In this message, we learn how the law of Moses exists to convict us of our sin, and how we can respond to this through the spiritual disciplines of confession and thanksgiving. You can watch the whole gathering below, or just the message below that. It’s based on Matthew 19.16-22 and Romans 7.7-13.
In Romans 7.1 (NLT), the apostle Paul wrote something that might seem very strange on an initial, out-of-context reading: “…don’t you know that the law applies only while a person is living?”
Seems fairly obvious, doesn’t it? I mean, I’m not going to care whether a traffic light is green, amber or red when my funeral procession is winding its way to the cemetery. But all the drivers in that procession should care, because they don’t want to risk injury. The law only applies while a person is living.
But Paul goes on to say that everybody who has faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord has died to the law: they no longer live under its reign.
That changes the picture a bit, right? So Paul is telling us that if we have died with Christ through our faith in him, we have died to sin (see Romans 6), and therefore have also died to the tyranny of the law.
Does that mean we should ignore the law of the land? Well, if we all did that, the number of traffic fatalities would skyrocket (among other things).
Does that means we should ignore the law of God? There’s the rub: when we become followers of Jesus, the Old Testament doesn’t fade away, and the Ten Commandments don’t cease to be applicable to our lives. So what does it mean that we have died to the law?
Just as Paul said in chapter 6 that sin will not be our master, so it is true that the law shall not be our master. Our goal is not perfectly to keep the law; our goal is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us.
How do we glorify God? Well, Jesus tells us in John 14.15 (NLT), “If you love me, obey my commandments.” Since we live under grace and not under law, we have come into relationship with Jesus by his favour alone, and in that relationship, we demonstrate our love by following what he tells us to do. So while we are dead to sin and the law, we are alive to God in Jesus, and in that relationship, we follow the law without fear of being judged for our imperfect ability to keep the law. We are respectful of the law, but not enslaved to it.
There are some great ways to apply this, and I’ll be talking about that this Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton. You (and your face mask) are very welcome to join us at 10:00 a.m., or catch the service from the comfort of your home live, or on demand later. The application may cause you to squirm a little!
Our congregation’s LifeConnect Groups have all stumbled on one verse that’s giving us a challenge this week. It’s John 20.23, which was part of our Scripture focus last Sunday: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (NLT). Jesus said this to the disciples immediately after breathing on them and giving them the Holy Spirit.
It kind of sounds like it could be a power trip, doesn’t it? If Jesus has given his followers the power to forgive or not forgive anyone’s sins, that suggests that we could decide who’s in and who’s out. But I don’t think that’s where Jesus was going with it. There are a couple of levels of understanding this verse that may be encouraging to us.
First, it can be seen as an approach to personal peace. By that, I mean that when we forgive others for their sins against us, we are set free from bondage to the transgression. But when we don’t forgive, it’s another story. Somebody once said that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Seems silly when it’s put that way, right? But a lot of people refuse to forgive even when the other party seeks it, and that is the poison.
But did you know you can forgive the other person even when she or he doesn’t ask for it? I’ve had to do that a few times in my life, where someone has not acknowledged wrongdoing against me, but in order to move on with life, I’ve had to forgive that person in my mind and in my spirit. Even though there may be a sense of injustice about that, it sets you free, and that’s what matters.
The other approach to John 20.23 is to be reminded that Jesus invites us to be partners in forgiveness as we proclaim the gospel to others. Jesus offers forgiveness of sin that lasts for eternity, and when we share our relationship with him, that opens a door for those people to receive forgiveness of sin.
Of course, a literal reading of the verse suggests that the disciples – and perhaps through them, we – have the power to forgive others’ sins. While I believe we are empowered to do that in terms of our sins against each other, I can’t see any biblical evidence that suggests we are empowered to offer eternal forgiveness of sin. That’s Jesus’ job, since he paid the price for our sin at Calvary.
But it’s still through our faith-sharing efforts that doors open for Jesus’ forgiveness to be received. And that’s why it’s so important for us to talk about our relationship with the Lord. As the apostle Paul tells the Corinthian church, “Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others….So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (2 Corinthians 5.11, 20, NLT).
Who knows whose life you may affect by your faithfulness in speaking about God’s love?
It’s federal election season in Canada, and as has been the custom, there’s all manner of digging going on, trying to find sordid things about candidates’ past. The digging is normally done by people active in one of the other political parties, rather than by the ordinary folks of the electorate.
If you’re anything like me, you’d rather hear what a particular candidate or party stands for, as opposed to what they stand against. And you want to know what’s going on in their beliefs and platforms now rather than what may have happened in the past.
In one sense, the goal of the diggers is noble: they want to unearth past truth about a person in order to find out if that happens also to be present truth. As with so much of life, politics is a complicated beast.
But you know who one of those diggers won’t be?
When we present ourselves to God in faith as we are, now, God is not concerned with the past. We might lie awake at night, from time to time, thinking about that stupid thing we did 20 years ago, ruminating about how stupid it was, but God never does that.
When we come to God in faith, believing that Jesus died to take away all our sins, and believing that he rose again to bring us eternal life, God receives us as we are. He doesn’t care about what we did 20 years ago. Jesus died to forgive that sin, too.
Unfortunately, human beings are not often as gracious as God. I wonder if we can change that, one human being at a time?
“For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
He has removed our sins as far from us
as the east is from the west” – Psalm 103.12, NLT
From time to time, when the bad news seriously outweighs the good, we are tempted to throw our arms in the air and exclaim, “What’s wrong with the world?”
This is nothing new, for many years ago, a correspondent of the Times of London was researching and reporting on many of the challenges of society – many of them similar to today’s – and would end every piece he wrote with that same statement: “What’s wrong with the world?”
The renowned English writer, G.K. Chesterton, once wrote a reply to that correspondent which has become one of the things for which he is best known. He wrote,
What’s wrong with the world?
If we want to know what’s wrong with the world, we can start with some self-reflection. That’s why I commend to all followers of Jesus the ancient practice of the examen – examining our conscience (for sin) and our consciousness (of God’s presence in our lives) every day. Consider concluding your day with a time with the Lord in which you review your day to see where God seemed most distant and most near to you. Respond to where God leads you in that time with your own resolve to seek the Holy Spirit’s help in not being what’s wrong with the world.
“Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7.20, NLT).
Not long ago, I received word that my family physician is going to be retiring at the end of September. I’m particularly sad about this, because he’s one of those “old school” doctors who takes the Hippocratic Oath very seriously, who still makes house calls when necessary, and who almost always has enough room in his daily schedule to fit in those last-minute needed appointments. I will miss having him play a role in my life.
He has engaged a firm that will digitize his patients’ files so that all the records of my years of being seen by him will fit onto a CD that I can carry to my next doctor, whoever that may be. Everything that he has seen me for in the past eight years will be available for the new physician to review. Every. Little. Thing. Yes, the important things, like my drug allergy (yikes) and my body mass index (ouch), but also the less affirming things, like the time I had to be treated for a boil on my bottom (let’s not go there). Every. Little. Thing.
Of course, this is all for my good, right? The new doctor will need to know my background fully in order to be able to treat me properly when I come for assistance. The new doctor needs to see the big picture.
I like how God can see the big picture – the whole picture – but chooses not to. The apostle John says of the Lord, “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1.9, NLT). And when does that happen? The earlier part of the verse says it happens “if we confess our sins to him”. And when God receives our confession of sin and forgives us and cleanses us, he keeps no record of our sins. They are gone like dust in the wind.
Let’s not kid ourselves: God could remember every little thing if he wanted to. But he chooses not to. As the old saying goes, he throws the sins we confess to him into the lake of forgetfulness, and posts a ‘no fishing’ sign there. While our medical records may have the good, the bad and the ugly in them, our divine records do not – when we live in relationship with God, believing that Jesus died to take away our sins and rose again to draw us to eternal life. When we are in Christ, God looks upon us as if we have the righteousness of Christ.
Our challenge is to seek to live that way. Growing in holiness, in righteousness – that’s the best response to realizing that God chooses not to remember every little thing. I’m praying that God will give you the grace and strength to grow in holiness and righteousness!