Christian Hope: More than a Feeling

Hello, readers!

I know you haven’t heard from me in a while and for that, I apologize. My focus has been on completing the semester in seminary and transitioning to my relatively new ministry role as a youth pastor. This semester has been one of my more difficult seasons of life due to the many transitions I have experienced. For some time now I have been reading and meditating on Ephesians. A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a student about Thirteen Reasons Why (Netflix series) and we discussed the hope that Christian teenagers have contrasted with  Hannah Baker’s  perceived lack of hope. This post is the result of a conversation with one of my students and my own need to be reminded of the hope found in Jesus.

In 2016 Tenth Avenue North released the song, I have this hope”The song is based on Isaiah 43:1-3 wherein God reminded His people that He redeemed them and would not leave them. Jesus made a similar promise to his disciples and gave us the Great Commission. (Matthew 28:18-19)  Religion is not the “opium of the people” as Karl Marx claimed. All of us were created to worship and for relationships with God and others. Christian hope is based on the objectivity of Jesus’s resurrection.

The Apostle Paul prayed that Ephesian Christians would “be enlightened and know the hope of His calling and the riches of His grace.” (Ephesians 1:18)  Paul’s rich prayer and confident trust in God should challenge the way we pray today. I will focus specifically on Paul’s prayer that the Ephesian Christians would know the hope of Jesus’s call.

Defining Terms

Reflection upon Paul’s prayer demands that we must consider how the terms know, hope, and calling are used in this passage. I am providing you with the lexical definitions from the original language.

Know: To grasp the meaning of something, understand, recognize, come to know, experience. (BDAG, οἶδα) More research is needed to determine why Paul used this term rather than other options. Hope is one aspect of the new reality inaugurated by Christ. Contrary to the view that nothing can be known I posit that there are some things that can be known and true. (See F. Leroy Forlines in The Quest For Truth, 1-2. Forlines states, “The culture which denies that Truth exists or is accessible is in desperate need of truth.”) Paul wanted his readers to comprehend and experience the reality of Jesus’s resurrection so they might experience hope.

Hope: This term has been overused and has taken on a completely different meaning in the English language than it was used in Paul’s time. We often say things like, “I hope you have a great day” or “I hope you do well on your exam” or “I hope things will all work out”. When we use the term hope we are referring to a feeling or expectation that something will happen. Paul has a different usage in mind.

Hope refers to Christian expectation rooted in the Gospel and promise of the resurrection. (BDAG, ἐλπὶς) Weeks could be spent examining each passage in the Old and New Testaments to better understand the believer’s hope but that will be reserved for another time. Paul’s desire is that the Ephesian Christians and we will comprehend with our total persons the certainty and result of God’s calling.

Calling: In contemporary language, this term has also been misused. Generally, God calls or elects disciples to make disciples. God’s appears mysterious at times but it doesn’t have to be. Paul’s prayer was that the Ephesian saints would know the hopeful implications of Jesus’s call.

BDAG defines call for verse 18 as “an invitation to an experience of special privilege and responsibility.” (BDAG,κλῆσις) What is the special privilege, you may be wondering? There are many special privileges reserved for those who have applied Jesus’s righteousness through faith, one being free access to the Father. Another privilege is that disciples are given the same authority Jesus had to effect God’s kingdom in the world.

Having defined the terms know, hope, and call we proceed to consider what makes Christian hope distinct from other forms of hope.

What makes Christian hope distinct?

Christian hope is grounded in the Gospel, the person and work of Jesus, and the promise of future resurrection. Whereas earthly “hope” relies upon feelings, Christian hope depends upon objective truth. As Christians, we must remember the difference between joy and happiness. Our hope is not grounded in our feelings but in God’s sovereignty and character.

Suffering is depicted throughout the Biblical narrative but we sometimes forget that it is a normal part of life for the believer. When we suffer we are quick to blame God while ignoring the countless promises that suffering is a natural part of our lives as disciples. (Read 1 Peter in its entirety.) We forget that when “Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” (Bonhoeffer) When doubt feels bigger than faith we must remind ourselves of God’s promises revealed in His Word. Feelings let us down but objective truth grounded in Jesus and the Gospel never will.

Paul expressed that Jesus’s resurrection is the foundation for Christian hope. (1 Corinthians 15)  This makes our hope distinct. I am convinced there is more evidence that Jesus existed, was crucified, and risen than there is to support that he did not. If all of God’s promises find their yes in Jesus we should look no further than the Gospel as a source of hope.

Now that I have defined key terms and briefly discussed elements that distinguish Christian hope, I will conclude with some ways we can overcome despair or hopelessness today.

Overcoming Hopelessness through the Gospel

I don’t know about you but I can become discouraged and forget the hope found in Jesus. Multiple situations challenge our hope including cancer, unsaved family members, addictions, or even church conflict. Our hope is found God’s word, the Bible. It is living and active and does not put us to shame. (Romans 8:24-25)  I too struggle to remember the hope of Jesus’s calling but I have found the following steps helpful in transforming hopelessness.

  1. Commit to daily prayer even you have been slacking. You are God’s child through faith in Jesus. Prayer changes us and further molds us into the image of Christ.
  2. Find a local church to invest in. We were not meant to be Christians alone. There are NO lone ranger Christians. We need each other. Joining a local body of believers enables us to give and receive grace.
  3. Be transparent with safe people in your life. Not all persons are safe people and we cannot share our deepest thoughts and feelings with everyone. Even so, we all need accountability. Depression vanishes in the context of vulnerable and transparent people who give and receive grace regularly.
  4. Reject that the lie that you cannot be depressed and Christian at the same time. As Protestants, we do a poor job of meeting people where they are even if they are in the “dark night of the soul”. Sometimes we can pray the paint off the walls and do all the spiritual disciplines but still have despair. It’s okay to not be okay, brothers and sisters. Your problem may be spiritual but it could also be a mind problem. Thankfully God has given us tools such as Christian counseling to strengthen our total personhood.

I am praying that all of you will know the love of Jesus and will be reminded of the hope found in his Gospel. Thank you for reading!

 

 

Choosing the Kingdom: Between Two Worlds

Every day we choose whether we will focus on Christ and his kingdom or on the temporary people, places, and events of this world. Sometimes we overemphasize one or the other in a single day. As Christians you and I must seek balance-we are to prioritize Christ and his kingdom, while not neglecting earthly responsibilities.

Luke 10:38-42 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. This is the New Testament passage I chose to write my first exegetical paper on, as a freshman at Welch College. I have preached sermons on this passage multiple times. God is continuing to use this passage to mold me into his image.

The Text

In this passage we read about two sisters who were uniquely a part of Jesus’ ministry. Martha and Mary were friends of Jesus and were sisters of Lazarus. (John 12) You are all likely familiar with the text, but let’s take a closer look.

38Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. 40But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” 41But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Martha invited Jesus and his disciples into her home. We first consider her motive-why did she invite Jesus over for lunch? Was she simply being kind or was she in some way trying to impress Jesus? The latter option seems highly probable given the nature of her humanity. We don’t want to read into the text but it seems natural to question Martha’s motives.

Mary listened intently to Jesus’ teaching. This is one example of Jesus’ redefining culture. Culturally women were not permitted to sit at the feet of a teacher, especially a rabbi. Jesus did not stop Mary from listening to his teaching, though. While Martha was busy in the kitchen, her sister Mary simply sat at Jesus’ feet.

Martha asked Jesus to call her sister out. She was serving alone and wanted everyone to know it.

Do we ever serve simply to draw attention to ourselves? We don’t usually admit it, but in our pride we want everyone to know all the good deeds we do. Jesus reminds us that we should not do good deeds for the praise of man. 

Jesus did not scold Mary as Martha expected. He did not condemn Martha’s actions either. He simply said, “Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (good part=good portion in Greek, merida) Our deeds and service are important from a kingdom perspective but we must ensure that we balance service (earthly in nature) and reflection/mediation (spiritual in nature).

Some Dangers

It can be easy for us to read a passage like this and walk away with false interpretations. As Christians we do not advocate for a strict dichotomy between the material and spiritual world. We believe Christ is Lord of both. Michael Horton articulates it this way,

“But we need not choose between these two kingdoms. Citizens of both, we carry out our vocations in the church and the world in distinct ways through distinct means. We need not “Christianize” culture in order to appreciate it and participate in it with the gifts that God has given us as well as our non-Christian neighbors. Though called to be faithful in our callings until Christ returns, with Abraham, we are “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10, hcsb).”

We do not want to neglect earthly responsibilities, but we do want to prioritize the Kingdom. That seems to be Luke’s purpose in including the Mary/Martha narrative in his gospel.

We must make God’s Kingdom a priority.

You and I are a people of the Kingdom. We have been delivered from the Kingdom of darkness (even though we still feel its presence!) and have been transferred to the Kingdom of God through Christ. (Colossians 1:13-14) We must become a people who set our minds on thinks above, while not neglecting things below. (Colossians 3:1-2)

In some sense we are between two worlds. There is present aspect to Christ’s reign but there is also a “not yet” aspect. The whole creation does not willingly submit to his lordship. As we await Christ’s return and consumption of the Kingdom, let us not neglect earthly responsibilities such as homework, work, and getting tasks done, but let us also prioritize God’s kingdom.

Becoming Kingdom Minded: Some Practical Steps

  1. Prioritize God’s word, prayer, meditation, and discipleship.
  2. Intentionally pursue and develop relationships with others. (Some we will share the Gospel with and others we will encourage in their sanctification.)
  3. Be obedient to the task God has appointed. Whatever you do do all to God’s glory. Stop viewing your earthly responsibilities as a curse. (I’m preaching to myself as well.)
  4. Prayerfully ask Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit to build the kingdom. “Our Father in heaven..let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6)
  5. Seek community through local church and relationship building.

These are just a few thoughts on making God’s kingdom a priority. My prayer is that my life will be centered around Christ and his kingdom. Peter reminds us that while we are between two worlds there is significant reason to have hope-Christ is building his kingdom and we are given an opportunity to join him in Kingdom building.

11Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:11-13, NASB)

To my readers,

Thank you for reading my posts with patience and consistency. I hope to be posting with more regularity in the future but for now, I’ll just post when I can. Your support of my ministry is an encouragement to me!

Let It Be Said of Us

There she stands in ragged clothes and pleads for money. People pass her by. People ridicule and mock her for living on the streets. Very few passers by asked her about her story. They simply walked away in scorn. But you see, everyone has a story.

She was a single mother and victim of domestic abuse. She only wanted enough money to feed her children and pay for a cheap hotel room. She just wanted to get by. She just wanted to make it through another day. After she became the victim of domestic violence she became homeless. She reached out to her church and asked for help and didn’t get any. She reached out to her family as well but they responded similarly to the church.

Her life was characterized by brokenness. She just needed some help. She needed Christ to set her free from the chains of abuse, prostitution, and fear. Her story is real and must not be ignored.

My room mate and I met her outside our local Wal-Mart. We were simply returning a Red Box when God put her in our path. My room mate obeyed the Holy Spirit and began engaging S. in conversation and ministry. God appointed this encounter for sure. She was at her wits end and we were able to be messengers of grace.

She still needs your prayer. She needs your support. She needs your love. Most of all, she needs to see Christ in you.

Helpless people are all around us. It can be easy for us to look on the least of these with scorn because of our perception of them. Let it not be said that Christians do not genuinely love others. Let it not be said of us that we ignore God’s leading to help others.

Helping others requires action, not merely words. She had been attending a mega church in the city since 2008. When she tried to get out of her domestic violence situation she became homeless. She asked the church for help but was given none. My heart breaks for a church whose congregants can’t meet with the pastor because he’s too booked up. My heart breaks for a church who fails to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Let it be said of us as believers that we love others just as Christ loved us. (Mark 10:45, John 3:17) Let it be said of us that Christ shines through us.  Steve Fry has articulated this well in his song, “Let it be said of us”.

Let it be said of us
We were marked by forgiveness
We were known by our love
And delighted in meekness
We were ruled by his peace
Heeding unity’s call
Joined as one body
That Christ would be seen by all

Fellow Christians, it is our duty to reflect Christ to a broken world. Let us come before His throne pleading for mercy. Brothers and sisters let your light shine so others will see Jesus and glorify the father.

Puritan Spirituality in The Valley of Vision

In my last post I shared who influenced me to read and enjoy Puritan writings. In this post I will share why I enjoy reading the Puritans. Arthur Bennett provides us with a helpful glance into Puritan prayers and devotion in his work The Valley of Vision.

Who is Arthur Bennett?

Arthur Bennet was born on May 15, 1915 in Southern Rotherham, England. He left school at the age of fourteen to assist his father at a local barber shop. During his teenage years he reportedly head singing as he passed by the Citadel. At the end of the service the “call” was given and Arthur was saved. He eventually sensed God calling him into pastoral ministry. Brother Bennett developed a deep love for the Puritans and their spirituality as he studied. His study on Puritan spirituality soon became a part of his own spirituality. The more he studied Puritan spirituality, the more he sought to employ it into his own Christian walk. Tony Reinke has written a helpful biographical essay which can be found here.

Puritans included in The Valley of Vision (VoV, hereafter)

This work is a compilation of Puritan prayers and devotions. Bennett includes works from the following:

  • Thomas Shepherd
  • Thomas Watson
  • Richard Baxter
  • John Bunyan
  • Isaac Watts
  • William Williams
  • Philip Doddridge
  • Charles Haddon Spurgeon
  • Augustus Toplady
  • and others (see viii in VoV for a complete listing)

Puritan Spirituality Depicted in VoV

Bennett opens the work with the following prayer, which powerfully demonstrates what Puritan spirituality is all about. The VoV is based on Isaiah 22:1, which states, “The burden of the valley of vision. What aileth thee now, that thou art wholly gone up to the housetops?” (KJV)

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,

Where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;

Hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox

that the way down is the way up,

that to be low is to be high,

that the broken heart is the healed heart,

that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,

that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,

that to have nothing is to possess all,

that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,

that to give is to receive,

that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,

and the deeper the wells the brighter thy starts shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,

thy life in my death,

thy joy in my sorrow,

thy grace in my sin,

thy riches in my poverty

thy glory in my valley.

Whole posts can be devoted to unpacking the theological truth contained within the stanzas of this prayer. My purpose here, however, is to give you a glimpse of Puritan spirituality. So here are some characteristics, as demonstrated above and in most Puritan writings.

Puritan spirituality humbly considers who God is. 

Authentic spirituality begins with a proper understanding of God. Culture can attempt to define who God is but it will fall miserably short. Scripture provides us with ample descriptions of Yahweh and what makes him distinct from false gods. Jesus, the God-Man, is the perfect reflection or as the writer of Hebrews says, “The exact imprint of the divine nature.” Spirituality is worship. Our worship, love, and obedience to God only increases when we behold his glory. (Go back and read the opening lines of the prayer. It’s similar to the Lord’s prayer, which begins in adoration.)

Puritan spirituality honestly reflects who we are.

When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, he fell down at Yahweh’s feet because of his unholiness. (Isaiah 6) Puritans often emphasized the importance of mortification (dying to sin) and vivification (coming to life in Christ). Some people (New Agers and others) have bought into the lies that we are basically good. Puritan spirituality takes interest in self-assessment. Oh how we need this kind of self-assessment in our own lives!

Puritan spirituality demonstrates the purity of God’s word. 

Personal experience is important but should be tested against God’s word. Puritans relied on the Bible for faith and practice. They were ordinary means of grace people. They didn’t base their spirituality on the latest fad but on the liberating truth found within the pages of Holy Scripture. Puritans saw God’s word as sufficient for their own spirituality. You and I can be encouraged by this. (To have more of the Spirit we must have more of the word.) Puritans trusted the Bible as sufficient for their Christian pilgrimage. We should too.

Puritan spirituality warms the heart and challenges the mind. 

There’s a lot of attention give to spirituality in our culture. For more on that, check out this article in ONE magazine. We read of people dying, going to heaven or hell and returning to tell the world about it. We do not need all of that to validate our spirituality. Puritans understood the substance of spirituality, namely Christ.

When it comes to spirituality people tend to pick and choose what they want. Frankly, I get tired of seeing fake spirituality in the culture around me when I know there’s something better. I find encouragement by reading the Puritan writings. Puritan writings take us back to our roots-namely to Christ and to Scripture. When I read these works my heart is warmed and my mind is challenged.

I love reading the Puritans. I’m sure my post hasn’t done justice to the vast treasures found within Puritan spirituality, but I hope to have wet your appetite a bit.

Lord, teach us to love, obey, and worship you as we go through the Valley of Vision. Confirm us to the image of Christ. Plant in our hearts a desire to worship you in Spirit and in Truth. Teach us to worship through your word, just as the Puritans did. 

 

Who influenced me to read the Puritans?

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Within the past year I have developed an appreciation for Puritan spirituality, due to its emphasis on Christ and the Word. I began reading Puritan writings in Dr. Barry Raper’s course Reading the Pastoral Classics at Welch College. Several other mentors have encouraged my reading of the Puritans. In this post I will briefly highly my exposure to the Puritans. In the next post I will highlight some commendable characteristics of Puritan Spirituality. I hope you will begin to appreciate Puritan spirituality as much as I do!

Key Influencers

Dr. Barry Raper receives credit for first exposing me to Puritan writings. He required us to read The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. This short book references Isaiah 42:1-3, which finds fulfillment in Jesus in Matthew 12:18-20 according to Sibbes. You  would benefit by stopping to read those passages before you read further. Sibbes reminds his reader that Christ does not quench the bruised reed, nor does he quench the smoking flax. This truth encourages the believer and challenges the minister. Christ doesn’t give up on those who are at their wits end. Faithfulness to Christ requires us to love people and not give up on them even when they are at their wits end. We were there before Christ rescued us. This alone compels me to read Sibbes’ writings.

Dr. Matthew Pinson, president of Welch College, also exposed me to Puritan writings throughout my studies in Free Will Baptist History. As Free Will Baptists we trace our heritage to both the Palmer movement in the South and the Randall movement in the north. Palmer had been influenced by the General Baptists (the first baptists), who were directly influenced by the Puritans. One prominent General Baptist Theologian, Thomas Grantham, has been studied extensively by Pinson, along with Thomas Helwys and others. Anyway, my course readings exposed me broadly to Puritan writings. Here are three influential selections from our required reading list: (focusing on the Puritans) 1. History of the English General Baptists by Adam Taylor, 2. The Worship of the English Puritans by Horton Davies, and 3. Renaissance and Reformation by William Estep.

Brother Eric Brown also encouraged my reading of the Puritans. He pastors Pine Level Free Will Baptist in Alma, Georgia. During the summer of 2015 I was privileged to serve as an intern at Pine Level. Pastor Eric shared The Valley of Vision with me. We used this resource during our weekly meetings and we incorporated Puritan prayers into our services.(It’s okay to read prayers from the Pulpit. Especially when they are as biblical as Puritan prayers!) The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions. If you do not own this helpful resource, go to the link above and buy it. You will not regret making this purchase! We also read The Reformed Pastor together. Brother Eric has an entire section devoted to Puritan writings, which he made available to me while I served alongside him. While in Grand Rapids, MI for the National Convention, we visited Puritan Reformed Seminary and bookstore. (I’m not confessing how much I spent at the bookstore.)

Other honorable mentions: Each week I listen to some helpful podcasts including Mortification of Spin, Christ the Center, and Truth for Life (Alistair Begg). Various Puritan references abound in these podcasts.

My love for the Puritans and their writings continues to grow. I have several new primary source writings on my “to read” list. In this post I wanted to acknowledge those who have exposed me to the Puritans. In my next post I will explore some commendable characteristics of Puritan spirituality.

 

Why is the Gospel Good News?

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In Christian circles we refer to the Gospel as Good News. This follows from our understanding of the Biblical Greek term εὐανγέλλιον which literally translated means “good news”. I would like us to consider some practical reasons why the Gospel is Good News to everyone, regardless of background, ethnicity, or geographic location. I will begin by providing a brief definition of Gospel.

What is the Gospel?

The Gospel is the story of redemption carried forth by Israel and culminated in the person and work of Jesus. This redemptive work is necessary because Adam and Eve chose evil over righteousness, a choice I believe was a real choice. (Genesis 3) As a consequence of this decision all humans were born with a sin nature. God immediately began redeeming his creation, as seen with the Messianic promise in Genesis 3:15. Fast forward through several years of Israel’s history and you will see God making covenants with humans with the goal of redemption in mind. Several covenants appear throughout the Old Testament but God’s covenant with Abraham takes an important place in history.(See Genesis 12-15, 18, and Paul’s epistle to Galatians, especially chapter 3.) Jesus is the mediator of a new and better covenant according to Hebrews 12:24. The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus Messiah has come to redeem Israel and the world as a result of his gracious covenant. The Good News hinges on the person and work of Jesus, namely the resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15)

Jesus does rescue us from judgement but the Gospel is much more beautiful than that. Good News is more than fire insurance or an escape ticket from hell. Good News is good because Israel’s long-awaited Messiah has come. There is no Messiah outside of God’s covenant with Israel. 

There are at least four reasons why the Gospel is Good News. (This list is not exhaustive. If you can think of other reasons, comment on my post.)

1.) It is a free gift of God.

Many passages refer to redemption as a gift but I find Romans 3:21-26 helpful.

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,  to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26, NKJV (emphasis mine)

I sometimes struggle with grace, especially after I sin. God is not going to love some future state of you more than He loves you now. (Matt Chandler) Our justification finds basis on Jesus’ gracious work rather than from any meritorious work on our account. The Gospel is Good News because it is God’s free gift to you and me.

2.) It’s offer extends to all persons wherever they are.

John 4 is that wonderful story of the Samaritan woman who had a radical encounter with Jesus. We could highlight several Gospel elements of this story but I’ll point my attention to Jesus meeting her where she was. Jesus engaged in conversation and challenged the Samaritan woman to contemplate her relationship with God by emphasizing the relationship with her five previous husbands. We understand this encounter to have resulted in a lifestyle change based on the new belief of the community. John says that many believed as a result of this woman’s testimony but eventually accepted Jesus as Messiah through faith. (John 4:39-42) Jesus met the Samaritan woman in the midst of her sinfulness and brokenness. She didn’t have to clean up her life and come to Jesus. She came to Jesus and he cleaned up her life by washing her in the Word.

Wherever you are Christ is calling you to come to him. You don’t have to get your act together to come to him. He accepts you just as you are. This is Good News.

3.) It sets us free from our old master, namely sin.  

This thought inspired the entire post. In Systematic Theology we were discussing human sexuality and the transforming power of the Gospel. In American culture sexual orientation is receiving significant attention, given the rise of the so-called moral revolution. In class we examined 1 Corinthians 6 which highlights the particular problem of church discipline. An individual in the church was practicing sexual immorality and Paul urged the church to deal with this matter in grace and love in light of the transforming power of the Gospel. Sexual orientation is a matter of temptation rather than mere sexual preference. Culture excuses sexual sin, whether heterosexual or homosexual, on the basis of one’s orientation. This is really a fatalistic view of human nature. We are all oriented toward various sinful desires but the Gospel teaches us that we do not have to act on those temptations or orientations.

Let’s consider how Paul viewed one’s orientation and the Gospel’s transformative power.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, NKJV

We are all oriented toward sin rather than righteousness as a result of the Fall. We all have temptations but we do not nor should we act on every temptation we face. Only through the Good News of Jesus can we overcome these many temptations we face. We will struggle with sin until Christ returns. We are saved and being saved. 

4.)It’s transforming power extends to all people who have faith in Jesus. 

Gospel transformation is available to all who seek it. In the verses mentioned above, Paul reminded the Corinthians that they too were delivered from the ugliest sins. You can change your behavior but your heart can only be changed by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The Gospel is more than mere moralism. It is Good News of deliverance to those enslaved to sin. When we become believers we are given the Holy Spirit who works to mold us into the image of Jesus the Son.

This reason moves me to celebrate God’s gracious work in Christ. Dr. Putman stated, “Regardless of your temptation, through the Gospel you might become new through Jesus.” There is no greater news than this. The Good News changes how we relate to God and to each other. The Gospel is Good News because we are not doomed to stay in our sinful muck. Jesus has reached down (figuratively speaking) and has gotten us out of that muck. What an awesome God we serve!

Grace, Grace, God’s grace

Grace that will pardon and cleanse within

Grace, Grace, God’s grace

Grace that is greater than all our sin!

Shackled Under Condemnation’s Chains

We’ve all been there. We’ve just committed the sin which we feel is unpardonable. Sure, we know that sin is by definition rebellion against our Creator and Redeemer. We know that those images, those new gadgets, that relationship, or that job cannot fill the longings of our soul. Yet we repeatedly revisit those old wells that never satisfy. Revisiting those empty wells leaves us thirsty. Sin always promises satisfaction, but never delivers on its apparent promises.

Satan convinced Adam and Eve that by eating the forbidden fruit they would be satisfied. You can read the story for yourself. Adam and Eve were convinced that by eating this fruit they could become like God. The truth is that they were already like God. They were created in His image and according to His likeness. (Gen.1:26-27) They had the privilege of walking with God and knowing Shalom or perfect peace, yet they were convinced that eating the forbidden fruit would bring satisfaction. Perfect peace was broken and our first parents immediately felt shame, so they patched together garments to cover their nakedness. God called out to His children and they hid.

There is continuity between our experience and the experience of our first parents. We repeatedly worship comfort, pleasure, or entertainment over Yahweh. As C. S. Lewis remarks, “We are far too easily pleased.” Almost immediately we feel the shame brought on by our sin.

The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin when we fail, but often we feel condemnation over conviction. We forget that Satan is called the accuser of the brethren.

I wish I would have been able to know Dr. John Gibson before he made the decision to end his life. Dr. Gibson was a beloved man on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He was quick to love others and served as a vessel of grace to the faculty, staff, students, and community. Though Dr. Gibson modeled Christ’s love for others, he struggled to accept it himself. He, like Adam and Eve, took a bite of the forbidden fruit and felt the bitter sting of shame. He had apparently gotten involved in the Ashley Maddison scandal and became afraid. He was afraid of what his family and what the community would say upon discovering his sin.

Dr. Gibson believed in the matchless grace of Jesus, but struggled to accept it himself. He was shackled by the chains of condemnation. I don’t know about you, but I relate to this struggle. I know that only through the imputed righteousness of Jesus can I be justified before the Father. (Romans 5, 2 Corinthians 5) Yet when I fail I feel like I have to start all over again. This feeling is simply a lie from Satan. He is the accuser of the brethren.

Do you feel condemned today? If you have confessed Jesus as your Lord you are forgiven. (Proverbs 28:13, 1 John 1:9, Romans 6:23) There’s no sin God cannot forgive. You have not gone so far that He cannot redeem you. Even while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Even as the crowd cried, “Crucify him” he pleaded, “Father, forgive them”. May the His word set us free from the shackles of self-condemnation.

You do not have to remain bound under the shackles of condemnation. You too can be set free from the chains. It will not happen by your effort. It won’t happen simply by trying to be better. Liberation comes when we submit to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Sin’s shackles are no match for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus has conquered death, hell, and the grave.

I do not know your struggles. I do not know the empty well you continue to revisit. I do know that we all struggle with sin. We are redeemed sinners, but we are still sinners. If you are struggling with condemnation you must remind yourself that God’s word is true. You don’t have to be Satan’s prisoner anymore. Let’s remember that we are pilgrims. Let’s remember that we are a community of sinners saved by grace through faith. Please don’t keep your struggle to yourself, like Dr. Gibson did.

Conclusion

Sin causes us to feel separation from our Creator and Redeemer. Conviction and condemnation are not the same. Conviction comes from the Holy Spirit, but condemnation comes from Satan. We need to be reminded that “There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) We need to remember that Satan has been defeated as Revelation 12:10-12 reminds us.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night.  “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.  “For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.” Revelation 12:10-12, NASB.

*Please continue to remember the Gibson family in prayer. For more on his life and influence at NOBTS, click here. For the CNN article, click here.