Bad Karma Makes the Gospel Glorious

karmaThe gospel is beautiful because God is glorious us and we are not.

When Jesus assumes his heavenly state in Matthew 17, Peter, James and John fall on their face in holy terror.

The apostles knew they were not holy. Jesus had already rebuked Peter for identifying with the teachings of Satan. Indeed the words of Psalm 14:2-3 well described the apostles and by extension all of humanity. The text declares:

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

Jesus agrees proclaiming, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” Paul concludes that every soul lacks the glorious purity of God. They are “hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.” The holy terror that gripped the apostles should grip our souls as we contemplate being in the presence of God.

Despite this reality, Jude 24 declares that God will present believers blameless before the glory of God with great joy. Those who should fall down in terror because of their sin will walk boldly into the throne room with smiles beaming from their faces. How does this happen?

It’s not Karma. Despite the popular notion that humanity can overcome its bad Karma with good Karma, the Scriptures paint a much bleaker picture of human ability. Isaiah 64:6 state that

All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.

We cannot earn our way to heaven. Why?

Men and women exist to glorify God. Even those times when we gave to charity, played ball with our kid, and volunteered at the shelter fail to add positive value to our good Karma tank if we did them to get rid of some nagging guilt or to impress our spouse. Any action that that does not make directly glorify God is worthless. Our good karma will never outweigh our bad karma, because we never do anything good.

The gospel becomes amazing at this point. Jesus came to do what we could not do. He lived the perfect life that we could not live. He did good and did it abundantly. The moment we repent and believe, Jesus will transfer his righteous life to us and takes all our bad karma onto himself. Jesus does what our karma cannot do. He makes us holy.

Jesus does what our karma cannot do. He makes us holy.

And we know he can make this trade. He has wiped out our debts on the cross and then risen again to validate his claims of deliverance. Paul beautifully sums up the gospel when he writes,

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Those who have repented of their sins and who have trusted in Jesus for salvation have ever reason to rejoice. The impossible has become possible. The terror has been replaced with joy. When we arrive at heaven, we will not experience judgement but joy.

Death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, no pain anymore.

Revelation 21:4

Though viruses may spread, though false teachers may abound, and though persecutions may come, the believer has nothing to fear because Jesus has died for her sins. God will one day present her “blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy.” The early church martyr Ignatius said, “Bring on all the hideous tortures from the Devil! Just let me get to Jesus.”

Let’s get to Jesus! Are you ready?

Identifying Fake Christians: Teachers of Dreams

spy blogSatanic spies have infiltrated the church, intent on wrecking the peace, unity, and doctrines of God’s people. While Bunyan’s Christian saw Formalist and Hypocrisy jump over the wall of salvation onto the narrow way, the average Christian seldom encounters such open hostility to the kingdom of God. Those who enter the church without passing through the hill of calvary at first appear to be as devoted to God as those who entered by the narrow gate.
Aware of this troubling reality, Jude tells Christians how to discern between true and disingenuous faith. Those who serve Satan reveal their true character by appealing to dreams to encourage sexual immorality, to deny the authority of Jesus, and to blaspheme angels.
Though most modern Christian would look crossed at anyone who said they slept with their Bible under their pillow and awoke the next morning with a special message from God, dreams remained a valid means of divine communication in the biblical era. God communicated to Joseph and the wisemen through dreams. Daniel and Joseph also received communications from God while sleeping. The satanic spies of Jude’s day did not dance off into imaginary land when they spoke of dreams. They erred not in claiming to have access to God’s word. They erred because they misrepresented God’s word. They took God’s clear commands about purity and obedience and twisted them into stating the opposite. Sexual sin was now licensed, encouraged, and permitted. The deity of Jesus was doubted. Feelings, human experience, and internal emotion became the defining marks of the false teachers. They prefaced their statements with, “Thus said the Lord” and then proceed to devote to deny the clear revelation of the Scriptures. Jeremiah laments

How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? 28 Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. (Jer. 23:26-27).

Not all who claim to know God’s word truly know it. Not ever pastor, parachurch leader, and professor who proclaims to speak for Jesus speaks for Jesus. Many claim to be speaking for him while allowing young men and women to engage in sexual sin. They say God would not give us urges if he did not want us to exercise them. They give license to divorce, abortion, and homosexuality as well. The false teachers must license and encourage sexual sin for “sexual immorality, impurity, and sensuality” are the works of the flesh (Gal 5:19). They lack the power of God found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ to overcome their own sin. Thus, they indulge in sexual sin and encourage others to do so for they know nothing else.
When they deny God’s sexual ethic, they also undermine the whole gospel. Jesus restricted sexual expression to the marriage bed stating,

“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. (Matt 19:4-6).

If Jesus misunderstood God’s sexual ethic, humanity has little reason to trust Jesus salvific teachings. He ceases to be the God, man who holds the universe together. He becomes a inspiring but somewhat antiquated religious sage. The false teachers destroy the authority of the Gospel, proclaiming God to be evolving.
Such denials feed upon logical insecurity. The Christian faith does not evolve from age to age. Jude encourages men and women to contend for the faith because it was “once for all delivered to the saints.” Any message from God will align with all of the earlier messages from God. John 15:26-27 reminds its readers that,

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

God works in unison with himself. The Father, the Son, and Spirit all promote the same message. To pit one against the other in the name of relevance, culture revolution, or love is to defame the very word of God. Those who say “Thus says the Lord” and then proceed to deny the content of the Bible have never walked up the hill of Calvary and repented of their sins.

Have you entered by the narrow gate? What comes after, “Thus says the Lord?”

Jesus’s Story Beats Every Other Christmas Story

Christmas-storyIf we got to write the Christmas story, I believe we would flip the story upside down. Instead of God coming to us, we would go to God. Walking through a divine portal brought into existence through some form of trauma we would arrive in heaven to sing songs and to hand Jesus some presents. Books such as Heaven is For Real, 90 Minutes in Heaven, and My Journey to Heaven are just some of the many stories the describe humanity reaching up to God. Yay us!

We think God and heaven are within our reach because our fallen hearts are quick to deny their fallenness. Most every fictional Christmas story from The Christmas Carol to The Grinch That Stole Christmas believes humanity can save itself. If we give Ghosts, Christmas songs, magical snow, and goodwill a chance, we can be confident that our hearts will grow the three sizes needed to crave the roast beast at Christmas.

But despite all our hopes, we haven’t been able to grow our hearts even one size…much less the fix world at large. We are still singing Stevie Wonder’s song wondering when if ever, “we’ll see a land With no hungry children, no empty hand.” Despite the promises of Christmas fiction which resonate with our belief that heaven is within our grasp, we never achieve the “Peace on Earth,” promised in all those Christmas stories  Boys are still playing with bombs, kids in Africa are still hungry, and our families are still dealing with depression.

Should we give up on the whole Christmas Spirit thing, then?

No! Christmas Spirit exists because God got the story right. God knows we cannot reach heaven. He knows we are frail sinners living in a broken an distraught world. He knows we need help. We have all lied, cheated, stolen, gotten angry, or spread some office gossip at some point. And he who commits one sin deserves death. “The wages of sin is death (Rom. 3:23).” Because we are sinners infused with death and devoid holiness we cannot sneak into heaven. The magic portal is closed. We cannot live with our holy, loving and perfect God. We are fallen and he is not. If he allowed sinners into heaven, he would cease to be good, loving, and just.  For evil has no place with goodness. Drug dealers don’t belong in baby nurseries and sinners don’t belong in heaven. We need help!

It comes!

 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. – Luke 2:9-11. 

That is the beauty of the Christmas story. Christ came down to live with us. And he came down to poor parent and slept in a dirty manager in a stinky barn. As Paul David Tripp rightly notes: “Most of us would be in a complete panic if we had to birth a baby in such conditions.” Yet, God chose a manager because he came to suffer for us. His whole life and death was offering to good to pay for our mistakes and errors. He came to live the lives that we are supposed to live. He suffered all the disappointments that we suffer. But he always responded with faith and love; we often respond with disbelief and anger

British novelist Dorothy Sayer captured the true meaning of Christmas when she wrote:

 He himself has gone through the whole human experience – from trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and a lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, death…He was born in poverty and…suffered infinite pain – all for us – and thought it worth his while.

Jesus died on the cross because he loved his children. He did not die for his sins. He died to pay for the sins of his of those who repent and believe. He died so that he could bring many sons to glory!

The Christmas story is worth celebrating precisely because we did not write it: we did not go up; Christ came down! Don’t you agree?