Tuesday, December 12
The account of the two blind men that pleaded for Christ to heal them in Mt. 9:27-31 is short but revealing concerning faith. What is interesting in this account is Jesus’ question when the blind men make their appeal for healing. He said “Do you believe that I am able to this?” He didn’t ask them if they believed he would do it, but could he do it. These are two very different things. For most of us there is no doubt as to Jesus’ ability to perform miracles. The question is always will he do what we request? But when we don’t get an immediate or satisfactory answer, we often question whether we had enough faith—which is may be the wrong question to ask. God will always hear us if we are in fellowship with him. if we are connected to the vine, “abiding” in him. Psalm 66:18-19 (NIV). “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.” Unconfessed needs to be dealt with. 1 John 1:9 tells us how to do that. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” But hearing us still doesn’t guarantee that God will take action. It may not be what is best for us or it may not fit into his plans which we are not always privy to. :His ways are past finding out.” And it could be that the time is not right and that our request will be answered later. Rather than question our faith, we should simply trust God and ask for his will to be done.
There are a lot of role models in the Bible. Peter and Thomas are two of them. D.A. Carson, in Praying with Paul, p. 26, touches on this—from a slightly different perspective. “Christians may stumble and fall, doubt like Thomas, and disown their Lord like Peter, but they ultimately will utter their ‘Amen’ to Thomas’s confession (John 20:28) and weep with Peter (Matt. 26:75.” The Bible tells it the way it is. There are other heroes of the faith that are role models, too. David made a few mistakes, among them murder and adultery. Yet God called him “the apple of his eye.” Abraham failed a number of times, but God chose him to be the progenitor of God’s special people. I’m so glad the Bible tells it like it was, but more importantly, that God can take flawed people and make them highly productive in his service. I especially put the Apostle Paul in that category. God turned him around from persecuting the fledgling Church to become the greatest evangelist of all time. I won’t measure up to that, but I can thank God for using me despite my faults. That’s pure grace.
The Bible is clear that there will be no human marriages in heaven. That’s a negative for some people. The sex drive is so strong that it’s been devastatingly abused. That’s not God’s fault; it stems from the sin nature that we acquired from Adam. The joys of heaven will far surpass the intimate relationships that come through human marriage, but there’s a rationale that further supports this. Human marriage was designed by God for two reasons. The obvious one which is well supported in Scripture is that God designed it so that the world would be replenished. The second, and perhaps more important, is that marriage is a picture of the intimacy that God desired us to have with him. The marriage relationship should remind us of the bond of love that God expects us to have with him. The New Testament says that the Church is the bride of Christ. There is even a mention of the “marriage supper of the Lamb” in Rev. 19:6-9. On both these scores—reproduction and as an analogy of our love relationship with God—human marriage has no reason to continue in heaven. No more need to replenish the earth. And the analogy of marriage in terms of our relationship with Christ will be obsolete with the reality of the intimate union with him for all eternity. It will not be sexual, but it will surpass all that we now know about intimate love. I have no doubt that the joys of heaven will be such that we will not regret the loss of human marriage.
D.A. Carson, in Praying with Paul, makes a startling statement on p. 30. “ . . . forgiveness is never the product of love alone.” My first reaction to that statement was to disagree with him, but after following his train of thought I changed my mind. He’s not minimizing love. God loves the entire world as John 3:16 says. Love motivated God to deal with the sin problem. But despite God’s love for all mankind, some will end up in hell. How can that be explained? God loves the entire world, he is not willing that anyone perish, and he is sovereign. The crux of this issue is that although God is love, he is also holy. God knew that before he created man, and had a plan to resolve the sin problem. He sent his son to die in man’s place. THAT is love. But there’s an element in the redemption process that calls on man to accept this free gift—belief. And that has to do with God’ holiness. This is what is behind Carson’s statement. To satisfy a holy God, there had to be retribution. For the Christian, that would be taken care of by Christ’s sacrificial death, but on the basis of belief. God still loves all men, but salvation has to be received by faith. Those who believe will end up in heaven; those who don’t believe will end up in hell. Carson cites Rom. 3:21-26 to support the above statement. Paul uses a phrase here that really caught my attention—“to demonstrate his justice.” The cross demonstrated God’s justice. It justified his forgiveness for those who believe, and it justified sending people to hell who don’t believe. So both God’s love and his justice are demonstrated.
“We want mercy for ourselves and justice for others.” This is certainly not a new thought, but maybe a reminder would be in order. When was the last time someone made excuses for your behavior? When was the last time you made excuses for someone else’s behavior? My wife has made a few excuses for me, but I know of no one else to do that. Sometimes parents will make excuses for their kids’ behavior, partly to exonerate their own failings. And of course making excuses, whether for ourselves or for others, is counter productive. Excuses imply that we don’t want to face reality, that we don’t want to change. We try to deceive our own moral standards, but not too successfully. We need to be rational about our faults, not rationalizing them. It all boils down to “self.” Since I haven’t yet shed the sin nature, I’m like the rest of you. Unless I’m alert—N.T. terms: taking heed, watching—I will default to making excuses. The indwelling Holy Spirit is there to nudge me in the right direction—and he’s doing his job—but we can “quench” the Holy Spirit (1 Thes. 5:19). I take some solace in making a measure of progress in this arena, but I’m “not there” yet.
James’ “royal law” deserves a little more attention. The term occurs only in James 2:8. The immediate context is that the law is to love one another. Jesus spoke of this in Mt. 22:37-39, but adds the command to love God with all one’s heart He added in v. 40 that “all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments—meaning that loving God and loving others is the cornerstone of God’s moral standards. Jesus authored the Mosaic Law and came to earth to “fulfill” it, not only by fully living up to it, but clarifying it, and explaining the depth and breadth of it (Mt. 5). “You have heard it said . . . but I say to you . . . ” If anyone had the right to clarify the Law, it would be Jesus. As the King of kings, it is appropriate to call it “royal.” That has significance only because the King makes it top priority. Love of God comes first and is what fuels love for others. But knowing all this is worthless if we don’t obey. It is a command!
Wednesday, December 6
No one will ever be redeemed without conviction of sin. Sin is the problem, but knowing our sinful condition and its consequences is essential. Knowing the problem comes before seeking a solution. John 16:8 says that when the Holy Spirit comes he will convict of sin. That obviously refers to the post-incarnation world. But what about the previous millennia? The Holy Spirit was active in O.T. days, seemingly mostly with Israel. And I could find no specific passage that the Holy Spirit convicted men of sin in O.T. days. James 2:8-9 might help. “If you really keep the royal law . . . ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” There’s conviction of sin here, but it comes from the law. This doesn’t necessarily mean the Mosaic Law. Paul speaks of a universal moral law as well as the Mosaic Law in Romans 2. Rom. 2:12-15. ‘All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law . . . but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous . .. when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law . . . they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences . . .” This seems to suggest that all men of all time are convicted of sin by the moral law being written on their heart and by their consciences. Verse 16 speaks of the future judgment, which will be based on that truth, but it says “through Jesus Christ.” Salvation is not possible without the cross. I might assume that those who responded positively to the universal moral law in olden days would be in the same category as Abraham, who was “counted as righteous,” or declared righteous. Being declared righteous is based on the certainty of Christ’s death on the cross as payment for our sins. James is not suggesting salvation by any other means, nor is he suggesting salvation by means of our own efforts.