Tag Archives: Justice

Facing the Truth about Sin

There was no “Delete” key in the first century.  So, when John wrote: “and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 john 1:7b), he needed to clarify what he meant.  John knew people would read that and ask if he was claiming that followers of Jesus become sinless.  So he explained:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:8-9)

There are people who claim to follow Christ and also claim to be sinless.  John says those folks are deceiving themselves.  More than that, he says  “the truth is not in [them].”  It’s important to understand that John is warning such people that they have not truly begun a relationship of faith with Jesus.  How can he be sure?  Jesus gives the Holy Spirit,  the “Spirit of Truth,” to everyone who truly believes and follows Him (John 14:17).  Jesus promised his followers, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”  (John 16:13a).   Someone who is self-deceived about sin is almost certainly also self-deceived about his relationship with Jesus.

But those who have the Spirit of Truth, will experience His Truth as it pertains to their condition, whenever they sin.  They will be painfully aware that they have sinned again (and again)!

John reassures such people that, as we acknowledge our sin (confess, or agree with what the Spirit has shown us), God is faithful to forgive us.  “Faithful” means we can count on Him to do so.   God also is just.”  How can it be just for God to keep on forgiving us?  God forgives us with complete and perfect justice because “the blood of Jesus”  (v.7) has paid the full penalty for our sin.  Do you struggle to wrap your mind around that?  Me too.  But it is the truth.

And it gets better:  John says, God, Who faithfully forgives us with justice, then “purifies us from all unrighteousness.”   When you screw up and sin, don’t you feel dirty?  Don’t you feel as though you are smeared with a stain that you cannot wash away?  Despite how you feel, the truth is, God lovingly washes you clean.  He restores you and gives you a clean slate.  It is hard for us to feel clean, and yet, in truth, we are clean.  Amazing…

But, you may be wondering, how often can we expect God to keep doing that for us?  Look back to the quote above and see it for yourself:  He cleanses us from “all unrighteousness.”  The word, all, literally means “each and every one.”   More amazing…

The more the Spirit makes us aware of how often we sin, the more the message of God’s forgiveness, His justice and His washing seems.  Amazing and very, very humbling.  But true.

Will the Real Leader Please Stand Up?

Do you despair when you hear all The bickering that goes on in Washington? How do you suppose the upheaval in Egypt will turn out? Do you think the new leader in Iran will be better than Ahmedinijab (How do you spell his name? My spell checker converted it into something about getting a job at Denny’s)? When you consider all the unrest in the world are you ready for a perfect leader? Here’s a prediction about just that from Isaiah 11. He is prophesying about Jesus. When you read how Jesus’ leadership will be characterized one day, it sounds pretty good…

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
. (Isaiah 11:1-4)

Question is, with a leader like that, would you follow Him, would you cooperate?

The Gift

A friend told me of an elderly woman who spoke a brief but powerful message at his church.  She stood at the pulpit and said, “I would like to read a verse in the Bible you have probably never heard –  It’s John 3:16.”  Everyone laughed, since that verse is one of the most well known verses in Scripture.  Sunday school children can rattle it off by memory with lighting speed.   The people thought, “She’s joking; John 3:16 is the verse held up behind the goalposts, for heaven’s sake; of course we’ve heard it.”  Undeterred, the woman began to read: “For God so loved the world, that He gave…”  But at that point in her reading, her throat became constricted, there was a catch in her voice, and she had to stop to pull herself together.  She inhaled that jerky breath of intense sorrow.  Her eyes rimmed red.  She started again: “For God so loved the world that He….  (sob)…   that He gave…   (silent pause, clearing of throat)…  He gave His one and only Son…”   At that point she could not go on.  Her chest was heaving as she tried to take control of her emotions.  A tear snaked its way down her cheek.  She leaned over and fiercely glared at the text in the Bible, unsuccessfully willing herself to stop weeping.  And then, one by one, people in the congregation began to weep with her.  They began to “hear” this verse and to understand the profound generosity and the horrible cost represented by those simple words: “He gave His one and only Son.”  Soon the whole congregation was gripped by the shocking enormity  conveyed in that verse.  Tears flowed, noses were blown.   The old woman just waited.  And then, she closed her Bible and sat back down.  They had “heard” it.

How can God be loving and forgiving and at the same time be perfectly just?  How can He forgive our sins without also demanding the just punishment for them?  He gradually revealed to Isaiah what He would do to reconcile the apparent conflict between perfect love and perfect justice.  He told Isaiah:

“…For unto us a child is born, to us a Son is given…” (Isaiah 9:6a)

The word, given, means given over.  Like a mother who stands by the bus and gives her son over to basic training.   In the marriage ceremony, the pastor asks, “Who gives this woman…”   The parents let go of their child and give her over.   Young women make the heroic choice to bear a child, and then, knowing their own inability to provide for that child, give him over for adoption.   Gifts, in the truest sense, have no strings.  They are given over, forever.  In giving His Son, God takes His hands off, removes His shield of protection.  He gives Jesus – to us.  

God gave Jesus over to whatever would happen to Him in this world.  You know what happened.  In that Gift, God accomplished love and justice.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  (Isaiah 53:5-6)

The Riddle and a Hint

There is something in the Bible that doesn’t seem to make sense.  Consider: We were designed by our Creator, to be connected to Him, by His Spirit, in an interactive way, much like a cell phone is connected to the cell signal. However, because of rebellion and sin, we are disconnected from God’s Spirit. We are spiritually dead; in cell phone lingo, we have no bars (See: Dead Man Walking).  God desires to connect us again, and said He will do so for those who are receptive – the lowly and contrite. He said He will forgive, heal, restore and revive them. But God also said He does not leave the guilty unpunished. This is the riddle of the Bible, set forth in Exodus 34:6-7 and not solved until the New Testament. But God gave Isaiah big hints. Before considering some of those hints, let’s clarify the problem.

Justice demands that the guilty be punished. We know that in our bones. For example, suppose a drunk driver killed your toddler daughter. He’s arrested and goes to trial. During the trial, he breaks down in heartfelt tears of remorse, acknowledging to the judge that he is guilty and that he can never bring your daughter back to life but that he has committed himself to a life of complete sobriety. He is sincere. How would you feel if the judge said, “Because you are sorry, I’m going to let you off and clear your record. Case dismissed!”?   Frustrated?     Angry? Sure, because justice was not served. Justice demands the guilty be punished. Perfect justice demands that the punishment be balanced to the crime. Too light a punishment makes a mockery of justice.

God is just and God is perfect. According to what He showed Moses in Exodus 34:6, He is loving and forgiving but He also will not leave the guilty unpunished. Question: What should be the just punishment for something that causes death? I’m not talking about something that causes physical death, which merely shortens the span of a lifetime, but an act that causes spiritual death, which has eternal consequences?  Death, right?

Jesus said to the most religious people of His day, that, without some significant intervention and change, they would die in their sins.

But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8:23-24)

Sin, separates us from our spiritual connection to God, and causes death – spiritually, eternally. Justice demands a full punishment.   But Jesus said, “…if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”    Who did He claim to be?    Why would that make a difference?

Let’s begin with a hint, given by God to Isaiah, 700 years before Jesus:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 )

The “Child” would be born. The “Son” would be given – literally given over.   He would be called Mighty God.   Jesus said, “… if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will die in your sins.”

Chew on that…

Would God Forgive You?

The kidnapper in Cleveland and the bomber brothers in Boston raise an important question: Could they ever be forgiven by God?  How about you?  We have been hammering away at the meaning of Isaiah 57:15, about how the Creator of the Universe, Almighty God, Who lives beyond the dimensions of time and space, said He would live in the soul of the lowly and contrite.  If you are just joining us, go to the page listed in the menu above where the posts are listed in order.  But how about it: if the surviving bomber or the kidnapper truly became contrite and lowly, would either of them qualify?  Read what God said next in Isaiah:

I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry, for then the spirit of man would grow faint  before me— the breath of man that I have created.   I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid my face in anger, yet he kept on in his willful ways.   I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him.  (Isaiah 57:16-18)

God says He sees.  He knows.  But He is also ready to forgive.  To forgive but, even better, to restore and heal, to guide and comfort.  Who?  The lowly and contrite, the person who wakes up to the reality of Who God truly is, and by contrast, how sinful and unable to stop screwing up we humans are.  Ever watch those shows on cable where they restore old antiques?  Amazing!  Ever cut yourself badly and eventually see that it has been healed?  Imagine having the wounds of your soul healed.  Ever try to fix your computer and make it worse?  And yearn for someone who really knows to come and guide you – and restore comfort to your tangled emotions?  Read through that chunk of Isaiah again and consider those promises.

BUT, BUT, BUT!!!   If the bomber and the kidnapper get off, it just wouldn’t be right  – right?

Yes, insofar as justice is concerned.  And justice matters to God (remember: He is perfect!).  So which matters more to God – justice or forgiveness?  That question sets up a riddle about the character of God.  Here’s how God presented the riddle to Moses:

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,  maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished (Exodus 34:6-7a)

God is forgiving of wickedness, rebellion and sin but insists that the guilty be punished.  Hmmm…   How can that be?  I will forgive you, but first I have to kill you?  That riddle is solved, later in the Bible.  God gave a big hint to Isaiah.  He gave the Solution, 700 years after that.   Chew on that, and stay tuned…