Category: 1 Corinthians (page 1 of 15)

The Power of God to Save

The Israelites are cornered. Trapped. They’re in a cul-de-sac, a bottle neck of disaster — the Red Sea on one side, the desert mountains on the other side, and the mighty forces of the Egyptian army barrelling down on top of them. They’re dead.

And our God shows his power over nature and history to split the sea right down the middle so two million of his people can pass through on dry ground. Israel saw the conquered Egyptians lying dead on the shore. They had proof. Their enemies were vanquished and powerless to ever do them any more harm. The escape is complete. Salvation is secure. And when they saw the great power displayed by the Lord, they put their trust in him, they swear their allegiance to him. And their lives are shaped by their utter dependence on the one who saves them.

That’s our story, too. That’s who we are. That’s the point of the Exodus story.

The point is not “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14). We’ll miss the whole point of this grand theological message if we reduce it down to some moral lesson like “Be faithful in a tight fix” or “Don’t be afraid in tough times, just be still and let God take care of you.” No, that’s not what this story is about. It’s so much bigger than that.

The story of the crossing of the Red Sea is not to tell us what to do. It’s to tell us how to think. This story is intended to shape our worldview. This story informs and motivates the way we see ourselves, the way we see others, the way we see and experience every person and place and thing and idea we encounter.

The Exodus is not a pep talk. The Exodus is our god moving his people from one kind of existence to another. It’s an understanding that God is your God because he’s acted in your life to deliver you. You get the idea when Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

When you go through the waters of salvation, you leave all your old stories behind. You see your enemies on the shore, your old enemies of sin and death and sickness and addiction and pain — all those things are eternally defeated in the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ.

“By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.” ~1 Corinthians 6:14

That is the Gospel: The power of God to save! The power of God to save two million Israelites through the waters of the Red Sea and the power of God to save you and everybody else in the whole world. The power is his. And he uses it to save.

Peace,

Allan

Fellowship of the Spirit: First Part

“I will ask the Father, and he will give y’all another Counselor to be with y’all forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But y’all will know him, for he lives with y’all and will be in y’all. I will not leave y’all as orphans; I will come to y’all. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but y’all will see me. Because I live, y’all also will live. On that day y’all will realize that I am in my Father, and y’all are in me, and I am in y’all.” ~John 14:16-20

Jesus is Emmanuel. God with us. God near us. That’s Jesus. Our Father takes that one dramatic step further with his Holy Spirit. God in us. God inside us.

The pronouns used by Jesus are plural, not singular. This is communal. It’s corporate. The Holy Spirit binds us together in a shared fellowship. Together.

Thirty years ago, a sociologist named Robert Bellah wrote an influential book called Habits of the Heart. He documented what he described as an American phenomenon: ontological individualism. It’s this belief, he says, is unique to us in the United States: an individual is his or her own source of meaning. Nobody can tell me what to do. Nobody can teach me anything I can’t learn on my own. I don’t need anybody. I don’t depend on anybody. The whole thing is about me. That’s a very American mindset. Bellah says most Americans barely have the vocabulary, much less the desire, to express commitment or passion for anything other than themselves.

The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is not for individuals. It transcends our identities and surpasses our abilities as individuals. It’s a group thing. It’s the fellowship of the Spirit.

Jesus says, “I will not leave y’all as orphans.” That’s family language. By the Holy Spirit, he says, “I will come to y’all.” Family. Community.

“We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” ~ 1 Corinthians 12:13

When we talk about the work of the Spirit, we usually focus on the Spirit’s relation to the individual Christian. We talk about how the Spirit is active in a person’s life or how a woman or man uses particular Holy Spirit gifts. According to Jesus, though, our emphasis should be on the Spirit’s corporate work. We should pay more attention to the indwelling and empowering of the Spirit in and through the Church.

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in y’all, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to y’all’s mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in y’all.” ~Romans 8:11

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in y’all?” ~ 1 Corinthians 3:16

The Church is a community where no one reaches his full spiritual potential and no one fulfills her true spiritual calling apart from the group. Each member of the fellowship contributes something special to the group so that all together the Holy Spirit does so much more for the Kingdom than any of us could do by ourselves. The Church attains to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ together.

“To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good…” ~1 Corinthians 12:7

Some religions teach that meditating or praying in solitude is the highest form of spirituality. But that is not Christianity. The fellowship of the Spirit is not about private Christian growth or individual spiritual formation. What the Spirit gives us is intended for serving the common good, the whole fellowship together.

The Spirit is the one who brings us together. And when we’re together, bound to one another by the Spirit of God, the Church is bigger than we think. It transcends our individual abilities. It’s better than we can see, it’s wider and deeper, it’s richer and longer-lasting and farther-reaching. It’s more than our physical senses can begin to detect. It’s holy.

The Holy Spirit is our guarantee, our down payment of what’s coming. The fellowship of the Spirit is a taste of everything that’s going to be revealed. The Holy Spirit promises us together that, yes, God will act. Yes, God will speak. God will save. God will fulfill. Our God will live with us and in us forever and ever. Hallelujah! Amen.

Peace,

Allan

Body of Christ: First Part

In the beginning, in the dark and the chaos, God spoke powerful words and created the heavens and the earth. From the top of a smoking and shaking mountain in the desert, God spoke powerful words and raised up a holy nation. Through his mighty prophets in Israel and Judah, our God spoke powerful words of forgiveness and mercy, commitment and comfort, truth and grace. But God’s words were not enough. Words are never enough. So God’s Word became flesh. God’s Word became a body.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” ~John 1:14

The holy Son of God has a body. We know Jesus has a body — a real, physical body. Jesus ate and drank, he wept and slept, walked and talked, worked and played. He bled real blood. He suffered excruciating pain. And he died an agonizing death. He was dead. His body was killed.

And when God’s Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the grave, he raised him to life in a resurrection body — a real, physical body. Our risen Lord in his real, resurrection body was recognized by everyone who knew him. He ate and drank with his followers whether he was invited to or not. He walked and talked with them, taught them, and argued with them. It was Jesus’ real, physical, flesh-and-blood, resurrection body that proved he was really risen. It was remarkable.

Now, here’s something even more remarkable: our ascended Lord who is reigning right now and forever at the right hand of the Father in heaven continues to have a body here on this earth. Jesus still insists on being flesh-and-blood present in this world. He keeps showing up as a recognizable personality. But now he in an even stranger bodily form than his resurrected post-Easter body.

It’s the Church. It’s us. We are the Body of Christ.

Through us, together, by his Church, our Lord Jesus wraps his real, tangible, physical, concrete, flesh-and-blood presence around the whole world. Today the Body of Christ lives and breathes and moves and acts in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, even to the panhandle of Texas! That’s us. The Church.

And some well-meaning people say Jesus never intended to establish the Church. They say Jesus was a holy man, they even say he was the Son of God and the Savior of the World. But he never wanted to start a church. Baloney! That was the plan all along, from the very beginning of the story of Jesus. Jesus started the Church when he called together that first group, that body of twelve disciples. The Jesus movement was always a corporate, social movement; it was never just a collection of religious individuals. The Church was always meant to be the Body of Jesus.

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” ~1 Corinthians 12:12

The Bible is not saying that the Church has lots of different members and we’re all supposed to work together. It says Christ has different parts of his body and we’re it! We are his body, not because we all agree with each other about everything, not even because we all like one another. We are his body because we have one Lord and that one Lord is totally committed to always being physically present and flesh-and-blood active in his world.

We are the mouth and eyes and ears and hands and feet of Jesus. We are his body on earth. And if anybody’s going to meet Jesus in this world, they’re going to meet him through the Church, the Body of Christ.

Peace,

Allan

Salvation in Being Known

“Now that you know God — or rather are known by God…” ~Galatians 4:9

The apostle Paul corrects himself here. He realizes the salvation emphasis should not be on you knowing God but rather, or more importantly, on God knowing you. He’s got it backwards, so he fixes it. Salvation is not found in knowing God.

But I feel like that’s the way I was raised. A lot of us were. I needed to know God and know things about God in order to be saved. But somewhere along the way it turned into knowing things about God in order to be right. Or to be better. That’s probably to be expected in the world and time in which we live. But knowing became the most important thing. And what we knew made us right. And saved. We were right about church, right about God’s will, right about baptism, right about worship, and right about who’s going to heaven and who’s not based on what we thought we knew about God.

We failed to realize that this desire to know in order to be right kept us from being truly known. It kept us from being truly loved.

We think we know everything about God, but it’s only the God we believe him to be or want him to be. The mystery’s gone and so is the need to trust. The more I know and the more I’m right, the less faith I need. When my relationship with God is based on the facts I know about God, I can also get really judgmental about others. While that may make me feel safe and protected, it can also separate me from others and increase my isolation.

So, I know a lot of things but I don’t allow myself to be known in ways that make me feel truly understood and forgiven and encouraged. By other people or by God.

And we keep hoping for God’s magic wand to change us, to just sweep over us and transform us and take away our sin and guilt and fix our broken relationships and heal our psychological wounds. But that won’t happen as long as you make knowing God and knowing facts and knowing doctrine and knowing what’s right and correct more important than surrendering to the Lord who knows you — the God in Christ who chooses you and understands you and brings you to himself to belong to him forever.

“We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The one who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the one who loves God is known by God.” ~1 Corinthians 8:1-3

This is a major part of the problem in Corinth and Galatia and it’s one of the major things that’s hurting us today. These Christians in Galatia are not going back to their pagan gods, they’re not returning to idol worship. But they are going to observing the law as their ticket to salvation. Paul sees observing the law of Moses in order to be saved as the same thing as being enslaved by idols. That’s a radical thing Paul is saying here: Judaism and paganism are the same thing! Paul says whatever leads you away from a sole reliance on Christ alone, adding anything to faith in Christ alone whether it’s by good intentions or depraved desires, is not Christian and it’s not the Gospel.

We’re not Boy Scouts trying to make Eagle Scout. We’re not trying to earn 27 merit badges and getting people to evaluate and sign off on what I know and what I can do. We’re not checking off a list or climbing a ladder. We’re not Boy Scouts! We are the redeemed sons and daughters of God! We are chosen by God, we belong to God, and we are heirs of God’s faithful promises! Why? Not because we know God, but rather because we are known by God!

Maybe you’re not known by your boss and you’re invisible to your colleagues. Maybe your spouse doesn’t understand you. Maybe you feel like an outsider in your own family. Or your church. Maybe you don’t even know what you know about yourself. What you know about your thoughts doesn’t match up with your actions. What you know in your head is not what you feel in your heart. Maybe you can’t make sense of the continuing sin or the nagging doubts or the undefined guilt or the insecurity. Maybe you just feel stuck. And maybe nobody knows any of this stuff. You’re the only one who knows what’s really going on with you and how it all makes you feel.

Well — you and God. God knows you fully and perfectly.

He knows all the stuff swirling around in your head and your heart that you don’t even know how to say. He knows you. And he knows exactly what kind of forgiveness you need. He knows exactly what kind of love you need and what kind of assurance you need. He knows where to place you and how to bring you along. He knows how to care for you. You are known by God.

Peace,

Allan

 

Understood By God

“Now that you know God — or rather are known by God…” ~Galatians 4:9

Paul corrects himself here in the middle part of his letter to the churches in Galatia. Knowing God is good and it’s important, but it’s not the main thing, it’s not the main point. Rather, Paul says, or more importantly, you are known by God. That’s the primary thing. Yesterday we suggested that, in the language and context of Scripture, being known by God means to be chosen by God. Today, I’d like to explore today the idea that being known by God is to be understood by God.

“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.” ~Psalm 139:1

Psalm 139 and others like it insist that God knew me before I was born: “Your eyes saw my unformed body.” God knows everything that’s going to happen to me before it happens: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  You know what I’m thinking before even I fully know what I’m thinking. You know what I’m going to say before I can even organize my words. “You have laid your hand upon me.” You know me. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, it’s too lofty for me to attain.”

You know me, Lord, better than I know myself. You understand me.

The psalmist doesn’t see that as scary. He sees it as a tremendous blessing. A great comfort. God perfectly understands me.

God understands you. He knows the true you, inside and out. He gets you.

Yes, God sees your sin. He sees it clearly. And he understands what makes you sin. He knows how you were raised, he knows the things that have happened to you, he knows the pressures you feel, he knows about your frustration and your guilt. God knows how hard you try, he knows how remorseful you feel when you fail, he knows all about your inner confusion, and why you have good days and bad days. God knows all the stuff swirling around in your head and your heart that you don’t know how to articulate. He knows you. He understands you.

Richard Baxter said, “To be known by God is to be approved and loved by him and to be assured that all your concerns are perfectly known to him and regarded by him. This is the full and final comfort of a believer.”

I know the way I was raised and where I grew up and what’s in my DNA and the things I’ve done good and bad and the things that have happened to me good and bad have all shaped who I am. I know all those things influence how I think and act and respond. For good and bad, it’s who I am. But I don’t understand how all of that actually works. And I don’t know much at all about how to accentuate the good things in me and change the bad things in me. But God does. God has searched me and he knows me, inside and out. He understands me.

And he understands you. That means he knows exactly what kind of forgiveness you need. He knows precisely what kind of love you need. He knows what kind of assurance you need. He knows exactly where to place you and how to bring you along. He knows how to take care of you.

“Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” ~1 Corinthians 13:12

Peace,

Allan

Chosen By God

“Now that you know God — or rather are known by God…” ~Galatians 4:9

Paul is using Old Testament language in this passage. “Known by God” is the same phrase used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the way God knows Abraham, Moses, David, Jeremiah, and the nation of Israel. The Bible says they are all known by God. And that phrase is mostly used of very important people at very critical junctures in the story. To be known by God is to be chosen by God. It’s God acting on your behalf. It’s God choosing through no merit of your own — you’ve done nothing to deserve it — to bless you and work in you and through you in his salvation story.

The point is that God is the prime figure. He’s the main actor, the initiator. God determines the appropriate time for his Son to come (Galatians 4:4). God sent his Son (4:4). God sent the Spirit into our hearts (4:6). God made us his heirs (4:7). Paul is pointing to what happens when you are grabbed by God, when God’s attention is focused on you.

The Bible is consistently clear on this. Salvation always begins with God, not you.

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one… No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law… Righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” ~Romans 3:11-24

People don’t seek God; God seeks people. Humans are so caught up in their sin, they’re so in love with their sin, they don’t seek holiness and righteousness on their own. God always has to make the first move. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

“The one who loves God is known by God.” ~ 1 Corinthians 8:3

In Genesis 18, God promises to bless Abraham and make him a great nation and save all people of the earth through his family. Why? “For I have known him.” God speaks to his people through the prophet Amos and reminds them, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; you only have I chosen.”

God promises David that he will be king and that all David’s enemies will be defeated and that David’s family will reign on the throne forever. And David’s a little shook up. This is overwhelming news and David feels sort of inadequate. And he prays to God:

“Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with people, O Sovereign Lord?” ~2 Samuel 7:18-19

What David knows about himself and about the throne, what David knows about God, is confusing and incomplete. Who am I that this is happening for me? Why am I so chosen and so blessed?

“What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Sovereign Lord.” ~2 Samuel 7:20

The answer is simple and profound and comforting. You know me. You chose me. That’s first. And that’s more than enough.

Peace,

Allan

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