Only One God

“After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. Well then, if we emphasise faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfil the law.”
Romans 3:29-31 NLT

Paul makes another profound statement in this chapter in Romans. “There is only one God”. Paul wrote this when he was thinking of the conflict between the Jewish and Gentile Christians in the Roman church. But in today’s world, it has of even greater importance. In recent years we have had to observe the bizarre spectacle of “multi faith” services. Where Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and others have come together for a joint worship service. I have a relative who sincerely believes that all religions worship the same God, only in different ways. He reckons that God has different compartments in Heaven, each for one of the worldly religions. I don’t know how he has come to that conclusion but that is what he believes. Many years ago the controversial comic Dave Allen used to end his TV programmes with the parting phrase, “May your god go with you”. The world is very confused about God. 

But in all the religious fog that infects our world, a fog introduced by the devil and the effects of sin, we Christians have the truth. Jesus said, “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). There is only one way to God and that is through Jesus. Those in the world will reject such an unequivocal statement. They will question how we really know that. The clue comes in the next part of Paul’s message, where he said, “He makes people right with himself only by faith”. It’s all about our faith. And through that faith we know that only Jesus has the words of eternal life. Only Jesus can make us righteous in God’s sight.

Paul asked the question of his readers, “Well then, if we emphasise faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law”? His answer echoed what Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-18, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved”. The Law was given by God through Moses, for the express purpose of teaching and guiding the Israelites, and in the process exposing their sin. God sent His sinless Son to fully keep the Law so that we could, through faith, keep the intentions of the Law too. Because of their sin, mankind is incapable of keeping the Law and appearing righteous by their own efforts. But through faith in Jesus, we can. What a wonderful God we have!

Dear Father God. Thank You for Jesus. Thank You for the words of eternal life. We worship You, and only You, today. Amen.

No Boasting

“Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.”
Romans 3:27-28 NLT

In this life, it is easy to find people who boast about their achievements. The general on a battlefield. The captains of industry who claim that they have built their companies from nothing, through sheer hard work. The aid worker who has helped large numbers of people. A charity that has influenced government legislation. The neighbour down the street who has purchased a new car. The list is endless. But all these achievements have one thing in common – a boast that their claims depend on human effort, and particularly theirs. 

What does this word “boast” mean? A dictionary definition is to “talk with excessive pride and self-satisfaction about one’s achievements, possessions, or abilities“. There are two words in this definition that are worth noting – “pride” and “self“. In God’s eyes, both of these can be considered to be sins. There are some Bible verses warning against boasting. James wrote some words about misplaced self-confidence in James 4. Here is one of the verses he wrote, verse 16, “… you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil“. But James was not the only Biblical writer warning about boasting. Another verse from Proverbs 27:1, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring“. Boasting is associated with evil people. Psalm 94:3, “They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers are full of boasting“. 

In our verses from Romans 3 today we see that, in our relationship with God, we have nothing to boast about. The Apostle Paul wrote a list of all the challenges he had experienced in his life, and how he could boast about them, if he wanted to. We can read about them in 2 Corinthians 11. But in verse 30 he comes from a different angle. He wrote, “If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am“. In the following chapter, he referred to having “a thorn in [his] flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). After asking God to take it away, he wrote ““Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). 

Somehow, it’s not possible to boast about our faith, and not just because those worldly people around us perceive it to be a weakness. Why would we want to boast about such a thing? We can do nothing to earn our salvation. Through faith in Jesus, we accept the free gift of God, His salvation. The very essence of our faith is God. It’s all about Him and what He has done for us, and not about us at all. In Philippians 2:3 we read, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves”. Humility is the way forward for Christians. We have an inner strength that comes from knowing that God loves us personally and individually. And because of that we don’t have to puff ourselves up in front of our peers. We don’t have to make inflated claims about our worth, to try and make those around us look up to us. The Lord Himself will lift us up at the right time. We read in James 4:10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honour”.

Living in God’s Kingdom is counter-cultural for most of the time. The world’s values and virtues mostly don’t exist in God’s world. And boasting is one of them. 

Father God. Please help us to have a Godly perspective of ourselves, and not one dictated to by worldly people and values. Amen.

Christ’s Blood

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.”
Romans 3:23-26 NLT

Paul wrote “people are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood“. We know of course of the historical fact that Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross at a place called Calvary, just outside Jerusalem. And we know as well that although Jesus could have called upon sufficient forces to save Him, He instead chose to die in that way, sacrificing Himself for the benefit of mankind. But why this mention of His blood? To find out more about this we have to turn to Hebrews 9, which clearly explains the importance of blood. In Hebrews 9:22, we read, “In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness”. Of course, we can claim that we are living in a new dispensation, the New Covenant through Jesus. But there is still an important connection with the Old Covenant emphasis on blood.

For the High Priest to be able to attain God’s presence, blood had to be offered for the forgiveness of sins. We read in Hebrews 9:7, “But only the high priest ever entered the Most Holy Place, and only once a year. And he always offered blood for his own sins and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance”. Something significant had to happen to allow the contact with God, and this was the shedding of an animal’s blood. 

We read in Hebrews 9:11-12 that Jesus is now our High Priest. “So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever“. But we can’t stop there. The writer to the Hebrews continued, “Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins” (Hebrews 9:13-14). 

Jesus willingly offered Himself at Calvary, so that His blood could once and for all time, become the offering that God demands for our redemption. Through Jesus’ blood we can attain the righteousness that meets “God’s glorious standard“. And through faith in God’s free gift of grace, sealed for all eternity by Jesus’ blood, we have our salvation to look forward to on the day that Jesus returns. “God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus”. 

We pilgrims, of course, believe in Jesus. It is more than believing that Jesus came to this world. The devil and his minions all believe that. It is the belief that Jesus not only came to this planet to die at Calvary. It is believing that through His shed blood there we have redemption for our sins. Such a belief is life-changing. But what do those in our families believe? Or our friends and neighbours? once again, I encourage us all to share what Jesus did for us at Calvary. It’s too important a gift not to.

Dear Lord. How can we thank You enough. You faced into a terrible death for me and my fellow pilgrim brothers and sisters. We are so grateful. Amen.

God’s Grace

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.”
Romans 3:23-26 NLT

Paul made a profound statement, unequivocally through the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, when he said, “God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight”. Just a few words, easy to say but rooted in the God-experience Paul enjoyed. What is this grace? Why is it so powerful? And how can we take advantage of it?

Grace, and in particular God’s grace, is a very fundamental truth for the Christian life. Without God’s grace we are a deluded people, wasting our lives on something pointless. But here’s the thing, because of His love for mankind, God chose to allow His Son, Jesus, to take on board our sins so that we could become righteous before Him. That’s grace. The acronym, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense is so true. Grace isn’t something tangible. We can’t measure it, or prove that it exists through some scientific analysis. It’s not built into our education system. It doesn’t appear on our statute book. It is only available to us through another unmeasurable word – faith. The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Grace and faith walk hand in hand. But together they form an eternal combination. Our salvation depends on the grace of God, and our faith assures us that He means what He says, and what He did, through Jesus.

God’s grace is freely given, gifted to us, and is more valuable than anything man can devise. We have done nothing at all to deserve it. In fact, we deserve God’s judgement, not His grace. Earlier in Romans 3 we found just how depraved and wicked humanity is. And we think of the Apostle Paul, who was guilty of murdering the early Christians through his mistaken belief that they were a deviant sect that had to be eliminated. Yet even though he deserved the punishment meted out to murderers, through God’s grace he had an encounter with Jesus. An encounter so profound that it totally transformed his life. Saul the Pharisee became Paul the evangelist and writer of letters that have touched and helped millions of people over the time since he wrote them, and will continue to do so far into the future.

The saddest thing, though, is that most people have rejected this gift of grace. Imagine someone, perhaps a total stranger, offering you a package, all nicely wrapped up and one that you know contains something valuable. And yet, you turn away, rejecting it. Well, that is what most people do, and have done. The one thing that can assure us a future with God in an amazing place called Heaven, is despised and rejected. It doesn’t make sense somehow.

Most people feel uncomfortable in accepting a gift. They feel obliged to do something in return. But with God’s gift of grace, there is no response required. His gift is freely given without any expectation of repayment. His gift is not a loan either, requiring to be repaid one day. Through the gift, something of God is transferred to us, enriching our lives. And by accepting what He gives us, we also accept so much more, as He works in our lives, aiding our transformation into the people He wants us to be. 

Truly, the song “Amazing Grace” is just that, God’s amazing grace. “How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see“. Words to dwell and meditate on; words penned by a man who really came to experience God’s grace. We have our own stories of amazing grace to tell as well. Let us not hold back as we walk this world, telling others about this free gift from God.

Dear Father God. Once again we thank You for Your free gift of salvation through Jesus. We worship You today. Amen.

All Have Sinned

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.”
Romans 3:23-26 NLT

A bigger than usual number of verses today. But what Paul wrote is a concise yet profound exposition of God’s love and grace, and this Biblical paragraph cannot really be subdivided. These verses start with the reality that no human being is capable of achieving God’s righteous standard. Why is that? God requires all those in His presence to be sinless, but through Adam, sin polluted everyone ever born. Once a sinful act has been committed, then exclusion from God’s presence is mandated. Paul said “we all fall short of God’s glorious standard”. I always think of it as an examiner setting a pass mark for an exam, for example 70%. Those sitting the exam may find that they have all failed, with a range of marks varying between 20% and 50%. But it is no good for the one with 50% saying he is better than the one with 20% – they have both failed the test by failing to achieve the pass mark. “God’s glorious standard” is unachievable by sinful human beings.

Thankfully God has supplied a remedy so that we can achieve His standard. And it is all through His grace. Jesus was and is the only sinless human being. He is divine because He is the Son of God, part of the Trinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. But He was born to a human being, a young peasant girl called Mary, as part of God’s gracious rescue plan for mankind. Jesus became human so that He could sit the exam instead of us, and, being sinless, He achieved “God’s glorious standard” with 100%. 

For us pilgrims, we managed to stumble across this amazing truth. It may have been that someone had shared with us what Jesus did, and something within us responded to God’s grace. We may have picked up a Bible one day and discovered the truth for ourselves. We may have, in a moment of crisis, happened to walk past a church and entered there, finding the grace we needed at just the right time. But however it happened, there was a day when we believed in Jesus. 

Around us are many people who have not yet made that step of faith. They are still quite ignorantly making their way through life, blissfully unaware of what is coming towards them. They fail to realise that, by default, they have chosen a life separated from God because of their sin. So we pilgrims must take every opportunity to share the truth about Jesus with our friends and families. It may not make us very popular. In some countries it can lead to imprisonment and death. But share Jesus we must. We can’t keep this amazing truth to ourselves. It’s very simple – everyone, without exception, has sinned, and through His love for mankind, God has provided a remedy. That’s it!

Dear Father God. Thank You for Your grace and mercy. Every time You look at us You see Jesus and His righteousness. We don’t deserve Your mercy, but we’re grateful. Amen.

Another Way

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.”
Romans 3:21-22 NLT

Paul had been building up to this position for some time in his letter. It was almost as though he had made his audience thoroughly depressed and put them in a hopeless state of mind, before dropping a bombshell of light and hope. He said it all boils down to having faith in Jesus. We mustn’t forget that even before the Law was given, it was possible to be made right with God through faith. In Genesis 15:6, we read, “And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith“. And even after the Law was given the same principle applies. In Habakkuk 2:4b, we read, “… But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God“. The whole point of the Law wasn’t that it was just a set of rules and regulations that resulted in righteousness. It was about having faith in God.

We can say, quite glibly, that we have faith in God. Faith is a strange concept, and often greatly misunderstood. The dictionary definition refers to confidence or trust in someone or something. So we can have faith in a medical doctor, that he or she correctly diagnoses a condition from which we are suffering. Or we can have faith that the brakes in our car won’t fail, and will stop us in the required distance. But these are not in the same league as having faith in God, which requires adherence to a different paradigm, one that extends greatly beyond our earthly and natural experiences. 

The obvious go-to verse about faith is Hebrews 11:1, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see“. But Hebrews 11:3 is a major stumbling block for most people around us. It says, “By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen“. Such faith does not have a natural basis for supporting it. Most people shelve the origins of our world, as not being all that relevant in their day to day lives. Human beings have a propensity to shelve or ignore things they cannot influence or control, like their humanity, or life span. But as far as our eternal future is concerned, faith is really important. 

Paul pointed out to the Roman Christians two important faith facts, about which there was no alternative. The first is that they needed to be righteous in God’s sight. And secondly, that righteousness can only be achieved through Jesus. Just to rub it in, he then said that these faith principles apply to everyone, regardless of their heritage. Faith in God is universally available. There is no irrefutable evidence to support it. We cannot observe it, measure it, or control it. Instead, with faith we accept that through Jesus we can stand righteous before God, not just at some time in the future, but right now. Today. Through faith, we believe that what God said through His Word, the Bible, was enough to provide us with the reality and “evidence of things we cannot see”. 

Dear Lord. We thank You for Calvary. Through faith we place our faith in You, the Righteousness of God. Amen.

The Law

“Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.”
Romans 3:19-20 NLT

Paul’s references to the Law in these two verses seems to be in error, if taken on their own. The Law included far more than Paul would seem to indicate. But in the context of this chapter in Romans, a different picture emerges. The Law was given by God to the Israelite nation, and it had several purposes, ranging from how they should worship God through to rules for daily living. And in the process, it provided the Israelites with a “yardstick”. Something which they could use to determine their spiritual states, and, worse, show them how far short they were of keeping the Law in the way God intended. 

Jesus pointed out the problems associated with trying to obey the Law. In His “Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus said He didn’t come to abolish the Law. Matthew 5:17, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose“. And then in Matthew 5:19-20, He said, “So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven“. And that’s the issue. To achieve the standard of righteousness required of God can never be attained. Regarding following the letter of the Law, the Pharisees – don’t forget Paul himself was one of them – were faultless. But they failed to follow the Law in the way that God intended. Jesus provided some illustrations in the remaining verses in Matthew 5. For example, His teaching about adultery, “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus pointed out that behind the letter of the Law was a whole raft of heart attitudes, together forming the spirit of the Law.

Paul suggested to his readers that just going through a box-ticking exercise will not make them right with God. Christians can also fall into the same trap, even though they don’t follow the Jewish Law. Imagine trying to list all the things that we think we must do, to conform to a modern equivalent of the Law. Things such as following the laws of the land in which we live. Going to church on a Sunday, and the prayer meeting on a Wednesday. Having a daily “Quiet Time” with prayer and Bible reading. Taking our turns on the toilet-cleaning rota. Paying our tithe each month. And so on. Before we know it, we have developed our own version of a Law, which we think will stand us in good stead before God. None of these things are wrong in themselves. But they become pointless if they replace the relationship and respect we should have with, and for, our Heavenly Father.

So, pilgrims, what is your approach to the Christian life? In asking myself that question, I am conscious of a need to reach out to my Heavenly Father, because only He is my Source. Only He has the love and grace I need to live this life in the way He requires. and I will never achieve that my ticking a few boxes.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for Your presence in my life, and the lives of my brothers and sisters who are journeying their way through the Scriptures with me. I pray a blessing on them all, Lord, and a transforming touch of Your presence, to make a difference in their daily lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

No Fear

“They have no fear of God at all.”
Romans 3:18 NLT
“Sin whispers to the wicked, deep within their hearts. They have no fear of God at all.”
Psalms 36:1 NLT

Paul ends his list of Old Testament Scriptural references with a quotation from Psalm 36. He simply points out, as David did so many years before when he wrote this Psalm, that sin and wickedness have a root in a lack of fear of God. 

There are many things to be fearful about with God, not the least that one day all humanity will have to stand before Him to give an account of their lives. That alone should be enough to strike fear into even the most defiant person. The second verse of Psalm 36 is, “In their blind conceit, they cannot see how wicked they really are”. There is this tendency for human beings to deny that God will cause anything bad to happen, even if they accept that He exists. They rationalise or excuse their behaviour by saying that a God of love will never send anyone to hell. The doctrine of Universalism, which has gained popularity in recent years, maintains that everyone will ultimately be saved. This doctrine is based on verses like Acts 3:21,  “Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets“.  It would perhaps be a nice thought, but the context of Scripture is that salvation and eternal life is only gained through our belief in, and obedience to, Jesus. John 3:36, “And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.” And so, if there is to be no penalty for wickedness and sin, the Universalists say, how they behave in the end won’t matter. But we pilgrims know that, ultimately, sin has to be judged and dealt with by our righteous God. And for those who are unrepentant, their future will not end well.

But fear doesn’t just mean a negative emotion resulting from an event or situation that will do us harm if carried out. That type of the fear of God only applies to the unbeliever, because one day they will be judged and will experience eternal death somewhere most unpleasant. For a Christian, the fear of God means the respect He is due because of who He is. It is a reverence of Him, supported by such Scriptures as Hebrews 12:28, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe”. That reverential fear should also extend into our behaviour as Christians, because, as His children, we have our responsibilities too. As our natural parents disciplined us, so does our Heavenly Father. Hebrews 12:5-6, “And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child””‭‭.

I can just imagine the Apostle Paul shaking his head in disbelief with the realisation that there were those in the Roman church who had “no fear of God at all”. And, according to the verse Paul quoted, it’s all down to sin. Thankfully, his detailed letter contained everything needed to get the errant Roman Christians back on track. Paul’s words are timeless, and apply, with the same weight, today.

Dear Father God. In deep reverence we bow before You today. We worship You, our loving Father. Amen.

Finding Peace

“They rush to commit murder. Destruction and misery always follow them. They don’t know where to find peace.”
Romans 3:15-17 NLT
“Their feet run to do evil, and they rush to commit murder. They think only about sinning. Misery and destruction always follow them. They don’t know where to find peace or what it means to be just and good. They have mapped out crooked roads, and no one who follows them knows a moment’s peace.”
Isaiah 59:7-8 NLT

Paul quotes from more Old Testament Scripture, this time from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah seemed to be in a similar situation to Paul. A prophetic voice crying out God’s message to an audience of sinful people. In Isaiah’s day, his message was directed at God’s chosen people, the Jews. In Paul’s day, his message was being delivered to the early Christians, some of whom had Jewish heritage. But there was one problem that united both peoples over the years, and that was sin. Isaiah put his finger on the problem in Isaiah 59:2, “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore”.

The word “sin” is not a word that appears very often, if at all, in our secular society. We don’t find it appearing in newspaper reports, or on our Facebook or Twitter feeds. Television dramas don’t generally use the word, unless they have a religious element, such as the portrayal of a priest. Even the religious stalwart programmes, such as the BBC’s “Songs of Praise”, carefully avoid the use of the word, just in case offence is caused. But just because the word “sin” has fallen out of fashion or society’s memory, it doesn’t remove it from God’s vocabulary. 

Society is full of people with a guilty conscience. The problem (for them) is that God has wired us to have a conscience because it will lead and direct us in how to behave in our sinful society. In the event that a conscience is violated by sin, all sorts of knock-on effects can result, not the least being illnesses which are very difficult to diagnose. So the guilt-ridden person, if they can afford it, engages the help of someone in the psychiatric profession to offer all sorts of therapy, in the hope that the problem will be resolved. But their money could be saved, and symptoms relieved, by an act of repentance, with perhaps a change in life choices. Turning to God and taking on board His remedy is the most effective cure for a guilty conscience. Only this will bring inner peace, so elusive otherwise to find.

There is another tendency for people to rationalise sinful behaviour by dealing with it as a treatable illness, or by referring to sinners with a more socially-acceptable term. Just this week a news report emerged in Scotland, with our policing body, “Police Scotland”, referring to paedophiles as “Minor-Attracted People”, or MAP’s, and in the process offering them treatment and other forms of help. However, sin is sin, regardless of what we call it. Renaming a good old-fashioned definition of a sinful act won’t fool God one bit. An unrepentant paedophile standing before God pleading that he’s not sinning because he’s a MAP, won’t wash.

Paul reminded his audience in Rome that there are consequences to sin. We still find the same consequences today. Sinful behaviour is followed by a lack of inner peace. A guilty conscience makes sure of that.

Dear God. We thank You that You built within us a conscience. We pray that through Your Spirit You keep out alive and well, always aware of Your ways and not sinful ways. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Cursing and Bitterness

“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
Romans 3:14 NLT

This time Paul quotes from Psalm 10:7, where we read, “Their mouths are full of cursing, lies, and threats. Trouble and evil are on the tips of their tongues”. The Greek version of this Psalm replaces “lies and threats” with “bitterness”. Psalm 10 is really part of an acrostic prayer or devotion that includes the previous Psalm, Psalm 9. Both were written by David, who filled the Book of Psalms with many comparisons between good and evil, between the God-followers and the God-deniers. 

But what makes mankind so willing to lapse into “cursing, lies, and threats”? The glib answer is sin. But underlying such sinful behaviour is a propensity to behave in a judgemental or critical way, starting with those round us in our families and communities. We take a negative view of anyone who is not behaving in a way that fits in with our own selfish value systems. And before we know it, we have lapsed into a mindset that builds and builds until our thoughts become angry. Our mental intentions include threats, and involve lies about the other person or people, without any foundation. And these thoughts then spill out in our conversations with others. Self-opinionated rants with little factual foundation pollute our speech, drawing others into our delusional behaviour. With the introduction of social media, “cursing, lies, and threats” have become far too common, with the offenders hiding behind anonymity to propagate their poison.

It wasn’t just David who pointed out the bad-mouthing carried out by sinful people. The Apostle James wrote in James 3:6, “And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself“. Strong words indeed. About our tongues, he continues, “Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” (James 3:9-10). Paul wrote some wise words in Ephesians 4:29, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them“.

But what about our thoughts? How do we stop ourselves embarking on a negative trail of wrong thoughts? Not an easy question to answer, particularly if we’re tired, or mentally unhealthy. Thankfully, God is gracious and loving, and His Spirit will gently guide us back onto the right paths. Perhaps the Psalmist, David, had the right idea. Back to Psalm 5:1-3, “O Lord, hear me as I pray; pay attention to my groaning. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for I pray to no one but you. Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly“.  The King James version of Psalm 5:1 – “Give ear to my words, O LORD, Consider my meditation“. Perhaps that is the answer. As we meditate on His Words, there will be no room for “cursing, lies, and threats”.

Dear Father God. We thank You again for Your love and grace. You look into our sinful minds and, through Jesus, just see righteousness. We are so grateful. Amen.