Surrendered to God’s Grace

“The eyes of both of them were opened” Genesis 3:7

This is the first time any person ever felt guilt. Adam and Eve’s attempt to cover their guilt was futile. Covering for guilt and the ultimate removal of guilt would require the death of a substitute. Guilt caused them to flee God’s presence instead of coming to Him. Guilt still does this to those who are yet to be forgiven. Those who most vehemently oppose God are the one’s sensing guilt the strongest. Their sin is against God and only He can forgive their sin. To remain just, a satisfactory substitute would have to die. Adam had brought about a fundamental change in his being which must die. Only a new creation could allow him into God’s presence again.

With the guilt came conviction of sin for which Adam and Eve had no remedy but to flee God’s presence. This did nothing to diminish the conviction or remove guilt. Instead of desiring God’s presence they wanted to hide from Him. People who have believed Satan’s lie still prefer to hide from God.

We observe here that God pursued Adam and Eve until He caught up with them. He then gave them opportunity to have a change of heart which they eventually accepted. First they played the blame game. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent but in reality they were both blaming God. This characteristic of fallen people can be readily observed in all spheres of society throughout history and is still very evident today. It is, we accuse, always someone else’s fault!

When they eventually surrendered to the grace of God, God clothed them in animal skins thus picturing the means by which they and all who choose to believe what God has said will be saved. God is still in pursuit of people but sadly most will not heed His words of love, grace and forgiveness. Don’t be among them but be among those who humbly acknowledge their sin against God, turn to face Him and receive His gift of forgiveness. Paul wrote, “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

One who has received the gift of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ will not run away from God when they sin. Having experienced His forgiveness before, they will return to Him whenever they are aware of sin (1 John 1:9). This is a mark of one who has truly chosen to reject Satan’s lie and believe what God has said.

Interest Bearing

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit …”

“Let each of you look out … for the interests of others” Philippians 2:3, 4

The first part of this quote is a description of the character of our world. What we observe is a society that manipulates people, their environment and circumstances for their own personal gain and advancement. Paul makes it clear that this attitude has no place in the Christian life.

Paul exhorts Christians to take an active interest in the welfare (physical and spiritual) of others and gives three examples in this chapter of this principle in action: Jesus, Timothy and Epaphroditus.

Among the saddest words in the Bible must be Paul’s lament, “For all seek their own, not the things which are of Jesus Christ” (v 21). He is writing this of Christians. His experience was that most Christians were living as the world lives, being ambitious for advancement in the world. Paul’s sorrow was that many of the Christians with Him were immersed in the worldly culture around them instead of being immersed in Jesus Christ.

In contrast Epaphroditus had so given himself to ministry that he had become sick. Perhaps in attempting to make up for the lack of other Christians he had overdone it. That is a picture we see frequently in the church. A few give themselves in sacrificial service while the majority care primarily for their own interests.

In Galatians Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (6:2), and also, “For each one shall bear his own load” (6:5). Those who do minister need to be careful that they are not taken advantage of, too much, for too long; otherwise, they may come to a point where they cannot minister at all.

Those who minister need to be careful not to exceed the burden they should carry for another because it may be a burden God has given the other person to achieve His purpose in their lives. In our willingness to serve, we may actually hinder the work of God.

Evidence that Christians are seeking their own interests and not those of others may be seen in the way they evaluate a church. Quite often a church is evaluated on the basis of whether our needs are or will be met. We would do much better to evaluate a church based on prayerful consideration as to whether Christ would have us minister to others in that church. It is not my need that is under consideration, but the need of others.

Only One Reason

“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” John 3:18

Occasionally we meet or hear of someone who is concerned that they have sinned so greatly that they cannot be forgiven or they have committed some sin that is not covered by Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary’s cross. However, the verse above makes it clear that the only reason a person remains condemned is because he or she has not believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

What does it mean to believe in Him? The answer lies in verse sixteen. First we notice God’s love for mankind even though all mankind is born in sin and stands condemned. Verse seventeen says that God did not send His Son to condemn the world. The reason being is that it is already condemned as evidenced by bodily death and the increasing corruption in the world.

We can barely even begin to know the pain and suffering of God by committing His beloved Son to such a horrendous death. It was His love for us that moved Him to do so. “God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We see anguish of soul in parents who tragically lose a child through sickness or accident but that pales in comparison to the suffering of the heart of God.

Truly, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved” (v 17). Sometimes we may think like the disciples who wanted to bring down fire from heaven to destroy the ungodly but Jesus corrected their error. God sent Jesus to save mankind from the existing condemnation. An illustration of this is that of a person in difficulty in the surf at risk of drowning. He is moments away from death with no capacity to save himself. Without outside help he is condemned to drown. Then a surf lifesaver arrives, plucking him from death and returning him to shore.

It is God’s love for already condemned men that sent Jesus Christ to save them. To reject that sacrificial love is to show contempt of that love. Since there is no other way to forgiveness of sin (Acts 4:12) that person remains condemned by their own choice. In Jesus Christ God has provided all that is necessary for forgiveness and salvation. What is required on our part is to receive it as a gift (Romans 6:23). That is why the only reason a person remains condemned is because they have not believed in Jesus Christ. There is no sin so great that the blood of Jesus cannot wash us clean. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

What Kind of Love

“Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” John 20:20

The disciples were behind locked doors fearing for their lives. A few days earlier they had witnessed the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter had denied knowing Jesus and the other disciples had fled when Jesus was taken. The reason for their fear was that they had not listen carefully enough to Jesus words and hence not taken them into calculation. On at least three occasions He told them about His coming death and resurrection.

When Christians fear it is for that same reason – in some matter we have not heard at all, not considered carefully enough, not believed or taken on board, something that Jesus has said. The cure of fear is to draw near to and see the risen Jesus. We have His word to read and consider as often as we desire.

Not many days before His crucifixion and resurrection Jesus said to His disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” and “I will come to you” (John 14:2-3, 18). Somehow these kinds of statements by Jesus were not on their minds while their hearts were in turmoil over His crucifixion and the perceived hostility against themselves.

Our lives will be in turmoil from time to time and we may have fears but just as the disciples were at rest in their souls and were glad in their hearts when they saw Jesus so will we.

What was it that they saw in Jesus that gave them this joy and peace? Was it just because they saw Him alive or was there more? The beginning of the verse gives us the answer: “He showed them His hands and His side” where the nails had penetrated and fixed Him to the cross and where the spear had caused His blood to pour out. When they saw His hands and His side they also saw His sacrificial and unconditional love. That is what brought peace and joy to their hearts.

When we see the nail prints in His hands we see His kind of love. His “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). To know Jesus is to love Him. If we are to experience this peace and gladness we must see Jesus. When we see the kind of love and magnitude of His love written in the nail holes and the gash in His side, we will no longer be in turmoil but trusting Him to care for us and our concerns for eternity. “Behold what manner [kind] of love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).

Vultures and Darkness

“It came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram” (Genesis 15:17, 18).

It is not difficult for us to put ourselves in Abram’s place and to share his experience in this great event in the history of God’s redemptive program. However, there was much that was needed to pave the way for this day. This chapter begins with the words, “After these things …”

There was the first step of obedience by Abram to leave his homeland without knowing his destination. Chapter twelve records his arrival in Canaan. He also had to be separated from his family. Chapter thirteen records his eventual separation from his remaining family member – the worldly Lot.

Abram showed that he wholly trusted the Lord to fulfil His covenant when he rejected the world’s offer of a reward (Genesis 14) and by offering a tithe to Melchizedek, king of Salem. There was still an important experience for Abram to endure, one that we would not desire ourselves but one that we can expect.

In Genesis 15:6 we read that Abram already had God’s righteousness accounted to him so what follows is subsequent to his believing – what we would refer to as subsequent to salvation.

God asked Abram to offer animal blood sacrifices. When they were placed as God commanded, instead of heavenly visions as we might expect, there came vultures. Instead of showers of blessings came the vultures of doubt (v 11). Instead of God’s peace came the thief to steal away that which Abram was offering to the Lord. There was also the great darkness of depression (v 12) that seemed as though it would consume him. We offer ourselves as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) but somehow it doesn’t go to plan and we feel doubt and depression.

The vultures, the deep sleep, the horror of the darkness all made Abram feel absolutely helpless. Doubt and depression may visit us and make us feel helpless. If we did not experience doubt we would not experience having the truth confirmed. If we did not experience the darkness of depression we would not be able to experience the joy of assurance. Out of Abrams’s experience the Lord confirmed all that He had said to him and gave him assurance. God alone passed through the sacrificed animals and Abram knew that the fulfilment of the covenant was based solely on God’s faithfulness and ability.

Our ultimate deliverance from sin and from this fallen world is dependent solely on Jesus Christ. Neither doubts nor fears will prevent Him from delivering us into the presence of the Father. Doubt and depression may at times infiltrate our lives, but they cannot steal away the Gift of God (cf. Romans 8:38-39). Peter writes that we “are kept by the power of God through faith” (1 Peter 1:5).

Fit to Give

“Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king” 1 Samuel 15:23

Saul became king of Israel because the people wanted a king like those of the surrounding nations. The Lord was Israel’s King but they rejected Him and sought one that fitted their desire (1 Samuel 8:7). Not surprisingly, the king of the people’s desire would be like them and also reject the Lord.

King Saul was given the task, under delegated authority from the Lord, to utterly destroy the Amalekites (15:3). This was not a difficult instruction to understand but Saul did what many of us do; he interpreted the instruction to suit his desire rather than take it literally. Consequently he expressed his own initiative by sparing Agag and keeping the best of the flocks and herds.

He may genuinely have believed that he had obeyed the Lord when he stated, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord” (v 13) when in fact he had not fully obeyed. His excuse is also one that is used to this day. He claimed it was to honour God with a better sacrifice (v 15). This was how he and we often justify disobedience. We think we can please God by offering something that we think is better than He has asked.

Saul did not understand his error and insisted that he had performed what the Lord had commanded, “But I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites” (v 20). He did not obey. He brought back Agag. He had not followed the command of the Lord literally but interpreted it in a way that would give him the praise of men.

Can you see that sin subtly captivated his mind so that he really believed that he was obeying the Lord when in fact he was not? We live in a period of church history that must grieve the Holy Spirit greatly. People who claim to belong to Jesus Christ are not taking His word literally but interpreting it such that it gives man at least some of the glory due to the Lord.

Sacrifice of material things has its place but it is never a substitute for obeying the Lord’s will. If the Lord sends us to a task then we must perform it, not pay someone else to do it.  No amount of giving to the church or missions or any other enterprise related to the kingdom of God will substitute for obeying the Lord when sent by Him.

Because King Saul did not take the Lord at His word and perform it he lost the kingdom. If we make the same error we will lose fellowship with Jesus Christ and become ineffectual in His kingdom. “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (v 22). The sacrifice that Lord desires is “a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17) and that we “present our bodies a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). Paul commended the Christians in Macedonia that they “first gave themselves to the lord” (2 Corinthians 8:5) and then they were fit to give material things.

What Kind Matters

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the children of God” 1 John 3:1

When John wrote this he quite likely did so after a lengthy pause to consider the kind of love that God has toward us. In the world there are several kinds of love but this kind of love is uniquely God’s kind of love.

People often express a brotherly kind of love toward each other which occasionally includes acts of self sacrifice. Yet this kind of love is often conditional. If the object of the love does not reciprocate then it may fail.

There is a kind of love that may be better described as lust. Lust means that I must be gratified now; I must have it now. Coveting something that another person has may be the motivation for this kind of love. This is a self-serving kind of love.

The love that parents have for their children is often sacrificial and is evidence that we are created in the image of God. It is limited in its expression to our children and perhaps to grandchildren. Yet even this love can fail.

So that we are in no doubt as to the kind of love God has toward us John states it in verse sixteen: “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.” Paul describes it this way, “God demonstrates His own [kind of] love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” and “Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:8, 6). This is why Jesus can ask us to love our enemies (Luke 6:27-35). When He lives in us we will show this kind of love from the heart – not out of a sense of duty or necessity.

God did not have to make a decision to love us in this way. “God is love” (1 John 4:16). He loves in this way because it is His nature. When His nature abides in us we will also love others in this way, even those who mock us and spit on us as they did the Lord Jesus.

When we know that God has this kind of love toward us we will have no difficulty trusting Him. The evidence that we trust Him is that we obey His word because we know it is for our good. When we do not obey Him we reveal that we doubt his love for us.

We can now see the exceeding sinfulness of unbelief. How could we doubt God’s goodness toward us when the evidence is plain before our eyes that while we were His enemies Jesus died for us?

Behold and meditate on this kind of love that the Father has bestowed on us and then let Him love even our enemies through us. God’s kind of love gives what is rightfully ours to another who previously had no right to it. It will cost us something to benefit another who doesn’t deserve it.