Sunday, January 26, 2020
A strict adherence to the language of the Scriptures will keep us from the error of imagining that the evil from which Jesus saves is the curse of man's original condition - the fearful destiny in which we are "cursed" by Nature.
It is not only inconceivable that a benevolent Being should have subjected His creatures to such a miserable fate prior to their sinning, or even to their existing, but, which is more to the point, the sacred writers perpetually teach that the misery to be saved from is that of sin, not of our natural condition; that the wrath to be escaped is that which comes from their own transgressions, not that which awaits them because they are simply human.
They speak of no evil prior to or greater than that of active sin. They speak of no curse before this, or independent of it. And they propose to save from this as the grand, the essential, the all-comprehensive ill, leading to consequences of wretchedness and despair.
To avoid the penalty, yet still enjoy the sin, has always been a chief object of false religions. But let us not be deceived. No such preposterous compromise has been made.
What, then, is the nature of salvation, and from what does Jesus save us?
If we inquire of religion, as taught either by nature or by revelation, what is it, in strict truth, which God designs especially to promote by his government and his dispensations? Happiness? Yes, unquestionably. But how? Happiness only? Of any kind or of any description? If so, there were no need of laws and restraints, and moral laws, or institutions of discipline and instruction; for God might by the arbitrary appointments of His will lavish it abundantly on His creatures. But surely it is not so.
Being a holy God, whose hatred of sin is equal to His desire of happiness, and in whose view there is no true happiness where there is no holiness, He, therefore, makes holiness the primary object of His government, and the moral perfection of His offspring the favorite purpose of His dispensations.
God provides the means for the regeneration of free, intelligent, voluntary agents, existing in a state of probation.
There is nothing either arbitrary or compulsory in the Gospel. Salvation is offered to us, but not forced upon us. It is left to depend upon the use which is made of those privileges and aids which the grace of God has bestowed.
It is thus entirely conditional. It is dependent on every person’s free choice.
The waters of life flow by us in copious and inviting streams; if we will come and take them, we shall live forever; but let us act our own pleasure; there is no constraint. The table of heaven is spread, and urgent invitations are sent abroad, and a joyous welcome awaits those who will be guests. But it rests with ourselves to accept or refuse.
Jesus has thrown wide the doors of everlasting day, and poured a strong light on the true path of peace. He has placed himself at its entrance, to invite, and urge, and warn us - by our allegiance to God, by the miseries of our present condition, by the welfare of our souls, by the inconceivable glories of heaven – to pursue the way of holiness and life.
Jesus has offered us guidance, direction, aid, and blessing. We need only come to him, and we shall have life.
It is thus that salvation is by grace. Grace provides the means. Sinful and undeserving people, by an act of essential Benignity, by the unmerited favor of divine love, is put in the condition to escape from sin, and reach the bliss of heaven.
It is a general provision for the human race ; not a plan for the recovery of a selected few, nor a favor bestowed upon individuals; but an impartial offer of mercy to all — which offer having been made, and the opportunity having been given, each one is then, separately, to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.
The grace of God makes the most ample and munificent provision, even, as it were, the wings of an angel for his flight upward; but if we will not stretch them and rise, it sends down no chariot of fire to bear away our reluctant souls.
God saves us through Jesus — by opening to us a free path of escape from sin and misery, and guiding and aiding us in it, through the perils of life, to our heavenly home.
God opened the way and provided the means; and in each of us must walk in the way and use the means; or, instead of inheriting the blessing, we perish in the wilderness.
(Adapted from a sermon by Henry Ware, Jr. ca. 1850)
Sunday, January 19, 2020
God, our Creator, has created all of us with the awesome responsibility of the Freedom to Choose. The abilities and knowledge we inherit from God at our birth allow us to choose the Good, but has also left us with the ability to choose what is evil. It is in recognizing what is evil, and avoiding or repenting of it, then actively choosing the Good that we are considered Righteous by God.
In the Hebrew Bible, and as taught by Jesus, God repeatedly tells us to "choose" and "obey" and that we will be judged according to our choices.
God, through Moses, said that His Law was “not too hard” so that we “could do it.” (Deut. 30:14) And God expected us to obey his moral commands, as Jesus repeated consistently. Jesus said that no one else would be charged with our disobedience, and no other would be responsible for our actions except ourselves.
In the very beginning of the Hebrew Bible, we learn in the story of Adam and Eve how men were entrusted with a Freedom of Choice. The story portrays God as giving Adam and Eve the choice of not eating from a free of knowledge and remaining in a Garden of innocence forever, or eating from it and eventually dying, and leaving to make his own way in the world.
They chose to leave, and were told by God to "Be fruitful and multiply." Otherwise, his choice, and that of Eve, affected no one but them. And note that Adam and Eve - created in God's image (Gen. 1:27) - were created to be perfect by God, they lived in a perfect world, yet were able to disobey God.
Sin cannot be inherited. Here's how we know: God told Adam's son, Cain (just one generation after Adam!) that he COULD avoid sin, and MUST do so to avoid punishment (Gen. 4:7.)
God didn’t respect Cain and his offering, "So Cain was very angry, and the expression on his face fell. And Yahweh said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. It desires you, but you must rule over it." (Gen. 4:5b-8)
If he was able to freely choose to do Good, so may we! Only Cain was affected by his subsequent evil choice. The Bible teaches us that sins are acts, not THINGS. Sins are what we commit or avoid, not a thing we inherit biologically.
This is why Ezekiel records: "The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, fand the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself." (Ezek. 18:19)
Just after the Exodus out of Egypt, Joshua told the Israelites to serve Yahweh their God, "in sincerity and in truth," and to "choose this day whom you will serve," (Joshua 24:14-15) Clearly, Joshua believed they could choose to faithfully serve God in sincerity and in truth.
The prophet Isaiah also clearly agreed with God that human beings were capable of choosing to, "reject the wrong and choose the right." (7:15)
Psalm 24 notes who may stand before God: "The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god." This strongly affirms our ability to obey God and seek to be righteous. If we cannot do these things, then literally no one would ever stand in God's presence. But that's not what the Bible teaches.
Psalm 25-27 are even more personal, with King David saying that he has (following repentance) led a clean life by choosing the righteous path. He had earlier written: "Yahweh dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me." (Psalm 18:20)
Jesus had high hopes for our moral abilities, and taught that we are to be, "perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48) This same teacher - this human being chosen by God - said that he did all things that pleased God (John 8:29.)
He also said that we must follow him, doing ALL that he had done. (John 13:15; 14:12) Based on these teachings, we definitely have the ability to do great good, if we choose to do so. It's the choosing that can be hard sometimes, but that does not diminish our ability to do the good, which is God-given.
We have the God-given ability to seek Godliness and that we can become Godly and complete – not by ourselves without God or without God’s chosen example, but with God's ongoing help and with the example of Jesus always before us.
As we have seen here, it is NOT our inherited destiny to be "unable to not sin," and that we are not born so depraved that we may not choose what is good and do it. The scriptures teach that we may indeed choose NOT to sin.
Ecclesiasticus records the clearest statement of our freedom to choose, saying: "If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose. Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given. For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything; his eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every human action. He has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and he has not given anyone permission to sin." (15:15-20)
It is God’s choice – His GRACE alone – whether we shall live with Him eternally. But it is up to us if WE CHOOSE to seek this gift, and God says we demonstrate this choice by our actions. This isn't true only if we are unable to freely choose what is good.
We are called to commit our lives to obedience to God's chosen Son, Jesus, the Anointed Prophet of God, and submit to humbly walk with him, relying, as he taught, on God's grace and forgiveness and growing into the Righteous Perfection that God knows we are capable of achieving.
And while sin may be waiting by the door for us, seeking to master us, we are assured that we may indeed defeat – and master – sinful temptations. This is amazingly good news, because it shows that our Creator knows us, and still trusts us with the ability to act and choose to obey Him freely!
Through the teachings of Jesus, God shows us that He is a parent Who allows His children to make mistakes, repent, and turn back to doing what is right.We should thank God, our Creator in Whose image we were created, for trusting us to make our own choices, and let’s pledge to always take that awesome responsibility seriously in all that we do.
Sunday, January 12, 2020
Without action, nothing is achieved. Jesus told a parable in which a king left a group of servants in charge of some money. The ones who invested and used it were praised upon his return. Those who did nothing and hid the money were scolded.
The same is true with our Faith in God, Whom Jesus reveals to us through his teachings, life and death. We are saved from sin in this life, and eternally, only by the teachings and example of Jesus.
A Faith that rests in smug complacency and pride fails. A Faith that puts our talents to work and tests us makes us spiritually stronger.
Jesus calls us to run, to achieve, to do, to act, to work, to become better, to seek out truth, to be righteous, to be humble, to worship and praise our God, and to love others.
And our works have eternal consequences, as well as being of great benefit to others around us right now.
This is a world desperately in need of a deep, loving faith that can work righteousness in the heart as well as in the mind. It needs a Kingdom of Godly men and women who actively feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, bind up the broken-hearted and tend to the ill. This is the very mission Jesus tells us he was sent to proclaim by his, and our, Creator.
Mere platitudes and a religion based upon “instant salvation,” which leaves our neighbors unloved, unserved, and falsely assured of eternity, cheats both them and us out of experiencing the Kingdom that Jesus announced as his mission.
Jesus taught clearly that we are saved eternally by God according to our works (though not by others' opinions of our works, nor by our high opinion of our own works, nor by how loudly we perform our works.)
God alone judges our Works, but it's clear from Jesus' teachings that mere good intentions alone do not save us, nor do they bring about God's Kingdom on earth.
There is no other teaching claiming the name ‘Christianity” that leads to salvation other than the words of Jesus, our Master. All we need to know about God’s Will for us was revealed in the words and example of Jesus, the one God adopted, chose and commissioned to preach to us.
So, when we encounter what is claimed to be the Gospel, if it fails to challenge us to pursue Good Works, we know that it's a false and easy Faith we've encountered – a wide and false gate, rather than the Gospel preached from the very mouth of Jesus.
That's because Jesus clearly calls us to an active Faith - a Faith that Works. It's a challenge worth accepting and worth LIVING. It leads to a spiritually complete life and to eternal life.
Jesus is a teacher who challenges us, his students, to become spiritually complete by actively seeking and doing Righteousness.
“For I have given you an example,” says our Master, “that you also should do just as I have done to you.” (John 13:15)
Jesus preached in order to challenge us to seek spiritual completeness, and calls us today to be examples in his name. And he, as a human being, demonstrated that we can follow him in all things.
To imagine Jesus teaches anything less is to make him and his teachings into something small, and his Faith into something light, unimportant, and easy to obtain.
We must not degrade Jesus' teachings and the Faith that he proclaimed to the world in this way. And we should not settle for a Faith that doesn't Work Righteousness in this world, which desperately needs it.
Sunday, January 5, 2020
Jesus teaches us about the God of Second Chances, and with every new day, and new year, we face fresh opportunities to turn back again to God.
When we come to the knowledge of God's will for our lives - that we should love God with all our heart, mind, strength and soul, and love and serve others just as we love and serve ourselves - we have embraced a new beginning, and undergo a New Birth. We are saved from sin.
Mere knowledge, however, is not enough. Mere verbal or mental assent is not enough. Emotional fervor and good feelings about God are not enough. God, our Creator, calls us to act, and do, and become better, more Spiritually complete people who reflect that which God created for us to become.
Repentance of our past sins and shortcomings gives us a clean slate - we indeed become "white as Snow" when we first ask for forgiveness and repent. But then we must commit to strive to keep ourselves clean and unspotted from a world that has not yet embraced the love and purity of God's path.
While we have not yet achieved moral completeness, all of us are called to seek it. Those who continue to recklessly sin and rebel against God's moral Law does not know God, nor the one whom God sent, Jesus.
Jesus demonstrated with his life, teachings and death the way we should respond to God's gifts. Jesus' example is our model and template.
If we follow the example of Jesus, our lives may become just as full, complete and pleasing to God as his was.
Jesus calls us to a life of Good Works in humility and compassion. Service to others leads to spiritual completeness.
We must approach his example with fear and trembling, and with great humility, and not arrogance. And of course, always seeking forgiveness from God our Father and Creator for our shortcomings.
If we seek forgiveness from God, in true repentance, then our past sins are forgiven. If we then remain in his Teachings, Jesus says we will be saved by God.
After repenting and accepting the knowledge of God's path Jesus reveals to us, we are challenged to actively live out this Faith.
But God doesn't leave us to face this challenge alone. We always have the example of Jesus, and we also have God's ever-present spiritual comfort, always there to guide, encourage and hold us tightly during times of trouble and trial.
And God has implanted within us the seeds that can grow and become a visible representation of the Kingdom of God - in this place and in this time. Knowledge of God's moral plan for our lives, shown to us by Jesus, germinates those seeds and they are nurtured by his example and God's ongoing love and strength.
Each of us can grow within us a Spiritual Abundance that gives light and hope to the world.
Let us greet every new year, new month, new day, new hour, and every new minute as a precious opportunity to serve God and our neighbors in God's name!