Grace

No regrets (Colossians 3:1-10)

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I find it such a comfort knowing that we have heaven to look forward to after this life. When I feel harassed and don’t have time for things I love to do, I think that I’ll have all of eternity to do those things. When I miss people who have passed on or friends who live far away, I am comforted to know I’ll see them again, and we will have eternity together. When I get frustrated at things in life that are difficult, I know I have eternity to look forward to without those things.

But, we still have to live and get through tough times and the daily struggles we all face. Our most significant comfort and encouragement of all is knowing that Jesus has given us a new identity. He has saved us from our sinful nature and given us a new nature. It’s like he took the old, dirty clothes we were wearing, and he has given us fresh clothes that are clean and new. The change, however, is on the inside. It’s our hearts that he has transformed.

So, in light of this, Paul encourages the Colossians to set their thinking on heavenly things. That is to put Him first in your life and to live a life worthy of his name.

When I think of putting Jesus first in my life, I imagine all areas of my life revolving around him. My thoughts, my priorities, my choices, my actions; I want them all to reflect that he is the one that everything is centred around. I don’t want to make any decisions or do anything without first assessing, “will this please Jesus?”. I don’t want to say Jesus is important to me, but there is no evidence of that in my time spent, my speech and the way I live.

I think it’s essential to look at your priorities and thoughts and ask yourself if they reflect someone whose focus is on things that are important to Jesus or things that the world says are important. They are very different.

You have been given a new life in Jesus. You, with the help of the Holy Spirit, now get to live in a new way. Your Father is the King of Kings, are you living a life worthy of him? In his letter to the Colossians, Paul lists several things that could be lurking in our lives. He is very definite about what to do about them; put them to death, get rid of them, have nothing to do with them.

This side of heaven, we will never be perfect, and we daily have to rely on the grace of Jesus. However, we are being transformed into his likeness as we spend time with him.

When you meet someone who is a Christian, you expect certain things to be true of them. People rub off on us as we spend time together. If we’re spending time with people who are into bad things, it rubs off on us. As we spend time with Jesus, he naturally influences us. We don’t have to try and be more like him; it will just start happening.

There is no better person to emulate. He is everything good. So, take Paul’s advice. Get rid of sin in your life, fix your eyes on Jesus and all that is important to him. It’s a choice you will never regret!

Nadine is one of the elder’s wives at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

The greatest story of all time (Colossians 2:13-15)

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I love watching movies, reading novels, and I like a wide range of genre. I think the common thread is that I love stories. It’s always sad when they end because I want to carry on living in that world for a little longer.

I often find that God shows me things about life and people in movies. I find it helpful to read the Bible, trying to imagine the story or passage I am in as if it was a movie. It makes it so much more real and alive.

The story of our salvation and rescue is the greatest of all time. It’s a love story of the most profound love ever seen. While reading today’s passage, I allowed my imagination to run a little, imagining these verses on a movie set.

I’m sure you can picture a movie you’ve seen where someone is in serious trouble. Maybe the character has done something terrible, and are about to be caught, or perhaps have wronged someone and are about to be found out. Maybe they are in a hostage situation or have been captured, and there seems to be no way out. All you can feel for them is despair and hopelessness. That is our situation before Jesus. No hope, just despair.

Let’s go back to our story. It wouldn’t be a great movie if all it painted were hopelessness and despair. You have to have a hero, a way out, an answer. As the story progresses, solutions get discovered, a hero steps in, or a glimmer of hope shines into the bleakness of the situation.

Jesus is our hero! At this point, my analogy falls flat because he is so much greater and more amazing than any hero we could picture or imagine. He swoops in, cancels all our debt, forgives all our sins, rescues us out of a prison where we thought there was no way out. We were just like that poor person in the movie who had no answers and was about to be found out. All the charges against us have been dropped and cancelled. We were guilty, we deserved no mercy, no way out, BUT God in His mercy loved us too much to leave us in that state.

There’s a sense of justice when the villain gets caught. God didn’t just save and rescue us. He dealt with our enemy. He disarmed him, stripping him of all power towards us and then publicly shaming him with his victory over him on the cross. What a victorious and fantastic way to end the greatest story of all time!

I’ve studied the Bible for many years using a method I heard from John Piper.

I read the passage a couple of times and then ask myself three questions:

  1. What does this passage teach me about God,
  2. What does this passage teach me about myself
  3. And what should I do?

The incredible thing I saw today was that I learnt a lot about God, I learnt a lot about who I was and what I am now, but I couldn’t write anything under “what should I do?” Why? Well, I can’t do anything. Jesus has done it all. It’s all about him and his heroic actions towards me. That’s the gospel, and what we need to remember and meditate on for the rest of our lives.

Nadine is one of the elder’s wives at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Pay It Forward (Philemon 8-21)

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You know, one person’s redemption can become another’s challenge. No sin is unredeemable; no sin trumps God’s lavish grace (Romans 5:20). All sin can be repented of, and all sin will be forgiven if we truly repent (1 John 1:9).

Incredibly good news. But our good news can become another’s challenge!

Years ago in our church, we had a courageous person share about how they had committed adultery and one day God brought them to their knees in repentance so that they confessed their sin and received forgiveness from God.

But this confession of sin, this reaching out for God’s redeeming grace became a challenge for their spouse who now faced a new challenge – the problem of forgiving. 

One person’s redemption can become another’s challenge!

I was in court once supporting a minor who had been sexually abused. The man who had perpetrated the abuse was there near to me. Looking smug, his lawyer was there too… I’m glad I didn’t own a gun that day because I wanted to dish out some instant justice as the sense of righteous indignation pulsed through me.

And then it struck me!

I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to consider; ‘What if this man calls out to God and asks God to forgive him of all his sin? What then? What will be required of me and of those I was supporting? Would Jesus forgive Him if he repented? And how would we have to change our feelings towards him if he approached us having repented?”

I knew the answers to my questions.  

I knew if he repented and called on God for forgiveness, God would forgive him, and in that instant, he would become my brother in Christ. What he had done would not be changed in the slightest, and yet the way I related to him would be challenged in a whole new way…

And this is something like what Philemon faced with Onesimus. Paul wrote to Philemon challenging him to re-think, to forgive & to reconcile with Onesimus.  

For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. (Philemon 15-17)

Paul wanted Philemon to receive him back not as a slave or an employee or as the scum of the earth but to receive him back as a brother in Christ (vs16), loved and honoured because Onesimus had accepted Jesus as his LORD & Saviour (vs17). 

Onesimus had stolen from Philemon (vs18), so Philemon’s sense of having been wronged was understandable and yet the now the strong exhortation of the apostle Paul’s to him was – forgive & reconcile(vs15-18)!

Forgiveness is hard because forgiveness is unfair; it isn’t a response to deserved behaviour but undeserved behaviour. Forgiveness is hard because forgiveness is only necessary when there has been hurt, pain or a wrong committed. Forgiveness is not earned; it’s given.

What a challenge! So how can we grow in forgiveness?

Remind yourself of what you’ve been forgiven:

Unless we see the extent of the grace and mercy of God that has extended to us, we will be unable to extend grace and mercy to others in forgiveness.

Sitting in that court, looking at that man, I realised that without minimising his sin at all, my sin was just as bad as his, different but just as bad. 

Like him, I was rotten to the core, and yet God had saved me! Not because of anything I had done or managed to not do, but purely because of His infinite grace and mercy. I sat there realising that God had justified me – the ungodly (see Romans 4:5). God did not justify me because I deserved it but purely because of His goodness and grace.  I was no different from that man; I needed grace as much as he did.

And that realisation is the foundation on which forgiveness is built. We are to forgive others’ just as in Christ God forgave you’ (Ephesians 4:32). 

Paul wanted Philemon to recognise God’s gracious work of redemption in Philemon’s life SO THAT he would see that extending grace and forgiveness to Onesimus was what God required from him now.

Paul writes to him; 

“If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.” (Philemon 18-19)

Philemon is reminded that he owes God (and Paul) everything. So before he demands pay-back or withholds forgiveness from Onesimus, Philemon should pause and consider how God has treated him.

In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus connects our being forgiven by God with our forgiving of others! And in Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus similarly taught through a story of how serious unforgiveness on our part is when we have been forgiven by God! I believe Philemon knew the weight with which Paul was writing when He urged Philemon to forgive and to be reconciled to Onesimus.

Brothers and sisters, when we see the grace of God extended to us, it fills our ‘grace/mercy tank’ enabling us to then pay it forward and share the grace of God we have received with others, SO THAT we can be restored in our relationships with one another.

Application:

  • Who’s your Onesimus?
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to freshly reveal to you the depth and depravity of your own sin which God has forgiven you for.
  • Now, prayerfully move towards forgiving your Onesimus as God in Christ forgave you.

#SinlessSinBearingSaviour&Advocate (1 John 1:5-10 & 2:1-6)

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Do you like torches? I do, always have been fascinated by how this small device can illuminate a path or space. Go into any camping shop, and you’ll agree by the array of choice of torches and lights that others share my interest in a good bright torch. Light displaces darkness, and something in us really likes that.

A dim light might be insufficient to light up a whole room, and so conditions can exist in which darkness and light seem to cohabit. However, even with just one light bulb, most average-sized rooms are lit up, and darkness flees.

Not to mention how every morning the Sun rises in blazing glory banishing the night across an entire swathe of the globe north to south all at once. Light displaces darkness; darkness cannot exist in the presence of light. There is no struggle, just darkness receding when the light appears.

John says, God is light (vs5) – a light on another magnitude entirely! John doesn’t say God is like light or like the Sun, rather light is God’s essence, His very nature.  And because God is greater than my torch or a light bulb, greater than the Sun in all its brilliance, because of the greatness of God’s light – there is no darkness in God at all (vs5).

Describing God as ‘light’, is John’s way of explaining that God is entirely and utterly holy, sinless, blameless, pure.

All of which leads us to vs6. The apostle John says to you and I – that just like darkness can not cohabit with light of any significance, so too you and I can not claim to be ‘following Jesus’ or ‘walking with God’ if we lie and do not practice the truth if we are living a life of sin and compromise (darkness).

Light dispels darkness, so if we are living a lifestyle of sin and darkness, then the truth is we are not walking with God, we are far off from the brilliance of His light.

I urge you at the start of this year to reconsider your lifestyle, your patterns of behaviour and thoughts your rhythms and habits. It’s all too common to find believers in Jesus who claim to be following Jesus, and yet their lives reveal the truth.

The apostle John sounds a warning, that it is ridiculous to claim to walk with God and yet to live as though God’s moral commands and imperatives are optional or unimportant.

But John knows the human condition and John knows the Gospel. No one can claim to have no sin in them – not one (vs8). According to Tim Keller the Gospel is that;

‘We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we dared to believe, yet at the very same time, we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.’ – Tim Keller

So we have a problem. God is holy, and we are not – we need a Saviour! God is light, and in Him, there is no darkness at all, and darkness and light cannot cohabit, and we are dark in our sinfulness! So what are we to do?

Enter the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

‘The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin’ (vs7). Which then makes it possible for us to ‘confess our sins’ (vs9) trusting that God will respond to our confession and our trust in Jesus’ saving work and will forgive us of our sins and to make us clean, holy, pure, light (vs9). And so because of this work of Jesus, we can have fellowship with God who is holy. What a Saviour!

What darkness is there in your life at present? What sin are you involved in? Don’t lie that what you are doing is not sin and don’t grovel either that you have sinned.  Rather confess, acknowledge to God your sin and ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin and to make you clean again. Then walk free of it, live in the light, makes changes to your life pattern and walk with God thanking Him always for this amazing gift of forgiveness because of the cross of Christ.

Consider this, who is God faithful too in vs9 when it says; ‘he (God) is faithful’?

You could think God is faithful to you because you confessed your sin and trusted in Jesus to be forgiven. However, I believe John is saying that God is faithful and just to Jesus. How so?

Because God’s righteous, holy wrath was satiated by Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the cross in our place for our sin (1 John 2:1-2), it would be unjust for God to punish us for sins Jesus paid for already!

So, God is faithful to Jesus, honours Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice for us every time we ask for forgiveness. Next time you need forgiveness, worship Jesus for making forgiveness possible and thank God the Father for being faithful and just to Jesus – which makes your forgiveness possible and glorifies Jesus again and again.

‘My little children’ – says John (1 John 2:1). He urges them to not sin but knows that they will at times sin, and so assures them that we have one who argues our case on our behalf in the heavenly realms – Jesus our advocate, Jesus the righteous (2:2), Jesus the one who took the penalty of our sin away (2:3). What assurance, what good news!

How now shall we live in response?

Don’t deny that you do struggle with sin & don’t continue living in sin. Aim to live free of sin (2:1), aim to keep Jesus moral commands (2:3-4), aim to follow the counsel of His Word (2:5), make your goal to follow Him in the way that you live (2:6), and confess your sins when you do sin and receive His forgiveness (1:9).

A Salvation Story

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Why is the birth of Jesus so important?

I think many people cherish Christmas for different reasons. The unbelievers will be excited because it is a time where families come together and gifts are opened. Christians might feel that Christmas is important as it is Jesus’s birthday and it is important to celebrate the birth of someone special in your life.

You see, the birth of Jesus Christ was not like the birth of anyone else. We do not only celebrate the birth of Jesus because this is the day He was born. No, we celebrate the birth of Jesus because of what it means to us and the world around us.

What does the angel say to the shepherds in the midst of the glory of God? (Verse 10 and 11)

Verse 10: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”

Now what is this great joyous news?

Verse 11: “For unto you is born this day..a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” 

This is the reason the multitudes of heavenly hosts praised God by saying “glory to God in the highest”; for it is by God’s gracious mercy that He sent His son, His only son, that we might be saved. Oh, how He loves us!

This, I believe, is the main reason why the shepherds walked away from the birth of Jesus by “glorifying and praising God”. Jesus, the Messiah, the Saviour of Israel, the one everyone has been prophesying about for thousands of years, was born!

I don’t know about you, but I have too many times before only celebrated Christmas by rejoicing in the birth of Christ and not also in what His birth has meant for me. 

Salvation is possible because God decided to send His Son! Hallelujah ! Praise the Lord !

Leadership note:

As we celebrate the birth of Christ today, let us also thank God for the reason He sent his son to us. Take some time out of your day to sit down for 5 minutes and focus on the real reason for Christmas: Jesus Christ. Do not let another Christmas slip away without doing as the shepherds did, for when they heard the news they went hastily to God. Go to Him for He is worthy to be praised, salvation is in his name!

Rejoice

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Growing up in a household where gifts were opened up on the evening of the 24th , I remember experiencing this uncontainable excitement of what was to come. It felt like years had passed before I could finally open up the gifts under the Christmas tree and experience the joy that it brought.

In the same manner, there was great excitement surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God was at work in the hearts of Elizabeth, Mary and John. It was as if the Spirit of God could not contain the excitement. Mary is overcome with joyful praise, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and John leaps for joy in the womb. This wonderful “hoorah!” moment is all under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

What a beautiful example of how we should worship God “in Spirit and in truth!’ These individuals were totally overcome by the Holy Spirit and it was the Holy Spirit within them that was ultimately worshipping God. They were being led by the Spirit.

John 4: 24: ‘God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Phillipians 3:3: ‘..we who worship by the Spirit of God…’

Sometimes we do not know what to say or how to pray but the Holy Spirit within us knows, He is our Helper (John 14:26) and without Him it is impossible to follow God as He enables us to do the will of God so no one might boast.

It is quite remarkable what is being revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. Mary is told in verse 35 that the boy will be called the Son of God and in verse 43 the Holy Spirit gives Elizabeth a revelation of who Jesus is:

Verse 43: ‘And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’

This baby boy has not even been born yet and Elizabeth believes, because of what the Holy Spirit has revealed to her. She believes not because she has seen miracles or heard fancy teachings, but because of the work of the Holy Spirit within her. I thank the Lord for the working of the Holy Spirit in us, so we too are able to believe.

Leadership Note:

My prayer is that we will allow the Holy Spirit to put Christ at the centre of our Christmas celebrations. That we will not miss him in between family time, cooking and socialising, but that He will once more be celebrated as our biggest gift.

May we burst into praise like Mary, be continuously filled by the Holy Spirit like Elizabeth and leap for joy like John this Christmas!

It’s always good to read to the end of the Book… (Hosea 14:1-8)

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I remember encountering the short story genre in senior school with Jeffrey Archer’s, “A Twist in the Tale”. You needed to read to the end of each story to work out what the whole story was about.

Hosea is something like that. If you had stopped reading Hosea a few chapters back, you might have reached an inaccurate, premature conclusion about God.

You might have felt that the God portrayed in these pages of this prophetic book seems too far removed from the God on the pages of the New Testament.

But Hosea 14, however, is a clear demonstration of the fact that God has never changed and never will (Malachi 3:6). The God of Scripture has always been the God of grace.

Hosea 14 begins with the frequent OT refrain; “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God” (Hosea 14:1). God’s harsh words through the prophet have been justified at every point, and yet the heart of God is that His people would recognise their sin and repent, that they would repent and return to God.

God, through the prophet, invites Israel to ask God to forgive them, ‘to take away all iniquity’ (Hosea 14:2). God appeals to Israel to say to God;

  • Assyria (humankind) will not save us (vs3)
  • Abandon faith in false gods and human-made idols (vs3)
  • Say that you will never bow down to these idols again (vs3)
  • Say that in God alone will we find mercy (vs3)

And then God will respond saying;

  • ‘I will heal you of your faithlessness my love will know no bounds for my anger will be gone forever’ (Hosea 14:4 in the NLT)
  • I will refresh Israel like a refreshing dew from heaven causing flowers and fruitfulness (vs5)
  • I will be like shade to Israel, and so Israel will flourish again like the vine I originally intended it to be (vs7)
  • ‘O Israel, stay away from idols! I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you.’ (Hosea 14:8 in NLT)
  • At the end of the book of Hosea, what is clear is that the desire in the heart of God is for His people to choose to repent so that they can return to Him. God wants to forgive; God wants to lavish His love that knows no bounds on them. That is His desire to lavish love on us.
  • The question is, will we repent, will we stop our sinful ways and love and worship God only? Only we can respond to God’s invitation – I urge you to respond and to keep responding to God daily.

    Third Day People (Hosea 6:1-11)

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    Old Testament prophecies are a little like onions in that they often have layers of meaning. They meant something in that day to those people; they often prefigure Jesus the Messiah in some way, they often have direct application in our lives in the present and sometimes they have an as yet unfulfilled future relevance too.

    Hosea 6:1-3 is one of those portions of OT prophecy that from our perspective in redemption history suddenly takes on a fuller meaning.  

    “Come let us return to the LORD” – vs1

    God’s repeated call to His people is that they would reach this point, that they would come to their senses and would return to the ONE who had covenanted to love them. Here the prophet includes himself and appeals to Israel to join him in returning to the LORD.

    The good news of the Gospel is this – is it not? God has openly displayed His love for us; God has made it possible for us to have our sins forgiven so that we could return to Him and be reconciled through faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.

    Have you sinned? Confess your sin and then return to God through Jesus Christ, your Saviour King.

    ‘For he has torn us, that he may heal us…’ (vs1)

    God has punished Israel’s sin, purifying Israel so that healing could come to them. God justly struck them down, but God will bind them up…

    Israel was punished for their sin; they were struck down; some were killed; they were exiled.  

    We too deserve the wrath of God against our sin, our compromise and rebellion against God. And yet God doesn’t strike us!

    No. God allowed Jesus’ back to be torn by whips, ripped open by the rough wood of the cross. God allowed Jesus to be killed in our place for our sin. This all happened to Jesus so that it won’t happen to us, to those who put their trust in Jesus. Jesus was struck, we get bound up, healed by His finished work on Calvary.

    “On the third day…” (vs2)

    The prophet announced to Israel that although their sin was about to be punished, it would not last forever and they would be revived. Hosea and the people of his day could not have known what all was contained in these words of the prophet.

    But we know the story. We know that Jesus died but ‘after two days’ (vs2), ‘on the third day’ (vs2) God raised Jesus up just like Hosea prophecied!

    Jesus was struck for our iniquities, but He rose again victorious. Not even death could hold him down and because Jesus rose again from the dead we too who believe in Him have His resurrection life in us.

    This all happened so that; ‘we may live before Him.’ (vs3). This is the Gospel, hidden in the pages of OT prophecy. Jesus took on Himself the punishment that was ours and rose again victorious on the third day SO THAT we might be forgiven of our sin, cleansed from all our unrighteousness and be reconciled back to right relationship with our Holy God.

    We are a ‘third day people’. We have hope because Jesus died and rose again on the third day. It was foretold about 740yrs before Jesus Christ – this was God’s gracious plan all along.

    ‘Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD’ (vs3)

    All that Jesus did for us is worth nothing unless we take hold of the opportunity God has given us and press on, press in to know the LORD.

    Jesus has removed every obstacle, removed the sin that separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2); there is no reason why we ought to be far off from God. We can know Him.

    But will we? Will we remain far off or will we press on to know God intimately, deeply?

    About 28years ago, my Father in law was once asked by my friend who had recently given his life to Jesus on a youth camp; ‘Jeff, pray that I would know God better.’  

    To this, Jeff replied; ‘I can’t pray that!’  

    My friend (and I) were horrified at his seemingly unloving response. Then he said words that I have never forgotten; ‘I can’t pray that you would know God better, that’s up to you. But I can, and I will pray that you will WANT to know God better.’ And so he did, and now that friend leads one of the most significant churches in Cape Town South Africa.

    Do you know Jesus? Let us press on to know the LORD! The more we know, the more we will love and worship Him.

    Costly Love (Hosea 3:1-5)

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    How long was Gomer waywardly unfaithful to Hosea? We don’t know exactly, but it was long enough to have conceived and weaned two children – so presumably a minimum of 4-5yrs!

    All that time, Hosea must have cycled through the whole exhausting range of conflicted emotions. Then God spoke to the prophet; “And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and loves cakes of raisins.” (Hosea 3:1)

    This woman who is not named, who is not even called Hosea’s wife she is so estranged relationally from him (see Hosea 2:2), is still rightfully understood to be his wife Gomer for this is the dominant illustration of the book.

    And yet God commands Hosea to love her again. Since this is what God does to us, His people, loves us even when we are unlovely.

    Hosea obediently goes and buys his wife back from some form of slavery or bondage she has gotten herself into. The fact that Gomer had to be purchased back reveals the desperate situation she has sunk into. No detail is given as to how she got into this situation but for Hosea to reconcile her back to him would cost him the guiltless one.

    Forgiveness always precedes true reconciliation, and forgiveness always costs the one who was wronged.

    Hosea’s having to pay a ransom price to be able to be reconciled with his wife foreshadows what it cost God to be reconciled back to right relationship with us wayward sinners (Rom. 5:6–11).

    God was going to purify Israel through exile in a foreign land – a time when they would have no king of their own. In exile, they would be removed from what had become their everyday idolatry so prevalent in the Northern Kingdom during the years preceding this. (Hosea 3:4)

    But after that appointed time, Israel would; ‘return and devote themselves again to the LORD their God and to David’s descendant, their king’ (Hosea 3:5 in NLT). God would reconcile them to Himself after this time of exile. The wayward tribes of the Northern Kingdom who had been in rebellion against God’s appointed line of kings will have to return to be included in the covenant promises to David’s line and the ultimate King of kings who will come from that line – King Jesus!

    What does this mean for us today?

    • God is patient, merciful and forgiving!
    • God loved us and still loves us even when we are unlovely & ungodly.
    • God wants a real relationship, a loving, committed relationship with us, and because of that God paid the ransom price by sending Jesus the Son to die on the cross in our place for our sin SO THAT we could be freed from the penalty of our slavery to sin and be reconciled back to right relationship with God.
    • What a love story! What a King, what a Saviour. Worship and love Him with all you have for He is worthy.

    The Tale of Two Hills (Psalm 24)

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    The God of Psalm 24 is almighty (vs10), glorious (vs7), Holy (vs3) and He owns everything on the planet – because He made it all! (vs1)

    So who can approach this God? Who can ascend His hill, or enter into His presence?

    • Only those who like Him are holy and pure (vs3).  
    • Only those of who have ‘clean hands and a pure heart’ (vs4).  
    • Only those who have never been deceitful or lied to anyone (vs4)

    But who can truly claim such things? Who could honestly claim that they have not done anything or even thought anything sinful or impure? No one can – not even one.

    So no one then can ascend Almighty God’s hill.  Our sin has separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2). No one can approach Him on their own merit.

    But praise God, there was another hill that was ascended for us! Jesus, God Himself ascended Golgotha’s hill leading to his death on the cross on our behalf.  

    And because Jesus ascended that hill for us, because Jesus was like us in every way and yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), and because Jesus gave His life as a ransom to pay the price for our sin in our place…

    Because of that, because He ascended that hill for us now, we who have put our trust in Him can ascend the hill of Almighty God with confidence.

    Our hands were not clean, and our hearts were not pure, but Jesus made us clean, spotless and pure by His substitutionary sacrifice for us, which took our sin away when we believed in Him.

    So now, we can walk right into the holy of holies, stand at peace before the King of all the earth (Romans 5:1). Our hope is not in our righteousness but in His; we stand now secure as God’s children, those who belong in our Father’s presence – amazing grace!

    It’s the tale of two hills. It’s the incredible story of our Saviour’s love for us.

    God’s Delight (Psalm 18:1-19)

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    ‘I love You, O LORD, my strength’ (vs1)

    What a relief, what joy to be able to declare that God is our strength! What a relief to not have to try to be strong, to not have to seek to hold it all together. Yahweh is our strength, and for that, we love Him (vs1)

    Yahweh is our strength in that He is our rock, our strong, immovable foundation, Yahweh is our fortress the strong tower into which we can run and find refuge in times of danger. Yahweh is also a shield defending us from the attacks of the enemy (vs2).

    Yahweh is my strength because He is the one I can call on and call out to for help (vs3) when desperate situations or challenges greater than my strength present themselves (vs4-5).

    Yahweh is my strength because when I cry to Him, He hears and recognises my voice from His holy temple (vs6). And so my cries are not in vain.

    Yahweh rips open the heavens to respond to my cries for help; He rides the wind and thunders on my behalf (vs7-19)!

    And why does Yahweh act in such a way?

    “He rescued me, because He delighted in me.” (vs19)

    What astounding words. That the God of angel armies, the LORD most high, the Alpha and Omega delights in me! God takes pleasure in me in us.

    I know myself. I know my limitations, my failings, my weakness and my sin, and yet You delight in me. Psalm 18:19 helps us to understand Hebrews 12:2 which explains the motivation in Jesus’ heart as He looked upon the cross;

    Jesus, ‘who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

    Psalm 18 depicts Jahweh his strength saving him from his temporal earthly enemies. But the great enemy and the greater eternal salvation for you and for me who have believed in Jesus is that we are saved eternally from our enemies of sin, shame, satan & death because of Jesus.

    Why did Jahweh do this? Because He delighted in me, in us. Scripture is clear that it was God’s love for us that caused the Father to send the Son (John 3:16) so that He could have the joy of having us in heaven with Him forever and ever (Revelation 21:3).

    LORD, thank you for choosing to love me, despite me, for loving me enough to send Jesus to make a way to cleanse me from my sin so that I would be in close relationship with you forever.

    And if You did this massive thing in saving me, I am sure that there is nothing in this life, nothing on this earth that you will not rescue me from (Romans 8:32).

    ‘I love You, O LORD, my strength!’ (Psalm 18:1)

    Salvation: It’s believing not sincerity or morality that saves! (Romans 10:1-10)

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    Sincerity is not enough for salvation. It is possible to be sincere and yet sincerely wrong. Paul desires & prays that religious Jewish people who are in fact lost, might be saved.

    He knows that many of them are sincerely zealous and yet simultaneously spiritually ignorant of the true Gospel. Because of this ignorance of the right relationship that is possible by grace through faith in Jesus – such people try to attain their own righteousness through human effort and law-keeping, which will never lead them to salvation.

    But Jesus is the end of the law (Romans 10:4), both in the sense that He has fulfilled the law and also that through Him, God has announced a righteousness that is apart from the law (Romans 3:21). Paul is passionate about the salvation of his fellow Jews, sincerely religious people, who sadly are putting their faith in the wrong thing – in their own righteousness, their own law-keeping ability, their own morality which Paul knows is futile and will not lead to salvation. Only faith in Jesus will.

    Personal reflection:

    Paul was living with an earnest and intense passion and longing that people would come to faith in Jesus Christ. This passion directed his life; it informed his decisions and ultimately led him to massive self-sacrifice. Is the Gospel and the salvation of those you know, those you are near to a directing passion in your life? Does the Gospel feature highly in your decision-making process and your priorities? Spend some time reflecting and speaking to God about this.

    The Gospel is simply this;

    “…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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

    • Anyone (Romans 10:4) who confesses these things will be saved.
    • Anyone who confesses or acknowledges WHO JESUS really is – God
    • Because they’ve believed that to be true in their heart
    • Anyone who believes WHAT Jesus did in dying & rising again for them will be saved.
    • They will be justified, declared righteous before God!
    • On the basis of WHO they believed in (Jesus) & WHAT they believed Jesus did for them on the cross.

    Sincere religious people do not go to heaven, sincere morally good people do not go to heaven – believers in Jesus do.

     

     

    God: Free to Choose (Romans 9:16-29)

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    In Romans 9:1-16, we learnt that God is mercifully sovereign in choosing anyone to be His people.

    (Romans 9:16-18): God’s sovereign choice of actions is not limited. God works in all of human history; God even works through evil despots for the purpose of His will – “that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (vs17). God is free as the sovereign One to have mercy on those He chooses to and to harden whomever He wishes for the broader purpose of His will.

    God is not unjust in acting in this way. After all, as Paul demonstrated in the early chapters of his letter, that all human beings are sinful and guilty in God’s sight (3:9,19&23), nobody deserves to be saved or chosen by God. “Therefore, if God hardens some, He is not unjust, for that is what their sin deserves.” – John Stott

    (Romans 9:19): But if God is so much in control and since we cannot resist His will – then the question arises; “How can God find anyone guilty?” The answer to this question completes the verses of the chapter.

    (Romans 9:20–23): Scripture never defends God’s sovereign free will to choose to show mercy or to express His righteous wrath and to still hold people accountable for their sin. Instead, Scripture insists that we, as finite human beings, are totally out of order rebelliously questioning God’s ways! When we do so, we are like the clay disrespectfully calling the potter to account for his actions in choosing to make what He wanted to out of the clay. “God created a world in which both his wrath and his mercy would be displayed. Indeed, his mercy shines against the backdrop of his just wrath, showing thereby that the salvation of any person is due to the marvellous grace and love of God. If this is difficult to understand, it is because people mistakenly think God owes them salvation! ” (ESV Study Bible)

    (Romans 9:24-29): In his grace and mercy, God has called people to himself from both the Jews and the Gentiles just as He promised He would do through the prophet Hosea (Hosea 2:23 & 1:10). God did this to illustrate His stunning undeserved grace. All people who are called by God are sinful underserving people; God has shown His grace to the Gentiles just as He showed His grace to Israel by saving them and choosing them as His own even though they were all undeserving. Anyone being chosen by God for mercy and not wrath is pure mercy on the part of God!

    (vs27-29) Remember that not all of ethnic Israel was saved, or were truly God’s people, but only a remnant was the true Israel of God as was prophesied in Isaiah 10:22–23 and experienced salvation and not God’s judgement (Isaiah 1:9).

    Are you battling with some of what’s revealed about God in Romans 9? Ask yourself why you’re battling? Is not all of Scripture God-breathed and useful to teaching and rebuking us (2 Timothy 3:16)? Are you not in danger of being the clay screaming at the potter about what ought and ought not to be? We need to be so careful that we do not elevate our thoughts or questions above the revelation of Scripture in such a way that we end up judging Scripture rather than allowing Scripture to interrogate our hearts and minds!

    Spurgeon once said when asked about defending the Bible;

    “Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it, and it will defend itself.”

    This is the revelation of Scripture regarding God’s sovereign merciful free will in choosing some and not others to be saved. May we, may I humble ourselves grateful that God elected to choose to show mercy to us and may we rejoice in His gracious choice and worship Him for His mercy.

    Questions for Reflection:

    1. What does this passage teach me about God & faith?
    2. What does this teach me about myself, what is God saying to me?
    3. What should I do as a result?

    God’s Merciful Choosing (Romans 9:1-16)

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    Background

    Remember that this book of Romans was written to the multicultural church in Rome working out how to be united in Christ despite their diversity.

    • Romans 1-3:20 outlined the common problem of sin.
    • Romans 3:21-5:21 revealed God’s solution, a righteousness that comes by grace through faith in Jesus!
    • Romans 6-8 unpacks the believer’s new relationship with the flesh, sin, Satan, the law & our new position & experiences as God’s children, empowered by the Holy Spirit and Romans 8 ends with promises of the future for all those who believe in Jesus.
    • The question which Paul now addresses in chapters 9–11 is whether the promises God made to Israel will still be fulfilled? This is important because if God’s promises to the Jews remain unfulfilled, how can Gentile Christians be sure that God will fulfil the great promises to all believers that conclude chapter 8?

    ———————————————–

    (Romans 9:1-5): As a Jew himself, Paul expresses anguish over the many Jews who reject the good news about Jesus the Messiah. He would rather be personally cut off from Christ if that would change the situation. The Israelites were an honoured people; God chose them; they experienced God’s glory; they received God’s covenant promises, the Law & God’s instructions on worshipping Him. The heroes of the faith were Jewish, and so was Jesus the Messiah – they are a blessed people!

    (Romans 9:6): Yet the vast majority of Israelites have not believed in Jesus, but this is not because God’s word has failed in some way; instead, it is because of God’s purposes in election.

    (Romans 9:7-13): Paul shows how the true Israel (God’s children) have always been not an ethnic group but rather those God elected (God chose).

    • Isaac & Ishmael were both children of Abraham, but God chose only Isaac
    • Jacob and Esau were both children of Isaac, but God chose only Jacob and did so not because of anything good in Jacob (vs11)
    • God did this so that His purposes in election (choosing) might stand (vs11).
    • We are saved (become God’s people) not by works or by ethnicity but by the sovereign choice of God (vs11).

    (Romans 9:14-16): But is God unjust in choosing in this way? “By no means!” (vs14). God is sovereign and free. No one deserves God’s mercy; no one deserves God’s choosing of them. God revealed Himself to Moses, saying; “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” God doesn’t need to answer to anyone regarding why He has acted as He has.

    Salvation for the believer depends not on the will of human beings or the effort of human beings, but totally on God the merciful one (vs16).

    If you are a believer in Jesus, then you have been chosen by God (adopted by God as we learnt from Romans 8)! You have been included in the great family of faith, the people of God, the children of Abraham, the children of promise. All of this was the plan and the purpose of God who has been merciful to you in choosing you in this way so that He might be glorified as the One who chooses.

    Questions for Reflection:

    1. What does this passage teach me about God & faith?
    2. What does this teach me about myself, what is God saying to me?
    3. What should I do as a result?

    The Gift of Grace (Romans 4:4-5)

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    Imagine the scene. You’ve worked your first month in your new job. You feel like you put your best foot forward, did all that was required of you, didn’t mess anything up. You know you worked hard, put in some extra hours wanting your new boss to be happy with the new hire!

    It’s payday, and you get called into the office, presumably to collect your first payslip. It feels good, you know you earned it, and as you walk to your boss’s office, your mind is already thinking ahead a little spoil – maybe some dinner out or something.

    As you enter their office though you’re a little taken aback, as they stand up to greet you with the words; “Phil, I have a gift for you!” They say as they hand you your payslip all wrapped in ribbons. A gift? No mate, I earned that. That’s not a gift, that’s my wages, that’s what I worked so hard for, that’s what you owe me – you think to yourself as you smile and stretch out to receive your payslip.

    Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. (Romans 4:4-5)

    Paul is at pains here to show us that the righteousness that is from God (Romans 3:21) is not a reward for good behaviour or hard work. Our salvation is not God responding to something good or deserving in us.

    On the contrary, our salvation is a work of God, despite us and in spite of what we have done and or not done. God saves the person who didn’t work to earn God’s forgiveness. God saves the person who ‘believes in Him who justifies the ungodly’ (vs5).

    Tim Keller says; “And what is the gospel? It is that you are so lost and flawed, so sinful, that Jesus had to die for you, but that you are also so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for you. Now you are fully accepted and delighted in by the Father, not because you deserve it but only by free grace.”

    God saves, God justifies the ungodly vs5 says! Jesus similarly said He came to help the sinner (Matthew 9:13) & the lost (Luke 19:10) not those who thought they did not need him! God saves ungodly people, not good people. As Angus Buchan says; “good people don’t go to heaven, believers in Jesus do.”

    Friend, throw off all attempts to earn God’s favour or forgiveness! It can’t be done. That’s not how the righteousness of God is obtained. You can’t earn it, won’t ever deserve it. The only way to be made right with God is to receive God’s GIFT of salvation and forgiveness by believing in Jesus Christ, in His life, death & resurrection for you.

    This gift of salvation is the most glorious gift of grace. And if you’ve ever given someone a massive gift, you’ll know that God doesn’t want you to now feel indebted, doesn’t want you to try to pay Him back, but rather is most honoured when you thank Him, appreciate the gift and love Him who paid the price for that gift.

    Is your confidence in yourself or in the majestic goodness of God’s grace?
    Repent of any pride of self-righteousness & revel in the glory of grace.