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…

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Jesus was a Grace Preacher

Some of the most confusing things being said right now concerning grace have to do with how we are to interpret the words of Jesus while He was on the Earth. There is an idea that to believe in grace means to lessen the value of Jesus’ words before the cross; at least this is what many who embrace the message of grace are being accused of.

So was Jesus simply preaching the law until He died? Did He not know the message of grace? Of course He did. We know that grace and truth were revealed through Him (John 1:17). It does not say that Paul revealed grace and truth.

Jesus was completely aware of the awesome grace that would be fully revealed through His shed blood. He strategically preached law, not because it was simply pre-cross or because He wanted people to rely on the law. This was all part of the overall mission.

He was born under the law and sent to those under the law, but it was in order to redeem us from bondage to the law (Gal. 4). If that was His mission, then it would make sense that He would emphasize the law, but not for the purpose of putting people into bondage. Moses gave the law; Jesus came to reveal something new (grace and truth).

So why then would Jesus mention the law and even amplify it on some occasions (such as in certain lines of the Sermon on the Mount)? He did this on account of the self-righteousness that needed to be silenced with law. He came to fulfill the law (Matt. 5:17). From what I have learned about the meaning of “fulfill”, it encompasses two basic things: that he established (filled up) its true purpose as well as fulfilling its demands as was prophesied.

So He established it by showing us what it is all about. Here are three key points and passages that tell us the purpose of the law:

1) It reveals sin for what it is the way a doctor diagnoses a 
condition that is already there. It compares our condition (not 
perfect) to the standard of perfection. It is the knowledge of 
good and evil (hmmm... that reminds me of some tree in a story).

I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died (Rom. 7:9).

2) It silences self-righteous attempts at keeping it. That 
way, if someone did not get their true condition diagnosed by the 
law (point 1), the law would not stop until it found "the one 
thing you lacked". Those who were humble would give up; but the 
proud would puff up, thinking they were succeeding, not seeing the 
true diagnosis.

 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God (Rom. 3:19)

3) It revealed the Savior that would come so that when He did, 
people would recognize Him.

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith (Gal 3:24).

So it makes perfect sense that Jesus would preach law to break the strong proud and grace to mend the humble broken. This is how He would “establish” it and then “fulfill” the law’s demands and payed the debt we owed to it:

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Col. 2:13-14).

But if people, like the Pharisees, had not thought they needed a Savior and were doing okay according to the Law, then obviously the Law had not served its purpose.

Look at the many instances where Jesus healed, forgave, and blessed people without any mention of the Law. Consider the woman at the well, Zacchaeus the Tax Collector, and the woman caught in adultery. These people were ones who already knew their need for the mercy and grace of a Savior. They received it in full from the One who was bringing the new and about to fulfill the old; rendering it obsolete.

But lets look at an example where this did not happen. I love the story of the rich young ruler because it hits the nail on the head of how Jesus preached both law and grace properly. I love the way this is recorded in the gospel of Mark, chapter 10.

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”

This guy approaches Jesus, not as Savior, but as a teacher of the law. He was relying on law.

21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

Jesus felt love for this guy as He was showing him the true purpose of the law; He was not trying to condemn him; He was showing him the futility of our own law-keeping efforts. What I find interesting, is that Jesus says this guy lacks one thing, but then tells Him to do three things:

1) Go and sell your possessions

2) Give to the poor

3) Come follow Me

That’s three things, right? I think Jesus was saying the one thing he lacked was the fact that he was trusting the law instead of pursuing relationship with God. So the law’s purposes were served. The man became aware of the righteous standards of God (only perfection will do — point 1) , silenced in light of his inability to truly keep the law (he did not want to part with his possessions — point 2), and aware of his need for a Savior (what he really needed was to follow the Savior — point 3).

We have now looked at the way Jesus approached law and grace. To sum it up, Jesus told a story that captures His own views of the subject at hand. This, in my opinion, should let us see that Jesus was the preacher of grace. This story transcends the whole time thing (pre-cross vs. post-cross) and gets to the bottom of the issue.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Even though the Pharisee was thanking God, he still trusted in Himself. He exalted himself on the basis of seemingly godly things. But he had failed to grasp points 1 and 2 of the law (seeing his sin and inability to keep the law), and did not get to point 3 (justification by faith in the Messiah).

Therefore, Jesus preached grace! He preached justification by faith alone. He offered Himself, the living and breathing Gift of God’s grace to us. The humble saw it and received. The proud, self-righteous did not see it as they had not been silenced by the law.

In the next post or so (as I often skip around), I intend on highlighting how Jesus is introduced in the four gospels and how they also point to grace.

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Another Look at the Fear of the Lord

As believers are receiving a  fresh perspective on the grace of God, some Biblical topics seem to have a way of getting muddied in the midst of the joy and chaos of reformation. One such example of this is the meaning of the “fear of the Lord”. Was this some scary thing associated with the Law of Moses that disappeared when the New Covenant began?

I have sort of heard it talked about that way. But if we really look at the Scriptures, we will find that the fear of the Lord is mentioned in the New Covenant. Here are a couple such scriptures:

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1).

Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear (1 Pet. 1:17).

“Yeah, but John, maybe Paul and Peter were having bad days when they wrote those verses. They mostly talked about grace.” I don’t know about you, but if something is in the Bible, I don’t want to ignore it. Neither do I want to be ignorant in my understanding of it. Let’s look at this fear of God thing, which is in both Old and New Testament, starting with the Old.

I find it very interesting that David, who perhaps had the most intimate relationship with the Lord in the OT days mentions the fear of the Lord more than anyone else. His son Solomon, who undoubtedly learned much from his dad, also had much to say about it. What is also interesting is that David is known as the grace guy of the law era. So what do we make of all this?

I was re-thinking this the other day and it occurred to me. David and Solomon were constantly saying things like, “those who fear the Lord will have this blessing…” and talked about the well being of those who feared the Lord. Wait a minute. The law said that if we do this, then we will get that. If we tow the line exactly according to the book, then we will be blessed. This sounds a bit different. You mean all I have to do is fear the Lord instead?

That was the exact problem! The Israelites did not fear Him properly because they did not know His heart. They were afraid of Him rather than having the good fear of Him. Remember when ol’ Moses went up the mountain that God had set on fire? God wanted them to come up with Moe and experience Him in a relational way. But they were afraid and asked for a rule book instead; one they said they were well able to keep. (see Exodus 19 & 20)

“We’re afraid of that intimate stuff that Moses has. But we can still live a godly and successful life by our own efforts,” is essentially what their hearts were saying. But what they needed was love, not rules, in order to live a holy life in God. This is why Paul says that love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom. 13:10).

God wanted love. They wanted law. God wanted man to eat from the tree of life; he chose the tree of knowledge… again.

In the book of Romans, Paul shines the light on the fallen condition of man. He explains how the destruction of sin and death left us in a bad way. At the end of a long list of the vices of humanity, he finishes with:

 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Rom. 3:18)

All of the intensity and scariness of the law did not produce the fear of the Lord as that is something which develops in an intimate relationship with Him. Knowing this, God made an awesome promise of what He would do about the problem by way of the New Covenant:

 I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them (Jer. 32:39, NIV).

Friends, this is a New Covenant prophesy about fearing God. So we cannot accept the blanket statement that says fearing God is “Old Testament”. There is a tremendous blessing that comes with an accurate fear of God. In fact, this is a delightful thing according to Jesus. Isaiah says this about the Messiah who would come:

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And He will delight in the fear of the Lord… (Isaiah 11:2-3a)

I find it fascinating that Jesus had the Spirit manifested in His seven fold fullness, but it says His delight was in the fear of the Lord. Why not wisdom or strength? Those are very cool. It is because His treasure was relationship with the Father, as we see especially in John’s gospel. There are those who delight in giftings more than relationship. These gifts are not an alternative to friendship with God but should instead find their true purpose when yeided to Him.

But what exactly is the fear of God? This is how I see it: It is not about fearing anything from God. It is having such a reverence and love for Him that we can’t stand the thought of going against His awesome nature. We are told in the NT that:

1) We have not been given a spirit of fear (2 Tim. 1:7 & Rom. 8:15)

2) God’s perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18)

3) There is no condemnation for us in Christ and God is the One who defends us against accusation (Rom. 8:1,33-34)

So this is not fleshly fear. This is a godly fear that causes us to flee from anything that would violate our relationship with Him and rather, cling to Him. Here is a human version of this whole godly fear thing:

I love my wife and children. The thought of doing something that would harm them grieves me so much that I zealously hate such things. This is not motivated by fear of not being a good husband or father or the personal shame that would come from doing wrong. It comes straight from the love that wants to guard the precious treasure I have in my family relationships. It is a holy fear (reverence) motivated by holy love.

Jesus also gives us a big clue into what the fear of the Lord looks like. While being tested by the devil in the wilderness, He was offered all the kingdoms that had been handed over (temporarily) to the enemy, if He would only worship him. Jesus answered him straight from the book of Deutoronomy (as he did in all three responses to satan).

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ (Matt. 4:10)

But if we go to the verse he was referencing, it says:

Fear the Lord your God, serve him only… (Deut. 6:13)

So could David and Solomon have been talking about the blessings of a life of worship? I think so. But this type of pure worship could not have been produced through rules, only relationship. Of course, this means worshiping Him only. It is not referring to singing songs but having a lifestyle of awe and reverence that shapes everything we do.

It is also called the beginning of wisdom in Proverbs 9:10. How could we have wisdom without a reverential love for Wisdom Himself? This fear then grows into a mature love that flows in effortless harmony with God. In that place there is only place for one fear; the one that sets us free.

I hope you were blessed by this perspective. Remember, this is called “another look” not “the only way to look” or “the best look” at the fear of the Lord. I would love to hear your thoughts too!

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How the Tree of Life Found Us

The Law of Moses not only contained commandments for God’s people but hidden nuggets about the Christ; the One who would come obey the Law on our behalf and cancel our debt to it.

One such nugget is an odd declaration that one who hangs on a tree is cursed. This seemingly obscure part of the law contains the story of creation and redemption and points to the cross where all would be made right.

But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (Gal. 3:13 NLT)

The opening story in the Bible contained a couple of trees as well. One of these trees would bring a curse upon them that ate from it and the other would produce blessings. One was about knowledge of right and wrong (and the attempt to live accordingly) and the other was about relationship that produced life.

You know the story. Man ate from the wrong tree. But it does not stop there. Though man treeoflifewas banished from the tree of life, little did he know the tree of life was coming after him! In fact, banishing man from the tree of life was an act of mercy. As we see from the conversation amongst the Trinity:

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken (Gen. 3:22-23).

God did not want them to live forever in their fallen state. Jesus came to get us out of the mess and make it so we could live forever in a redeemed sinless state.

Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24)

But in order for us to cross over from death to life, we needed to be stripped of our old nature and forgiven our debt to the law. Christ being nailed to the cross was our debt to the law being paid. As Paul told the Colossians,God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Col. 2:13b-14 NIV)

Jesus, the tree of life, was nailed to the cross for the sins recorded by the law. In this way, justice against sin (which was also mercy for us) was served. One might say that the cross was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I find great comfort in this. Even though man made the wrong choice, the right choice came after him.

Jesus made the right choice for us. He kept the law perfectly and then died for the transgressions of the law. In this way, He became our perfect High Priest and Author of salvation.

Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready… (Rom. 5:6-7 MSG)

I have heard believers worry about falling into this sin or that trap. Afraid of the flesh and the devil which could cause them to fall away. Don’t be condemned, be encouraged!

Jesus has provided a perfect salvation. Not only was His priestly work as our Substitute on Earth complete as He obeyed the Father and carried our sin but He lives forever as our Heavenly priest to make sure we receive what He purchased.

This is why we now preach what Paul called the obedience of faith. Some think that Christ came to simply model for us how to keep the law. Some go further and say that He even writes the laws of Moses on our hearts (as it does say God will write His laws on our hearts under the New Covenant).

But if you read through the NT, you will find that God does not relate to us on the basis of law anymore while under grace. He does not simply empower us to try to keep the law. This would be returning to the wrong tree! He told us not to eat from the tree of law (knowledge of good and evil).

Christ fulfilled the law covenant and severed our relationship to the law. He uprooted that tree from our hearts so we can have relationship with Him based on love and faith rather than trying to mend the relationship with our old husband of law. This is why Paul said the following concerning our marriage to the law covenant:

Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. (Rom. 7:4, NASB)

It seems there is confusion about this in the church. We say things like, “Well Christ set us free from the sacrificial and ceremonial laws, but we still must keep the moral laws.” However, the Bible makes no distinction; law is law (see James 2:10). I am not saying it is okay to commit adultery and murder. I am saying that God does not want our focus to be on our performance but on His. He wants to engage us in intimate relationship that focuses on following a Person, not a rule book. He paid a price so we could eat from the tree of life again.

The book of Hebrews, which is all about the transition from Old to New Covenant has this to say about the topic:

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh,  how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb. 9:13-14 NASB)

Our conscience must be cleansed from the effects of eating from the wrong tree. That tree is what causes man to cling to a law-based system to succeed in life and approach God. Nothing but the blood of Jesus could get the job done. He is the tree of life.

For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh,  in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom. 8:3-4 NIV)

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You Without Works Is Dead?

Although I have touched on the subject of James 2, the faith without works chapter, I find myself burning with this message again. I hope that someone who needs to hear this will be enlightened and empowered.

I called it the faith without works chapter because that is how it is known. However, if you see what James is actually saying, you might instead call it the “faith actually works” chapter.

Much bondage exists due to the misinterpretation of this passage. The question that just about everyone has is, “Is God, through James, saying we have to earn and maintain our own salvation through our performance? Do we Christians have a “worksometer” that starts to decrease after a good work? If it reaches empty, do we reach empty as far as our security in Christ goes?

man_on_hamster_wheel

I myself wrestled and stumbled over these verses from James. Also, I did not seem to find any explanation that satisfied my questions. I saw many blanket answers that did not examine the text itself. So I went to the Holy Spirit about this and believe he gave me some insight. Please test it through your own relationship with God and let me know what He says to you.

For the sake of being thorough I have included a commentary below on this entire section of James 2. I have used the ESV (English Standard Version).

Hopefully, after reading this, you will see that James, who was known for his practical wisdom, is not trying to bewitch us or go against the other NT writers who speak of salvation through Christ alone. He is simply making the point that real faith packs the power. Faith simply works! Enjoy.

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

So we see that right from the beginning of his discourse, James is talking about faith, not you. This faith is something one can have. Peter confirms this as he wrote his second letter: To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours… (2 Pet. 1)

So James is mainly addressing faith itself, not the believer. He never says nor implies that we can save ourselves through our own human works. There are different kinds of “faiths”, for he asks “can that faith save him?” In other words, there is a specific kind of faith that does not produce works. This is dead faith that cannot save, not the alive kind that is guaranteed to produce what it claims. He then elaborates on this practical message by giving an illustration:

15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

In this example, we have someone saying mere words to a person in need without actually helping them. Could simply telling someone to be warmed and filled satisfy their need? Obviously not. Well, that is what the kind of faith that does not have works will do. It might come with persuasive words and interesting theories, but it is devoid of the power to change us and produce good works through us.

Again, he is talking about a kind of faith, not a kind of person. He does not say, “If you do not have works, you are dead.” He says that if the brand of faith you purchased does not inherently produce works, then you bought a lemon. It might have looked good on the car lot, but it won’t run. Therefore, you, the purchaser of the vehicle won’t get anywhere. So it is with the person who is trying to be saved by dead faith.

James then further expounds on the difference between dead and alive faith. He addresses those who claim they have the good kind of faith, but really have dead religion disguised as faith.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!

Here he shows us that you cannot extract faith from works and still call it faith. He is addressing the Jewish people in this letter, some of whom thought that their belief in the one true God automatically constituted living faith. Even the demons believe the true God exists, but they do not have a faith and life producing relationship with Him. James is trying to get them to test their faith to see if it is the real deal.

20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.

For me, this has been the trickiest part of James 2. However, I believe it to be simple when viewed in the light of the gospel and we stick to the topic that James is addressing (what kind of faith works and what kind does not). Outside of that light, all kinds of crazy religious bondage can be birthed.

I believe James is reiterating his point he originally made. Faith produced in Abraham the works that proved it was legitimately of God. Notice it says, “faith was completed by his works” as opposed to “Abraham was completed by his works”. Faith was active and proved itself to be true through the life of believing Abraham. The Scripture could then be fulfilled because the faith proved it was the kind that works. I could buy the best vacuum cleaner in the world directly from the manufacturer. But until it sucks up the dirt, I can not say for certain that it is the best.

24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?

Perhaps verse 24 is the main one that can be misinterpreted. Again, if you keep with the theme, you will still see that faith is what is in question. It just so happens to be the thing that justifies the believer. So one might say that there is no way of knowing that a person is justified until that faith produce works in them. Paul attests to this when he says the following to the Thessalonians:

 We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith… (1 Thess 1:3) 

One thing to keep in mind is that the early Christian church was not steeped in the Pelagianism (the idea that we can make ourselves righteous) that the modern Western church has swallowed. They recognized faith was a gift from God, not an act of the human will. Therefore, they viewed Christian perseverance as proof of God’s workings in the believer, not the requirement to stay saved. John spells this out clearly when he says,

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us (1 John 2:19).

In fact, 1 John complements what James is saying throughout the letter. John is addressing a similar crowd. Some of them had actually received Jesus and some had beliefs about Jesus but had never actually met him. They then proved that they never truly were part of the body of Christ by the fact that they left the church to follow after weird antichrist stuff.

So there you have it. My take on “faith without works”. James ends his discussion on this subject by hammering in his original and ongoing point.

26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

Is your faith simply a dressed up corpse? Or is there an alive spirit in the body of your faith? Relax, that spirit is not your hyped up zeal. It is the working of THE Spirit of God. If you have been born again through true faith in Christ, then yours truly is a faith that works! James is not threatening believers by implying that we need to spin fast enough on the religious works hamster wheel, but is shining the light on the real faith that works. Its a great idea to receive that faith if you have not and walk in it if you have.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ… for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil. 1:6 & 2:13).

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Solus Christus

solus_christus

Have you ever felt like you were doing awesome in your walk with God?  You were aware of His presence and God was using you in a powerful way. If this is you, then that is great! But don’t trust in how well you are doing. Not one bit. Trust completely in Christ alone at all times and you can’t go wrong. Begin to think that you are somehow standing in your own strength, then watch out, lest you fall (1 Cor. 10:12).

An Example From Scripture

First, Peter trusted in his strength. Even though Jesus said all the disciples would deny him, Pete believed that he had the power to stand with Jesus even if all of his peers were to abandon Him. After all, he had been powerfully used to cast out demons and heal the sick. He had an awesome Heavenly encounter on the Mount of Transfiguration. He was a leader of sorts among the others.

But after he denied Jesus, Simon Peter began trusting in his weakness. He felt like a complete failure. His zeal and devotion to Jesus had failed him. With such weakness and failure demonstrated in his performance, how could he go forward as a career apostle?

At least he had fishing to fall back on. This was what he knew; he could get a sense of validation from this. Have you ever felt that way? You thought the will of God was too hard, but you could at least do a good job at something and thus take some solace in those accomplishments. This was how you were to “survive” in a hard world as you could not have been sure of the Father’s blessing in consideration of your shaky performance.

But we see Jesus restore Peter in such a beautiful way. Rather than kicking him while he is down, reminding him that He was right about Peter denying him, He draws forth Peter’s true identity as a lover of God (see John 21). He drew on the love that Peter had for God, rather than exposing how he had failed to do for God what He swore to do.

What we see thereafter in the book of Acts is a new Peter. In one of his first evangelistic messages to a large crowd, He says the following to the Jews:

But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you… (Acts 3:14)

Wait a minute ol’ Pete! You denied Jesus as well… three times at that. Was Peter trying to guilt trip his fellow Israelites out of his own inward guilt? I doubt that. I think that Peter was now trusting not in his weakness and failures nor his own strength to follow Christ, but in the resurrected One who loved, forgave, and made him new. He was walking by faith, not by the flesh. This is why He, empowered by the Spirit, had the boldness to say this.

I can imagine that the enemy might have tried to accuse Peter that day for being a hypocrite; accusing his brethren for the very thing he did. Peter probably responded by saying, “That man is dead.” Indeed Christ bore the sin of Peter’s rejection of Him at the cross as Peter could have never atoned for his own sin. Love lifted him when nothing else could help. His conscience was then clean and he could speak the words that the Holy Spirit was giving him with boldness, rather than shrinking back in shame.

My Story

After I  first  came to  Jesus, I was filled with a  sense of awe and  wonder.  It was as if everything disappeared in the light of  God’s  glory and grace, as the hymn says. His love had changed me as I felt like a little child again; trusting my Father and loving others.

But as time went by, something happened. I now realize that I began to  trust in what God had done  in me rather than Christ alone. When I was a brand new believer, I was very aware that there was nothing of my own merit that I was bringing to the table. I was grateful to Jesus for his all sufficient grace and was trusting in Him to save me completely from my old life.

But when you are no longer a “baby Christian” (yuck) and when you are no longer a regular believer but one of those special elite believers called “ministers” (yuck again), you then have a bit more to stand on rather than just “umm, I was a mess and then Jesus had mercy on me…”.

You now know the Word,  you have a disciplined prayer life, you go to church seven times a week (I actually did), you are educated as a teacher of others. You might even have a fancy title with 3 or more words in it. Nothing wrong with these things; they can be great (although I think titles are simply job descriptions)! Just don’t get your identity and legitimacy from them.

I found myself struggling with a deep seated guilt because I did not think I was fulfilling my calling the way I thought I should. When I felt I messed up, I would think, “I know better. Why did I do that? I should be doing spectacular with all that I know now.” Do you see the subtle shifting of gears that can occur? We can easily go from trusting in Christ for His mercy that erases the past and grace that transforms our present and future to trusting in what we know and have done in God and then being let down when we fail ourselves.

After years of experiencing the ups and downs of the performance driven Christian life, God is bringing me back to what Paul called, “the simplicity of Christ.” I am learning to let go of facades and defining myself according to Christian activities (such as church affiliation and even the cutting edge moves of God). I want to simply be His and be known for love. This may or may not look radical and disciplined-like.

The age long debate of the relationship between faith and works comes into play when you start talking about this simplicity stuff. All that trusting in Christ alone stuff is great. But should we not also live a life of radical devotion and obedience to Christ now that we are saved?

The way this is preached is often that since Jesus made such a great sacrifice for us, we should now try to repay Him through our service. Sounds perfectly reasonable to human logic, right? Well, scrap that because we are dealing with divine things here!

What we could not do, what the Law could not do, and even what we cannot now do when we live by the flesh, Christ did. That is the good news. We share in His death, burial, and resurrection and His life is now our life.

We spend so much time praying for and counselling people who struggle with guilt, shame, and depression. But if we are not addressing the issues of trusting in Christ instead of ourselves and knowing our identity, we are not getting to the root.

Dead men don’t get offended, depressed, and guilty. If you struggle with these things, I am not pointing a finger at you (as I have wrestled with these things too) but I am pointing at the cross where those things were placed on Christ. He bought them. He buried them real good!

Christ does not want to simply enhance our lives so that we can then do better and have something to boast about. He wants to become our life in thought and deed so we can share in His endless glory.

For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:3-4).

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