Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
You can also look at it this way:
“The God and Father of our lord Jesus Christ is blessed. Thanks to His incredible mercy, we are born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ out of death. Because of this, we have an immortal inheritance that has no flaw and cannot wear out. This is guarded in heaven for you who are also guarded by God through faith. This salvation will be revealed to you at the end” (I Pet. 1.3ff).
While feeding the cats this morning, two males got into a kerfuffle. I stuck my foot between the two moggie pugilists and gently but firmly sent them to their mutual corners. One of the participants, the victim, decided to make himself scarce for a time. Meanwhile, the instigator continued chowing down. Enter my father. My siblings can attest that my dad can cut quite the intimidating figure. It seems apparent that even cats can appreciate this. Dad sternly stated the aggressor’s name and walked towards him. The feline perpetrator may be the alpha among the cats, but he slinked away from my father. The guilty glances he returned to my father said, “Yes, I did something I should not have done.” Even so, the guilty cat lacks the intellect to grow from having been caught in his transgression.
Despite being human, there may be many persons able to identify with our mischievous cat. They may feel guilty when confronted with their sin, but they will not allow that discomfort to prompt restoration. Eventually, they will sufficiently recover to resume their everyday life. Hence, wrongdoers may view guilt as a wholly negative emotion, a pesky nuisance. Sadly, they might find validation from a few pop psychologists. I recall one Christian telling me that her therapist assured her that she would feel better if she would discard her pesky religious convictions. Despite what such pop psychologists have said in the past, this guilt can be a positive. The apostle Paul addresses this subject in his second epistle to the Corinthians.
“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7.10 NASB1995)
So, if you will permit me to anthropomorphize my cats further, my cat experienced worldly sorrow. This lack of godly sorrow means that the next time a similar situation confronts this male cat, he will fall back into the same behavior that earned his initial rebuke.
Fortunately, God gave humans the propensity to experience sorrow according to His will. This sorrow can lead to repentance (2 Corinthians 7.8-9). No one enjoys being like Nathan, pointing the accusatory finger at a friend (cf. 2 Samuel 12.1-15), not even Paul. Paul said that he initially regretted his role (2 Corinthians 7.8). However, such finger-pointers realize, like Paul, that inflicting momentary guilt leads to a restoration of another’s relationship with God. The only prerequisite for imposing godly sorrow upon another is to ensure your eye is free of beams while spotting specks in your brother’s eye (Matthew 7.3-5).
We feel guilt for a reason. Guilt helps us understand that our actions have strained our relationship with God and others. As such, guilt causes us to preserve our connective bonds. When acknowledging we have wronged someone, we make amends to them. We will not allow the rift to continue or grow. Research also suggests that you may be more trustworthy if you are more prone to feel guilt (Emamzadeh). Such guilt-prone people are more reliable because they want to avoid the guilt that comes from strained relationships entirely. Therefore, they will avoid situations imperiling a relationship. Just as a quick aside, we should not confuse shame with guilt either. Shame causes a person to see themselves as a failure rather than seeing a mistake that they can rectify with another. We all sin and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3.23). So, we all have flaws. However, we can make sure that we do not purposely do anything disrupting our relationship with God and others. To that end, guilt can be a positive thing that though uncomfortable, leads to our refining in the fire.
Emamzadeh, Arash. “New Research Determines Who You Can Trust the Most.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 20 Sept. 2018, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-new-home/201809/new-research-determines-who-you-can-trust-the-most.
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.
In 1976, I was in first grade attending school in Barrackville, West Virginia, where my dad preached. One of my buddies was a black-haired kid named Carl. He got me in more trouble, wetting paper towels and throwing them on the bathroom ceiling in our school, exploring a filthy, condemned house across the street from the church building, and probably other acts of mischief I have chosen to repress. The worst Carl incident is probably still recalled in janitorial circles throughout the greater Fairmont area. Apparently, the school was replacing a lot of windows. There were sheets and sheets of panes of glass propped up against the school building. Carl, who looked a lot like Alfalfa from the Little Rascals, said he thought he could throw a pane of glass further than I could. The very suggestion made alarms go off in my head. This was wrong, dangerous, and I’m sure I threw in illegal. How I went from those thoughts to a sheet of glass- throwing-contest I honestly don’t remember. But I did and we did several times until an aforementioned janitor yelled at us to stop and stand still. I didn’t move but surprisingly Carl took off in a sprint. By the time the janitor made his way to my asphalt courtroom, I was feeling serious buyer’s remorse. I was arraigned and was told to report to the judge, better known as the principal, first thing in the morning. I remember two things about that next day. One was that this is the only incident of my childhood that merited two spankings from my parents. The other was how gentle and kind the principal was. I later found out that the principal had told mom and dad that they would not make us pay for the broken glass. I had no defense. Carl had hung me out to dry, but I forged my dastardly destiny the moment I cast my lots with that little rascal. I was at the mercy of one who could have made my life much harder, but he simply urged me to reform–the very thing I was eager to do. That was the last memory I have of Carl.
Have you ever been caught dead to rights–no excuse or mitigating circumstances (just plain guilty)? In John 8:1-11, there is a powerful lesson on forgiveness centering around a woman caught in adultery. We can look at this text from a variety of perspectives, but this very guilty woman was literally in the center of them all and at the heart of the text. Who was this woman to everyone present?
This woman was viewed from every conceivable angle, from curious spectacle to sexual object, from contempt to compassion. The view that mattered most, Jesus’ vantage point, saw her not only for what she was but for what she could be. The example of her story helps us to appreciate that not only is sin bad, but it can be remedied. Jesus would say to every obedient one today what He told her. “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
When we forgive someone we usually do not forget what we forgave. Unless there is an underlying condition, our minds do not automatically or immediately delete irrelevant information, like something we no longer hold against another person. Because of this, it can be hard to understand what God’s forgiveness means for the Christian. We’ll think, “I know He has forgiven me, but there’s no way He’s forgotten about it. Maybe it will ‘cloud’ His decision to forgive me next time I ask.”
This is a very common mindset, and one that I struggle with daily. When we look at scripture, though, it paints a very different picture of what God’s forgiveness really does!
Forgiveness is the word ἀφίημι (afiemi). It has several definitions, according to Bauer:
1. To dismiss or release someone from a place or presence.
2. To release from a moral obligation or consequence, to cancel, remit, or pardon.
3. To move away with implication of causing a separation, to leave or depart from.
Knowing this, we should look at Hebrews 8.12, “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will not remember their sins anymore.” We understand that context is geared toward contrasting the old and new covenant, but it at least gives us insight into the process behind forgiveness.
When we get forgiveness from God, that sin is eradicated. It no longer exists, it will not affect our relationship with God anymore. “Remember” in Hebrews eight is, “To call information to memory.” It’s not only that God no longer holds a sin against us, it’s that it ceases to exist in His mind. How awesome is that?
When we ask God for forgiveness, let’s approach His throne with humility, yes, but also with confidence that He has the power and desire to make that sin disappear from our account forever.