What is the Great Commandment?

So, many of you are probably familiar with the fact that in Christ we are no longer under law, but under grace. But what does that mean? If you start talking like this, all kinds of thoughts start running through people’s minds.

“Are you saying we can sin and get away with it? Should we forget all responsibility to God and man? Don’t preach that lawless grace, brother!”

We as human beings like laws. How else will we keep from falling apart? Don’t worry, there is still one law that Christians are under. This is where much confusion has entered into the church.

Paul, as well as other New Testament writers, made it clear that there is something called “law” for believers. To the Corinthians, he clarified it like this:

To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law (1 Cor. 9:21).

What is the “law of Christ”? Many say it refers to what Jesus called the greatest commandments in the law.

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:36-40)

However, even though Jesus said that the Law and the prophets are summed up in these two commandments, we are not under the Law. He said this to a lawyer, not to His disciples. Yet, I have heard many messages that say these are the only two commandments Christians have. While I see that these messages come from good intention, this is not exactly how Jesus  instructed us. The reason it is not how He chose to instruct His own, as you will soon find out, is very important.

To us, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you”, which is to love others even as He has loved us. (John 13). This is a new thing, not a reiteration of the old.

As I’ve mentioned before, the “Love the Lord” and “Love your neighbor” commands start with us. “You love the Lord” and “You love your neighbor”. From grammar class, I learned that the understood subject in a command is “you”. The problem was, we had a major love deficit and needed God to save us from our unloving selves.  The new commandment requires that we receive the love of Jesus so that we can overflow to others.

Those great commandments in the law are great indeed, don’t get me wrong. But again, they were summations of the Old Covenant, not the New Covenant commandments. The law points to the problem rather than providing the solution. What the law demanded, grace has supplied.

John, who penned the new commandment Jesus gave us in His gospel, later wrote to his spiritual children:

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

So after thousands of years of having the command to love God and our neighbor, love was not truly seen until the Father sent the Son. Love was not found in us trying to love God. Paul puts it this way,

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly… God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:6,8)

So while it is great to be zealous to love God and our fellow man, the commandment starts with us letting God love us. Without being fueled by His love, our attempts will just not do. If the law could have produced this, we would not have a need for grace.

Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. (Gal. 3:21).

As I was pondering these things, it occurred to me. We are not keeping God’s commandment if we are not receiving His love. If we find ourselves falling short of any Christian virtue or deed, we need first ask ourselves have we been drinking from the well of His love for us. We need the childlike honesty and humility that trusts only in His love that first loved us and will see us through till the end.

The law we are under is none other than the person of Christ, whom we believe and from whom all good fruit is borne.

And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. (1 John 3:23)

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)

 

 

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Winning Our Own Souls

Today, I want to expand on a statement I made in my last post:

“I have to say that I felt totally unprepared for trials and suffering with what I had been taught in church…” I am sure many can relate to feeling motivated to pursue our inheritance in Christ and then disillusioned when we don’t see it manifest in the way we thought it should.

I think it is easy to get people excited about who they are in Christ, given the glorious hope and power we have in Him. I also think it is easy to get discouraged when things don’t look so full of glory.

Do we throw in the towel during those times? Do we say, “Well, the good life in Christ might be for a few select superhero saints?” Do we start to become more moved by what we haven’t seen than by what He has said? Has God forgotten about us when we face trying circumstances or does it mean we have sinned and are reaping consequences?

Paul understood that believers could get confused by the trials they encounter in light of the finished work of Christ which has brought us victory. He explained how we should respond to this tension in the following passage:

 Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation (Rom. 5:2-4, NLT).

Maybe its not that God’s Word is not true or that we have done something wrong, but that we just need some simple endurance. This goes against the grain of our instant potato society, but also many of the common attitudes in the church. Much like the Jews of Jesus’ day, we tend to think of someone being outwardly blessed as someone who is doing all of the right things. Someone who is going through hard times is sometimes viewed as having some sort of failure, usually directly related to performance.

But perseverance and endurance are key to experiencing the reality of salvation in our souls. Jesus said, “By your steadfastness and patient endurance you shall win the true life of your souls.”  (Luke 21:19, AMP)

He is not saying that endurance is how you get saved (neither am I). He is saying it is how the salvation we already have rises to the surface.

Who we are in Christ gets concealed in our Spirit when we first receive Him, but gets revealed in our soul as we grow in Him. Peter talked about this in his first letter. He begins by declaring how we have been spiritually reborn.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead… (1 Pet. 1:3)

That is a spiritual experience, as Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3 (that which is born of the Spirit is spirit). But look at what Peter says a few verses later:

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Pet. 1:8-9).

Wait, I though going to heaven was the outcome of my faith? According to Jesus and Peter, the outcome of faith in Jesus should be becoming fully alive in our souls. The life in our spirit is supposed to affect our everyday “soul life” here on Earth.

What is also interesting, and also lines up with what Jesus and Paul said, is  that between the time of receiving Christ (becoming alive in our spirit) and experiencing salvation in our souls, there is that aspect of running into trials.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:6-7).

Again, trials have a way of bringing what is deep in our spirit to the surface of our souls. I have experienced this first-hand and even realize that trials can be necessary, as Peter says, to give us that little push into faith so that God can further his work in us.

This does not mean God is a spiritual masochist or that we need to look for trouble. We will find plenty of opportunities by simply facing life while trusting the Comforter without retreating in our man-made comfort zones.

To sum it up, we as believers know that our Spirit WAS born again and our body WILL BE made incorruptible when Jesus returns. But what happens between those two events is all about God being revealed in our souls.

So whether we are in a glory or suffering moment, we have only reason to get happy because of the great love which our Father has for us. We can look forward to more and more of the life of Christ in our souls, both now and forever.

 I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.] (John 16:33, AMP)

Note: By spirit, I am referring to the eternal part of us that is aware of the spirit realm; the deepest part of our being. By soul, I am referring to the conscious part of our being; which commonly includes our mind, will, emotions, and imagination. The soul can be influenced by the spirit as well as our body/surroundings (which I will discuss further in a future post).

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Freedom From the Fear of Death

I know I’m a week late, but I have a word about resurrection power that has been burning in me.

What we believe about the resurrection is paramount to the life of the Christian. So much so that Paul said if there is no resurrection, then our preaching and faith are in vain (1 Cor. 15:14).

For some, this is viewed as an escape, rather than a hope. “God, rescue me in the rapture! This old world will be burned up, but I will survive,” becomes our anthem, rather than “I can walk through this life without fear of death. Bring it on!”

In reaction to the passive and fearful attitude I described above, some Christians avoid talking about the hope of resurrection as they say we should focus on being blessed and impacting the here and now. One says live for eternity. The other says live for today. But what about living  from eternity today?

This is clearly what is modeled in the life of Jesus and the early church. Ol’ Paul didn’t always stay in a five star hotel while speaking to friendly Christians in conferences throughout his ministry. He was faced with death all the time. Yet, because of the hope of the resurrection, he knew death was powerless over him. He told his young protégé:

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher.  For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day (2 Timothy 1:8-12).

Does that sound like someone who wanted to “fly away” and get out of here? He faced the suffering unashamed because he knew his real life and treasure were safe in Heaven. He then got to crush the kingdom of darkness, knowing there was nothing anyone could do to truly harm him.

But I think we in the modern Western church measure our spiritual success by the amount of prosperity we have or how comfortable our lives are.

While God does prosper and bless us with Earth goods, I also see the tendency to lose heart when these things are not in abundance. This quickly shows us what we are trusting in. I am not trying to rebuke anyone as I have been guilty of this and am trusting God for His grace in that area. While I assume personal responsibility for my choices, I also have to say that I felt totally unprepared for trials and suffering with what I had been taught in church.

I think the reason we avoid talking about suffering and even dismiss people who do is because we do not have a clear grip on resurrection power.  This allows a fear of death to remain in our lives.

To fear death is to fear loss. Of course the loss of our physical lives is a concern for most, but there is a fear of death we can experience while living that I believe has even more of a crippling effect on people.

Many of us, without realizing it, have placed our security and trust in people and things rather than the Lord. When we worry that something might happen to said people/things, we experience this “fear of death”.

For example, let’s say you are on your job. You want to be fearlessly telling people about Jesus as opportunity comes, but you fear that you might lose your job if you do so. The real issue boils down to trust. If you are trusting God, then why worry when He promised to supply all your needs and you are part of a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Even if you do lose your job, you will not lose the favor of God, which the Bible says is better than silver and gold.

From what I have seen, possibly the biggest source of the fear of death is relationships. The thought of losing a relationship or even being bumped down a notch in someone’s eyes can be an enslaving fear. So we do and say things in a way that will provide security in our relationships by not rocking the boat. This leads to manipulating people’s emotions so that we will stay in their good graces or make them feel bad about upsetting us.

This is the wisdom of the fallen age that James calls earthly, sensual, and demonic (James 3:13-17). This will keep us from believing and obeying our wonderful Father as we place our security in maintaining people’s respect and allegiance. This is how the Pharisees of Jesus’ day operated. He asked them,

How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God (John 5:44)?

They sought the approval of men and thus feared them rather than God because they valued human praise above pleasing the Lord. Fear and trust are intertwined. If we fear someone or something, we will develop trust in it according to the power of influence it has over our life. That does not mean we are wanting to actually place our trust in a negative thing. But because we deem it as something that affects our well being or lack thereof, we trust its power. The good news is, that trust can be directed towards our awesome Father.

The Last Enemy

As grace oriented people, we know that the Lord Jesus conquered death through His finished work, but people still physically die all the time. The Bible says this is the last enemy to be defeated.

For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death ( 1 Cor. 15:25-26).

What I find to be awesome is that Jesus already destroyed him who had the power of death.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil… (Heb. 2:14)

Why did he do that? To deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Heb. 2:15)

The word “destroyed” in that verse does not mean He killed the devil, but means to “bring to naught,” and  “render impotent as though not existing;”. So that means the enemy is paralyzed from producing fruit in our lives. He is powerless over the believer. So we have every reason to not fear death.

We know that sin is what brought death. We also know that Jesus saves us from sin and we will actually never truly die. So we could say that the last enemy to be destroyed in the soul of the believer is a fear of death.

As we get to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection more, the more fear of death will not be an influence. So whether we are experiencing outward blessings or trials, we can be just as secure in our heavenly status through the power of the resurrection.

When we are living without the fear of death, we will be dangerous. When someone has nothing to lose, nothing more can be done to them. When we do have something to lose, we will fight to hang on to it.

Here is a summary of what I have discussed:

  1. The hope of the resurrection is what motivates us to live fearlessly in the present, rather than causing us to want to escape to the after-life.
  2. Death itself is the last enemy to be destroyed and this will happen when Jesus physically returns to Earth.
  3. The one who had the power of death HAS been destroyed; the devil’s power is paralyzed in the life of the believer.
  4. Therefore, believers can live free from the fear of death, which is a type of slavery that people are bound to throughout life.

Happy resurrection life my friends!

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Should we only do what God says?

Often you hear preachers say we should only do what God tells us to do. In the Charismatic circles, what is implied is that God will communicate directly to you through an impression, a vision, dream, by speaking to you, etc.

I too am all about receiving personal revelation from the Lord and have had the privilege of living in that for most my life. However, when it comes to actively living out the gospel, there is more to the equation than doing something only when God gives you a specific word. As I explained in my last post, hearing from God and having the Spirit come upon us was an event in the Old Covenant. In the new, this is to be our 24×7 lifestyle.

Should we do what God tells us to? Of course! Should we not do what He tells us not to? Um… yeah, unless you like living miserably. But the question is, should we not do what God does not tell us to do?

This is where I have gotten confused. What should I do if I want to do something but God has not “told me” to do it or not told me not to do it  (this is turning into a tongue twister)?

Many of the non-Charismatic parts of the church would say to just go by the Bible. Without getting into a big debate, although we should continually read the Bible and live out of a Biblical approach to life, the Living Word (Jesus) told us the Spirit would guide us. The Spirit will work with the written word but this does involve specific, timely revelations.

On the other end of the debate are people who say we should only do something IF we hear or see something from the Spirit. They might bring up how Jesus said He only did what He saw His Father doing.

However, Jesus was not conducting a Charismatic meeting on how to move in the Spirit when He said that. He was defending Himself to religious Jews who found fault with Him for healing a man on the Sabbath  (see John 5).

These religious leaders needed to know that their beef was not with Jesus, but with the God they claimed to know. Their idea of Him was all wrong. Jesus was saying He knew what the Father liked. They obviously did not as they valued keeping  their traditions a certain way above healing a hurting individual. So Jesus explains to them that they don’t know God because they don’t recognize that He and the Father are one and He is simply about His Father’s business.

There are indeed plenty of Scriptures in which Jesus instructs His followers on Kingdom living and doing the works. But these are more broad; He doesn’t say not to move unless we get a specific revelation. For example:

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15-18) Where in the world? All places. Who should we preach the good news to? Everyone. You might even wonder if your neighbor is half-beast, so Jesus makes it clear by saying we should preach to “every creature”.

Here’s another one. Jesus said whenever we are received in a city, we should heal the sick there (Matt. 10 & Luke 10). Which sick people should we heal? The ones who are… SICK.

Now I am not saying that the Holy Spirit will not guide us as we go about doing the works of Jesus. I love it when He highlights a person to pray for or gives me a clear word. Often, I’ll feel compassion and anointing rising up for a specific person. The problem is, we have assumed that means God is NOT concerned about the other people and have limited the works of the gospel to special occasions in which God tells us to do what should be our normal  lifestyle.

My main point in all this is not that we have to flag everyone down and preach to them or go to the hospital to pray for every patient there. Preaching and healing are fruits of our relationship with God. I am trying to talk about the root. We as Christians do not have a God switch that gets turned on only during special events. Christ is in us as a full-time resident. Letting Him live through us is our privilege and calling. If He is in me, then should I not have His heart for the person in front of me? Shouldn’t His heart be my heart too, even if God doesn’t say “I want you to love that person!” specifically?

A Lesson from Paul

Paul was a man who lived in obedience to the will of God, right? Well he did not model a life of sitting around until God said to do something. He was captured by God’s heart and the power of the gospel.

One time, he was going from place to place with the gospel and the Spirit forbid him to go to Asia. Okay, so he thought it might be good to go to Bithynia. Nope, the Spirit said no again. Then he had a dream about a man in Macedonia needing help. Yep, that was the Spirit re-directing him (Acts 16:6-10). But did God ever rebuke Paul for not waiting to hear what to do originally? Nope. As Bill Johnson put it, the light is green unless God says red, not vice-versa.

God’s main objective in our lives is not to get us to listen to a command and then do it the way a worker simply follows orders. Yes he wants us to learn His voice, but the main goal is to become like Him through experiencing relationship with Him.

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:29).

No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you (John 15:15).

This is a life of adventure and excitement, not passionless rule following. In fact, He longs to be able to do our will! Rather than restricting us, God wants to free us to be like Him so we can truly be who we were created to be. When someone asks us, “Was that God or was that you?”, God wants us to be able to honestly answer with a “yes”.

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Becoming the Word

As of recently, I feel a shift coming to the focus of my posts. I have messages about growing in Christ- likeness burning on the inside and am excited about getting them out. My goal is to try to shift our paradigm from one of the “visitation” mentality of the Old Covenant to the “habitation” mentality that our relationship with God in the New Covenant provides us.

One area in which we can slide into the old “God visits and speaks to us once in a while” type of relationship is how we view the prophetic gifts and hearing God’s voice.

I am thankful that my upbringing in the church exposed me to the gift of prophesy and an atmosphere where people sought to hear God speak to them. That being said, I have seen some unhealthy beliefs and actions within what is commonly called the Prophetic Movement.

I believe much of the unhealthiness stems from simply not knowing what covenant we are under. But that in itself is a symptom of not accurately knowing God, the Maker of the covenant.

In the Old Covenant, the Spirit of God came upon people and the Word of the Lord came to people. Under the New, we know that the Spirit of God is in us, but did you know that God also speaks in us?

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. (Heb. 1:1-2)

Do you see the difference? God spoke TO the saints of the Old Testament in different ways and portions. They got samples, but we have the feast! God now speaks IN His Son who lives in us. Therefore, God speaks in us. We have been placed right in the middle of the communication between the Father and Son. Jesus said, “In that day (after His resurrection) you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. (John 14:20)”

Throughout the Old Testament, we read, “And the word of the Lord came to so and so”. This is because God was on the outside speaking to them. Now God is in us and He has not stopped speaking. I am not saying we cannot hear the audible voice of God, but why limit yourself to an outwardly radical encounter. We who are in Christ have become the encounter!

We are even told that the saints of old saw glimpses of the salvation that would come and bring us into an indwelling relationship with God and wanted to know about it.

As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.  It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:10-12)

They saw what they could not have. But often, we have what we do not even see. So often I have heard believers talk about becoming like some of the Old Testament heroes. But we, not because of our own merit, have something greater (see Matt 11:11).

God is wanting to form and develop His very nature in us, not just give us glimpses into His world once in a while. We ARE His work and as a result, get to do good works (Eph. 2:10).

Prophesy in the New Covenant

All that being said, hearing from God takes on a whole new perspective as born again sons and daughters. In the OT, the people of God needed to rely on an outward voice of God to them. This is why there was such a severity for prophets that would lead people astray or misrepresent the word of God to them.

In the NT, however, we are all to hear God speak to us from within. This is why you see stuff like this:

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent.  For you can all prophesy one by one… (1 Cor. 14:29-31)

Its not just the one Moses or Ezekiel who has the word, for the Word is in us now. But throughout the years, I have seen many people flock to someone who is moving in hearing from God and the prophetic in hopes of getting a word of direction. I have definitely done that too; mostly before I started understanding true righteousness and grace.

I would put so much stock in words and revelations, but often in a way that did not acknowledge my identity as a son. I would think I needed to hear what I should do for just about everything. I thought the light was red until I heard God say green. But Christ in me gives me an automatic green light. Of course I need to grow and mature in my relationship with Him, but the switch is not off until God turns it on. He has placed Himself in me and wants me to abide, not visit.

As the prophet Isaiah said, “Arise and shine FOR your light HAS come (Isaiah 60:1).” Guys, who is our Light? Has He come? Its not going to get “better” for us in terms of our provision in Christ, only bigger to us as we grow in the intimate knowledge of Him. There is not a magical key or a revival that will place you higher in your position in Christ.

Now, it is great when you get a rich timely word, but we need to progress in our relationship with God to where we realize He wants us to be the Word. He wants us to have His mind and His heart. If we are like Him, then what we do will be His will, right?

So rather than having to wait for an external word to come to us, I think that God’s intent for His people to manifest Him 24/7. We get to be people so caught up in our love relationship, that when people ask if something is God or us, we can dare answer, “yes”.

The error I fell into was that I thought I needed to be out of the equation when it came to hearing and following God’s voice. I simply needed to hear something and do it. Although God will speak to you about something He wants for you to do, please know that it will be consistent with you growing in the nature of Christ and in passion for God. He does not NEED servants, He WANTS you.

 What Do You Want?

So then, what is it that you want? Often, we think that we should follow God in a robotic, detached way. “Well, this is what God says so I am just going to do it. I don’t know why nor do I have a desire to, but that is unimportant. God says do it so I will.” Among many Christians, this is esteemed as a noble attitude. But God wants to involve US in our lives in Him. He wants us to be passionate about His will, rather than just being clueless and emotionless servants.

Once, I was faced with a very difficult decision and was driving myself nuts trying to know “what God wanted me to do”. In the midst of my inner turmoil, I heard Him gently say, “What is it you want to do?” I had not even thought of that! I had religious pressure that caused me to think that was bad. I am to give up my will right? Well, in terms of trying to save yourself as opposed to receiving Christ as Savior and Lord, that is a great idea. But I was a new creation birthed by God and therefore, God was interested in what I, His child, wanted to do in this situation. Immediately, I knew what that was. I was thrilled that I could choose.

Now in hindsight (which tends to be 20/20), I realize the decision I made was inline with the character of Christ. It gave me great confidence knowing that Christ was within me, changing my nature, which led to the right choice. But there I was hoping for a booming voice to thunder in my room and tell me what to do. But there God was within, forming me into the expression of His will.

He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature (Heb 1:3)

God’s will for us and word to us is Jesus, who is in us. This will and word will then exude from us. Jesus is the Word made flesh and He now seeks to make our flesh the word. Be encouraged that God is intent on making you like Him. You do not have to strive to hear His voice on the outside and then try your best to do exactly what the subjective revelation was all about. God has you where He wants you if you are in Him. From that place, you are becoming like Him who is the Word; the communication of God’s heart to His creation.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma (Eph. 5:2).

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So was God’s Wrath Poured Out on Jesus?

This is a follow-up to my last post, “My View of the Atonement”.

A common saying in the church is “God poured out His wrath on Jesus”. You’ll hear people say, “Well praise God. All of His wrath was satisfied in Jesus and now He has none for us.” There is  a well-known song that says, “On that cross where Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.”

I don’t know about you, but something always seemed odd about that and I could not exactly find that in Scripture. It makes it seem like the cross was more about helping God overcome anger than helping us overcome sin and get back to the Father. It makes Jesus seem like the merciful one and the Father seem like the vindictive One. But they are One, right?

What I did see in Scripture is that God the Father so loved the world that He sent His only Son… and other verses like that. Jesus didn’t say, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no man escapes the Father’s wrath but through Me.” Our Father sent His Son to bring us to Him, not save us from Him.

It seems that this is a tough area for many believers and theologians to navigate. Even some bible translators are apparently confused about this. For example, let’s look at some verses from Ephesians 2 in the Amplified translation:

 3 Among these we as well as you once lived and conducted ourselves in the passions of our flesh [our behavior governed by our corrupt and sensual nature], obeying the impulses of the flesh and the thoughts of the mind [our cravings dictated by our senses and our dark imaginings]. We were then by nature children of [God’s] wrath and heirs of [His] indignation, like the rest of mankind.

But God—so rich is He in His mercy! Because of and in order to satisfy the great and wonderful and intense love with which He loved us, 

5 Even when we were dead (slain) by [our own] shortcomings and trespasses, He made us alive together in fellowship and in union with Christ;

I love the Amplified Bible, but have learned to take the added stuff with a grain of salt. I think verse 4 is spot on: In order to satisfy His love for us, the Father saved us. However, the verse before that says we were children of God’s wrath and heirs of His indignation, which could be interpreted to mean He wanted to wipe us out. I do not think I am picking and choosing which words to accept because if you notice, the words: God’s and His are in brackets – children of [God’s] wrath and heirs of [His] indignation. This is because they are not found in the original manuscripts. Check out verse 3 from the NIV:

All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

This is a bit different; “by nature deserving of wrath”. Now it makes sense. We were in a bad way and did not deserve God’s goodness, but out of His love for us, He had mercy and rescued us. He did not rescue us from Him, but from sin, so that we could be brought to Him and made His sons and daughters. Ephesians goes on to say that we were saved by grace through faith… not of ourselves. It is simply stating that we did not merit God’s salvation or even seek after Him.

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).

The law pointed out how we were deserving of wrath.  …the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression (Rom. 4:15). It showed us that our fallen condition was in no shape to attain righteousness or live a holy life. Grace and truth on the other hand, show us God’s eternal good intention to bring us into sonship.

The law did not reveal God’s heart toward us. In John 1, it says that the law came through Moses BUT grace and truth came through Jesus. It goes on to say that Jesus, not Moses, was the One who revealed what God was like to us.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (John 1:14-15, 17-18)

But as I touched on in my last post, the law covenant had been broken on man’s end. So Christ, as a man, fulfilled that part and did receive the punishment for our transgressions (Gal. 3:13 & Col. 2:14). He also dealt with the root of sin by taking on the disease and fully condemning it in His flesh (Rom. 8:4). Since His was a perfect, spotless life, He could exchange it for our contaminated lives. Thus, through an act of love, the Father allowed Jesus to take away our sins. Please read the last post for more on that.

Hopefully, this will help us to understand the Scriptures that could be used to say that God condemned and punished Jesus Himself, rather than sin itself. For example, Isaiah said,

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
    he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
    and he will bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:10-11)

We see that the Father,  just like Jesus, saw the end result of Jesus’ sufferings and thus it was His will to allow Jesus to be handed over to wicked men. These men unknowingly did the will of God. As Peter said,  This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross (Acts 2:23).

Christ being beaten and nailed to the cross, the fulfilling of the broken law covenant, Christ becoming sin so we could become God’s righteousness, this was all part of God’s mercy towards a hardened rebellious people. It revealed the depth of the Father’s love towards us, not His anger.

Jesus even said that the Father would be with Him in His suffering (John 16:32). Yes, He did cry out asking why the Father had forsaken Him, but that is because He “drank the cup” of our sin. He became sin (not a sinner) at the cross and took on our fallen condition. In said condition, we were “alienated in our minds” to God just like Adam could not discern the nature of God and hid after he sinned.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death… (Col. 1:21-22a)

This was all part of the plan to rescue us from sin. It was an act of the Father AND the Son’s love for us.

What About Wrath?

Now concerning the “wrath of God”, there are passages which indicate that “the wrath of God” is not something Jesus “took” on the cross as if God exhausted some kind of personal anger all on Him. They point to a wrath of God that is for the future. Look at this passage in Romans 5:

8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!

Did you see it? God demonstrated His love for us in sending His son. Now that we ARE ALREADY right in His eyes, it is guaranteed then that we WILL BE saved from this wrath. This seems to indicate not that Jesus took the wrath of God on the cross, but that there is some future wrath. Paul also told the Thessalonians:

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:9).

Many people believe this is referring to the horrible destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. Although I know there are scriptures that refer specifically to that event (like parts of Matthew 23&24), what I see throughout the whole New Testament is that Gentiles, not living in Jerusalem, were told about a future wrath. Why bother if they were exempt and this wrath only was for a single city/people group?

So if Jesus did not surgically remove the wrath of God when He suffered, what is this wrath all about? As I explained in this post, His wrath is not some evil thing. Rather, it is the FINAL solution for all evil.

I knew a dear lady who was fighting cancer. She of course wanted to beat it, but said that ifwrath she were to die, she wanted to be cremated. This was because she wanted that cancer destroyed no matter what! Even though the disease ended up killing her, it then had a date with fire.

In a similar way, God’s plan for all mankind is to receive Jesus and be with Him for eternity. But God would be unjust if He did not do something about unrighteousness, the cancer that eats away at mankind, even though God has reached out to heal.

Now I know what some of you radical gracers are thinking. God would be unjust to judge the same sins twice. I completely agree. This is different than God’s justice against the transgressions of the law. These have been paid for.

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19).

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).

But as we see in Romans, there is still a wrath that exists against ungodliness and unrighteousness (all that is contrary to His nature of love).

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:16-18).

The glorious gospel declares that God loves us and has reconciled with us on His end. But reconciliation involves two parties. There is a future wrath for all evil that has not been swallowed up in the mercy and grace of the cross. Just as Noah prepared the ark in light of the judgement that would come upon the Earth, so God has prepared the perfect salvation in Christ for man. All who enter Christ are saved from wrath. Peter speaks of this in 2 Peter 3.

As it say in Thessalonians, God has not destined us for wrath (something that speaks of the future), but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:9).

Furthermore, this wrath is actually a good thing for God’s people. His wrath is for us. It will extinguish the evil that is in the Earth that damages precious people.

I know I might get in trouble for this post by people of all viewpoints. Whether you say God’s wrath was completely extinguished and basically does not exist anymore or that say God’s future wrath spoke of the destruction of Jerusalem and has passed or if you think God poured His wrath out on Jesus as opposed to sin, you might disagree with my points. I welcome feedback as I am still learning about this myself and do not claim to have all the answers. Shalom!

Posted in Experiencing the Presence of God | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

My View of the Atonement

Even though I told myself I would not do so, I would like to try to tackle a controversial topic in the church today; the atonement of Jesus Christ. By “atonement” I am referring to the purpose and meaning of Christ’s sufferings. Whether we are aware of it or not, our view of the atonement greatly effects the way we view God’s heart and His salvation. Do we see God as an angry God that needed to be appeased with blood or do we see a loving Father that wanted to rescue His lost children.

Now if this were an easy topic, there would probably not be countless views, books, and crossarguments about how we are to look at the atonement. I do however, think that a big picture view of Scripture can help us have a better understanding than if we are to simply “choose sides” or take one verse and conveniently ignore the rest.

I am not a theologian, but I am a lover of God and scripture. So I do not want to get too deep into the terms that get used in theology, but I have found there are two basic views of the atonement people hold.

The first is the “Penal Substitutionary” atonement view. This basically states that Jesus was punished for our sins by God. The second is the “Ransom” view, which views Jesus’ act of suffering as a rescue mission.

Penal atonement says, “the price was paid to God.” Ransom atonement says, “the price was paid by God”. So which view is right? I am not here to tell you that. Which one do I personally hold? I think both have valid points. I don’t think we can just casually accept one and reject the other. Also, I think both can be taken to the extreme. Some penal atonement people make God into a barbarian who needed to punish His Son so He could feel better about us. That does not sound like good news to the world. In the ransom stream, I have heard things that make it seem like the atonement has nothing to do with sin and that Jesus just suffered to help us feel better about God and ourselves. I don’t think either of those extremes is healthy.

So here is my atonement statement:

“The price was paid to God by God.”

However, in order to know what I mean by that, we will need to dig a little deeper.

Concerning the first view, I think Jesus was indeed punished. But it was the punishment of the law He took. Check it out:

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our guilt and iniquities; the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him, and with the stripes [that wounded] Him we are healed and made whole (Isaiah 53:5 AMP).

Not to split hairs, but it is important to distinguish between sin in general and transgression. I think if we can understand the difference, we might be able to reconcile the two atonement views I mentioned earlier. “Sin” describes the fallen state of man, living outside of the purpose and glory of God. “Transgression” in particular, means to violate a law. Notice that He was wounded for our “transgressions”. Paul tells us that without the law, there is no transgression (Rom. 4:15).

So the “chastisement (or punishment) needful to obtain peace” was upon Him. He needed to fulfill the law; the requirements of the Old Covenant. A covenant cannot be broken and man needed to fulfill His part since the Old Covenant was between God and man.

 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;

Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; (Col. 2:13-14)

So the perfect man, the Last Adam, met all the law’s requirements and removed all accusation it could bring against us. But here is something to consider: God did not want law. He never wanted Adam to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (the law). Also, He wanted Israel to come up the mountain with Moses and experience Him in a relational way. But they asked for a rule book instead; one they said they were well able to keep. (see Exodus 19 & 20).

So people did get law; a chance to achieve godliness through the self-existence. But this is not what God wanted. It was not this way from the beginning, nor was the law covenant the final answer from God in terms of how He related to man. In fact, right in the Old Covenant writings, we see God expressing His heart in the matter:

For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me (Hosea 6:6-7). 

So the law served as a temporary system which was given due to the hardness of the hearts of the people (see Matt 19). But even without law to define it, we still had a sin problem.

To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come (Rom. 5:13-14).

Sin is a disease that leads to acts of sin. The disease needed to be dealt with at the roots. The whole thing of sacrifice was not to pay off a blood thirsty God. This is an idea you see in many of the religions throughout time, such as in the Mayan religion in which they would sacrifice humans to appease their gods.

It is not that sin simply offends God and He demands blood for justice; let’s stop pointing fingers at God. Sin contaminates people, thus causing them to harden themselves against God and man. In order for sin to be atoned for, we see a theme of substitution or transference throughout the Bible. Since the sinner is contaminated, he cannot atone for himself and get himself clean. Only an innocent life can take on the sin and then transfer its innocence onto the sinner.

He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way (1 Peter 2:24).

The sacrifices of the Old Covenant could not permanently take sins away, only cover them until the true Sacrifice, the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world, arrived on the scene. Only the pure, innocent, and perfect life of Jesus our Savior could remove sin by first having our sin transferred to Him. The sacrifices of the Old Covenant were shadows that pointed to the substance of Christ. This is why it says in Hebrews

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
    but a body you prepared for me;
 with burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you were not pleased.
Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
    I have come to do your will, my God.’”

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law.  Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:5-10).

I think the passage above is one of the clearest ones when it comes to understanding the atonement of Christ. We see that:

1) God did not desire a sacrificial system. This was allowed in a time of partial revelation of God’s grand plan for man.

2) God’s will was that Jesus pay the punishment for our transgressions under the law as we could not.

3) Justice needed to be served in the sense that God was completely faithful to His end of the Old covenant and man was not. Jesus satisfies the justice of man’s part in the Old Covenant. This is how He “sets aside the first to establish the second”. God would have been unjust to simply wink at the transgressions that had added up and downplay the severity of sin’s consequences.

4) Finally, we have now been made holy (set apart to God) since the law’s punishment has been satisfied and the disease of sin removed. In the New Covenant, we get a new heart that knows and obeys God.

Hopefully, it now makes sense that the price could have been paid both to God and by God. He could not just cross out the hard words of the Old Covenant, but He could pay the price for the transgressions committed under the old so that He could then initiate His heart’s desire for us in the New Covenant. As God prophesied through Jeremiah, It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors… For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.  (see Jer. 31).” God wanted to not relate to us on the basis of sin and law, but on the basis of sonship. That was the end goal of the atonement.

In this covenant, the law’s demands are satisfied and so is God’s heart desire to bless us and enjoy relationship with us. God has always loved us and been for us. The story of the atonement shows us that mercy triumphed over judgement; grace triumphed over law. Bottom line: the heart of God is revealed through the atonement; and that is what puts the good in the good news.

I am currently working on another post that describes the heart of the Father in sending Jesus to the cross. In that post, I will address the question of, “Did Jesus satisfy God’s wrath on the cross”? Stay tuned…

Posted in Loving God, Righteousness | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments