“From Glory to Glory” The Power of God’s Spirit within Us…*

I went out on my deck this morning knowing that I wanted to write a good blog post this week.  I know my last post of Chapter Nine from The Cross of Christ finished that chapter so now it was time to turn to Stott’s book Basic Christianity.  The topic of chapter 8 in Basic “The Salvation of Christ” with the subtopic “The Spirit of Christ.”

Then I heard, felt and saw the rustling of the wind in the trees…

I know that many Christians are taught that the “Spirit of Christ” (the Holy Spirit) is like the wind.  John 3: 8 says “the wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.”

I recall my reading about the members of the early church gathered in the upper room, fifty days after Jesus was raised from the grave.  “And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.  And there appeared to them cloven tongues as of fire and they rested on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit was giving them utterance” [Acts 2:1].

When I read Stott’s account of the “Spirit” of Christ for the first time many years ago, I was seeking answers to key questions.  I knew I needed help.  I knew I had spent years climbing the so-called “ladder of success” only to get to the top of that ladder leaving my wife and child behind.  I had a reckoning.  No amount of worldly success was worth the loss of my family.  Losing them meant losing everything for me.  My course correction was Jesus Christ.

Ok, I made my public profession of faith.  I would imagine that anyone who saw me at that time would say that this “guy” needed help.  I was a humbled man.  My life had come apart at the seams and I did not know what to do or where to go.  I had a new strong support group, men who also knew Jesus.  Like many men, I lacked training in how to be a man of God.  I really did not have a clue about how to live a Christian life.

But I did have one very important thing.

I had the Holy Spirit.

“Jesus answered him [Nicodemus], ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God’” [John 31: 3].  Well I felt I was born again.  I wanted to live my life for Christ.  That was certainly a new goal for me, but how was I to do this?  My “old man” was a man of this world, bonded to lustful desires for power, money and recognition.  Work came first, family was way down the line and God was something I just did not have any time for at all.  I needed my Sunday mornings for work.  The whole world was centered around me.  Now the rubble of the past was cleared away and I had a new start, a new life.  My “old man” was stuffed in the bag and slung over my shoulder.  A new man stepped forward, a new man forgiven by God, a God whose Son understood what it felt like to be a human.  He had temptations but He did not give into those.  My, what a goal; to lead a sinless life like Christ!

I could not do it.  I had the desire but I could not eradicate the old habits.  Stott writes “The cause of our sins, therefore is our sin, our inherited nature which is perverted and self-centered.  As Jesus put it, our sins come from within, out of our ‘heart’” [98].  The cause of our sin is rooted in the “original” self-centered sin of Adam and Eve.  Try as hard as I could, the “old man” kept coming out of the bag. 

I had mentors tell me don’t despise the day of small beginnings, don’t say I’ll never be any different.  Don’t say I’m always going to be in bondage to sin.  I will never be free.    

They said thank God for the desire you have, the desire to break from old sinful habits.  Thank God for The Holy Spirit that now resides within you.

That was a revelation!

As Stott writes I felt I was a “New Creation—a new heart, a new nature, a new birth.”  I had begun the inward change brought about by a new righteous attitude.  I found out this does not happen instantly.  It is a process that begins with being saved.  It is a process that is never completed.  Christ lived a sinless life but we don’t have what it takes to live that kind of life.  God and His Son Jesus extend grace to us and the best new title we can have is “sinner saved by grace.”  That is what we will be from the moment we are saved until the moment we go to meet God in heaven.  We will never totally conquer sin because of that inherited sin nature but we can try and I believe the Lord appreciates good efforts.  His Son knows what powerful forces push and pull us away from total dedication to God.

God is still changing me to this very day.  He is on my mind all the time.  Life is not easy for me as it is not easy for everyone.  I have my good times and my bad times.   Problems come and go.  Victories have occurred and then they pass.  Second Corinthians 3: 18 says that God changes us “from glory to glory.”  Even though Satan is always there to trip us up, Jesus has come “to give life and all it fullness” [John 10: 10].  God does not want us mired in sinful life patterns; He wants much more for us.  He wants us to worship Him and produce good fruit in our lives. 

I know it may be confusing for new Christians to hear Jesus compare a righteous person to a tree but the metaphor is a good one.  “Every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit.  A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit” [Matthew 7: 17-18].  Inward change is the process brought about by the Holy Spirit but outward change is the result of this work.  People can evidence a new you by your new behavior.  The Holy Spirit can “make a sour person sweet, a proud person humble or a selfish person unselfish” [98-99]. 

Stott spends four pages on the “Spirit of Christ” and even though he does a good job of introducing the idea, there is much more that could be explained.  More was explained on St. John Studies from June 15, 2018 to April 18, 2019.  I dedicated weekly posts to Billy Graham’s book The Holy Spirit, an extensive discussion of the Third Person of The Trinity. 

Even though over the years I have learned a lot about the Holy Spirit and I have personally experienced the power of The Holy Spirit, I continue to be fascinated by God’s guidance through The Holy Spirit.  I will never totally understand God’s presence in me but I truly appreciate it. 

Even though it is like the wind (“you heard its sound but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going”) it is there.  It provides counsel, comfort, knowledge truth, life, wisdom among many other things. 

All the things we need to go “from glory to glory.”

*I usually try to write a post on Thursday but I have been attending to my mother. Today is the first time I have had to post my comments. She has cancer and now has covid. If anyone reads this and wants to, please pray for Patsy Carter, my Mom.

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Revelation: The Final Victory

As we consider the life of Jesus Christ, most of us tend to emphasize His mission as one of atonement, the reconciliation of God and humankind through His life. For Christians, this is the greatest major accomplishment ever in the history of man, but John Stott writes that Christ (in accomplishing atonement) also conquered evil.  In the post “Crushing the Head of Evil” we confirmed the existence of evil and how some Christians don’t want to deal with that reality even though it is obviously in the world.  In “Freedom from The Law, Flesh, the World and Death” I reported that Stott turns to New Testament writers to explain how Jesus freed us from those four evils that are in the title of the post.  Now as we close chapter 9 of The Cross of Christ, Stott turns to one of the most challenging books of the Bible, the book of Revelation; “No book of the New Testament bears a clearer or stronger testimony to Christ’s victory [over evil] than the Christian apocalypse which we know as the book of Revelation” [241].

Unfortunately for most of us, Revelation is the hardest book to understand in the whole Bible.  It is a record of visions given by God to the Apostle John.  The visions are what the world will be like in the future.  John is a first century man, yet he conveys (through “symbology”) the past, present and future of this world.  His word meanings are obscure and much has been written about his intent.  Yet Stott writes that one thing is very clear: John is declaring that God and Jesus have won the war of good versus evil.

It is also clear that Revelation opens with references to Jesus.  Phrases like “the firstborn of the dead,” “the ruler of the kings of the earth,” “the First and the Last” and “the living One” all mean Jesus Christ, the “risen, ascended, glorified and reigning Lord” [242].  By Revelation 12, Christ is seen as standing in the center of the throne and even though the activity of the first eleven books of Revelation is hard to understand, it is clear that Christ is in control. 

Stott feels the central chapter of Revelation is twelve, when John saw a pregnant woman “who had the sun as her garment, the moon as her footstool and twelve stars as her crown.”  She was about to give birth to a Son whose destiny was to rule all the nations [Jesus].  An enormous red dragon appears in front of the woman [“that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan”].  The dragon is ready to devour her child but God snatches the child and the woman flees to a desert place.  War follows this activity.  As the child goes to heaven, the dragon is hurled from heaven to earth.  The reference in chapter 12 means that victory is accomplished by the “blood of the lamb” and the dragon is “filled with fury, because he knows his time is short” [Revelation 12: 12]. 

At this point the devil has been defeated and dethroned.  He is enraged and even though defeated, his efforts to influence the world are not over.  To wage his war against good, he employs three monsters.

We must remember that John was a first century man, so his references were heavily influenced by the powers in the world at that time.  The first monster arises out of the sea with seven heads and ten horns and the dragon delegates to this creature his power, throne and sovereignty.  The monster is worshipped by all but the Lamb’s followers.  This creature represents the Roman Empire of the First Century but it could also represent all states that oppose Christ, oppress the church and demand allegiance from citizens.  In today’s world one could easily point to Russia and its stance against the church and its cruel war against Ukraine. 

The second monster rises out of the earth.  This monster exercises his authority and promotes his worship.  He is all about deception.  He forces people to worship the image of the first monster and to wear the mark of the beast.  This monster is called “the false prophet.”  In John’s day this monster represented Roman emperor worship but today he could stand for all false religion and ideology, any power that deflects worship to any object other than “the living and true God.” 

The dragon’s third ally is called “the great prostitute.”  Stott says once again, she represents Rome in John’s historical context.  The “great city rules over the kings of the earth” which makes it surely the city of Rome, but Rome represents moral corruption on a much larger scale.   The prostitute sits on a scarlet beast [one of the kings on whom her authority rests] and she wears purple and scarlet, gold jewels and pearls and holds in her hand a golden cup “filled with abominations.”  Those abominations include “intoxicating temptations” like sexual immorality, spiritual idolatry, excessive luxuries etc. 

Even though John uses the Roman Empire as his First Century point of reference for the Book of Revelation, the devil has not changed his strategies today.  Non-Christian cultures today still persecute anyone who worships God in those cultures.  The internet spews forth so much information which is counter to the teaching of Jesus.  False ideologies abound, as more and more people become fascinated by the occult and counterfeit religions.  What we watch today in all forms of media is often less than uplifting and more often than not it is morally corrupt.  The assault on the church itself is evident as denominations struggle with same sex issues and find the church split apart.  Today a powerful denomination is meeting in its annual conference and it is being torn apart by its lack of attention to sexual abuse among it pastors. 

What are we to do in light of these challenges?  In the Book of Revelation, the last three chapters predict the final destruction of Satan and the emergence of a new heaven and a new earth.  We cling to the idea that there will come a time when there will no longer be tears, death, pain or night.  God will establish His perfect rule.

So we wait.

Stott writes that is not so.  We should resist the devil as we wait for the “final victory.”  We are to put on the full armor of God and take our stand against him.  There is no need to flee.  When we want to vanquish the devil, we have to tell him to be gone in the name of Jesus Christ.  He knows who the final victor is and he will flee from us if we invoke the name of Jesus.

Second, we should proclaim Jesus Christ.  In telling others about Jesus we will turn people from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to the power of God.  If we advance the kingdom of God, the power of the devil will wane.  He power is all bluff anyway.  He was overthrown at the cross.  Stott writes that being an “uncompromising witness to Christ is essential.  So is the willingness, if necessary to lay down our lives for His sake” [246].

Surely Revelation is a challenging book to read but it was written at a time when First Century Christians needed its message.   Christ had come to earth, given them a new faith, a new hope, a new inspiration for their lives, all in the face of a world that gave them little chance of any kind of fulfillment.  Revelation is full of the word “victory.”  “More than half the occurrences of the word “victory” found in the Bible are to be found in this book.  Stott paraphrases H.B. Swete that “it summons its readers to lift up their drooping hearts, to take courage and endure to the end” [241].

As readers of Revelation, today we know the end of the story.  Satan will be totally destroyed.  God’s perfect rule will be established.

Hard book to read?   Yes…

Hard book to understand?  Yes…

A message that we need to know today in our challenging times?  Yes, Yes, Yes…

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Freedom from The Law, Flesh, the World and Death

“Some Christians do not want to acknowledge evil at all, and then there are those Christians who do believe that Satan is alive and well and working in the world.  Some are so adamant in their denial of evil that they prefer to cling to a stylized version of angels with beautiful white wings and chubby baby faces that are only here to do good [they are our guardians].”*

It seems that many believers struggle with the idea that the devil is real.  In fact, some just don’t want to think that there is a dark force that is creating havoc.  It is too scary.  The whole idea is just too negative.

John Stott also thinks that Christians struggle to understand evil, not quite sure about how to fit it into the Christian worldview.  He writes in his book The Cross of Christ that Christians generally are in opposing camps about this subject.  On one hand they would like to be victorious as Jesus was victorious, but on the other, they know that all of us live in a world full of temptations.  Every day we know we fail in our attempt to beat back the devil.  We just don’t have the power to live the perfect life of Christ; we literally sin and fall short of the glory of God.   The devil snares us in his traps every day.

Some may prefer to put blinders on, refusing to admit that Satan is working on them every.  Stott seems to say that these Christians are naïve as he writes that the Bible provides proof that the devil has been defeated but he has not yet conceded defeat.  He has been overthrown but he has not been eliminated.  The truth is, he continues to wield great power. 

He refers to our life with Jesus and Satan as a continual “tension”.  “On the one hand we are alive, seated and reigning with Christ….on the other we are warned to watch out because the same evil one ‘prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour’”  [Stott, 235]. 

To Christians who want to claim Christ’s victory over Satan, Stott refers to them as “triumphalists.”  They see only victory and refuse to acknowledge warnings about the power of evil. 

Others Stott refers to as “defeatists”.  They only see “the fearsome malice of the devil and overlook the victory over him which Christ has already won” [235].

Is there some middle ground?  Do Christians have to be in either the triumphal camp or the defeatist camp? 

Stott avoids the trap of making some type of subjective choice.  He just writes that we should look at the evidence in God’s word.   New Testament writers concentrate on four ways that Christ frees us from.  These writers concentrate on the law, the flesh, the world and death.  Maybe this is the answer.  Like Stott, we need to look at that evidence.

First under Christ we are no longer under the tyranny of the law.  Some might think it unusual that the devil has used God’s law to enslave us, but that is exactly what the Apostle Paul tells us:  “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith could be revealed” [see Galatians 3 and Romans 6].  When Christ came, the judgement (or the curse) of the law was removed (Jesus took the curse).  God wants us to try to live righteous lives through faith in Jesus, not live condemned lives through the law.  God wants obedience, not condemnation.

Secondly, through Christ we are no longer under the tyranny of the flesh.   This refers to our fallen nature.  As Adam and Eve were self-centered, so are we.  All the sins that we can choose to commit can make us slaves to sin; we become wrapped up in the ephemeral pleasure that sin offers.   Paul lists sexual immorality, idolatry, occult practices, hatred, jealousy, anger, drunkenness etc.  Jesus came to defeat this slavery.  Our old sinful self was crucified with Christ and we have a chance to have a new body, free of sin [at least we can have hope of trying to live a less sinless life].  Christ won the battle over the flesh.  We are ordinary humans so we must continue the battle daily, but in Jesus we have an Advocate, one who understands us and extends grace to us [a forgiveness we don’t deserve]. 

Next Jesus lifted the world from our shoulders.  Stott writes “if flesh is the foothold the devil has within us, the world is the means through which he exerts pressure on us from without.”  Most Christians know what the “world” means.  It refers to godless human society.  John writes that one cannot love Christ and love the world because the world ridicules our faith, persecutes Christians and infiltrates the church with “worldly” values.  Jesus stated “I have overcome the world” for “everyone born of God has overcome the world.  This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.  Who is it who overcomes the world?  Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” [First John 2: 15-16].  What happens to people who become believers?  Slowly but surely their values change as the lure of the world’s values become weaker and the power of the cross transforms their minds.

Finally Christ frees us from the tyranny of death.  Fear of death is universal, but in Hebrews 2: 14 it says “Jesus Christ is able to set men free even those who all their lives have been ‘held in slavery by their fear of death.’”  As we have discussed flesh and the world [the major factors in sin] we now can admit that Jesus took the sting out of death when he gave us hope in our victory over sin.  Stott writes “It is sin which causes death, and which after death will bring the judgement;  hence our fear of it” [239].   Since Christ died for our sins, they can be taken away.  Now that we have been forgiven, death can harm us no more.  Paul writes “Where, O death is your victory?  Where, O death is your sting?  Thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” [First Corinthians 15: 55-57].  What should be our attitude toward death?  It is still an enemy, “unnatural, unpleasant and undignified” but it has lost its power to harm and to terrify.    Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” [First Corinthians 15: 26].

Stott does not state if he is a triumphalist or he is a defeatist.  Of course he believes in the almighty powers of God and His son Jesus so I would say he would tend to be more triumphalist than defeatist.  Does he ignore the existence of evil?  I refer the reader to his statement above: [the devil] “has been defeated but he has not yet conceded defeat.  He has been overthrown but he has not been eliminated”.  I did not comment on the discussion Stott has about the six ways that God defeated Satan by putting His Son on the cross.** include the discussion he has right before the section on the four ways that Christ frees us from the power of the devil.  Maybe that tips his hat, for it is an extensive explanation of six ways that God defeated Satan by putting his son in the cross.**  Instead I chose to explain the “four tyrants” Christ has overthrown, an “evidence-based” discussion based on New Testament writing.  over which Christ won the victory.  Stott says Christ ushered in the new “aeon” or age which “is characterized by grace not law, the spirit not the flesh, the will of God not the fashions of the world and abundant life not death” [241].

He ends his exposition with the simple words which mean so much: “This is the victory of Christ into which He allows us to enter”[241].

Your victory…                                 

My victory…                                                                                                                                               

Thanks be to God.

*This is a paraphrase from my post of May 12, describing how Christians attempt to comprehend the existence of good and evil in the world.

**For this discussion of the “six ways” see pages 227-234, based on theologian Mike Green’s book I Believe in Satan’s Downfall.

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A Loss

On May 14th, my wife* lost her mother. Martha Ordway Fletcher was a wonderful mother-in-law, kind, understanding, accepting, a Christian. My wife had an exceptional relationship with her mother; it is no exaggeration that they truly loved each other. Susan has been helping care for her for months now as she has suffered from congestive heart failure. Finally on May 14, she passed away. Since then, I have tried to do what I normally do; one thing I normally try to do is contribute to St. John Studies every Thursday. This week I am going to be late. I thought I would be able to post in advance but my son and his wife are here and there is just too much going on. Today is funeral day and I don’t need to have my head in my computer. I need to be assisting others.

*Susan is my editor. When she works with my posts, they are always better. This week will be late but hopefully when it goes up, the wait will be worth it. I know anyone who reads St. John Studies will understand.

David Carter, St. John Studies…

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Crushing the Head of Evil

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” [Genesis 3: 14-15].

At this point, evil had entered the world. 

Readers of the Bible know that the snake in the Garden of Eden was evil, Satan in snake form.  He convinced Eve and Adam that eating the apple from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was perfectly ok when God told them they must not do it.  They disregarded God’s command.  Their rebellion told God that their prideful needs were more important than His commands.

When we turn to Genesis 3:14-15, we read that he will crush the head of the serpent but the snake will strike “his” heel.  The big question is who is “he”?

We know the story of Jesus, God in the form of God’s Son who came to Earth to redeem man from sin.  Most of us think Jesus’ primary mission is man’s redemption.  John Stott in Chapter 9 of his book The Cross of Christ devotes a whole chapter to “The Conquest of Evil” and the idea that evil is alive and well in the world today.  Maybe Jesus also came to conquer evil.  He begins with the idea of this “wounded healer,” Christ crushed evil (even though He was wounded by the world as He suffered on the cross).*

It is impossible today to imagine how Christians felt after the death of Jesus.  One would imagine depression and despair.  But Stott writes “there was no defeatism…they spoke rather of victory.”  He cites phrases like “thanks be to God! He gives us the victory.”  “In all things [that is adversities and dangers] we are more than conquerors.”  “God…always leads us in triumphal procession.”  “Victory, conquest, triumph, overcoming—this was the vocabulary of those first followers of the risen Lord.  For if they spoke of victory, they knew they owed it to the victorious Jesus.”  Paul wrote “He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” and “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” and “God leads us in triumphal procession in Christ.”  They knew Jesus suffered a horrible death but in His death, He won. 

What looked like the defeat of goodness was really the defeat of evil.

He was wounded, but He crushed the head of the serpent.

And maybe they knew it.

As we begin discussing Chapter 9, I would like to comment on an experience I have had these past few months.  I always spend a lot of time picking books for my adult Sunday school class to study and several months ago I settled on Dr. David Jeremiah’s book Angels: Who They Are and How They Help—What the Bible Reveals.  I consider my class as I pick books and I thought they would appreciate a good look at angels, a popular subject among many Christians.  Little did I know that so much of the book would be devoted to the evil in this world and I had no idea that so many Christians would struggle with the existence of the darker side of life.  I soon found that Christians can be divided into several groups:  Christians who really do not want to acknowledge evil at all, Christians who do believe that Satan is alive and well and working in the world and Christians who cling to a stylized version of angels with beautiful white wings and chubby baby faces  and they are only here to do good [they are our guardians]. 

Ok, a close study of what many call the “unseen realm” or the supernatural yields a lot of material about “good” angels but the evil in this world is not neglected.  Satan is a fallen angel and he has power to confound the work of the Lord among believers on the earth.  How does he do this?   Some of the things he does are he instills doubt, he encourages pride, he tempts with pleasure in sin, he causes us to fear and feel guilt.  Satan never tells his whole agenda; he wants us to be “in the dark” about what he is trying to do.  Human ignorance helps him do his work. 

To further confound humans and to help him carry out his mission, Satan employs demons.  These are fallen angels who engage in spiritual warfare with humans, corrupting morals, prompting doubt and unbelief.  They possess people in order to do the devil’s work; they don’t exist on their own.  Matthew 8: 28-34 is an excellent example as Jesus encountered two men who were demon-possessed.  He drove the demons out of the men and sent them into a herd of pigs [who rushed down a bank into a lake and died].

Stott writes that the New Testament “affirms, in its own uninhibited way, that the cross of Jesus disarmed and triumphed over the devil and ‘all principalities and powers’ at His command’” [226].  Stott cites H. E. W. Turner who comments on First Century hearers of the Gospel who had no problems accepting evil in their world: “it is perhaps hard for modern man to realize how hag-ridden was the world into which Christ came.”  Of course some people today have what Stott calls an “alarming fascination with the occult” but many “ridicule a belief in the devil” and label such thoughts as “superstitious anachronisms.” 

Many refuse to believe that the devil is behind the evil of this world.  As we begin our discussion of Chapter 9 (“The Conquest of Evil”), we will consider that Jesus was that “offspring” that Moses was referring to in Genesis.  We won’t turn our backs on the evil of this world. 

I told my Sunday school class that believers make a mistake when they become preoccupied with evil, but total denial of Satan’s work is not good either.  We need a balance. 

I reminded them of an old cliché that I found appropriate: “to be forewarned is to be forearmed.”

Too much concern is folly.

We have a Savior with a powerful heel.

*Genesis 3:15 “Know by many as protoevangelium, ‘the first good news.’ God tells the serpent that he is going to be on the losing side of the battle between good and evil.  His head will be crushed by the seed of the woman, in this case the reference may be Jesus?”  from The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, ed. Gary Burge and Andrew Hill.

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Standards of the World: Immoral, Unworthy and Unjust

John Stott tries to explain why Jesus Christ came to earth in Chapter 7 of his book Basic Christianity.  On April 14* I commented on God’s gift to us, that God had taken the initiative to rescue man from sin by sending us Jesus.  For a new Christian this is a very complex idea.  On April 22**, I commented on Stott’s ideas about the cross being the central idea of the faith.  On April 29*** the topic was the “basic” meaning of the cross for the new believer, with a focus on Jesus Christ as the Christians’ example.

To end Chapter 7, Stott focuses on Jesus as sinbearer.  As I read through these pages, I was struck by a quote by Stott describing the unpopularity of this idea: “This simple and wonderful tale of the sinbearing of the Son of God is strangely unpopular today.  That He should have borne our sins and taken our penalty is said to be immoral or unworthy or unjust” [93].****

Let’s look at those three ideas, incorporating basic ideas about Jesus as sinbearer throughout. 

What would be immoral about Jesus bearing our sins?  Anyone with any sense of morality would say that He did not deserve His fate.  Jesus was God and He was not capable of sin, yet He died a horrible death of a common criminal on a Roman cross.  Some may question my use of the word fate above. Fate is defined as “the development of events beyond a person’s control” and people who say that Jesus suffered a fate He did not deserve, don’t understand the purpose of His life.  This was not some development of events beyond His control.  He was totally in control of what happened to Him.  He did not have to suffer on the cross; He chose to suffer on the cross.  Now in our world today, giving one’s life for someone else is not very common (in fact, that kind of act often elevates one to hero status).  Jesus gave His life for all mankind as a way to relieve us from our burden of sin.  Man was never successful in living a righteous life by the sacrifice of animals even though he tried to do just that.  But when John the Baptist saw Jesus for the first time, he cried out “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  He knew exactly why Jesus was on earth.  Jesus’ death was not some immoral act done on a poor individual.  Maybe misunderstanding the intent of Jesus’ life causes people to think things that make it strangely unpopular.

Unworthiness is a second reason that the idea of Jesus as sinbearer is “strangely unpopular.”  Of course anyone who is without sin would be unworthy of the punishment of death, but maybe worthiness goes much deeper than the innocence of the Victim.  People who don’t understand Jesus’ sacrifice may wonder about their own worthiness; in short, why would this Man give His life for me?  The most common comment I hear from new Christians is “I am not worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice.  Of course, we are not.  I remember when I was a new believer; I thought I “owed”  Jesus my best behavior because of what He did for me.  NOTHING I could do would repay what Jesus did for me.  What did I need to do?  I needed to accept His sacrifice; I needed to accept His gift with grace.  It was free, with no strings attached.   In my mind, I owed God something.  How can I owe when I am incapable of repaying?  As time in the faith went by, I eventually began to realize that I was the unworthy one.

“That He should have borne our sins and taken our penalty is said to be …unjust” [93].   When someone has a crime committed against them, they seek justice from the criminal justice system.  If we file charges, we want the crime investigated, evidence collected and the crime prosecuted.  So many reality crime shows on television today***** are predicated on those very ideas.   People are often interviewed who cry out for justice for the victim.  In the case of Jesus Christ, of course there was no justice in His punishment.  He was not tried by a jury of His peers.  He was punished because He made the religious authorities of His day upset; He questioned their qualification for power.  When He was put before the crowd, mob mentality took over and they called out for His death and in His place, they let a horrible criminal go free.  There was nothing correct about what happened to our Lord and Savior.  From a legal perspective it was all wrong.  In the New Testament First Peter 2 states “He committed no sin; no guile was found on His lips.”  Isaiah 53 predicted this in the Old Testament: “He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in His mouth.”  For no reason “He was reviled” [1 Peter 2].  It is no surprise that this was predicted in Isaiah 53 “He was despised and rejected by men.”  Jesus was on a mission and death was part of that mission, death on the cross.   We are the ones who benefit from the lack of justice that He experiences.  The people of His day did little to correct their mistake but Jesus knew what they were going to do.  He knew He was going to an unjust end. 

A great many people make fun of Christianity.  They see no great difference between the Christian faith and eastern religions.  When they consider Christianity they claim it is a system of human merit.  “God helps those who help themselves.”  If we are good people, God will reward us; if we are not, we will be punished.  They don’t understand that nothing can equal what Christ did for us and they don’t understand God’s forgiveness as we live sinful lives.   Stott writes “He died to atone for our sins for the simple reason that we cannot atone for them ourselves.  If we could, His atoning death would be redundant.  Indeed, to claim that we can secure God’s favor by our own efforts is an insult to Jesus Christ.”    Maybe what makes the “simple and wonderful tale of the sinbearing” so unpopular is that we owe a debt that we cannot repay so we can’t turn to God and “we can manage without You.” 

I love the way Stott ends Chapter 7 so much that I want to close my comments with his final words “Every Christian can echo these words.  There is healing through His wounds, life through His death, pardon through His pain, salvation through His suffering” [97].

*St. John Studies, “Not Understanding God’s Gift to Us,” April 14, 2022.

**St. John Studies,  “The Big Picture,”  April 22, 2022.

***St. John Studies, “The ‘Basic’ Meaning of the Cross, April 29, 2022.

****Let me assert that unpopularity of Jesus’ sinbearing is based on worldly standards.  We cannot judge Jesus’ act by evaluating it with the world’s standard of morality, worthiness and justice.

*****e.g. “Dateline,”  “Forth-eight Hours” and “20/20.”

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Flexibility…

I usually post on Thursdays of every week but this week I have to post on Wednesday. My wife has a mother who is 93 and I have a mother who is 92. They are both in bad health and we are tying to help our brothers and sisters care for them. This causes us to be flexible in our lives and that may include posts. I ask for your understanding.

David Carter, St. John Studies…

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The “Basic” Meaning of the Cross

Rereading is an unusual activity, especially when years have elapsed since the first reading.  I referred to that in my previous post*, that I am commenting on an important book that I read thirty-five years ago, John Stott’s Basic Christianity.

Basic is a “primer” for new believers.  One can read the book cover and see comments that attest to its content.  “Sensible guide,” “brief, well-written clear presentation,” “for those who are seeking a satisfying presentation of the Christian faith”.    I look at my seventy-five cent copy that I bought in a used book store and I see all kinds of evidence that the book meant a lot to me.  When I began reading it in 1985,  I “made it mine,” writing in the margins, underlining and writing paragraphs at the ends of chapters.  That’s how I can tell that a book has meant a lot to me.  Thirty-five years ago, Basic delivered a message that resonated with me, a message that I sorely needed.

Until Chapter Seven…

That was when the writing, underlining and paragraphs ended.  Like many Christians, I guess I struggled with understanding that Christ came to this earth and died for mankind, for you and for me.  It seemed unbelievable, too hard for anyone to do, too good to be true. 

Anyone who has been reading this blog for some time knows that I alternate between commenting on The Cross of Christ (also by Stott) and Basic.  Maybe thirty-five years hence, I should have better answers to why Christ came to this earth.  Maybe The Cross has helped me understand.

Maybe…

Understanding Christ’s purpose for His life is a common Christian dilemma, a problem that Stott addresses on page eight-six of Basic.  “Christians believe that the cross the pivotal event in history.  Small wonder that our puny minds cannot fully take it in!… ‘Now we see in the mirror dimly.’”  Remember that Basic is just what the title says it is; it is a basic explanation of the faith and Stott knows he has written a book for seekers.

Stott does not plunge into a four-hundred page exposition of the meaning of the cross.  Instead he tries to illustrate the importance of the cross by writing about one man, Simon Peter.  He turns to Peter for three reasons.  Peter was part of the “inner circle” of the Apostles.  If anyone could have understood the purpose for Jesus’ death, it should have been Peter.  Secondly, Peter struggled with the idea that Jesus had to suffer and die on the cross.  He was the first to acknowledge the divinity of Christ, but he was the last to come to terms with His death.  When the resurrection occurred however, Peter became a changed man.  He turned into a strong advocate for Christ, addressing crowds of seekers that His death and suffering was foretold, God intended Jesus to die and God’s glory is seen in His death.  It was all part of God’s plan.  Lastly, Peter writes that fellow believers should live life as patient sufferers and look to Christ on the cross as their inspiration.

One may wonder why Stott elaborates so much on the idea of Christ as an inspiration.  Everyone suffers in this life (Christian or non-Christian) but persecution of Christianity was extreme in First Century A.D.  Emperor Nero’s cruelty put fear in many believers’ hearts.  In the midst of this climate, Peter preached the message of suffering for righteousness sake.  Like Jesus, First Century Christians did not deserve the punishment they were receiving and like Jesus, they tried to suffer in silence.  Peter preached that followers must follow in Jesus’ steps, that submission to unjust punishment was “the way.”  Imagine the message this sent to non-believer observers, that these “Christians” took this abuse and did not waver in their faith.  Observers were astounded, “what faith these Christians have, that they are willing to die for their beliefs.”  Persecution led to martyrdom and martyrdom led to increasing numbers of followers.  “The cross bids us to accept injury, love our enemies and leave the outcome to God” [Stott, 88].

Jesus’ death was more than just an example.  Jesus said “I give My life as a ransom for many” and “I shed My blood of the covenant” and “for the forgiveness of sins.”  Even though I found it hard to understand thirty-five years ago, I read Basic now and see that Jesus came to save mankind from our sins.  Sinning is just an inevitable part of human life and we are better off admitting it.  Why did Jesus beg His Father to take the cup of punishment from Him in the Garden of Gethsemane?  He knew He was about to accept the sin burden of the world on His shoulders and He had lived a sinless life.  [Imagine Jesus pondering the darkness that would envelop him in the coming days].  As Jesus died on the cross, there was no more evil place in the world that on that hill at Golgotha.  To that point in human history, nothing seemed to resonate with man about the need to live a righteous life.  God’s communication had not worked.  He had to send His Son to earth to die for us.  This sent the message that belief in God would cleanse us of all our sins.  Stott writes “An example can stir our imagination, kindle our idealism and strengthen our resolve but it cannot cleanse our defilement of our past sins, bring peace to our troubled conscience or reconcile us to God….The death of Jesus is more than an inspiring example” [Stott, 89].

He met hatred with love and wickedness with forgiveness but with His death on the cross (taking responsibility for all our sins) He brought mankind close to God.  No longer did we have to depend on a High Priest to enter the Holy of Holies to ask for our forgiveness. No longer did we have to sacrifice animals to appease God.  The bridge between God and man was built from the wood of that cross.  The curtain in the temple was torn from the top to the bottom.  We could approach God with our need for forgiveness directly.  For Christians, the Spotless Lamb of Jesus Christ died on the cross.  What stronger message could be sent to us all than God sending Himself in the form of His only Son to die on the cross for all our sins.  God appeased Himself by dying for us.

Hard to understand?  Yes…

More than an example?  Yes…

Do we need a savior?  Yes…

Thirty-five years hence, I appreciate the message of Chapter Seven of Basic [maybe I understand it better?].   Is it an easy message to comprehend?  Not really, but it is essential for Christians to know what God did for us on Golgotha.  None of us is perfect; God knows that we sin, but He wants us to move on from our sin and live better lives.  Move beyond our weakness and gather strength from Him.  Our weakness is His time to provide the strength we need.  We need to take our sins to Him, ask Him for forgiveness and know that He understands.  Jesus proves that He understands because Jesus was human and Jesus was God

His Son is our Shining Example.

His Son is our Savior.

We need Jesus; we need God.

*The Big Picture, St. John Studies, April 22, 2022

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The Big Picture….

When I first read Basic Christianity about thirty-five years ago, I needed information about my new faith.  I had a serious desire for an orientation because I had only bits and pieces of something that older, more experienced Christians seemed to have.  To use a cliché, I did not have the “big picture.” 

Of course, I caught on quite easily to the idea that I am a sinner and I need a Savior.   Without Jesus Christ and His sacrifice, I knew I had no chance for a righteous life.  God’s grace is a wonderful gift [an undeserved gift]  and as a new Christian, I wondered what I needed to do to earn it [a difficult idea for anyone who cannot accept gifts “without strings”].  I remember the weekend I gave my life to Christ, how excited I was to try to live a different life.  I had no way of knowing what would happen as the years unfolded; you might say I was in “love with Jesus” and that was all that mattered.  I had already fallen in love with my wife and I knew what that was like.  I could not get her out of my mind and every waking moment I thought of her and felt happy.  Then I fell in love with Jesus and the same thing happened.

But there was a problem.  Many, many, gaping holes were in my faith.  I was a church-going child and I was baptized at the age of eleven, but going to church was expected [so I went].  I knew about the Bible and I picked it up a few times to read a verse or two, but I never tried to read it for help, for guidance, for an orientation.  When I became “born again” I did read the New Testament from Matthew to Revelation and I was glad I did.  That “love” reading confirmed that I had made a correct choice to give my life to Christ.  I had a new set of rules to follow, I had a source of help in troubled times, but I still did not have the “big picture.”

Then I opened the pages of Basic Christianity by John Stott.   I was not ready to read the Old Testament at this time in my life but I needed to at least know how that part of the Bible fit in with the “New” part. 

Why was Jesus a sacrifice for sin?  How could a man’s sacrifice be a reasonable thing for humanity to be saved?  That idea seemed so foreign to me, but I did not know much about the Old Testament.

From the beginning, sacrifice was the norm in “the Bible world.”  Abel brought lambs from his flock to appease God and eventually all worshippers of Jehovah brought sacrifices to God.  People built altars, animals were killed and blood was shed long before the Laws of Moses.  After Moses, sacrificial offerings were a regular part of daily life.  Stott writes “Every Jew was familiar with the ritual attached to the burnt offering, trespass offering and their appropriate drink offering as well as with the special occasions, daily, weekly, monthly and yearly when they had to be offered.  No Jew would have failed to learn the fundamental lesson of all this” [Stott, 83].   That fundamental lesson is as follows:  “the life of the flesh is in the blood and that ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin’” [Leviticus 17: 11 and Hebrews 9: 22]. 

Even though I did not fully comprehend the story of Abraham and Isaac and the lamb in the thicket, that story and many more foretold the coming sacrifice of Jesus Christ.*  The suffering Son of Jehovah would be wounded for the transgressions of others:  Jesus Christ would suffer for us all.  When Jesus began His ministry, He felt that He must do His Father’s will and He went about His business with His sacrificial end on His mind.  Stott writes “He kept moving steadily toward what He called His ‘hour’”[84].  The closer He came to His death, the more He hinted to the Disciples that it was coming even though they did not understand His hints or accept the fact that He was going to die. 

His death and resurrection take center stage in the New Testament.  Stott reports two-fifths of Matthew is devoted to Christ’s last week and death.  Three-fifths of Mark is devoted to this topic.  One-third of Luke is devoted to His sacrifice and John spends one-half of His Gospel on Jesus entering Jerusalem and His ascension into heaven. 

Then we turn to the writing of Paul, the Apostle who never tires of reminding  us that Jesus died on the cross for all of us.  “The Son of God…loved me, he could write and and gave Himself for me, and therefore, far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”   Peter writes about the sacrifice of Christ in his writings.   Paul’s Epistle to Hebrews states “Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”  Finally in Revelation, Jesus is seen as the Lion and the Lamb and countless angels sing His praises “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” [Revelation 5, 6 and 12].

When I gave my life to Christ thirty-five years ago, I had no notion about what some theologians call the “scarlet thread” that stretches all the way from Genesis to the final chapter of Revelation.  I knew the cross was significant [even unbelievers know that].  Crosses are all over churches, crosses appear around believers’ necks and they adorn the gravestones that mark our final resting place. 

One can surely say that the cross is the symbol of Christianity.**

Stott writes “the Christian faith is the ‘faith of Christ crucified’….There is no conquest without the cross.  There is no Christianity without the cross.”

Want an orientation to the Christian faith?  New to the faith and needing some guidance, some basic information about your newfound beliefs?  Turn to the cross.  Recognize that it is central to the whole faith.  On that cross of wood, Jesus gave His life for you and for me.

That is the “big picture.”

*Zechariah, 13: 7;  Mark 14: 27;  Daniel 9: 25;  Isaiah 53;  Luke 24: 46.

**Just read any of  the posts for Stott’s The Cross of Christ beginning November 1, 2020.

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Not Understanding God’s Gift to Us…

 Basic Christianity:  Part Three: Christ’s Work…

Since I have finished commenting on Chapter 8 of John Stott’s The Cross of Christ, it is now time to swing back to his book Basic Christianity.

The timing could not have been any better for I intend to post on April 14th, three days before Christians celebrate Easter.  When we were discussing Chapter 6 in Basic, the whole chapter revolved around the idea of sin.  When we sin, we alienate ourselves from God, we become enslaved to sin and we become so selfish that we find ourselves in conflict with others and also God.

I love the way Stott begins Chapter 7: “Christianity is a rescue religion.” 

Is that not what Christ does when He goes to His death on the cross?  He rescues us from our sinful nature.  He gives us a chance for the best life we can have on this earth.

“You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” [Matthew 1: 21].  “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” [Luke 19: 10].  “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” [1 Timothy 1: 15] and “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son as the Savior of the world” [1 John 4: 14].

Does that sound like a rescue religion?  It does to me.

Stott discusses the first goal of rescuing humanity, the one we celebrate this Sunday.  We celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.   Just as Jesus is resurrected from His undeserved death, we can also be born again from our sin burdens if we have faith in God.  We can become new people in Christ because He bore our sins.  He took our punishment.

We have all heard these words so much.

It is fundamental, basic…

But when I was a “new” Christian I was not sure about the significance of this act.  I just lived my life but I knew I was doing things that were not the best.  I put career over God, career over my spouse and career over my son.  That’s how I operated.  I had fallen into some bad habits.  I had weaknesses in my moral life; I had mastered the art of presenting a public persona to the world but behind that public persona was a very different person, someone who had serious character flaws.

Whereas The Cross of Christ is an extremely dense look at the centrality of the cross for Christian theology, Basic simplifies, Basic helps the new Christian get oriented to his or her new religion,  Basic takes what theologians have debated about for centuries and makes it understandable.

There is nothing more basic than the idea that Jesus came to save us from our sins, to show us how to live a better life.

Another basic idea is the fact that Jesus is the reconciliation between sinful man and a Holy God.

Jesus serves as the bridge.

Jesus is the lifeline that God throws to all of us.

Stott writes about what the Apostle Paul says about this “It is quite clear where this reconciliation comes from.  God is its author he [Paul] says and God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself” [Basic, 81-82].  Most beginning Christians are not ready to wrap their minds around the idea that God gave Himself to propitiate Himself,  but that is what happened.  God needed to be appeased and He sent His own Son [a part and parcel of His own being] to do the work.   “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life” [John 3: 16].

Propitiation does not seem “basic” and for many it can seem insane, so many  new Christians dwell on John 3: 16 because it is easier to understand.

Another word that Christians hear a lot is atonement.  Stott writes that atonement “denotes either an action by which two conflicting parts are made ‘at one’ or the state in which their oneness is enjoyed and expressed” [82].  This is not made by our effort; God makes atonement for us through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  The Apostle Paul says “We have received this gift.”  As I commented on alienation, enslavement and selfishness leading to conflict in Chapter 6, atonement cancels out those problems.  “Sin caused an estrangement; the cross, the crucifixion of Christ, has accomplished an atonement.  Sin bred enmity; the cross brought peace.  Sin created the gulf between man and God; the cross bridged it.  Sin broke the fellowship; the cross has restored it” [Stott, 82].  Many give their lives to Christ and take a worker attitude into their new religion; that is ludicrous because the gift is too great.  None of can ever do enough to say we earned the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.   We can never repay the debt.

This Sunday is a special day, a day preceded by horrors too great for any human being to bear, but instead of focusing on the horrors, we should focus on the victory.  “Jesus’ resurrection proclaims His victory over sin and death.  Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. Then He rose back to life, proving He is who He says He is and that He accomplished what He came to earth to accomplish.  Jesus Christ is fully God, fully human, and our only Savior. It is because He is risen that we can trust in His sacrifice for our sins and receive new life in Him. His resurrection also demonstrates that His promise to resurrect us one day will come true.*”

It is spring, a time of new life as trees begin to leaf out, flowers begin to pop through the soil and yards turn from brown to green.  Easter is a time when we celebrate the new life that Jesus has given to us. As you read Paul’s letter to the  Ephesians [2: 1-10] he describes God’s great gift “And 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.  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.  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.   For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

The timing for this post could not have been any better, a “Basic” explanation of the significance of Easter right before Easter.

The death of Christ and His resurrection. 

He begins anew.

And we can too…

*Why Do We Celebrate Easter?”  Gotquestions.org website accessed 4/13/2022

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