Big Words of the Faith – Justification

gavel“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24, NIV).

“Justification” is another big word in the Christian faith. It is a judicial term meaning that someone who has done something wrong is suddenly declared innocent. In Christian theology the term “justified” means that we, as guilty sinners, are proclaimed righteous before a God who is perfect and just.

Justification can be discussed in a couple of different ways. We can say that universally Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross bought forgiveness for all people. In this regard, every sin of every person has been paid for by the shed blood of Christ. This truth, however, does not mean that all people are eventually saved. Only through faith in what Jesus has done does a person lay hold of this precious gift of God’s grace.

Simply put, Jesus died to remove the soul-staining sin of each of us. Still, this gift must be received by faith. May God lead each of us to believe this truth and so receive the gift he freely offers.

Big Words of the Faith – Incarnation

bible in manger“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…” (John 1:1,14, NIV).

“Incarnation” is one of the big words of the Christian faith. It simply means that God, in Jesus Christ, took on human flesh and lived among us. This is a precious mystery, that we would witness both God and man, divinity and humanity, simultaneously in the Christ, a mystery that means everything concerning God’s redemptive act and our subsequent salvation.

Like any of the big theological words, however, there is danger in misrepresenting the doctrine of the Incarnation. This is not some mere mathematical formula, cold and calculated. Rather, the Incarnation is one of the sweetest truths of the Christian faith. It is God’s unconditional love wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. It is God’s mercy and grace put on display on the cruel device of a cross. It is God’s power bursting forth from a vacated tomb. The Incarnation of Jesus is the realization that the Creator cares for his creation so much that he chose to become one of them.

Freedom

fourth of july“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1, NIV).

Today is Independence Day in the United States of America. This is the day we recall the many freedoms we have in our country. We are truly blessed to live in such a great land. We celebrate with family and friends, enjoying the finest of food grilled over hot coals, lively parades, and festive fireworks.

Still, the Fourth of July would not be complete without some meaningful reflection concerning the source of our freedom. We remember the many brave men and women who currently serve in the military and those who have served our country in the past to ensure that we can live freely. Many of these individuals paid the ultimate price, giving their very lives to purchase and maintain our freedom.

Scripture speaks of another type of freedom that is just as much worth celebrating as our nation’s Independence Day. Through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, his blood-shed payment for our sins, we are declared free. Our victory is over death, our transgressions, even the Devil himself.

The Apostle Paul was one of the first individuals to share this liberating truth. He visited and wrote letters to many of the churches in the region of Asia Minor. One of these churches was located at a place called Galatia.

For the Galatian Christians, their spiritual freedom was under attack. A group known as the Judaizers had followed-up on Paul’s message of the good news Gospel of Christ with a message of their own, convincing new Gentile converts that, in order to be true Christians, they had to follow a list of rules and rituals. Paul’s stern reminder to the Galatian people was that they were sons and daughters, adopted by God, not slaves under the Law. They were in no way to return to the bonds of legal indebtedness, but were to live in the freedom of a relationship with their graceful God.

Like the Galatians, we, too, possess a certain level of freedom as Christ-followers. And, although we should watch that this freedom does not become a license for sin, returning us to a state of spiritual slavery, we are free to love God and serve others.

Thank God today for the many freedoms we have as Americans. More importantly, remember to thank God for the freedom we have in Christ. We are citizens of a great country. We are adopted sons and daughters of a great God. Let’s celebrate!

Walk

path walk“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8, NIV).

I love the image of God strolling through the Garden of Eden. And I hate the idea that Adam and Eve felt like they needed to hide from God. As the Creator admired all that he had made, creation’s crowning achievement hid behind the trees. This picture could have been so much more complete if only the couple had chosen to walk alongside God rather than to run from God. Still, it is so telling of our sinful human condition.

One of the descendants of Adam and Eve was Enoch. While very little is written about him, we are told that “Enoch walked faithfully with God…” (Genesis 5:24, NIV). The same is said of Noah, another descendant of Adam and Eve. Whether the phrase “walked faithfully” is taken literally or more figuratively, the idea is that each of these men had a close relationship with God.

My desire is to walk faithfully with God, to know him even as I am known by him, to move in-step with him, and at times, to be carried by him. But, so often I take other wayward and faithless paths.

Still, God is faithful. In Jesus, he came once again to walk with us. The path he walked led to the cross, where he died to save us. And I am eternally grateful.

Shopping Cart of Grace

crayons new“God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV).

Recently I took my eleven-year-old son to purchase his back-to-school supplies. As we worked through our list of items, we played an informal game of matching the items from our list with the items on the store shelves. With the store becoming more crowded as we shopped, we wisely positioned our cart at the end of the aisle, leaving it unattended as we searched for our remaining supplies. Finally, we were finished and headed for the check-out line at the front of the store.

As the clerk scanned our items, we were distracted by the display of candy and the friendly glances of an elderly woman standing behind us in line. Unbeknownst to us, some of the items being scanned and placed in our shopping cart were not the ones we had chosen. Our bags were soon filled with a combination of school supplies for an eleven-year-old and the school supplies of a grad student. For fear that the friendly glances of the elderly woman would soon turn impatient, we hurriedly paid for our supplies, as well as the supplies of someone else, and left the store.

On our way home, we solved the mystery of the mixed-up school supplies. Apparently, about half-way through our shopping trip, I had mistakenly exchanged our shopping cart for the shopping cart of another. In the process, we sacrificed our water-color paints and pink erasers for college-ruled composition notebooks.

As I thought more about our mixed-up shopping trip, I was reminded of grace and how God made an intentional exchange with each of us. At the cross, Jesus took all our sin and traded it for his righteousness. He paid in full a cost that we could never pay.

As I think now about those pink erasers and water-color paints, the ones I had attempted to purchase for my son, I’m reminded of my scarlet-colored sin and Jesus’ blood-stained cross, and I’m thankful. I’m forgiven, and I’m free. I guess it took a shopping trip and the Holy Spirit to remind me of that!

Spirit Fruit – Kindness

fruit bananas strawberries blueberries new“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:6-9, NIV).

Before we begin our study on kindness, let’s look at where we’ve been so far. The Apostle Paul wrote that “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV). As we live into the image of God, modeled best for us in Jesus, certain traits like the ones listed above naturally flow from our lives. To a certain extent, we as Christians can’t help but show the Spirit fruit.

Still, the truest form of each of these fruits is found in Jesus. And kindness is no exception. The grace extended to each of us from the cross of Jesus is truly a gift that we do not deserve. Yet, Jesus’ kindness made it possible.

As we put into practice kindness, may we lean on the example of Christ and his sacrifice for us. May we be motivated by love for one another as we joyfully serve. May we have peace and demonstrate patience. May there be a general goodness about us. May we be faithful to God and gentle in our manner of living. And may we always practice an extraordinary amount of self-control.

Thank you for learning about the Spirit fruit with me. May God bless you abundantly!

Spirit Fruit – Self-control

fruit lemons new“Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28, NIV).

I must confess that, in discussing the fruits of the Spirit, I’ve waited until the very end of our series to discuss self-control. Alright, I guess I still have kindness and patience to talk about, but those are fairly easy topics. I’d like to say that the reason for my delay in addressing self-control is that I was intentionally putting it into practice – or at least practicing the fruit of patience! But, quite honestly, I’ve put the topic of self-control off for so long because, for me, it’s one of the more challenging fruits of the Spirit to live out. Maybe it is for you as well.

We must recognize that the problem of self-control has plagued man ever since he took his first steps in the Garden of Eden. In fact, it could be argued that the first recorded sin in the Bible, Adam and Eve’s disobedience, came about due to a lack of self-control. Our ancient ancestors were told they could eat from any of the trees in the garden except one. And this is the one tree they just couldn’t resist.

The good news is that Jesus dealt with our inability to practice self-control and all its sinful implications. He is our ultimate example of self-control. The Bible says that Jesus was “…tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15, NIV). And he chose intentionally to take our sin all the way to the cross. We now stand forgiven and free.

By God’s Spirit, who lives in us, we have a power that is greater than ourselves. May we continually put into practice the Spirit fruit of self-control!