How can I ever change? Part 4

“And He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.’ ” Genesis 32:28

We are learning from Jacob’s interaction with the Angel of the Lord how God wants to change us from the inside out. Thus far we have discovered that we can change when…

– God uses the process of a crisis (Genesis 32:24).

– God uses the process of commitment (Genesis 32:26).

– God uses the process of confession (Genesis 32:27)

Earlier Jacob had sought his brother Esau’s blessing from his earthly father, Isaac. When he entered his father’s presence, Isaac asked him, “Who are you, my son” (Genesis 27:18b)? Jacob deceived his father and said, “I am Esau your firstborn” (Genesis 27:19a).

Now Jacob is wrestling with God and God dislocates his hip (Genesis 32:25). And when God asks him for his name, he comes clean with his heavenly Father and says his name is “Jacob” (Genesis 32:27b). Up to this time, Jacob had been a deceiver and manipulator. At birth he grasped his twin brother Esau’s heel and was given the name “Jacob” which means “heel-catcher” (Genesis 25:26). Later Jacob deceived his father, Isaac, into giving him Esau’s blessing, and Jacob’s name came to mean “supplanter” – “one who takes the place of another by trickery.” His name took on the meaning of a “cheater, deceiver, schemer.” So when he told God his name, Jacob was being honest with God about his character flaws. He is saying to God, “I am a cheater and a schemer.” It is like Jacob is saying, “Lord, I don’t want to pretend any more. I want to present my true self to You. Here I am. Take me.”

God began changing Jacob as soon as he admitted who he was and started to cooperate with God’s plan. “So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: ‘For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.’ ” (Genesis 32:30). Jacob came face to face with God. Every one of us must eventually come face to face with God before God can change us. In this encounter with Jacob, God was saying, “I want you to relax. Just cooperate with Me and trust Me, and I will make the changes that you want made, and I will bless you.”

God didn’t say, “Jacob, try real hard and use all your willpower to grow and become the person I made you to be.” That doesn’t work. Willpower does not make permanent changes in our lives because it is attacking the outward circumstance, not the internal motivation that makes the permanent changes. God works on the heart. From this we learn the fourth way God changes us: GOD USES THE PROCESS OF COOPERATION (Genesis 32:28-31).

When Jacob began to cooperate, God started working, and the first thing God did was give Jacob a new identity. “And He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.’ ” (Genesis 32:28). After we have had a personal encounter with God we can no longer be the same. God changed Jacob from a cheater and schemer to an “Israel,” which means “God fights” or “God’s fighter.” After all, Jacob fought with God and men, and prevailed; not by trickery, but by persistent faith. God knew Jacob’s potential; He saw beneath his self-sufficient, crafty exterior. God said, “That’s not the real you, Jacob. You are actually an Israel. You are My fighter.” God saw the fighter in Jacob, and the former cheater began to become the man whom the entire nation of Israel was named after. 

The good news is when we believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life, God gives us a new identity. Beneath all those things we know about ourselves that we don’t like, God sees an Israel. He sees “His fighter.” He sees what we can become by His grace. He sees potential because He gave us God the Holy Spirit to empower us to live a victorious Christian life. “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11 NKJV). God the Holy Spirit in us gives us the desire and power to do what is right. “As the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like Him.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 LB). We are now God’s fighter, “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37 NKJV). We now have the potential through Jesus Christ Who loved us to live above our circumstances instead of underneath them.

God always knows how to bring out the best in our lives. If we will let Him, He will use whatever is necessary to change our lives for the better. Do we want God’s blessing on our lives? Then we need to take the situation that is making us miserable right now and commit it to God. Say, “God, I am going to commit this problem to You. I am going to hold on to You until You turn this problem around for good.”

Then confess the faults we need to confess, and cooperate with God. Notice an important point about Jacob’s life: 25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him… 31 Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip.” (Genesis 32:25, 31). While they had been wrestling, the angel dislocated Jacob’s hip, and as a result, Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his life. That hip muscle is one of the most powerful muscles in your body. When God had to get Jacob’s attention, He touched him at a point of his strength.

When God needs to get our attention, He may touch us at a point of strength to remind us to rely on his power and not our own. When we start thinking, “This is what I am really good at,” God may have to touch that very thing to get our attention. God touched Jacob’s hip, and it became a reminder to Jacob for the rest of his life that he was no longer to rely on his own power but in the power of God, and in so doing he became a much stronger person.

One more insight we gain from this incident in Jacob’s life. Jacob often got himself into trouble because he was a cheater and deceiver, and he often reaped what he sowed. But every time he got himself into a mess he ran away from it – he did this with Esau and Laban, his father-in-law. So God said, “I know how to take care of that temptation- I will put a limp in his walk.” For the rest of his life, Jacob would have to stand and face his problems, not in his own strength, but in God’s strength.

This teaches us that God puts an obvious weakness in people whom He blesses. Often the weakness is some kind of physical problem. For example, the apostle Paul had his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). The influential 19th century preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, had a lifelong battle with depression. Pastor Rick Warren  has a rare neurological disease called spinal myoclonus that causes painful spasms and blurs his vision when he gets a jolt of adrenaline. 3 God used these weaknesses to keep these men dependent on Him and His grace.

What about you? What is the one thing you would most like to change about yourself? Do you want God to change it? He will, but in His own way and time, if you will let Him.

Prayer: Father God, forgive us for pretending to be someone we are not, for hiding behind layers and layers of lies and manipulation. All of us have created protective personalities to protect us from being hurt again. Even though You know this, You still love us and accept us. Because of Your amazing love for us, we come to You as we are. Help us to say good-bye to our protective personalities, and then trust You instead to protect us. Please help us to see ourselves through Your eyes in Christ. We are Your fighter or conqueror through Jesus Who loved us. Thank You for giving us God the Holy Spirit to empower us to live for You now above our circumstances instead of underneath them. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1.  Allen P. Ross, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Law, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 148.

2. Retrieved on August 27, 2021 from Michael Reeves’ February 24, 2018 online article entitled, “Did You Know That Charles Spurgeon Struggled with Depression?” at www.crossway.org.

3. Retrieved on August 27, 2021 from Cris Kuo’s June 8, 2021 online Los Angeles Times article entitled, “Rick Warren to retire as lead pastor of Saddleback Church.”

How much you matter to God – Part 3

“And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus…’ ” Luke 19:5ab

During COVID, people have felt disconnected and isolated from one another. Many have felt all alone and unwanted. They may feel as though no one cares about them or notices them, including God. But the Lord has something to say to us about this.

We are learning from Jesus’ encounter with a man named Zacchaeus how much we matter to God. Zacchaeus was a man who felt all alone and unwanted because of his appearance and his actions. The only attention he received from people was negative. But that all changed one day when he met Jesus Christ passing through the city of Jericho.

Since Zacchaeus was a small man, he had to climb up into a sycamore tree to get a look at Jesus as a large crowd of people followed Christ on His way through Jericho. When Jesus came to the sycamore tree, He stopped and looked up at Zacchaeus. From this we learned that no matter how insignificant I feel, Jesus notices me (Luke 19:4-5a). But Jesus did more than look at Zacchaeus.

All of his life Zacchaeus had been ridiculed and rejected. First, because of his appearance. He was a small or little person. Second, because of his actions. He was a chief tax collector who became wealthy at the expense of the people from whom he collected taxes. He was dishonest and corrupt. Nobody liked the way Zacchaeus looked or the way he acted. Imagine the kind of gossip that was spread about this guy! He was the most hated man in town. No doubt Zacchaeus heard many cruel remarks directed at him. There was a surplus of criticism behind his back. Evil things were said about him throughout all of Jericho and beyond. No wonder he had such a low self-image.

But Jesus did something else. Not only did Jesus stop at Zacchaeus’ tree and look up at him, but notice what He does next: And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus…’ ” (Luke 19:5ab). Imagine the shock of Zacchaeus. “He not only stopped. He not only looked up at me in front of all these other people. He knows my name. I didn’t hear anybody tell Him my name. I didn’t hear Him ask anybody what my name is. He just knows it. How does He know my name?”

From this we learn the second profound truth about how much we matter to God: No matter what other people say, Jesus affirms me (Luke 19:4-5a). God not only knows where you are, He also knows who you are. He knows everything about you. When Jesus called Zacchaeus by name, it shocked everybody. For two reasons: one, the fact that Jesus knew the name of the biggest scoundrel in town. And two, because of what his name meant. “Zacchaeus” means “pure” or “just.” Pure or just one!?!  Zacchaeus was anything but pure or just. He was the biggest crook in Jericho. He was a deceptive, dishonest, and despised scoundrel. This was probably the first time in many years that Zacchaeus was called by his real name. I doubt any one called him the “pure” or “just” one. He was anything but pure and just. But in spite of Zacchaeus’ sin, Jesus affirms him. 

Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, I look beneath all that emotional hurt, all that pain, all that other people have said about you and beneath all that I see a pure one. Zacchaeus, I made you to be pure. I didn’t make you to be a crook. I made you to be pure.” Christ is affirming him while everybody else in the world is putting him down. 

Someone has said, “God has your picture in His wallet. That’s how much God loves you.”  God doesn’t really have your picture in His wallet. He has something much more profound. The Lord said, “See, I have tattooed your name upon My palm.” (Isaiah 49:16 LB). When Jesus Christ looks at the scars in His hands where He was nailed to the cross, what do you think He is thinking of? You! Because He died for your sins. God says, “No, I don’t just carry your picture in My wallet. This is how much I love you. I died for you. I have tattooed you on My body. That is how much you matter to Me,” God says.

It really doesn’t matter what other people say. Jesus says, “I affirm you.” Jesus looks at Zacchaeus and says, “You are a pure one. I can see it in you. I can see all your potential in spite of all the hurt in your life.” Some of us have had a hard time feeling good about ourselves because some people close to us have said some really hurtful things. 

Maybe we have even been rejected in the home. The Bible tells us, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.” (Psalm 27:10). It breaks God’s heart to see kids abandoned, abused, or neglected by their parents. Parents will say to kids, “We didn’t plan you.” They didn’t, but God did. There are no illegitimate children. There are illegitimate parents, but there are no illegitimate children. When those closest to you hurt you or abandon you, God says, “Climb up into My lap and let me hold you. You are safe in My arms. You are wanted. You were planned. I have a purpose for your life.”

We need to remember this: When other people have called us all kinds of names it doesn’t matter. We are not defined by what other people say to us. We are defined by what God says to us. What matters is Jesus Christ calls us by name.

When we become Christians by believing in Jesus Christ for His gift of eternal life (John 3:16), God tells us that He as transformed us from guilty sinners into forgiven saints. This is why the apostle Paul begins his letter to an immature church at Corinth, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” (I Corinthians 1:2).

The apostle Paul refers to the believers “at Corinth” as “those who are sanctified [set apart positionally from their sin] in Christ Jesus” (I Corinthians 1:2a). He addresses them as “saints” positionally even though their practice was far from saintly (I Corinthians 1:2b). The Corinthians had permitted their pagan culture to invade the church as seen in their divisive sectarianism (1:10-17; 3:1-4), their exaltation of the world’s wisdom above God’s wisdom (1:18-31), their toleration of sexual immorality among their church members (5:1-13), their lawsuits against one another (6:1-11), their immoral relations with temple prostitutes (6:12-7:5), their questionable practices (10:14-33), their mistreatment of one another at the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34), their selfish misuse of spiritual gifts to edify themselves instead of the entire body of Christ (12:1-14:40), and their denial of the resurrection of the dead (15:12-58).

Paul addresses them as “saints,” so they will begin to live like the saints they are in Christ. The more believers see themselves as saints in Christ, the more they will live like saints. Nowhere in I Corinthians does Paul doubt or question the salvation of the Corinthian believers. What he does question is their understanding of who they are in Christ. For example, in I Corinthians 6:19, he writes, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” The more they understood and believed their new identity in Christ, the more they would live the way God created them to live in Christ.

When professing believers do not go on to grow toward Christlike maturity, it is important that church leaders do not automatically assume that they are unsaved. It is possible they are not saved, but not because they lack a changed life. What makes a person unsaved is their unbelief toward Christ (John 3:18, 36). Many believers lack spiritual growth in their Christian lives because they have not been discipled by older believers. Discipleship involves helping believers to see who they are in Christ, so they can begin to live like the person God created them to be in Christ Jesus (cf. Ephesians 2:10).

Christ’s interaction with Zacchaeus teaches us that no matter how insignificant I feel, Jesus notices me. He has always got His eyes on me. No matter what other people say, Jesus affirms me. He calls me by name.

We are not defined by what other people say to us. Nor are we defined by what we do. We are defined by what God says about us. And God tells us that we are forgiven “saints” who are set apart positionally from our sin and shame to serve God practically (cf. Romans 1:7; I Corinthians 1:2;  2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2; I Thessalonians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; Philemon 1:7; Hebrews 13:24; Jude 1:3; Revelation 5:8; 19:8; 20:9).  

Prayer: Father God, like Zacchaeus, many of us have been deeply wounded by the words of other people. We have permitted those words to define who we are. But when Jesus pursued us and saved us the moment we believed in Him, we were transformed from guilty sinners into forgiven saints. Thank You so much for saving us from our sins and giving us everlasting life. We are now defined by what You say to us. Like Zacchaeus, we are pure in Your eyes, having been forgiven and cleansed of all our sins (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14; Titus 3:4-6). Please renew our minds to see ourselves as You see us so we may live a life of purity in the power of Your Holy Spirit. We are still amazed by Your grace toward us. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Luke, 2016 Edition, pg. 271.

How much you matter to God – Part 1

“And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.” Luke 19:3

One of our greatest needs in life is to feel valuable or important. Because of this, we are constantly looking around and in our minds we are evaluating other people and comparing ourselves to them. In our society we tend to base our importance or self-worth on four things.

First, we judge our worth by our appearance, asking ourselves, “How do I look?” If I look good then I think I must be good or valuable. People invest all kinds of time and money to improve their looks because this is how they measure their worth.

Second, we judge our worth by our achievements, asking ourselves, “What have I accomplished? How successful am I?” We invest many of our resources to accomplish big things because we think our importance is based upon our achievements.

Third, we judge our worth on approval, asking ourselves, “How well am I liked?” If a lot of people like me I must be important. We want people to like us so we concentrate on doing everything we can to win their approval.

Finally, we judge our worth on our affluence, asking ourselves, “What do I own? How many possessions do I have?” Deep down we believe that the more possessions we have, the more importance we possess.

The problem with these four standards is that none of them are stable. They can all change. For instance, can your appearance change? Absolutely! Beauty fades doesn’t it? Our successes are surpassed by other people, our records are broken, our possessions wear out and people we think love us, die or abandon us or sometimes even reject us. So if we want to build our self-worth on something that lasts, we must build it on something that cannot change. And there is only one thing that won’t change – what God thinks about you. The greatest changes in our lives take place when we see ourselves as God sees us.

A wonderful example of this principle is a man in the Bible we are going to look at the next few days. His name was Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a man who lived in the city of Jericho. One day Jesus came to Jericho and Zacchaeus had an encounter with Jesus that changed his life. 

We see this in the Bible in Luke 19. 1 Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. 3 And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.” (Luke 19:1-4). Zacchaeus didn’t want to talk to Jesus. He just wanted a glimpse of Christ. And if there was ever a man who needed his self-image built up, it was Zacchaeus. Because in the four ways we evaluate our worth, Zacchaeus struck out on the first three. But he was wealthy. He had a lot of money.   

In the first place, Zacchaeus didn’t like his appearance. The Bible tells us that he was “of short stature” (Luke 19:3). The Greek word for “short” (mikros) literally means “small.” Zacchaeus had the body of an undeveloped child. He wasn’t just short. He was a little person. His body had not developed fully into adulthood. He was probably ridiculed and teased all of his life about how he looked. You know how kids can be ruthless on the playgrounds. They can make fun of you and give you hurtful names. And all Zacchaeus’ life he had probably lived not liking the way he looked. 

Not only that, but this guy was hated by everyone in the city of Jericho. It says he was “a chief tax collector” (Luke 19:2). Tax collectors are never popular but in Roman days it was even worse. The Roman system of collecting taxes was absolutely corrupt. In the first place, you had to bribe an official for the privilege of becoming a tax collector. Second, you could collect and keep as many taxes as you wanted to keep as long as you paid Rome its due. For instance, maybe a family owed Rome $100, and you could say, “You owe Rome $1,000.” They would pay you the $1,000. And then you could give Rome $100 and keep $900 for yourself. So you could collect as much as you want.

This is how Zacchaeus became so wealthy. He got rich by stealing from other people. So he was hated by everybody not only because he was a tax collector, but because he was the “chief” tax collector which means he was in charge of the whole scam. So he probably didn’t like the way he looked. Plus people made fun of him and nobody liked what he did either. So as a result, Zacchaeus probably hated himself. How do I know that? Because you cannot have a guilty conscience and feel good about yourself at the same time. There is no way. He knew that he was ripping people off. He knew that he was making his own wealth at the expense of other people. He was deceitful, dishonest, and a lying scoundrel. He had lost all of his self-respect and his zeal for life.

What we have here is a guy who has a lot of money but doesn’t like himself. A man who is lonely and miserable. But one day everything changed. In one moment, he met Jesus and discovered how much he mattered to God. When you learn that, you will never be the same. The story of Zacchaeus illustrates three profound truths. If you will allow God to imprint these truths in your heart and mind, your life will never be the same.

Can you relate to Zacchaeus? Have you lost your self-respect? Have you experienced pain and rejection because of your appearance and/or your achievements? Do you feel all alone and unwanted like Zacchaeus? Or do you know someone who does? If so, it is time you join me next time as we look in on Jesus’ encounter with this miserable man.

Prayer: Father God, the world teaches us that our importance is based on our appearance, achievements, approval, and affluence. Most of us fall short in at least one or more of these areas. Some of us may have no respect for ourselves because we are not living the way You want us to live. We have taken advantage of others to build ourselves up. And now we find ourselves all alone and unwanted. Lord God, please speak truth to us. Help us to see ourselves through Your eyes. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Endnotes:

1.  Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 651.

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 2

“And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’ ” I Kings 19:4b

We are learning from the prophet Elijah how to climb out of the pit of discouragement. After experiencing a tremendous spiritual victory on Mt. Carmel against the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18:20-40), Elijah encountered resistance from the vicious Queen Jezebel whose god Baal was defeated and her prophets killed (I Kings 19:1-2). When Jezebel threatens his life, Elijah gets scared and runs into the desert and prays that he might die (I Kings 19:3-4). He has gone from the mountaintop of victory to the bottom of the pit of discouragement.

Last time we saw the first step to take out of the pit of discouragement was to focus on the facts, not your feelings (I Kings 19:1-4). To climb higher out of the pit of discouragement, DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF WITH OTHERS (I Kings 19:4b). “And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’ ” (I Kings 19:4b). When Elijah said, “I am no better than my fathers,” he was comparing himself to his ancestors who failed to remove Baal-worship completely from Israel. He was feeling guilty for not being any better than they had been.

When we start comparing ourselves with others, we are going to get discouraged. We may try to motivate ourselves through criticism and condemnation. We do it by “shoulding” ourselves. “I should be more like that person. I should be able to act better and feel better like him or her.” Nagging ourselves like this leads to discouragement.

There is only one person that you can be, and that is you. That is all God expects. When you get to heaven, God is not going to ask you, “Why weren’t you more like him or her?” Most likely He will ask, “Why weren’t you like the person I created you to be?”

The Bible tells us, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10). Before we become Christians, we are defined by our “trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). That is what defined us and drove our lives. But now we are “in Christ” (Ephesians 2:10). We used to be “dead” spiritually (Ephesians 2:1), but now we are God’s “workmanship” (Ephesians 2:10).  

The word “workmanship” comes from the Greek word poiēma which is where we get our English word “poem” from. A poem is a collection of words that are specially chosen and put together so that they make a powerful statement that lasts. God is saying that you are His heavenly poem – you have been specially chosen by God to make a powerful statement about His grace that endures forever.

Another word that describes poiēma is the term “masterpiece.” Like a painting that has been specially created or like a potterer carefully creating something out of clay that is unique and has His personality and stamp put on it. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are God’s Masterpiece – something He has poured Himself into to change your life. You used to be defined by sin and shame, but now you are defined by being in Christ. And God sees in you holiness … beauty… and goodness. Everything He sees in Jesus Christ He now sees in you.

You may see yourself as this person who has failed or who lacks certain abilities, but God sees you as royalty… as His masterpiece. Perhaps the voices from your past have told you that you were a mistake… that you can’t do anything right. But God is now telling you that you are His masterpiece – a beautiful work of heavenly art that He is putting on display for all to see and admire just how great His grace is toward you. 

The last part of Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are … created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” This verse tells us why God created us. We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” That is God’s plan for us. Before we were even born, God planned the “good works,” the specific ministry, He wants us to have. We don’t have to make things happen. We can rely on the Lord to show us the good works He wants us to do.

How do we know God’s plan for us after we believe in Jesus? We look at the way God has shaped us. I have borrowed the acrostic S.H.A.P.E. from Rick Warren’s ministry. God has uniquely shaped us for a reason. Let’s look at five things that shape us to serve the Lord:

S – Spiritual gifts (I Peter 4:10). Ask yourself, “What am I gifted to do for the Lord?” God has given believers in Jesus one or more spiritual gifts with which to serve Him in ministry (Romans 12:3-8; I Corinthians 12:7, 11; Ephesians 4:11-13). The best way to discover your spiritual gifts is to start serving the Lord Jesus in a local church. He will manifest your gifts as you begin to serve.

H – your Heart (I Samuel 12:20b; Romans 15:20; Galatians 4:18; Colossians 3:23-24). Ask yourself, “What do I love to do for the Lord?” There are some things we love to do and there are some things we hate to do. The things we love to do reflect our hearts. Where did we get that natural inclination? God put it in us. The Lord wants our ministries to be a blessing, not a burden. So it is a legitimate question to ask yourself, “What do I love to do?” Why would God give you a ministry that He hasn’t given you a heart for? When you look at your gifts and your heart, what do you love to do? What are you passionate about? What motivates you?  What gets you excited?  That is your heart. Some people love to serve or help others. Others love to influence, improve, perform, repair, prevail, follow the rules, or lead and be in charge.

A – your Ability (Exodus 31:3; I Corinthians 12:6; 2 Corinthians 3:5). Ask yourself, “What natural talent and skills do I have?  What vocational skills have I learned?  What natural talents have I been given by God?“ God wants to use the natural talents and skills you have in ministry. Some of you may have skills in arts and crafts, childbirth, computers, cooking, communication, construction, counseling, decorating, graphics, law, management, mechanics, media, music, safety, security, sewing, singing, song-writing, speaking, and teaching, etc. Be open to God using these natural talents or skills in your ministry.

P – your Personality (I Corinthians 2:11; Galatians 1:13-14). We are all very different.  We have all got different personalities, different blends of temperament.  Ask yourself, Where does my personality best suit me to serve?” If you are an introverted person you would probably not want to get involved in being a greeter at church. That would place a lot of additional stress on your life. When you have an area that you may be gifted to do and a heart to do, but you don’t have the personality to do it, it puts enormous stress on your life. God doesn’t want you to have to do that. 

E – your Experiences. There are four different kinds of experiences you want to look at when you are trying to discover the shape God has given you. First, ask yourself, “What kind of spiritual experiences have I had?” (Galatians 1:12, 15-18; Hebrews 5:12-13). This has to do with the times you have had with the Lord. Maybe you encountered God at a retreat or campground or at home, or as a young person, or during a crisis you went through, and that brought you closer to the Lord. 

Next ask yourself, “What kind of painful experiences have I had?” (2 Corinthians 1:4; 11:23-27; 12:7-10). God often allows us to go through a painful experience and then heals us and comforts us in that experience so that He will give us the ministry of helping other people in that very same thing. Who can relate to somebody who is struggling with alcoholism better than somebody who has been an alcoholic?  Who can better relate to somebody who has lost a child in miscarriage or stillbirth than somebody who has had a miscarriage or stillbirth. God never wastes a painful experience. Even the painful experiences we bring on ourselves through our own decisions, God wants to use in ministry.

Next ask yourself, “What kind of educational experiences have I had?” (Acts 22:3). What have you learned? Maybe you have educational training in computers or dance or debate or auto mechanics or teaching children. God wants to use these experiences in your ministry to others.

Then ask yourself, “What kind of ministry experiences have I had?” (2 Corinthians 9:13). Some of us have already served the Lord in ministry and we have proven ourselves in the body of Christ and can see what God has done in our lives. Others of us may be new to the Christian faith and have not yet served God in a ministry.  

All five of these things shape you and make you, you. When you understand how God has shaped you, then you will know His plan for your life, and how and where He wants you to serve Him.

When we trusted in Christ for salvation, we probably did not realize how much everything changed. We thought we were just forgiven and going to heaven. But God has so much more for us here and now. And He wants us to be encouraged and see ourselves as the new person we are through His eyes. Because when we do, being a Christian is not a matter of living by rules and trying to clean up this and that. It is a matter of living as the royalty that God has made us by the blood of His Son. When we understand this, there will be no need to compare ourselves to others. We will be free to be the unique person God created us in Christ to be.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, when we take our eyes off of You, it is easy to compare ourselves with others and become discouraged. Right now, Lord God, we want to pause and reconnect with You. Please restore our union with You. Help us to see ourselves through Your eyes in Christ. Before Jesus, we used to be defined by our sin and shame, but now we are defined by being in Christ. And You see in us all the holiness … beauty… and goodness that You see in Jesus Christ. Everything You see in Jesus You now see in us. Thank You for the good works You have prepared for us to walk in. Please help each one of us to identify the shape You have given us so we may bring You the most glory by following Your plan for each of our lives. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

How can we respond to those who refuse to believe in Christ? Part 2

“ ‘While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.’ ” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.” John 12:36

In our study of the gospel of John we have come to Jesus’ final words to the public before His death on the Cross. The people to whom He spoke had important decisions to make before Christ left them. In John 12:23, 32-33, Christ said that the “Son of Man” was to be lifted up on the Cross rather than be lifted up as a Ruler over the nations. This confused many of the people of Israel. We are looking at how Jesus responds to them to learn how we can respond to those who refuse to believe in Christ. Last time we learned to challenge them to seek God while there is still time (John 12:34-35). The second way we can respond to them is to COUNSEL THEM TO BELIEVE IN CHRIST ALONE WHILE THERE IS TIME (John 12:36).

Jesus said to the crowd, “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (John 12:36a). These people needed to “believe in the light,”Jesus Christ, as soon as possible (“while you have the light”), before the Cross. After the Cross, when the Light was no longer with them, it would be more difficult for them to believe. No person is promised tomorrow on earth, so it is important for them to respond in faith to Christ while they still have time.

Notice that Christ says they can become “sons of light” simply by believing or trusting in Him alone for His gift of salvation. This verse does not say they become “sons of light” by going to church, being baptized, confessing their sins, keeping the commandments, or praying. The only condition is to believe in the light which is Jesus Christ.

How often today do you hear a Christian use the word “believe” when inviting a non-Christian to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ? It rarely happens. Search the internet and see how many Christian churches and organizations use the word “believe” or its synonym “trust” in their plan of salvation as the sole condition for obtaining eternal life from Jesus Christ. It is very seldom. Instead they use unclear clichés and phrases such as “accept Jesus, give your life or heart to Jesus, ask Jesus into your heart, repent or turn from your sins, confess Jesus as Lord, or submit to Jesus as your Lord.” Lost people are being told to do everything but believe in the Lord Jesus for eternal life. I am convinced that the greatest need in evangelism today is for Christian workers to return to using the words that God uses most in evangelism – the words believe and faith.

Some people confuse the use of the word “believe” in the Bible with common uses of the English word “believe.” For example, we may hear people say these common phrases in English:

– “I believe it is going to snow today.”

– “I believe I voted for the wrong candidate.”

– “I don’t believe voting makes any difference.”

– “I believe I gave her the wrong directions.”

So when people hear us use the word “believe” in relation to Jesus Christ, they may think it only conveys speculation. But the use of the word “believe” in the Bible communicates absolute certainty. When Christ says, “believe in the light” (John 12:36a), He is inviting people to be convinced that He is God Who is “the light,” and then to trust in Him alone. John writes in his epistle, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (cf. I John 1:5). There was no darkness or sin in Jesus Christ because He is God (I John 5:20; cf. Hebrews 1:8; 4:15). Therefore, only Jesus could give them life that never ends. Jesus does not direct unbelievers to the Father to receive everlasting life. He directs them to Himself for this gift (John 5:21, 40; 6:40, 47). Christ proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6).

Sometimes I will encounter non-Christians who think they must do something in addition to believing or trusting in Christ alone to give them everlasting life. For example, when I ask a person, “What does God say you must do to get to heaven?” He or she responds, “I must believe in Christ and … be baptized or live a godly life or love others or take communion or confess all my sins.” And the list goes on and on and on. But is that what Jesus says?

Christ said to a religious leader named Nicodemus, 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever BELIEVES in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever BELIEVES in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 He who BELIEVES in Him is not condemned; but he who does not BELIEVE is condemned already, because he has not BELIEVED in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:14-18).

According to John 3:14-16, who has everlasting life? The one who “believes in… the Son of Man,” Jesus Christ, Who was “lifted up” on a Cross (cf. John 8:28; 12:23, 32-33). According to John 3:17, Who is the one Person by which one must be saved? “Through Him,” God’s only begotten “Son,” Jesus Christ. According to John 3:18, what is the basis upon which a person is condemned or not condemned? Belief or unbelief in God’s “only begotten Son,” Jesus Christ.

It does not matter what your religion or denomination or pastor or priest teaches. What matters is what Jesus Christ taught. Repeatedly Jesus teaches that believing in Him alone is the only condition for everlasting life (cf. John 3:14-18; 5:46; 6:29, 35-36, 40, 47; 7;38; 8:24, 45; 9:35; 10:37-38; 11:25-26; 12:36, 46; 13:19; 14:1, 11-12; 16:9; 17:20; et al.).

When Jesus was hanging on the Cross, He said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). The Greek word translated “finished” is tetelestai. It means “paid in full.” Receipts in New Testament times were stamped with this word which meant that the debt had been paid in full. Christ did not make a down payment for our sin when He died on the Cross so that we must pay the remainder of our sin debt to God. God does not accept us on the basis of our good life, our keeping of His commandments, our water baptism, or the sacraments we have taken. We are accepted by God on the basis of the full payment for our sin debt to God when Jesus Christ died and rose again on our behalf. God was completely and forever satisfied with Jesus’ full payment for our sin. The verb tetelestai is in the perfect tense. This means Christ made the full payment for our sin debt when He died on the cross and it remains paid in full to the present.

When we communicate the gospel with non-Christians, we must be clear that all people have sinned against God and deserve to die forever in the Lake of Fire (Romans 3:23; 6:23; Revelation 20:15). No amount of our good thoughts, words, or actions can change the fact that we are sinners before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6). Because Jesus finished paying the penalty for our sins when He died in our place, that means we do not have to work for our salvation (Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9). All God asks of us is to believe in Jesus alone and His finished work on the Cross as sufficient payment for our sins (John 3:14-15; 19:30). When we do, He gives us everlasting life and forgives all our sins (John 3:16; Acts 10:43).

Those who are trusting in their good works or in Christ plus their good works to get them to heaven, are telling God the Father that Jesus’ death on the cross failed to pay their sin debt in full. However, since God was forever satisfied with His perfect Son’s payment for the sin of the world (Isaiah 53:11; John 19:30; I John 2:2), we must also be satisfied with what satisfies God. God cannot accept anything we do as payment for our sins because He has already accepted His Son’s complete payment for all of our sins when He died in our place on the Cross.

Those who “believe in the light [i.e., in Jesus]… become sons of light” (John 12:36; cf. Ephesian 5:8). Every believer in Jesus is defined by the “light” of Jesus Christ instead of by their sin or shame. Christ, Who is Light, lives inside us now (John 8:12). Our sinful hearts have been made new and are good and noble (Luke 8:15). God says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statues, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

We have been given a new identity and a new nature defined by Christ’s light. A passion resides deep inside us that can be stronger than our passion for sin when we yield to the Holy Spirit inside us (Rom. 7:21-25; 8:1-7). It is a passion to love God and walk in His ways, just as Christ did. Because we are defined by the light of Christ, it is important to pay attention to the God-given passion He has given us to live for Him.

When Christ finished speaking He “departed, and was hidden from them” (John 12:36b) supernaturally. He seems to have vanished, reminding us that He is in control. His death will take place in God’s time. This departure of Jesus was an example of what He had just predicted (John 12:35) and should have motivated them to believe in Him while there was still time.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, please give me Your clarity and wisdom when communicating Your gospel message to non-Christians. So many people today are confused about what they must do to get to heaven.They are being told to do many different things in addition to believing or trusting in You alone for Your free gift of everlasting life. Satan is such a deceiver. He is not against any religion that leaves out a Christ-alone salvation because he knows it will lead them into an eternal hell. By Your grace, please bring all Christians back to Your basic promise that “whoever believes in Him [Jesus] should not perish but have everlasting life.” The more clearly we communicate Your gospel message, the more people can understand and believe in You alone for Your free gift while there is still time. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for making this message so clear and simple. In Your matchless name I pray. Amen.  

Since eternal life is free and can never be lost, why would I want to live for the Lord?

In John 10:28-29, we discovered that believers in Jesus are secure forever because eternal life is a gift which can never be lost. But someone may say, “Since eternal life is free through believing in Jesus and cannot be lost, why would I want to live for the Lord? What is to keep me from living like the devil since I know I will go to heaven after believing in Jesus? There are several incentives for living a godly life after believing in Jesus for the gift of eternal life. We will look at four of them:

1. GRATITUDE: When a sinner believes in Christ alone for the forgiveness of his sins and the gift of eternal life, the most natural response is a heart full of thanksgiving.  The Bible says, “We love Him because He first loved us.” (I John 4:19). When you are convinced God loves you no matter what and that His arms of grace are always open for you no matter how badly you fail or fall, you will want to do what He tells you to do out of gratitude and because you know He wants the best for you (2 Corinthians 5:15; Galatians 2:20).

For example, let’s say you are drowning in the ocean, and a man on the seashore hears your cries for help and swims out to save you from certain death. After he brings you safely back to shore, you ask him, “How can I ever thank you for saving me?” He replies, “You would have done the same thing for me,” and then he drives off on his motorcycle. Two weeks later you are driving your car down the highway and you notice the same man standing beside the road next to his motorcycle which has two flat tires. The man is frantically waving his hands to get you to stop, but you just wave at him and keep going. That, my friends, is no way to thank the man who saved you from drowning. Likewise, when we fail to live for the Lord, we are still saved, but that is no way to thank our Savior who saved us from an eternity burning in the lake of fire.

2. GOD’S DISCIPLINE: Just as an earthly father disciplines his wayward children, so God will discipline His disobedient child (Hebrews 12:5-11). It is possible for a believer to be more miserable living outside of God’s will than it would have been to remain a non-Christian. If a believer continues in sin long enough, God may even take his or her physical life (cf. I Corinthians 11:29-32). Knowing the price of sin in a Christian’s life ought to be a strong motivation for godly living. “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23).

3. YOUR NEW IDENTITY: When a person believes or trusts in Christ for the gift of eternal life, God’s grace gives him a new identity or capacity to overcome sin and live for the Lord (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14-20; I John 3:1-9). Romans 6:14-18 says, 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”

When we become Christians, we are under a new authority. We are now under God’s grace, not the law. When we realize and submit to Christ’s rule over us, regardless of our feelings, our sinful flesh progressively loses its domination over us, and the grace of God is activated in our lives. We then obey because of our relationship with Jesus. Some immature Christians might think that living under grace means they can go on sinning. But Paul refutes this thinking. If you are living under grace, you will actually keep the law. And if you don’t keep the law, it only proves you’re not operating under the grace of God. Christians obey the standard, but the motivation isn’t the standard. The motivation is God’s grace. The more believers experience the grace of Jesus, the more he or she wants to live in way that is consistent with his or her new identity in Christ.

At this juncture, I believe it is important to talk about sanctification. Sanctification is being “set apart” or made holy to God. The Bible alludes to pre-conversion sanctification whereby the Lord sets apart the unbeliever for salvation and/or service (Jeremiah 1:5; Acts 9:15; Romans 1:1; I Corinthians 7:14; Galatians 1:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; I Peter 1:2).

For the Christian, sanctification is realized in three ways. All believers are positionally sanctified when they first believe by virtue of being in Christ (I Corinthians 1:2; 6:11; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 10:10, 14).  That is, they are completely and permanently set apart from their sin and shame, and placed into the body of Christ. God totally accepts the believer at the moment of faith in Jesus regardless of how much or little they manifest His holiness.

Christians are personally or progressively sanctified as they allow the Holy Spirit to guide their lives, and begin to produce the fruit of the Spirit (Luke 14:25-33; John 8:31-32; 15:1-8; 17:17; Romans 6:12-23; 8:1-17; Galatians 5:16-26; Ephesians 5:26; Hebrews 5:13-14; I Peter 1:15- 16; 2:1-3; 2 Peter 3:18).  Therefore, obedience to the Word of God, while not necessary for obtaining everlasting life, is the essential responsibility of each Christian to grow in the Christian life (Romans 6:12-23; Hebrews 5:13-14; 1 Corinthians 2:14–3:4). However, the Bible does not teach that this obedience will be manifested in all believers. If a believer does not yield to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in his experience, failure will result, evidenced by sinful acts or even prolonged disobedience (1 Corinthians 3:1-15; 10:1-13; Galatians 5:16-21).

Christians will be ultimately sanctified when they become completely conformed to the image of Christ in His presence (Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 1:22; I John 3:2-3; Jude 24- 25).  There will be no more sin in their words, thoughts, actions, or motives.

For example, the apostle Paul in writing to the church at Corinth, says, “To those who are sanctified (hagiazō) in Christ Jesus, called to be saints (hagios).” (I Corinthians 1:2). Paul calls them “saints” which means, “set-apart ones” (I Corinthians 1:2). He was not referring to their behavior because they were acting very immature and disobedient (I Corinthians 1:11-6:20; 11:17-32; et al.). He was obviously talking about their identity or their position in Christ, which was sourced in their spiritual birth. Paul calls them “saints”(positional sanctification) in chapter 1 and then challenges them to act like the saints they really are (progressive sanctification) in the remaining chapters of the book.

When the Corinthians were committing sexual immorality with prostitutes he questions their knowledge about their new identity in Christ, not their salvation (I Corinthians 6:13-20). Paul describes believers’ future resurrection bodies which will be “raised in incorruption” and “put on incorruption” (ultimate sanctification) to encourage Christians to remain faithful to the Lord in the present (I Corinthians 15:42, 53). Because Christians will receive future resurrection bodies that no longer yield to sin, they are to abound in the work of the Lord now knowing He will reward them for their faithfulness in the future (I Corinthians 15:58; cf. 3:8-15; 9:24-27).

4. ETERNAL REWARDS AT THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST: The last book of the Bible (Revelation) provides an outline of future events (see picture) beginning with the current church age to the eternal state…

1. We are living in the Church Age which began at Pentecost (Acts2) and will end with the rapture or removal of the Church from the earth which could take place at any moment (John 14:1-3; I Cor. 15:51-52; I Thess.1:10; 4:13-5:11; Revelation 4-5). Knowing that Christ could come for us at any moment motivates Christians to live faithfully for Him so they are prepared to face Him as their Judge.

2. Soon after the Church is taken in the Rapture, seven years of Tribulation begin on the earth.  This period begins when the Beast of Revelation makes a covenant with the nation of Israel (Dan. 9:26-27). This will be an awful time of death, disease, hunger, famine, earthquakes as never seen, warfare, entire seas turned to blood, darkness, scorching of the sun and multiple other judgments (Revelation 6-19). It will end when Jesus returns to earth with His Church and Christ will destroy His enemies (Revelation 17:12-14; Revelation 19:11-21). At that time, the Antichrist and False Prophet will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 19:20) and the Devil will be bound for a 1000 years (Revelation 20:2-3).

3.  Then Jesus will reign as King over the entire earth for a thousand years from the city of Jerusalem (Zechariah 14; Revelation 20:4-6). This period is called the Millennium which means “one thousand.”

4. At the end of the Millennium God will destroy the entire creation (2 Peter 3:10). Every person who did not believe or trust in Christ alone for the gift of salvation will stand before God as He sits on the Great White Throne to judge each unbeliever according to their works to determine the degree of their punishment in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-15). Satan will receive his final judgment in the Lake of Fire at this time.

5.  Then a New Heaven (Universe) and New Earth are created which are perfect and beautiful (Revelation 21-22). This will be the eternal home of believers in Jesus.

Knowing the future should motivate Christians to live for what is eternal and not what is temporary. Why? Because there is another Judgment. During the Tribulation, in heaven, Christians will give an account for all their work for Christ. While Christians will never be judged to determine their eternal destiny since they already have eternal life (John 5:24), they will face another kind of judgment to determine what if any rewards they will receive in Christ’s eternal Kingdom. In Revelation 4:4, 10-11, “the twenty-four elders” represent faithful (overcoming) believers in heaven who possess “crowns” (rewards) received at the Judgment Seat of Christ and will rule with Christ in His coming Kingdom (cf. 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:10b, 2:26-27; 3:5a, 3:11, 21).  This Judgment is to motivate Christians to be faithful disciples who obey the Word of God. This is called the Judgment Seat of Christ.

God wants to reward all Christians for their faithfulness to Him at the Judgment Seat of Christ. “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”(2 Corinthians 5:9-10). Paul was motivated to live a life that pleased the Lord knowing that he would appear before Christ at the Judgment Seat in the future to determine what if any rewards he would receive (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 4:5; 9:24-27; Revelation 22:12). Every Christian must appear before the judgment seat of Christ to answer to Jesus for the “good” and “bad” things he has done since becoming a Christian. The word “bad” (kakon) means “worthless, wicked, and evil.”

Is this scary for you to think about? Certainly! Even the apostle Paul was afraid to face the Judgment Seat of Christ. He writes, “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Why would Paul fear the Judgment Seat of Christ? He was afraid of the possibility that his life will be revealed as one wasted and spent in selfishness rather than in devotion and obedience to Christ. Selfish living and wasted opportunities will bring more regrets when Jesus evaluates a believer’s life than most of us care to think about. Knowing this should be sufficient  motivation for God’s people to aim to please the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24).

Knowing that we can earn eternal rewards should motivate believers to live for Christ now. Christians can earn heavenly treasure (Matthew 6:19-21) by giving a cup of cold water to God’s servant (Matthew 10:42), doing a charitable deed in private (Matthew 6:3- 4), praying in private (Matthew 6:6), and fasting in private (Matthew 6:17-18).

Christians who remain faithful in their service to Christ to the end of their lives will be given rewards that include wearing special white garments (Revelation 3:4-5), ruling with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26-27; 3:21), eating the fruit of the tree of life (Revelation 2:7), eating hidden manna (Revelation 2:17), receiving a white stone engraved with your own special name that only the Lord and you will know (Revelation 2:17), and receiving a special entrance into the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:14).

Christians can also earn a crown of rejoicing for making disciples (I Thessalonians 2:19), a crown of righteousness for loving the appearing of the Lord Jesus (2 Timothy 4:8), a crown of life for enduring trials and temptations until death (James 1:12), a crown of glory for faithfully shepherding others as a servant leader (I Peter 5:4), and an imperishable crown for living a disciplined life (I Corinthians 9:25).

By focusing on the Judgment Seat of Christ, Christians will develop a desire to please God rather than men. Because Christ is first in the life of a disciple and could come back at any moment, a disciple should seek to win as many people to Christ as possible and become more like the Judge who will evaluate his or her life at the Judgment Seat.

Knowing we have eternal life which can never be lost does not give Christians a license to sin or live like the devil. God did not save us to live for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose from the dead on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:15). We have looked at several motivations to live for Jesus untill we go to be with Him in heaven.

I will close with some thoughts from Dave Breese in Living for Eternity said, The child of God is a creature of eternal destiny. For him no day is without consequence, and no fleeting moment can be called incidental or unimportant. The hours he spends and the decisions he makes have implications that carry on into eternity. What he does today will matter a thousand years from today.” (Larry Moyer, Free And Clear: Understanding & Communicating God’s Offer of Eternal Life [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997], pg. 145).

Who are you and where are you going? Part 1

“But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me.” John 7:29

In his book Grace Walk, Steve McVey writes: “When I was a student in high school, a hypnotist came to our science class. He brought four students to the front of the room and hypnotized them together. While they were in a trance he told them that when they woke up, they would each be an animal. One boy was told that he would be a monkey. Another would wake up as a dog. One girl would be a chicken and the other a turkey. The hypnotist said, ‘I will count to five and snap my fingers, and when I do you will wake up.’ He slowly counted to five, snapped his fingers, and they woke up like he had said.

“What happened next was quite a sight. They behaved exactly like the animals they had been told they would become. One hopped around all stooped over, with his hands swinging by his sides like a monkey. He jumped up on a desk and screeched like a Cheetah. The other boy started barking and running around the room like a dog. The first girl folded her hands under her arms and clucked as if she was trying to lay eggs. The other started around like a turkey, gobbling as aloud as she could and scratching at the floor with both hands. It was a comical sight to see people act like the animals they thought they were. After a while the hypnotist woke them up and let them come back to their real identities. You can imagine how embarrassed they were when we told them how they had behaved.

“Many Christians behave in ways they don’t understand. They want to be saints, but most of the time it seems that living like saints demands too much effort and attention. It is usually much easier just to ‘be yourself.’ That thought raises an important question. Who are you? … If we believe we are a dog, nothing can keep us from barking. If we believe we are a monkey, all the evidence in the world can’t make us behave like anything else. Through the power of suggestion many Christians have been deceived into believing that they are something other than what God has made them to be. Jesus said, ‘The truth will set you free.’ Our identity in Christ is one of the most liberating truths we will ever understand.” (Steve McVey, Grace Walk: What You’ve Always Wanted in the Christian Life [Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2005], pp. 41-42).

We are going to answer two questions that are raised in John 7:25-36: Who are you and where are you going? In this article, we will look at who you are by focusing on … THE QUESTION OF JESUS’ IDENTITY (John 7:25-31). The people Jesus was speaking to in the temple were confused about His identity. “Now some of them from Jerusalem said, ‘Is this not He whom they seek to kill?’ ” (John 7:25). Some of the residents of Jerusalem heard a nasty rumor about the religious leaders’ plan to kill Jesus. Their question expects a negative answer: “This can’t be the guy they are seeking to kill, is it? Afterall – “But look! He speaks boldly, and they say nothing to Him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is truly the Christ?” (John 7:26). The crowd was impressed with Jesus’ courage to speak openly despite the plan to kill Him.

The people were wondering if perhaps the reason why the religious leaders had not sought to kill Jesus yet was because they had recognized Jesus to be the Messiah-God. “However, we know where this Man is from; but when the Christ comes, no one knows where He is from.” (John 7:27). The crowd doubted Jesus’ identity as the Messiah because they could trace His origin from Nazareth in Galilee. Some of the Jerusalem residents held to a tradition which said that the origin of the Messiah would be unknown. But this was a smokescreen to avoid the obvious facts about Christ.

We live in a culture today that is very confused about the identity of Jesus Christ. According to Mormonism, Jesus Christ is a self-progressing deity who was created through procreation between the male and female earth gods. Jehovah Witnesses claim that Jesus was a created being who pre-existed as the angel Michael and then was changed into the mortal man Jesus. The Iglesia Ni Cristo cult in the Philippines believes Jesus was created by God the Father and is His highest creation, but He is not God. Many of today’s world religions such as Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism view Jesus as either a prophet or a good moral teacher, but not God Himself. So the confusion that existed in John’s day still exists today. But when Jesus speaks, the confusion turns into clarity.

“Then Jesus cried out, as He taught in the temple, saying, ‘You both know Me, and you know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know.’” (John 7:28). “So you know Me and where I am from, do you?” They knew He was from Nazareth but they didn’t know the more important sense of where He was from. Jesus was sent on a mission by the One who is true, His Father Whom the crowd did not know. If they knew the Father, they would know the One whom the Father sent. Jesus continues, “But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me.” (John 7:29).But Jesus knew the Father because He has always been from Him – He was with Him from eternity past. Christ was sent by the Father to show people what God is like and to save them from their sins. We see from this that Christ’s claim to be the eternal Son of God calls for a response.

Some of the crowd rejected Christ. “Therefore they sought to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come.” (John 7:30). They sought to arrest Jesus because He claimed to be the Son of God but they could not touch Him because it was not God’s time for His Son to be crucified. The time of every man’s death has been fixed by God and no one can interfere with that (cf. Psalm 139:16). “And many of the people believed in Him and said, ‘When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?’ ” (John 7:31). Their question expects a negative answer. In other words, they could not imagine that the prophesied Messiah would do more miraculous signs than Jesus had done. Hence, they were persuaded to believe in Jesus as the Christ because of the miracles He had done (cf. John 5:36; 10:25, 38; 14:10-11; 20:31).

So we see that Jesus knows who He is – the eternal Son of God sent by His Father to save mankind. Knowing who He is resulted in great boldness before a mixed audience (John 7:26). But what about you? How would you answer the question, “Who are you?” You might tell us your name, but if I asked you to tell me about yourself, what would you say then? If you are like most people, you will tell me what you do. “I am a student, an electrician, a construction worker, a customer service representative, a teacher, or a pastor.” You have sought value through your title or position.

Or you may say, “I drive a BMW or I own a $500,000 home.” Perhaps you have new stylish clothes thinking that these possessions will add to your importance. Or you may be a “name dropper” because you think that having an association with someone who is successful or famous will increase the value of who you are. Some of us may seek validation from our appearance. So we go to the fitness center to gain the “right” body image to increase our attractiveness thinking that it will give us a new level of importance.

Another common way we may try to establish our value based on performance is through our skills. In our American culture, we idolize actors, athletes, and musicians because of their skills. We believe that if we are great at doing something, it will increase our value. This also applies to mental abilities. We are convinced that if we are mentally gifted, people will admire us more. So we try to get the best test scores in school or demonstrate greater mental skills on the job to get a promotion. This area breeds perfectionism. Mistakes are not okay because they reveal weaknesses and bring shame on us.

We have been programmed to think of identity as inseparable from behavior. We have been taught that our value is based on what we do rather than who we are. Most people believe the lie that says, “I am what I do.”

But listen – God doesn’t look at it that way. God determines identity by birth, not behavior. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead … having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.” (1 Peter 1:3, 23). A person born into the family of God by faith in Christ (John 1:12) receives a new identity: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17). When you believe in Christ alone for His gift of salvation, you become a new creation. God created a new person when you were saved. You are not the same person you were before you became a Christian. When you were born into the family of God, you received the following family traits:

YOU ARE FULLY ACCEPTED BY GOD. The Bible says, “To the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:6). It is difficult to warm up to someone if you think they don’t accept you, isn’t it? It is hard to have an intimate relationship with someone if you perceive they don’t like you. But because Christ has received you and He is fully accepted by the Father, you are fully accepted by God as well. You are totally accepted by God because you are “in the Beloved,” Jesus Christ. You don’t need to change a thing about yourself for God to accept you. Your acceptance by God is not based on what you do, but on who you are in Christ. You no longer need to withhold your true self from others. You are free to express who you are without shame.

YOU ARE GOD’S WORK OF ART. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10). The word “workmanship” is the Greek word poiēma from which we get our English word “poem.” A poem is a collection of words that are specially chosen and put together so that they make a powerful statement that lasts. God is saying that you are His heavenly poem—you have been specially created by God to make a powerful statement about His grace that endures forever. You used to be defined by sin and shame, but now you are defined by being “in Christ.” And God sees in you holiness… beauty… and goodness. Everything He sees in Jesus Christ He now sees in you. You may see yourself as this person who has failed or who lacks certain abilities, but God sees you as His heavenly work of art – His masterpiece!!!

YOU ARE AN AMBASSADOR. “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20). What is an ambassador? The highest ranking diplomatic representative appointed by one country or government to represent it in another country. When you become a Christian, you also become God’s representative here on earth. You are on this planet representing the King of kings and Lord of lords. This a great honor to be appointed this position. The more you see yourself as Christ’s ambassador, the more of His boldness you will have in living and speaking for Him. You represent the most powerful and important Person in the universe. He has your back (cf. Joshua 1:9; 2 Chronicles 20:15, 17; Psalm 118:6-7; Isaiah 41:10; Matthew 28:20).

But you may be thinking, “I don’t feel accepted by God. I don’t see myself as a heavenly poem. I don’t behave like an ambassador for Christ.” I can understand this. But we must decide whether we will trust what we feel and think or what God has said in His Word. Satan has caused many Christians to believe that they are not really new persons in Christ. He tells them they should try to act like new creations because that is their Christian duty. But God says you are a new creation. When you come to believe that fact by faith, you won’t feel the need to act. You can just be yourself, allowing Christ in you to flow through your personality and out of your life. 

You may wonder, “Why don’t I act like who I am?” Remember the people who acted like animals when they were hypnotized? They acted that way because they temporarily believed a lie about their identity. When they were brought out of the hypnotic trance and understood reality, they began to behave like the people they really were.

Why do people who are holy act unholy? Why do many believers struggle with sins, constantly trying to overcome them? Because Satan has deceived them into believing they are the same persons they were before they came to Christ. And we act in the way we perceive ourselves to be. “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7). Satan, the great deceiver, has caused us to believe that at the core of our being, we are nothing more than rotten sinners. That describes what we were before we were saved, but not anymore!

If the hypnotist had been able to keep those four students believing his suggestion, they would still be barking, cackling, gobbling, and screeching! But they did wake up to the truth. That’s what needs to happen to many Christians today!

Have you been hypnotized to live under a false identity, so that you see yourself as nothing more than a saved sinner trying to serve God? Let this truth wake you up! You are not just a sinner saved by grace. You are a saint who has the life of Christ at the center of your being. A sinner saved by grace spends his time on the defensive against Satan. Someone who knows he is a saint goes on the offensive.

When those four hypnotized students woke up and realized how they had behaved, they felt pretty silly. That pictures the attitude of believers who wake up to their true identity in Christ. They will sometimes lapse into old patterns of living and will choose to sin. But when they do, they know that their behavior is inconsistent with who they are in Christ. And it won’t be long until they open their eyes and realize, “It’s ridiculous for me to behave this way!”

Prayer: Father God, so much of my life has been driven by shame. I have sought to hide or even numb my shame through my performance. I am realizing, that apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ, I cannot break free from shame. None of us can. Thank You, Father, for changing me from a sinner into a saint the moment I believed in Jesus for His gift of eternal life. I am not the same person I used to be. But Satan keeps trying to deceive me into believing I have not changed. Please renew my mind about who I am in Christ. The more I see myself as You see me, the more I will live in a way that is consistent with who I am in Jesus. I want to speak boldly about Jesus just as He did in the temple in front of a mixed audience. Father, help me see myself as You do so Christ’s boldness will flow through me and people will come to faith in Him. In His powerful name I pray. Amen.

I am sheltered by God’s Word from my antagonists

23 Princes also sit and speak against me, but Your servant meditates on Your statutes. 24 Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.” Psalm 119:23-24

This morning I woke up to an onslaught of lies that attacked my character and standing before God. Voices that said, “You are a loser.” “You can’t do anything right.” “You are pathetic.” “You are all alone and unloved.” “You are worthless.” Who needs enemies when you wake up to this kind of self-hatred and self-condemnation?

This has been a pattern throughout much of my life. I know where these lies come from. They have been attached to wounds in my past by the father of lies, Satan himself (John 6:44). Throughout my life I have unconsciously sought approval from men who are unable to accept, affirm, or appreciate me. But God is teaching me to seek out godly and available men who are channels of God’s love and grace towards me.

Instead of obsessing on a barrage of lies this morning, I got out of bed and sat at my new desk to focus on God’s Word. I was drawn to Psalm 119:23-24 where the Psalmist writes, “Princes also sit and speak against me, but Your servant meditates on Your statutes” (119:23). Instead of focusing on the antagonism of “princes,” the Psalmist “meditates” on God’s “statutes” or “testimonies.” The word “statutes” (choq) refers to boundaries established by God in His Word. And the word “testimonies” (siach) refers to God’s witness or testimony from the Scriptures.

When the Psalmist speaks of God’s Word as his “delight” (shaashuim), he is referring to that which he “desires or bends toward” much like a house plant that bends toward the rays of sunshine coming through a window to receive its nutrients. Instead of leaning toward the life-taking words of his antagonists, he bends toward the life-giving nourishment of God’s Word. God’s Word was also like his “counselors” (etsah) in that it gave him guidance and wisdom he would need as a “servant” of the Lord.  

God reminded me this morning that what I focus on is a choice. I can either focus on the lies of my antagonists which deplete me of life and nourishment, or I can focus on God’s truth which gives me life and love throughout my day. I choose to turn to God’s life-giving Word which defines who I am:

– In Christ I am a winner (Ephes. 2:5-6).

– I am loved and cherished by God (Psalm 27:10).

– In Christ I am good enough (2 Cor. 5:21).

– I am loved by Jesus just as I am (Rom. 5:6, 8).

– I can do what is right through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13).

Will you join me in doing this?

Prayer: Precious Lord God, when I am overwhelmed with lies that degrade and shame me, please help me lean towards Your truth and focus on what it says about You, myself, and this broken world in which I live. I am so familiar with lies that degrade and shame me. Please grant me the resolve to become much more intimate with Your truth which comforts, guides, nurtures, and loves me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

I am God’s holy temple

“…20b Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” Ephes. 2:20b-22

The apostle Paul sees believers in Jesus as a magnificent temple created by God with Jesus Christ as “the Chief Cornerstone” (2:20-21). At the time Paul wrote these words, the “cornerstone” was the essential part of the foundation of a building. It was the stone with which the builder squared up all the other stones to give the building stability and strength. The “Chief Cornerstone” of this temple is Jesus Christ (2:20b; Matt. 16:18; I Cor. 3:11; I Peter 2:4-7), and all the other stones represent Jewish and Gentile believers who are “being fitted together” much like a building under construction (2:21a; I Peter 2:5), with God continuing to add (“grows”) new believers as the gospel is preached (2:21b).

Today God does not inhabit a physical temple like He did in Old Testament times (I Kings 8:10-13; 2 Chron. 7:1-2). He now indwells His church which is a spiritual and “holy temple in the Lord” spreading all over the earth (2:21b). The church began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and it will continue until the day of the Rapture when it is removed from the earth (cf. Matt. 24:36-51; I Thess. 4:13-5:11).

The moment a person believes in Jesus for His gift of salvation, the Holy Spirit seals him and places him in the Church through the baptism of the Holy Spirit (2:22; cf. 1:13-14; 2:8-9; Acts 10:43-48; I Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-27). God’s Spirit lives inside us now and our purpose is to reflect the glory of God (I Cor. 3:16; 6:19-20), not to draw attention to ourselves or to other Christians. We can reflect God’s glory by relying on the Holy Spirit to empower us to live a holy life; a life that pleases the Lord Jesus.

But when we choose to sin, we are acting in a way that is contrary to who we are in Christ. For example, if we see ourselves as an alcoholic at the core of our being, what will be the most natural thing for us to do – stay sober or get drunk? Get drunk. What will be the most unnatural thing to do? Stay sober. But if we see ourselves as a holy temple of God, what is the most natural thing for us to do – stay sober or get drunk? Stay sober.

Satan wants to convince us that we are sinners at the core of our being. Why? Because sinning is accepted as a natural expression of our true selves. But if we realize that at the core of our being we are a holy temple of God, we will come to the conclusion that sinning compromises who we are. Sin hides who we truly are in Christ.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, I praise You because I am not alone. You live inside me now and promise never to leave me nor abandon me. I am no longer a piece of trash or a dirty vessel because You indwell me, and that makes me holy. You are my Comforter and Teacher Who heals me and instructs me. I am now a part of a spiritual temple that continues to grow exponentially all over the earth as the gospel is preached. I now have many brothers and sisters in Christ who love me and whom I can love. Lord Jesus, You are the Chief Cornerstone of this expanding spiritual temple, and I can look to You for the stability, security, and strength I need to live a holy life which reflects Your glory to a lost and perishing world. Thank You, Lord Jesus, and Holy Spirit, for healing my broken and wounded heart so I can experience the fullness of Your love. Help me to see myself as Your holy temple so I may be and live holy for You. In Jesus’ powerful name I pray. Amen.

In Christ I am God’s masterpiece

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus…” Ephesians 2:10a

Before we come to Christ in faith, we are spiritually dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephes. 2:1). That is, we do not have God’s life (eternal life) in us and therefore we do not know God on a personal level. Our lives were defined by trespasses and sins. But look how that has changed.  “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus…” (Ephes. 2:10a). I used to be in trespasses and sins – that is what defined me and drove my life. But now I am “in Christ Jesus.” I used to be dead, but now I am God’s “workmanship.”

The word “workmanship” comes from the Greek word poíēma which is where we get our English word “poem” from. A poem is a collection of words that are specially chosen and put together so that they make a powerful statement that lasts. God is saying that you are His heavenly poem – you have been specially chosen by God to make a powerful statement about His grace that endures forever.

Another word that describes this is the term “masterpiece” – like a painting that has been specially created or like a potterer carefully creating something out of clay that is unique and has his personality and stamp put on it. You are God’s Masterpiece –  something He has poured Himself into to change your life. You used to be defined by sin and shame, but now you are defined by being in Christ. And God sees in you holiness … beauty… and goodness. Everything He sees in Jesus Christ He now sees in you.

You may see yourself as this person who has failed or who lacks certain abilities. Perhaps the voices from your past have told you that you were a mistake…that you can’t do anything right. But God is now telling you that you are His masterpiece… a beautiful work of heavenly art that He is putting on display for all to see and admire just how great His grace is toward you. Take time today to look in the mirror and say to yourself, “In Christ, I am God’s masterpiece, not a mistake.” The more you see yourself as God sees you, the more you will reflect this truth in your daily living.

For example, if someone unfairly criticizes you, step back and ignore the lie that says, “You are a big mistake,” and replace it with the truth that says, “You are God’s masterpiece!” The more you see yourself through God’s eyes, the more you will live the way God made you to live.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, much of my life I have seen myself as a big mistake; as someone who cannot do anything right. I am asking you to heal these deep wounds in my life so I can begin to see myself as You see me. I am Your masterpiece, not a mistake. I am Your heavenly poem that You want to put on display for others to see just how great Your grace is toward me. Please apply this truth to my heart so I can see myself as You do and begin to live as Your wonderful masterpiece! In Jesus’ name. Amen.