Photo by Chad Runge / Creation Swap

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dead and Alive!

Picture by Sandara Lee at CreationSwap
As I was growing up during my grade school years, I endured some difficult moments of taunting, teasing, and sometimes outright bullying. Those were some of the most painful years I've endured. I would literally embarrass myself trying to fit in. After several failed attempts of trying that, I would simply do my best just trying not to stand out. Unfortunately, maybe due to a problem with low self-esteem, I began acting out in ways that would cause great humiliation to my family and me. Even worse, I would get into so much trouble with stealing, lying, and other illegal activities that family members even had the notion to send me to Boy's Town. Those were difficult times to say the least.

After middle school, I was fortunate enough to move to a new school system 30 miles away and start over. Almost immediately, I began to notice a change. Other classmates didn't treat me with the same contempt because they didn't know me. I even found myself liking school again. My grades got better as I went from a D student to B student almost overnight. And I was no longer acting out and getting into altercations with law enforcement or other authorities. It was a dramatic change from what I was used to.

After only a half year of being a part of that school system, however, my mom and I moved once again…to yet another school, but only five miles separated from the same town and grade school where I once had those unpleasant memories. Starting over again, I was concerned about the reputation that was certain to follow me seeing how it was so close in vicinity. So I did my best to fit in and stay away from trouble. But over the course of the next three years, it was inevitable that some would eventually learn about my past. Unlike before, however, I wasn't treated with the same contempt. I even began to feel like I fit in. I was given a new chance in life.

In some ways, I feel like becoming a Christian is a lot like my story growing up. Of course, for me it is. Albeit, it wasn't until I was thirty-one before I was actually saved. What I'm trying to say is that for many people, there's a troubled past. You sin, you do things you regret, and end up at the end of your rope. But then there's this moment in your life when something happens, something like a wake-up call. Maybe it gets your attention. Maybe it doesn't. But inevitably, if it's by God's grace and mercy, God does eventually get your attention. God at this point brings conviction into your life, reveals your sin, and exposes it. Then He offers His Son Jesus into your life to save you. He gives you the faith to believe. You confess your sin, acknowledge and confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior and you're born again. Hallelujah!

Later on, days, months, or years, you begin to realize something. You realize you may no longer be a part of this world, but you're still in it. You know you're a new creation in Christ…yes; however, there are people who knew you how you once were. You had a reputation…and it follows you. You may think that you've moved on and your life is different now, but there are still some people who recognize you and sometimes go out of their way to remind you.

The great thing about being a Christian is that God gives you the grace to live your life as a Christ-follower despite your past. In fact, He gives you a new identity. In Romans 6, we see a picture of how this happens.

Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ

1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

As you read this text, do you see what happens? In verse 3, Paul shows us how when we believe we automatically identify ourselves with Christ. As we're baptized into Christ Jesus, we identify with His death! And as though we were buried with Christ, in verse 4, we also are raised to a new life as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of God the Father! We have a new identity! Isn't that great?

So, even though we may still have the consequences of our sin that we need to confront and deal with, we no longer have to fear our past…or our reputation if you will. God gives us the reassurance that we are different. This in some ways parallels the story I told earlier. When I moved to a town and school system that was only a few miles from where I grew up and gained a bad reputation, I was fortunate enough to be given a second chance. The same thing here. But by identifying myself with Christ, however, I get so much more than just a second chance; I get a new life. Paul says that when our old self is crucified with Christ, our bodies are no longer ruled by sin. We are, in that sense then, no longer slaves to sin because, as Paul says, "anyone who has died has been set free from sin." However, being "dead" is not the end of us. Just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too are alive, but this time we're alive in Christ!
Picture by Matt Gruber at CreationSwap

Being dead…and then alive! Is that amazing, or what? Truth be told, none of us can adequately understand or describe this great mystery. But when the Bible says, "count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus," I believe it.

There's one thing we need to understand about this new life, though. Just as when I was young and given a new chance, I could easily have blown it. I could have resorted to my previous habits and destructive behavior. In the same way, Paul exhorts us as Christians to, "not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires." He goes on and says, "Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace."

We have been given a tremendous gift. As Christians, we need to understand this grace that we have been given. And we also need to understand what our new identity is and what it means for us to live out a new life in Christ. Let's not fool ourselves. This is not something that we can do in our own power. We need God. And if we don't spend time with God, we're never going to have the resources we need that comes from the Holy Spirit to this out this life with purpose.

So let us be dead to sin…but alive in Christ!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Gift

Image: Master isolated images /

 Approaching the holidays, we all look forward to that special day. That day when we all gather together with our loved ones and exchange and open presents. What is the best part of this exchange? The getting or the giving? Undoubtedly, many would say that the giving offers the greatest euphoria. Someone actually did a poll on this where out of 33 people, 67% stated they like giving gifts more than getting.

It's not difficult to understand the joy that comes through gift giving. But what about God? Do you think that God enjoys giving gifts? Okay, I probably shouldn't get into this area of "feelings" when it comes to God because I really don't have anything to support that; and that's not really where I want to focus on right now. However, God does seem to put a great deal of emphasis on gifts. On one side, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers give us a  few instances where gifts were given as part of the sacrifices to the Lord. And on the other, Ecclesiastes tells us how we should enjoy the good of our labor because it's the gift of God.

So you see an exchange of gifts between us and God. But do you honestly believe that we have anything on God when it comes to this area of giving gifts? Even though we don't always look at tithes as gifts, there's an instance where God gives us a challenge. In Malachi 3:10, God says, "'Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,' Says the LORD of hosts, 'If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.'"

That's quite the challenge, isn't it? Is it possible to outgive God? Of course not! But Jesus even goes further than that. In teaching about our relationships with God and others, Jesus shows how God the Father even goes beyond the substance of the gifts. In Matthew 7:11, Jesus says, "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" In Luke 11:13, Jesus is quoted with an even greater emphasis on the gift Himself, "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Do you see that? God is giving Himself. But that's not all! Look at John 3:16, "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." God gave his Son!

Wow. If that doesn't grab your attention, I don't know what will. But for John 3:16 to make any sense to you, you have to know why God had to give His one and only Son...and how. The why can be answered by looking at our text:

Romans 5:12-21

Death Through Adam, Life Through Christ 
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. 

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! 

18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. 

20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

"But the gift is not like the trespass." In the gift that came by Jesus we see the answer to the question, "why?" It was because of the trespass. Because of sin, death reigned. Death had a stronghold over man because of the trespass of the one man, Adam. By God's design, He demonstrated a pattern by which grace and eternal life would come to man. Much in the same way that sin and death entered the picture through Adam, grace and life would come to man through Jesus Christ. Beyond what can be mentioned here, the simple answer to the why is that God had to demonstrate His justice and righteousness while at the same time offering hope and life. The only way to do this was to send His Son Jesus to live as fully man and fully God and offer Him up as a sacrifice on the cross at Calvary as the sacrificial lamb of God. Jesus would pay the full just penalty due for our sins. But on the other end of the cross, Jesus rose again from the grave and defeated sin, death, hell, and Satan all in one fell swoop. And through His resurrection, Jesus offers those who place their faith in Him everlasting life. That's the how.

Despite this pattern, there's much to contrast between what occurred with Adam and Jesus. First, Romans 6:23 tells us that the "wages of sin is death." Death is the result of something we deserved. That came as the result of Adam's trespass. John Piper has a good way of describing this. the parallel between the two masters (sin and God) utterly breaks down. Sin will have absolutely no say and no hand in the gift of eternal life. But God will have total say and a sovereign hand in the wage of eternal death. Here is another great tragedy about sin's slaves. They keep thinking he is a true master because he seems to reward them with things they like. In fact, he is no true master at all, but a pretender to the throne. And in the end he simply disappears and leaves his slaves before the judgment of God. That's the real meaning of death, the judgment of God.

Hell is the wage that sin pays in the same way that a prostitute's venereal disease and prison sentence is the wage that a pimp pays. They don't really pay it. They just lure and deceive and lie and drain and ruin, and then disappear, and leave their slaves sick and guilty before the courts – before the judgment of God.

Contrast that with the second part of that verse, "but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Eternal life is a gift, not something we earned. We had nothing to do with it. It was all the result of what Jesus did. Again, look at how John Piper writes on this.

But all the slaves of God go into eternity with God as their Giver. That's what eternal life means. God remains the giver forever and ever. There will never be a time when God is not giving more new joys to his people. God will never run out of gifts and cease to be Giver. He will never cease to be God.

Ephesians 2:7 is one of the most amazing promises in this regard. Paul says that God raised us up with Christ, "so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." Do you see what this means? It means that eternal life is what it will take for God to exhaust the riches of his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. The gifts he has for us in himself are infinite in number and perfection. Therefore it will take eternity to give them to us for our enjoyment. There will be a never-ending display of new and wonderful things about God and from God for us to enjoy.

There will be no boredom in the age to come. His mercies will be new every morning. Therefore the reservoir of blessings to prompt the pleasures of gratitude will grow larger and larger. And the river of blessings still flowing from the future will never decrease, because the source is infinite. And you remember the definition of infinite: something is infinite if it can give away forever and never get smaller. Infinite gives and gives and gives and never becomes less. Eternal life will be the never-ending giving of God to make us ever-increasingly happy in all that he is for us in Jesus.

The contrast in Romans 6:23 reinforces what the text is telling us in verse 15, "But the gift is not like the trespass." Paul tells us that many died because of the trespass of Adam. But tells us that God's grace and the gift (which is life) overflowed more to the many. Paul even goes on to say that God's gift cannot even be compared to the result of man's sin. He says this because judgment followed one sin. On the other hand, the gift followed many trespasses. The one brings condemnation, the other brings justification.

The best part of all of this? That God, through His infinite wisdom brought in the law after the trespass. It sounds like a bad thing, but on the contrary it's the best thing that could have happened. Verse 20 tells us that the law actually increased the significance of the trespass. By doing so, it had the indirect result of making grace that much more significant. Paul says, "where sin increased, grace increased all the more." As a result of this? "Sin reigned in death...grace reigned through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Praise God! We have hope and it's all because of Jesus!