Category  |  Salvation

Beyond Labels

A church in my city has a unique welcome card that captures the love and grace of God for everyone. It says, “If You Are A . . . saint, sinner, loser, winner”—followed by many other terms used to describe struggling people—“alcoholic, hypocrite, cheater, fearful, misfit . . . . You are welcome here.” One of the pastors told me, “We read the card aloud together in our worship services every Sunday.”

How often we accept labels and allow them to define who we are. And how easily we assign them to others. But God’s grace defies labels because it is rooted in His love, not in our self-perception. Whether we see ourselves as wonderful or terrible, capable or helpless, we can receive eternal life as a gift from Him. The apostle Paul reminded the followers of Jesus in Rome that “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6).

The Lord does not require us to change by our own power. Instead He invites us to come as we are to find hope, healing, and freedom in Him. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8). The Lord is ready and willing to receive us just as we are.

Deep Roots

The sequoia tree, one of three species of redwoods, is among the world’s largest and most enduring organisms. It can grow to 300 feet in height, weigh over 2.5 million pounds (1.1 million kg), and live for 3,000 years. But the majestic sequoia owes much of its size and longevity to what lies below the surface. A twelve- to fourteen-foot deep matting of roots, spreading over as much as an acre of earth, firmly grounds its towering height and astonishing weight.

A redwood’s expansive root system, however, is small compared to the national history, religion, and anticipation that undergird the life of Jesus. On one occasion He told a group of religious leaders that the Scriptures they loved and trusted told His story (John 5:39). In the synagogue of Nazareth He opened the scroll of Isaiah, read a description of Israel’s Messiah, and said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

Later, after His resurrection, Jesus helped His disciples understand how the words of Moses, the prophets, and even the songs of Israel showed why it was necessary for Him to suffer, die, and rise from the dead (Luke 24:46).

What grace and grandeur—to see Jesus rooted in the history and Scriptures of a nation, and to see how extensively our own lives are rooted in our need of Him.

The Ultimate Good

As I was growing up in Jamaica, my parents raised my sister and me to be “good people.” In our home, good meant obeying our parents, telling the truth, being successful in school and work, and going to church . . .  at least Easter and Christmas. I imagine this definition of being a good person is familiar to many people, regardless of culture. In fact, the apostle Paul, in Philippians 3, used his culture’s definition of being good to make a greater point.

Paul, being a devout first-century Jew, followed the letter of the moral law in his culture. He was born into the “right” family, had the “right” education, and practiced the “right” religion. He was the real deal in terms of being a good person according to Jewish custom. In Philippians 3:4, Paul writes that he could boast in all of his goodness if he wanted. But, as good as he was, Paul told his readers (and us) that there is something more than being good. He knew that being good, while good, was not the same as pleasing God.

Pleasing God, Paul writes in Philippians 3:7-8, involves knowing Jesus. Paul considered his own goodness as “garbage” when compared to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.” We are good—and we please God—when our hope and faith are in Christ alone, not in our goodness. 

 

Celebrate Freedom

After being kidnapped, held hostage for 13 days, and released, New Zealand news cameraman Olaf Wiig, with a broad smile on his face, announced, “I feel more alive now than I have in my entire life.”

For reasons difficult to understand, being freed is more exhilarating than being free.

For those who enjoy freedom every day, Olaf’s joy was a good reminder of how easily we forget how blessed we are. This is also true spiritually. Those of us who have been Christians for a long time often forget what it’s like to be held hostage by sin. We can become complacent and even ungrateful. But then God sends a reminder in the form of a new believer who gives an exuberant testimony of what God has done in his or her life, and once again we see the joy that is ours when we are “free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2).

If freedom has become boring to you, or if you tend to focus on what you can’t do, consider this: Not only are you no longer a slave to sin, but you are freed to be holy and to enjoy eternal life with Christ Jesus! (6:22).

Celebrate your freedom in Christ by taking the time to thank God for the things you are able and free to do as His servant.

Destroying the Divides

A writing deadline loomed over me, while the argument I had with my husband earlier that morning swirled through my mind. I stared at the blinking cursor, fingertips resting on the keyboard. He was wrong too, Lord.

When the computer screen went black, my reflection scowled. My unacknowledged wrongs were doing more than hindering the work before me. They were straining my relationship with my husband and my God.

I grabbed my cell phone, swallowed my pride, and asked for forgiveness. Savoring the peace of reconciliation when my spouse apologized as well, I thanked God and finished my article on time.

The Israelites experienced the pain of personal sin and joy of restoration. Joshua warned God’s people not to enrich themselves in the battle for Jericho (Josh. 6:18), but Achan stole captured items and hid them in his tent (7:1). Only after his sin was exposed and dealt with (7:4–12) did the nation enjoy reconciliation with their God.

Like Achan, we don’t always consider how “tucking sin into our tents” turns our hearts us from God and impacts those around us. Acknowledging Jesus as Lord, admitting our sin, and seeking forgiveness provides the foundation for healthy and faithful relationships with God and others. By submitting to our loving Creator and Sustainer daily, we can serve Him and enjoy His presence—together.

Time to Flourish

Last spring I decided to cut down the rose bush by our back door. In the three years we’d lived in our home, it hadn’t produced many flowers, and its ugly, fruitless branches were now creeping in all directions.

But life got busy, and my gardening plan got delayed. It was just as well—only a few weeks later that rose bush burst into bloom like I’d never seen before. Hundreds of big white flowers, rich in perfume, hung over the back door, flowed into our yard, and showered the ground with beautiful petals.

My rose bush’s revival reminded me of Jesus’s parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6–9. In Israel, it was customary to give fig trees three years to produce fruit. If they didn’t, they were cut down so the soil could be better used. In Jesus’s story, a gardener asks his boss to give one particular tree a fourth year to produce. In context (vv. 1–5), the parable implies this: the Israelites hadn’t lived as they should, and God could justly judge them. But God is patient and had given extra time for them to turn to Him, be forgiven, and bloom.

God wants all people to flourish and has given extra time so that they can. Whether we are still journeying toward faith or are praying for unbelieving family and friends, His patience is good news for all of us.

Made Alive

As a young man, my dad was traveling with a group of friends to an out-of-town sporting event when the tires of their car slipped on the rain-soaked roads. They had an accident—a bad accident. One of his friends was paralyzed and another was killed. My dad was declared dead and taken to the morgue. His shocked and grief-stricken parents came to identify him. But my dad revived from what turned out to be a deep coma. Their mourning turned to joy.

In Ephesians 2, the apostle Paul reminds us that apart from Christ we are “dead in [our] transgressions and sins” (v. 1). But because of his great love for us, “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (vv. 4-5). Through Christ we have been brought from death to life.

So in a sense, we all owe our life to the Father in heaven. Through His great love, He has made it possible for those of us who were dead in sin to have life and purpose through His Son.

God Calling

One morning my daughter gave her eleven-month-old son her cell phone for a moment to entertain him. Less than a minute later my phone rang, and as I picked it up I heard his little voice. He had somehow hit the “speed dial” to my number, and what followed was a “conversation” I will long remember. My grandson can only say a few words, but he knows my voice and responds to it. So I talked to him and told him how much I love him.

The joy I felt at the sound of my grandson’s voice was a reminder to me of God’s deep desire for a relationship with us. From the very beginning, the Bible shows God actively pursuing us. After Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God and then hid from Him in the garden, “the Lord God called” to Adam (Gen. 3:9).

 God continued to pursue humanity through Jesus. Because God desires a relationship with us, He sent Jesus to earth to pay the penalty for our sin by His death on the cross. “This is how God showed his love . . . . He sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God” (1 John 4:9–10 The Message).

 How good it is to know that God loves us and wants us to respond to His love through Jesus. Even when we don't quite know what to say, our Father longs to hear from us!

The Beauty of Brokenness

Kintsugi is a centuries old Japanese art of mending broken pottery. Gold dust mixed with resin is used to reattach broken pieces or fill in cracks, resulting in a striking bond. Instead of trying to hide the repair, the art makes something beautiful out of brokenness.

The Bible tells us that God also values our brokenness, when we are genuinely sorry for a sin we have committed.  After David engaged in adultery with Bathsheba and plotted the death of her husband, the prophet Nathan confronted him, and he repented. David’s prayer afterwards gives us insight into what God desires when we have sinned: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Ps. 51:16–17).

When our heart is broken over a sin, God mends it with the priceless forgiveness generously offered by our Savior at the cross. He receives us with love when we humble ourselves before Him, and closeness is restored.

How merciful is God! Given His desire for a humble heart and the breathtaking beauty of His kindness, may another scriptural prayer be ours today: “Search me, God, and know my heart. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24).

Related Topics

Salvation > Assurance

Defeat or Victory?

Each year on June 18 the great Battle of Waterloo is recalled in what is now Belgium. On that day in 1815, Napoleon’s French army was defeated by a multinational force commanded by the Duke of Wellington. Since then, the phrase “to meet your Waterloo” has come to mean “to be defeated by someone who is too strong for you or by a problem that is too difficult for you.”

            When it comes to our spiritual lives, some people feel that ultimate failure is inevitable and it’s only a matter of time until each of us will “meet our Waterloo.” But John refuted that pessimistic view when he wrote to followers of Jesus: “Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).

            John weaves this theme of spiritual victory throughout his first letter as he urges us not to love the things this world offers, which will soon fade away (2:15-17). Instead, we are to love and please God, “And this is what he promised us—eternal life” (2:25).

            While we may have ups and downs in life, and even some battles that feel like defeats, the ultimate victory is ours in Christ as we trust in His power.

We Can Know

As I sat on a train headed for an important appointment, I began to wonder if I was on the right train. I had never traveled that route before and had failed to ask for help. Finally, overcome by uncertainty and doubt, I exited at the next station—only to be told I had indeed been on the right train!

That incident reminded me how doubt can rob us of peace and confidence. At one time I had struggled with the assurance of my salvation, but God helped me deal with my doubt. Later, after sharing the story of my conversion and my assurance that I was going to heaven, someone asked, “How can you be sure you are saved and going to heaven?” I confidently but humbly pointed to the verse that God had used to help me: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

God promises that through faith in His Son, Jesus, we already have eternal life: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (v. 11). This assurance sharpens our faith, lifts us up when we are downhearted, and gives us courage in times of doubt.

Family Privilege

When I was in primary school in Ghana, I had to live with a loving and caring family away from my parents. One day, all the children assembled for a special family meeting. The first part involved all of us sharing individual experiences. But next, when only “blood children” were required to be present, I was politely excluded. Then the stark reality hit me: I was not a “child of the house.” Despite their love for me, the family required that I should be excused because I was only living with them; I was not a legal part of their family.

            This incident reminds me of John 1:11-12. The Son of God came to His own people and they rejected Him. Those who received Him then, and receive Him now, are given the right to become God’s children. When we are adopted into His family, “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16).

            Jesus doesn't exclude anybody who is adopted by the Father. Rather, He welcomes us as a permanent part of His family. “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12).

Salvation > Atonement

Just As I Am

Good memories flooded my mind as I sat in a concert. The group’s leader had just introduced the song they were about to sing: “Just As I Am.” I remembered how years ago at the end of his sermons my pastor would ask people to come forward while we sang that song, indicating they would like to receive the forgiveness Christ offers for their sins.

Unintentional

When I was returning our grandson Alex to his family after a visit, the traffic seemed especially challenging. Fast-maneuvering cars blocked me from the correct toll lane, forcing me to go through a lane where only cars with a prepaid pass are permitted, which I didn’t have. Alex told me that my license plate would be photographed and a ticket might be mailed to me. I was frustrated because a penalty would have to be paid even though my infraction was unintentional.

A Small Sacrifice

As we anticipate the coming celebration of Easter, I begin thinking about the sacrifice Jesus made so that I could be reconciled to God. To help me focus on all that He gave up for me, I make a small sacrifice of my own. When I fast from something I normally enjoy, every craving for that food or drink or pastime reminds me of how much more Jesus gave up for me.

Salvation > Faith

The Ultimate Good

As I was growing up in Jamaica, my parents raised my sister and me to be “good people.” In our home, good meant obeying our parents, telling the truth, being successful in school and work, and going to church . . .  at least Easter and Christmas. I imagine this definition of being a good person is familiar to many people, regardless of culture. In fact, the apostle Paul, in Philippians 3, used his culture’s definition of being good to make a greater point.

Paul, being a devout first-century Jew, followed the letter of the moral law in his culture. He was born into the “right” family, had the “right” education, and practiced the “right” religion. He was the real deal in terms of being a good person according to Jewish custom. In Philippians 3:4, Paul writes that he could boast in all of his goodness if he wanted. But, as good as he was, Paul told his readers (and us) that there is something more than being good. He knew that being good, while good, was not the same as pleasing God.

Pleasing God, Paul writes in Philippians 3:7-8, involves knowing Jesus. Paul considered his own goodness as “garbage” when compared to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.” We are good—and we please God—when our hope and faith are in Christ alone, not in our goodness. 

 

What Are You Known For?

A memorial stone stands in the grounds of a former Japanese prison camp in China where a man died in 1945. It reads, “Eric Liddell was born in Tianjin of Scottish parents in 1902. His career reached its peak with his gold medal victory in the 400 metres event at the 1924 Olympic Games. He returned to China to work in Tianjin as a teacher. . . . His whole life was spent encouraging young people to make their best contributions to the betterment of mankind.”

In the eyes of many, Eric’s greatest achievement was on the sports field. But he is also remembered for his contribution to the youth of Tianjin in China, the country where he was born and that he loved. He lived and served by faith.

What will we be remembered for? Our academic achievements, job position, or financial success may get us recognized by others. But it is the quiet work we do in the lives of people that will live long after we are gone.

Moses is remembered in the faith chapter of the Bible, Hebrews 11, as someone who chose to align himself with the people of God instead of enjoying the treasures of Egypt (v. 26). He led and served God’s people by faith.

Bad Faith, Good Faith

“You gotta have faith,” people say. But what does that mean? Is any faith good faith?

“Believe in yourself and all that you are,” wrote one positive thinker a century ago. “Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.” As nice as that platitude may sound, it falls to pieces when it crashes into reality. We need a faith in something bigger than ourselves. 

God promised Abram he would have a multitude of descendants (Gen. 15:4–5), so he faced a huge obstacle—he was old and childless. When he and Sarah got tired of waiting for God to make good on His promise, they tried to overcome that obstacle on their own. As a result, they fractured their family and created a lot of unnecessary dissension (see Gen. 16 and 21:8–21).

Nothing Abraham did in his own strength worked. But ultimately he became known as a man of tremendous faith. Paul wrote of him, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’” (Rom. 4:18). This faith, said Paul, “was credited to him as righteousness” (v. 22).

Abraham’s faith was in something far bigger than himself—the one and only God. It’s the object of our faith that makes all the difference. 

Salvation > Forgiveness

Beyond Labels

A church in my city has a unique welcome card that captures the love and grace of God for everyone. It says, “If You Are A . . . saint, sinner, loser, winner”—followed by many other terms used to describe struggling people—“alcoholic, hypocrite, cheater, fearful, misfit . . . . You are welcome here.” One of the pastors told me, “We read the card aloud together in our worship services every Sunday.”

How often we accept labels and allow them to define who we are. And how easily we assign them to others. But God’s grace defies labels because it is rooted in His love, not in our self-perception. Whether we see ourselves as wonderful or terrible, capable or helpless, we can receive eternal life as a gift from Him. The apostle Paul reminded the followers of Jesus in Rome that “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6).

The Lord does not require us to change by our own power. Instead He invites us to come as we are to find hope, healing, and freedom in Him. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8). The Lord is ready and willing to receive us just as we are.

Time to Flourish

Last spring I decided to cut down the rose bush by our back door. In the three years we’d lived in our home, it hadn’t produced many flowers, and its ugly, fruitless branches were now creeping in all directions.

But life got busy, and my gardening plan got delayed. It was just as well—only a few weeks later that rose bush burst into bloom like I’d never seen before. Hundreds of big white flowers, rich in perfume, hung over the back door, flowed into our yard, and showered the ground with beautiful petals.

My rose bush’s revival reminded me of Jesus’s parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6–9. In Israel, it was customary to give fig trees three years to produce fruit. If they didn’t, they were cut down so the soil could be better used. In Jesus’s story, a gardener asks his boss to give one particular tree a fourth year to produce. In context (vv. 1–5), the parable implies this: the Israelites hadn’t lived as they should, and God could justly judge them. But God is patient and had given extra time for them to turn to Him, be forgiven, and bloom.

God wants all people to flourish and has given extra time so that they can. Whether we are still journeying toward faith or are praying for unbelieving family and friends, His patience is good news for all of us.

The Beauty of Brokenness

Kintsugi is a centuries old Japanese art of mending broken pottery. Gold dust mixed with resin is used to reattach broken pieces or fill in cracks, resulting in a striking bond. Instead of trying to hide the repair, the art makes something beautiful out of brokenness.

The Bible tells us that God also values our brokenness, when we are genuinely sorry for a sin we have committed.  After David engaged in adultery with Bathsheba and plotted the death of her husband, the prophet Nathan confronted him, and he repented. David’s prayer afterwards gives us insight into what God desires when we have sinned: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Ps. 51:16–17).

When our heart is broken over a sin, God mends it with the priceless forgiveness generously offered by our Savior at the cross. He receives us with love when we humble ourselves before Him, and closeness is restored.

How merciful is God! Given His desire for a humble heart and the breathtaking beauty of His kindness, may another scriptural prayer be ours today: “Search me, God, and know my heart. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24).

Salvation > Repentance

Destroying the Divides

A writing deadline loomed over me, while the argument I had with my husband earlier that morning swirled through my mind. I stared at the blinking cursor, fingertips resting on the keyboard. He was wrong too, Lord.

When the computer screen went black, my reflection scowled. My unacknowledged wrongs were doing more than hindering the work before me. They were straining my relationship with my husband and my God.

I grabbed my cell phone, swallowed my pride, and asked for forgiveness. Savoring the peace of reconciliation when my spouse apologized as well, I thanked God and finished my article on time.

The Israelites experienced the pain of personal sin and joy of restoration. Joshua warned God’s people not to enrich themselves in the battle for Jericho (Josh. 6:18), but Achan stole captured items and hid them in his tent (7:1). Only after his sin was exposed and dealt with (7:4–12) did the nation enjoy reconciliation with their God.

Like Achan, we don’t always consider how “tucking sin into our tents” turns our hearts us from God and impacts those around us. Acknowledging Jesus as Lord, admitting our sin, and seeking forgiveness provides the foundation for healthy and faithful relationships with God and others. By submitting to our loving Creator and Sustainer daily, we can serve Him and enjoy His presence—together.

The Beauty of Brokenness

Kintsugi is a centuries old Japanese art of mending broken pottery. Gold dust mixed with resin is used to reattach broken pieces or fill in cracks, resulting in a striking bond. Instead of trying to hide the repair, the art makes something beautiful out of brokenness.

The Bible tells us that God also values our brokenness, when we are genuinely sorry for a sin we have committed.  After David engaged in adultery with Bathsheba and plotted the death of her husband, the prophet Nathan confronted him, and he repented. David’s prayer afterwards gives us insight into what God desires when we have sinned: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Ps. 51:16–17).

When our heart is broken over a sin, God mends it with the priceless forgiveness generously offered by our Savior at the cross. He receives us with love when we humble ourselves before Him, and closeness is restored.

How merciful is God! Given His desire for a humble heart and the breathtaking beauty of His kindness, may another scriptural prayer be ours today: “Search me, God, and know my heart. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24).

From the Heart

In many cultures, loud weeping, wailing, and the tearing of clothing are accepted ways of lamenting personal sorrow or a great national calamity. For the people of Old Testament Israel, similar outward actions expressed deep mourning and repentance for turning away from the Lord.

       An outward demonstration of repentance can be a powerful process when it comes from our heart. But without a sincere inward response to God, we may simply be going through the motions, even in our communities of faith.

       After a plague of locusts devastated the land of Judah, God, through the prophet Joel, called the people to sincere repentance to avoid His further judgment. “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning” (Joel 2:12).

       Then Joel called for a response from deep inside: “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” (v. 13). True repentance comes from the heart.

       The Lord longs for us to confess our sins to Him and receive His forgiveness so we can love and serve Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

       Whatever you need to tell the Lord today, just say it—from the heart.

Salvation > Sanctification

Not Again!

As I was reading the text message on my mobile phone, my temperature started to rise and my blood began to boil. I was on the verge of shooting back a nasty message when an inner voice told me to cool down and reply tomorrow. The next morning after a good night’s sleep, the issue that had upset me so greatly seemed so trivial. I had blown it out of proportion because I didn’t want to put another person’s interest before my own. I was unwilling to inconvenience myself so I could help someone.

            Regretfully, I am tempted to respond in anger more often than I would like to admit. I constantly find myself having to put into practice familiar Bible truths, such as “Be angry, and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26) and “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4).

            Thankfully, God has given us His Spirit who will assist us in our battle with our sin. The apostles Paul and Peter called it the “sanctifying work of the Spirit” (2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2 niv). Without His power, we are helpless and defeated; but with His power, we can have victory.

The Checkup

It’s that time of year when I go to the doctor for my annual physical. Even though I feel well and I’m not experiencing any health problems, I know that routine checkups are important because they can uncover hidden problems that if left undiscovered can grow to be serious health issues. I know that giving permission to my doctor to find and remedy the hidden problems can lead to long-term health.

Clearly the psalmist felt that way spiritually. Pleading for God to search for hidden sin, he prayed, “Search me, O God, . . . and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24). Pausing to give God the opportunity for a full and unconditional inspection, he then surrendered to the righteous ways of God that would keep him spiritually healthy.

So, even if you are feeling good about yourself, it is time for a checkup! Only God knows the true condition of our heart, and only He can forgive, heal, and lead us to a cleansed life and productive future.

Think Of Them No More

My early years as a believer in Christ were laden with foreboding. I had the impression that when Jesus comes back, all my sins will be portrayed on a giant screen for everyone to see.