I am Alive

“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins”

Ephesians 2:1

There can hardly be sweeter words than these to a person who knows that they were spiritually dead with no fellowship with God but now have intimacy with Him. What real joy can one have if they only have a vague and uncertain hope of heaven? John writes, “These things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:4). He is referring to the very words of Jesus who said, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Joy is in knowing (1 John 5:13).

Our Creator had placed Adam in His beautiful garden and said, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). We know that he did eat and he did die immediately in regard to intimacy of fellowship with God and he brought both spiritual and bodily death to all mankind (Romans 5:12).

Clearly, from the verse at the head of this article, we can be made alive to God again and this is the foundation of our joy. Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul writes that being made alive is a gift. That is, we have done nothing to deserve or merit God’s favour. “The gift of God” might be better translated, “The Gift which is God.” God Himself is the Gift in the Person of Jesus Christ. At Christmas we focus on the arrival of that Gift and at Easter we focus on the means by which He made it possible for we who were dead to be made alive.

We will be filled with joy when we are aware that salvation is God’s gift to anyone who will believe Him. Who can attain to God’s righteousness and holiness from conception to bodily death? Paul writes, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and he goes on to write, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). As we read Ephesians 2:1 again, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” our hearts leap with joy that He has given the perfect Gift which is His Son. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

In His Time

“When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons”

Galatians 4:4-5

Like many phrases in the Bible the first few words of this passage have been adopted by some into their regular speech. The “fullness of time” means at the right time. It was God who declared the time right. The people involved had no foreknowledge and it was unexpected on their part. Neither Mary nor Joseph had any warning.

The reason Jesus came is stated for us here. His mission was to buy back that which Adam had given away to Satan. The price was the Son of God crucified. The law could not redeem people and neither could any person redeem themselves or anyone else because all were born in sin and have sinned. All that the law can do is reveal people’s condemned state. It would take incarnate deity to pay the price for our sin; One without the sin disposition and who has never sinned. At its root sin is rebellion against God: “I want to do it my way, not His way.”

On the cross Jesus not only delivered us from justifiable punishment but in His resurrection He gave us a new position that we could never attain ourselves. An adopted son is equal with a biological son concerning inheritance. In Christ’s death and resurrection He has taken away the penalty for sin and also the very root of sin and placed us as sons with Christ to share in His inheritance.

Only as we have the same nature as God can we commune and coexist with Him. Jesus accomplished that for us and that is the Gift of God to undeserving sinners. The magi from the east brought gifts to Jesus in worship and thanksgiving. Everyone who has truly trusted Christ will be thankful to God. Paul writes that it is therefore reasonable that we should present ourselves as a living sacrifice in thankfulness, and as an act of worship, for His unspeakable gift (Romans 12:1).

The times are in His hands and at the right time He will again invade the earthly realm and assume His rightful place as KING of kings and LORD of Lords. Then, and only then, there will be: Peace on earth and goodwill toward men. May you experience a very happy and blessed Christmas with joy that endures all year.

Fully Persuaded

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

Romans 8:35

It isn’t unusual for new believers and sometimes people who have been Christians for a long while to question their faith. There are a number of triggers that the accuser may use to set raise doubt in our minds. He is the accuser so when we stumble in our walk and sin he is quick to accuse us to our spirit, our conscience and to God with a view to creating doubt in our minds. He did that with Eve in the Garden of Eden; “Has God indeed said …” (Genesis 3:1) and has been at it ever since. Jesus gives us the correct response to this; “It is written …” (Matthew 4:1-11).

There will be occasions when we sense the biting accusations of Satan more acutely but God allows them for His purpose and our benefit. He may let us remember past sin to humble our hearts and remind us of His grace and forgiveness. That will produce a thankful and worshipful heart in one with a right spirit toward God. Quite likely we have all done something immensely foolish and/or sinful at some time, perhaps many times. The memory of these is intended to restore humility before God and a thankful heart. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We are as secure in Christ as Christ Himself is in God.

If Satan’s accusations bring doubt or a sense of failure then they are God’s means of bringing us back to that place of reaching out to Jesus. Peter was able to confidently step out of the boat and walk on water but when he was reminded of the circumstances around him he began to sink and would have drowned. He reached out to Jesus and Jesus was immediately there with a strong arm to lift him out and walk him to the boat.

When a Christian continues in doubt it likely means they have not really reached out to Jesus and trusted Him to deliver them. They may want Jesus to deliver them from the circumstances but He may wish to show His strength and faithfulness by delivering them through the circumstances. Paul is convinced that tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, poverty, peril and the sword cannot separate him or us from God’s love because we are in Christ (v 35). We share in the life of the Conqueror (v 36) and nothing above or beneath can separate us from the love of God (vs 38-39). We can have this same assurance if we will choose to believe what God has said in His word.

Slaves

 “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?”

Romans 6:16

In answer to the question, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” Paul gives an emphatic, No!  In expanding on that succinct response he gives us a few before-and-after statements in support of that response.

We know that having been crucified with Christ we should no longer be slaves to sin (v 6). We know that having died with Christ we shall also live with Him (v 8). As a result we are to count on the fact that we are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (v 11). Since these things are true it is unreasonable that we would yield ourselves to sin’s power. On the contrary, the reasonable thing to do is to yield to God and His righteousness (vv 12-14). Thank God there is forgiveness when we do stumble (1 John 1:9).

In verse sixteen, quoted above, Paul compares two opposites: sin and obedience. Sin is that disposition that is in rebellion against the will of God. It started when Adam chose to disbelieve and disobeyed God’s word. That disposition has been passed down through every generation to every person. Obedience is that disposition that flows out of love and trust. One who receives God’s love and trusts Him will obey His word because he/she knows it leads to God’s righteousness and holiness. Disobedience shows that we have accepted Satan’s lie and do not desire God’s righteousness.

If we allow sin to reign in our bodies and present our bodies as instruments of unrighteousness we will not be able to experience intimate fellowship with God. This will be loss to us and those around us but especially to Jesus Christ. The more intimate our fellowship with God through Jesus Christ, the greater we will experience the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). If we are lacking in any aspects of this fruit it may be because we are yielding to sin. We were slaves to sin (v 17) but now, in Christ, we are set free from sin (v 18). Do I want to be a slave of sin or a servant of Jesus Christ? We are slaves to whom we yield. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v 23). Choose!

I’m Not That Bad

“… we preach Christ crucified: to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.”

1 Corinthians 1:23

One of the most abhorrent and counter-cultural ideas in Christianity is that everyone is a sinner, and is freely offered forgiveness and redemption. Every “monster”, no matter what they have done, can be saved. Is there any sin that is too great for Christ’s atonement on the cross? No. Was his death sufficient to cover all the worst atrocities perpetuated throughout history? <strong>Yes, it was.</strong>(1 John 1:7)

This concept is anathema due to one of our greatest weaknesses – the persistent notion that at least we are “not as bad as those others”. After all, it’s insulting and degrading to be lumped into the same category as those we regard as the “worst of humanity”.

A certain man was quoted saying “Don’t compare yourself with anyone in this world. If you do so, you are insulting yourself.” (this quote is also attributed to another). This implies that we often sell ourselves short – by comparing ourselves at our worst, to others at their best. It has a grain of truth: that we fail to retain a right picture of ourselves. Although I expect the author of the quote did not intend it, a higher truth may be obtained from it: that we should instead compare ourselves with some One who is not of this world.

We ask the mirror on the wall, “who is the fairest of them all?” and the mirror replies, “You are the fairest” – but the mirror is merely parroting what we already believe to be true. The higher truth is that only through God’s eyes (as revealed in his Word) can we know ourselves truly. And only thereafter can we start to see our fellow humans in the right way as well.

We must let go of pride (Isaiah 5:21), and let go of condemnation (Romans 8:1). Instead of comparing ourselves to fallen creatures, we must set our eyes on the sinless one, Jesus, who has called us to Himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).

Nothing to Offer

“This Man has done nothing wrong”

Luke 23:41

Jesus was crucified between two criminals and by the admission of one of them, they deserved to be there (v 41). Matthew records that both criminals joined with the passersby to mock and ridicule Jesus (Matthew 27:44) but one of them had second thoughts about who Jesus is after he heard Jesus say “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Both criminals would have heard this statement and recognised that Jesus was claiming deity by calling God His Father. Both heard Him pray for forgiveness for the very people who were mocking and crucifying Him. They did not feel that kind of compassion.

Matthew, Mark and John all record the notice on Jesus’ cross stating that He is Israel’s King. One of the criminals mocked Jesus’ claims to be Israel’s King and deity to by asking, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us” (Luke 23:39). He understood the claims of both the notice on the cross and Jesus’ prayer to the Father. Sad to say, it appears his last words before he died were to mock Jesus.

The other criminal began to think more closely about Jesus. Was it possible that Jesus really is the Son of God and Israel’s Messiah? In the most dire of circumstances he came to the realisation that Jesus is the Son of God and the promised King who would sit on the throne of David forever. Because of Jesus’ words to the Father he also knew he could be forgiven.

Significantly he called Jesus by the name “Jesus” which means Saviour. He understood that Jesus’ death on the cross would not be the end. He believed in resurrection and that Jesus is Israel’s King. He asked, “Jesus, remember me when You come into your kingdom” (v 42). He was immediately told that he would be with Jesus in “paradise” that very day. He had absolutely nothing to offer but himself on a cross condemned and about to die. He had no good works, no church membership, not even baptism but he received the Gift of God (John 1:12). He had fulfilled his part for salvation. He had acknowledged his sinfulness and hopeless situation; he had acknowledged who Jesus is and what He was doing and he appealed to Jesus for the forgiveness Jesus had just offered to those who were mocking and crucifying Him. Jesus then did His part and ever since that day this former convicted criminal has been with Jesus.

The Root of the Problem

“He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

1 John 5:12

There are many species of plant that will regrow from the base even if all growth above ground is removed. Unless the root is put to death the plant will simply regrow. For many plants that is an advantage utilised by gardeners but it is a problem when we want the plant dead. The growth above ground is the expression of the life below. We may remove the above ground expression of that life but that will not kill the root.

It is the same with sin. Acts of sin are an expression of the root nature of sin. They are the symptoms of the root of sin. Unfortunately the world is often occupied with trying to remove the symptoms of sin without destroying the root. Various ideological and religious groups are trying to impose their view of utopia on others by education, intimidation or by force. However, none deal with the root cause and they wonder why they are not succeeding.

The media has its ideology which for the most part is of the spirit of antichrist. Part of the problem is that most people only consider the symptoms. Many Christians, both nominal and true, continue to express the symptoms of sin in grievous ways. The way that some deal with the symptoms of sin is to suppress acts of sin by force, or deny sin’s existence. Others believe that we can change people’s hearts through education.

The fact is that only Jesus can deal with the root of sin. John the Baptist said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). On the cross, Jesus didn’t just take away the symptoms of sin; He took away the root as well. John expresses this in his first letter. “If we say we have no sin [the root], we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins [the symptoms] He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins [the symptoms] and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness [the root] (1 John 8-9).

The uproar in the media over a particular tweet on social media is in regard to people who express certain symptoms of sin not being worthy of heaven. The debate misses the point entirely. None of us are fit for heaven until sin is destroyed at its root. Jesus alone can put the root to death. If the root is not dead the symptoms will reappear. John writes that only those who have Christ have put to death the root (1 John 5:12).

Various Trials

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials”

James 1:2

James is writing to Christians who are suffering “various trials.” He doesn’t identify what those trials may be because what he is about to write applies to all kinds of trials. If we want a list we could start with Hebrews 11 or 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 but there are many more examples in the Bible. We should expect to experience tests and trials throughout our lives. In school we had regular tests to prove we had learned something and were ready to move on to the next level. The same is true in our walk of faith. Our heavenly Father allows us to experience various trials so that we might know our progression of faith in Jesus and be ready to move on.

In this chapter James gives the reasons why we may pass or fall short in any trial or test. Those who come through successfully, as God considers success, do so because, at foundational level, they have a genuine love for Jesus (v 12). Those who fall short do so because they love themselves and sin more than they love Jesus (v 14).

The evidence of love for Jesus is in doing His word (v 22). A person may profess to love Jesus but their works will give evidence for or against this profession. Love for Jesus is evidenced by love for His people. 1 John has many confirmations of this truth such as “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren” (3:14) and he tells us what kind of love this is, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (v 16). Jesus said the key evidence that we are His disciples is the expression of God’s kind of love for one another (John 13:35).

How we treat other Christians is how we treat Jesus. Saul persecuted Christians but Jesus said he was persecuting Him (Acts 9:4). Peter says that lying to Christians is lying to God (Acts 5:4). Jesus says that how we are treating His people is how we are treating Him (Matthew 25:31-46). In Hebrews 10:24-25 He says that our reason for meeting together is love expressed through serving one another, mutual encouragement and edification. If we forsake meeting together it is an indication we don’t meet with Him either.

It is sobering to realise that how I am treating my fellow Christians is how I treat Jesus – but He says it is so.

Christ Sets Free

“You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”

John 8:32, 36c

Some time ago in South Africa, my friend Paul and I were sharing the truths of the Gospel with more than twenty men who were in prison awaiting trial. For two hours we preached the Gospel of Christ, with Q & A, and the importance of knowing the truth. John recorded Jesus saying “I am the truth” (John 14:6) and “the truth shall set you free.” The apostle Paul wrote that believers are set free from sin by Jesus Christ (Romans 6:7, 18). One of the men asked us, “Are you saying that if I became a Christian, when I go to court, I will have to tell the truth?” Our answer was, “No, you won’t have to tell the truth; but if you truly are a Christian – you will want to tell the truth.”

The truth is that truth concerning Jesus Christ who delivers us and frees us from the power of sin, death and the wrath of God by way of the cross. Some may think that telling the truth merely sets us free from the sense of guilt but that is not the freedom of which Jesus is speaking.

Immediately after our response to that prisoner another stood up and, speaking to his fellow inmates, said, “I will speak the truth at my trial. I know I will receive three life sentences, two for murder and one for abduction but I will not lie anymore.” That is a man who has been born of God and truly understands that “the Son makes you free.” He is now free to tell the truth because he has received the One who is Truth. He now knew Jesus and the truth about Him.

This man had been a slave to sin (John 8:34) and that had brought him to a life in prison but he was now free from the prison of sin and death. He is infinitely more free than many outside of prison. Some might think he was not a good candidate for the Gospel but Jesus thought otherwise. To those who think only morally good people, by their evaluation, are worthy of salvation, Jesus said. “For I did not come to call the [self] righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). It is Jesus who makes us free from sin (John 8:36), its power and its consequences. The cross of Jesus alone is His justification for forgiving our sin (1 John 1:9) and being reconciled to God (Romans 5:10) so that we may call Him “Father.”

Chief of Sinners

“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief”

1 Timothy 1:15

In charging Timothy with the responsibility to keep others faithful to the true Gospel against those who were infiltrating with error, Paul relates how the grace of God was and is being enacted toward him. He obtained mercy because he did it “ignorantly in unbelief” (v 13) but the grace of God was “exceedingly abundant” in delivering him from that ignorance and unbelief (v 14). He then professes the essential teaching that Jesus came to save sinners. What we may skip over is what he then writes, “of whom I am chief.”

A casual reading may interpret this as saying he was the chief of sinners before he was delivered by the grace of God. That would be a misunderstanding. He is acknowledging that he knows he is still currently the chief of sinners. We will have a shallow understanding of God’s active grace toward us if we don’t know that we are still chief sinners. We may believe theologically that we are but until we know it in our hearts we will have a diminished view of God’s grace.

Paul writes something similar in Romans 3:23. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The grammar in this verse reveals that we (saved sinners) keep on falling short. The self-righteous doesn’t know this and thereby reveals he has only a shallow understanding of God’s grace.

We are not told what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) and perhaps we should be glad of that or we might think there is only one kind of “thorn”. Had he told us we might be taken up with that one instead of the real point of the passage: “My [God’s] grace is sufficient for you” (v 9). Though we know we continually fall short and we know we are the chief of sinners we can also know that God’s exceeding abundant grace is sufficient.

Satan may attempt to use that to discourage us but God wants us to advance in our knowledge, understanding and experience of His exceeding abundant grace. Paul goes on to write “for My [God’s] strength is made perfect in weakness” and “For when I am weak I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Jesus said, “without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Without God’s active grace through Christ Jesus we cannot minister to others or serve and worship God.