Tag Archives: obedience

Fire and Brimstone

“It is worth noting that the ‘fire and brimstone’ school of theology who revel in ideas such as that Christ was made a sacrifice to appease an angry God, or that the cross was a legal transaction in which an innocent victim was made to pay the penalty for the crimes of others, a propitiation of a stern God, find no support in Paul. These notions come into Christian theology by way of the legalistic minds of the medieval churchmen; they are not biblical Christianity.”
(William Neil in The Cross of Christ by John Stott, p202)

“The cross was not a commercial bargain with the devil, let alone one which tricked and trapped him; nor an exact equivalent…to satisfy a code of honour or technical point of law; nor a compulsory submission by God to some moral authority above him from which he could not otherwise escape; nor a punishment of a meek Christ by a harsh and punitive Father; nor a procurement of salvation by a loving Christ from a mean and reluctant Father; nor an action of the Father which bypassed Christ as Mediator. Instead, the righteous, loving Father humbled himself to become in and through his only Son flesh, sin and curse for us, in order to redeem us without compromising his own character… The biblical gospel of atonement is God satisfying himself by substituting himself for us.”
(The Cross of Christ by John Stott, p188)

The biblical gospel is one that promises peace with God and a life of holiness. This is a gift of God; faith. Knowing God and his peace is our rock and foundation in good times and in troubled times. The gift is precious and it breaks our hard hearts so that we might receive grace to live in the knowledge of our own forgiveness.

Our lives so often are at odds with this truth, as we live as part of the world. Through the message of the cross we discover God is above all, through all and in all; a redeeming presence in our lives to free us from the bonds of sin. We find a calling to live as the redeemed in the world, as those not of the world.

We are forgiven, is a sweet sustaining truth that anchors us in the storms of the day. God is good. As we feed on this truth it enters us, we digest it and we are formed by it. Yes, God is good. Our hearts are stirred by it but, how often do our stomachs churn as we encounter our own failings, our own culpability in the injustice and cruelty of our times? What was sweet to the taste becomes bitter in our stomachs. Our hearts cry out for justice and mercy. As we dwell in the truth and listen to our hearts, the voice of Christ becomes clearer. Being saved is not being self-satisfied and inward looking.

This is what the life of faith looks like. We are given the truth, it sets us free and then we live the truth and grow in the truth. The truth is at odds with the daily life we live. Outwardly, we live and breathe and have our being in a world in bondage to sin, subject to chance and time, but inwardly we carry the presence of God however fragile. Living out the truth and persevering in it forms us.

This life becomes our blessing; strength for the day and hope for tomorrow. As we draw near to God he draws near to us and we are kindled into a life of blessing. However useless we feel, weak in our humanity, it is enough to live by our revelation in our heart.

This is becomes the power of our testimony. It doesn’t look like much of a victory. Is this how we proclaim that God is alive and active a counter narrative whispers? We can think that in the face of martyrdom we might stand and it would be glorious. But standing in the onslaughts of the day is a testimony?

How many times does the accuser parade our failings before us and the Father? How many times does the accuser, our adversary, parade our failings before God? My pitiful failings paraded before my Father in heaven? Surely they deny the truth of my salvation Satan insinuates.

To be martyred is to be wondered at, but the daily onslaught of stress, emotional vulnerability and the expectations of life- the daily grind of troubles is poisonous. What can we do? What can we say? We proclaim Christ crucified. His death has saved me from sin. The cross is the victory. As we gaze on the cross are we healed?

We live this life of hope in contrition; brokenness in the face of our own fallibility and find victory in the knowledge of the Holy. It is enough. This is God’s grace to us and his peace in us.

Look at Revelation 14: 18 – 20

 …“Swing your sickle now to gather the clusters of grapes from the vines of the earth, for they are ripe for judgement.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and loaded the grapes into the great wine-press of God’s wrath. 20 The grapes were trampled in the wine-press outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine-press in a stream about 180 miles[d]long and as high as a horse’s bridle.

Here it is, fire and brimstone to shock you. Not in the Old Testament but at the end of the New. Having taken the message so far set before us, we might have hoped that John’s long journey of faith might have resulted in a gentler gospel. Have we been led astray by our own sentimentalism so far? Am I speaking peace where there is no peace and we should be more fearful that our actual condition is that God is holding on to us as we dangle over the abyss, only to let go of our hands to let us slip at the last in to the pit where we deserve to be as some have suggested?

The grapes are fully ripe and are being piled up into the winepress of God’s wrath where holy feet trample on them, releasing their juice. The blood of the evil ones rises as high as a horse’s bridle for miles. The fruitfulness of the grapes is their evil. The whole event takes place outside the gates of the city. The image is of God treading to a pulp those who have not repented and are evil and their blood is a symbol of death.

God has allowed the fruit to ripen; evil comes to its full fruition by God’s will. God allows it to flourish. This is the reality- the real world. Hope calls in the face of daily evil and together we are taught to pray for deliverance from evil. Hope is that, in the end, God’s wrath wreaks vengeance on evil and treads out the life of all evil. God’s goodness is satisfied as, in wrath he at the last treads out the life of the evil. Vengeance belongs to God but none the less there is vengeance, fulfilling a visceral need in our being.

Maybe we recoil at the monster God portrayed, and wonder how we can trust him when he teaches us to love our enemies then tramples to death his enemies. Where has the message of the gospel gone that enables us to forgive? Are we fearful that we have not forgiven enough to be forgiven and we will find ourselves in the winepress? Or is our comfort, there is no winepress? Silly John!

The story of the cross tells us Jesus was taken outside the city gates and he took the wrath of God in our place. Jesus’ blood flowed outside the city gates. God in Christ gave himself so that we are not crushed. God is satisfied in substituting himself for us so that in Christ he is crushed. The blood of Christ was shed for all men; it was a mighty flow.

The blood that flows, I see as the blood of Christ. Can this gruesome picture awaken in us the scale of what Christ has achieved? Do we come closer to understanding what Christ has achieved by looking at the violent portrayals of God and realise they have achieved their fullness on the cross? In the disgust, can we feel wonder? How is this good is rational question? As it lays bare our doubt, can we find reassurance?

Jesus gave himself for our sins, for now, for today. The evil, present age has an end and God is good. I hold there is a hell for the evil, but that where Jesus finds life, it is his nature to redeem life. What is God like? Look at the cross. As to what hell looks like, look at the cross. And as has been said by another, heaven is not yesterday or tomorrow but here and now, the ever-present age revealed in Christ.

Galatians 1:3-5

May God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ[b] give you grace and peace. 4 Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. 5 All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.

 

Wisdom

Our hearts are so precious; the place of God’s image; our source of life.

Abraham in faith seeks to sacrifice Isaac, Paul kills Christians and Peter keeps Torah. All done in Faith and God supernaturally moves them on. The power of the Cross is there – there is forgiveness; an angel speaks; scales fall from eyes and deep dreams transform faith. There is no condemnation and we are called into this way of being.

Our faith is transfigured by an encounter with God and God is glorified in our moving in faith as we are emptied of our selves and filled by him. Christ is trustworthy and will guide us. We live in forgiveness, loved through the grace of the Cross and are empowered to live a better way.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/ygnuu-625fe5

The Church: Obedience

0114e7e9f3d2e10e4b0116d19ed122351f02947aa7Sunday 7th August 2016

Leviticus 19:1-18

Matthew 13:24-43

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

 

When we say that faith is a hope in something not yet seen, it is a hook, I believe, into something that makes the scriptures come alive. It helps us see the true nature of the Bible’s progressive revelation and the trajectory of this revelation: where it’s going, and invites us to obey.

I am beginning to be able to articulate this, but still struggling. Faith, I am coming to see, as hugely important in our walk together with God. And why? It starts with our creation in his image. God created us to be in relationship with him. Our purpose is to know him and glorify him and worship him in spirit and truth, flowing for ever and ever.

When we read that God told… God said… God showed… then we are hearing the stories of men and women like us who heard God and acted in faith on what they heard. What is God saying? He is saying here I am! He is speaking of his nature. He is the Word that is in all and upholds all and at the centre of his creation is us, you and me, made in God’s image, able to relate to him in our spirits. God brings life to our spirits and we hear him. We hear him in our spirits, in our hearts, in the seat of our being. He shepherds us and we know his voice- this is the promise given to us followers of Christ. Our faith leads us to act on what we hear so that we come to know the One who speaks. As we act we learn to recognise and relate to God speaking. Faith hears and acts in obedience.

I believe God’s desire is that he is glorified in our obedience. What I am beginning to understand is that God speaks and we in hearing make real choices that transform us. These choices come from who we are: God wants us to be transformed by our choices into an ever closer knowing of him.

When the biblical heroes of the faith hear and obey it looks messy. The unchanging voice of God is made flesh in who they are. God becomes present in their choices and transforms them. Into their obedience he speaks visions, dreams, angels and appearances of Glory- he transforms their step of faith through an encounter with his presence. The event of his appearing brings something more precious out of their obedience. But these events leave each free to choose. Faith brings the will of man to a place where God is able to reveal his perfect, sovereign will and this faith is counted as righteousness.

We need to look carefully when we read the stories in the Bible. We know that all righteousness is found in Christ. Christ is the express Image of God – in him we see God. God speaks redemption and we hear repent. God strengthens the broken hearted and the contrite. In our spirits, our faith is that in Christ God is able to forgive and in the Cross we are made righteous. In Jesus we know our faith is perfected: our step of faith is made perfect in the revelation of our salvation through the life giving blood of Christ. In this knowledge we read the scriptures.

The heroes of the faith show us that whenever people approach God with broken and contrite hearts in faith, they are made righteous. In Christ the mystery of how is revealed. God is unchanging; he is faithful to forgive in all time. Our highest calling is to faith and the revelation of saving grace in our actions transforms us. Our sure foundation is revealed.

Our faith deepens so that we are not deflected from the good works God has called us to. As a body who believe in the appearing of Christ, our faith makes us co-workers with him and heirs of the promise in Abraham. All people are to be blessed through our faith in Christ. The promise to Abraham is for a nation; the promise in Christ is transformed to be for the whole world.

So when the faith of the heroes of the Bible looks messy, we can be encouraged not confused. We can take encouragement that faith looks messy. The reason for this is because we and they are messed up by sin. God deals with us where we are at and where faith hears God, it is heard in spirit and truth so that our way and life are transformed. The transformation comes in obeying.

It is so precious when we step out in faith and have a conviction and a purpose. It is so precious we must cultivate faith for each other that God is fully able to make himself present through his gifts to the church so that each of us is transformed and built up in our faith to become more like Christ. This is so precious, we need to be attentive in the church and know God’s voice in our being together.

Our life together needs to be alive with God’s voice so that faith is perfected. We must not rush in, but allow God to work- we must trust that we are messed up- all have sinned- but we are all moving to a deeper revelation. In admonishing one another, in our encouraging, in our setting out rules of conduct and agreeing boundaries for the lawless, our faith is that we are all free in Christ. He is the Lord. We are called to freedom in Christ.

We can expect and trust that God will speak to bring order and peace. God will speak and we must weigh up through scripture and wider teaching how we are to obey. We have the Holy Spirit and the tyranny of the crowd or the oppression of sinful leadership is disarmed by the Cross. We are commanded to judge a tree by its fruits and to abide in Christ. Don’t let anyone kid you that the lack of evidence in their hot air is because of your unbelief.

Honouring our leaders, we follow the way of peace and humility so that we are brought to that place of faith so that in our brokenness we can claim, I have no need of a teacher: the Lord is my teacher. Our purpose in the church is to deepen the faith of our brothers and sisters so that all peoples are blessed and see Jesus in our life together. In the assurance of the saving Cross of Jesus, we bring life to those around us. We are in the world but not of the world, because we know a higher calling to faith in God the author of our salvation. In our knowing of Christ, our being together, our service and our reading of scripture, there is the revelation of the Holy Spirit- faith. Faith brings us to the place of walking with God- communion; to know God and become his presence in creation. This is a high calling, a deep principal, a mystery revealed in Christ.

Christ within is the hope of glory. There is no higher principle. Faith comes by hearing and we together must speak out the word of salvation. This is our purpose. This is our calling.

So, in our messed up lives, in our circumstances, in our suffering and disappointments; when we have come to the point of despair and mental fragility, we must share the glimmer of hope- the place of faith. We must speak out of our circumstances words of healing for ourselves and for others. People need to hear God’s word speaking out of our weakness and struggle. We may wrestle our whole lives and be hobbled by our struggle but in it we need to allow our faith to find life in God – even such a tiny seed of faith- safe in the knowledge that the world to be blessed. This faith will grow into a tree to shelter others who need sheltering and those around will find a perch to settle on.

We are perfected in Christ and made righteous by faith; let us not convince ourselves this is the work of our own hands. Grasp grace and treasure faith: it is God who waters the seed of faith and nurtures the growth- rest and know peace- be still and know God. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Let the teaching of Christ- his voice speaking to us, deepen our foundations so that we may stand firm in the days of trial. Be the ones who take and receive more, who through faithfulness in obedience are ready. You have a purpose- the church has a purpose- God can take our meagre fragments of faith and feed the thousands.

Leave the weeding to the Angles. Do not be deceived, our purpose is not to gather enough people to ourselves so that we can say, Here we are, and exclude those who are not us. They might carry the very breath of God.