Thankful for the Gospel

Happy Thanksgiving from Jay and Rhonda,

In this thanksgiving season, I have a new appreciation and gratefulness for the gospel of Jesus Christ; the unchanging gospel of incredible grace.  We find in Paul’s letter to the Colossians a majestic summary of the gospel.  Let’s look at a few of the highlights.

When you believed the gospel of Jesus Christ you were “delivered from the domain of darkness, and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son, Jesus, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14).  You did not have a new wing added to your old dilapidated structure.  You were airlifted and dropped into a brand new home in His kingdom; a home where you are redeemed and forgiven.

And Jesus Himself is not just in this home with you, He is in this home IN YOU!  “God made known to us the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).

In chapter 2, we learn that we are to “walk in Christ in the same way that we received Christ; by faith” (Col 2:6).  And this walk is all made possible because “in Christ you have been made complete” (Col 2:10).  You were “buried with Christ … raised with Christ through faith … made alive together with Christ … having all of our transgressions forgiven, cancelled out, and nailed to the cross” (Col 2:12-14).

We live the life of faith by walking in the new self.  “Your old self died and your new life [your new self] is now hidden in Christ.  Behold, Christ is your life!”  (Col 3:3-4).

You are now living as “those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, with a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col 3:12).  These attributes of Christ are yours because it is Christ Himself expressing these through you.  We live the life, defeat the flesh, and experience victory over sin by allowing Christ to express Himself through our new self.  And this new self is infused with thanksgiving.

Gratefulness is so much a part of our new life that Paul comes back to it for three verses in a row as He concludes his treatise on the new self.  “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.  Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col 3:15-17).

In your unity and peace, give thanks.  In Christ’s word dwelling within you, give thanks.  In your singing, give thanks.  And then it is as if Paul looks up and says, “You know the more I think about it, just give thanks in everything you do” (vs 17).  Thanksgiving and a grateful heart are that important.

May I encourage you this Thanksgiving to thank the Lord for His goodness.  Thank the Lord for the friends and family in your life.  Thank the Lord for His material blessings.  But don’t forget to thank Him for making you a new creation, with a new self; a new you with a soft and grateful heart.

Forgiven and Cleansed

The idea of “forgiven and cleansed” has a prominent place in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament.  The book of Leviticus is the manual for forgiveness and cleansing under the old covenant.  Regarding forgiveness, here are just two of the many verses on the topic.  “He shall then prepare a burnt offering according to the ordinance.  So the priest shall make atonement on his behalf for his sin which he has committed, and it will be forgiven him” (Leviticus 5:10).  “The priest shall also make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the LORD for his sin which he has committed, and the sin which he has committed will be forgiven him” (Leviticus 19:22).

Likewise regarding cleansing, “The priest shall next offer the sin offering and make atonement for the one to be cleansed from his uncleanness.  Then afterward, he shall slaughter the burnt offering” (Leviticus 14:19).  “Next he shall slaughter the lamb of the guilt offering; and the priest is to take some of the blood of the guilt offering and put it on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot” (Leviticus 14:25).  Animal sacrifices provided a temporary forgiveness and cleansing under the old covenant system.

But what about us today?  Is confession and forgiveness an over and over process for us?  What if all of your sins – past, present, and future – have been forgiven the minute you believed the gospel message of Jesus Christ?

Hidden within the pages of the Old Testament is a promise of something better; the promise of a new covenant.  And the promise of this new covenant, this new arrangement between God and His people, has been completely fulfilled in Jesus.  And this is what it looks like … When we believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are immediately and forever forgiven and cleansed by the blood of Jesus.  The minute we believed, Christ’s forgiveness and cleansing – accomplished on the cross – was imputed to us.

The book of Hebrews outlines this revolutionary news that through Jesus’ blood, we are forgiven and cleansed, once and for all, when we believed the gospel.  “Jesus does not need daily, like those [Old Testament] high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this Jesus did once for all when He offered up Himself” (Hebrews 7:27).  Jesus offered up Himself, not over and over like the Old Testament sacrifices, but once for all.  And not for His sins, but for ours.

“By this we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet.  For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:10-14).

Sacrificed for our sins and proclaiming us forgiven, perfected, sanctified, and cleansed.  “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14).

Finally, we come to the incredible promise of I John 1:9.  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  This verse was written to address those who are walking in darkness (I John 1:6); those who have yet to believe the gospel.  And the promise of I John 1:9 is this:  If we confess our sins, if we agree with God that here, prior to our conversion, we are sinners, and we need a savior, and that savior is Jesus … then Jesus will come to us, He will forgive us of all our sins, and He will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  The blood of Jesus eternally forgives and internally cleanses from all sin.

This post is a summary of chapter 10 in Brad Robertson’s book Forgiven and Cleansed.  If this message is new to you – that your sins are forgiven forever and that you are forever clean before the Lord, or you struggle to believe this about yourself, I highly recommend you read Brad’s book.  It will be an encouragement and a blessing to you.

No Longer a Tree

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:2-3).

For many years, this verse summarized my approach to the Christian life.  I wanted to be this tree.  I wanted to delight in God’s law.  I wanted to be fruitful.  I wanted to prosper.  Then I began to understand all that Christ provided for us and to us in the New Covenant.  I soon began to realize my “being a tree” days were over.

The tree analogy with its meditation, its law, and its prosperity promise was an Old Covenant picture.  It was behavior focused and consequence based.  Under God’s new arrangement, ushered in by Jesus’ death and resurrection, you and I are no longer free-standing trees.  So what are we?

“I [Jesus] am the true vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  We are no longer trees.  We are branches! And the difference is huge.

As a tree, your source of life is in the world around you.  You tap into the rain, into the sunlight, into the soil.  The result is you standing on your own, built on the nutrients you gather.  You are all alone, standing tall along streams of water.

But as a branch, your life is now totally and completely dependent on the vine.  There is literally no life for a branch outside of its connection to the vine.  And the vine you are securely attached to is the True Vine; Jesus Christ.  No more growing based on your self-effort, how well you are keeping His law.  He is now your complete sufficiency.

And the proof of this all-sufficient Vine literally feeding His life into you is the last line in our verse, “For apart from Me you can do nothing.”  Everything we do, everything we are really, is dependent on our union with the Vine.  Jesus did not say that apart from Him we would do things poorly or not very well or struggle for success.  He said, “We can do NOTHING”!

This branch-to-vine connection with Jesus is not an option that comes and goes.  It is who we are.  Abiding in Him is not an “if” statement.  It is a fact.  You ARE “abiding in Him and He in you” because this is what Christ accomplished at the cross.  He made you a branch.  You did not attach yourself.  You cannot unattach yourself.  Based on His work on the cross and your belief in what Christ did for you, He made you a branch.  An intimately connected branch, a very child of God.

Finally, the church is a brand new entity under the New Covenant.  And the branches and the True Vine are such a beautiful picture of this.  We, the church, are the branches; growing together in a beautiful menagerie, all inseparably connected to the Vine.  The Vine is your life.  Soak it up and the fruit will flow.