Gospel Meditations: My Crucifixion with Christ

6 07 2015

image“The gospel is not simply the story of ‘Christ, and Him crucified’; it is also the story of my own crucifixion. For the Bible tells me that I, too, was crucified on Christ’s cross (Gal. 2:20). My old self was slain there (Rom. 6:6), and my love affair with the world was crucified there too (Gal. 6:14). The cross is also the place where I crucify my flesh and all its sinful desires (Gal. 5:24). Truly, Christ’s death and my death are so intertwined as to be inseparable.” (Vincent, Milton. A Gospel Primer for Christians, pg. 40).

I remember the day well. It was a Sunday evening in January 1991. I had taken my post faithfully in the Publix Supermarkets Data Processing Distribution Center where I was making a living running printers and distributing reports to programmers. On the outside it seemed like just another normal day in my life. I was 19 years old. I was in love with my High School sweetheart and later to be wife, Robin. I had a good job. I was attending community college with an eye toward my future. It seemed that all was set for my life moving forward.

There was only one major problem in my life that day: I was dead inside. While everything on the outside said I was a normal 19 year old in America, on the inside I was teeming with an unsettled heart and a spirit that unbeknownst to me was being stirred by a much higher power. Truth be told, I couldn’t stand who I was. In my heart there was a pool of bitterness toward others. My mind was filled with lust. My mouth was a fountain of filth that sprang forth from my heart at the smallest frustrations. I was completely unsettled and unhappy and joyless. That evening while I was at work there lay on the counter top a book by L. Ron Hubbard called, Dianetics. I was searching. I was attempting to reform myself. I was longing for me to be different. In that moment of my life I hoped that my answers were in that book. I planned to read it and get those answers and begin to change myself. 

Little did I know that day that true life was about to come to me in a much different way than I anticipated. I started the day dead inside, but by the time I would go to sleep that night I was cruciified with Christ (Galatians2:20). By that night I was no longer the one living, but Christ was living in me. My crucifixion didn’t occur by reading Dianetics. No, it happened by hearing and receiving. At this point I can hear, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians‬ ‭2‬:‭4-10‬ ESV) In a moment on that day Christ intervened in my life. Instead of reading that book I turned on the radio and put on a Christian radio station, which I don’t really remember ever doing before in my life. That night I heard how Christ was sinless and yet died a sinners death that I, the sinner deserved, but He did not. I heard how He died and was buried and then on the third day rose from the grave to conquer sin and death, my two greatest enemies. That night I confessed my sin to God and turned to Christ as my Savior and simply received Him and His free gift of salvation through faith in Him.

That was the day of my crucifixion, the day my old life ended and God created in me new life, abundant life. Since that day I’ve never been the same.

“I once was lost but now I’m found, I once was blind but now I see.” I once was a sinner but now a saint, not because I’m sinless because I ain’t, but because He died for a wretch like me, and the day I received Him He set me free. To Him be the glory both now and forever, by His power I’ll live as His eternal treasure.

The Unreasonable Love of God

22 06 2015

imageOver this past weekend the news has been inundated with the tragic shooting that took place in Charleston, SC. It’s been interesting to watch the varied responses, not necessarily to the shooting itself, but to the responses toward the people directly impacted by this unthinkable evil perpetrated against their loved ones and thus them. The love and forgiveness that has been on display by the victim’s families and the church has been, shall I say, other-worldly. Some have said that their response of forgiveness is unreasonable. It might surprise some that I agree, it is unreasonable to forgive such an evil. Which brings me to the point I want to make.

What is reasonable about forgiving someone who has damaged you? Taken something (or more importantly, someone) from you? There’s nothing humanly reasonable about forgiving someone who has placed themselves in opposition to you and declared you to be their enemy. If you listen to the news or read news articles and the comments sections on social media with regard to the Charleston shootings you will quickly find that those who have no allegiance to Christ have all sorts of explanations for the radical and unreasonable love and forgiveness being displayed as a result of this tragedy. Some think it’s phony, some dismiss it as ridiculous, some insinuate that it’s disingenuous, and some just respond that the people directly impacted and extending forgiveness are simply better people than they are.

The reality is that the love and forgiveness on display in Charleston is a reflection of the love and forgiveness that God offers to all of us through Jesus Christ. God’s love is not a reasonable love, but a radical and redemptive love. It’s radical because we don’t deserve it just like the assassin in the Charleston Church shooting doesn’t deserve the love and forgiveness of the families victimized. It’s redemptive because it changes us and our standing before God. You see, every single one of us has set ourselves up as the enemies of God in that we have sinned against God. God doesn’t owe us His love. He doesn’t owe us His forgiveness. We, like the shooter in Charleston, don’t deserve love and forgiveness. On the contrary, what we deserve is the same thing the perpetrator in this tragedy deserves…death. “But God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish (die) but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) This is rich and freeing grace. This is what sets genuine Christianity apart from every other religious and philosophical system in the world. We don’t earn God’s love and forgiveness, it’s freely given by God and received through faith by those who are willing to humble themselves, admit their sin against God, and by faith receive God’s free gift of salvation through faith in Christ who bore their shame and penalty and has been raised from the dead, conquering sin and death.

What the world is witnessing in the love and forgiveness displayed through the believers in Charleston towards this one filled with hatred is a demonstration of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world that is watching. They are, as Scripture says, filling up what is lacking in the sufferings of Jesus Christ, namely a modern day demonstration of that suffering and the grace, love, and forgiveness that accompanies it. If we in the Church would simply come to the realization that this is what the world needs to see in us and not just hear from us then we might see a great increase of people coming to a saving knowledge of Christ. This is faith with feet. Yes, many will dismiss it for various reasons, but some will certainly embrace it because the Spirit of God will be at work in the midst of it. Think about it.

A Love Like No Other

7 06 2015

rooted-in-love“I love _______.” Go ahead and fill in the blank. Truth is that the blank can be filled by just about anything in our manner of speaking. I can truthfully say, I love my wife, but I can also truthfully say that I love pizza. In the way in which we speak and use the word “love” you will, hopefully, understand that I don’t love my wife and pizza in the same way. This may seem silly to point out, but sometimes stating the obvious is a way in which we can bring focused attention to a particular way of thinking and expressing ourselves. The word “love” is used in the English language, as in many languages, to express different levels of affection that we have for a particular person or thing. We use the word “love” to express the level of either internal or external value that we place on the object of our love. So while I say that I love my wife and that I love pizza, I don’t value them the same. My wife, she’ll be happy to know, is far more valuable to me than pizza and I love her differently in scope and in measure and with the deepest affections of my heart.

Having said this, the New Testament has a lot to say about love. I’m speaking of the kind of love that is not casual or fleeting, but the kind that is unconditional, steadfast, and of the deepest sort that springs from the depths of human affection. Our ability to express this kind of unconditional love is rooted in the way that God has made us, image bearers of the Almighty. If we know the gospel we know that our affections must be redeemed because they are, in their natural state, inclined to love the lesser more than the greater. It is in this redemption through the gospel that our affections are delivered from the lesser loves of this world to the greater loves of another world. Through faith in Christ we now have the ability to set our deepest affections on God and we are inclined to do that very thing by the power of God’s Spirit, who lives within us. In fact the greatest command of Scripture is that we “love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Deut. 6:5; Mark 12:30). So as the gospel has now redeemed our affections from the lesser to the greater, the love we have received from God the Father through Jesus Christ is now the standard by which all of our “loves” or “affections” or “values” are measured.

This is the point, I believe, when Paul appeals to God on behalf of the Ephesians when he says that he prays for them that they “being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17-19, ESV). So for the believer who has tasted the redemptive love of the Lord, that love is the sweetest love and the most satisfying love which trumps all other loves. In other words, being rooted and grounded in that redemptive love that snatched us from a life that would have been certainly wasted on so many lesser loves, we now find the measure by which we are to govern all of our affections and to set all of our priorities. Christ came to save us from wasting our lives and also from wasting our love, in fact so that we might know true love in him. Indeed Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, ESV). But wait, Jesus didn’t just say it, he went on to actually lay down his life, not just for his friends, but explicitly for those who were bent on being his enemies through sin and self-righteousness.

Jesus’ demonstration is an extension of God the Father’s love for the world (“For God so loved the world…” John 3:16). That is to say that his act of love is rooted in the divine attribute of God, namely that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). So God’s attribute of love has now set the standard for all time and for all people. So let me ask you: Have you tasted and experienced the love of God for you? Has his love reached down to the place where you are wallowing in so many lesser loves and rescued you from a life wasted on frivolous passions and delivered you to a life of deep satisfaction in Christ? If the answer to those questions is “yes” then there will be a difference in us. I’ll get to those differences in my next post. But for now, if the answer is “no, I have not tasted the love of God for me personally” then I would like to invite you to Admit your sinfulness before God (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23), recognizing that unless we turn from our sin and confess it that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Believe that Jesus Christ died for your sin and was raised from the dead on the third day understanding that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). If you will admit your sin and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sin then God will do the work of making you a new creation because “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). And what will that new creation look like? It will begin to make us an extension of the grace and love of Christ that we have received. So go ahead and honestly fill in the blank with the name that best fits, the name upon whom you have set your deepest affections: “I most love ________.”

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