Which Thief (on the cross) Are You?

There’s a cross for you. I mean, the three crosses raised that day in A.D. 29 were our crosses. Our sin, our affront to God with our sin shows we are guilty and deserved death.

Three people died that day; Jesus in the middle, and two criminals on the left and right side of Jesus. When Jesus said “it is finished,” the fate of the two thieves was set. One would suffer in hell, the other, would join Jesus in “paradise.”

Sin destroys! Think about it. Sin doesn’t do good at all. The ultimate purpose of sin is to destroy the sinner. Lying destroys trust. Hate and murder destroys lives. Adultery destroys relationships and families. Sin destroys.

The reason for sin’s destruction is to hurt God. The devil, in the Garden of Eden, in the form of a serpent wanted to convince Adam and Eve to sin. He worked his deceit through Eve and Adam fell in with her in the sin.

The devil wants to hurt God, and what hurts the most, a severely broken relationship. Sin is the break-point and separation and punishment is the consequence, because, we have not obeyed the Father.

The thieves had separate attitudes about Jesus. One taunted Jesus to save himself. The crowds watching the spectacle were taunting Jesus in the same way. The other thief, realized that Jesus was without sin and that he did not deserve punishment. He even scolded the other thief. We deserve this punishment, but this man has done no wrong.

“For all have sinned” Romans3.23; and “the wages of sin is death” @Romans6.23. We are sinners, we deserved the death that Jesus died. But Jesus death was for sin. He was on the cross receiving the penalty for our sin, therefore he became sin for us.

Because the one thief was repentant, when he asked Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom, Jesus told him that he would be in paradise with him that very day. He was forgiven. He was given freedom from the spiritual penalty of his sin.

Have you repented of your sin against God? Have you asked forgiveness for your sinfulness? Have you confessed Jesus as the risen Son of God because you believe in him? Have you been immersed for your salvation?

Which thief are you?

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Getting Into This Grace, Part 12

      A family from a remote area was making their first visit to a big city. They checked in to a grand hotel and stood in amazement at the impressive sight. Leaving the reception desk they came to the elevator entrance. They’d never seen an elevator before, and just stared at it, unable to figure out what it was for.

An old lady hobbled towards the elevator and went inside. The door closed. About a minute later, the door opened and out came a stunningly good-looking young woman.

The Dad couldn’t stop staring. Without turning his head he patted his son’s arm and said, “Go get your mother, son.”

It’s just a joke, but transformation is what we’re dealing with today. Not just change, but more than change, transformation, metamorphosis; the conversion of our hearts and minds and souls.

That’s where Paul takes us in Romans. After receiving God’s grace there is still the struggle of living in a holy manner. In Romans 7, Paul discussed the difficulty of receiving grace and not living by grace. “I do the things I don’t want to do and I don’t do the things I know I should do.” As long as we continue to live in the flesh, we will have that struggle. What’s the solution?

Let’s start with God and the beginning of all things by going back to creation. God made everything and this is God’s estimation of it:

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” Genesis 1:31. (NIV)

“It may seem obvious at first, but this statement is actually quite radical. By claiming that creation is good, the Bible places itself in contrast to a number of religions and philosophies that hold that this earth upon which we live is, at best, irrelevant, or, at worst, evil.

Biblical faith however, declares that the world God has made is good. Creation is very good, not evil.  It is the environment in which God created us to prosper and thrive” (Mark Sayers, The Vertical Self); this is the home that God created for us to live in with him and the whole of creation. Yet, sin removed us from the good and moved us into the bad and as Romans 9:19-22 tells us, the creation is suffering because of human sin as well.

Things were good until sin entered the world and corrupted everything. As we said before, you weren’t born with sin. Sin is not your natural way it’s not in your spiritual or physical DNA. You didn’t inherit it from Adam and Eve, but like Adam and Eve, you had a choice and you chose wrong. You sinned by choice and that is how sin entered the world and how sin became a part of your life, by each and every individual’s choice.

In Christ, through his death and resurrection and by means of your faith, you are freed from sin, and set apart able to live a holy and righteous life pleasing to God. But until we get to heaven, we still struggle with temptation and sin and don’t always accomplish the will of God in holiness.

Paul gives us the solution beginning with chapter 12 through the rest of the book. It’s here that he gets really practical.

CLIMB UP AND BECOME A SACRIFICE – Romans 12:1 “

We are to be “living sacrifices.” That’s kind of a contradictory term. The sacrifice is usually killed and prepared before it is sacrificed. The life of the sacrifice was the sacrifice. Its death was the substitution for the person’s sins it was sacrificed for. But we are to be living sacrifice. What’s that mean?

Begin with this thought: Reconciliation rarely occurs without sacrifice. By giving his one and only Son, God took the initiative in healing our broken relationship with him. He made the supreme sacrifice for us that we might be reconciled to him. Jesus’ death was the sacrifice for your sins, yet he lives. His death makes it possible for you to be saved, to be reconciled to God, to fix the broken tie that sin caused between you and God.

Remember, you were dead in your sins, but in Christ you have life. You were dead and buried in baptism and coming out of the water came out alive, reconciled to God. You are now his child, you have been saved by God’s grace. You gave your life to God; you are a living sacrifice, pure and holy – holy and pleasing to God (as the verse tells us).

That is a decision, an attitude, and a determination.

You can’t be a living sacrifice unless you choose to be. It is your decision. You have to choose to be holy to God. As we will see, he will enact the transformation with your decision and your effort and you will become this living sacrifice and will show God’s holiness.

Unless you are holy, you cannot be a sacrifice to God . . . at all. We see this in the story of Israel. God called his people for a special purpose.  Israel was to be a holy people whose embodiment of God’s values would speak to the nations of the world. He called Israel to be a living example of the way he wanted the world to be.

Christians, the church is spiritual Israel and we have the same purpose in this world, to embody God’s holiness as a witness to the world. Yet, we have to decide to become what God has wanted to do in us all along.

At the same time you have to want to be that way. You can decide something all day long, but if you don’t want to do it or be that way, you either won’t or your heart won’t be in it. And if you do it, you are just going through the motions. It has little or no meaning to you.  You’re just “doing it,” not “being it.”

Your attitude, your motivation matters. It is so much more than doing the right thing, it is having right attitude, the correct motivation just like the Sermon on the Mount teaches us. See if these words capture the right attitude?

  • Thankfulness and Gratefulness
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Harmony
  • Hope
  • Mission and ministry
  • Calling
  • Who you are in Christ

And with the elements of choice, attitude, and determination to become who God wants you to be and calls you to be, while he works in you – you also work through his strength, his gifts, his Spirit, and as we shall see from verse 2, his word.

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God’s Taking Care of Me (Romans Pt. 11)

I like to win. I am very competitive and I really like victory. When it really matters, I will do whatever I need to do (within the rules) to win, to overcome my opponent, to conquer them.

I don’t know if it is that I’m a guy and guys have that tendency, or if it is cultural conditioning and participating in sports, or if it’s just me, but I like to win.

I won when God saved me. I became victorious over sin, over temptation, over death, over everything that puts me in the state of being lost. In Christ, I am a conqueror. The only thing I really did was believe in Christ, repent my sins, confess that he is God’s Son and give my life to him. He saved me. I recognized that the war was going to be won by the forces of heaven with Jesus the victor and I went over to the other side, to Jesus’ side.

I have been given and I have received God’s grace.

In the 4/4/11 post  https://blogthechurch.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/figuring-out-what-romans-828-means/ , we discussed how Romans 8:28 is misused. Essentially, people take the verse and believe it claims that they will overcome in every circumstance and situation because they are in Christ, yet, it is not about living a victorious life and all about overcoming what sin had done to us in the first place. Sin had separated us from the love of God and now that we have taken Christ as our Savior, we have become conquerors.

And so God has done some important and incredible stuff, both before creation and now.

1st – Before creation he determined that when we accept Christ, that we will become like Christ is being judged sinless and that we will be (as Romans 12:1-2 says) transformed by the renewing of our mind. He already renewed our soul, now the ongoing transformation of making us Christ-like continues in this life – Rom. 8:29-30

2nd – When Paul tells us that God is for us, we are not talking about God cheering us on from the sidelines, or even as a coach. He is for us in that he gave us life. He provided life through Jesus’ death and resurrection and puts eternal life into us when we accept Christ and are baptized. So he makes our souls right (Paul uses the word justified) – Rom. 8:31-32

3rd – Because we are judged innocent of sin with Jesus’ blood covering us for the sake of forgiveness, then no can bring a charge of guilt against us because God has forgiven us. We are even told that God erases our sins from the book that records what we’ve done in this life. They are no longer recognized because when God looks at us he sees Jesus’ blood covering us – Rom. 8:33-34

So, who shall separate us from the love of Christ. Sin can’t because it has been removed and forgotten. Satan can’t because God doesn’t recognized that we are sinners any more. Nothing outside of ourselves can separate the faithful Christian from God’s love (which implies God wanting to and giving us salvation).

In Christ, you are in good shape.

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Boy Am I Blessed!

It is not hard to become a Christian. You hear the Gospel of Jesus and when you believe the Gospel, you have faith in Christ (Romans 10:14-17). Then when you have met the conditions (faith; Romans 10:9-10; repentance; Acts 2:38; confession: Romans 10:9-10, & baptism; Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21), then you are saved, God has saved you because you have identified with Christ through his death (that’s what immersion is for, cf., Romans 6:1-6). That’s the easy part, knowing what to do, but, it can be more difficult for some people to come to the point of belief, or repentance. It can be difficult to let go of what we already know and keep ourselves living in the that way which the Bible describes as sinful and worldly and idolatry.

Once I am saved, when I have become a Christian, well things are new. The Bible even calls it a new life (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 4:16). I am not who I was. I have a brand new life, I start over. If I simply keep living the way I had before, then I am not different just a little older. But with salvation in Christ, with the Holy Spirit in my life, with God’s Word the Bible leading me, then I am being transformed, renewed (Rom. 12:2) into the likeness of Christ.

At least one time, when there was a huge crowd of people, Jesus taught them. In Matthew 5, he was on a mountain in Galilee and began to teach the crowds. He began with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-16).

Each “Beatitude” begins with “Blessed are…” meaning, “joyful are those who….”

This is what it is like to live in Christ, to be a Christian, to have life.

  • It is a joyful thing to realize you are poor in your spirit and you need God. It is joyful because God’s kingdom is in us; Mt. 5:3
  • It is a joyful thing to mourn that you are a sinner, because God’s salvation will bring you comfort; Mt. 5:4
  • It is a joyful thing to be meek. Gentle in character but firm in conviction; you will “inherit the earth,” fill it with joy; Mt. 5:5
  • It is a joyful thing to hunger and thirst for righteousness, because you will have; Mt. 5:6
  • It is a joyful thing to be merciful, you’ll get mercy back and from God; Mt. 5:7
  • It is a joyful thing to have a pure heart, you are going to get to see God because of it; Mt. 5:8
  • It is joyful when you are a peacemaker, that’s what the children of God do; Mt. 5:9
  • It is a joyful thing when people persecute you because of your righteousness, it means you are in the kingdom and people who hate God hate Christ in you and will try to insult and stop you; Mt. 5:10-13

This is spiritual of course. It plays out here in the material world with the sense that God’s kingdom is expressed in and through your life.

This is the character of those who are saved. Not one or another of the Beatitudes, but all of them together. It’s like the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It’s not one or two things, it’s all of them at once that make up the produce of your life.

Why am I blessed? I am blessed because I have salvation, I have God in my life and Christ is leading me by the means of his Spirit. I have heaven and a great reward, now and in the future (John 10:10, “life abundant”).

Boy am I blessed!

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I’m Free! (Romans Pt 10)

Enjoy the freshness of the song than read the post.

In 2006 the song I Am Free was very popular with the teens at church camp. I know it was more about how the song rocked. I loved it for that reason to, but the simple theme of the song is the theme of Romans chapter 8.

Once I am freed from sin, I am no longer enslaved to sin. As Ricky Ricardo would say, “Let me ‘splain.” A perfect example is alcohol and drug addiction. When one becomes addicted to alcohol or drugs, they are enslaved to them. The chemical dependency will cause them to come back again and again without lasting satisfaction. And people do stupid things, comical things, dangerous things, even criminal things while under the influence. And to keep their addiction alive they sacrifice many things to acquire the addictive choice. They may spend the money that pays the bills for the family and so creditors are calling all the time, or the food cupboard is pretty sparse or bare. They may steal and lie and anything to keep their habit going. They can’t get away from it no matter how hard they try.

Two things here. They can’t reform and recover alone and they can’t break the addiction and find healing until they admit their problem and want and seek help.

That’s where we were with sin. It had us enslaved and there is no way out until we want to get out and seek for a way and we cant’ do it without help, and God sent the only help that can free us from sin. Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection.

“1Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4 NASB.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. This takes me back to Acts 2:38. Peter was telling the crowd hearing the apostles preach about Jesus, when they responded to the message to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. God putting his own Spirit in the life of the believer. God won’t put Him, the Spirit in the life of someone who has sin. When sin has been wiped out by God, through your faith and your activity of faith (belief, repentance, confession, and immersion), then he will put His Spirit in you because you are freed from sin.

The Spirit is a guarantee of eternal life, a provision for matching Godly wisdom and understanding with God’s word for living and application in your life, and the realization that you have been set free from sin and free to live with God, now and forever.

Listen to Jodie’s testimony.

“I stumbled down a road of despair; felt that my voice couldn’t be heard thru the layer of labels & paperwork that grew endlessly in my file each year. Files under the feelings and actions of depression, self-mutilation, drugs and even prostitution… What struggle are you facing? – You’re not alone, I’ve been there.

Can u relate in any way? Have u ever felt anger, fear, or hate?

I turned my back on society in a heart beat because I grew sick & tired of people. I decided no-one else was gonna have any control or say. You know how it is: you get a hurt a few times & put the walls up so high within, no one can see in… Yet they are up so high up you can’t see over them either.

I lost track of time as addictions took over, demons had me tripping up everywhere, running in circles from everything & everyone… that’s the game u begin to play, but I never knew- theres no way out, nothing to gain.

At 19 yrs old I woke up & realized I had a choice- Jesus was that choice. Jesus had died on the cross for my sins & in Him I could find peace… I gave God my life, asked Jesus for forgiveness and slowly but surely things in my life started to change. I got to reading the Bible, talking to Jesus thru out each day through prayer, and hope has filled my heart, love & compassion overflowing- freedom came.

What I can say today without question is that you need Jesus in your life today! ONLY He can set you free from your pain.” (Jodie’s and other testimonies can be found at http://shareyourstorynow.org/ )

I have been freed from sin now I can live free of what sin does to me as far as my relationship to sin. I am free to live in God’s world and share eternity with Him, which will be awesome. How about you?

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Am I Really Like This? (Romans Pt. 9)

A few years after I accepted Christ and was baptized, I began to experience a sense of guilt. I got my dad alone and told him I thought I needed to be baptized again.

I have to tell you that my dad was an elder at our church then and my dad was and is a man of wisdom. He studies God’s word. He learns and grows in understanding. I was 13 or 14 and he gave me some of the best advice and understanding I’ve ever received. Dad knew that there is only one baptism (Ephesians 4:4-6) and that I had been baptized for the forgiveness of my sins and salvation (Acts 2:38, and 1 Peter 3:21 ). He was there when I asked what I needed to do to be saved. He was there when I was baptized and shared in the prayer my preacher gave right after I was immersed. Dad knew the correct answer to my dilemma.

I needed to repent. I didn’t need to be baptized again (some call it rebaptism – it’s unheard of in the Bible). I just needed to repent. To determine to change and to live out the change into holiness.

Listen to Paul’s explanation of what we often title this section, “The Conflict of the Two Natures” . . . Romans 7:14-25

“14For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 21I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin,” NASB (Check out the New Living Translation; http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans%207:14-25&version=NLT ).

Here’s the problem. We are human beings living in the material (fleshly) world. There are sinful, worldly, “fleshly” forces that tempt us and work on our knowledge of what sin is. It’s kind of like this. You walk by a park bench that’s just been painted and there is a sign that says, “Stay off. Wet Paint!’ What is your first inclination? Either you want to touch it to see if it is wet, or you want to touch it because it says, “Stay off!.” Being a little rebellious and disobedient.

We do the things we know we’re not supposed to do and we don’t do the things we know we ought to do. There is a struggle. We are saved by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8). We have the Holy Spirit of God in us (Acts 2:38). But we are still living in this imperfect, sinful world until Jesus comes back. We are going to struggle. It will be difficult to keep from returning to the way of sin. Even Paul, who I thought when I was a teen was able to totally keep from sinning, struggled with doing what is right and not doing what is wrong.

Click on picture to enlarge

We’re supposed to be __________________. You can fill in the blank with words like, holy, righteous, perfected, etc.

If we have to struggle with what we were losing at in the first place because of sin, how is it possible to become what God wants me to become?

This is where you read Romans 8 and learn that God is at work in you and that is how you overcome the power of temptation and sin. Follow this link: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=romans%208&version=NASB

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Not Disappointed (Romans Pt 7)

Ok, you’ve been forgiven of sin, freed from guilt and feeling guilty. No one can accuse you of sin and wrong and be able to convict you. What’s that mean?

I like it when stress is pretty much nil, when I don’t have anything to hassle with. Since sin is so bad it is much more than just a hassle, it is a major problem. A problem so huge that I can’t get over it. Everything I’ve done, lied, stolen, lusted, hated, been insensitive to others, well, they all weigh on my heart and soul. I may not remember each specific individual incident, but I know that I’ve done those and other things.

I am guilty. I feel it. And the one that I have to answer too will hold me accountable to what I’ve done . . .  unless, I can have all this sin removed from me. If that happens, I have nothing to hassle with because no one has a case against me, they cannot accuse me of the wrong.

By the blood of Jesus applied to my life through my faith in Jesus I have been forgiven by God. Meaning, I am no longer guilty. God doesn’t hold it against me. So I get peace.

Therefore since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” Romans 5:1.

If God doesn’t hold it against me anymore, than God and I are at peace with each other and I have nothing to feel guilty about anymore. I am free. I have been saved from God’s wrath (5:9). The penalty for sin is death (6:23). That word death is describing what is known as spiritual death which is eternal separation from God.

This opens up a whole new world for me. I have been cleansed from my sin by Christ’s blood. I have been given the gift of grace by God through Jesus’s death. I have been justified and declared not guilty. I am no longer judged by the written law, but by the law of faith. My faith in Jesus saves me and I am not disappointed because I am free.

I work in a juvenile detention facility, a temporary jail for teens who have broken the law. When they are locked up, they have lost their civil rights because they have violated the law that protects society to from wrong-doers. They are confined to a limited area, they are restricted in their interaction with others. They have more rules to follow or they receive more restrictions than before, in fact, they will be removed from the general population and restricted to their individual cell.

When they are released, they are free to interact in our society as long as they keep the rules. Breaking the rules takes away their freedom.

When we sin, our souls are in bondage to sin and removed from God’s presence. We are bound away from interaction with God, until we come to him in repentance through belief in his Son Jesus Christ who died to pay for our sins (5:9-20). When God gives us this gift of grace, we are free to live without sin. We are free to live in relation to Him. What a great gift!

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