In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us.

Ephesians 1: 7

God never wanted people to be held in captivity to sin; yet, He knew that we would place ourselves into that state of bondage. So, the Father planned the way and the means of our escape from the self-devised prison that we were to be held in, and He also made it possible for us to be set free on a permanent basis. Jesus is the Father’s response to both of these needs. He is our source of redemption as He is the means by which we are redeemed. In other words, Jesus paid the price for our release from captivity to sin. This was accomplished in His act of sacrifice upon the cross, and it was sealed by the blood that flowed out of Christ’s pierced body. There is nothing left to be paid in order for our soul’s jailer to release any of us. If we choose to follow Christ, we are granted a full pardon and our parole is effected.

The hard part for most of us comes in the choosing to follow Christ. Why should I do this? What do I gain in so choosing? Is this Jesus even real? These are questions that multitudes of people have asked over the long history of the world. From my point of view, it is all very simple. I know, through faith and by virtue of experiencing life that Jesus is real. The narrative that is written in the Bible is the real and the accurate recitation of God’s engagement with His creation with a particular emphasis upon the Lord’s involvement with humanity. I hold this to be true, not because I have absolute tangible proofs or due to some form of exhaustive research, for I have experienced the presence of God in my life, and I know that the best of the person that I have been and that I am to be is found and made known in the commitment of my heart, mind, and spirit to living in a righteous manner after the modeling and the leading of Christ, Himself.

In the conduct of my life I have certainly placed great demands upon the love and the grace that Christ has poured out upon me. Sadly, I continue to do this to this day; yet, the journey has gotten easier as the Spirit has continued to work within my heart and my mind to bring about an ever-increasing level of understanding of what it means to live as a person that loves others, seeks after justice, and desires to share God’s redemptive love with others. Choosing to follow Christ places each of us on that same journey as the Apostle Paul traveled upon. In so doing we enter into God’s will for us, and we find peace with our Creator in the process. This adventure that Christ takes us on will not be easy as there will be temptations to overcome, an adversarial world to confront, and doubts that grab hold of us and attempt to wrestle our hearts and minds into submission. In all of this I have found that Christ is with me. That riches of grace that Paul mentions and the Lord’s abundant love and mercy are truly poured out upon me in a supply that can be described in no other word but lavish. 

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He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.

2 Corinthians 9: 10

Paul understood working, and he was very familiar with the direct relationship between the effort that a person puts out and the productivity of the day. It would have been easy for him to connect those earthly concepts of labor and result with the world of the spiritual. He was raised in a system where works of various kinds were required and were even essential. Righteousness was not something that came to people without adherence to the system and absent personal, committed effort. Yet, this is not the way that he had learned about Christ, and this was not the way that the Lord had conveyed salvation and a renewed calling to Paul. In Christ, Paul was set free from the compulsion to labor in order to achieve acceptability with God.

In this new freedom, Paul could go into the world around him and live out Christ’s calling without reservation or concern for the propriety of what he did or said. He was able to confront where that was necessary and embrace those who were in pain. He could share God’s word of salvation and healing with people from every corner of the world and from each of its many walks of life. Christ personally called Paul out of service to a form of false god that people had contrived out of the holy foundation of truth that God, Himself, had provided for them. Now this newly formed and sent out evangelist, teacher, and shepherd of souls was out in the world, and he saw opportunity to proclaim truth and life all around him. In order to engage fully in this work, he required an endless supply of God’s grace, love, and the gospel of salvation. That is exactly what Christ gave to him.

This follower of Christ was blessed with all that he needed in order to go into his world and do what Christ asked of him. There was nothing lacking and there was also not a thing that Paul was required to supply out of his own labor beyond a willingness to do anything that Christ asked of him. We, too, are blessed with this same abundance of provision of all that we will need to answer Christ’s call to follow Him into service to God’s kingdom come to earth. Although Paul was sharing an aspect of his own experience in telling of God’s bountiful provision, he was saying these things so that we would see and accept the reality of this same supply of all that is needful in order to fully and continually proclaim Christ in our world as our own gift from God. Christ has done all that is required for each of His people to be sowers of saving grace, truth, love, and redemption in our world. We have no bill to pay at the supply house, but we have an endless abundance of life to spread in a world that knows only death and its pain without the Savior that we have come to give to it as our life’s true work.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3: 4-7

God did not save anyone, ever, because of our goodness or as a result of the work that we have done. Accomplishment in this world is of no value to the Lord. He is interested in one thing, and that is our willing acceptance of Him as Lord over our existence, Savior of our souls, and Perfecter of our hearts. When Paul says that the goodness and loving kindness of God appeared, he does not mean that these Godly characteristics were previously missing; rather, he is indicating that, in Christ, they became present in this world in human form and in His death and resurrection they were made tangible to all of the world in a way that had never been true before. God’s goodness and loving kindness were demonstrated in Christ’s willingness to endure the worst of human violence in order to permanently eradicate sin and death’s true power over people’s lives.

All of this is done because God feels great pain when people reject Him. He desires to be in relationship with all of us, and the Lord seeks after everyone even knowing that many of us will not accept that invitation and realizing that there will be a number of us that will openly and actively reject His love, grace, and offer of mercy. When Jesus taught about the shepherd that seeks after the one percent of the flock that had wandered away and into danger, He was speaking God’s heart for the relentless pursuit of any and all who are, in fact, lost in this world. He will go anywhere and endure everything that the evil of this planet can throw at Him in order to redeem one of us. So, too, should we be open to following Christ’s call and His leading into loving others, caring about and for them, and for going where it is needful in order to bring the love of Christ and the truth of His gospel to them.

This willingness to serve the Lord is a sign that we are true heirs of the great spiritual wealth that comes to people who enter into adoption by God into His family of faith. We are made into people that are able and willing to lay down our lives in service to God because of the work of regeneration that the Holy Spirit does in us and the related renewing of our minds from ones that are focused primarily upon our own desires and wants into ones that follow God’s heart and that seek to live in the full expression of love, righteousness, and justice. In all of this there is freedom, for we are no longer required to do good works in order to appear to be worthwhile people in the world. Instead, Christ’s blood has washed us clean and we are proclaimed to be righteous and holy by Christ so that all that we think, say, and do is oriented by the Spirit toward serving God’s will and all constraints upon our capacity to love others are removed by the presence of Godly grace and mercy in and with us through each hour of every day.    

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

1 Timothy 1: 15

There is a simple clarity in the way that Paul saw the truth about his condition in the eyes of God and concerning the darkness of his reality before Christ got ahold of him. He was a lost man who did not know that his sense of direction was corrupted so badly that he was navigating a course through life that was certain to lead to his own destruction. Yet, Paul was going at it all with a full head of steam and with no conception of the disaster that lay ahead for him and for anyone who joined in with him in his zeal for the cause of denying Christ to the point of defeating Jesus’ entire mission. Paul’s self-proclaimed stature as foremost among sinners is based upon his knowledge of God that had been gained as a direct result of his training as a rabbi, and it was perfected through the angry intensity of his drive to find and to destroy people who were following Christ.

We know the story. Jesus would not leave Paul alone. Finally, Jesus chases Paul down in the midst of a journey to expand the scope and the reach of his mission of defeat and destruction for the newly constituted church of Christ-followers. As the American rock band, The Eagles said,

“On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair, warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air.

Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light.

My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim.

I had to stop for the night.” 1.

After that remarkable time when Paul stopped running, he had little choice on that day, some thirty odd years have elapsed until this point in time when the wise, veteran itinerant preacher is providing guidance and wisdom to his young disciple, Timothy, and by extension, he is also giving us the benefit of this same eternal truth and counsel.

The same reality that was Paul’s belongs to everyone else, too. Christ Jesus came into this world to save each and every one of us, for all are born into sin, and Jesus is the one who redeems us from that dead and doomed state of being. Everything else that Jesus said, did, and demonstrated is secondary to that salvation-oriented purpose. For, if we are not in a relationship with God, all of our goodness, justice, and love are formed up out of whatever strength and capability that we may be able to summon up from within ourselves. It does not draw its energy and its guidance from the depths of the eternal that is resident by virtue of essential character in God, Himself. This is a resource that is made fully available to all of Christ’s followers through the presence of the Spirit. Although we may not always yield ourselves to God’s will and way of living, that is a story for another day, in Christ, we are taken out of the old, worldly way of viewing all of life, and we are granted the same reprieve from death that Paul was so excited to proclaim.

  1. Hotel California; Glenn Frey, Don Felder; released 02/1977.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

   wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Psalm 51: 7

David knew something about sin, and he was acutely aware of the harm that his wandering heart caused to his relationship with God and to his ability to remain close to people, too. So, I think that these words are both a lament and a strong request. David is sorrowful for the sin in his life, and he desires to have the Lord perform His cleansing work upon his body and in his heart. The rough surfaced leaves of the hyssop plant were used to ceremonially cleanse people who had become defiled by dead bodies and by contact with lepers. A bird was sacrificed and the hyssop branch was dipped in its blood so that the blood could be sprinkled on the person who was unclean but repentant for the totality of his sin. The priest would then pronounce the penitent clean, and thus, it was acceptable for him to participate in temple worship or in other forms of sacred rights and ritual. In other words, the person who had repented of his sin and undergone the cleansing ritual was then acceptable to be in the presence of God.

All people are born into a similar condition and many of us find ourselves in a like place in life as did David. We are sinners from birth. We do not get to choose whether we will be perfectly obedient to God or whether we will rebel against His love, righteousness, and call to holiness. People follow the path of our parents just as they adhered to the one that had been established by the many generations that came before them. When the Apostle Paul declared that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” he truly meant to be all-inclusive. None of us get to escape this reality, and no one has an answer to our separation from God other than God’s own answer, which is found in Jesus Christ alone and that is made available to all of us by and through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and God’s resurrection of Him from among the dead. That is it! There is nothing else and no other way to be made righteous and holy in God’s eyes. So, there is no alternative to Jesus if we wish to dwell in the presence of God.

Jesus, through His cross, has eliminated the need for dead birds and rough branches. He has also taken over the position and the authority that had previously been granted to human priests, for Christ alone has God’s endorsement to pronounce people cleansed of sin and so, rightly fit to be in God’s perfect and holy presence. The work that those priests did was temporary at best, but the work that Christ does lasts for all of eternity. The blood that was shed in sacrifice upon Christ’s cross penetrates much deeper than the surface so that the soul of anyone who turns to Christ is not just touched by a few of its purifying drops but it is washed clean and made pure and acceptable to a Holy God. The bright snow of a winter’s day covers over and obscures the dirt and the decay that is a part of life in our world. So too does Christ cover our brokenness and sin with His cleansing blood; however, the snow melts and its effect dissipates with time, but Christ’s pure whiteness lasts for all of eternity. 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

Romans 8: 35

It might seem that there are forces at work in our world that want nothing more than to keep people away from being close to God. For things just happen to us, around us, and to those that we care about. It can become relentless at times, and the assault certainly does not ever cease for very long. Paul is speaking to the reality of life as he knew it personally, and he is also warning others about what he observed and anticipated in the lives of others. These cold water in the face words are intended to set us free from the sudden assaults of the unexpected and unanticipated, and they are also here to give assurances to each of us that the things that we are experiencing are normal and are a part of the natural course of life in this world where brokenness and sin are cured only by the blood that Christ has shed for us.

A response to the thoughts that have just been expressed might be to question why I see a form of warning or expectant caution in the Apostle’s words of encouragement here. Paul’s point in this section of Romans 8 is that there is nothing on earth or in the heavens above or in the powers of those who dwell in Hell below that can rip, tear, or pry one of Christ’s own souls from His grasp. Christ holds onto the people who come to Him with both tenacity and overwhelming power. Yet, that long list of forces that are attempting to work their potions of trouble, disbelief, and pain upon Christ followers is, in fact, just a sampler or partial list of all that works against us in this world. The faith that we hold in Christ will be tested over and over again as we go about living, and the more that we exercise this trust in Christ by engaging in doing His will and serving His kingdom, the more that various forces around us will see us as targets to be attacked mercilessly.

So, the assurance that God is providing for us is founded in the nature and the character of His own heart. The Lord not only desires for us to draw near to Him and to enter into a relationship with Him that will be active and alive today and for all of eternity, but He also will do anything that is required to protect our souls and to defend our place in His kingdom of grace and glory. There will be days when it will feel almost irrational for us to continue to cling to faith in Christ and to stay true to His calling to serve God by seeking out Him and His truth and righteousness; yet, those doubts are nothing more than tools that an enemy is using to develop separation from Christ in His people, and these are times when we are called upon to turn the doubts into trust by submitting it all to Christ in prayer, meditation, and the fellowship of His body of faith. In the end, Christ’s love is so deep, so prevalent, and so all pervasive that it is never far from us, and His hands that are placed upon us in loving embrace cannot be pulled or pushed away from us.       

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

2 Corinthians 4: 16

People around the world celebrate the rolling over of the calendar at the end of the current year and the beginning of the new one. We look ahead with anticipation and with hope that things will get better than they have been in the prior twelve months. This change suggests a new beginning, a fresh start, and a reset for some of life’s ledgers that record our wrongs, shortcomings, and failures. Yet, in all of this effort and planning that is focused around refreshing life, there is one calendar, a singular clock that is never set back and that moves forward with relentless pace and purpose, for in the real world, no one gets even a second younger or a day less aged when the new year tolls its entry. Every day that we live in one more to mark off the allotment of days that we have received. Each year that goes by will contain events, situations, and circumstances that have a negative impact on the probable longevity of our lives. This was one of the two primary subjects that Paul is bringing up here.

Paul knew physical and emotional stress as he had experienced them in great and powerful ways and on numerous occasions. His body had to be a bit worn and often a lot tired as a result of the life that he was living in serving Christ with true diligence in a world that was mostly hostile to that message and to its author. The Apostle was fully acquainted with the hardships of travel, he had experienced shipwrecks and been arrested and locked away in jail, he was forced to flee from angry mobs, and he had been mocked and rejected. The lines of care must have been deep on his weathered skin, and the spring surely had gone from his step. Yet, his passion for the Gospel of Christ and his zeal for proclaiming its life-giving truth had not grown any less powerful. He continued to love people and to speak forth Christ until the very end of his life on this earth. I can envision Paul during those later days with his body battered and bruised and with aching joints as he went to the Lord in prayer regularly while continuing to repent for the sinfulness in his own life and seeking out wisdom and counsel for following Christ along the path that was to be his during the day to come. 

The Spirit was present with Paul just as He is with each and every one of us who know Christ. As we yield ourselves to the Spirit, He brings us the cleansing of God’s grace, the fresh water of God’s truth, encouragement for our spirits, and wisdom to renew our hearts and minds. The Spirit’s work within and upon us does what it did for Paul, it sets us back upright when we are knocked down, and it gives us the courage and the strength that we need to continue on Christ’s righteous path of engagement with our world. The Spirit also points our hearts and minds to the reality of that journey, for Christ takes us into the realm of the spiritual and reframes all of life within the bounds of God’s kingdom come to this world. So, this is the other subject that Paul is discussing. We live in a world that is hostile to the spirit of truth, justice, righteousness, and love that is the essence of God’s realm.  In serving Christ we are breathing in conflict; so, we will experience the abrasive and harsh impacts of those encounters in our bodies, minds, and hearts. This is where the Spirit also works as He brings peace to troubled days, grants rest when the nights are long, and provides shelter when the heart is weary and in need of time to regroup and recover. This life will be hard and its challenges are going to be continuous and grueling, but the Spirit of Christ is more than sufficient to take each of us through it all so that even when the body is broken down and the heart is feeling overwhelmed it is His strength that enables activity and His love that fuels the spirit into living out Christ’s will for this day.