Photo by Chad Runge / Creation Swap

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Monday, December 5, 2011

Why Christmas?

Picture by BARTON DAMER at CreationSwap 


Why Christmas?  That’s a fair question, isn’t it?  Why do we celebrate Christmas at all?  It seems like our culture wants to make it out to be something it isn’t anymore.  It’s not a new phenomenon, of course, but the numbers of those who would find Christmas offensive is rising and the level of animosity against this Christian tradition is stronger than ever.

So naturally, it seems that the culture is going to do whatever it can to take the focus off what Christmas is about.  Hollywood and the media have been on the attack for years.  Other non-Christians are doing what they can to take the focus off God or His Son, Jesus, as well.

Part of that strategy is to integrate other traditions to take the attention off Christ and place it on other seemingly non-invasive or harmless activities.  (Note:  I recognize that some of the traditions such as Christmas trees and presents began with the right purpose and intention.  However, just as with anything good that God gives man, man has a way of perverting God’s gifts to make them sinful in their use.)  These days, workers in stores and businesses are even afraid to say “Merry Christmas,” as to not offend someone.  They want to say something like “Happy Holidays” instead.

With this in mind, why do Christians persist on forcing “Christmas” on others?  Why do they continue to emphasize God or Jesus Christ when they know that it will likely offend someone and cause division and anger?  Wouldn’t it be more Christian-like to back off and let people live and let live and not force their religion down peoples’ throats?  Couldn’t we call Christmas something like “Earth Day?”  Oh wait, there already is that one.

But, let’s back up a minute.  Why should we change the name?  Why change the reason why we celebrate the day?  Why is it important enough for some people, like Christians, to say it matters?

To be fair, this day, this holiday, wasn’t always celebrated.  In fact, it wasn’t until after 400 A.D. that perhaps Christmas gained world-wide acceptance.  The actual day, December 25th, is also a point of contention considering no one knows exactly when Jesus was born.

The reason why the name Christmas is important is for the very reason it is celebrated…the birth of our Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Obviously, this isn’t a huge revelation.  But that’s because we have forgotten the significance of that event.

Many theologians, philosophers, and educated people have written numerous papers and books on this subject, but the event by which Jesus was born bears huge significance and to complicate it would be a tragedy.  It is the single most important event that actually includes Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
To rank these events regarding Jesus separately would make the others less significant, and that is just not the case.  From the moment Christ put down His crown and humbled Himself and became a man to the day He ascended into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand are all equally important.

So why is Christmas so important?  It’s because without it, mankind would be left without hope.   (This is where Christianity becomes offensive.)  Jesus is, without exception, the One and only True God.  But by becoming man, taking on the form of flesh, Jesus also became fully man.

By being God and man, Jesus is the only One who can truly be our Mediator.  But why the need for a mediator?  Good question.  Without getting too complicated, we sinned.  By sinning against God, we rebelled against God by saying, “We don’t want you, we want something else to take your place.”  Ultimately, that is what sin comes down to.  We can try to deny it, but at the core of who we are we are very selfish and self-centered.  We think we know better than God, and that’s how it began in the Garden of Eden (the very beginning.)

Think about it.  God tells us to love Him with all our hearts.  But what do we do?  We give our hearts to sports, money, career, sex, or other things that we’re passionate about.  We can do the same things with spouses and children.  We give priority to other areas of our lives when God is the sole reason for our existence.

What about loving others?  Are you easily offended when someone cuts you off in traffic?  How about your money?  Do you give sacrificially to help those who are less fortunate?  (I didn’t ask if you give to charity.  To give sacrificially means you give up part of yourself, something that is important to you or something that will make life very difficult for you to help someone who would benefit.)  To truly love your neighbor as yourself requires a lot of selfless giving and living.  But too often we come up with excuses.  We have excuses as to why we shouldn’t tell the truth, or why we can’t be somewhere on time, or how it is we can’t forgive someone for an offense they committed against us.  Sometimes these things, too, mean sacrifice.

The question then is how did Jesus fix this big mess?  The answer lies all the way back in time to a place called Eden.  In those days, God was engaged in a relationship with man that was perfect.  Everything that man did was in regard to living as if unto the Lord.  But somewhere along the line, mankind listened to a lie and gave in to temptation.  Instead of looking to God as the object of our affections, we pursued other interests…ourselves.

God, fortunately, didn’t leave it there.  In that dramatic event, God gave hope that the enemy of man would be defeated by the woman’s offspring.  Even though this prophecy doesn’t give great detail, it foreshadowed an event whereby in future generations many prophets would proclaim:

13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. 17 The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria.”

In fulfillment of this, and many other prophecies, God became flesh and was born into the world to live among His creation.  Again, to avoid making this complicated, let’s just make the point that this was necessary.  It was necessary because we needed Jesus to save us from the penalty of our sins.  Jesus came into the world to reconcile us back to Himself.  But how did He do that?

By coming into the world, Jesus’ life showed that God did care about mankind.  He had a plan and He was going to use His own Son, Jesus, to be made a sacrifice so that the penalty for our sins could be paid for.  John 3:16, one of the most recognizable verses even among non-believers, tells us, “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.”

The issue today is not whether God loves us or even cares about us.  That much has been settled.  God proved it once and for all by placing His Son up on a cross.  The issue is whether or not we want to receive Jesus as our offering for the propitiation for our sins.  Propitiation is a big word, but what it means is this:

In the general sense, propitiation is the act of appeasing an offended power; to reconcile, to attain friendship or goodwill, attempt to make compatible.

In a spiritual sense, God is the power whom we have offended by our wrong actions and behaviors.  In and of ourselves, we cannot appease him or gain a good standing with him, but Jesus has acted on our behalf to accomplish that as our "propitiation.”

So what did Jesus do for us?  By dying on the cross, He exchanged His righteousness for our sin.  This, however, is a gift.  Not something that was forced on us.  You see, what God wants are people who want to be with Him.  He wants people to know Him, to love Him, to desire Him, and to worship Him.  And that by doing all of this He would receive glory.

The question needs to be asked again.  Why Christmas?  Because God is offering Himself to us through His Son, Jesus.  The fact that Jesus was born by the virgin Mary and brought into this world proves that God loves us.  If He did nothing else, which is utterly untrue, He would have done everything that we ever needed to have hope for a future.

You see, Christmas is important because the day helps remind us of this important and significant fact.  God continually is looking for those who would put their faith and trust in Him.  Christmas is a very specific way to bring to mind what God has done.  If the world takes away Christmas and leaves us with nothing but a holiday, then in a sense the world is removing the only hope that mankind has.

That is why Christians are so adamant about keeping CHRIST in CHRISTmas.  Christians are called to be ambassadors for our Lord Jesus.  They know that people are in a big mess and they want and desire all to know the hope that they have in Jesus.  Because He is the reason that we have hope and He is the reason Christmas is celebrated.

Think of it this way.  If you knew that your mom, dad, brother, sister or loved one were about to board a plane that you knew had a bomb on it, wouldn’t you do everything you could to save them?  You definitely would.  In the same way, Christians know that those who don’t know Jesus are headed toward eternal death, an eternity spent in hell.  Isn’t that reason enough to keep Christmas…Christmas?


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Disobedient and Obstinate


Look around the world today.  What do you see?  Is there peace?  Does the world seem in disarray?  Why does it seem like there’s constant conflict?  If there aren’t uprisings against authoritarians then there certainly are protests against incompetent governments.  Or their supposed incompetence.  The fact that so many are unsatisfied with the current events and economic conditions suggests that there are some problems that the worlds’ governments cannot solve.

But is the discontent the fault of the government?  Is it the job of the government to meet everyone’s wants and needs?  I personally do not believe so.  One of the significant differences in the U.S. , for example, is that a century or so ago there was a much greater sense of personal responsibility.  But today our culture is becoming more dependent on a government to solve and take care of its people in almost every facet of their lives.  That seems like a tall order for any system of government and it sounds like a recipe for disaster.

One of the difficulties of any government meeting the needs of its people is the differences of opinions.  Certainly not everyone thinks alike and whether you are a liberal, moderate or conservative, the differences of opinion can mean all the difference.  People are a fickle bunch.  There’s this old saying, “You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”

I go back to the question, “Is it the job of the government to meet everyone’s wants and needs?”  Putting aside the fact that this is impossible, is it even something that should be done?  I believe the answer is no.  I think the world is missing an important truth about who we are.  We are a people created for worship; to worship and bring glory to God due to His infinite worth.  The Bible says that, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”  Instead of looking to the government, we all should be looking to God.

The question is, are we as a people created by God living out our purpose?  If we think that everything in this world is about us, then the answer is no.  We’re more concerned about ourselves, our comforts, and having what we want when we want it.  If the economy is taking a downturn, we all tend to internalize the issue and worry about how this is going to affect “me.”

God is more interested in things other than our comfort.  God wants us to look beyond the immediate events in our lives.  He wants us to be able to see what really matters in the long-term.   He wants us to have an eternity perspective.

The problem is, I think, is that we are not very good at looking beyond our own selves.  Israel had this problem.  In the Old Testament, we see Israel being chosen as God’s own people; a nation created to represent God to the rest of the world.  God didn’t choose these people because they were better than everyone else.  He chose them to display His glory.  In Deuteronomy 4, Moses explains this fact:

6 Keep them (God’s statutes and rules)and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? 8 And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?

Israel, though, had a difficult time understanding this.  Somewhere along the line they missed the point that God’s deliverance from Egypt and slavery was not about them.  True, God brought them into “a land flowing with milk and honey” and gave them victory to overcome their enemies.  And aside from periods of disobedience where God disciplined them, Israel enjoyed God’s blessings.  Ultimately, though, Israel rebelled so much so that God gave them over to Babylon and they once again found themselves in slavery.

In a way, I see the same thing happening today.  History shows us that the United States was founded on Christian/Judeo principles.  I don’t believe that over time God allowed America to prosper because there was something special or unique about the people.  Rather, I see a country that at its beginnings were people who sought God’s favor.  The emphasis, of course, being God.  They wanted to establish a nation that in many ways was like Israel.  Obviously not everything about America’s beginnings was perfect.  But generally speaking, the people sought to do what was right in God’s eyes.  They included God in nearly every facet of their public and private affairs.  A lot of this can still be evidenced by the writings and documents that the forefathers wrote (the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, for example.)

However, over the years the hearts of people have turned away from God.  Slowly and meticulously, certain groups of people have sought to remove even the mention of God or Jesus Christ from the public square.  God’s Name has in a sense become offensive and divisive.  What is happening today with the country rebelling and being angry at every little thing is a result of us turning away from God.  It was our decision and God is allowing His presence to be removed.  (God is still ever present, but He doesn’t force Himself on people who want nothing to do with Him…including His blessings.)

Moving forward to the New Testament, in Romans 10, the Apostle Paul explained another important truth that the Israelites missed.  Paul talks about how they were zealous for God, but in the wrong way.  They sought to draw near to God through their own righteousness (or goodness.)  The problem with this is that there is no one who is righteous and that we all fall short of the glory of God.  The Israelites failed to see this too.  Instead, Paul explains that, “Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

Paul goes on to tell us that, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Paul is explaining here, again, that it’s not about the nation of Israel.  Israel assumed they were special, not because of God, but because of who they were.  Paul, however, shows that even the Gentiles can be saved if they believe and call upon the Name of the Lord.  Paul continues on and shares this very important truth that needs to be said and explained:

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

 16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. 18 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:

   “Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
   their words to the ends of the world.”

 19 Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says,

   “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation;
   I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.”

 20 And Isaiah boldly says,

   “I was found by those who did not seek me;
   I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”

 21 But concerning Israel he says,

   “All day long I have held out my hands
   to a disobedient and obstinate people.”

Although Israel was the first to be given this privilege to represent God and share the Good News about His Salvation, they failed to understand the significance of their role.  In fact, verse 21 tells us that God kept reaching out to them but they were disobedient and obstinate.  So what does God do?  He opens the door for the Gentiles to receive the message of His Salvation.  In turn, they would be the ones to take the message out and share His salvation and glory to the rest of the world.

Again, this shouldn’t be mistaken to say that there was something special about the Gentiles.  And this isn’t to say that all Gentiles would believe.  But it is a point to say that God will find a remnant of people who will follow Him, worship Him, exalt Him, and bring glory to His Name.  This is essentially how the Christian church began.  God opened the door to a new covenant and that covenant brought people to Jesus and the cross.  The cross shows what lengths God would/will go to reconcile a people for Himself.  In the end, God is looking for people who will come and accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.  By taking this step, they chose to follow Him and live for Him through daily worship.

The question, though, for us today is where do we stand in light of God’s invitation of His grace and mercy?  God would have been just if He had done nothing at all.  We would be guilty of our sins and separated from our Creator for all eternity.  (The disarray and confusion we see today would seem like a dream.)  But instead, He offers salvation through His Son, Jesus, who lived, died on a cross, and rose again from the dead to those who believe.  Again, it’s for those who by faith believe.

In the Old Testament God chose Israel to be the nation to represent Him.  In the New Testament, God brings about a “spiritual nation” of believers that will represent Him.  These are to be Christians who will love the Lord with all their hearts, minds, and souls.  But just like with Israel, there will be pretenders.  And God will see through their fa├žade.  Just like with Israel in Romans 10, God is reaching out to the world today and we’re seeing many disobedient and obstinate people.

Is that why there are so many dissatisfied people?  Are people seeking after God?  Or their version of who God is?  And are those who say they believe in God just pretending?  Maybe they want to follow a list of rules and such (and feel good about how good they are) but don’t really want to have a relationship with Him?  God knows of course and He will judge the heart and intents of all people.

We seem to be concerned about the economy, environment and social issues.  We seek peace in the world but we don’t seek peace with God.  It’s all futile.  The Bible speaks on these issues.  Not in these exact words, of course, but Scripture does show us that many will be concerned with worldly matters and miss the fact that God has been reaching out to them and pursuing them.  They’ll miss the point just like the Israelites.

Ultimately, what really matters?  My prayer is that you won’t miss the important truth that Jesus came to seek and save the lost and turn to Jesus today.  Though the world may be falling apart around you, you can take comfort that He will be with you.

3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?" 4 And Jesus answered them, "See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

 9 "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (emphasis mine)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

My Righteousness versus God’s Righteousness


There is a great truth that I believe the world overlooks.  Great philosophers and scholars alike have discussed it throughout the ages but somehow the truth of it has slipped their grasp…and their understanding.  Christians even have some difficulty with it.  What is this thing that has eluded so many?  The answer:  the source of Righteousness.

Sure, most people can define or give at least a general definition of righteousness.  Many will give an answer similar to the definition found at The Free Dictionary:

adj.
1. Morally upright; without guilt or sin: a righteous parishioner.
2. In accordance with virtue or morality: a righteous judgment.
3. Morally justifiable: righteous anger. See Synonyms at moral.
n.
Righteous people considered as a group.

It’s amazing if one considers the time and space given throughout history to thinkers and writers that recorded their thoughts on this subject.  But the one thing that all these great thinkers of ancient past had trouble understanding is where the standard of righteousness came from.  Aristotle, considered by some to be the greatest of philosophers in history, said this about righteousness:

To righteousness it belongs to be ready to distribute according to desert, and to preserve ancestral customs and institutions and the established laws, and to tell the truth when interest is at stake, and to keep agreements. First among the claims of righteousness are our duties to the gods, then our duties to the spirits, then those to country and parents, then those to the departed; and among these claims is piety, which is either a part of righteousness or a concomitant of it. Righteousness is also accompanied by holiness and truth and loyalty and hatred of wickedness.

Even with these discussions and definitions we’re still left with the question that lingers in the soul of man.  It’s good that we understand that righteousness comes from the basis of morality.  And even Aristotle, to some extent, acknowledged that the “claims of righteousness” on some level “are our duties to the gods…”  (It would have been better to acknowledge the One True God.)  He also attributes righteousness to spirits, country and parents, and so on.  In ascribing righteousness to various sources, Aristotle’s definition still leaves unanswered one very important question.  Where is the source of righteousness and who defines it?

Or maybe Aristotle, and these other philosophers, did answer the question.  In his own way of course.  In the Bible, this is described as man living according to a way(s) that he thinks is right.  So, who defines morality?   Who defines right and wrong and ethics and the other host of virtues that define a culture?

As the human race has advanced throughout the centuries, it has become apparent that different cultures established their own laws and customs by which they lived.  Generally speaking, many, if not all, cultures identified certain laws by which they all were in agreeance.  There was a basic understanding of right and wrong.  There seemed to be a sense that it was possible for one person to infringe on another person’s rights.  What that person’s rights were different in the specifics were similar in context.  They ranged from the right to live, to possess wealth or goods, to engage in commerce, to worship or participate in religion, etc.

As you see, much of this discussion revolves around what man thinks about righteousness.  My righteousness, of course, has different standards to what another person may think.  One disturbing trend is how young adults today in our culture have grown up without a firm understanding of right and wrong.  In one of those findings is this statement, The default position most cited was that moral choices are just a matter of individual taste.  ‘It’s personal,’ the respondents typically said.  ‘It’s up to the individual.  Who am I to say?’”

This is a discussion that wasn’t much different in Biblical times.  The Apostle Paul confronted this very issue in Rome among the Jews.   Many of them were relying on their own merits as the means to be found righteous before God.  The following is a passage in Romans 10 that Paul explicitly uses to show that Jesus Christ and His righteousness is the only means to be justified before God. 

1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or "'Who will descend into the abyss?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame." 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

Essentially, Paul is showing that despite the fact that the Jews (the ones in verse 1 that he desires to be saved) have a zeal for God, they’re lacking in knowledge.  He points out that they misunderstand that their righteousness means nothing to God.  Yes, their knowledge and understanding of God’s laws is commendable.  Even their pursuit in following God’s laws is commendable.  But Paul explains that their zeal falls short because it’s based on establishing their own righteousness rather than submitting to the righteousness of God, which was and is found in Christ.

Let me say this another way.  My righteousness and your righteousness does not matter.  What you and I think about right and wrong is far from God’s standards.  Read and carefully consider what these passages tell us:

9b For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

    "None is righteous, no, not one;
 11 no one understands;
   no one seeks for God.
 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
   no one does good,
   not even one."
 13 "Their throat is an open grave;
   they use their tongues to deceive."
 "The venom of asps is under their lips."
 14 "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness."
 15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood;
 16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
 17 and the way of peace they have not known."
 18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes."
 19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Is this beginning to sink in?  It should.  If Paul was making such statements against the Jews, many of them devout Pharisees and Sadducees, it should give you and me pause.  The Pharisees and Sadducees were authorities on the Scriptures and God’s laws.  If it were possible to attain to righteousness and stand faultless before God, these would be the people.  Paul was even a Pharisee before his encounter with Jesus Christ and subsequent conversion to Christianity.  Here is how Paul described himself before Christ:

3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Paul basically lists his qualifications, as if any of it mattered.  But what Paul states in the next few verses is what is really telling.  He says:

7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Going back to my first point, I believe the world is missing this important truth.  Man has attempted over and over to establish some form of morality of his own.  When in fact, from the beginning of time the concept of right and wrong or good and evil and the distinctions thereof have come from God.  God has given man a conscience that bears witness to this truth.  The problem is is that man’s conscience convicts him of his thoughts, intents, and actions.  Man stands guilty before God, Who is perfect and holy.  Man forgets who is the source of righteousness:  Jesus Christ!

So what can we do?  The bad news is that we can’t do anything on our own to earn God’s favor or stand before Him blameless.  The good news is that Jesus already has.  We can draw near to the One Who is the Source of righteousness.  In fact, Paul makes this point in the verses above in Romans 10:4 and Philippians 3:9.  Jesus makes it possible for us to be reconciled to God and stand before Him not with our righteousness, but His.  How does this happen?  By putting our faith in Jesus.  Acknowledging that He died on the cross for our sins.  By believing that He took on the penalty that we deserved for our sins and died in our place, and in a great exchange that we cannot even begin to understand, exchanged our sin for His righteousness.  That is what He did.  2 Corinthians 5:21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Of course we all know that Jesus’ death on the cross was not the end.  He rose again!  He’s alive!  And we, too, can be made alive in Christ.  The question then is what are you going to do?  Have you trusted in Jesus or are you relying on your own righteousness or good works?  My prayer is that you will trust in Him, Jesus Christ, and believe on His Name for your hope and salvation.

8 But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (emphasis mine)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Religion or Relationship?


Last night at church I heard one of our pastors teach in Genesis about how Cain missed the point in his offering to God.  Abel, Cain’s brother, brought his offering before God in faith.  Apparently, Cain’s offering to God was not brought to God by faith.  This is explained in Hebrews 11, the chapter that talks about great men of faith:

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.

So the question is how did Cain bring his offering before God?  It seems that it would be the opposite of what Abel did.  And what is the opposite of faith?  In the Bible, trusting God though you can’t see is the idea of faith (Hebrews 11:1).  So the opposite of faith has to be not trusting God.  At this point it’s irrelevant who or what you put your faith in or whether you have faith in anything at all.  If faith isn’t in God and having the assurance that your hope is in God’s promises then it’s a baseless and empty faith.

But there’s also a heart issue here, isn’t there?  If you trust God and you have faith that God will act on His promises though we don’t completely “see” or understand your heart is wholly toward Him.  I think that’s the idea of Matthew 22:37-38, “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.’”

This brings to mind then that Cain’s heart wasn’t wholly toward God.  In fact, couldn’t we say that Cain’s concern was only in appeasing God?  Obviously Cain did bring an offering to God, but it wasn’t satisfactory to Him.  In that sense, God was able to see into Cain’s heart and his motives and recognize that it wasn’t out of love or out of faith.

This begs a certain question then.  Why did Cain bring an offering to God?  Cain must have recognized, like many do today, that there is a God.  But instead of drawing near to God on God’s terms, Cain seemed to be going through the motions.  Which is to say he was approaching God in his way and on his own terms.  It’s sort of like knowing that there are rules but only obeying those rules out of obligation and only if he could do it in the way that makes sense to him.  Does that strike you as odd?  Does it sound familiar?  Doesn’t it sound like “religion?”

Let Us Reason Ministries defines religion in several ways.  Here are two of them:
·        Religion places the emphasis on principles, precincts, codes and creeds. 
·        Religion claims mans merit in the work he does.

In the study on a passage in Romans, we come across the Israelites that are encountering this same paradox.  Here’s the passage:

30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,

   "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
   and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame."

Interestingly, the Israelites were approaching God the same way Cain did.  The apostle Paul was making a distinction between how the Gentiles (non-Jews) and the Israelites approached God.  What is striking is that the Gentiles are described as people who didn’t even try to pursue God.  At least not in the way that it makes sense to us.  Paul is saying that even though they didn’t pursue righteousness…that somehow they attained it?  What does that mean?  If we look further, Paul was contrasting the Gentiles experience with the Israelites.  The Israelites did pursue righteousness…through the law.  The paradox here is that if it were possible to attain righteousness through the law, they would have achieved the purpose of the law, which is to stand holy and blameless before God through man’s own effort.  (Scriptures tell us this is impossible.)  So this goes back to the idea of religion, doesn’t it?  Both the idea of placing the emphasis on the law (or principles and precincts) and claiming one’s own merit as the basis of attaining righteousness.

What the Gentiles did, and it shouldn’t be taken as something they should have patted themselves on the back about, was pursue the One that would give them His righteousness.  The emphasis is on Jesus Christ.  The point that Paul is making is that there is nothing that man can do to be made right with God in his own effort.  The righteousness comes only after man puts his faith in Jesus Christ.  There is absolutely no effort here except for believing and trusting in God.

The reason why Paul explains in verses 32-33 that the Israelites “stumbled over the stumbling stone” is because they couldn’t wrap their head around this idea that Jesus was the Messiah and that if they would only believe in Him they wouldn’t have to go through all that effort in pursuing righteousness through the law.  Through their whole existence, many of them believed it was something they did by their own effort.  Even though God gave them His laws and commands, it wasn’t meant for them to “merely obey.”  It was meant for them to draw near to God and recognize they were completely and wholly dependent upon Him.  God wanted them to pursue Him, to love Him with all their hearts, mind, and strength.  That’s a relationship.

And somehow, even though Jesus came down to their level and explained it to them, the Israelites still failed to recognize that He was the way they could attain righteousness that would be acceptable to God.  In that sense, He did become a stumbling block to them because they couldn’t make that make sense.  To them it was about their own effort and nothing that Jesus did was going to change that.  That’s the paradox.

But here are some questions for us to think about today.  Are we like Cain and the Israelites?  Do we place a higher emphasis on religion than we do on a relationship with God?  Many churches today are guilty of this very thing.  Instead of preaching the Gospel, which Paul explains has the power unto salvation, churches instead focus on teaching their congregations on doing things that will make them “look good” or “feel good” about themselves and who they are.  And in many cases, it’s by doing these things that will matter to God somehow.

Paul explains this about the Gospel:  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”  And what is the Gospel?  Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians:

The Resurrection of Christ
 1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

We should recognize that in many ways we are like Cain.  We like to think that if we do this or do that we’re going to look good to God.  On the surface, this is not a bad thing.  But it actually comes down to motive.  What is our motive?  If it’s to stand before God to purport our own righteousness and say, “Look at me!  I’m a good person, I’ve done good things. I’ve gone to church, I’ve given to the poor and I have even tried to take care of the earth with environmental causes,” then it’s futile.  Our efforts mean nothing to God unless it’s by faith.  And it’s not faith in ourselves, or anything or anyone.  No one, that is, but Jesus Christ.  Works has its place, but only if we don’t count on our works to be made right before God.  If anything, works doesn’t even matter until after you put your hope and faith in Jesus and Jesus alone (the Gospel) as the means to be found right with God.

So I implore you…are you trying to get to “look good” to God and get to heaven on your own merit?  Or are you instead putting your hope and faith in the person Jesus Christ?  There is a difference you know.  And the difference can mean an eternity spent with God, as described in Revelations 21-22, or an eternity in complete darkness separated from God, as described in Jude:

11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. 12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.

My prayer is that you would choose faith in Christ.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hope in Life

by Scott Foster at http://www.creationswap.com/media/6759


A recent loss in the family has taken me aback.  I find myself sad for various reasons.  I can't say I was personally close to her.  She was my cousin's wife.  But I knew her well enough to know she was hurting and had been hurting for some time.  It has stirred in me a concern for those friends and family she left behind, and in addition for others that are hurting like she was.

This world can be pretty difficult.  Just look around.  People are rising up against their governments in certain countries because of oppression or other harsh conditions.  Others are recovering from devastating losses from tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, massive fires and other such natural disasters.  And that doesn't touch on the personal losses such as close loved ones that die from cancer, heart disease or other such health related issues.

I could go on.  But the fact of the matter is is that there is a lot of pain in this world.  It shouldn't come as a complete surprise, though. We do live in a fallen world.  Sin is real and devastating.  And Satan, who is also very real, is out to kill, steal and destroy.  John 10:10  We have an enemy of our souls, but oddly enough we often do enough damage to ourselves.  We tend to add insult to injury when we are enticed by the evil desires within our own hearts.  James 1:13-15

Like I was saying, my heart goes out to hurting people.  For these folk, it seems pretty apparent that they need help.  Unfortunately, the places they often go to for help either add to their difficulty or do nothing to address the real issue(s).  It seems the world is never short of its offers of pleasure and comfort that lead to self-serving motives and/or desires.  Its promises are fleeting and do more damage than good.  God says that "there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”  Proverbs 14:12

As much as I’m concerned for these people, I’m also concerned for my family and friends.  This statement might need some explaining.  Some of them may not believe or think that this could possibly apply to them.  And I understand that.  I understand that growing up doing good things, or going to church, getting baptized or even being religious seems like it’s doing all the things that matter.  It’s even possible that there are some that believe by going to a specific church automatically puts them in God’s good graces.  I even thought at one point in my life that if I do enough good things that outweighed the bad, then I might get to heaven.  (That, however, quickly faded when I was doing nothing but bad things and found myself headed in the wrong direction.)

At some point I realized it really wasn’t about me being good.  Or doing enough good to outweigh the bad for that matter.  I realized it had more to do with Jesus and the cross than it did me.  I prayed that God would forgive me and asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior.  However, I missed the point.  I obviously wasn’t serious about my commitment to God because for several years after that I still pursued a lifestyle very contrary to God’s ways.  For years, I had believed that I was a Christian.  But I looked back and realized that there wasn’t ever a moment in my life that I could say it really changed.  I still wanted to live life my way.  I still was not serious about submitting to God and seeking to live my life for Him.  Isn’t that what it really means if God is my Lord?

It wasn’t until much, much later after years of bad decision after bad decision that I got serious about the direction my life was headed.  Actually, it was my wife (who was my ex-wife at the time) who called me about her decision to follow Jesus and become a born-again believer that convinced me that I needed a change too.  Maybe a month or two later, I found myself at a church asking God to help me.  To help me and save me.  I wanted to turn my life around and be serious about my commitment to follow Him as Lord and Savior.  At that point, I began to notice changes in my life.  Things didn’t happen right away, but over time I began to realize that I was a “new creation” in Christ, which is the idea of being born-again.  2 Corinthians 5:17

Becoming a Christian is not that difficult.  But often people misunderstand what being a Christian really means.  Jesus says that we must be born-again in order to enter Heaven.  “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’”  John 3:1-8  It’s a new life and a new lifestyle.  Does it always happen immediately?  No, but for a true follower and believer of Jesus Christ, there should be an indication of change over the course of his/her life.  This is often referred to as “fruit of the Spirit” in the Bible.  Galatians 5:16-25

This is really the point to this whole letter.  My concern is that there may be family and/or friends who truly don’t know if they are saved, or in other words, true believers.  There was a time that I didn’t.  Truth be told, no one really knows about you either, except for God and yourself.  It’s true that we can look at someone’s life over time and see whether or not that person’s life has been changed by God.  But sometimes I think it’s a mistake to point fingers and make accusations.  No one can see into another person’s heart but God.  It really is up to a person himself to ask the tough questions and go before God and see if they truly are a follower of Jesus Christ.

That brings me back to my cousin’s wife.  Where was she in her life?  How did she get to the point where there seemed to be no hope?  I don’t know all the answers, but I truly believe that if a person is in Christ, that person has hope.  This life doesn’t have anything to offer.  But God offers eternal life.  John 3:36  He offers Himself through His Son.  John 3:16  He offers hope.  Psalm 130

How does this work?  How can someone have this hope?  It all happens through Jesus Christ.  It’s nothing that we can do.  In fact, we’re completely helpless and incompetent to stand before God on our own because He is holy!  Look at what the apostle Paul says in the letter to the Romans:

No One Is Righteous
9What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

    "None is righteous, no, not one;
 11 no one understands;
   no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
   no one does good,
   not even one."
13 "Their throat is an open grave;
   they use their tongues to deceive."
"The venom of asps is under their lips."
 14 "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness."
15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood;
 16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known."
 18  "There is no fear of God before their eyes."

 19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

So what can we do?  If we’re relying on ourselves, like our own goodness, there’s nothing.  But if we put all our hope in the work of the cross that Jesus did for us at Calvary by taking our sins, accepting our punishment for those sins and dying on the cross, thereby exchanging his righteousness for our transgressions, then we have hope.  It’s the Gospel message, which is the Good News.  Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  Romans 1:16  The Gospel message is this:

1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.

 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

 That’s where it begins.  By believing that Jesus took on the form of flesh, was born of the virgin Mary, died on the cross for our sins thereby taking on the punishment that we deserved, was dead and buried for three days and rose again.  In the process, he appeared to many who were witnesses of His resurrection and then ascended into Heaven and is at the right hand of God the Father.  Did you get that?  He died for your sins and mine.  He took on God’s wrath for all the bad that we’ve done.  He died in our place.  And in the process He conquered sin, death, and hell itself.

It’s not automatic though.  There is something you need to do.  You need to admit that you’re a sinner in need of a Savior.  You need to confess your sins, repent of them and commit your life to Jesus Christ.  1 John 1:8-10  To commit your life to Him, you need to believe that He came to die in your place and give you eternal life.  John 3:16-21  It’s a life-changing, life-altering decision.    

But how do you believe?  How does that happen?  The Bible says that the emphasis of believing is putting your faith in Jesus Christ for your salvation and not on anything you’ve done yourself.  And faith in itself is also a gift from God.  “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  Romans 10:17  If you’re truly serious about knowing God, draw near to Him by getting to know Him.  Read the Bible and allow His Words to grip your heart.  But also know, that God knows the intents of our hearts.  Hebrews 4:12  He knows whether you’re serious about your commitment to Him.

And pray.  It’s not the words themselves that save you, but it’s a heart that is truly repentant for sinning against God and believes that Jesus’ work on the cross satisfies God’s requirements for you to be saved.  You may say a prayer like this:

"Dear God, I confess that I am a sinner, and I am sorry. I need a Savior. I know I cannot save myself. I believe by faith that Jesus, your Son, died on the cross to be my Savior. I believe He arose from the grave to live as my Lord. I turn from my sin. I ask You, Lord Jesus, to forgive my sin and come into my heart. I trust you as my Savior and receive you as my Lord. Thank you, Jesus, for saving me."  The Roman Road

 If you have prayed this for real and mean it, please find a church where they teach the Bible and help you to grow in Christ.  If you still have questions, find a Christian friend or even ask me and I’ll try to help.  I may not have all the answers, but I will try to help you get the answers from someone who can.  Ultimately though, it’s my hope and prayer that no one in my family or any of my friends have any doubt in their mind about their own eternal destination.  Make no mistake, this is the most important decision you will ever make.

God bless you! 


Monday, August 15, 2011

God’s Sovereignty




There’s a lot about Christianity that can boggle the mind.  Creation, salvation, predestination, grace, suffering, etc.  I’m not sure that you can say one is more complex than the other.  When someone digs into the nuts and bolts of the whole thing, Christianity is one big mega-puzzle.  It’s all because we have this God who is beyond definition.  And because He’s beyond the scope of our imagination.  But I suppose if any one of us could narrowly define God and pinpoint who He really is, He really wouldn’t be that great of a God, would He?

It’s with this thought in mind that I attempt to look at and explain the sovereignty of God.  Sovereignty is typically used in terms of government, mainly with monarchies.  So it’s probably quite fitting when we think about the fact that there is no one who fits this definition better than God.  If we know anything about Him, it is that God personally Hhas established Himself as the King of kings.  That statement alone deserves more thought and attention than what I can give here.  But let’s settle on this point that Scripture makes it clear that God is King.

So what is sovereignty?  How does this fit into one aspect of the character of God?  Simply put, Black’s Law Dictionary defines sovereignty as:

The supreme, absolute, and uncontrollable power by which any independent state is governed; supreme political authority; the supreme will; paramount control of the constitution and frame of government and its administration; the self-sufficient source of political power, from which all specific political powers are derived; the international independence of a state, combined with the right and power of regulating its internal affairs without foreign dictation; also a political society, or state, which is sovereign and independent.

Another definition, and probably more applicable, as put forth by the Mountain Retreat states this about sovereignty:

There are basically two aspects in any definition of sovereignty. In order for anyone to be a king he must possess, (1) Absolute Authority, and, (2) All Power. A king must have the right to rule, and the ability to carry out his will. God said through Isaiah, ".. for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me .. My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure." Isa. 46:9-10. Our God is a unique King in that his reign is eternal, "..the LORD sitteth King for ever." Psa. 29:10.Hi

I think it’s fitting to state that in terms of sovereignty, God should and does have absolute power and authority.  If He didn’t, how can anyone trust that God will do what He says He will do?  It would probably minimize God’s effectiveness to that of man’s.  Think about how many times people have failed or disappointed you.  Wouldn’t it be sad to think that God is as inept as man?

For the God of all heaven and earth, it really isn’t a stretch of the imagination to believe that He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present.  Imagine a being that is capable of creating everything around us.  From the smallest of molecules to the complexities of DNA, which are the building blocks of life, to the vast expanse of the universe and all its known (or even unknown) galaxies, God created them all.

Yet even with all of this, we still have only a glimpse into the transcendent nature of God.  It is impossible to bring God down to our level, and somehow that is what we still attempt to do.  Why?  Because we want to understand.  However, if we continue to try to minimize God just so we can understand, we actually limit our understanding to a few vague notions that will only succeed in fitting only our perspective or point of view.  Why would we do that to God?  We need to accept the fact that His ways and thoughts are far greater in scope than our minds can handle.


For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Now let’s step back and read Romans 9 with these ideas in mind.  Try to remove any preconceived notions that you might have about God and let His Word speak His Truth into your heart.  It may be a little lengthy, but try to focus on what the Apostle Paul is saying here.  This passage helps us to see several things about God…and about us.  First, God is in complete control.  Even when man brought sin into the picture, God had a plan.  Secondly, man cannot manipulate or leverage God to get his way.  Also, God’s sovereignty is evident as He demonstrates His power and authority in areas of mercy, compassion, patience, justice, wrath, and even in creation.

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9For this is what the promise said: "About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son." 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13 As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

19 You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25 As indeed he says in Hosea,

"Those who were not my people I will call 'my people, 'and her who was not beloved I will call 'beloved.'" 26 "And in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people, 'there they will be called 'sons of the living God.'"

27And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: "Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay." 29 And as Isaiah predicted,

"If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah."

For some, I imagine that this passage is difficult to digest.  Paul is basically telling us that God has created some people for the purpose of displaying His wrath.  And in doing so, no one can even say that God is unfair.  Does that make sense to you and me?  In our limited view of God, I’m thinking that it doesn’t.

But there’s something we need to remember.  God’s ways and thoughts are greater than ours.  We can try to reason this passage to fit our image of what God should be like.  But would that be right?  I think we need to let God’s Word speak for itself.  God is sovereign and is more than capable of exacting justice on the unrighteous even when it is God who in all practicality created “the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.”

There is another side to this equation that I think we need to consider here, however.  Paul is also saying that God “has endured with much patience” these vessels of wrath “in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.”  If we’re completely honest with ourselves, none of us are deserving of His mercy.  It’s not so much a mystery that God would pour out His wrath on the unrighteous.  It’s much more of a mystery that He would extend compassion and mercy on those that are completely undeserving.  Think about it.  God creates man and what does man do but sin against Him and live in rebellion against Him.  We ought to be filled with awe and gratitude toward God who provided a way through His Son to pay the price for our sins so that we can be reconciled with Him and have a relationship with Him.  Isn’t that really the greater mystery?

Now dig a little deeper.  What about justice?  We have a tendency to view the child molester, the rapist, and the mother who murders her daughter as the most hideous creatures on earth.  But what about the rest of us?  Doesn’t the Bible tell us that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God?  It goes back to this idea that we don’t see things the same way that God does.  In fact, worshipping idols or false gods is a greater travesty in God’s eyes.  And many of us are guilty of this, even me.  Given that we’re all prone to sin, we should really wonder why we aren’t the “vessels prepared for destruction.”  It is only due to God’s sovereignty that He would have the authority to place His justice upon His Son, Jesus, to pay the price for our sins.  I can only praise God that it is because of His sovereignty, not that He’s impotent and incapable of redeeming a people for Himself, that we have hope through Jesus!

Again, I go back to what I said at the beginning.  Christianity is mind-boggling.  And what God has done for us is even more mind-boggling.  Praise Jesus!  For those that do put their faith and hope in Him, they can be called “sons of the living God!”  And it’s all because of His sovereignty!