Working Hard

Writing is a funny thing. Some days I sit down at the keyboard and in minutes have a thousand words down and a blog post ready to go. Some days not. Today was one of the latter days.

I’ve stared at a blank screen for some time, and done a few miles of pacing up and down the room. It might be because i’ve been working on other projects and my creative juices need replenishing, but who knows.

It got me thinking about the various gifts and talents those in the church have been given by God. Whether spiritual in nature, musical or administrative, God has liberally given us all gifts to use for His glory in supporting the Body of Christ.

Yet just because one has a gift in a certain area, does not mean its use comes easily to them. I hope I have some small gift of writing and teaching, and yet today neither has come easily. I’ve had to work hard at it to get the words out.

Having a gift in any area does not negate the need for hard work and practise.

I am reminded by this verse penned by the Apostle Paul:

So then, my beloved, even as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

Philippians 2:12 (WEB)

Paul is not telling his readers that they must work to achieve their salvation. Far from it. Paul went to great lengths to preach the Gospel of grace meaning that salvation is a gift from God and achieved by Christ’s work at the cross. We cannot earn salvation any more than the Old Testament believers could fulfil all aspects of the law. We all need a Saviour to be our substitute.

Paul is saying that we ought to work out our salvation, that is, live it out in our everyday lives. We have it already, it belongs to us because of Jesus, so now let’s live like a saved people.

From the moment we accept Jesus as our Saviour, we begin a journey. On the one hand, we are sanctified at that very moment, but on another, we must work towards sanctification through surrendering ourselves to God and His ways.

Similarly, Paul tells Timothy:

But refuse profane and old wives’ fables. Exercise yourself toward godliness.

1 Timothy 4:7 (WEB)

Another translation renders this verse as “train yourselves to be godly.” While we fully possess salvation, we must also train ourselves for godliness. It takes work to do this.

God makes us righteous in our spirits, exchanging our unrighteousness for Christ’s righteousness. That position will never change. But we are more than just our spirits, and our mind, will and emotions all need to be trained in line with God’s Word.

Romans 12:1-2 tells us to renew our minds that we might be transformed into Christ’s likeness. This is a process which takes time.

Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. 2 Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Romans 12:1-2 (WEB)

In the same way, we are given spiritual or natural gifts by God the Father who made us. These gifts must be trained and practised in order to grow strong and effective.

My teaching gift has been apparent for some time, and yet I still have much to learn to use it effectively. I must study to grow in the knowledge of God’s Word, and I must practise both writing and speaking, learning what works and what does not. There is no shortcut to doing this.

Perhaps you are a natural singer. Even so, you will still need to practise the songs you sing, harmonies and melodies, and different ways you can use that voice.

Perhaps your gifts are in church administration. Again, you too will need to practise those skills to deploy with great effect. You might need to learn how to use a new accounting system or piece of software, you might need to learn different organisational skills or you may simply need to give time to tidying, clearing and sorting.

Do not neglect your gift. It is a precious thing, and it needs to be nurtured to grow strong. How can you develop it for the Lord today?

The Sinfulness of my Sin

I acknowledged my sin to thee, and my iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions to the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.

Psalm 32:5 (WEB)

The sinfulness of my sin… captivating title right? And I know what you are thinking – two blog posts in two days? What’s gotten into Andy?!

I’m pleased to report that all is well, and I’m not self-isolating with nothing to do. In fact, I am very conscious of how everyone is feeling right now, and hoping that a few extra blog posts will be well received.

A few weeks ago I spoke on Psalm 32. You can listen to that message here. It is a wonderful Psalm and I only had a short time to discuss it. This post covers one of the things I did not have time to explore.

The totality of the Psalm is about sin and repentance. It points out the depth of our wrongdoing, the wonder outs grace of God and our responsibility to confess and acknowledge our sin.

There is an interesting little phrase in verse 5 which says God forgives the “iniquity of our sin.” We might say the “sinfulness of our sin.”

Some translations of the Bible render this as the “guilt of our sin,” but this doesn’t quite cover it in my view.

If God forgives our sin, then what does it mean for Him to forgive the iniquity of our sin?

It is like saying the “saltiness of salt,” or the “chocolatey-ness of chocolate…” What is the psalmist getting at here?

Often when we say “Sorry,” we are not really sorry for what we did, but rather are sorry we got caught. When we see hardened criminals breaking down in tears in the dock of the courtroom, it is often about the loss of their freedom, money or reputation. Being sorry for the consequences of sin is of course very natural, and a great reason not to do it in the first place. But are we sorry for the sin itself? If we never got caught, are we truly repentant for the thing we did?

The sinfulness of our sin is the badness of our sin. It is to recognise that sin is wrong, not because it has terrible consequences, but because it is wrong in the sight of God.

When we are truly repentant, we are sorry to God for falling short of His perfection. We are saying that the thing we did – the things we all do – are very wrong irrespective of consequence and punishment.

God forgives us not just from the punishment of sin through Jesus’ death at the cross, but for sin’s sinfulness also. God forgives us for the wickedness of our sin, and all of its consequences. That is not to say that we are free from any consequence on Earth of course, just rob a bank to see what I mean. God can forgive a robber, but they’ll still go to jail for it.

The point is that we need to recognise that our sin is wrong. It is wrong in and of itself. The consequences are indeed terrible, if facing them without Christ, but the sinfulness alone is wicked before God.

As you reflect on and confess your own sins, ask yourself if you are sorry for what they are, or for their consequence.

Spend some time this week to reflect on where you have fallen short, and on the One who forgives all of your sins and covers all of your iniquity. Come to Jesus at the cross and surrender your whole life to Him. It will be the best decision you ever made!

Hears and Delivers

The righteous cry, and Yahweh hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.

Psalm 34:17 (WEB)

 

If you are like me, when you read this verse you ask yourself “Am I righteous?” Or rather, “Am I righteous enough?” You may even start to question whether God hears your prayers, thinking you don’t qualify for the help He promises in this verse.

Righteousness however, is not about our performance nor is it something we earn.

Righteousness simply means to be in “right standing with God.” That is, to be in a good place with Him or to have a good relationship with Him. This is not something we can earn, but something we are gifted through the work of Jesus at the cross.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says:

For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (WEB)

We are righteous not because of anything we have or haven’t done, but because we’ve put our faith in Jesus. He exchanged His own righteousness for our sin, and now we can approach God in freedom through His blood.

So, in short, you do qualify!

If you are a follower of Christ and in relationship with Him, then you are righteous and can be assured that God does indeed hear you when you cry out. This isn’t the only verse to make such a claim, and so you can be sure that your prayers are heard.

This verse also says God delivers us from our troubles. This is a great promise, and I have no wish to limit it. I think we do need to carefully interpret it however.

If you turn on Christian TV, you might find a preacher claiming that Christians should never have another problem or that God will wave His hand over your life and all your troubles will disappear. The really unscrupulous ones may even suggest you exchange your money for such a result.

To put it plainly, that’s not biblical!

So am I saying this verse is a lie then? Not at all!

God does indeed deliver us from trouble. But that does not necessarily mean He takes it all away. Often, God will give us the strength we need to endure through a problem. We may pray that God will take it away, but He would rather we pray for the strength to endure it with a good attitude.

I am not aware of any New Testament prayer that asks God to remove all obstacles out of our way. Rather, saints like Paul prayed for inner strength, power, knowledge, peace, and more, and all to the glory of God.

Don’t misunderstand though, I am not saying God is limited or unwilling, and cannot help. The Creator of the universe is still in control, and very much looks out for the good of His children. We forget sometimes though that god’s primary concern is not our comfort, but His glory.

Whatever you are facing right now, you can trust that God not only hears your prayers, but is ready and willing to deliver you. If you’re stuck in the valley, you might want a helicopter ride out, but be prepared to push on one step at a time. God is with you!

Compassion, Love, Eternity and Covenant

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #9

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. 17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, 18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

Psalm 103:13-18 (ESV)

We take a larger chunk of Psalm 103 today, not only to pick up the pace a little, but because these verses fit together so nicely. It would make little sense to split them up and cover them in separate posts, so I’ll try to cover them all here.

The section starts by thinking about God’s compassion. David uses the comparison of a father to his children, to illustrate God’s compassion for those who fear Him. This, in an ideal world, is the perfect comparison. God is our Father, and indeed loves us as dear children.

I understand however that for those who never had a father figure in their lives, or those who had one who did not treat them well, this comparison may not bring the impact it ought to. That’s not an easy thing to deal with. But let me assure you, any and every thing you missed out on with your earthly father, is more than made up by your Heavenly One.

God’s compassion (His love) is without end, and we will consider this more in a moment.

But who does He direct this compassion towards?

Those who fear Him.

The word “fear” here is yare’, and it means “reverent fear”. It is not about being frightened of God, and being scared to approach Him. Instead, it is about having a reverence for God. Reverence goes further than mere respect, and is that sense of presence of the Almighty that makes us bow the knee to Him.

God knows and recognises that we are “dust”. This means that we are physical, limited beings who dwell on the Earth for a little while. All of us will face death, and our bodies will return to the ground from which they came.

This is not a thought to pass over quickly. The psalmist compares the human life to grass or flowers, which fade after only a short time. Don’t misunderstand, this is not limiting us to a short life, but rather pointing out that life on this Earth is indeed short in comparison to eternity.

The older I get (and I’m not old by any stretch!), the more I realise that life truly is short. As the years move by, they seem to speed up in a way they never did when I was a child.

We must make the most of every single day, and live life to the full.

David does not say all of this just to get us down! His point is emphasised in verse 17. Human life is indeed short – in comparison to God’s everlasting love! Again, we find the phrase “steadfast love” – the idea that God’s love does not move or change with the wind, but is fixed, set and eternal.

There’s another little phrase here that I don’t want to skip over – “his righteousness to children’s children.” God’s love does not just extend to us who believe in Him, but also to the generations that follow. It is my belief that not only do I receive the blessings of God, but that they come to my children and theirs also.

 How might your actions affect not only you, but your children’s children also?

So far, so good. We’ve read about God’s great compassion and His unending, everlasting love – but again, who does it apply to? Verse 18 brings in a strong condition.

To:

  • Those who keep His covenant, and
  • Those who do His commands.

If your heart has sunk a little after reading these conditions, then please stick with me a while longer!

Perhaps you are not entirely sure if you have kept His covenant? Perhaps you are more sure that you have NOT done all of His commands? So does this exclude you from the compassion and love David has been praising God for?

Not at all!

David wrote these words while living under the Old Covenant (I think we touched on this in an earlier blog post). This Old Covenant required God’s people to keep His law and obey His commands in order to qualify. This led to very strict legalism (see the Pharisees in Jesus’ day) and even worse, those who saw themselves as “religiously righteous” looking down on those they considered “sinners”.

What many in Israel failed to realise was that they could not keep the Law. The Law was and is perfect, setting out God’s standards for humanity. The problem was not with the Law, but with us. We are not perfect, and so cannot keep God’s perfect Law. And so… we need a Saviour!

Jesus came and lived a perfect human life, fulfilling the entire Law in every respect. Despite never being tainted by sin, He was executed like a sinner deserves, and took on the punishment that you and I deserve. Death could not hold Him however, and He was raised to new life!

That is the Gospel of Jesus Christ – and it is the New Covenant, the covenant that you and I now live under.

We no longer need to fulfil the covenant, instead we put our trust in the One who did!

Does that mean we can do whatever we like, and break God’s laws whenever we feel like it? Certainly not! Sin is still sin, and even though dealt with, still has consequences. If you steal or murder, then you will likely face criminal charges. You could be forgiven, but still in prison!

Equally we have an enemy (the devil) who is looking for someone whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Sin very much opens the door for the enemy to work in our lives.

Grace is not a licence to commit sin, but a safety net to catch you when you fall.

Even for the born again Christian, it would be impossible to never sin again or to obey every command of God. While we are new creatures in Christ, we are also subject to the whims of the flesh, the ways of the world and the temptation of the devil.

We qualify for all the benefits the psalmist sets out here not because we deserve it, but because Christ made it possible through His obedience. You need to put your trust and faith in Him.

For more details about the Gospel, read my Resurrection Sunday blog post here, or else listen to the accompanying sermon (mp3) here.

Audio Blog: Prayers of the Righteous

I’m introducing something new today – audio blogs. Rather than a full length sermon, these are short talks about a particular verse or topic. I hope you enjoy listening to them.

 

The Lord is far from the wicked but he hers the prayers of the righteous.

Proverbs 15:29 (ESV)

Justice for all

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #5

The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.

Psalm 103:6 (ESV)

We pick up at verse six of this stunning psalm. Our focus now turns to righteousness and justice. Righteousness here is not moral correctness, or even right standing with God, but is a perfect pairing with justice. It refers to God’s righteous judgement. That may sound a difficult thing to face, but simply means God making things right.

The word translated as “works” here could also be translated as “executes”. We can therefore read this verse as saying “The Lord executes righteousness and justice for all the oppressed”.

Justice is an important theme throughout the Bible. God’s justice, His sense of right and wrong, are of paramount importance for us to understand – both in terms of the Gospel and how we ought to live.

Fairness is often something we struggle with. We occasionally get a sense that life is unfair, especially when hard times come. Something inside of us tells us that when something bad occurs, it just is not right! We get that sense of right and wrong, fairness and justice, from our Heavenly Father. It’s built into all of us.

While morality seems a flexible concept for some, each of us has a built in consciousness of right and wrong. That may be warped at times, but across the world there are certain things that nearly all agree are “wrong”. For instance, murder is generally outlawed, as is stealing or physical abuse.

We know these things are wrong instinctively because God made us that way.

The Gospel

God’s interactions with humanity is all about making wrong things right. The pinnacle of this effort was in dealing with sin once and for all in Jesus Christ. The Gospel therefore is the ultimate expression of justice. Sin was punished. Every wrong thing done against God and man was placed on the shoulders of Jesus, Who bore it on our behalf.

Justice demands action against wrongdoing. God, loving us as He does, did not want us to face the eternal consequences of sin. He fulfilled His requirements of justice by putting the Righteous One in our place. Jesus is our Substitute so we no longer face those consequences.

Justice in our everyday lives

But what about the wrong done to you? When is God going to put that right?

This is not easy to answer. If you have been mistreated, falsely accused or abused in some way, then you might be wondering what God’s justice means for you. What about the person who hurt you? They look to have gotten away with it, and you feel left behind and in pain.

Hurting people hurt people, and while that is no excuse, it does at least explain why some treat others the way they do.

God is a healer, and I believe He can heal you from the pain of your past. It may take a long time, and it will certainly be a difficult journey, but He can get you through.

God’s justice is not instantaneous and rarely is it quick. We must begin to take an eternal view of our lives. Perhaps, on this side of heaven, the hurt caused you may not be resolved, but I can assure you that God will wipe away every tear from your eye.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Revelation 21:4 (ISV)

God is a just God, and everything will come right in the end. Our part is to trust Him, which can be very tough at times. God cares about the oppressed, and those who have been hurt. He knows how it feels also – as Jesus Himself faced it all.

Take your pain to the Righteous Judge, Who will do right by you.