Tag Archives: sin

Forgiveness (a quote from What’s so Amazing about Grace? by Philip Yancy)

“Forgiveness–undeserved, unearned–can cut the cords and let the oppressive burden of guilt roll away. The New Testament shows a resurrected Jesus leading Peter by the hand through a three-fold ritual of forgiveness. Peter need not go through life with the guilty, hangdog look of one who has betrayed the Son of God. Oh, no. On the backs of such transformed sinners Christ would build his church.”

Yancy is alluding to is John 21:15-17. Earlier, when Jesus was taken to be crucified, Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times out of fear. He then ran and wept uncontrollably. In this passage, Jesus, now crucified and risen from the dead, guides Peter into professing his his love for Jesus three times. The other passage is Matthew 16:17, where Jesus tells Peter that he is a rock, and that Jesus would build His church–His kingdom–on Peter. I love the connection between Peter’s sin, transformation, and reception of grace with this passage in Matthew. The church is built on grace, which comes from God. We are all sinners, and without pardon from the Lord, there would be no church.

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My name is graven on His hands

It’s rare that I cry in church, but today we sang this hymn, and I did cry. I think if I really understood the things we talk about in church, I would cry more–I am sinful, people are broken, and God is pursuing us to save us for Himself. Sometimes I just don’t believe these things about myself. Why did I cry today? I’m not sure. The church was full, and everyone was singing beautifully. But I wasn’t feeling forgiven. I wasn’t feeling holy.

This morning, I read Jeremiah 1–where God tells Jeremiah that he was consecrated from before he was born, that he had been chosen to speak the words of God to the nations, “to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” And I also read 1 Peter 2:9-10:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

I am a chosen nation. I am a royal priesthood. This morning I wasn’t feeling it. I was feeling downtrodden. I have so much medicine to learn, I can’t “pluck up and break down, destroy and overthrow, build and plant.” I sin too much. I don’t have time.

So I guess the hymn spoke to me this morning. I was feeling like I hadn’t done enough. I’ve been a Christian for so long, but what have I sacrificed? I was discouraged by this, but I hadn’t thought to look to God. The hymn turned my mind to God, to Jesus his Son who justifies me in spite of my inadequacy. The power to be a “holy priesthood” comes from Jesus’ sacrifice. I’m a holy priesthood because my name is graven on his hands, not because I’ve done or not done something.

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great High Priest whose name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God, the just, is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I Am,
The King of glory and of grace,
One in Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Saviour and my God.

I had trouble finding a good version of this hymn, but here’s the best I’ve found so far. It’s worth a listen (although probably not a watch):

Will God punish sons for the sins of their fathers?

One concept that has always galled me is the promise of God to punish a son for his father’s sin. Why should a person be held responsible for something their parent did? It doesn’t seem fair.

In fact, I have misunderstood this idea–God does punish sons for their fathers’ sin, even today, and it’s not a terribly unjust thing to do. The statement appears first in the ten commandments:

“I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

-Exodus 20:5-6

This is about God and how He deals with people.  Firstly, I misunderstood this passage because I read it with the wrong emphasis. I immediately focused on the fact that God will punish the third and fourth generation of a sinner. The fact is that He also shows “steadfast love to the thousandth generation.”

To the thousandth generation!

The purpose of the passage is to exhort Israel to love God. God didn’t want Israel to love things--idols–more than they loved Him. God cannot let sin go unpunished, and so He would exact justice if there was wrong-doing, and the ultimate wrong-doing is to hate God and to love things more than God. However, if only a single person in Israel loved God, He would show steadfast love to a thousand generations after that person.

Our love is insignificant compared to God’s love, but so is our sin, because God has multiplied His love and continued to multiply it until it’s sufficient to cover all our sins. In Israel, people rebelled horribly against God, and they did so almost continually, as chronicled in Judges, Kings, the prophets, and the rest of the Hebrew Bible. God did punish them, and many generations of Jews were exiled to Babylon, Assyria, and Persia. But there were also a few in Israel who loved God–you only need to read David’s Psalms to find beautiful examples of this.

Because of only a few who loved Him, God kept His word to Israel, showing steadfast love to thousands of generations of Jews, until at last He sent His Son, the ultimate manifestation of His love, not just for the Jews, but also for all people everywhere. So God’s love is greater than our sin, and He loves more readily than He judges.

But in the shadow of God’s mighty promise to love for a thousand generations is still the promise to punish sons for the sins of their fathers. This isn’t an obscure passage. It’s a robust, undeniable theme throughout the whole Scriptures. It occurs repeatedly, quoted word-for-word in several places (Exodus 34:7, Numbers 14:18, Deuteronomy 5:9-10, Jeremiah 32:18). The idea also occurs in the Psalms and in numerous other places.

Paul tells us that we inherit sin from Adam, who is the first man, the father of us all, and the first sinner. By being Adam’s descendants, we inherit his sin, and we inherit the punishment for his sin–death (Romans 5:12). Because of this, every single one of us is a sinner from birth (Romans 3:23). David agrees, mourning in Psalm 51:5 that he was born sinful–“In sin did my mother conceive me.” And again in Psalm 58:3, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth.” Paul restates in Ephesians 2:3 that we are sinful “by nature“.

And for the longest time each one of these verses bothered me a bit. Shouldn’t we all be innocent until we do something that makes us guilty? But then I realized–I think by reading C.S. Lewis–that we all do things that make us guilty. This is the second reason I misunderstood this passage.

The issue is not so much that we inherit our father’s punishment as it is that we inherit our father’s sins. You’ve seen this everywhere. Children of lazy parents grow up to be lazy people. Children of angry parents grow up to be angry people. Children of abusive parents often grow up to abuse their children.

It’s a terrible, terrible cycle, but you’ve probably seen it in your own life. I’ve certainly seen it in mine. My dad has trouble making himself help my mom (who still has kids at home to care for) clean up around the house. You may ask my wife, and she’ll tell you that this is something I struggle with as well. I sometimes get to thinking that my school work is more important than a clean house that she’ll enjoy–but it certainly isn’t.

So why should it bother me that the Bible affirms something I’ve seen over and over in people all around me? The answer is that it shouldn’t bother me. It is the truth. God has blessed us infinitely more than He has judged us, and the fact that children inherit sin from their parents is patently obvious.

Furthermore, God’s love has been multiplied through all the generations of Israel and Christians, and I have been a recipient of grace upon grace–the grace of being alive and experiencing life, and the grace of His Son, Jesus the Messiah, who took the punishment that I inherited–the punishment for my sin–and paid for it completely with His life.

You have inherited sin as well–I’m sure you can tell me a million little things that you fail at, things you shouldn’t have said or done, people you should have been kinder to or more helpful to. The sins may seem small, but what about when you have a child? You may lose your temper sometimes, but your child may learn this from you. Perhaps his temper will be worse than yours, and perhaps he will teach his son to be angry as well. Our sins multiply. Even what seems like a small thing can affect someone else profoundly. You can crush a person’s ego for life with a single poorly-considered word. The son of a hothead may grow up to be a murderer, and that father, who merely had a temper, would be largely responsible for the lack of self-control that he taught his son.

The Gospel is that we can have a new Father in heaven. If you have not believed in God and in the sacrifice of His Son, then you still have your inherited sin, but if you accept Jesus and His saving sacrifice on the cross, you can have a new Father (Galatians 4:1-7). From this new Father, you will inherit not sin and a punishment of death in hell, but righteousness and eternal life with Him in heaven. God is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” and you need only to accept Him as your God.

“In the same way also, when we were children, we were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

-Galatians 4:3-7

[You might also want to check out this wonderful lady’s blog post: http://meetingintheclouds.wordpress.com/2010/10/03/part-8-i-am-adopted-i-have-a-father/ She is a 74 year old Christian in Australia, and she understands this verse in Galatians in a profound way. I stumbled across her blog a few months ago.]

Praise Jesus!

We should be praising God. God deserves our praise. He created everything you see; He gave you every good thing you have.

Instead of praising God, we often do things that are shameful, things we regret. But God has mercy, and He sees us as if we’ve done nothing wrong. If you’re a redeemed murderer, God sees you as if you were an infant.

He stills our souls in a way nothing else can.

Have you ever been in a church during prayer? People scatter about when they enter church; they chatter with their friends; they shuffle around in their seats. The whole sanctuary is full of noise and movement–but when the pastor prays, the rows upon rows of people are silent. Heads are bowed. No one moves. It happens in every country around the world each Sunday morning–He calms the people like He calms the waves.

He calms the rain that falls on our farmer’s fields–thousands of miles of crops. Oranges, broccoli, apples, wheat, bell peppers, lettuce–all with leaves blowing in the breeze, soaking up the sunshine of providence. We harvest it all in a cavalier style, piling it into trucks that rumble down dusty roads, leaking corn as they head to the cities. It ends up in our grocery stores and spills into the aisles. People look through piles of veggies and pick out what they like, and they go home with bags of food.

Even the wilderness is full of verdant beauty. Winds howl over mountain peaks and rustle wildflowers in the fields, barely nudging the near-endless forests of swaying pines. We visit on vacation, we plaster pictures of it on our computers, on our walls. The images of beauty are burned into our minds–everyone can picture a quiet island, an ocean, a mountain, a forest. We think of them sometimes, and they are a cathedral in our minds–a structure built to praise the Lord, that we can recall any time we please.

Shouldn’t we be praising God?

[This is a meditation on Psalm 65.]

Cocaine

At first I thought he was alive.

His swollen, bloodshot eyes looked sad.

The photograph was taken at a strange angle, looking up toward the nose, so that a line of white powder could be seen plastered to the inside of his nostril. The point of the picture was to show all us students that the man had died while snorting cocaine, but the only thing I could think was, “I don’t understand this.”

Cocaine causes hypertension, lethal cardiac arrhythmias, heart attacks, seizures, renal failure. One picture our professor showed us was of a brain covered in thick, partly gelatinous blood. Normally the brain is clean and grayish-white post-mortem, but this person had died of massive intra-cranial bleeding caused by a cocaine-induced spike in blood pressure that ripped through one of his arteries.

The lecture was about chemical injury to the human body, but the fact that a chemical had damaged this man’s body seemed so far from the root of the problem as to be almost comical.

The world is broken.

Things are not right here, and this is not where we’re meant to be.

Romans 6:11-14

“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness.”
-Romans 6:11-14