Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Essay #3: Back to the BIG Questions

In the last essay I posted the following questions:

If you are a Christian, are all your sins forgiven?  If you die with unredeemed sins, do you go to heaven or hell?  Do you have to be “prayed up” before you die?

Here is my understanding of the answers to these questions.

First we need to understand that the original covenant (agreement) between man and God involved the blood sacrifice of animals as an atonement (payment) for man’s sins against God.  As the basic economy of the times involved the ownership of animals, sacrificing one that could have been sold at market would be a sacrifice for the ancient peoples.  We see this in the Old Testament book of Leviticus chapter 4, verse 35 “The priest shall make an atonement for his sin that he had committed, and it shall be forgiven him.”

  A covenant is an official agreement between two parties and in ancient days was sealed by blood sacrifices.  So what Jesus did was to become the atonement for the remission of man’s sins against God, and this sacrifice is an eternal agreement between man and God sealed in Jesus’ blood.

  So what does “remission” mean?  It does mean forgiveness, but it also means to send away.  So when Jesus died, he did it as atonement (payment) for humanity’s sins, and the sins that separate us from God are forever sent away in a holy covenant (agreement) between God and man. 

  Jesus explained this in Matthew 26:28, “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”  In this way, Jesus became the fulfillment of the Law of Moses, the ultimate atonement for man’s sins.

So, was this divine atonement of God sacrificing himself as act of redemption (forgiveness) and remission, creating a new covenant only for our past sins? Future sins?  All sins? 

Ephesians 1:7 says “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”  Colossians 1:14 states that “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.”  I like the God’s Word Translation of 1995 of this verse, it reads: “His Son paid the price to free us, which means that our sins are forgiven.”  Romans 3:24 states that we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  Ephesians 2:8 states that “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”  This means that grace (forgiveness through Christ’s sacrifice) is not something that we can earn, or be good enough to get, because God did it for man, as a gift to man.  The sacrifice proves God’s love for us.  All we have to do is to accept that gift and acknowledge Christ as our personal savior.  In this way we are “freely justified.” 

Even better is that we are eternally justified!  Hebrews 9:15 states that “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”

So all sins are forgiven.  Everyone’s sins are forgiven.  We can now live in true communion with God.  Our sins no longer separates us from God’s eternal love.  We are redeemed (forgiven) and our sins are cast away (remission) so that we may receive our eternal inheritance.

So the answer is Yes, if you are a Christian all your sins are forgiven.  What do we have to do to receive this grace?  Accept Christ as our savior, understand that he died for our sins, and to adopt a spirit of repentance towards sin. 

So what does it mean to repent.  The original word meant to “turn around, or turn away from.”  So if you have not repented, are you forgiven of your sins?  See the answer to the first question, “All sins are forgiven.” 

We are called to “Repent and hear the Good News.” (Mark 1:15).  So in our actions of accepting Christ, we must first repent of our sins.  This is what it means to be “reborn” as a new person in Christ.  This is not a free pass to sin, but as a true Christian, you would not want to do these things, you would want to seek Christ and have that personal relationship with God.  Think of it as that little voice of conscience telling you that something you are doing is wrong.  If you are seeking God, preserving that personal relationship with him, than you will know.

So what about our unrepented sins?  They are forgiven too!  That’s GRACE.  We will all die with certain sins that are unrepented.  You may not even know that something you did was a sin, or perhaps you didn’t have time to repent in prayer about something before that bus hit you.  The Good News is that Christ died  for ALL our sins, that whomsoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

Hope this answered those tough questions.  Remember, speak to your pastor, priest, church leader, or lay Christian, read the Bible, and pray and you will know the truth.

God bless you all,


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Essay Number Two: What is Sin?

So, what is sin?  Why is it important?  Can a non-believer sin?  If you are a Christian, are all your sins forgiven?  If you die with unredeemed sins, do you go to heaven or hell?  Do you have to be “prayed up” before you die?

Again, these are heavy questions and are often debated amongst various Christian denominations and non-believers.  Before I get to the answers as I understand them, I have to restate that I am learned in the Wesleyan tradition and my understanding comes from my understanding of the Bible, reason, experience, and church traditions.  Some Christians will disagree with what I’m about to discuss.  That’s a good thing.  We should all seek the Lord with “fear and trembling.”  Remember I grew up in the Church of God, Assembly of God, and Baptist churches, but I have become a Methodist for many reasons that sit well with my soul.

So what is sin?  Dictionaries often define it as a transgression against a religious or moral law; deliberate disobedience to the will of God; or a condition of estrangement from God resulting in disobedience that is often shameful, deplorable, or utterly wrong.

My understanding is that sin is when mankind makes a choice to be disobedient to God’s will, to separate from Him, to live without Him, to break the relationship with God.  We do this by choosing to do things that hurt our relationship with God.  When we put other things before doing His will, we hurt that relationship.  For instance, we may choose sex, work, drinking, drugs, or anything that is purely ego-centric that does nothing to further the kingdom of God.  These things may be crimes, but they do not have to be. 

So what is God’s will?  Jesus told us in Matthew 22:36 to 40.  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment?”  Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.”

So we are to love God, have a real relationship with him by keeping him in our hearts, our souls, and our minds (reason) and to show this love by how we treat others.  Notice he does not say, “Treat other Christians” or “Treat only your denomination” or “Treat only people who agree with us”, but he says, “Treat all people (neighbors), as you would like to be treated.  Love them as you love yourself.”
I think the greatest sins we commit are by not representing Christ to others.  Not showing love, understanding, forgiveness, respect, or charity for others. 

Adam and Eve willingly sinned against God.  They made a choice to taste the Tree of Knowledge, and in so doing broke the relationship man had with God.  If a wife or husband lies to their spouse, does this hurt the marriage relationship?  Of course it does.  The same is true here.  To make sin even worse, it is in direct opposite of God’s Love.  In effect God cannot look upon sin, as it is an anathema to His divine character. 

So man chooses to break the relationship with God, to deny God’s will for our lives, to live in a selfish, egotistical lifestyle that is man centered, not God centered.  So now God cannot look upon us, as man has basically divorced himself from God.  Sin has caused the death of man, the end our spiritual relationship with God, and the death of our bodies.  And don’t think that Christians are immune to sin!  Paul writes in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of God.”  Sin is universal.  Romans 5:12 states “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all have sinned.”  Those who live self-righteous, outwardly pious lives are not better than anyone else in God’s eyes, as “There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10).  So we chose to live apart, to not follow God’s will, and selfishly seek our own earthly things such as power, money, sex, and influence.  This all leads to death, destruction, and nothing we make or do on this earth will last forever.  So what can we do about it?  What can Man do?  Nothing!  It is not in our power to fix this problem.  This is what we mean by man living in a fallen state. You can’t be good enough, do enough, love enough, sacrifice enough, tithe enough, to earn your way to heaven, to heal the broken relationship with God.

God allowed us to try.  He created the Law and allowed man to try to live righteous lives under it, to sacrifice, to tithe, to keep His commandments.  But it was impossible.  Man couldn’t do it, and the Old Testament proves mans failure at this time and time again.  The problem is that now that we have knowledge of Good and Evil, sin is beguiling, enticing, sexy, and deceitful.  It makes us believe that we don’t need a relationship with God.

So, the relationship is broken, we can’t fix it, all mankind is doomed for our own love of the earthly things.  Are eternally doomed to death?  Is the God of Love done with us?  Is there no hope?

  The greatest love ever shown was given to humanity by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Because through it all, everything truly goes back to God seeking us. 

  God wanted a relationship with us. He wanted us and loved us so much, that he sent a part of Himself to become human to repair our relationship with him. Think about this. It’s all about God seeking Man. It is not about what man can do to achieve or be worthy of God. In Christianity there is nothing we human beings can do to be worthy of Heaven, of a relationship with the Creator of everything. He sought us and is still seeking us. That’s amazing and one of a kind in the religions of the world. That’s Grace. God seeking us. God seeking you.
  Jesus, though fully human, was sinless. He was obedient to God’s will and as such became the sacrifice necessary to pay the costs of our sins (death), so that we might have eternal, glorious life with God. He died on a cross for the redemption of our sins. He paid the cost of our sins. My sins. Your sins.

He suffered and died on that cross for me, for you, for all humanity for all times and places. But you want to hear something that will blow your mind? He would have done it just for you. If you were the only one willing to follow him, accept him, he would have suffered all that, for you.

As he was dying, he asked God to “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

And he died. 

Three days later he was resurrected and defeated sin and death, thereby establishing a permanent relationship between people who accept Him into their heart and the God of everything.  Remember that God couldn’t look upon sin?  Once you accept Christ as your savior, accept Him to live within you, you become a changed person.  Christians say you have been reborn.  Now when God looks upon you, he sees Christ.  Your sins have been forgiven, you have been redeemed, the eternal relationship between God and man has been restored.

Why was Christ’s sacrifice important? Imagine an eternal gulf between God and man. God cannot look upon sin, so the pure spirit of God could not cross the gulf that divides us. Man, in his sinful state cannot cross the Gulf to reach God. But Christ, who was fully human, and fully God can cross the gulf. See Christ was human and divine, and he was sinless. He paid the price for all our sins, so when God sees us after we have accepted Jesus into our hearts, he sees Christ in us. He sees us without sin. That’s why only Christ could cross the gulf and save us, redeem us, and allow us to join him for eternity in fellowship with God and one another.

God Seeking Us. God Seeking you. That’s grace. Do you have grace? Do you know him? Do you want to? Simply ask Him into your life.  Tell Him you want a relationship with Him.  You will be amazed at the transformation, the peace, and the hope and joy He offers you.

Until next time.  I’ll be praying for you.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Essay Number One: Why are we Here?

This is one of the most basic of human questions regarding God and our place in the universe.  Why are we here?  What is our purpose?  What are we supposed to do in this very short life-span that would enable us to have everlasting life with God?  Can we earn our way to heaven?  Can we be good enough? Can we ever hope to have true knowledge that we are saved?  What keeps us from accepting God's love? Does He have a plan for us?  For you?  Is everything that happens part of his divine plan?

Wow...I may have bitten off more than I can chew here, but I'll try to explain to the best of my limited ability what I've come to understand as basic truths for my Christian walk with God.  I decided to do this series of essays for my non-Christian friends who see all Christians the same and identify them as hypocrites, haters, bigots, etc.  I hope what I write here makes sense, and I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide my thoughts as I attempt to explain my beliefs.

So, first question, Why are we here?  I think we must begin in Genesis.  God created the world (universe) and loved it.  He said it was "Good!"  So many people today think the world is bad, evil, corrupt, that it is a horrible place.  Wrong.  Remember "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whomever believes in Him shall not perish but have ever-lasting life."  The World, the people in it, the universe, it's all Good in God's eyes.

So God created everything and it was all Good.  The story continues as God creates light, day and night, the earth and the seas, the plants and animals and humanity which the Bibles states was created, "in our own image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth."

He created mankind in his image.  I believe this is the spirit within us, the divine spark, that makes us different from the animals.  It is a connection to God.  It is why people, even Athiests, are constantly searching for something more, better, solutions, ideas, and beliefs.  We are hardwired to God.  Why?  I'll get to that... for now just understand that His creation was good, and that he created us in His likeness spiritually.  He then gave us "dominion" over the earth.  As God is the ruler of all of creation, man is his caretaker.  We are to take care of his creation, the animals, the land, the water, etc.  He created us to have a relationship with Him, to be caretakers of the creation he loves, and to choose to love Him.  It's the choice that makes the big difference here.  God gave man Free Will to decide if we wish to follow God's way, or our own.  When we choose to go against God, to break that relationship with him, we are in a state of sin.  Sin is simply anything that comes between man and God.  Why would God allow sin?  He does it so that we might choose to love Him.  If there is no free will, then we would simply be slaves and automatons doing everything he required, but without joy, knowledge, bliss, or most importantly love.  You cannot force love.  Love is a choice we make, an acceptance of our feelings, a reaction to others.

Remember that hardwiring I spoke of earlier?  This is why we have it, so that we can know divine love and mercy and the free will allows us the right to choose to love in return.  God wants a personal relationship with every one of us.  Yes, I agree there are some people who you and I would have a difficult time having any sort of relationship with, but God loves them unequivicably, and He loves them as much as he loves any one else!  

So to summarize:  We are created in the image of God, given a divine connection within us, and are to be the caretakers for the good and wonderful universe God created.  He gave us free will to decide if we would love and accept Him, or if we would decide to live in Sin (apart from God), because he wants us to choose to have a personal relationship with Him.  That's divine love.  Remember the old adage "if you love something, set it free, if it comes back it's yours." I think that's a great summary for this essay.  Got that?  

Why are we here?  To love God, to love one another, and to be caretakers of His creation.

What is our purpose?  To have a personal relationship with God. (More on this and how God seeks us later).  

Love to all, remember those who are suffering, in prison, in pain, rejected, and lonely.  Be Christ for someone today.