Tag Archives: theology

The Scarlet Letter

 

Some will remember the story of Hester Prynne, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tragic character who had to wear the scarlet “A” because of her adultery.  And some understand what it is like to carry a symbol or record of sin.  Sometimes the consequences of sin are with us for the rest of our lives.  And, if the reminder of our sin is always with us, how can we know that we are forgiven?

Well, for sins committed before we came to Jesus, we take great encouragement in the fact that we are born again, new creations.  That which we were is washed away and today we are different persons.  The Bible speaks often of the new life we have received in Jesus.  That new life means that our past sins are gone from us.

But what about those things we do while we are believers?  After we have received this new life, we still make some pretty stupid and self-serving decisions.  Some people actually teach that there is no covering for sins committed by believers, that those sins must be dealt with through our good works.  I guess I would have to say, “Good luck with that!”

No, we can’t pay for our sins after we are saved any more than we could before we are saved.  And let me say this bluntly: Our good works have nothing to do with our sins.  No amount of good works will cover even one sin.  It doesn’t work that way and it never worked that way.  For those who see a distinction between the way of salvation in the Old Testament and the New, which I do not, there is still nothing that teaches that sins are covered by good works.  Someone will point to the sacrificial system, I suppose, but making an animal die for my sins is not a good work.  It is an act of sacrifice.

So how are our sins covered after we become believers?  The same way they were before we were believers.  And when are our sins covered after we become believers?  At the same time they were covered when we became believers.  In other words, Jesus took all our sins on Himself at the cross.  He justified us by His sacrifice.

On the cross, Jesus paid a price big enough to cover all the sins of the whole world forever.  Yours and mine—past, present, and future.  When we come to Him for salvation, for forgiveness, we bring the account book of our lives and He wipes away all record of sin.  He removes the record from us forever.  All He asks is that we come.

“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool. Isaiah 1:18

Come and reason with the Lord.  Enter into a relationship with Him through Jesus.  Then all your sins—past, present, and future—will be washed away.  Even the scarlet letter.

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Jesus or What He Did?

Do we need Jesus or do we need what Jesus does for us? 

Of course some would suggest that these are the same.  Jesus, because of who He is, has done what we need.  But that misses the point.  Do we actually need Jesus?  Him, personally, not just what He has done?

Suppose you travel far away from your family.  You send gifts.  You have provided for their care.  You have left instructions for them.  Your children will learn the things that are important to you.  Your spouse will have words of comfort and assurances of love.  Everything they need is taken care of.  What is missing?  You!

What do we really need from the Lord?  Salvation?  Forgiveness?  Reconciliation?  Assurances of His love?  These are great and so important, but we need Him.  That’s why He offers us Himself.

Consider this:  Romans 5:6 says that “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”  What an amazing gift!  What a blessing!  But the Scriptures refer to the ungodly after the resurrection of Christ.  So why are they still called the ungodly?  If Jesus died for them, why doesn’t the Scripture call them “the saved?”  Answer: because the action on the cross didn’t complete their salvation! 

(I realize that I must walk carefully here.  We have been taught that everything happened in the cross.  I am in no way lessening what was accomplished for us on the cross, nor what was accomplished for the whole world.  Instead, I am making a distinction that is very important.)

Through the cross, the Lord redeemed us.  Justification, forgiveness, reconciliation, salvation—all are found in the work of Jesus on the cross for us.  That’s how the Lord accomplished the work we needed.  But listen carefully: no one is saved by the cross.  We are saved by the Person of the cross. 

Christ died for the ungodly.  That’s true, and I am particularly thankful that it is true.  But many will remain “ungodly” because they will never have the Person of godliness in them.  No one becomes godly apart from Jesus.  Godliness is only found in Him – not in what He did for us.  We become godly when Jesus comes into us and becomes our life.  When His life is the life in us, then we are truly godly.  Then, and then only, is our salvation complete.

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:

God was manifested in the flesh…     1 Timothy 3:16(NKJV)

Comments?  Questions?

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Does Everyone Need Jesus?

Does everyone need Jesus?  Pelagius (@AD400) is credited with a doctrine that suggested nothing actually changed in the Fall.  In other words, when Adam and Eve sinned, nothing really happened.  Sure, they were kicked out of the Garden and things like evil and suffering entered the world, but nothing of their spiritual essence changed.  All that needed to happen for them to be restored to fellowship with God was for them to obey.  They could be back on the track simply by their choice. 

There is some question as to whether Pelagius ever taught this or his followers simply went too far with some of his other teachings.  The bottom line, and the doctrinal concern with what has become known as “Pelagianism,” is that there would be no need for a Savior.  The cross, I suppose, would become the ultimate example of obedience.

Pelagius, Eutychus, Arius, Montanus, Nestorius, Apollonarius—these were all reasonably good men, popular in their day, who had ideas that were just a little off.  They, and many like them through the centuries, were just trying to understand the mysteries of the faith.  They thought they had discovered some answers.  But history called their ideas wrong and their names became associated with heresy.

Not all error is primary.  Sometimes we really just see things differently.  At least one of us is wrong, but it doesn’t matter all that much.  So we have Lutherans, and Calvinists and Arminians and others—and even though they fight each other, the differences are not as significant as some would have us believe.  There is still one Savior, who is God in human flesh, and we need Him.

All primary doctrinal error leads ultimately to one of two ends: the denial of the deity of Jesus Christ or the denial of our need for a Savior.  Legalism teaches, when all of the decorations are removed, that we can and eventually must save ourselves.  Liberalism teaches that Jesus was just like us, to the extent that He offers nothing of real value to our salvation.  The natural path of error slopes toward either of these.  But even these are the same error.  Basically there is one question: does everyone need Jesus?

Yes, everyone needs Jesus. It’s all about Him, or we have nothing.

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Who is Jesus?

This is the primary question of our faith.  The answer separates us from other religions.  The answer makes a difference.

Two thousand years of church history has centered on one fact: Jesus is God.  He has come to bring us to Himself.  Just because He took on Himself humanity does not lessen the fact that He is God.  This has been argued for centuries and the conclusion, in all Christian denominations, is that Jesus was God, is God and always will be God.

He told us Himself that He is one with the Father.  There is great mystery in that, but the truth of it is clear.  What you say about the Father is true about Jesus.  Today some speak of a kenosis, the teaching that Jesus gave up His divine attributes to become man.  Neither the Scriptures nor the Church have ever affirmed this.  Jesus, when He walked this earth, was fully God (Colossians 2:9).

Perhaps the best summary of Christian belief about Jesus comes from the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end. 

The definition of Chalcedon took things further to address issues raised in the church of that day:

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

But so what?  What does it mean to me in my life today that Jesus is God?  It means everything!  All that can be said about God is true about Jesus because Jesus is God.  Power, wisdom, majesty, love—all are His.  He is not some weak, but nice, guy.  He is not some teacher who sacrificed Himself for a good idea.  He is God in human flesh. 

I believe that one of the reasons God took on humanity was so that we would connect with Him.  He wants a relationship with us.  He created that opportunity and offers it to us in the person of Jesus.  When I think of how I am accountable to God for my sin, I remember that I come to God in Jesus and He loves me.  The Judge of all the earth is Jesus and He loves me.

The heart that sent Jesus to the cross to wash away my sin is the heart of Jesus for me today.  The power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power of Jesus for me today.  He is my Creator, Redeemer, Provider, Protector—and my Friend.  The almighty, all-knowing, ever-present God loves me. 

When I think of the old song, “Jesus Loves Me,” I remember that this is God Himself in human flesh.  Jesus loves us because the Father loves us (John 16:26), and He and the Father are One.  God loves me.  In spite of my sin and weakness, God loves me.  He loves me so much that He came to me when I could not, would not, come to Him.  He made the way. 

Jesus is everything to me.  Thomas looked at Him that day after the resurrection and said, “My Lord and my God!”  I don’t have to understand to believe and enjoy.

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