When Our Evangelism Fails

Below the Table Rock dam in the Ozark Mountains lies some of the best trout fishing in Missouri. Unfortunately, I cannot vouch for this first-hand because I am a total novice at fly fishing. I have however seen many pictures of beautiful rainbow and brown trout caught there which leads me to conclude that my fishing woes are due to a lack of my skill and knowledge. 

Fishing is difficult and fish are elusive which is likely one of the reasons why Jesus chose fishing as a metaphor for the work of evangelism and disciple-making (“I will make you fishers of men,” Matthew 4:19). In addition to the Matthew passage there is also an odd little scene in John 21:1-14 in which Jesus uses a failed fishing expedition to teach us much about the work of evangelism and making disciples.

A failed fishing expedition

In John 21 the disciples decide to go fishing on the Sea of Tiberias. After a long night their net and boat remain empty but then Jesus makes an appearance and calls to the disciples from the shore. He instructs the disciples to cast their net on the right side of the boat and to the disciples delight the net is filled with 153 large fish. This scene ends with the disciples joining Jesus on the shore as Jesus feeds them a meal of fish and bread which He has prepared. 

What makes this scene odd is that it follows what could be considered a clear cut conclusion to John’s Gospel and as a result it can be difficult to see how it fits. In John 20 Jesus is resurrected, appears to the disciples, and then John ends by stating that his writing exists so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing we may have life in Jesus. So, how does a story about Jesus’ disciples failing at fishing fit together with a letter aimed at bringing people to faith in Jesus?

Making sense of the disciple’s failure

John 21 serves as an epilogue to the Gospel of John. The most memorable words spoken by Jesus in John 21 are “feed my sheep” (v.17). With these three words Jesus connects the disciples to His mission of seeing lost sinners put their faith in Christ and follow Him in close proximity. The problem with this mission is that it is too big and too difficult for the disciples to accomplish in their own power. They do not have the ability to do the real work of heart transformation needed for sheep to follow the Shepherd. 

What Jesus accomplished on this fishing encounter is that He illustrates for the disciples that He is in control of the results that He has called them to produce and that He is providing the nourishment necessary for the task at hand. In other words this account of the failed fishing expedition helps the disciples better understand failure in evangelism and making disciples. 

The disciples net was empty when Jesus wanted it empty and it was full when Jesus wanted it full. This was so because Jesus wanted to show that He is in control. The work of making disciples is an impossible task for us to complete in and of ourselves. We cast our net wide as we spread the message of the Gospel but that net remains empty unless and until Jesus drives and draws the fish into it. Jesus is the God of increase and results. He alone possesses the ability to steer a heart to His arms. 

Also, as the disciples eat with Jesus the fish and bread which he had prepared it is a reminder that Jesus is the living water (John 4) and the bread of life (John 6). He is their nourishment and He is providing these disciples with everything necessary to feed His sheep.

In Conclusion

For those of us in Christ we are likewise called to feed Jesus’ sheep. When we strive to this end we inevitably feel as though we are in over our head – because we are. This feeling can cause us to be idle and disillusioned in our walk with Christ but this does not have to be the case. What Jesus wants us to learn from John 21 and the failed fishing expedition is that He will do the work that only He can do. We rest and move in light of this truth. 

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Matthew 4:19 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Nathan Lindahl on Unsplash

Jesus Our Shepherd

“On some high moor, across which at night hyenas howl, when you meet him, sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, armed, leaning on his staff, and looking out over his scattered sheep, every one on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judea sprang to the front in his people’s history; why they gave his name to their king, and made him the symbol of providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice.”

G. A. Smith

Shepherding imagery abounds in both the Old and New Testaments. Many of Israel’s greatest leaders were shepherds (Moses and David). Israel’s spiritual leaders were criticized as poor shepherds for serving themselves instead of providing for the sheep (Ezekiel 34:1-10). In light of this failure, God himself promises to take up the shepherd staff and rescue the scattered flock (Ezekiel 34:11-24). In the New Testament, those who lead the church are called to “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:4). 

Most importantly, the shepherd of ancient Israel provides the perfect metaphor for God’s involvement in the lives of his people. Like a shepherd leading his flock, God demonstrates care, provision, concern, protection, and guidance for his sheep (Psalm 23). As God in the flesh, Jesus willingly adopted and applied the title of “shepherd” to himself. We see this teased out several ways in the New Testament.

Jesus is the compassionate shepherd who longs to rescue his sheep

As Jesus traveled from city to city preaching and healing the afflicted, he drew quite a crowd. Matthew records Jesus’ response to the mass of people, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). The problem with a crowd being characterized as “sheep without a shepherd” is that sheep do not fare well without their shepherd. They are defenseless animals, vulnerable to attack unless the shepherd provides protection. Even in the absence of predators, sheep are still in danger as they need to be shown where to eat and drink. They are completely dependent on a shepherd for their care and safety. 

As Jesus peered at the crowd, he saw beyond the physical bodies that made up the assembly. He looked into the heart and saw a people that were in great spiritual danger. They were scattered, lost, and in need of rescue. To compound the matter, they lacked any resources in and of themselves to provide such a rescue. As a result, Jesus had compassion for them. This compassion moved him to act in ways that would characterize an ancient shepherd. He would act; he would act at great cost to himself; he would act on behalf of the sheep. 

Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep

In John 10 Jesus identifies himself as the good shepherd. He is contrasting himself with a “hired hand” who has no real attachment to the sheep. The primary difference? “… the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (John 10:11) while the hired hand flees at the first sign of danger (see v. 12).

Shepherding can be a dangerous form of employment. Before David was king of Israel, he had to slay a bear in defense of his flock (1 Samuel 17:34-36). However, this type of danger was probably quite rare and a shepherd would never intentionally die. Jesus goes beyond the metaphor and points to himself as the one who doesn’t simply put his life at risk, but intentionally lays it down. D.A. Carson summarizes this point well, “Far from being accidental, Jesus’ death is precisely what qualifies him to be the good shepherd.” 

In Jesus, we see that the good shepherd is also the lamb slain in our place. Jesus bore the wrath of God so that we might be credited with his perfect obedience. We, who were once lost sheep, are rescued at the cost of the shepherd’s life. Jesus is indeed the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:11, “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”

Jesus is the great shepherd who cares for his sheep

The fundamental issue in the book of Hebrews is whether readers will remain faithful to Christ or return to the Law in a futile attempt to earn their salvation. In other words, believers are called to persevere in their faith. However, this is not something that a person can do in his or her power. That is why the author of Hebrews prays and asks God to produce good works in the reader through Jesus Christ. The author prays, “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20).

Jesus is not only able to save us from our sins, but he will keep us. He provides for us by bringing about in us something we could not achieve on our own. God the Father, through the great shepherd Son, gives us everything we need to do his will by working in us a desire and ability to glorify him. 

Jesus is the chief shepherd who is coming again in glory

1 Peter 5:1-4 is a reminder to local church pastors that they are not their own authority. They are not their own standard. Instead, pastors are to be servants of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. One of the motivations for pastors to shepherd well is the future reception of the “unfading crown of glory” when “the chief Shepherd appears” (1 Peter 5:4). Peter pushes pastors towards faithfulness by pointing them forward to the coming of Christ. Soon, Jesus will appear in glory and faithful shepherds will receive their full reward from him. 

This hope is not limited to pastors. Peter gave a similar encouragement at the beginning of his epistle, telling all believers, “… set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). The same shepherd that had compassion on the crowds, that laid his life down for the sheep, is returning to rule and reign in full authority. 

We can have real hope today as we anticipate the coming of Christ where he will complete the good work he began in us. We long for that day, knowing that “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).

Credits

G. A. Smith Quoted by Timothy Laniak in Shepherds After My Own Heart, 57.

Photo by joseph d’mello on Unsplash

D A Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary Series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991) 386.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (John 10:11 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

When a Friend Wanders or Walks Away From Christ

One of the most painful experiences a believer can endure is watching believing friends wander (Psalm 119:10) in their theological convictions or obedience to Christ. Even more painful is watching those who once professed Christ walk away (“went out from us,” 1 John 2:19) from the faith altogether because they were never truly believers. How do we, who identify as being in Christ, respond and pray for those who have seemingly drifted away from where they once were spiritually? Whether it be a friend altering their views on sexuality and marriage or a friend outright denying the faith, we all respond in some way but not all of our responses are equally helpful and God-pleasing.

When I hear the news of a friend repositioning within, or even away from, the faith my response is typically one of frustration. Even when it is a person whom I do not personally know I tend to feel betrayed along the lines of, “How could they do this? I thought we were in this together!?” To some degree I think these feelings are legitimate and appropriate. At the same time though I want to move beyond this response of feeling betrayed to a response that is redemptive and inwardly honest. 

Led by Psalm 123

The Scripture which weighs on my mind through this process is Psalm 123. There are two parts which make up Psalm 123 and these parts revolve around the words “eyes” (vv.1-2) and “mercy” (vv.3-4). First, the anonymous Psalmist states that just as the eyes of servants are fixed on their master and the eyes of a maidservant are fixed on her mistress, so are his own eyes fixed on the LORD who is enthroned in the heavens. Second, in a world filled with scorn and contempt the Psalmist prays that he would instead experience and feel God’s mercy. These four verses guide us both in how we think about and pray for others and also how we think about and pray for ourselves. 

For Them

The primary obstacle between those who have wandered or walked away from the LORD and the LORD Himself is spiritual before it is intellectual. Often those who alter their moral or theological commitments voice these changes as stemming from struggling with inadequate answers to lingering questions or a deeper and more enlightened exposition of the Scriptures. While honest questions and searching of the Scriptures may be at play there is always another component at play: the heart. When we talk about our ‘hearts’ we are talking about what we feel, desire, and love. Our hearts are relevant to the issue at hand because we are incapable of thinking thoughts which are uninfluenced by our hearts. 

So, when we pray for those who are in some way far from the LORD our prayer is that the eyes of their hearts would be turned by the LORD to the LORD Himself through faith in Christ. Regardless of whether we are praying for the one who is having a momentary lapse in their faith and is wandering or the one who has walked away due to the fact that they were never truly saved we pray the same – “LORD, turn their eyes to you and you alone.

We also pray that the LORD on high would be merciful to them. The world is a hard place to live especially for those who choose to live in this world far from Christ or without Christ. Even more pressing though is the reality of the possibility of someone spending eternity separated from God. As a result we plead for the mercy of God for our friends. We pray that God would not leave them alone in their distance or isolation from Him. We pray that God in His mercy would either keep them close if they already are His or that He would draw them to Himself if they are not yet His.

For Us

Those of us who are truly in Christ will remain in Christ, safe and secure (1 John 2:19). This truth does not negate the present and continual need for God’s grace and mercy to keep us safe and secure. In Psalm 119:10 we read, “With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!” The Psalmist simultaneously recognizes that he is currently in a good place spiritually speaking and that he needs God to keep him from wandering. Sin is deceitful and is in the business of hardening Christians hearts (Hebrews 3:13). If I (we) are being inwardly honest then we have to humbly take serious the danger before us. We journey as pilgrims with humility recognizing our continual need for God’s grace and mercy to keep us from wandering. 

In Closing

One last word of encouragement is that when a friend wanders or walks away from Christ we must not grow weary in prayer. Our prayers are patient because we are not privy to God’s timetable. His ways are mysterious and our understanding of God-sized things is infinitely ill-equipped. By God’s grace may we be found faithful in our pursuit of those whom God has put in our lives.

Credits

Photo by Lili Popper on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Matthew 4:19 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Praying for Government Officials

Coverage for the 2020 presidential election is beginning to heat up. Candidates have declared their intention of running for president, debates are being hosted by national media, and Trump is tweeting. All of this coverage should serve as a reminder that God’s people are called to pray for their leaders. Paul wrote to Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). 

Whether we like our leaders or not, whether we voted for them or not, God’s command is that we pray for them. This begs the question, “what sorts of prayers ought we to be praying for our elected officials?” The following is not an exhaustive list. It is four suggestions to help structure some of your prayers for the leaders God has placed over us. 

Pray that our elected officials would have their eyes opened to see the beauty of the gospel.

Ultimately, we desire political leaders who genuinely fear God and reflect that in their personal and political lives. The first prayer for those in positions of leadership ought to be that they would see their need for Christ and turn to Him in repentance and faith. Our prayer is that God might move in such a way that He would grant to those officials “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Pray that our elected officials act in ways that accord with the justice of God.

God has given government as a common grace. One of the purposes of government is to protect righteousness and to punish wickedness. When done well, the government acts as an extension of God’s justice. Paul wrote, “For he [government] is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain” (Romans 13:4). All governments do this very imperfectly, but we ought to pray that our officials would lead in such a way that righteousness is protected and wickedness is punished. 

Pray that our elected officials would be humble, wise, and courageous.

Proverbs 3:7 warns, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” The fear of the Lord is a holy reverence for God flowing from a right understanding of God resulting in submission to God. Therefore, humility, wisdom, and courage are the fruit of a proper fear of God. Our elected officials are humble when they realize that God is creator and they are creation. Our elected officials are wise when they “lean not on their own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Our elected officials are courageous when they realize that there is more at stake than the praise of man. As God’s people, we should be praying to this end.

Pray that our elected officials would protect peace and religious liberty.

Paul’s intention in praying for “kings and all who are in high positions” is “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Paul’s hope was that Christians would be free to live peaceful, quiet, God-glorifying lives. Notice, Paul isn’t lamenting the latest tax hike; he isn’t calling down fire on those who have differing economic ideals. His agenda is fairly simple: let me live at peace, preach, and serve Christ. 

In Closing

Election coverage can get our blood boiling. It can make our nerves a wreck. It can dominate our Facebook feed. However, this year, make it a goal to pray more than criticize, to plead with God more than complain, and to intercede more than condemn.

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Timothy 2:1-2 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash

The Lord Will Not Cast Off Forever

God desires that His mercy be felt by those who are enduring seasons of uninterrupted suffering. Unfortunately it is difficult for us to see this mercy when we are the ones who are in the valley. In seasons of suffering there are particular Scriptures that rise to the surface and keep us afloat.

Perhaps the most common Scripture we turn to is Lamentations 3:22-24 where God declares His mercies are “new every morning.” Suffering can become especially difficult when the encouraging phone calls, texts, and check-ups dwindle and it feels as though all that remains is ourselves and our anguish. In these moments we need to know that God’s mercies are new every morning. Although our family and friends may grow fatigue in their compassion, God’s compassion never grows weary. How could we ever grow tired of hearing such merciful words?

While Lamentations 3:22-24 gets a lot of our attention it should be no surprise that the entirety of Lamentations 3 is well-supplied with other truths to anchor our souls during times of suffering. Time and space will not allow us to fully expose all of the truth which can be found in Lamentations 3 but we do well to at least consider three truths from Lamentations 3:25-33.  

It is Good to Wait Quietly on the LORD

Lamentations is a series of laments before God. To lament is to cry out to God in honesty with what you are thinking and feeling. Because lamenting is often something we do in our hearts it isn’t necessarily audible to others but it is always vocal before the LORD. In fact, Jeremiah urges Jerusalem to “cry out in the night” and to “pour out your heart like water” (2:19). But how do we reconcile these statements and the nature of a lament with God telling us that it is good for us “wait quietly” (v.26) and to “sit alone in silence” (v.28)?

Commentator Robin A. Parry suggests that one way to understand this confusing message is by understanding that “it is not a literal silence that the man is recommending but an attitude of expectant trust.” Lamenting to God is not literally silent but it is grounded by a certain confidence in God’s character. When we hurt we must we cry out to God we pour out our hearts and we tell Him what is on our mind but all the while those emotions and thoughts are governed by who Scripture reveals God to be.  We see this happening in Jeremiah’s lament when he calls to mind particular theological truths starting in v.21(“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope”) after speaking rather freely in 3:1-18. This is not an easy balance but it is what God calls us to.

The Lord Will Not Cast Off Forever

One reason we wait quietly on the LORD is because He “will not cast off forever” (v. 31). Although the LORD is the one who caused or allowed our suffering, He will eventually have mercy on us (v.32). In other words, our suffering has an expiration date. Even though it can feel as though the suffering looming over us will never relent, this is typically not the case. 

However, sometimes God doesn’t deliver us from our suffering. Sometimes the cancer is terminal and sometimes the hurt of losing a loved one persists. Is God still faithful to His promise to not cast us off forever? Certainly! Even when God allows our suffering to continue in this life God is faithful to His Word because when we enter into eternity with God He will deliver us from every hurt and heartache. Nevertheless, our hope is that God will deliver us from our suffering in this life but even if He doesn’t we know the day is coming when our suffering has a conclusion. 

The LORD Does Not Afflict From His Heart

While God is revealed to be sovereign over our grief (“though he cause grief” – v.32) Jeremiah is careful to point out that “he does not afflict from his heart” (v.33). This means that God does not delight in causing or allowing us to experience suffering. In a sense it is as if God brings suffering to our doorsteps reluctantly only because it is “necessary” for some divine purpose. God does not waste suffering. If we are enduring something painful God is up to something. We are not privy to what that something is but we know that God does not delight in our suffering and that only in eternity will we get our questions answered.

In Conclusion

These truths do not take away all of our suffering, but they do change the way that we endure suffering. Mark Vroegop wrote a wonderful book on the grace of lamenting called Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy and he makes the comment that we “live through suffering by what [we] believe, not by what [we] see or feel” (pg. 110). In the midst of suffering the one who is in Christ is never alone. God is always there in the midst of suffering and what we believe about God makes the difference.  

Credits

Photo by Igor Goryachev on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Matthew 4:19 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Parry, Robin. (2010). Lamentations (p. 104). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Vroegop, Mark. (2019). Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy (p. 110). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

The Temptation of Christ: Better News Than You Think

If you were alive in the 90s you probably remember WWJD bracelets. They exploded onto the scene quickly becoming a nationwide phenomenon. The goal was to be reminded to live like Jesus by asking in every moment, “What Would Jesus Do?” What this fad revealed was man’s tendency to simplify Jesus to nothing more than a helpful example.

WWJD bracelets may have disappeared, but this inclination towards self-focused theology remains. For instance, most sermons on the temptation of Christ focus solely on Jesus’ response to temptation. The emphasis often falls on how we can resist temptation by following Jesus’ pattern. Though Jesus is certainly our example (1 Peter 2:21), a closer look at the temptation of Christ, specifically Luke’s account, demonstrates that this narrative is less about us than we like to admit. It is primarily answering the question, “what kind of Savior has come into the world?” There is great news concerning Christ in Luke 4, but we have to look past ourselves to see it.

Jesus is perfect where we are not

Just before the temptation of Christ, Luke includes a genealogy that begins with Jesus and stretches all the way back to Adam, the first man. The long list of names ends with, “the son of Adam, the son of God.” We often assume that genealogies are not important and skip over them. However, we can’t fully understand the temptation of Jesus without the genealogy of Luke 3. Luke is setting up a deliberate parallel between Adam and Christ by tracing Jesus’ line all the way to Adam and calling Adam the son of God. We are meant to read Luke 4 in light of Genesis 1-3 (there are also many parallels between Christ and Israel).

Adam was tempted in the garden and failed. As a result sin, death, and judgment was thrust upon all creation (Genesis 3). Conversely, Jesus was tempted in the wilderness and resisted every temptation (Luke 4:1-13). In his perfect obedience, Jesus demonstrates that he is indeed the Savior who has come to rescue those under the curse of Adam’s sin. The Apostle Paul made the same point in Romans 5:18-19 writing, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (ESV).

The good news of Luke 4 is that Christ perfectly obeyed the will of the Father, thus, demonstrating himself to be the true Savior who alone can be our substitute. If you are in Christ, then you have received more than a clean slate. Your justification is more than God simply wiping away your past failures. You are credited with the perfection of Jesus himself. He became sin for you so that you might be found righteous before God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Jesus sympathizes in our weakness

Many have scoffed at the temptation of Christ, wondering if Jesus really experienced temptation since he is God in the flesh and unable to sin. Hebrews 4:15 is instructive, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” So, how do we reconcile Jesus’ inability to sin with his very real temptation to sin? Bruce Ware points out in his excellent book The Man Christ Jesus that the reason Jesus could not sin is entirely separate from the reason Jesus did not sin. Jesus could not sin because he is God and therefore unable to sin. Jesus did not sin because he fully resisted every temptation through reliance on the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and prayer. This is a necessary distinction if indeed Jesus was tempted in every way as we are. Luke also demonstrates this truth in highlighting Jesus’ reliance on the Spirit and his three-fold citation of the Scriptures (Luke 4:1, 4, 8, 12).

This is also good news. Unlike Christ, we can’t be described as without sin. We do, however, have the same resources at our disposal when it comes to resisting temptation today. Bruce Ware writes, “The resources God gives–particularly his Word, prayer, and the power of the Spirit–are there for us as they were for Jesus.” We have been given everything we need in Christ to resist every temptation. Though we will fight imperfectly, it is encouraging to know that we are not helpless victims of sin.

In closing, the point of Luke 4 is to magnify Christ. Only when we see him as the sinless Savior and sympathetic high priest are we in a position to follow his example and resist temptation.

Credits

Bruce Ware, The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013) 73ff.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Luke 4:1-13 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Jared Verdi on Unsplash

Fight for Joy: “No Condemnation”

I am not a fan of lengthy quotes from people who lived hundreds of years ago and talked in a way that is difficult to understand. With that said, please read this lengthy quote from Martin Luther (1483-1546) about how the devil’s reminders of our sin can actually be used against him as we fight for joy in Christ.

What Luther Said

“Let us therefore arm ourselves with these and like verses of the Holy Scriptures, that we may be able to answer the devil (accusing us, and saying: You are a sinner, and therefore you are damned) in this sort: ‘Christ has given Himself for my sins; therefore, Satan, you shall not prevail against me when you go about to terrify me in setting forth the greatness of my sins, and so to bring me into heaviness, distrust, despair, hatred, contempt and blaspheming of God. As often as you object that I am a sinner, you call me to remembrance of the benefit of Christ my Redeemer, upon whose shoulders, and not upon mine, lie all my sins; for ‘the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all,’ and ‘for the transgression of people was he stricken’ (Isaiah 53:6, 8). Wherefore, when you say I am a sinner, you do not terrify me, but comfort me above measure.’” (Luther, Commentary on Galatians, pp. 38-39, as quoted by Bob Kelleman.

Here is the TL;DR (‘Too Long; Didn’t Read’): when Satan reminds us of our sin we can use that accusation to remind ourselves of what Christ did on the cross for us.

Luther’s point serves us well in our fight against sin and our fight for joy. When the Enemy is poisoning our thoughts, we’ve got to remind ourselves of specific Gospel truths.

Paul Said it First

Luther did not just pull this thought from thin air. His point is grounded in Scripture (Isaiah 53 and “like verses”). In Romans 8:1 Paul makes the statement, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (ESV). Paul is speaking directly to those who feel the suffocating weight of Satan’s unhelpful reminder of their sins. The Deceiver’s goal in these reminders is to create a fog between us and the grace of God. His reminders of our sins are meant to disorient us in such a way that God appears far away because we begin to believe that God has moved himself away from us because of disapproval and disgust of our sins, whether past or present. This type of thinking is demonic in origin and in direct contradiction to the Gospel truths of Romans 8:1.

Two Truths to Consider from Romans 8:1

There are two truths we need to lean on in this Scripture. First, Paul says “there is therefore now no condemnation.” This means that God isn’t just promising the removal of condemnation for some future, more Jesus-like version of yourself (thank you to Ray Ortlund for pointing this out). The verdict of ‘no condemnation’ is a present reality. It isn’t tied to who you are or what you’ve done or not done. It’s tied to who Christ is and what Christ has done (see next point).

Second, the ones who are no longer condemned are those “who are in Christ Jesus.” This idea of being in Christ means that if you have placed your faith in Christ then you are spiritually united to Christ. It is as if who you are in your inner-man has been welded to who Jesus is. Your identity can no longer be defined without thinking and speaking of who Christ is and what Christ has done in you.

These truths never grow old or redundant because Satan is like a relentless prosecutor. However, Satan’s pieces of evidence and line of argument used to condemn us is not based on present facts or present realities. He dredges up past sins (and even present sins) to obscure our blood bought freedom. He has a PhD in all of our faults and is weaponizing them to compound their damage against us. The Enemy is not just interested in the one-time damage caused by sin when initially committed. He is playing the long game. Satan’s desire is for you to be hurt by your sin again, and again, and again, through timely reminders. He is in the dirty business of recollecting all of our sins despite the verdict of ‘not guilty.’

But, because God is gracious there is no sin that can separate us from the love of God if we are in Christ (Romans 8:35). God’s closeness to us is static because He resides in us. The only thing that can change is our perception of that closeness.

In Closing

When I think of Luther’s words I’m oddly reminded of the weird dynamic which exists between salty and sweet foods. Have you ever noticed how certain salty foods, like popcorn, make you crave something sweet, like soda? Likewise, Satan’s reminders of our sin, although bitter, do not have to redefine our relationship with God or even obscure other spiritual blessings of being in Christ. These intentionally unhelpful reminders can become on-ramps for us to taste again the sweetness of Christ’s redemptive work. This was Luther’s point and it comes directly from Scriptures like Romans 8:1.

Credits

Photo by Sebastian Pichler on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Romans 8:1 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Ray Ortlund. Sermon: “GOD’S GRACE – BETTER THAN WE THINK – 1” – ROMANS 8:1-2. https://www.immanuelnashville.com/resources/multimedia/details?id=1622906.