Tag Archive: faith


Why Did Jesus Have To Die?

A lot of folks these days want to emphasize Jesus’ teachings as if that was the main reason He came. This demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Bible actually says about His mission. What He taught was important, but the centre lies in what He came to do: to die an atoning death, and then to resurrect. But why did Jesus have to die before God could forgive?

Justice is a balancing of accounts. We’ve all seen the statue of Justice in front of courthouses. Blindfolded and holding scales, the image suggests the evening of accounts (the scales) and impartiality before the law (the blindfold).

The Moral law is at its heart a value system. The Law says people possess inherent value that goes beyond their usefulness or beauty: that everyone matters just because God made them.

But we have a problem. When I decide what I want is more important than someone elses’s rights and I act on it, I am basically saying that they don’t matter as much as my agenda. I offend against their worth as human beings. The Bible calls this sin.

If God is just, He must punish sin; the account must be settled. If He just lets it slide, He denies the value of the wounded party. We see this in everyday life when a criminal gets a slap on the wrist for some heinous crime. The outrage we feel at injustice is real and appropriate; it would be unfair to the victim for the Creator of the moral law to turn a blind eye to their hurt. And God is fair.

We all sin, in big and small ways, everyday. History gives ample proof that no utopian system of education or philosophy can change the human heart; our history is filled with guns and whips and wars. Granted that as moral beings, there are many instances of nobility and goodness, but we can’t get around the fact that none of us keeps the moral law perfectly. Humanity’s history is, to say the least, chequered.

And since we sin, God must judge us. Our actions have made Him our enemy. How then can God be just and yet show mercy? We’re in a hopeless position.

But what if another took our punishment? One who was sinless, and somehow suffered for us? Justice would be served, the value of the victim upheld, and God could then forgive.

That is why Christ’s atoning death is important.

People misunderstand if they think that in doing so God turns a blind eye to suffering and evil. This is where Christ’s atoning death is key: nothing less than the death of God incarnate was enough to account for the sin of humanity. He paid what we couldn’t pay so He could offer forgiveness to all.

And there is sort of a wonderful symmetry to it all: we were separated from God when we decided not to trust Him – that we knew better, and chose to ignore His law. But His atoning death only becomes effective when we decide that He knows better: that we accept our guilt and decide to trust in His justifying work for us instead of our our own attempts to justify ourselves through good works and religious acts. To choose to trust him is the exact opposite of what got humanity into its bind in the first place. It’s quite humbling.

And both Justice and mercy being satisfied, the choice to trust God changes our hearts in real ways; it’s the work of a lifetime, but we are being remade from the inside out. We look to Him, not our own selfish attempts to justify ourselves: and in doing so become sons and daughters of God in practical fact.

Faith and Forgiveness

The heart that really understands God’s power can afford to forgive, to live a generous, open life.

To resent and hold things against people is the mark of a shrunken, insular spirit, turned in on itself and trying to live on its own meagre resources.

Enduring Faith

“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭5:3-5‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

How is the heart changed?
When things are good, we tend to kick back and relax. We get lazy, and we start to take things for granted.

But troubles and pains drive us to our knees, exposing our frailty and need of God. We pray.

It’s humbling. Prayer is a request, so first of all we are coming to God on His terms. We look not to ourselves, but to Him for help. It’s a good place to start.

And as we pray, we develop perseverance and character as we wait on Him. The perseverance comes from disciplining ourselves to hope, even when sight seems to say God is absent. And it’s that discipline that builds character, a habit of trust and reliance on God. The waiting on Him is one of the things that changes you.

A moment’s thought tells us this is the only way it could be. It wouldn’t be a trial if things made sense or God’s presence seemed nearby. It’s when the feelings of doubt seem so strong that the decision to trust anyways does its work. It produces the steel God wants to put into our backbones, the character of a heart changed in practical fact.

And I think we need to regard this as the central issue in our lives. We often compartmentalize and regard our faith as a way with dealing with our larger life, merely a coping mechanism of some sort. But if He really is our Lord, then the changing of our hearts is the real issue, and what we go through to get there is merely the means to achieve this. Realizing that our lives are bigger than our circumstances lifts us out of despair and restores perspective.

The poet Keats said “The world is a vale of soul making”. I don’t doubt it.

Do You Believe?

“But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭4:5‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

We often talk about faith like it’s a state of mind we can work ourselves into, but I think it’s actually a lot simpler than that.

One use of the word is to believe something is true. We examine the evidence and decide whether we actually believe there’s a God or not, or whether Jesus really existed and rose again. And while that’s very important, it’s not the whole story; nor do I think that’s what defines a Christian. It’s when we are willing to bet our lives and future on the reality of what He has done for us that we are saved. It’s “believe” in the sense of trusting the character and ability of someone who has made you a promise.

God has promised us eternal life and bodily resurrection. This seems sort of abstract and in the future, so it’s not that hard to convince ourselves we can trust Him with that. But He has also promised that He will use all things for our good, that He is in control and that He will provide what we need. When I lose my job, or am sick or bereaved, will I continue to trust? If I do, I really can rejoice, even when the chips are down.

Trust in this sense is almost a statement of allegiance. Do I trust Him, or my own efforts? Do I trust Him enough to lay down my arms and trust that He really is love?

Happy Easter! He is risen!

Faith and Sin

“Whatever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23b). Why?

We must never forget that God – not just some vague, spiritual force, but a real Person who loves and acts – desires relation with us. Faith (or to put it simply, trust) is something that happens between persons. So why is it such a big deal?

Because Christianity tells us we have trust issues. Our ancestors were convinced God was holding something back and reached to take it for themselves. They learned to look not to God, but to themselves for their answers.

We have inherited this behaviour. We want to justify ourselves, to take matters into our own hands. To say we don’t need help, and especially not from God.

So we put ourselves in the driver’s seat. We act for ourselves and our own agendas – the sin behind every other sin.

If we are not living trust-based lives of conscious dependence on God, we necessarily remain centred on ourselves; even our good deeds are done according to reliance on our own abilities and a desire to justify ourselves. We want to pat ourselves on the back every time we do something good.

I think that’s why Jesus had more criticism for the religious types than he did for the tax collectors and prostitutes who already knew where they stood. They came to Him without condition. Only when we understand our own inability and brokenness will we truly come to Him for help.

The very concept of grace implies we understand our position before Him as helpless, condemned sinners; and that acceptance into God’s family hangs on a trust that His work really is enough to save us from that state and to give us provision and power to live from day to day.

To not trust is what separates us from God.

The Test

It didn’t make sense.

God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac, who had been an answer to prayer and the fruit of a promise and prophecy God made to him.

We know God detests human sacrifice:
“They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.” (Jeremiah‬ ‭19:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬). But that is exactly what God seemed to be telling Abraham to do.

It was a test; but it could also be argued that the purpose was more to change Abraham  than to tell God something He would already have known.

Sometimes what makes the trial of our faith what it is lies in the fact that we can’t figure it out. Will we still trust? Obedience wouldn’t be that hard – or effective in changing us – if we understood.

This kind of test draws us deeper into a relationship of radical, life changing faith. Choosing to trust changes our hearts at a foundational level: it’s when we trust in spite of what we see that we truly draw closer to God.

Organized Religion

Many people these days harbour a deep suspicion or even a dislike of what they call “organized religion”. They consider themselves spiritual, but want to craft a belief system more agreeable to their own felt wants.

But is this wise, or even honest? Those who would go their own way expose themselves to great danger, for all humans are fallible and prone to error. They separate themselves from the believing community and the correctives it contains, from the wisdom of the crowd.

Ironically, they will often cite the judgementalism or hypocrisy of organized religion as the big turn-off, not realizing that in so doing they are themselves judging. They display little grace in their own attitude towards the church.

The community of believers is certainly flawed, because it contains redeemed sinners who are all works in process. What did we expect? We must never forget it is a hospital for souls that are being healed. And I suspect that most of the New Testament would not have been written if the Church were perfect, since most of the letters in it are addressing problems or clarifying points of belief.

The solution is to go deep, and to trust in Christ Himself, not our own dreams about what we think God should be like. If God is real, we are hardly in a position to make Him in our image. He can’t be a matter of interpretation or opinion. The truth about Him, like all truth, is discovered, not made up; in our search for Him we must always beware of inserting our own ideas and preferences onto our conception. We need to be honest with ourselves.

We need the Bible. We need the structure and community the Church offers, but even then we must put our trust primarily not in it (being composed of imperfect people), but in Christ Himself. Read the Bible deeply, let it shape your life, and benefit from the fellowship and counsel of those who are also doing their imperfect best to follow Jesus.

We need our fellow Christians, and as we understand the Bible and God’s wonderful grace we can help build up our fellow believers without being shaken by their inconsistencies – or our own. For we need grace and forgiveness as much as they do.

Following

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“Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me”. (‭Luke‬ ‭9‬:‭23‬ NKJV)

Taking up our cross is not always easy. But we have to remember it doesn’t just involve the negative act of denying our feelings and plans, but the positive action of picking up our cross and following Jesus.

How does this work in real life? It means realizing my plans aren’t my first priority; giving thanks for whatever comes as allowed by a sovereign God who works all things for our good and His glory.

It means taking the time and care to learn what the Bible teaches about living a life that pleases Him. It will often run against the conventional wisdom of the world.

It takes faith to do that; a determination to trust Him enough to follow and rejoice even when I don’t understand.

Failure and Grace

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If Christ’s words command a radical trust, what shall we say when we find ourselves not trusting so radically, when we feel our own cold hearts, our sins or our fears?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit”. The sooner we realize we don’t have our act together, the sooner we make real progress. It’s the humble attitude that looks to Him for everything that’s getting somewhere. We’ll always feel inadequate, and in one sense that’s not a bad thing: not if it causes us to desperately seek His grace. We can actually rejoice in our weaknesses if it forces us to our knees.

Don’t let your own shortcomings preoccupy you – that’s just inverted pride. What’s more, we even need to repent of our good deeds if they are done to justify ourselves. Don’t set your heart on any sense of spiritual accomplishment. Instead, just look at Him; that’s where all your supply is anyways.

It’s such a relief to stop striving. When Jesus said his yoke was easy and His burden light, I think this is what He meant. As long as you are facing Him, He’ll do the rest.

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Life tests our trust in God. It’s one thing to agree with Christ’s teaching, but it’s entirely another to rest the weight of our lives on a real God who binds Himself with promises for our good. Christ’s words command a radical, personal trust. In fact, He implies that to not trust is to build our lives on shifting sand.

The work of the Christian is not primarily one of moral effort, but of trust. To rest in His promises, to enjoy life as those who have already been provided for. And it is work, because trusting like that doesn’t come naturally. We have to unlearn our suspicious, self-centred habits of the heart.

And if we so trust (and we are primarily trusting a Person, not a creed or doctrine) we will want to please Him: not to earn His approval but because we live in thankfulness and trust in what the Gospel tells us has already been done for us. We are getting to know Him, personally, intimately, and this is what changes us. It’s only out of a heart so remade that any good work or moral obedience can really come.