“Good people”

I’ve met a lot of “good people” in my life.  Generous people that always seem eager to give.  Kind people that welcome strangers with open arms.  Forgiving people that would have every right to be bitter.  Joyful people that never seem to be grumpy.  People with self-control that keeps them from making choices they regret.  Peaceful people that don’t get into useless arguments or petty bickering. 

Many “good people” do not see their need for Jesus and are fully confident in their own merit to save them from hell, if they even believe there is a hell.  So what about those of us who have turned to Jesus and know that it’s only by his shed blood on the cross that we are saved?  Are we allowing the Spirit of God within us to make us better?  Are we “good people”, too, or do we see the fact that we’re redeemed and forgiven as just a “get out of hell” pass?

When we’re faced with the choice to sin, even a little, do we turn and run?  Or act now – repent later?  Do we join in on gossip? Do we swear? Do we drink just a little too much at Happy Hour? Do we bicker and fight? Swear? Turn our backs on those in need? Hold on tightly to our wallets when the offering plate makes its way past us?

Do we take our salvation and the fact that we’re forgiven for granted? 

In Romans chapters six and seven, Paul does a great job of acknowledging the very real battle between our sinful nature and the Holy Spirit within us.  I encourage you to read it for yourself, but here are some highlights. 

…should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? (6:1 & 2)

We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. (6:6 & 7)

Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. (6:12)

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. (7:15)

I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. (7:19)

I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord… (7:21-25)

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Do you need a savior?

Do you know that you have a date scheduled at the highest court to face the most superior judge? We all do. One day we will each come face-to-face with the Almighty God to hear the verdict on our life. 

Are you prepared? How do you even get prepared? I suppose you could show up with a list of all the “good” you’ve done, but considering the fact that the mark has been set at complete holiness, our “good deeds” won’t cut it.  There is no such thing as “good enough”.

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind. (Isaiah 64:6 NLT)

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. (Romans 3:23 NLT)

So how do we prepare? How will we convince God not to convict us of crimes we’re clearly guilty of and sentence us to eternal death? God’s holiness insists that the penalty for sin be paid – but his mercy offers a way for this debt to be paid by someone else. God offers us a Savior. 

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8 NLT)

Imagine a murderer standing before a judge with evidence clearly convicting him of his crime.  The judge sees the crime photos and the details are abhorrent to him. This man must pay! Then imagine the judge’s own son stepping in front of the guilty man and offering to take the punishment for him. Imagine his son stepping in front of every guilty person that steps into that court room and offering the same thing. That is exactly what Jesus Christ did on the cross. He took every sin committed by every person throughout all time upon himself and died once and for all so that we could live. 

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5 NIV)

Now imagine that you are that man in the court room, clearly guilty and ready to be sentenced. When the judge’s son steps forward, do you say – “No thanks. I’ve got this.”  Do you try to offer some other deal to avoid the final consequence for your deed?  Or do you throw your arms around the son, thankfully accepting his sacrifice?

The Bible is clear … Jesus is the only way. And the only way you can be prepared to face the Father is if the Son is standing with you at your court date. 

There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” (Acts of the Apostles 4:12 NLT)

We should all reflect during this Holy Week on the amazing sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross and what we’ve personally done with it. He lovingly took our punishment and now he sits at the right hand of the Father as our mediator. And whether we accept that amazing gift and turn away from the ways of the world is of eternal significance. 

“He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot. (Job 9:32-35 NIV)

For, There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. (1 Timothy 2:5, 6 NLT)

Act like it!

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it…Colossians 3:1 MSG

If you’re serious…act like it!  That’s a convicting declaration. What does that mean? How do we act like it.  Fortunately the Word of God provides us with plenty of instructions to accomplish this.  Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote a letter to the church at Colossians with instructions on how to live their new life with Christ. (Colossians 3)

“Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.” (v. 2)

There are so many messages bombarding our minds these days. Whether it’s advertisements trying to get us to buy something; commentaries trying to convince us to believe something; media messages filling our mind with various thoughts. How often do we focus on the origin of the things we’re filling our minds with?  How often do we consider if it’s something we’ll be thinking about in heaven.

“…make sure its all gone for good: bad temper,  irritability,  meanness,  profanity,  dirty talk. ” (v. 8)

“Clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy,  kindness,  gentleness, and patience. ” (v. 12)

Most of us encounter other people as we go about our day. Sometimes these encounters can frustrate us and we are faced with one of the best opportunities to be different.  It is in the situations where someone really makes you mad that you have to “bite your tongue”. It can be so easy, and generally socially acceptable, to lash out in a way that is contrary to Christ. Be so careful and pray daily for self control so that your reaction will show mercy and kindness; gentleness and patience.

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.  Remember, the Lord forgave you so you must forgive others.” (v. 13)

Accept others not only for all the things you like about them, but even for the things you you don’t.   Remember, you’re not perfect, either. And when you feel you’ve been wronged,  you must forgive.  Sometimes to do this goes beyond our human capacity, but the Holy Spirit will give you the ability to forgive. For whatever God commands us to do, he will equip us to do. (Hebrews 13:21)

“And cultivate thankfulness. ” (v. 15)

I like how the Message translation uses the word “cultivate”.  This clearly indicates the regular, ongoing attitude of thankfulness we must be devoted to.  It’s not just a moment where we are thankful because of one particular thing, it’s a way of life. No matter what may be happening in our earthly life, we must remember to be thankful because the God of the universe loves us; is actively involved in every detail of our life; and through Jesus, has made a way for us to know we will spend eternity in His presence. The final outcome is guaranteed. (Romans 8:28)

“And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus…” (v. 17)

“Whatever you do or say.”  That covers everything. This requires some careful reflection before we open our mouth or reach out our hand. (And of course regular prayer for divine assistance.)  I once heard a neat way to think about how we are Christ’s representatives here on earth. We are “Jesus with skin on”. In so many instances we might be the first and maybe the only example of Jesus’ love,  grace and mercy that the people we meet will get. How are we doing? Would Jesus be pleased to say we represent him?

Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.  (Colossians 3:10 NLT)

Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?

Isaiah 53 has always been one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. It so clearly describes the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross and the purpose for it.

When God came to earth he didn’t come as a great and powerful conquerer (as some were hoping for). He came as a simple baby and lived life as a simple man right alongside all of the “regular” people. Yet every person he met was changed to the core. People who saw him face-to-face made the decision to spend their life either following him or denying him. No one that encountered him remained ambivalent.

And in the end, they all watched him carry his cross to Calvary, be beaten and die as a common criminal even though he did no wrong.

Sadly some of them then, and still many to this day, missed the point. They fail to see that it was so they could live that he died. That ultimately his victory was not about defeating one specific empire but about defeating death and sin for all time. That eventually what they did with Jesus would determine which side of eternity they would come out on.

Ultimately it comes down to this. Follow Jesus, experience eternity with God. Deny Jesus, experience eternity in hell, separated from God. It really is a life or death choice and there’s no middle ground. If any other way was sufficient, then why would Jesus have had to die?

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. (Romans 3:23 NLT)

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 NLT)

If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. (Romans 10:9, 10 NLT)

Isaiah 53 (The Message paraphrase) Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this? The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum. But the fact is, it was our pains he carried— our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him— our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed. We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him, on him. He was beaten, he was tortured, but he didn’t say a word. Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered and like a sheep being sheared, he took it all in silence. Justice miscarried, and he was led off— and did anyone really know what was happening? He died without a thought for his own welfare, beaten bloody for the sins of my people. They buried him with the wicked, threw him in a grave with a rich man, Even though he’d never hurt a soul or said one word that wasn’t true. Still, it’s what God had in mind all along, to crush him with pain. The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life. And God ’s plan will deeply prosper through him. Out of that terrible travail of soul, he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it. Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant, will make many “righteous ones,” as he himself carries the burden of their sins. Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly— the best of everything, the highest honors— Because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch, because he embraced the company of the lowest. He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many, he took up the cause of all the black sheep. (Isaiah 53:1-12 MSG)