“For Christ suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God, after being put to death in the fleshly realm but made alive in the spiritual realm.”
Sins are paid for only one time – not repeatedly. Sins are paid once for all as the Righteous One dies for the unrighteous. We who are sinners are brought to God once – by Christ’s sacrificial death and by His resurrection from the dead. Like any well-formulated, ironclad contract, our salvation is settled.
“Now it is clear that no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous live by faith.” (Galatians 3:11) The only person who is righteous, who fulfills the entire law is Jesus. “Everyone who does not continue doing everything written in the book of the law is cursed.” (Galatians 3:10)
Now anyone who claims to do everything written in the book of the law is self-deceived. Jesus says He comes to fulfill the law not destroy it. (Matthew 5:17) He says, “not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18) Jesus’ ability to satisfy God is enough for us — we add nothing to Christ’s finished work. Our contract with God is unbreakable – signed with the blood of our Savior and sealed with His Holy Spirit.
“For it is the will of God that by your good conduct you should put ignorance and stupidity to silence. Live as free men; not however as though your freedom were there to provide a screen for wrongdoing, but as slaves in God’s service.”
Don’t do wrong in your freedom. As you conduct yourselves well, you silence ignorance. Not only that, but “who is going to do you wrong if you are devoted to what is good?” asks Peter. “And yet if you should suffer for your virtues, you may count yourselves happy. Have no fear of them: do not be perturbed, but hold the Lord Christ in reverence in your hearts.” (1 Peter 3: 13-14)
Don’t live in fear. “Be always ready with your defence whenever you are called to account for the hope that is in you, but make that defence with modesty and respect. Keep your conscience clear, so that when you are abused, those who malign your Christian conduct may be put to shame. It is better to suffer for well-doing.” (1 Peter 3: 15-17)
Don’t live in anger. “If Christ’s Name is flung in your teeth as an insult, count yourselves happy, because then that glorious Spirit which is the Spirit of God is resting upon you.” (1 Peter 4: 14)
“For this reason, ever since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you. We ask God that you may receive from Him all wisdom and spiritual understanding for full insight into His will, so that your manner of life may be worthy of the Lord and entirely pleasing to Him.”
How is it we make our lives “worthy of the Lord?” How is it we make ourselves “entirely pleasing to Him?” Through God’s “wisdom;” by receiving from Him “spiritual understanding” and “full insight into His will.”
For us to please God, it is not enough to want to do His will. We need to know His will. Some people believe God wants them to murder doctors who perform abortions. They believe this evil act is the will of God. Some people believe God wants them to set bombs to go off in airplanes in the United States of America. They believe this evil act is the will of their god. Some people believe God wants them to wave the American flag and isolate us from the rest of the world — economically, socially, even religiously. They believe this act of fear is the will of God.
God’s will never calls us to do an evil deed in His Name. He never calls us to act out of fear, hatred, mistrust or a ‘holier than thou’ attitude. Rather God calls us to love our neighbors and to do good to those who hate us. We are to turn the other cheek when we are struck. To accept and act upon God’s will, we must pray ceaselessly for “full insight” and “spiritual understanding.” God calls us to love our enemy.
“God’s voice is marvellous in its working; He does great deeds that pass our knowledge. For He says to the snow, ‘Fall to earth’, and to the rainstorms, ‘Be fierce.’ ”
“Listen, listen to the thunder of God’s voice and the rumbling of His utterance.” (Job 37: 2)
With His voice, God brings forth all that is — the entire universe. He speaks, and light comes forth. He speaks and light is separated from dark. He speaks and heaven and earth spring into existence. God speaks and plants emerge. He speaks and stars exist. He speaks and animals come forth. God speaks and creates man, male and female. On the last day, God rests “from all the work He has set Himself to do.” (Genesis 2: 3)
With the power of His Word, we ask: “can any man dictate to God when He is to speak? or command Him to make proclamation?” (Job 37: 20)
Often it seems we get an idea that we are able — somehow — to manipulate God into doing for us, almost as if God is Santa Claus.
Job does not attempt to manipulate God. Instead, Job hopes to be “cut off,” “snatched away,” “crushed” by God. (Job 6: 8, 9) He cries out, “Oh how shall I find help within myself? The power to aid myself is put out of my reach.” (Job 6: 13) Job is desperate under the weight of God’s attention. Sometimes, His attention is overwhelming; and the struggle is indeed against Him — against His way, against His thought, against His will.
God’s voice thunders in the ears — all His power evident to those who listen. Like Job, the best response is awe, humility, repentance, obedience.
“Do not set your hearts on the godless world or anything in it. Anyone who loves the world is a stranger to the Father’s love. Everything the world affords, all that panders to the appetites or entices the eyes, all the glamour of its life, springs not from the Father but from the godless world.”
Of course, we live in this world among godlessness and people who have no interest in or comprehension of God — at least not the God who created them. We are not commanded to leave the world for this is our temporary residence. We live here — at least for now. We are not to avoid people; for through us, they may come to first know something of God and later perhaps even come to meet God for themselves. (1 Corinthians 5: 9-10)
What then are we to avoid? Coveting what the godless world offers — selfishness, arrogance, greed, malice, hatred, lust, deceit, mistrust and the actions reflecting these worthless qualities. We are to throw off the godlessness which so easily entangles us, and put on the mind of Christ — setting our hearts on things above. (Hebrews 12: 1-2)
“The world is not worthy” of us which is first a difficult idea to grasp and foremost to say without sounding like we think we are better than others. Because, of course, we are not. We are saved by grace, and that is a gift, not of ourselves, so that we are unable to boast.
God Himself says, “Come now, let us argue it out.” He knows that we will continue to have difficulty accepting that salvation is a free gift of God to those who believe. He knows that some of us will argue with Him and with each other that there must be something else to it. We must do something! No one gives away such a gift, especially not the Someone who hates sin so very much.
But God says, “Let’s settle this matter!” He argues quite eloquently, “Though your sins are scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they are dyed crimson, they may yet be like wool.”
And yes, He does say, “Obey with a will.” And He does warn, “Refuse and rebel” and you won’t “eat the best that earth yields.” (Isaiah 1: 18-19) There are consequences to disobedience! Every true Christian knows this! Our Lord says, “Once again, I will act against you to refine away your base metal as with potash and purge all your impurities.” (Isaiah 1: 25)
God calls us to “walk in the Light of the Lord.” (Isaiah 2: 5) God warns again, “Mankind shall be brought low, all men shall be humbled; and how can they raise themselves?… Man’s proud eyes shall be humbled, the loftiness of man brought low, and the Lord alone shall be exalted on that day.” (Isaiah 2: 9, 10-11)
On that day, who will be exalted? Not mankind for all his efforts to be good, do right, abandon evil. No, the only one who will be exalted on that day will be the Lord Jesus Christ, who died to save mankind. Amen. To God be the glory.
God has a mystery — and He makes it known to us, says Paul, because He is pleased to do so. God’s mystery is that He intends “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”
How mysterious it is that God — long before He created time — knew and chose me and you in love. (How humbling!) How mysterious it is that God — long before Abram was born — selected him to be the father of all who are born-again of water and Spirit. How mysterious it is that God — who knows all that is and all that will be — is nevertheless not the author of evil, but only of good. How mysterious it is that God eventually will unite and place everything (not some things) underneath the head, who is His Son, Jesus the Christ. Does this mean that at some future point — perhaps when time has ended and there is only eternity — all will be perfect again? Will everything be able then to say, ‘Oh Death, where is your sting?’ because death and hell will be no more?
Is it possible that at some point our adversary will actually cease to exist, or that he himself will be brought under the head of Christ? Not only brought under His Head, but united with everything else? The Word here in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church is hard to fathom.
A mystery understood is no longer mysterious. Paul says that God reveals this mystery — that He tells us all will be united under Christ. But, how this is to be remains a mystery. With man, much is impossible. With God, all things are possible.
“So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites.”
James compares the tongue to the rudder of a large ship, directing the ship according to “will of the pilot.” (James 3:4) He writes that the tongue is “a world of unrighteousness” that “pollutes the whole body.” (James 3:6) The tongue “sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell.” (James 3:6) James goes so far as to say that no one “can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8) Not only do we praise God with our tongue, we turn around and curse our neighbor with our tongue. “Praising and cursing come out of the same mouth.” (James 3:10)
Jesus says that what comes out of the mouth emerges from the heart of the person. James implies that the tongue itself has power to set the course of our life — the tongue is able to direct our behavior. Jesus is saying — it is not what comes from outside a person that pollutes us, but what lies within us. James is saying — our speech not only reflects our hearts, but also molds our hearts.
What we speak is our reality. Speak praises to our God, for our tongue has the power to change our heart.
“If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire.”
Without holiness, no one will see God. One might say that our works reflect our holiness. If our works are “stubble” — i.e. worthless, then our holiness is lacking. If our holiness is lacking, then how is it we will see God?
Some say that without obtaining complete perfection here on earth, we will not pass to heaven. We will wind up in some sort of limbo or purgatory. Others say we will not be accepted into heaven at all, ever. Some say this perfection here on earth is possible and demanded because of the power of the Holy Spirit who works in us. Others say sin is inevitable — because it is in our very nature which is being changed over time by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul implies, in my mind, that the latter is true — that we are being altered, perfected slowly over time. A slow roasting, so to speak. That judgment day is so often, perhaps even always, referred to as a day of fire lends some credence to the idea that we will go through fire at our deaths. I think this is the only logical explanation of how we can remain sinful human beings and yet be holy as we stand before the throne of grace and judgment.
Some of us will have exceeding painful deaths, I believe as the ‘stubble’ of our lives is burned away. Every last sinful desire, every evil impulse, every sadness, bitterness, hatred, self-loathing, mental illness, emotional disturbance will be ignited in a blaze so hot as to defy imagination.
But, each one of us who calls Jesus Christ Lord and Savior, will be saved, “yet it will be like an escape through fire” for some of us — perhaps for most of us.
“He makes us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit produces life.”
Jesus says, “Don’t assume that I come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I do not come to destroy but to fulfill. For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches to do so is called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands is called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5: 17-19) Then He tells us to surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees — who make an extraordinary effort to obey the letter of the Law.
The letter kills, says Paul. The letter of the Law kills because we can not fully obey it. Even “the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter” is capable of killing us. Jesus says even if we do not actually murder another person, our simple anger at that person is enough to make us “subject to judgment.” Even calling that extremely rude and bad driver in front of us a “fool” makes us “subject to ‘hellfire.'” (Matthew 5: 21, 22) Jesus even says that “anything more than [‘yes’ and ‘no’] is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37)
No wonder Paul laments, wondering who is able to rescue him from this body of death. The new covenant says that Jesus is our rescuer. No amount of self-effort will result in our righteousness. Only “the Spirit produces life.”
Jesus says, with His last human breath, “It is accomplished.”
“The Spirit produces life.”