Posts Tagged With: Christ

Who Are You and Who Am I?

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rockI will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:13-19, ESV).

In this Gospel reading, Jesus confronts the disciples with a question every believer must ask. “Who do you say that I am?”

The question seems simple enough to Christians today, because we can look to the Bible, church creeds, statements of faith, and 2000 years of church history for guidance and wording. Yet, before asking this question, Jesus asked a more generic question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

“What are people saying about me?” The responses were diverse: People compared Jesus to (and probably confused him with) some of the great prophets of Israel’s history. Any Jew would be honored to be compared with Elijah. Jeremiah was also a hero of the faith. John the Baptist was a recent superstar of the spiritual scene. All great role models.

Many people today will have seemingly noble descriptions of Jesus. “A great moral teacher.” “One of the greatest spiritual and religious leaders of all time.” “A great philosopher.” Once again, most of us would be flattered by such monikers.

Yet, as Peter realized, Jesus was more than that! “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Numerous men throughout history have earned some of the other titles people have ascribed to Jesus. Yet, only Jesus can be called the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. Only Jesus can be called the Son of the living God. Only Jesus is God in human flesh.

Revelation 19:11-20 give us a few more titles of Jesus. This passage, describing Jesus’ second coming in glory, tells us that he is also named or called:

  • Faithful and True
  • The Word of God
  • King of kings and Lord of lords

Ah, yes, and Jesus even has a name written that nobody knows but himself (Revelation 19:12)!

Those names and titles tell us about Jesus. Like Peter, we are blessed by God if we know who Jesus is and what his name means.

Although Peter does not verbalize it, Jesus answers a question many of us ask ourselves. “Who am I?” Perhaps this is more of a challenge for modern Western man. After all, in Jesus’ day, most people accepted a destiny from birth. Peter was a fisherman because his father was one, most likely. Most men simply accepted the career and calling of their fathers. However, just as Jesus has many names and titles, he now bestows a new name, a new title, on his friend. In the process, Jesus tells Peter who he is, and declares his calling in life.

“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). You are more than Simon Bar-Jonah, humble fisherman from an insignificant little town on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. You are Peter: a rock of strength. Jesus recognized Peter as a man with inner strength, who could be a leader for the church he would leave behind.

When Peter recognized Jesus’ divinity, he could discover his own dignity. When he could rightly discern the truth about Jesus, he was able to hear from Jesus about who he was.

It is the same for all of us. First, we must come to know the truth about Jesus. He asks us, “Who do you say that I am?” Can you tell him the truth about who he is? Your answer should be something like this: “You are the Christ, the Son  of the living God. You are Faithful and True. You are the Word of God, King of kings and Lord of lords. You are my savior, the only way into heaven.” He is not just a great role model or wise teacher. He is more than that.

As God, he is able to reveal to you the truth about who you are. Too many of us wander through life, trying to decide who we are. We spend our lives in a perpetual identity crisis. Acknowledge Jesus as he truly is. Then, ask him who you are. What is his purpose for your life? He will never steer you wrong.

Categories: Bible meditations, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Freedom in Christ

July begins with one of America’s favorite holidays. On July 4, most Americans will enjoy a day off from work, feasting at barbecues, watching fireworks displays, or hanging out at the beach (to name just a few fun activities). We do these things in the name of celebrating our freedom as a nation. Freedom is a foundation of our national heritage: it is central to our identity as a country, and few principles are mentioned more often in our political and social discourse. Freedom is important to us not only as Americans, but more so as Christians. God speaks about freedom throughout His Word, but it is not the sort of freedom the world promotes. To understand the biblical concept of freedom or liberty, we can study the letters of St. Paul; Galatians 5 is a great place to begin. In Galatians 5:1, 13, he mentions freedom four times:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…. For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

It is important to consider the meaning of the word “freedom.” Most people think of it as the right to do whatever you want. Among the definitions in Webster’s Dictionary are the following:

  • “exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc.”
  • “the power to determine action without restraint.”

Both of these definitions are incomplete and therefore inaccurate. They assume that we can be completely free of external control, interference, or restraint. However, this is not possible for several reasons. For one, there are many times when freedom for one person’s course of action places restrictions on another person. For example, before the Civil War millions of Americans were free to buy, sell, and own slaves. Needless to say, their liberty in this regard placed others in bondage. When the slaves were set free, after the war, they obtained a level of freedom they had not known previously, but the people who owned them lost what they considered to be a valid legal right. In each case, one group’s liberty placed a restriction on another group. The same remains true today: A woman’s right to end her pregnancy interferes with the preborn child’s right to live. As New York State recently gave homosexuals the right to marry, it has essentially robbed Christians who serve in public office (like justices of the peace) of their right to live by their moral convictions.

As a result, total freedom (as defined by secular society) is a myth. It is ridiculous to place freedom and liberty on the throne as the ultimate reality, the greatest value in the universe. We need something greater to help us decide which rights to preserve. The Bible gives us the answer. Jesus told us that the two greatest commandments are to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love one’s neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37–40). This standard, of love to God and neighbor (in that order, and defined by His Word) is an essential first guideline for determining which “rights” should be preserved.

Secondly, even when we are free to choose a course of action, we are not free to decide its consequences. For example, there is no law saying how many donuts I may eat. Legally, I can choose to eat a dozen donuts for each meal every day. However, that diet will enslave me with obesity and a host of other health concerns. That is perhaps a rather extreme and silly example, yet millions of people claim their freedom to drink as much alcohol as they wish, only to be bound by the disease of alcoholism. People may think they are exercising their freedom, only to find themselves bound by chains of addiction.

Unfortunately, because of such false notions about freedom, many Christians do not realize their liberty in Christ. Countless followers of Jesus are bound by rules when they should instead by liberated by the Spirit of God. Jesus did not come into the world merely to reinforce the rules, but to offer direct access to His Heavenly Father to all who believe in Him. We are invited to enter into an intimate relationship with God. This relationship brings us the freedom to be everything that God created us to be. Although that freedom has guidelines and limits, it also brings great privileges. We should learn to look at God’s commandments not with resentment (“God said I cannot commit adultery; He just wants to spoil my fun!”), but with gratitude (“Thank you, God! You have shown me how to find true fulfillment in my relationships, and You have protected me from disease and other harmful effects!”).

In Galatians 5, we can discern four principles about such freedom. First, true freedom comes as we yield to the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:24 tells us that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” If you belong to Jesus Christ, He is free to lead you. He wants to lead you into liberty. He wants to set you free from sinful habits that cause slavery. Because I am free in Christ, I can choose to avoid sins that would enslave me. He also offers the liberty to serve others, which provides a sense of purpose in life. I choose to obey Christ and His Word in order to be free to serve Him.

Second, freedom produces liberty in personal relationships. When we yield to the leading of the Holy Spirit and obey Christ, we commit ourselves to a life of love. Galatians 5:14 reminds us that every commandment in Scripture is summed up by “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This love does not come naturally for people. It is not natural for a person to put the needs of others on an equal level with their own, except perhaps for very close friends or immediate family members. The Holy Spirit must orchestrate that love in our hearts. When we love one another in this way, it delivers freedom. People are sucked into bondage when they backbite and devour one another (Galatians 5:15). Numerous marriages have been destroyed, friendships shattered, and churches torn apart, because people place their own desires over the needs of those around them. God wants us to build each other up, not destroy one another.

Third, this freedom liberates us from the bondage of sin. There is no crueller taskmaster than sin. In Galatians 5:19–21, Paul lists some of the “deeds of the flesh.” While Scripture refers to them as manifestations of sin, many of them are almost deified in our culture. American society promotes sexual freedom, but millions of lives have been destroyed because people ignore the biblical warnings against sexual immorality, impurity, and sensuality. Millions of marriages have ended because of adultery. Countless young people have been emotionally scarred because they jumped into physical relationships they were not emotionally ready for. In addition, millions have enslaved themselves through hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and a host of other sins. Sin produces personal shame. It creates consequences which we must live with. Sometimes, it damages our physical health. Too often, we think some sins are “victimless,” but ironically, the person committing the sin is the greatest victim!

Fourth, freedom in the Spirit liberates us as we develop a Christlike nature. Christianity is not a matter of living by the rules. Some churches teach us that a good Christian does not smoke, drink, dance, or go to the movies; that he prays at least one hour every day, goes to church three times per week, and listens only to Christian music. Such rules are not totally bad: Most of these guidelines will do us more good than harm. However, they do not make somebody a “good Christian.” In fact, some of the grouchiest religious fanatics follow all of these rules, yet they do not show any of the love of God. One becomes a good Christian not by following rules, but by having Christ living within them. As we allow the Holy Spirit to produce His fruit within us (see Galatians 5:22–23), we will become more like Christ. We will become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). We will obtain victory over sin. We will do this without rules that create bondage to guilt and shame, mingled with feelings of inadequacy because we always realize that there is more we could do.

Christlike character traits are called the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22. Fruit grows; it does not just appear overnight. As we yield to Christ and the Holy Spirit, the fruit will grow. Even though you may be weak in some areas now, you should encourage yourself as you realize that the Holy Spirit is producing growth. No matter how weak you are now, you will grow stronger as you yield to the Holy Spirit.

Let us be encouraged by these thoughts. We are free from the legalism of dead religion. We are free from the guilt and anxiety that religious rules create. As we yield to Christ, we are free from sin and enjoy newness of life as we look forward to eternity in heaven.

Categories: Bible meditations, Holidays, Politics, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Celebrating Freedom

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Philadelphia
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Image via Wikipedia

May ends with a holiday which many of us take too lightly. Many Americans think of Memorial Day as “the unofficial beginning of summer.” Many people view the last Monday in May as little more than a great day to go to the beach, host a barbecue, shop at department store sales, and so on. For many, it is just an extra day off. Like many holidays, we treat it frivolously by giving little thought to its significance. It might be helpful to consider its true significance for Americans. That will also allow us to reflect on some matters of significance to Christians.

Memorial Day was first observed as Decoration Day on May 30, 1868. That day was set aside to place flowers on the graves of soldiers who had died in the Civil War. Since World War I, the holiday has been consecrated to honor all who have
died in the American armed forces during all of our military conflicts. We should remember that many of these were young men, many of whom never had the opportunity to start families and embark on adult civilian life. While some soldiers were drafted, many volunteered for military service, acknowledging the dangers they would face.

Whatever one may think of the decisions our nation’s leaders make about the military, I cannot criticize the character of our troops. They know it is a dangerous job, but they still consider it worthwhile. They will tell you that they are serving to defend our freedoms or protect our people. They believe it is worth dying for. They believe in committing their lives to a cause and making sacrifices. Someone has said that if you don’t have something to die for, you really do not have much to live for. The soldier’s courage should be an example to all of us.

In a sense, we insult these men, both the veterans who survived the battles and those who died, when we reduce Memorial Day to a day for sales and beginning summertime leisure activities. Even worse, we degrade everything it stands for. By giving more attention to surf and sales than to freedom and sacrifice, we desecrate the blood of our fallen soldiers. This is especially true when we distort the meaning of the word “freedom.”

Most Americans seem to believe that “freedom” means “the right to do whatever you want.” Our nation’s first “freedom fighters,” the men who wrote our Constitution, enshrined in our founding documents the First Amendment. This clause gives us the right to speak our minds, even if our ideas are unpopular, controversial, or harshly critical of our nation’s leaders. It allows us to hold religious views that fall outside the mainstream. I have referred to the First Amendment as “the right to be wrong,” or “the right to make yourself look and sound like a jackass.” Thankfully, it is, more importantly, the right to cling to Truth when everybody around you swallows a lie.

However, this form of liberty can be abused as well. We have freedom of speech, even though it is often abused by those who use it to sell pornography or other vulgar entertainment material. While earlier generations realized that freedom and responsibility walked together, most Americans today seem to believe freedom is more important than morality, ethics, or righteousness, and that such libertinism is more sacred than serving God.

This year, Memorial Day falls about five weeks after Easter, during the season when we celebrate Jesus’ victory over the death. It is quite fitting that Memorial Day usually falls at such a time of year. The United States has its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier—a monument honoring all those anonymous men who gave their lives for our nation. Likewise, Christianity has an empty tomb. As many soldiers have given their lives for our nation, Jesus Christ gave his life for all mankind to set us free from sin, hell, and divine judgment. Few of us give much thought to the fact that our greatest freedom was purchased with the precious blood of Jesus. We gladly accept his priceless gift, talk about how it is free for us, and take it for granted. We might say a quick prayer or spend an hour in church every week, but then we ignore the One who gave his life for us.

Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free…. Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:32–36, NASB). It is true that our nation was established to seek liberty from tyranny. Yet, we need to remember that the worst tyrant in the universe is Satan, and his cruelest chains are forged with links of sin. Some people believe that following Jesus is a form of bondage. However, as St. Augustine wrote in On the Free Choice of the Will, “This is our freedom, when we are subject to the truth; and the truth is God himself, who frees us from death, that is, from the state of sin.” True freedom is found in submission to the truth. True slavery is found when we loose ourselves from our bonds to our Creator, and clamp the chains of sin around our wrists.

Saint Paul adds, “It was for freedom that Christ us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). He goes on in that chapter to point out the things that Christ frees us from: the Law (including the righteous wrath of God when we fail to live up its perfect standards) which has been superseded by the forgiveness we receive through the cross of Christ; and sin, which is superseded when we live by the greater law of love (see Luke 10:27–28).

Let every day be a day to remember, celebrate, and cherish the freedom we have been granted, both as Americans and as children of God. Our liberty is a precious jewel to be preserved and nurtured. It is not a cheap toy to be played with carelessly, thrown in a corner, and broken.

Categories: Current events, Holidays, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Repentance: The Flip Side of Faith

With the rapid technological changes of recent decades, including the development of music downloads like MP3s and ITunes replacing records and CDs, I am sure many of today’s youths have never seen an “ancient artifact” which played a major role in my youth: 45-RPM records that had one song on each side. One side was always the “single,” the song that the band and record company hoped would become a hit. That was the song that would be played on the radio. To fill space, another song would appear on the “flip side.” The flip side rarely became a hit, although occasionally it might be a very good song, perhaps a crowd favorite among die-hard fans of the group. The flip side might occasionally be artistically excellent, but not “commercially viable.” I would buy a record because I enjoyed the single, but at times I would find myself enjoying the flip side even more. The single would be incomplete without the flip side.

Many things in the world have two sides, and usually both are necessary. A coin without its “tail” would not be considered legal tender.

Spiritually, many Christians try to walk with a faith that lacks its flip side. When I became a Christian, I heard how I could be born again if I simply believe in Jesus Christ and accept his free gift of salvation. I could simply say a quick prayer and be guaranteed eternal life. Yet, how does this line up with biblical preaching about salvation? As we will see, it is a half-truth with something substantial missing.

Fortunately for me, the person who led me to Christ spoke both of my need to be “born again” and to become a “new creature in Christ.” These concepts have led me to recognize the need for repentance. However, the early Christians did not force their listeners to make that leap of logic. Let us look at the very first “altar call” in church history, reported in Acts 2:37–38:

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Note that Peter did not promise that the people would get saved by repeating
a quick prayer or merely listening and agreeing while somebody else prayed. The first step to salvation was simple and clear: “Repent.” Jesus, John the Baptist, and the apostles often called their listeners to repentance (see Mark 1:15, Matthew 3:8, and Acts 3:19). Hebrews 6:1 places repentance from dead works at the beginning of a list of foundational principles of the Christian faith.

One observation that clearly underscores this point is that, although Paul’s letters and John’s Gospel emphasize faith’s role in salvation, other New Testament writers do not mention faith as often. In fact, if you removed the writings of Paul and John from the New Testament, you would most probably reach the conclusion that repentance is the key to salvation! These books all suggest that a holy life, grounded in a spirit of repentance, is central to the Christian faith. This fact leaves us with two options:

  1. We can assume that the Bible contradicts itself. Some liberal theologians would even claim that Paul and John taught a completely different theology than the other New Testament authors did.
  2. We can conclude that repentance and faith go together. This is really the only biblical option.

So, what is repentance? It is much more than feeling sorry about our sins or ashamed that we were caught. It is also not a state of moral perfection. In the New Testament, the Greek word for “repentance” is “metanoia,” which literally means “change of mind.” When a person repents of his sins, he changes his attitude about sin. He agrees with God about the wickedness of sin and acknowledges that God must judge it. According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, true repentance includes the following elements: a true sense of one’s own guilt and sinfulness; apprehension of God’s mercy (Psalm 109:21–22) in Christ; hatred of sin, leading one to turn from it and to follow God (Psalm 119:128; 2 Corinthians 7:10); and a persistent endeavor to live a holy life and walk with God, obeying his commandments.

True repentance, then, is a spiritual transformation that leads to changed attitudes and changed actions. The Bible shows that repentance is a gift from God (Acts 11:18) as the Holy Spirit convicts a person about sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). From there, our attitudes change as we develop a disdain for sin, which leads us to live holier lives. Although repentance is in one sense often an immediate decision (around the time of salvation), it is one a believer must repeat throughout his life. The believer may be convicted of sins that he was not previously aware of. For certain habitual sins, one may need to repent repeatedly until a stronghold is finally broken.

Repentance must be distinguished from remorse or guilt. In 2 Corinthians 7:9–10, Paul writes:

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

True repentance brings us into a closer walk with God and personal holiness, producing lasting change. Worldly sorrow brings guilt, shame, and despair. It might lead a person to make temporary changes until the guilt wears off. However, it ultimately ends in spiritual death and can lead a person to self-destructive despair. In Judas Iscariot’s case, it led to suicide (Matthew 27:3–5).

Finally, even though we may repent of our sins generally around the time of salvation, repentance from particular sins is an ongoing process throughout the Christian life. James told already-saved people to cleanse their hands and purify their minds (James 4:8), referring to the need to repent both in action
and attitude. First John 1:8–10 points out that Christians need to confess their sins throughout their lives:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

John was speaking to Christians. They were saved, but there was still sin in their lives. We have no reason to live in denial about our sin. We merely need to confess our sins so that Jesus (who is faithful and justice) will forgive our sins AND purify us from all righteousness. It is important to break this down so we can see all that is promised in this statement. First, we need to confess our sins: We begin by confessing our sins, which is itself one aspect of repentance. When we confess our sins, we agree with God that we have engaged in an act, word, or thought, and that this activity was wrong. Second, Jesus responds by doing two things for us. He forgives us (removing the guilt and punishment of sin). He also purifies us, cleansing us of our tendency to continue sinning. Confession is essential because we must acknowledge the particular sins in our lives so that we know what we need to repent of.

When we become aware of sin in our lives, we should repent immediately. Since Jesus commanded us to be perfect, even as his Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), we know that we will always have room for repentance and growth. Occasionally, we may need to fast and pray as we seek victory in a particular area. At times, we may need to seek the prayers and guidance of spiritual leaders (pastors, for example) to help us receive deliverance.

It is encouraging to note, though, that God is the one who draws us to repentance and who gives us the victory as we submit to him. Let us joyfully lay our souls bare before him, that he may reveal our hidden sins to us and bring us to repentance and personal revival.

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Salvation Page Added

Well, it has been a while since I have been able to post anything to this blog. I have had a number of busy weekends lately, including a retreat and a brief family vacation.

During a recent Brotherhood of St. Joseph retreat, I felt like the Lord was giving me clearer direction about my writing ministry. He was speaking loudly and clearly (again!) about leaving a spiritual legacy. It is all well and good when people write back, “Great post,” or “Thanks for sharing that.” But, God wants more out of my writing. He wants me to write things that leave a lasting impact in people’s lives.

An important part of that was the need to add a page to this site explaining how one can come into a personal relationship with Christ. If you have never asked Jesus into your heart, or you are not sure if you have a relationship with Him, I invite you to visit this page. Because of the nature of this page, I will not allow posts for debate or argument; however, I will welcome your thoughts or questions. I moderate all posts on this blog before they appear online (usually, to avoid rude or offensive language; I usually allow people to post arguments, disagreements, or debate, as long as they are civil about it).

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