Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Lord's Indulgence!

I have been reading a great book. Basic Christianity by John Stott. He gives a great quote from an early church father, Cyprian, who served as Bishop of Carthage in the Third Century.

"How great is the Lord's indulgence! How great are his condescension and plenteousness of goodness towards us, seeing that he has wished us to pray in the sight of God in such a way as to call God Father, and to call ourselves sons of God, even as Christ is the Son of God--a name which none of us would dare to venture on in prayer, unless he himself had allowed us thus to pray."

This privilege is staggering when you consider how the Bible describes our condition before we come to faith in Christ.

"...you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." (Ephesians 2:1-3)

"And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds..." (Colossians 1:21)

"...both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written, 'None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Romans 3:9-12)

One of the hardest concepts for many people to accept is that God does not measure our sin in degrees. Many people figure that since they are not an axe murderer or genocidal dictator, that such passages as those spoken of in Ephesians, Colossians and Romans must be speaking of someone else rather than them. However, it is clear from the context of these verses that when written, they were directed to the entire congregation! There are no "mulligans" given to anyone within the audience. In other words, Paul is not saying, "O.K, I am really talking about you folks who are adulterers and child abductors in considering this sin issue. Those of you who have only told some 'white lies' and took some grapes from the produce section without paying and only 'fudged' on your taxes a little--you're fine. Keep reading to the good parts you like."

No. That is not the case at all. Basically, because of the reality of Romans 3:23, we learn that ALL of us, i.e. anyone born on the planet after Adam, are the ones who are hostile in mind, dead in our tresspasses and not seeking God. We all need the cross and resurrection in order to be in relationship with God. Believing that you are basically a good person and that God will surely take your good attempts and intentions into consideration is to make a mockery of the Son's sacrifice.

I do not want to overstate this fact. However, when you consider the following passages, you begin to see the great cost necessary to bring sinful people into relationship with a holy God.

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."
(Ephesians 2:4-7)

"...he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him..."
(Colossians 1:22)

"...God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life."
(Romans 5:8-10)

God is incredibly kind and merciful and loving toward us. Paul states that we were deserving of God's wrath. However, God extends to us what we do not deserve in order that we might be his children. When Jesus calls us to pray, "Our Father, who art in heaven..." he really means it! God and you (i.e. those who have trusted by faith in Christ for relationship with God John 14:6) are not enemies but family. Following on the heels of verses that describe the totality of our sinful reality are verses that reveal the profound love and mercy that God extends to us to make us his own.

Remember this today as you pray. God has made it possible for you to be accepted. He has set his love upon you. He wants to hear from you. He has set his affection on you. He gave the very best--his Son--in order that you can have the very best--himself!
Here are a few questions for thought and reflection (Yes, I know that thinking can be dangerous?!?):
-How should the truth of Ephesians 2:4-7, Colossians 1:22, and Romans 5:8-10 cause you to think about God?
-Do you have a biblical idea of God being your Father? (Father can, unfortunately, carry negative ideas for many people that have had abusive, absent or passive dads. However, these are not the biblical pictures painted of God.) What "thought" adjustments might you need to make in regards to God being your Father?
-Do you see prayer as a "plenteousness of goodness" from the Lord, in the words of Cyprian, or as a duty and drudgery? What has influenced your thoughts about prayer?
-What would you like to have happen in regards to your prayer life?

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