A Light Under the Door

A word picture that came to mind after my last post may help illustrate the difference I am talking about in how we address our connection to God.  Many “gospel centered” writers – though certainly not all – paint the following picture of our connection to our heavenly Father.

Let’s say that you are standing in the hall of a great house.  Your Father is patting you on the head.  He says, “You are totally accepted by Me.  I love you.  I will always love you.  There is nothing you can do to lose my love.  You are approved by Me.  Your sins are completely forgiven.  There is nothing more you need to do to “earn” my favor.  Christ did it all when He died in your place on the cross.”  It is a beautiful and true message.

Then your Father proceeds down the hall and enters His study.  He shuts the door and you see a sliver of light shining into the hall from under the door.  You are left to figure out your next steps based on His commands, instructions, etc.  And there you are, on your own to live the life.

Now let’s think of another scenario, a picture that I believe illustrates the New Testament message.  You have received the Father’s message of forgiveness, approval, acceptance, and love.  But you are not left standing in the hall.  No, the study door has been flung open and the light pours out into the hall.  And you hear the Father calling your name.

You rush into His holy chamber and in an instant you are on your Father’s lap, crying “Abba Father”.  Yes, this is where you belong.  And the Father lovingly cradles you and says, “I don’t want you left in the hall.  I want you right here.  In fact, I want you so close that I, the Maker of the Universe; I, the Creator of the World; I, the Sovereign over all sovereigns, am coming to live right inside of you and you will live your life inside of Me.  I in you, and you in Me.”

That is the connection you have with your Father.  It is a connection that is unbreakable.  It is a connection that is unshakeable.  It is a connection that is full of power, energy, righteousness, and everything you need to live the Christian life.

It is a connection we will continue to explore in the days to come.  But for now, let me leave you with a few truths to dwell on, and to ask yourself, “Do I really believe this is true?”

You are not divine, but you contain the Divine.  “You are a partaker of the divine nature” II Pet. 1:4.

You are not deity, but you contain the Deity.  “We have this treasure in earthen vessels” II Cor 4:7.

You are not the Christ, but the Christ lives inside you.  “In that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” Jn 14:20.

Your Separation Has Ended

Last time we ended with just one of the many promises of Christ that He lives in us and we in Him.  What does it mean to be “in Christ”?  In its most succinct description it means that our separation has ended.  The separation that existed between us and the triune God prior to our salvation is no more.

Bill Vanderbush writes, regarding our connection to God, in the appendix to The Forgotten Way, “If you believe you are separated from your Father as a Christian, you will interpret the Bible through the lens of that broken and fragile relationship.”  How many of us feel – though secure in our initial salvation – that our current connection to the Father is broken, or at best fragile?  How many of us have been taught to strive harder to gain God’s approval or are walking on eggshells to protect ourselves from losing it?  And may I say with sadness that there is plenty of Bible teaching today wrapped around the idea that we as believers are still separated from our Father.

I believe there are two prominent camps that exploit this misunderstanding about our perceived separation from God.  The first group are the legalists who compel us to close the separation between us and God by working harder.  If you try harder to keep the rules, if you move up their ladder to a higher level of righteousness, if you follow their set formula, you can close the gap.  But how much “work” is needed to close the gap and will it ever be enough?  Can the gap even be completely closed?  Or can we only move somewhat closer to an ever changing target, never fully confident in our connection to our heavenly Father?

This kind of effort leads straight to a self-righteousness that Christ condemned.  It looks down on others who are not keeping up.  It leads to pride when we are doing well, and shame when we inevitably fail.  Eventually that failure, rather than spurring us on to new effort, actually causes us to give up.  It puts all the burden for the relationship on our efforts to fly right.  It replaces Christ’s work with our prideful effort.  And in doing so, it misses the mark of all that Christ accomplished when He died in our place.

The second group gets us closer to the mark.  It is hard to wrap a name around this group of teachers that I refer to as Reformed, or Gospel Coalition types, or “gospel-centered” writers.  These teachers rightly point out that our separation from God cannot be closed by self-effort.  They see us separated from a holy God, but by God’s grace that separation is covered by the cross.  And it is, praise the Lord!  They are entirely correct that we are approved and accepted based on the gospel – Christ’s work on our behalf – not by our works.

Where these teachers fall short, in my opinion, is in their continuing focus on our depravity and sin even after our salvation, and little focus on the victory and power to live the life.  Yes, in theory and theology and positionally, the cross covered our separation.  But they imply that in practice, we are still pretty rotten folks; still experiencing some form of separation from God because of our sin.  Their focus always seems to be on how the gospel “covers” our sin.  But I rarely hear what Christ and the apostles highlight as the crucial next step.  That is, yes, the gospel covers our sin; but it also empowers us to live above sin, to put sin to death, to no longer obey sin as our master.  These messages of victory over sin – wrought by Christ living His life through us – seem to be in short supply.

And I think it all goes back to some thought, maybe even on a subconscious level, that we are separated from our Father.  This empty feeling may have been brought on by what we have been taught, or by our own experience with sin, or by a feeling of not being fully accepted and approved by God, or by how authorities in our lives described us, or for any number of reasons.  The bottom line is, we feel in our heart of hearts a separation.

But I proclaim to you.  The message of the New Testament is, “Your separation has ended!”  How can we be sure?  We will tackle that topic next time.

“Did You Miss Me, Nana?”

Several years ago, when our kids and grandkids drove down to see us, one of the grands bounded into the house upon their arrival and announced loudly to Rhonda, “Did you miss me, Nana?”  It became one of those special snapshots of our time with kids that we will always remember.

So, I won’t make you answer the question, “Did you miss me?”, but I will state emphatically that I missed you.  After five years and 400 posts of writing almost weekly, sometime a little over a year ago, I just stopped.  It didn’t start out as a plan to stop; it just happened.  And God allowed the inkwell to run dry.

But now, after a year of seeking, serving, praying, learning, sharing, studying, teaching, loving, and a myriad of other ways of living into our community here, I feel like God has given me a message to move forward with.

One of my honest concerns when God pushed the pause button on my writing was that my message had become a one-topic mantra.  Maybe my New Covenant soapbox was out of balance.  Maybe my laser-like focus on who we are in Christ was too narrow for the challenges and varieties of what the Christian life looks like.  Maybe I was too optimistic about the human condition, especially our promised power over sin.

Because it was a tumultuous year of challenge.  My mom’s passing, eight months after suffering a debilitating stroke brought many questions about end-of-life issues.  Walking with friends through divorce, cancer, pain, death of a teenager, children walking away from faith, resistant believers all tested my thinking about what the Christian life should look like or more specifically, where does the power lie to get it right?  And why doesn’t it come easier?

As you might expect, the answers that God brought to mind over the year were some yesses and some noes.  Yes, I had become repetitive.  Yes, I often wrote in the theoretical or spiritual realm, sometimes ignoring the practical realities.  And I was usually pushing the pendulum hard in one direction in hopes of balancing out what I perceived as out-of-balance Bible teaching.

But there was also a loud “no” side of my investigation.  No, we literally cannot overstate the riches of what we inherited at our new birth.  No, we cannot overemphasize the importance of the provision or promises of the New Covenant.  No, we can never exhaust the idea of who we are “in Christ.”  And I became as convinced as ever that understanding who we are in Christ; understanding “I in Christ” and “Christ in me” – a concept referred to over 200 times in the New Testament alone – is paramount in living the Christian life.  The promise, the absolute reality, the supernatural fact that Christ is living His life through me brings incredible balance, power, peace, love, and joy into our lives.

Jesus promised, “In that day, you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (Jn 14:20).  That day has come!  The indwelling of Christ Himself happened to us when we embraced the gospel message of Jesus.  And that indwelling of Christ Himself happened to us because of the gospel of Jesus; His life, death, and resurrection on our behalf.  It is an incredible gift; a pure and free gift of God’s grace.

So let’s get back in the saddle and think together about how we put this life-energizing concept – that Christ lives in us – into practice.  And let’s find together God’s provision and promise of a life set free.  What does “a life set free” look like?  We will explore that together in the weeks to come.

The Power of His Resurrection

In the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul writes, “…that I may know Jesus and the power of His resurrection” (Phil 3:10).  Have you ever wondered what that power is all about?  What power is Paul referring to?

Last time we were together, I wrote about the Resurrected Life; the theology of Christ living His resurrected life in us.  Today we turn to the power associated with that Life.

Peter writes, “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, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (II Pet 1:2-4).

When you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, God gave to you a divine nature; sometimes referred to in Scripture as “the righteousness of Christ.”  But did you know that this nature also brought with it “His divine power”?  I don’t pretend to even know how to unpack the whole picture of this, but by God’s truth in His Word, His divine power (can we say supernatural power?) lives inside each of us as part of His divine nature indwelling us.

And one of the primary ways we experience the divine power is in our conflict with sin.  The end of our passage above highlights that His divine nature empowers us “to escape the corruption that is in the world by lust.”  That is a good description of sin; a lustful corruption that is typical of the world and the world system.  But God in His generosity has given us a way of escape from this corruption; this power of sin.

We often hear the phrase, “God will provide a way of escape when we are tempted.”  But we don’t talk much about the “how”.  Am I just supposed to buck up and face the challenge with an increased will power?  Am I to try to quickly plant something positive in my mind in place of the temptation that is facing me head on?  Is there some “path of escape” to avoid this temptation that I need to discover?

I believe the “how” is to recognize who we are in Christ; redeemed sinners who now possess a divine nature in which sin is no longer our master.  Our old nature has been replaced.  Our old man has been replaced.  Our old heart has been replaced.  And your new nature, your new man, your new heart are powered by the resurrection life of Jesus living in you.  And this power is available to us, to bring to bear on those pesky temptations.  It is a power we are to believe, embrace, and walk in, in our hour of temptation.

While this power is always available, it is not automatically in force like some supernatural power of a comic book hero.  No, there is a path to us acknowledging this power, appropriating this power, and experiencing this power.  In its most succinct form, the path to victory is the path of faith.  To bring the promise of this power into our experience, we must believe “His precious and magnificent promises”; one of which is that we have been set free from sin’s power.

So celebrate, and reflect on, the two astonishing miracles of Resurrection Sunday.  Miracle one;  Christ was raised from the dead.  A completely dead body came back to life.  This miracle sealed Jesus’ identity as the Son of God and thus sealed our salvation.  “Jesus was declared with power to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:4).

Miracle two is that this same Christ who was raised from the dead now lives in you, and you in Him (Col 3:3-4, and about two hundred other places in the New Testament).  And in some ways, Christ living His life in us is just as astonishing as miracle one.

These two miracles come together in us when we long with the apostle Paul to “know Him and the power of His resurrection.”  May you experience that power today.  And give thanks to our Living Lord that we have this opportunity to pursue His life in us every day; a powerful Easter dawning in us over and over and over.

The Way, the Truth, and the Life

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me’ ” (Jn 14:6).  In this one verse, we have a beautiful summary to the message of John’s gospel.  Jesus said that He is the only way to God, His message is truth, and the reward for believing this is life eternal and abundant.

That Jesus is the only way to the Father is a theme throughout John’s gospel.  In the middle chapters of the book, Jesus specifically reiterated this point over and over with various word pictures and direct instruction.  In fact, the firmness with which Jesus identified Himself as the Christ, the Son of God, the only true path to life made such an impression on me that I wrote a book about it.  Is Jesus the Only Way? is a verse-by-verse look at what Jesus claimed about Himself as the only way.

Another feature of John’s gospel is his focus on the truth.  Quotes like, “I am the truth”, “You will know the truth”, “Full of grace and truth”, “He who practices the truth”, “Worship the Father in spirit and truth”, “There is no truth in him [the devil]”, “I speak the truth”, “When the Spirit of truth comes”, “Sanctify them in the truth”, “Your word is truth”, “The truth will make you free”, and finally, “What is truth?” asked by Pilate.

John makes clear that Jesus’s message should be believed because it is true.  There is no social agenda, no political agenda, not even a theological agenda in Jesus’ words or John’s writing.  The appeal is always to the truth and to the idea that we should believe and embrace the gospel message of Jesus Christ because it is true.

And finally, Jesus is the life; the perfect conclusion to this triplet in John 14:6.  If you believe the truth about Jesus, about Jesus’s identity as the Son of God, about Jesus being the only way to God, you will inherit life itself.  This message is so straightforward and one that we have heard over and over in John’s gospel.  Because it really is the good news, the message of the gospel.

If the idea of believing the gospel message of Jesus is new to you, let me close with this offer.  When Jesus came to earth, He initiated a new arrangement between God and man.  His message of release from the penalty of our sin was totally founded upon His death, as a substitute for each of us, on a cross.  Under God’s old arrangement, the default arrangement for the whole human race, we stand guilty of breaking His moral code.  But that all goes by the wayside when we agree to God’s new arrangement by acknowledging our guilt, accepting the free gift of Christ’s death in our place, and believing what Jesus says is true.  If you wish to say “I’m in” with this new arrangement, tell God in prayer about your decision.  Then, talk to someone about it.  If you would like to know more about God’s offer or talk with us about a decision you’ve made, drop us a line at jrlehman@att.net.