A Deep Longing

Romans 1:8-17 (NLT)

Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world. God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart by spreading the Good News about his Son.

One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you. For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.

I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit, just as I have seen among other Gentiles. For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world, to the educated and uneducated alike. So I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News.

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”

By Chuck Griffin

From personal experience, I would say that until you have really studied Paul’s letters, it’s easy to stereotype him as cold and disconnected, a logical and doctrinaire man. He did, after all, spend a lot of time defining the nature of sin and exhorting holiness.

There was a burning passion in the man, however, an inner fire driving his lifetime of ministry. We might say he had a mission. Not coincidentally, it is our same mission today. Oh, for us to exhibit the same fire, the same longing!

Paul initially said he longed to visit the Roman Christians. They constituted a church he had never seen gathered in one place. During his travels, he likely had crossed paths with some of its members, but he wanted the full experience of being with them.

He was specific regarding why he wanted to be among them. First, he said, he believed he could help them grow in their faith. They knew Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but Paul believed he could contribute in a particular way with his spiritual gifts, and that their giftedness would encourage and lift him up, too.

When Christians bring their unique gifts together as a church, they do accomplish much more than what was possible separately. Among the group, the Holy Spirit is more fully expressed as new people and new gifts enter the mix.

Newness and change can be frightening for a group, but as long as the newness is rooted in God’s will, there is nothing to fear. That’s why a healthy church’s members always look to new Christians in their midst and excitedly wonder, “What possibilities do you bring?”

Paul revealed what he thought his primary contribution might be once in Rome. He was eager, he said, to preach the Good News. We’ve previously identified “Good News” as meaning the story of Christ’s death on the cross, a work that makes salvation possible for even the worst of sinners.

Perhaps the church in Rome did not yet have anyone gifted in preaching the Good News. Perhaps they did have capable preachers, but Paul thought he could contribute to the effort in a new way. Regardless, Paul wanted to help the church live into its mandate to bring people to an understanding of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

I can call it a mandate because Jesus gave his followers clear, indisputable instruction regarding what they were (and are) to do. This instruction came from Jesus after his resurrection from the dead, and is recorded at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew: “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”

It’s a mandate we still own as traditional, scriptural churches today. The question for us is whether we have Paul’s passion for the task. Are we passionately trying to bring people into that relationship with Christ?

The last thing we want to be is Laodicea. Remember Laodicea, one of the churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation? The risen Christ said this about Laodicea: “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!” (Rev. 3:15-16.)

To be a church passionate about mission, some of us have to preach the scriptural truth, from a pulpit and in other places in our community. The word does have to be spoken.

It is a given, however, that not all of us are gifted in ways where we can comfortably preach in the traditional sense. I’m sure all of us have seen the old study showing many people fear public speaking more than death. It does not relieve us of our responsibility to play a part in the mission, though—we are all called to play a role in declaring the Good News.

It is not as hard as it sounds. All of us are capable of establishing loving relationships. Showing love toward others is the first step toward helping people understand how much God loves them. People are so afraid of the word “evangelism.” If that word bothers you, just remember to love others.

As your loving relationships grow, opportunities will arise for you to explain the source of all that love. God is love; the cross is the ultimate expression of God’s love. At that moment, you’ll be evangelizing and you may not even realize at first what you’re doing.

Out of genuine love for the people we engage, I think we do have to get to the point. We do eventually have to offer them Christ.

Sometimes I hear people say, “Well, I try to be a good person and let my life be the witness.” Sorry, but that’s a bit of a cop-out.

Jesus didn’t say, “Show everyone you’re a good person.” Your behavior may draw people to you, but Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” He was pretty specific.

As individual Christians, we need to be sure we’re getting to Good News specifics with those who need a deeper relationship with Christ. As a church, we need to be sure all of our programs and ministries ultimately help people discover this critical point, too.

And remember, a little passion for who we are and what we do always helps. If you lack passion, it may be time to hear the Good News for yourself again. God loves you—God has given you eternal life!—and that truth should excite anyone.

Lord, if we are lukewarm, heat us up with your holy fire, and may people hear the Good News from us. Amen.

The Cure for Doubt

John 20:19-31

By Chuck Griffin

Nonbelievers aren’t the only ones with doubts. People who call themselves Christian sometimes have doubts about Jesus, the resurrection, and how it all applies to them.

It’s not surprising we can struggle in such ways. The Easter story lives on the edge of fantasy—a man most undeniably dead leaves his rock-sealed, heavily guarded tomb and appears to hundreds in a transformed state. Even more remarkable, we are to understand this event as a mere beginning, a foreshadowing of a radical change in creation that eventually will result in our own transformative, death-defeating resurrections.

Our doubts arise for a simple reason. Despite the promises of the Easter story, the world keeps smacking us around. We lose people close to us. Worry about the immediate future overwhelms us. Sometimes we simply experience intellectual doubt, our rational minds telling us to stick to what we can see as the basis for reality.

In this part of the resurrection story in the Gospel of John, we find the disciple Thomas very doubtful. Thomas had seen the man he called teacher, Lord and master crushed by the power of the world, and he quickly fell into a rigid cynicism. Even when his fellow disciples excitedly told him they had seen the risen Christ, he was not impressed.

Let me see the hands, he said. Let me stick my fingers in that horrible wound in his side. I wonder if we’re supposed to read his words with a tone of bitter sarcasm. “Look, they riddled him with holes, including a spear-sized one running through his lungs and heart,” I hear him saying in the deepest, darkest corner of his soul. “You really think he is walking around?”

Thomas had to wait a week, but Jesus accommodated his request, appearing for his wavering disciple’s sake. Touch the wounds, Jesus said. Believe.

We see Thomas’ doubt cured. I believe that in this story we also can find a cure for our own doubts.

Even if we don’t see Christ physically present, our doubts can be assuaged by experiencing Christ. That idea certainly fits with today’s story. Even the disciples needed to experience something beyond the physical Christ to grasp the truth of Christ’s resurrection. This is why we have this account of Christ breathing on them, providing an early Pentecost, an experience of the Holy Spirit to sustain them.

The risen Christ breathes on us, too. We simply have to put aside doubt long enough to open ourselves to a similar encounter with the Holy Spirit, the same aspect of God resident in Christ.

I am perplexed by how resistant people are to the simple acts that trigger the experience, even people who have long called themselves Christians. When I spend time with Christians struggling with doubt, I find they have a basic problem: They’ve forgotten how to spend time with the one who gave them their first taste of eternal life.

We encounter God most directly by spending time in prayer, learning the stories of the Bible, and worshiping so the Holy Spirit can work in us and through us as a group.

I know. I sometimes sound like a broken record with all this talk about praying, reading our Bibles and going to church. It is the Methodist in me. We suffer needlessly when we fail to methodically use the means God has given us to draw near him. When we do draw near, we allow God’s Spirit to whisper to our spirits.

Those who spend significant time in such activities can testify that the ensuing experience is as good as seeing Jesus in the room. Christ breathes on us, and doubt flees.

Dear Lord, we believe. Help us with our unbelief. Amen. (See Mark 9:24.)

A Sermon: “Headed Home”

Here’s a Monday Extra for Methodist Life readers. As some of you are aware, this blog began as part of outreach efforts by the Holston Wesleyan Covenant Association. The link below will take you to the manuscript of a sermon I preached last Saturday during worship, before our Holston chapter’s annual business meeting.

Headed Home”

No Longer Worthy

Luke 15:17-24 (NRSV)

“But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.”


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

Growing up as a kid, it was always very important to me to please my parents, but I sometimes let them down by doing stuff that went against their expectations. While my strict Christian parents always held me accountable, there was never a time that they stopped loving me or told me that I was no longer worthy to be their son.

As a parent of three young boys, my wife and I take our responsibility to train and nurture our children in the ways of the Lord very seriously. When they drop the ball or fail to meet the expectations set for them, they are held accountable. But there is absolutely nothing they can do to no longer be worthy to be called our sons!

In the Parable of the Prodigal or Lost Son in Luke 15, Jesus opens a beautiful window into the heart of a loving father who will never stop loving us. After squandering his inheritance on wild living, the younger of two sons in the story became desperate. After weighing all his options, the remorseful younger son decided to go back home to his father with a prepared apology and request: “I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’”’ (Luke 15:18-19.) Some folks argue that it was presumptuous on the part of this rebellious son to think that the father would even consider taking him back as a hired servant. 

But as he made his way back home, the father shocked him by not only welcoming him back but also throwing a party to celebrate his safe return. The prodigal son never expected to be received by his father with so much love and fanfare. Even though the decision of the father to celebrate the return of the younger son infuriated the older son, the father encouraged the older son to join in the celebration because of his wayward brother’s repentance.

The father in the story truly represents the Father in heaven. We should always rejoice when sinners come back home. 

Truth be told, there are times church folks believe that those who have no relationship with Jesus are unworthy and should not be welcomed back into the fold. Like the older son, as believers, we can sometimes fail to recognize that when it comes to the gift of salvation and eternal life, no one has the right to boast or brag because our salvation from beginning to end is all a work of grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). The stench of sin can make us all feel unworthy, but the good news is that we can all come to the throne of grace just as we are. Our Father in heaven does not see us the way the world sees us.

Like the younger son, none of us is worthy to be called a son (or a daughter) of our heavenly Father based on what we have done. As Paul tells us, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8.) Because of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, all those who feel unworthy because of sin have been made right because of the one who is worthy. 

Since Jesus the Lamb has prevailed and opened the scroll that no one in heaven or earth or under the earth was able to open, we do not have to be ashamed of our unworthiness (Revelation 5:1-5). Jesus through his atoning work has turned unworthy prodigals into co-heirs, sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.

The fattened calf is waiting to be slaughtered. Why are we slow going home? 

Loving God, thank you for sending your son Jesus to die to make unworthy prodigals worthy sons and daughters. Help us to share this good news of redemption with others still outside the fold. It is in the name of Jesus that we do pray. Amen. 

Judgment

Romans 2:1-11 (NRSV)

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.


By John Grimm

It has amazed me the number of times that I have heard us humans saying to one another: “Forgive yourself.”

If we are forgiving ourselves, then when do we repent?  If we are forgiving ourselves, then how do we know when to judge ourselves by God’s standards?  It might turn out that as we attempt to forgive ourselves, that we discover we are self-seeking and that we are obeying wickedness rather than truth.  I imagine we forgive ourselves, or at least attempt to forgive ourselves, when we know that we are not doing any worse than anyone else.  Those other people might get caught, but we think we will not get caught and avoid judgement.

God is the judge. God judges each one of us.  Nothing we do, try, or believe escapes his knowledge.  Forgiving ourselves is right there in the categories of things we do, try or believe.  Attempting to forgive ourselves perpetuates evil.  What stops evil in our lives and those we attempt to judge?

Repentance.  It is the kindness and forbearance of God that allows us to turn from our evil and turn to truth.  When we seek for God’s glory, honor, and immortality, then we find God accepts our repentance and assists us to live eternal life.  And that, even now.

God shows no partiality.  We need not show ourselves any partiality.  Our pursuit is the good that God has for us.  We experience and know this good when we know Jesus Christ has died for our sins.  We experience and know this good when we receive the forgiveness that God has for us.  We experience and know this good when we give forgiveness to others, just as God has given us forgiveness.

God, we are too easy on ourselves and too hard on others.  It is your judgment which can be our concern for ourselves.  Thank you for aiding us in taking the log out of our own eyes as we repent of our evil ways.  As you forgive us, we can and do forgive others.  Thank you for the life we find in Christ Jesus and that you impartially give to us.  Amen.

Faith Proven by Works

Hebrews 11:17-19 (NLT)

It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead. 


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

As was noted in last Monday’s reflection, Abraham for all intents and purposes had mentally offered his son to God before he attempted the physical act. Because of his demonstrated faith, God later reiterated his plans to bless Abraham and give him descendants beyond number (Genesis 22:16-18). 

Abraham not only believed God, he clearly demonstrated through his willingness to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering that he was prepared to prove his faith through his actions. As James later wrote, faith without works is no faith. James cited the example of Abraham’s offering of his son Isaac on the altar as faith and action working together.

According to James, Abraham’s “actions made his faith complete.” (James 2:17, 21-22.) God was never interested in Abraham offering his son as a sacrifice and later gave the Israelites strict instructions through Moses that anyone who offered their children as a sacrifice to the pagan god Molech should be put to death. (Leviticus 20:1-5.)

In what ways are you putting your faith in the Lord into action? Can people see through my actions that I have faith in God and believe his promises? Even though God does not require us to sacrifice our children as burnt offerings, he freely gave his only begotten Son as atoning sacrifice for our sins. All that he asks is that we offer ourselves to him as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2) by demonstrating unwavering faith through our actions. As Scripture tells us, “It is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6). 

Just as God tested Abraham to be sure that his faith was real, God is going to test our faith in the crucible and furnace of affliction. It is not a question of IF but WHEN. We can be sure that God is not going to demand that we sacrifice our children as a burnt offering to him. God does not delight in our offerings as much as in our obedience. But God will test our faith to be sure that we are truly on his side. 

I do not know how God will test my faith or how your faith will be tested. It will come through our trials and tribulations, but when we abide in Jesus regardless of whatever comes our way, we will definitely be able to pass the testing of our faith like Abraham and Job and many others before us have done. It is important to remember that it is through our actions in the face of travails that we demonstrate the vitality of our faith. 

The only way to be sure that our faith will not fail is to keep our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus became the pioneer and perfecter of our faith because he learned obedience through his own temptation and looked beyond the pain of the cross to the joy that awaited him.

Almighty and ever living God, we thank you for your love for us demonstrated through the sacrifice of your beloved Son Jesus Christ. Help us to persevere when our faith is tested by looking unto Jesus who alone is the author and finisher of our faith. Let us follow his perfect example as we live out our faith one day at a time. By abiding in Jesus, we can overcome our trials and tribulations and bring God glory. Keep us faithful to the end in the power of your Holy Spirit. Thank you, Jesus, for your nearness to us at all times. Accept our humble prayers offered in the powerful name of Jesus. Amen.

Building Up the Neighbor

Romans 15:1-6 (NRSV)

We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.  May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.


By John Grimm

Do we label the weak in our local church?  If we do, are they those who have less money than us?  How about those who are chronically ill?  Would the weak be those who are always complaining about something or other in the church?

It might turn out that as we are attempting to label the weak that we discover we are the weak.  For our labeling the “weak” may be an insult to all others in the local church!

Paul is instructing the church in Rome to not please themselves.  For when we are pleasing ourselves, do we take notice of our neighbors?  Thankfully, we have the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, to instruct us on how to be steadfast in the faith God has given to us.

It is God who brought us together to be the local church.  For it is in the local church, and not denominational offices, that disciples of Jesus Christ are made.  Since God has brought us together, he knows we can have harmony with one another, rather than labels.  Through the harmony that God grants to us, we do give glory to God.  Our voices are united in praising the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God, we have often labeled our neighbors within our local church as being weak or strong.  Forgive us for attempting to please ourselves with lofty thoughts of ourselves and insulting other disciples of Jesus Christ.  As we read the Bible, show us how to live in harmony with one another.  We praise you for Jesus and for drawing us to faith in Jesus through the local church.  As we live in harmony, may we be found to be living in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Blameless Before God

Genesis 17:1-2 (NLT)

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am El-Shaddai— ‘God Almighty.’ Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life. I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to give you countless descendants.”


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

Like any human, Abraham was imperfect, but 24 years after God called him out of his father’s land to the land of Canaan, he was challenged to walk blameless before God.  The Hebrew word tamin, translated as blameless, connotes an upright life, a life of integrity that is flawless and perfect before God.

Noah was described as “a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth” (Genesis 6:9). Noah, like Abraham after him, was far from perfect, but the Bible describes him as someone who walked in close fellowship with God. It was this same life of close fellowship that God called Abraham to. Hundreds of years later, Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount told his listeners, “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48).  This requirement to walk blameless before God has not changed. 

Abraham (then Abram) had character flaws and often displayed a lack of candor when it suited him. He asked his wife to lie so he would not be killed by the Egyptians (Genesis 12:11-13). Abram went to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan, but there is no biblical evidence that he consulted God on this move.

After God had promised him a son of his own (Genesis 15:4), Abram and his wife took it upon themselves to follow cultural norms by having Abram sleep with Hagar, Sarai’s Egyptian servant, to have a child. Hagar became pregnant and later gave birth to Ishmael, precipitating a crisis in Abram’s household. The after-effects of this poor choice on the part of Abram continues to this day. Like Abram, some contemporary believers do not see anything wrong in telling lies to gain an advantage or sometimes adopting the ways of the world to achieve their goals. 

When we adopt shortcuts like Abraham and Sarah did to meet a deep desire, we are demonstrating a lack of faith in God’s ability to keep his promises. Just as God challenged Abraham to a new way of life in our focus text, God challenges us to abandon the ways of the world.

Paul writes, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2). God’s will for us is the same as it was for Abraham. We are to live a life that is blameless and free of sin. 

The only way to walk before God and be blameless is to study his written word and ask for grace to keep to his precepts. God told Joshua, “Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.”

Committed to living a blameless life before the Lord, the Psalmist declares, “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11).  When Jesus faced temptation in the wilderness, he overcame because he was grounded in the word of the Father.  We must note, however, that the devil also quoted from Scripture, taking the words out of context (Matthew 4:1-11). Like Jesus, we must declare and live the truth of Scripture if we are to walk blameless before God. 

I love the way the hymn writer John Sammis challenges us: “When we walk with the Lord, in the light of his word, what a glory he sheds on our way! While we do his good will, he abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” 

I have taken it for granted that anyone reading this post desires to walk blameless before the Lord. As we purposely choose to honor God in our lives, we can count on our Lord to deliver on his many promises to us in Scripture.   To be clear, God’s call for us to walk blameless before him has nothing to do with our age.

If Abram was challenged to reconsider his ways at 99 years, God wants anyone reading this to do what is right. Our age does not matter. What matters is living a blameless life before God in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Loving God, you want us to live in close fellowship with you by rejecting what the world often calls acceptable. Grant us power through your ever-present Holy Spirit to walk blameless before you in all our ways. We believe we can do this through Jesus Christ, who alone gives us strength. We pray on the authority of Christ’s name. Amen.

Keeping Our Past in View

Titus 3:3-5 (NLT)

Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. But—

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

Vehicles have rearview mirrors for an obvious reason: The driver can see what lies in the immediate past while journeying on. It is more important to keep our focus on where we are heading, which is why I believe the windshield provides such a wide vista compared to the rear-view mirror. But we do need occasional peeks at the past so we can better appreciate where we are and where exactly we are headed. 

I am sure that many of you have heard the saying that “we are all works in progress.” This means that even though we are not where we used to be, we are more importantly not where we need to be. In our focus passage from Paul’s letter to Titus, one of the younger men that he mentored, Paul reminds us of the importance of not forgetting what we were before our rescue.

Paul writes, “Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient.” We were all conceived in sin and born as sinners because sin is a sexually transmittable disease passed down from the first human couple. It would be wishful thinking, however, to assume that those of us who are now believers or born again are no longer disobedient. That would be far from the truth.  

The root cause of our human separation from God was the disobedience of Adam and Eve to the instructions given to them by God. If there is anything we have inherited from them, it is our natural bent to go against the instructions that have been handed down to us in Scripture. The United Methodist Church is for all intents and purposes in schism because of human disobedience and the misguided desire to give new meaning to Scripture to align it with the ever-changing cultural norms.  

If you are under any illusion that we are no longer slaves to the desires of our fallen human nature, just take some time to scroll through the social media feeds of some professing Christians. I hope you would agree that a significant number are far from showing they are truly new creatures in Christ. To say that our lives are no longer full of evil and envy and devoid of hatred would be self-deception. Thankfully, while we were yet sinners, God chose to send his beloved Son Jesus to save us—not because of anything good we have done but because of his own kindness. 

As our brother Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians, our salvation from beginning to end is due to God’s grace and not because of anything good we have done (Ephesians 2:8-9). To be clear, unbelievers are also beneficiaries of God’s prevenient grace and his blessings (Matthew 5:44-48).

According to John Wesley, “Salvation begins with what is usually termed (and very properly) preventing grace; including the first wish to please God.” This means that even before we acknowledge God, his grace is working in our lives.

While we enjoy grace and sin in common with unbelievers, what I believe separates us from those yet to come to saving faith is our Holy Spirit-inspired response to God’s invitation and our experience of justifying grace. As Paul writes, “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:1-2). 

We should not boast and attribute our salvation to anything that we have done. As a result, let us stop looking down on unbelievers, thinking we are better than them. The next time you are tempted to look down on unbelievers, take time to look in the rearview mirror of your life and be thankful for God’s grace and the salvific work of Christ on the cross. 

Lord, we thank you for our salvation, which is made possible through your grace from beginning to end. Help us to be humble and not look down on those who are still living far away from you. Use us as carriers of your grace to them as we serve as the hands and feet of your Son Jesus, in whose name we humbly pray. Amen.

Doing What We Hate

By Chuck Griffin

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul takes note of a strange situation Christians will find themselves in from time to time. We continue to sin despite feeling deep revulsion afterward.

Before finding salvation, we sinned in ignorance. After our conversions, we should know better, and yet we ignore what the Holy Spirit whispers to our hearts.

 “I do not understand my own actions,” Paul writes in the seventh chapter of Romans. “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

His ensuing meditation, using terms like “sinful flesh” and life “according to the Spirit,” can be a bit confusing to interpret and understand. Think of his argument this way: There is the way the world without Christ worked, and there is the way a world redeemed and restored by Christ works now.

Unfortunately, the old world still creeps in, largely because our not-yet-resurrected bodies still carry within them a brokenness that Christ will one day completely drive out. If we’re not careful, we find ourselves conflicted, doing what we know is wrong, even doing what we hate.

I think most of us instinctively relate to what Paul is saying. For each person, the sin may be different, but its commission inevitably brings a sense of physical sickness, shame, and the question, “Why on earth did I just do that?”

The sin could be as simple as haughtiness or sudden flashes of anger, or as elaborate and dangerously progressive as greed or lust.

Here’s the interesting twist in Paul’s letter: He doesn’t offer some elaborate plan to escape this problem. Instead, he shows us a simple two-step solution.

First, we have to admit our brokenness, in the process giving up what is perhaps one of the great sins of American culture, extreme self-reliance.

“Wretched man that I am!” Paul writes. “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

Second, remember the one who has saved you, the one who continues to mold you and change you and make you a little more holy each day, if only you will let him.

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Paul writes.

I note in particular that Paul’s statement is celebratory, a reminder that Christ already has defeated Satan and the eternal death he otherwise would impose on us.

We simply have to accept the spoils of a battle already won, the power God grants us through the Holy Spirit to resist sin. Those spoils are there for the taking, stored in Scripture and the direct access we have to God through prayer.

Dear Lord, move us toward consistent and conclusive victory over sin, and let times of temptation be when we turn toward you, not away. Amen.