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)

65. Freedom

Meditations in 1 John : 65 : Freedom

1 John  5:18-19    We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

Perhaps one of the reasons that cynical unbelievers reject the Gospel and the teachings of the New Testament is that it is so explicit in its revelation, and it is ‘revelation’ for we could neither know it nor teach it if it had not been revealed by God. The other thing about it, which is often missed, is that it answers the questions of the world and, in fact, without it these questions go unanswered, such questions as what is evil, why is there evil in the world and why do we need laws to protect the poor and weak, why do people do wrong, and why are people self-centred?

These questions respond to a state of affairs in the existence of life on this world that is highly questionable. In personal terms, why is it that I have aspirations to be good yet so often fail to be so? As the apostle Paul 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 “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) This doing evil that he spoke about is what the Bible calls ‘Sin’, that propensity to be self-centred and godless resulting in wrong living, resulting in individual sins, individual acts of wrong doing and that, we find, we are stuck with and cannot break away from. Why, the earnest seeker might ask, am I like that? Why is life like this?

It is to these questions that the Bible speaks and explains we are all sinners because we were born tainted with this propensity called Sin. It was because of this that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came and died on the Cross to pay the punishment for our wrong doing and offer us a new way of life as children of God empowered by God’s Holy Spirit. Paul again described this: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins,” (Col 1:13,14) explaining that there are two rulers and that the individual lives either under the domination of Satan or in the freedom of the kingdom or rule of God. Those are the ONLY two options.

When we come to Christ we are delivered out of that dominion of darkness and, as John now says, “anyone born of God does not continue to sin.”  i.e. anyone under the rule of God no longer is driven by that old power called Sin, is no longer self-centred and godless, but is Christ and God-centred and is led by God into right living.

But John also picks up this other aspect that was referred to in Paul’s verse as ‘the dominion of darkness’, the domination by Satan, when he says, “the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.”  Satan is still there domineering over unbelievers, and wanting to lead astray the children of God, but Jesus is there, seated at God’s right hand ruling, and he protects and guards the children of God, and his Holy Spirit within us is there countering the lies of the enemy. All we have to do is listen to Him. The enemy can no longer pressurize us into going his way and disobeying God and doing wrong; we have been freed from that and from him.

When John goes on, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one,” he is, like Paul, making a distinction between the children of God and the rest of the world. The children of God, Christians, are under God’s protection and are no longer under the control of Satan and so, as he said earlier, do not have to sin, but the rest of the unbelieving world still are under Satan’s sway and so he is able to make wrong suggestions to them (as he did to Eve – Gen 3) and lead them astray and into wrong living.

This is one of the fundamentals that the world does not like, this claim that it is being led by the nose by an evil force, even though it cannot break free from self-centredness and godlessness and thinking, saying or doing wrong things. Indeed this way of life is so common that the unbeliever doesn’t even think about it. It is so normal to think badly about others, to speak badly about them or to them, and to do things that are utterly self-centred and harmful to others, that that is all they know and expect. They might consider it normal – accompanied by the stress, worries and anxieties that go with that lifestyle –  but that is a long way from God’s design for humanity

Sadly in recent decades in the West, standards in the Christian community have fallen and so often it is difficult for the world to see the distinction that should be there. So we see divorces, we see drunkenness, we see over-eating, we see self-centred materialistic lifestyles, we see angry upsets and divisions, and it is no wonder that the world fails so often to see the distinctive lifestyle of love and goodness that should characterize the Christian community.   It is time for it to change! John reminds us, we are children of God, different (or we should be!) from those who are under the control of the evil one. Check it out: are you?

 

 

32. Lawless or…

Meditations in 1 John : 32 : Lawless or…

1 John  3:4,5  Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.

I once bought a fairly substantial book, a theological book I hasten to add, about ‘Sin’.  Although there are generalizations and even definitions from the Bible about sin, as I commented in a previous meditation, when it comes down to assessing individual thoughts, words or actions, it is frequently very difficult to know whether particular things are ‘sins’. Obviously there are lists of behaviour in the New Testament that are clearly things we are told not to do which must suggest they are sins, but in daily life it is not always easy to say this or that thing is a sin, and over the centuries Christians have often tied themselves in knots over these things.

When we come to our verses today, we find one of the fairly rare occasions where sin is defined. But we must, as always observe the context because one verse flows on from the other. In the verse before these today, we find John speaking about purity in the Christian life. This is just him expressing the same thing he’s said before in a different ways.

John has used light and darkness (e.g. 1 Jn 1:5-7) to contrast godly and ungodly or righteous and unrighteous living. He’s an old man and he wants to ensure that the Christian community is living in reality and reality declares that when you come to Christ and are born again you will start living differently. It’s not theoretical, it’s practical, it’s about what you do. He doesn’t want us to sin (1 Jn 2:1), he wants us to obey God’s commands (1 Jn 2:3-6) as an expression of His love in us. You can’t be light and darkness at the same time (1 Jn 2:9-11). The world is self-centred (1 Jn 2:15-17) and there are many antichrists (1 Jn 2:18,19) but we are different and know the truth (1 Jn 2:20-27) because we have been anointed by the Holy Spirit,  and look forward to Jesus’ return (1 Jn 2:28). So now we are children of God (1 Jn 3:1) looking forward to being like him when he returns (1 Jn 3:2) and thus we purify ourselves in preparation (1 Jn 3:3)

Now John is a good teacher and he repeats himself many times in different ways to drive home the point. He also uses contrasts to make it clearer, so having just spoken about purity in our lives, by stark contrast, he now describes the life of non-Christians, a life that should not be seen in us! He’s already encouraged us to keep the Law or obey God’s commands, so now he declares that, “Everyone who sins breaks the law.” If you are trying to follow all God’s commands in the New Testament, you can’t sin, because sinning is breaking the commands. In fact, he goes on, “sin is lawlessness.” There’s the definition!

Let’s try and get a bigger picture. When God designed this world, we said in an earlier meditation, He designed it so that we work in particular ways and to work best, we have to work in one way and if we work contrary to that we will ‘break down’. But working contrary to God’s design is disregarding or rebelling against God’s design. It is us saying that we know better than God. All the Law is, or the commands of God that we now find in the New Testament, is an expression of God’s will or, in other words, the way He has designed us to live best.

To speak of us being ‘lawless’ simply refers to our tendency or disposition to do our own thing, disregarding God’s wisdom as revealed in His word. Sin, very simply, is anything that runs contrary to His will, to His word. It is us disregarding Him and what He has said. Now we must see that this is folly and must not be part of our lives. As we noted earlier, sometimes it is not always easy to discern what exactly is the Lord’s will. When it is specifically stated in the text of the New Testament, that is easy, but sometimes things occur which do not seem to be tied down so clearly. At such times we need to seek him, asking for clarity, and then listen to the witness of the Spirit, who will seek to convey and communicate His concern when we do stray.

If we do stray, we must realise that it is contrary to all that Jesus came to do, as John says, “But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins.”  Jesus life and death on the Cross and subsequent resurrection and ascension was all to deliver us from sin and enable us to come back into a right relationship with the Father. If we continue to sin, we are pushing all that work of Jesus aside.

But there is more than that for, “in him is no sin.”  If we are supposed to be ‘in Christ’ it is inconceivable that we can carry on sinning because there is no sin in Christ, it is alien to him and should be alien to his body. In all these ways, John is saying: you are different, so live differently!

20. The World

Meditations in 1 John : 20 : Beware ‘the World’

1 John  2:15    Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

John now issues an instruction that really needs thinking about. World, in Scripture has at least three different meanings. The first meaning is the planet on which we live. For example, Tremble before him, all the earth! The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved,” (1 Chron 16:30) or “you loved me before the creation of the world.” (Jn 17:24).

The second meaning is the people on the world: “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech,” (Gen 11:1) or “Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel,” (1 Sam 17:46) or “For 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.” (Jn 3:16)

So is John saying don’t love the planet or the people on it? No, definitely not, for a number of the laws of Moses clearly indicate a respect, care and wise use of the world on which we live. Similarly God wouldn’t instruct us to love our neighbour and then tell us to hate them. So what is the sense that John uses here for the word, ‘world’?

The clue to the answer comes in the following verse: For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.” (v.16) There he describes, “everything in the world” with three things. Those three things are vital to our understanding.

First there is “the cravings of sinful man” i.e. the yearnings of the self-centred, self-pleasing mankind that is just concerned for personal pleasure. Also sinful mankind is not overly concerned whether it is good or bad, just that it brings pleasure. Thus drug or alcohol abuse is an extreme example, but then so  is unrestrained eating, or sexual activity outside marriage. “I like it, and I want it” becomes the arbiter of sinful man, with little thought to the consequences.  It’s a way of ‘the world’.

Second, there is “the lust of the eyes”. Which is expressed as, “I see it, I like it, I want it”, again often with little thought of whether it is good or bad or of the consequences. No wonder advertising is such a massive industry! The result is often bulging wardrobes, as a result of a fashion industry that tells women how they look is all important and you cannot look the same this year as last. Another result is homes bulging with goods that we rarely ever use. Yet another result is bank balances heavily in debt. It’s another way of ‘the world’.

Third, there is “the boasting of what he has and does.” Self worth has come to be measured by possessions or experiences. Conversations are often made up of tales of new things bought or new places visited. Pleasurable buying and pleasurable experiences have become the measure of a person. What is sad is that these things in themselves are not bad. God has given us a wonderful world to enjoy and He’s given us the ability of make, to invent, and to explore, and so much of the fruits of this are the things we have today and the places we are enabled to go. In themselves they are good, but if our self-worth is only achieved by these things and experiences, we are poor indeed. Our danger, even as Christians, is that in the midst of this God-given enjoyment of life, we can forget those who do not have these things and who actually struggle to stay alive. This self-centred focus on personal pleasure must be tempered for Christians by God-awareness and thankfulness, and a care, compassion and giving for those in need.

But, John goes on, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  Again and again we have used the words self-centred and that is opposed to God-focused. A godly person is not self-centred, but seeks the will of the Father, including how to spend their money and how to reach out to the rest of the world.

To conclude the paragraph John adds, The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” (v.17)  It is a reminder to us that all ‘things’ pass away. Many of our goods ‘pass away’ into Charity Shops as we try to make space for more clothes or more goods. But the bigger truth is that as we age, these things pass away from interest. How many elderly people have clothes they no longer wear, and things they no longer use?  And an even bigger truth – you can’t take any of these things with you when you die. If we could only see our families emptying out our homes when we’ve gone!  All the things we once held dear, now just being dumped in a skip!

I suspect that for those of us who live in the Western world and who are tolerably well off, these are uncomfortable verses when we think about what they say. They could trigger a whole new approach to life if we let the Spirit speak to us through them. Reread this meditation and see what He says.

9. No Need to Sin

Meditations in 1 John : 9 :  No Need to Sin

1 John  2:1   My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

We have observed so far, John telling us that we are all sinners, people who are tainted with Sin. Note the capital letter we use to distinguish the tendency from the individual acts we refer to as sins (small s). Sin is the tendency or disposition that is inclined to being self-centred and godless, and thus in behaviour, unrighteous. When we give way to that Sin we commit sins, individual acts – thoughts, words, or deeds – that are wrong. John has said, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves.” (1:8) But he didn’t leave us there, he told us how to deal with those sins: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.” (1:9)

Many Christians are uncomfortable with this language because it focuses on the negatives, on failure. Those who would want to speak about the victorious Christian life feels such talk takes something away from victory. No, it simply helps us realize our vulnerability and our constant need of Christ and of the power of his Holy Spirit. This is the point the apostle Paul reached at the end of Romans 7: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:24.25) In the following chapter he explains how Christ has dealt with our Sin and the Holy Spirit empowers us so that we can avoid sins.

This is now where we come to with John who doesn’t want to leave us faced with sin, but moves us on to realize that although we are still vulnerable to it, we don’t have to give way to it. This is the same sort of thing that I feel we have to say when we find ourselves in discussions about the genes we inherit from our parents. Every now and then the media latch on to the comments of some genetic scientist and are pronouncing that a particular gene makes us behave in certain ways. The truth is that a particular gene may give us a disposition that veers towards that particular behaviour.

Take the example of anger. A particular father clearly has a short fuse and blows up at the smallest thing. Even more than that, he uses his anger to get his own way. The child inherits some of his genes (not all of them because the child also inherits the genes of the mother and she never had a problem with anger!) and so has this same tendency, but more than that, the child has learned to use anger just as they have seen their parent use it. Now the only trouble is that this is wrong! So is the child condemned to be an anger-filled adult? No! The truth, as we’ve just noted it, is that there is only a tendency towards anger. We still have free will and we can chose to accept that behaviour or we can reject it and learn behavioral strategies that overcome the anger tendencies. And we can certainly refuse it to manipulate others. There may be a tendency but we don’t have to give way to it. Even more, when we are a Christian, we have the Holy Spirit living within us and His power will help us control our temper, for He is a Spirit of self-control (2 Tim 1:7 older versions)

Now we must recognize that these changes may take place in different people at different times. For all of us some changes take place instantly, at the moment of our conversion, when we confess and surrender and are forgiven and given the Holy Spirit. But after that it becomes a lifetime of change. Some things take a very long time to change in us simply because we don’t realize they are wrong and it is only as we receive God’s word at some point – whether by reading the Bible or by preaching, say – that we suddenly see that a particular attitude or habit is wrong and needs changing. Other things just need working at. In my own case I had previously used swear words every fifth word almost and it took six months to completely break the habit, and I have never sworn since. Sometimes there may be an addiction, say to smoking. For some people giving up with the help of God through a simple prayer is no big deal. For others they struggle and struggle. I had a friend who really struggled to stop smoking, but it was only when the Holy Spirit fell on him was he truly delivered.

But John writes to show us that we don’t have to sin. It doesn’t have to be a part of our lives anymore. This IS the reality. I remember a friend who had sat in a meeting when the Speaker had asked, “How many of you have not sinned today?” He and one other put up their hands. When he talked about it later he said, “I have been too busy doing what God’s given me to do to sin today.”  Yes, we may stumble, but John’s teaching is that these should be exceptions and not the rule. Yes, we are vulnerable as redeemed sinners and when we try to walk the walk on our own, we become very vulnerable. As we trust on Him and lean on Him and fellowship with Him and as we obediently go about doing the things He’s given us to do, then, yes, our lives will be free from sinning. Hallelujah!

7. The Plan Revealed

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 7. The Plan Revealed

Gen 12:1-3  The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation  and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

We indicated in the previous meditation that God had a plan from before the foundation of the world, a plan that would be worked out through all generations, coming to its climax in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ, but then continuing on through all generations until the time when He will wind up the world as we know it today. EVERYTHING that happens yesterday, today and tomorrow falls within that plan.

What actually is that plan? It is simply to draw men and women back into a relationship with God so that their lives may then be brought back, in a large measure at least, to be lived according to His original design for human beings. Why is this necessary? Because at the Fall we lost the relationship with God, turning our back on Him and going our own way. That is what the Bible calls Sin, that propensity within every one of us to be godless and self-centred. While we are like that, so much of what we do will be unrighteous, i.e. it is the opposite to God’s design for us, and is harmful, hurtful and destructive. Here in this paragraph is the overview of the Bible, the overview of history, the overview of this plan of God as shown in the Bible,

So how does Abram fit in this plan? In three specific ways: first, because he is going to be the first man who enters into a long-term relationship with the Lord. Then, out of that, he is going to provide an example of faith, an example of what it means to relate to the Lord. Then out of that, he will be the father of a nation into whom the Son of God will be born. That nation will have history and culture and that will provide the background for the Son of God coming to this world and living in it for thirty three years.

So here in these first verses of Genesis 12 we have something of this plan declared. Let’s examine it bit by bit. It is what had already been spoken by the Lord to Abram, presumably when he was back in his home country. It first requires Abram to do something. First there was to be a leaving: Leave your country, your people and your father’s household.” The future for Abram would mean leaving the people he had known all his life, leaving the life of idolatry. What would replace that, only time would tell, but it wasn’t just a leaving, it was living with a purpose; there was somewhere to go: “and go to the land I will show you.”  God had a place for him that would prove to be a place of blessing, a place where his relationship with the Lord would be worked out.  These two things are just the same for us. When the Lord calls us, He calls us to leave the godless and self-centred lifestyle we have known all our years and embark on a journey with Him into the experience of thekingdom ofGod where that new relationship will be worked out.

Then come the promises of God, the things He says He will do if Abram is obedient:I will make you into a great nation.” That, as we’ve noted before, will act as a spur to Abram but that is not its main point. It is simply a declaration of what God will do with him. Now note that there is no time scale attached to this, so Abram will never see this ‘great nation’ but he will be the start of it. In God’s economy, we may often be just the start of something that others will enter into.

Then comes a second promise: “and I will bless you.”  We may think that being made into a great nation is blessing enough but God has more than just making him into a nation: “I will make your name great.”  He is going to be famous. Is that just because he is to be the father of a nation or is there something more? “and you will be a blessing.”  No, it is more than just being a figurehead, somehow he is going to be a bringer or good for other people; his life is destined to affect others.

As we read on now we find that other people will be seriously affected by the way they treat Abram. “I will bless those who bless you.”  i.e. those who purpose good for Abram will have good done to them by God. “and whoever curses you I will curse.”  If people mean harm to Abraham they will find that God opposes them and will bring harm on them. Well those are promises that mean security for Abram himself and that is good, but there is yet something more: “and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Notice the word, ‘through’. As a result of Abram people from all over the word will be blessed? How will that be? It will be as we said earlier: he is to be an example of faith and a provider of the nation into which the Messiah will be born. Hallelujah!

45. Sins Sorted

Meditations in 1 Peter : 45: Sins Sorted

1 Pet 3:18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

There are a limited number of verses in the New Testament that stand out as encapsulating the Gospel. Obviously John 3:16 is probably the best known one: For 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.” Next to that, our verse above should perhaps be a close contender. There are three parts to this verse and each part heralds an amazing truth which, put together, comprises what we call the Gospel.

It’s starting point is outstanding but tragically we perhaps take so much of what it says for granted because maybe these truths are too familiar to us. It speaks about Christ, the Messiah, the Sent One and Anointed One, the one sent with a task from God, the Son of God who left heaven and came and lived in a human body called Jesus. This Christ came and died. But everybody dies! Yes, but this person died on purpose for a purpose. His death, it is claimed, had an eternal significance; it wasn’t an accident but a carefully planned and orchestrated strategy of God. This death had to do with dealing with sins!

How we take sins for granted!  Sin has so permeated the world that we take it for granted, just like the air we breathe, and so we take sins for granted. It is sins that create the interest in TV ‘soaps’ or mystery dramas. Without sins we wouldn’t have these things. Without sins families would be happy and content and faithful, businesses would be honest and integrity the name of the game, and life would be free from threat and fear and untruth.

And what we don’t see so often is that sin always has its consequences. That, at least, is seen graphically in the TV soaps. We also fail to remember that every sin will be answerable to God and punishment awarded. If we punish criminals in courts, why should we think that the mass of sins that we accumulate throughout our lives – all the things we thought wrong, said wrong or did wrong, things we shouldn’t have done and things we should have done but didn’t – all these thing incur a penalty or punishment, but we try to forget that.

But then this verse tells us that Christ died for sins which is another way of saying, he was and is the eternal Son of God who could die in the place of each one of us, and take the punishment for any and every sin we will commit in our lives while on this planet. His death was the absolute punishment that would cover every sin. It happened once in time-space history some two thousand years ago. It doesn’t need to happen again and we can’t add anything to what he achieved.  THAT, heaven declares, is the truth, and all we are called to do is believe it.

But then there is the second phrase, “the righteous for the unrighteous.” Just in case you hadn’t taken in the wonder of what Christ did as I just explained, we are reminded that he was righteous and we are unrighteous. Note the two things. Jesus was the only man in history who did not sin: “just as we are–yet was without sin.” (Heb 4:15). He was exactly as the Old Testament offerings required – a sacrifice without blemish. He was righteous in a negative way in that he never sinned but he was also righteous in a positive way in that he did exactly what was required of God’s will. He was an obedient Son fulfilling the Father’s will, fulfilling the plan formulated before the foundation of the world.

But we are unrighteous. Sometimes, on a good day when the sun is shining and everything seems to be going well, we think we just might be righteous, but we kid ourselves. Lurking there, just waiting for the opportunity to express itself is this thing called Sin, that tendency to be self-centred, godless and unrighteous. Wrong thoughts predominate, wrong words so easily come to our lips, and wrong actions so quickly follow. Every time we criticise, gossip or judge, we have fallen into the murky depths. We are unrighteous, but then The Righteous One comes and declares us righteous in God’s sight when we surrendered to him, sought his forgiveness and his sovereign leading. Suddenly, but only then, he declares us righteous – at least in God’s sight. (We have yet to work it out in our practical lives).

Which brings us to the last phrase: “to bring you to God.” Again, because it is so familiar we take it for granted, this sense that we are alone in the universe and if there is a God He is a million miles away.  Indeed deep down we are glad of that because deep down we know we are guilty and we fear the thought that we will be answerable to God. We were separated from God by our sins and our guilt and something had to happen – something beyond us, because we were incapable of changing – and it was Christ coming to die in our place as an expression of the Father’s love. There came a time when the Holy Spirit convicted us of the truth about our lives and like a drowning man or woman we grasped for the wonder of what was being presented to us – there IS a way for you to be forgiven, there is a way for you to be reconciled to God. Jesus has done it on the Cross and now all it requires is for you to believe it. THAT is the Gospel! Isn’t it wonderful!

Just should you be reading these things for the first time and it is the first time you’ve heard these things, it can’t remain just passive knowledge. It is true and it requires a response from you, a response that acknowledges your Sin and your sins and your need of God’s help, a response that declares belief in all that Jesus has done for us on the Cross, a submission to him and a request for forgiveness, acceptance and help from God Himself on the basis of these truths. May it be so!

17. Beware Favouritism

Today we pick up again the meditations in James

Meditations in James: 17 :  Beware Favouritism

Jas 2:1-4 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

When we speak about the ‘world’ in Scripture we sometimes refer to the earth on which we live, sometimes the people of the earth, but more often in the New Testament at least, to the godless, self-centred attitudes of so many in the world.  ‘World’ is equated with a bad attitude.  John in his first letter wrote, Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 Jn 2:15-17).  There, five times, John refers to the godless, self-centred, materialistic, atheistic attitude that prevails in so much of life.  John sums up those things as sensual desire, covetous desire and pride. All of those things are greatly stimulated by the eyes, by what we see.  The world goes on what looks good: smart cars, latest designer clothes, special hair cuts, sensual beauty, macho handsomeness, these are the things the world looks at.  Not so James!

The focus of the verses today, says don’t look on the outward side.  Samuel had to learn that: The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7).  Our tendency, so often, is to sum up people by their appearance and if they don’t conform to the expectations of the ‘world’, we write them off. There are many, many people who feel demeaned by life, put down by people and who now have a low self-esteem as a result.  The ‘world’ is a hard place that exalts the glorious few and put down the many.  James is aware of this tendency and says this should not be how it is in the church.  Tragically it is.

Our family once went to a big well-known evangelical church in Wales while we were on holiday.  We were camping and, having three young children, we went to church in jeans.  The looks we were given and the obvious avoidance of us, would have had James denouncing them loudly.  My wife and I were on a caravanning holiday only a few years ago.  At the last minute she decided to ‘go to church’ in the beautiful village in the West Country where we were staying.  Jeans again were her attire.  She wasn’t looking scruffy; to the contrary, she looked good, but she was wearing jeans.  The vicar purposefully avoided having contact with her because she stood out from his garden-party-dressed ladies in hats.  One of my sons and daughters-in-law were away at a wedding and stayed overnight.  Walking around the town next morning they wondered about going to church.  As they walked towards the building they realized that every person going in was either suited or dressed to a high degree.  Their smart but casual clothes seemed out of place and they were put off and didn’t enter.  But large majorities of the population don’t have suits or smart dresses, and so would be put off going into such establishments.  Such ‘nice’ people don’t realize how exclusive they are and if you aren’t sure what that means, they don’t realize how they exclude people from encountering God!  As my younger son commented, “Suppose I had been someone at my wits end and came seeking God and found I wasn’t dressed properly!”

Do you see the point?  James rather labours it but it is just the same. Favouritism, as he describes it, is just the same as looking down on people because they aren’t dressed as well as we are.  A young man came to our church several years ago wearing a coat of many colours that Joseph would have been proud of.  I confess I thought, “I like that! I wish I had the courage to wear something like that!”  He carried on wearing it, went through a phase of wearing a lot of ironmongery and black leathers but is remarkably straight today and is still with us.  Clothes aren’t an issue.  Neither is whether someone is a street cleaner, or a bank manager.  Jesus didn’t make distinctions and neither should we.  This is what James is on about, that’s why he starts off referring to us as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the all-glorious Son of God, butmade himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Phil 2:7).  It was the Pharisees who made themselves look something and in doing that they drove a wedge between themselves and the ordinary people. Jesus gathered to himself fishermen, tax collectors and the like.  He made no distinction between the great and the humble.  When a Jewish leader, Nicodemus, came to see him, he treated him just the same as anyone else.  This is the truth of what James says.  We neither exalt rich and influential people nor demean poor, uneducated people.  Each and every person stands before God in their own right and we accept them as they are.  Now, be honest, is that really how it is with you?  If not, it’s time to read this meditation again.