Archive for the ‘Soteriology’ Category

man ignoreJesus’ death changed everything?? Really?

You may question this claim that Jesus’ death changed everything. While it could be argued that many of the improvements in civilisation have connections with the Christian worldview and Christian ethical values, we must admit that the world in many ways seems the same – if not at times even worse – than it was the the time of Jesus. There is still plenty of violence, injustice and war. There is pain and suffering, caused both by human beings and by natural processes beyond our control. And while many Christians (and others) seem to speak of a change that is coming, possibly very soon, the world seems to be just going on as it always has.

However, by saying the death of Jesus changed everything I am saying that Jesus Christ, unlike anyone before or since, has given us a perspective that not only helps us to understand why the world is the way it is and how we fit into it, but which also gives those who trust in him a sure, certain and unshakeable hope in the future not just for them, but for the world.

Easter is a reminder that the heart of the Christian faith is the crucifixion, death, and resurrection (coming back to life) of Jesus – but it does not have implications just for Christians, but for everyone. Let me explain why the death of Jesus changed everything:

1. It shows us once and for all who God is 

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:1-3)

This part of the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is the great ‘unveiling’ of God. In the past God has communicated something of who He is, in very specific ways, but in Jesus we are give the full, crystal clear picture. Notice how the writer says that God spoke through prophets, but He has spoken by his Son. Jesus is not just another prophet, but is himself the Message. That’s why Jesus was able to say, ‘If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.’ If we want to know who God is, we simply need to look and listen to Jesus. The first think he shows us is that God is all about relationships. He is the Father, who has a Son. That’s what Christians are talking about when they say God is One God in three persons -the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He is a God who relates, and who loves, and His loves overflows towards us in that He want us to also have a relationship with Himself.

But notice also how he unpacks a very specific way in which Jesus unveils God to us: the line, ‘he had provided purification for sins’ is a reference to Jesus’ death. Jesus shows us that God is willing to enter right into our human situation, and walk alongside us in our suffering, pain, loneliness, grief and doubt. The answer to the question, ‘Where is God when I suffer?’ is ‘Right there in Jesus, hanging on the cross. If anyone knows and can sympathise with us in our human situation, it is Jesus.’ In Jesus we see that God cares so deeply about the problems of the world and our lives that he doesn’t just deal with them from a distance in a clinical or judicious way; instead He comes to lift us out of our mess by coming right down to be with us in the thick of it.

This leads us to the second way that Jesus’ death changes everything:

2. It gives us an answer to the dilemma of injustice and evil

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood —to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his tolerance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26)

A dilemma we may have when we think about the problems of this world is, ‘If God is supposed to be all good and all loving, then why hasn’t he done anything about the problem of evil? The answer is that He has been incredibly tolerant – or patient – and the reason he has been patient is because the problem of evil actually starts and finished with us. If He were to simply wipe out all the evil of this world, then none of us would be left, because we are all complicit in some way with evil and injustice – even if it’s simply the fact that we don’t dedicate our whole lives to working to help others who face injustice.

In fact, sin is more than just the things we do or don’t do. It’s not a list of broken rules, as if God is keeping a ‘naughty or nice’ record to decide if we’re good boys and girls. Sin is a state of the human heart that has said ‘No’ to God. It is an attitude of defiant, self-sufficient rebellion. It is high treason against the one who not only made and rules the whole universe, but who also owns the right to our affections and loyalty. The ‘sins’ we commit are simply the evidence that our hearts are far from God, and the pain we experience as a result is simply God allowing us to see how foolish we are to trade a relationship with Him for our own ambition.

Rather that wipe us all out as we deserve, God has chosen another way – a way in which justice can be preserved, but we can still be reconciled to Him. This way is Jesus’ death. The phrase ‘sacrifice of atonement’ means that Jesus has taken our place, and faced the punishment we deserve. Instead of punishing us, God has punished him. It may not sound just for God to punish someone else in our place – until we see that Jesus willingly, voluntarily, and out of a deep love for us, went to the cross to pay this price.

And so, we are told, if our trust is in Jesus, we are ‘justified’ – brought back into a right relationship with God through full and complete forgiveness. If you have ever experienced forgiveness – either someone who forgave you, or visa versa, you will know how liberating that is. Because of Jesus, those who trust him can know this liberation multiplied by a million, knowing that God will never, ever again hold anything against you.

3. It shows us that death is not the end.

Now Thomas… was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29)

Jesus’ death is not the end of the Easter story. On Sunday morning, when some of Jesus’ followers came to embalm his body, they found the tomb empty, and then came face-to-face with Jesus, alive again.

You may feel that the claim that Jesus came back from the dead is the most unbelievable part of the Easter story. We all know that people don’t just come back from the dead, especially after they have been brutally beaten and crucified as Jesus was.

However, if you could believe there is a God, who created and runs this entire universe, then it really is is no stretch to believe that He is capable of raising a person from the dead. So I am not going to try to prove to you that it happened, I’m just going to tell you it did, and why it is so significant.

If Jesus had remained dead, we would never know, never be sure, if God had actually done enough to deal with our sin, forgive us, and bring us to Himself. However, Jesus’ resurrection is like God the Father’s way of saying, ‘Jesus has done it! He has lived the life you failed to live, and he has willingly died the death you deserve to die, and so now I am going to raise him from the dead and make him the one that anyone can put their trust in to be forgiven and reconciled.’ The fact that Jesus is alive today is an assurance to anyone who trusts him that God will, hands down, accept you into His family.

It’s more than that though: Because Jesus died and came back to life as a human being – as one of us – his resurrection is the promise to us that life for does not need to end at the grave. Probably the most famous statement from the Bible is Jon 3:16: ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.’ This eternal life is a quality of life that is so solid, so durable, that it never wears out or perishes. And it starts now for anyone who trusts Jesus. It is a life in which we are set free to become the person we are truly meant to be; the person God created us to be, who is able to truly love God and love our neighbour – and to find that the most satisfying, fulfilling thing to do.

Finally, there is one more way in which Jesus’ death – and resurrection – has changed everything:

4. We all have to respond to what God has done for us in Jesus.

In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)

In the 1960’s, a version of the Bible was published with the words on the cover, ‘The Man You Can’t Ignore – the life and teaching of Jesus’. He still is the man you can no longer ignore.

The leaders of every other religion will tell you that the solution to human problems is simply, ‘Work hard at being good, and if you work hard enough, you may make it in the end.’ Jesus stands alone and says to us, ‘It is done. I did it for you. I did what you were unable and unwilling to do. So simply trust me.’

This is what the word ‘repent’ means. When I repent I basically say to God, ‘You are right, and I am wrong. On my own I am lost and hopeless. My only hope is that you will will do something about my mess.’

To repent means to no longer put your confidence in yourself, but in Jesus. It means trusting that He is alive, and that He has the power to transform you through forgiveness to become the person you are meant to be.

Because Jesus has died and come back to life, we must respond to what God has done in Jesus. We may receive what He has done, or we may outright reject it, but we cannot sit on the fence. He has not given us that option.

If you are reading this blog today it is no coincidence. God is calling you to respond to Jesus by putting your trust in Him and acknowledging that He is the only one who has the right to rule your heart. I urge you to put your faith in him. You may feel that to do so seems like the most difficult and risky thing to do. You may feel that you have too much to lose – the respect of friends or family; a certain lifestyle that at the moment seems to be making you happy; maybe even the dreams and ambitions that have brought you here to study at Uni. Being a follower of Jesus may mean losing some things in this world; however what you receive is far, far greater and more enduring.

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It strikes me each year how unrealistic and fanciful the world’s celebration of Christmas is. Santa, pageants, lollies and gifts, truncated carols and feel-good songs played over shopping centre speakers, tinsel, fake snow and candy canes; talk of ‘peace on earth,’ ‘Rediscovering the True Spirit of Christmas‘ and ‘do they know it’s Christmas?’ For a few days everyone living in a delusion that somehow, if we all try a little harder, we will be able to fix this world.

Sounds like pie-in-the-sky to me. Far more fanciful than the thought that the Creator of the Universe has entered the world as one of us, to bring the ultimate solution to human pain and evil.

Here’s some things that happened at the first Christmas:

  1. A family in a small village (where everyone knows everyone) faced a scandal when it is discovered that the bride-to-be is already pregnant. Potentially, she faces the death penalty for committing adultery.

  2. The father is ‘comforted’ by an angel who assures him that this child will bring about the time of judgement predicted by the prophets.

  3. This couple is forced by the oppressive regime to travel up to 200km through treacherous terrain while she is heavily pregnant, just so they can conduct a census.

  4. The woman gives birth in unhygienic conditions surrounded by animals, with nothing but an animal feeding trough to put her son in.

  5. The mother is told by a prophet that her child will be the cause of opposition and division, and that she will ultimately grieve because of him.

  6. The young family are forced to flee their home country as their despotic ‘King’ orders the brutal slaughter of all boys 2 years and under in the region.

  7. They are forced to live as refugees in a country that, historically, enslaved their people, and to which they were commanded never to return.

So, it seems that Christmas is not actually all about warm fuzzies and feel-good happy times, kidding ourselves that in the end, we’re all going to be OK (especially us here in the affluent, comfortable West). Rather, it is about God coming right into the horrible human situation, sympathising with our weakness, sharing in our suffering, and bearing our sin and evil.

The real Christmas forces us to face the damning verdict that we are children of wrath, with no hope and without God in this world, and unless our God comes to rescue us, all is lost; but also with the liberating Gospel message that He has.

Merry Christmas

Some background:

The dominant themes of John’s Gospel up to this point have been the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah who fulfils all the promises of the Old Testament to bring in the New Era – the outpouring of the Spirit, the cleansing of sin and uncleanness, the renewal and establishment of the Kingdom of God, and the personal renewal that comes to a person who is brought in to be a part of this all. We have seen Him declared to be the Son of God (not figuratively but literally), the Baptiser in the Spirit, the Messiah, the One who replaces the old ritual washing water with the new wine, the one who replaces the Jerusalem Temple with himself, and the One prefigured by Moses in lifting up the serpent in the wilderness. He has just unpacked for a key Jewish leader what it means to be ‘born from above’ by God’s sovereign action in the work of the Holy Spirit, and now he comes to someone at the other end of the theology/holiness/worthiness/acceptability spectrum: a lonely, broken, shamed Samaritan woman.

4:1-9

Jesus broke a number of cultural conventions, doing what in the eyes of many – especially the Pharisees – would disqualify him from being a Rabbi, let alone the Messiah sent from God. Firstly, he travelled through Samaria. Samaria was the region historically occupied by the ten northern tribes of Israel who had been conquered by the Assyrians in 720BC. The Assyrian policy of relocation meant that many Israelites were scattered among the nations, while may foreigners were brought into Samaria, where they intermarried with the remaining Israelites, developing a syncretistic religion. When the exiles who had been taken by the Babylonians from the Southern kingdom of Judah returned, these locals wanted to participate in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple, but were not permitted. So they set up their own Temple in Samaria. This developed eventually into the rivalry, bigotry and hatred that existed between Jews and Samaritans right up to Jesus’ time. Many Jews, if they needed to travel North to Galilee, would cross the Jordan and travel up the East side of the river in order to avoid travelling through Samaria, even though this took them 4 days longer than cutting through Samaria.

Secondly, when the woman came to the well, he spoke to her, asking for a drink. This was controversial on four counts. First, as a Jew (and a Rabbi) he should not have spoken to to a Samaritan (at least in a friendly tone). Second, as a male he should not have spoken to a woman on her own. Third, he should not have been willing to drink from a Samaritan cup, which would have technically made him ’unclean,’ since Samaritans were considered by many to be the same or even worse than Gentiles. Fourth, while it’s not explicitly stated, the fact that this woman was at the well at midday, rather than the normal time of first thing in the morning when everyone else would have been there, may indicate that this woman was an outcast even among her own people, since she came alone at a time when no-one else would be there to ridicule or criticise her.

It is important to notice that John includes this story immediately after chapter three’s account of Nicodemus coming to Jesus. John said in is introduction to the Gospel:

11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:11-12)

In John 3 we see a man, Nicodemus, who would have been seen by everyone as ‘one of God’s own people’, yet who just didn’t understand or receive what Jesus was saying, responding to Jesus’ statements with naive, even ignorant questions. Then in John 4 we see this woman, by all accounts an ‘outsider’, who not only is receptive towards Jesus, but as we will see, engaging in robust theological discussion with him – showing up Israel’s esteemed teacher!

It’s also important to note that he initial reason Jesus stopped at this well was that he was tired and thirsty. Presumably when the disciples went into the town to get food, they had taken al the equipment with them, and so Jesus didn’t even have a cup to drink from. The Gospels to not present a ‘superman’ Jesus who floats six feed above the struggles and realities of life in this world. Jesus, the Son of God, is truly one of us, sharing in all that we experience, including tiredness and thirst.

4:10-14

The term ‘living water’ on its face value simply meant ‘spring’ or ‘running’ water – fresh water found in a flowing creek or river, as opposed to potentially muddy or stagnant water found in a well. Both Jews and Samaritans looked forward to the day when the creation was renewed by God’s blessing, and the entire region was watered by flowing rivers (eg. Zechariah 14:8, 44:3), but also that this physical renewal would be a symbol of a spiritual renewal when the Holy Spirit would ‘flow’ into and through God’s people.

Initially this woman takes his statement on the purely physical sense. Not only does Jesus not have the equipment to draw water from the well, but he is claiming to be better than than the one who dug the well – Jacob – by claiming to produce this fresh running water as opposed to stale well water.

Jesus, in his usual fashion, explains that he has come to replace the Old with something New. In the Old Testament Jeremiah says:

‘…“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.’ (Jeremiah 2:13)

Jesus’ claim in 13&14 is that he has come to reverse this scenario. The well by which they are standing is a picture of the people turning to find satisfaction in things that are only momentary; and in doing so are rebelling against God, who is the only source of true satisfaction. In Jesus, the door has been opened for people to turn from these broken wells back to the eternal spring of living water.

4:15-19

At this point the woman still wants to engage on a purely physical level, but Jesus pulls the rug out from under her feet. He ultimate need is not her physical predicament of having to come here day after day to get water; it is not the fact that she runs out of water in her house. Rather, her need is spiritual – the broken well is in her, not in her house, as evidenced by the life she is living. She is a ‘serial monogamist’. Five broken marriages, resulting in her being a broken person who no longer has the energy or motivation to even try to live by the standards of her community or God.

Jesus’ comment, and his intimate knowledge of her history is a ‘sign’ to her that he is not just a regular Jewish man, but is in fact a prophet. Her use of this word is significant. The Samaritans only had as their Bible the first five books of the Old Testament, whereas the Jews had all the historical, poetic and prophetic books. In Deuteronomy 18:15-22 God promises to raise up ‘another prophet’ like Moses who will teach the people perfectly from the Law. This idea is developed in the later books of the Old Testament into the idea of the Messiah who is not only a prophet, but also a King and a Priest. But because the Samaritans did not have or recognise these books, they spoke of their future hope in terms of a ‘Prophet’. Many Samaritans however acknowledged the Jewish expectation of the Messiah and that it was to be one and the same Person.

4:20-26

The woman no only discerns that Jesus is a prophet, and maybe The Prophet, but she also recognises the real issue that is at the heart of everything, even behind her current situation of living in an immoral relationship: the issue of worship. It’s no trivial thing that the first four of the Ten Commandments are about worship. The One whom we worship will determine the kind of life we live, as our life is a direct reflection of our worship. Both the Jew and the Samaritan knew that if the issue of worship was sorted (the first 4 commandments – Loving God) then the issue of right living will follow (the last 6 – loving one’s neighbour).

The sore point between Jews and Samaritans was not so much the method of worship as the place of worship, which is what she picks up on. Rather than picking a fight, I believe this is a genuine question from someone who has just come face to face with the Truth of God embodied in the person of Jesus – she is simply framing it in terms of the context that she understands.

Jesus’ answer is not only immensely liberating, but also would have blown any last shred of credibility he may have had with the Jewish leaders by saying something that in their eyes would have undermined the whole Temple system in Jerusalem (just in case he hadn’t done this already when he cleared the Temple in 2:13-22!). And he in essence gives the same answer to her that he gave to Nicodemus: It must be a work of the Spirit. Just as Nicodemus hd no hope of seeing or entering the Kingdom of God apart from the Holy Spirit’s work in his life, so too this woman has no hope of truly worshiping God apart from the Spirit enabling her. We cannot come to God by going to a holy place or entering a holy building in which we do holy rituals. In fact, we cannot come to God at all. True worship happens as God Himself comes to us. It is as the Holy Spirit comes to us and opens our blind eyes to see Jesus, unblocks our deaf ears to hear Him speak the truth, and applies the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection to us. When he says, ‘…they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.’ We see that the Father also comes to us before we come to Him – the word implies a active, yearning, seeking, not just a desire. It does not mean that people first get their act together with worship and then God will go and find them; rather God the Father is out and about in His world seeking broken, sinful people and turning them into those who truly worship and know Him. The way he dos this is through Jesus. Here we see the God the Son, who has taken on humanity in order to walk among us and, ‘to seek and save the lost’ (Luke 19:10), and this mission has taken him to a lonely well where he has found a lonely, broken, outcast Samaritan woman.

In chapter 1 (41, 45) we see people saying, ‘We have found the Messiah;’ ‘We have found the one Mose wrote about in the Law and about whom the prophets also wrote.’ Here we see this One finding this woman, declaring to her ‘I, the one speaking to you – I am he.’ (26)

If you are interested in any way in seeking God, know that it can only be because He is first seeking you; and if you know God through Jesus it is only because He has sought you and found you through his Son and by the work of His Spirit, and brought you into the truth of who He is.

Revelation 2:5 talks about if the church of ephesus doesn’t repent God will remove their lampstand. Sounds a lot like they lose their salvation, but this isn’t possible. So what does it mean?

In Revelation 2:5 Jesus is addressing a church, not individual believers. The danger they face is that their congregation will either cease to operate, or if it does, it will no longer be considered a church by Jesus – the candlestick is a symbol of God’s presence and the presence of the light of the Gospel among the community. It seems that the Ephesus church had lost sight of their ‘first love’ – more than just an assessment of whether they were a loving community – Jesus and the Gospel was no longer front and centre in their communal life and worship.

This passage then does not say anything necessarily about the salvation of individuals, or whether a Christian can lose their salvation. But what does it say about individual believers?

Within mainstream Christian teaching there are two major views on this issue:

  1. Salvation is permanent. Those who ‘fall away’  and reject Christ were never really saved in the first place. It is possible for someone to profess faith in Jesus and appear to be ‘walking the walk’, but their profession will not last.
  2. Salvation is tentative, and dependant on us keeping on trusting. Those who fall away were genuine Christians, but by choosing to reject Jesus have lost their salvation.

Some of the strongest passages that warn against ‘falling away’ are in Hebrews and Galatians:

Paul tells the Galatians that they are, ‘deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel,’ (1:6), that they have been ‘bewitched’ (3:1), were ‘submitting again to a yoke of slavery’ (5:1) and that ‘you are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.’ (5:4). That may sound like losing salvation, but we need again take in the corporate element. As a church they were embracing legalism and falling away from grace – that does not mean that those individual Christians within the community had lost their salvation, but that as a body – an institution – they were accepting legalistic teaching and losing sight of the grace of God. Notice that Paul does not start the letter his usual way – by speaking of them with a confidence or calling them ‘saints’. He does not want to presume that everyone who reads and hears his letter are Christians!

Similarly, the writer to the Hebrews does not make this assumption that those to whom he writes are all Christians. He is writing to those who were being lured back into the Old Testament system – not just circumcision (as in Galatians), but the whole Temple worship and offering of sacrifices. His main thesis in the book is that Jesus’ sacrifice is completely sufficient, and has done away with the Temple. Therefore He is also the only way, so to reject Him is to cut yourself off from any chance of salvation.

So he strongly warns anyone who reads his letter – not presuming they are Christians, but assuming they are a part of the church community and my presume themselves to be Christians under false pretence.

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.’ (Hebrews 3:12-14 ESV)

 Here he is saying that ‘perseverance’ to the end is the sign of true salvation. We should use that word ‘persevere’ advisedly, because in modern use it implies effort and hard work to reach a goal; the word translated ‘hold’ here simply means ‘maintain’ or ‘continue’, and the thing to maintain is ‘our original confidence’ – which is in Christ’s sacrifice, not ourselves. In other words, continuing to live by faith instead of works.

‘…it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.’ (Hebrews 6:4-6 ESV)

Is this losing salvation?

Only if we take his description of the person in 4&5 to be referring to a genuine Christian. A non-believer who is a part of the church community may have all of those experiences, but never actually have faith (notice he does not use that word), and after all of that reject Christ as their atoning sacrifice. The implication here is that these people here are wanting to continue offering sacrifices in the Temple but still be accepted as Christians at the same time. But their offering of sacrifices is, in itself, a denial of the once-for-all sufficient sacrifice of Christ; to ‘restore them again to repentance’ – language that speak of re-instating them as members of the church – is impossible while they are ‘crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding Him up to contempt’ by essentially declaring every time they take a sacrifice to the Temple, ‘Christ’s sacrifice was deficient.’

Hebrews 10:26-29 is a similar warning:

‘…if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace.’ (Hebrews 10:26-29 ESV)

The phrase ‘profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified’ does not refer to Christians, but to Jesus. The High Priest was sanctified by the blood of sacrifice, and this then qualified him to make the sacrifice for the people. To come under the sound of the Gospel, the message of Christ crucified, and to reject it is not exercising our right to free choice. It is trampling the Son underfoot and outraging (literally ‘despising’) the Holy Spirit.

God certainly calls Christians to persevere – continue trusting by faith until the end. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to ‘run with endurance the race that is set before us’. There are other verses that seem to imply that keeping our salvation is conditional on our ongoing faithfulness.

But every command is also a promise. How do we reach the finish line? We are to fix our eyes on Jesus, who is called in Hebrews 12:2 ‘The founder and perfecter of our faith’ – literally ‘starter’ (archegon) and ‘finisher’ (teleioteen).

We are unable to endure. Jesus has done for us what we are unable to do.  The condition is remaining faithful, and Jesus has met that condition, and when we are justified God credits all of Jesus’ righteousness – including his faithfulness, perseverence and endurance – to us, and makes sure that by the Holy Spirit that righteousness begins to work out in our lives, and we become people who persevere. As Paul said, ‘The life I now live I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ dies for nothing.’ (Galatians 2:20-21)

He has run and completed the race on our behalf, and by faith we trust him to bring us to the end as well – not because we stay faithful to him, but because he stays faithful to us. If you have any doubt that this can happen, that is the point of Hebrews 11 – the list of the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ which surrounds us (12:1) who by living by faith have crossed the finish line before us and testify to Jesus’ faithfulness.

If you worry that you may lose your salvation – or think you already have – ask yourself, ‘In whom am I placing my confidence – me, or Jesus?’

If it’s you, then you are right to be concerned, because no-one will ever be saved by trusting in themselves! If in Jesus, you need to remind yourself of all that He has done for you, and His promise to never leave you or forsake you, and know that His sacrifice and resurrection is the only thing you have as an assurance of salvation. Do you know that Jesus died for you and rise again? If so, you are secure.

Were a difficulty allowed to exist as to the reconciling of these subjects, it would not warrant a rejection of either of them. If I find two doctrines affirmed or implied in the Scriptures, which, to my feeble understanding, may seem to clash, I ought not to embrace the one and to reject the other because of their supposed inconsistency; for, on the same ground, another person might embrace that which I reject, and reject that which I embrace, and have equal Scriptural authority for his faith as I have for mine. Yet in this manner many have acted on both sides: some, taking the general precepts and invitations of Scripture for their standard, have rejected the doctrine of discriminating grace; others, taking the declarations of salvation as being a fruit of electing love for their standard, deny that sinners without distinction are called upon to believe for the salvation of their souls. Hence it is that we hear of Calvinistic and Arminian texts; as though these leaders had agreed to divide the Scriptures between them. The truth is, there are but two ways for us to take: one is to reject them both, and the Bible with them, on account of its inconsistencies; the other is to embrace them both, concluding that, as they are both revealed in the Scriptures, they are both true, and both consistent, and that is owing to the darkness of our understandings that they do no appear so to us.

Andrew Fuller (1801) The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation: Or the Duty of Sinners to Believe

misused bible

The verse:

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God’” Mark 10:27

How it’s misused:

I can do anything I set my heart on, as long as I have enough faith and believe God for it and ask for His help.

What it’s really saying:

The context of this verse is a discussion about the salvation of those who have set up large barriers between themselves and God – specifically here a man who trusted in his great material wealth, and thought he could earn his way into eternal life. Just before this is the famous phrase, ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ (vs. 25 – something that is technically possible if you have a meat cleaver, a blender and a syringe), in which Jesus highlights the impossibility of a person achieving their own righteousness.

So what is impossible with man (ie. can’t be done by man), but possible with God (ie. can be done by God)? Salvation. Why is this so? Because God is God, and so nothing is impossible for Him.

sneak preview of the talk I am about to give 2-4 times these two weeks as part of Jesus Week – ‘Meet the Real Jesus’ at Flinders Uni:

Text: Mark 8:27-38

The concept of God judging is not a palatable idea for many people. It’s the reason why some people reject all forms of religious belief altogether, saying, ‘I can’t believe in a God who will send me to Hell simply for not believing in Him,’ or, ‘God would be a moral monster if he demands that we meet such an unreachable standard, and then sends us to hell if we fail.’

Yet regardless of what intellectual conclusions we make, there is an undeniable reality that human beings have sense of justice, fairness, and an innate desire to see evil and wrongness corrected. If this were not the case, I would have no basis for rejecting or refuting the Christian belief in God as Judge. If I reject the idea of God because, in my view, God is unjust, I am betraying my implicit belief in and desire for truth and justice by saying God does not meet my standard of what is good and right and fair.

We all agree that justice is a good thing, especially when it impacts us directly; if we were to witness our own loved ones brutally killed in front of us, we would feel/know it to be a great travesty if the murderer was set free. We agree that it is right to be angry about the human rights abuses that happen in the world, and we feel a sense of satisfaction when dictators are toppled and criminals are captured, or even when we are simply vindicated and shown to be right when we have been falsely accused. Justice is in our bones, and you could argue that it is a foundation of civilised society.

So why do we get upset when we hear the idea that God will bring justice to this world through Jesus Christ? Why are we happy for human beings to carry out justice, but struggle with the idea of God doing so? Who is more qualified to bring about justice – a good and loving, all knowing God, or imperfect human beings with mixed motives and limited knowledge?

Mark 8:27-38 is a passage that can help us understand something of what it means for Jesus to be our judge.

Twice in this passage Jesus refers to himself as ‘The Son of Man’. This term comes from the Old Testament (The first part of the Bible), from a prophecy by the 4th century BC prophet Daniel. In a vision he saw God on his throne just like a judge in a courtroom; before him were all the nations and peoples of the world. A person whom he described as, ‘One like a Son of Man’ was brought directly into the presence of God, who gave him authority over all the nations of the earth, and all people worshipped him. This ‘Son of Man’ is essentially God’s representative; he rules with God’s full authority.

By using this title for himself, Jesus is claiming to be the one whom Daniel saw in his vision. At another time Jesus said that because he is God’s Son, God the Father has entrusted him with the role of judging the whole world; so each one of us will have to stand before Jesus and be assessed at to whether we meet God’s perfect standard.

This is what Jesus is talking about at the end of this passage when he says in verse 38:

‘Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’

The word ashamed here does not just mean ‘embarrassed’ in the way that we might use it. It is a word that means being wrongly aligned, a bit like backing the losing football team, or  being loyal to the wrong side in a war. Jesus says that rejecting Him and his words now, will result in him rejecting us when he comes as judge.

So, what is it about Jesus and his words that is so important for us to not reject? We see this in the first section of the passage.

In verses 27-30 Jesus has asked his disciples who people say he is – and who they say he is. Jesus considers it important that people understand who he is and what his mission is. The public have some ideas, but when Peter says, ‘You are the Christ’, we know from other accounts of this event that Jesus commended him – his view was the right view. ‘The Christ’ means ‘God’s appointed King’ – the one who would set up God’s kingdom; he was promised to the Jewish people over 1000 years earlier, and they had been waiting for Him to arrive all this time. They knew that the Christ would be the king not just of their people, but of the whole world; that he would bring peace and justice to the world, and enable people to truly know and worship God.

This description may sound very similar to the description I just gave of the ‘Son of Man’, and that is because the titles ‘Christ’ and ‘Son of Man’ meant the same thing. They are speaking of the same person – and Jesus is this person.

However both the public and the disciples thought – wrongly – that when the Christ came, he would use military strength to set up his kingdom. That is why Jesus told his disciples not to tell people about him – because he knew the people might start a violent revolution.

Jesus goes on in verses 31-33 to explain how he will set up God’s kingdom: He would suffer, be killed, and rise again after 3 days. This does not sound like a great and powerful king, which is why Peter rebuked him. However he did not understand why Jesus had to die and rise again.

Any kingdom need two elements to be a true kingdom: a King, and citizens. A King without citizens is not really a king. So in order to be the King of God’s kingdom, Jesus must gather for himself those who will be citizens of His kingdom. However, there is one problem. There is not one human being who is worthy or qualified to be a citizen of his kingdom. The Bible tells us that all of humanity has rebelled against God – we have become God’s enemies. We have chosen not to live under God’s loving authority, but instead set ourselves up as the rulers of our own lives and of this world. This is what the Bible calls ‘Sin’. Sin is not primarily bad things we do, but an attitude in our hearts that says, ‘No’ to God. It is a rejection of the relationship with God that we have been created for. As a result, our lives are filled with actions and deeds that reflect this – things we call ‘sins’.

God is rightfully angry at this, because He is good and just and loving, and so He will not tolerate Sin. If we reject a relationship with Him and want nothing to do with Him, the fair punishment for this is Him rejecting us in the same way. And because this sin of rejecting God is so serious – it is essentially ‘cosmic treason’, the punishment must also be just as serious – being cut off from God and all his goodness, forever. And so, as we have seen already, those who reject (are ‘ashamed of’) God by rejecting His Son Jesus – will also be rejected.

Because the core problem of sin is a problem of the heart, we cannot fix this simply by trying to do good things or changing our behaviour. We need to be reconciled to God. The attitude of our heart that causes us to be under God’s anger needs to be dealt with; we owe God a massive debt, and it is a debt that we cannot pay or make up for. If a criminal is found guilty in a court of law, he cannot say to the judge, ‘Please let me off, because I feel really sorry for what I did,’ or ‘I shouldn’t go to prison because I promise to do good from now on.’ If a crime has been committed, the penalty must be paid, otherwise there would be no justice.

This is why Jesus said that he had to die. The penalty we deserve for our treason is death, and since we cannot pay it ourselves, Jesus, the Son of God, has paid it for us. All of God’s anger that was rightfully directed against us, was instead directed against Jesus in our place. And by rising from the dead, Jesus demonstrated that this penalty has been fully paid: the fact that Jesus is no longer dead means that the penalty of death has been paid!

What does this then mean for us right now?

God has given us the means by which we may be reconciled to Him, and by being reconciled, we may become citizens of His kingdom. Through trusting in Jesus – and not in ourselves – we may know with certainty that God has brought us back to Himself.

We see this in the next verse – 34.

Jesus tells people that they should ‘deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him’. He is describing here what in other places the Bible calls ‘repentance and faith’ – or ‘turning and trusting’.

To ‘deny ourselves’ means we recognise that there is nothing we can do to fix our broken relationship. The problem is just too big, and so we need to be prepared to call out to Jesus for Him to save us.

To ‘take up one’s cross’ was quite a shocking thing to say – as in that time and place only the worst criminals – murderers and traitors – were crucified. So it means that we recognise that we actually deserve to face the required punishment for our treason against God! It was not coincidence that God allowed Jesus to die in this way, as him being crucified was a picture of our own crime against Him. This is what ‘repentance’ means: to turn from where we are in our sin and rebellion – to say ‘I am wrong, and God is right!’

The third thing Jesus says is ‘follow me’. This is a picture of trusting. We would only follow someone wherever they go if we knew we could trust them – or rather, if we knew they could be trusted fully. To follow Jesus means to completely depend on him to bring us back to God the Father; to accept that His death and resurrection is the only way that we can come into His Kingdom, since it is the only thing that can fix our problem.

What is the result of this? What does all this mean for someone who turns and trusts in Jesus?

It means we will be citizens of God’s kingdom, with Jesus us our good, loving, fair and just ruler – the Judge of all humanity who loved us so much that He came to bear the judgement for us. What a wonderful person to have as our ruler! It means also that we will have hope – hope for ourselves that we will never be rejected or abandoned by a divine Father who loves us so greatly, and calls us to know Him personally; and hope for this whole universe, that Jesus is ruling over it in its entirety, and will one day return to gather us to be with him, and to renew this whole world and remove all that is evil, unjust, painful and sad. This is the kind of promise that Jesus makes for all who trust Him.

So, will you repent and trust in Jesus?