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Is heaven/perfect holiness/our glorified state “static?”

Meaning, are there never any “mistakes,” fumbling around, improving and learning that takes place in heaven? Or, do we know everything and execute everything perfectly always? Meaning, if we play baseball would we always hit a home run? If we bake, would we always bake a perfect pie? If we play golf, would we always hit a hole in one? Or if we are creating a song, would we write it flawlessly the first time?

Did Jesus, when He was learning carpentry, ever miss the nail and hit his hand? Did, Joseph ever have to teach Jesus how to square an angle? Did Jesus always win all the games He played and races He ran against other boys? Did He ever wet the bed? Did He ever trip and fall when He was learning to walk? Or, because He was always sinless does that mean Jesus never make a mistake, fumble around or learn?

Pondering these questions seems to be indicate that not all “mistakes” are derivative of a sinful fault. Making “mistakes,” learning and fumbling around did not mean Jesus was not perfect. But, it seems to indicate that being sinless and perfect includes learning, fumbling around, investigating, exploring and improving. There can be “mistakes” and subsequently learning processes without sin entering in. If heaven/perfect holiness/our glorified state is “static,” then it is not “dynamic,” or changing/improving as Jesus’ earthly life did (Luke 2:52). These are things worth time pondering.

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Grace

Grace is Scandalous

Who deserves to go to heaven based on what they do, the pope or a dope dealer? According the bible, neither. If you said the pope, you may be thinking of deservedness based on a person’s merits and works, i.e. “man’s efforts.” However, the Bible teaches that salvation does not depend on “man’s effort, but God’s mercy.” The thief on the cross, although he may have been robbed of a lifetime of joy of knowing, serving and worshiping God, went to paradise with Jesus. This is a great example of how scandalous grace is. We don’t know much about the thief, but it appears only in his last moments he said to Jesus to “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

The thief could do no good works with his wrists and feet nailed to a wooden cross; he was physically incapable to do so. That is why this illustration is so powerful. All the thief could do at that point was believe. In essence, we are all like the thief, in that, we are stuck, without God’s mercy. The thief did the work required by God: “He believed in the one He sent” (John 6:29). The thief was justified by his belief. The thief was as equally as justified as Moses, David, Paul and Peter. Consider the sins of those eminent saints in the bible: murder, adultery and arranged murder, persecution of Christians and denial of Christ. None of those four men were justified by their deeds. How could they have been?

Difference between Justification and Sanctification

In Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem defines justification as, “An instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight.” Gruden defines sanctification as, “A progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and more like Christ in our actual lives.”

Since this paper is about grace and justification by faith, it is important to point out the difference between justification and sanctification. In his book Holiness, J.C. Ryle distinguishes between the two by eight differences. These points are key to understanding on what basis we are accepted by God. It is important to point these out because some think we are justified and accepted by God on the basis of our merits (our works), which the Bible does not teach.

Difference number 1: “Justification is the reckoning and counting a man righteous for the sake of another, even Jesus Christ the Lord. Sanctification is the actual making a man inwardly righteous, though it may be in a very feeble degree.”

Difference number 2: The righteousness we have by our justification is not our own, but the everlasting perfect righteous ness of our great Mediator Christ, imputed to us, and made by our own faith. The righteousness we have by sanctification is our own righteousness, imparted, inherent, and wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, but mingled with much infirmity and imperfection.”

Difference number 3: “In justification our own works have no place at all, and simple faith in Christ is the one thing needful. In sanctification our own works are of vast importance and God bids us fight, and watch, and pray, and strive, and take pains, and labor.”

Difference number 4: “Justification is a finished and complete work, and a man is perfectly justified the moment he believes. Sanctification is an imperfect work, comparatively, and will never be perfected until we reach heaven.”

Difference number 5: “Justification admits of no growth or increase: a man is as much justified the hour he first comes to Christ by faith as he will be to all eternity. Sanctification is eminently a progressive work, and admits of continual growth and enlargement so long as a man lives.”

Difference number 6: “Justification has special reference to our persons, our standing in God’s sight, and our deliverance from guilt. Sanctification has special reference to our natures, and the moral renewal of our hearts.”

Difference number 7: “Justification gives us our title to heaven, and boldness to enter in. Sanctification gives us our meetness for heaven, and prepares us to enjoy it when we dwell there.”

Difference number 8: “Justification is the act of God about us, and is not easily discerned by others. Sanctification is the work of God within us, and cannot be his in its outward manifestation from the eyes of men.”

*Note: This paper is in no way inconsistent with the belief that works are a natural and fundamental byproduct of a union with Christ. Nor, does it demean the inseparable and consequential fruits of the Spirit (good works) that come from being “in Christ.” James 2:26 reads, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” We should grow in grace. Grace captivates us, compels us- John Calvin called it “irresistible,” and it indeed prompts us to loving thoughts and actions, more godly thinking and living a more God-pleasing life peppered with good works and fruit of the Spirit. However, this paper is not about sanctification, obedience, suffering, trials, becoming like Christ, spiritual disciplines, being a slave to righteousness, living a holy life, being a servant, putting sin to death by the Spirit, growing in grace, fighting against sin, striving to take hold of what’s been given us, working hard to love others, laboring in the Kingdom, etc. The Christian faith is a giant undertaking and all the things mentioned in the previous sentences are essential to the Christian life. However, this paper is not about them, it is about justification and salvation by faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone. One may think that separating faith and deeds creates a false dichotomy between two things that are interwoven and inseparable however, the Bible’s teaches justification by faith alone apart from the law (following rules and having good moral conduct and good works). The Bible pays specific detail to the means by which we are justified before God, and this paper is about that.

Deceived Men and Women

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” –Jeremiah 17:9

C.S Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be very hard to be good.” He continues, “Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives into temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.” In short, a good man knows how bad he is and bad man does not know. J.C. Ryle wrote, “The worst chains are those not seen or felt by the prisoner.”

Perhaps people like the idea of forgiveness, redemption, acceptance and grace from God. However, those things are only necessary if there has been some kind of offense and some kind of reparation. It is important to know on what account we have offended and how reparation has been made. If we do not know about the offense and reparation we do not have depth of understanding of forgiveness, redemption, acceptance and grace- and, if we do not truly know about them, they are mere vague, non-relevant- yet positive and attractive, concepts.

The seriousness of sin and holiness of God are viewed by many as unspecific, indeterminate and non-applicable.

Two important things that a person may woefully underestimate are, the holiness of God and the seriousness of sin. Grudem defines holiness as, “The doctrine that God is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honor.” In Holiness, R.C. Ryle writes about the deceitfulness of sin; “You may see this deceitfulness in the wonderful proneness of men to regard sin as less sinful and dangerous than it is in the sight of God; and in their readiness to extenuate it, make excuses for it, and minimizing its guilt. –“It is but a little one? God is merciful! One cannot be so particular! Where is the mighty harm? We only do as others!” Who is not familiar with this kind of language?- You may see it in the long string of smooth words and phrases which men have coined in order to designate things which God calls downright wicked and ruinous to the soul.”

One may say, “Oh, God is forgiving and merciful, He forgives my mess ups.” Many people may have said something like that without the truly knowing the ramifications of their offense and what reparation is necessary to make amends. Those words are very cheap and very easy to say- the action that should accompany them are very difficult. Simply uttering those words does not mean that person knows and believes what they are saying. Yes, God is forgiving and merciful, but on what terms? God can not forgive a heart that is not truly penitent, and a good many have probably dismissed the seriousness of sin and the holiness of God while saying something like, “Oh, God forgives me.”

Ryle writes: “The fault and corruption of the nature of every man is naturally engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth alway against the spirit; and, therefore, in every person born into the world, it deserveth God’s wrath and condemnation.” We are physically born spiritually dead. Meaning, we inherit a sin nature from Adam. We are born intrinsically corrupt and in need of spiritual regeneration (resuscitation or re-birth). Jesus said in John chapter 3 that “we need to be ‘born again.’”

Ryle writes “Sin is a disease which pervades every faculty of our minds. The understanding, the affections, the reasoning powers, the will, are all more or less infected.” The Bible is specific and determinate about what sin is and that it is applicable to everyone. “Oh, God forgives me,” does not seem to get to the root of the deep problem that lies in the institution of all we do.

Ryle defines sin as, “The slightest outward of inward departure from absolute mathematical parallelism with God’s revealed will and character constitutes a sin, and at once makes us guilty in God’s sight.” Those who are blessed to see the ramifications of their sins are catching a glimpse of how God’s views it; with hatred. The deceitfulness of sin, the blindness of humanity and the influence of a Godless culture dismiss serious offenses lightly and jokingly.

If someone believes God forgave them through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross they must wonder why that had to happen. There is no greater proof of the detestability of sin than Christ on the cross. Ryle writes, “Terribly black must that guilt be for which nothing but the blood of the Son of God could make satisfaction. Heavy must that weight of human sin be which made Jesus groan and sweat drops of blood in agony at Gethsemane, and cry at Golgatha, “My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken me.” (Matthew 27:46)

More Bad News

The Bible says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6, Peter 5:5). We must say to God, “God I can’t save myself, I need your help, I need grace.” Depending on works for salvation is the exact opposite of grace. Someone who believes they can earn their way to heaven by being good may as well say, “I am going to save myself, I can do without grace.” Our plea should be, “save me from myself,” not, “I’m going to save myself.” Jesus said in

Luke 9:24, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet forfeit his very self? If we have so much faith in ourselves, our control and our abilities that we think we can preserve our life (save it) we will lose it.

What a tremendous weight to bear to believe one is accepted by God on the basis of what one does or does not do. No one can live up to God’s standards. He requires perfection. We cannot earn acceptance from God based on our performance because we can never be good enough in God’s sight aside from His help. God is strict; His law does not budge. His character does not allow Him to condone sin, because He is perfect and Holy. Even the apostle Paul, who had all the reasons to put confidence in the flesh (in himself, i.e. his accomplishments, credentials and capabilities) by following the law, as he mentions in Philippians 3:4-6, put no confidence in the flesh.

Paul continued in Philippians 3:8-9, “I consider everything loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord, for who sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” Paul says that the righteousness we have was imparted from God through faith and gifted to us. Paul’s view on grace is opposed to the belief that we attain our own righteousness apart from that which is attributed to us by faith. Paul says our righteousness is not dependent on our ability to keep laws, rituals and regulations, because the righteousness that comes from them are “filthy rags” to God (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore we have no righteousness of our own and we can put no confidence in the flesh (our works, accomplishments and strengths).

Ryle writes, “The holiest actions of the holiest saint that ever lived are all more of less full of defects and imperfections. They are either wrong in their motive or defective in their performance, and in themselves are nothing better than “splendid sins,” deserving God’s wrath and condemnation. To suppose that such actions can stand the severity of God’s judgment, atone for sin, and merit heaven, is simply absurd. “By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified.”- We conclude that a man is justified by faith without deeds of the law (Romans 3:20-28). The only righteousness in which we can appear before God is the righteousness of another- even the perfect righteousness of our Substitute and Representative, Jesus Christ the Lord. His work, and not our work, is our only title to heaven.”

One sin is a crime in God’s sight requiring punishment. Works do not quench God’s wrath. Good deeds do not appease His anger against sinners. We cannot be reconciled to God by our good deeds done in our strength; “For all have sinned and all fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Everything we do is mingled with selfish ambition, i.e., out of motivation to justify ourselves, to benefit ourselves or to look good in other’s eyes. Isaiah 64:6 says, “our righteousness is like filthy rags.” Ephesians 2:3 calls us “by nature, objects of wrath.”

We know from the Old Testament that God requires bloodshed for forgiveness. This is why animals were sacrificed on the altar for the sins of the people. The animal’s blood (life) was poured out before the Lord to atone for the people’s sins. This is God’s appointed means of forgiveness. Hebrews 9:22 says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” A goat, bull or other animal had to be sacrificed at appointed times. This happened repeatedly because no animal sacrifice permanently atoned for the people’s sins. This is because the animals had defects, unlike the Lamb of God, the animals were not a sufficient sacrifice to atone for people’s sins once and for all.

A Wretched Goodness

Those first paragraphs contain some terrible news. So, if those things are true, how can we be forgiven?

A popular, comfortable, nonthreatening and unbiblical belief is that being a “good person” somehow merits forgiveness or cancels out any debt from sins or “wrong things they’ve done.” A person may say with false humility, “I’m far from perfect…but, overall I’m a good person. I’ve never killed anyone and I go to church.”

When Jesus was asked this question, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” (John 6:28). He said, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent” (John 6:29). He didn’t say, “Be good and kind person.” Hebrews 11:6 states, “It is impossible to please God without faith.” Note: the nature of “believing” in Christ has traditionally been understood as something that God allows us to receive, accept and undergo, subsequently, it is not a work done by us. The ability to have faith to believe is a gift from God.

The Bible teaches salvation comes from Christ’s perfect works imputed (transferred) to us one time by the grace of God through our belief- and only through our belief. We do not deserve salvation in any way. It is by sheer grace we are forgiven. Christianity is about what God has done for us, not what we can do for Him. Romans 9:16 says, the compassion and kindness we receive from God does not, “depend on man’s effort, but on God’s mercy.”

Some of the best and kindest people can discount God- they can even be adamant atheists. A person who ignores and resists God can still be very friendly, however they are not doing the work God requires; “believe in the one He has sent” (John 6:29). Some people, while disregarding God, are people-pleasers. Paul said this in Galatians 1:10, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Christians are more interested in living a God-pleasing life than a people-pleasing life. At times a God-pleasing life and people-pleasing life can be incongruent because people’s wills are imperfect, and subsequently opposed to God’s perfect will. Therefore, the approval and acceptance of people does not equate approval and acceptance of God.

Some people may be smug because they don’t think they need help. They don’t like the idea of a concrete, highly personal, highly moral, judging, absolute, sovereign God- that may infringe on the way they want to live their life. As if their denial makes Him disappear.

People will not be saved if they deny the gracious means that God has so obviously provided for them in order to be saved. In His justice God can’t forgive a sin that was not punished through Christ’s death on the cross. In Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof wrote, “The atonement was necessary, because God sovereignly determined to forgive sin on no other condition.” The cross is the only way of God, through His love and mercy, to provide a way of escape for sinners. Belief in Christ is the only appointed means of salvation.

If a person fears their destiny without Christ they would be exceedingly relieved to know He has came alongside them and they would greet Him with open arms. If forgiveness is sought for a known wrong and then forgiveness is found in Christ, they would meet Christ with jubilation. If a person knows their debt was taken away by Christ, they would feel gratitude towards Him. If a person’s despair is met with Christ’s comfort and help, they would stay near Him. If a longing for forgiveness and hope is what one seeks, they would be overcome with appreciation by Christ who supplies both. If a person knows the retribution due them and knows Christ loved them enough to take on that penalty so they could go free, they would be forever grateful to, humbled by, and happily indebted to Him. If a person knows the extraordinarily terrible place they deserve to go apart from Christ’s intervention they would gladly make it a priority to follow Him the rest of their lives.

As it is, non-Christians do not greet Christ with open arms, they do not meet Him with jubilation, gratitude, nearness, appreciation, humility, happy indebtedness, and priority. They treat Him with contempt, neglect, disobedience, and disrespect. The non-Christian, although they may be a “good person” knows none of the consolations of receiving and experiencing God’s mercy and grace. As a result, they have no reasons for celebration and gratitude towards God.

On the other hand, Christians know the vacancy, void, loneliness and desolation apart from Christ- and they know all those things are put in perspective by the personal consolations Christ gives them in a relational context. Profound Christian joy is a product of loneliness and destitution met by mercy, love and a promise fulfilled.

Christ infringes upon all the prideful person wants to be. He claims to be the only source for all deep needs that people want to get in different ways. People do not want God as the source for their needs because they seek sensational thrills, ungodly entertainment and sinful pleasures because, by their nature, their “tastes” are corrupt. James 4:4-5 says, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” Friendship does not mean we cannot and should not enjoy God’s gifts on this earth, but that we should have a Godly perspective on them.

All a “good” non-Christian may know is that being kind and friendly always benefits them in the end. All a “good” non-Christian may know is it feels right and good to be a nice person- but they may not know why on a deep level. Their goal may be to win the approval of people, to be popular, and to be thought of as a “good person.” They need to know that God does not think like people. What is wonderful in a human’s sight may be detestable in God’s. The “good person,” may discount God. Some of the nicest people may act out of their own strength. They may do thousands of noticeable good deeds, yet God is not pleased with them, because they may not have one thing God requires: “faith in the one He sent” (John 6:29).

Although a personal trainer, a financial adviser, a doctor, and physical therapist, are willing to help their client/patient get better/improve, they cannot help if the client/patient will not let them. So it is with God and the person who refuses to relinquish lordship over their own life.

If a person doesn’t call on Jesus’ name, which is, “the only way to the Father,” (John 14:6) they cannot be forgiven. Jesus said in John 14:6, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” 1 John 5:10 says, “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about His Son.” Onto 5:12, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

If one knows the ramifications and seriousness of their sins, they will realize their terrible position without Christ. They will see they are separated from God by consequence of their sin and need reconciliation. A person must give in, they must surrender their efforts to receive this gift of salvation. A person operating self-sufficiently and autonomously- is not a likely to seek a highly moral ruler to submit their life to. Their head is too clouded to see their sin for what it is and to see Christ for who He is, subsequently, they won’t see a need for a Savior. Perhaps, in our day, where self-rule, independence and self-sufficiency is highly valued, it is harder to see our utter dependence on Christ for our salvation.

The gospel goes against our natural inclinations to be strong in ourselves, it offends our flesh, it crushes our pride, and it has us cling to something other than hope in ourselves and our own capabilities. To receive the gospel we must yield our tendency to want to control and save our own lives. God requires a “broken and contrite heart,” (Psalm 51:17) not pride, conceit, rebellion and neglect. Brokenness and humility are requisites for repentance.

Seizure of Grace

If we were saved by what we do we could boast in what we do. As it is, we are saved by grace alone, therefore Christians boast in what God has done for us, not what we do for Him. Several religions (and non-religions) teach that salvation and rights to heaven are earned or merited by being good, but the Bible does not.

To follow are some of Paul’s emphatic teachings about grace from his letter to the Galatians and the Ephesians. Ephesians 2:9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Ironically, Christ’s harshest words were for those who did a lot of good works; the Pharisees. They were the most “religious” people during Jesus’ time. They put all their faith in their own good works instead of in God. This inconsistency angered Jesus because He taught that works apart from faith is legalism and arrogance.

A works based believer is more likely to compromise inward honesty and integrity for the sake of maintaining outward religious appearance. A friend of mine shared a great example. He and friend went to attend a ceremony at a tabernacle and in order to enter, one had to meet certain requirements of purity of heart. The works based believer was deceitful about his inward condition in order to partake in the outward ritual. The grace based believer did not enter because he thought it was hypocritical to do so because he had not met inner requirements either.

Ironically, a seizure of and manifestation of grace produces more righteous living than legalism. Imagine two men in a conversation- one man adamant that he is saved by grace alone the other believes he is saved by works. One would think it would be consistent that the man who is striving to justify himself by his works would “out perform” the one who believes he is justified by grace. You might guess the “works-believer” would have more respect, honor, adoration, revere, fear, conscience thought and consideration and obedience towards God. You also may think the man who believes he is saved by grace may not be as mindful or intentional about his living to please God, since, in his eyes, they are not requisites for salvation. Ironically, more often than not, the person who has a good understanding of grace will live a more godly and righteous life than the “works believer” (the legalist). Perhaps, this is because the legalist is acting from the outside in (in their own strength) and the believer in grace is being worked on from the inside out (by the Holy Spirit).

A Christian should know the seriousness of their sin, the holiness of God and the lengths God went to in order to extend grace to them. As a result of this apprehension of mercy and reconciliation, it is a Christian’s deepest joy and privilege to be devoted to God. It is not that a Christian has to obey God and submit to God’s will; it’s that we get to and want to. It is the highest honor and a privilege. Imagine the honor that would come from being the ambassador and representative of United States. Imagine being the President of the United States. If it is an honor to be devoted to a nation, how much more of an honor is it to be devoted to the creator of the universe who created us and died for our sins?

There is a dramatic difference between doing something religious because we feel like we have to and feeling like we want to. Someone who has experienced the inner peace and joy from Christ does not want to live life apart from Him, because the joy, meaning and purpose that comes from a relationship with Christ transcends all meaning apart from God. And this makes perfect sense: the created (us) were designed to be in relationship with the creator (God), and naturally, the wonderful functionality of that relationship will transcend all other reasons for solace man can create. This is why a Christian should go to great lengths, perhaps great expense to them to guard their relationship with God and do whatever it costs to make it a priority. Think of the hard work, dedication and trouble one goes to to pass an exam or train for the Olympic games. So to, maintaining a relationship with God should affect our thinking and doing in everything because we value it so highly.

A Christian’s motivation should stem from realizing what Christ has done for us, i.e., given us what we don’t deserve and cannot earn, namely, forgiveness and reconciliation to God. Christians believe the perfect work that we can’t do was done by Christ on our behalf.

Outward formalism

“Those who make religion their god will not have God for their religion.” -Thomas Erskine of Linlathen

“The disease (sin) may be veiled under a thin covering of courtesy, politeness, good manners, and outward decorum; but it lies deep down in the constitution.” J.C. Ryle

The Lord said in Isaiah 1:10 to the rulers of Sodom and the people of Gomorrah: “The multitude of your sacrifices- what are they to me?” “I have more than enough burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.” In verse 13 the Lord said: “Stop bringing me meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths, and convocations- I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates.” Throughout the Old Testament the hypocrisy of conformity to outward rituals lacking inward faith is evident.

Jesus reiterated this righteous anger thousands of years later as Luke records in chapter 11 and Matthew records in 23:27: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Like the Pharisees, our acts of obedience, offerings, sacrifices, and conformity to regulations are impure (blemished). On the other hand, the sacrificial offering of Christ, was pure (unblemished), therefore is the only thing has the power to atone for sin.

There may be good deal of people who appear noble on the outside, yet own an ugly heart that’s never repented. There may be a good amount of church members who sing songs in church with their lips, yet their hearts are far from God. They may have made public and private professions, conformed to religious rituals, and had outward show, yet their words were empty. They may have participated in religion their whole lives, but the external religiousness does not merit acceptance from God. They may use religion for political or social reasons, which may please and impress man, but not God.

Legalism, means, “practicing good deeds and conforming to rituals, regulations and ceremonies, but no inward faith or sincerity.” The Pharisees were legalists. Jesus emphasized the motive behind the deed. The same good deed done by two different people can be done for the opposite reason. Christians believe that our good works should be done out of humble gratitude (knowing we can’t earn merit) instead of pride (thinking we can earn merit). Jesus taught that good deeds are a byproduct of faith. God, through the Holy Spirit who indwells in us, produces “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” in us (Galatians 5:22).

In Matthew 5:27, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” God sees more than how we act, He knows every thought. Therefore, someone overly concerned with outward actions, religious postures, rituals and appearance should also be concerned with the issues in their heart and mind. Proverbs 16:2 says, “God weighs the motives of the heart” and 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

In the Parable of the Sower in Matthew chapter 13 Jesus essentially says not all who have outward show of conversion, existential feelings about conversion and practice religion have their roots in true conversion.

Jesus said, “A farmer went out to sow His seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seeds fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still the other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop- a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Jesus explained the parable, “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil ones comes in and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seen that fell on rocky places is the man who heart the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who heard the word, but the worries of his life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Unnecessary, or Purposeful Crucifixion?

As quoted earlier, Louis Berkhof wrote, “The atonement was necessary, because God sovereignly determined to forgive sin on no other condition.” God, in His Sovereign Holiness has to punish sin.

We simply cannot please God by what we do. If we think we can, we are essentially saying Christ’s crucifixion was unnecessary. However, that is not the case. The apostle Paul said in Galatians 2:21, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Paul is saying, if we put faith in our works to earn acceptance from God we are essentially believing that Christ is of no value.

Because the innocent (Christ) suffered the penalty due us we are free from the burden of the law and are justified by grace, not adherence of the law. Christ met the qualifications of the law on our behalf because we couldn’t. Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Paul wrote in Galatians 2:16, “know that man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” Paul asked the Galatians in 3:2, “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” We are regenerated and saved (born again) by believing, not by observing dates, codes, laws, baptisms, ceremonies or other religious rituals and regulations. None of those things will come to our defense on the Day of Judgment. None of those things regenerate us or change our standing before God.

Ephesians 2:3-4 says, “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions- it is by grace you have been saved” (emphasis added). We were made alive by God when we were dead. It is God who regenerated us and brought us back from the dead. 1 John 4:19 says He loved us first, not the other way around. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, “God does not love us because we are intrinsically good or worth loving, but because He is intrinsically love and infinitely loving.” He also said, “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”

Salvation is unmerited favor. We have not earned the privilege to be “God’s children,” or to be “forgiven” and “pardoned.” Our new standing and new position before God is a gift and an undeserved honor. “For all have sinned and all fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23, emphasis added).

Our Only Defense

Christ is the sufficient sacrifice, made once and for all, for the remission of our sins. Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. He suffered the penalty affixed to transgression so we do not have to. It is only by His blood we are saved from God’s wrath, for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).

We add nothing to the work of Christ. It is the sole means for our redemption. It would cease to be grace if we could add even an iota to our salvation. As it is, we add nothing. Like the hymn Rock of Ages reads, “Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling; Naked flee to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace.” John 3:16 declares, “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” (emphasis added). The word “believes” in that verse excludes all works from contributing to salvation.

We bring nothing to draw near to Him, except that which is dear to Him. Nothing we bring to God, except faith in the one who died for sins, is valuable enough to Him to merit forgiveness. Only the precious blood of Christ is of infinite worth and can justify sinners- those who were enemies of God. Ephesians 2:13 says we are “brought near by the blood of Christ,” and nothing else, no exceptions.

Nothing, except the blood of Christ and His advocacy for us puts up a worthy defense from the wrath of God. Only Christ intercedes on our behalf and pleads the merits of His suffering for our benefit. Christ’s sacrifice is the only effective means in turning us from enemies of God into reconciled children.  We approach God’s throne with confidence for one reason: that we are forgiven through Jesus Christ. We do no approach God’s throne with confidence in ourselves or what we have done.

The hymn, Nothing but the Blood, written by Robert Lowry articulates it well: “Oh! precious is the flow. That makes me white as snow; No other fount I know, Nothing but the blood of Jesus. For my pardon, this I see, Nothing but the blood of Jesus; For my cleansing this my plea, Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Nothing can for sin atone, Nothing but the blood of Jesus; Naught of good that I have done, Nothing but the blood of Jesus; This is all my hope and peace, Nothing but the blood of Jesus; This is all my righteousness, Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Nothing will be able defend us on judgment day except the blood of Christ that was poured out on our behalf.

If Colossians chapter 1 is true; “All things were created by Him (Christ) and for Him (Christ) and that “the fullness of God dwelled in Him (Christ),” how can we attempt to lessen His glory in saying, “salvation comes from Jesus plus something else?” Jesus did not “get us a good start” and we can do the rest. The work of Christ is finished and complete. The supremacy and adequacy of Christ is watered-down by works-oriented justification teaching. Only in our pride and sin do we try to prove our worth to God. If our worth in God’s eyes is based on anything except Christ it is woefully inadequate.

We have been indoctrinated by our culture that says, “You get what you deserve” and “You get what you earn.” Thanks be to God we don’t get what we deserve. God’s economy of grace is the opposite. With God we get what we receive, not what we earn and not what we deserve. At our jobs we work for an hourly wage- the more we work, the more money we earn, the more money we earn the more we are worth. Not so in God’s plan of salvation. God gives worth to those the world considers worthless.

1 Corinthians 1:20-21 reads, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who belief.” Verses 27-31 say, “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things- and the things that are not- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God- that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’”

When we think we can take credit for our wonderful standing with God all we have to do is read the Bible. We are quickly brought low because we see we are condemnable. Only through God’s love, mercy and grace are we placed in His favor. Let’s put down our self-manufactured checklist, which may give us confidence in ourselves, and assume a posture of submission and wholly rely on faith in Christ for salvation.



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Horsetooth,

Remember our motto here: “Redemption is virtuous, but never anything more serious than that.” The word redemption, if it holds no greater meaning than it describes what happens in stories on Oprah, is empowered by measly creatures. We have done a good work in their minds having them think that redemption, salvation, and faith are nothing more than “good” virtues and not things that determine where they will spend time without end. The word reality is key here- the literality of Christ’s claims, his life, death and resurrection are allowed to be preached but only as religious ideas, symbols, or myths.

I have often said the scriptures merely symbolize an abstract and more profound significance. A significance that can positively impact humanity and work towards social justice. They do not think those good things are byproducts of something greater than themselves, but rather the means to an end: the ultimate. They are adequately tickled when they see success in our (their) world. When their “religious” models and concepts create change socially and politically, be it about gender, race or class, this pleases them. Keep them happy. Triumph in our world brings denunciation in the real one.

On a different, but equally important note: religious concepts must remain estranged from actual time and actual place. The contemplation of the actual, rough, splintery cross being stained with Christ’s dripping blood, are thoughts I never have to labor to dismiss thanks to my effort. I have never had a member of the church I have been assigned to venture to the Holy Land, because it has no meaning to them. The marvel and terror that can seize strong varmints as they speculate about which hill where Christ was crucified is something I never have to agonize about. When the historicity and authenticity of those events, that in fact happened, is denied, the guts are sucked right out of the words redemption and salvation. Better yet, the implications of the reality of the words are a non-issue in their eyes.

In our circle we have come to use the phrase “religious other,” in referring to the place these quasi-truths or philosophies are categorized in people’s minds. Our nemesis, propositional truths, we must insist belong another religious sect- a wing that is close-minded, conservative, judgmental and unloving. They think absolutes are harsh and unloving. As iron sharpens iron, playdough keeps playdough soft. Essentially they have created an idol, a cast of a god who has no wrath, only mercy, who strikes no fear, only loves, who does not condemn, only accepts.

We have said, “There is such a thing as truth, but it is relative and depends on preferences; it changes to fit the contour of each iniquitous individual.” An all-loving god is an all-condoning god. Cheer on their egocentricity. For example, remind them of what they believe: more important than learning God’s precepts and conforming to them is God wanting them to be happy with whatever they choose, not any different than a lax grandfather.

Their “truths” consist of a “combination of mood and moment, a vague, meaningless, existential experience” (Schaeffer). Seeking exotic experiences, which is what they call “truth,” through meditation is sufficient food for their emaciated souls, so do not be stingy when divvying out such occurrences.

We don’t need to stray far from the blueprint: our father first tempted them to resort to their own understanding, which leads them right to us. Teaching someone to depend on their feelings and preferences for corresponding facts, which they base their beliefs on, is key. They must continue to trust their feelings and thoughts and have confidence in their emotional responses. (This is because we control their feelings, thoughts and emotions!) As expected, their beliefs never disagree with their personal preferences- and, they mostly conflict with the Enemy’s principles.

We know, weather or not anyone acknowledges the truth, the truth does not care- it can not cease to exist. This relativism can lead to the flattery of their brothers in sin, rather than rebuking him. I love to watch this. This delight hinges on the belief that, although there all many incongruent interpretations of the scriptures, all of them are equally correct. Now this depends on the individualistic method of understanding the Enemy and his words- as if he changes to suit each person. These philosophies are as weightless as our kingdom. Unlike the true varmints who are unified by very stringent and particular doctrines, my congregation has no statements of faith, no creeds, nothing on record that holds them together, moreover, no propositional truths to hang their hats on.

Lastly, these liberal “Christians” don’t need to look to the enemy to revive them if they think the inner man does not require an alteration to be “good” enough. By consequence, they mock the atonement; the ultimate act of love. Which, ironically, is what they say they want most. They deify kindness, equality and love and, at the same time, are utterly incapable of all of them. In essence, they think filth can achieve the highest level of goodness and godliness. Advance an optimistic view in the future of mankind. The measure of how much they love becomes the standard. They put the bar as low as they need to make it over. They would never guess such a valiant effort will collapse and crush them. It will crush them as the Christ was, yet they will have no faultless life to fall back on.

Remember, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Kindred Spirits, Devil’s Brush

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To a Christian who does not think he can “be to sure” of where he will go when he dies

“For you have been born again, not of a perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” 1 Peter 1:23

“There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2

“Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession- to the praise of His glory.” Ephesians 1:13-14

“Because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions- it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms with Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expresses in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:4-9

“You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” Ephesians 2:19-20

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless He is born again.” John 3:3

“He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all He created.” James 1:18

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade- kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” 1 Peter 1:3-5

Being “born again,” or “regenerated” like Jesus and Paul mention is totally a work of God. We don’t play an active role (we are passive)- “so that no man can boast.” All credit is due to God, none to us. Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” The New Testament often talks about a new spiritual rebirth. Christians are “not born of natural descent, not of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:13).

Alive in Christ; pardoned

A theme in the in the New Testament is that we were formerly “dead in our trespasses and sins,” but believers have been “made alive in Christ,” once and for all. The book of Hebrews points out the details of “the new covenant,” the benefits from it, and how radically different it is than the law.

No more sacrifices are required to appease God, because Christ, once and for all, met the demands of God for the atonement of our sins (Hebrews chapters 7-11). Jesus was the perfect sacrifice demanded by God to meet His requirements in order to reconcile sinners to Himself. Therefore we have “been reconciled” and as Hebrews talks about, “Christ is our mediator,” and He “intercedes for us.”

Paul says in Romans 8:33, “Who will bring any charge against those God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died- more than that, who was raised to life- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding of us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or danger or sword?” He continues in verse 38, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Our position before God forever changed when we accepted Christ by faith. At that time we are “justified” and “pardoned.” (We may or may not be able to point to a certain moment). At that moment we were “born again,” “regenerated,” meaning God has imparted new spiritual life to us. All of our sins (past, present and future) have been paid for in full. Because we are mysteriously “in Christ” God views us as unblemished children, not objects of wrath as we formerly were. When we are pardoned and justified by faith in Christ how can be we condemned? We have been put in the position of beloved children by God, not by ourselves. Therefore, our status before God is not dependent on our weakness; our status before God depends on His strength. God has chosen us (we have not chosen Him) as His children, and He will protect us. Christians are confident in his keeping rather than our losing.

Our Confidence

Our confidence comes from faith in Christ’s finished work on our behalf. And also knowing that God has imputed Christ’s work and righteousness to us; just like the bible says. Our assurance springs forth from certainty of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. The faith we have in those things has been given to us by God. We could not be convinced of those things in our own power as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 2:14: “The man without the Holy Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

We are not climbing a ladder to heaven. We can not work our way there. Our confidence does not come from our ability to “stay in grace,” but rather assurance that God will keep us there. If He has provided the means of grace for us, will He not provide security for us?

The Holy Spirit: Our Keeper

God knows we are fallen and has not entrusted fallen creatures to “keep their salvation” by their effort. So, God has given us the Holy Spirit to indwell in us. God the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in us. The Holy Spirit has “sealed” us and marked us as God’s possession. He (the Holy Spirit) also imparts spiritual wisdom, helps us, leads us into truth, guides us, comforts us, and counsels us. As Jesus says, in John 16:13-14, “He (the Holy Spirit) will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.”

The Holy Spirit puts a new nature in us and a new principle, new desires. Those Godly principles, (that Jesus said the Spirit would make known to us), conflict with the “natural man,” or the sin nature that still resides in us. Hence the struggle against “the flesh” that Paul talks about in Romans chapter 7.

The regenerated man’s life, including thoughts, words, deeds, should look different than the man whose life is ruled by the sin nature (and unenlightened) rather than the Holy Spirit. We all have friends who can not understand our principles and we can not understand theirs- this is evidence of the different type of “engine” in us. The Spirit does not set our minds on worldly things. The scriptures call us “aliens” and “foreigners” and that is what we should sometime feel like. We have been “set apart” for God’s glory in a fallen world. The cross is our motivation and inspiration- not money or accolades, sex, power, happiness or comfort- which does not make sense to most people.

Evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit is to know more, do more, repent more, believe more, love more, and walk closer with God. The Spirit produces “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” in a person (Galatians 5:22-23). These are the opposite of “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry, witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissention, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like” (Galatians 5:19-21).

Jesus, who is worthy of our confidence is why we are certain we will go to heaven when we die. A colossal hope, and consolation in our current suffering and trials, is looking forward to our earthly death. It is then we will be united to God and see Christ face to face, who is the all-satisfying treasure of our souls. That day will be glorious. We will be eternally free from our sins and consequences of them, and temptation, we will receive a resurrected and perfect body (1 Corinthians chapter 15), and there will be no more pain. What hope do we have if we are not longing for that day?

How can we be heavenly-minded, as we are told we are, if our salvation is in flux? Is the bible lying to us when it says we have been “forgiven” and “freed from the powers of darkness?”

Conquerors

We are humbled and privileged by these mind-blowing truths; knowing that the initiative was and is on God’s side. C.S. Lewis puts it in perspective: “God does not love us because we are intrinsically good or worth loving, but because He is intrinsically love and infinitely loving.” Lewis also said, “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”

It has been said the people who were focused most on heaven are the people who did the most on earth. Our having faith in the existence of an eternal home already prepared for us is motivating. Confidence, not fear of flux, is encouraging. One more Lewis quote: “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”

Jesus’ perfect life, His death for our sins, and His resurrection is what we rely on. We have absolutely zero confidence in ourselves. Our confidence comes from a “Spirit not of timidity” (2 Timothy 1:7), but from bold given to us by the risen and living God. We can be confident because of what He says He has done for us in His word. We can take Him at His Word. Jesus has “conquered sin” for us; He has lived the perfect life that we can not; He has “taken the sting out of death.” He told us these things so we can be confident in our forgiveness.

If Jesus has “triumphed over death” for us how can we still be subject to it? Was Paul lying in Romans 6:6 when he says, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin?”

Paul goes on: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him. The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God.”

We can trust Him when He says we are forgiven.

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“I want a gold hat- I will get one if I do that.
I want silver on my wrist- I will get it if I do this.
Rewards, rewards- are what I live for. I work hard, pay me by the hour.
Be prompt with my wages so they don’t sour.”
–author unknown

“Jesus gives the ultimate incentive for our obedience, namely, closer intimacy with Him.”
“You reward our purity with more delight when we worship.”
“Blessed are the pure at heart, their reward is that they shall see God with a more gorgeous view.”
“You manifest more of yourself to those who keep your word and those who obey.”
“Avoid anything that would grieve God’s amazing presence.”
“I despise anything that would give hindrance to me, and keep me from experiencing His intimacy.”

–Timothy Brindle

“My one son is wicked to me- he does not listen to me, he does not obey me, he does not talk to me, he disrespects me, and causes me much pain, heartache and worry. My other son is kind to me- he listens to me, he obeys me, he talks to me, he respects me, he brings me much joy and causes me to be thankful, happy and feel loved. Who do I have the better relationship with?” –author unknown

I admittedly don’t know much about how the bible speaks about heavenly/spiritual rewards. So, I try not to write about specific revelations in regards to that, in order to avoid misinterpreting and/or misrepresenting the scriptures. I don’t think the scriptures are as cut and dry as we would like them to be about rewards and the blessings of obedience. However, that does not mean one can not contemplate on them based on God’s character through Jesus teachings, other revealed operations of God, and reality (natural theology). We can know one thing for certain; we can know from studying God’s Word, rewards and blessings of obedience are not similar to the world’s works based systems.

The idea that humility is a reward, a byproduct and privilege of God the Holy Spirit’s operation in our lives, is probably not what we imagined as a reward or blessing. However, is it not a reward to be cared for the by creator of the universe that He shows us our pride which exposes our need for a Savior? Is it not a blessing of obedience when we are brought to our knees in submission and weakness and cry out to God? Ironically, those things are blessings of obedience, namely, living the life provided by the Spirit and subsequently being rightly related to God.

“Reward” has to be (re) defined. “Riches” have to be (re) defined. “Wealth” and “blessings” have to be (re) defined. We can discern this from knowing other paradoxical truths about God. Because His ways are higher than ours, and we are constantly surrounded by values opposite of His, we have to intentionally try to set all we think we know aside when considering God’s ways. We have to rearrange our mindset. Timothy Keller puts it well; God “wins through losing, triumphs through defeat, achieves power through weakness and service, and comes to wealth via giving away.”

If we are to know what a reward truly is we have to interfere with our typical thinking. Just as Jesus did not come to establish an earthly reign, with political authority, or presidential status with riches and clout- like we might have thought- our aim should also be the “unseen,” spiritual Kingdom of God; a kingdom that takes honor in a low position, humility in a high position, and achieves power through weakness. If our natural thinking is naturally backwards wouldn’t it follow suite that we think unlike God in regards to rewards and blessings of obedience?

Some religious traditions and secular interpretation of those traditions may suggest that rewards and blessings are material- like hats, tons of friends, a high ranking, a front row seat, or watches, a cooler looking chair, gold bricks, a brighter glow, more rings on a halo, or a superior more ornate residence that we will receive in heaven for our earthly works.

I think there are stupefyingly simplistic answers to a couple questions already asked. What is our motivation? Jesus is our motivation. What inspires us towards obedience? Jesus is the reason we are inspired. What are our rewards? Jesus is our reward. Tell those things to someone who has not experienced intimacy with Christ and they will walk away and go back to where they came from; trying to amass perishable goods for their perceived personal gain. Although, the only truly good thing that person has is time to repent (the possibility to believe in God) and, in the end, that will be taken from them if they don’t repent. If our motivation is gold bricks, the best possible reward will be gold bricks, i.e. something dead and truly worthless. If our motivation is Christ our reward will be Him, i.e. something living and truly priceless.

We do not earn “wages” or spiritual rewards as we might expect. The reward for the efforts that Christians are instructed to practice, such as, fleeing from sin and treating God as God, is intimacy with Christ. The byproducts of obedience our manifold; they are our riches and our reward. For example, (lasting) peace, (lasting) love, (lasting) joy.
Just as I don’t have to earn my wife’s love in order for her to give it to me, I don’t earn God’s love in order to receive it. If I love my wife the blessings “built in” my relationship to her. If I am in right relationship with her I will be rewarded simply as result of it.

The ultimate and satisfying reward, namely, intimacy with Christ, as expected, produces the characteristics of any normal and natural progression of a close relationship; familiarity, closeness, trust, vulnerability, security, protection, love, sharing/disclosing good and bad details of life, and unconditional acceptance. All these things, if we are fortunate enough to experience in a relationship with a person, (spouse, parent or friend), are the greatest “dividends” one could want. Although they are not tangible rewards that could be purchased, they are the greatest “rewards” we can possess. Although they are without price (freely given) they are the most valuable, the most precious, the most rewarding “things” we can have. The most valuable things to me cost me nothing (monetarily speaking), i.e. my wife (she says she would have married me without a diamond, “but the diamond was nice”), my arms and legs, my brain, and my heart. The things that are the least valuable to me cost me the most, i.e. my house, my car and my college degree (my parents paid for most of it).
When we are saved we get “everything for nothing,” this is not like our world, where we get “something in return for something else.” A blessing is a gift, it is undeserved and unearned. In a relationship one does not have to (should not have to) earn love in order to receive it- it is freely given because one loves the one they are affectionate towards.

Likewise, there is no amount of money you could pay me to try to completely reject Christ. As believers, we could take or leave all the money in the world. Our treasure is in heaven, Christ is our satisfaction. Awesomely odd, isn’t it?

Here are just a few rewards that are certainly not going to appeal to the unbeliever, but are the longing of a true Christian:
1. The honor and privilege to worship a good and loving God.
2. The joy of casting our crowns (gifts) at His feet.
3. To see God more clearly without the entanglement of sin.
4. The longing for ultimate pleasure and satisfaction.
5. Knowing God and living in perfection.
6. The enlightenment and clarity of Godly thought and it’s outcome.
7. Longing for perpetual self-denial, and sacrificial self-effacing conduct.
8. Becoming what we were designed to be (finally living like we were meant to); servants and friends of God and co-heirs with Christ.
9. Looking forward not to what we earned, but what God wants to give us.
10. Final and eternal freedom from our rebellion of proper relation to God.

Our wanting physical gifts and having the lust of our eyes met rather than the deep needs of our heart and soul is a carnal desire. Spiritual gifts, such as humility, meekness, and selflessness do not meet the needs of the selfish part of person. “Reward,” according to the worldly definition “adds” something to a person, such as, wealth, more identification, more fame, status or class. In contrast, a reward, from a heavenly perspective, is freedom from wanting those things. A heavenly perspective cultivates the desire to “become less,” in order that God can increase and be seen as He is; the all satisfying treasure of our souls.

If we become less aware of what we have and more aware of what we give (worship to God), why would we care if we have more? We would not. We would only want out of a desire to give back (to God), which is the opposite of having a reward for ourselves.

The bible is clear about how essential “knowing” Christ is. Paul says in Philippians 3: 8-10, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider then rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ…” Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death…”
(to be continued…)

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We’re saved by grace through faith, that’s it. But if we’re saved we’ll hate unrighteousness. We praise God for His super amazing grace, but killing sin is the fruit of our saving faith. It’s no excuse that we’re totally depraved, because we’re united to Christ who rose up from the grave. We’re not debtors to our flesh, but to Him who resurrected us. He redeemed us all on the cross, so to grow in holiness is our reasonable response.” -Timothy Brindle, in his song “Let’s Kill Sin”

“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” –Jesus

We’re all not so outward with our imperfections, but some are. How, then, can we who think the bad things that more animated people say and do, criticize and condemn them? Being reserved in nature is something that can turn out snobbishness. If reservation is our temperament we have to be all the more observant of our thoughts and honest within our quiet hypocrisy.

By the same token, though, we should not act out on everything we think in order to be honest to our thoughts, just for the sake of avoiding hypocrisy. There is much value in taming the tongue, exercising self-control over it and other things, trying to refrain from gossip, fighting the urge to do wrong, and cutting off (or fleeing from) the sin before it “has legs.” All of those valuable things help avoid further entanglement and further disobedience to our Lord.

Unfortunately, in the name of “authenticity” some do not try to tame their tongue (they say in order to be honest with themselves), or fight the urge to do wrong (in order to avoid hypocrisy), or refrain from and cut off gossip. If I were to be honest with my feelings I would run into the back of cars if they cut me off, take a baseball bat to this laptop, (visibly) flip out at Walmart, and tell the high-ups in the corporation I work for what I think of them. This concept of “authenticity” is bogus and it mocks God. If we “put legs” on our thoughts we would be arrested within hours of waking up. The same concept has been used by some who have pawned off their own sinfulness, saying “it is not I who does the sin, but sin living in me that does it,” therefore, they say, are not responsible for what they do. Both are shams. As Christians we have been called to a giant undertaking that requires much exertion, much effort, much energy, much hard work, much endurance, much suffering, and much application. The task is so large that God sent a helper to assist us.

Recently I had the sad privilege of observing some of my “brothers” exhibit a lack of outward restraint, and disregard for fighting against their inclination towards sin. (Some of this story is exaggerated) From what I could tell there was no hesitation or restraint from obvious waywardness. I was in a car being driven as the driver was gawking at a girl at the same time he was talking about sleeping with his girlfriend. As the passenger boasted about his sexual prowess he took a few chugs of a vodka and tonic to become further inebriated.

Meanwhile, I found a bible in the backseat of the car and said, “Whose is this?” The driver said it was his and he said he reads it often. One of the passengers said with compliance and enthusiasm, “everyone needs Jesus.” Interesting, I thought. I spent the next couple days in confusion about this situation, trying to sort out my feelings. I felt hypocritical; like I was self-righteous for criticizing their actions, when I, although not so outwardly sinful, also disobey God. Part of the absurdity of this situation was how pronounced, proud and unabashed these guys were with their blatant disrespect for God. If they had been boasting in Christ so fanatically it would have been remarkable, rather it was about fornication and intoxication.

I also felt pride and thankfulness because I was not like them, therefore I felt like I was more deserving of forgiveness and salvation than them. I found myself wanting my “spiritual workload,” spiritual disciplines, and Christian resume to come to my defense, as to remind God I was not as bad as them and puff myself up in my own mind. I was disillusioned by what it means to be a Christian, I felt legalistic, I felt anger towards my “brothers” for taking advantage of grace; and sorrow that they would grieve the Spirit of God and not consider His commands. Which feelings were right?

Sidenote: I do think it demonstrates our pride and idiocy how our observation of what we perceive as “nominal” or “carnal” Christians leads us to believe that we are more deserving of forgiveness, salvation and grace. Compared to Jesus, we are all ”carnal.” And even to the great Christ followers we may look as unresponsive to Christ as those we criticize. As Hooker puts it, “The best things which we do have somewhat in them to be pardoned.” Aside from grace, which is the only means to forgiveness, we would all remain guilty. It has been said, “no matter how deep the water, without Christ, we are all drowning.” That is true.

Sidenote done. I found it ironic, at least my mind made it to be, that the sermon that very Sunday was on Matthew chapter 20. It is a parable Jesus tells about workers in a vineyard. One group of workers worked 12 hours and another group worked only 1 hour. Despite one group laboring all day and the other only for one hour, both groups received the same amount of wages; a denarius. Each group was paid according to what the landowner wanted to give them. In this case, the wages handed out did not seem congruent with what was earned by either group. The wages were not dependent on the work done, but rather the choice of what the landowner wanted to pay them. What a counter-cultural idea that offends common sense- the opposite of how the world’s system operates. One group of workers displayed commitment, perseverance and hard work and the other group none of those. Therefore, one would think, they should not receive the same amount.

That parable made me think about what happened in the car earlier in the week with those guys. Some of my disgust and anger came from this feeling that I was the 12-hour worker and they were the 1-hour workers. I.E., that I was more deserving of the wages I was due according to my labors for God and His principles. (It is clear their actions were contrary to God’s will- as it is His will that we obey and vigorously oppose our tendency not to.) The parallel between this real life situation and the parable was striking.

The point is, anyone who does not strive after Christ like we think we do is not less deserving of forgiveness, salvation and grace than we are. The crazy thing about grace, and we all need this engrained is that, it is never merited. Our self-denial, service, sacrifice, intentional effort of being set apart from worldly values, practicing charity, patience in trail, guarding our hearts, trying to be more like Jesus in all our little ways, fighting distractions in order to keep Christ the focus, being consciously aware of considering God’s will in everything we think and say, do, does not earn us justification, pardon or salvation. Our having justification is not dependent on “how many hours we work.” At the same time, however, the list of Christian attributes is fruit of the Spirit, byproducts of a relationship with God. Fruit of the Spirit is evidence of our faith, and proof of receiving and continuing in Christ’s love, and also, sanctification.

As the parable tells us, the landowner said to the 12-hour workers who grumbled after they got their 1 denarius, “Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my down money?” Jesus not only spoke this parable, but He lived it, when He welcomed the thief on the cross into paradise only moments before their deaths. That seemingly scandalous, unwarranted benevolence of something so “undeserved” upends our rationale. This demonstrates that no matter how much work we put in, what we receive depends on how the “landowner” wants to divvy out his denarius (wages).

This leads me to my point, which raises several questions. Why work 12 hours if the person who works 1 hour will get rewarded the same? Are they truly rewarded the same? What is a reward? What is our motivation to starve our sinful appetite and to fight against our corrupt self-centered tendencies?

What inspires us towards obedience? What stirs a desire towards practical holiness and closer relationship with God if, in the end, we are going to receive the same reward as the thief next to Jesus?

What about someone like Job who would be considered a “12-hour worker,” but was not rewarded accordingly? What about someone who hates God and appears blessed and rewarded?
(To be continued…)

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A few of us really care for the king
We’ve got to fight when you’re in sight
For other men staring’s no thing
“Well don’t look then”
Well sis, I wasn’t lookin’
But if I’ve gotta nose can I help smellin’ the cookin’
I know you can blame it on the weakness of men
But the weakness is made weaker when we see your skin”
by Ambassador in his song “Body Talk”

For 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.” -Apostle Paul

A person should not expect longevity and durability from a relationship derived from a mere sensual, instinctive, animalistic, initial response.

It is obvious, but necessary to point out; a person is going to like a person who is attractive to them and looks are the first thing we recognize in a potential mate. The scenario that I am writing about it is when, a woman is dressed provocatively and/or seductively and several men stare because, by her presentation it is clear her intentions are to arouse and provoke imaginations or stares. This scenario is not based on those intrinsic character qualities, but mere appearance. This type of attention seeking and attention giving game can be seen walking down the street, in shopping malls, at games, in gyms, at concerts, at restaurants and anywhere. And, unfortunately, if unchecked by truth, playing this game is just our (flawed) nature.

The key is that the woman looks indecent, or is purposely dressed to seek notice by wearing revealing clothes. It is not the clothes themselves that are bad, it is the motives, the thoughts, of the woman as behind them. The outward provocative appearance is a result of inward thoughts or lack thereof.

If a woman dresses provocatively, it is contradictory for her to expect a man who will not take his first notice at only her physical features. (Again, it is natural and true that physical features are the first thing we all observe in a person. But, it is to the degree to which the instinctive (sin) nature is provoked intentionally by one person and indulged in (unchecked) by the other that is the difference between right and wrong (righteous and unrighteous).

This provocative woman, weather she likes it or not, is communicating that her body is more important than her character. She is essentially saying that she is insecure in who she is, so in order to find worth, security and identity she seeks those things out in (corrupt) interest from men, which will not truly give worth, security and identity. Perhaps, what a woman really wants (unconditional and sacrificial love) and what she is setting herself up for is incompatible. (Maybe it is being presumptuous that every woman longs for pure love.) If a provocative woman wants to be treated like a piece of meat, then she is doing a fine job of cultivating those types of relationships. The (natural) byproduct of her thoughts and actions are compatible with a quick, flash in the pan, relationship.

So, why is it a surprise when “love” does not last? Maybe it is because people expect to be loved when they are merely appealing to lust and selfishness in the other person in the first place. Lust and selfishness do not produce love, just like a weed does not produce an oak tree. The qualities that will produce love are respect, honor, selflessness, consideration to name few.

A man may see a provocative woman and say, “I want that.” He would never say, “I wonder how I could love her and honor her.” That considerate thought could not be further from the mind of a man led by his impulses and selfish physical drive. If this scenario was the first interaction between this man and this woman, from the very get-go the relationship, from the man’s perspective, is based on “what he can get.” This is clearly not a genuine interest in the woman or stemming from a desire to truly love her. Contrarily, it is coming from an adulterated wish stemming from self-centered motives. Wanting satisfaction for self at the expense of another with no commitment or consideration of them is the opposite of love.

“Love” is not frivolous affections, it is not infatuation. “Love” is not something that comes and goes with feelings; it is not truly “love” if it is passed from partner to partner. Love is not any of the things that mainstream media, most movies and films, or Hollywood actors/actresses, and subsequently our culture, define it as.

Love is not necessarily drawn out by any excellency (or deservedness) in its objects. Love lies in the nature and character of the lover, i.e. their affections, attachment, commitment and ability to exercise deliberate choice over momentary feelings. Love can not be earned or bought. Love is not automated or programmed- it is a choice, a decision. Love is freely given. Love expresses itself by actions. Love demonstrates itself. Love is about the lover’s unreserved graciousness on the beloved. Love seeks the welfare of the beloved before it’s own. Love never fails. Love is compelling and enticing. Love is the truth. Love is gentle and sincere. Love endures. Love requires hard work. Love forgives. Love drives out fear. God is love.

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