Big wrongs like murder or rape are easy to categorize but where to you draw the line when you come down the scale of wrongs and, as we’ve just said, if you go by numbers we are all failures, people who fell far short of what could have been. And there in the background, justice is lurking, calling for God to deal with these things. How can He save us? Is there one ‘big enough’ to save us all? There is; he is the Son of God.

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!

45. How Faith Justifies

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 45.  How Faith Justifies  

Rom 3:25,26    God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

The thing about the Bible, and especially the New Testament, is that it uses words that we rarely encounter anywhere else in life and so we have to spend some time defining those words and seeing how they are used. We’ve been doing that for a number of weeks with the word ‘faith’. The two verses above are laden with words that need defining and once we see what some of them mean, we will see how they are related to faith.  The first is a phrase, “a sacrifice of atonement”  When you atone for something you make up for it. In the Old Testament, in the Law of Moses, the Israelites offered offerings, animal sacrifices as a way of acknowledging their sin and their repentance. As they offered it, they placed their hand on the head of the animal being sacrificed as a way of showing they identified with it and that it would be taking their punishment. As they saw it die in front of them, the severity of sin and a life having to be given for it, made it very real.

The Living Bible says of verse 25,  For God sent Christ Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to end all God’s anger against us.”  That sums it up. The Bible says that Jesus was ‘the Lamb of God’ who was sacrificed in his death on the Cross, to be the one who stood in our place and took our sin. This is at the very heart of our belief system, the very reason why we can be saved. Did Jesus die for every single person on the planet? Yes, but they have to appropriate it for themselves. It has no effect until we, individually take it as the means of our personal salvation – and that is an act of faith.

Now in those verses above, Twice Paul says God did this to demonstrate his justice. Now ‘justice’ is all about putting things right. If a wrong has been committed, it needs putting right. Children say, “It’s not fair” appealing to (in their minds at least) a universal agreement that there is right and wrong, good and bad, fairness and unfairness. If a brother, say, has done wrong against them they look to the parent to punish the other. If a toy has been taken, they expect it to be given back. Justice brings a balance and harmony whereby onlookers afterwards say, ‘yes, that is fair.’

So the first time Paul says it, he says, He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.”  In other words, people before Christ appeared to ‘get away with it’ and so Christ’s death dealt with all those sins committed before him where people had said sorry but there was no punishment given. Justice would say, ‘that was unfair, those Old Testament people getting away with it. Someone ought to have taken their punishment. But then he adds a second instance: “he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:25,26) Whenever was ‘the present time’ it should be seen that God was not letting sinners get away with it. Someone should be punished for all this wrongdoing that goes on. The only one ‘big enough’ was the Son of God. That, whether we understand it or not, is what the Bible declares and requires every ‘believer’ to accept to be a Christian. It is the only reason why God can forgive you and me. To believe this and to live according to this is faith.

But there is a word we haven’t yet considered and it is one that has very practical outworkings – ‘justify’.  When we ‘justify our actions’ we try to explain why they were the right ones.  When we justify a course of action we seek to show why it was the right one. At the end of the last world war, the Western authorities, the ‘Allies’, justified why it was right to drop two nuclear bombs on Japan to bring an end to a war that might have just dragged on and one. That argument ‘made it right’ to drop them killing so many. So when Paul says, “the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus,” he means, “Jesus, the one who puts right in God’s eyes all of those who have faith in Jesus.”

We’ve considered it before but let’s just remind ourselves, “those who have faith in Jesus,” simply means those who trust that Jesus is God’s answer to the problem of their sins, their guilt and their punishment. Now there is another side to this coin that we’ll consider in the next meditation but for the moment let’s consider how we may rest in this knowledge that we have observed so far in this particular study.

Writing to Timothy, Paul refers to “holding on to faith and a good conscience.” (1 Tim 1:19) and later on when speaking about deacons he says “They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.” (1 Tim 3:9) Similarly the writer to the Hebrews said, “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess.” (Heb 10:22,23). Now the idea that is being conveyed through all these verses is that as we hold on to the truths that we have been considering, we hold to them by faith and when we “hold unswervingly” to them they will ensure we maintain a clear conscience before God.

Now I say all this because so often Christians lack assurance and that lack means they worry about their relationship with God, worry about whether they are truly accepted by God and worry about the sins they have committed and worry about that Sin thing that still lurks in the background. You will lack assurance if you do not hold firmly to those verses and the truths we have been considering here. You ARE forgiven and your guilt HAS been fully dealt with because of Jesus’ work on the Cross. Every single sin you ever committed or are likely to commit is covered by his death on the Cross. The Judge has made the final declaration over you when you turned to Christ and put your trust in him – not guilty! Your guilt has been removed. This justification thing is about completely clearing you of all guilt, NOT because somehow you have made up for your past wrongs but simply because the Son of God has been punished for them and as far as justice is concerned, they have been adequately dealt with in the eyes of the law.

If we hadn’t decided to start considering faith by working through Hebrews 11, then this perhaps should have been the starting point of everything to do with faith – how faith in what Jesus has done on the Cross is applied to your life and that opens up the way for you to live a life of faith. And that is a good place to stop and pick up again tomorrow.