We are imperfect people trying to get to Heaven, and we make mistakes. Throughout scripture is a distinction between people who live to sin and people who struggle with sin, but live for God.
I John 5.16, 17 and Romans 7.5-8.17 are perhaps the most encouraging passages for a Christian who struggles with sin. These passages demonstrate God’s willingness and great desire to keep us pure, even when we struggle with sin.
Paul teaches us that sin is something we struggle with and should hate (Rom. 7.15-20). We don’t want to sin, but we do. We love God’s law, we recognize that it’s good, and we want to live up to it, but we often don’t (7.22, 23). Paul even goes so far as to say, “I don’t understand my actions. I don’t do what I want, but I do what I hate” (Rom. 7.15). It causes him great distress, and he expresses a desire that all creation shares: release from sin’s power and life with God without the possibility of sin’s influence (7.24; 8.22-24). He says twice that sins we struggle against are not held to our account (7.17 and 7.20).
I John 5.16, 17 shows that a Christian who struggles with sin is still pure in God’s eyes. The key idea is struggle. We can’t fool God – He looks at our hearts to determine whether we hate the sin in our lives or welcome it with open arms (Rom. 7.27). If sin is something we hate, grace keeps us pure despite our weakness (I John 1.9, 10; 3.19-24; 4.13-19; 5.18-20; Romans 7.25)!
This is so encouraging because it shows that God does everything within His power to keep us pure. We are lost when we reject Him to pursue a sinful lifestyle, certainly. But if we hate our sin and fight our sin, He keeps us faithful!
Heaven is attainable, God is good.
Over 50 members came to pray Tuesday night for our soul-winning plans, including our “Fill The Void” seminar (photo credit: Randy Simpson)
Peace on earth? Is that even possible? I mean boy look at this place.
Could it be that peace and joy mean something else entirely?
It’s true that for the faithful Christian peace and joy await us, but there are some who believe we can only experience these blessings in heaven.
We may feel that we are allowed only moments of Joy.
History shows us only times of peace, but never peace everywhere.
Can we have peace and joy for our life here on earth?
Let’s look at how this is most definitely possible. Perhaps it’ll make the holiday season that much more enjoyable and hopefully every day after.
Peace is not the lack of war— we know we’re in a spiritual battle (2 Cor. 10:3-5)
We can have peace knowing that Jesus already won the ultimate war of death and gave us the victory.
Peace comes from confidence in your salvation (Romans 8:31-38)
God is on our side. He’s bigger than any problem we will ever face— peace comes from knowing what many assume to be the unknown.
What is joy?
It’s not happiness
Like peace, it relies on an understanding of faith and and the appreciation of victory.
It’s also a conscious awareness that God is active in our lives. James 1:2 says, “Count it all joy!” That doesn’t mean when trials tumble in you embrace them with a smile, but it’s an awareness that God is working in the world and that He has everything under control.
What’s there to be joyous about?
If you’re a faithful Child of God— there’s everything to be joyous about. Your life is one of abundant joy, but you may just need to choose it.
Decide how you will view future trials ahead of time. Now is a great time at the beginning of a new year.
These are God’s gifts to you that keep on giving— all year long.
Peace to you and may this new year be the one we all decide to be joyful about the certainty we share in a world full of uncertainty.
On Paul’s third missionary journey he would write to a congregation in Rome. Today this letter is viewed as sone of the most theologically deep books in our New Testament. Some think that there are portions of Scripture that are best left alone, or that only a preacher or Bible teacher can decipher the “code.” When we do some digging into the original audience that Paul was writing to, we see something interesting. He was delivering these deep theological concepts to a church that seemed to be largely lacking in spiritual knowledge. In fact, some of the members of this 1st-century church believed that God was glorified through their sins! Clearly they had some growing to do. Paul didn’t say they needed to stick with simple Christian concepts or the basics; he still tries to teach them the difficult and more complicated aspects of Christianity.
This is a call for us to challenge ourselves in our daily studies. The Bible was meant to be understood, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t take some effort on our part. The book of Romans is a rewarding book to study. In fact, it’s difficult to find another book that can give the Christian more joy and confidence in their salvation. In Romans 8:1, Paul writes, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” At first glance this may just be a verse that many skim past because of how familiar we are with it. When we study the application of such a simple verse, in context, the benefits are incredible.
There’s no need to agonize over our relationship with Christ, if we’re in Christ. Paul simplifies our salvation by telling us that if we have obeyed the gospel and we’re striving to follow Jesus, we don’t have to live in fear of our standing before God. In fact, this phrase, “in Christ,” appears 172 times in the New Testament, but it’s a phrase that is largely misunderstood. Some Christians believe that through the course of their week they bounce from “saved” to “lost” on a daily basis. The idea of being “in” Christ is really describing a spiritual union— much like marriage! You don’t wake up everyday and ask your spouse, “Are we still married?” and then worry throughout the day that despite your spouse’s confirmation, you’re just not convinced that you’re really married to them. If we haven’t done anything to separate that union with Christ, we can live confidently knowing we are saved.
What a wonderful feeling. The book of Romans is one that helps us to let of any pointless baggage and live a life of peace and joy.
This week we will do a brief study of I Peter 3.17-22.
In verse 17, the emphasis in the original text is “doing good.” If it is God’s desire (this is emphasized) that we suffer, it is better (stronger, more prominent, more advantageous) that we suffer for doing good works than evil works. How much more powerful a message do we send when we come under fire for doing something that benefits others? If we suffer for doing something bad, we’re just another criminal. But to suffer in the act of doing something good – in context – is a far more powerful evangelistic tool.
In the following verses, Peter gives a powerful example of Christ’s focus on getting rid of sin. He put everything into saving mankind – including giving His own life – so that we could all have the opportunity to come to God. Even before the destruction of the world through the flood He made sure everything had the opportunity to hear about their spiritual state. Whether this was done through Noah and his sons or whether He had a more direct hand in this is immaterial. The point of the text is that the message got out to those who are “now in prison.” His goal was to bring others to God, even when it caused Him suffering.
Only those who did listen and obey – eight people – were rescued from evil by the waters of the flood. Notice that the Spirit does not record Noah’s ark as being what saved them! They were saved in the important sense by the destruction of evil. Our focus is not earthly.
Just as water saved Noah and his family from evil, water saves us from spiritual death. Being immersed in water is how we make a formal appeal to God for a clear conscience! Some translations render this, “A promise to God from a good conscience,” as if baptism is some kind of outward sign of an inward faith. This is not reflected in Greek; it is a conscience cleared by an appeal to God, because of the resurrection of Jesus. He has all power, so He can clear our record when we submit to Him.
Having all of this as a background, we have some motivation to keep our actions pure, suffer for doing good things, and understand that God’s power is what saves us. Peter gives many other phenomenal motivators for living a pure life, which we will look at in detail in the coming weeks.
God had promised the land of Canaan as early as Abraham (Gen. 15:18ff). The first city of Israel’s conquest was Jericho (Josh. 6:1). The word about and reputation of God’s people preceded them, so Jericho “was tightly shut because of” them. Despite this, the LORD told Joshua that “the wall of the city will fall down flat” (Josh. 6:5). Israel followed God’s unorthodox battle plan and “the wall fell down flat” and “they took the city” (6:20). Though they’d suffer a setback because of one man’s disobedience, this was the dramatic start of what would be the accomplishment of the land promise made to Israel.
God also promised Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:18). This was fulfilled through Christ (Gal. 3:28). One of the ways Jesus proved that He was the Christ was “with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him” in their midst (Acts 2:22). He started His ministry in Galilee (Mat. 4:17) and ended it in Jerusalem (Mat. 16:21), but near the end He had His own Jericho triumphs. He had not one, but two that are recorded by the gospel writers. One involved Him performing one of His many miracles, gaining a victory over sickness, but the other was a triumph of a different kind gaining a victory over Satan.
Luke indicates Jesus was approaching Jericho when He encounters a blind beggar (Luke 18:35). Matthew and Mark also seem to record the same miracle, identifying this man as Bartimaeus, and showing perhaps “that the Saviour went in and out at the same gate of the city, and that the miracle falls into two parts” (Lange 282). But Jesus’ knocks down the wall between the haves and have nots, the socially acceptable and the socially unacceptable, when He has mercy on him and gives him his sight (Luke 18:37-43). Immediately after Bartimaeus, Jesus enters Jericho and passes through (19:1). Now, he knocks down the wall between the righteous and the sinner (19:7). He went to be a guest in the house of Zaccheus, who wanted to see Jesus so badly that he climbed a tree. The end result of this encounter is “salvation” (19:9).
Isn’t it interesting that the Hebrew name for Jesus is “Joshua”? Isn’t it also interesting that Jesus performs these miracles in proximity to the walls of Jericho? The walls that Jesus knocks down are important to us today. They tell us that the gospel is for the poor, the hurting, the needy, the seedy, the rejects, and the sinner. Wasn’t God preparing us for this when Joshua spares a harlot and her family in the destruction of Jericho (Josh. 6:22-23)?
Jesus was certainly about knocking down the walls we can be quick to build. Who does Jesus want us to be taking the gospel to today? Certainly, He’s not against those who are financially blessed (Zaccheus was). He’s not against those who are socially well-connected (many Christian converts in Acts and the epistles were). But, here is where Jesus is revolutionary. As Paul puts it, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not” (1 Cor. 1:27-28). He chose “the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom” (Jas. 2:5).
What should His church look like today? The gospel transforms lives and lifts people morally and spiritually higher. But, He’s interested in the Rahabs, Bartimaeuses, and Zeccheuses of our day! Jesus wants to break down barrier walls (Eph. 2:14). He wants you and me using the gospel to do the job for Him today!
Have you ever experienced a moment of meekness? I did recently. I was driving “over the mountain” to go to a doctor’s appointment in Gainesville, Georgia. As I was making my way around the curves of US 19/129, I came upon a truck pulling a camper. He was the engine of a “train” consisting of about four cars. I was the “caboose.” Fortunately, I was in no rush. So, despite the driver’s lack of courtesy, making the traffic back up behind him without utilizing the slow vehicle pull-offs, I just enjoyed the tunes on my radio and tried to let the transmission do more braking than my brakes.
As I sang along to a 1990s song, the truck pulling the camper drove through dense leaf debris. An enchanting scene suddenly unfolded. The sun shone through the trees, illuminating the fall colors. The bright blue sky was visible above. The rocky walls along the shoulder of the road glistened with water. And drifting leaves filled the air. The entire spectacle was likely only nanoseconds in length but magically seemed longer. That is an example of a moment of meekness.
Have you ever wondered how the meek “inherit the earth” (Matthew 5.5)? Moments of meekness as the one described above punctuate the days of the meek. Such moments arise because of what it means to be meek. Meekness is not weakness. As used Biblically, meekness denotes gentleness and humility. Meekness was an adjective used to describe Moses (Numbers 12.3) and Jesus (Matthew 11.29). Neither men were weak. Moses died at 120, still full of vigor (Deuteronomy 34.7). Jesus made a “scourge of cords” (NASB) to drive out the temple’s money changers (John 2.15). Yet, Moses and Jesus were humble servants of God. They embodied the “still lifestyle” that knows the “I Am” is God (Psalm 46.10). Thus, as Burton Coffman notes in Matthew 5.5:
“This is not a mere prophecy that the Christians shall be the landed gentry, but it is a statement that their relationship to the earth and its possessions shall be such as to bring them the greatest possible benefit and enjoyment of it.” 1
There is nothing special about me. I am quite ordinary, except for having endured many physical hardships. Yet, I refused to become perturbed by life’s circumstances on that day, and that allowed the joy of my salvation bubble to the surface. I recognized my insignificance and God’s greatness. God created this beautiful world, and He showed me something fantastic in an instant. I could have easily been too distracted to notice. How sad!
This moment of meekness makes me wonder how often I have squandered my inheritance. How oft have I refused to be still enough to see something special shown by God? Did I miss a moment of meekness when I worried about making it to an appointment on time? Did a miss a meek moment while distracted by my smartphone? Such moments of meekness may be a regular occurrence, and it is just that I have overlooked them.
Let us strive to be still to see the moments of meekness God sends our way.
While many today have no idea who Jesse Roper Mohorovic is, he was a celebrity from the moment of his birth on March 30, 1942, off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The United States had entered World War II only a few months before, and German U-Boats “prowled the Atlantic sea lanes, and the waters off the Virginia-Carolina coast were ‘the most dangerous on earth'” (C. Brian Kelly, Military History, 9/05, 74). In fact, the Germans killed twice as many seamen in their U-boat campaign off the east coast than died at Pearl Harbor.
Jesse’s mother, Desanka, was 8 1/2 months pregnant, traveling on a passenger freighter that was torpedoed. She faced peril after peril, from getting out of her cabin to the harrowing escape in a lifeboat to an overnight storm. In the middle of all of it, the freighter sunk and her doctor injured in their dramatic escape, she gave birth in Lifeboat #4 to a baby boy at 2:30 A.M. Two days later, they were rescued by the Navy destroyer Jesse Roper.
The media covered many of the early milestones of his life, and even documented his interests and favorite baseball team. He later appeared on the TV shows To Tell The Truth and I’ve Got A Secret. He earned a law degree, served in the Navy, and had a career in marketing. He died of lung cancer about two years after his 2003 retirement (via JOC.com).
It is no wonder that “The Lifeboat Baby” would become such a sensation, especially given the real drama behind his birth. Perhaps he would have been part of anonymous tragedy if he and his mother had been among the 5000 who perished, but his birth and life became a symbol of hope and victory. Indeed, “Newspapers heralded Jesse as living proof the Allies could not be defeated” (Kelly).
We live in increasingly grim times. Our current battle is spiritual in nature, as sin and immorality seem to have the upper hand. Souls are perishing in infinitely greater numbers (cf. Mat. 7:13-14). While we cannot save them all, we need to be in search of those we can reach with the gospel. We must muster greater courage to share the good news and help those searching reach safety. They need to know there is hope and victory possible, and that Christ will ultimately win (1 John 5:4-5; 1 Cor. 15:24-25).These babes in Christ are unlikely to capture the attention of the media, but each of them have the rapt attention of heaven. God is counting on you and me helping to deliver them, regardless of how stormy things may be. Each individual matters to God. How wonderful that we might partner with God and His Word, and help a soul be one whose name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 21:27)!
It has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, going to northern Montana to see Glacier National Park. Though I lived only a long day’s drive from it for 13 years, it took moving across the country before we made the trip. Sometimes, the event cannot live up to the hype, but that was not the case with this experience. The beauty is as diverse as it is breathtaking. While there is so much to see, some of the most memorable sights are to be found along a route in the park known as the Going-To-The-Sun Road.
It has to be 50 of the most beautiful miles on the planet, with diverse wonders. You’ll see mountain streams cutting through the landscape.
There are breathtaking views of the northern Rocky Mountains throughout the length of this iconic road.
And, of course, there are the lakes that dot this God-kissed path.
There may be some impressive, enjoyable creations of man, but no one can outdo the Master Creator for displays of beauty. I’m glad I took some pictures, but there is no way I could ever forget what I saw.
I could not help thinking about how such an experience reinforces my faith in the existence of God or how it shows me what kind of God He is. How could anyone see what is on display in places like that park, then come away denying Him or concluding that mere random chance produced it?
But, given the name of this road, I also could not help but think about an analogy Jesus used when He walked the earth. He referred to the path of discipleship, following Him, as the narrow way (Mat. 7:14). It is a one-lane road, a singular path (“the way,” John 14:6). It can be an uphill climb (Acts 14:22; 1 Pet. 2:21). But, not only is there much beauty to be found along the journey (John 10:10), the payoff is without rival (Mat. 10:22; Rev. 21:1ff).
The Going-to-the-Sun Road is open only for a season and, though park officials can estimate when it will close each year (mid-to-late October), this cannot be precisely predicted. The road that leads to the Son is likewise open only for a season (Heb. 9:27), but no one knows when that road will forever be closed (Mat. 24:36; 25:10).
It breaks my heart to realize that most people are not on the “Going-to-the Son” road. They have charted a path that may bring them pleasure for a season (Heb. 11:25), but it will end in their eternal destruction (Mat. 25:46). Jesus has His disciples here to show others the way to Him (Mat. 28:19). He is preparing a place far superior to this world (John 14:2-3), a place we should be looking for (2 Pet. 3:13) and longing for (Heb. 11:16).
For all its tears and sorrows, the road of life is full of so much beauty, too. There is never a regret in taking the path of the Savior. But, there are lost and weary travelers who need our help to find it, too. May we find someone today to introduce to the “Going-to-the-Son Road.”
There is one teaching of Buddhism that I have looked upon favorably, that our problems stem from earthly attachment and desire. I cannot argue with principles I also find recorded in the pages of the Bible, after all. Yet, despite the growing popularity of Buddhism in the West, I find Buddhism wholly deficient in addressing the spiritual needs I have. In a nutshell, Buddhism lacks two essential things I believe are needed to save.
First, it does not embrace the only name given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4.12). I recognize this is not an insurmountable obstacle for a nonbeliever. The nonbeliever secularizes the Christ and strips Him of His Divinity. Or he or she might declare Jesus of Nazareth to be a mere fabrication of men. Interestingly enough, though, since I am considering Buddhism, there are those co-opting Jesus as One influenced by the teachings of the Buddha. The theory is that Jesus was in India, learning Buddhism somewhere between the ages of 12 and 30. (That would be a fantastic departure for One Who proved His knowledge of Scripture on par with rabbis many years His senior at the age of 12, wouldn’t it? –Luke 2.46-47. This supposed abandonment of Moses’ Law also ignores His stated purpose of being the living embodiment of the same –Matthew 5.17.)
Second, it foolishly looks within oneself to find salvation. Buddha claimed to be an ordinary man. Thus, Buddha implied anyone could achieve “enlightenment” as he had done. Buddha said that you find salvation looking within yourself. Perhaps it sounds like an oversimplification of a system of faith, but that is a distinct difference. Within Buddhism, one does not need even the existence of gods, let alone the True and Living God, since he or she attains enlightenment all alone. Meanwhile, the great monotheistic religions acknowledge that man is incapable of saving himself. Those traditions maintain that despite being created innocent and pure, we utilized our free moral agency to serve the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life (1 John 2.15-17).
Which of these ideas are more consistent with observation? Outside of the innocence of youth, do people tend to be motivated by selfishness or altruism? There has been a long-standing debate as to whether humans are born inherently good or bad. Few are those attributing good as the default position of the mature heart. Indeed, a child left to his or her own devices, without proper guidance, will become subject to the corrupting influence of those three avenues to sin previously identified above. Thus, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all encourage parents to guide children properly regarding morality, to mold them into the servants of principle.
In contrast, the Holy Bible teaches that there are ways seeming right to us, leading to our destruction (Proverbs 16.25). Jeremiah, the prophet, confesses to God that man cannot even order his steps (Jeremiah 10.23). These two truths ensure as Jesus taught that the vast majority of people are traveling the broad, highway to hell (Matthew 7.13-14).
To allow for such blind groping in the dark, Buddhism has to allow for a continuous system of rebirth. In other words, few, if any, are they who manage to attain enlightenment on their first try through life. He or she will more likely fail only to be reborn and try again and again. And that is the greatest tragedy of the belief that you can look within yourself to find salvation. You get stuck on this Ferris wheel of rebirth. Paul tells the Athenians that even those who are groping can easily discover God since He is not far from us (Acts 17.22-30).
Though I do not wish to be unfair to those embracing the Buddhist belief system, I have to wonder if the attraction of the Western mind to Buddha’s religion has more to do with the mindset implanted by the liberty afforded to citizens of Western democracies. In other words, do Westerners instead prefer the idea of independence from God, telling him or her what to do to be righteous? I am inclined to believe the latter.
I can speak to my own heart. I know its evil. So, I find myself caught up in that same war with my members, as experienced by the apostle Paul (Romans 7.14ff). Like Paul, I ask who can save me from this body of death (Romans 7.24). And like Paul, I find my Savior to be Jesus Christ (Romans 7.25;8.1-2). For that reason, when presented with the choice, I believe in the Son of Man rather than Siddhartha Gautama. My righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64.6). A wretch like me can only be saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2.8-10).
Romans 5.5 is a verse that I know I’ve read many times, but never paid attention to.
It says, “and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
This whole section of Scripture is awesome, but this verse really caught my attention. How is the love of God poured into our hearts? How do we experience this? Is it a feeling or understanding? Are we given a sense of calm knowing we are saved?
Context reveals that Jesus showed this love by dying for those who hated Him. God’s love is experienced through Jesus’ death (Romans 5.6, 8). So in that sense, we are able to access God through the sacrifice Jesus made with the Spirit who was given to us.
However, it does seem that the love mentioned in verse five is something a little different.
Firstly, it isn’t the only thing we have with God. We also have peace with God and grace (Romans 5.1, 2). The context of this chapter and much of the next is about the benefits of salvation.
Secondly, the love of God seems to be pretty directly applied. The word “poured” in 5.5 is ἐκχέω (encheo), which means, “to cause to fully experience” (BDAG 312). It’s also a perfect passive verb, which means it was poured in the past and continues to be poured; God was the one doing the pouring.
The destination of this love is our (that is, those who are saved) hearts. When we have been justified, and when we take pride in our trials because they develop endurance, proven character, and hope, God pours love into our hearts.
Because of the multitude of “for”s and “therefore”s following this verse, I lean more towards the idea that this love is something we experience as a result of gaining rational confidence of our salvation through Christ.
My goal in writing this article is not necessarily to explain Romans 5.5 – I do not pretend to know the answer – but to hopefully provoke thought and demonstrate the depth of scripture. I love these difficult passages, and hope that you will study them as well.