We Don’t Go Back to Dead

Who taught you that when you come in for dinner, you don’t need to take a shower, you need to wash your hands? Your parents probably passed that lesson on to you, but where did they learn it? It’s not necessarily common sense but it does belong to how God made things to work. Imagine what laws today’s germaphobes might make if we didn’t have a couple thousand years’ worth of hand-washing success? How different would your day look if before handling any food you believed that a full body wash was necessary?

We know that’s not required and let’s not take that knowledge for granted. Similarly, what a great revelation from God to men that saved sinners don’t need to be saved again. We do not lose our salvation, we do not need to be regenerated again and again and again. Instead, we confess daily sins and Christ forgives and cleanses us. How different would your day look if after every sin you believed that a new conversion was necessary?

Every believer has been fundamentally washed in Christ. We were completely filthy, soiled by sin. Christ bathes us and clothes us in His righteousness. When–and it is when, not if–we sin again, we do not go back to dead. We do not need another bath. We need Him to wash up the dirty parts. If we drive the car into the curb we need to take it in for an alignment, we don’t need to trade it in for a new car.

This both comforts us and reminds us. We get comfort knowing that Christ’s work isn’t undone by our sin. We are also reminded that Christ continues to undo our sin and that we ought to keep coming to Him. In this process our consciences remain tender without being terrorized. Imagine what dread the legalists could lay upon us if after every sin we needed new salvation. God’s judgment against our sin is complete in Christ, and the Father calls us to confess any sin based on it.

Make It Look Good

In Titus 2:9-10, Paul instructs slaves about being submissive to their masters in everything. He ends his counsel to them as follows: slaves should be “showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”

Adorn is clearly the key word. To adorn means to put something in order, to decorate it, make it look good. In this case, slaves don’t make the doctrine good; the doctrine is good. But they can and should live in such a way as to make it look good. If slaves live by faith, they show the beauty of the truth about God our Savior.

What does adorning the doctrine do? It makes it look good. But why does that matter? Because we want other people to want it. Showing that something is attractive should attract. An appealing life draws others in.

By way of application, our worship of God the Savior should be attractive as well. The way we sing should make others pay attention. The way we feast from a good meal of God’s Word should make them hungry. The way we fellowship around the Lord’s Table should make them want in. This is a built-in feature when we worship well.

Pinning Jealousy

The jealous and the zealous are related. Our English word jealous comes down to us from a Greek word, ζῆλος (zealos, meaning strong desire or zeal. Middle English and French chewed this Greek word and gave us a pair. We usually clothe jealousy with dark colors, referring to someone with a strong desire for what someone else has. It describes a man who is envious of his brother’s good fortune or suspicious of his resources. The jealous want another’s possessions or position or popularity.

James wrote, “if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth” (James 3:14). There are visible consequences to this sort of zeal: “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist there will be disorder and every vile practice” (verse 16). He describes jealousy as “earthy, unspiritual, demonic” (verse 15). It quickly leads to quarrels and fights and wars (4:1-2).

Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery because they were jealous (Acts 7:9). The High Priest and other Jewish leaders arrested the apostles because they were jealous (Acts 5:17-18). Solomon asked rhetorically, “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy” (Proverbs 27:4). In other words, who can surf Pinterest and not be drowned by the wave of envy?

That said, God also revealed that He is jealous for His name (Ezekiel 39:25); His very name is Jealous (Exodus 34:14). He is jealous for His people (Joel 2:18; Zechariah 1:14, 8:2). It’s appropriate for husbands to be jealous for their wives.

What makes jealousy either demonic or divine? Our hearts. What are we afraid to lose? Are we zealous for what is right or are we zealous to define what is right? Do we want what we want because we want to conform to reality or because we want to conform reality to our perceived rights? One is heavenly, the other hellish, and we need to confess any wrong we find before battle breaks out.

Getting up from the Table

A lot of things happened when the sun went down Thursday evening of Passion Week. Too much, in fact, for the disciples to process until after the resurrection. They were caught in the whirlwind. Yet Jesus planted an unmistakable reference point when He wrapped a towel around Himself in John 13.

We don’t believe that foot-washing is an ordinance such as baptism or communion. Jesus commanded His disciples to follow His example to serve one another and washing the Twelve’s feet was an illustration, not the institution of a formal ceremony. Yet we rarely consider that the context of the Lord’s Table is when the Lord got up from the table to do the servant’s work.

When we eat and drink, part of us should object, just as Peter initially objected to the Lord washing his feet. It’s not right for the Lord to die for us. That’s not His place. He’s too good for that. We’re right in one way, and yet we’re called to live and die and serve and love others just as He did.

While He lived, the Lord served those He loved. When He died, the Lord loved those He served. He condescended to our weakness. He overcame our pride by His humility. He spent His mortality to purchase our eternal life. Though He is the only-begotten Son of God, He wasn’t grabby about His position, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, in order to bring many sons to glory.

We’re part of His family now, so we must use all that He has given us to serve others. Sharing the Lord’s Supper together reminds us how to do it.

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18, ESV)

Who Told You That?

One great success of Christians in our culture can be seen by considering one great criticism from the culture against Christians. One of the most frequent and vigorous judgments is that we don’t love each other.

This judgment is grounded in truth. Jesus said that Christians should love one another sacrificially just as He did and obviously so that the world can see.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35, ESV)

It is good that the world knows what we’re supposed to be doing. But how did they even grasp how to grade our assigned work? We gave them the answer key. Nature teaches them that God is powerful but nature doesn’t teach them about love. God’s Word teaches that God is love and that He commands us to love. Christians have translated and printed and preached the Word so that our society breathes that assumption.

When your kid asks from the back seat why you’re going so fast, remember that you’re the one who explained to them what speed limit signs are for. Unbelievers may point out our responsibilities even though they may not like the standard or plan to apply the standard to themselves. Fine, but at least least they know the law. That’s good.

It’s bad that it is so obvious that we aren’t obeying. They know we’re His disciples because we love to talk about all the Greek words for love. We’ve become like a team of 500 pound nutritionist bloggers and the irony is heavy.

The answer here isn’t for Christians to be secretive about Jesus’ commands. The answer isn’t to hide the truth from our kids about the requirements of speed limit signs. The cultural accountability is good; we want them to know the Bible and we want them to watch our lives. We’ve gotten what we’ve asked for, but we haven’t lived up to our press. Let’s continue to paint the target for our culture to criticize us but let’s also give them no ammo to shoot at us.

All Poor Devils

In light of all the reasons God gives us to be grateful–as a society, a church, in our families, and on the nitty-gritty of our dinner tables–why do so many grumble? We whine because we want to be God. Here’s a dependable observation from a dubious source, Friedrich Nietzsche.

There is a powerful causal drive within [man]: someone must be to blame for feeling bad…And waxing indignant makes him feel better, too: all poor devils take pleasure in cursing, it gives them a little rush of power. (Twilight of the Idols)

In other words, complaining is the closest we get to being God. We know that we can’t actually control anything but if we complain about it, then we can at least make ourselves feel like we are above the problems. Only those who aren’t trying to be God can thank God for whatever He gives. Otherwise we’ll just be fussy devils.

The Lard from a Nickel

My dad’s dad and mom lived during the depression. My granddad (who I never met) used to say about my dad’s mom that she was so tight with money that she’d “skin a nickel to get the lard out of it.” In a similar way we ought to squeeze thankfulness out of any and every situation, even when the situation seems anything but fat for gratitude.

In what circumstances did the Lord institute His supper of communion? The night before He was betrayed (1 Corinthians 11:23). Yet when Jesus took the bread and the cup, what did He do? He gave thanks.

I’ve mentioned before that the Lord’s Supper is sometimes called the Eucharist. In our day, usually only the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox refer to this ordinance by that name. That’s too bad we have so much vocabulary baggage to carry around with us. The word eucharist comes from the Greek word eucharisteo which means, “I give thanks,” the word found in Matthew 26:26-27, Mark 14:23, Luke 22:19-20, and the passage from 1 Corinthians mentioned above. The noun form, eucharistia, means “thanksgiving.” Eucharist is a great word; communion is a thanks-meal.

I’m thankful that God has grown our congregation into giving thanks at communion rather than giving up, that we eat and drink with more gratitude than guilt. In fact, guilt makes the focus wrong. Gratitude is the only way to have Christ as the centerpiece. We come to this table not so that we can be more fastidious in finding sin but rather so that we can be more faithful in giving thanks to our Savior.

Full of It

Our God is special. He does things hardly anyone expects though He expects everyone will notice. Paul told the Romans that all men know God but they won’t honor Him or give thanks to Him (Romans 1:21). It strikes me that gospel, the power of God to salvation, goes after the ungrateful. The good news that causes us to be most thankful addresses sinners who are the least thankful.

Salvation, analyzed in one way, is deliverance from ungratefulness. God justifies unthankful men, forgiving them and declaring them innocent of all their thanklessness. God sanctifies men by the gracious work of His Word and Spirit to make a man more thankful. Even the word itself expresses a great measure: thankFUL, or grateFUL. A saved man is full of it, in the right way.

So there are two parts to this exhortation. First, is your thank tank full? If not, you should confess it as sin.

Second, are you faithfully reflecting God to the unthankful around you? Jesus told His disciples,

love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (Luke 6:35, ESV)

Using unthankfulness to fix an unthankful neighbor works as well as using a Brillo pad to fix a scratch on his eyeball. If we obey the command to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thesslalonians 5:18), we may find that thanks is potent to overcome complaints. We won’t overcome evil with grouchiness because God doesn’t.

The Omniscient Forgiver

Last week we learned of new ways that our government has been collecting data on us. Through web visits and wireless communication they gather and sift our locations, our contacts, our interests. They’ve stuck their collective nose where they shouldn’t, though we’ve given them tacit permission by voting for officials who would make us “safe.” Many Americans are surprised, outraged, and probably nervous about being exposed.

Remember, though, that our God knows not only the words we type and text, but the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. We can’t get off His grid. Wherever we go, He is there, attentive and writing it all down. He misses nothing from no one, Americans included.

What does He do with all that? He judges us. He holds us to account. We cannot vote Him out of office nor can we change His policies.

But, for those who are in Christ, there is no condemnation. Have you gossiped, lusted, lied, been lazy, clicked into bad areas of the Internet? God knows. God sent His Son to die for that. We are naked and exposed in heart before His word but we are also clothed and covered in Jesus.

No one will find out anything about you that Jesus didn’t already know when He went to the cross. He’s your defense now, more informed than any Big Brother. He is God, the Omniscient Forgiver. As a prism separates white light into a spectrum of colors, so the cross refracts our punishment onto Christ.

Tightening the Screws

Ambrose Bierce construed the verb “acknowledge” or “confess” in The Devil’s Dictionary as follows: “acknowledgment of one another’s faults is the highest duty imposed by our love of truth.” In other words, the more we are wound by truth the tighter we put the screws on our neighbors.

We love the truth; that’s good and necessary. We are learning to confess sin, to speak the truth about sin, not only for salvation but also for worship. Appropriate confession depends on accurate truth so that we know what should be confessed, so that we don’t chase the standard around like a ball of mercury.

Loving the truth is good, confessing sin is also good. But a great temptation for truth lovers is to see it as our duty to speak about everyone else’s need for confession first. I suppose this is better than seeing no sin at all; at least we acknowledge God’s law. But if we acknowledge the truth and exalt it as the rule of life (which it is) primarily for others (which it isn’t), we double our disobedience. Denial of sin is another sin.

We also make our work double. Approaching confession in this way requires us to regard the truth in one instance and then to disregard it in another, to be smart and then dumb. Many, it seems, listened to Jesus’ words but they did not do them. They both acknowledged His word and refused to acknowledge it. James referred to the hearer-no-doer as a self-deceiver. Self-deception causes self-destructive without self-awareness. The Word is a mirror so that we can see ourselves, not a microscope so that we can scrutinize someone else.

Our highest duty as truth lovers is to love the truth accurately, as it exists on its own, and applicably, as it exposes our hearts. We have plenty to acknowledge at home before we take our show on the road.