How can we pray more like Jesus prays? Part 5

20 I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” John 17:20-21

This past year has been filled with many challenges, one of which is the increasing division in the USA. Animosity has been on the rise between people of differing political persuasions, worldviews, and skin color. As one of my mentors said to me recently, we know who is responsible for this. He was referring to the devil or “evil one” as Jesus refers to him in John 17:15. Satan is an expert at dividing people, especially God’s people. His primary targets are Christian marriages and Christian churches because both of these institutions reflect the image of God more than any other institution on the planet. If he can divide the people in these institutions, he can greatly reduce the impact of God’s power and presence in society today. And right now I would say Satan is quite successful in doing this. But God is still at work despite the devil’s advances.  

With that said, we are going to resume looking at Jesus’ prayer to His Father in heaven in John 17 which teaches us to pray like Christ prays. So far we have discovered that like Jesus, we are to pray…

– For God to be glorified when we face trials (John 17:1-5)

– For those we disciple (John 17:6-19) which includes…

  ~ Praying fortheir receptivity to God’s Word (John 17:6-8).

  ~ Praying for their protection from the world and the evil one (John 17:9-15).

  ~ Praying their purification through God’s Word (john 17:16-19).

Jesus now widens His prayer circle to include all future believers. From this we see that LIKE JESUS, WE ARE TO BROADEN OUR PRAYERS TO INCLUDE ALL FUTURE BELIEVERS IN CHRIST (John 17:20-26). Christ prays for three things for these future believers. From Jesus’ example, we learn first to pray for THEIR UNITY, SO THE WORLD CAN BELIEVE IN JESUS (John 17:20-23). Jesus prayed, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” (John 17:20). Christ did “not pray for these [Eleven disciples] alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.”

It is about two thousand years later, and Jesus says, “My prayer is for you.” You and I are some of those future generations who have believed in Him because of the disciples’ message. “The disciples / apostles with him that night would proclaim the gospel through their preaching and through their Holy-Spirit-inspired writings, which would become the New Testament.” 1

We still read the apostles’ message today. We are reading the gospel of John, the message of one of those He was praying for earlier (John 17:6-19). It is mind boggling to think that Jesus prayed for us at that time. Think of the millions of lives and circumstances that this one sentence spans from the first century to the twenty-first century!?! Think of the numbers of people, the numbers of situations and circumstances this includes. Think of your own life. Jesus is praying for you. That is how much He cares about you!

Jesus “prayed” for us and Jesus “prays” for us. Not only did He pray for us two thousand years ago, but He still prays for us today. His prayer for us today is not written down, but it is promised. Jesus Christ Who died and was raised to life, is at the right hand of God and He is interceding for us today (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). Christ is praying for you and me right now. That’s incredible! Jesus did not have to pray for us. God the Father will hear us without Jesus carrying a message. But that doesn’t mean that Christ doesn’t pray for us. God loves us enough to hear our voice. The Father hears us directly. Jesus is saying, by the way, I’m praying for you. I’m talking to God for you.

Romans 8 tells us that not only is the Father listening to us (Romans 8:15-16), and the Spirit is praying within us with words that we don’t even understand (Romans 8:26-27); but the Son is also praying for us (Romans 8:34). So we have the Father and Son and Holy Spirit involved in our prayer life. We have a better prayer life than we may have first thought! The Holy Spirit has been praying and Jesus has been praying. When we add our prayers to their prayers that’s a pretty good chance of getting an answer. Somebody may ask, “Does that mean I don’t have to pray again. Can I cut that out of my life?” No. God says we are to add that to our prayers. That’s an incredible prayer life that we have, isn’t it?!

As Jesus prays for all who will believe in Him from the first century to the twenty-first century, He prays: “That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:21).  Christ prayed for these future believers to “be one” and experience the same unity as He and the Father have in their relationship. This is a fundamental unity of purpose, love, and doctrine. 2

“The Father and the Son were one and shared the same eternal life. Christ saw believers as one because they shared the same eternal life.” With the addition of new believers there is an increase in diversity – personalities, backgrounds, interests, talents – and a greater potential for disunity. This oneness that Jesus prays for is found in knowing God through faith alone in Christ alone, not in the doctrines created by people.

This unity Jesus prays for has two purposes: “that they also may be one in Us.” The first purpose for this unity is to promote the believers’ fellowship with the Triune God. When believers are experiencing unity with one another, it also enables them to share a unity with the Father and the Son.

The second purpose for this unity is “that the world may believe that You sent Me.” When believers are united in purpose, love and doctrine, this persuades “the world [to] believe that [the Father] sent” Jesus. When non-Christians observe Christians fighting with one another, they are not going to want to have anything to do with Christianity. Too often bitterness and unforgiveness among Christians keep non-believers from believing in Christ for His gift of eternal life.

Some people think this verse means that unity should be sought at the expense of truth. They fail to realize that the basis of this unity that Jesus prayed for is “the truth” (John 17:17-19) which says people must “believe” in Christ to have “eternal life” (John 17:3, 8, 20-21; cf. 1:12; 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-39; 10:25-29; 11:25-26; 20:31) and be rightly related to God.

When Christian leaders say that believing in Jesus is not enough to be saved, they are undermining the basis of Christian unity that Jesus gave to His followers. Until believers can agree with what Jesus taught about the means of salvation and the basis of Christian unity (“believe in Christ”), they are not going to experience this oneness that Jesus prayed for in John 17. Let’s not yield to the lie that emphasizes unity at the expense of truth. Satan wants to remove God’s truth from the focus of Christians because he knows that God’s truth is what unifies believers. Those who refuse to accept Jesus’ truth about the means of salvation are being divisive, not those who stand on His truth as the basis of our unity.

Tony Evans shares a helpful illustration: “A football team consists of different players filling different positions with different roles. But the entire team has one purpose: reaching the goal line. Their unity consists of pursuing that one goal according to the rules of the game. The church of Jesus Christ is composed of people from every race, ethnicity, gender, and walk of life. But we have the common purpose of proclaiming the gospel and pursuing God’s kingdom agenda. Our effectiveness is determined by our unity. That’s why Satan works so hard at causing division among Christians and within churches. Unity in truth is critical to experiencing the presence and power of God (see Acts 2:1-2, 43-44; 4:24-31). Illegitimate disunity disconnects us from God and causes us to be ineffective in our lives and in our prayers (see 1 Pet 3:7).” 5

Next Jesus prayed, “And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one.” (John 17:22). In what sense do all believers share God’s “glory”? This probably refers to “the glory” Christ would display on the cross and in the resurrection (cf. 17:1-5). This glory they received from the Lord would have a unifying influence on their relations with one another – “that they may be one just as We are one.” The risen Christ in me is not going to fight with the risen Christ in you. As we grow closer to Christ, we will grow closer to one another.

Then Jesus prayed, “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one.” (John 17:23a). Christ saw oneness between believers as possible because it is Christ and the Father in them that unites them with one another. This oneness shows the world that God loved His people, so they could love one another.

Christ adds, “And that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (John 17:23b). As Jesus prayed for those who will believe in Him through the word of His disciples, He asked that “the world may know that” the Father “loved them as” He “loved” Jesus. The word “as” is fascinating here. Jesus is saying that the Father loves us “as” to the same degree or equally as He does His Son, Jesus Christ. This means there is no one and nothing, including Jesus Christ, that God the Father loves more than those of us who believe in Jesus! God loves all believers the same with a beyond what we can ask or imagine kind of love (cf. Ephesians 3:17-20). What is the Father’s love toward His only Son like?

IT IS FOREVER – “for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24b). There has never been a time when the Father has not loved Jesus. Think about that! Together, the Father and Son have been working side by side for all of eternity past. After spending billions of years working together in perfect harmony, Jesus tells us that His Father loves us exactly as much as He loves Him! People may stop loving us and may even abandon us, but God the Father will never stop loving us. He loves us the same as His only begotten Son.

IT IS INTIMATE – “that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (17:26b). The Father’s love for His Son goes deep and is very intimate. He continues to work with us to make us more like His Son. He develops in us the skills to relate peacefully with one another, so we can experience the same oneness that characterizes His relationship with His Son (John 17:11, 21-23). All of us long to be loved and to love. Only God’s love can meet our deepest needs. 

“Our involvement in the church is not trivial, then. We are caught up in something much bigger than us. We are called to serve the Lord in unity so that the love and glory of our Trinitarian God is visibly and powerfully manifested to a watching world.” 6

Do we have the same vision for future believers that Jesus had when He prayed? Do we see ourselves sharing the gospel with people who do not have Christ in their lives? Are we praying for those future believers to come to faith in Christ alone so they can experience the same oneness that our Trinitarian God experiences? Do our prayers also concentrate on future believers serving the Lord in unity so the love and glory of our magnificent Trinitarian God is powerfully displayed to a watching world? Are we teaching the people we disciple to pray in this way? If not, we can begin praying like this today.

Prayer: Father God, thank You so much for preserving Jesus’ prayer for all of us who believed in Him after He ascended to You! Only heaven will disclose the billions of lives and circumstances impacted by this one prayer back in the first century. We are so touched by the fact that this prayer is also for us. Jesus prayed for His apostles’ gospel message to bring us to faith in Him! Hallelujah! What an amazing prayer this was and is!!! Please teach us and those we disciple to pray this way for those who have not yet believed in Jesus for eternal life. We pray that billions more will come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can unite the world with His life-changing grace and love!!! And Father God, would You bring about true unity in our lives with other believers? As that happens, I pray that this divided world would see that because of the way that we love one another they will see that it is the way that You love us. Lord, we cannot forgive each other or live with each other or put up with each other without Your love inside of us. I pray that Your love would make the difference. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1815.

2. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 460.

3. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 450.

4. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 309.

5. Tony Evans, pg. 1816.

6. Ibid.

How can we pray more like Jesus prays? Part 2

“For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.” John 17:8

We are learning from Jesus’ High Priestly prayer the night before His crucifixion, how to pray like He prays. First, we learned like Jesus, we are to pray for God to be glorified when we face trials (John 17:1-5). Today we also discover LIKE JESUS, WE ARE TO PRAY FOR THOSE WE DISCIPLE (John 17:6-19). Jesus turns His attention in prayer to His Eleven believing disciples. There are three main things Jesus prayed for these Eleven men. We will look at the first request He presented on their behalf today

What do we pray for those we disciple? Or should I ask, “Are we discipling anyone at this time?” If not, ask the Lord to show you whom He wants you to begin a discipleship relationship with. He is delighted to answer that prayer.

If you are discipling someone, Christ wants you to pray the same thing He prayed for His disciples. Jesus first tells His Father the things He has done for His disciples. He does not ask for what He needs or wants first. Instead, He tells the Father what He has already done in relation to His disciples and then He asks the Father for what He wants for them.

That is a challenge for all of us, isn’t it?! Sometimes, God has a few things He wants us to do for others before we pray to Him about them. Christ says to His Father, “Here are some things I have already done with the disciples. But I cannot do it all on My own. Here are some things I am asking You to do Holy Father. I know that You must be at work in their lives, so here is what I am asking of You.”

Jesus prayed, 6 I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. 7 Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. 8 For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.” (John 17:6-8). Christ is praying, “I revealed You to them, Father(John 17:6a). The word “manifested” (ephanerōsa) means “to make clear, visible, known.” 1  Christ revealed His Father’s “name” or attributes and reputation to His disciples through His own words and actions. This is to be the goal of every disciple-maker, to reveal what God is like to those we disciple through our own words and actions.

Next Jesus says, “I taught them to keep Your word” (John 17:6b). He says, “they have kept Your word.” Christ is not referring to sinlessness or perfect obedience here. In the context, keeping His word refers to believing in Christ’s saving message (cf. John 17:8). The most important act of obedience is believing in Christ Whom the Father has sent (cf. John 3:36; 5:24; I John 3:23a). 2

The word “kept” (tetērēkanis) is in the perfect tense which means they believed His saving message in the past and continue to believe it in the present. When we think of all the failures and disappointments from the disciples, this is a very gracious assessment by Jesus of their lives. Christ did not focus on their shortcomings, He focused on their salvation. The main thing to Jesus is that they believed in Him for salvation and continue to believe in Him! What could be more important than that!

Likewise, we must be very gracious with those we disciple. The most important thing in their lives is that they believe in Jesus for everlasting life! Nothing is more important than that! It is also important to be realistic in our expectations of them. Do not expect them to be where you are in a few weeks when it has taken you many years to get there. That is not realistic. 

Then Christ prays, “I showed them that all things that I have, come from You” (John 17:7). Christ’s mission (John 12:44; 13:3), authority (John 5:27), and message (John 7:16: 8:28; 12:49) all came from His Father. Do the people we disciple know God is at work in our lives? Is it obvious to them that our mission, authority, and message are from the Lord?

“I gave them the words that You gave Me, and they received them, and believe that You sent Me” (John 17:8). Praying for our disciples includes praying for THEIR RECEPTIVITY TO GOD’S WORD (John 17:6-8), especially as it relates to the gospel, so they can believe in Christ and be saved forever! It is also important to pray for their receptivity to God’s Word after they are saved, so they can hear from God and know Him more intimately as they learn to obey His Word. This assumes that we are also receptive to God’s Word and can give them what He taught us.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for preserving Jesus’ prayer so we can learn how to pray for those we disciple. If we are not discipling anyone right now, please show us whom You want us to reach out to so we can begin such a relationship with them. Right now, we pray You would prepare their hearts to hear and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing is more important than their salvation! Gracious Father, please use us to show those we disciple what You are like through our own words and actions. May they see You at work in our lives in such a way that they will want to know You more intimately. Lord Jesus, thank You for being so gracious to Your disciples even though they had so many weaknesses and shortcomings which were especially evident that night before Your crucifixion. Please help us to show the same kind of grace and gentleness to those we disciple and mentor. Instead of focusing on their shortcomings, please grant us the grace to focus on their salvation! Increase our hunger for Your Word, Lord. Help us all to finish our Christian lives well for Your glory. Thank You, my Lord and my God. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 303.

2. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 458.

How can we face challenges with courage? Part 5

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Growing up in the 1960s, sports were a major part of my life. I remember watching the introduction of the TV show called “ABC’s Wide World of Sports.” Every week, the host of the show, Jim McKay, would say, “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport … the thrill of victory … and the agony of defeat … the human drama of athletic competition … This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.” To represent “the agony of defeat,” a film clip of Vinko Bogataj was played of him crashing off a ski-jumping ramp. For decades viewers watched this terrible crash. Thankfully, Bogataj was not seriously injured. But his wipeout representing the  “agony of defeat” was immortalized by this show.

Can you imagine having your failure replayed for decades before millions of viewers!?! None of us want our names to be connected with “the agony of defeat.” We would much rather be associated with “the thrill of victory.” With this in mind, we are going to look at the fifth and final way to face challenges with courage. So far we have learned from Jesus’ instructions to His disciples, that we can face challenges with courage when we…

– Resolve to go directly to the Father in prayer (John 16:25-26).

– Receive the Father’s special love for us (John 16:27).

– Recognize that Jesus is in control (John 16:28-30).

– Rest in the Father who will never abandon us (John 16:31-32)

The final way to face challenges with courage is to RELY ON CHRIST WHO HAS CONQUERED THE WORLD (John 16:33). Christ said to His eleven believing disciples,These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). When Jesus says, “these things I have spoken to you,” He is probably referring to the many promises He has given to His disciples in the Upper Room discourse which included preparing a place for them in His Father’s house (John 14:1-3), answered prayer (John 14:13-14; 15:7), the sending of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17, 26; 16:5-15, 26), fruit-bearing (John 15:1-17), and unending joy (John 16:16-24). Christ ends His discourse on a note of peace and victory.

There are three contrasts in the first half of this verse which have incredible significance:

1. “in Me” vs. “in the world” – Jesus depicts the disciples as living in two spheres. The first is spiritual and eternal (“in Me”)and the second is physical and temporal (“in the world”).The phrase “in Me” points back to the intimacy Christ spoke of in the vine and branches imagery (John 15:1-8). Disciples of Jesus can “have peace” in Christ who never changes, not “in the world” which is ever-changing. We are not going to find peace in the world. Only Christ can give us the peace we yearn for. If our focus is on Christ, then peace can be our experience. If our focus is on the world, then we can expect “tribulation” (thlipsin). This word refers to “pressure or distress brought about by outward circumstances.” 1

2. “you may have” vs. “you will have” – in the spiritual realm the disciples “may have”  peace. The verb translated “may have” (echēte) is in the subjunctive mood which means it is possible or desirable 2  they may have peace, but Christ did not guarantee their peace in this life. If they abide in Christ (“in Me”), then they can have peace. But it is not certain they will abide in Him. But Jesus does guarantee they “will have” tribulation in the world. The verb translated “will have” (echete) is in the indicative mood which conveys certainty 3  that the disciples will experience tribulation in the world. The disciples (and we) will not be able to escape the tribulation that is in the world. Perhaps the disciples still did not believe persecution was imminent (cf. John 15:18-16:4). They expected to rule with Jesus soon in His coming Kingdom (cf. Matthew 16:21-28; Luke 22:24-30). Their expectations kept them from receiving more truth from Christ that they found to be contrary to what they wanted – this is something all of us must guard against. 4

3. “peace” vs. “tribulation” – If the disciples (and we) abide in Christ and stay focused on Him, they can experience internal “peace” (eirēnēn) or a deep-seeded calmness that is given to obedient believers (cf. John 14:21, 23, 27a) even though they will definitely have “tribulation” in the world. This peace of Christ arises from a life of faith in God. It refers to a calmness “that would come to their hearts from trusting God and from knowing that He was in control of all events that touched their lives.5

The world cannot give this kind of peace to believers. The world gives Christians “tribulation” because the world opposes Christ and His followers (John 15:18-16:4). The word “tribulation” (thlipsin) “is used in a general sense to speak of the ‘pressing affliction’ that the disciples must endure as they identify with Christ in an unbelieving world (cf. 15:18-25). This is the pressure believers experience when they take a stand for Christ or speak out on a sensitive moral issue. Yet although believers face intense pressure from the world, they can enjoy internal peace in Christ.” 6

Some teach that if you are doing God’s will everything will go smoothly. This is contrary to what Jesus promises. Even if you are living for Christ “you will have tribulation,” because the world hates Jesus and those who follow Him (John 15:18-16:4). If the world does not hate a believer, it may be because that believer is being conformed to the world instead of being transformed by the Word.

After the disciples forsook the Lord at the time of His arrest (cf. Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50), they may have felt ashamed and uneasy whenever they thought of Jesus. But Jesus predicted their desertion in the very saying where He also assured them of the peace He would give them (John 16:32-33). Christ loved them despite their shortcomings. In the future when they looked back on their desertion, they would reflect that Jesus predicted it. And even though He knew full well they would abandon Him, He had promised them peace. That is grace. Christ would give them peace even though they did not deserve it.

The world would definitely bring the disciples distress, but they could “be of good cheer.” The word translated “be of good cheer” (tharsaeite) means “to have courage.” Why could the disciples face these upcoming challenges with courage? Christ explains, “I have overcome the world.” The word “overcome” (nenikēka) means “to overcome, conquer, be victorious” and it is in the perfect tense. So Jesus speaks of His victory over the world as though it is an accomplished fact with continuing results to the present!

It was no accident that Jesus spoke these triumphant words, “I have overcome the world,” even as the Roman soldiers were buckling on the weapons for His arrest. That is confidence, isn’t it!?! But this is a confidence that would be lacking in the disciples that night. At first, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter, the ring leader of the disciples, pulled out a sword in Jesus’ defense (Luke 22:50-51; John 18:10). But by the next day, all eleven disciples had lost faith. Those triumphant words from the previous night must have haunted the disciples as they watched from a distance as Jesus agonized on the cross. It appeared to them that the world had overcome Jesus. But on Sunday morning, their faith would be reignited and strengthened by the resurrection of their Lord!

To an unbeliever, the cross of Christ seems like total defeat for Him. But Jesus sees it as a complete victory over all that the world is and can do to Him. Christ goes to the cross, not in fear or in gloom, but as a Conqueror! Because Jesus won the victory over the hostile world and Satan through His death and resurrection (cf. John 12:31-32; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58; Colossians 2:13-15; Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 John 2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5), we can also win with Him as we face difficulties with His courage! Because Jesus has already won the battle, we can claim the victory as we face trials triumphantly. Have you heard this before? It is true, but it is not quite as simple as it sounds. One does not become an overcomer by simply saying with confidence, “I am an overcomer!”

The verb “to overcome” (nikáō) is used by John only here in the gospel of John, but he uses it six times in I John (2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5) and sixteen times in the book of Revelation (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 5:5; 6:2; 11:7; 12:11; 13:7; 17:14; 21:7).

John’s use of the word “overcome” in I John is used of all Christians who are “overcomers” through their single act of faith in Christ at the moment of salvation which overcomes the world’s system’s hostility toward saving faith (I John 5:1, 4-5; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4). However, the statements in I John about overcomers are not the same as Revelation’s statements about overcomers.

In Revelation there is the call to hear (Revelation 2:7a; cf. 2:10, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Only those Christians who hear the call and appropriate the promise will be able to live a victorious life for Christ. Jesus is addressing the whole “church” consisting of believers in the letter (Revelation 2:1; cf. 2:8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14), but the call is to the one “who has an ear” and to the one “who overcomes.”

The Book of Revelation deals with persevering in works (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15) and not a single act of faith for salvation from Hell. For example, access to the “tree of life” (Revelation 2:8) is not based on a single act of faith in Christ (I John 5:1, 4-5), but upon obedience to Christ’s commands. “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life.” (Revelation 22:14a). Revelation is talking about Christians being “overcomers” through obedience to Christ until the end of their lives, so they can gain eternal rewards such as eating from the tree of life or ruling with Christ in His coming Kingdom on earth (cf. Revelation 2:8, 26-27; 3:21; 22:14).

In John 16:33, we see that victory begins when, through the resurrection power of Jesus Christ, we find peace in living life for Him. Christ has already won the victory over the world and the ruler of this world. Knowing this can give us much courage as we face intimidating challenges.

In the Philippines when I would watch NBA basketball, I enjoyed the Dallas Maverick’s team. Since we were fourteen hours ahead of CST in Dallas, Texas, I was not available to watch their games in the mornings while living in the Philippines when they were televised live in the States. So I would watch the replay of their games in the evening. Before I did that, I liked to check the final score on ESPN, so I would know if the Mavericks won before sitting down to watch them. Knowing my team had already won the game, gave me confidence even though I may watch my team make several mistakes and fall behind in the score. I did not give up on them though because I already knew they would win the game.

The same is true in our Christian lives. We already know the outcome of this battle between Jesus and the world and the ruler of this world. Knowing Christ has already won the victory over the world and the devil can enable us to have courage when we face intimidating challenges. At times it may seem that the world and Satan are winning the battle when we fail, or other believers fail, but the truth is Christ has already won the war through His death and resurrection! Therefore, we can fight “from” the victory Jesus has already won, not “for” the victory as though it was completely dependent upon us.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, regardless of how the world beats us down, we have reason to live with courage because You are the Sovereign King over the world. You have defeated sin, death, and Satan through Your death and resurrection! Because of this, our eternity is secure in You if we have believed in You for Your gift of eternal life. We can now fight “from” the victory You have already won, instead of fighting “for” victory as though it all depended on us. Lord Jesus, You have the power to overcome our circumstances here on earth. Knowing this truth and staying connected to You in an intimate relationship will greatly change our perspective as we face challenging times on earth. Thank You for giving us peace and courage in the midst of life’s storms. You are an amazing Lord and God! In Your victorious name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [BAGD], compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979),  pg. 362.

2. https://www.blueletterbible.org/help/greekverbs.cfm.

3. tps://www.blueletterbible.org/help/greekverbs.cfm.

4. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 457.

5. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 440.

6 J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 297.

7. BAGD, pg. 352.

8. Ibid., pg. 539.

How can we experience the blessedness of clean feet? Part 3

“Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’ ” John 13:10

We are learning in John 13 how we can experience the blessedness of clean feet or intimacy with Christ. So far we have discovered that we must…

– Recognize Jesus’ loyal love for us (John 13:1-2).

– Reckon who we are in Christ (John 13:3-5).

Today we discover we can experience the blessedness of clean feet when we RECEIVE JESUS’ CLEANSING GRACE (John 13:6-11). In Jesus’ day, people wore sandals without any socks or stockings on their feet. Since the roads were dusty, their feet would become dirty and need to be washed. It was the host’s responsibility to provide a servant to wash the guest’s feet. But Jesus did something that was unheard of in that day. He, a Rabbi, got up from the table and took the position of a servant and began washing His disciples’ feet.

John informs us, “Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, are You washing my feet?’ ” (John 13:6). Apparently there was nothing said as Jesus washed the other disciples’ feet until He came to Peter. Peter did not understand the significance of what Jesus was doing. “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.’ ” (John 13:7). Jesus asks Peter to submit to Him by permitting Him to wash his feet. He assures Peter that he will understand the significance of this foot washing later.

Has Christ ever asked you to do something that does not make any sense to you? But later on, the Lord showed you what He was doing in your life or in the lives of others? Maybe He is asking you to do something that no one else will do. When Christ tells us to do something, we must be willing to do it whether it seems reasonable to us or not. This is one of the keys to experiencing the blessedness of intimacy with Jesus!

“Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never wash my feet!’ ” (John 13:8a). Peter may be saying, “You shall never wash my feet for eternity!” Peter felt that Jesus should not degrade Himself by performing such a lowly task. Or perhaps he was thinking, “Never, Lord. My feet are not dirty, and even if they were, I certainly cannot permit You to clean them.” Peter’s words reflect pride and false humility. Our humility does not begin with giving service to others. It begins with a readiness to receive it. It is easier to have pride and a condescending attitude when we receive service rather than when we give it. For example, we may not hesitate to take a meal to a church member who has taken ill. But it is more difficult for us to receive such a meal if we are the one who is sick.

“Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’ ” (John 13:8b). Jesus is not talking about social fellowship here as Peter was thinking, rather He is talking about spiritual fellowship (closeness) as the context will reveal (cf. 13:10-11). “If I don’t cleanse you from the effects of sin (dirt on your feet), you can have no part (fellowship) with Me,” Jesus is saying. The word “part” (meros) is a term for fellowship (cf. Luke 10:42) in the New Testament.Hodges states, “This truth, of course, is more fully elaborated in I John 1:5-10 where fellowship is related to the question of the believer’s ‘walk’ (which one’s ‘feet’ suggest) and it is conditioned on the cleansing that comes in response to confession of sin (I John 1:9).Peter could not have fellowship with the Lord until He was willing to receive His cleansing ministry.

The same is true for all believers in Jesus. We cannot enjoy fellowship or closeness with our Lord until we are willing to let Him cleanse our dirty feet (the effects of sin in our lives). We must be honest with the Lord about sin, which John refers to as “walking in the light” (I John 1:7), and “confess” that sin to Him and God promises to be faithful to forgive us of that confessed sin and cleanse us of all unrighteousness or unknown sin in our lives (I John 1:9).

“Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’” (John 13:9). Peter’s outburst reveals his deep need for intimate fellowship with the Lord Jesus. “If fellowship with You, Lord, depends on cleansing, then wash not only my feet but my hands and head, too!” Peter seems to be telling the Lord what to do instead of submitting fully to Him.

“Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean.’” (John 13:10a). In the first century, there were no bathing facilities in small houses. So a person had to go to a public bathhouse to bathe. When invited to a meal, a person would first go to the public bathhouse and bathe, and then put on clean clothing, anoint himself with fresh oil, and proceed to the home where he would be served a meal. On the way from the bathhouse to the home, the guest’s feet got dirty. Hence, the host provided a basin of water so that the one who already had a bath and cleansed his entire body could sponge the dirt off his feet. 4

Jesus is referring to two types of cleansing in this verse. The first type of cleansing refers to the complete cleansing of regeneration or salvation which takes place at the moment of faith in Jesus (cf. Titus 3:4-5; Revelation 1:5). This is seen in the word “bathed” (louō) which refers to bathing the entire body. This verb is in the perfect tense which conveys the idea of a permanent cleansing. A person only needs one complete bath spiritually. This is a one-time experience. The Holy Spirit performs this complete cleansing at the moment of faith in Jesus for eternal life (Titus 3:4-5). Some believers think they need to be totally bathed over and over again. They fail to understand that God’s water or soap is guaranteed for eternity.

Have you experienced this one-time permanent cleansing? If not, Christ invites you right now to believe or trust in Him alone for it. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). Once you trust in Christ, you will need the second type of cleansing that He speaks of next.

This second type of cleansing refers to daily forgiveness in order to have fellowship or closeness with God. This cleansing is represented by the word “wash” (niptō) which means to wash parts of the body. This fellowship forgiveness (cf. Matthew 6:14-15; Luke 11:4) is based upon the confession of sin (I John 1:9). So Christ is saying in verse 10, “He who is bathed [regeneration] needs only to wash his feet [fellowship], but is completely clean.” Every bathed person (Christian) needs daily cleansing of his dirty feet to have fellowship with Christ.

For example, “just as our children may sin within our family, the believer may sin within God’s family. Our child is always our child, but until he confesses [his sin], our fellowship is not good. In God’s family, the same principle applies. There is a forgiveness for salvation and a forgiveness for restoration. The Lord referred to this second kind of forgiveness when He said to Peter, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me’ (Jn. 13:8). Peter told the Lord to wash him all over if that was the case. To this Jesus replied, ‘He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean’ ” (Jn. 13:10).” 7

“Jesus said to him, ‘… and you are clean, but not all of you.’ ” (John 13:10b). All but one of the disciples were “completely clean” in their position before God and could have fellowship with the Lord. “For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, ‘You are not all clean.’ ” (John 13:11). Judas had not experienced the cleansing bath of salvation because of his refusal to believe in Christ (cf. John 6:64, 70-71; 17:12). Nothing in the text suggests that Jesus did not wash Judas’ feet. Christ cleansed the feet of His greatest betrayer. This teaches us not to be selective about whom we will love. Christ loved everyone, including His enemies. And He commands us to do the same (cf. Matthew 5:43-48).

As I have thought about Jesus washing the feet of His disciples, including the feet of Judas, I realized that Jesus did not ask them why they walked through the mud and got dirty. That is a part of life. Water was there regardless of the amount of dirt on their feet. The Lord does not seek to condemn us. He seeks to cleanse us (cf. John 3:17; I John 1:5-10). All Christians have a need for daily cleansing because we all sin (Romans 3:23). We all have dirty feet. As we appreciate God’s cleansing grace in our lives both at the moment of salvation and daily for fellowship, we will grow deeper in our intimacy with Jesus and be more eager to humbly serve Him by serving others.

Prayer: Gracious Lord Jesus, thank You for the complete cleansing bath You gave me the moment I believed in You alone for Your gift of everlasting life (Titus 3:4-5)! Thank You that I do not need to repeat that bath because it permanently cleansed me of all my sin and shame positionally. But my feet still get dirty – I still sin as I walk with You in this sin-stained world – and I need cleansing from You daily. I praise You because You are faithful to forgive the sin I confess to You (I John 1:9)! And not only that, You graciously cleanse me of all my unknown sin at that time as well! I am doubly blessed by Your faithfulness to me! Please use me, my Lord and my God, to serve You by serving others even when it may not make sense to me or be the popular thing to do. Serving You in light of all You have done for me is one of the greatest privileges I could ever do. In Your grace-filled name I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Zane C. Hodges, “Untrustworthy Believers – John 2:23-25,” Bibliotheca Sacra 135:538 (April-June 1978), pg. 147; Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Significance of Man, (Hayesville: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 326, 353, 401,593-594; Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 438.

2. Hodges, “Untrustworthy Believers,” pg. 147.

3. Literally “the sins,” tas hamartias.

4. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 429.

5. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [BAGD], compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp 480-481.

6. Archibald Thomas Roberston, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. V. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pp. 238-239.

7. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings, pg. 353.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 8

“Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go.’ ” John 11:44b

Today we will look at the final reason why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. It is to GET CHRISTIANS TO HELP ONE ANOTHER DISPOSE OF THEIR GRAVE CLOTHES (John 11:44b). Jesus had just commanded a dead man to come out of his grave (John 11:43). And a living Lazarus walked out of his tomb wrapped from head to toe in burial clothes. Only Jesus can bring life to dead churches, marriages, families, and individuals. That is Jesus’ job. But look at the end of verse 44:  “Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go.’ ” (John 11:44b). Could Jesus have caused the grave clothes of Lazarus to drop off? Absolutely! If He could raise Lazarus from the dead, He could certainly cause his grave clothes to drop off. But why didn’t He do this?

That would have left Lazarus naked and caused him a lot of humiliation and shame. By having those around him unwrap Lazarus, Jesus was providing an opportunity for people close to Lazarus to help him lose his grave clothes without losing his dignity. Likewise, Christians need to help one another get free from their spiritual and emotional grave clothes.

Jesus gives life to people. That is His job. But it is our job, the people of God, to help one another get out of the grave clothes that keep reborn people from acting alive. We may still have the grave clothes of shame and self-righteousness. We may view ourselves and God in a way that keeps us from experiencing His resurrection life. There may be deeply ingrained habits or thought patterns that prevent us from living resurrection lifestyles. Or we may have the grave clothes of unconfessed sin or an unforgiving spirit which keep us from experiencing true freedom in our Christian lives.

The church needs to be a safe place where we begin to peel away the grave clothes that keep born again people from experiencing the resurrection life of Jesus Christ. We cannot live victorious Christian lives in isolation from other believers. We need each other to experience the resurrection power of Christ in our lives.

How can churches become a safe place for believers to remove their grave clothes?

1. Ask others to help you remove your own grave clothes. Instead of jumping in like a spiritual superior to help remove the grave clothes of others, church leaders are to give others permission to help them remove what is keeping them from experiencing Christ’s resurrection power more fully. After all, how can church leaders expect others to be vulnerable about their struggles if they are not vulnerable about theirs? This kind of mutual vulnerability conveys the gospel message that we are all imperfect sinners in need of God’s grace (Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:8-9). If Christians will live in humble vulnerability with one another, they will create an atmosphere that gives every believer in the church the safety and freedom to shed their grave clothes on the pathway to experiencing Christ’s resurrection power.

2. Extend the same grace to others as Christ has given to you (Ephesians 2:8-9; 4:32). None of us deserved salvation, but God freely gave it to us by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. We must create an atmosphere of this grace that invites imperfect sinners to come out of the darkness into the light of Jesus’ love. I have attended Christian churches and/or ministries where believers were treated harshly for having grave clothes that kept them from experiencing Christ’s resurrection power. They were belittled and bullied for having struggles, which only increased their fear and shame. They were viewed as an embarrassment to the church or ministry. According to them, since “true Christians” have no serious problems, no provisions were made to help them.

This is the exact opposite of what Jesus did with those who were broken and wounded. Christ fulfilled the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 42:3 which says, “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench” (cf. Matthew 12:20). Jesus did not deal harshly with those who were already hurting nor did He extinguish what little hope a broken heart possessed. He came along side of them to strengthen them with His presence rather than step on them to advance His own plans. He wants to rekindle our love and passion for Him. Unlike the religious leaders of His day, Jesus had compassion for the weak and vulnerable. He extended gentleness and humility to the harassed and helpless (Matthew 9:36) as well as to the weary and burdened (Matthew 11:28). He gave forgiveness to the fallen (John 8:11). Likewise, the more churches have this Christlike mindset, the more they will expect “true Christians” to have obvious problems and provide ministries that provide the safety and security to promote transparency, healing, and growth.

3. Focus more on the heart instead of behavior. God is not uptight about our sin and shame. People are the ones who are uptight about our sin and shame. God still loved us even though we were undeserving, ungodly sinners without any strength to reconcile ourselves to Him. He did not wait for us to clean ourselves up before He loved us and died in our place. The Bible says, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). “Christ died for the ungodly,” not the godly. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ died for us “while we were still sinners,” not saints. Christ looked beyond our sin to our hearts. He loved us no matter how often or badly we sinned.

Do our churches communicate this same kind of love to those the Lord brings to us? No matter how stinky a believer’s grave clothes are, do we love and accept that person as Jesus loves and accepts him or her? Do we take time to get to know the person, or do we stay preoccupied with their behavior and avoid them or judge them? It is Christ’s love that will embolden believers to remove their grave clothes and be transparent with one another, not focusing on behavior. After all, God’s “perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18). And fear and shame are two of the most common obstacles that keep people from being vulnerable with one another. But when we experience God’s incredible love for us through other believers who love and care for us no matter what we have done, we will respond with love toward our Lord and toward His children (I John 4:19).

4. Define believers by what God says about them, not by what they do. Christians are not defined by their grave clothes. They are defined by what God says about them. For example, the apostle Paul wrote the book of Ephesians to Christians who were living in the city of Ephesus, a sex-saturated society that was the home of the temple Diana. Christians were enticed by temple teachings to live without restraint. Paul countered this godless culture by emphasizing the Christian’s new identity in chapters 1-3, followed by a call to live in a way that is consistent with who they are in chapters 4-6.

An example of this is seen in Ephesians 5:8-10. Paul writes,  “8For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.” Notice that Paul starts with who they now are in Christ – “you are light in the Lord” (5:8a). The light of Jesus Christ now defined who they are, not the darkness of their sin. Paul then concludes, “walk as children of light” (5:8b). Jesus is the “light of the world” (John 8:12) and His followers are defined by His light.  

Christian speaker and author, Dr. Tony Evans, writes, “His followers must reflect Him the way the moon reflects the sun—not as crescent-moon Christians but as full-moon Christians. And we can’t reflect His light unless we’re in the light. So, if you want to reflect Christ, you have to be absorbing Christ through cultivating an intimate walk and relationship with Him (see John 15:1-16).” (Dr. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. pg. 2110).

As we grow closer to Jesus and learn how He sees us, we will begin to live like children of light who produce “goodness, righteousness, and truth” as we discover what is “acceptable to the Lord” (5:9-10).  

If we want to see believers shed their grave clothes and experience the resurrection power of Jesus more fully, we must focus on what God says about them instead of on what they have done. Why? Because the more they see themselves as God sees them, the more He will transform their lives. After all, we act in the way we perceive ourselves to be. The Bible says, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7). Our behavior does not determine who we are. At the very core of our being we are God’s children and God wants us to learn to start acting in a way that is consistent with who you are.

For example, if you see yourself as an addict at the core of your being, what will be the most natural thing for you to do? To stay sober or practice your addiction? Practice your addiction. What will be the most unnatural thing for you to do? Stay sober. But if you see yourself as a child of God at the core of your being (John 1:12; I John 3:1-2), what is the most natural thing for you to do? Stay sober. Satan wants to convince you that you are a sinner. Why? Because sinning is accepted as natural. But if you realize and believe you are a child of God at the core of your being, then you will come to the conclusion that sinning compromises who you are. Sin is inconsistent with who you are in Christ. The more a believer sees themselves as God sees them, the more they will realize their grave clothes no longer define who they are. In fact, wearing their grave clothes will seem unnatural and restrictive to them.

Prayer: Wow, Lord Jesus! Many times I have read the raising of Lazarus from the dead, but I had not noticed the last part of verse 44. What a powerful application this is for the church today. Yes, You gave life to Lazarus as only You can do. But You want Your people to help him remove his grave clothes so he can experience his new life more fully. Oh Lord, please awaken Your church to see their role in helping other believers remove their grave clothes in a way that preserves their dignity and enables them to more fully experience Your resurrection power in their lives. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.

Receiving Life Freely – Part 1 (Video)

This is the first video in a series about the gospel of John – the only book of the Bible whose primary purpose is to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life and a future home in heaven (John 20:31). This video looks at the first miracle Jesus performed at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee.

All Scripture in slides are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted. Gospel of John pictures are used with permission from www.GoodSalt.com, www.FreeBibleimages.org or www.LumoProject.com. The gospel of John movie clip is used with permission from Jesus.net. You may view the entire Life of Jesus movie at https://jesus.net/the-life-of-jesus/.

How can I overcome condemnation? Part 4

“And Jesus said to her, ‘… Go and sin no more.’ ” John 8:11c

So far we have looked at three ways to overcome condemnation:

– Rest under Christ’s gracious teachings (John 7:53-8:2)

– Redirect those who condemn me to their own sin (John 8:3-9)

– Replace my guilt with Christ’s forgiving grace (John 8:10-11b)

Today our final and most important way to overcome condemnation is to RELY ON CHRIST TO OVERCOME SIN (John 8:11c). After forgiving the woman’s adultery, Jesus said to her, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11c). Is Jesus talking about sinless perfection here? No, because that would contradict other Scriptures (cf. I John 1:8, 10). He is not referring to sin in general or to sinless perfection, but He is referring specifically to the sin of adultery. Jesus forgives and forbids in the same breath.

Christ did not condone, rationalize, or excuse her sin. He forgave her so she could live the way she was created to live… for God’s glory. This was probably the first man who was more interested in saving her than exploiting her, and in forgiving her than condemning her. Jesus provided the assurance and motivation she needed to live for Him now.

And He does the same with us. Christ did not forgive you so you could continue in your sin. He forgave you so you could live for Him now (2 Corinthians 5:15). You must rely on His Spirit and Word to resist temptation and obey His commands (Matthew 4:1-11; 26:41; John 8:31-32; 16:13-14; Romans 8:11; I Corinthians 10:13; Galatians 5:16-17).

So many of us live with negative labels. Sometimes they are not our own fault. But so many times they are of our own doing. And thus, we think that our story is one of failure and shame. But you know, it doesn’t have to be that way. Because our story can be a story of grace. For it is grace that heals broken hearts and restores estranged sinners.

And Jesus points us to what we are meant to be. We don’t have to live in our past. We don’t have to live with the label. We don’t have to live a life that is powerless in the face of temptation and sin. We are chosen for something more.

You know, none of us deserve to be forgiven. We haven’t earned it. Nor have we paid the price ourselves. Yet, in His grace, when Jesus forgives our sin, He forgets (Hebrews 10:17). Our past ended one second ago. Once you have experienced grace, it is now time to show it to others. We are to be gracious with others as Christ has been gracious with us (Ephesians 4:32).

What stones are you holding onto today? The Stone of unforgiveness, bitterness, anger, hatred, or prejudice? Whatever stone you are carrying, it is time to lay it down. Whether you meant to throw it at yourself or someone else, don’t you think it is time for you to lay down your stones? Why not take this opportunity to give your stones over to Jesus?

When I shared this message at the provincial jail near our home in the Philippines a few years ago, some musicians played a song while several inmates came forward to drop their stone that was given to them at the beginning of the chapel service into a bucket labeled “Grace.” I then challenged them to trust Christ to build something beautiful with what their stone represented. It was wonderful to watch each person drop his or her stone into the bucket of grace and then look up with a huge smile on their face as if to say, “I’m free! I’m free from condemnation because of Jesus’ grace!”

I got goosebumps watching this unfold. After they were finished surrendering their stone of condemnation to the Lord, we prayed this prayer:

“Lord Jesus, we confess that nothing we do makes us deserving of Your magnificent grace. Lord, some of us have been carrying these stones around… stones that were weighing us down. Stones that were keeping us from experiencing Your grace. But today, we are giving You those stones. Take them, Lord, and use them to build something beautiful in our lives. We are so glad that when You forgive us, You forget. And You are not only willing but pleased to use any vessel – just as long as it is clean today – at this moment. It may be cracked or chipped. It may be worn or it may have never been used before. But we can count on this – because of Your grace – our past ended one second ago. From this point on we can be clean and filled with Your Spirit. Use us for Your glory, Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

How can I overcome condemnation? Part 3

“And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you.’” John 8:11b

How can I overcome condemnation? I can overcome condemnation when I rest under Christ’s gracious teachings (John 7:53-8:2) and redirect those who condemn me to their own sin (John 8:3-9). The third way I can overcome condemnation is to REPLACE MY GUILT WITH CHRIST’S FORGIVING GRACE (John 8:10-11b).

The woman caught in adultery could have slipped away with the rest, but she remained with Jesus. “And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman…” (John 8:9b-10a). The leaders had felt the merciless exposure by the Son of God, but the woman had felt His warmth. So she remains with Jesus. The warmth of Jesus’ love and grace draws broken people to Himself.

Jesus then asks her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” (John 8:10b). She said, “No one Lord” (John 8:11a).  The leaders condemned themselves now instead of the woman. Now that the jury is gone, the woman awaits her verdict. And the One who can condemn, does not. Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you.” (John 8:11b).

What a contrast between the religious establishment’s condemnation and the Lord Jesus’ forgiving grace. If you have been deeply wounded by religious people, please understand that they do not represent the Jesus of the Bible. He is compassionate and forgiving no matter how good or bad you have behaved. He cares far more about your heart than He does your behavior. He invites you to come and be, not come and try harder.

Jesus wants to replace our guilt with His forgiving grace. It is a gift. God doesn’t give us what we deserve, but He does give us what we need. We deserve to be condemned, but we need His cleansing forgiveness.

We have such a difficult time understanding this as humans because this is not how we treat one another. Nor is this how we treat ourselves. This is not how we live in society. You mess up, you pay for it. In the states where you deserve death, you will be put to death by lethal injection in most states where they still have the death penalty.

But not in the state of Gods’ grace. In the state of grace, the penalty for our sin is already paid for us. The courtroom was a wooden cross and the debt that was paid was suffered by Jesus Christ. When He hung on the cross it was as if He was saying to us, “You deserve to be here because of your sin, but I’m going to die in your place because I love you and I don’t want you to die eternally. I want you to have a relationship with Me so I’m going to pay for it so I can look at you and say, ‘Not guilty.’” That’s grace. And He wants to take our guilt and give us grace. All He asks is that we believe in Him alone for His gift of eternal life and forgiveness (John 3:16; Acts 10:43).

If you have already done that, but are still struggling with guilt, ask the Lord to show you if you have any unconfessed sin in your Christian life. If you do, confess it to Him, and the Bible says God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9). If you still have guilt, then you are probably being accused by Satan who wants to plague you with false guilt. Dismiss his lies and claim God’s truth which says you are totally forgiven in Christ (cf. Colossians 2:13-14)! This includes the forgiveness of your past, present, and future sins.

When it comes to forgiving yourself, put a dot on the line (diagram 1) to indicate where you are between these two extremes – “I always put myself down” or “I’ve learned to accept Jesus’ forgiveness.” If you are more to the left you were probably mistreated or neglected, and therefore need to experience Jesus’ forgiveness on a horizontal level with other loving believers. We tend to see ourselves the way authority figures saw us when growing up. Since we were wounded in the context of relationships, we will also need to heal in the context of relationships. We can let Christ replace our guilt with His forgiving grace as we relate to other believers who love us and care for us no matter what.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the only One who can replace the guilt and shame of my sin with Your forgiving grace. Forty-one years ago I came to You in faith and You forgave all my sins – past, present, and future – the moment I believed in You for Your gift of forgiveness. Since that time, I have struggled to believe I am forgiven. Other people forgive me sooner than I forgive myself. Much of my life I have been my worst critic. Thank You for showing me that it is time for me to lay down the stones I have thrown at myself. It is time for me to give You those stones to build something beautiful in my life. I need other brothers and sisters in Christ to help me in this healing process. Please lead me to them so they can help me and I can help them. In Your matchless name I pray. Amen.

How do I stay focused on what is important to God? Part 4

“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” John 7:24

The final way to stay focused on what is important to God is to ATTEND TO RELATIONSHIPS MORE THAN RULES (John 7:24). Jesus said to His Jewish audience in the temple,Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24). Christ doesn’t confront His listeners for judging His actions. He confronts the basis on which they judge His actions. “Stop judging people according to your superficial, legalistic rules. Instead judge according to what is right, according to the biblical facts. Nowhere does the Bible forbid healing on the Sabbath. So don’t take a superficial view of what I did when the lame man was healed and took up his bed and went home, but take a right view of the lame man who was mercifully healed and could walk again. Show more concern for relationships instead of your rules. Focus more on meeting the needs of people instead of yourselves,” Jesus says.

Christian author, Charlie Bing, writes, “Legalism is the abuse of grace that seeks to bring Christians either back under the Mosaic law or [under] some artificial standard for acceptance with God that has been created by others. The legalist insists on following a list of do’s and don’ts …. Legalistic Christians can easily fall under the expectations of others that make them feel guilty falsely. For example, they can be made to feel that they are not spiritual because of what Bible translation they use, how they dress, what they eat or don’t eat, what movies they see, what music they listen to, what church meetings they do or don’t attend—or any other issue which the Bible does not address directly.

“What the legalist fails to realize is that Jesus not only set us free from the Old Testament law (Rom. 6:14; 7:4-6; Gal. 3:13; 4:4-7) but He also set us free from artificial man-made standards that are not in the Bible. We are accepted by God because we are His children by grace (Gal. 4:7). We stand accepted by grace (Rom. 5:1-2) and are thus secured by His grace until the time that we see Him (Rom. 8:29-39). Since every believer is accepted on the basis of grace we should accept other believers who differ on issues not clearly defined as right or wrong in the Bible (Romans 14).” (from http://www.gracelife.org/resources/ gracenotes.asp?id=12).

We need to look at life from God’s point of view, so that what He values is what we value, and we can make decisions that are in line with His. God doesn’t just smile at the old hymns; He also smiles on country… classical… Christian rock and rap music. We can approach God with just as much confidence in cut offs or blue jeans as we can in a suit and tie. God is more concerned about our hearts than our hair, our character more than our clothes, our motives more than our music, our disposition more than our decorations.

Chuck Swindoll writes in his book, The Grace Awakening, “One of my favorite stories comes from a man who used to be in our church. He and his wife were close friends of our family, but they have now moved to another part of the country. We really miss their joyful presence.

“When he was a youth worker many years ago in an ethnic community, he attended a church that had Scandinavian roots. Being a rather forward-looking and creative young man, he decided he would show the youth group a missionary film. We’re talking simple, safe, black-and-white religious-oriented movie. That film projector hadn’t been off an hour before a group of the leaders in the church called him in and asked him about what he had done. They asked, ‘Did you show the young people a film?’ In all honesty he responded, ‘Well, yeah, I did.’ ‘We don’t like that,’ they replied. Without trying to be argumentative, the youth worker reasoned, ‘Well, I remember that at the last missionary conference, our church showed slides-’

“One of the church officers put his hand up signaling him to cease talking. Then, in these words, he emphatically explained the conflict: ‘If it’s still, fine. If it moves, sin! You can show slides, but when they start moving’, you’re gettin’ into sin.’ ”

That church had lost sight of what is really important. This can happen to us as well in our Christian lives. When we lose sight of what God values we become more intolerant and prevent honest seekers from approaching God. We can stifle believers from growing in God’s grace. Love gets replaced by a long mental checklist so that the joy of friendship is fractured by judgmental attitudes. As a result, mere differences become right or wrong issues. So instead of the length of your hair or the type of music you like being just a difference, it suddenly becomes a right or wrong issue… a measure of spirituality.

May God help us to major on the majors… to focus on what’s really important to Him. May we be people who…

AVOID Hiding Behind Foolish Stereotypes

ASCERTAIN God’s Will By Doing It

ASSESS Those Who Teach US

ATTEND To Relationships More Than Rules

During this season of challenges, let’s focus on the Gift that matters most – the One Who gave His life so that those who believe in Him may have life that never ends!

Prayer: Father God, thank You for the gift of Your Son who offers everlasting life freely to those who trust in Him alone. Teach us to be more like Him by majoring on the majors. Forgive us for our misplaced priorities, and enable us to focus on the One who died in our place and rose from the dead. Keep us trusting Your word, understanding it, and seeking to obey it that we might focus our lives around what is most important to You – a living relationship with Jesus Christ and other people. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

How do I follow God’s Plan? Part 4

“The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” John 7:7

The fourth way I follow God’s plan is when I CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO (John 6b-7, 9). When Jesus’ brothers tried to encourage Him to go to the Feast of Tabernacles to make Himself known as the Messiah, Jesus said to them,“My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready.” (John 7:6). They could come and go to the feast any time they pleased because they would only be fulfilling what everybody expected of them. They could go to the feast without fear of arousing antagonism or opposition because they were a part of the world. They were non-believers and thus friends with the world. That is why Jesus says, The world cannot hate you…” (John 7:7a). “Because you are living according to the way the world thinks; you are not raising any questions; you are not challenging anything.” Jesus continues, “…but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” (John 7:7b). “The world hates Me because when I speak I expose the hearts of men; I call sin, sin; they hate Me because I tell them the truth.”

This is surely why our modern world loves euphemisms – polite ways of describing sinful things. We change the label on the bottle of poison and think we have changed the power of the poison. That’s why we call Grouchiness “executive tension;” we call Gossip “concern”; Drunkards want to be called “alcoholics”; Prostitutes want to be called “businesswomen”; Rich snobs are called the “upper class”; Abortion is called “pro-choice”; Homosexuality is called an “alternative lifestyle.”

More recently we have seen government intrusion into common Christian worship practices in the name of health concern. Most churches in America have complied with generalized healthcare guidelines to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading. But a few churches refused to comply with government demands, claiming that their allegiance to God outweighs their allegiance to Caesar. So they refused to cancel live worship services and opened their doors for those who were led to attend. Some churches even offered “drive-thru” worship services for people to attend while observing social distancing from the comfort of their cars.

But some elected leaders deemed these measures too risky. For example, Kentucky’s governor, who mandated the closure of all Christian worship services while declaring the state’s abortion clinics and liquor stores “essential services,” sent law enforcement officers to record the license plate numbers of every vehicle that attended unauthorized church services. California’s governor and local officials have banned churches from singing and playing wind instruments in their services. While some people may label these measures as “healthcare practices,” I wonder what the Lord Jesus would call it?

Christ doesn’t play these kinds of games. Jesus calls sin, sin. He came to tell the truth and that is why the world hated Him. And if we are going to be like Him, we must do the same. If we find ourselves fully accepted by the world it is cause for concern. We are to be loving, kind, sensitive, and understanding. But if our lives do not challenge the wickedness of the world around us, if our lives do not provoke some persecution, criticism, and/or opposition, something is probably wrong. We have probably become too friendly with the world around us (cf. James 4:4).

Ask yourself, “Does my life challenge the status quo of wickedness around me or am I a chameleon who simply adapts to whatever environment I find myself in?” Jesus went to Jerusalem and when He got there He upset the status quo. Thus, He says to His brothers: “You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come.” (John 7:8). Christ was not going up with His brothers, but He would eventually go up. “When He had said these things to them, He remained in Galilee.” (John 7:9). Christ would remain in Galilee for a time while His brothers and other pilgrim travelers made their way to the feast. But eventually He would go in the Father’s time, and when He did He would challenge the status quo.

Prayer: Lord God, we need Your wisdom and strength during these times when people are doing what is right in their own eyes instead of doing what is right in Your eyes. Please give us a balance between grace and truth as we interact with those who are friends with the world. Instead of focusing on the response of others before we speak, help us to focus on what pleases You, my Lord and my God. May we live so closely to You that our lives will challenge the wickedness of this world to pay attention to You, Lord. Please use our voices to call people back to You, the only true God and eternal life. Forgive us for withholding the truth because of our longing for the approval of others or in an attempt to keep the peace at the expense of Your truth. Without the truth, people will not see their need for You. And without Your grace, their needs will not be met in You. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.