So Much More Than We Know

What is sin?

We tend to talk more in terms of sins – things that we do that break God’s moral standards. And this is biblical and helpful.

Yet we also need to understand and feel that sin goes much deeper than our actions. Behind our behaviours there are attitudes of the mind and heart that are deeply insulting to God. Some of which we’re oblivious to.  It’s also not just about what we do, but about what we withhold.black-and-white-person-woman-girl

Yet I don’t say this to condemn myself, or you, because realising the seriousness of sin makes the forgiveness of Jesus Christ much more beautiful and precious to us!

And so I want to share some words by John Piper that powerfully capture why sin is so serious, by showing us how we rob God of what is rightly his:

What is sin?
The glory of God not honored.
The holiness of God not reverenced.
The greatness of God not admired.
The power of God not praised.
The truth of God not sought.
The wisdom of God not esteemed.
The beauty of God not treasured.
The goodness of God not savored.
The faithfulness of God not trusted.
The promises of God not relied upon.
The commandments of God not obeyed.
The justice of God not respected.
The wrath of God not feared.
The grace of God not cherished.
The presence of God not prized.
The person of God not loved.
That is sin!
John Piper , from “All Consuming Fire” by Shai Linne.

I hope that these words help you like they are helping me, to humble myself before God again, crying out for his forgiveness and joyfully embracing the grace and help that he freely offers us in Christ.

How merciful he is, when we wrong him so greatly!

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world . . . gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Ephesians 2:1-5

[WordPress informs me that this is my 100th post on the blog! Thank you to all my faithful readers and encouragers, and all glory to God for continuing to work in and through me via this blog. Please keep your comments coming if there are ways it could improve!]

Nim

Shipwrecked

A question that I’ve been asked a lot in recent weeks is this:

Why should Christians bother to resist sinning, if they are saved by God’s grace?

When Christians act as though Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross gives us a free pass to sin, we fail to recognise the cost of the sacrifice, the divine identity of the giver, and the depths of the love which motivated Him! Yet we also fail to understand the destructive nature of sin itself. So I love the vivid example that John Owen gives in answer to this question:

“Is it not a madness for a man willingly to suffer the ship wherein he is, to split itself on a rock – to the irrecoverable loss of his merchandise, because he supposes he shall in his own person swim safely to shore on a plank? Is this less in him who will hazard the shipwreck of all his comfort, peace, joy, and so much of the glory of God, and the honour of the gospel as he is entrusted with, merely on supposition that his soul shall yet escape?”

(Overcoming Sin & Temptation, John Owen, pg 184)

drowningIf Owen’s antiquated language is off putting – here is my humble paraphrase:

Continuing in deliberate sin once we are followers of Christ is as stupid as saying that we’d happily endure the pain, terror, and loss of being shipwrecked and losing every possession that we have, because we’re guaranteed not to die in the process!

Any sane person would take precautions not to be shipwrecked in the first place because, given the choice, who would willingly choose the loss of everything but life, when you could arrive safely ashore with great possessions, peace, and comfort, and to great glory and honour?

What a powerful picture to show us the bizarre and foolish risk we embrace when we use salvation as an excuse to sin without punishment, instead of resisting it with Christ’s help, avoiding destruction and enjoying all the blessings of his wisdom, help, and goodness towards us!

Nim

Banishing Christmas Angst

As I’ve probably mentioned before, I’m a bit of an over-thinker, which can be quite useful for blogging, but it also means that I sometimes miss the wood for the trees!

As Christmas approaches each year I usually get a kind of weird anxiety or ‘Christmas angst’, which looks something like this:

I worry about whether I am being too materialistic?

And whether I am taking enough time in the busyness for God, and making space to meditate on the true meaning of Christmas?  (I can’t seem to stick to an advent reading plan!)

I worry about whether I am grateful enough for Jesus coming to earth, and if I am really worth his love and sacrifice?

And whether my worship is as heartfelt as it could be (I tend to go into automatic mode when I’m singing carols). . .and so on.

I wonder if I’m the only one who feels this way?

 

Missing the Point

Can you see what I’m doing here? I might have good intentions, but I’ve actually made Christmas all about me! And instead of relishing the good news of the Christmas story and letting the truth of it soak in and bless me, I’ve let it become all about what I am doing (or failing to do), what I am thinking and feeling, and whether I measure up! There is a place for reflection of course, yet I’m amazed at how I can distort this until my anxieties squeeze out all the joy.

Fortunately for me, a talk that I heard on Sunday  reminded me that we can see what Christmas is about in the names given to the Saviour whom we celebrate:

Emmanuel: God is with Us

Jesus: God Saves

In these two names I’m reminded that God made the first move (in fact he makes every move of significance!)

Jesus Christ came to earth as a man, to rescue us from our sin.

God proclaims his love, care, and forgiveness for all to see by sending a rescuer to all who will receive him:

. . .the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you GOOD NEWS that will cause GREAT JOY for ALL THE PEOPLE. 11 Today in the town of David a SAVIOUR has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth PEACE to those on whom his FAVOUR rests.” Luke 2:10-14

Banishing Christmas AngstSo Christmas is a time where I get to revel in this undeserved rescue, instead of trying to convince myself (and God) that I’m somehow worthy of it. It’s not an opportunity for me to measure how spiritual I am. If I focus on my failings or on arbitrary measures of godliness, I miss the point entirely!

Instead this Christmas, I’m going to focus my attention on God’s radical generosity in sending Jesus, and the news that I don’t need to strive to save myself, I have a saviour! I can rest in the reality of his rescue from sin, which began in a manger in Bethlehem.

All that is left to do is to accept it, enjoy it, and praise him for it.

 

Wishing you a joyful and angst-free Christmas!

Nim

 

 

Making Excuses

I’ve recently realised that I’m an expert at making excuses. I hadn’t seen this as a problem until recently because I don’t usually make them out loud.

Most of us know that it’s bad form to reply with an excuse when we’re criticised or when we’ve failed someone, and I try to avoid this. But I’ve noticed that the excuse-making often continues in my heart.

Sometimes it’s in situations that don’t really matter. If I made fewer mental excuses when I’m at the gym, I’m sure that my workout would be more effective – ‘I’ve had a tiring day, I’ll go easy on myself’ – but it’s only my physical fitness that is going to suffer!

But where God has been working on my heart lately is in the area of making excuses to him about my sin.

No More Excuses

I’m currently reading a book called Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Butterfield, I’d recommend it if you want a challenging and stimulating read. It covers a range of topics to do with identity, sin, and ‘union with Christ’.

Something that the author says about our attitude to sin intersected with the ‘excuse issue’ for me. It made me realise that making excuses becomes a troubling spiritual problem, when our excuses are directed at God with the purpose of minimising or denying our sin. I saw that this is not part of repentance, it actually works against it!

Admission Alone Is Not Confession

Admission of sin says ‘Yes I sinned, but…’

It’s not my fault’, ‘You don’t understand the circumstances’, ‘It’s just who I am’, ‘I’m a victim here’ etc.Blame

I like Butterfield’s blunt summary: ‘Sin is treason, not sinus trouble’. She goes on to say that part of the problem is that we often ask God to see our sin from our point of view. Instead of allowing his word to bring our perspective in line with his sovereign and holy will, as true repentance is worked in our hearts.

Butterfield defines confession like this: ‘to own, acknowledge, or avow, as a crime, a fault, a charge, or a debt.’

‘When we confess a sin, we are not asking that God or others see it from our point of view. . .We consent that the Bible is true and that the law of God condemns us. And this either drives us into mad depression or into the open arms of our saviour Jesus Christ.’ 

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Openness Unhindered.

So, unlike admission alone, confession says to God ‘You are justified when you speak, and blameless when you judge . . .Create in me a clean heart O God’ (David’s prayer in Psalm 51)

There is simply no place for making excuses when it comes to sin!

Jesus Removes the Need for Excuses

However, one of the reasons that I find it so difficult to dislodge my excuse-making is that I use them to cover my nakedness! When I know I don’t measure up, when I identify areas of failure and shame in my life, I rush to find little scraps of defensiveness, self-pity, and mitigating circumstances, to clothe me before anyone notices! (We see this both literally and symbolically in Genesis 3:6-13 – remember the fig leaves?) But I can never cover myself sufficiently, and the Bible tells us that all our efforts at righteousness are shown to be ‘filthy rags’ when compared with the perfection of God! (Isaiah 64:6)

Yet the good news for the Christian is that God has a solution for any who are willing to surrender their useless rags to him, in exchange for the pure white clothing of Jesus’ righteousness. We can throw our excuses away and ask him to cover our nakedness!

A broken and contrite spirit you will not despise.’ Psalm 51:17

I can confess my sin and mourn it, recognising it for what it truly is in all its shame and ugliness, because doing so will actually bring me closer to Christ! He promises to forgive me, wash me clean, and help me to continue to turn from my sin in the power of his spirit!

‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ Romans 8:1

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:5

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 

Wow, God is so good to us!

Let’s boldly exchange our excuses for his promises.

Nim

Loving Kindness

In my previous post I quoted some verses from Ephesians 2. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them since, although my thoughts have moved in another direction – God’s word is packed with goodness! And it’s not that I’ve learnt something new, but it has hit me with fresh impact, so here are some thoughts on the kindness of God towards us:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  Ephesians 2:4-7

These are truly incredible verses!

Paul explains to the Ephesian Christians and to us that 1) our merciful God loves us with a great love. (He loved us even when we were “dead” in our sin)

2) Because of his love he has rescued us from sin and death through Jesus’ sacrifice in our place,

3) We have been raised and seated with Christ in heaven (spiritually for now, but one day physically too!)

4) The reason for this is so that “in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us”

WOW.

It’s easy to miss that last part amidst all the other amazing things that Paul says, but it is an incredible truth.

Most people whether Christians or not, know that Jesus came to die on a cross for sinful people. But how often do we reflect on his motivations and feelings in doing so?

We’re grateful, and amazed at such a painful, generous sacrifice. But perhaps we sometimes think that God’s forgiveness is him hauling us out of trouble because he is merciful and good, but that he views us as trouble makers whom he cares for semi- reluctantly. ‘We’re more trouble than we’re worth, but what’s a loving God to do but keep on loving us?

But this verse explodes that theory.

the incomparable riches of his grace” 

The Besotted Bridegroom

God’s purpose? Not a grudging one-time rescue, but an enthusiastic resolve and determination to love you and I, and keep on showing his kindness to us for the rest of eternity!! He can’t wait to show us greater depths of his love in Christ Jesus, like a bridegroom who looks past the wedding to a lifetime of finding new ways to love his bride.

This is not a reluctant love, or an abstract, theoretical, ‘textbook’ love. This is real, sacrificial, passionate, unfailingly kind love.

Please don’t misunderstand me, we are not at the centre of the universe as we like to imagine. He is! God is not like us, and first and foremost he glorifies himself. Nevertheless this is a biblical picture of how he feels about us. It is even more wonderful a truth when we consider how ‘other’ God is, how far above us in every way, and how undeserving we are!

Christ's Bride Ephesians 2

The Blushing Bride

The more I consider this, the more I feel like the blushing bride that scripture says I am! (Is 62.5, Rev 19.7) His love for us is so undeserved!

Perhaps I seem ‘spiritual’ writing this blog, but trust me that the depths of my heart show my great need of Jesus Christ every single day. To hear that this good and holy God loves me and wants to show unfailing kindness to me, gives me confidence to draw near to him. How can I help but respond to this kind of undeserved, freely given, frankly declared love?

We are blessed people with an eternally loving God, I hope you’ll join me in rejoicing in his love.

Nim

Marvelling at the Before and After

Last week a friend of mine, a Personal Trainer, posted two photos online. They were “before” and “after” shots of a client she had been working with.

It was impressive, the person had clearly lost a lot of weight, and there had been a complete and startling transformation, which was clear to see as I looked from one photo to the next.

It was this that came to mind when I read Ephesians chapter two this week.

Paul introduces us to an even greater transformation, and certainly a more improbable one.

The transformation of a lifeless corpse into a living person.

Paul says to the Ephesian Christians:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh
and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

It’s a damning description and assessment of them, and of us – members of the same human race.

What hope is there for a dead person?

What help is there for someone facing and deserving the just and righteous wrath of the God of the universe?!

If we understand Paul’s message here and take it to heart, it should scare us.

But thank God that the story doesn’t end there!

We breathe a sigh of relief as Paul continues “But…”

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,

And what are the reasons for this incredible rescue? A dead person has no hope, no powers of persuasion, and nothing to bargain with.

Because of his great love!

Because of his rich mercy!

God has resurrected us with Christ. We are raised to new life as surely as Jesus rose from the grave three days after dying by crucifixion.

But what happens next? Why is this rescue and transformation put into action?

in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

In fact, Paul shows us that God is not satisfied to simply rescue, transforming the dead into the living. He is committed to the future life of those he has restored.

He has determined to show immeasurable grace and kindness to us, in Christ Jesus, for the rest of eternity!

There is a great moment in the newest Bond Film SkyFall where Bond, tied up and face to face with his captor is asked what his hobby is (!) He says “Resurrection”.

It’s funny because it’s so defiantly arrogant.

But Christians worship a God who can and does resurrect the dead, and he loves to do so!

We have done nothing to deserve anything except his anger. All our best deeds pale into insignificance when compared to his eternal sinless perfection!

And yet God makes clear to us his mind and motives in the rescue that Jesus has carried out. Love, mercy, grace, and kindness.

I need this reminder frequently, because my gaze is often on my failings as a Christian. I begin to think that I live to earn God’s favour, that I cannot be certain of it, or that I might irreparably lose it.

I can fall into thinking that God puts up with me out of pity, or regrets ever saving me from my sin.

These verses cause me to rejoice, to relax, and to praise God for his wonderful grace and kindness to me in and through Jesus Christ.

I hope they do the same for you

Nim