Sin

Sharp Contrast

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The Gospel explained in three verses.  Verses 16, 18 & 36 of chapter 3 of John’s gospel present a full and clear picture of the Gospel hope that we have in Jesus and the desperate situation of those who reject Jesus.

‘For God so loved the world(vs16)

The good news Jesus introduces here is news that would have been radical to the Jewish hearer – that God so loved, not just Israel but the whole world.   God had foretold of this widening of His blessing to encompass the whole world when He covenanted to bless Abraham and that Abraham in turn would bless all the familes of the earth.  The prophets had prophesied about this too like when Zechariah prophesied about the future incarnation of Christ and the impact this would have on the nations not just Israel;

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord.  And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. (Zechariah 2:10-11)

‘that whoever believes in Him(vs16)

The offer is as wide as can be, it is to anyone, to whosoever.  But the offer is not without condition.  The condition for all people, whoever they are, is that they must believe.  They must have faith in or put their trust in Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

‘should not perish but have eternal life(vs16)

The result of believing in Jesus is that the believer can be assured that they will not be die/perish or be destroyed in the judgement to come but will enter into perpetual/eternal/everlasting/forever life!

‘Whoever believes in Him is not condemned(vs18)

All those who believe in Jesus are not and will not be condemned.  They will not be judged or damned by God the righteous judge.

‘but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God’ (vs18)

In sharp contrast is the current and future position anyone is in who does not believe in Jesus.  There is no nuetral ground here.  Our post-modern pluralistic world likes to make space for and validate every perspective but that is not the teaching of Scripture.  As inclusive as the ‘whoever’ is positively in vs16, that same ‘whoever’ is now inclusive of all who do not believe.

All who do not believe are at this very moment condemned by God!  They are in the most dangerous position imaginable right now and will be into eternity if there is no change.  They will be damned by God because they rejected God’s only Son whom God lovingly sent to save them from their sinful condition and consequences.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.’ (vs36)

Re-iterating what He has already said, Jesus repeats the wide offer that anyone may believe in Him and that those who believe already have in this life entered into the eternal life only He can give us.   The Christ follower is not waiting for something that is only future but enters into real life now in this present age already.

However, again in sharp contrast whoever disbelieves/not believes/is disobedient/obeys not/is unbelieving will not experience this life that’s possible now or into eternity because their position is that the justifiable righeous indignation of the Holy One remains on them now and forever.

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All are invited to believe, all who believe will be forgiven and be given life eternal now and forevermore all because of Jesus’ life, death & resurrection, because of the love of Father God.  And yet not all will believe, and those who reject Jesus are right now in this present moment condemned already and have the wrath of God focussed on them.

May we who have already believed, tirelessly take this kind offer God’s made to ALL so that whoever believes will be forgiven, saved & will receive everlasting life now and forever.

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How to handle persistent sin (2 Thessalonians 3:6-18)

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How should a community of believers (a church) treat someone in their community who is persistently disregarding the clear instructions on how to live a God honouring life?

These people Paul is referring to have been persistently disregarding the apostles teaching on what a right response to the gospel looks like in life.  This person or group of people had already been urged to change through his first letter (1 Thessalonians 5:14), and are disregarding the life modelled by the apostles (vs7-8) & the apostles teaching (vs10).

So how should we handle such a person, where there is disregard for the clear will of God in terms of some serious misbehaviour?  2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 gives us five practical guidelines on when, why and how discipline should be exercised:

(These 5 points are inspired by John Stott’s commentary on Thessalonians)

  1. The need for discipline arises when there is consistent deliberant disobedience to the plain teaching of Scripture.  The issue is not ignorance regarding God’s will, but a disregard for God’s will and a disregard of the appeals of the community of faith.
  1. The nature of the discipline which was required by the apostle was a measure of social exclusion because softer approaches had been disregarded already by the person(s).  Discipline should start soft and private, but becomes more more insistent and public in nature if people persist in their disobedience to God’s revealed will. Persistent unreported of disobedience should result in some degree of exclusion (‘not to be associated with’ see vs6 & 14), the congregation was to ‘take note of that person’ and together to not ‘mingle or associate with’ them (vs14).  The phrase used can have differing degrees of exclusion, ranging from total separation (as in 2 Corinthians 5:9-13) to more moderate avoidance of free and familiar fellowship (as at Thessalonica) according to John Stott.
  1. The responsibility for administering discipline to a persistent offender belongs to the congregation as a whole. Paul does not address his instructions merely to the elders of the Thessalonian church.  Leaders may need to take the initiative, but then a corporate response is needed by the whole church membership.
  1. The spirit in which discipline is to be administered must be friendly, not hostile. It is to be done ‘gently’ (see Galatians 6:1-2).  In 2 Thessalonians we find the apostle saying; ‘Do not regard him as an enemy’ (15a) rather the spirit here is to, ‘warn him as a brother’ (15b).
  1. The purpose of this discipline is positive and constructive. Although being excluded will result in shame (vs14b), the intention however is not destructive but meant to cause the person(s) to come to their senses, see the seriousness of their sin and repent.  John Stott says; “Paul’s intention is not that he be excluded from the community, but reinstated in it.”  We remember that Jesus’ instructions on this matter was that our desire should be that we could win our brother/sister back, be reconciled (Matthew 18:15-17)!

What does God want?(2) (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8)

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[If you didn’t read yesterday’s devotional I would urge you to look first at part (1)…]

When you think about your salvation, God’s having chosen to save you from your sins, have you ever paused to think ‘why’?  Why did God save you?  What was God wanting?

We know that God went to extreme lengths in order to rescue us from our sin, but why did God do it.  Our salvation cost Jesus His life as He chose to lay it down for us, our salvation cost the Father immensely too as the Father willingly punished His one and only beloved Son in our place and for our sin – so why did God do it?

Every person who has believed in Jesus was called by God out of darkness and into Jesus’ marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9).  But what did God have in mind when He called each one of us?

We know already from 1 Thessalonians 4:3 that God’s will for each one of us is that we be pure/holy like God Himself is.  Now in 1 Thessalonians 4:7 we learn that;

“For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.”

When the God considered our sin-state, our brokeness and considered His great love for us and His desire to have us with Him forever…

When God determined to save us, to redeem us by giving Himself to save us from Himself and His righteous holy wrath against sin…

We know from these two verses (vs3&7) of 1 Thessalonians that what was in God’s heart, in God’s mind for us whom He was choosing to save at great cost, was that God wanted us to be holy/pure.

God called us not to be impure but rather to be pure/holy like He is holy.  He wanted this so much, He sent His own Son, Jesus wanted this so much He endured the cross scorning its shame!

So, brothers and sisters, when we live impure, unholy, sin-stained, compromised lives we are grieving God, trampling on Jesus’s costly life-sacrifice.  We are not just doing something small and meaningless we are grieving God and are choosing to live against the will of God.

And this is why this passage contains some strong warning language;

8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. 

Whoever disregards what God wants from those He chose and called to save, those Jesus chose to die for makes a big error of judgement.  Such a person is not merely disregarding human traditions or ethical standards or expectations but is in fact disregarding God who not only gave us Jesus but also gave us His indwelling Holy Spirit to help us to be holy as He desires us to be.

So, let’s not take sin lightly.  Let’s not ignore what God wants from those He called, those He chose and those He paid the price for.  Let’s respond to God’s incredible kindness and mercy towards us who believe by living lives worthy of the calling we have received (Ephesians 4:1).

Is your will & God’s will aligned?

What might need to change when you consider what God wants?

Speak to God now about those things.

Sin is never private (Joshua 7)

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Emotions must have been running high, God’s people had obeyed God even though His battle strategy was weird, and God had caused them to overcome at Jericho, the first victory won.  God had given clear instructions on what to destroy and what could be kept and for what purpose.  Israel’s armies obeyed, except for one man!

In chapter 7 we read how God’s people, buoyed with courage launch themselves at the next challenge as they begin to take possession of the land God gave them.  But surprisingly to them they get routed, sustain losses and are defeated.

Joshua and the elders are shocked!  This wasn’t in their script, they had been on the up, and now this shocking set-back.  What are you up to God?

In this moment of shock and defeat Joshua comes to some wrong conclusions.  We are so prone to this aren’t we!

We look at events before us, what has an hasn’t happened and we draw conclusions with our own limited thinking, conclusions which often are severely lacking in discernment and humility.  We who are finite, limited, who know so little call the omniscient into question.

This is what happened to Joshua.  Joshua lays the blame for the events at Ai at God’s feet, as he in prayer questions God (Joshua 7:7) about why He brought them into this land (a complaint so reminiscent of the complaint his ancestors had made against God in Exodus 16 – 40yrs earlier).

More than this Joshua in his shock tells God how to run the world!  Joshua tells God how what has happened at Ai with this defeat is not good for their public relations with the surrounding nations who will hear of this defeat and will come and defeat Israel (Joshua 7:8-9).

Have you fallen into this trap?

Questioning God, putting God on trial for things you don’t understand?

And yet, Proverbs 9:10 says that wisdom begins with an attitude not with knowledge.  A right reverent fear of God leads one to wisdom and keeps one from folly.

So why did Israel get defeated by such a relatively small army at Ai when they had just had such a great victory at Jericho?

Scripture is abundantly clear, the reason was that there was sin (disobedience) in the camp and this sin angered God (Joshua 7:1).

Oops, in 2017, we don’t like this language being used of God!

When Scripture rubs you up the wrong way, ask yourself why?

Is it not conforming to your little personal perspectives and preferences?

Are you placing yourself as an authority over Scripture judging Scripture?
God is not about to leave Joshua in the dark regarding the source of this defeat.  “Get up!”, God tells Joshua twice – there is sin in the camp, that is why you were defeated, not some malfunction in Me.

More than this, God warns Joshua that He will not tolerate this sin continuing but will remove His presence from them unless something is done quickly (Joshua 7:10-13).

The rest of the chapter deals with how Achan’s sin is revealed, confessed and punished and so the Lord ‘turned from His burning anger’ (Joshua 7:26).

What can we learn from this account?

Sin is never just private.

It is personal, never less than that but it is also more than private.  Our over individualised and ‘self-obsessed’ era of human history battles a little with this concept but Achan’s sin caused the death of 36 other men, husbands, sons, brothers, uncles…  Caused the whole nation to be in a precarious situation.

This is still true today, no sin is ever just private.  Sin has ramifications on others.

Unbelief in a husband or father impacts the whole house and marriage, pornography not only soils the mind of the user, but impacts their view of every female in their lives & perpetuates and pays for the bondage of those being used to create the content…  I could go on and on.

Achan’s sin affected God’s people, took away blessing even.  In our church there have been times remarkably similar to this account when God spoke to us as elders of sin in our church camp that we needed to deal with.

Friend, brother or sister.  We are called to be a Holy people (1 Peter 1:15)!  We are called to love Jesus by obeying His commands (John 14:21).  Let’s take this seriously, let’s see the corporate impact our sin has on others, on the wider church.

And let’s thank Jesus that when we have sinned we have a Saviour, our Mediator, the One who sacrificed Himself in our place for our sin, was punished by God so that we could be forgiven.

“He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5).

Jesus did all this so that we can be forgiven, so that the wrath of God against sin could be taken away from us and from His people.  Thank you Jesus!

So, if there is sin in your life – repent, ask Jesus to forgive you!

And if there is sin in the camp you know about, go to your brother/sister and urge them to repent.

No new tricks

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 I often say to people I am walking with in this journey of following Jesus; “the devil doesn’t have any new tricks, because the old ones are still working!”

In Genesis 3 we read of that fateful day when Eve was tempted and ended up sinning with Adam and the whole course of human history was altered.  And in the Scripture’s account of that moment we can see the strategy of the devil, how he drew her off God’s good plan for her life and into his.  He has no new tricks so considering the old ones will help us avoid the same mistakes. I see five strategies in Genesis 3:1-6 from our enemy, may considering them make us more alert to them and enable us to take counter measures.

1) The devil plants seeds of unbelief & doubt (vs1)

We know from verse 2-3 that Eve’s problem was not a lack of knowledge regarding what God had said, her problem was not a lack of understanding.  Her problem started with the seeds of doubt, the questions that had been sown by the devil.  He posed questions about what God had actually said and calling into question God and God’s integrity; “God told you that!”

2) The devil lies and contradicts God’s word to us (vs4)

The devil is the deceiver (Revelation 12:9) and one of his main weapons is lies, misinformation that contradicts God’s words to us.  The devil deceived Eve by sowing thoughts contrary to what God had said.

3) The devil lies about God (vs5)

The devil is also known in Scripture as the accuser.  So he lies and calls into question God’s motives and integrity (vs5).  Is God really good and loving, are His commands for us good or restrictive and bad?

4) The devil makes false promises (vs5)

He makes false promises about being able to be like God or to know what God knows, to possess knowledge equal to God’s, even to usurp God and His rightful place in our lives (vs5).

5) He awakens ungodly desires (vs6)

The Genesis 2 picture depicts Adam and Eve as happy, content in the Garden of Eden, content in each other and in relationship with God – with God as loving and involved Creator and them as happy beings created by God.  Yet in vs5 the devil proposes an idea, a desire that must have never previously existed; ‘you can be like God, you can throw off your dependence on God, and be self-determining’!  That’s an ungodly desire, that’s the essence of sin, to replace God with ourselves, His desires with our desires.

In addition to that in vs6 we read that Eve desired the tree now in a way that she hadn’t desired it previously.  The tree held an appeal to her ‘it was a delight to her eyes’ and now ‘the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit’.

Eve didn’t desire this tree or its fruit previously, she might have been curious about it or appreciative of its beauty but now she desired it for what it would give her…

May your consideration today of these very old tricks help guard you and keep you from the enemies deception which is designed to rob from you and destroy your faith and ultimately your life.

By Gareth Bowley