Right with Whom?

The phrase “right with God” has received a lot of airtime in recent years. Unfortunately, it comes with its own new-and-improved definition. We truly are made right with God when we receive Jesus’ death and resurrection as full payment for the debt we owe God. But that receiving does not mean a mental agreement or a prayer of appreciation. It is a transfer of ownership. When we accept God’s offer of salvation, we agree to His terms, which means we are under new management (Galatians 2:20). Therefore, all choices from that moment on are to be in line with His owner’s manual, the Bible.

But the current church climate has decided to treat God’s instruction book as a list of suggestions, not commands for obedience. We’ve reinvented Jesus as some sort of buddy, sobriety partner, or coach…anything but Lord and King. As long as His ways coordinate with our desire for happiness, we’re glad to oblige.

But the thousands of martyrs through the years would have a different stance on that. They’ve watched their children sliced in half, their wives and sisters raped, their homes burned, and then faced torture and execution because they refused to compromise the words of God’s book. After reading about the centuries of horrible persecution Christians have suffered, it’s hard to be sympathetic with the west’s version of so-called Christianity that crumbles under any pressure that threatens something it wants.

It’s so much easier to set the Book aside, reinvent a more tolerant Jesus, and declare with joy and conviction that we are “right with God.” The woman who sleeps with her boyfriend every time he’s in town…the man who tosses his wife aside for a younger version...the alcoholic who compartmentalizes his addiction instead of attacking it...the couple seething with bitterness and unforgiveness...the teenager who parties every weekend like she’s Satan’s key apprentice…all declare with boldness that they know they are “right with God.” After all, that one worship song gives them goosebumps and they have Bibles on their nightstands.

The problem with this claim is that when the Holy Spirit moves into a repentant heart, He brings His convictions with Him. When one of His children moves willfully toward disobedience, He comes after us with a heavenly two by four. When we choose to disobey God’s clearly stated commands, Hebrews 12 is clear that our Father disciplines us in a way that jerks us back into line. If we are not being disciplined for willful sin, that passage states very intolerantly that we are not His.

At no time during our disobedience will God confirm to us that we are “right” with Him. That is not God’s voice that we hear whispering, “I understand. I only wants you to be happy.” Sadly, though, if we are not saturating ourselves in His word, then we cannot distinguish His voice from a thousand other deceiving voices. We harden that disobedient part of our hearts, pray to the reinvented Jesus, and bask in the warmth of Satan’s sunlamp.

So how can we know that we are truly “right with God” if we can’t rely on our feelings? We lay a transparency of our lives over His book and see if they match. Of course, there will be slight variations because we sin unintentionally every day. But if there are clear commands we are choosing to violate as an ongoing lifestyle, then we are not “right with God” no matter how warm and cozy we’ve decided we feel. The soulish thrill of sin is a clever substitute for the true peace of being right with God, and the less we study and apply the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), the less likely we are to recognize the deception.

For further study, see Romans 6, the book of 1 John, Matthew 7:13-27, and Luke 14.

Lie's We're Told #5

My life will never get better.  (Ruth 1)

Naomi had reached her breaking point. First, her husband died and then both her sons, leaving behind their destitute young widows. Naomi couldn’t even take care of herself. How in the world was she supposed to care for them too? So she packed up and moved home, back to her people. Back to the familiar. She had left her homeland full of promise, a glowing bride on the arm of her Prince Charming. She was returning a broken and bitter old woman who had given up on life. Everyone who met her heard about it. She had Bitter Brain Disease and left a trail of despair germs everywhere she went.

Have you believed the lie that your life will never get better? 
You’re counting on a future without God.

Lies We're Told #4

 What will people think?  (Luke 1:26-38)

If anyone had the right to worry about what people might think, it was Mary. Her teenage dreams, good reputation, and dreamy fiancĂ© faded into the background when the angel showed up and ruined everything. That’s how Mary could have looked at it. In order to say yes to God, she had to say no to her reputation and her plans for her own life. Nobody would believe her story. She wasn’t sure she believed it herself. Unmarried teenage virgins did not show up pregnant and expect people to understand. Yet, her answer to the angel would define eternity for herself and millions of others. She could worry about what people thought, or she could care only what God thought. Thankfully, Mary’s decision was not affected by what people might think.

We all face that decision in different ways. “I think God wants me to _____, but what will people think?” “I want to lift my hands in worship, but what will people think?” “I need to share Jesus with my coworker, but what will he think?” The fear of people’s opinions has robbed us of more blessing and growth than we probably realize. The truth is that people are not thinking about us at all. They’re too busy worrying what other people think about them. Mary rejected that lie in order to accept God’s assignment. She refused to let “What will people think?” cast a vote in her decision. We can do that too.

How big a role does “What will people think?” play in your decisions? Does it cause you to disobey God?

Lies We're Told #3

My worth is connected to how someone else feels about me.  (Genesis 29:31-34)

Leah had always felt invisible. Maybe a bit overweight, squinty eyes, an overbite, awkward. People looked right past her to gawk at her gorgeous little sister, Rachel. Ever since high heels replaced Barbie dolls, Rachel’s social calendar had been full and big sister had resigned herself to the fact that she would never be anyone’s first choice. But then dashing Jacob showed up and her heart turned inside out. Of course, Jacob was crazy about Rachel (who wasn’t?), but Dad pulled an underhanded switcheroo and Leah ended up in the bridal chamber instead. She prayed all night that marriage would change Jacob’s mind, but it didn’t. She was not who Jacob wanted. She was not who anyone wanted. Maybe she was even invisible to God.

But then she had a baby boy. “Surely my husband will love me now,” she thought. Nope. Three more babies, and each time hot tears stung Leah’s eyes as Jacob smiled at the baby, nodded to her, and walked back to Rachel. Leah had given him all she had—and it didn’t matter. She didn’t matter. Maybe you’ve been there. You rescued, surrendered your purity, or deadened your soul hoping that someone would make you feel valuable. “Surely they’ll love me now,” you thought, but it didn’t work. You gave all you had and it didn’t matter. But guess what Leah learned? When her fourth son was born, she named him Judah, which means “praise.” She’d stopped looking to Jacob for her worth. She realized that her value was not tied to someone else’s opinion. Her worth came from the One who created her. God saw her. He valued her. And that was all that mattered.

Who are you expecting to validate your worth? 
If it’s anyone other than God, they will let you down. 

Lies We're Told #2

My past disqualifies me.  (Joshua 2:1-21, 6:25; James 2:25)

All she’d known from men was rejection and abuse. As long as she could remember, she’d been selling her soul for a few coins. Life was hard, but her heart was harder, softened only by stories of Israel’s strange God. The idols of Jericho certainly couldn’t do miracles. They didn’t love, provide, and protect like the God of Israel did. Imagine being part of nation with a God like that! But their God didn’t want women like Rahab. A prostitute. A foreigner. He was holy. Perfect. She was who she was, and nothing could change that. Her course had been set before she was born, so she might as well stop dreaming.   

Then…a knock on her door. Men again, but these men were from Israel and they needed protection. Israel? Hope flickered inside Rahab’s heart. These men knew the God she’d heard about! How odd that of all the houses in Jericho they’d chosen hers. Could it be that their God saw her after all? In one courageous act of faith, Rahab the prostitute became Rahab the Israelite. Because she chose to trust that Israel’s God could change her future, her past crumbled with the walls of Jericho. When she joined God’s people, she left her old identity behind and joyfully accepted the one God gave her. In fact, she married a godly Israelite man, became the great-grandmother of King David, and God picked her to be an ancestor of Jesus Christ.

Your past no longer disqualifies you when you surrender to the God of Israel.
He changes your identity. 

Lies We're Told #1

I am not enough. (Genesis 3)

Image result for photo of eve in garden

Eve laughed aloud because she liked the sound of it when it bounced off the cool blue water and echoed from the distant hills. She smiled at her reflection and marveled again at the goodness of her Creator. How magnificent He was to make her so much like Him! Another face appeared in the pool beside her and she felt an instant chill. This smile did not warm her as the Creator’s did. The serpentine face pressed against her hair and whispered, “You don’t quite have what it takes, my dear. God is holding out on you. You could be better than you are: prettier, smarter, wiser. Stick with me. I have what you need.” He set her up, knowing that if she listened, sin would rob her of the joy and purpose for which she was created.

Who told you that you are not enough? 
That voice you hear in the back of your heart is not God’s. 

Get Off the List

Such were some of you; but you were washed…sanctified…
justified in the name of the Lord... 
1 Corinthians 6:11

This verse contains the biggest BUT in the Bible. Paul has just taken our inventory, listing those sins and identities that keep us out of the kingdom of God. Back up a couple of verses and read the list. The bad news is that we’re all somewhere on the list.  How many define you? “…the sexually immoral, adulterers, homosexuals, drunkards, thieves…”  It’s a thorough list and leaves very little to speculation. Just cleaning up our acts won’t erase those stains. Turning over a new leaf, doing religious activities, or trying to even up the score won’t get our names off the list. Because God is outside of time, every sin from our past and present follows us like a noxious cloud, the way dog doodoo clings to the bottom of a shoe. 

God doesn’t tolerate the stench.  

Then comes the good news—there is a BUT! Jesus came to this earth, lived the life we should have lived, pleased God in every way, and then offered Himself as payment for the debt we owe God. On the cross, He became everything on the list (2 Cor. 5:21; Col. 2:14). As the Son of God hung suspended between heaven and earth, God poured out on Him all the righteous wrath He has against our sin. When Jesus rose from the dead, He put the BUT in that verse. He offers to tear up the list for anyone who will surrender to His lordship. When we bow at the cross, Jesus’ sacrifice erases the stains of our past. In exchange, we get His righteousness credited to our account. 

We don’t have to stay on the bad list. There is a BUT.