Even Dirty Rotten Sinners

Read I Timothy

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the
worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ
Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great
patience with even the worst sinners. Then others
will realize that they, too, can believe in
him and receive eternal life.
(I Timothy 1:15-16)

Thoughts… If God could save Paul, God can save anyone. He was a super-pious religious zealot who thought he was doing God a favor each time he imprisoned, persecuted, or killed a Christian. He was intolerant, close-minded, bigoted, and arrogant—on a good day.

And yet God reached him. Actually God slapped him up side the head on the Damascus Road one day. You can read that dramatic story in Acts 9. Paul was radically and completely transformed by his encounter with the risen Savior. He had met Jesus, and in that meeting, he didn’t stand a chance. He became a trophy of God’s grace.

Now the truth is, you weren’t any better off that the pre-converted Paul before God found you. Neither was I. We were dirty rotten sinners, too, but now we are trophies of God’s grace. We were messed up, sin prone, hell bound sinners who deserved nothing but eternal punishment. But we were just the kind of people that Jesus came into this world to redeem. And for that, you and I will give thanks before the throne of God for all eternity.

So here’s the deal: If God could save dirty, rotten sinners like Paul, you and me, he can save that resistant sinner that lives in the same house as you, or who lives next door, or who goes to your school, or works in the office next to you. You have been praying for them, but there seems to be no response, no interest, not even the slightest crack in their spiritual armor.

Don’t give up! They may be just a prayer or a kind act or a verbal witness away from getting totally messed up through a radically transforming encounter with Jesus. That’s why he came: To save sinners just like them. He saved Paul, didn’t he? He saved you, didn’t he?

Maybe that dirty rotten sinner you’re praying for is next!

Prayer… Dear Father, thank you for your redeeming grace in my life. I will never get over that. Throughout eternity I will fall before your throne in humble gratitude for saving me, the worst of sinners. Now Lord, release your saving grace to those dear people in my life who do not know you. Confront them with your love—today. Make them the newest trophies of your grace.

One More Thing… “Either sin is with you, lying on your shoulders, or it is lying on Christ, the Lamb of God. Now if it is lying on your back, you are lost; but if it is resting on Christ, you are free, and you will be saved. Now choose what you want.” —Martin Luther

Stumblingblock or Buildingblock

Read I Corinthians 8

“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does
not become a stumbling block to the weak.”
(I Corinthians 8:9)

Food For Thought… Since I am saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and not by works, I am free from the demands of the law. There is no longer a long list of do’s and don’t’s that I must observe in order to be right with God. I am right with God because I stand before him robed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. So, to paraphrase St. Augustine, I can just love God, and do what I want.

Except….

Except that I no longer live for myself. I am living for God, I am living with my brothers and sisters in the family of God, and I am living as a kingdom agent in an unsaved world. So what I do has consequences. My behavior affects God’s reputation on Planet Earth. My behavior, in some cases, may offend a weaker brother or sister, or perhaps even lead them into sin. My behavior may cause an unbeliever to conclude that there is no difference between a Christian and himself.

I may have divine permission under grace to do certain things, but those things may not be beneficial to me. Paul says it this way a couple of chapters later:

“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” (I Corinthians 10:23-24)

The highest use of my spiritual freedom and the best use of God’s grace is to do things that build up my fellows believers in God’s family and attract the lost to Jesus Christ. That is what most glorifies God. That is when grace is most attractive. That is where spiritual freedom is most powerful.

That is why, even though I don’t have to, I may refrain from taking in certain chemicals into my body, or partaking in certain forms of entertainment, or dressing in certain ways, or using certain kinds of colorful language. I can do those things if I choose, but they may very well become a stumbling block to someone else’s path to God..

And I don’t want to be a stumbling block. I want to be a building block.

Prayer… Lord, help me to ruthlessly govern my freedom so that it can be leveraged for your highest glory.

One More Thing…
“The law works fear and wrath; grace works hope and mercy.” —Martin Luther

Don’t Tempt Me

Read Romans 7

“For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do,
that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do… For the good
that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do,
that I practice… O wretched man that I am! Who
will deliver me from this body of death?”
(Romans 7:15, 18-20, 24)

Food For Thought… Huh? Did you catch that? Paul had a convoluted way of saying something pretty straightforward, which was simply this: “I do what I shouldn’t and I don’t do what I should—man, am I in trouble!”

Can you relate to Paul? I sure can. He was in a wrestling match with sin, and sin was whupping up on him. It was frustrating because Paul knew what he shouldn’t be doing—yet he was drawn to sin like a mouse to a cheese-laden trap.

Let me ask you this: Where are you most vulnerable to temptation? What represents your cheese-laden mousetrap? Maybe it’s a box of Krispy Kremes—perhaps you are an overeater. Maybe it’s the letters S*A*L*E—perhaps you’re an overspender. Maybe it’s an adult site on the Internet—perhaps you’ve got a compulsion for porn. Could it be your compulsion is alchohol or drugs or gambling or gossiping or griping? Maybe it’s the joy of passing judgment on other cheese-eaters, which in reality, reveals your battle with a critical spirit.

Each of us has an area where we do what we shouldn’t and don’t do what we should. “What a sicko I am! Who will rescue me from the cheese?”

Jesus will! That’s what Paul said in Romans 7:25, “Thanks be to God—it’s through Jesus Christ our Lord!” When Jesus died, he broke the power of sin, so it no longer has a hold on us. Through the power of the resurrection, Paul says in I Corinthians 10:13 that God has provided a way out from under every temptation:

“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

Did you catch that? Your battle with temptation is winnable. The last part of the verse says, “But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out.”

That’s good news. There’s always an escape route—always. When you’re tempted, God himself will provide a way out; he will make a way. God has provided a door—but I must look for it and walk through it!

What are those escape routes?

One way of escape is to immerse yourself in Scripture. Psalm 119:9 & 11 says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word…I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

That’s how Jesus battled temptation in the wilderness. Every time the tempter came at him with something that would tear him away from his Father, Jesus came back at Satan with the truth of scripture. There is no more potent weapon against temptation in your life than in reading systematically, meditating daily, and memorizing strategically God’s Word.

Another escape route from temptation is to become accountable to another believer, especially for your particular weakness. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We need to bring our temptation into the light of accountability to other people—as difficult as that may be.

Proverbs 27:5-6 says, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” You would do yourself a huge favor by finding someone with whom you can be accountable for your weakness.

And yet another way out is to ask God to deliver you daily from the tempter. Jesus taught us to pray a daily prayer that acknowledges both our weakness and our need for divine power in this area: “Deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13) As simple as that sounds, the amazing thing is, God hears those prayers. And he provides a way out.

Who will rescue you from this body of death? Who is going to keep you out of the cheese?

“Thank God! Jesus Christ will rescue me.”
(Romans 7:25)

Prayer… Father you are as close as the very oxygen I breathe. I praise your name. May your will be done completely in my life today—which includes keeping me pure and sin-free. Today I ask that you will deliver me from the evil that the Evil One will tempt me with. I ask this so that I might bring glory and honor and praise to your holy name.

One more thing… “Temptations, of course, cannot be avoided, but because we cannot prevent the birds from flying over our heads, there is no need that we should let them nest in our hair.” —Martin Luther

Even A Caveman Can Get It

Read Romans 3

“Everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence.
But by the free gift of God’s grace all are put right with him
through Christ Jesus, who sets them free.”
(Romans 3:23-24, TEV)

Food For Thought… A lot of people are overwhelmed by the complexity of religion. They are intimidated by it, they don’t get it, they don’t want to talk about it—and even if they do want to talk about it, they just can’t wrap their brain around it enough to be able to string enough cogent thoughts together to carry on a stimulating conversation.

But that is absolutely not true about true Christianity. I know, “true Christianity” is a redundancy—but I want to distinguish authentic faith from the messed up stuff that some misguided folk have turned our faith into.

Christianity is simple—so simple, even a caveman can get it. God made sure of that. Romans 3 provides it in a nutshell. Here the Apostle Paul, master theologian, who sometimes is not all that easy to grasp, probably foresaw the need for a “Christianity for Dummies” (he was thinking of me!), so he simply, clearly and briefly spelled out the real condition of humankind, God’s offer of salvation, the essence of faith, and the core beliefs of Christianity in this chapter.

I would highly recommend, as a reaffirmation of your faith and as a great refresher for evangelism, that you to go back and re-read Romans 3 in a modern translation, like The Message” or The New Living Translation. You’ll be amazed at the profound simplicity of our Christian faith.

Or I can give you the CliffNotes version:

1. The truth about you and me—Romans 3:9-12

“Basically, all of us, whether insiders (Jews who have the Law) or outsiders (Gentiles who live as a law unto themselves), start out in identical conditions, which is to say that we all start out as sinners. Scripture leaves no doubt about it: There’s nobody living right, not even one, nobody who knows the score, nobody alert for God. They’ve all taken the wrong turn; they’ve all wandered down blind alleys. No one’s living right; I can’t find a single one.”

2. The bad news—Romans 3:20

“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,” i.e., we’ll never attain God’s favor in this life now or in the life to come by being good enough.

3. The good news—Romans 3:21-22

“But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him [without our futile effort to be good enough for God]. 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.”

4. Say What?—Romans 3:23-24

“Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners and proven that we are utterly incapable of living up to the standards God demands of us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ dying on the cross to pay for our sins.”

5. How cool is Christianity—Romans 3:25

“God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world—you and me—to clear that world—you and me—of sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.”

That’s it! That’s the Good News—and that news really is good! Religion is complex; Christianity is simple. Religion is about what you have to do; Christianity is about what God has done! Religion requires you to sacrifice to appease your god; Christianity required God to sacrifice his Son to appease himself. In religion, you pay; in Christianity, Jesus paid it all. Religious faith is about works; Christian faith is about belief. Religion leads to death; Christianity leads to life.

Need I say more?

Now I’m not all that bright—on par with a caveman—but I think I’ll take Christianity! How ‘bout you?

Prayer… Father, thank you for your mercy—you didn’t give me what I deserved. Thank you for your grace—you gave me what I didn’t deserve. You didn’t give me hell; you gave me heaven. Thank you for making it easy for me by making it hard on Jesus. Thank you for Christianity, thank you for Jesus, thank you for you!

One more thing… “Faith justifies not as a work, nor as a quality, nor as knowledge, but as assent of the will and firm confidence in the mercy of God.” —Martin Luther