Free From the Curse

22 “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance. – Deuteronomy 21:22-23 ESV

God’s rules regarding the corporate stoning of a morally and spiritually degenerate son are now followed by strict instructions regarding the public display of the dead man’s body. Once the guilty party was put to death, it was common practice to hang the dead man’s body from a tree as a visual demonstration of the consequences of sin. It was also meant to serve as a deterrent, a somewhat macabre but effective means of discouraging others to take the same deadly path.

But God provided strict regulations concerning the disposal of the body.  It had to be removed from the tree and buried the same day as the execution. Otherwise, the curse of God, which resulted in the man’s death, would extend to the land. The public display of the man’s corpse was meant as a further means of humiliating and degrading the guilty one for his death-deserving sin. Even in death, he would be subjected to ridicule and scorn. The hanging of the body did not bring about the curse. It was a result of the curse that had deemed the man deserving of death.

The immediate burial of the body was essential in order to prevent ceremonial defiling of the land. Had the body been left hanging overnight, there is a greater likelihood that animals and birds would have desecrated the body, causing blood to spill onto the ground and essentially bringing the curse of the man upon the entire land. God had warned the Israelites about practicing the ways of the Canaanites. Their pagan, godless ways had literally cursed the land of Canaan, requiring God to ceremonially purge it by having the Israelites remove every vestige of Canaanite influence from the land.

“You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.” – Numbers 35:33-34 ESV

This requirement to bury the dead man’s body was meant to keep the Israelites from following one sin with another. Once the man was executed for his sin, his body was to be displayed, but then properly disposed of, so that the curse of death could be removed.

Sin against God has always carried with it a curse. When Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the garden, their actions brought about a series of curses from God, including the entrance of physical death into the equation.

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
    and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.” – Genesis 3:17-19 ESV

Adam’ sin brought a death sentence upon all mankind. It placed every single one of his descendants under a curse. And the apostle Paul goes out of his way to stress this sobering reality.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT

For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. – Romans 5:15 NLT

For Adam’s sin led to condemnation… – Romans 5:16 NLT

For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. – Romans 5:17 NLT

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone… – Romans 5:18 NLT

Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. – Romans 5:19 NLT

Don’t miss what Paul is saying. All mankind is under a curse and worthy of death. For all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard of righteousness (Romans 3:23). There is none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10).

It Israelites who stood back and threw the stones that took the guilty man’s life were no more righteous. They were no less deserving of death. Their sins, while perhaps less egregious, we no less worthy of death. Their very existence made them worthy of death because they stood under the same curse that had condemned Adam. But God didn’t require them to die. Instead, He had extended them mercy.

This brings to mind the encounter between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel. The scribes and Pharisees, seeing Jesus visiting the Mount of Olives, dragged a woman whom they claimed to be guilty of the crime of adultery. They said to Jesus, “Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” (John 8:5 ESV).

And Jesus wisely responded to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7 ESV). And then John records, “when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him” (John 8:9 ESV).

There was no one in the crowd that day who could claim to be sin-free. The spiritual state of every single human being is that of a sinner who is deserving of death for their rebellion against a holy and righteous God. And that brings us to the vital link between this obscure regulation regarding the burial of an executed criminal and the remedy for the curse of death.

In his letter to the churches in Galatia, Paul provides us with a connecting point that makes this Old Testament passage relevant. He reminds his readers that the Jews, who were required to live according to the Mosaic law, were under a God-ordained curse if they didn’t keep the entire law perfectly.

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” – Galatians 3:10-14 ESV

The painful reality was that no Jew had ever kept all of God’s law without fail. As a result, every single Jew stood condemned, cursed, and worthy of death.  And Paul points out that keeping the law was never going to make anyone right with God. It was an impossible standard for sinful men to keep.

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Galatians 3:11-12 ESV

The law was the righteous standard provided by God, but no one was able to live up to that standard. And them, Paul provides the missing link.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. – Galatians 3:10-14 ESV

Jesus became the curse. He took on the sins of mankind and personally bore the full brunt of God’s righteous wrath against rebellious humanity. And His death was not by stoning. By time Jesus began His earthly ministry, the Romans had outlawed the Jewish practice of stoning because they wanted to control all forms of capital punishment. So, when Jesus was tried before the Sanhedrin, they needed to accuse Jesus of a crime that would warrant the Romans putting Him to death. They chose to accuse Jesus of claiming to be the rightful king of the Jews and of mounting an insurrection against the Romans. This resulted in Jesus being  “hanged on a tree” or crucified.

The prophet, Isaiah prophesied about Jesus and the death He would suffer on behalf of sinful mankind.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:4-5 ESV

With His death, Jesus provided a means by which sinful men and women could escape the curse of the law. By placing their faith in His personal sacrifice on their behalf, they could be freed from living under the looming curse of death associated with failure to keep God’s law.

In his first letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul provided another encouraging connection between Adam and Jesus.

So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. – 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 NLT

No one need die for their own sins anymore. God sent His Son to pay the penalty for every single violation of His law. But the gift of salvation made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection is only available to those who will accept it as what it is: A free gift made possible by God’s grace and received by faith alone in Christ alone.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


Set Apart by God

44 For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. 45 For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:44-45 ESV

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV

In order to understand the concept of sanctification, we have to spend some time in the Old Testament. In Hebrew, the word qadash is most commonly translated as “sanctified.” But you can also find it translated as “consecrated,” “holy,” or “hallowed.” It carries a number of different meanings, including “to set apart or separate.”

God set apart or sanctified the seventh day, the Sabbath, as a special day to be marked by rest from work. He also set apart the priests and assigned them the responsibility of acting as His servants, caring for the tabernacle and offering sacrifices on behalf of the people. And God set apart the tabernacle itself by displaying the glory of His presence in the Holy of Holies.

Throughout the Old Testament, there are countless examples of qadash, the setting apart of something or someone by God for His use. God set apart Abram as His own, choosing him from among all the people on earth and making a covenant promise to make of him a great nation. 

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

And God kept that promise to Abram by blessing him with many descendants, who became the people of Israel. His decision to set apart Israel as His own possession was not based on some characteristic found in them, but was determined by His love for them. And God expressed His love by sanctifying them, setting them apart from every other nation on earth, and providing them with a one-of-a-kind relationship with Himself.

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 ESV

The nation of Israel enjoyed the unprecedented status of being God’s chosen people. But their relationship with God came with expectations from God. As the Leviticus passage reveals, their lifestyle was to reflect their sanctified status as God’s possession. He had set the apart as His own and their behavior was to reflect their status as His possession. And notice that God put certain restrictions on them that included their dietary habits. Thirty seven times in Leviticus 11, God uses the word tame’, to refer to those creatures which He deemed as “unclean” or “defiled,” and therefore, off limits to the Israelites. The list included camels, pigs, vultures, certain sea creatures, and insects. God refers to these creatures as being sheqets, which means “detestable” or “an abomination.” In a sense, God had sanctified these creatures as unholy. They were to be avoided at all costs. The people of Israel were to refrain from eating them. If they did so, they would become defiled and, therefore, unholy.

Even contact with them could make an Israelite impure. Which is why God warns the Israelites: “ You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them” (Leviticus 11:43 ESV). Instead, the people of God were to consecrate themselves or set themselves apart as holy to God. The word translated as “consecrate” is qadash, the same word translated later in the passage as “sanctify.” The people of Israel, having been set apart by God, were to set themselves apart through their actions, by faithfully obeying God’s commands.

Notice that their distinctive lifestyle was tied directly to their distinctive relationship with God.

For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:44 ESV

God tells them that, because He is set apart or holy, they were to be also. The Hebrew word translated as “holy” is qadowsh, and it is derived from the root word, qadash. The people of Israel were to live set-apart lives. God had called them to live distinctively different lives, set apart from the rest of the nations around them. They had been set apart by God and now there were to live as who they were. And that distinctiveness was to show up in everyday life.

God reminds the Israelites that He had redeemed them out of slavery in Egypt and had brought them to their own land. It was within that new land that their lives were to reflect their new status as His children.

“I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:45 ESV

By commanding the Israelites to “be boly,” God is not asking the them to become something. He is not suggesting that they have to set themselves apart or make themselves holy. No, He is demanding that they live in such a way that their lives adequately demonstrate their set-apart status. Why? Because they belong to Him and He is set apart and holy. There was no other god like Yahweh. And there was to be no other people like the Israelites.

And the apostle Peter picks up on this call to distinctiveness as he writes to believers living in the first century. Quoting from the Leviticus passage, Peter reminds New Testament followers of Christ that they too are to live set-apart lives.

First of all, he warns them not to go back to their old way of living.

Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. – 1 Peter 1:14 NLT

They were to be “obedient children,” living according to the commands of God. Not to win favor or to earn brownie with God, but as a means of reflecting their set-apartness. They had been chosen by God and their behavior needed to distinguish them as His children. Set apart people live set apart lives. Sanctified people live sanctified lives. Those who God has deemed holy should live lives that reflect their holiness. And Peter makes it clear that holy people strive to be holy in all their conduct. No compartmentalization. The Greek word Peter used is anastrophē and it refers to “manner of life” or “behavior.” There was to be no area of the believer’s life that was free from God’s expectation of holiness. God had set the entire individual apart, not just their soul, mind, or spirit. The apostle Paul told the believers in Rome:

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. – Romans 12:1 NLT

Christ-followers are to live set-apart lives, in every area of their lives. Like the Israelites in the Old Testament and the believers in the New Testament, modern-day Christians are to be holy because the God who chose us is holy. Our lives are to reflect our sanctified status as His children. We are to live like our heavenly Father, not perfectly or completely free from sin, but with an intention to show ourselves to be who He has made us to be: His children.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


Don’t Oppose What God Approves.

But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”Acts 11:4-18 ESV
The first question we have to ask ourselves when reading this section of Luke’s account, is why did he include it? After all, it simply appears to be a retelling by Peter of all that happened while he was in Caesarea. In fact, it is virtually identical to what Luke wrote in chapter 10. But the key difference is the audience to whom Peter is sharing the story of the conversions of Cornelius and all the other Gentiles who had gathered in his house to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter is addressing his fellow apostles in Jerusalem. He is explaining to a room full of Jews what went down in Caesarea. And he is having to do so because he had been accused of wrongly associating with Gentiles. There were some in Jerusalem who, when they had received news of what had happened in Caesarea, where less-than-happy. In their minds, Peter had done the unthinkable. He, a Jew, had mingled with the unclean. He had defiled himself by associating with those whom the Mosaic law declared to be common and unclean. When Peter had arrived back in Jerusalem, rather than rejoicing with him over the exciting news of the conversions of Cornelius and his friends, these men said, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them” (Acts 11:3 ESV).
Their response brings to mind the kind of reactions Jesus had received from the religious leaders regarding what they believed to be His questionable choices in relationships.

10 Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. 11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” – Matthew 9:10-11 NLT

1 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them! – Luke 15:1-2 NLT

For some in the Jerusalem church, the idea of Peter eating with Gentiles was unacceptable. To think that he shared the gospel with them was even more disconcerting. How could he do such a thing? Well, Peter goes out of his way to tell them. He explains all that had led to his decision to make the journey to Caesarea. And he makes it clear that this had been God’s decision, not his own. He had simply obeyed orders and followed the divine directions given to Him by God. He recounts the vision he had received from God. And he once again makes note of the fact that the sheet containing all the unclean creatures had descended to him out of heaven. It had come from God’s very throne room, which meant that the very creatures Peter had viewed as unclean and defiled, had come from God’s presence. He had sent them. And at the end of the vision, the same sheet, full of supposedly unclean creatures, ascended back into heaven. And three separate times, God had told Peter, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 11:9 ESV).

Notice what God said to Peter. He was very specific in His word choices. God had told Peter that he had “made clean” these once unclean animals. The Greek word Luke used is katharizō, and it means to cleanse or purify. In a levitical or sacrificial sense, it means to pronounce something clean that has been purified by sacrifice. In a moral sense, it means to free something from defilement of sin and from faults (“G2511 – katharizō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). God was telling Peter that He had made a divine determination to purify what had at one time been considered unclean. He had done it. God had declared the creatures to be clean. He had passed judgment and declared His decision. And He had expected Peter to accept it.

And the vision had been just that: A vision. It had been a visual tool used to teach Peter a real-life lesson regarding Gentiles and his view of them. God was about to let down a sheet full of unclean creatures, in the form of Cornelius, his family members and friends. But God had cleansed them through the sacrifice of His Son. Their sin debts had been paid for on the cross. They had once been defiled by their sin and separated from God as a result of their impurity, but God had done something to redeem and restore them. He had sent His Son to die for them. And long before Peter and his six companions had made the trip to Caesarea, God had already chosen those who would be saved there. And Peter was not to call common what God had already made clean. God had chosen to remove the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, wrote of this important determination on God’s part.

In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. – Colossians 3:11 NLT
The gospel was not reserved just for Jews. Jesus had come as the Jewish Messiah, but He had become the Savior of the world. And once again, Paul describes that what Jesus did on the cross had opened up the doors of heaven to all – both Jews and Gentiles.

13 But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14 Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith. – Galatians 3:13-14 NLT

Peter had seen this happen first-hand. He had seen God bless the Gentiles with the same blessing He promised to Abraham. He had watched in amazement as the Holy Spirit filled those Gentile converts and empowered them in the very same way He had the disciples on the day of Pentecost. And Peter could only say, “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17 ESV). Peter knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what he had witnessed in Caesarea had been of God. His vision, Cornelius’ vision, the coming of the Spirit, the gift of tongues – it had all been evidence of God’s divine hand. And he had no desire to stand opposed to the will of God.

And Luke simply records that when the Jewish believers in Jerusalem “heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life’” (Acts 11:18 ESV). Like Peter, they saw that this was of God and that they had no business standing in opposition to what God had predetermined to do. If He had decided to deem Gentiles worthy of receiving the gospel, who were they to stand in His way.

As we will say later in Luke’s account, many of the same individuals who had called Peter to task over his association with Gentiles, would raise their voices again in protest over the growing movement to convert Gentiles to the faith. In fact, in chapter 15, we will see where Paul and Barnabas are accused of not requiring circumcision of all Gentile converts. Luke records, “But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses’” (Acts 15:5 ESV). These men were teaching that Christianity was nothing more than a kind of reformed Judaism. They were demanding that all the requirements of the Mosaic law be kept in order to any Gentile to be accepted as a true believer. This matter will come up repeatedly in the later chapters of Luke’s account, as we see Paul and others continue to spread the good news regarding Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.

There were those who could not accept what God was doing. It went against their preconceived notions of religious right and wrong. They had put God in a box and determined that there was only one way for people to have a right relationship with Him – and that was through some form of law-keeping or adherence to a set of religious rules. But Paul, the apostle who spent his life ministering the gospel to the Gentiles, would later write:

27 Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. 28 So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.

29 After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. 30 There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. – Romans 3:27:30 NLT

Peter and Paul were ministering in a new day. The rules had changed. The Redeemer had come. The way of salvation had been paved by the blood of Jesus Christ. No more hopeless attempts to try and live up to God’s holy standards on your own. No more need for physical circumcision. God was circumcising hearts and setting apart a people for His own, whom He had declared to be clean. And that would include Jews and Gentiles.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Such Were Some Of You.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV

Throughout his letter so far, Paul has been emphasizing the kind of conduct or behavior that believers should model. Their unique status as children of God came with non-negotiable expectations that their life should reflect His character. They had been “called into fellowship with his son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:9 ESV), and had been given the Holy Spirit to live within them. And as Paul had mentioned in the opening of this letter, as the body of Christ, they lacked none of the spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 1:7). All of these factors should have resulted in true life change, and it had. But they were still struggling with pride, jealousy, and a tendency to view life from their former perspective as unbelievers. Their new natures in Christ had not yet replaced their old tendencies. Which is what led them to settle their disputes in court rather than within the body of Christ. They were thinking more like pagans, than believers. Their focus was on this world instead of the next. They were motivated more by selfishness than selflessness. At this point, their faith in Christ was little more than an add-on, a convenient option that provided them with forgiveness of sins and eternal security, but did little to change the way they lived their lives in the here-and-now.

This is what leads Paul to remind them, “that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9 ESV). He then describes the unrighteous as “Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NLT). These behaviors are characteristic of the lost. And this list should have resonated with the believers in Corinth, because Paul immediately reminds them, “And such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:11a ESV). Paul speaks in the past tense, emphasizing that this was their former condition. It was how they used to live. But something had happened. Their old way of life had been radically changed when they placed their faith in Christ. Paul tells them that as a result of God’s gracious gift of salvation made possible through His Son, “you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11b NLT). Again, he uses the past tense, indicating that these things have already happened. They had been cleansed by God from their former sins, declared to be righteous before Him, and set apart by Him for His use. This is exactly what Paul had written to them in the opening chapter of his letter: “God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin” (1 Corinthians 1:30 NLT).

But their salvation was not yet complete. God’s work in them was not finished. God had declared them to be righteous because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, now they needed to live righteously. God had made them holy, setting them apart as His possession, now their lives needed to reflect their holy standing. He had cleansed them from sin, forever delivering from the penalty of death under which they had lived. But through His Holy Spirit, God had given them the capacity to live free from the power of sin in their daily lives. While they were still fully capable of greed, envy, idol worship, sexual immorality, theft, drunkenness and virtually any and all of the sins listed by Paul in these verses, these sins were no longer characteristic of who there were. They were sons and daughters of God. They had been redeemed. They were new creations. They had new natures. As Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT). This message of new life was a recurring them for Paul. He told to the believers in Rome, “For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives” (Romans 6:4 NLT).

Salvation not only offers a future reward, it guarantees a real and radical transformation in the here-and-now. Our sanctification or growth in holiness is ongoing. We are constantly dying to our old way of life and being reformed into the likeness of Christ. And this will continue until, as Paul puts it, “Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19 ESV). It will not stop until we are “mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT). And this transforming process will continue until we are glorified by God and given new bodies, free from sin and no longer held captive to the threat of death. The apostle John encourages us with these words: “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT). In the meantime, we have been given the privilege, power and responsibility to live our lives in keeping with our standing as God’s children. We are to lead lives worthy of our calling by God (Ephesians 4:1). We are to live in a way that honors and pleases God (Colossians 1:10). “So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:9 NLT). We were once sinners. Now we are saints. But we must learn to live like what we are. Our lives must reflect the true nature of who we have become in Christ.

The Power of God.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17 ESV

Paul was eager to preach the gospel to the people in Rome. That is why he wanted to make the long, arduous journey there. He was grateful to God for those who had already become followers of Jesus and commended them for their faith. But he knew that there were many more who had not yet hear the good news regarding God’s gift of salvation through His Son. And Paul was anything but ashamed of that message. He proclaimed it anywhere and everywhere he could to anyone who would listen, whether they were Jews, Greeks or even barbarians. Because he knew that the gospel had the power to change lives. It was the one and only way for sinful men to be made right with a holy God. For Paul, the gospel – the message regarding God’s sending of His Son in the form of a man to live a sinless life and die a substitutionary death on the cross as payment for the sins of men – was powerful and life-changing. He knew from personal experience. He had been radically changed by his side-of-the-road encounter with the resurrected Christ. And that same power was available to any and all who would believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior. In other words, they had to give up trying to earn a right standing with God in their own strength or according to their own merit.

Paul wasn’t ashamed of the gospel because he knew it worked. He knew it was of God. In fact, it had been God’s plan from the very beginning. His sending of Jesus to earth was not some kind of plan B that He was forced to quickly come up with in response to man’s inability to keep the Law. He had planned all along to send a Savior, and it had to be His very own Son so that He could meet the stringent requirements of a sinless sacrifice. Peter tells us, “God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but he has now revealed him to you in these last days” (1 Peter 1:20 NLT). Paul goes as far as to say, “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes” (Ephesians 1:4 NLT). The gospel is not only the plan A of God, it is the very power of God that leads to man’s salvation. “For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith”, Paul states (Romans 1:17 ESV). Because of what Jesus did on the cross, man has access to a righteousness he could have never achieved on his own. The law could only reveal God’s holy standard, but it couldn’t help man achieve or live up to it. And Jesus told His followers, “But I warn you – unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” (Matthew 5:20 NLT). As shocking as this statement must have been to those who heard it, Jesus was simply telling them that the righteousness God required could never be man-made. It was going to have to be the result of the power of God as revealed in the gospel.

Man’s salvation is based solely on faith. It begins and ends on faith. It is our initial faith in Christ that leads to our growing faith in the power of the gospel to not only save us, but transform us into His image. The righteous, Paul says, live by faith. Our righteousness is based on faith. Later in this letter, Paul states, “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are” (Romans 3:22 NLT). He reiterates this same thought in his letter to the church in Corinth. “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT). The gospel, the good news regarding salvation in Christ, reveals the righteousness of God – the very means by which sinful men and women can be justified or made right with God. It is through His Son’s death. And it is confirmed by God’s power that raised Him from the dead. It would not have been enough for the death of Jesus to forgive us our sins and leave us in a sinless state. Sinlessness is not the same as righteousness. Once our sins had been paid for and forgiven, we still needed to be declared righteous. But in order to do this, God had to impute or transfer to our account the righteousness of Christ. So our spiritual account went from having a negative balance to a zero balance, but then God added to our account the invaluable righteousness of Christ.

The reason so many of us find ourselves “ashamed” of the gospel is because it sounds so far-fetched, even to us. After all the idea of God sending His own Son to take on human flesh, live a sinless life and die as our sacrifice on a cross doesn’t exactly come across as logical or sensible. It can also come across as offensive to those with whom we share it. Telling someone that they are a sinner, completely unrighteous and incapable of pleasing God in any way can be a bit off-putting to say the least. But Paul was unashamed of the gospel because he knew it was the only way. It was the power of God made practical and personal, providing mankind with a fail-proof means by which they could be restored to a right relationship with God. The righteous, those who have been made right with God through Christ, were saved by faith and live their lives based on faith – in the power of God.

When the Righteous Pray.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
 – James 5:16 ESV

This verse can be extremely encouraging and frustratingly confusing at the same time. Too often, it is lifted out of context and this tends to dramatically alter its meaning. Beginning in verse 13, James brings up the matter of prayer a number of times. First he says, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray….” Then he adds, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him…” (James 5:14 ESV). But he makes sure to mention “the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (James 5:15 ESV). Finally, James provides on last condition: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16 ESV). It is obvious that James is focused on prayer. Prayer for the suffering, the sick, and the sinful. But he adds an important condition concerning prayer for these people. The prayers are to be prayed by the righteous. But what does that mean? Is he saying that only those without sin can pray? That would be impossible. All of us sin at one time or another. So how could he speaking of a state of sinlessness?

James tells us, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16 ESV). So who is this righteous person? Is he some kind of super-spiritual saint who has a special hotline to God due to his righteous nature? Is it an individual who has somehow kept themselves free from sin and therefore right in God’s eyes? I don’t think that gels with what the Scriptures tell us about man’s condition. Over in Romans 1:17, Paul writes, “This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life.’” In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote, “I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9 NLT).

The issue here is faith. Our righteousness before God is based solely on faith in Jesus Christ. It is our belief in His redemptive work on the cross that brings about our transformation. It was His death that made possible our right relationship, our right standing, before God. What makes us righteous is our faith in Christ. It is what allows us to come into the very presence of God and make petitions on behalf of those who are suffering, sick or struggling with sin. And it is our faith in the power of God to hear our prayers and do something about them that results in remarkable answers to those prayers. God doesn’t answer our prayers because of any righteousness of our own. We don’t earn His answers based on some good deeds we have done. It is always based on faith and that faith is placed in Christ alone.

Paul told the Philippians, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (Philippians 5:21 NLT). It is our right standing before God, our righteousness provided by His death, that allows us to offer up prayers on behalf of one another. We can pray, knowing that we have access to God’s throne room and His full and undivided attention when we pray. God sees us as righteous because of the blood of Christ shed on our behalf that cleansed us from all unrighteousness once and for all. But we must come to Him in faith. Not based on our own merit, but on the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Our prayers are powerful, because our God is powerful. Our prayers are heard, because our Savior made us right with God. Our prayers can accomplish much, because nothing is impossible for our God. But we must pray. We must understand that we have a right standing before God. Our sins are forgiven. Our requests are heard. Our righteousness is acceptable to God. And He is ready to do far more than we could ever imagine – for the suffering, the sick and the sinful.

Delivered. Transferred. Redeemed. Forgiven.

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. – Colossians 1:13-14 ESV

Colossians 1:9-14

Those of us who have placed our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior can be some of the most ungrateful people on the planet. For all that God has done for us, we can easily find ourselves taking it all for granted. It is so easy to treat our salvation with a certain degree of complacency. If we’re not careful, our status as God’s redeemed ones can lose its wonder. The reality of our forgiveness from sin – all sin – can lose its overwhelming significance. And Paul knew that, which is why he prayed that we would have God’s power in our lives and experience the joy of His presence. He knew that, while our initial salvation was important, our ongoing sanctification was just as crucial to our relationship with God. We are to grow in our knowledge of God. While salvation introduced us to the God from whom we were alienated due to our sin, it was not to stop there. We are to “grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 ESV). We are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 ESV). And that happens only as we are “filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9 ESV). It is the knowledge of God’s will that allows us to live in such a way that pleases Him. It is what produces fruit in our lives and allows us to know God better and better. And that growing knowledge of God produces joy and an attitude of gratitude for all He has done. For most of us, the length of time between our salvation and our ultimate glorification, when we will see God face to face, is going to be relatively long. It is in the space which some have called the “gospel gap” that we must be careful. We must never lose sight of the fact that God has qualified us “to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:12 ESV). He has literally “rendered us fit” for glory. We have all we need to get into heaven, right now. We have all we need to come into His presence, at any time. We have Christ’s righteousness. There is nothing more we need to do, except grow in our knowledge of God and His Son Jesus Christ.

Here’s the part Paul does not want us to miss: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” It’s a done deal. He has delivered us. He has transferred us. He has redeemed and forgiven us. That reality should produce in us an overwhelming sense of gratefulness. He has done for us what we could have never done for ourselves. I think that is what it means to “grow up into salvation.” The longer we spend time on this earth as believers, the greater our appreciation for what God has done for us should grow. As we grow in our knowledge of God, we also grow in the awareness of our own weakness and propensity to sin. We should see our sin in stark contrast to His holiness and be increasingly amazed that He has delivered, transferred, redeemed and forgiven us. We didn’t deserve it. We haven’t earned it. We could never repay Him for it. But we can be thankful and ever mindful of what He has done. We can remember the unbelievable gift He has provided through the death of His Son on our behalf. We can also live our lives with a sense of peace, knowing that our future is secured. We can know beyond a shadow of a doubt “that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 NLT).

We have been delivered, transferred, redeemed and forgiven. God has done all that for us. Jesus Christ made it possible for us. And the reality of it should never be taken for granted by us. Every time we struggle with sin, we must remind ourselves that we have been delivered from the domain of darkness. We are no longer slaves to sin. Every time we feel like this world is our home, we must remind ourselves that we have been transferred into the Kingdom of His Son. We are citizens of another realm. Every time we feel the need to earn favor with God and pay Him back for our sins, we must remind ourselves that He has already redeemed us with the blood of His own Son. Each and every time we sin we must remind ourselves that we are already forgiven. That sin has been paid for. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. All we have to do is confess it and enjoy the forgiveness that has already been made available to us. Confession doesn’t earn us forgiveness, it simply allows us to take advantage of the it. All of this should amaze us. It should constantly astound us. It should never be treated complacently by us. “Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:22 NLT).

Day 139 – Matthew 27:27-30; Mark 15:16-19

Mocking Their Maker.

Matthew 27:27-30; Mark 15:16-19

Then they saluted and taunted him, “Hail King of the Jews!” – Mark 15:18 NLT

Can it get any worse? Will the suffering ever stop? Will the ridicule ever cease? How much more will the Son of God have to endure at the hands of those whom He created? Wouldn’t the torture of the cross be enough?

I can’t help but ask these questions as I read through the ongoing account of Jesus treatment at the hands of the Roman guards. These pagan, war-hardened soldiers had no reason to show Jesus any respect. To them He was simply another in a long line of unfortunate souls whose lives would end hanging on a Roman cross. Jesus was just another Jew who had somehow gotten Himself in trouble with the Roman authorities and now it was up to them to see that he paid the ultimate price. But before Jesus died, these callous men were going to make sure that Jesus suffered humiliation and shame. He would prove to be a convenient outlet for their anger and hostility toward the Jews. And so they dressed Him in a purple robe and stuck a crown of thorns on His head. Then the entire regiment kneeled before Him in mock worship, calling out, “Hail! King of the Jews!” They struck him on the head with a reed stick, driving the thorns deeper into His flesh. They heaped sarcasm on Him, wondering how anyone could have ever mistaken this bloody, beaten Galilean as a king. But in time, even they ran out of steam. The fun was over and they took off the purple robe and replaced it with Jesus’ own clothes.

Don’t let the significance of this event escape you. This was the Son of God, the creator of the universe, being mocked, slapped, beaten, and humiliated by His own creation. At any moment He could have taken matters into His own hands and dealt with them just as they deserved. He could have called down angels from heaven and complete wiped out the entire regiment in a matter of seconds. But instead, He stood silent and willingly took all that they had to offer. He never complained. He never begged for mercy. He never asked His Father to bring it all to an end. Because He knew this was part of the plan. What these men did simply revealed the sinful state of mankind. The very fact that the Jewish religious leaders were demanding His death gives us a glimpse of just how bad things had become. The world was in desperate need of a Savior. Even the people of God were in need of help from the very one whom they claimed to worship and adore. God was sending His Son to die for the sins of men – the very kinds of sins that were bringing about Jesus pain and suffering. God the Father watched as His own Son bore the shame and humiliation that was meant for those slapping His face and mocking His holiness. Little did they know that they were slapping the face of God. They were ridiculing their Maker. They were shaming their Savior. Their very actions not only condemn them, but reveal their need for Him. It was for their callous, hardened hearts that Jesus came. He was going to die so that they might have access to new hearts and new spirits. His death would pave the way for men to have renewed natures – something that up until that time was impossible for men to ever achieve.

I can’t help but fast-forward and think of the change in some of the Roman guards when Jesus died. Matthew tells us, “The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, ‘This man truly was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:54 NLT). Oh, how time can change things. They had watched the entire chain of events unfold and their perspective of Jesus would change radically. Even these tough, sinful Roman guards would be impacted by the death of Jesus. We’re not told what happened to them, but we can venture to say that their lives would never be the same because of what they witnessed that day. Jesus’ death was meant to be life-changing and earth-shattering. The world would never be the same once this day had passed. Yes, men would still be evil and sin-prone. Hatred would still fill the earth. They would still reject God and refuse the offer of His Son. But with the death and resurrection of Jesus, there was now a way to be made right with God and receive a radically new nature that was Spirit-empowered, not sin-prone.

Thank You, Father, for sending Your Son. Thank You, Jesus, for enduring all that You did so that I might have a completely new nature. You did for me what I could have never done for myself. You accomplished what no man who has ever lived could have done. You satisfied the righteous wrath of a holy God and paved the way for us to be restored with Him because of what You have done – in spite of all that we have done. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men