The Message

“But faith’s way of getting right with God says, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will go up to heaven?’ (to bring Christ down to earth). And don’t say, ‘Who will go down to the place of the dead?’ (to bring Christ back to life again).” In fact, it says, “The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.” And that message is the very message about faith that we preach:”
Romans 10:6-8 NLT

Paul said to his readers that there is nothing difficult about the “message”, the Good News about Jesus and His sacrifice at Calvary. God’s grace is a simple concept. We don’t have to explain it. We can’t dissect it. We can’t stop it from being there. We can’t stop others from grasping its significance and believing in it. The problem for the early Christians in Rome is that, somehow, it was too simple. After all, they had this complex system of rules and regulations, the Law. Now that was something they could really understand and could apply in a tick box fashion. Haven’t murdered anyone today – tick. Haven’t committed adultery with anyone’s wife – tick. But such a system can never get someone right with God because it’s not about tick boxes, it’s about the state of our hearts. Do we love our wives and children, and treat them well? Do we honour our parents and love them sacrificial? And, above all, do we love God with all of our hearts? Being obedient to Him? Trusting Him even when life’s troubles threaten to overwhelm us? Why is it that us humans will always make things complicated when there is a simple answer?

Paul quoted the verse from Deuteronomy 30:14, but here is verse 11 as well, “This command I am giving you today is not too difficult for you, and it is not beyond your reach. …. No, the message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart so that you can obey it” (Deuteronomy 30:11,14). The Message translation of the verses from Romans 10 reads as follows, “So what exactly was Moses saying? The word that saves is right here, as near as the tongue in your mouth, as close as the heart in your chest. It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching”. What Paul was saying was that the message of hope that we pilgrims have is nothing complicated. We don’t have to attend a Bible school or Seminary to learn it and understand it. The moment that we put our trust and faith in Christ we receive all the understanding and learning that we need. We immediately have the mandate to share the same message with those around us. Whoever they are. Friend or foe. Family members or neighbours. Simple?

But it can’t be that simple, we hear. Surely there is more to it than that, they say. But, sadly, many say they don’t need the message of hope, love and grace. We’re doing ok by ourselves; we’ll do life our way. We’ll take our chances before God – if He even exists.

We pilgrims mustn’t give up. Paul wasted no time in sharing the message about Jesus. We read in Acts 9:20, just days after his conversion, “And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”” In fact, his zealousness was so intense and all-consuming that the Jews in Damascus were going to murder him, so the solution was a clandestine escape for Paul, “So during the night, some of the other believers lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the city wall” (Acts 9:25). He started his mission again in Jerusalem and another plot was devised to end his life, this time by the Greek-speaking Jews. So in Acts 9:30-31 we read, “When the believers heard about this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus, his hometown. The church then had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it became stronger as the believers lived in the fear of the Lord. And with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it also grew in numbers.” Paul became too hot to hold, but his zealousness for the Gospel of Jesus Christ never left him. 

How zealous are we pilgrims in our faith, and our willingness to share the Gospel? Are we an all or nothing person like Paul, prepared to forsake all for God? In Matthew 5, Jesus gave an illustration about salt and light. We are the seasoning in our communities. We are beacons of light in a dark world. We may never be Pauls, articulate and convincing in what we say. But nevertheless, we are all equipped to share the simple message. We do it with our lives and, if necessary, we use words to back it. Those around us who don’t know Jesus will be watching us, to see if the message we bring makes a difference in our lives. We love God so much, so what else can we do? 

Dear God. Thank You for trusting us with the sharing of Your message of Good News, so necessary in this dark and sinful world. Please help us to truly shine as a beacon of faith to those around us. In Jesus same. Amen.

Salvation for the Jews

“Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God.”
Romans 10:1-4 NLT

Anyone reading the Bible will soon appreciate that much of it is all about God’s relationship with His people, the people of Israel, the people we call Jews. We read through the pages, unfurling stories of rebellion and sin. Of idolatry followed by repentance. Of God’s patient efforts to restore His people to the relationship with Him that He so desired. Of prophets sent time and time again to point out sin and sinful ways. Of the time when God used even a foreign power to take away His people into captivity, in the hope that they would turn to Him. But through it all a strand of faith persisted in a people who knew they were God’s chosen ones but found themselves unable to live up to His mark. They found that trying to live by the Law didn’t work. And in Romans 10:1, Paul expressed his heart-felt desire for salvation for his people, the Jews.

God, observing the difficulties of His people, sent Jesus to bring salvation to His people. What a wonderful, patient, loving God He is! He could see that his people were “trying to keep the Law”  but they failed to realise that Jesus was the fulfilment of all that the Law tried to accomplish. They knew the Messiah was coming because they had read the prophecy from Isaiah, “All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’)” (Isaiah 7:14). Even Moses had a glimpse of what God’s Messianic plan was, as we read in Deuteronomy 18:15, “Moses continued, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him”. Some scholars have worked out that there are as many as 300 Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, so the expectation of the coming of God’s Son was embedded within the Jewish people. They just didn’t know how or when. 

Paul knew how enthusiastic the Jews could be – he called it “misdirected zeal”. And certainly they tried, surprisingly successfully, to maintain their religion, and keep themselves apart from other peoples. The tragedy was, and still is, that they failed to recognise God’s Son when He finally showed up. In their minds they pictured their Messiah as a conquering hero who would release the people from the tyrannical occupation of the Romans. But when He came, He showed up riding a donkey, a Man of peace. But Jesus spent His ministry time here on earth with His people, and with a message of salvation for the Jews. He brought the message about the Kingdom of God, but most of His countrymen didn’t recognise it. And, tragically, rejected it. And so to this day, the Jewish people “cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law”. 

But there will be a time when the Jews finally realise what they have missed. Zechariah could “see” it would happen and he recorded his end times vision of what was to come. We read in Zechariah 12:10, “Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died”. So salvation will one day come to the Jewish people. Sadly, they will “grieve bitterly” because they missed the opportunity to welcome their Messiah at His first coming, instead putting Him to death. But such is the grace of God that He will never turn His back on them. We pilgrims, mostly Gentile in origin, also enjoy God’s love and grace. How wonderful He is!

Dear Father. Thank You for Your grace and mercy. When we deserved punishment, Jesus took it on Himself. And now we are righteous in Your sight. How wonderful You are! Amen.

The Human Jesus

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.”
Romans 8:3-4 NLT

Our sinful natures, ubiquitous and universal, give control freaks a problem. No matter how hard they try, they will never be able to control their seemingly unstoppable ability to commit sins. As Paul said in these verses today, even with the help of the Law of Moses, they will be too weak to effectively live up to God’s righteous standard all of the time. We may all succeed in staying righteous for a few moments, but then, at the very least, our thoughts will wander off and focus on something sinful. But thankfully, God didn’t walk away from us, wringing His hands in despair. He sent His Son Jesus “in a body like the bodies we sinners have”. Surely, He must have thought, they will listen to My Son.

We know from the accounts of the Apostles that Jesus lived His life as one of us but in a sinless state. No-one has ever been able to point a finger at Jesus and say, “Aah, but what about …”. We know how His life ended. Surely the greatest and most devastating miscarriage of justice there has ever been. But by God allowing His Son to be sacrificed, He “declared an end to sin’s control over us”. 

We note from these verses today that God didn’t do away with the Law. But we know that, because Jesus said so in 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”. The Law, according to Paul, had a “just requirement” that had to be fully satisfied. And it still does. Jesus told His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit to help them, and by following Him, they would be released from the power of sin over their lives. Jesus said in John 15:26, “But I will send you the Advocate —the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me”. And we know how that happened if we read Acts 2.

Through Jesus, there is no more condemnation for sinners like us. As the old song says, “It is no longer I that liveth but Christ that liveth in me”. And because He lives in us through His Spirit, He helps us so that no more will we be under sin’s power. We are free! Praises be to God!

Dear Lord. You set us free from the power of sin and death at Calvary. Please help us to share that truth with all those we meet. In Your precious name. Amen.

It’s Sin’s Fault

“So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.”
Romans 7:14-20 NLT

Paul is perplexed. In fact, he is so perplexed that he repeats his dilemma twice in these 7 verses. He says, “I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it”. But is this really the case? Is it a valid excuse to say before a judge, “I haven’t done anything wrong – it’s the sin living within me that is at fault”? Of course it isn’t but, superficially at least, that seems to be what Paul is saying. 

The picture emerges in Paul’s mind that within him there are effectively two people. One person who loves God’s ways, who wants to spend all his time with Him, and who really, really, wants to do what is right. And to help that “man” inside of him is God’s Law, which “is spiritual and good”. The other person inside him is the “old man”, his sinful nemesis, a part of him determined to continue in the ways of evil. Perhaps an internal battle that never seems to subside. The Godly part of him mourns and grieves over the thoughts and actions of the sinful man, leading to frustration and conflict. At least Paul doesn’t blame the devil, as some have done, for his sinful man. Personable responsibility is never avoided, in Paul’s life.

Does all this sound familiar to us pilgrims? Are we too caught up in this internal battle that never seems to end? Of course we are. And in the days ahead, we will, with Paul, journey into a place where God has provided a remedy. What a wonderful Saviour!

Dear Lord. Thank You for Your salvation, a gift so freely given. Help us to grasp it and grow in the nurturing soils of Your grace. In Jesus’ name.Amen.

Good to Evil

“Sin took advantage of those commands and deceived me; it used the commands to kill me. But still, the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good. But how can that be? Did the law, which is good, cause my death? Of course not! Sin used what was good to bring about my condemnation to death. So we can see how terrible sin really is. It uses God’s good commands for its own evil purposes.”
Romans 7:11-13 NLT

Paul found himself in a situation in which he was perplexed. Once he was exposed to the demands of the Law, he discovered that his thoughts and deeds, some habitually committed since his earliest days, were actually sinful. The Law was a standard against which he found himself falling short. However, he found that if it wasn’t for the Law, he would never have known that what he thought or did was wrong.

As an example from society today. The expression “Oh my god” is ubiquitous, even being abbreviated to OMG in messaging, but do the users of this expression know that they are violating the second commandment from Exodus 20, “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name” (Exodus 20:7)? Without the benefit of the Law perhaps they would never have known. Of course, people, even Christians, claim that, because of Jesus, the Law no longer has any jurisdiction over them. But that isn’t really the case. Jesus said, as recorded in Matthew 5:17-19, “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. 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”. 

So Paul lamented the fact that because of the Law, he found out that he was a sinner. He recognised that the Law was good, even holy, but because of it, it had effectively an evil purpose. 

Of course, we need laws to set boundaries on our lives and prevent society from falling apart. Without the Highway Code, drivers would have no idea of what constitutes a safe journey. Imagine the chaos if no-one knew what side of the road to drive on? But should we veer into the wrong lane, even by accident, we know that we have committed a dangerous act and put ourselves in danger. 

The Law acts as a constant reminder, a perfect standard, against which we pilgrims can gauge our progress in the Christian life. But thankfully, falling short need not be fatal, if we cover ourselves with Christ’s redeeming power, and listen to the Holy Spirit whispering within us. The old Apostle John wrote, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9). What is He saying to us today? Many activities and thoughts will drown Him out if we are not careful and allow Him space. He is always more willing to speak than we are to listen.

Dear Father God. We thank You for Your grace and mercy. Your care for us knows no limits. Thank You. Amen.

The Law is Holy

“ … So I discovered that the law’s commands, which were supposed to bring life, brought spiritual death instead. Sin took advantage of those commands and deceived me; it used the commands to kill me. But still, the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good.
Romans 7:10-12 NLT

Imagine trying to live our lives only by following a list of rules and regulations. Without any opportunity to vary what we do. So imagine if there is a rule about when to get up in the morning. And another rule about what to eat for breakfast. A rule about the route we must take to get to work and the mode of transport to be used to follow that rule. Before we know it we might as well be a robot, programmed by a higher power who has designed a system within which humans can live, removing from them the right to decide what they should do for themselves. A system with boundaries so tight that there is no opportunity for any individuality. The problem comes when a scenario develops that has not been thought of and no rule applies.

Many years ago we fostered a boy who initially needed rules to establish structure in his life, a life previously blighted by disfunction, a lack of structure, and chaos. I remember a time when he was asked to go to the local shop and purchase some baking potatoes. When he didn’t return my wife went to look for him, to find him standing by the greengrocery section of the shop totally at a loss, because they didn’t have any baking potatoes. We forgot to add another rule – if the shop didn’t have any baking potatoes then to just come home. Thankfully that young lad flourished in our family environment and he is now in his late twenties, with a steady job and a family of his own.

But having said all of that it is a fact that all human beings need boundaries. And that was what God had in mind when he issued the Law. His intention was that by following the Law, His creation would live in a way He desired, a way that was close to Him. The list of rules and regulations started with two important laws, that Jesus spoke about to a Jewish leader. We read his question in Matthew 22:36-40, ““Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”” It is from the position of loving God “with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” that we understand the Law is holy. And that is true when we read the Laws that God gave the Israelites all those years ago. None of them is wrong. We can drill down into each commandment and distill the last drops of what they mean, but nothing will be found that I is unholy. Surely the commands of the Law are righteous and holy.

To be holy means to be set apart. We Christians are in fact living in a sinful, secular, world, but we are not a part of it and its customs. In John 17 Jesus prayed for His disciples. He said, “I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do” (John 17:15-16). God’s Law was designed to keep the Israelites “safe from the evil one” in a world populated by nations who were wicked and evil. They were set apart. They were holy (if they adhered to His commandments of course).

Are we pilgrims a holy people? Do we conform to what Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:9a, “ … you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession …”? That was the intent of the Law, but we live by the Spirit, set free from the very Law that was supposed to bring life but instead brought spiritual death.

As I write this, the Scottish government is electing a new leader. One of the candidates is a young woman who is very open about her Christian faith. In an interview, which touched on her opinion of marriage, the interviewer wrote in his news article, “As a Christian, she explained, she believed marriage to be between a man and a women but she insisted she would defend the law as “a servant of democracy””. She is operating at the cutting edge of being in the world but not of the world. The issue of holiness in a secular world needs the wisdom of Solomon to get right. I’m thankful I’m not in that position.

Dear Father God. We need Your help to live as a holy people in this evil world. We echo Jesus’ prayer for safety from the evil one. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Death to the Law

“So, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ. And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God. When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death. But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.”
Romans 7:4-6 NLT

Perhaps we can see how the Roman Christians became a bit confused, prompting Paul’s detailed and enlightening letter. They must have thought that if the Law was replaced by something far better – their faith in the redeeming power of Jesus – then they were free to do what they wanted. Paul associated the Law and its many rules and regulations about what to do and what not to do with arousing within them the desire to do what they shouldn’t. Imagine the scene. There is a door to a cupboard in the house and a small boy living there is warned to never open it and look inside. What is the first thing he would do when the opportunity arises? He will open it and have a look. Perhaps if he had not been given that instruction, he might never have given it a thought. Paul wrote, “the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds”. 

Paul wrote that because of Jesus and all that He did at Calvary, and through their faith in Him, they were released from the power of the Law. So for the small boy in our example, instead of listening to his “evil desires”, he has the opportunity to listen to the “still small voice” of the Holy Spirit within him, leading him to make the right decision. Perhaps not a good example but it hopefully illustrates the point.

God’s Spirit has unfettered access to the hearts and minds of redeemed Christians. And we pilgrims welcome Him in with open arms. Without the Holy Spirit we are very spiritually impoverished and thrown back to a time when all we had was the letter of the Law. But thanks to God and His wonderful plan we have a new way – life in the Spirit.

There was a principle taught to youth groups a few years ago, and it spawned a number of wrist bands with the letters WWJD engraved on them. The letters stand for ”What Would Jesus Do”. Perhaps this could be a mid point between the legalism of “obeying the letter of the Law” and true life in the Spirit. For most people it is perhaps too big a leap going from a Law-inspired life of sinful thoughts and actions to one of pure obedience to the Holy Spirit within us. So on occasion there might be a fog of doubt and confusion as to whether the voice within was really the Holy Spirit. To put skin on the Spirit’s voice is often helpful in times of uncertainty. But as we listen more and more to the Holy Spirit within us we increasingly recognise His voice and learn, almost intuitively, how to learn the ”new way of living in the Spirit”.

Dear Father God. What would we do without Your Spirit’s dwelling within us? Going back to slavery in the Egypt of laws is not an option we can consider. We are so grateful. Amen.

Laws of Marriage

Now, dear brothers and sisters—you who are familiar with the law—don’t you know that the law applies only while a person is living? For example, when a woman marries, the law binds her to her husband as long as he is alive. But if he dies, the laws of marriage no longer apply to her. So while her husband is alive, she would be committing adultery if she married another man. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law and does not commit adultery when she remarries.”
Romans 7:1-3 NLT

I don’t know why Paul used the illustration of marriage to make a point that “the law applies only while a person is living”. And in such a misogynistic way as well. Of course, we could write these verses from a man’s perspective as well, and they would be just as applicable. But we mustn’t be too hard on Paul – that was the culture of his day. His message, though, is a very unpopular one in today’s societies. It’s not just about the failure of a man or a woman to keep and honour their marriage vows. There is also the current societal preoccupation with single sex marriages. Paul used a straightforward example in his letter but I’m sure he never envisaged that it would open a “can of worms” on 21st Century Planet Earth.

To take the problem of marriages demanded between single sex couples, we first have to ask the question – do we believe that the Bible is the inspired and infallible Word of God, or is it a book of writings that can be interpreted and ignored in the light of the society in which we live? My writings in this blog always assume the former position, the infallibility of Scripture, because that is what I passionately believe. If you, my reader, lean towards the latter then what I am about to write might not sit easily with you. Genesis 2:24, “This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one“. Right in the beginning of Genesis, God states two positions – marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and He also implies that there are only two genders (but that’s for another day in another blog). Jesus referred to this Scripture when He was asked about divorce. We read what He said in Mark 10:6-9, “But ‘God made them male and female’ from the beginning of creation. ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together“. 

In Deuteronomy 24:1-2 we read that divorce was allowed in the Israelite culture of the time – “Suppose a man marries a woman but she does not please him. Having discovered something wrong with her, he writes a document of divorce, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house. When she leaves his house, she is free to marry another man“. Some Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with a question over divorce (perhaps it was just as hot a topic then as it is today), and we read in Matthew 19:7-9, ““Then why did Moses say in the law that a man could give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away?” they asked. Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended. And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful””. Jesus’ disciples were appalled by what He said, it seems, responding with, “ … If this is the case, it is better not to marry!”” (Matthew 19:10b). They took what He said very seriously.

So Paul, in his example about the law, stated that a marriage contract between a man and a woman could only be broken by the death of either partner. Then the remaining partner was free to remarry. There is another “can of worms” for our societies today over the marrying of a divorcee, but that too is for another day. Marriage is a legally binding contract in God’s eyes which ideally should not be broken. But we also have to balance this apparently dogmatic position with other Scriptures, such as God’s love and grace. We who are married pray for both our own marriages and for those of our friends and families. The devil is in the business of destroying marriages, as he is for anything that is God-ordained. Forewarned, we keep close to God and in difficult times we pray for more love and grace.

Dear God. You established an order on earth with two genders, who were to be joined together in a holy union. I pray for protection both for my own marriage, but also for the marriages of my friends and family. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


Laws Are For The Living

Now, dear brothers and sisters—you who are familiar with the law—don’t you know that the law applies only while a person is living? For example, when a woman marries, the law binds her to her husband as long as he is alive. But if he dies, the laws of marriage no longer apply to her. So while her husband is alive, she would be committing adultery if she married another man. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law and does not commit adultery when she remarries.”
Romans 7:1-3 NLT

It is as though Paul is now starting a new paragraph in his lengthy letter to the Roman Christians. He refers again to the “law” and he makes an obvious point – the “law” only applies during a person’s life. Once they have died it no longer has any hold over them. Though it may be very frustrating to a person seeking justice for a crime committed against them, if the miscreant is dead, they will have no redress in law. As an example, and to take a very high profile case in the UK in recent years, Jimmy Saville, a famous DJ and a man even knighted for his charitable work, left a trail of hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse that were only investigated after his death. The police concluded that he was a prolific and predatory sex offender but there was no legal redress for his victims because the law no longer applied to him. He was dead. 

There is a temptation for the victims of crime to feel cheated if the one who offended against them has died and can’t be brought to justice. But they forget one thing. Justice doesn’t end with our natural deaths. One day everyone will have to stand before God to give an account for their lives. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body”. And about evil people, Jesus said to His disciples, “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). The old Apostle John recorded a revelation given to him by Jesus, and at the end of Revelation 20 we read, “I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:12,15).

So we never need fear that anyone who dies before they have been called to account in a court of law has escaped the punishment they deserve. But of course we must also remember that God’s grace extends even to criminals. A confession of sin and a turning to God even with our dying breaths will ensure that our names are written in the “Book of Life”. One of the criminals being crucified with Jesus turned to Him in repentance, convicted of his sins, and he said, ““… Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise”” (Luke 23:40-43). Such love! Such grace! It may be difficult to think that someone who has lived a life of evil crime and makes a last minute confession can find a Heavenly future. But we need to remember that it is only God who has the final word. We trust Him for His righteousness and His fairness, and praise and thank Him for His grace and mercy. After all, we may not have violated any laws of our country, or at least we haven’t been caught offending, but we are all sinners. There is no distinction in God’s eyes between the seriousness of sins. They are all enough to ensure a “Guilty” verdict before God’s throne. 

I am always touched by mothers who have lost a son, killed in some event in the street, and who are able to forgive their son’s killer. They are the ones who have truly discovered God’s heart and perhaps they too will find themselves in paradise. They are able to trust God for the right outcome. Only He can see the end from the beginning. 

Dear Father God. Your grace and mercy knows no bounds. We praise and thank You today. Amen.

God’s Abundant Grace

“God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Romans 5:20-21 NLT

Paul finishes chapter five of Romans with an intriguing thought. The more we sin, the more God’s grace will flow to cover it. Perhaps some of Paul’s readers might have drawn such a conclusion, but something within me rebels at the very thought. How could I have the audacity, the arrogance, to think such a thing! But Paul moves on to this topic in the next chapter in Romans.

Paul reminds his readers that the Law is the plumb line. The standard against which we can measure how well we are doing. But the result is depressing. All we find out is how sinful we are. But thanks to Jesus, God’s very own Son, His plan for redeeming people from this sinful world in which we find ourselves involves His unlimited and unmerited grace. Grace so abundant that it more than covers all sins ever committed, past, present and future. And we have this wonderful dichotomy, sin leading to death against grace leading to life. The death eternal punishment. The grace eternal life.

The old Apostle, John, spoke gently and kindly in his first letter. He wrote, “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:8-9). God’s grace may be abundantly available, but we must never abuse its provision. Once we become a believer, now that we have put our faith in Jesus, we start a journey. It starts at the Cross, where we find ourselves exposed in a dark place, but illuminated by the light of God’s Son, and it continues throughout our lives as we use God’s light to show us what we need to do to transition from who we were to who God wants us to be. We read in Ephesians 5:8-9, “For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true”. 

The Law showed God’s people “how sinful they were”. Darkness exposed. Sin brought under God’s spotlight. He allows a particular sin to be brought to our attention, and shows us the way to deal with it. And how patient God is! Are we not relieved and very grateful that He doesn’t expose all our sins at once! But through His gentle whispers, and Holy Spirit inspired nudges through His Word and our fellow Christian friends, He graciously helps us in our journey to become more like Jesus.

Sometimes there is a blockage on the path. A boulder of insurmountable proportions that we are unable to deal with. A problem so great that we cannot see it, or don’t want to deal with it. At times like this He loves us too much to leave us there. We read in Proverbs 3:11-12, “My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights”. God’s discipline is sometimes necessary to give us a shove, rather than a nudge. A good kick up the backside even, It can be painful, but through it we emerge the stronger in our faith and our assurance about God’s caring love. And we can say with the Psalmist in Psalm 40:2, “He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along”. What more do we need? 

Dear Lord. Praises and thanks are due to You without limit You, the wonderful gracious God. Amen.