Tag Archives: salvation

Jesus had to die to save a wretch like me

I wrote these words a few years ago.   They are as true today as they ever were.   God is good!

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You won’t be free until you see the cross of Jesus Christ for what it truly is.   This is why St. Paul said that he desired to know and preach nothing else besides Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).  The words of that wonderful hymn are true:

Would you be free from your burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood
Would you o’er evil the victory win?
There’s wonderful power in the blood

The writer of Hebrews says this about Jesus, our sacrifice:  “He entered once for all in the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscious from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:12-14).

Would you be free?  Would you be purified in your mind and heart and enabled to serve the living God with a clean heart?   You must know the power of the blood shed on the tree of Calvary.

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One of the biggest obstacles to our freedom is our tendency to minimize our sin, thereby minimizing the cross.   After many years of theological education which taught me all the many theories about why Jesus died on the cross none of it had any power to change my life like the simple truth:

Jesus had to die to save a wretch like me.   

Sin is a serious thing to God and the cross is proof of this.  Sin is not just inconvenient, or messy, or harmful, or depressing, or selfish.  Sin is deadly.  Sin destroys.  Sin is of such seriousness that it required God’s own Son to die in order to deal with it.   If you have any doubts about how serious God takes our sexual immorality or other habitual sins just look at the cross and see his bloody Son.   

I remember the day I first saw Jesus on the cross as though for the first time after nearly 36 years of being a Christian.   I had just completed a strongly recommended assignment while at Pure Life where I locked myself away in a chapel for about 6 hours and wrote out everything that came to mind in Charles Finney’s Breaking Up the Fallow Ground exercise.   When done, I gazed at the 20-some pages of offenses I’ve committed against this God I claimed to love and my heart was crushed like never before.    As I wept over the utter wretchedness of my life I looked up at the cross on the chapel wall and cried out,

HOW???  HOW COULD YOU DIE FOR SUCH A MESS LIKE ME???  HOW COULD YOU DO IT!!?? WHAT SORT OF LOVE IS THIS??!!

In that moment there was no longer  a question of WHY Jesus died for me.  I knew in my heart of hearts that there was no other way.  The WHY was morphed by HOW.    How could God do this for me?  I remember shouting,  I am so unlike You!  I became mesmerized by this holy, awesome, wholly-other God who would put on flesh and bones and shed His righteous blood for a wretch like myself.   Give me this Jesus!   I no longer wished to argue about nor doubt why he died for me but desired nothing more than to live for a God who showed such love for me!   There was no doubt in my mind and heart that from that moment on I would make Jesus the Lord of my life forever, and that I would one day be with Him in glory.    I knew the price with which I had been bought, and it was now a joy to honor God with all my heart, mind, and strength, including my body (1 Cor. 6:20).

My hope and prayer for you who are reading this blog is that you would see the cross this Easter season for what it truly is.    The why is simple:  He had to die to save a wretch like you and I.   The how is marvelous:  What sort of God is this who would do such a thing for you and I?   When you see the cross for what it is you will know that you know that you know that you are Christ’s and He is yours.

If you are serious about putting to death your habitual sin then I challenge you do print out the Breaking Up the Fallow Ground and read it, pray over it, and do it.   Take as many hours or days as it requires of you, and ask God to show His Son to you as though for the very first time.   He will do it!

A pastor friend of mine who came to me for help after decades of bondage took this exercise seriously and sent me the following text:

I am free! The surrender is as complete as I can do for the moment.  I have the assurance that I am Christ’s and He is mine.  There is NO more condemnation!  I am walking out of this sanctuary as a new resurrected person in Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit, desiring to walk in holiness and to do things not my way, but His.   Praise God! Thank you Jesus. I have the assurance of my personal salvation for the first time in my life!  Praise God for His mercy, His patience, and His faithfulness!

He has been free for over 2 months now, praise be to God.    Will today be the beginning of your freedom?     Run to the cross.   There is power in the blood!

Jesus the Door

I’m in the middle of a teaching series on Sunday called “Reveal” which takes us through the Gospel of John.  The aim is to reveal who Jesus is and why he is significant.   I don’t normally blog about my sermons but am doing so here for two reasons.  One, I think there is something beneficial for everyone, whether you are in recovery or not (yet).  And two, I leaned heavily on a chapter in one of my favorite books, We Would See Jesus, by Roy Hession.  Perhaps in reading this you will be led to buy his book and read it once or a thousands times.  I would.

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So the following are highlights from the sermon and the book.  You can view the sermon below.   I pray it blesses you.

Jesus as the Door

In the beginning there were no walls.   There was perfect fellowship between God and humans, and perfect fellowship between man and woman.  We didn’t have walls between us until sin entered the fabric of the universe. You can read about this in Genesis 3.  Almost immediately, after Adam and Eve reached beyond what God instructed, a wall went up.   Shame and guilt surrounded the relationships both here on earth and between us and heaven.  This is what sin does.  While it promises life and freedom it delivers only death and shame.  With each transgression it’s as if we are adding another rock to the layer until we wake up one morning and find our fellowship with God and others strained.

Even those of us who have walked with God for many years experience this wall from time to time if we are not vigilant.  It’s so easy to allow jealousy or bitterness or some resentment to erect a wall almost without our awareness.   Creep happens, where the things of this world entice us bit by bit and we unintentionally give ground, allowing sin to tantalize us just for a moment and before we realize it a habit has developed.  This habit soon becomes an addiction and we wake up one morning with a great wall between us and God and our fellows.   Who among us have not had periods of famine where it seems as though the pages of scripture have dried up and our prayer life has grown stale and worship has become routine?

And what do we try to do when we find a wall?  We try to fix it by doing more.  We pull up our boot straps and determine to scale the wall.  We try, try, try harder.  We white-knuckle ourselves until we are blue in the face and we fail again, frustrated that the wall now seems higher rather than more manageable.   If only there were some other way through this wall!

Read John 10:1-10.  Here we discover the great truth that God has not left us to eternal separation and frustration but has provided not only the one who can show us the way through the wall, but is the way himself!   Jesus not only points us to the door, but he is the Door!  If only we will come to him and acknowledge that we are in no position to scale the wall on our own, we will find the abundant life he promises (John 10:10).

As we consider Jesus as the Door, we discover four characteristics of this door.  Each of these by themselves are significant and praise-worthy.   Taken together, they will revolutionize anyone’s world, and set them free.

Door used in worship Sunday
Door used in worship Sunday

1.  It’s an OPEN Door. 

When Jesus hung on the cross and announced it is finished, the wall (veil) separating the most holy place within the Temple from the rest of the world split in two.   Jesus forever demolished the wall that stood between us and God requiring that we work our way towards salvation through the Law.  So open is this door that the biblical authors declare we may now go boldly before the throne of grace to receive mercy (Hebrews 4:16).

What qualifies us for this door?  It is our sin that makes us qualified to come enter through it.  It is our coldness, our unbelief, our hard hearts, our addictions, our jealousies, and a myriad other ways in which we sin which qualify us for this Door, provided we will simply acknowledge this.  We cannot conquer or suppress or scale these things on our own, but are invited to judge these things as sin and bring them to the open Door.

2. It’s open at STREET LEVEL

Not only is the door open to everyone, it’s open to us right where we are.  We do not need to dress ourselves up in order to make ourselves look more presentable before we come to Jesus the Door.  This is Good News!  The door to God is open to the sinner as a sinner, and the failing saint as a failing saint. 

I know in my own life I may have thought of the door as open at street level for others but never myself.  Whenever I was failing in some area of my life I placed the door just a bit higher up, just out of reach.  I would convince myself that I need to get a few days sober before I approach God, or in some way make myself a better Christian before I can be accepted.  No!  Our failures do not disqualify us for the door but rather make our need for him all the more urgent, and his grace all the more abundant.  Run to him the moment you fail him and discover that he is everything he promises to be and more.

3. It’s a LOW Door.

In order to pass through we are going to have to bow our heads in repentance (turning away from our old ways and accepting Jesus’ ways).  Scripture speaks again and again of “stiff-necked” people whom God cannot use or transform because they are stubborn, self-willed, and full of pride.

If you have come to the door again and again and have left unchanged and unfulfilled, it might be because you came to the door with your own agenda and your own ideas of how this new life is going to look.  Remember, our best thinking has gotten us here, to this point of need.  All it has done is erect a great big wall.  If we are going to pass through this door into life we are going to have to be broken, lower our heads to the dust and trust that the things God requires of us are for our own good and will lead us to wholeness.  Everything must change.  And that change begins with me as I bow my head and enter.

4. It’s a NARROW Door.

When we arrive at the door we stand there utterly alone, with no room on the left or right of us for anyone else.  We cannot wait for nor depend upon our family and friends, our church or pastor, to get us through the door.  One day we will all stand before God and give a personal account of our lives and no finger pointing will do (Rom. 14:12).

Nor can we wait for someone else to get right before we do.   This drives the co-dependents among us, myself included, crazy.   We can’t be the door for others, or wait for them to get through the door before we start taking care of ourselves.  If we are going to realize Jesus as the Door and all the blessings that come with it, we will have to trust that He is also the Door for them, but only as they come alone and decide on their own to walk the path Jesus has made.

Thank God for Jesus!  The wall between us and God or us and others cannot be scaled on our own by our own power.  But thanks be to God for Jesus, who is himself the Door, always open, right where we are, ready to transform us one by one.  All that is required of us is that we come to him.  Just come. Don’t wait.  He’s ready and willing and more than capable of doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

Are you Inspecting or Reflecting Salvation?

In Luke 3 the word of God comes to John the Baptist who is in the wilderness.   So often this is where God breaks through to us – in the wilderness.   Rarely will we hear it or know it in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, particularly when we think we are doing just fine and need nothing (it’s significant, I think, that Luke first tells us about all the governors and rulers – the powerful of the land –  before he moves to John in the wilderness).   People in the wilderness know they are in need.   They know that unless Somebody intervenes into their sorry state they are forever lost.  People in the wilderness are desperate.

God hears the cries of desperate people in the wilderness.    If you are in such a place today consider that it might be God’s mercy which brought you here.    He has a word for you and needs you to hear it.  Will you listen?  Will you respond?

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John responded by going out and proclaiming that lives can and should be transformed.  He proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins – a life that is turned completely around and marching to new orders.

He then quotes the prophet Isaiah.   As only one who has been in the wilderness can do, he points those who will listen to a God who fills the valleys and topples the mountains.    This is a God who will exalt the humble and humble the proud.

He goes on to say that God will make the crooked straight and the rough spots level.    This is good news!   I am so in need of a God who won’t leave me the way He found me in the wilderness!  I’m in need of a God  who will give me a new life with a new path to walk on while sanding down the rough spots in my life!   I can testify that God is still at work doing exactly this!   While I still have plenty of rough edges to be worked out and have much growing yet to do in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) I have witnessed the toppling of mountains in my life which at one time seemed insurmountable.

Do you have rough spots that need leveled or your path made straight?   God can and will do it!   And it will most likely be through a path you would not have picked for yourself or  imagined.   God declares,

I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them.  I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground.  These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them (Isa. 43:16).

Praise God!   I don’t know about you, but this gets me excited!   If we will just let go of the reigns, humble ourselves to God’s word,  and give up control God will lead us to a place of new life – one we cannot imagine!  He will not forsake this!

Finally, John the Baptist reminds us that God does all this so that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6).   God is seeking a people for Himself who will reflect the glory of His Son Jesus Christ, the spotless One who had no rough edges or crooked paths but only sought to do that which his Father did.   This is your calling and mine.  It is the will of God that you and I be holy and sanctified – set apart (1 Thess. 4:3) – and it is for this purpose:  That the unbelieving world, the world blinded in the wilderness, would see the salvation of God and come to believe that their rough places can be made smooth, too.   

May you be so moved by the word of God that you transition this day from being part of this world which is watching the salvation of God unfold in the lives of others to the part of God’s Bride which is reflecting the light of His glory for others to see.

Choose today to stop being a mere inspector of God’s salvation.  Be a reflector of it.  

It is happening all around us.  God is not forsaking His plan.   And it can and should include you.

Salvation is Supernatural

My devotional reading this morning was taken from Acts 1:5, You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.    William Law writes in his book The Power of the Spirit that Christ commanded his disciples to wait for this gift of the Spirit before they bore witness to the world about what they humanly knew of His birth, life, teachings, death and resurrection.  

Law continues, 

As salvation is in its whole nature the inward birth and life of Christ in the believer, so nothing but this “new creature in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17) can bear true witness to the realities of redemption.  Therefore a man, however expert in all Scripture learning, an only talk about the gospel as of any tale he has been told until the life of Christ has been brought forth, verified, fulfilled and enjoyed through the power of the Holy Spirit in his soul.  

 

No one can know salvation by a mere rational consent to that which is historically said of Christ.  Only by an inward experience of His cross, death and resurrection can the saving power of the gospel be known.  For the reality of Christ’s redemption is not in fleshly, finite, outward things – much less in verbal descriptions of them – but is a birth, a life, a spiritual operation which as truly belongs to God alone as does His creative power.

We must never forget that Jesus said “you must be born again.”   Salvation truly wrought is always a supernatural act of God whereby God takes a heart bent on bringing glory to self and transforms it into one that seeks only to glorify God.  All that is good and all that is evil comes from the heart, and thanks be to God we have a God who loves to do heart transplants!  (Ezek. 36:26).  

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Come, Holy Spirit, come.   

 

Is It Well With Your Soul?

I am reading a book on John Wesley’s theology for today titled, The New Creation, by Theodore Runyon.   A passage about assurance, and Wesley’s quest of it, spoke to me because it named what I think was once a cancer in my own heart not very long ago. 

In the years leading up to Wesley’s conversion experience, where his “heart was strangely warmed” and he knew that Christ had died for him, for even him, he was convinced that there must be some inner witness of the Spirit with his spirit that he was a child of God.  Yet he didn’t posses it.  

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August Spangenberg, a Moravian leader, posed questions to Wesley which unsettled him.   Questions like, “Have you the witness within yourself?  Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?”   Wesley reports,

I was surprised, and knew not what to answer. He observed it, and asked, “Do you know Jesus Christ?”  I paused, and said, “I know he is the Savior of the world.”  “True,” he replied, “but do you know he has saved you?”  I answered, “I hope he has died to save me.”  He only added, “Do you know yourself?”  I said, “I do.”  But I fear they were vain words.  

I identify with the father of Methodism in these words above.   I recall preaching and speaking of Jesus being the Savior of the world, and believing it to be true, yet not truly laying hold of this for myself.   The cross was good news for my listeners but I did not know it’s power in my own spirit.  

How difficult it is to lead anyone where you yourself have not been.  

It is so easy to get swept up into the tidal wave of causes, of programs, of things that in the end are nothing but works and in the doing of all this stuff we gain a false sense of assurance that we are children of God.   As Jesus said, we should have the one but not neglect the other.  We ought to be concerned with our neighbor but this ought to arise out of a deep love of God.   Holiness, what Wesley defined as a “recovery of the image of God, a renewal of soul after his likeness,” must become the heart’s cry of us all, particularly those of us who bear the name “pastor.”  

I have great respect for Wesley because he saw the deficiency in his own heart and was honest enough to confess it, and repent.   On May 24, 1738, he found that assurance he so desperately desired and as a result the world was turned upside down through the preaching of a man who laid hold of God, convinced that God had laid hold of him.  

So I ask you, as I ask myself:

Do you know Jesus Christ died for you?  Do you know that Jesus shed his blood for the forgiveness of your sins?   Does the Spirit of God, the same Spirit that rose Christ from the dead, bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God? 

Lord, may Your grace and mercy give us no rest until we can say with assurance, Yes!  It is well with my soul!