Worthiness: Ours Or His?

Rich In Mercy

The logic goes that Jesus died for us because He saw something in us worth saving.  That perspective certainly sounds reasonable, and I’d venture to say that every one of us would love to believe it. Doesn’t it thrill you to think that the Lord saw something special and valuable in you? That you were worth saving?

Once again,  however, this interpretation of Christ’s death subtly shifts attention from Christ’s mercy and grace to us. It neglects the wretched condition of our souls by insinuating that we actually deserved God’s notice.  In fact, it pretty much implies that He had an obligation to save us. Could we even say that He is lucky to have such magnificent people in His kingdom?

As much as the idea that we possess something of intrinsic value appeals to us, nothing in the Bible supports it. On the contrary, God’s Word repeatedly emphasizes our unworthiness as a backdrop to His wondrous grace.Let me take you back to Ephesians 2:1-10 for a moment.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 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. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~~Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)

Verses 1-3 paint a particularly nasty picture of us, don’t  they? By  nature, it says, we were children of wrath. What value could a child of wrath, dead in sin and ruled by fleshly passions, possibly have? Why would a holy God have any compelling reason for shedding His innocent blood for any of us?

Verses 4-7 answer that question. The Lord lavished His salvation on us in order to display the riches of His grace and kindness. Our salvation points, not to any imaginary worth on our part, but to His generosity in saving such undeserving sinners.

The purpose of our salvation, then, is to showcase the Lord’s character. What a wonderful God He is to extend that degree of compassion on worthless sinners who merit nothing but His wrath. Although nothing about us commends us to Him, Jesus willingly went to the cross to accept the Father’s wrath — wrath that we deserved! His atoning sacrifice highlights His graciousness and compassion, revealing what a loving God He is!

He is the worthy one, not any of us. Worship (which means the ascribing of worth) goes totally to Him. How utterly magnificent that He would choose to love vile creatures like us! The more we understand that we had no value in and of ourselves, the more we want to worship Him for His inexplicable mercy and grace.

Verse 10 completes the beautiful picture of God’s grace in saving us, declaring that He regenerates us into His workmanship. Though we have no worth of our own, Christ gives us His worth, graciously using us as His agents of good works. At this mercy, we can only praise Him.

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The Unsafe Space Of “Christian” Psychology

UnliberatedIn this past Saturday’s edition of Saturday Sampler, I linked to Michelle Lesley’s insightful blog post examining the hypersensitivity that permeates our culture and has seeped into evangelical churches. I agree with her that the root of the problem is plain old self-centerdness. The more we turn away from glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ, worshiping Him as the centerpiece of His creation, the more we fixate on ourselves. And that fixation naturally encourages us to elevate the importance of our feelings.

The apostle Paul accurately predicted that, as history draws near to Christ’s return, people would manifest a variety of characteristics in opposition to the fruit of the Spirit.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. ~~2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV)

Notice, if you please, that Paul listed “lovers of self” at the top of this description. In one sense, all the other characteristics flow out of self-love, but I believe Paul intended to name it as merely one of these characteristics. Consequently, I maintain that the sin of self-love has shown itself in the current hypersensitivity that we see in 21st Century Western society.

Obviously, the sin of self-love has always plagued humanity. Think of Haman in the book of Esther and Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel as glaring examples. But I believe the advent of modern psychology has greatly exacerbated the problem — both in secular society and in the visible church.

Psychology tells us that we can’t love others properly unless we first love ourselves.  In Christian circles, we superimpose that premise onto Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves (see Mark 12:28-31). Even as an unregenerate child in Sunday School, I understood that Jesus meant we should love others the way we already love ourselves, but “Christian” psychology confuses this straightforward command, transforming it into evidence that God calls us to self-love.

“Christian” psychology invites us to demand that people validate our feelings. Never mind the many Scriptures that command us to lay aside our own wants and needs to esteem others above ourselves, and ignore Scriptures that rightly portray us as vile wretches dependent wholly on God’s grace and mercy. Forget that, without Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, we deserve only eternity in hell. “Christian” psychology would have us nurture the same sense of entitlement that dominates today’s world.

Think about all the personality tests that circulate among churches. Utilizing psychological models, they encourage us to focus on ourselves. I’ve participated in a six-week “discipleship” program that employed psychological principles to help me analyze myself. And don’t get me started on all those women’s retreats urging me to expose my dysfunctional childhood so that Jesus could heal my brokenness.

Yes, Western society enjoys a preoccupation with self, enhanced by a nearly universal embrace of modern psychology. Regrettably, professing Christians (some of whom may be legitimate converts) have fallen for this drivel and, as a result, compromised sound theology in order to inflate their self-love. In so doing, they exhibit the same hypersensitivity that characterizes their non-Christian counterparts.

Ladies, the Lord wants His people to be markedly different from the world. Where they insist that we not offend them, we must forgive those who offend us. We must stop promoting ourselves in order to promote the Lord and seek the best for those around us, even when doing so requires self-sacrifice.

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The Back Story To Good Friday

At The CrossPeople naturally recoil at any mention of God’s wrath or His judgment. None of us particularly relishes the thought of His righteous anger, and we certainly balk at the suggestion that we personally deserve eternal punishment for our sins. I know I’d prefer to focus on His love.

But in order to really understand the wonder of God’s grace in Christ’s atoning death on the cross, we first must come to terms with the horrifying reality that, as sinners, we deserve eternal damnation. The apostle Paul, as a matter of fact, spent the first two-and-a-half chapters of Romans demonstrating the universal corruption of the human race. He makes it abundantly clear that not one of us can justify ourselves before God.

From there, however, Paul introduces the glorious good news that Christ Jesus took God’s wrath on Himself, actually bearing the punishment that rightfully belongs to you and me.

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. ~~Romans 3:9-26 (ESV)

Verse 25 states that God put His Son forward as a propitiation. Because we rarely use the word “propitiation” in our highly secularized culture, we miss the connection between God’s wrath and Christ’s work on the cross. So let’s define this almost forgotten word.

A propitiation is, simply put, an atoning sacrifice. It carries the connotation of appeasing an offended party. This sacrifice absorbs the punishment that otherwise would fall on the person who caused the offense. For example, the slaughtered animals used in Old Testament offerings propitiated for the sins of the Jews. These Old Testament sacrifices, we now understand, looked forward to the Lamb of God, Who would bear the wrath that actually belongs to us.

Today, Good Friday, we remember Jesus dying on the cross as our substitute. But do we fully understand that the Father’s wrath was poured out on Him at that moment? I believe that’s difficult for us to accept.

Aside from occasional moments of clarity when the horror of our sin absolutely won’t escape our notice, we really don’t see ourselves as deserving of God’s righteous indignation. Sure, we acknowledge that we’ve sinned, but we struggle to realize just how odious our sin is to a holy God. Our inability to comprehend the overwhelming enormity of our sinfulness makes it equally hard to comprehend the overwhelming enormity of God’s wrath toward our sin.

As a result, we can miss the profound beauty of Jesus’  death as our propitiation.

Thankfully, our dullness to the depth of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf in no way minimizes its effect. Praise God, He has taken the wrath that our sin incurred precisely so that no one who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ will ever have to experience the full impact of God’s wrath. How glorious that our loving Heavenly Father, desiring to shield us from His justified anger, mercifully provided His own propitiation! What a wonderful God we serve!

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They Killed The Man Who Would Not Suffer Loss

Today’s song probably doesn’t technically qualify as a hymn, but I love its portrayal of Christ’s relationship with the stubborn Pharisees. For all their study of Scripture, these men were trapped in blindness, unable to recognize the very Messiah they claimed to await.

Often, people challenge Christians who study the Bible, asking if we’d be as clueless if Jesus appeared to us. I thought about that question as I listened to this song, remembering that those who pose this question typically want a humble answer of “Perhaps not.” The objective is to elevate an experiential knowledge over the Word of God.

In part, they make a valid point. None of us can recognize the Lord unless The Holy Spirit illumines God’s Word as we read and study it. Indeed, Nicodemus came to saving faith in Jesus because the Spirit opened his eyes to see that Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. His study didn’t blind him to the truth. Rather, he needed the Holy Spirit to help him comprehend his studies.

So yes, I would recognize Jesus if He appeared to me because His Holy Spirit would reveal Him as I consulted Scripture.

The other Pharisees in the First Century could not recognize their Messiah precisely because the Holy Spirit hadn’t opened their ability to understand Scripture. If they actually had understood Who He was, God’s sovereign plan of atonement wouldn’t have happened. They could not understand in order that they could not alter God’s plan of redemption.

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Saturday Sampler: March 18 — March 24

Three BunniesIf I comment on Even more than the watchmen of the night! by Elizabeth Prata in The End Time, I’d surely spoil it for you. But if you take time to read it, I promise that you’ll be glad you did.

Writing for Ligonier, W. Robert Godfrey examines The Word-less “Church” that permeates the evangelical landscape these days. Ignoring God’s Word has grave consequences that churches must recognize in order to responsibly honor the Lord Jesus Christ.

Unlocking the Bible features Pastor Tim’s Bible Q&A: What Should I Do If I Am Doubting the Goodness of God? Sometimes my sin causes me to question my salvation, and so Pastor Tim’s points offer the assurance I need.

Even though John Chester writes When Preaching Wears a Mask for pastors, I believe his thoughts can help all of us be discerning about the preaching we sit under. You’ll find this post on the Parking Space 23 blog.

“The issue of inerrancy is an issue of the integrity of God” according to Eric Davis of The Cripplegate. His article, How True is the Bible? — Inerrancy examines the trustworthiness of Scripture as the expression of God’s character. Yes, it’s a lengthy piece, but its length underscores the critical importance of the topic.

Yes! Emphatically YES! Michelle Lesley of Discipleship for Christian Women hits the nail on the head with Throwback Thursday ~ The Daily Wonder of Easter. We need committed pastors, not creative ones. Thank you, Michelle, for reprising this essential essay.

Writing for Southern Equip (a blog produced by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Thomas Schreiner discusses Faith that moves mountains: What Jesus didn’t mean. He provides an excellent example of understanding Scripture in its correct context, as well as extricating familiar verses from popular misinterpretations.

Don’t miss Your Testimony Is Not The Gospel by the late R.C. Sproul on the Ligonier blog. His observations in this matter clarify what we should emphasize in our evangelistic efforts.

Normally I don’t link to anything posted prior to the dates listed in a Sampler title bar, and I can’t remember ever linking to a podcast. Andy Olson’s February 17 episode of Echo Zoe Radio, Costi Hinn: Defining Deception, causes me to make exceptions on both counts. Costi once ministered with his uncle, Benny Hinn, but has since become a cessationist. His testimony will absolutely fascinate you.

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Of First Importance, According To The Scriptures

He Is Risen IndeedDay after tomorrow begins Holy Week, when Christians throughout the world commemorate the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection. These two events, of course, are the very heart of the Gospel, as the apostle Paul explained in his letter to the Corinthians.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, ~~1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (ESV)

Most of us have heard this basic Gospel message so often that we can recite it without much thought. And, I might add, many times without much feeling. We want to move past the fundamentals and explore all the resultant issues of Christianity. Readers of this blog, for example, show the most interest in articles naming evangelical celebrities than in ones about the Gospel.

Yet Paul, writing under the direction of the Holy Spirit, insisted that Christ’s death, burial and resurrection rank first in order of importance. We need to pay attention to his pronouncement.

In this blog, I cover a lot of topics that I consider highly important. Exposing false teachers, examining homosexuality, refuting Roman Catholicism and arguing against women usurping male leadership represent just a few subjects that stir my passion. And these issues most assuredly need a great deal of attention, particularly as evangelical churches continue sliding into worldly attitudes and behaviors.

But the best means of standing against these threats to Biblical Christianity lies in maintaining a solid connection with the Gospel. We need to constantly come back to the historical events of that Passover weekend, understanding that God used those powerful events to bring sinners like you and me to salvation.

For that reason, we mustn’t confine our consideration of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection to Holy Week. The Bible says these events are of first importance!  As such, we must keep them in the forefront of our minds, remembering how desperately we needed the salvation that Christ accomplished for us on the cross.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 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. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~~Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)

As you can see, we cannot regard Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection dispassionately, as if they had no real bearing on our lives. Apart from the shed blood of Jesus Christ, every single one of us would be eternally damned, dead to the things of God because of our own sin. Praise the Lord that He took our punishment, and rose again to give believers eternal life with Him!

Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection take first importance because our eternal life absolutely depends on what He did for us! Holy Week can be a wonderful starting place for appreciating His amazing grace in saving wretches like you and me, but this tremendous Gospel message must remain central to our thoughts long after we exit our churches on Resurrection Sunday.

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A Fun Little Song With Truth We Can Celebrate

It was a fun little song. It amuses me that, 47 years later, I still  remember both the lyrics and the upbeat tune. Especially since I really didn’t understand exactly what it meant.

Being good Charismatics, we predictably sang this ditty almost every time someone decided to lay hands on me for healing. After all, we assured ourselves,  we were merely claiming God’s promise in Romans 8:11. In our understanding, that fragment of Scripture taught that Christ’s resurrection guaranteed physical healing in this present life.

But looking at this verse in context, we see an entirely different meaning, and a meaning that gives us a correct way to apply Christ’s resurrection to ourselves. Let’s read this verse in its immediate context first, and then we’ll talk about how it fits into the apostle Paul’s overall argument.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. ~~Romans 8:1-11 (ESV)

Even here, we can plainly see that Paul is talking about personal holiness rather than physical healing. He contends that the same Holy Spirit Who affected Christ’s resurrection gives us Christ’s very righteousness, thereby empowering us to live in obedience to God’s law instead of following the dictates of our sinful inclinations.

You might wonder why Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit Who raised Christ from the dead. To answer that question, we need to go back to Romans 6, where the apostle discusses our baptism as a way of identifying with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. ~~Romans 6:1-4 (ESV)

As the Spirit raised Christ literally, so He raises us figuratively in our present life to resist sin and to walk in righteousness. Going back to Romans 8:1-11, then, we understand that the same Spirit Who raised Christ from the dead gives us Christ’s life in order that we can live in Christ’s righteousness. Through the Lord’s resurrection, we have new lives, liberating us from the tyranny of sin.

Certainly His resurrection also carries the assurance of our physical resurrection at Christ’s return, as we’ll discuss in subsequent blog posts. Please don’t misunderstand me as saying that the benefits of Christ’s resurrection are limited to their implications in our present life. But also appreciate the wonderful truth that His resurrection allows us to enjoy a new life, even now, that permits us to experience His righteousness.

That little song based on Romans 8:11 is still fun to sing. Its proper context makes it even more fun as we celebrate the victory over sin that we enjoy because the same Spirit Who raised Christ from the dead dwells in us!

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