Freed from Sin!

Greetings of Joy!

 Happy are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
And whose sins are covered;

Those words of David are quoted by Paul in the early verses of Romans 4, and may be used to expresses the popular understanding about believers and their sins. Occasionally we dare use a related expression concerning our sins—that they have been “washed as white as snow”. Living in the Pacific Northwest, we sometimes get a demonstration of these ideas—like in this picture of our “picnic table” last November. But this is one of those places where our concepts about sin, and many of our most loved songs, fall short of what Jesus actually accomplished on our behalf. Let me explain.

When the snow fell last November, our picnic table was dirty, we had weeds in our terrace garden, and the pots on the table were laden with moss. But the snow covered it all. You can’t see those “yard work shortcomings” in the photo. But I know the snow—beautiful and white as it was—only hid them from view. Despite our “formal” expression of our “doctrinal position,” we often think about ourselves as if Christ effected a similar covering of our sins (and particularly our sinfulness [make no mistake, His work was effective as to both sins (the thoughts & acts) and sin (who we are)]—but I am getting ahead of myself). Our thoughts of “covered, but still falling short” are regularly reinforced through our words, including our use of the theological term “atonement” (literally “covering”), in spoken or written word (like the phrase “Christ’s atoning work”) or song (“full atonement, can it be?”). What does Papa tell us Jesus’ death accomplished as to sin? Significantly more than covering—much more!

Repeatedly the writers of what we call “the new testament” describe the work of Jesus in strikingly bold terms, expressing not “covering” but “removal”! We hear these descriptions frequently, but (I suggest) we often “mistranslate” them back to “covering”.  Papa, grant us ears to hear as fresh the greatness of Your provision in Jesus. Thank you!

John the baptizer described Jesus as a lamb—the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (resist the tendency to let your theology limit the import of Father’s Word!) I don’t think John is proclaiming “universalism” here, but he is saying something prophetically profound [remember, Jesus says John was the greatest of the prophets]. Try to enter into John’s imagery. A lamb, a sacrifice, but not an ordinary sacrifice—Jesus is God’s lamb, Whose sacrifice will “take away” sin. Such is the consistent testimony of the new testament writers. I will provide only a few examples, without commenting on each. Listen to the Spirit speak:

For the death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. (Romans 6:10)

[A]t the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself . . . having been offered once to bear the sins of many . . .. For the law . . . can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. . . .[I]n those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins . . .. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. . . . [B]ut He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God . . .. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. . . . Therefore, . . . let us draw near with a sincere [pure] heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience . . .. (Hebrews 9:26, 28, 10:1, 3, 4, 12, 19, 22)

And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation (“full and complete sacrifice which takes away wrath and brings blessing”) for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (I John 2:1 & 2)

This is a lot to take in, so I’m going to stop for now! I’ll send you something more before the end of the week. For the next few days, take the time to talk with Papa about this, read these passages again (or more fully in your own Bible), explore with Him whether Jesus addressed sin and sins at a level well beyond what you have previously accepted—particularly in terms of the significance and application to you personally. Amid all that, ask Him to enable you to follow John’s instruction—

Behold (contemplate, consider, look upon and take notice)!
Jesus, Who took away your sin
.

 Rejoice!

John

Many United as One

It was two weeks ago tonight that the “opening ceremonies” of the London Olympics unveiled a special Olympic Cauldron. Instead of the large bowl design we have come to expect, each participating country is represented by a hammered copper “petal” which was (during the ceremony) fitted to a stainless steel pipe and lit with Olympic flame. The Cauldron contains 204 moving pieces intended to graphically depict the countries of the world coming together in the joy of athletic competition. While the Cauldron will be extinguished on Sunday in a closing ceremony, the graphic imagery of many united as one will linger in our memories. Many united as one . . .

It has been longer than usual since I last wrote, and have had some recurring thoughts of flames as an image for us to consider. I begin with the Olympic Cauldron, not only because it has been prominent in many televised events but because many united as one describes who we are as followers of Christ Jesus our Lord. Unfortunately, we seldom (dare I say never) come together as smoothly as did the various petals in London! Nevertheless, visible oneness of His followers is central to Jesus’ plan for us. In His prayer (recorded in John 17) Jesus asks Papa (Abba, “Daddy”) not only to make His followers many united as one, but also that their oneness would be visible to the world.

One of the complaints about the Olympic cauldron in London is that, apart from images on the telly, it is visible to only the “privileged few” who can buy tickets into events at Olympic Stadium. Sadly, in this regard the Cauldron is too representative of The Church. The unity we share as followers of The Risen One is seldom expressed in ways which can be seen by the world. Too often we have allowed our focus on “sound doctrine” (which I generally commend) to interfere with our expression of love. Even within “orthodoxy” true followers of Jesus have a wide range of beliefs. We don’t have to agree with one another on every point of doctrine to become part of Papa’s family!  But when we only express love to those who hold theologies consistent with our own we exalt the teachings of men above the clear instruction of Jesus. He did not say, everyone will know you are My followers if you have doctrinal agreement. He said, Everyone will know you are My followers if you love one another (John 13:35).

It is not “good enough” that we “get along” or even embrace one another within a particular congregation, nor that we not “speak ill” of our brothers and sisters from other congregations. Jesus longs for His love to be shown among many united as one in ways that will be seen by those who don’t know Him, so that they may come to know Him. Or, as He expressed His yearnings to Papa that night:

I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. (v 23).

I have not always lived this way. For years my pride about the “correctness” of my beliefs kept me from fellowship with many other Jesus followers. But the Spirit used this longing in the heart of Jesus to convict me. He also used some words of challenge from Ray Stedman to embolden me to actively reach out in love to some of my brothers and sisters from other congregations. In Talking with my Father Stedman wrote:

“I have resolved that my heart shall be always ready to love every person, without exception, in whom I sense a love for Jesus Christ, the Son of God – regardless of his denominational label or lack of it and despite any theological differences of viewpoint.  I am ready, God in me and helping me, to give myself in love to any Christian, anywhere, whom I may chance to meet and in whom I sense a fellowship of love for Jesus Christ. . . .”

I was particularly convicted by his next paragraph:

“Are you willing to join in that?  Are you ready now to say, in order to reach the world around us, Lord teach me to give up my prejudices, these separations, this withdrawal, these sub-Christian attitudes toward my fellow brethren in Christ and make me willing to love them and to show it for Christ’s sake?”

I am. God in me and enabling me, I do.

Are you?