15. The Grace of Jesus

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  15. The Grace of Jesus

Psa 45:2    You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever.

The psalmist has this idea running round in his mind that produces a song: My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.” (v.1) I like the way the Message version puts it: “My heart bursts its banks spilling beauty and goodness. I pour it out as a poem to the king shaping the river into words.” That expresses more fully, I think, those words “My heart is stirred…”

Now whether the king is a physical king and it is a physical wedding that he goes on to write about, or whether it is spiritual is unclear, but I believe from the vantage point of later in history we can suggest that so much here is prophetic and speaks of Jesus. We’ll come back to verse 2 in a moment but consider – “Gird your sword upon your side, O mighty one; clothe yourself with splendour and majesty,” (v.3) and then “In your majesty ride forth victoriously in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness; let your right hand display awesome deeds,” (v.4) – we cannot but help be reminded of Revelation 19 where Jesus is seen as the conqueror coming forth  When we reads, “Let your sharp arrows pierce the hearts of the king’s enemies; let the nations fall beneath your feet,” (v.5) we cannot but think of his earthly ministry where his words acted like arrows piercing hearts.

But then we find this comment, “your lips have been anointed with grace.” Not only do those words pierce like arrows but at times they come forth with amazing grace. The difficulty of reading the words of Jesus in the Gospels in cold black and white print, is that you can never catch the tone of voice. Sadly we interpret Jesus’ words according to the direction of our own hearts, and so some hear Jesus’ words as coming with sharp and hard authority. Others hear the gentle and accepting heart that accepted harlots and tax collectors and drew them to himself.

Which leads me to think of John’s description of Jesus: “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14). There is that ‘grace’ word again. A dictionary defines this grace as, “beauty or charm of form, composition, movement, or expression, an attractive quality, feature, manner, etc.” Grace here is a combination of things – goodness, kindness, loving acceptance, gentleness. When Jesus speaks to us, he speaks with these characteristics.

Early in the Gospel accounts, we find, “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him,” (Lk 2:40) which is not surprising because he had been conceived by the Holy Spirit (Mt 1:20) and the child was in fact God incarnate. But it was clear, even from childhood, this grace – which always comes from God – was his. Later on this grace would be the thing attributed to be the motivating force that enabled him to do all he did: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9)

This ‘being rich yet becoming poor’, I believe, refers first to his leaving the glory he had in heaven and coming to earth with no visible glory, then leaving his family and living out a life of faith as he exercised his ministry, as he described, “the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Mt 8:20). It may also be applied to his willingness to forgo any reputation (and his was quite amazing when you thought of all the amazing things he did in Galilee) and come to Jerusalem and be portrayed as one who received the dismissal of both the religious and civic authorities and deemed worthy of a criminal’s death. What enabled him to do all these things? Grace. It is part of the divine attributes.

When you think of the wonder of what God has done through Jesus, it can only be grace that explains it. They knew we would all be sinners if they gave us free will at Creation – but they did it nevertheless. They knew that the Fall would happen, they knew that every single person they sought to come alongside and build a relationships with, would stumble – whether that was individuals or nations. They knew that failure was the only sure thing that could be guaranteed about the human race, and yet they went ahead and created us as we are. Why? Grace! That disposition of the godhead that looked with loving kindness upon us, understands our folly and perseveres with us.

Observe Jesus calling his disciples. These were those who had the greatest privilege in history – of walking and talking with God on a daily basis for three years. Yet what do we find? One of them betrays him, one of them denies him three times and the rest run away and leave him to his fate. But he still chose them and left the future Church in their hands. Amazing, but that is what grace does! Hallelujah!

33. No Ongoing Sinning

Meditations in 1 John : 33 : No Ongoing Sinning

1 John  3:6  No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

We’ve said it before – John is like the waves on the seashore – he comes in with one thought, it goes out and then comes back in a little later. If we weren’t sure in his earlier words, he comes with crystal clarity now. But let’s remind ourselves what he said before about the issue here, the issue of sin and the believer.

He starts out with the general truth: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jn 1:8). That is the starting place; all people are sinners. But then he moves on with how to deal with sin: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) Then, just in case anyone was arguing the point, he reinforced it: “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” (1 Jn 1:10). Then he states his desire for all believers: “I write this to you so that you will not sin.” (1 Jn 2:1a) but then he recognizes our frailty and God’s provision to meet that frailty: “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1b)

Now that summarizes John’s position but he expresses it in a variety of ways – through references to light and darkness, keeping God’s commands and revealing His love, and comments about the world and enemy deception. The message throughout is the same and it is encapsulated in this verse: “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning” We saw this in the previous verses. First, “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (1 Jn 3:3) because Jesus is pure and we are going to be like him, then we too must be pure, i.e. free from sin. Then he said, “you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.” (1 Jn 3:5)

So there it is again and again: be like Jesus and you can’t sin. Yet we know that earlier he had indicated that “if anybody does sin…” clearly indicating that it was still a possibility. So how does the present teaching match that? The key lies in the words we underlined – “keep on”. That refers to a life where previously sin is usual, where sin is the norm, where sin is natural and ongoing. For us it is no longer like that – even though it had been before we came to Christ – now sin should be unusual in our lives, righteousness is the norm, sin is unnatural and only spasmodic, where we trip up by accident. Before sin had been on purpose; now our purpose is to live righteously.

But we must emphasize again some other key words – “in Him” – no one who lives ‘in him’. Living ‘in Christ’ means we share with his life and if his life is one of righteousness in purpose, thought, word and deed, then so will ours be. Whether we are aware of the Spirit “in here” or God “up there” we need to be ‘God aware’ Awareness of His presence is part of what John meant in his Gospel where Jesus spoke of “abiding in” or “remaining in” him (John 15:4-7) There he indicates that being ‘God aware’ or ‘remaining in’ him will not only keep us from sin, it will also make us fruitful and it will enable us to know the Father’s will so that when we pray we pray His will and can expect that he will give us what we ask for. Living in him means that the very thought of ongoing sin in our lives becomes alien.

As always, the good teacher John, gives us the opposite to think about to contrast with what he has just said, so now he continues, “No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.”   Again the key word is ‘continues’ meaning ongoing, normal, natural lifestyle that includes sin. Such a person who does not bother about the nature of their behaviour – that it is godless and self-centred – is not someone who has encountered Christ or submitted to him. If you have a genuine encounter with Christ your life WILL be changed from self-centred to God-centred and you WILL cease to do things contrary to God’s word. If a person’s lifestyle does not change, then there is a big question mark over that person, especially in terms of their relationship to God!

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!

Saints & Sinners

Readings in Luke Continued – No.29

Lk 7:36-38 Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

One of the things that I have found, doing this series examining Luke’s contribution to the Gospel accounts, is that it has forced us to look more widely at just what went on in Jesus’ three years of ministry. John, you may remember, concluded his Gospel with, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.(Jn 21:25) In other words, so much was happening every day that it was almost impossible to keep track of what had been going on. The Gospel accounts are, in fact, just a tip of the iceberg of the things that Jesus did.

Now I say this because there can be some confusion that this account above is the same one that appears in Matt 26, Mark 14 or John 12, all involving a woman and expensive perfume. However, there are sufficient differences to suggest that this was a completely different incident. Yes, the name of the householder is Simon (v.40) and in Matthew’s account the householder is Simon, but that is where the similarity ends. This account is near or in Galilee while Matthew’s account is in the south in Judea. This Simon is a Pharisee, the other Simon is (or was) a leper. The reason for the woman using the oil or perfume was quite different. The one in Matthew was inadvertently anointing Jesus for death. This one has a different reason.

The big focus, it seems, in Luke’s account is the difference between the host-householder and the woman. Here in Luke, as we’ve already noted, Simon the householder is a Pharisee. He is part of that conservative group of Jewish believers who prided themselves in interpreting and keeping the Law of Moses. Virtually all encounters between Jesus and the Pharisees in the Gospels, show the Pharisees as odds with Jesus. We wonder why, therefore, did this man invite Jesus to dinner? Was he simply interested in what he had heard about Jesus and wanted to find out more, or was he looking for an opportunity to find fault with Jesus? The latter seems more probable because, after the woman comes in and Jesus accepts her ministrations, Simon “said to himself, If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” (v.39). If you asked Simon to categorise the people in the room he would have put himself in the category of saint or godly believer, and the woman as a sinner. Jesus doesn’t have the same assessment as we’ll see in the next meditation.

For now we might wonder why Jesus went into this man’s house, almost certainly knowing that he was walking into the lion’s den as far as trouble was concerned. The answer to that must be that Jesus was never afraid of confrontation, and seems glad to take any and every opportunity to face up people with the truth. If Simon wants to bring him in to examine him, then the end result may be that Simon will end up examining himself! If you come full of criticism of Jesus, then you need to be warned; you are revealing your own heart and your own state and any criticism is likely to come back on you!

We need to consider this woman who comes in. We still appear to be in the town of Nain (7:11) and this is a woman “who had lived a sinful life in that town” and is obviously well known. Simon certainly knows about her and writes her off as a sinner. Jesus apparently doesn’t know her and simple accepts her – which Simon finds difficult. But then the truth is that Jesus does know each person and he would have been quite aware of the sort of person she was. As Jesus reclines on a low couch at a low table, as was the custom, his feet would protrude out behind him as he leaned towards the table, and the woman stood behind him weeping so that her tears dripped onto his feet. Suddenly aware of this she stoops and quickly seeks to wipe of her tears with her hair and then, perhaps to make up for this takes some of the perfume she has with her and pours it on his feet. We’ll see later how Jesus reinterprets what she does to cover any embarrassment she has. Luke, we have said many times in these studies, is a people-person and he is fascinated by people accounts. This three-sided account just has to be included!

Why was this woman weeping? Luke doesn’t tell us, for her misdemeanours aren’t the key issues here. Perhaps she has come to a crisis point in her life and in desperation she goes to this man she has heard so much about. Possibly she came with the alabaster box of perfume to pay him for his counsel because there is a hint in the description of her having lived “a sinful life”, that it was a life of immoral earnings and she expects to have to pay for whatever services she receives from this travelling preacher. Perhaps she just came in out of interest and the very presence of God in the room brings her to a place of conviction and she just breaks down, but Luke doesn’t tell us. That’s not the issue. The issue is how Jesus accepts her and Simon doesn’t. Simon sees a sinner, Jesus sees a potential saint! Pharisees condemned people who failed to live up to their high standards; Jesus recognised that people couldn’t live up to such standards and so accepted them as they were and let his love and acceptance transform them into saints.

So where do we fit in this three-sided incident? Do we come with a sense of failure, feeling we have to earn Jesus approval or pay for it in some act? Don’t try to earn it or pay for it. He gives it freely. Do we come with a sense of self-righteousness that condemns the sinners of the world? We need to see that Jesus comes to save sinners not condemn them. Or can we come like Jesus with loving acceptance that willingly sits with Pharisees and prostitutes alike? May it be so!