Do you see the Church as an abode of the righteous.. or as the refuge of sinners..?
Are you facing a battle with sin..? One where you constantly face failure after failure as you wish to overcome the sin..? Are the failures hurting you.. deep down, to the very bottom of your soul..? Convicted in that soul.. you may feel a heaviness that you’d be quick to acknowledge as a nudge from your conscience. The desire may exist, to leave behind this pattern of ‘sin and repent’. Yet, you may find yourselves unable. Some of us may even feel like we have become numb to sin.. that we can’t even believe that own heart is capable of repentance.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
But trust me when I tell you, no matter how far you feel you’ve gone.. you are still capable. No matter what you’ve done or for how long you’ve done what you’ve done, your heart is not destined to stay hardened forever.. it can still return to days when it was tender.. when repentance came naturally. Despite all your failures, you can still taste victory over sin. How would I know all this, when I don’t even know you, you may ask..? Oh, I do know. I may not know you, but I do know because this battle is not about you, but the One who died for you.. who arose from the dead and is with you, even today. I do know, because I know Him.. He who is faithful, even when we are not….
Why strive against what is too powerful for you and prolong this path of pain..? How can man defeat his own nature..? Jesus didn’t die on the cross, facing all the pain in the world, to see you wrestle in futility, the burden of sin.. the consequence of our fallen nature. As He died shedding every ounce of blood that flowed through His veins, sin lost the battle over your soul, forever. No longer does your sin have the voice to utter words of condemnation against you, if you will believe. Live life in that freedom. That is the Good News for which God strived in the form of man, so that man need not strive. That is the Good News that I as a Christian am commanded to share. Believe. Live free….
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Now you may wonder.. what about sin from this point on..? How does knowledge of the redemptive power of the cross, work in our life..? If sin no longer condemns us, do we then have freedom to indulge freely in sin..? If not, what really is the point of it all..?
Firstly, I’ll state this – the claim I made, that ‘sin no longer condemns’, I whole heartedly believe, is true with no variation. So then, should we keep on sinning, now that through Jesus we are no longer weighed down when we do..? Logically, that can be a mind set that flows from the knowledge of the freedom we have in Christ. While the other mind set can be one of gratitude to the One who gave you that freedom, to live a life that pleases Him. Before I go on though, I will pose this question: If you suffered so much at the hands of sin, why would you want to return into it’s hands..? [I wish I had asked myself that question early on in my post-salvation life.]
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
So.. how does freedom in Christ Jesus work..? Do we go on to live without a trace of sin..? Or do we just go on sinning with no fear of the consequence..? I’ll share with you the kind of mindset I entered as I embraced the Good News….
I received salvation as I read through Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. That was a time when I read the Bible only because I believed it to be a healthy habit. Not to hear the voice of God.. who’s love for me I hadn’t yet tasted. I struggled alone with my secret sin.. one I just couldn’t share with another soul. I knew that God is forgiving in nature. I knew when I did sin, His forgiveness was a prayer away, if I repented. And I did repent. I never liked the man that I was for my dark indulgence. But, even as I saw God as forgiving, I would still fear.. what if I die before I have a chance to repent..? I knew that God could see the umpteen times I kept going back to sin after repentance. What if God decides to punish me by taking my life right in the moment when I’m yet to repent of a terrible sin..? What if I’m destined to the fire of hell..? And it was to this anxious soul that the Book of Romans spoke comfort to.. that no matter when I die, or what I do from this time till then, my salvation is secure.. that my salvation is not dependant on me living a good life nor on my pious prayers, but is dependant of my unchanging Lord who offered that hard earned prize of eternity with Him, for free.
There has never been such a moment since in my life, when I felt such happiness and joy bubble from within. I smiled. I laughed. I cried, as tears over flowed. I could not have contained such emotion even if I had been in public with the eyes of the whole world on me. What if they thought I was a mad man..? I couldn’t care less. God loves humanity so much. God loves me so much. What more do I ever need..?
You’d think I’d have been quick to choose the way of God. You’d have thought I’d have no taste for sin from then. But that wasn’t the way things turned out. I flirted with sin once again. The flirting turned into a deep affair, that in my mind, I legitimized though my knowledge of God’s grace. Now when I look back, I know that what I did then was abuse the freedom that I received. I abused God’s grace….
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 3:17
Can such knowledge lead to anything else..? Wouldn’t man who is already broken, be lead to more sin with such a freedom granted to him..? Is any other way even possible..? That’s where the Good News finds it’s completion. You see, the Truth that sets us free is not just a statement or a verse, but the Truth is Christ Jesus. The Truth isn’t just life giving, but the Truth is living. Along with the freedom that comes with salvation comes the promise of God, that He Who Lives will live with you, forever. The Holy God will indwell sinful man; who He has atoned for with His blood. The Helper – the Holy Spirit – will actively work to transform our hearts to be able to handle that freedom that comes with His grace. And when all your thoughts fail you as you wonder how man can handle such freedom, He shows us that what is impossible with man is possible with God.
God’s love for us didn’t end at the cross. He still extends His love into our lives by transforming our hearts and minds each day as He draws us closer and closer to Him. And that is a love that I have tasted.. a love that I can testify to.. a love that patiently guided me.. me who abused the very grace that saved me, to teach me how to rejoice in the liberating Truth that I found in Him.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
1 John 2:1
Today, I am still far from being a perfect man. At times, I still sin the same sins, which in extension are against the Law of Love. But no longer do I justify my sinful thoughts or actions using the grace of God.. no longer do I embrace sin. When I am tempted, I lean on Him for strength to overcome. If through a moment of weakness I fall, I am reminded that in Christ Jesus my Lord, my sins no longer have the power to condemn me. I may live in brokenness still.. as long as I live in this body of flesh, but in the eyes of my Lord I know that even in my brokenness I am precious. I live life in the unshakeable hope that one day, all that is broken in me will be made whole. Now, I truly live free….
The Book of Revelation begins with the message of Jesus Christ our Lord, to the seven churches of Asia Minor [modern day Turkey]. The messages – which can be applied to churches and individuals, even in our times – reflect the spiritual state of each church, which are quite distinct from each other. One church in particular though, sets itself apart from the rest.. and it isn’t for the best of reasons – the Church of Laodicea.
The Laodicean church is better remembered as the lukewarm church; the one that is, as Jesus says, neither cold nor hot – in a spiritual sense. And among the seven, this is the only church that does not receive even a single line of commendation from our Lord; our Lord who is quick to applaud the good He found in the other six churches. So.. what kept the church in Laodicea in such a state of spiritual bankruptcy..?
For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
Historical sources agree with the Bible on the fact that Laodicea was noted for its abundance of wealth. And it was this state of prosperity that acted as a stumbling block to the church at Laodicea. Don’t get me wrong.. I do not intend to make wealth appear an evil in itself nor do I wish to say that wealthy people are spiritually bankrupt. But to point out from our Lord’s message to the churches that a healthy financial state can lead to a false sense of sufficiency in riches, from which it is vital that we guard ourselves.
When I read the words that reflect the state of the Laodicean believers, “I need nothing”, I am reminded of words spoken by a famous man in the Bible – the psalmist David. In Psalm 23:1 he says, “I shall not want”. The meaning of the words are similar, but the trust of David wasn’t upon the riches he possessed [which must have been much, considering he was the king of Israel], but in the Lord who is his Shepherd. Let us pause a little to consider our lives.. where have we placed our trust..?
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
While the Lord finds nothing worthy of commendation in the Laodicean believers, He doesn’t leave them feeling despised by Him. As a loving Father, He directs them on a more desirable path. He also makes it a point to affirm His love for them, lest the enemy make them believe otherwise. Can you imagine this..? Even to those of us in the most wretched of spiritual states, our Holy God desires to say, “I love you”. While we are convicted in our hearts over the ways in which we have gone astray, what a comfort it is to know, that despite our lack of good works we are still loved by Him, who has done far more for us than we ever could deserve….
There are times we all go through when the days of life are as dark as night with stormy clouds hovering above. You know within that there is light above those menacing clouds, but you just can’t see the light with your eyes. There is a deep longing within you to see those clouds disappear. There is a hope that you’ll soon bathe in light but.. when..? Each passing day is another mighty wave thundering on the sides of the ship called Faith that you’re sailing on.
Though we may never fully understand why God chooses to let us traverse such days, we can trust that He will never leave us to face them alone. In the days that followed my mother’s passing, those clouds that hovered above my head were darker than ever before. But even in those darkest of times, His footsteps were ever present beside me. He provided comfort.. the extent of which I could not believe was possible.
One of the ways He reached out to comfort me.. to make His presence known, was through music. In particular from a certain YouTube channel named TheNCrew EliEli. One of their videos that deeply touched my troubled soul was Stephen Nasby’s version of the hymn ‘Be Still My Soul’. And that is what I wish to share with you today.
If you’re going through days where the clouds are dark and the wind and the waves are just too strong for you to bear, remember to tell yourself:
Be still, my soul;
The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them
While He dwelt below.
Eutychus might have answered, “Because the sermons are too long.” But really though, why did Eutychus fall..? Why did this incident in the life of Eutychus make the pages of the Bible..? Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell, you might remember if I introduced him as the man who fell asleep during a sermon and fell down to his death. The account of that fatal fall is found in Acts 20:7-12.
Some would say the message of this passage is a warning to those who fall asleep in Church. Others like my imagination of Eutychus may use this passage to ask the Pastor to check the length of their sermon. All depending on which side of the pulpit they find themselves, I guess.
There’s only a little information we can gather from this short passage. We do see that Eutychus ‘sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer’ and that Paul ‘prolonged his speech until midnight’. So perhaps Paul was in the fault here..? But look, there is a defence for Paul too. The reason he prolonged his sermon as such was because he ‘intended to depart on the next day’. Travelling in Paul’s day was surely a much slower affair than we have it in our time. And knowing how much Paul travelled from place to place there was a good chance he might not be able to see these people ever again. You couldn’t really blame him for wanting to make the most of the time he had with those who were so dear to him.
One thing I do notice in Eutychus though is something that I so often see in myself – a sense of carelessness..? Our poor friend didn’t just fall asleep, but he fell asleep while sitting on an open window all the way up.. in the third floor. I repeat – the third floor! Not the ideal place to be dozing away, is it..?
We are all prone to make them – those innocent mistakes that sometimes have a deep impact on our lives and the lives of those around us. At times these mistakes stem from well intentioned actions. Eutychus got on to that window eager to get an unhindered access to Paul’s sermon. Surely, you can’t fault him for that..?
Though all may seem gloomy yet, the end of this episode gives us enough reason to take heart. The passage doesn’t end with a fall that leads to death. Eutychus’ near and dear are not left to mourn – thinking of how different their lives would’ve been had Eutychus been more cautious in his actions. But what follows is an act that exhibits God’s ever present love and power – even over death. As Paul intervened, Eutychus’ life returned to his body. The people departed with hearts that were greatly comforted.
From personal experience, I can say that God – more often than not – in His mercy, guards us from falling like Eutychus, even when at times our actions push is to the edge of the ledge. But you may at some point – even today – find yourself in the midst of a needless mess; one that you could’ve easily avoided had you showed more care. You could be going through a whirlwind of emotions. There might be pain. There might be guilt. All would perhaps combine leaving you with nothing but loathing over yourself. Maybe you had nothing to do with the mess that has been caused, but you’re suffering because of the heedless actions of a close someone.
Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?
Whatever be the reason for you being in the dire straits that you’re in, just remember: the God who revived Eutychus and comforted those around him, is still the same today as He was then.
When you see yourself as strong,
Remember how weak you were.
When you see yourself as kind,
Remember how reckless and rude you were.
When you see yourself as wise,
Remember the fool that you once were.
When you see yourself as bold,
Remember the coward that you were.
When you see you have a heart that loves,
Remember how cold it were.
When you see you have unbreakable faith,
Remember how brittle it once were.
When you see yourself as a righteous man,
Remember the sinner that you were.
At the end of it all,
When you see that you’ve done your duties in life,
Remember the nothing that you were,
When you stood by yourself,
And leaned not on Him.
Help me remember, Lord. Amen.
An excerpt from C.H. Spurgeon’s sermon ‘THE BACKSLIDERS DOOR OF HOPE’ from May 8th, 1898.
You must have noticed, dear friends, that whenever men turn aside from Christ, they go away from all the music of true religion. A little religion is a very’ miserable thing; if you have just enough religion to let you know that you are wrong, and not enough to make you right, you are spoiled for the joys of the world, yet you do not possess the joys of the world to come. I cannot help telling you again the old American story about the apples in the orchard. There is said to have been a gentleman, who asked a friend to come and have some of his apples, which he said were among the finest apples in the State; yet his friend did not come, though he was invited several times. The gentleman thought that there must be some reason for his refusal, so he asked him why he did not come; and he answered, “The fact is, while I have been driving by your orchard, I have picked up an apple or two that fell into the road, and I can’t say that I have at all pleasant memories of those apples, they were the sourest that I ever ate in my life, they set my teeth on edge even to think of them.” “Oh!” said the owner of the orchard, “now I understand. Why, I sent a great many miles to buy those particular apples that grow just by the side of the hedge, and fall into the road. I bought them for the special benefit of the boys who might be inclined to steal my fruit. Whenever they taste them, they say to themselves, It is no use to rob that orchard, the apples are horribly sour. “But,” he added, “if you will come inside, where those boys do not come, you shall then see what a good apple is like.” So is it with religion; all along the outside of the hedge:, where those people come who have just a little religion, the fruit; is as sour as it can be, — repentance that needs to be repented of, and that gripes the very spirit of the man who has it. There are plenty of those things on the outside; but you have no idea of the luscious sweetness of the fruits that grow in the center; and these shall be yours if you come back to the Master, and give yourself up wholly to him; and the result will be that you will again begin to sing.
You can read the transcript of the full sermon at Biblia.
“Is the God of the Bible really a loving person..? Christians keep parroting the words ‘Jesus Loves You’, yet all I see when I look into their message is a pistol pointing right between my eyes saying, ‘Believe in Jesus or Die’. How is that love..?”
That is a question I am pleased to hear as it means one thing – the one posing the question has considered the message of the Bible. At the same time, there is a sense of failure when I realise how lousy us Christians are – me included – at sharing the Good News.
In this post, I’ll explain why as a Christian I feel this falls short of the truth. In the end I know that it’ll all come down to faith – believing if the Bible is true or not is a matter of one’s own choice. But my purpose for writing this is to explain what the Bible has to say as an answer to this question – which I believe it does with absolute clarity.
Firstly, what is my stand on that statement mentioned above. According to the Word of God is it true that ‘unless you believe in Jesus you will die’..? Frankly, yes. Plain speak – the way Christians are commanded to share the Truth in 2 Corinthians 4:2. But still, I do not agree with the quoted text above. And I hope you’ll bear with me a little as I tell you why.
I’ll start off with a little story….
There once broke out in a city a fever that affected all – both young and old, rich and poor, the strong and the weak, men and women. At least one person was affected in each household. Leading doctors in the city concurred that the fever was caused by a virus known to exist elsewhere in the world. They began to administer medication as per their diagnosis. All was going well – or so they thought.
In the same city lived an old man – a scientist. Through his own private research he noted that the virus was not the same as the doctors had observed it to be. This in fact was a previously unknown, lethal cousin. Having understood the nature of the virus, the scientist developed a cure in quick time – spending a fortune. He took the cure to the leading hospitals in the city, but to his astonishment he faced rejection everywhere.
Disturbed at the thought of the fate of the people, he decided to reach them directly. With the little money he had left, he set out to spread the message of the nature of the disease and how it wasn’t as benign as the people thought it to be. He spoke about how his cure tackled the disease and offered the life saving medicine for free. He stood on the streets and cried, “Hear me, please. Unless you believe me you will die”.
The people he so loved, shunned him. He was mocked and humiliated – despised of all. In the end only a handful of people gave ear to him – people who had hit the depths of poverty that they could not afford the medication sold at the hospitals. To all who came to him, the scientist with a glad heart gave the medicine for free. And the poor lived.
I guess you see where I am getting. ‘Unless you believe me you will die’, the line used by the scientist in the story is similar to the condensed message the Bible shares with us today. As much as people must have hurt the scientist by rejecting his message, they did not die because of him but because of the disease that spread. So too, people will not die a spiritual death because Jesus has judged them for rejecting Him. Jesus Himself says in John 12:47 – “I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” Spiritual death however will come because of the disease of sin.
But is there really such a disease..? Can I prove to you that humanity is dying in sin..? Perhaps not. But the fact that I want to state is that that is what is said in the Bible. In Romans 3:23 the Bible says that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’. Then we head on to see in Romans 6:23 that the ‘wages of sin is death’.
And where in the Bible do we find the cure to our deadly illness..? The Scripture from beginning to end – from the prophecy in Eden’s Garden to the apocalyptic vision of John in the Book of Revelation where he looks upon the slain Lamb standing in the center of the throne – points us to that. Jesus Himself testifies to that at the Last Supper. In Matthew 26:28, the Lord says that His blood is ‘poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’. His contemporary John the Baptist in John 1:29 proclaimed, ‘Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’. The clincher though comes from a text far ahead of the time in which John lived. In the Book of Isaiah Chapter 53, Isaiah prophecied in the 7th century BC of all that Jesus would have to go through in the years of the 1st century AD. In verse 5 he says, ‘But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed’.
Before I conclude, let’s shift our gaze for a moment back to a verse I mentioned earlier, having touched upon the first part – Romans 6:23. The verse that begins as ‘For the wages of sin is death’ – which is the core of the Biblical message – continues, ‘but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’. Like the good scientist in our little story, our good God – having done all that is required to win it – is calling out to offer eternal life as a gift to anyone who would come to Him.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The message of the Bible – Not a threat with a pointed gun. But rather, an invition dressed with love to receive a gift beyond price.
One thing I love about the Bible is how it’s message flows as an indifferent current, opposed to most worldly teachings. Among all the verses, one particular verse stands out making the contrast all too clear. That particular verse is a part of a set of strange teachings – strange if you’re not familiar with the person that is Jesus – called The Beatitudes, which is part of the Lord’s famous Sermon on the Mount.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
The imposing. The intimidating. The mighty. The ruthless. If anyone were to believe a people will inherit the whole Earth, these are the kind of qualities you would add to them in your imagination. Surely not meekness..? Yet that is what God – who Himself became the very personification of that word in Jesus Christ – says of the meek.
I feel for all the people, who when they were younger – when they used to live carefree like a child – had a heart so meek, yet at some point in their lives as the days added on, they chose to let those selves behind. You see, being meek is never an easy option. People use you, as you freely give yourself up for their good. People vent their ugly emotions on you, as they’ll know you’re the last person from whom they’ll get it back. People will cheat you and think it’s okay, as you rarely complain. And you know what’s worse..? After all this, they’ll just think you’re so because you’re weak. They’ll consider you incompetent to make your way through this unjust world.
That’s when the choice comes in. Do you continue being the way you are – being YOU..? Or do you show them what you can be if you want to..? You might have wrestled this thought quite a few times, and at some point you break. You become what you want to, leaving yourself behind. Another beautiful soul taken down by the world.
If only they had heard that Sermon on the Mount. If only they had known that there is a God above in who’s eyes they – who are rejected by the world – are more precious than any of those who are celebrated in it. If only they had known that so great a reward awaits them, if only they endure.
I wish we’d all let go of our pride, our ego and all vanity and embrace meekness, even those of us – like me – who have never truly been so before. But if you were once like that – living like a child – I pray that you will give that child another chance. Jesus said in
Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Embrace meekness. Embrace the child in you.