Saved From Condemnation

John 3:17

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.

Our verse today came as John 3:17 … but it is proceeded by the “universal” verse known so well and quoted so often – John 3:16. But verse John 3:18 following has an equally important message that should be placed in context; so I have decided to reprint the entire passage together for your reference.

John 3:16-19 (NIV)

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.18 Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

Observe that God gave His Son to save us.  Our salvation is a gift! We cannot earn it.  As Paul expounded in Ephesians 2:8-9: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not of works, so that no one can boast.  And “through faith” means that you believe in His Son – Jesus Christ.  Through placing your complete faith in Christ and His finished work, His sacrificial blood for atonement, and His resurrection from the dead, you are no longer condemned but have passed from death to life. (Cf. 1 John 3:14) Yet, notice how Verse 18 continues to admonish: “Whoever does NOT believe stands condemned already.”  Why? Because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son – Jesus.  In Verse 19, the Apostle John goes on to explain why people do not believe: “People love darkness instead of light.”  In essence, people love their sin more than they love God….

The Prophet Ezekiel spoke some difficult words … under the Old Covenant … which we would be wise to contemplate:

Ezekiel 33:12 (NIV)

“Therefore, son of man, say to your people, ‘If someone who is righteous disobeys, that person’s former righteousness will count for nothing. And if someone who is wicked repents, that person’s former wickedness will not bring condemnation. The righteous person who sins will not be allowed to live even though they were formerly righteous.’

However, in the New Testament, you will find a more expansive theology shared by the Apostle Peter to consider:

2 Peter 1:3-11 (NIV)

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them (these qualities in increasing measure) is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. 10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things (additions to faith), you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

There are several key themes we can find in this apostolic instruction from Peter. First of all, everything we need to live a godly life comes from His divine power – namely the Holy Spirit.  Second, the glory and goodness of Christ avails us of His very great and precious promises (i.e. wisdom, knowledge, gifts of the Holy Spirit, etc.) which allow us to participate (take part in) the divine nature.  As such, knowledge of His Word and gifts of His Spirit, equip us to mature in our faith – to bear the fruit of the Spirit in and through our lives. (Cf. Galatians 5:22-23) So Peter encourages us to move forward in maturity of faith in order to confirm the calling and election of God upon our lives!  Maturity through a growing faith will keep us from stumbling; and it promises great reward in the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ….

Paul reminds those who believe of this same truth: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) But there is more in the following verses to put this into context and congruence with what Peter articulated in his epistle. I have reprinted it below for you:

Romans 8:1-11 (NIV)

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set us free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh (our sinful nature), 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.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives lifebecause of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who lives in you.

It is clear that to believe in Jesus Christ goes beyond just a mental assent as to His Deity.  We are called to “participate in the divine nature” which God equips us to do through His divine power … the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.  Paul asserted if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Him.  As the Apostle John wrote: “This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of His Spirit.” (1 John 4:13) A life IN Jesus Christ is a Spirit-filled life.  There can be no other possible conclusion.  And a Spirit-filled life will produce the fruit in the life of a believer “in increasing measure” so that he/she will be effective and productive in His Kingdom. The Apostles are quite consistent with what Jesus Himself taught:  “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (Cf. John 3:5-6)

So the good news is that fallen, sinful man does not have to remain condemned to separation from our Holy Father … the God of all Creation.  God sent His one and only Son to save us … to reconcile us and restore us to Himself … as He determined and ordained before the foundation of the world.  All a person needs to do believe in Jesus Christ and begin to follow Him into the discipleship of a Spirit-filled life of Kingdom service.  His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.  He invites us participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires, and to walk in the Light of His glory and goodness….

I pray each of us with grow in knowledge and go on to maturity in the Spirit … to confirm our calling and election … to live lives worthy of the Lord Jesus … to please Him in every way … bearing fruit in every good work … growing in the knowledge of God…and strengthened with all power according to His glorious might. (Cf. Colossians 1:9-11) I ask that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we may know Him better. I pray that the eyes of our hearts will be enlightened in order that we may know the hope to which God has called us, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people,and His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength God exerted when He raised Jesus Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms…. (Cf. Ephesians 1:17-20) Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Wisdom From Heaven

James 3:17-18

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Wisdom….  We all need it.  We are urged by the Apostle James to ask for it.  “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5) But we need to distinguish the wisdom that comes from God … and the wisdom that comes from the world and human intellect.  In seeking the wisdom for living that comes from God, James writes:

James 3:13-18 (NIV)

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Here we have a challenge … that our very lives should emulate the character of Christ Jesus. And James has some fairly salient points for us to consider.  He starts with the premise that those who are wise and have spiritual understanding demonstrate their “depth of faith” by living a “good life”.  And then he defines a “good life” as “deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom”.  So as to further explain his instruction, James then contrasts the differences between the “earthly” or “carnal” wisdom of the world with the “heavenly” or “spiritual” wisdom that comes from God.  I think it might be useful to breakdown these “distinctions” James brings to our attention:

Wisdom that does NOT come down from heaven is labeled earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. It is manifested in human conduct such as “harboring bitter envy” or “selfish ambition” in your heart.  He goes on to observe that wherever you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”  In other words, envy, jealousy, pride, covetousness, idolatry, and greed proceed from a pattern of life that is sensual, brutish, and of this world.  Such behavior is inconsistent with a life rooted in the love of God. By contrast, we see that those who live a “good life” through the wisdom that God gives are:

            Pure                            (i.e. seek holiness and self-control)

            Peace-Loving             (i.e. seek resolution to conflict and reconciliation)

            Considerate               (i.e. seek the good of others above themselves)

            Submissive                 (i.e. not only to God but to each other)

            Full of Mercy             (i.e. readily forgiving)

            Full of Good Fruit    (i.e. acts of service and compassion)

            Impartial                    (i.e. righteous judgement; unbiased)

            Sincere                       (i.e. genuine; unpretentious, faithful)

So we can infer from these “distinctions” in wisdom for living what is best, good, and wholesome in our relationships with others versus what is immoral, destructive, and unrestrained to the extent that physical, emotional, and spiritual harm ensues to another.  Only the wisdom that comes from above equips a person to live the righteous life God intends for each of us to live!  Perhaps that is the very reason God has drawn us to believe in His Son – so that we might be filled with His Spirit … the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. (Cf. Isaiah 11:2).

No doubt, to be filled with the Spirit of God is essential to living a “good life” as James envisions it.  And I can almost hear Paul chime in with his Letter to the Galatians on this matter … parsing out the same contrasts as James:

Galatians 5:13-26 (NIV)

13 You, my brothers and sisters, have been called to liberty. But do not use your liberty to indulge the flesh (and its nature); rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Cf. Leviticus 19:1815 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (the wisdom that comes from heaven). 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

So my prayer is that we will seek wisdom … ask for wisdom … and apply wisdom to our hearts so that our lives will be good and beneficial to others.  This is HOW we are to love one another as we ourselves have been loved by God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  So I will conclude with an excerpt of the prayer Paul offered up for the believers in Colossae: “I do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Cf. Colossians 1:9-10)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

This Is My Story….

1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect….

This verse is connected with the themes we have been reading about the past week on sharing the Gospel.  Interestingly, I believe this passage is the most succinct instruction we can find in the Bible regarding evangelism in its “simplest” form.  We do not have to pass out “religious tracts” in the mall or door-to-door in order to be evangelists; although there might be occasion to do that sort of activity.  We do not have to stand on street corners with banners and megaphones heralding Scriptures; although if the Spirit directs you to do so … you should obey.  But if you think about it, when most of us were “touched” by the Gospel message, the context was probably somewhat different.  Your exposure to the message about Jesus Christ probably came through someone with whom you had a relationship.  It could have been a parent, a sibling, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or simply an acquaintance.  Maybe someone did hand you a gospel tract, or a religious billboard caught your eye and planted a spiritual seed. But most likely it was seeing “something different” in the life of another believer or hearing the personal, spiritual experience of someone you trusted that inspired or encouraged you to have a “real” relationship with God….

As I read this verse, I connected with its instruction of “how” to be an effective witness of the Gospel.  First of all, Peter indicates that we must have a “strong” relationship with Jesus ourselves.  In our hearts we are to “revere Christ as Lord”.  This means we have humbled ourselves and surrendered our lives to His authority.  This means He is worthy of our praise and worship.  This means we have experienced His life-changing grace in our hearts and desire our lives to reflect the holiness for which He saved us.  As the writer of Hebrews admonishes us: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14) If we revere Christ as Lord in our hearts, we will pursue a life that reflects that faith and hope and love.  As Peter wrote in his second pastoral epistle:

2 Peter 1:3-11 (NIV)

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. 10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

If we are living a life that is reflective of a genuine relationship with our Lord Jesus, then others will see it. And sometimes … your life in Christ will produce curiosity in someone who is seeking to have “more” of that “something” you appear to have in your life. It will be attractive to them because you reflect the light of God found only in Jesus. And so Peter instructs us: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Note the extreme language: ALWAYS. To be prepared means we have “practiced” in order to be ready. We have “fine-tuned” our thoughts about our own personal encounter with Jesus. We have “reflected” on our own experience of His faithfulness in our lives. And then sharing the Gospel … well it simply becomes sharing our own story!

But do this with gentleness and respect,” Peter writes. This all sounds very similar to what Paul advised, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Cf. Colossians 4:5-7) And this is why I think we need to reflect on how to best communicate and share the good news of Christ Jesus. The manner and the circumstances in which we shared the Truth with someone can determine your effectiveness and mine in reaching that person for God. If we appear pious or superior in our tone, we do not reflect the One who said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Cf. Mark 9:35) So the question to ask is are you and I “prepared” to answer anyone about our faith and our hope in Christ? But a more crucial question to ask might be: “Is our love for others evident in our walk … enough so that it would be a conversation starter for a stranger or an unbeliever?”

Okay, I’m going to stir some conviction…. What is a definitive application for us to consider here? Well, for unbelievers to respond to the Gospel … they need to see a “real” Gospel. They need to see a genuine outcome of the power of God to believe it exists and that it is authentic. We live in a generation and a culture that increasingly dismisses or rejects the existence of God, and more specifically, the message of Jesus. I believe some of this intellectual skepticism can stem from inadequate “evidence” of the work and power of God in the lives of those who profess faith in Him. We cannot see the wind, yet we can observe its movement and impact. Likewise, we cannot see the Spirit of God, yet a person should be able to discern His manifestation in the life of a believer. I believe when the presence of God is seen because His impact is observable, faith is formed. So if our lives do not authentically reflect the transforming power of Christ, then how is there evidence for an unbeliever to move from skepticism to the reality they are searching to find? I pray that each of us will be introspective and consider if the “wind” of our lives is sufficient to “stir the leaves” in the hearts of unbelievers. If it is, I would venture to say that someone is going to ask about the faith they “see” you have in Christ Jesus. So be prepared to tell them your story. It is a great one to share!

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!