I don’t deserve a bike, but here I am riding!

cute little boy on a bicycle

I grew up with Andy Griffith Show reruns playing every day at 12:30 in the afternoon. One show that sticks in my mind is when Opie thinks he’s received an A on a test he took.

His dad gets so excited, and praises him for his good work. Opie’s exuberant–right there on Cloud 9. But the next day he goes to school and finds out there was a mistake made, and he didn’t really earn an A at all. He goes home downcast, having fallen hard off the clouds, only to find his father has bought him a bike as a reward.

The guilt he feels over the next few days drives him to run away from home.

As believers, sometimes I think we come before God like Opie does before his father. We know we haven’t really received an A, but we think God has a better impression of us than we really deserve. This leads us to depression and fear and anxiety that God will find out we’re not really as great as He thinks we are.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. God is totally aware that we are flops and failures. He’s not under a misconceived notion about who we really are. He knows exactly what we’ve done. He knows our worst motives. And He knows every reason why we don’t deserve Heaven.

One of the easiest and yet hardest things to understand in the Christian faith is justification. Justification is the idea that Christ’s A is laid down over top our F, and that the Father accepts that A on our behalf. It’s so easy that a grade-school student can understand it. And yet, it’s so difficult to really live out in our lives. Sometimes we find ourselves, like Opie, running away from God in fear that we are not really good enough.

That’s bad theology. 🙂 We forget that God already knows, far more than we do, who we are. And we forget that Christ’s A really does cover our F. When God gives us gifts, we don’t have to be hit with an enormous wave of guilt. Because, in God’s eyes, we have received the A. We are rewarded for Christ’s grade. That’s grace.

Running away from God when He gives us good things does not send the message that we are unworthy (which is what we think we are communicating), but instead sends the message that Christ’s A is unworthy. We don’t mean to say that, but that’s what it looks like. We don’t really live out justification if we think our F stands in the way of God’s love for us.

Opie had good reason to feel guilty for receiving a bike he didn’t really deserve. No one had stepped up for him and said, “Here, Opie, take my A and everything that goes with it.” But we have the most loving Friend in the world who did exactly this for us! We can receive God’s gifts with excitement and joy and, most of all, praise to Jesus, who makes all gifts possible.

That leads us to the point of this little blog. I’ve received Jesus’ A for my F. That’s justification. So even I don’t deserve a bike, here I am riding!  I can unwrap every good thing God has in my life, praising Christ Jesus all the way, because Jesus is my test-taker and He has laid down His life so that I could have His perfect A.

It’s time to take my new bike out for a spin.

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.
 (Romans 5:18, NLT)

 

 

 

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The jeweled Path

This past week has been like all weeks since my new life in Christ.  When I look back on the Path I’ve walked, the debris of my sin litters what was, only 7 days before, a clean street.

Here and there, I see the glimmers of a jewel, sometimes plainly seen on the path, sometimes hidden almost entirely underneath my sin.  I see the moments where God got ahold of my heart, where I prayed out of love, where I sought His heart, where I did something that imitated my Savior and my God.  But when I look at my basket of righteousness to see what I have collected from those moments, I see only the wicker at the bottom.

Empty.

Empty!

On the path behind, I see not only the gemstones I missed, but even more so the trash I left behind.  I think about how, in honesty, I could not reconcile and set everything right I trashed even this past seven days, much less for the some 8,000 days I have been an influencer in the world, a journeyer responsible for what I carry and what I leave behind.

This week, as I look back over the street, I see the very tip of a large gemstone just visible on the path I walked, but–before my heart can soar in this moment of discovering the gem or faint in grief that I didn’t spend time uncovering it–I see the mounds of trash piled high beside that stone, desecrating the goodness God was showing me.

It’s especially wounding to realize that God was working with me on something, that I saw it, that I even began to experience in it . . and then that other trash of my life spilled over and I sinned so greatly I obscured even the sweetest moment of the week.

Lately, I have had an obsession with the year 30.  I will be 30 August 28, 2013.  I dream that, when I turn 30, I will hold my life all together, that there will be only a few sprinkles of trash here and there, and that the path will be paved with breathtaking gemstones, one after the other, turned over by God as He reveals His work to my closely following heart.

I’ve thought, I’ve hoped I will begin following Jesus nearly perfectly.  Jesus started His public ministry at 30, and–though I know the first 29 years of my life do not mirror Jesus’ whatsoever save for the dazzling intervention of His grace–I hope that the rest of the years of my life will be a symphony of imitating my Redeemer, without His help.  I want to show Him that I love Him, that I can live out what He’s taught me  That I, in some tiny way, understand what He’s done for me.

But do I really believe this will happen?  Do I think that, in a few short months, simply because I hear the song of another birthday, my life will be filled with holiness?

That when I look back as an old woman (should I by God’s grace live so long!) I will see from the year 30 onward, the Path behind me jeweled and radiant with gemstones God has overturned for my pure heart to see, gemstones I have no longer missed because I am no longer too busy throwing the trash of my chaos, my selfishness, and my foolishness down the glory street, gemstones I finally placed in my basket to bring to Him at the moment my soul meets eternity?

Do I really think I will gather sapphires of peace, mali garnets of integrity, almandine garnets of charity, amazonites of purpose, moonstones of reflection, ambers of passion, amethysts of hope, morganites of gentleness, ammolites of creativity, andalusites of generosity, aventurines of adventure, beryls of a noble heart, peridots of faith, carnelians of trust, rhodolite garnets of beauty, charorites of compassion, rubies of wisdom, chrysoprases of worship, citrines of holiness, seraphinites of purity, danburites of determination, smoky quartz of persistence, diamonds of truth, spessarite garnets of fear of the Lord, emeralds of thoughtfulness, fire agates of resolution, sphalerites of zeal, emeralds of patience, spodumenes of exalting Christ, star diopsides of mystery, gaspeites of wonder, ametrines of mercy, agate geodes of victory, star garnets of announcing the Kingdom of Christ, star diopsides of proclaiming Christ as the only resolution for sin, goshenites of following Him, star sunshines of devotion, hackmanites of surrender, tanzanites of battling on God’s side, moss opals of growth, obsidians of strength, axinites of warmth, cassiterites of understanding, hiddenites of listening to the whispers of God, imperial topazes of His atonement for me, topazes of the war against sin, jaspers of the hidden plan of God, tiger’s eyes of refusing defeat, kunzites of the romance of God for His people, turquoises of astonishment for His grace, kyanites of a clear conscience, lapis lazulis of a servant’s heart, zircons of strength for the battles ahead, tourmalines of endurance, sunstones of redemption, pyrope garnets of forgiveness, and rubellite tourmalines of His love . . simply because I have gotten a year older?

Even now, I know it won’t be so.  I already imagine the litter of my sin in the future.  Even the most precious moments of God in my life are piled over high with the smelly filth of unimaginable sins I have committed.

How do I go on?  How do I keep hoping I will live a perfect life?  How do I keep from missing the gemstones in my path like a child staring at her shoes during an Easter egg hunt?  How do I have any assurance I will live a holy life from this day forward?  How do I rely on myself when, to date, the basket of my self-righteousness is empty?  I am happy simply to look back and see gems that have not been totally buried in my trash; I never once have been able to touch one with my fingertips and place it in my basket.  And so my basket is hauntingly empty; the path of holiness is hauntingly fearful; I wonder how I can, with any sort of integrity, keep going down the path of Christianity and not resign in shame?

And then, suddenly, instantly, a hand slips into mind.  I recognize the scar in the middle of the palm; I look up and see a head that has borne the crown of thorns I deserve as my reward for how I have journeyed on this path.

My eyes fill with tears, because I look on His majesty and see I have nothing to give Him.  I am like a servant walking in a kingdom to find that it is the king’s birthday and I have no present.  This is far more than a birthday; this is Resurrection Day–and what do I have to give Him?

I look down at my empty basket and the shame of how I’ve walked the Path brings me to my knees.  I cover my face in my hands and hope He does not see me, that He walks on by to receive jewels from others who have earned them for Him.

He still holds my hand, and He moves my hand in His to reach for something I cannot see with my head bent down.  He withdraws His hand from my trembling one, and my hand rests on the hard warmth of the inside of a basket filled with jewels, loaded down so that not another can fit.

I raise my hand, stand in surprise, look in the basket held out before me.  Inside is everything I have ever tried to give Jesus; everything jewel God has ever shown me on the path that I either missed or failed to pick up; and ones I have never seen or imagined even existed that await on my future path–I see clearly that I will fail to pick up them, too.

The jewels of righteousness are too beautiful for my unholy eyes, and I jerk my gaze away.  I try to pull my hand from His basket, but He grasps my wrist and lays my hand back over the gemstones.

“I cannot . .” I weep.  “I cannot take your gemstones.  You’ve worked so hard for them.  It’s not fair!  I’m the one who should be giving to you!”

I should have collected jewels to give to Him! He is the one who carried me from the path of destruction!  I owe Him everything!  should be the one bringing the gifts!

He is the One who undug my grave while nails were in His palms.  He is the One who kissed my dead heart to life while He was kissed with my betrayal of HimHe is the One who lifted me out of the grave while the consequences of my actions shredded His skin. He is the One who crowned my head with life while He wore the crown of my curse.  He is the one who carried me on His back while I lifted a cross to His.

I was His cross.

As He tasted the vinegar of my death, He cupped His hands full of the Living Water to quench my thirst.  As He took His last breath, He breathed into me my first breath.  And when He woke from the tomb, it was me who He carried out with Him.

How can I possibly take His jewels?

I start to refuse.  I start to flee, but He holds my hand once more.  I hear a tearing, like a Great Curtain ripping a path from earth to Heaven, and I see in front of the path a still stone cave.

The world is utterly quiet.  I look at the stone beside the mouth of the cave.  It would have been impossible for me to move; but Someone has already moved it.  I know what this place is; I wonder if it is really okay to go inside.

But He leads me in.  I look around in what would have been the darkness of the place, but He is standing beside me.

I see the inside is not the small space of a tomb, but the infinite trove of a sea of jewels.  As far as I can look, I can see gemstones flooding the cavern.  My eyes would go blind from looking at them, were it not that He shields me with His hand.  I cannot in my falleness withstand seeing the infinite holiness of this vault.  He leads me out and I stumble in a daze.

Once again, He lays my hand on His basket.  I look again, and I see the gemstones of everything I have ever wanted to give Him, all the jewels I have seen along the way, and many more I missed seeing altogether, and even more that have not yet been unturned on the Path ahead.

And now I see.

My life is fulfilled in Christ.

It is He who holds everything together.

If you know Him, you do not go through life with an empty basket, but a full one.

My life is not to be spent trying to collect gemstones.

He has already picked them up for me.

My life is to be spent marveling Him, holding His jewels in my basket, sharing His jewels with the jewel-less world.

I come to the Jesus of Easter, and I throw my empty basket of self-righteousness aside.  It tumbles away somewhere in the wastelands adjacent to the Path.  I hold out my hands and Jesus gives me a gemstone to hold.

And then we keep walking.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 2:21, NIV)

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Gemstone ideas and pictures found at http://www.gemselect.com/other-info/gemstone-list.php

Mercy

Christians, preach the mercy of God to yourself.

–From Pastor Daniel

Christ has received the punishment for our sin–there is no revenge on us.

–From my Sunday school teacher, Kevin

Have you ever been afraid you made one too many mistakes?

Missed one too many dental appointments?  Forgot one too many birthdays?  Flunked your New Year’s Resolution one too many years?  Botched one too many tests?  Failed a friend one too many times?  Lost your phone one too many times?  Told a lie one too many times?  Wrecked your car one too many times?  Gotten fired from a job one too many times?  Lost your way one too many times?  Gotten one dollar too many in debt?  Argued with someone you love one too many times?  Broke your promise one too many times?  Wasted the day one too many times?

Disappointed God one too many times?

Sometimes I live in fear that I just broke the last straw.  I broke the rule one time too many.  I missed the last chance.  I went too far.

Can I come back?  Have I ruined everything?  Do I still matter?  Do you still love me?

These are the questions of the insecure heart.

Sometimes we try to ask forgiveness like we are offering God lambs to be sacrificed on His altar.  We try to be sorry enough, pay it all back, make up for it, do something good enough to offset the bad.

We forget that the Lamb of God has already come.  There are no more lambs to offer.  The sacrifice is over.  The new life has begun.

To be a Christian is to receive the sacrifice of Christ.  The merit is all Christ.  The life after is learning to be like Him.

It would be something like if I flunked a chemistry test (which is very believable).  A student approaches me and offers to give me his A+ paper.  I receive his paper and receive his grade.  But he doesn’t just walk away.  He begins to coach me in chemistry.  But the whole time he coaches me, and the whole time I improve, I must still have his A+ paper to save me from flunking.  The test is already over.  I’ve already failed.  And I’ve taken his paper for my own.  None of that changes by my improvement.  (And besides, if at any point I was the one tested, I would still fail to make that A+.)

Christ is the only one who lives a perfect life on this earth.  He is the only one who can coach us towards holiness.  He’s earned the right.  But it is always only His sacrifice that brings us to Heaven.  One day, we will die to our flunked self, and the only thing left in us will be the perfect work of Christ Jesus.  That is what God will see in us.  But it is not this work He has done in us that brings us to Heaven.  It is the work He has done for us that brings us to Heaven.

That is mercy.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2, NIV)

Right & Wrong and the stopping point

Is there set-in-stone right and wrong?

I got to hear a group of children talk about the story Jack and the Beanstalk.  When the question was asked, “Was it right for Jack to steal the hen from the giant because he was poor?” the answers leaned greatly on the side of yes.  The few who thought it was wrong thought so because the giant had almost caught Jack, not because they felt stealing was inherently wrong.

I’m reminded of a class I took in college–I’m really not sure what it was, psychology, I think, though philosophy would make more sense–where a series of deeply thought-out scenarios were posed to challenge the idea of set-in-stone right and wrong.  When they are invented, they feature highly improbable circumstances that pity the wrong choice and make the right choice seem like climbing Mount Everest.

I only remember one of them.  I believe I was told this one was true.

A man’s wife is dying of cancer.  He can’t afford the medicine for her treatment.  He double mortgages his home and still can’t pay for the expensive medicine.  He decides to break into the pharmacy to steal the drugs.  Is he wrong?

My question, I think, aggravated at least one person in the class as seeming Bambi-ish.  But Bambi-ish or not, I would still ask it: Why couldn’t he raise money?  If he explained to his friends, coworkers, and neighbors that his wife would die without these treatments, they wouldn’t give him a dime?

That could be true, but the story becomes even more improbable.  I went through a stage in my life where I didn’t have many close friends, and I would still like to think that, if tragedy had struck, many people would have chipped in to help me.  Maybe that is naive, but I hear about fundraisers that raise a great deal of money for different causes.

But let’s say there really isn’t anyone to give him money.  Should he break in the pharmacy?  Is the only other option to let his wife die?

I am not here to condemn a man for breaking into a pharmacy, if this really happened.  I don’t know what it feels like to have someone I love dying of cancer and be unable to pay for the treatments.  But I still think breaking into the pharmacy would be wrong, because God says that stealing is wrong.

There are an untold number of things that can go wrong when sin comes onto the scene.  What if the man is caught breaking in and is shot?  What if he is taken to jail, the medicine confiscated, and his wife dies without ever seeing him again?  What if someone else is blamed for the break-in and goes to jail?

But there’s more than just the untold number of things that can go wrong.  What is really happening is a total distrust in the love of God.  It goes something like this: God won’t do this for me, so I will sin to get this done.

Things like this never turn out the way we think they will.  They sure haven’t in my life.  Or Sarah’s.

Sarah had a great plan.  Abraham didn’t seem to be able to have any children through her.  Yet he’d been promised by God to have a child.  In came Sarah’s plan: Abraham would have a child by Sarah’s slave.

How did this turn out?  Sarah’s slave had the child, but God was good on His promise.  So Sarah had a child, too.  Sarah’s slave, Hagar, scorned Sarah, and Sarah mistreated her.  God intervened to protect Hagar from Sarah.  Then He intervened again to protect Sarah’s child from Haagar’s child.  All this was caused by Sarah’s “great plan”.

After my father died of ALS, a petition came around to sign for embryonic stem cell research.  Friends seemed to think I would be the first to sign.  But to sign such a thing would have been to spit on my father’s grave.  My father never wanted to live by the death of an unborn child.  I want a cure for ALS. But I can’t look for a cure in destroying the lives of others.

A friend of mine had a small son who was struggling with cancer at the time of the petition.  He’d missed a great deal of work as his son went through chemo after chemo.  The four-year-old boy had no idea why he was suffering so much.  My friend quietly refused to sign the petition for stem cell research.  He told me something like this: “I want my son healed.  But I won’t do it this way.”

I have come to see that all things come to us as they are either given or allowed by God.  As Kerrie Roberts sings,

Before a heartache ever touches my life

It has to go through Your hands.

I can’t invent bad ways to try to bring about good.  If something has come into my life that I can’t fix without doing something evil–then I shouldn’t try to fix it.  It isn’t diseases, disasters, criminals, war, or doctors who give or take away life.  It is only God.

I do believe right and wrong are set in stone.  More than stone, really.  The nature of God is good, so goodness (or rightness or righteousness) are set by God’s very character.  Anything that goes against God’s character is bad (or wrong or evil).  I know this will make some furious, but it doesn’t change the Truth.

I’d like to leave with one more analogy.

Under the regime of Hitler, doctors experimented on Jews.  A great deal of research was done, scientific research.  After the war, what was done with the research?  Some scientists found it vile, reprehensible, and didn’t want to touch it.  Others have used it.

Professional modern medicine has had little difficulty condemning the Nazi doctors as evil men. But what is being said of the continued use of the Nazi doctors’ medical research? Many scholars are now discovering in reputable medical literature multiple references to Nazi experiments . . . [these references] frequently bear no disclaimer as to how the data was obtained. In recent years several scientists who have sought to use the Nazi research have attracted and stirred widespread soul-searching . . . (Baruch C. Cohen, “The Ethics of Using Medical Data from Nazi Experiments”)

The same article includes this quote from Dr. Howard Spiro (Yale University) about using this research:

[W]e make the Nazis our retroactive partners in the victims’ torture and death.

If our morality is not set in God’s character, we can use research that has been gotten by horrific means.  And once we use research that has been gotten by horrific means, we are only one step away from doing that research ourselves.

The man who tries to rescue his wife by breaking into the pharmacy . . where would he stop?  What if she needed chemotherapy he couldn’t afford?  Would he hold the clinic hostage at gunpoint?  What if she needed a kidney transplant, and there were no kidneys available?  Would he kill a stranger whose kidneys were compatible?  What if he thought a cure could be found if only there were cancer patients to experiment on?  Would he force strangers to be experimentation victims?

Once evil can be justified by its end, where is the stopping point?

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,

Nor stand in the path of sinners,

Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!

But his delight is in the law of the LORD,

And in His law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:2, NIV)

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The Ethics of Using Medical Data from Nazi Experiments, Baruch C. Cohen, Jewish Virtual Library, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/naziexp.html, accessed May 12, 2012

The reason I do what I do

I’ll tell you what made me do it.  I have the diagnosis, the prescription drug, the inkblot that proves it.  You can see the chemical imbalance, confused neurons, evolutionary mix-up, angry narwhal.  Whatever it is, it’s not my fault.

I’m not responsible for my actions.  Nobody else is responsible for them either.  They’re just me.  Genetic coding.  Environmental upbringing.  Behavioral conditioning.  Freedom of expression.  Personal identity.  Because my parents never bought me a super yellow loop slide when I was a kid.

Me?  It’s not my fault.

. . Oh, wait a minute.  Were you talking about that person who cut me off in traffic?

That dirty rotten bum.

.                    .                     .                    .                     .

I have problems, weaknesses, limitations, and struggles, negative life patterns to overcome, messy circumstances, and a for sure imperfect brain.  But none of that is an explanation for why I sin.  That just comes with the territory of living after the fall, when humanity chose to do things by ourselves.  This is me, by myself: problematic, weak, limited, struggling, etc.  But the fact that humanity chose to walk away from God doesn’t somehow justify the fact that I am walking away from God, or that I have problems because I walked away from God.

I am responsible for what I do.

If I think I do something because it’s genetic, then there is no way to judge any behavior on the face of the earth.  And if there’s no way to judge any behavior, we need to open the prison gates right now and let everybody out.

And if I think I do something because ‘Satan made me do it’, that is because I switched from the guardianship of God to the guardianship of Satan when humanity chose that in the Garden of Eden.  And if I say that’s not fair, can I prove it by the life I’ve lived?  I mean, have I lived a perfect life after the fall to show how I wouldn’t have made the same mistake as Eve?  Have I lived an even close to perfect life?

I am responsible.  Not my parents.  Not my society.  Not my DNA.  Not my brain.  Not my environment.  Not my circumstances.  Not even the angry narwhal or the super yellow loop slide my parents never bought.

This makes people mad.  This makes people angry.  This makes people want to hop up and down and shake their fists.

But if we never get to the point where we realize we’re responsible–us, individually, me–we can never see that we have a Savior carry the burden of our sin, all our sin, all my sin, to the cross, to pay for and bury forever.  But that payment is only good if Jesus carries it.  And Jesus doesn’t carry it if we don’t think we’re responsible.

We carry it.  Individually.  Me.  I carry my sin if I refused to admit it’s mine and give it to Jesus to take with Him to the cross.

The past and present are perfectly tied together in the cross.  If I ask Jesus to take my sin to the cross, He did.  And if I don’t, He didn’t.  God knew everyone who would ever repent, and everyone who wouldn’t.

The good news is, He didn’t set dictates on who would and wouldn’t.  That means it’s an open opportunity for everybody.  If you want to ask for Jesus to forgive you, if you give your life to Him, He will forgive you.  He promises.  And His promises are always good because, unlike us, He didn’t choose sin, and He has no personal problems or weaknesses or limitations or struggles.  And even though He lived with people in sin all His life on earth, He never gave in.  And even though He took our sin and became sin on the cross, He never sinned.

It was a miracle.  Sin blew up.

Sin was gone.

Sin was paid for.

The quest of my life isn’t to find excuses to justify my behavior.  That will never, ever work before a Holy God.  Our excuses are junk.  None of them are any better than accusing an angry narwhal or a missing loop slide.  Any and every excuse we could come up with, they’re all trash.

But forgiveness is real.

I am atrocious in myself.  I am a sinner.  I need help.  I absolutely could not live without atonement.  I’d be hell-bound.  There’s nothing within me that can save me, rectify me, or justify me from what I’ve done in my life.  There’s no “good” I could ever do to pay for the evil I’ve already done.  Even if I could live a perfect life from here on out, I’d be doomed for Hell forever, because living perfectly is the right way, not payment for the wrong way.  I’d still have to pay for the way I lived the first 28 years of my life.

There’s no way except Jesus.

It’s scary to look at sin for what it is.  It’s horrifying.  And it’s the worst when it’s my own sin.  It is a permanent weight that never lifts, that no drug or therapy or social network or environmental change or genetic alteration will ever cure.  It’s my sin.  And I am forced to live with the rebellion I threw at God, because it will always come back on me.  In every sin, I have tried to make war with Him with–because that’s what sin really is, making war with God–comes back as a weight on me.

Now who would ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever believe that the same God I did that to would carry that weight for me and permanently destroy it?

And call me back to be a child of God?

Me, I believe it, because that is the Message of the Bible!

Angry narwhals, yellow slides . . . that’s stupid.

A Savior who saves me–that’s real.

I cry out to Jesus for forgiveness–that’s paying my debt–for salvation–that’s rescuing me from the mess my debt has gotten me into and bringing me to a safe house–and for sanctification–that’s making me okay to be in His Presence!  That means I, I, ME!!!!!!!!!! can see the face of God, not at all whatsoever because of anything I am or have done, but totally, positively because of who He is and what He has done!

And you can, too.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:12-17, NLT)

And the promise for everyone who gives their life to Jesus:

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Through Christ, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing that heaven has to offer. Before the creation of the world, he chose us through Christ to be holy and perfect in his presence. Because of his love he had already decided to adopt us through Jesus Christ. He freely chose to do this so that the kindness he had given us in his dear Son would be praised and given glory. Through the blood of his Son, we are set free from our sins. God forgives our failures because of his overflowing kindness. (Ephesians 1:3-7, GW)

Consequence

I still remember the feeling I had right after I squirted permanent blue dye onto my friend’s face, shirt, and the pillows on our couch, and she gasped.

But maybe I had better back up.

My friend had come over to spend the night, and we were being really goofy.  We’d marked all over each other with washable markers and were acting like, well, girls at a sleepover.  Anyway, I got the idea it would be funny to squirt this dye I had—I think from a make-your-own soap kit—at her.  What I didn’t think about was how not funny this was going to be until it happened.

All I could think about was my mother finding out what I had done and my imminent demise.

Blue dye was on my mother’s throw pillows (on the couch where she was sitting, on her face, and shirt.  I think my friend was even wearing glasses.  She was, though younger than me, far maturer and realized immediately the dye wasn’t going to come out.

And all I could think about was my mother finding out what I had done and my imminent demise.

My friend, however, was a good friend.  She told me (as it happened) she’d bought this particular shirt with her own money.  It was a Tigger shirt, I remember feeling so awful about what I’d done.  My friend assured me, over and over, that she would not tell.

And all I could think about was my mother finding out what I had done and my imminent demise.

I figured out I could turn the throw pillows over and hope they would never be flipped back over.  This was our upstairs attic couch, otherwise, well, thank goodness it wasn’t otherwise.

True to her word, my friend never told on me.  Ever.  And my mom never found out.  (My dad, who went up to the attic more than my mom, would occaisionally ask me about the pillows.  I would always say something completely noncomittal like Is there ink on the pillows? and quickly flip them back over.  I think he figured out pretty immediately I had done it, because finally one day he put the issue to rest by saying something like, You keep avoiding my questions.  I get that you don’t want to talk about the pillows.  Thank you, Daddy.)

I’d cost my friend her special shirt, and she had saved my imminent demise.  I deserved to have her tell my mom what I’d done.  But she chose to give me grace and, because of that, forfeit the new shirt she would have surely gotten from my mother if she had.

Looking back, I cannot imagine refusing my friend’s offer for grace!  I cannot imagine choosing to take the consequences on myself instead.

Yet this is what so many people do with their bad choices.  Rather than have Jesus take away their sins, they choose to pay for them—eternally!  What truly horrible and wasted effort.

Pretending we aren’t evil—there’s no good in that.  God knows just as surely as my mother would have known if my friend had worn her shirt the next day.  Our evil is permanent, and it stains everything around us.  It makes tracks we can’t give rid of.  Only Jesus is able to throw away the old life we have ruined and to give us clean new life to start again.  Only Jesus is able to forgive us for what we’ve done against God, because He is God.  And with His own life, He has bought us back, even though it was His creation, His people we destroyed!

It would have been very scary for me to face my mother with the truth.  And it will be horrifically scary to face God with the truth on Judgment Day.  There will be no flipping pillows over.

But for people who have put their trust in the Lord Jesus, He will intercede for them, taking God’s wrath away from them, freeing them by His grace and washing them by His justification!!!!!!  They will be paid for, in full, and they will live forever in His Kingdom!

I pray you—whoever you are—you will choose to take the Son’s perfect gift and not choose eternal payment.

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.  Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.  (Hebrews 10:1-2, NIV)

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool.  For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:11-14, NIV)

Romans 8:30

And having chosen them, He called them to come to Him.  And having called them, He gave them right standing with Himself.  And having given them right standing, He gave them His glory. (Romans 8:30, NLT)

In context:

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.  For God knew His people in advance, and He chose them to become like His Son, so that His Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  And having chosen them, He called them to come to Him.  And having called them, He gave them right standing with Himself.  And having given them right standing, He gave them His glory. (Romans 8:28-30, NLT, 30 underlined)

There is a sequence of events:

  1. God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them. (v. 28)
  2. God knew His people in advance. (v. 29)
  3. He chose them to become like His Son.  (v. 29)
  4. He called them to come to Him. (v. 30)
  5. He gave them right standing with Himself.  (v. 30)
  6. He gave them His glory.  (v. 30)

2-6 explain how 1 is possible.

God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them. (v. 28)

How could He make sure everything worked for their good?

God knew His people in advance.  (v. 29)

Since God knew who would choose Him before He had even created the world, He could already plan so that all the bad that would happen because of sin could be worked out for good in their lives.

How did He work out His plan?

He chose them to become like His Son. (v. 29)

Merely having a willingness to believe in God does not guarantee an acceptance.  In fact, believing in God cannot get you closer to Him if there is no way to Him!  When Adam sinned, it was like boulders fell on the path that led to God, and all of humanity was blocked off from ever worshiping in His presence again.  No matter how bad Adam—or any other human—might want to believe in God, the way was obstructed by sin.

God could have looked out from His throne and done absolutely nothing to help the people who would want to choose Him if they knew such a way was possible.  After all, they had betrayed Him not only through their initial choice to turn away, but in every choice after.  These people didn’t know there was a way back to God—not without His divine intervention and revelation—and so no one was choosing God.  Everyone was doing evil.

But God did intervene and reveal.  Throughout the Old Testament, we have stories of God’s intervention and revelations.  He talked to Adam and Eve after the fall, and He revealed that salvation would one day come—through their very line.  He continued to reveal sacred and precious hints of His masterplan through His interventions with people like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joseph, Samuel, David, Daniel, and Esther.

He called them to come to Him. (v. 30)

God knew and knows who will come to Him and who will never make that choice—but we don’t!  We live inside of time, and we live in a very particular part of time: the present.  The past and future are inaccessible to us.  The past can be recalled; the future is entirely unknown, unless God intervenes.

This is the perfect setting for God’s plan.

Why?

The past is inaccessible.  This means Christ’s sacrifice can never be undone.

The past can be recalled.  This allows for eye witness accounts of Christ’s sacrifice and historical evidence of His death and resurrection.  Most vitally, this allows for the Bible to be written and past events to be recounted.

The future is entirely unknown, unless God intervenes.  One of the ways God showed Himself as God from the very beginning of life after the fall was to reveal hints of the future.  The first prophesy was given to Eve, that one day a child would be given to her line that would destroy the evil snake that had tricked Eve and ruined her relationship with God.

Prophets in the Old Testament proved themselves as real by foretelling events that would happen: sometimes soon, and sometimes far out into future.  The book of Revelation gives Christians assurance that we will be eternally protected by God and that God has the most brilliant, beautiful, righteous, merciful plan of all time to end the current suffering of the world and give His people eternal life with Him.

We live in the present.  We live in the present and so, as long as we are breathing, there is hope that we will come to God.  While God knows who will come to Him and who will reject Him for all eternity, we only know the choice we have made in past and the choice we commit to in the present.  Confining us to live in the present is God’s masterful and merciful way of giving us every opportunity to choose Him before we die.  If we lived in the past, we would be fated as who we are.  If we lived in the future, we would be suffering the consequences of our sin.  Only in the present can we make the choice to believe in Jesus Christ.   

He gave them right standing with Himself.  (v. 30)

God knew there was no way back to Him unless He offered Himself as atonement for the sins of the world.  It was meaningless as to whether people would want to go back to Him or not if there was no way back.

In Jesus’ beautiful parable of the prodigal son, it is only possible for the son to go home if the father is willing to take him back in.  Jesus told this parable in Jerusalem  Only Jesus, as He tells the story, understands the sacrifice the father must make to bring his prodigal back.  Only Jesus knew He was soon going to die on the cross to make that way possible[1].

He gave them His glory.  (v. 30)

The culmination of these three verses is enough to short-circuit your brain.  Here is God, creating a people He knows will fail Him because He loves them so much . . . working out a plan to save them so they can make the choice to come back to Him . . . revealing that plan is the greatest tragedy and suffering of all time, not just in human history, but in the history of all, this suffering brought upon the perfect Son of God, Jesus Christ . . . and that Jesus Christ brings those people He died for not only back as happy servants—although He certainly could have!—but as His own brothers and sisters, bringing them into His very own perfect and totally complete family.  There is no reason ever for Jesus to do this unless it is by a supernatural love, grace, and mercy beyond our wildest understanding.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.  For God knew His people in advance, and He chose them to become like His Son, so that His Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, He called them to come to Him.  And having called them, He gave them right standing with Himself.  And having given them right standing, He gave them His glory. (Romans 8:28-30, NLT, 30 underlined)


[1] John MacArthur has a wonderful little book on the parable of the prodigal son called Grace For You: A Compelling story of God’s Redemption.

Published in: on May 15, 2011 at 3:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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