The Details of Redemption

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“Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”

Colossians 1:12-14 (NKJ)

 

During my personal devotions this Lenten season, the scripture texts that resonate in my spirit deal with God’s gift of salvation.  Many times we quickly define salvation as “Christ’s death for our sins” but we would be better informed by understanding “the details behind His death.”  This week, as part of our Lenten season studies, we will explore the “details of redemption.”

Redemption (apolutrosis) is the purchase back of something that had been lost, by the payment of a ransom.   In the God’s plan of salvation, man was lost as a result of the entrance of sin into the world.  (Gen. 3)  Why was redemption required?  God’s holiness required that sin be “dealt with.”  God’s justice required a ransom to “redeem” for wrongdoing.  How was redemption to be accomplished? “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Heb. 9:12)  Who would redeem us?  “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself (Jesus Christ) likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”  (Heb. 2:14-15)

To further illustrate redemption, I offer this personal story.  I remember my parent’s “patient and tireless” love for me.  I especially remember their offer to assist me with my finances as I began my new career as an elementary teacher.  Like most young adults establishing themselves, I was indebted “to credit.”  My parents, after seeing me struggle would “pay off” my debt with my promise to limit my use of the credit card.  Well, a year later, I was back in debt.  My parents again, “made the offer to pay, I promised not to stray, but the debt would not stay away.”  This happened on many occasions, I’m embarrassed to say.   I finally had to decline their generous offer and learn to better manage my monies.  The point of this illustration is that my parents were willing to pay the debt to the creditors—my debt—a debt that they had no part in creating.

Likewise, God, our Heavenly Father, through His Son, has provided a way to eliminate our sin debt.  “Christ, who knew no sin, became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21) The debt against us is not viewed as simply cancelled, but paid in full. Christ’s blood is the “ransom” by which the deliverance of His people from the servitude of sin and from its penal consequences has been secured.   Why would God want to redeem man?  Because of His great love for us—we are His children and heirs to His kingdom.  He “patiently and tirelessly” loves us and desires that we would be free to realize all He has promised to and for us.  Just like my parents desired for me.

Good to the Last Byte…

Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, that God “had delivered him, was delivering him and would deliver him” from all hurt and harm. (2 Cor. 1:9-10)  While Paul was speaking of God’s acts of protection and provision, He also acknowledges God’s ultimate victory over the power of sin.  God not only defeated Satan and sin but He annihilated it.   (Col. 2:15)

Celebrating Lent 2014-Barna Update

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Lenten celebration began on Ash Wednesday (March 5th) marking the beginning of a 40-day period of fasting, repentance, and spiritual discipline.  So what do people really do during the Lenten season?  Is this still the best way to prepare for Easter?  We’d like to offer you new insights into this holiest of seasons from the Barna Research Group.       Check it out  and let is know what you think in the comments below.   Hope you find it “insightful”.

Identity Crisis, Part 2

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,

which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  Ephesians 2:10 (NKJ)

 Last week we explored the challenge of maintaining one’s identity in Christ while living in the midst of the 21st century.  We discussed the temptations offered by Satan, the influence of worldview, and willfulness of self.  How then are Christians to maintain their identity in light of these tests?  How do we protect ourselves from spiritual identity crisis?

 Overcoming identity crisis, from a worldview perspective, can be accomplished by employing the following key actions.  First, accept that you are no longer the person you wish.  This will help you begin to identify the things you want to change based on what you like and don’t like about your life.  Second, identify what’s important to you.  Then work on developing those things that make you feel good about yourself and invigorate your life.  Lastly, learn to contemplate and reflect on what you want.  Let go stringent goals and absolutes. Your next steps will then become obvious.  If these actions don’t help, the individual is encouraged to talk to a friend or a mental health professional for support and encouragement.  Unfortunately, the worldview solution is flawed in that it is dependent on a “weak link”—self, which hasn’t worked up to this point.  Identity based on self, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”, is built upon a foundation that is doomed for failure.  Such a plan is not of the Father but is of the world, which is passing away” (1 John 2:15-17).      

 Jesus left us the best model for dealing with identity crisis.  Although others, including Satan (John 4:1-11), continually questioned Jesus as to His identity, His response reflected three (3) key beliefs that kept Him firmly grounded.  First, He knew who He was.  He was God’s Son and the Son of man (Matt. 3:17; Mark 8:31). Secondly, He knew His purpose.  He was sent by the Father to die for man’s sins (John 3:16).  And finally, He knew who He was to serve—God and man (John 5:30; Matt. 20:28).  If we are to avoid spiritual identity crisis, we would be well advised to follow Jesus’ example.   

  • Know who we are.  As new creatures in Christ all things are of God (2 Cor. 5:17-18).  We now possess our Father’s DNA—His divine nature and righteousness (1 Pet. 2:24).   Knowing God’s truth gives us the assurance and boldness to counter the false identity offered by Satan and the world. 
  •  Know what our purpose is.  We are to be conformed to Christ’s image (Rom. 8:29).  Just as Jesus came to serve, we also are to be servants of God, answering His call to duty.  Just as Jesus was attentive to His Father’s call, through spending time in prayer and meditation, we also must listen to God’s leading to fully realize our purpose. 

  • Know who we serve.  Our identity in Christ necessitates our allegiance.   In Christ, we are no longer “slaves of unrighteousness but slaves to righteousness” (Rom. 6:12-13).  As children of God (Rom. 8:16) we are obedient to our Father.  We are to have the mind of Christ, who was obedient, even unto death (Phil. 2:8). 

Good to the Last Byte…

As believers our identity is founded in Christ Jesus.  It has been revealed in God’s Word and is a reflection of His love for us.  (Read Neil Anderson’s, “Our Identity in Christ”).  Our identity is based on a firm foundation that is eternal and abides forever (Ep. 1:4).  Jesus has made it possible for us to become partakers of God’s grace and power.  Knowing our identity, we are able to hold firm our “confession of faith without wavering” (Heb. 10:23).  CAUTION:  If we as believers are unable to accept the identity God has communicated to us, we need to enter into a time of prayer and examination as to why we choose not to believe God (choosing rather to believe the lie of Satan, self and the world)

Identity Crisis, Part 1

“Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises:

that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature,

having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”  2 Peter 1:4

Identity denotes that set of characteristics that constitutes individual personality—our essential self. Last week we talked about our spiritual identity and the need to protect it from “theft” by Satan and the world.   This week, we will begin to examine another aspect of our identity also at risk in this “present age”—identity crisis.

 Identity crisis, in the psychosocial sense, is a condition of disorientation and role confusion as a result of conflicting pressures and expectations.   Identity crisis seeks a clearer sense of self and acceptable role in society.  Spiritual identity crisis is very similar, in that it occurs because of the conflict exerted from Satan, the world, and self. 

Satan challenges our identity in Christ Jesus by first targeting our mind.  He uses as his weapon lies that are designed to deceive and discourage.  Satan’s purpose is to make us ignorant of God’s will and plan for our life.   The world also attacks our mind and our body.  It creates an insatiable desire for “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).  Lastly, self contributes to spiritual identity crisis by demanding freedom to exercise its personal will.  The desire to rule self and operate independent of God leads to self-promotion, self-elevation, and selfishness.  Left unchecked, man’s attention shifts from “what God desires” to “what feels right.” 

 While identity deals with personal uniqueness, it also describes a person’s sameness with others.  For example, one’s identity may be tied to a particular area (Midwesterner, New Yorker), a certain group (Boomers, Gen-Xers), or a cause (Save the Whales).  For believers, our identity is rooted and grounded in Christ Jesus (Col. 2:7).   Through His work of redemption, we have been reconciled to the Father (Rom. 5:10).  “In Christ Jesus” we are now sons and daughters of God (John 1:12), endowed with a new identity and power.  Through spiritual regeneration (2 Cor. 5:17), we have become partakers of His divine nature, the Holy Spirit, who is daily conforming us to the image of Christ (2 Pet. 1:4). 

As believers in Christ Jesus we are not to experience identity crisis.  Our identity in Christ Jesus has releases us from not only the penalty of sin, but also its power and influence.  We no longer identify with Satan, the world or self.  We are to reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive in Christ (Rom. 6:11-13).   We know not only “who we are” but also “whose we are.”  Our spiritual identity is in Christ Jesus, who is our “wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).

 Next week we will continue this discussion on identity crisis with more detail as to how to reverse this threat facing believers living in the 21st century.

Identity Theft

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  Galatians 3:26 (KJV)

 The recent security breach of the million dollar merchant, Target, has left many of us extremely nervous concerning identity theft.   It has become a lucrative business as personal information is illegally accessed and sold to the highest bidder whose intent is to defraud and swindle.   It is an event we pray never happen to us.   Similarly, theft of our spiritual identity can be a costly event. 

 The identity thief, in this case, is Satan.  Our true identity was established in the Garden of Eden.  There man was created in the image of God and shared unbroken fellowship with the Father.  He was given authority over all creation and total access to limitless resources (Gen. 1:28).  That was God’s identity for man—beloved creature and ruler—until his identity was “stolen” through deceit and deception.    Satan took man’s glorious identity, given by God the Creator, and robbed him of his “good name”, leaving him “spiritual bankrupt.”   Why is spiritual identity important?

First, our spiritual identity “in Christ Jesus” connects us to our source of life, God the Father.  In Christ Jesus” we are reconciled to God.  Now we are “children of God” and His “son” (John 1:12; Rom. 8:14).  Understanding our spiritual identity, we can access those rights and privileges that are rightfully our “birthright”.   Our identity, which was loss in the garden, was restored at the Cross.

 Secondarily, our spiritual identity “in Christ Jesus” replaces the distorted view we have of ourselves communicated by Satan and the world, and through unhealthy attachments and relationships.  It is here that we develop “false identities” of who we are.  These false identities leave us broken hearted and emotionally damaged.  God’s truth, our identity in Christ Jesus, is needed to replace the lies we believe (John 8:32; 10:13).

 God, in His mercy and love, sent Jesus to retrieve and strengthen our true identity that was stolen in the Garden.  “In Christ Jesus” we have been given a new name and new blessings to be enjoyed now through eternity.   Our true identity is now safe and secure, “theft resistant” because of that which Christ accomplished on the Cross.

 Good to the Last Byte…

Want to take back your identity?  REJECT Satan’s attacks on our identity in Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).  RENOUNCE Satan’s presence and power over you (James 4:7).   RECKON yourself dead to sin but alive to God (Rom. 6:11).   Actively engage in proclaiming and pursuing your true identity in Christ.  

Learning to Forgive

“…bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you,  so you also must do.”   Col. 3:13 (KJV)

  To forgive is not easy.  It’s antithesis, unforgiveness, is usually  entwined with the emotions we felt (or still feel) during the original offense–anger, shame, or fear.  Regardless, it is still an expectation of God that we forgive (Matt. 6:14-15). 

 In the parable of the unmerciful servant, Jesus makes the point that human beings are obligated to forgive because God has forgiven them (Matt. 18:23-35).  Jesus contrasts the “forgiving” heart of the father in the prodigal son story with the “unforgiving” older son.  It is a study in the stubborn refusal to forgive that is characterized by hardness, a demand for revenge, and arrogance.  Unforgiveness often causes as much pain as the original offense. The older son’s self-justified indignation and smugness “over being right” was causing just as much pain and separation between himself and his father as was caused by his younger brother. 

 It has been said that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.  The damaging effect of unforgiveness is seen not only in the emotional and physical health of people but also in their broken relationship with others and God.  Forgiveness is an act of the will (versus what we feel) and as believers, we are to forgive as an act of love and obedience to the Lord (John 14:15).

 Refusal to forgive indicates a rebellious, stubborn heart that has “not drunk deeply of the water of grace and mercy at the well of God’s forgiveness” (Luke 7:47). While forgiveness is not easy, God has provided His Spirit within us to show us how we can be freed from the death grip of unforgiveness.  Ask Him to set you free.

When God Closes Doors

“But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt,

to the end that he should multiply horses:forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you,

Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.” Deut. 17:16 (KJV)

My favorite aunt gave me a small wood plaque to hang on the wall in my office. On it were written these words, “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” The inference is that God in His wisdom and providence will always provide a way for us. The question then is, why does God close doors?

 For our benefit. Closed doors often lead to new opportunities in our lives. Closed doors force us to try new options, meet new people, and exercise spiritual gifts and talents that may never have been used. Joseph faced many closed doors in his life. The first door closed when his brothers sold him into slavery; the second door slam in his face when Potiphar’s had him falsely imprisoned. The final door, he thought, shut tight when the cup bearer forgot him for two years. Though the closed doors were first “used for evil, God used them for good.” (Gen. 50:20)

 For our spiritual maturity. Closed doors result in the strengthening of two important spiritual muscles–“trusting by faith” and “learning to wait.” In Hebrews 11 we see the “Faith Hall of Fame”, made up of those individuals who trusted God even when the doors appeared closed. (Hebrews 11 :4-31) Though the closed doors were first viewed as obstacles, they trusted in God’s promises and waited … even unto death. The results were both rewards and “great faith.”

For God’s glory. Closed doors position us to accomplish God’s purpose and plan for kingdom building. The Holy Spirit forbade Paul to preach the word in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). God had a different plan for Paul that would first take the gospel to Macedonia. (Acts 16:6-10) Though this door was first viewed as a detour from proclaiming the gospel, God expanded Paul’s ministry beyond anything he could have imaged; his epistles would become part of Holy Scripture, read and preached in countries around the world.

 In the game show, “Let’s Make a Deal,” contestants choose from “prize doors” that offer either a rich reward or an ugly, disgusting “zonk”. Knowing this, contestants must choose to open the right door and leave others closed. Our omniscient God doesn’t operate like this game show. Whatever door He closes can only lead to our good and His glory.

 Good to the Last Byte…

We are often in need of special assistance from influential people to help us with our request. We may ask them to help “open the door” byway of introduction or getting access to someone or something on our behalf. Are we, in like manner, able to trust God Him to close doors on your behalf” Has He closed doors that resulted in your good? 

In His Presence

“And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way…”  Luke 24:32 (KJV)

 After experiencing the presence of the Lord, it is hard to return to “business as usual.”  As His truth and righteousness burn in our hearts, we leave renewed and ready to follow the path He has designed for our life. 

In His presence, Peter, James and John experienced the transfiguration of Christ (Matt. 17:1-13).  They were so astonished with what they saw and heard that they desired to build a tabernacle to glorify the Lord.  These disciples came desiring to be part of Jesus’ “in crowd” but left instead as witnesses of the Christ (Acts 1:8). 

 In His presence, the Samaritan woman found the chance for a new beginning (John 4).  Often ostracized and demeaned by both men and women, this woman was offered refreshment that satisfied the soul’s true thirst—unconditional love and forgiveness.  The woman at the well came desiring physical water but found instead a Savior and everlasting life (John 4:14).   

 In His presence, Zacchaeus initially came as a seeker (Luke 19:2).  He hoped to merely catch a glimpse of this great prophet.  Imagine Zacchaeus’ (and the hypocritical observers’) surprise with Jesus’ invitation to “abide” at his home.   Zacchaeus came to observe from a tree but became the object of Jesus’ attention and the “poster child” for true reconciliation. (Luke 19:9)

 We often come into God’s presence unknowingly like the woman at the well.  Other times, we are like Zacchaeus, very intentional in our desire to see the glory of the Lord.  Regardless of how we come into His presence, it is important that we leave changed for the better and ready to accomplish the purpose He has established for our life. 

 Good to the Last Byte…

We often face obstacles that hinder our ability to come into God’s presence.  Don’t let the distractions of this world or the deception of Satan keep you from the best God has for you.  “…in your presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Ps. 16:11).

Practicing the Presence of God

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?”  Psalm 139:7 (NKJ)

What exactly is meant by the phrase, “practicing the presence of God”?  In pursuit of an answer to that question, I found the best definitions from two renowned practitioners of this spiritual habit.  Following are their responses for your consideration. 

 “…to acknowledge the Presence of God who is really there is actually a form of prayer, a way of praying always as the Scriptures exhort us to do.  When we do this, the eyes and ears of our hearts are open to receive the word He is always speaking.  We enter into a path of obedience perhaps unknown to us before where we joyfully acknowledge, ‘Jesus is Lord.’   

Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence

 “…continual conversation with Him, with freedom and in simplicity.  That we need only to recognize God intimately present with us, to address ourselves to Him every moment, that we may beg His assistance for knowing His will in things doubtful, and for rightly performing those which we plainly see He requires of us, offering them to Him before we do them, and giving Him thanks when we have done.” 

Brother Lawrence, Practicing the Presence of God  

 Practicing the presence of God is built on several foundational truths about God and His relationship with believers. 

 1)      God lives within us.  “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” 1 Cor. 3:16.  Before returning to His Father, Jesus promised to send “another Comforter” that would abide with them forever (John 14:16).  That Comforter was the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.  He guides believers in all truth—truth that He hears from the Father (John 16:13). 

2)      God desires to communicate with us.   “Then God went up from him in the place where He talked with him.” Genesis 35:13.  God is not some distant deity disinterested in His children’s daily affairs.  We cry “Abba Father” (Gal. 4:6) knowing He hears our every word; in response we are to listen intently as He directs us:  “this is the way walk in it” (Isa. 30:21).  Communication between the Father and His children result in unity of thought and agreement in purpose.   

 3)     God wishes to be in relationship with us.  “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8a.  It has always been God’s desire to be in unbroken fellowship with man.  By instituting His plan of salvation, He created the means by which that which was lost in the Garden of Eden could be restored.  Now reconciled to God (Col. 1:20-21), man is once again free to fellowship with his Creator. 

 Jesus Christ was the greatest practitioner of living in the presence of God.  Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus synchronized His every move based on what He heard from His Father (John 5:30).  Living in continual communion with God, Jesus modeled the power of practicing the presence.     With these definitions and truths in hand, the spiritual reality of practicing the presence of God releases His fullness into the believer’s life.  There is peace, joy and love in abundance.   In unhindered communion with God, believers are able to live life more victoriously.    

 Good to the Last Byte…

In practicing the presence of God, believers live moment to moment in awareness and acknowledgement of God’s presence.  Awareness of God’s presence means that in our heart, we proclaim Christ is Lord.  In Him “we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).   Acknowledgement of God’s presence means that we live our life attentively listening to His voice.  We live in unbroken communication with Him—“He in us and we in Him” (John 17:23).   

Are You Overcome or an Overcomer?

“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world. even our faith.” 1 John 5:4

The vision of In the Word Ministries is: “Equipping People to Live Victoriously.” Victorious doesn’t mean that, as believers we walk around oblivious to the challenges of this life. Nor does it mean that we don’t experience discouragement or disappointment. Living victorious involves an acknowledgement that God has provided us that “special power” to sustain us through our darkest hour so that we finish our race well (2 Timothy 4:7).

I heard a minister comment that believers should never be in despair. Despair indicates a point where there is no hope … no way out. Whether I agree with his point of view isn’t important but I do know these two things. Satan using negative circumstances (problems) in our life to: (1) weaken our trust in God and, 2) ruin our testimony. We don’t like problems. They are uncomfortable, inconvenient. and unnerving. But Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

“Tribulations” are those negative circumstances that cause us problems and pain. Tribulations can range from relationships that don’t work to misfortune that persists. “The world” is the physical realm in which we operate. ‘It is the social system including its various economies and influences. Now when Jesus tells us to be of “good cheer.” what exactly does He mean? And what does it mean to be an overcomer?

“Be of good cheer” infers that the believer can find confidence in an outcome which God has already seen in their life. There are no surprises. He makes all things work together for good and His purpose (Rom. 8:28)–even those “things” which aren’t of His initial choosing.

“I have overcome” is a strong declaration by Jesus that, His work of the Cross has proven His ability to bring into His control those things that might be overwhelming to us. The verb tense is one showing completed action–I have “already” overcome. It is a completed action that is now ours to take. He knows what concerns us and how to deliver us (2 Peter 2:9).

Knowing the end of a story often helps to relieve the stress of anticipating its outcome. Revelation 12:11 gives us the closing chapter on Satan and all problems he causes in “this world”. In the end, God overcomes and solidifies our ultimate triumph. So next time you come across a problem that appears to be winning “the battle,” remember who has already “won the war.”