The People of God

1 Now Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, “Keep the whole commandment that I command you today. And on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and plaster them with plaster. And you shall write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you. And when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster. And there you shall build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. You shall wield no iron tool on them; you shall build an altar to the Lord your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God, and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and shall eat there, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God. And you shall write on the stones all the words of this law very plainly.”

Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, “Keep silence and hear, O Israel: this day you have become the people of the Lord your God. 10 You shall therefore obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you today.” Deuteronomy 27:1-10 ESV

Moses finally concludes his recitation of the law to the people of Israel. And having completed this important task, he provides them with a final set of instructions. First, he adds one last command to the long list he has given them: That they obey every one of the laws. And to help them keep that commitment, Moses instructs them to build a memorial and an altar to God. The memorial would be made of stones covered in plaster, on which they were to inscribe every single one of the laws God had given them. We’re not told if this was simply a synopsis consisting of only the Ten Commandments or if it included the entire code found in the book of Deuteronomy. But the important point is that the law given to them by God was to be permanently recorded in stone and placed on Mount Ebal, where all could see it.

This site would become a symbol of Israel’s sacred covenant relationship with God. He had set them apart as His own and given them His law as their official code of conduct. Even the Canaanites living in the land would see this memorial and know that the Israelites were a different kind of people who lived according to a distinctively different set of rules. And they worshiped one God. That is why Moses also instructed the Israelites to build an altar to God right next to the memorial. And we know from the book of Joshua, that they followed Moses’ instructions to the letter.

At that time Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings. And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. – Joshua 8:30-32 ESV

As the book of Deuteronomy comes to a close, it mirrors the life and legacy of Moses. He has been denied the privilege of entering into the land of promise. And knowing that his days are numbered, Moses is beginning the handoff of his ministry and leadership to Joshua, God’s chosen successor for Moses. It was important to Moses that with their entrance into the land of promise, the people of Israel got off on the right foot. He knew that the key to their success would be their adherence to the law which would be dependent upon their reverence for God. The memorial, made from plaster-covered stones inscribed with the law, would remind them of God’s expectations of them. The altar of uncut stones would remind them that their God was holy and righteous.

One of the very first things they were to do after crossing over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, was to offer sacrifices to God. And the altar upon which those sacrifices were to be made was to be distinctively different from the altars of the pagan nations that filled the land. It was to be constructed with whole stones, untouched by iron tools. The focus of the altar was to be God, not the beauty of the well-crafted stones or the handiwork of the stone-carver. Moses didn’t want the people to be impressed with the structure. He wanted them to be attracted to the holiness of God.

God requires the obedience of His people. But obedience is only possible when God’s people love and worship Him for who He is. Without the motivation that reverence for God produces, obedience will become nothing more than a self-manufactured adherence to a set of religious rules and regulations. It turns heartfelt submission to God’s will into little more than legalistic, fear-based adherence to a list of dos and don’ts. And that kind of behavior has a short shelf-life.

It is important that we recognize Moses’ instructions for building a memorial and a place of worship. They were to keep God’s law in mind at all times, but they were also to maintain a healthy reverence and respect for God. Otherwise, they would find themselves forgetting who God was and why His law was worthy of being kept.  God had told the people of Israel, “You must be holy because I, the LORD, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own” (Leviticus 20:26 NLT). Their holiness would be based on their obedience to God’s laws. But the motivation behind their keeping of the law was to be the holiness of God. Because He was holy, they were to be holy, and the law was a black-and-white description of what holy behavior was to look like.

A law to remember and a God to reverence. The two were to go hand in hand. They were inseparable and interdependent. And God provided a description of what obedience divorced from true worship looked like.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

Heartless obedience is ultimately nothing more than self-effort masquerading as worship of God. It is insincere and wrongly motivated. It is not based on an accurate view of God and so, it ends up creating a false form of worship that is based more on self-merit than the worthiness of God.

The law was to be a constant reminder of God’s expectations for mankind. But the altar was where men came to express their love for and dependence upon God. They were to bring their burnt offerings and peace offerings to God. A peace offering was also known as a fellowship offering, and was intended as a means for the people of Israel to offer praise to God for His goodness, mercy, and grace. It was not associated with sin but was tied to the generosity and compassion of God. It was a voluntary sacrifice and the book of Leviticus provides a description of what it entailed.

This is the law of the peace offering sacrifice which he is to present to the LordIf he presents it on account of thanksgiving, along with the thank offering sacrifice he must present unleavened loaves mixed with olive oil, unleavened wafers smeared with olive oil, and well soaked ring-shaped loaves made of choice wheat flour mixed with olive oil.  – Leviticus 7:11-12 ESV

The sacrifice was to be eaten by the one who gave it. So, it was offered as a form of thanksgiving to God, but the giver was allowed to enjoy in the blessing God had bestowed.

The burnt offering was typically tied to sin and man’s need for forgiveness. It involved the complete destruction of the animal, which served as a stand-in or substitute for the one making the offering. The smoke that ascended from the offering was to be “a soothing aroma to the LORD” (Leviticus 1:9), propitiating or satisfying the righteous anger of a holy God for the sins committed by the one making the offering. It was intended to renew the relationship between Holy God and sinful man.

The altar was to be a place marked by confession, forgiveness, and rejoicing. And Moses reminds the people that, when they come to the altar, they were to rejoice before the Lord their God. They were to find joy in His provision for all their needs and His forgiveness of all their sins. He would provide them with food to assuage their hunger and a sin-substitute to satisfy His righteous judgment. God was going to give them plenty of reasons to rejoice, but it would begin with their adherence to His law, which would be based on their reverence for His holiness.

Which is why Moses cautions the people: “Keep silence and hear, O Israel: this day you have become the people of the Lord your God. You shall therefore obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you today” (Deuteronomy 27:9-10 ESV). This statement is associated with the completion of the reciting of the law. God’s expectations have been clearly communicated. Their first responsibilities upon entering the land have been articulated. The covenant has been ratified and renewed, once again setting apart the people of Israel as God’s chosen possession. They belonged to Him and they were to live like it – from that day forward.

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

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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

The Lord Is Their Inheritance

1 “The Levitical priests, all the tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel. They shall eat the Lord’s food offerings as their inheritance. They shall have no inheritance among their brothers; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them. And this shall be the priests’ due from the people, from those offering a sacrifice, whether an ox or a sheep: they shall give to the priest the shoulder and the two cheeks and the stomach. The firstfruits of your grain, of your wine and of your oil, and the first fleece of your sheep, you shall give him. For the Lord your God has chosen him out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the name of the Lord, him and his sons for all time.

“And if a Levite comes from any of your towns out of all Israel, where he lives—and he may come when he desires—to the place that the Lord will choose, and ministers in the name of the Lord his God, like all his fellow Levites who stand to minister there before the Lord, then he may have equal portions to eat, besides what he receives from the sale of his patrimony. – Deuteronomy 18:1-8 ESV

The nation of Israel was made up of 12 tribes, but one of these tribes, the Levites, enjoyed a special relationship with God. They had been set apart by Him to care for the tabernacle and to minister to the spiritual needs of the people. But for us to fully understand the unique nature of their relationship with God, we have to go back and look at the history of this tribe. Their path to becoming God’s chosen ones has a rather surprising and bumpy beginning.

Back in the book of Genesis, there is recorded an encounter between Jacob, the father of the 12 sons who would later become the tribes of Israel, and Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite. This story took place when Jacob was still living in the land of Canaan, long before the famine forced him and his family to seek food and shelter in Egypt.

The Genesis account relates that Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, went to visit some of the other young girls who lived in the area. “But when the local prince, Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, saw Dinah, he seized her and raped her” (Genesis 34:2 NLT).

When his lust turned to love for Dinah, he begged his father to seek permission from Jacob for her hand in marriage. But when Jacob’s sons “were shocked and furious that their sister had been raped. Shechem had done a disgraceful thing against Jacob’s family, something that should never be done” (Genesis 34:7 NLT).

Hamor, the father of Shechem, pleaded with Jacob to allow the marriage to take place. In fact, he suggested that their two families form an alliance by encouraging additional marriages between their sons and daughters.

“…let’s arrange other marriages, too. You give us your daughters for our sons, and we will give you our daughters for your sons. And you may live among us; the land is open to you! Settle here and trade with us. And feel free to buy property in the area.” – Genesis 34:9-10 NLT

Shechem begged Jacob and his sons to allow him to marry Dinah, promising to pay whatever they demanded as a dowry. Their response must have caught Shechem and his father off guard.

“We couldn’t possibly allow this, because you’re not circumcised. It would be a disgrace for our sister to marry a man like you!  But here is a solution. If every man among you will be circumcised like we are, then we will give you our daughters, and we’ll take your daughters for ourselves. We will live among you and become one people.” – Genesis 34:14-16 NLT

It was all a ploy designed to provide an opportunity to seek revenge against the Hivites for the rape of Dinah by Shechem.

Shechem convinced all the men in his family to undergo the rite of circumcision by promising them that this alliance with the family of Jacob would have long-term benefits. But just three days after the men had undergone the procedure, and while they were still recovering, Simeon and Levi “took their swords and entered the town without opposition. Then they slaughtered every male there, including Hamor and his son Shechem. They killed them with their swords, then took Dinah from Shechem’s house and returned to their camp” (Genesis 34:25-26 NLT).

Simeon and Levi were the full brothers of Dinah, having been born to Jacob’s wife, Leah. Their close relationship with their sister must have motivated the extreme nature of their response. But while they were the two sons of Jacob responsible for slaughtering all the men of the Hivites, their 10 brothers took full advantage of their actions by plundering all the wealth of the town, even taking all the wives and children of the Hivites as plunder.

When news reached Jacob of what Simeon and Levi had done, he was appalled.

“You have ruined me! You’ve made me stink among all the people of this land—among all the Canaanites and Perizzites. We are so few that they will join forces and crush us. I will be ruined, and my entire household will be wiped out!” – Genesis 34:30 NLT

And years later, when Jacob was on his death bed and pronouncing blessings upon his 12 sons, he would have this to say about Simeon and Levi:

“Simeon and Levi are two of a kind;
    their weapons are instruments of violence.
May I never join in their meetings;
    may I never be a party to their plans.
For in their anger they murdered men,
    and they crippled oxen just for sport.
A curse on their anger, for it is fierce;
    a curse on their wrath, for it is cruel.
I will scatter them among the descendants of Jacob;
    I will disperse them throughout Israel.” – Genesis 49:5-7 NLT

Jacob pronounced a curse on these two sons and their descendants. Even years after the slaughter of the Hivites, Jacob recalled the treacherous and deceitful nature of their actions. But fast forward to the day when Moses descended from the top of Mount Sinai with the tablets containing the Ten Commandments in his hands. He arrived back in the camp of Israel only to find them worshiping a false god in the form of a golden calf. In his anger, Moses called out to the people:

“All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him.

Moses told them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Each of you, take your swords and go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other. Kill everyone—even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.” The Levites obeyed Moses’ command, and about 3,000 people died that day.

Then Moses told the Levites, “Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Today you have earned a blessing.” – Exodus 32:26-29 NLT

The Levites redeemed themselves. The tribe that had been under their father’s curse for their slaughter of the Hivites were used by God to enact His judgment against the wicked and unfaithful among the Israelites. They became God’s instruments of justice. And, as a result of their faithful service to God, He set them apart and ordained them for His service.

While Jacob pronounced a curse on the descendants of Levi, decreeing that they would be scattered among the other tribes, God turned this curse into a blessing. He would graciously provide for the needs of the Levites, rewarding them with 48 cities in which to live, scattered among the other 11 tribes of Israel.

“Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, where a person who has accidentally killed someone can flee for safety. In addition, give them forty-two other towns. In all, forty-eight towns with the surrounding pastureland will be given to the Levites. These towns will come from the property of the people of Israel. The larger tribes will give more towns to the Levites, while the smaller tribes will give fewer. Each tribe will give property in proportion to the size of its land.” – Numbers 35:6-8 NLT

While Jacob’s curse would ultimately be fulfilled, God sovereignly orchestrated events in such a way that the tribe of Levi would prosper as a result of its fulfillment. It recalls another interaction between Jacob’s sons and their long-lost brother, Joseph. Out of jealousy over his close relationship with their father, they had sold him into slavery. But years later, when Jacob had become the second-highest-ranking official in Egypt, and his brothers found themselves standing his presence, he told them:

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” – Genesis 50:20 NLT

God had been working behind the scenes, orchestrating events so that the treachery of Joseph’s brothers would result in good, not evil. And, in the same way, God used the Levites, who had been cursed by their very own father, to bring about good among the people of Israel. He would redeem and restore them, setting them apart for His use. And God would provide for their needs. While they would never own a single acre of land in Canaan, God would make sure they had cities and homes in which to live and plenty of food to eat. He would be their provider and protector. But even more importantly, He would be their inheritance.

“They shall have no inheritance among their brothers; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them.” – Deuteronomy 18:2 ESV

At one point, the Levites had been cursed and condemned. But they had answered the call of Moses and avenged the glory of God. They had aligned themselves with the righteous cause of God Almighty, and He had graciously redeemed and restored them.

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

 

 

 

Christ in You

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. – Romans 6:3-5 ESV

17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. – 1 Corinthians 6:17 ESV

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. – Romans 8:1 ESV

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. – Romans 8:9-11 ESV

In our last post, we discussed the incredible reality that the Holy Spirit dwells within each and every Christ-follower. At the point of salvation, the Spirit of God takes up residence within the life of the believer, signifying their new righteous standing and full acceptance by God as clean and worthy vessels. The blood of Christ has cleansed them from sin and transformed them into a pure and worthy dwelling place for God’s Spirit.

But there is another important change that takes place when the believer comes to faith in Christ. He or she is immediately united with Christ. This is a familiar phrase to most of us, but it tends to lack any real sense of meaning for us. When we read the words of Paul found in Romans 6, we are hard-pressed to understand the true significance of what he is trying to tell us. He states that we have been baptized into Christ. But not only that, we have been baptized into His death. And then Paul adds that we have been buried and raised with Christ. When Christ died, so did we. And because He was raised back to life, so were we, because we are united with Him. Our union with Him in His death ties us directly to Him in His resurrection. He died and rose to new life and, by virtue of our relationship with Him, so did we.

We died to sin and were raised so “we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4 ESV). And it is our inseparable union with Christ that makes us acceptable to a holy God. When God looks at us, He sees His resurrected, fully righteous, and completely sinless Son. Because Christ conquered sin and the grave, we are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6:6). No longer dead in our trespasses and sins, we are spiritually alive and fully capable of producing the fruit of righteousness (Philippians 1:11). And it all because of “…our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10 ESV).

This union with Christ is what brought us new life (Ephesians 2:5). We became a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). We received release from the sentence of condemnation that hung over our heads as sinners and were given the ability to live in the power of the indwelling Spirit of God (Romans 8:1). We became a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), received “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3 ESV), and “everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT).

That’s quite a list. But do we believe it? If so, do our lives reflect that we do? Most of us have no trouble accepting the fact that our salvation was completely dependent upon Christ and His sacrifice on the cross in our place. But Paul would have us understand that far more happened at the point of our salvation than we know or appreciate. We didn’t just benefit from Christ’s sacrifice, we took part in it. We were there with Him. It was our sins that he bore.

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. – 1 Peter 2:24 ESV

…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 53:5 ESV

And as Paul makes clear, while Jesus took our sins upon Himself, He graciously shares His new life with us. That’s quite a deal. He takes our sin and death, while we get His righteousness and a new life. The amazing reality is that the believer in Christ enjoys an undeserved and unlimited union with Him.

It is his relation to Christ (and that alone) which qualified him to enter the Father’s House; and it is his relation with Christ (and that alone) which gives him the right to now draw nigh within the veil. True, the believer still carries around with him “this body fo death (a depraved nature), but that affects not his perfect standing, his completeness in Christ, his acceptance, his justification and sanctification before God. – A. W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification

As stated earlier, the believer receives the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation. And as Paul points out, the believer becomes one spirit with Christ by virtue of the presence of the Spirit of God (2 Corinthians 6:17). John Owen puts it this way:

Believers are united to Christ in God by the Spirit. This unions is a unilateral action by God, in which those who were dead are made alive, those who lived in darkness begin to see the light, and those who were enslaved to sin are set free to be loved and to love. When one speaks of “union,” it must be clear that the human person is merely receptive, being the object of God’s gracious action. This is the state and condition fo all true saints. – John Owen, Communion With the Triune God

To a certain degree, all of us struggle with the idea of our union with Christ. After all, we are told that “he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us” (Romans 8:34 NLT). That seems to indicate quite a distance between Jesus and those of us who claim to be His followers. How can we be united with Him if He is seemingly so far away? But remember what Jesus told His disciples, just prior to His death.

“…be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:20 NLT

He had also assured them, “where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20 NLT). And Jesus let them know that He was not going to leave them alone or on their own. He was going to send help in the form of the Holy Spirit.

“…it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you…” – John 16:7 NLT

Jesus remains united with His followers through the presence of the Spirit of God. He has not left us or forsaken us but has simply passed on the responsibility for us to the third Person of the Trinity.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’” – John 16:13-15 NLT

And through the Spirit, we still enjoy unbroken union with Christ and the Father. All that Christ is, we are. All the power He has at His possession is available to us – in full. His righteousness is ours. His wisdom is at our disposal. His sanctification and redemption also belong to us. All that we are and all that we possess as children of God is because of union with Jesus Christ.

And because of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 ESV

Paul describes this marvelous reality as a mystery. It makes no sense and is difficult to comprehend, but it is true nonetheless. “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27 ESV).

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

 

How Righteous Do You Have To Be?

10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:10-13 ESV

When it comes to our salvation, most of us have no trouble acknowledging our sin. After all, as Jesus infers above in his statement to the Pharisees, He came to save sinners, not saints. In fact, Paul reminds us that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” and His death was proof of God’s love for us (Romans 5:8 ESV).  God didn’t require us to get our spiritual act together or our moral house in order. No, He sent His Son to die for us because we were sinners. And Jesus made the point behind His earthly mission quite clear: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10 ESV).

Obviously, by definition, sinners do not measure up to God’s righteous standard. And Paul stated that fact quite plainly when he wrote: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23 NLT). It was our lack of righteousness that made Christ’s righteousness necessary. All attempts by the Jews, God’s chosen people, to keep the righteous standard of God, as revealed in the Mosaic law, had fallen far short. Which is why God could look down on mankind and pronounce, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 ESV). And it was into this abysmal state of affairs that God sent His Son so that He would become the source of righteousness that sinful men so desperately need. The apostle Paul explains the details behind God’s plan for man’s sin problem.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:21-26 ESV

God’s righteousness was made manifest or known by the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. The kind of righteousness God required became physically and visibly apparent in the life of Jesus, the Son of God. But the righteousness of God was also revealed in that He did not overlook or ignore man’s sin problem, He dealt with it by delivering a death sentence against it. But He did so by sacrificing His own Son on behalf of and in place of sinful men. In keeping with the Old Testament sacrificial system, God provided a substitute or stand-in; an unblemished, flawless Lamb who gave His life in the place of unrighteous sinners. The author of Hebrews the full import behind Jesus’  death on the cross.

With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.

Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. – Hebrews 9:12-14 NLT

It was His righteousness that satisfied the just demands of a holy God. In His human state, Jesus lived a completely sin-free life, keeping each and every command God had given. He was perfectly obedient and fully submitted to the will of God, in spite of being “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are” and “yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). And because of His perfect obedience and sinless life, Jesus became “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV).

The apostle Paul would have us remember that it is our faith in Christ that makes us right with God. It is only as sinful men stop relying upon their own self-righteousness and turn to the righteousness made possible through Christ that they are restored to a right relationship with God the Father. It is when they recognize that their sin debt has been paid for by Jesus and accept His gracious gift of salvation, that sinners become righteous. But look closely at what Paul says:

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 NASB

He has made us right with God. In other words, we are righteous in God’s eyes. Not only that, we are seen by God as pure and holy or sanctified. And we have been set from sin. Yet, we know from experience that sin remains alive and active in our lives. We commit sins regularly and have to constantly fight the temptation to live unrighteous lives in spite of our righteous standing.

And this is where the confusion regarding sanctification comes in. We begin to believe that we have an obligation to improve our righteous standing before God. When we sin, we conclude that we have taken a step backward and regressed in our relationship with God, leaving us with no other choice but to regain the righteousness we lost. We have fallen out of favor with Him, and it is up to us to gain our way back into His good graces. But is this biblical? Is it true?

The danger behind this kind of thinking is that it diminishes the finished work of Jesus. It belittles and minimizes what He accomplished on the cross, by teaching a need for additional righteousness. By focusing on our need to replace our unrighteousness actions with righteous ones, we negate the righteousness of Christ. It is His righteousness alone that can satisfy a holy God. It is His blood alone that can make the impure clean and the defile holy. And that transaction happened the moment we placed our faith in Him as our sin substitute. There is no additional righteousness needed.

It’s interesting to note that Paul said, “For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live” (Romans 1:1 NET).  He didn’t say from righteousness to righteousness or from sanctification to sanctification. All the righteousness we need is revealed through faith in Jesus Christ. And faith never stops being the means by which we avail ourselves of that righteousness. We don’t need to produce more. We need to believe that we have more than enough in Christ. The danger we face as believers living in a fallen world and wrestling with our old sinful natures is that we can become convinced that we don’t measure up. And the enemy constantly accuses us of falling short of God’s standard by using our sins as proof of our inadequacy. So, we start trying to earn our way back into God’s good graces. We fall back into the faulty mindset that we can somehow produce a righteousness of our own.

But notice what Paul told the believers in Philippi.

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. – Philippians 3:8-9 ESV

Paul depended upon a righteousness that came from outside of himself. It was an alien righteousness, produced by Christ and imputed to Paul. And Paul kept placing His faith in that righteousness, not in any kind of self-produced righteousness he might attempt to manufacture.

So then, why should we attempt to do righteous deeds? Why should we bother to live worthy of our calling? If we are already as righteous as we will ever need to be, what’s the point of attempting to live holy lives? These are important questions, and we will address them in our next post.

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

 

The Presence of God

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ESV

Paul makes it perfectly clear that there is no place for boasting in the presence of God. No one can claim to have access to God’s presence due to their own merit or efforts. And if you recall, when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they were cast from the garden and away from the presence of God. Their disobedience resulted in the forfeiture of their right to enjoy unbroken fellowship with their God. Their sin brought about shame and guilt, causing them to attempt to hide from God. They even tried to cover up their nakedness, somehow ashamed of the very form in which God had created them. And the Genesis account tells us that “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8 ESV). But their hiding proved ineffective. God saw them and knew exactly what they had done. While they vainly attempted to cast blame and shift responsibility, God held them both accountable for their actions.  And He placed a curse on them and their future descendants, eventually banning them from ever entering the garden again.

…therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. – Genesis 3:23-24 ESV

The Bible goes on to record that the interactions between God and sinful man were few and far between in the time immediately after the fall. Only on rare occasions did God reveal Himself to men. He did so with Cain, immediately after his murder of his brother Abel, but only to pronounce yet another curse due to sin. God told Cain. “You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:12 ESV). And Cain, fully understanding the import of God’s curse, responded, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:13-14 ESV). Cain was driven from the presence of God.

And things continued to get worse. Just a few chapters later in the book of Genesis Moses records just how bad things got on the earth.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. – Genesis 6:5-8 ESV

The sin of mankind had reached epic proportions, prompting God to vocalize the just and righteous penalty for such rebellion against Him: Death. He warns that the sins of men made them deserving of their annihilation. But God had a plan already in place. A man named Noah, whom Moses describes as having found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

And God revealed Himself to Noah, providing insight into His divine plan for mankind.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” – Genesis 6:11-13 ESV

Once again, God issued a decree concerning mankind’s rampant wickedness. This time, He determined to wipe them from the face of the earth. But He chose to spare a remnant, vowing to keep Noah and his family alive so that they might repopulate the earth when the coming worldwide flood receded.

Noah enjoyed the presence of God and he proved to be obedient to God. He did all that God commanded him to do, building the ark and filling it with all male and female creatures just as God had told him to do. And God kept His covenant promise to spare Noah and his family.

But it wasn’t long before sin entered the scene again. And the next major event recorded by Moses was the tower of Babel, where the descendants of Noah determined to build a monument to their own self-importance. Disobeying God’s command to fill the earth and subdue it, they instead decided to remain in one place and build a great city. So, God dispersed them again. Not only that, He created languages that made it impossible for them to communicate with one another.

So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. – Genesis 11:8-9 ESV

It seems that the further they got away from Eden, the further they found themselves from the presence of God. And it would not be until God revealed Himself to Abram that man would enjoy intimate communication with his maker again. God visited Abram in Ur and said to him:

“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

God chose Abram and made a covenant promise to him. God was going to bless Abram and make of him a great nation. Not only that, God promised to bless all the nations of the earth through Abram and his descendants. From Abram would come the nation of Israel, a people whom God would call His own.

“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.” – Deuteronomy 7:6 ESV

God made them His own and He promised to reestablish His presence among mankind by dwelling among the people of Israel.

I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the Lord your God…” – Leviticus 26:11-13 ESV

The people of Israel enjoyed the presence and power of God. In the wilderness, God had appeared to them as a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of cloud by day. When they built the tabernacle, His presence dwelt in the Holy of Holies. In the land of Canaan, God revealed His presence through miraculous victories over their enemies. He led them, fed them, guided and protected them. He gave them the sacrificial system so that they might receive forgiveness for their sins and maintain a right relationship with Him. But the people of Israel proved to be disobedient and ungrateful. They ended up taking God’s undeserved presence and power for granted, and the day came when God removed His presence from them. He abandoned them to their own sinful desires. Their wickedness resulted in their defeat at the hands of their enemies, sent by God to punish them for their rejection of Him. And they found themselves living in exile, once again cast from the presence of God and unable to enjoy intimate fellowship with Him.

And even when God graciously returned them to the land of Judah, they continued to disobey Him and live in open rebellion to Him. Their lives would end up marked by moral darkness and spiritual blindness. But the apostle John tells us of the day when the darkness was penetrated by the light of God. The very presence of God came to earth in the form of a man named Jesus.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:9-13 ESV

With Jesus incarnation, God came to dwell among men. Jesus was Immanuel, God with us. He took on human flesh and dwelt among men. And while many refused to accept Him for who He claimed to be, John states that “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” And as Paul reminds us, those who become children of God also enjoy access to the presence of God. Not because of anything they have done, but because they have placed their faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Faith in Jesus brings with it wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Belief in the Messiah provides sinful men all they need to be restored to a right relationship with God so that they might once again enjoy the power and presence of God.

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

 

The Miracle of Salvation

31 Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved… – Acts 16:31 ESV

The salvation spoken of in the Scriptures is both simple and complex. As the verse above illustrates, from a human perspective it requires nothing more than faith. In fact, as the Reformers so aptly put it, it is faith alone in Christ alone that saves. That’s why Paul told the Philippian jailer all he had to do was “believe in the Lord Jesus.” There is no “and” in Paul’s statement. He added no further requirements to the process. There was nothing more the man had to do other than believe, and we know from Luke’s account that he did.

And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. – Acts 16:34 ESV

Luke also records that this man’s belief took place after Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house” (Acts 16:31 ESV). In other words, they took the time to explain in detail God’s message of salvation made possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son. That is why Luke states that the man rejoiced “that he had believed in God.” He recognized that the gift of salvation was based on the grace of God alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It was God who had sent His Son into the world to pay the penalty for mankind’s sin debt and to remove the verdict of condemnation that applied to each and every human being.

But all the jailer had to do was believe. His part was easy. And, later on in his ministry, Paul would expand on the remarkable nature of salvation by explaining, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT).

But while man’s role in the miracle of salvation is simple and based on nothing more than faith, it is anything but a simplistic event. At the moment that the Philippian jailer placed his faith in Jesus, something incredible happened. To put it another way, some incredible things happened. A series of God-ordained and instantaneous actions took place that remained totally invisible to the jailer but were indispensable for his salvation to be sufficient.

As this man was processing and accepting the message as delivered to him by Paul and Silas, God was working behind the scenes, orchestrating a host of invisible elements necessary to turn this man’s simple faith into saving faith.

In theology, salvation denotes a work of God on behalf of men that encompasses a wide range of divine initiatives that includes conviction, regeneration, redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, justification, sanctification, preservation, and glorification. These sophisticated-sounding words connote different actions on the part of God that accompany the miracle of salvation. And, in order for us to fully appreciate what God has made possible through His Son’s death and resurrection, it is essential that we comprehend the unseen and inexplicable nature of God’s work on man’s behalf.

For the Philippian jailer to believe in Jesus as his Savior, a change of heart was required. Like all men, he was a slave to sin, and “lived in this world without God and without hope” (Ephesians 2:12 NLT). He was far away from and an enemy of God, separated from him by his evil thoughts and actions (Colossians 1:21). He was spiritually dead because of his disobedience and many sins (Ephesians 2:1). His mind was blinded by the god of this world “from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT).

So, what happened? How was this man suddenly able to see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ? Paul tells us.

…he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. – Titus 3:5-6 ESV

The Greek word translated as “regeneration” is paliggenesia and it is comprised of two other Greek words: palin – again, once more, and genesis – birth, beginning. It is where we get the idea of being born again. It refers to a new life or, as Jesus put explained it to Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 ESV). That phrase can also be translated as “born from above.” In other words, this is a divine rebirth that is completely dependent upon God. That is why Jesus told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6 ESV). Why is this new birth necessary? Because man was born spiritually dead, having inherited the sin of Adam and the death penalty that accompanied it. The Philippian jailer needed spiritual resuscitation. And Paul reminds us that all men require this regenerating work of the Spirit of God if they are going to have the capacity to place their faith in the gift provided by God.

And when the jailer’s eyes were opened and he was able to see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ,” he believed. Where before, even his righteous deeds had been no better than filthy rags, the jailer was now able to do the right thing and choose Christ. His blinded eyes had been opened and his state of spiritual death had been replaced with new life. And, as a result, he became a new creation.

But that’s not all that happened. As a result of placing his faith in Jesus, he received redemption, what Paul describes as the forgiveness of sins.

He [God] 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

The Greek for redemption is exagorazō, and it means “to redeem by payment of a price to recover from the power of another to ransom, buy off.” Tony Evans describes it this way:

Redemption involves paying a purchase price, and it was often used in the context of the slave market. This is how the biblical writers used the term to describe the purchase price that Jesus Christ paid on the cross. – Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On

At the moment of his salvation, the Philippian jailer was set free from slavery to sin. Not only that, he had all his sins – past, present, and future – completely forgiven. God had redeemed this man from the marketplace of sin, paying the price with the life of His own Son.

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. – 1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT

And Jesus Himself described the redemptive nature of His death.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. – Matthew 20:28 NLT

And what did this redemption accomplish?

  • Jesus freed us from the curse (Galatians 3:10, 13; 4:4-5; James 2:10)
  • God adopted us into His family (Romans 8:15)
  • We are set free from fear (Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

In giving His life as a ransom, Jesus made it possible for sinful mankind to be reconciled to God. Reconciliation is one of the key doctrines of Scripture because it means the sinner, separated and alienated from a holy God, can be restored to fellowship with Him. The Greek word is katallasso and it means “to bring back to harmony, make peace.” In reconciling the Philippian jailer to God, Jesus changed his state from one of enmity and disharmony to that of friendship and peace with God.

Paul reminds us: “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10 NIV). And that reconciliation has tremendous ramifications for our life on this earth as children of God.

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. – Romans 5:1-2 NLT

But how can a sinful man be made right with a holy God? What has to take place for this amazing transformation to be made possible? That brings us to two essential New Testament doctrines that are often overlooked and under-appreciated. The first is justification. It helps us understand what God does at the point of man’s salvation to transform him from a state of unrighteousness to righteousness. Charles Ryrie states the problem this way:

“If God, the Judge, is without injustice and completely righteous in all His decisions, then how can He announce a sinner righteous? And sinners we all are. There are only three options open to God as sinners stand in His courtroom. He must condemn them, compromise His own righteousness to receive them as they are, or He can change them into righteous people. If He can exercise the third option, then He can announce them righteous, which is justification. But any righteousness the sinner has must be actual, not fictitious; real, not imagined; acceptable by God’s standards, and not a whit short. If this can be accomplished, then, and only then, can He justify. Job stated the problem accurately when he asked, ‘how can a man be in the right before God?’” – Charles Ryrie, Systematic Theology

God has three possible options. The first is to condemn mankind for its sin. The second would be to compromise His own righteousness by accepting man in his sinful state. The third is to make sinful men righteous. And justification is the doctrinal explanation of this third and final option. Justification is an instantaneous legal act in which God reckons our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us. And, as a result, He declares us to be righteous in His sight.

That brings us to the next remarkable doctrine associated with salvation: Imputation. Because all of the righteous deeds of men are considered to be no better than filthy rags to God, they stand in need of an alien righteousness, a righteousness outside of themselves. And in the miracle of salvation, God imputes the righteousness of Christ to the one who places his faith in Him. It is what has come to be known as “The Great Exchange.” For God to consider sinful men to be righteous, God first had to transfer the sins of man to His Son on the cross. Then, when men place their faith in Christ, they are imputed the righteousness of Christ

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV

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. – Philippians 3:9 NLT

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

So, the Philippian jailer believed, but there was far more going on behind the scenes to make his believing faith saving faith. He was regenerated, justified, redeemed, forgiven, and sanctified, or set apart as God’s son. And it was all the gracious work of a merciful, loving God.

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

 

Adam 2.0

44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. – 1 Corinthians 15:44-49 ESV

Adam, whose name in Hebrew means “man,” was the first of his kind. The book of Genesis tells us exactly how God made the first human being: “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7 ESV). Adam was created by God, but not on a whim or in some kind of prideful display of His power. Adam, like the rest of creation, was intended to bring God glory. But unlike the rest of the creative order, Adam was made in the image of God.

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27 ESV

Over the centuries, there has been much debate as to the exact meaning of that phrase, “in his own image.” Theologians and scholars have wrestled with the significance of what it means to be made in the image of God. Some have argued that Adam’ creation in God’s likeness meant that he was given immortality, a will, and the capacity to love. He was also provided with the responsibility to care for the rest of creation, having been commanded by God to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28 ESV). No other living creature was given this mandate. But one other aspect of the image of God breathed into Adam by God was his endowment with righteousness or, to put it another way, holiness. Adam had been created without sin. And when God had completed His creative process, He pronounced His satisfaction with all that He had made.

God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. – Genesis 1:31 ESV

It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word used to describe God’s satisfaction is towb and it can refer to beauty, but also to moral perfection. In fact, in the very next chapter of Genesis, the word is used again to describe the one tree and its fruit that had been deemed off-limits by God.

And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. – Genesis 2:9 ESV

In this passage, the words “good” and “evil” are set in direct contrast from one another. They are intended to represent polar opposites. Three verses later, the same Hebrew word is used to describe the gold found in the garden of Eden. It was towb or good, because it was without blemish or free from impurities. That is the essence of Adam’s post-creation nature. He was made pure and holy by God. He was free from any kind of flaw. He was a sinless reflection of God’s glory and given the responsibility to care for the pristine and defect-free creation God had made.

But Adam and Eve sinned. They listened to the lies of the enemy and chose to satisfy their own natural appetites rather than obey the will of God. They used the intellect and the free will with which they had been endowed by God to choose evil rather than good. And, in doing so, they permanently marred the divine image given to them by God. Their intellect was darkened. Their formerly free wills were now enslaved to sin. They were no longer free to choose righteousness. In fact, the Scriptures make it painfully clear that righteousness was no longer an option for them or for their descendants.

As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” – Romans 3:10 NLT

But as 1 Corinthians 15 reminds us, God was not about to let the sin of Adam be the final act in His plan for the world. While the creation He had deemed good was now permanently damaged by Adam’s sin, God had a plan of redemption already in place, and it involved a second Adam.

In his first letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul addresses the role of Jesus as the second Adam or to put it in more modern terms: Adam 2.0. While Adam was born a living being, having been created by God, Jesus was born a life-giving spirit. While Adam brought death to mankind, Jesus came to bring life. But it’s important to note that the first Adam had been given the very breath of God.

…the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. – Genesis 2:7 ESV

Adam had been given life by God, but rather than glorify God with that life, he chose to disobey and dishonor God through his actions. And the result was the entrance into the world of both physical and spiritual death. The creation itself became infected by the sin of Adam and Eve, and everyone of their descendants would inherit their propensity to sin. They would become slaves to sin.

But the second Adam came to change all that. Jesus became a man, just like the first Adam, but He lived in complete obedience to His Father’s will. As Paul writes in Philippians, Jesus was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV). And it was His willingness to become the unblemished sacrifice for the sins of mankind that made restoration to a right relationship with God possible.

And one of the most important aspects of Paul’s words, found in 1 Corinthians, is his hopeful reminder, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49 ESV). Yes, we were born into sin, having inherited the sin nature of Adam. And we have inherited the same flawed, sin-prone body of flesh that will one day face not only physical death, but the even more heinous reality of spiritual death – eternal separation from God.

But Jesus came to change all that. And He makes it possible for sinful men and women to have the image of God, lost as a result of the fall, permanently restored. And while Paul speaks of us as one day bearing the image of the man of heaven, the second Adam, we have the joy of experiencing that restored image even now. That is the joy of sanctification. God has made it possible for those who were once dead in their trespasses and sins to be restored to the pre-fall state of righteousness. And the author of Hebrews reminds us of this wonderful reality.

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. – Hebrews 10:14 ESV

Those who are in Christ have been perfected, but are also being perfected. We have been deemed righteous by God because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the second Adam. But we are being transformed, day after day, into His likeness.

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. – 2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT

The second Adam has given fallen mankind a second chance to image God in this world.

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., Caro l Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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

 

The Illusiveness of Holiness

With today’s post, we will be taking a detour from our normal approach of unpacking entire books of the Bible, verse-by-verse. Instead, this will be a topical study on a singular topic that will explore various passages of Scripture from both the Old and New Testaments.

The topic I have chosen to explore is sanctification. While the word may be unfamiliar to you, the topic won’t be, especially if you are a follower of Christ. All of us, regardless of whatever Christian denomination or church we grew up in or currently align ourselves with, will have a perspective on this critical topic. At its most basic, sanctification has to do with the spiritual growth or ongoing maturity of the believer. But as we will see, there is far more to this word than we might imagine. And we will be unpacking its rich and significant meaning in the weeks ahead.

Virtually all Christian denominations that hold an orthodox view of Scripture share a common understanding that the believer’s status as a child of God was made possible by the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. God sent His Son to serve as the unblemished sacrifice for the sins of mankind, offering His life in place of ours, so that He might atone for or pay the penalty levied by a holy God against rebellious humanity. The Scriptures make it clear that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). In other words, there is a “wage” or payment due for mankind’s rejection of God, and it is death. And no one gets to escape that outcome, because, “everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23 NLT).

But Jesus made it possible for sinful men and women to be restored to a right relationship with God by providing Himself as their substitute or stand-in. He took the punishment we deserved and, in exchange, we received His righteousness.

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

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption… – 1 Corinthians 1:30 ESV

Sinful men and women can be restored to a right relationship with God by placing their faith in the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ. By accepting God’s gracious gift of His Son as the payment for their sin debt, sinners can become saints, children of God, and joint heirs with Christ. They receive forgiveness for their sins – past, present, and future. They also receive a new standing before God. The apostle Paul told the believers in Colossae that is was God “who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 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 1:12-14 ESV).

The most remarkable aspect of this redemptive work of God on man’s behalf is that it is permanent in nature. It can’t be lost. God doesn’t change His mind. We can’t screw it up. In fact, the apostle Paul reminds us:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30 ESV

God stands behind the work of His Son. He guarantees it. Christ’s atoning work is efficacious or effective, never failing to accomplish its redemptive work. At the point of salvation, sinful men and women become permanent citizens of the Kingdom of God. And from that point forward, God no longer sees them as sinners, but as saints. Which simply means that they have been set apart for His use. They belong to Him. They are His children.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:12 ESV

And yet, while enjoying their privileged position as children of God and citizens of His eternal Kingdom, Christians must remain on this earth and do battle against an assortment of enemies who stand opposed to them. These include the world, their own indwelling sin nature, and the devil himself. Jesus Himself warned us that the world would hate us.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. – John 15:18-19 ESV

He also told us we would face difficulties in this life.

“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 ESV

Which brings us to our topic of sanctification. As we live in this world as followers of Christ, we enjoy a right standing before God. He deems us as righteous because we have received the righteousness of Christ. And yet, we are also commanded to pursue righteousness.

…pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. – 2 Timothy 2:22 ESV

Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. – 1 Timothy 6:11 ESV

Not only that, Paul tells us that we are “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” (Colossians 3:12 ESV). Yet, Peter seems to tell us we have to pursue holiness.

…as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:15-16 ESV

Even Paul appears to contradict himself when he states, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1 ESV). The truth is, the New Testament is filled with countless passages that seem to teach that, while we enjoy a right standing before God, we are not to stand pat. We are not to coast or rest on our laurels. Paul told the believers in Ephesus “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV). He told the Thessalonian believers “to live in a way that is pleasing to God” (1 Thessalonians 4:1 BSB).

Peter encourages us to “long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 ESV). Paul tells us that “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 2:15 ESV). Peter encourages us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 ESV). The author of Hebrews would have us “strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 ESV). And Paul provides us with a word regarding our salvation and our sanctification.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. – Romans 6:22 ESV

As we will see, there is a sense in which we have been sanctified and are being sanctified. There is the positional aspect of our sanctification and the progressive dimension, which we will be exploring over the next few weeks. But the real issue we want to examine is the delicate and somewhat confusing nature of our role in the process. Can we make ourselves more holy? Do we have the capacity to make ourselves any more acceptable to God than we already are? Is sanctification our job or God’s? Is it a goal to be pursued or a reality to be embraced?

As Peter has pointed out, God has high standards for His children: “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16 ESV). Yet Paul tells us, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 ESV), and Isaiah adds fuel to the fire when he writes: “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6 ESV).

So, what are we to do? And what is the purpose behind our pursuit of righteousness if we have already been declared righteous by God? These are the questions we hope to explore and answer as we make our way through this difficult, yet vital topic. The Bible’s many admonitions concerning spiritual growth are indisputable. But that doesn’t make them understandable. And many of us as Christians struggle with what it means to grow up in our salvation. Spiritual maturity seems unachievable. Christlikeness appears impossible. And any efforts we have put towards growing in godliness seem to fall short.

But it is my hope that as we dig into God’s Word together, we will be able to better understand the true nature of sanctification and our role in it. And that we might be able to say with the apostle Paul:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:12-14 ESV

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

 

We Were Once…

1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. – Titus 3:1-7 ESV

For the believers on Crete to live consistently godly lives, they were going to have to be constantly reminded of what that kind of life looked like. Their natural human tendency would be to fall back into their old habits and to follow the patterns of this world. So, Paul charged Titus with the task of holding accountable the Christ-followers under his care. Christ-likeness does not come naturally or without effort. They would not become more like Christ without a willing desire to put to death the habits associated with their old way of life. Their new position in Christ should result in a determination to be like Christ. Which is why Paul told the Colossian believers:

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. – Colossians 3:5 NLT

But Paul knew that the task of putting to death the old nature was impossible without the supernatural assistance of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. – Romans 8:13 ESV

The Holy Spirit provides the power, but the believer must cooperate with and submit to that power. In his letter to the Galatian believers, Paul referred to this partnership as walking, living, and being led “by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 18, 26). It is a relationship built on dependence and reliance. The believer supplies the desire to put away their patterns and behaviors associated with their former lifestyle, and the Spirit provides the power to make it possible. It is impossible to defeat the flesh in the flesh. The Holy Spirit’s power is indispensable.

But Paul knew that the human sin nature was a powerful foe, capable of deluding and distracting believers and keeping them mired in spiritual mediocrity.  That is why he put such a high priority on behavior. It wasn’t that their actions could earn them favor with God or make them more acceptable in His sight. It was that the full hope of the gospel message was to be experienced in the Christian’s daily victory over sin. The power of the gospel was to be visibly manifested in life change. And that life change was to have positive and negative expressions.

As Christians, they were to willingly submit to the authorities in their lives, including those within the Roman government. They were to live lives marked by obedience, not just to God, but to those whom God had placed over them, which meant Titus, the elders of the church, and all governmental authorities. And they were to be constantly prepared to do the right thing – what God would have them to do. That is what it means to walk, live and be led by the Spirit.

But godly behavior is also to be characterized by an absence of negative actions. And Paul points uses slander and quarreling as examples. Speaking ill of anyone, especially those in authority, is not acceptable behavior for the Christian. “Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone” (Titus 3:2 NLT).  One of the important distinctions here is that a lack of slander is not a proof of gentleness or humility. The absence of quarreling in the life of a believer does not necessarily mean they are filled with love. Slander must be replaced with words of encouragement. The desire to quarrel, driven by the need to be right, must be superseded by the desire for unity, and the willingness to die to one’s rights.

Paul knew this call to righteous living was not easy, especially when surrounded by those who were outside of Christ and motivated by their sin natures. And Paul wanted the believers on Crete to know that the only thing that set them apart from their unbelieving neighbors was their relationship with Christ. Before coming to know Christ as Savior, they had all been hopelessly and helplessly lost and incapable of living up to the standard to which Paul was calling them.

Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. – Titus 3:3 NLT

Their former, pre-salvation condition had not been a pretty one. But something had happened. They had been miraculously transformed by the message of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us – Titus 3:4-5 ESV

God saved them. And not because of anything they had done to earn that salvation. Their best deeds done on their best day and with the best of intentions were nothing to God. No, God saved them “according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 ESV). Their salvation had been undeserved and unearned. They had gone from being enemies to heirs of God. They had experienced the unbelievable miracle of redemption, made possible by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross on their behalf.

Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. – Titus 3:7 NLT

That reality produced in Paul a visceral reaction. He couldn’t help but respond to the unbelievable truth of what God had done for him by doing everything in his power to live in grateful obedience to God’s expectations of him. He lived to please God. He wanted his life to be a constant expression of his thankfulness to God for the priceless gift of salvation. Because God had graciously provided eternal life for Paul, the least Paul could do was live in grateful submission to God’s will in this life. And it was this attitude of gratitude that led Paul to say:

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20 NLT

Paul never got over the shock of what God had done for him. And he wanted the believers on the island of Crete to share his awe of God’s grace by living lives that demonstrated their gratefulness through Spirit-empowered acts of righteousness. God gave His Son so that sinful men and women might experience abundant life – not just in some future eternal state, but right here, right now. His Son died in order to pay the penalty for our sins. He was raised back to life to guarantee our future resurrection, but also as a sign that we have died to sin and share in the power of that resurrection made possible by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Paul was not calling the believers on Crete to do the impossible. He was reminding them that God’s power to save them was also meant to sanctify them – to transform them into the likeness of His Son. They had been redeemed by Christ, and now they were to seek to live like Christ.

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