Grace for a Sinner

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

Romans 5

Have you ever felt like you need to get things straightened out in your life before you can ask for forgiveness?  Or before you can pray?  Or before you can draw near to God?  I know I have felt that way.  Is God waiting for us to get everything straightened out before we seek forgiveness or start a relationship for him?  Let’s look at a few verses that I think answer this question:

6 “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”

 8 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

10 “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

All three of these seem to show that God is reaching out to us and desiring us to reach out to Him while we are still messed up.  These verses say, “While we were helpless”, “while we were yet sinners”, and “while we were enemies”.  This sure doesn’t sound like “after we got straightened out”.

I still feel at times that I need to fix something myself before turning to God and asking for forgiveness.  I also know that sin causes problems in a relationship with God.  However, if we are justified through our faith as we saw in Romans 4, and if we look at chapter 5 closely, we have our order wrong.  We need to turn to God immediately.  We need to accept his grace, and then focus on Him to straighten out whatever our problems are.

Paul closes the chapter with this:

20 “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

No matter what sin we have, no matter what laws we have broken, no matter how far we have turned away, the grace of God is sufficient if we will turn back to Him.  God is seeking us out, and we need to seek Him also, whether things are going well, or everything is falling apart.

– Andrew Hamilton

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Justified by Faith

If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say_ “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness

Romans 4

When I think of the old testament versus the new testament, one of the differences I tend to think of is law versus faith.  In the old testament, the people were under the law, and judged by the law.  Then in the new testament, Jesus changed things up so that we could be saved by our faith, with his sacrifice.  No longer were people required to perform sacrifices under the law.

Is that the right way to look at it though?  I’m not sure because I still find scripture that makes comparisons which lead me to the same conclusion.  However, in Romans 4, Paul talks about Abraham being credited by faith.  Verses 2 and 3 say:

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ “

Paul goes on to say that David also talks about blessings that are separate from works, or in other words, by faith.  Verses 7 and 8 say:

“ ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven,
And whose sins have been coveredBlessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.’ ”

So, how do I get this to fit with the laws and required sacrifices and such that were required for forgiveness in the old testament.  While the laws were all required to be followed, there had to be faith included with it for it to please God.  I can’t help but think of Matthew 5:17 as I am talking about the law of the old testament versus faith and grace in the new testament.  It reads:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

So, with our forgiveness coming through faith, it does not mean the law has been thrown away.  Instead, it means this is the perfect fulfillment of the law.

Why is this important to us?  Verse 16 says:

For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.”

We are all descendants through the faith of Abraham.  We can also have our faith credited as righteousness.  What a wonderful blessing this is.
– Andrew Hamilton

The Heart of a Traitor

Matthew 26

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I have often heard that there can be no forgiveness for Judas. After all, Judas committed the worst crime imaginable; he delivered Jesus into the hands of the executioner. Not only did he betray his closest friend, he sold Jesus for the price of 30 silver coins. People estimate this to be worth anywhere from $90-$3000. If you ever watch crime shows, you know that $3000 is a miserly sum to ask for a task such as that. This just shows how greedy Judas was. In fact, in John 12:3-6, we see that Judas frequently steals from the money box. Judas is the one who was upset with the woman who poured the expensive perfume on Jesus’ head. He claimed that he wanted to give the money to the poor, but he actually wanted to take some of the money for himself. According to some, these sins aren’t even the worst that he committed. The worst sin was denying forgiveness.

I want to challenge this idea. I believe it is entirely possible that Judas could have been forgiven and we will see him in the kingdom of God. In 1 John 1:9, it says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Did Judas confess his sins? We can read in Matthew 27 that Judas “was filled with remorse.” He even declares openly to the priests, saying, “I have sinned.” Judas confessed. Is God not faithful and just? We know that he is, so there must be forgiveness available even for Judas.

Mark 3:28 says that “all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven.” Now we must ask, did Judas blaspheme the Holy Spirit? First, we must determine what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. In Catholic teaching, six acts constitute blasphemy of the Holy Spirit and three of them could apply to Judas, those being despair, obstinacy in sin and final impenitence.

To despair is to believe that your sins are beyond forgiveness. It’s hard for me to say that this applies to Judas after he returned to the priests and tried to return the money. He was seeking forgiveness and the priests turned him away saying, “What do we care? That’s your problem.” If anything, this is a sin by the priests for refusing Judas the support that he needed. The argument that Judas did despair is that he proceeded to hang himself. Why would he do this if he believed that he was forgiven? This is a fair point, but once again, this seems to hang on the priests who refused to tell him that there was forgiveness for his sins. Perhaps Judas despaired, and perhaps not, but I can’t see his heart. Only God can.

Obstinacy in sin is the persistence in sin even after sufficient admonishment. It appears as though Judas was persistent in his greed and thievery, seeing as John wrote about it. Here, there are a few questions to ask. How much is too much to be forgiven? How long had Judas been doing this? I can’t answer either of those questions. I personally believe in change of heart. Even if Judas had been continuing in this sin for a long time, he could have had a change of heart once Jesus was sentenced to die and he realized the error of his sin. Thus, he sought forgiveness. This question leads to another, more philosophical question: Can a man who has lived his whole life in sin receive forgiveness in the last moments of his life? Once again, I don’t have a firm answer, but I tend to believe that obstinacy in sin isn’t even a blasphemy against the spirit. If one sin can be forgiven, then two sins can be forgiven. Jesus said to forgive others 77 times. He also said if you forgive others, our heavenly Father will forgive us. Hence, we can receive forgiveness for the same sins over and over. It’s never too late to receive forgiveness.

The final blasphemy is final impenitence. This is the only one that I could see applying to Judas. Impenitence means failure to repent. Did Judas fail to repent before his death? I think not because of the way he sought out the priests, but once again, I don’t know Judas’ heart. Only God does.

Either way, if Judas is guilty or forgiven, I think it is dangerous to talk in terms of absolute forgiveness because in the end, we are not the judges. God is.

-Nathaniel Johnson

Because I Received Mercy

Matthew 18

matthew 18 33

 

There are some things that are not optional for the followers of Jesus, and forgiveness is one of them. Jesus talked many times about forgiveness to his disciples, but he couldn’t be more clear than in Matthew 18:21-35. We not only learn that we must forgive others, but also learn that there are consequences if we refuse, and the reason why we are expected to forgive.

 

Jesus gives his disciples a parable about a guy who owed his master 10,000 talents of money. Now, one talent was equal to about 15 years worth of labor, so this guy owed his master 150,000 years worth of labor. By today’s standards, the average person makes about $50,000/year in the United States; that would be equal to $7.5 billion dollars!!

 

Needless to say, there was absolutely no way that this guy is going to pay his master back. However, he begged his master to be patient with him and give him more time. His master showed mercy on him and forgave everything!! You would think that this guy would be the most grateful man ever and forgive everyone else that he came across, right?

 

Unfortunately, after all of this, he found a slave of his who owed him money (not nearly as much as he owed his master), and refused to forgive his debt as he had been forgiven. Because of his actions, the guy’s master punished him by putting him in prison until he paid back all he owed, which would never happen…

 

This is a stern warning from Jesus for us today. Our debt for sin has been completely removed from us because of Jesus’ sacrifice! Because of that fact, we should be the most forgiving people on earth! Whatever someone has done to you cannot compare with the debt that has been paid for us; we need to forgive freely to all those who ask for it. We cannot bear grudges or hatred for anybody; it is time to let it go.

 

-Talon Paul

Showing your Light through Forgiveness

 

matt 6 14 15

Yesterday I talked about being the light to the world around us, and how we are to point people to Jesus and to the glory of God. Today I will be talking about a simple way that we can be the light to others and to just be different from what the world and our natural desires tell us to be.

 

Forgiveness: this one can be really tough for a lot of people, myself included at times. But the Bible makes it clear for us, as Christians, as to what we are supposed to do at those times when we feel like we have been mistreated or cheated by someone. The world tells us that when someone does something to us we need to get them back. But when we choose to follow Jesus we need a new way of thinking. Jesus calls us to forgive, but Jesus doesn’t just call us to forgive once, but to forgive over and over again.

 

21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22Jesus answered, “I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy-seven times! Matthew 18:21-22

 

Forgiving others shows the world the light we have inside us, and if we forgive others the world will notice. Forgiving others shows that we have accepted and embraced the forgiveness that God has showed us. I can speak for myself that God’s forgiveness is a lot more than seven, seventy-seven, or seventy times seven times. Paul reminds the Gentiles of this very thing in Ephesians 4:32. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” It’s also a great reminder verse for us today. So show your light today by forgiving someone who you have been holding a grudge against, and acknowledge and accept the forgiveness that God has shown to you through Christ.

 

Matthew chapter 6 —- 14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

 

-Luke Elwell

Lessons from the Wilderness: David

Wilderness Wandering Lesson #3: When the desires of our heart lead us away from God, true repentance leads us back.

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At the heart of our lessons from the Israelites and Elijah is a focus on trust. We need to trust that God knows best for us and will lead us in the right direction as the Israelites learned. And, we need to trust that God will provide and protect us according to his will like Elijah learned. Elijah, in our previous lesson, was not lead into a wilderness season by any failing on his part. Instead, the wilderness for him was because of circumstances outside of his control. By looking to God and remembering those past successes with God, he was able to overcome trying circumstances.

The wilderness story that we will look at today also concerns a man that could remember past successes with God. In his story, he had stood against giants, mad kings, had been through the wilderness once and overcame it. David was a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). We see in the book of 1 Samuel David’s victories. He was blessed by God, and because of this blessing, he was able to overcome his enemies. The book of 2 Samuel then describes what happened to David after he overcame these things and became King of Israel. During the first 10 chapters, David is set on the throne and receives the Davidic covenant, where he is told that Jesus will come from his lineage. If David could have just stayed in these moments where his focus was on God, he would have dwelt securely in the land and set up his children to do the same.

Instead, we see David drifting down a path that led him to devastation in 2 Sam. 11. In this chapter, we see the story where David, without questioning his actions for how they would reflect God, sleeps with Bathsheba and sends her husband to her death. After this, David is told that he would lose the baby Bathsheba just bore and that his house would be destroyed. David’s actions here lead toward the hurt that he faced with his son Absalom in 2 Sam. 14-15. The first sin that we see in these chapter 11, lusting after Bathsheba, began the sin cycle that led David into a wilderness period that was a time of intense pain that David never really got over.

So how did David get to this point? During this time, he had stayed back at his palace idle instead of going with his armies to fight in the wars he wanted them to engage in. At this moment, his desires began to be misaligned from the desires of God. And from here, his actions lead him away from God.

We see some of David’s reactions in 2 Samuel as he mourns his son and repents of his sin. But, at this time, we don’t see his feelings about this time in the wilderness. In Psalm 38, a psalm written by David, we see the danger that comes from drifting too far from God. We see the desperation in David’s voice as he says, “There is no health in my body because of Your indignation; there is no strength in my bones because of my sin. For my sins have flooded over my head; they are a burden too heavy for me to bear. My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness” (Ps. 38:3-5). Because of David’s sin, he had to experience terrible pain, a trying wilderness experience. We can look back at the lessons of the Israelites to realize this time in the wilderness was for purification, but still, if David had aligned the desires of his heart with the desires and character of God, he could have saved himself from this pain.

ps. 51

The wilderness is not always caused by our sin, as we’ve seen. But, at times, it is. And during these times, we can look to David’s example to see how to overcome those moments in the wilderness that were caused by our sin. Psalm 38 is an example of a penitential psalm, that shows both David’s true repentance and his desire for God in his life. Psalm 51 is another example of David writing in repentance. He says, “Be gracious to me God, according to your faithful love; according to Your abundant compassion, blot away my rebellion. Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. For I am conscious of my rebellion, and my sin is always before me. Against You – You alone – I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight. So you are right when you pass sentence. You are blameless when You judge” (Ps. 51:1-4). In this psalm and the other psalms, we see how David takes responsibility for his sin and also recognized what is required from him if he sins. He needs to be purified with a new heart that reflects the desires of God to be placed within him. This is key to accomplishing what David asks God in v. 12: “Restore the Joy of Your salvation to me and give me a willing spirit.” When we are in a wilderness of cause by our sin, we may be tempted to harden our hearts in anger against God. But, that is the path that leads us away from God and further into the wilderness. When we truly repent, we can receive back the true joy that comes from the salvation of God. After we have made it through the wilderness, we can use this time to bring others back to God (v. 13). If you are in this time today, choose the right path and come back to God. It may be painful to soften your heart and feel the weight of your sin, but that we’ll lead you towards the true joy that comes from God.

~ Cayce Fletcher

Joseph: More Pain

Genesis 44 34

Joseph, from the Old Testament, was a very godly man.  He endured many hardships, but held onto his faith. But along the way, he picked up some bitterness and resentment toward his brothers.  When he had the chance, he tormented them, exacting some measure of revenge.  At that time there was such severe famine that Joseph’s brothers were forced to go back to Joseph a second time and buy grain.  This time, Joseph started by being kind to his brothers, and then he veered off, continuing to emotionally torment them.

In Genesis 44, everything finally came to a head.  Joseph deceived his brothers further, and made it appear that he was going to force the youngest brother, Benjamin, to stay there with Joseph in Egypt.  This plan may have seemed like another fine way to punish his brothers, but there was a huge problem.  His brother Judah approached Joseph, and said, “If you keep the boy Benjamin here, our elderly father will die from sorrow.”  Perhaps Joseph hadn’t considered the pain he was about to cause his own father–or the pain he had already caused him.  At this point, Joseph just about had an emotional breakdown (read it for yourself in Genesis 45).  All along Joseph had been trying to hurt his brothers, but he was the one who was hurt the most.  The pain he wished for them turned out to be the pain he felt.

At some point in your life, you may have someone really hurt you.  Maybe you already have.  And maybe at some point you will have a chance to hurt them back.  Maybe even hurt them back really bad.  Consider this: it will come with a huge cost to you.  You may want to hurt them back, but it will cost you something very real and something very big.  It would be better for everyone involved if you can somehow forgive them, and not pay them back in the way they deserve.

-Jason Turner