Is it God's will for me to sin? Man, what a great question.
For those of us that have been on our faith journey for quite some time, this questions is not one that we consider very often. Not that this is an elementary concept, it's just that we don't really think about it that much. The conversation involving God's will for us and our mistakes as human beings is a very complex and complicated issues. It has been a greatly debated topic since the words of Paul in Romans 8 concerning predestination.
If you're struggling with this idea or question, welcome to the party. You are joining the multitude of Biblical giants who have wrestled with this concept.
This week's discussion will simply be that: a discussion. I'm not claiming to know everything there is to know about Scripture and I want you to test every single thing I say with Scripture.
"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 - by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, no a result of works, so that no one may boast."
- Ephesians 2:4-9 (ESV)
When discussing the topic of grace and sin in our lives, these verses are always an important reminder. Absolutely nothing we have done or didn't do has given us salvation. It was not our "good character" or the fact that we went to church or didn't struggle with _____ particular sin. It was only by the grace of God and through His sacrifice on the cross.
So if there's nothing that we can or can't do to earn God's salvation (other than accepting it), is there anything we can or can't do to lose it?
This is also a highly debated conversation within different denominations of the church. I am in the "once saved always saved" camp. There are several verses to support this position but one passage in John comes to mind.
"Jesus answered, 'I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one."
- John 10:25-30 (NIV)
Then the next natural question that is asked is if there's nothing that I can do to earn salvation and once I have accepted it, and there's nothing I can do to lose it, what prevents me from doing whatever I want if God will just forgive my sins (that He already knew I was going to commit)?
While I believe there is no sin too grievous that can physically take away your salvation, I do believe that you can walk away from Jesus and walk away from your salvation. You didn't lose it, you made the choice to no longer accept this free gift. In my opinion, to live unchanged after hearing the Gospel and to continue on sinning just because God will forgive you, is walking away from the free gift of salvation. It is an abuse of the grace of God.
Jesus commands us to, "deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23 NIV) What does it mean to deny ourselves and take up our crosses?
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17)
"Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord." (Acts 3:19 NIV)
Take up our cross and denying ourselves means repenting and turning from our sins. It means we are made new in Him and we work each and every day to walk in our newness of life.
One final Scripture for you to ponder this week:
"Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray." (1 John 3:4-7a NIV)
What does this mean for us? That because we love Jesus and we strive to know Him, we fight against sin each and every day. This Scripture is not saying that if we mess up, we never really loved Jesus. If we continue to live in sin and live unchanged because of the goodness of God in our lives, then did we truly ever love Him or know Him?
But what about when we mess up? Dear one, it is called grace. Next week, we will delve into the topic of grace and examining the implications of grace on our lives and, more specifically, our sin.
No matter how old you are or how strong your relationship with the Lord is, we all have gone through seasons where we feel like we cannot hear the voice of God or God just isn't speaking to us. Those seasons tend to be filled with questions and doubt and so many feelings of inadequacies.
I can still remember very specific seasons of my life where I felt like I couldn't hear the voice of the Lord or God just wasn't speaking to me right then. I thought He wasn't answering my prayers because my prayers weren't worth answering and I wasn't worth the trouble. I felt like I was no longer good enough or "saved" enough to hear Jesus answering my prayers. Those seasons were dark times that were spiritually, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. As if my feelings of inadequacy weren't enough, Satan knew the areas of my life that I felt especially vulnerable. I was broken (I'm still a broken sinner in need of a Savior but I was really really broken) and hurting deeply. I felt unheard and abandoned. I felt worthless. Despite my heartache towards the Lord in those moments, I continued to come back to His Word hoping, just hoping, He would speak to me. Give me something, anything.
Maybe you're in that season right now. You feel abandoned by Jesus and absolutely worthless. Maybe you're in a season of making big decisions and God's silence is deafening. No matter what season you're in, dear one, allow me to assure you that this season of silence is just that: a season.
Your relationship with God and your salvation is NOT invalid because you don't hear Him right now. You're not a terrible a Christian because you can't hear Him. You are NOT alone. You have not been abandoned. I can absolutely promise you that He will speak.
Last summer, I was the worship leader at an all-girl's Christian summer camp. Each week, we had missionaries come in and share their experiences as missionaries all over the world. The very last week of camp, the most amazing woman of God I have ever met in my entire life shared her life story with us. The majority of her sessions, however, she took the time to share with us how she hears the voice of the Lord. Before we get to all of that, let's see what Jesus says about hearing His voice in Scripture.
Now after you read each verse, take some time to reflect and write down your thoughts on what that particular verse or verses is saying about hearing His voice. There is some space below for those of you who have printed this bad boy out:
1. "Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always." 1 Chronicles 16:11
2. "So Eli told Samuel, 'Go and lie down, and if he calls you say, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening."' So Samuel went and lay down in his place. The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, 'Samuel, Samuel!' Then Samuel said, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening!;" 1 Samuel 3:9-10
3. "My heart says of you, 'Seek his face!' Your face, O Lord, I will seek." Psalm 27:8
4. "Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded." James 4:8
5. "My sheep listen to my voice: I know them and they follow me." John 10:27
What do all of these verses have in common: our relationship with the Lord and seeking His face and His will in our lives. God created us to glorify Him. One way we give Him glory is through our personal relationship with Him. Part of having a healthy relationship with Jesus, and anyone for that matter, is open communication. So often, we have our quiet times and our times of pray and we do a whole lot of talking. We say, "Amen," and move on with our day, closing off the other end of communication. We don't allow God to speak in our lives. It would be like a friend calling you and telling you all about their day and what's going on in their lives and then hanging up the phone before you could respond or tell them about your life. Imagine your frustration and that friend called you again upset because you aren't speaking to them. But how could you speak? Your friend hadn't left any space for you to communicate with him/her and he/she is upset with you for not saying anything?! It sounds pretty crazy right?
This is exactly what we do to God day after day. Now I will say that there are some times where God is on purpose not speaking because He wants us to trust Him. I have found that 9 times out of 10, when I'm upset at Jesus for not speaking, it's really because I'm not listening.
We don't have any trouble speaking. It's the listening thing that gets us.
So how can we work on hearing and listening to the voice of God? Well, here's where the missionary comes back in. Here are the steps she gave us:
1. Calm your mind.
2. Fix your eyes on Jesus.
3. Listen to the voice of God.
4. Write down what you hear, starting with your name.
5. Test it:
Let's look at those steps a little more in-depth:
1. Calm your mind. Easier said than done, right? Calming our mind means erasing all distractions. Turn off your phone. Turn off the TV. Get quiet and get focused. Lay aside for a few moments your to-do list and everything you have going on and everything you're worried about or thinking about (even if it's one of those "in the back of your mind" things)..
2. Fix your eyes on Jesus. This isn't like yoga where you empty your mind. You are emptying your mind of distractions and worries and focusing on Jesus. Y'all, when we focus on Him, our minds will always be occupied. Think of His goodness and His love for you. Think of His perfect plan for your life. Praise Him for who is and what He's done in your life.
Turn your mind's eye on Jesus, look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
3. Listen to the voice of God. He will speak. It may not be an audible voice but something that rises up in your spirit or in your gut. It might be a Bible verse that comes to mind or a song. He's speaking. Lean into Him, rest in His presence, and let His voice woo you once again.
4. Write down what you hear, starting with your name. Simple enough. Starting with your name allows you to take ownership of what God is saying to you. He's speaking to YOU, not Bob, YOU.
5. Test it. Paul reminds us so often throughout his writings to test everything he says with Scripture. When we do this, it remains the same. I've learned that a lot of times Satan will sneak in there, disguised as love, and speak shame, hurt, and insecurities into my life. Test what you hear with Scripture and if it doesn't match up with the inerrant Word of God and the characteristics of a good (good) father, it wasn't Jesus who spoke.
These 5 steps are a really great way to help you take time to listen for God's voice. This isn't the only way the Lord will speak to you. Sometimes, He'll put certain people in your path or have someone reach out to you and confirm something for you (and you have no earthly idea how they knew that was what you were struggling with). He'll use Scripture. He'll use music. He'll use dreams. You'll get that feeling in the pit of your stomach and know exactly what it's about.
Don't expect to be an expert at hearing the voice of the Lord in your life right off the bat. As your relationship with the Lord grows, your ability to discern God's voice from Satan's and the rest of the noise of life will also grow. You'll be able to look back and see where God was leading you, even though it didn't make sense at first. You'll see how those periods of silence strengthened your relationship with Him and shaped you into the person you are today. Even though we are not defined by our seasons of silence, we are shaped and changed by them.
So even if you're going through a valley or a season of silence right now, be thankful and rejoice because God is about to show up and show off in your life in ways that you never even imagined. Brace yourself.
What is the Gospel? It's a question that is ringing on our streets, in our malls, and especially on our college campuses. Every where we look, we see evidence of lives untouched and unchanged by the life-changing, live-giving message of the Gospel.
More than half of all adults in American cannot name all four gospels. Even fewer can name at least three disciples. These statistics are staggering but not a mountain too hard to climb.
You, dear one, are getting to embark on one of the most defining journeys of your lifetime: college. Not only will you learn information to build a career that will (Lord willing) last a lifetime, your world is about to be shaken to it's core. During your time in college, you will come across people from such diverse backgrounds, countries, beliefs, and walks of life. Those around you will question your faith. Ideas you hear will make you question your own beliefs and whether or not you actually believe those things are true. Please notice that I am not at all saying that these things might happen. They will. The purpose for this series is to get those foundational issues clear so that during those conversations you will lean into the grace and truth of Jesus and walk away more in love with Jesus than ever before.
So, our first foundational concept is the Gospel itself. You might be thinking that the message of the Gospel is pretty cut and dry. John 3:16, right? Absolutely. For us, the message is clear. For those that grew up in a different religion or different walk of life have heard several different (and not all true) things about the Gospel and Jesus.
Here are some common misconceptions about Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, our protagonist and hero in the story:
Jesus is only concerned about the rules and regulations of religion. He only wants to abolish religion.
Jesus never claimed to be God.
Jesus was always Mr. Nice Guy.
Jesus is only to be viewed as a historical figure, like Napoleon or Cesar.
Much like Aesop, Jesus was a good moral teacher.
Jesus makes no demands for how I am to live my life.
If we have a clear understanding of the Gospel, we have a clear understanding of who Jesus is, what claims He makes, and what we are called to do because of His life, death, and resurrection.
So what exactly is the Gospel?
One of the most beautiful things about the Gospel and Scripture is that even in Genesis 1:1, the presence, power, grace, and love of Jesus Christ is felt and obvious. That red thread of love, grace, and hard truth carries us all the way through to Revelation 22:21. Every page, every verse, every word, every red letter, every period and comma has the power to change lives because it is filled with the love, power, and presence of Jesus Himself. Each word carries an eternal weight. It is to be taken seriously. The Gospel and our response to it is an issue of life and death. We get this wrong, we get everything wrong.
To understand the full picture of the Gospel, we have to start from the beginning:
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." Genesis 1:1-2
In the very beginning there was nothing but everything. While there was no mass or matter, God was there. Before anything existed God was, just as God is and is to come. His spirit was hovering over the waters and in that moment, however brief or eternal it may have been (we don't know - our minds can't comprehend it), God knew you. God saw you. God loved you. God spoke and the world and everything in it came to be. Oh to have seen it! The only thing within our earthly and finite realm comparable to the moment when creation came into being is a scene from the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia, The Magician's Nephew, written by C.S. Lewis. Aslan the lion (who is an allegory for God and Christ), is walking and singing. As he walks, the light and sun follows. As he sings, the grass, the trees, the flowers, and the world comes into being. The way Lewis paints that picture is so marvelous and wonderful. Imagine being there the moment God said, "Let there be light." How much more marvelous and wonderful it must have been. God even said, "It is good." And it was until we showed up.
Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, sin entered the world forever. What God had once called "good" was no longer spotless. Before that moment, we had no need for a Savior. Here is where our crimson red thread begins. Our need for a Savior, only cleansed by the blood of someone or something without blemish, began the moment sin entered our world and changed everything.
From there, the flaws and sin nature guided and corrupted our world. There were only a few that sought after the Lord and longed to dwell with Him. However, they weren't perfect. In order to atone for the sins of the people, the Lord had rules and regulations. The only atonement of sin could be found through the blood shed of animals that were perfect and whole. Time passed, kings came and went, wars began and ceased, the nation of Israel fell from the Lord and made their way back. The more time that passed since creation, the worse things got, the deadlier the sin, the greater the consequences. Our need for a Savior became more desperate and more urgent.
Just when things couldn't get any worse: A baby was born. Fully God and fully man, born of a virgin (just as the prophets foretold), Jesus Christ, Savior of the world was born in Bethlehem, lying in a manger.
From the very moment this child was conceived and even when He was making His way into this world, this world was against Him. After He was born, there was a star above the place where He lay, bringing attention to the tiny stable in Bethlehem with a virgin and her betrothed. The star brought a lot of attention but it only makes sense that when the King of Kings and Lord of Lords presence and warmth is felt on the earth rather the heavenly realms, all of heaven and earth rejoices. There were angels and the shepherds in a field nearby came to see what the angels sang about and where the star led. Far off, the Magi noticed the star and knew the prophecy. They went to King Herod to tell him about the joyous star and their journey to see the baby, the King. This whole king business made Herod nervous and he ordered for all the Israelite boys under the age of three to be killed.
See what I mean? Against him?
An angel awoke Joseph in the middle of the night one night and gave him specific instructions to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus. Immediately (immediately) Joseph and his family of three was obedient and fled to safety.
Jesus grew into stature and wisdom and knowledge and began His ministry. To go through all the details of His life and ministry would be nearly impossible for one session but I encourage you to read the Gospels for yourself. There is so much to learn and I have so much to learn as well.
He was sinless and perfect, full of grace and truth (John 1). He healed the sick, raised the dead, transformed the lives of the men, women, and children that surrounded Him, and changed the course of human history. The religious leaders of His time hated Him. He challenged their self-indulgent, prideful religious acts and called out their dirtiness and emptiness inside. At the same time, He offered these men life-changing and life-giving hope. Is that what they wanted? No. They wanted a pat on the backs saying, "Well done good and faithful servant." Instead, they were told, "Away from me, for I never knew you." So, they put Him on trial and though He was innocent, He was handed over to the Romans to be killed. He was beaten within an inch of His life, He was mocked. He was spat upon, and those whom He loved turned their backs on Him. As if that wasn't awful enough, they nailed Him to the cross and gambled for His clothes as He hung, dying, for my sins and yours. Every last corrupt thought, every last gossip, every last anything all hung there on the cross.
One of the men Jesus had impacted offered up his burial site for Jesus to be laid. They laid Him in the tomb, rolled a stone in front of it, and left guards standing there to make sure no funny business happened. Three days later, the earth began to shake, the stone began to roll away, and the Christ, Son of the Living God emerged from the tomb, alive! Death, hell, sin, the grave, and Satan had been conquered! Jesus Christ, our sacrificial Lamb, has washed away all of our sin forever! He appeared to hundreds of people after His resurrection and then ascended back to heaven where He is waiting for us.
There are so many more things I could tell you about the life of Jesus and so many other crucial parts to the Gospel that make it so wonderful and so life giving. I wish I had time to tell you each and every story that is presented in the four Gospels and throughout Scripture. Unfortunately, there isn't enough time in the world and there isn't enough space on the internet to tell you all the wonderful things about Jesus and quite honestly, I haven't learned them all.
If you are new to the faith and still a little unsure what the Gospel is, I would recommend that you read the book of John. I spent almost a whole year in it this past year and learned so much about Jesus and His life and ministry.
Now what? Jesus came and was born of a virgin, was crucified, dead, and buried to wash away the guilt of my sins, and on the third day He rose again. What are we supposed to do next? Is there a next step? What does it look like to follow Jesus? These are all questions that people have had since Jesus was walking on this earth and they are valid questions.
Next week, we will talk about what our proper response is to the Gospel and what we are supposed to do in response to it.
This week, I challenge you to be in prayer and ask the Lord if there is an area of your life that you are unwilling to surrender to Christ. Ask God to show you that He is trustworthy and actions you can take this week to learn to trust Him.