But God

Generally, when someone is spoken of as being dead, it’s over. For the dead, there is no hope. And that’s just how Paul describes the condition of the believers at Ephesus (and us) prior to coming to Jesus- dead! “And you were dead in the trespasses and sin in which you once walked following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the bodyand the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” As we continually turned away from God and went after whatever we felt like we wanted, whatever our minds and bodies told us would be good, we were “being dead.” (Being dead, that’s how it comes across when you read it in the Greek.) Talk about your zombies! Before we came to the Lord, that’s basically what we were- the walking dead. Yep, Ephesians 2:1-3 paints a pretty bleak picture. Namely, you, me, and the rest of the world, without Jesus, are a people controlled by our passions, influenced by spiritual power which is opposed to God, and by our very nature, separated from God and destined for wrath. Pardon my English, but that aint cool. If we stopped at verse 3, it would seem that there is little hope for any of us. However, verse 4 begins with what are two of my favorite words: BUT GOD!

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…” Oh, I wish we could grasp the reality of what is being said here. Because God loved us so much, because he is so full of mercy, he has not left us in our hopeless state, but has given us life in Jesus. Like I said, generally for dead people, it’s over. BUT GOD! For the one who has tried and tried to beat his addiction, and failed every time, it’s over. BUT GOD! For the one who has three children by three different men, who has been told she is no good and undesirable, it’s over. BUT GOD! For the murderer, thief, sexually immoral, and all who have been rejected and cast aside, it’s over. BUT GOD! They may have written you off. You may have written you off. It doesn’t matter. I’ve got two words for you: BUT GOD!!

Maybe you have gone so far that you don’t see how it can be made right. Could be you can’t even stand the sound of your own voice, and even you don’t believe a word you say. Perhaps everything they say about you is true, and if you were honest; you’d have to admit that they don’t even know the half of it. Maybe, like me, you are guilty of sins that would freak people out if they ever knew it all. Dead, naturally disobedient, controlled by the devil, living for my passions and lust, just like everyone else, and destined for wrath- BUT GOD!!

Come now, let us settle the matter,
says the Lord.
Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.

Splinters

I don’t know about you but sometimes I struggle. Yeah, I sincerely love Jesus and have given myself to him, trusting him, seeking him, consistent in fellowship, service, prayer and bible study; but, I still have areas in my life in which I struggle. If you’re like me; it starts with a thought. The “splinter” enters the mind, and there are times when I let it fester to the point that it brings about the disgusting pus of sin. BUT all praise be to God, as I walk with him, I am experiencing the truth that Jesus not only forgives sin, but is perfectly willing to share with us his victory over sin!

The reality is that as believers in Christ, God has declared us justified. Positionally so to speak, we are in Jesus, holy and blameless. Experientially, we are being conformed to the image of the Son as the Holy Spirit works within us on a daily basis. We exist in the tension between what God has done for us in Christ, what he is doing in us as we grow in him, and what he is going to do on the day salvation is fully realized.  As we grow in grace, we find that we no longer live a lifestyle of habitually practicing sin; but, we are still very much capable of sinning. Because we have been born again by God’s Spirit and given a new nature, we are grieved by our sin as we sincerely long to be perfect, complete, and mature as he has called us to be. I haven’t got there yet, but I’ve learned a few things and I’d like to share one of them with you now.

Regarding that “splinter in the mind,” the Bible tells us, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:14, 15 ESV) You can see the progression: temptation, sin, and ultimately death. I believe it’s usually at the point of that first thought (temptation) that the battle’s won or lost. The verses on our victory over sin are too numerous to cite here (google ‘em), but it is evident within scripture that, because of Jesus, we are/can be victorious. The thing is, when that first temptation comes we have all kind of twisted, pseudo-religious ways by which we respond. When tempted, have you ever offered up some kind of half-hearted token prayer like, “Lord please help me.” when you know you plan on giving in? Have you ever purposely hardened your heart to the voice of the Spirit, knowing you could escape temptation, but turned a deaf ear to the call to prayer because really you wanted to give in and didn’t want him to stop you? Sadly, I have to answer yes to both of those questions. “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

When temptation comes, you must understand that you have been given victory in Christ. At the first thought, as soon as you feel that “splinter” enter your mind; call upon the Lord in sincere prayer. Take to him the temptation that has beset you! By the grace that he has given so freely to you, BE WILLING to let him give you victory. Our problem is that sometimes we simply aren’t willing for him to do it. Cry out to him understanding that “God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.” The only prayer you may be able to muster is, “Lord, I’m willing to be made willing.” but willing he will make you! As you come to him in the hour of temptation, he will fill you freshly with his Spirit through whom “you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature.” My friend, we are victorious in Christ!

I remember being a kid and getting splinters from time to time. I knew Mom could get them out. She would heat the needle until it glowed and then carefully, lovingly extract the thing that was causing me so much pain. You know, I remember there were times I wouldn’t go to her, even though I knew she could help, because I was afraid. Looking back now, that seems really foolish, but don’t we do the same thing regarding the splinters of temptation that are in us. We know Jesus is more than able to help, but for whatever reason; we don’t allow him to. Foolish, huh?  I’ll leave you with this:

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”