Flashback Friday: What Can I Say About The Gospel That Hasn’t Already Been Said?

Originally Published June 21, 2019:

cfce9-crossofresurection

Lately, evangelicals have been telling us that social justice is a “Gospel issue.” A recent comment on one of my blog posts suggested that the Gospel teaches us to have unity despite theological differences (a point worthy of its own article). These sentiments, as well as similar sentiments I’ve heard throughout the years,  prompt me to think that we need periodic reminders of what the Gospel actually is.

Most of you may decide not to read this article. Why waste time reading about something so basic? Do I have new insights into the Gospel? Perhaps a fresh take on it? Can I present it in a creative manner that makes it more interesting? More relevant?

No, I can’t. As a matter of fact, adding to the Gospel would lead me to damnation (Galatians 1:8). I have no interest in dressing it up for the purpose of making it more appealing and/or entertaining.

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A Portrait Of Humility That Speaks To

Years ago, a church John and I attended did a series on Christian marriage unlike any marriage teaching I’ve heard before or since. The pastor used passages about Christian relationships in general and applied then to marriage in particular. Although his approach seems novel, it actually makes a great deal of sense if we want to teach younger women how to love their husbands and children. Being childless, however, I’m uncomfortable saying much about dealing with children, so I’ll follow that pastor’s example by showing you a few Scriptures that you can use to love your husband in ways that reflect Christ.

In considering where to begin these discussions, I couldn’t get away from the familiar passage in Philippians 2.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.~~Philippians 2:5:11 (NASB95)

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Introduction To Love

According to Titus 2:3-5, older women are to teach younger women to love their husbands and children. We may think that’s a rather strange instruction. In our culture, we almost universally marry for love, and we can’t help feeling an incredibly deep affection for our children. The Greek word translated “love” in Titus 2:4 does in fact mean to have feelings of affection, which makes us wonder about this imperative. Why on earth, then, would older women need to teach younger women to love the very people whom they would love quite naturally?

As I’ve pondered this matter, I’ve begun thinking about love in general, and Christian love in particular. Loving husbands and children as the Lord would have us love them must go beyond the ways non-Christians love their husbands and children, it seems to me. As believers, we learn how to love by studying the ways that our Lord expresses His love.

This Holy Week directs our attention to Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross — the most powerful display of love in human history. Although none of us can ever hope to love anyone as powerfully as He loves us (because of our inability to atone for the sins of another person), we can still develop an understanding of love that we can approximate to a lesser degree in our relationships.

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Flashback Friday: The Gospel Can’t Be Shared Often Enough

Originally posted August 28, 2010:

Heavenly Cross

No matter how long, or how deeply, we walk with the Lord, we never outgrow the need to hear that Jesus Christ took our place on that cross, shedding His innocent blood in payment for our sins. As we mature in Him, of course we will pay attention to many other issues that Christians must face, as well we should. But we must keep the Gospel central in our hearts and minds as we glorify the Lord for His grace in saving us.

Some of you might disagree with this assessment.  You might even show me Hebrews 6:1-3.

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. (ESV)

Of course, that passage actually refers to professing Christians in the First Century who wanted to return to Judaism while still identifying as Christians. By no means is the writer suggesting that believers reach a point at which we no longer need reminding that Jesus died for our sins, rose again and saves those who repent and believe in Him.

Yes, most of my readers know the Gospel. Some may not, but the majority of you do. However, ladies, none of us can hear or read it too often. We all need to remember that we are saved, not because of anything we’ve done, but because Jesus Christ offered Himself to bear the wrath of God that rightfully belonged to us.

The apostle Paul reiterates the Gospel in almost all of his epistles. As much as I’d like to take you through each reference, time dictates that I limit myself to just one.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. ~~Romans 5:6-11 (ESV)

Did you notice that Paul addresses this passage to Christians? He preaches this very rudimentary message to people who have already experienced God’s saving grace, even though this passage can definitely be used in evangelism. Evidently the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to remind the Roman Christians of the Gospel, despite the fact that they had already been saved.

Remembering the basic Gospel keeps us humble as we recall the staggering weight of our sin and then the enormous beauty of God’s grace. When we allow other points of doctrine to relegate the Gospel to the background, we can easily start patting ourselves on the back. We begin secretly thinking of ourselves as God’s little darlings, even supposing that He saved us because we were worthy of salvation.

The Gospel redirects the praise and honor back to Christ. As we recount His grace in shedding His innocent blood for us, we can’t resist praising Him. We marvel that such a holy God would condescend to sinners like us.  Indeed, each time we think about Him on the cross, paying the price for our rebellion against Him, we adore Him all the more!

Finally, we should realize that we will spend eternity worshiping Him as the Lamb slain for us.

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!” ~~Revelation 5:6-12 (ESV)

If the Gospel will be proclaimed throughout eternity, what makes us think that we’ve grown beyond the need to hear it now?

We can never hear the Gospel too often! Let’s cherish it now, knowing that we’ll cherish it forever.

Flashback Friday: Where Do We Find Assurance Of Salvation?

Originally published July 20, 2017:

Broken Heart Cross

If you’re like me, you’ve probably experienced serious doubts about your salvation. Such doubts generally arise in response to falling back into familiar patterns of sin. As you see yourself committing the same ugly sin, even decades after your conversion, you have to ask yourself whether or not you were ever  really saved in the first place.

In one respect, you and I definitely should ask ourselves this question when we find ourselves committing the same sin habitually. Children of God at some point start to resemble the Father’s holiness (1 Peter 1:14-21, 1 John 3:4-10). Sadly, many people who claim to be Christians do persist in unrepentant sin, often rationalizing their rebellion and sometimes even believing that God approves of what they do. I know: I’ve done it.

Seeker-sensitive churches compound the problem by producing false converts who embrace an idealized concept of Jesus without submitting to the true Christ’s authority. These false converts see no need to repent and have no concern for personal holiness.

So yes, sometimes our sin should cause us to wonder if the Lord has truly done a work of regeneration in us. If we live without regard to His holy standards, some honest self-examination is most likely necessary.

But others of us, despite genuinely loving the Lord and wanting to obey Him, manage to get sucked back into sin on occasion. From our perspective, it seems like a habitual pattern because we repeat the same old sins time after time. We grieve every time we do it, fully aware that we’ve dishonored Him. Even if nobody else ever finds out what we’ve done, we know that we’ve violated His commands.

Like the apostle Paul in Romans 7:13-21, we hate our sin. We yearn to please the Lord, knowing that our sin put Him on the cross. How can we be so ungrateful? Why did we act like children of the devil, dragging our glorious Lord through the mud while we selfishly gratified our flesh?

As we fixate on the horrors of our sin, we accept Satan’s accusations that we’re nothing more than hypocrites. Because those accusations carry an element of truth, we believe his lie that we never really had salvation. We despair.

Sisters, we forget that assurance of salvation can never come from us. Paul wrote Romans 7 precisely to demonstrate that we don’t have any righteousness in and of ourselves. Looking at ourselves can never give us assurance!

Ah, but look at Paul’s  concluding paragraph in Romans 7:

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. ~~Romans 7:21-24 (ESV)

Paul doesn’t deny his wretched condition, but he ultimately clings to Jesus Christ as his deliverer. He remembers that Christ paid for all his sin (every ounce of it) by shedding His blood on the cross. Of course, Paul’s not excusing sin or implying that God’s grace gives Christians permission to indulge in sin. Rather, he’s encouraging us to rest in what the Lord has done for us.

Sin should trouble a Christian’s conscience. We should live lives of repentance, earnestly desiring to reflect our Heavenly Father’s holiness as we declare the Gospel to a dying world. But, when our sin breaks our hearts, let’s shift our gaze to Jesus, finding assurance in Him.

Remember Who You Were

Take a minute to think about the power of the Gospel in your life. Think about how Jesus rescued you from an eternity in hell and liberated you from slavery to sin.

The longer we’ve been Christians, the easier it becomes to forget how desperately we needed salvation, it seems to me. We get involved in whatever ministry God calls us into, and sometimes those ministries can make us feel pretty prideful. Over the years, memories of life before Christ dim a little… or a lot. Oh sure, we can give our testimony when asked, but often we word it in such a way that we present ourselves, rather than Jesus, as the heroes. And then we dwell upon all the wonderful things we’ve done for the Lord.

Certainly, we don’t want to go on and on describing our sinful lives prior to our conversions. Reliving sinful memories usually caters to our flesh, both by arousing old emotions in us and by distracting attention away from Jesus. As a new Christian, I’d frequently hear about my friends detail their past involvement in drugs, sex and alcohol, tacking on hasty comments about Jesus turning their lives around. I’d often wonder if I was genuinely saved, since I lacked such a sordid past. For years, I exaggerated my dabbling in astrologically, just to create a sense of contrast. Wallowing in our pasts, however, doesn’t really give the glory to God.

That said, Scripture indicates that we need to remember enough of who we were apart from Christ that we continually rejoice in His saving grace. Consider this familiar passage from 1 Corinthians:

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The Gospel Christmas Teaches

I designed this quotation of Hebrews 1:1-3 as the front of the Christmas card that John and I are giving to our Personal Care Attendants this year. I wanted something unexpected — something a little more difficult for them to gloss over. Something that pointed to the deity of Christ in a way they may have never considered before.

As I worked on the graphic, wrestling with it for about an hour to keep the darker areas of the gradient from blending into the background, I read the passage several times. Although I’d originally intended on emphasizing the first and second verses, verse 3 captivated my attention. Amid testing colors and printing out samples to check how the graphic looked on paper, I grew increasingly amazed by how the writer of Hebrews moved from the sufficiency of God’s Word to Christ’s Incarnation to the atonement and resurrection in three verses. What a wonderful way to present the Gospel in a Christmas card!

The more I thought about this little fragment of God’s Word, the more I wanted to write a blog post about the rich teaching it contains. The writer’s economy in condensing the Gospel message into just three verses encourages me to remember the simplicity, and yet the profound magnificence of our Lord and Savior. We celebrate His birth precisely because He is the glorious One described in this beautiful introduction to Hebrews. So let’s spend a few minutes enjoying the teaching in this small portion of God’s Word.

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Flashback Friday: Thankful Beyond Compare

Originally published March 8, 2016:

Swan and Ducks

Throughout my life, I’ve fallen into the sin of ingratitude. For the most part, I succumbed to this sin as a result of comparing myself with able-bodied people. I can remember the envy I nurtured in my heart during my two years in Memphis, listening to my co-workers talk about their homes and marriages, and feeling resentful that I was single and living in a nursing home. When they encouraged me to be grateful for a roof over my head, food in  my belly and people to get me up each morning, you bet I felt like smacking them! But, as angry as I was that I couldn’t have the goodies that they had, I was even angrier that their comments exposed my sin of ingratitude.

Rather than comparing myself to my co-workers, I believe the Lord wanted me to compare myself to the blind, non-verbal quadriplegic two doors down from me whose mother wouldn’t even touch him when she visited. Or the woman who had been disabled when a drunk driver smashed into her car, killing her baby and damaging her mind and body so severely that her husband immediately  filed for divorce. Or all those with Cerebral Palsy that had spent their entire adult lives in that roach-infested place, with no hope of getting out. Had I contrasted my life to theirs, I think I would have been much more grateful for all the Lord had given me.

Scripture frequently has to tell us to thank the Lord for His blessings precisely because we naturally gravitate toward ingratitude. We convince ourselves that, compared to certain others, we don’t receive what life supposedly owes us. Or, to put it in terms we’d never admit, we don’t receive what God supposedly owes us.

Our real problem is that we have an inflated opinion of ourselves coupled with a deflated view of the Lord. Rather than recognizing that we actually owe Him everything, both because He created us and because He shed His precious blood to pay the penalty for our sin, we demand that He cater to our desires. I say “we” because I still allow myself to dabble in the sin of ingratitude. I’ll cast the first stone at myself, but I seriously doubt that I’m the only one guilty of taking His goodness for granted.

With that being the case, we all need the Bible’s reminders to praise and thank the Lord for His goodness to us. Psalm 100 is one of many passages of Scripture that directs me to praise and thank Him.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
    Serve the Lord with gladness!
    Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise!
    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations. ~~Psalm 100 (ESV)

It helps me to compare myself to that quadriplegic young man in the nursing home. But that might not be the most Biblical approach to cultivating gratitude, now that I think of it. Instead of comparing ourselves with people more fortunate or less fortunate than ourselves, perhaps we’d do better by focusing on Who God is and how graciously He cares for us.

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So Much More Than A Pretty Piece Of Jewelry

Like many Christian women, I wear a pendant shaped like a cross. It’s a pretty silver thing — slightly fanciful, but nothing ornate. Truth be told, it’s a bit bigger than it should be, making me look a bit like a nun. One of John’s Avon customers ordered it years ago, but decided she didn’t want it, so John offered it to me. I’ve worn it for several years because I like identifying myself as a Christian.

Cross shaped pendants really are pretty, don’t you think? That fact is sort of bizarre, considering that execution by crucifixion was one of the cruelest ways to put even the vilest criminal to death. Some critics of using it as jewelry argue that we might as well wear little gold and silver replicas of electric chairs around our necks. Grudgingly, I see their point. When I think about the gruesome realities of the crucifixion process, it does seem a bit barbaric to turn the cross into a fashion accessory.

In an article on the Learn Religion website, Marcy Fairchild explains The Definition of Crucifixion, an Ancient Method of Execution. If you’ve never read about the things crucifixion entails, her article outlines it delicately but accurately, so I’d strongly encourage you to take a minute to read through it before continuing with this post.

You can see the inhumanity of crucifixion in Ms. Fairchild’s post, and you probably wince at the thought that the sinless Lord endured such physical pain and degradation. Wincing is definitely an appropriate response to the barbaric execution of the One Who created the universe, I daresay! Never has there been a miscarriage of justice as extreme and unfounded! Jesus did nothing to deserve the death of a criminal, and even Pilate (who sentenced Him to death) knew it.

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You’ll Never Find Assurance Apart From Christ

This week I had several severe episodes of anger. Usually, such behavior causes me to doubt that I was ever genuinely saved.

In one sense, our sins should lead us to examine ourselves. If we show absolutely no evidence that Christ is transforming us into His image, perhaps we really need to question our salvation.

But Satan often uses our occasional lapses into sin as an effort to discourage us. Once we attach salvation to our performance, we deny the very heart of the Gospel. Salvation comes exclusively from the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning work on the cross.

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