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.

Believe, Receive, and Do

An area of contrast between the old covenant of law and the new covenant of grace is the order of events in the believer’s life.  Under the old covenant, life was “do and receive”.  If you do X, then you will receive Y from God.

But this old arrangement of “do and receive” is no longer in effect after the cross.  The writer to the Hebrews calls the old covenant arrangement “obsolete, growing old, and ready to disappear” (Hebrews 8:13).  Paul proclaims that “it is being brought to an end” (II Corinthians 3:10).  But we really hate to give it up.  Why?

The do and receive just sounds so right to our human ears.  Our parents, our teachers, our coaches, other authority figures in our lives drilled this into our heads.  You behave in a certain way – good or bad – and you will receive the reward or the punishment.  It is ingrained into our old nature.

But this order is completely flipped on its head in the new covenant of grace.  The first order of business is “to believe”.  “Therefore they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’  Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’ ” (John 6:28-29).  Or said another way, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

So the first move is for us to believe something.  First, we must believe “in the One that God has sent”.  We must believe that Jesus Christ was the substitute for us when He died on a cross in our place.

When we first believe, we immediately go to step two, and I mean immediately!  In step two, “we receive”.  We receive forgiveness for our sins, we receive the gift of eternal life, we receive a new identity that comes with all kinds of new; a new nature, a new Spirit, a new heart, a new purity, a new self, a new disposition, a new life, and a new power over sin.  That is a lot of receiving.  And it has nothing to do with our behavior, nothing to do with our “do”.  Any change in behavior has not even happened yet.  It is all a free gift of grace.

Now after we “believe” and “receive”, then and only then does the “do” come into play.  This is the new covenant.  We “believe, receive, and do” in that order.  We live inside out.  We live out of the righteousness that Christ has put in us.  We live out of the new self, “a self created in the likeness of God, a self created in righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

Here is the explanation that permeates the New Testament letters, “This is what Christ has done for you and to you.  He has saved you and He has made you into a new creation with His divine nature inside you.  You now have a power to “do” that was not available to the Old Testament followers of God.”

Our “believe” is not just the one time belief for salvation.  The Christian walk is also informed by “believe”.  That is why faith is such an integral part of the apostles’ discussion of the Christian life.  Faith is required because I will experience the indwelling Christ living His life through me only if I believe His promises to do so are true.  Believing He will, and does, live in me empowers me to live like Christ.  Our “believe and receive” energizes our “do”.

This distinction is so important to understand.  You are not working, like God’s people of the old covenant, to earn God’s approval, acceptance, and blessing.  You are no longer under the “do and receive”.  You are under a new arrangement.  And it is an arrangement that is so FREEING.  The pressure is off.  The death of Jesus worked, it accomplished the Father’s plan to restore you into a right relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  It is a relationship based purely on God’s gift of grace.

The pressure to live up to something in off.  Rather than “live up”, you are now free to “live out” of the righteousness of Christ placed in you at your new birth.  It’s in there!  Allow it to shine forth as you “believe, receive, and do”.

Prosperity or Presence?

We wrote last time about the success and prosperity promises under the old covenant.  Remember, the old covenant, the old arrangement between God and man was behavior focused and consequence based.  If you do X, God will do Y.  If you obey the law, you will be blessed.  If you fall short, you will be cursed.

The gist of this arrangement is recorded for us in the Old Testament over and over.  “So keep the words of this covenant to do them, that you may prosper in all that you do” (Deuteronomy 29:9).  Or “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night … and in whatever he does he prospers” (Psalm 1:2-3).  And of course our verse from last time, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success” (Joshua 1:8).

Because we like the promise of success and because we like to think that what we do will open up the blessings of heaven, we often bring these concepts into our new covenant thinking.  It is a dangerous, mixed-covenant message.  It looks like this, “Yes, let’s leave the ‘law’ behind.  Let’s focus on Jesus and His commands (new covenant) and we will receive the blessing and prosperity God promised (old covenant).”  What exactly did God promise regarding our life circumstances in the new covenant?

The ultimate promise of Jesus is His presence, not success and prosperity.  First off, Jesus promised to come live inside us.  Talk about presence!  “In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:20).  Just like Christ is in the Father, we are in Christ and Christ is in us.  How much closer can we get?  This is over-the-top presence.

This presence is experienced by us as Christ is literally living His life through us.  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Here is another beautiful promise of Christ’s presence.  “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4).  Again, this is presence at its best, “hidden with Christ in God”.  And it will never end.  “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Here is a verse about prosperity and presence together.  “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).  In the realm of money’s hold on our lives, we are to be content rather than grasping for more.  I don’t see any promise here of, “Be content because more money is coming your way.”  No, the promise is, “Be content because I will never leave you.”  Christ’s presence in your life is assured FOREVER!  And, I might add, Christ’s presence in your life is more valuable than earthly prosperity.

There are many more verses we could add about Christ’s promise of His presence when we go through suffering and the trials we face in this life.  Let us summarize with one more verse, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

This really sums up the idea that the circumstances of this world will be troublesome.  Smooth sailing is never the promise for the child of God.  But in the midst of it all, the incredible presence of Jesus; in us, around us, alongside us, is a promise that will never fail.