In the first chapter of Romans Paul writes about the state of humans without God. It is a scathing account of what we are like when we turn our backs on God. The frightening part of reading his words is that I see the potential for these evils in myself.
I have just finished the intense season of my job as a driving instructor. When the high schoolers are out for the summer, we’re on the road for many hours. If I had any doubts about Paul’s discourse on the state of humans, all those hours in traffic have been a visual clarification of his accuracy.
As I watched humans aggress upon their fellow man, and continually endanger the lives of others, I was appalled. Then I remembered. Almost every self-centered uncaring act was something that I had done. Yes, even as a Christian.
What did I learn from this? I desperately need God. Every moment of every day I need God. Only in him can I be loving, compassionate, and forgiving. These are the traits I need in every situation, especially in traffic.
1 Samuel 12:20 “Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.”
Pastor Eric used this scripture several weeks ago in his sermon. I have thought about Samuel’s words ever since. Our natural tendency is to hide from the Lord when we’ve done wrong. After the very first sin, Adam and Eve hid themselves from the Lord. But Samuel is telling the Israelites to stay with the Lord. Face the Lord with what you have done. It is a brave and humbling thing to face God, but without God there is no life.
I was riding along in my driver’s training car when this thought came to me; Jesus told us what happens when we come to God with the guilt of our sins. In the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) Jesus tells us what to expect from our heavenly father when we turn to him. The prodigal son came to his senses and realized that in his father’s house there was life. He hoped for a lowly position. What he received was welcoming arms and celebration.
God loves us; we are his children. In God, we find forgiveness and grace. Stay with God, for there is no other place where we find life.
I was reading in the book of Job a couple of days ago when I came upon these words, “The fear of God has kept me from these things – how else could I ever face him?” (Job 31:23 The Message) Job says these words after he describes a long list of sins he did not committed. What constrained Job was his relationship with God.
These words and my thoughts about these words sent me into self-evaluation. I asked myself, “what constrains me.” After much contemplation my final answer to the question of what constrains me is I love God. How could I ever face him if I indulged in things that would displease him? Well, unfortunately, I have indulged in many things that would displease him. I find that I am unable to please God on my own. What a dilemma, I love God and want to please him, but I can’t seem to restrain myself.
The Apostle Paul describes this dilemma and then says, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Christ Jesus our Lord!” I need a savior. I can’t do it on my own. Jesus has not only saved me from sin, but he has sent me a helper, his Holy Spirit. God has done everything to help me in my desire to please him. When I fail; He forgives me. How amazing is that!
Romans 3:21-24 (The Message), But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift.
Verse 25, God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear.
We have new life in Christ Jesus. That new life begins the moment we believe, and it last forever. Our sins are forgiven and forgotten. We have entered the Kingdom of God. His will guides us and protects us. He is with us no matter what we encounter in our remaining years here on earth.
When we leave the earth we will live in righteousness. We will be together forever. I’d like to add we’ll all be nice, since the sinful nature will be gone. Jesus did all this for us. So let us celebrate what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. I’m looking forward to that time when we’re all together in Heaven. Imagine the celebration.
Our pastor, Eric Nelson, has been speaking on the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman recorded in John chapter 4. During his discourse Pastor Eric pointed out, “We tend to think that Christianity is about not sinning, but Jesus took care of sin. Christianity is about the source from which we draw life.”
What a great way to express this truth. Our walk with the Lord is not about becoming good people. This should not be our focus. We focus on building our relationship with Jesus and following his lead. The by-product of this relationship is we become better people. We also become more useful servants in God’s Kingdom.
Jesus clarified this with his disciples in John chapter 15. He said, “I am the vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
To become a better, more useful person, we must draw the sustenance of life from Jesus. Our efforts apart from him are useless.
I often write about the new life we have as Christians. Today, I’d like to write about the source of this new life. How did this come about?
I was standing in front of The Judge condemned to death. The wages of my sin had put me in this position. I was indeed guilty; I deserved the sentence. As I waited for the pronouncement of the verdict, and I anticipated the sound of the gavel fall sealing my fate, a man in the courtroom stepped forward. He addressed The Judge with these words, “I want to take this man’s place your honor.”
“Why would you do this?” asked The Judge. “You are innocent”.
He simply said, “Because I love him.”
The Judge looked at me and said, “You’re free to go.” He turned to the bailiff and ordered, “Take this man into custody.”
The Man not only volunteered to take my place, he actually did it. It was a horrible death he endured for me, but it was the source of my new life.
Jesus took my place. Jesus is the source of new life. I never want to take for granted what he did for me. My response, with a heart full of gratitude I humbly kneel at his feet, and I speak the same words he spoke to his father that dreadful night, “Not my will, but your will.”
One of the truths that our Pastor is continuingly emphasizing is that God loves us. He also says that God’s love is hard for us to comprehend. I think we all know this. There’s not an abundance of examples of this kind of love here on earth.
The other day, I was singing an old song, “I’ve Got a River of Life Flowing Out of Me”, and I thought of this analogy.
God’s love for us is like a river flowing to us. We throw rocks of sin into this river; they make ripples, but they never stop the flow. When we choose a life of sin, sometimes, we actually dam up the flow, but the pressure of his love is always there. One act of repentance permits his love to breach the dam. And if we allow it, the flow of his love will continue to wash away the dam, and his love will pour into our lives. Receiving his love makes us a new person.
This river of God’s love doesn’t stop with us; it flows through us and blesses those around us. When we doubt his love, the waters get murky and hinder the blessings we can bring to others. Once again, our quest in this life is to learn to trust God. A big part of this is to trust that he loves us. The enemy of our souls will shoot fiery darts from the banks of the river to make us doubt God’s love. The shield of faith will divert them.