It’s not Halloween any more: Lose the mask!

As I was walking yesterday I passed a young lady dressed as Snow White. It was Halloween after all! “Nice costume!” I said. But as I walked on, Papa took my mind on to how “openly” we “mask” ourselves on Halloween and how we are seldom that honest about other masks we wear every day. What if we not only “take off the mask” of the character we dressed up as on Halloween, what if we also dropped the other masks we often wear, the façades we put up to keep people from seeing who we really are?

For many kids, Halloween is the one day each year they wear a mask; for many of the adults, it’s a way of life! The masks we hide behind tend to make us “look better” than we really are—but not always! Sometimes we accept masks which others provide to help us blend in!

If you are willing to read more, I want to talk with you about a way of hiding who you are which might surprise you. Part of the surprise might come because you have accepted this particular mask so long that you think it is who you are! But we can’t rely on our own thinking here, we must listen to God. The particular truth about yourself I want to expose is based on what God has done in “the new covenant.” The passage I want you to consider is II Corinthians 3:8-12. There God says through Paul:

“For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. . . . For if what fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face” [in order to hide] (nasb).

Do God’s words through Paul describe you? Do you speak boldly about manifest glory in the here and now? Do you proclaim that you are not like Moses—that your experience in Christ is superior to that of Moses on the mountain and that you don’t hide the glory! Really?

I’ve got to tell you, most believers I run into are so fixated on their purported sinfulness that the glory is masked! They assert “I’m just a sinner saved by grace” so often you would think it was their mantra!  Just a sinner? Really? That is a mask that hides the real you! If you are in Christ, you are a saint. You are a saint in whom the God who created the world shines. Because of all Jesus Christ Is and has done, even when you sin you remain a saint! You don’t need to hide your sin; confess it and welcome God’s forgiveness. But please, don’t hide God’s glory in you behind the pious mask of self-abasement over an act of sin from which you are forgiven and fully cleansed! Unlike Adam or Moses, you are in Christ. God no longer remembers it (Jeremiah 31:34)! No act of sin defines who you are, all your sin has been removed, you have been fully cleansed; Let it go!

Please allow the Spirit to speak to you about these things. By the blood of Christ, by new birth and by adoption, you are a now child of The King! You have His character as your own; you are a new creation—created in righteousness and holiness of The Truth. He is the treasure within you—the light which shines forth from your “earthen vessel” is of God, not you. Don’t hide His glory; lose the mask!

John

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

Rejoice!

Again I say, Rejoice!

If Christians are forgiven, why aren’t we the happiest people on the planet? Why is our reputation (at least in North America) so tied to words like guilt & shame rather than to free & joyful? There are many reasons, no doubt. But the one which Papa has laid most heavily on my heart lately is, we don’t live forgiven! We claim we are forgiven, we might even sing about being “washed white as snow,” but too often the claim hasn’t moved to the place in our personal experience that we dare actually live as if it is true. Indeed, we generally misunderstand what it looks like to live forgiven.

As I was musing on these ideas and talking with Papa my mind went to a couple of words of Jesus, recorded by Luke. Sometimes a few words, taken out of context, lead to big problems. At other times, the Spirit uses the “word of God” (or perhaps “utterance” or “saying” of God) as a knife or short, cutting, sword to get to the heart of a matter quickly and directly (Eph. 6:17, Heb. 4:12). The words of Jesus which the Spirit brought to mind arise in the context of a dinner party (depicted here by Rubens). Jesus had been invited to the house of Simon for dinner. Simon was a strict adherent to the law of Moses, as interpreted by the fathers—he was “a separated one” (Pharisee). After they reclined around the table a woman of ill repute got into the dining hall with some perfume and knelt near Jesus’ feet. I think her plan was to put on the perfume on his feet, but as she started to act on that part of her plan she was overcome, started crying, and then felt she needed to undo the unanticipated effect of her tears–little “splash spots” in the dust–she decided to try to “deal with it” by wiping his feet with her hair and then apply the perfume. Simon, bound up with all the burdens of Law (and proud of his own separation from sin), used these actions to justify himself and think less of Jesus (“If this man were a prophet he would know what sort of person she is [sinner!]”). So here’s the question: Which one is living forgiven?

Of course, you know the answer. But the conviction still remains, because too often we live like Simon, not like the one at Jesus’ feet. Although the story begins with the dinner, that could not have been the beginning of the story because Jesus tells Simon (and us) that this woman’s actions were motivated by gratitude. She was not groveling in order to be forgiven, trying some how to make up for how bad she had been (that might have been Simon’s approach to sin, but not her): She was grateful that she had been forgiven—which Jesus then again affirmed (Luke 7:47, 48). I love the way Eugene Peterson translates Jesus here: “. . . She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”

It is that last sentence which Papa brought to mind as I was thinking what to write next on this issues of sin, forgiveness, and cleansing. The passages I shared on Tuesday are significant. They tell us something of the magnitude of Christ’s work on our behalf—the actual removal of sin, a washing which gives us a pure heart and allows us to draw near to a holy God. Despite our puny efforts to classify the sins of others as greater than our own, sin put each of us in desperate need. Our problem, too often, is that we don’t comprehend the greatness of the provision—which extends beyond our sins to the removal of sin itself (Romans 6:7)!* Yet, if we continue with our self-justifying “comparison to others” approach (like Simon of old), we miss the blessing. We lack the joy. When we experience living forgiven, we gratefully adore The One Who took away our sins and our sin, Who made us clean. We hear Him say “your sins have been forgiven.” The phrase as Papa brought it to mind wasn’t from Peterson’s translation, it was: “He who is forgiven little, loves little.”

How much have you been forgiven? Do you really believe that?

Talk with Papa about it!

John

Clean and Forgiven

Our experience of forgiveness matters. The one who experiences great forgiveness, shows great love. Our experience of forgiveness affects our love for Jesus!

I suggest that when we still feel dirty, when we fail to live forgiven, it is because—despite our ability to speak the correct words about forgiveness—we don’t really believe what God says about forgiveness! As I typed that I was reminded of a statement Donald Miller shares in Blue Like Jazz: “We don’t believe what we say we believe, we believe what we do.” As to forgiveness, to say we believe God forgives, yet to still feel dirty or unclean after acknowledging our sin to Him, often expressing a new determination to do something to “make up for” our “falling short” or “prove” to God we are serious (“this time”) about changing, betrays what we really believe. We don’t believe what we say we believe, we believe what we do. God’s forgiveness is granted freely, although it cost Him supremely. We understand something of the high value of full and complete forgiveness, and our actions betray us as not really believing God has given full and complete forgiveness!

I’m speaking here particularly to those who consider themselves followers of Jesus. Most of you will be familiar with the words of I John 1:9:

If we confess (acknowledge) our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to (continually) cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Yet, how often do you acknowledge (confess) your sin and simply thank Him (express gratitude) for cleansing? Particularly as to that sin which, for you, seems to snare you again and again and again—do you really accept His full cleansing (from all unrighteousness, not just the particular sin acknowledged), or do you find yourself groveling, promising to try harder, maybe even not feeling “clean” until you have actually acted on your promise? I’m not trying to diminish the idea that there are times Papa tells us to do something specific as a result of our sins, I’m talking about our experience of forgiveness on God’s terms (“confess”). Papa may call on those who are clean to act, but that is a universe away from our own effort to get clean by doing! Have you ever imagined that when you go to Papa with “I did it again!”, He responds (honestly) with “Did what again?”

Several years ago I heard something which was shocking at first, but which Papa has used to alter how I react to my own puny promises to try harder, or my sense of continuing guilt even after confession: All such things are ways our flesh says, “Jesus, your death wasn’t enough!”

After I got over the shocking audacity of this truth about my fleshy thinking, the Spirit began renewing my mind and transforming my response amid confession. Some of my thoughts were given expression through some “revised lyrics” Papa gave (to the tune White as Snow)—

Freed from Sin, Freed from Sin,
Though the thought overwhelms me,
You have said. It is so!
I am clean and forgiven!
Praise the Father, what great love;
Praise the Son, now raised above;
Worship Him all here below, yes worship Him,
Bow down low.

White as snow, white as snow,
Though I often forget it,
I confess, You restore, and continually cleanse me!
Praise the Father, what great love;
Praise the Son, now raised above;
Worship Him here below, yes worship Him,
Bow down low.

What value do you place on the death of Jesus? Is His death fully sufficient to totally remove God’s wrath and bring blessing (“propitiation”)? Is God fully satisfied that the penalty for your sinfulness and sinful acts (all of them) has been “paid in full” by Jesus? Really? And how about you? Are you fully satisfied that the penalty for your sinfulness and sinful acts (all of them) has been “paid in full” by Jesus—or does your response after confession betray an attitude toward Jesus that says, “Your death may have satisfied God in Heaven, but it’s not good enough to satisfy me! Let me add to Your work by . . ..” Even as to such an arrogant attitude, Jesus continues to show His wounds to Papa and say, “Abba (Papa), forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing!” And Papa, Who always hears The Son, has forgiven you. Really! I pray that His Spirit will make His full and complete forgiveness real in your experience.

Live as one who has been blessed, because you are.

John

Shun Subsistence Living

I trust you are increasingly experiencing the Lightness of living forgiven (lightness both in terms of freedom from darkness [John 12:46] and release from burdens of religion [Matthew 11:30]). If you are, I need to warn you that it won’t be long before some highly regarded religious folk will come around trying to put you back in bondage and under condemnation!

Allow me to re-cap a few of the issues I have shared with you in the past two weeks: Jesus has, by His death and resurrection, dealt not only with the problem of sins (the acts) but sin itself (our sinfulness); His sacrifice has taken away sin; His sacrifice has “once for all” resulted in our being made clean; when we acknowledge a sin, He immediately restores us to fellowship and continually cleanses us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). But when you start to live this out, people who claim to believe these things (but don’t live them) will confront you, accusing you of being “soft on sin!” They may yell at you in their (sincere but misguided) effort to convince you that you are not taking seriously how pervasive your sinfulness is, nor how frequently you engage in sinful behavior! But their fury betrays them: While claiming to be “Biblical” they don’t really believe the death of Jesus solved the sin problem.

I remember a personal encounter with such folk many years ago. A brother had committed an act of sin (I almost wrote “an egregious sin,” but to view sins in gradation perpetuates a religious approach to sin and sinfulness). Anyway, the brother confessed (acknowledged) his sin to God, and then had the sheer audacity to expect that these other folk would treat him as forgiven! These folk were religious (but would deny it vehemently); they found his approach unacceptable! What? No weeping? No long remorseful speech? No hang-dog look?He’s got a light view of sin!  Their statement (directed at me) begged the question: How could he get such a warped and unbiblical view about the seriousness of sin? I told them, somewhat hesitantly, He learned it from me! As the dialog continued, Jesus (true to His promise) gave me the answer: No! I don’t have a light view of sin! I have a high view of the blood of Jesus! You see, “we don’t believe what we say we believe, we believe what we do.” If we really believe Jesus solved the sin problem, we will live forgiven—focused not on our sin but gazing upon Jesus (II Corinthians 3:18). If we don’t properly value His blood we’ll remain in (or allow ourselves to be subjected again to) bondage and darkness, fixated on our sins and sinfulness, trying harder, still feeling guilty and burdened most of the time (“Out! Out, damn spots!”). I warn you about this, and about religious folk of this kind, because I’m not sure the brother ever really recovered from his exposure to them—I’m not sure he ever again enjoyed living as fully forgiven (a dearly beloved, blood bought, child of the King). I know my words to you are not easy to hear, but they are true: If you still beat up on yourself over your confessed sins (the acts) or your supposed continued sinfulness (or allow others to beat on you concerning such things), you are not “serious about sin;” you have a low view of the blood of Jesus! Jesus has forgiven you even of this, and wants you to forgive yourself, accept His healing, and walk into the light.

Read again God’s words in Hebrews, chapter 10 (please, open your Bible and allow the Spirit to speak to you)—those who pursue religion (even the God-given religion of the Mosaic Law) are constantly reminded of their sins and sinfulness (vs. 1, 3, 4 & 11). They measure themselves by whether their conduct is good or evil (and imagine God as never satisfied with them—hence, they try harder but still feel dirty, so they do more [again and again]). But such a beggarly subsistence is strongly contrasted with God’s provision of life through Jesus—His full and complete (once for all) sacrifice (which took away wrath and brought blessing [propitiation, John 2:2]) actually allows us to have no more consciousness of sins (Hebrews 10:2, 12-18, our focus is moved away from ourselves and on to Him); He purified us and enables us (Therefore at v. 19) to enter boldly into God’s presence and to draw near to Him in constant communion because we are clean (vs. 19-22 ). This is living forgiven, life in the New Covenant established in His blood—old things have vanished, the new has come. God says this is true of everyone in Christ (II Cor. 5:17 [If you are in Christ, you ARE a new creation . . ..]). Yet, tragically, many (dare I say most) who are His don’t live this way. They are forgiven, but they subsist as if they are not yet really clean, not yet new. How this grieves Jesus—that so many who are His do not enjoy the full and complete forgiveness He provides.

May you experience the joys of living in The Light.

John

Live Forgiven!

I have been bombarding you for two weeks about forgiveness, and with this one I will stop. I plan to resume my “regular” every other week or so “schedule” (around Thanksgiving). As you may recall, this current barrage was begun by a disturbing dream and has focused primarily on the reality of our full and complete forgiveness in Christ. In this, as in all of life, it matters what we believe! God brought this home to me about 20 years ago as we were teaching through the book of Ephesians and came to chapter 4, verse 32:

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

In this particular passage, as in a similar instruction in Colossians, the word translated “forgiven” is not the Greek word most commonly translated “forgiven.” It is the word more commonly translated “grace” (but it is in a form hard to translate into English [we don’t often say “gracing”]). Yet, it was this verse that God used to transform my understanding of “grace” as a way of life, not just a way to life (and it is the origin of our “tagline”—. . . gracing one another as God in Christ has graced you). In addition to the tie to forgiveness in this verse, you may also see a connection to my e-mail of over a month ago—because this verse, like so many others, includes a “just as” statement. Just as . . .. Our beliefs about how God forgives, when God forgives, who He forgives, what conditions (if any) He places on His forgiveness are crucial to “living out” this instruction. Just as . . ..

In this “concluding” (at least for now) post on forgiveness, I want to focus on the instruction (command) in Ephesians 4:32: Forgive one another just as God in Christ has forgiven you. You see, as with much of our life in Christ, all the great benefits we receive from Papa are not given so we will hoard them! We should enjoy them fully, for sure. But as we enjoy His benefits, He wants us to share those benefits with others. As to forgiveness: You have been forgiven of God through Christ because Jesus bled and died to pay-in-full all the penalty for your sin. I have been encouraging you to recognize and revel in His provision: Live forgiven! In Ephesians we are told that to live forgiven results not only in gratitude, but should also manifest itself in our forgiveness of others just as God in Christ has forgiven us.

It was about 10 years ago that a dear brother, Steve Diehl (www.forgivenessministries.com), shared with a group of us about a study he was doing on forgiveness. Of particular note was the considerable focus on the “physical and psychological benefits” of forgiveness relied upon by Christian authors in explaining why we should forgive. It may be undeniable that such benefits flow from forgiveness, but to make those the basis for forgiveness by believers makes forgiveness primarily about me, something which promotes my well-being—forgiveness of others becomes a “self-centered” act! My own reading on the subject confirms the prevalence of this focus (I just saw another article to that effect the other day). What Steve then shared is a further development of a concept I opened to you a few days back—involving the value we give to the blood of Jesus. If you recall, I told you that your efforts to “make up for” your confessed sins revealed an attitude like, “Jesus, Your blood may have satisfied the Father, but it’s not good enough for me!” Steve pointed out that when we fail to forgive others, we are saying the same thing! If Jesus died to “take away sin” and if His sacrifice truly “took away wrath and brought blessing” (not only on our behalf, but on behalf of the whole world [I John 2:2]), how arrogant of us to not give full weight to the effectiveness of His sacrifice in how we relate to those who sin against us! (Prayerfully reconsider Matthew 18:21-35). Again, in the context of interpersonal relationships, our un-forgiveness of others shouts: “God, the blood of Jesus may have satisfied You, but it’s not good enough for me!”

Forgive . . . just as God in Christ has forgiven you.

“You don’t know what they did to me!” You are right, I don’t. But Jesus knows: He died to pay-in-full the debt their wrong incurred. Is His “currency” good at your bank? “That’s not fair!” God’s forgiveness of you isn’t “fair” either—but it is right, because your debt has been paid in full. “But they aren’t even sorry for what they did!” (“I want them to grovel!”) He didn’t say “trust” them, He says forgive them—for God was in Christ [asking forgiveness on behalf of those pounding the nails, even as the hammer stuck], completely changing the way the world relates to Him, not counting their “in your face” attitude against them (II Corinthians 5:19).

 Forgive . . . just as God in Christ has forgiven you.

“What you’re asking is impossible!” Good call, . . . if you were merely human! But, you are not merely human—you are no longer in Adam, you are in Christ. You are a dearly beloved, blood bought & fully forgiven, child of the King. But it is still beyond your ability. And, uh . . . I’m not the one asking . . .

Our Risen Redeemer is calling us to live in a way which can only be accomplished through absolute dependence upon His indwelling Spirit—like sailboats depend upon the wind.  . . .  He never asks us to live any other way.  . . .  Why would you want to?

Live forgiven. Pass it on!