What Jesus wants to give us this Christmas

This Christmas, Jesus wants to give us a gift. And it’s not just some cheap gift He picked up at the last minute. This is the ultimate gift. It was so expensive that it cost Him His life.

This Christmas, Jesus wants to give us…
> Eternal Life.
> Complete Forgiveness of all our past, present, future, accidental and deliberate sins.
> Freedom from Guilt & Shame.
> Adoption into His family.
> The Holy Spirit who will come into our lives and make us more like Jesus.
> Joy, Peace, & Purpose.

Now the question is, how do we get hold of this gift? What do we have to do to ensure that we don’t miss out?

SANTA

Everyone knows that when Santa gives out presents, he’s checking to see if we’ve been ‘naughty or nice’. In other words, he distributes presents based on our behaviour. Be good and we’ll get lots of presents. Be bad and we’ll miss out. It’s that simple.

Many of us assume that Jesus gives out presents the same way. If we can be good enough, holy enough, and religious enough, then He will give us eternal life.

However the good news is that Jesus is way better than Santa. Over and over again the Bible teaches that we don’t need to earn Jesus’ gift. That it’s not based upon our behaviour: “It is by grace you have been saved,through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). 

So there must be some other way…

FRIENDSChristmas presents piled underneath a christmas tree.

When it comes to giving presents to friends, nobody wants to go through that awkward situation where we receive a present, but have nothing to give in return. As a result, it’s not uncommon for us to ask: “Are we giving each other presents this year?” In other words, we exchange gifts based upon a mutual agreement. We’ll give to them if they give to us. Again, it’s that simple.

For those of us who’ve grown up in church, we may find some similarities between this and Christianity. It’s often explained like this: “If we make a commitment to live the Christian life, Jesus will make a commitment to give us eternal life”. 

The problem is, this is not actually what the Bible teaches. In what is probably the most well-known verse in all the Bible, Jesus says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

We don’t receive Jesus’ gift to us by committing to live for him. Eternal life is not granted to those who promise to obey. This whole idea of ‘We give to God, so that God can give to us’ has no place in Christianity.

So what’s the answer then?

JESUS

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church of Rome and said: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship (Romans 12:1)”.

Here we read that God does actually long for us to offer our whole lives to Him, but it’s certainly not like the gift exchange system that we have with our friends. Rather the Apostle Paul only even mentions the idea of giving to God once it’s firmly established in the readers own minds that God has already given a completely unconditional, no-strings-attached gift to them.

Let me explain…

Firstly, if God required that we promise to obey Him in order for us to receive eternal life, none of us would make it.
We’re way too messed up, too selfish and too sinful. Certainly we may be able to obey God here and there, but not perfectly, not consistently, and certainly not when you take into account all the good we ought to be doing (and not just the evil we ought not be doing).

Secondly, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that God gives His gift to us before we give anything back to God.
Leading up to this passage in Romans, Paul has already mentioned that God has forgiven them, freed them from condemnation, given them the Holy Spirit, adopted them as His Children. They didn’t have to ‘offer their bodies as living sacrifices’ in order to receive eternal life. Rather they ‘offered their bodies as living sacrifices’ because they had already received eternal life.

Thirdly, It would be impossible for us to offer ourselves to God unless He has already given us His gift. 
The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology states that “only clean animals are offered in sacrifice…According to later restrictions, sacrifices are to be unblemished”. In other words, offering ourselves as a living sacrifice doesn’t make us clean. We are already declared ‘clean’ because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. And only then do we have the opportunity and privilege of offering ourselves back to God.

So yes, it’s true, in response to Jesus’ incredible gift to us, we are free to offer our lives as a gift to Him. But not because we have to. Not because our eternity hangs in the balance. But because we’re grateful for all that He has done for us.

SO HOW DO WE RECEIVE JESUS’ GIFT TO US THIS CHRISTMAS?

The Bible teaches that we receive this gift just like we receive any other gift. We simply take hold of it…
Do we want to spend eternity forever with Jesus?
> Do we want to complete forgiveness of all our past, present, future, accidental and deliberate sins?
> De we want to be set free from Guilt & Shame?
> Do we want God to Adopt us into His family?
> Do we want the Holy Spirit to 
come into our lives and make us more like Jesus?
> Do we want God to give us 
Joy and Peace and Purpose? 

If the answer is yes, all we need to do is let God know…

“Jesus, I need You. I believe that you are the Son of God who died on the cross to pay for my sins. I believe that you rose again. Right now, I ask that you forgive all my sins, adopt me as your child, and give me your Holy Spirit. Take control of my life and make me the kind of person you want me to be. Amen”

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FAQ: Jesus teaches that there will be rewards in heaven. Doesn’t this contradict grace?

Tresaure chestThe Bible clearly teaches that Christians will be rewarded in heaven for the good works they do on earth. While this seems to make sense to some, others of us find this confusing.

HERE’S THE CONCERN…
When someone finally gets hold of the fact that God accepts them because of His grace and not their good works, they find themselves doing good works because they have already been given something, not because they want to get something. 

> They do not love in order to get God to love them. They love because God first loved them.
> They do not serve in order to get God to serve them. They serve because God first served them.
> They do not forgive in order to get God to forgive them. They forgive because God first forgave them.

So when Jesus teaches that there will be rewards in heaven for doing good works on earth, many of us are confused.

Are we meant to love others because God first loved us, or because we want to get rewards in heaven? Or is there more than one reason to love? How does this all work?

Here’s some things to consider…

#1. THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT WE ARE SAVED BY GRACE BUT WE WILL BE REWARDED BECAUSE OF OUR WORKS

The Apostle Paul spoke about believers who will be in heaven because of their faith in Jesus, but will miss out on rewards in heaven because they did not give their life to doing good works: “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

Bruce Wilkinson summarized it like this: “Our eternal destination is the consequence of what we believe on earth. Our eternal compensation is the consequence of how we behave on earth”.

#2. THE BIBLE SEEMS TO INDICATE THAT THE REWARDS WE RECEIVE ARE NOT ABOUT GETTING SOMETHING, BUT ABOUT BEING ENTRUSTED WITH SOMETHING

Although the Bible is not clear in spelling out exactly what eternal rewards look like, it gives a strong indication that they are not what we might expect. Consider the following…

A) The greatest reward is an opportunity to serve Jesus
When a person becomes a Christian, their desires begin to change. Although they still have a sinful nature which loves sin and craves sin, they also have the Holy Spirit who gives them a desire to serve God. With this in mind, what would be the greatest reward God could give a Christian? Surely the greatest reward would be to fulfil the Christian’s greatest desire, and the Christian’s greatest desire is to be with Jesus and serve Him.

B) If we are faithful with little, we will be entrusted with more
In the “Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30) and the “Parable of the 10 Minas” (Luke 19:11-27), Jesus makes is clear that if we are faithful with the small opportunities we’re given to serve Him, then He will entrust us with greater opportunities to serve Him. It isn’t entirely clear whether those greater opportunities will come in this life, the life to come, or both. But given that Christians will be serving God in heaven, it it certainly seems reasonable to assume that those who were trustworthy on earth will be given greater responsibility in heaven.

C) Some will be rewarded with an opportunity to rule
Bruce Wilkinson explains: “Exactly how much opportunity will faithful stewards receive in heaven? So much that in the upside-down kingdom of heaven, the highest word for serving is ruling. We can trace this surprising reversal to the Garden of Eden. Remember that at Creation God made both woman and man for a particular task— to serve Him on earth by stewarding His creation. Jesus confirmed this purpose when He told His disciples that their reward in heaven for serving Him here would be to sit on twelve thrones and judge the tribes of Israel (Matthew 19: 28)… Ruling is also the reward for serving we see in Jesus’ parables of faithful stewards. Did you notice? In the mina parable, the highest reward for service was to “have authority over ten cities” (Luke 19: 17). And in the Parable of the Talents, the reward is similar—“ I will make you ruler over many things” (Matthew 25: 21, 23)”.[1]

Therefore the eternal rewards we receive may have nothing to do with getting something for ourselves, and all to do with what we can do for God and others. 

[1] Wilkinson, Bruce (2012-04-04). A Life God Rewards: Why Everything You Do Today Matters Forever (Breakthrough Series) (p. 74). The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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ILLUSTRATION: Toothpaste

Toothpaste_and_brushSuppose Jack and Jill are work colleagues. They have very little in common other than the fact that neither of them have grown up using toothpaste to brush their teeth.

One day, Jack becomes convinced that he has a problem with his teeth, so he decides to give toothpaste a try. For the next 12 months he brushes morning, noon and night, never missing a day.

Now we would expect that if we were to compare Jack’s teeth to Jill’s teeth that Jack’s teeth would be much nicer.

But what if Jack comes from a family with a genetic disposition to having naturally bad teeth, while Jill comes from a family with a genetic disposition to having naturally good teeth? What if Jack lost a tooth after being hit while playing hockey when he was young, while Jill never even played sport? What if Jack had grown up drinking heaps of sugary drinks, while Jill had mostly drunk water?

It might very well be that Jack’s teeth are actually far worse than Jill’s teeth.

But just because Jack’s teeth are not better, doesn’t mean he hasn’t been using toothpaste, or that the toothpaste doesn’t work. Comparing Jack’s teeth with Jill’s teeth is pointless.

Rather a far better way to check if Jack has been using toothpaste is to compare Jack’s teeth at the start of the 12 months with his teeth at the end of the 12 months.

The same is true when it comes to Christianity… 

The best way to determine whether or not someone has received the Holy Spirit is not to compare them to others. Rather a far better way to check if the Holy Spirit is at work in someone’s life is to compare what they were like before becoming a Christian to what they are like now.

It might be that someone was born with a genetic disposition to alcoholism. Perhaps they grew up in a family full of alcoholics. Maybe they became addicted to alcohol from a young age. Unless God performs a miracle, it’s highly unlikely that they will ever be completely free of the desire to drink alcohol. It may not even be that likely that can stop getting drunk every day. But this doesn’t mean that God is not at work in their life. In fact, it might be that the activity of the Holy Spirit is stronger in the alcoholic’s life than it is in the life of the person who has never had a desire to get drunk in their life.

(Based on an illustration by C.S. Lewis from his book ‘Mere Christianity’)

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FAQ: Why avoid sin and do good works if it doesn’t affect where we spend eternity?

sincity3

Christianity teaches that a person gets to heaven not by avoiding sin or doing good works, but by trusting solely in Jesus to save them.

And although the Bible describes this as ‘good news’, many fear that this message is far too risky. Why would anyone want to avoid sin and do good works if it doesn’t affect where they spend eternity?

But just because eternity is not on the line, doesn’t mean there’s no good reasons to avoid sin and do good works.

CONSIDER WHAT ALL GOOD PARENTS DO

Suppose a couple decided that the best way to get their children to behave is to threaten to kick them out of the family if they don’t perform. No one would think that this is a good idea. No one would argue that this is the best way to help their children become all that they want them to be. And yet, when it comes to viewing how our Heavenly Father works, some find it difficult to comprehend how He can get us to ‘behave’ if the threat of being kicked out of the family of God isn’t hanging over our heads.

Just as a loving mother and father use many different means to motivate, equip and help their children become all that they want them to be, our Heavenly Father also uses many different means to motivate, equip and help us become all that He wants us to be. It’s just that none of them include threatening to send us to hell.

10 REASONS WHY CHRISTIANS FIND THEMSELVES WANTING TO AVOID SIN AND DO GOOD WORKS
(in no particular order) 

1. GRATITUDE
Martin Luther said: “Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace”.

2. INTIMACY
Because we have a relationship with our Heavenly Father, we find ourselves wanting to please Him, in the same way a child wants to please their earthly parents. And although our Heavenly Father will never kick us out of the family for doing the wrong thing or being rebellious, our unwillingness to submit to Him certainly affects the level of intimacy that we might experience.

3. DISCIPLINE
Hebrews 12:5-11 says: “‘The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son’. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness“.

4. REWARDS
Bruce Wilkinson says: “Our eternal destination is the consequence of what we believe on earth. Our eternal compensation is the consequence of how we behave on earth”. The Apostle Paul spoke about believers who will be in heaven because of their faith in Jesus, but will miss out on rewards in heaven because they did not give their life to doing good works: “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

5. EVANGELISM
Loving each other and doing good works won’t lead people to Jesus, but it can lead people towards Jesus. Jesus said: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). He said: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”.

6. PURPOSE
Jesus longs for us to experience the joy of being part of something bigger than ourselves. The Apostle Paul says that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Jesus’ vision for our lives is so much greater than anything humanly possible. He wants us to “produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown” (Mark 4:20).

7. REPENTANCE
Part of becoming a Christian involves ‘repenting’. To ‘repent’ simply means ‘to change one’s mind’. So a Christian is someone who has changed their mind about sin. Rather than see sin as something to be celebrated and embraced, the Christian agrees with God that it’s destructive and hurtful. It damages our relationship with God and others.

8. OWNERSHIP
Over and over again the Bible tell us that Christians belong to God. The Apostle Paul said: You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). When we become a Christian, God takes full responsibility for our lives. And part of taking on that responsibility means leading and empowering us to become all that He wants us to be. We submit to God. Not just because He loves us and cares for us. But because He is our God and He has a right to us.

9. FREEDOM
The Bible teaches that Jesus wants us to be free of our addiction to sin. The Apostle Paul said: “Thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18).

10. HOLY SPIRIT
Even if every other attempt to get Christians to avoid sin and do good works failed, they would still be inclined to become the kind of person God wants them to be. This is because God has given them the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit wages war against a Christian’s sinful nature (which loves sin and craves sin), while at the same time motivating them and empowering them to do good works. These works are called fruit of the Spirit. It’s impossible for the God of the universe to come and live inside someone and have them stay the same. Something is going to change.

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FAQ: What if a person claims to be a Christian but is not living like a Christian?

Suppose Jack claims to have become a Christian at the age of 16, and for some time his walk with God was fairly consistent. He seemed to really want to love God, love others, tell people about Jesus, be actively involved in church, care for the poor, etc.

But at the age of 23, Jack’s Christian life becomes very rocky. He still claims to be a Christian, but he no longer obeys God consistently, he drops out of church, stops telling people about Jesus, and cares less and less about the things that God cares about. Some Christians would describe Jack as ‘backsliding’. This period of ‘backsliding’ might be for weeks, months or even years.

Jack

Because these situations are not all that uncommon, typically the question is asked: “If Jack was to die, where would he spend eternity?”

Will Jack make it to heaven?   

People asking this question are usually not trying to imply that Jack has to earn his way to heaven. They firmly believe that Jack is saved because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross. But they also believe that if a person was really a Christian, then they wouldn’t live the kind of life that Jack is living.

Some wonder if Jack has lost his salvation? Others wonder if he was ever saved to begin with?

So what’s the answer? Unfortunately the situation is not as clear cut as we might like. There are actually two possibilities…

Possibility #1 – Jack is definitely a Christian who will go to Heaven

At the age of 16, Jack really did become a Christian. He came to a place where he realized that he was a sinner under the judgement of God, unable to change himself or save himself. He cast his entire life and eternity into Jesus’ hands, trusting Him to save him. As a result, Jesus did two things for Jack…

A. CROSS
Jesus paid for all of Jack’s past, present, future, deliberate and accidental sin by His death on the cross.

B. HOLY SPIRIT
Jesus gave Jack the Holy Spirit who came into his life to wage war against his sinful nature and change him from the inside out.

Jack 2

Once Jack became a Christian at 16, he began to walk with God. The Holy Spirit worked powerfully in Jack’s life to make him more like Jesus.

But at the age of 23, something changed. It might have been that Jack got led astray by the wrong people. Or perhaps his girlfriend died in a car accident and Jack became angry with God. Or maybe Jack just got busy at work and overtime he got distracted.

Regardless though, if Jack is really a Christian, then his eternity is secure because Jesus has paid for his sin in full.

Possibility #2 – Jack is not a Christian and he will not go to Heaven

At the age of 16, Jack thought he became a Christian because he did two things…

A. COMMITMENT
Jack made a commitment to try and obey God’s commands. He figured that if he could obey, or at least try and obey, that God would accept him into heaven.

B. CULTURE
Jack started to conform to the church culture. He talked the talk. He behaved the right way. He even got into church leadership.

Jack 3

Because Jack made a commitment at the age of 16 to try and obey, he did everything he could not to put a step wrong. Outwardly it looked like Jack had a close relationship with God. But the truth is that Jack was terrified of God. He had no sense of peace. He felt constant pressure to perform. He was always worried that God might take away his salvation if he failed to keep his commitment.

So at the age of 23, Jack had finally reached a point where he could no longer stand it and he walked away. He wasn’t necessarily angry with God. He wasn’t even necessarily upset with the church. He just couldn’t keep walking closely with God if heaven and hell hung in the balance every time he sinned.

So unfortunately Jack would not go to heaven, not because he sinned too much, but because he never trusted in the finished work of Jesus on His behalf.

How do we know the difference?

In comparing Possibility #1 to Possibility #2, there are various things that could be looked at. Here’s a couple…

hypocrite1


A. IS JACK TRUSTING IN JESUS’ FINISHED WORK ON HIS BEHALF, OR IS HE TRUSTING IN HIS COMMITMENT TO OBEY JESUS? 
Ephesians 2:8-9 says: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast”.

Our salvation rests on what Jesus has DONE, not on what we have to DO. A true Christian is saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone! 

B. HAS JACK RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT? 
Galatians 5:16-17 says: “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other”.

Here we find that if Jack is truly a Christian, the Holy Spirit will be waging war against his sinful nature. Sometimes Jack will be led by the Spirit, and he will love God and love others and hate sin. Other times Jack will be led by his sinful nature, and he will love sin and crave sin.

This means two things. Firstly, over time, we should be able to see fruit of the Spirit in Jack’s life. Secondly, when Jack does sin, or begins to ‘backslide’ as some Christians call it, the Holy Spirit will be at work in his life calling him to confess his sin and walk with God.

The key is not to expect an absence of sin or even an absence of sinful desires (for Jack still has a sinful nature that loves sin and craves sin), but rather to look for evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in Jack’s life. 

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MISUNDERSTANDING: The Definition of Repentance

o-REPENTANCE-facebookREPENTANCE IS NECESSARY

In order for a person to become a Christian, they need to have both FAITH and REPENTANCE…

Luke 13:3
“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”.

Acts 2:38
And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”.

Acts 17:30
“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent”.

HOWEVER MOST PEOPLE MISUNDERSTAND THE MEANING OF THE WORD ‘REPENT’.

Unfortunately, if you ask people to define the word ‘REPENT’, they will sometimes tell you that it means to ‘TURN MY LIFE AROUND’. And if by this they mean that the alcoholic has to stop being an alcoholic (or at least promise to stop being an alcoholic) before they can become a Christian, then there are all sorts of problems with this definition.

‘REPENT’ DOES NOT MEAN ‘TO TURN MY LIFE AROUND’…

There are at least 5 reasons why we can be sure that ‘repent’ does not mean ‘to turn my life around’…

1. If ‘repent’ means to ‘turn my life around’, how will I know if I’ve turned my life around enough?

Very few unbelievers would ever feel confident that they could turn their life around enough to become a Christian. And those who did feel confident would forever be questioning if they’ve done enough to maintain their new life.

2. The Bible teaches that repentance happens in our mind. Repentance will eventually lead to a ‘change of life’, but it does not mean a ‘change of life’.

Some things to consider…

A. THE GREEK WORD FOR ‘REPENT’ SIMPLY MEANS TO ‘CHANGE ONE’S MIND’.

> Some interpret ‘repent’ to mean that we need to ‘change one’s mind’ about Jesus.
That Jesus isn’t just a good teacher, a healer, a helper or a good person. But He is the Son of God, the Saviour who came to die for our sins and rise again. That He can be trusted to pay for our sin in full.

> Some interpret ‘repent’ to mean that we need to ‘change one’s mind’ about sin. 
To agree with God that my sin is evil. That it destroys my relationship with God and others. That it destroys me. That I deserve judgement because of my sin.

Regardless of which interpretation one holds, most people would agree that becoming a Christian involves ‘changing one’s mind’ about both Jesus and sin.

B. THE BIBLE DISTINGUISHES BETWEEN ‘REPENTANCE’ AND THE ‘FRUIT OF REPENTANCE’.

John the Baptist called people to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). The Apostle Paul said: “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20).

Both these passages show that repentance is something that happens in the mind. It does not include actions. Actions will eventually flow as a result of repentance, but they are not part of repentance.

3. The Bible records several stories of people who were forgiven without having to turn their lives around.

Consider the following examples…

A. THE PHARISEE AND THE TAX COLLECTOR (LUKE 18:9-14)
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

What we find…
> The tax collector did not ‘turn his life around’.
> He did not even promise to ‘turn his life around’.
> He simply acknowledged that he was a sinner under the judgement of God (repentance) and cried out for mercy (faith).
> As a result, Jesus said that the tax collector was justified (declared righteous) before God.

B. THE WOMAN CAUGHT IN ADULTERY (JOHN 8:3-11)
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

What we find…
> The woman caught in adultery did not ‘turn her life around’.
> She did not even promise to ‘turn her life around’. We can be sure of this because if she had already decided in her heart to turn her life around, Jesus would not have needed to say ‘go now and leave your life of sin’.
> She did not even publicly acknowledge her sin. The assumption is though that while standing naked and exposed, she was more than aware that she was a sinner who deserved judgement (repentance) and looked to Jesus for mercy (faith).
> As a result, Jesus declared ‘neither do I condemn you’.
> Jesus called the woman to leave her life of sin as a response to His forgiveness, not as a prerequisite to His forgiveness.

C. THE CRIMINAL ON THE CROSS (LUKE 23:39-43)
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

What we find…
> The criminal did not ‘turn his life around’. He had no opportunity to do so before he died.
> He did not even promise to ‘turn his life around’. This would have been a ridiculous promise.
> He simply acknowledged that he was a sinner under the judgement of God (repentance) and cried out for mercy (faith).
> As a result, Jesus said that criminal would be with Him in paradise.

4. The purpose of the law is to drive us to Jesus by showing us that we are unable to turn our life around.

Before a person is willing to trust in Jesus to save them, they must first be convinced that they need saving. This is where the law comes in. As we try to obey God’s law, we become more and more aware of our inability to obey. The law exposes our sin and helplessness. It drives us to look for a saviour.

John Stott explains…
“The purpose of the law was, as it were, to lift the lid off man’s respectability and disclose what he is really like underneath – sinful, rebellious, guilty, under the judgement of God, and helpless to save himself”.

Martin Luther put it like this…
“What is this bruising and beating by the hand of the Law to accomplish? This, that we may find the way to grace. The Law is an usher to lead the way to grace. God is the God of the humble, the miserable, the afflicted. It is His nature to exalt the humble, to comfort the sorrowing, to heal the broken-hearted, to justify the sinners, and to save the condemned. The idea that a person can be holy by himself denies God the pleasure of saving sinners. God must therefore first take the sledge-hammer of the Law in His fists and smash the beast of self-righteousness and its brood of self-confidence, self-wisdom, self-righteousness, and self-help. When the conscience has been thoroughly frightened by the Law it welcomes the Gospel of grace with its message of a Saviour who came into the world, not to break the bruised reed, but to preach glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, and to grant forgiveness of sins to all the captives”.

Now if the law’s purpose is to convince us that the one thing we can’t do is obey, how could God possibly expect us to obey his commands as a requirement to becoming a Christian?

Repentance can’t mean ‘to turn our life around’. It can’t even mean to ‘promise to turn our life around’, for the law convinces us that this is a promise we can’t keep.

Repentance is not about bringing something to the table. It’s about realizing that we have nothing to bring to the table. That we are utterly helpless and hopeless before a Holy God, unable to save ourselves. It convinces us that we desperately need a saviour from both the power of sin and the consequences of sin.

5. The Bible teaches that without the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to turn our life around.

One of the most significant problems with thinking that repentance means ‘to turn our life around’ is that it contradicts what the Bible teaches about unbelievers being unable to please God.

Martin Luther explains…
“The following statements are therefore true: “Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works; evil works do not make a wicked man, but a wicked man does evil works.” Consequently it is always necessary that the substance or person himself be good before there can be any good works, and that good works follow and proceed from the good person, as Christ also says, “A good tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit” [Matt. 7:18]. It is clear that the fruits do not bear the tree and that the tree does not grow on the fruits, also that, on the contrary, the trees bear the fruits and the fruits grow on the trees. As it is necessary, therefore, that the trees exist before their fruits and the fruits do not make trees either good or bad, but rather as the trees are, so are the fruits they bear; so a man must first be good or wicked before he does a good or wicked work, and his works do not make him good or wicked, but he himself makes his works either good or wicked”.

What Luther is saying is that it’s impossible to produce good works until a person is first made a Christian.

Some would have concerns with Luther’s view. But the Bible makes it clear that “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Jesus said: I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Therefore it is impossible for a person to ‘turn their life around’ before becoming a Christian. In fact, it’s only when a person becomes a Christian and receives the Holy Spirit that they have any hope of seeing their life turned around. 

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MISUNDERSTANDING: The relationship between faith and good works

One way to consider the relationship between faith and good works is to try and construct a maths equation.

SUPPOSE YOU ARE GIVEN THE FOLLOWING NINE CARDS TO USE…

Picture1

Each card can be used to construct the formula.
S stands for Salvation
F stands for Faith
GW stands for Good Works

MANY OF US WOULD NATURALLY CONSTRUCT THE FORMULA LIKE THIS…

FAITH plus GOOD WORKS leads to SALVATION.

Picture2

The problem with this equation is that the Bible explicitly states that we are saved by faith alone: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9).

AS A RESULT, WE NEED TO ELIMINATE ‘GOOD WORKS’ FROM OUR EQUATION, AND BE LEFT WITH SOMETHING LIKE THIS…

FAITH (ALONE) leads to SALVATION

Picture3

Although this is correct, it doesn’t really give the full story. The Bible goes onto say that once we are saved, we will find that we have a desire to do good works: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10).

SO PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER, WE ARE NOT SAVED BY GOOD WORKS, BUT ONCE WE ARE SAVED, WE WILL HAVE A DESIRE TO DO GOOD WORKS. OUR EQUATION SHOULD LOOK LIKE THIS…

FAITH (ALONE) leads to SALVATION which leads to GOOD WORKS

Picture4

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