I recently had a man who had been attending our services ask to meet with me. He had a question about the references in the Bible to having a fear of God.
Some people feel that their relationship with God is based upon them and their godliness. It depends upon them. And when they mess up, they hope God will forgive them. And they pledge to try harder. But then they mess up again.
That type of legalism only leads to fear; there can never be a real peace.
Others realize the truth that God has rescued them from spiritual death. They know that He loves them so much that He paid the necessary cost to prove it so.
And knowing this, they have a reverent fear. It is not a sense of fright; it is an awe based on the awareness of God’s love and their unworthiness. They have stopped to realize what their life would be if God had not saved them. They realize what might have been. They realize what should have been. And they realize what is.
And it awes them.
We have all seen those television commercials in which they use an interesting visual effect; the whole background and environment are shades of gray, but one person has a splash of color. That could also be a visualization of a spiritually alive person living in a spiritually dead world.
As we see our culture and society becoming increasingly ungodly, we are urged to not compromise. We are encouraged that we are to not conform. We may believe that we are to lovingly confront. Some believe that we are to strongly confront.
“Not conforming” does not actually relate to compromising or confronting. “Not conforming” means “not fitting in.” It means not becoming the same as. The real answer is not how we live but how we are.
It is not about what we “do”, but about what we “be”. (I know, that’s poor English.) It’s not about “doing”; it’s about “being”.
The old nature has to die. We can change the outside with limited success, but God can create a new inside. And when the inside root is transformed, the outside fruit is different.
It is not “me for Christ.” It is “Christ in me.”
There is a definite place for confession in a Christian’s life.
We acknowledge that we agree with God about our sins. We admit to God the areas in which we have erred. We confess our self-reliance.
The problem is that we can cross a very significant line. That line delineates the difference between confession as an acknowledgement of our sinning… and confession in order to receive forgiveness.
When we link confession with asking for forgiveness, we have crossed that line.
When we have an over-emphasis on confession and see it as being a daily component of our salvation, we are minimizing the work of Christ.
When we believe that we need further forgiveness and that God will not forgive our sins unless we confess them, then we are saying that the work of Christ is incomplete and lacking.
Confess? Yes. Cross that line? No.
Most of us wouldn’t want to start watching a movie halfway through. And we wouldn’t pick up a new novel and start reading on page 188. We understand the need for context.
Yet we will pick out a single verse of scripture and make an application without considering what the Bible says before or after that single verse.
I recently saw a Bible study lesson based on 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.” According to the curriculum’s teaching plan, the main point was, “Because God loves us, we are supposed to love others.”
Many Christians probably see it that way. But the verses immediately before 1 John 4:19 describe how “love comes from God.” And, “His love is made complete in us.” And, “we live in him and he lives in us and he has given us his Spirit.”
The main point is not that I am supposed to love others because God loves me. The main point is that I am able to love others because God loves me. I will love others when God’s love is in me.
At first the Pharisees did not know what to make of Jesus. But that changed.It changed because he said things like this:
“I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” John 8:24
We can only imagine how angry this made the Pharisees.
They thought that their religion and their own works were the way to God. Jesus said that He was the true way to God.
They thought they could attain righteousness; actually they thought they had already attained it. They believed that violating the Law was the heart of sin.
Jesus says that unbelief in Him is the source and basis and definition of all sin.
Later in the same chapter (John 8) they say Jesus is demon-possessed; at the end of the chapter they try to stone him; later they will crucify him.
But then he proved how wrong they were.
A key part of Jesus’ teachings was to show the inadequacy of the Law for achieving righteousness.
One day he commented, “You have never murdered anyone? Never violated the 6th commandment? Never broke that law? Well, if you think someone is an empty-headed fool and you say that out loud then you are in danger of hell.”
“And you have never had a physical adulterous relationship? You have never broken the 7th commandment? Well, if you have ever had a lustful thought, then you’ve committed adultery in your heart and that’s the same thing.”
And some religious people in that crowd heard those teachings, and just like religious, well-meaning people who hear them today, they said, “Hmmm. Jesus just gave us some new rules. We need to follow those rules also.”
But what was Jesus really doing? He was showing them the impossibility of achieving righteousness by following a law system of human works.
Jesus was not giving new laws; he was letting the Law do its work. He was letting it condemn self-righteousness so that his hearers would realize their need for the righteousness he would offer.
Write down the numeral “12.” Now add 17 zeroes. 1,200,000,000,000,000,000. According to Yasar Safkan, Ph.D. from M.I.T., that’s how many atoms are in a grain of table salt.
Now place that grain of salt on the floor and look down at it. Which atoms are in the top layer? Can you differentiate them? Can you identify the atoms in the 1,000,000,000th layer?
We might try to find comfort in comparing our righteousness to the righteousness of others. But the differences are actually beyond negligible. What difference does it make which layer we are on? We are still infinite multiples of 1,000,000,000 away from God’s perfect standard.
Our only true righteousness is the righteousness of Christ that God gives us.
We are all in the same situation. We all need God’s grace.
We all need the righteousness of Christ.
God designed the Law to be a condemnation, but His purpose was that it would be a condemnation of our own efforts at righteousness. He never intended it to be a point of comparison and condemnation of others. And He never intended that the Law would be a pathway to pleasing Him.
But He did plan for the Law to have a positive result.
He intended that the condemnation created by the Law would show… us clearly our need for a different righteousness. His designated plan for the Law was to condemn our own efforts at self-earned righteousness. He knew that there would be no clear designation of sin without the Law.
And He knew that there would be no awareness of our need for a Savior.
(From my book, “Unfiltered Grace, Believing the Whole Grace Message.” Now available on Amazon.)
I went over to listen to my neighbor’s peach tree last week.
Actually, I went over because he told me I could pick some of the peaches. But while I was there, I listened carefully.
The branches were full of ripening peaches, but I didn’t hear the tree straining with effort to produce the fruit. I didn’t ask, but I’m pretty certain the tree had not read a guidebook on the “Twenty Steps for Producing a Peach on Your Limbs.”
It appears that the peach tree was producing peaches because it was… well, because it was a peach tree. It was producing fruit naturally.
Galatians 5 tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. So, if I have the Spirit in my life, He is producing His fruit? Maybe I should throw away that list of steps that tells me how I am to exhibit those qualities. Maybe I should depend on the Spirit to produce His fruit. But if I were to do that, who would deserve the glory?
I recently had a man ask me if I it was true that I believed Christians were no longer under the Old Covenant. I could have gone into an explanation of the Old versus the New, but I took a different approach this time.
“Are you a full-blooded Jew?” I asked. “Are both of your parents Jewish and are all your grandparents Jewish?” “No,” he replied.
“Then you don’t have a choice. The Old Covenant was never extended to you. It’s the New or it’s none at all.”
I did then explain the truths and benefits of the New Covenant. But the simplicity of understanding that the Old never was available to us is illuminating.