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THE BAR HAS BEEN SET TOO LOW

For many Christians, their walk with Jesus is just a hum drum, bland reality that can be characterized, at best, as mediocre. We’re told, over and over and over again, that nobody’s perfect so it’s normal to make bad choices and sin. When that happens, you just confess your sin and off you go…into another sin and another confession…into another sin and another confession… This endless, vicious cycle is all that most Christians ever know. This pattern is just like that of the Israelites as recorded in the book of Judges. They lived in such a cycle and were a real mess.

Over the years I’ve had so many Christians come in for counsel who had done some tragic things, and when I talked to them about the life of a follower of Jesus they just shrugged their shoulders and said, “Oh well, I’m not perfect”. Well, yeah, its common knowledge that no human being is perfect, that’s a given. Those who find themselves in messes because of their sin use this excuse (nobody’s perfect) to justify themselves and to try to convince themselves that they are just like every other Christian. After all, they think, at least I’m not like “them” – i.e: non Christians who do even worst things then they do.

This is just wrong-headed, defeatist theology. First of all, our comparison must never be with the world. If we make such a comparison, we’ll always come out smelling like a rose.  No, our comparison must always be with the holiness of God, and the standards He has set for us.  1 Peter 1:14-16 says: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” When we do the right comparison, we will never be content with a mediocre walk with Jesus.

Secondly, God meant our Christian life to be one of victory, not mediocrity. Do you see, my friends, there is much more, so much more, to the Christian life than most of us ever experience – deep intimacy with God, victory over temptation, fruitful service,  peace through trials, joy in the midst of earthly sorrows, marriages that are a testimony to the world, priorities that are Christ centered, and lives that are full and make a difference in the world. Jesus said in John 10:10: “… I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”, and in John 15:11: “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full”.

I would probably be fairly accurate in saying that most Christians never experience this full life of joy. I’m not talking about a trial free or pain free life. Nor am I talking about a life of sinless perfection.  None of us is that naive to believe these. We live in a fallen world where pain, sorrow, heartbreak, and trials abound, and followers of Jesus aren’t immune to these realities of life, And because we still have a sin nature in this life, perfection is impossible. However, even with the limitations of earthly life, we still can experience all that God wants for us, and reach the destiny he has planned for us.

The reason most Christians miss the abundant life that Jesus talked about is because we have set the bar too low. We satisfy with a mediocre, “well I’m just a sinner” mindset. The Bible tells us that God has given us everything necessary to live a triumphant life. Ephesians 1:3 says:  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ”, and 2 Peter 1:2-4 tells us: “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord;  seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust”. 

What incredible promises God has made available to us!!

It is human nature to strive for a goal that is set for us. If the goal is set low and is easy to grasp, we will exert just enough effort to reach it and be satisfied with attaining it even though we were capable of a much more. Likewise, if someone sets a lofty goal for us we will strive to give a concerted, determined effort to attain it.  When we do reach our goal we are realize what we are capable of, and will never satisfy with lesser things.

It’s the same with the Christian life. When we fail to understand the power that is at work within us (in the person of the Holy Spirit) and the life that God expects from His children, we will never rise above mediocrity. However, when we do grasp these realities, we enter a depth of relationship with God that most never know.

Yes, God has set the bar high…really high. Just read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Read Luke 9:23, and Luke 14:26-35. These are classic verses that show us what a true follower of Jesus looks like. Will we be able to reach all of these lofty goals? No, not in this life. However, we still strive to reach them. Like Paul in Philippians 3:12-14,  we say : “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.  Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”. 

Now it is easy to write about this, but quite another thing to put them into practice the, How, then, practically, do we do this? How do we get off the merry-go-round of mediocrity and live a life that glorifies God and realizes the destiny He has planned for us? In my next post (to be published is a few weeks) we’ll take a look at one of the most profound, and most overlooked, truths about discipleship. We’ll look at the three words that change EVERYTHING when they are applied in our lives daily. Stay tuned.

DOES GOD REALLY FORGET OUR SINS?

It is very popular for Christians to quote Psalm 103:12 – ” As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us“, with the idea that since east and west never meet, so our past sins (once repented of) will never again be brought up.  Also often quoted is Jeremiah 31:34 – “…for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more“, again, with the idea that our past sins are forever forgotten. While this makes us feel good, are these verses interpreted correctly, or have they been taken out of context? Remember, verses are part of a paragraph, which is part of a chapter, which is part of a book which is part of the Bible. The three most important words in interpreting Scripture are context, context, context.

What is conveniently forgotten when saying that our repented of sins are forgotten forever are passages like 2 Corinthians 5:10 –   For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” and Romans 14:10-12 : For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.  For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’  So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God”

You see, the texts that speak of our sins being forgotten forever by God must be interpreted in light of the texts that teach that all of us will give an account of ourselves to God for everything we did in this life “whether good or bad”. The word “judgment seat” mentioned in 2 Corinthians 5:10 is the Greek word “Bema“, which means an elevated seat or a tribunal in which someone with authority sits and declares judgment. Since every human being will undergo some kind of judgment by our great God, biblical theology teaches that even believers will be judged. This judgment is not to determine our eternal destination in either heaven or hell, as this has been decided by Jesus on the cross, and true believers are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone. This Bema seat judgment will be for rewards in heaven (these rewards, while not specifically detailed in Scripture, could pertain to what our service will be in our heavenly home). 

So, then what does Psalm 103:12 and Jeremiah 31:34 mean? They don’t mean that God gets amnesia when we repent and can never remember our sins. What they mean, when taken in context of Scripture, is that God no longer holds our sins against us in our relationship with Himself. Sin is a barrier that blocks our intimacy with God. When we, as born again believers in Jesus, sin, we offend our holy God and our relationship with Him is affected. We don’t lose our salvation, but our relationship with Him is marred. When we confess and repent, we are forgiven (1 John 1:9) and our intimacy is restored, even though the consequences of our sin are still experienced. However, we will have to give an account of our lives at the Bema Seat judgment for every word we uttered, every deed we did, every thought we pondered, and every motive that caused these words, actions, and thoughts. 

Makes us think twice about our lives, doesn’t it?

Do you see, just because born again believers are adopted into God’s family and are now His sons and daughters, it doesn’t mean we have the green light to do whatever we want, confess when we sin, and then go on our merry way. It does matter how we live. God requires His children to walk on the holiness journey, to live a life that is honoring and glorifying to Him, and to live in absolute surrender to Him. Modern Christianity has adopted a “cheap grace” attitude of living which is totally foreign to Scripture. This cheap grace pseudo-theology says “since we are saved by grace, our actions and words don’t really matter; we can do whatever we want, confess the behaviors that are sinful, and then just move on without any repercussion because, after all, God forgets them”. This is just wrong-headed theology. While it is true that we are saved by grace, the Bible also teaches that we must live in holiness and obedience to God’s moral standards (1 Peter 1;15-16). There are consequences to sin in this life, and we will have to give an account of our lives to God when our earthly lives are over.

How, then, shall we live, knowing that, at the end, we will give an account for every aspect of our lives to God? My friends, the only way to live this life is in humble, total surrender to God. To die to self and give the reigns of our lives to Him.  To cling to Him in brokenness and holy desperation acknowledging that we cannot do this on our own. We need Him, and need Him desperately. Living this way doesn’t mean that we will be perfect, but it will certainly have God’s approval. Yes, we will sin, as even Christians have a fallen nature, but when we do sin and immediately confess and repent, our loving Father picks us up, dusts us off, gives us a hug, and takes our hand to lead us on. Oh, He will allow the consequences of our sins to occur, but these serve us well in the future to remind us to run from temptation. What a merciful, loving God we call our Father!!

So, my friends, rejoice that, when we repent of our sins, God doesn’t hold them against us in our relationship with Him. But remember that we will, someday, give an Him an account for everything word, action, thought, and motive in our earthly journey. And, finally, live in surrender to Him so that you won’t be ashamed when you stand before Him at the Bema Seat judgment. 

THE DEISM OF AMERICAN CHRISTIANITY

While, there are different theological and philosophical ideas in deism, it’s basic belief is that there is a Supreme Being who created the universe, but then stepped back and distanced Himself from it. He established the laws of nature and then let the universe run itself. This idea includes human beings – God is not involved in our lives and is not interested in what we do. Theism, on the other hand,  holds that God created everything and is intimately involved in His creation, including the lives of human beings.  He cares what we do and is active in our daily lives. Evangelical Christianity is anchored in theism because theism is built on biblical truth.

However, by looking at evangelicalism today, it seems that many Christians live a deist type of Christianity. Most Christians today live as though God doesn’t really care how they live their lives. They acknowledge Jesus as their Savior but leave Him there. They become the “god” of their own lives.

How else can we explain the staggering divorce rate, premarital sex, addictions to pornography, unwholesome entertainment choices, self absorbed life styles, lack of honesty and integrity, and materialism that is so prevalent in the church? Over the years I’ve talked to countless believers who made choices that are so contrary to God’s holy standards, and seemed oblivious to the horrible witness they were to the world of what it means to be a child of God. Recently I heard a DJ on a national Christian radio show say that he viewed a certain movie and approved of a caller to the station who said that he saw it too. Not knowing about this movie, I read a review of it on a Christian movie review website and was absolutely horrified at the film’s sexually immoral and profanity laced content that the reviewer summarized. And yet here were two Christians, one who has a national platform, saying that they saw the movie without any real sense of shame.

The current mantra among many believers is “God wants me to be happy”, which then allows them to pursue anything they desire. This is deist thinking. No, my friends, God isn’t concerned with our happiness, He is concerned with our holiness. When we are walking in holiness we have His approval, and when we have His approval we have His presence in our lives, and when we have His presence in our lives we have joy. And joy, which is rooted deep in our hearts, is infinitely better than happiness, which is dependent on outside circumstances.

The worldview of a deist leads to disastrous results. Since all human beings are fallen creatures that are born with a sin nature, it is natural for us, even Christians,  to be selfish, self serving, and egocentric.  And that is the way many Christians act. Without dying to self and grasping the reality of Romans 6 that our old self was crucified with Jesus so that when we surrender to Him and His will sin has no power over us, we act just like the unredeemed.

A very popular saying in Christendom is “Christianity isn’t a set of ‘do’s and don’ts’ but a relationship”. While this sounds good and eases our consciences, it is only half correct. Salvation is not a set of “do’s and don’ts”, we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone (not by works, religion, or anything else). However, as followers of Jesus, discipleship is very much a set of “do’s and don’ts”. God has set the parameters of what is acceptable for His children and what is not. He has set the standards of holiness which we are all to strive for. Just read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, Luke 9:23, Luke 14:33, 1 Peter 1:16-17, and Philippians 4:8 as just a small sample of the definition of how a follower of Jesus should live.

Sadly, deism has dominated the thinking of the church today, leaving biblical holiness by the wayside. My friends, God does care how we live. Since He created us and is active in our lives, He knows what’s best for us, has laid down the definition of how we are to live, and expects us to follow it. When we treat Him in a deist way, we become the gods of our own lives and shame His glorious name and bring misery to our lives. Yes, it does matter what we watch on TV or at the movies. It does matter what we read or look at on the computer. It does matter what we say how we treat others, how we define marriage, and how we define sexuality. God has given us the standards for each of these, and we can’t just ignore them and convince ourselves that “God wants me happy” trumps them all.

God is our Creator, He loves us and has set the standards of behavior by which we are to live (for our own good and for His glory), and is active in our lives. The question is – will we surrender ourselves totally to Him? Will we give Him all rights to ourselves to His will, die to “self’ and live for His glory instead of our happiness? We will all give an account of ourselves to Him when our lives on earth are over and we stand before Him. May we live in such a way that we will not be ashamed of how we conducted our lives, and then hear Him say: ‘I know you weren’t perfect, but I know your heart was sold out to Me and you heart’s desire was to follow Me. Well done!”.

THE QUESTION OF EVIL

The existence of evil has perplexed people for centuries. Philosophers have pondered its meaning, sociologists have studied its impact, psychologists have analyzed its behaviors, theologians have questioned its origins, atheists have embraced it in their argument against the existence of God, and all people try to survive in a world filled with it. Everyone must wrestle with the question of evil, regardless of one’s belief.

As mentioned above, atheists say that the existence of evil proves that the “good and loving” God of the Christians doesn’t exist because how could a “good and loving” God allow such horrible things to occur in His creation. As renowned British atheist Bertrand Russell famously said: “No one can sit at the bedside of a dying child and still believe in God”.

And if we are to be totally honest, most Christians struggle with this also. When we hear about rape, murder, sex trafficking, child abuse, torture, Ponzi schemes, children with fatal diseases, innocent people dying in at the hands of drunk drivers, birth deformities, etc. we wonder: “How could God, who created and controls everything in the universe, allow such wickedness?”. And many also wonder: “Since God created all things, did He, then, create evil too? How can this be if the God we believe in is perfectly righteous and holy?”

And this can leave our faith shaken to the core.

In order to have a deep, unwavering faith and a proper understanding of God we must wrestle with the existence of evil. How, then, do we as believers in the one true God answer the problem of evil?

First we acknowledge that, indeed, God is the creator of all things as the Bible says. The first two chapters of Genesis make this clear.  Additionally, when talking about Jesus, the Bible says in  John 1:3: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” and in Colossians 1:16: “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” As Christians, we believe this without any reservation. Well, some say, does this mean that He also created evil?

The verses cited above tell us that God created “all things“, but we must be careful about how we understand this. In interpreting this statement, we must also understand the nature and character of God. The Bible tells us that God is perfectly holy and righteous, and cannot think of doing evil, cannot actually do evil, and can’t force us to do evil. Thus, when we read that God created all things, we must understand this to mean that He created all things in perfect agreement with His nature,  and therefore cannot create anything that is evil. Simply put, God cannot create anything that is inconsistent with who He is. Indeed, five times in the creation narrative in Genesis, Scripture says that God saw that what He had created was good. And, after His creative work was completed on the sixth day, He saw that everything was very good.

Well, then, where does evil come from?

To answer this question we must first answer another question – what is exactly is evil? Evil is not a “thing” in the sense of something tangible. You can’t hold it or touch it like a rock, a rose, or a cat. Evil is what we see played out in our world when human beings choose to rebel against God’s holy standards.

God created humans with a moral will and therefore with the ability to make moral choices. When we choose to obey His moral standards the result is goodness. However, when we choose the opposite, when we choose to disregard God’s commands, goodness is absent, and therefore something else must naturally occur to take the place of goodness. That something is evil. The evil we see played out in our world is the result of people making “anti-God” choices.

When God created man with free will, He allowed for the possibility of evil to exist. This is very important to grasp so allow me to repeat it – God did not create evil but in creating human beings with free will He allowed for the possibility of evil to exist if these human beings He created chose to violate His laws. And in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve did exactly that – they chose, out of their free will, to violate God’s command concerning the eating of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And when they did eat of the tree evil entered God’s “good creation”.

The question that naturally follows, and that is asked quite often, is: “Well, then, why doesn’t God do something about the evil that exists in our world? Why doesn’t He rid the world of evil? After all, He is all-powerful, right?” The answer is simple – He definitely could rid the earth of all evil. But if he did get rid of all evil in our world five minutes from now, where would you and I be in five minutes and one second? The earth would be absent of human beings (you and I included) because we all have violated, and continue to violate, God’s moral laws in some fashion. We may not be murderers or rapists, but we are selfish, proud, gossips, liars, and envious at times, and all of these are violations of God’s moral standards. You see, if God would rid the earth of evil He would essentially have to unmake the present earth and start again. So instead of complaining about evil, we all should be thankful that God is patient with us and extends his mercy and grace to sinners like us.

However, when people ask why God doesn’t do something about evil, we do have a powerful answer to give them: “Yes, God indeed did do something about evil. Something profound. He came to earth as a human being in the person of Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for all the evil that all humans do by dying on a cross. Now, for those who trust in Him as Savior, there is forgiveness and eternal life”. Profound indeed!

Going back to Bertrand Russell’s statement mentioned above, we can reverse his question and ask: “What does an atheist say at the bedside of a dying child? ‘Oh well, that’s the way it goes.Only the strong survive and I guess that you’re not one of them. Tough luck.'” Not very comforting words are they. However, what does a Christian say at the bedside of a dying child: “There is a God who created you and who loves you and has paid the price for your salvation. If you trust in Him as Savior, you will live with Him in perfect peace and joy forever”.

That’s quite a difference.

Yes, evil does abound in the world, and will until Jesus comes back in all His glory, but don’t let that shake your faith. God is still on the throne and is sovereign over all. In the end He will make all things right. When we get to heaven evil will not exist and there will only be utter perfection, beautiful goodness, and absolute holiness. And that’s something to truly look forward to!