Need to check out a church, a bible study, or a community group and you’re not sure what they’re teaching is even in the bible? Take this book with you!
The essential mark of a Christian is love. Love for Christ, church members, neighbors, family, authorities and people who don’t know the Lord yet.
But let’s be honest. We don’t do this very well.
I don’t. You don’t.
Why do I say this with such confidence?
Because we are lovers of ourselves first. I prefer myself over you, and I suspect the same is true of you.
Unfortunately we deceive ourselves into thinking we love better than we do, and our friends will do everything they can to convince us we’re doing okay.
Try this experiment next time you’re in a group: Say something that lowers yourself in your own eyes, like, “I wasn’t very patient with my mother the other day.” Then wait for people’s responses. Several will try to rescue you from your low-self esteem. Why? Because if they didn’t attempt the rescue operation they would have to face their own lack of love for others.
We settle for half-hearted attempts. Listening with half an ear; putting off calling that pesky friend who talks too much; holding on to revenge because the person who hurt you still hasn’t admitted it.
Our hearts are deceitful and compromised by the world, the flesh and the devil. If one doesn’t cause us to trip, the other will. Maybe all three at the same time.
And the biggest trap we fall into is looking inside our hearts to find those evidences of love, good feelings and caring.
Except that’s the wrong direction.
Nothing good resides there.
Love must come from the outside. Not as a sensational feeling that sweeps us off our feet, but in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are members of his body and united to him. Love flows down from him to us and then out to our neighbor.
That’s why the apostle Paul exhorts us to put on Christ. Not once or twice but everyday.
What does that look like?
It’s realizing his love is 100% perfect and it’s ours as a gift.
It’s being grateful that he loved perfectly when he was here on earth and his perfect record God has been put into our account.
From God’s perspective, we love perfectly because it’s Christ’s love he sees there.
From our perspective, we live a life of transparency before the Lord, where no secrets are tolerated. We no longer give ourselves permission to sin. We throw out old grudges and hatred and forgive the other person, a hundred times if we have to.
It reveals how much we need Christ, which is exactly where we need to be. It’s confessing our sins and admitting our inadequacy. “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
And what does God think of this display of lowliness?
Take a look.
“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
‘I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite'”. – Isaiah 57:15 ESV
Talk to me.
Religion is for good people.
It has one central characteristic – to give you a bunch of laws to make your life work and to gain approval from its god. And the burden is on you. You have make it work. It’s your discipline and commitment that makes it or breaks it for you.
For example, meditation just doesn’t float down like a cloud and take you by the hand to your happy place. You have to work it. You have to set aside the time, roll out the mat, sit Buddha-style, inhale and exhale, clear your mind, breathe in, breathe out, and keep your back straight. After twenty minutes you get up, roll up the mat, tuck it under your arm and now you’re ready to check that off your list for the day.
On the other hand, Christianity is for bad people. That’s me. I have the mat, the exercise ball, and the twister thing, all with a heavy layer of dust on them in the corner of the room. I’ve walked away from many schools of discipline. I’m sure they would have worked had I been more consistent. But consistency eludes me, along with daily bible reading, prayer, and keeping my eyes glued to Jesus every day.
The slightest distraction draws me away from him. The weather. My spiritual temperature. The latest conflict with my husband. The boring aspects of my job. Those capture my heart faster than everything Jesus has done for me.
I tell others to be aware of looking inward because there’s nothing good there. Just sin and failure. That joy in life is found in keeping a closeness with Jesus. Except I don’t do it.
That’s why I’m a bad people. Even on my best days, my life is shot full of sin. That’s why Christianity is my kind of religion. It tells me I am bad, that I have no hope, and that I am lost and without God in the world. Sounds very orphan-like to me. No Father is heaven looking after me. No church to nurture and raise me. No brothers and sisters to live with. That’s as bad as it gets.
That’s why I need Christianity. That’s where I discover Jesus. He came to rescue me because I was that bad. He merited righteousness through his perfect obedience, and paid the price for my sins through his death on the cross. And both are credited to me through faith in him alone.
That’s it. It’s that simple, and yet it cost Jesus everything. My job? To believe him. If he said he did this, then you can trust him.
Which would you rather do? Believe in Jesus or roll out that dusty exercise ball?
Talk to me.
If you think the bible is about good people doing wonderful things for God, you ought to read it sometime!
The fact is, the bible is about a wonderful God doing good things for bad people.
The only good guys in the bible are God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Everybody else is bad.
That includes you and me.
“There is none righteous, no not one.” – Romans 3:10
The truth is not a single soul can stand before God and say, “I’ve done my best.”
We haven’t done our best, not even on our good days.
If God is going to save us and use us and make something of us, He’s going to have to do it in spite of ourselves. Not because we read the bible every day; not because we give thanks before every meal; not because we never miss church; and not because we try to be good parents, friends and neighbors.
We are promise breakers, we’re not people of integrity, and we don’t measure up to our own standards let alone God’s.
We need a God for failures.
And that’s exactly what we have.
Jesus Christ joined the human race so he could become our substitute.
He lived the life we should have lived, obeying every one of God’s commands from the heart.
That means he won God’s favor and secured a place in heaven for us.
His righteousness was charged to our accounts, so that we with all our sins and failures are declared righteous.
What happened to our sin?
God charged it to Jesus’s account, he absorbed the penalty, and died in our place on the cross.
It’s all paid for.
We stand forgiven and accepted because of the work of our Savior.
Talk to me.
A friend of mine is fond of saying, “Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving.”
We feel it when we violate our own rules. “I should have saved more money this year.”
How about when we don’t live up to own expectations? That’s a big one. There’s a video making the rounds on social media of a young boy seated at a window seat on a plane. He’s admonishing his father for not living up to his dreams of being a airline pilot. How does the boy know this about his father? “Because I want to be a pilot, and I plan to do it,” he says defiantly.
Wow. I’d spank him for his insolence. But you get the point. We are full of self-salvation strategies, aren’t we? We spend our days doing things to please ourselves in the hope that is also pleases God.
But we know better. Jesus’s perfect life of obedience to God’s law is the only effort that pleases God, and his death on the cross for our sins is the only reconciliation that He will accept.
If you’ve delivered yourself over to God’s plan of salvation for your life, you have nothing to be guilty of anymore. Jesus bore your guilt, your shame, your failure and your sin for you on the cross.
You are set free to love and serve him out of gratitude.
Go out and jump for joy!
Talk to me.
How often are you disgusted with your life of faith?
If you’re like me, very often.
I seem to live in unbelief more than in faith.
Even as a Christian I live my life as if God didn’t exist.
I don’t take him at his Word.
I’m impatient waiting for the fulfillment of his promises.
I’m so far away from rejoicing in his goodness and faithfulness it’s disgusting.
The stunning fact is that while God hates sin and grieves over the suffering we endure in our lives, he is not angry at us!
He doesn’t hold grudges, he doesn’t bring up the past, and he certainly doesn’t abandon us to figure things out on our own when we’re at our worst.
How can I say this?
Because of the gospel, of course.
Think theologically with me for a moment.
Does God have any negative emotions towards Jesus? Does he get fed up, exasperated and lose patience with him? Does he get angry and walk away?
Absolutely not. God has nothing but delight and love for his Son. He adores him.
And God delights and adores you and me, even when we sin!
Jesus paid for those sins. God doesn’t see them anymore. He has wrapped us in the glowing white robes of his Son’s perfection. We are united to him in all that he is, and Jesus’s perfect record of faith and patience and obedience is now ours.
God’s scandalous love in Jesus makes us dance and sing, even in our weakness and failure and sin!
Soak your heart in this truth today.
Talk to me.
I was in the office kitchen this morning and a co-worker asked me, “How are you?”
Without thinking I usually say, “Fine.” Nobody really wants an honest answer. The few times I’ve tried it, the other person feels responsible to respond in a meaningful way, and who has insights to give that early in the morning when you can barely pour a cup of coffee? So I’ve learned to answer in a neutral way.
But this morning I said, “I’m rejoicing that all of my sins are forgiven.”
And that opened up a beautiful gospel conversation.
I continued, “Did you know your sins are finite in number, and God knows every one of them, and they were all forgiven in Christ from the moment you were born?”
That lead to other comments about the wonderment of what God has done for us in his Son.
God purchased your soul before you were even conceived. Ephesians 1:4
God saw every one of your sins before you existed. Psalm 139
Each one was completely paid for before you committed any of them. Ephesians 1:7-10
Even those you haven’t committed yet, every one of them is already paid for, atoned for, and you are declared forgiven.
You’ve been forgiven in Christ from before the foundation of the world right through to eternity. Ephesians 1
What scandalous love!
Questions: How does that truth impact your struggles with sin today? How does it change your concept of who God is?
Talk to me.