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Sin

Knowing Jesus: Jesus did not sin

By | Christianity, Knowing Jesus | One Comment

The more we know, the more jaded we often become. And as society has changed over time, our need for heroes has changed as well.

There was a time when we wanted people that we could look up to—who were just better than we were in some way, usually in terms of their character. But as time has gone on, we’ve become somewhat jaded as more and more of the people we put on pedestals cannot withstand scrutiny. We idolize athletes for their physical ability and then are shocked to find that their character is flawed. We learn that a large number of so-called public servants are nothing of the kind, and as their deeds come to light, we realize that the image we constructed was wrong, and we often feel betrayed by that. We feel fooled.

It’s just safer to pick heroes who are more like us. They’re flawed, they make mistakes, they don’t force us to evaluate our own moral or ethical character, because they tend to do the things that feel right emotionally. Maybe that’s why our society loves to elevate celebrities who live lives of complete moral abandonment: they’re doing what we wish we could do!

On the other hand, if heroes are too “good,” we distrust them. Or we just find them dis-interesting. We like our role models dark, complex, maybe even a little twisted. We like them in many cases because the anti-hero doesn’t shine a light on our own failings.

More and more, people try to do that with Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t fit the earthly hero mold

“He was just a man. He liked to go drinking with friends. He fantasized about sex. He didn’t care about following the law. He was a lot more like me than the “religious types” have been telling me. And you know what? He didn’t like religious types, either!”

And the only thing those claims are based on is the simple truth that we don’t like the idea of a pure and undefiled savior who might actually demand the same from us. Hebrews 7:26 describes Jesus as “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.”

Does that sound like a hero who would fill the theaters? Not from a worldly standpoint, but it’s the kind of hero we needed to save us from our own sins.

We’ll talk more in future blogs about Jesus’ relationship to the law of Moses, the legal system under which he lived. But whatever we say about how Jesus lived and the decisions he made, we have to start with the simple fact that Jesus did all things by the will of God, and without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. — 1 Peter 2:21-23

The penalty of sin is death

Why is this so important to understand? Because it is a cornerstone of faith in Jesus Christ, in that he came to this earth to die for our sins. If Jesus had sinned, then he would have been deserving of the penalty for sin, which is death. We often don’t like to think about that, because it seems so unreasonable that a single relatively harmless act—such as lying, being disrespectful to a parent, swiping something that the other person didn’t even need anyway, or any number of minor offenses—should result in a death sentence.

But that is exactly what the Bible teaches: “The soul who sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. — Jam 1:14-15

Why is sin such a big deal to God? Because it is a violation of God’s purity. John talks about the concept of light and darkness a lot in relation to God’s nature, whether because it is literally true or because it is the best analogy available to describe why God cannot abide sin. Darkness cannot co-exist with light, and sin cannot co-exist with God because it is foreign to His nature.

Sin was not in Jesus’ nature

Jesus was tempted “in every respect as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). When we recognize that Jesus was divine as well as human, we can understand how he could withstand temptation time after time, while we find ourselves failing. It was not in Jesus’ nature to sin, because Jesus was divine . But he understands what it feels like when the world and its influences tugs at your being. I’m not sure how that worked, although I have some opinions on it. Regardless, all we need to know is that Jesus lived a sinless, blameless life, and no one before or since has done that (Romans 3:23).

If Jesus did sin, then he could not have offered a perfect sacrifice “one time for all” on behalf of you and me (Hebrews 9:27-28). We would still be without hope, and our guilt would still separate us from God.

That should impact the way we think about sin in our own lives. Do we just accept it? Do we believe that we can come to God and have fellowship with Him if we’re unwilling to deal with the sin in our own lives? Jesus’ message was consistent: if we want to enter the kingdom of Heaven, we need to be willing to repent of our sins and seek a life of holiness (Matthew 3:2, 11:20, Luke 13:2-5).

Are we setting that expectation? Being a Christian means being a disciple (Acts 11:26), which means we try to follow him, emulate him, obey him in every way that we can. We know that we often fail, and when we do, Jesus is the advocate for all who are in his body (1 John 2:1-6, Ephesians 5:23). But are we seeking the Lord when we’re holding on to our own sinful lifestyle?

 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” — 1 Peter 1:14-16

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous ( that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. — Ephesians 5:1-12

Our message to the world is not that we’re following a flawed, fleshly man who will make us feel good about the people we are now. We’re following the pure and holy lamb of God, who can make us into the people God wants us to be.

Knowing Jesus: The severity of sin

By | Knowing Jesus | No Comments

Last week, we talked about Jesus’ focus on seeking the lost. He never missed an opportunity to teach or influence, and displayed a single-mindedness that sometimes seemed like obsession to his disciples.

There’s an important implication to that: if it’s so important to seek the lost, then being lost must be a truly horrible thing. And for all the discussion of Jesus’ willingness to eat with sinners—to seek out the marginalized—sometimes what is missed is that Jesus lived a life that rejected sin. He did not sin, and he did not tolerate sin.

After healing the lame man in John 5, Jesus found him in the temple and admonished him, “Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”

Even in the situation of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus did not condemn her because he was not a witness and had no standing under the law of Moses to render a judgment. But, he added, “go and sin no more.”

How seriously did Jesus take the idea of sin?

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. — Matthew 5:29-30

Many will argue that Jesus is being figurative, but I believe he meant exactly what he said. Obviously, no one’s hand or eye is the cause of sin; sins come from our heart. If my heart wants to lust, I will have lustful thoughts whether I can see or not. But Jesus is saying that sin is so deadly that it will separate us from God, and that there is absolutely nothing in our life that we shouldn’t be ready to give up in order to avoid it.

He understood the consequences of sin, and he understood that it is important not only to avoid sin, but to help protect your brothers and sisters, and do everything we can not to be a hindrance. Jesus reserved his strongest condemnation for the one that becomes a stumbling block and causes another Christian to sin: “it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).

What did Jesus go through because of sin?

The idea that Jesus wasn’t concerned about sin, or that accepted it or tolerated it, flies in the face of everything scripture says about him. It becomes even more unbelievable considering what Jesus would have to go through personally in order to redeem us from the consequences of sin.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. — 2 Corinthians 5:21

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” — Galatians 3:13

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. — 1 Peter 3:18

…But emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. — Philippians 2:7-8

Jesus knew first-hand the consequences of sin. He loved us enough to take the payment of sin on himself, but he fully understood the destructive nature of sin. He understood God like no one else because he was one with the Father, and he understood what the Law of Moses was intended to teach us through the ceremonial sacrifices, with the image of a priest, whose beautiful white linen robe became drenched in the blood of a dying animal: sin is ugly. It is death. It corrupts and stains what God has intended to be pure and undefiled.

And Jesus came to deliver us from it. So let’s not allow ourselves to call back into that from which we’ve been freed!

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. — 2 Peter 2:20-21

 

Knowing Jesus: Seeking the lost

By | Christianity, Knowing Jesus | 2 Comments

Jesus came to this world in order to accomplish a number of things, and we read about them throughout scripture—some in Jesus’ own words, some revealed to us by the apostles whom Jesus had entrusted with the Gospel message (John 14:26, Matt. 10:27).

But there was one particular mission that Jesus seemed to embrace with every moment of his life, maybe because he knew that those moments were limited. It was simply this:

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” — Luke 19:10

He continually sought out (as we will discuss throughout this series) and engaged those people who most needed him. When the disciples found him speaking to a woman at the well in Sychar when he (presumably) should have been focused on how hungry he was, he responded:

My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest?’ Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. — John 4:34-36

Jesus sought the sinner when others did not

As with everything, Jesus referenced the work given to him by the Father. But with Jesus, it was never strictly about obedience. It was a genuine love and concern for those whom he had no doubt watched for a long time. People who were struggling in their walk with God. People who had given up altogether and were walking away. People who were so removed from a knowledge of God that they wouldn’t know how to return even if they wanted to!

And let’s not forget the people who were no longer welcome to return, at least not in the eyes of many in the religious community.

As Jesus told the religious leaders of the day, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).

All of us needed a savior, even the “righteous”

It’s worth noting that while Jesus often referred to those who were healthy, the reality as we learn in scripture is that none of us are truly healthy outside of Christ. There were many men and women in Judea at the time of Christ who were striving faithfully to serve God, and that had a true love for Him. But they still needed a savior, just as we all do today. Isaiah, in predicting the suffering savior, makes it clear that “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

Some were already at the doorstep, setting their mind on the kingdom and waiting patiently for their deliverer (Luke 2:25, Mark 15:43). And some had to be found and coaxed back to the fold. Jesus knew where his efforts were best spent.

He didn’t ignore or push aside the people who had already come to him, and in fact continually encouraged them, saying “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father speaks as the voice of God to the indignant brother saying “you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31).

But, he adds, “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.”

Taking up the seeker’s mantle

The message to the disciples and to us would seem to be that if our Lord was so consumed with concern over the souls of the lost, then we ought to feel that way, as well.

Paul wrote about this mission’s passing from Jesus to his apostles:

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. — 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

Have we taken up the mission which has been passed on to us?

The lion behind the glass

By | Christianity | One Comment

I love going to zoos – and lions have been my favorite animals since as long as I can remember. So any time I can see a lion up close – particularly if he’s doing something other than sleeping – it’s a good trip.

The lion relaxing peacefully at the zoo always looks safe.

The lion relaxing peacefully at the zoo always looks safe.

But there’s a video I watched once of a trip like that, and maybe you’ve seen it, too. It was taken at one of the exhibits which allows you to walk into the enclosure behind a thick glass wall and see the animals up close. One of the families in attendance let their child wander over to the glass, and she ended up in a staring contest with a big male. It looked for all the world like a precious moment for everybody.

Then the lion started frantically pawing at the glass right where she was standing. Everyone laughed and smiled and got a great memory out of the experience. And whether they wanted to think about it or not, all of them probably knew what would have happened if that glass hadn’t been there.

Thick plate glass has a way of making us complacent about potential dangers. In the same way, the grace of God can make us complacent about very real dangers to our souls. Peter knew this as well as anyone, and he spent much of his epistle warning Christians about the need to remain vigilant.

Be sober- minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1Pe 5:8

Why would Peter warn us of the dangers of an enemy who is powerless to harm us? After all, Satan has been “declawed”, hasn’t he?

All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. – 1Jo 5:17-19

If the “sting of death” has been removed in Christ (I Cor. 15:48), and sin no longer has dominion over us (Rom. 6:14), then what can a guy in a red devil suit with a pitchfork do to us, all locked away and powerless?

The answer is simply that Satan is not powerless, and even in I John, we read that he still controls this world. For now at least, Satan holds influence over anyone and anything that submits to his will. And all of those things are tools that he uses to try to lure us into his realm – not in some spooky, supernatural way as we might see in movies. I’m convinced Satan is thrilled when we spend all our time coming up with conspiracy theories about how this or that politician is a tool of evil bringing about some apocalyptic world event, when in reality, Satan is that friend who convinces you that there’s more to life than Christian morality. Or even that brother or sister in Christ that tells you that you really need to lighten up a little – “you’re forgiven! Don’t take sin so seriously. God will understand if you give in every now and then.”

Or maybe it’s the charismatic evangelist or spiritual leader who seems so sure of himself, so comfortable with the word of God, and even if what he says doesn’t completely match up with what you read in scripture, he just seems so convincing! And he’s such a nice man. Paul described that in II Corinthians 11:13-15.

Satan has one power left to him: the power to deceive us into thinking he’s not the roaring lion looking to devour you. He just wants you to have a good life, to enjoy yourself and to just leave the whole “Bible” thing to the preachers and the “goodie-goodies”. It reminds me of how Satan led Jesus up to the top of the temple and told him “If you’re the son of God, jump off the temple. God won’t let you hurt yourself.” He even had scripture to justify himself. (Mtt. 4:5-6)

But Satan selectively quotes the scripture, leaving out passages such as Hebrews 10:26-31, or I Corinthians 10:11-12, and numerous others which warn us very clearly that God’s grace is there for us – a wall of glass holding Satan at bay, as long as we don’t willfully decide to dangle our feet over the edge.

When we do that, we miss the advice of the apostles, as Paul wrote, “we are not ignorant of his designs.” (2 Co 2:11)

We ought not be ignorant, either.

 

 

What two things did God NOT create?

By | Christianity | One Comment

You hear a lot of hypothetical, philosophical questions about the nature of God and His power. I still have memories of the smug smile that invariably followed the challenging statement: “if God is all-powerful, can he create a rock so big that He can’t move it?” As if we can create a paradox in our own mind that somehow disproves something that exists outside out mind. Sometimes it does seem like people live their lives with the attitude that if they simply can’t accept a concept, it must be false.

But my inability to get my arms around a subject doesn’t invalidate it. Otherwise, anything more advanced than Calculus 101 would cease to exist. If it were left to my abilities to study and focus in college, anyway…

So why do we get so hung up on the idea that there is evil in the world, if a purely good God did in fact create “everything”? How many times have we heard “if God were real, He never would have allowed that”. Never mind that in many of those cases, what happened was a result of something a human being decided to do to someone else. “How could God allow us to bomb each other into oblivion.”

The fact is, there are a couple of things that God actually didn’t create, and I think they help us understand a lot about what it means to have a relationship with God.

God didn’t create darkness

Do an experiment if you can. Find a closet or small room with a door. Close it, and turn out the light. Now imagine that the light creeping through the space under the door isn’t there – that you’re in complete darkness. Did you “create” that darkness? Well… Only in the sense that you removed the light. But the truth is that darkness is the “default state”. Without the light that you installed, without the exterior lights in the house, without the natural light from outside, that closet would always be dark.

In Genesis 1, God’s first act was to create light. If darkness is defined by the absence of light, wouldn’t that mean that darkness predates creation? It was not created simply because darkness  was an eternal state until light was created. And the great thing about light is that once we have it, the darkness can never again truly be dark – not unless you visit Innerspace Caverns or some place like that so far under the ground that natural light simply can’t reach.

God gave light, so that darkness could never dominate us again. Not unless we physically intervene and shut out that light.

What else in the Bible has that same characteristic?

John 3:19-21 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Constantly in the Bible, we see the concept of righteousness aligned with the concept of light. And with good reason: when God introduced light, he defined darkness forever. Who would ever have known that it was dark until light came and showed us that we were in darkness? Isn’t that how the righteousness of God works?

1 John 1:5-7 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

If we think of sin as darkness and righteousness as light, then try another experiment. Go back to that closet, make it as dark as you can, and then strike a match. Is there any part of the closet where it is both light and dark? Of course not, because they cannot exits together. Darkness is defined as the absence of light. By the same token, sin is defined by the absence of righteousness. The two cannot coexist – there is no unrighteousness in God – because righteousness is a characteristic of God. (2 Cor. 6:14)

God cannot be unrighteousness any more than I can be canine. I’m not a dog. It’s not in my nature to BE a dog. It is physically impossible for me to have the same nature as a dog – I can only imitate it in some superficial way. And as much as we talk about how “human” our pets act, they are not human, and they never will be.

So God didn’t create darkness; He created a means of escaping it. And God didn’t create evil; He showed us how we could escape evil and be righteous, and by doing so, we could live in the presence of the source of all light for eternity. (Col. 1:12-14)

So when Jesus talks about the concept of Hell as being cast into outer darkness (Matt. 25:30) away from the presence of God, we start to really understand what it means to be separated from God. It means being separated from light, separated from goodness.

But most importantly, it explains how God could “allow” someone to be condemned to a life of darkness and suffering. He doesn’t “allow” it. We simply wouldn’t have it any other way. And we spend our lives blocking out every source of God’s light, when all we have to do is open the door.

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