“God and Christianity are the reason for our sense of guilt, and lack of self-worth in society.” This is another statement that has been spoken to me multiple times recently. Again, I disagree. In fact, I believe the exact opposite is true – that it is because of God and in Christ that we have freedom from guilt, and experience full worth. It is Christ’s cloak of righteousness that covers us [Isaiah 61:10] and makes us worthy to stand before God, and to be called by His Name. In Christ, we are adopted as sons of God, to share in Christ’s eternal inheritance [Ephesians 1:5, Romans 8:1, 16-17]. The lyrics of Jon Thurlow’s “Mighty Hand” capture this truth from God’s word. I’ve just included a portion of these lyrics here:
“There is therefore now no condemnation
For those who are in Christ Jesus
Where are your accusers now?
Where are your accusers now?
You put the ring upon my finger
You put the robe upon my back
You put your arms around me and say
You are my son, my daughter, don’t forget”
There are a few important things to understand in the story of salvation:
- All men have sinned and the wages of sin are death.
- The FREE (not earned, but freely available to all) gift of God’s grace, justification and love is found in Christ.
- We participate in the receiving of God’s gift but daily believing and loving Him. It is a consequence of His gift, not a requirement for the receipt of it.
- In Christ, we are found worthy to stand in the presence of our Holy God, and to be called His sons and daughters (our identity found in Christ)
Only Half the Story
One of the first dreams I ever remember having that included a Biblical message was this:
I was wanted for something and was therefore running away as my accusers pursued me. As I came to the end of the forest through which I had been running, with nowhere else to go, I saw a tree standing alone, apart from the others, and a voice said “For the wages of sin is death”. Then, the voice told me three things to speak out that would give me protection. I cannot remember the first two things, but the last was that I had to give up my life to this One who would save me. I declared these things and just as I finished, my accusers caught up to me. I turned to face them, but they could not touch me and walked away.
Many people remember the admonition that man is sinful, and that not one is righteous. However, this is only half the story. There is a second part! [Romans 8:23] – “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus has paid it all on the cross. I think the tree standing apart from others represented Jesus on the cross. I am reminded of two passages:
- [Song of Songs 2:3] – “Like an apple tree among the trees of the woods, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down in his shade with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.”
- [1 Peter 2:24] – “…who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes we are healed.”
Jesus, being fully God, therefore without blemish, the holy and righteous Lamb of God, did what no other sacrifice of cleansing could do. He paid the full price for every sin of every person in the world out of love for the Father, and love for us, His inheritance and His bride. At the same time, He fulfilled the requirement of sin, thus justifying us for eternity [Hebrews 4:14-5:11]. When we surrender our lives completely to Jesus, we are accepting His gift of abundant and eternal life. This is the fullness of life, and the fruit of Jesus’ abundant life, which available to us now and forevermore as we explored previously. See: https://lostnowfoundk.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/to-live-or-die/
Furthermore, all this is FREE in Christ, it is the GIFT of God. It cannot be earned or stolen, lent or borrowed. It is a gift, freely given, to all who would accept it. This is emphasised and offered so many times in the Bible that I feel I would not be able to include even a tenth of these passages here. However, here are just a few passages that remind us of the free gift found in Christ, free in price and free in quality.
- [Isaiah 55:1-2] – “…Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and water. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good. And let your soul delight itself in abundance.”
- [John 7:37-38] – ”…’If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
- [Galatians 5:1] – “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”
- [Ephesians 2:8] – “For by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”
- [Romans 5:7-8] – “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man one would dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
- [Revelation 22:17] – “…And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.”
Experiencing the Gift
I remember a few other aspects of the dream from before. As I ran through the forest, I noticed many gloomy looking people and dreary looking trees. I felt these represented those who had accepted God, but whose relationship with Him was dry and strained at the current time. I felt the tree represented spiritual growth and relationship with God. The gift of God is not simply accepted once and forgotten about. When we believe in Jesus, it is a continuous, lively belief – it requires our participation. In Matthew 10:8, as Jesus sends out the twelve apostles, He says, “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out the demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” The love of God and the power of His Name has been freely given, through His Holy Spirit, to all who believe in Jesus. As such, God has made us complete in every good work to do His will, working in us what is pleasing to Him [Hebrews 13:21].
Returning to the image of trees, I think of the a few passages that show us what it means to be active in cultivating our relationship with God.
Psalm 1 – Cultivating intimacy with Jesus keeps us rooted in His love, and the fruit of this is a life set apart in holiness, just as He is holy.
(v.2-3) “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.”
One way that we cultivate intimacy with God, is in reading and meditating on His word. It is a delight because as we read, we hear His voice, we see His eyes, we understand what is on His heart. He fills us to overflowing with His living water, His streams of love and joy. It nurtures us to be continuously rooted in His love, and from His abundance, we produce fruit – fruit of righteousness, fruit of love, fruit of a life lived in Christ, and this is visible to the world. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” [Psalm 34:8]
Isaiah 61 – As we grow to understand more of God’s heart, we join Him in His works of love and justice, so we work with Him for the coming of His kingdom.
(v.3-4) “To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. And they shall rebuild the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations.”
I believe Israel has not been forgotten by God, that He still calls them His chosen people and that He will restore them as He has done so many times and promises to do for eternity at His return. Through Christ, we share in the blessing of Israel. God promises His people beauty for ashes, joy for mourning, praise for heaviness and He has made these things available to us too through Christ. As He has planted us to stand for His glory, we also work with Him and with His power. Someone pointed out to me once how Jesus, when quoting Isaiah 61 at the synagogue (Luke 4:16-21), did not finish the passage but ended the description of His work at “To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord…” The end of this passage is, “And the day of vengeance of our God.” Jesus is coming back again soon and as we live on earth, we are given a call to redeem the time.
- [Ephesians 5:15-17] – “See then, that you walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, understand what the will of the Lord is.”
- [Colossians 4:5] – “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time.”
We redeem the time as we walk in God’s way – in His wisdom and His will. We can only do this is we truly know Him and submit ourselves to Him. It requires intimacy with God so, let the king bring me into His chamber [Song of Songs 1:4], and let the Spirit give us understanding of His ways.
Condemnation vs. Conviction
In my dream, I also remember a mirror being placed near me, and I saw my reflection in it. I felt this was a reminder of who I am – that I am a child of God, made in His image. My life on earth is characterised, not by guilt that forces me to do good things, but by the freedom to love as Jesus has loved me. At the same time, I do not spurn my freedom because, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:23, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” I want to seek first, to love and glorify God, and also, to build up and love those He loves. I want to grow more into His image, to know Him more, and to be like Him more. Every now and then, I say to the Lord, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” [Psalm 139:23-24]. I want Jesus to know me completely – all my weaknesses and all my sins. I invite Him to come and fill me up with His love, to test me and refine me, to lead me always in His way.
I remember my Pastor at church saying one Sunday – “Condemnation draws us further away from God, but conviction draws us closer to Him.” I see a clear example in the stories of Saul and David. Both men sinned, but both men responded to their sin differently. Saul felt condemned and he ran from God. David was convicted and he fell towards God. The outcomes of their lives are the evidence of this. When I have been convicted by the Holy Spirit, I do not feel like I must hide from God, I feel like I have to run into His arms. I know He loves me, and I know everything He does and says is good. I trust Him with my life, and I know that he will give me the strength and faith to walk in all of his ways, even if at first, I may not understand them completely. He gives knowledge to those who seek him, and my heart overflows with joy because I know who I am in Christ. I know I belong to Jesus and that no-one can take me out of His hand [John 10:29]. What greater assurance is there than this? Romains 2:4 says, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and long suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” The goodness of God, His patience, His gift of free-will is meant to lead us into repentance, and repentance leads us into His abundant life. The road to repentance is NOT guilt and lack of self-worth; the road to repentance is paved with a confidence of love, and identity in Christ.
The story of salvation is so simple – Jesus paid it all. At the same time, it is so expansive because of the greatness of God and the depth of His love that waits for our discovery. May this be our prayer as we “work out our salvation”:
[Ephesians 1:18-19] – “…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power….”