Take Heart.

Christianity, Religion

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

After leaving the upper room with His disciples on the first night of Passover, Christ and the Eleven made their way through the streets of Jerusalem to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Judas would later arrive with soldiers to betray Jesus. During the trek to the garden, Jesus gave the disciples His final teachings, and told them what they would endure in the future. The disciples were still not understanding everything that Jesus was telling them, their understanding would come with time and seeing the resurrected Christ, but for now, He was telling them that it was time for Him to return to the Father. Very soon, the series of events that would culminate in His crucifixion would begin to unfold; very soon the very moment that Christ was sent to Earth for would be upon Him.

The future that Jesus spoke of to the Eleven was on which promised hardship. The world had never been a friend of Christ, so the disciples should not expect the world to treat them any differently. There would be sorrow and pain, and there would be tribulation. These things were all experienced by Christ, and since the follower is not greater than the master, those who follow Christ were to expect these same things.

Despite this, Christ promised His disciples and followers joy and peace. The Christ-follower will experience the peace–the assurance of knowing–that God is in control and with them, despite the trials of the world all around them. Jesus is quick to point out to the disciples that following Him is not an immunity against tribulation; in fact, following Christ is the reason why believers are at odds with the world and why believers experience tribulation at the hands of the world. But the believer can find comfort and take courage from one fundamental fact: Christ had conquered the world.

Here, even before going to Calvary, Christ had already overcome this fallen and rebellious world. Jesus gave His word of personal assurance to the Eleven to further reinforces this fact. The battle had yet to be fought, and Christ was already victorious. He had lived a perfect and blameless life for thirty-three years. He had endured every snare and trap set before Him by the Adversary and withstood each and every single one without sin. He did what we could not do so that He could give us that which we could not attain–deliverance from our sins. With His crucifixion and death, this victory would be fixed, and there would be nothing that could change it.

The question for us today is this: do our lives reflect the level of confidence that Christ gives us? Do we take heart in His victory? Do we live with the peace that He promised us, regardless of the situation in which we find ourselves? Or do we anxiously fret ourselves away, drawing more and more grief and sorrow from the current events of the world around us, and lament the hardships that we see the culture imposing on us because of our religious beliefs? Christ promised tribulation; if you want to avoid them, follow the world instead of Christ. You can’t believe that Jesus already overcame the world and still continue to worry about everything that the world throws at us. You either believe Jesus at His word, or you don’t. You either take heart in the victory He already claimed and delivered upon, or you put your confidence in something else to deliver you. The heart that claims Christ as its King cannot simultaneously give itself over to fear and worry about the things of this world. 

Living in this world is not easy; bad news and heartache are around every corner. But this broken world and its broken system have been defeated and overcome. Trust in Christ– the One who overcame it–and He will give you joy that no one or nothing can take away from you.

Artwork: “Christ in the Grapevine,” Natalya Rusetska. 

Freedom.

Christianity, Religion

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” ‭‭John‬ ‭8:31-36‬

Today is Independence Day in the United States; it is the day in which Americans celebrate self-rule and all the many freedoms that those who founded the country fought to obtain for it. This is a day filled with family gatherings, cookouts, and fireworks. For people in the US, it is the high holiday of the summer.

What good, though, is being politically free if one is still enslaved to sin? The freedoms afforded by one’s citizenship ends at death; being born in one country or another never saved anyone’s soul for eternity. One can live as freely as they choose, that will not grant them entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.  Attaching eternal significance to one’s nationality is idolatrous—it is no different than the Pharisees in Christ’s day who said “we are children of Abraham and have never been enslaved.” Salvation does not come through national origin, or heritage.

Christ corrects this wrong thinking, and His words are no less true today than they were then. Unless one has been set free by the Son, they are still shackled to their sins. The freedom granted by Christ is the only one of eternal significance; this is the only freedom that matters, or that can grant one citizenship in the Kingdom.

The freedom given by Christ can only be found in submitting to Him and declaring Him the Lord and King of your life. It is only found in being washed in His blood that He freely shed to save humanity from being damned and eternally enslaved to sin and death. His freedom comes when we say that we are not free on our own; that we are lost and trapped in the chains that we have forged link by link in our fallen states. It is only when we realize that we must be dependent on Christ that we become truly independent.

Remember today the only Independence Day that matters—the day that Christ died to emancipate you from sin and death. The freedom He provides is eternal and sure. It can never be taken away from you. It is upheld not by force or arms, but by His love and His mighty hand. Be washed in His blood and enjoy your new citizenship, and the true freedom it brings.

Artwork: “Resurrection,” Natalya Rusetska

What’s Your Theology?

Christianity, Religion

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” Galatians 1:6-7

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” Galatians 5:6

The church in Galatia had a big problem. The issue confronting it wasn’t entirely unique; in fact, this issue was one that was being debated in numerous Christian assemblies during the first century AD.  The issue at hand was this: as the message of Jesus—a message rooted firmly in Judaism—spread to Gentile areas, and Gentiles began to accept Christ as Savior, did those Gentiles have to become Jews to be saved? More specifically, did Gentiles need to be circumcised to be part of the Christian community. Was circumcision necessary for salvation?

A prominent faction within the Galatian church said yes. So Paul, who had preached extensively throughout Galatia, penned his letter to the Galatian churches to set them straight.  Paul’s message was clear: there are no other means of salvation other than Christ. Circumcision—though once commanded by God—did not save anyone, only Christ’s atoning death accomplished this. In light of Christ’s death and resurrection, circumcision meant nothing.

It was imperative that Paul—and the church as a whole—nip this problem in the bud because what was being taught in Galatia was undermining the gospel of Christ. The message being spread in Galatia was that believing in Jesus as Messiah and Lord, and believing that He died to save us from our sins was not enough to obtain salvation. The Galatian “theology” was that one needed Christ AND circumcision; that one without the other was insufficient.  The Galatian theology said was that Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough on its own, that we must do something else in addition to it to obtain salvation.

Any teaching that says that Christ’s death isn’t enough to save us from our sins is heresy, as is any teaching that says humanity can do anything on its own to earn its salvation. Christ’s death is sufficient in and of itself, and salvation is the unmerited gift of God given freely by Him to those incapable of saving themselves—us.

We read the Epistle to the Galatians today, and we scoff at the fact that people were once teaching such a fallacious message. It baffles us to think that people would believe there was anything else that could possibly be needed in addition to Christ’s work for salvation to be obtained. But, when we examine our own hearts and practices, we realize that we often make this same mistake. Our hang-ups today aren’t over the issue of circumcision, but there are many other issues we have replaced it with. Are we following sound theology and believing in the only gospel—the true gospel of Jesus who died to save us—or do we, in our own practices, add things to Christ?  Do we truly believe that Christ’s death was sufficient to give us salvation, or do we put faith in our works as well, or in the practices that we develop? Is our theology Christ and Christ alone, or is it Christ and whatever we think we can do to earn God’s favor? If we elevate other things— good works or the “right” theological interpretations or anything else—to the point of being equal with Christ in our theology, those things will very soon replace Christ in our theology.

So, what’s your theology? Is Christ alone sufficient, or are you adding something else to Him?

Artwork: “The Three Crosses,” Rembrandt, 1653.

But God.

Christianity, Religion

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),” Ephesians 2:4-5.

After reminding the Ephesian believers that they had once been dead in their sins and transgressions, the Apostle Paul penned what would become two of the most famous verses in all of Scripture. In doing so, Paul presents the entire Gospel in just a few short words, and he highlights the drastic change that was brought about in each believer. What is truly amazing is that Paul’s entire treatise, the whole of his incredible argument and exposition, can be summarized with two words, “but God.”

We were wretched and despicable, and we sought only to please ourselves, but God was rich in mercy. We were enslaved to sin and death, but God loved us. We were fallen and broken, but God chose to restore us. Despite all of our many sins and failures and shortcomings, God loved us; not only did He just love us, but He loved us with much love–with great love. While we were still broken and tarnished–while we were still dead in our sins–God saw in us the creation which He had made and which He had said was good. We deserved eternal separation from Him, but He withheld from us the punishment which we deserved; He showed us grace.

Adam and Eve’s sin in Eden required two things: 1-something had to die to cover Adam their nakedness, and 2- Adam and Eve had to be removed from God’s presence. Due to His incredibly holy nature, God cannot be in the presence of sin; sin–and those containing it–are destroyed by His very presence. God could have required Adam and Eve to die for their sins; He could have made them remain in His presence and be destroyed. God could have done these things, but He did not. Instead, He spared them from what they deserved; He showed them grace. He loved them and did what was best for them. He sent them away from His presence, but with the promise that one day, the broken relationship between Him and mankind would be restored.

Everything that occurs in the Holy Writings after Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden is the story of “but God.” For no other reasons than His great love, mercy, and grace, God continued to pursue a relationship with His creation. Despite the fact that man was enslaved to sin, God still sought him. God pursued mankind with the sole purpose of recreating that unity that had once been enjoyed in Eden. Throughout the Bible, God calls out to man; He pleads for man to return to Him. It is as though God was saying to humanity “You don’t remember how incredible our relationship once was, but I do. I remember that you were good. You can’t remember because of your sin; because you are dead. Come back to me, and I will make you alive. Come back to me, and I will make things even better than before.”

God did just that. He sent His son, Jesus Christ, to be the ransom demanded by the sin that was holding us captive. Christ’s death settled our account and broke our chains; His blood purified us of stains of our sins and made us able to enter God’s presence once again. God loved His creation so much that He transferred the punishment that we deserved to His one and only son. We were only able to receive grace–only able to avoid getting what we truly deserved–because Christ took God’s wrath for us. God loved us so much that He allowed someone else–His son–to take our punishment for us; Christ loved us so much that He actually took the punishment for us. God and Christ both did this to free us from sin and restore that Edenic relationship. That is love; that is a great love. That is love which requires our full devotion and thanks and adoration.

Paul–through the inspiration of the Spirit–encapsulated all of this in “but God.”

Remember that you were dead in your sins, but God made you alive.

Artwork: “Exodus,” Marc Chagall, 1952-1966.

Dead.

Christianity, Religion

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,” Ephesians 2:1

Paul wasted no time in getting to his point when writing to the Ephesian church, nor did he pull any punches. After writing several lines of praise to God, Paul immediately launched into a sermon discussing the glorious work accomplished by God through Christ in each believer. However, in order to make sure the Ephesian believers understood how incredible this work was, Paul had to be sure the Ephesians understood how they had been prior to Christ changing them—they had to understand that they had once been dead.

Since Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden, humanity has been fallen. Every person is born spiritually dead and enslaved to sin. We are ruled by the lusts and desires of our flesh, and our only motivation is to satisfy ourselves in any way possible. Though we be physically alive, the shackles of sin keep us bound to the grave and to death. Prior to redemption and regeneration, our spirits are like dead carcasses, and it is in this state that Paul reminds the Ephesians that they had once been.

We too must remember that, before Christ, we were also dead. There was nothing good within us. We were ruled by the “prince of the power of the air,” the accuser—the Satan. He lorded over us and encouraged us to indulge each and every one of our desires, all the while leading us closer and closer to destruction. With each sin we committed in the name of our self-indulgence, we forged another link in the chains which bound us to death. We were so busy worshipping ourselves that we failed to see we were standing in our own graves, and we neglected to see that we were created in the image of the God who could free us and restore us to the dominion for which He made us.

We must remember how lost we once were—how truly dead we were—so that we never grow complacent with how alive Christ has now made us. We must remember the chains that He broke and freed us from as He languished and died on the cross. We were dead, and we should still be dead, but Christ changed everything. He freed us from bondage; He made us alive.

Don’t forget that you were dead, for when you do, you will cease to be in awe of the cross.

Artwork: “Head of a Drowned Man,” Theodore Gericault, c. 1819.