Lest we forget the cross

Every year as Australians commemorate Anzac Day, we remember the cost of love. But if we only remember to reflect on that day once a year, we have actually forgotten the magnitude of that gift.  

The love of Anzac day

The essence of love is giving. And we measure the degree of love by the costliness of the giving to the giver in comparison to the worthiness of the receiver. The more it costs the giver and the less worthy the receiver, the greater the love.

On the 25th of April 1915 Australia was at war. The Allies of the “Anzacs” were fighting against the Central Powers in Europe in World War I. On the 25/4/1915, the ANZACs (the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula, on Turkey's coast.

They were expecting a flat beach. And the plan was that from there they would take the whole Peninsula. But actually, they landed at an incorrect position, on a piece of wild and impossibly savage terrain, now known as Anzac Cove. And so instead they faced the steep cliffs of Anzac Cove. And what is worse, they faced constant barrages of enemy fire.

What was Gallipoli like? A description taken from the book Gallipoli, written by John Masefield, first published in September 1916, describes it:

“Those who wish to imagine the scene must think of 20 miles of any rough and steep sea coast known to them, picturing it as roadless, waterless, much broken with gullies, covered with scrub, sandy, loose, and difficult to walk on…

Then let them imagine the hills entrenched, the landing mined, the beaches tangled with barbed wire…and swept by machine guns, and themselves three thousand miles from home, going out before dawn with rifles, packs, and water-bottles, to pass the mines under shell fire, cut through the wire under machine-gun fire, clamber up the hills under the fire of all arms by the glare of shell-bursts, in the withering and crashing tumult of modern war, and then to dig themselves in, on a waterless and burning hill while a more numerous enemy charge them with the bayonet…

Only then will they begin, even dimly, to understand…”

What made the 25th of April 1915 a day Australians will never forget is that after landing in this Cove, over those next two days, more than 21,200 British, 10,000 French, 8700 Australians and 2700 New Zealanders were killed. And the Allied wounded totalled more than 97,000. The Gallipoli campaign was an enormous failure, a failure bought at the cost of an enormous number of lives.

But the Gallipoli story is also an incredible story of courage and endurance. The landing at Gallipoli is a story not only of death, and despair, of poor leadership and unsuccessful strategies. The heart of the Anzac story is a legend, not of military victory, but of courage; courage that came from the bonds of friendship.

At Gallipoli, men from all backgrounds from the newly formed nation created the essence of what it means to be Australian –

Giving a hand to a friend.
Sticking up for a mate.
Courage under fire.

And so ‘lest we forget’, on the 25th of April every year Australians commemorate Anzac Day, and remember the cost of love, paid by our forebears for us.

How costly was the gift given on the first Anzac day in 1915? Very costly indeed: It was the cost of thousands of innocent lives. And they were the dearest of lives: Mothers giving sons; Wives giving husbands; Children giving fathers.

And who was it for? Future generations; for those who were still far off; for you and I who now live in peace in Australia. How worthy are we of such love?

Extraordinary human love

The Anzac story is one of extraordinary love. How do you know how much someone loves you? How much they would give of themselves for you; how much they would give up for you in demonstration of their love. The ultimate test might be would they die for you?

Of course we don’t really like to think about whether the people who love us would really have to die for us, let alone go ahead and do it. And people rarely ever actually do die for those they love because they rarely have to. But ‘would they’ do it – if the situation arose – and true love demanded it; such as the choice between you losing your life or them giving theirs. Would they do it? It depends on how much they really love you.

Would you die for someone if they didn’t really mean much to you? We find it hard usually to even be generous to others, unless we consider them especially worthy of our affection, or respect – but let alone die for them. And I don’t think it would matter much if there were other very compelling reasons why we might die for them, other than great love.

Around the world every day countless journalists standby recording the deaths of innocent civilian victims of war crimes without making the step at attempted ‘saviour’. Even when we know that someone is innocent it is nonetheless very difficult to imagine dying for any other than those we love greatly.

However, ‘perhaps for a good man someone might possibly dare to die’. The Anzac story of Simpson and his Donkey is probably Australia’s most famous stories, and Jack Simpson Kirkpatrick one of our best-loved military heroes. He was one of those Anzacs who landed at Anzac Cove. He was chosen as a stretcher-bearer, but as the story goes, he was carrying casualties back to the beach over his shoulder when that he saw a donkey. And from that day on he began to act independently, lifting wounded men onto the donkey and guiding them to the beach. In 24 days, under constant and ferocious attack from artillery and field guns and sniper fire, he rescued over 300 men, until he was hit by a machine gun bullet in the back.

It was an incredibly heroic feat. And it was a self-imposed task. Why did he do it? Was it because people were innocently losing their lives? There were plenty on the other side who were innocently dying too. Turkish casualties were estimated at 250,000. But it was because these were his own countrymen who were losing their lives, his own mates. Good men. He willingly gave his life for his fellow Aussies.

Though uncommon, it’s not unheard of that people do dare even to die for others that they consider good people. Most of us would see that there is something really honourable in giving our life for someone who is good and worthy of the sacrifice of our lives.

As time goes by, it’s easy to forget the incredible love shown to us by those who have gone before us, without the help of the Memorial Day. Removed by close to one hundred years from those one hundred thousand of our fathers who died for us, we are constantly forgetting the great cost that was paid to give us this life.

The unique love of God

As Christians we also need to continually remind ourselves of who has gone before us, what it cost them, and how great is that love and the gift we’ve been given.

Human love – extraordinary human love – is perhaps the most inspiring of all human experiences. How does the love of God measure up? We often we hear today God’s love ridiculed: ‘if God exists, then he is horrible’ is the taunt of atheists who claim that the proliferation of war, suffering and evil in the world provides testimony against the existence of a good God.

In Romans 5:6-10 the Apostle Paul describes the enormous magnitude of the love that has actually been shown to us by God. And what Paul says about the love of God (and it should not come as a surprise) is that the love of God is completely unique: in comparison even extraordinary human love does not come close, does not even compare.

If you want to understand the Christian message, if you want to try come to terms with what it is that the New Testament claims is going on at the cross of Jesus, if you want to get to the heart of God and see whether or not at the centre of this universe there is a loving God, this is a key passage to wrap your head around:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

(Romans 5:6-10)

Dirty bible words, viz 'predestination'

For some the doctrine of ‘predestination’ would be the one doctrine they would remove from the Bible. For others it would be one among many. Many Christians today find this teaching not only hard to understand, but hard to accept. Why has God told us about predestination? Why is this teaching even in the Bible? And does this bible word deserve the ‘dirty’ image it has among many today?

Over at my other blog, Talking Christianity, I've fleshed out an answer in terms of the following five reasons why God has told us about predestination

1. To humble us
2. To give us assurance
3. To uphold our responsibility
4. To motivate our holiness
5. To give us confidence

And here is what I conclude: 

Dirty bible words (such as predestination):

There are no doctrines in the bible that are not vital. They all interdependently arise from the one true God who has inspired the Scriptures by his Spirit, and given us in his Word everything that we need for our salvation, for our good and for our holiness.

We must not play ‘favourites’ with doctrine; we must not be 'choosy' with any truths of God’s word. In fact, being 'selective' at all with the Bible poses great dangers to Christian maturity. This is one of the major limitations with memory-verse systems and the like. We invariably give the upper-hand to our biased preferences which influence how we approach the Bible. We end up imposing our systems above the bible which are based upon our limited understanding, presuppositions and worse still popular appeal. 

But it is God who is speaking and we should be listening. And he speaks through all of his Word. It is all given to us for our instruction and our good. We must not ignore or silence anything that the Bible says to us. It was original sin to doubt that God’s word was good and for our good, and to cease listening to everything that God had said to us.

Whether the doctrine of foreknowledge or of final hell, there should be no doctrine we’d even dream of sidelining in the Bible, much less changing or removing; and least of all the doctrine of predestination, which to the Christian should perhaps be the grandest and sweetest of all truths. Though for many Christians today, this teaching may remain hard to understand, we should do more than simply accepting this doctrine. We should embrace it with two hands from our heavenly Father, with childlike faith, knowing that by grappling with it and growing up into this doctrine, it will come with all the rich rewards we’ve learned to expect from our good, gracious and loving Lord and God.

Read full article here.

Who cares about righteousness anymore?

Does God not care about evil in the world? When we see the violence and hatred and selfishness done in the world, we might think that. Is God indifference about right and wrong? When we witness a world full of people constantly breaking the law, we might think that. Does God not care about justice? When we experience the many injustices of this world, we may want to think that.

Many people accuse God of injustice: ‘if God exists, then he is horrible’. If not atheists they hold God as the unrighteous one.

Remarkably, one of the clearest descriptions in the Bible of the ‘core message’ of Christianity, found in Romans 3:21-26, is also where the Apostle Paul goes to the very heart of this question. It might not be what you typically think the Gospel message is all about, but the question of the righteousness of God is what Paul’s ‘good news’ in Romans 3 focuses on.

Romans 3:21-26 is all about the righteousness of God. God’s righteousness has been made known: It has been revealed as a combination of three things, his character of righteousness, his gift of a righteous status before him, and his action to save unrighteous people

God’s message about ourselves

The Bible declares that in fact there are multiple ways in which God has revealed himself to humanity. First, he has revealed his power in creation: Creation itself displays his eternal power and nature (Romans 1:19-20). Second, he is always revealing his anger against sinful human society: The evil in society is God making known his anger from heaven against all of humanity; we are unrighteous because we suppress this truth (Romans 1:18-32).

Paul's description of all people, from every culture, from every rank, whether we appear to live good lives or not, whether we live religiously or not, without exception, is that every person is guilty before God, without excuse, and without any defence. Romans 1:18-3:20 gives a terrible picture of humanity, society, individuals - unrighteousness and self-righteousness. We have no hope in ourselves and of ourselves for any escape from the judgment of God. What is more, the Bible declares that every person actually knows this.

God’s message about himself

But in addition to this there is something very special that God has revealed, something new; something God has made known without (apart from) his law that he had given Israel, which we have in the Old Testament (although it is promised in the Old Testament).

And it’s just this: God has made his righteousness known (Romans 3:21).

What is the gospel? What has God made known about himself in Jesus? He has revealed his own righteousness.

The very God who, although revealing his anger from heaven against all our unrighteousness (Romans 1:18), has also come into this world and made known his own righteousness. In a world full of evil whose people boast about our evil, inventing further ways of doing evil, even judging others for the evil things that we actually do too - In this world of unrighteousness, God has now revealed his righteousness (Romans 3:22).

God has done this firstly by coming himself as the righteous one. He came in the person of Jesus. He came into the world as the owner. Because he is the owner, he is the lawgiver. And he came into his world to establish his own righteousness through the man Christ Jesus.

What would you have expected him to do when he came? What do you expect the righteous one from heaven to come and do when he enters this evil world?

The amazing thing is that although Jesus came as the righteous one of God, in his first coming he came not to condemn the unrighteous, but to save them: not to judge, but to bring justification; to die upon a cross for us.

Without the cross, justification of the unjust would be unjustifiable; declaring righteous those who are wicked would be unrighteousness. The only reason God will do it, is because Christ died for the wicked.

Although it is true that God is angry with people because of the offence our sin against him [and this is true because he is perfectly righteous], God gave his own Son to die in our place, and in doing this he gave himself. And in doing so he turned away his own anger against us. And consequently, because of the cross, God can justify wicked people; God can declare to be righteous those who are evil. And he does it through faith alone; this righteousness from God comes to all as a gift who have faith in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:22).

God’s demonstration of himself

The cross, as well as being a great achievement of God, the cross of Jesus is also a demonstration of God. It’s by the cross of Jesus that God has demonstrated his character of justice.

Without the cross God could not be both just and justify the wicked. He could not be righteous at the same time as declaring wicked people to have his righteous status. But on the cross he achieved a right way to do it: He bought people at the right price. He turned aside God’s anger with the right sacrifice. He showed God’s justice with the right demonstration. And therefore he can justify us, who were slaves, angering God and unrighteous. It is his just justification of the unjust: he has justified sins righteously. The cross was his righteous way of ‘righteoussing’ the unrighteous.

It is a way that is worthy of himself as the holy just God, and merciful loving God.

We can only be amazed at the righteousness of God, which is perfectly wise and loving and merciful and just.

This is the gospel; it is God's news about himself: God has made his righteousness known by declaring right those who are not through faith in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Is God unrighteous?

The world is full of evil, but through the gospel we know that God has demonstrated his amazing care by coming into this world and experiencing the greatest evil himself on the cross so that we ourselves can be saved from his righteous anger against not only the evil in this world, but also the evil in our own lives too.

The world is full of unrighteousness, but through the gospel we know that God has demonstrated himself to be the only righteous one at the cross, where he did the greatest right, by taking the punishment for the wrong-doing of the world, so that we who are completely wrong might be given his righteousness.

The world is full of suffering, but through the gospel we know that God has himself has come and suffered the greatest injustice, because he loves us, and in his justice he has provided a just way to justify people. 

Getting to know God

Or is it God getting to know you?

How do Christians have a personal relationship with God? How does God speak to us and what about the Holy Spirit?

I don’t much love the language of the cliché, ‘Christians are those who have a personal relationship with God’. For a start, the order is quite backward to the New Testament: Christians are those who have a God who has personally related to us. We may ‘know God’, but by order of priority, God has ‘known us.’ (1 Corinthians 8:3; Galatians 4:9).

It may seem like semantics, but actually order is very important in the Bible because it communicates vital truths. For example, it’s become popular to refer to God as our ‘friend’. But interestingly this order is never used in the Bible; God’s people are only describes as friends of God (James 2:23).

This order communicates a lot about the type of relationship we have with God. He is our God, our Father, our Lord. We are his friends, his children, his servants.

I do absolutely believe that people can know God personally. But here as always order is very important. Throughout the Bible, people can know God through the Word of God. The order is that God speaks to us. And his people listen to his Word.

The Spirit and hearing God

The Bible teaches that the Spirit of God inspired the Scriptures, so God’s Spirit speaks to us through the Bible. The role of the Spirit when the Scripture is being read or heard is to enable us to believe and obey it; not just understand it intellectually. Our brains are just as necessary in thinking about what is being said, but to merely ‘understand’ what the Scriptures are actually saying is not to ‘understand’ it truly, because to truly understand the Bible also involves recognising that it is God who is speaking, and he is addressing me.

We cannot hear God speaking in the Bible unless the Spirit enables us to; we just hear words, the words of human authors and our hard hearts don't believe it and certainly don't obey it.

Part of the work of salvation is that the Spirit has opened our eyes to see the truth - opened our deaf ears so that we can now hear God speaking to us when we read His Word.

How God speaks to us

Compare Hebrews 1:1, 3:7, 4:7 and 4:12. Notice that in Hebrews 3:7 it is the Holy Spirit is speaking to people in the present tense through a verse in the Old Testament. However in Hebrews 4:7 the same Old Testament verse is quoted, but here the writer of Hebrews comments that David spoke that very verse in the past. In other words, David spoke what the Holy Spirit is speaking.

This reference highlights both the human and divine origin of Scripture. But also notice it points out that the Holy Spirit was speaking directly to people through Old Testament Scripture that was previously addressed as God's Word to people of the past. And now these same Scriptures speak to us as we read it.

This is how God speaks. He speaks to us through what He has spoken in the past. But also notice Hebrews 1:1. All of the 'new' speech of God finished with Jesus; the new messages, the new words, the new revelations were all finalised in Jesus Christ. He is the Word itself. He is the last word; he is the End.

God now speaks to us through His Son. There are no new revelations, no more prophets saying new things. We have God's Word complete to us: Jesus the Word of God revealed (John 1:1-15). John 1:18 says that Jesus has (past tense) made God known. We come to know God (present tense) through the revelation that Jesus has given us in the past (which his Spirit makes known to us in the present).

There are of course many other references to consider throughout the New Testament about how God speaks to us through His Word. If this is a topic you need to explore check out 1 Thessalonians 1:13, 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:20-21, John 20:31.

This then is how I believe God speaks to us, and to me - and it is personal. It is His Word to me about His Son - which applies to every area of my life. And he is speaking it to me today, every day.

Knowing God through prayer?

But what about us to Him: after all, every relationship that is personal it two-way. We speak to God through prayer. But in the New Testament God’s people pray to him in response to his revelation to them; his word.

In 1 John 5:14-15 this is how we know that he hears us when we pray. And if we know he hears us we know that we have what we have asked of him, because we pray according to his will, not ours.

So I don't think it’s quite right to think of prayer as ‘how we get to know God’ (In the sense of finding out about God). This is because prayer is us talking to God, and the order is wrong if we want to know God. First we need to be known by God.

We’ve said that God talks to us through His Word. In earthly terms, you can't find out about someone purely by talking to them; you need to listen to what they say, what they reveal of themself to you. Only then can you learn about them and response according to what you find them to be towards you (that is, of course without assuming to relate to them based on perceptions originating in your own head).

The analogy is poor in application to God because we can pick up things about others just by watching them; but not with God. We are completely dependent on his self-revelation of himself to us.

1 Corinthians says: "The world in its wisdom did not know God” (1 Cor 1:20-21). To the Biblical authors, you cannot know God through your own wisdom. You need God to reveal himself to you. The reason for this is that we are blind to see the truth without a miracle of his grace (2 Cor 4:3-6). We need the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation to open the eyes of our hearts so that we can know God better” (Eph 1:17, Col 1:9-10).

Prayer has a limited role in the knowledge of God. It’s a good response to God, in fact the chief response of faith. But it’s a reaction to God’s primary action towards us, where the order is everything.

So this means you can’t just go off into the bush to pray for a week hoping that by that means you’ll come to know God better. You could come back with a heresy; it certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

But if you read God’s Word and as you do so, respond with prayer arising from a sincere trust in the God who is speaking to you through those Scriptures; then you are having a personal relationship with God. He is speaking to you and you are responding with faith-produced speech to him.

Hearing God elsewhere?

We need to be really careful in relying on our churches, or experiences, or our logical reason, or our conscience when seeking God. If even in reading the Bible we are susceptible to error (2 Peter 3:15-17) which is the infallibly inspired word of God, then anything else is by deduction liable to certain error.

And remembering what we have said about Hebrew 1:1, these things can only provide truth in so far as they remain true to what the Bible teaches.

We’ve said that we can’t know God just by praying. God has spoken to us through the Gospel, and if we fail to listen to that Word, our prayers only amount to acts of false-worship and rebellion.

The Bible does suggest that God will answer the prayers of his people, albeit with many qualifiers. For example, we need to forgive others their sins (Matt 6:15).

Interpreting events

In knowing God, we pray for understanding not only of the Bible, but of the events of our lives as well. But how can you be sure you have interpreted the events of your life correctly? We can trust the Bible, but can we trust our understanding of the events of our lives as we read the Bible?

We can see God’s answers to our prayers unfolding in our lives by the events that God’ is sovereign over. But the question is: How do we interpret those unfolding events that are God’s answers.

If you pray for safety and your house burns down, but you live, how should you interpret God’s answer, since God is sovereign over your life? Is God angry at you because he caused the disaster, or does he love you because he saved you from dying in the fire? Is he disciplining you to teach you patience through this trial? The example is not perfect, because we also know that all three options could be true.

But the principle behind these specifics is that we must interpret our world through the eyes of what we know from the Scriptures about who God is. We do know that God is speaking to us through his Word that never changes throughout our trials, but he is primarily speaking to us about himself so that we will know him.

We will be able to hear God’s word, which is his ‘answer’, through the unfolding events of our lives only as we look at them through the truth revealed about God in Bible.

For example, he says in James 1:2: “Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance…” Here we see that God does test our faith; God is behind all things and he is always working for our good (Rom 8:28); he does discipline us in love (Hebrews 12:1-11) – our response of joy arises from revelation from God’s word as we come to know that God continues to love us and do good to us throughout our trials and suffering. That is, by the activity of the Word in our lives the events of day do enable us to know God more because the Bible sheds fresh light into our understanding.

Knowing God proper

We can only have this great and living and personal knowledge of God as God knows us through his spoken Word in our lives. He speaks to us about who he is and how we should respond to him in order to please him throughout the various circumstances of life which the Bible addresses. As we listen in faith and hear through God’s Spirit, we respond with prayer arising from our faith in the God thus revealed. And God answers us with more faith producing obedience, love and joy by the Holy Spirit.

So this, I believe, is what it means to know God, or rather be known by God.

Is this how God is getting to know you?

Christian Judgment

Or judging all and judging nothing

1 Corinthians is a real corker for word-study lovers, especially when it comes to the word ‘judgment’.

I mean: According to Paul "the spiritual man makes judgments about all things" (Chapter 2). But then early in Chapter 4 he says "judge nothing before the appointed time". He will go on to say, "I do not even judge is the Lord who judges me". But then almost immediately he begins talking about "passing judgement on the man who [sinned]" (Ch 5). Then again, almost immediately following, he gives instructions about appointing "judges over themselves" because of the law suits among them. And on it goes.

So many different ways of using the one word!

I haven’t looked across the Greek or anything but here are a few thoughts:

In the broad context it appears to be about the Corinthians making judgements about Paul vs. Apollos vs. Cephas vs. Christ - in terms of "wisdom and knowledge", regarding whether they appear wise by “the standards of this word (i.e. 'speaking' with eloquence and superior wisdom).

In the direct immediate context, the real spiritual truth is the foolish message of the cross; not all that other trash that appears 'wise and superior'.

In view of this, those Corinthians are missing the point: they're listening to 'how' things are said, not 'what' is said. And when they do hear 'what' is said, they are making the wrong judgement - they are saying it's inferior to this other 'superior wisdom talk' (i.e. the secret wisdom that is being spoken is spiritually discerned and they are missing it).

However: The spiritual man can understand and see that Paul & Apollos & Cephas & Christ are all speaking with the same wisdom - which is actually the superior stuff - the wisdom of God which is foolishness to man. Thus these men are entrusted with the secret things of God and anyone with half a spiritual brain should be able to judge that they are of Christ and from God, and therefore not get into these divisions and rubbishy talk about 'men' and the comparisons between them in terms of speaking-ability and world-approved knowledge.

About 'he is not subject to any mans judgement': This then ties in with Paul's idea in Ch 4 that 'I care very little if I am judged by you or any human court...indeed I do not even judge myself - It is the Lord who judges me', because -

The spiritual man (Paul and Apollos and anyone else who is thinking right) is not under the judgement of these carnal thinkers who cannot even understand what is spiritual. Rather he is under God who is the one who has entrusted these spiritual truths to him.

But the spiritual man himself does make judgements about all things - because he can see whether a message is true or spiritual because he has the Spirit who has given him understanding.

What are your thoughts about Christian judgment in 1 Corinthians?

Catholicism and forgiveness

Many Catholics directly associate forgiveness with the Lord’s Supper, the prayers of the clergy, prayers of rededication, and other things similar. Many Christians generally associate forgiveness with the work of Christ, yet they perpetuate traditions and perceptions that can condemn God’s people to anxiety and a self-destructive conscience. Burdened by the teaching and traditions of their leaders many carry a load of guilt from one service or experience to the next. I know that I myself have been burdened with guilt in years past in a similar way.

The message of Hebrews was authored to a similar audience. And its message should be pretty liberating for many. The writers’ original audience underestimated Jesus, much like we may do also. They hadn’t come to the startling reality that the death of Jesus offered full and final forgiveness, both now and forever. They couldn’t grasp that Jesus had opened up perfect access to the Father. They couldn’t grasp the fact that they now needed no other priest.

The book of Hebrews was written in response to the temptation to turn back from Christ to Jewish tradition—the temptation to regard the temple cult as more effective than Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s well worth a read, because I think that this is a temptation that many within Catholicism have succumbed to.

If you’re a sincere Catholic I don’t doubt that you hope in Christ and continue to pray for strength and direction. Even if you don’t think that I am correct about Catholicism, I strongly recommend you give Hebrews a good read. It’s a real thesis, but it is the life giving truth of God that we need; we all need his Word directly illuminating us. If you pray for understanding, God is ready to give it to you through his Word.

I also don’t doubt if you are a sincere Catholic that you try to apply his commandments to every aspect of my life. Sometimes you fail, of course like us all, but you really do try. You may also be sure that your faith is strong.

This is commendable; though you need to be careful you don’t fall into the trap of confusing belief in yourself with belief in Christ. Your faith is strong if you believe that Christ’s finished Work on the cross applies irreversibly and directly to your sin:

““Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more”. And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin” (Hebrews 10:17-18).

And so it matters not so much the degree to which you try, but the degree to which the sacrifice for sin is or is not complete. And the message of Hebrews and in fact the New Testament generally, is that ‘it is [in fact] finished!’

It says that when Jesus “had offered one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:12-14).

Christ’s people have been made perfect forever; already. And so you mustn’t confuse what you know about your sin with what the Bible says about Christ’s work to make you holy and perfect in his sight even now. You are perfect in the sight of God because of what Christ has done for you.

Now it is one hundred per cent clear that God's purpose for his people in their lives, in the way they do actually live, does centres on holiness and avoiding sin:

Paul’s words to the Thessalonians: “Finally, brother, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. It is God’s will that you should be sanctified [or ‘made holy’]: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8)”.

I find that remarkably challenging but also reassuring. God’s will for me and you is not hidden, and it is not complicated. Now that he has made us perfect in the sight of God, his will is that we live up to what we have already attained (Philippians 3:16): It is God’s will that we should be sanctified. He has called us to live a holy life.

But the reassurance is that we are not on our own. At the same time that we are putting one hundred per cent of our energy into “working out our salvation” (Philippians 2:12), we are told that “it is God who works in us, to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).

As it says: “he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14).

God’s people are also being ‘made’ holy. And the very evidence of his ownership of is is the working out of godliness in our life. And the evidence of this is not a ‘sinless’ life, but a life splattered with blood. It’s a battle; a conflict (Galatians 5:16-17). We are in a war fighting a real enemy – and we struggle and take many blows as we seek to “put to death the misdeeds of the body”, and as we “crucify the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). It is our very struggle against sin that marks us as His (Romans 7:7-8:17), in a world that follows willingly their own sinful nature (Ephesians 2:1-3). This is the work of the Spirit of God.

And how about 1 John 3:19-24:

“This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”

And this command is one command: The vertical component is our action towards God; to trust and rely on his Son for our salvation. The horizontal component comes secondly and is our response to his salvation for us; to love each other as he has loved us.

Our hearts can be free in his presence. And whenever our hearts condemn us we can set them at rest by this truth.

The question I encourage you to carefully consider is: Is this the message you received from Catholicism? Is this the trust you’re holding to in all sincerity as a practicing catholic?

Goals for serving Christ in my home

As Christians we want to serve Christ in our homes more than anywhere. Our first ministry-field is our families. But I’m worried this has become cliche for me.  If I want my family to know Christ, I need to make sure my ‘ministry’ to them constitutes far more than token-acts of service. I also need to ensure my focus goes much deeper than ‘methods’; for example, is my parenting becoming little more than a careful choice of ‘ways and means’?

So I’m going back to first principles to remind myself how the unchanging pillars of all ministry apply to everything I do in my family life. Thinking through these things has helped me to realise how the principles of ministry apply equally and eminantly to my role as both husband and father:

10 Principles for my Family Ministry:

1. ‘Character’ should be the ‘foundation’ of my ministry

What I say will never be louder than what I do. I need to primarily and continually focus on my own godliness and authentic display of christlikeness.

2. ‘Service’ should be the ‘nature’ of ministry

It’s only by ‘descending’ to serve the very least in my family that I can be truly ‘great’. After all ‘ministry’ means nothing other than ‘service’. I need to lead by humility, seeking first to ‘wash the feet’ of every member before presuming to give lessons or lectures.

3. ‘Love’ should be the ‘motive’ of my ministry

Without love I have nothing, gain nothing, am nothing. In fact, no matter what I actually do, let alone believe, without love I only teach hypocracy. I need to focus sincere faith-produced actions of love for the salvation of my family.

4. ‘Sacrifice’ should be the ‘price’ of my ministry

In the past I’ve focused on the sacrifices my family should make for me to carry out ‘my ministry’, rather than my sacrifices that are part of serving them. It is a sacrifice on my part necessary in giving up my own interests in order to properly serve my family for their good.

5. ‘Submission’ should be the ‘authority’ of my ministry

The only way I will have authority is if I’m under it. And it’ll be in proportion to the degree to which I’m under it. The highest level of submission is the highest level of authority. I need to submit myself more completely in trust of Christ who is my head.

6. The ‘Glory of God’ should be the ‘purpose’ of my ministry

Whatever my goals for my marriage and parenting, they exist in order to glorify God. This affects the purpose of my marriage and fatherhood. My wife is given me so that I might grow in godliness, more than anything else. My children are given me so that I can love them in ways that echos Jesus’ work on the cross and models Christ’s service to his people.

7. God’s ‘Word and prayer’ should be the ‘tools’ of my ministry

As a parent it's too tempting to get caught up in techniques. But like all ministry, I need to remember it’s the Gospel itself that is the power of God. I need to keep praying, coming from trust in God’s word as God’s means of saving both myself and my family.

8. ‘Growth’ should be the ‘privilege’ of my ministry

If only growth was the natural “result” of my efforts. But it’s not. It is a fruit of God's work, and he is sovereign. I need to labour in love to serve him in my family with all sincerity, but I cannot produce growth either in myself or my family. I need to leave that to God. True faith in God’s sovereignty shows in many ways.

9. The ‘Holy Spirit’ should be the ‘power’ of my ministry

If I rely on my ability or determination or ongoing concern or good efforts to reach my family, I relying on my own power. And if I do this I may find myself working against God, and failing. Only if God by his Spirit works in us though his word, will God’s good purposes for christlikeness in our lives be fulfilled.

10. ‘Jesus Christ’ should be the ‘model’ of my ministry

Parenting or marriage books can be really great. I’ve also become sidetracked by these things to rely on ‘methods’ rather than Jesus Christ himself. The examples of others can also be extremely helpful. Comparisons though can also produce guilt or jealousy. Worse still if I take my eyes off Jesus I might slip again in to a lazy carelessness in my family life. I need to keep focusing on Jesus. I need to keep coming to Christ my Lord in his word through prayer and relying on his model of service to my family.