Category: Promise (page 1 of 9)

Salvation Through the Promise

All the add-ons and extras are being ripped down on the west side of our church building at Central, preparing for the construction of the new façade and entrance. The stairs and foyer and overhang in front of the offices are gone and the porch and foyer in front of the Gathering Place exist no more. It’s loud and there’s a lot of dirt. The whole building shakes with every blow of the heavy equipment against the concrete foundation. The daily changes are noticeable around here now — on the outside and the inside. Things are falling off the walls in Vickie’s and Gail’s offices.

 

 

 

 

 

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“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed.” ~Galatians 3:16

“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing… and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” ~Genesis 12:2-3

This promise reveals and establishes God’s universal intent and plan for salvation: all peoples on earth will be blessed through Abraham. It’s universal. It’s for the whole world. God calls Abraham out of the blue and says, “I will bless you and you will be a blessing. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Paul says Abraham believed that promise and it was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham was saved by believing in God’s promise, by trusting in God’s Word. That’s how the covenant was established.

Abraham didn’t make a covenant with God; God made a covenant with Abraham. God did not lay down any conditions for Abraham to meet. In fact — you can look it up! — when God ratifies the covenant in Genesis 15, Abraham is sound asleep. It’s a covenant of pure grace.

God’s people are chosen by grace. God establishes the relationship by his own initiative apart from any law. They’re his people before there is such a thing as the law. The promise came first. The relationship came first. God’s people never obeyed the law in order to be saved. God had already saved them by his promise. There’s a big difference between “Do this and I’ll save you” and “I’ll save you so you can do this.”

Salvation is founded on God’s promise. And that promise is unchangeable.

What God promised Abraham is eternal. It’s irrevocable. God’s promise can’t be nullified, modified, or altered in any way — not by anybody’s personal preferences, not by any group’s cultural or national agendas, not even the Law of Moses can change God’s promise.

“The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.” ~Galatians 3:17-18

The law is really a latecomer to the salvation scene. The law doesn’t change the eternal arrangement God made with Abraham and his descendants. The promise is unchangeable. So the way we relate to God today is the same was it’s always been and always will be: through faith, not through works of the law. God saves people when they trust his Word, when they believe his promise, not when they keep all the details of the law.

The law is not God’s most important revelation. It’s the promise. God’s eternal promise and our faith in that promise to save is the basis of everything God has planned for us and his creation. Faith, not works, is the foundation of our righteous relationship with God and with each other.

In Romans 7, Paul says the law is holy, righteous, and good. But we are unholy, unrighteous, and not good. The law doesn’t make us sinners; it reveals to us that we are sinners. The law is a holy mirror that shows us we have dirty faces. But you don’t wash your face with a mirror. We are cleansed, we are made holy and righteous, and good, by the faith of Christ and our faith in Christ — the fulfillment of God’s great promise.

Peace,

Allan

People of Promise

What we believe about how we are saved matters. What we think saves us matters a great deal. The apostle Paul spends all of Galatians 3 reminding us that we are saved by God’s promise, not by God’s law. And he thinks it matters a lot.

“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed…” 3:16

“If the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise…” 3:18

“The Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through the faith of Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe…” 3:22

“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” 3:29

God in Christ has fulfilled the entirety of the law’s purposes for us. We are no longer condemned by the law, we’re not threatened by the law; the era of the law is over! The promise is fulfilled and the new age of righteousness and grace and freedom in Christ has begun! We are the people of promise.

God’s promises are not like the promises you and I make and receive every day. This is God. It’s his promise. No fine print, no out clauses, no surprises. God doesn’t make promises with his fingers crossed. He promises to save us, knowing he would have to die to make it happen. And — praise the Lord! — he did!

We are not people of the law. We are a people of promise. And that matters. It matters big time. If we think we’re saved by law or by rules or works or behaving correctly, then we’re going to treat people harshly. We’ll be arrogant and judgmental. We’ll be unbending and unforgiving. We’ll be nervous and unsure and we’ll fight and divide over the weirdest little things. And we’ll turn off a lot of people.

When we know we’re saved by the gracious promises of God, we’ll be a people of mercy and love. We’ll give others the benefit of the doubt. We’ll be flexible and forgiving. We’ll seek to bless other people. We’ll be kind and hospitable. Our words will be encouraging, our actions will be inviting. We’ll be unified by a focus on the really big important things and we’ll inspire a lot of people.

We are not people of the law. We are not people of the rules or people of the regulations or people of the guilt trip or people of the coercion. We are not people of correct interpretations or proper practices. None of those things save us! Those are the things we use in order to gain control. Or to be more prominent. Or better. Or right. Those are the things that divide us and separate us. Those are the things that lead to jealousy and anger and strife and condemnation.

We are free. Free from guilt. Free from condemnation. Free from punishment. We are rescued from the present evil age according to the will of God our Father to whom be glory for ever and ever! Amen!

The Good News today is that your forgiveness, your salvation, your eternal life does not depend on rules or regulations or interpretations or practices. Your righteousness rests solely in the unchanging promise of our loving God.

The Bible says no matter how many promises God has made, they are all “yes” in Christ. Every one of God’s promises — all of his blessings, all of his hope and peace and joy, everything God wants for you, everything he created you to be and to have — are available to you if you’ll put your faith in Christ.

Peace,

Allan

God at Work: With Us

“We are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they will be my people.'” ~2 Corinthians 6:16

In Exodus 24, God has come down to his people on a mountain. He comes to be  near them, to be with them. He’s keeping his covenant promise to live with us, to dwell among us. And you see all three of the Church sacraments in this passage. The people have assembled together in God’s presence. It’s the Day of Assembly. And the people are worshiping. They hear the Word of the Lord and they respond, “Everything the Lord has said, we will do!” They’re making burnt offerings, fellowship offerings, and sacrifices to God. The people are being washed by blood. Paul says in 1 Corinthians these people were all baptized when they passed through the Red Sea. But they are certainly being cleansed.

“Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you…’ Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel… They saw God and they ate and drank.” ~Exodus 24:8-11

God comes to his people, he cleanses us, he makes us righteous and whole, and he eats and drinks with us. We see God at the table.

But that’s not enough for our God. It’s not close enough to us. So he makes his dwelling place in the tabernacle in the desert and, later, inside the temple in Jerusalem. But that’s not close enough to us for our Father. So he comes here himself in the physical flesh and blood of Jesus. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. He tabernacle with us as one of us.

When Jesus was baptized, Luke tells us “all the people were being baptized.” Matthew says the people came “from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan” to be baptized. And Jesus joins us in the water. He meets us there in our cleansing. God’s presence is there. The dove, the Holy Spirit, the voice of God affirming and commissioning: “You are my child, I am proud of you.”

And Jesus meets us in worship. The Gospels say he went to the synagogue regularly, as was his custom. He went to the temple, faithfully, for the corporate assemblies and festivals. He never missed. And he ate and drank with everybody — rich and poor, men and women, Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, sinners and saints.  He ate with Mary and Martha and tax collectors in their own houses. He set up a picnic with 4,000 Gentiles out in the wilderness. He got in trouble because he refused to discriminate. He ate with all of us!

That last night with his closest disciples, around the table, he’s eating with us. “This is my blood of the covenant,” our Lord says.

“I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the Kingdom of God… I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.” ~Luke 22:15-18

And then on the day of his resurrection, Jesus can’t wait to eat with his disciples. He makes lunch plans with two of them on the road to Emmaus and when Jesus breaks the bread, they “see” him. That evening he shows up where the apostles are, right in the middle of dinner. They’re not sure it’s him — maybe this is a ghost. So Jesus asks for a piece of fish and eats it “in their presence.” Later, when people ask Peter how he knows Jesus is alive, he replies, “Because we ate and drank with him after he was raised from the dead!”

But that’s not enough for our God. He wants to be even closer. He doesn’t want his presence with us to be limited by physical space. So he pours out his Holy Spirit on everybody. By his Spirit, God Almighty takes up residence, he tabernacles, he makes his dwelling place, inside each of us and all of us.

We see all these sacraments on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, into the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call… Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day… They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer… Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” ~Acts 2:38-47

Look, baptism doesn’t work because we believe all the right things and we say all the right words. Baptism saves us because God is there. God meets us in the water. He forgives us, he cleanses us, he unites with us in baptism. He connects us to the salvation death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord so he can live with us.

And Jesus doesn’t meet us at the table to shame us. It’s not, “Look what I had to do for you — remember it!” It’s his gift to us, this sacred time with him and with one another where God accepts us and affirms us, where he nourishes us and sustains our lives. It’s not, “I had to die for you — be grateful!” It’s, “I love you; I want to eat with you.” It’s an invitation.

And worship doesn’t work because we’ve got it figured out and we’re good at it. Worship works because God is with us and he’s working. His presence is with us. God is speaking to us by his Word. Christ Jesus is eating with us and nurturing us at the table. And the Spirit is interceding for us with words we can’t begin to describe.

Our actions don’t move God to grace; God’s grace moves him to action. These sacraments, these ordinances, are gifts of God’s grace to us. He initiated these things we do together. In baptism and at the table, together with God’s people in holy assembly, God says to us, “We can meet each other here.” That’s his promise: I will meet you here.

He left heaven to give these gifts to us. He came to us and suffered and died for us in order to be close to you. He wants to be near you. He wants to change you and make you whole. He loves you. He wants to eat with you. It’s an invitation.

In baptism and at the table and during the assembly, God promises, “I’m here. You may not see me every time, you may not feel it every time, but I’m here. You may feel far from me, but I am present with you in these special times and places. I am near you. I am cleansing you and nourishing you and changing you.”

This is God’s work in transforming encounter, in the sacraments. Even if you don’t see it or feel it, you can trust it.

Peace,

Allan

Hearing and Speaking the Word

“We are God’s house if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” ~Hebrews 3:6

We don’t know exactly how it happens. But we do know that, when all is said and done, the goodness of God is going to prevail over evil. The love of God is going to win in the end, not hate. The beauty of God is going to overcome and transform everything that’s ugly. And the risen Son of God will be on the throne, not the powers of darkness and death.

God wins in the end. Right? God wins!

How do we know that? Because we have heard his Word. We have heard God’s voice. We have heard the words of Jesus. We have the Word proclaimed by faithful witnesses and preserved for us in the holy Scriptures.

If we trust only what we see, we’re lost. We’re going to fall asleep at best, and quit the story altogether at worst. But if we hold firmly to what we have heard, if we live and believe what we have heard, then we enter the rest of God and we increase in confidence and courage and hope. And we boast. We start talking with great confidence.

We all turn into preachers.

Think about the way we talk. Think about the way hearing the Word and believing the Word causes us to speak. Why else would we say the things we do?

At the waters of baptism, we’re dealing with very risky and very unpredictable human beings. We can be baptizing a 12-year-old child we know nothing about or a 35-year-old adult we know way too much about. But when that human being comes up out of the water, we say,” All your past and future sins are forgiven! You are now sealed for eternity by God’s Holy Spirit who now lives inside you! You belong to God in Christ Jesus for all eternity!” We say it because we have heard the Word. And we believe it. It’s bold.

Around a hospital bed we say, “The Lord is my rock and my salvation; I will not be afraid!” Why? Because we have heard the Word.

In the cemetery at the graveside we say, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! Death has been swallowed up in his victory!” Why? Because we have heard the Word. It’s courageous.

To people who pollute the air, the water, or the land we say, “Stop it! The earth belongs to the Lord and everything in it!” To those who want to construct walls between people and do hateful things and use hateful words and forward hateful emails in Virginia or in Amarillo we say, “Every single man, woman, and child on this planet is created by God in the image of God and is loved deeply by our God! Cut it out!” And in moments of personal or even national crisis, we can proclaim, “We are not afraid! We’re not worried! We have been to the mountain top! We have beheld his glory! We have heard his Word!”

That way of talking boils up from a deep conviction and confidence in the promises of our God.

We’re not jumping into the dark here, we’re stepping into the light. We know what to do and what to say because God has spoken to us by his Son. He is still speaking to us by his Son! And we do hear that faithful Word.

Peace,

Allan

Faith is Our “Yes” to God

“No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.” ~2 Corinthians 1:20

amenblackWhen we say “Amen” (this is true, I believe this, may it be so, etc.,) when we believe the promises of God, God is praised because, as the passage continues, he is the One who makes you stand firm in Christ. God has established you securely in his Son. You’re not going anywhere and neither is God. God is given glory because he has anointed you, he has called you out and set you apart to work in you and through you for his salvation purposes. And God is the One who has taken you as his own. He has put his stamp on you, he’s placed his Spirit in your heart to prove that what he has said, he will do. And he’s going to fulfill his promises.

The Bible is not fundamentally about us. Scripture is about God. The Bible is not about me and my present and my future — it’s about what God has done and what he’s doing right now and what he’s going to do tomorrow. When I say “Amen” or “I believe,” I say I trust God and I’m banking my whole life on his holy Word.

“My purpose is that you may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that you may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that you may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” ~Colossians 2:2-3

As you reflect on the promises of God and his faithfulness, as you fix your eyes on Jesus and see and experience how God is fulfilling those promises through Christ for you, the more you read it and talk about it and pray it and share it — an “Amen” will start to develop in your heart. An “Amen” will form and grow in your soul. “I believe.” “So be it.”

Think about God’s “Yes,” his “Amen” to us. Spend time with that. And his Spirit will stir up in your heart a responding “Yes,” your own resounding “Amen” to our Lord’s eternal glory and praise.

Peace,

Allan

Jesus is God’s “Yes” to You

“God is not a man, that he should lie
nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?”
~Numbers 23:19

amenscrabbleWhat God says, he will do. What God promises, he will fulfill. God is faithful to his Word. What God has said about your life, what he has said regarding your past, what he has promised related to your right now, what he has promised concerning your home, your family, your job, your well-being — he is faithful. He can be trusted to keep his Word.

There are a lot of promises in the Bible. God promises to do a lot of really great and eternal things. But I think we struggle sometimes to believe his promises are for “me.” Church people, Christians, — us! — believe God in the abstract, but we struggle to believe him personally. We believe in theory. But it doesn’t always translate to “me” very well.

I totally believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross and that he was raised from the dead for the forgiveness of sins. Yes, I believe God promised to forgive sin and I believe God worked through Jesus to accomplish it. Amen, yes, I believe in the forgiveness of sins…

…unless we’re talking about your sins, maybe.

Well… I’ve got some really bad sins. I don’t know. I mean, I still sin. I’m not a good person. I can’t believe my sins are totally taken care of. Not all of them.

Look, I’ll be honest here. I can have a hard time with this, too. It doesn’t always take much. Bad things can start happening and I can question and doubt the faithfulness of our God.

“No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ!” ~2 Corinthians 1:20

Everybody loves to hear “Yes.” You’ve never heard anybody say, “If I could get a few more ‘NOs’ in my life, I’d be a happier person.” Two children talking together in a bedroom have never said, “Let’s don’t ask dad, let’s ask mom; she always says ‘No!'” We all want to hear “Yes.” We love to hear “Yes.”

Scripture reminds us that all of God’s promises find their “Yes” in Jesus. Not half of God’s promises, not some of God’s promises, not a conditional percentage of God’s promises — the answer to every single promise God has ever made is “Yes” in Jesus!

How do you really know God’s promises are true for you? Can you really trust that all your sins are truly forgiven? How do you know?

Scripture says if we look to ourselves for the answers to these profound and valid questions, we’ll struggle and doubt for our entire lives. The solution is to look to Jesus. Find the answers in Jesus. Fix your eyes on Jesus and your confidence and faith in God will grow.

How do you know God is fully in charge and he really is going to fix everything that’s wrong with the world and me? Look at Jesus. Look how he heals the lame, how he gives sight to the blind, how he feeds the hungry, how he drives out the tormenting demons, how he raises the dead. God will fix you. It’s a promise.

amenblocksHow do you know God can really forgive my worst sins? Look at Jesus. Look how he loves the prostitute at Simon’s house and says to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Look how he saves the woman caught in adultery and tells her, “I don’t consider you guilty.” Look how he forgives the tax collector in the tree, the best friend who betrayed him, the paralyzed man. Look how Jesus prays from the cross for his accusers and executioners; how with his dying breath he prays for his killers: “Father, forgive them.” God will forgive you. It’s a promise.

How do you know that God is really for you, that he’s not indifferent toward you, that he really loves you and he’s in tune with you and paying attention to you and he wants the very best for you? Look at Jesus on that cross. He died for you. He suffered and died for you.

“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” ~Romans 8:31-32

There is no event in salvation history, there is no promise made by God to his people, that is not coming true in Jesus. God is faithful to keep his Word to you. It’s a promise.

Peace,

Allan

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