Waiting For God’s Man

“It doesn’t take long for everything to go wrong.”

You could be forgiven if that is your initial thought when reading the Bible and starting in Genesis. It is a thousand-page book and everything is broken by page three.

It was off to such a good start, too. Genesis 1: God creates everything and everything is “very good.” Genesis 2: Mankind is given the tremendous privilege of filling the earth with more of God’s goodness and love. Genesis 3: Mankind listens to one of the beasts they are supposed to be reigning over and rebel against God, breaking everything for everyone.

It’s a tragedy and not a very long one.

The Promise Given

Or, it would be a tragedy if not for a promise that God makes in the midst of speaking his judgment against the snake, the woman, and the man.

In Genesis 3:15, a verse it is tempting to merely glance over as we read, we see a ray of hope for the future:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (ESV)

It’s tempting to read that and interpret it as a vague antagonism between women and snakes, and between humans and snakes. Except for the last clause: “he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” That is a singular, masculine pronoun.

And that is important. God is making a promise that one day, a man will come along who will gain victory over the serpent. To be sure, the serpent would get his blow in and bruise the man’s heel. But the man will bruise the serpent’s head.

The implication is that the man will suffer, but that it will not prove ultimately fatal. The blow to the snake’s head, however, will lead to his demise.

Hope!

See? We may merely glance at the statement, but it is pretty important: God is giving humanity hope! When Adam and Eve heard this promise, they understood that while the serpent’s deception had led them to lose everything, God’s promise would one day restore everything.

As they were clothed by God in animal skins, they understood that God was going to make a way for their lives to be redeemed.

As they were driven from the Garden of Eden, they understood that God would someday grant them safe passage back into his presence.

They understood these things because of God’s promise in Genesis 3:15.

Looking For God’s Man

How do we know? Because of what follows. In Genesis 4, we’re introduced to Adam and Eve’s sons, Cain and Abel. Cain is born first and Eve’s reaction is telling: “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” (ESV)

Why did it matter that she had gotten a man? Did Eve, a woman, believe that a man was inherently better than a woman? Maybe, though God had created both man and woman in his image. Did she merely rejoice because a man would be more useful in the labor of daily sustenance? Maybe, but not necessarily as women can be just as resilient in providing for their families.

It is far more likely that Eve was remembering God’s promise of a coming male offspring who would break the curse of sin by triumphing over the deceptive serpent, Satan.

But Cain wasn’t the promised one. Nor was Abel. We know that because of what happens next.

We see them worshipping God by each giving an offering to him. Abel’s offering to God is in line with what God had revealed in Genesis 3 by killing animals and clothing Adam and Eve: a blood sacrifice. Cain’s offering is the fruit of his labor in the fields: vegetation.

Both worshipping God. Both making an offering. But God accepts Abel’s offering and not Cain’s. There may not have been anything wrong with Cain’s offering, but we quickly see that there was something wrong with his heart.

Because when God rejects Cain’s offering, it reveals jealousy and rage that drive Cain to kill Abel. God deals with Cain, but we need to see his mother’s response to understand, again, how Adam and Eve understood God’s promise. Genesis 4:25 records Eve’s reaction to the birth of her third son, Seth: “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” (ESV)

Eve was still looking for the promised “offspring.” She trusted God and knew that Abel couldn’t be the promised one because he was now dead, unable to strike the blow to the serpent. And she knew that Cain, though he was still alive, couldn’t do it either: he had sullied his hands with the blood of his brother and was no longer worthy to spill the blood of the snake. The promised one would have to be pure, unstained by the lies of the serpent and rebellion against God.

But she had another son, by God’s hand, so she had hope.

But Seth wasn’t the promised one. Nor was his son Enosh. Nor was his grandson Kenan.

But mankind kept looking for the fulfillment of God’s promise. That’s what the genealogies in the Old Testament are there for: to help God’s people, those who trusted his promise, in their search for the promised one.

Generation after generation, name after name, there was hope for humanity because God had made a promise. And God always keeps his promises

Some stand out from others. A descendant of Seth, named Lamech, thought he had the promised one identified. He said about his son, in Genesis 5:29, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” (ESV)

That son was Noah. Noah was important and God used Noah to preserve the human race through the judgment of the flood, but Noah wasn’t the promised one. His deliverance of humanity from sin didn’t last: he himself fell into drunkenness after the flood.

The promised one would be like Noah in that he would provide sanctuary for all who would take refuge within his protection, but he would have to be better than Noah.

So, the search for the promised one continued. It zoomed in on the land of Ur, on a man named Abram. God called Abram to leave and to move to Canaan. God promised to bless the whole world through Abram and renamed him Abraham. But Abraham, for all his obedience, struggled with letting God’s promises come about in God’s way: he continually manipulated the situation to try and bring about the promise on his own. So, Abraham wasn’t the promised one, merely one through whom the promised one would come.

The promised one would be like Abraham in that he would do whatever the Lord told him to do, but he would have to be better than Abraham.

At least the scope of the search was narrowing: the promised one would be Abraham’s descendant.

But it turned out not to be Abraham’s son or his grandson.

Years down the line, however, Abraham’s descendants found themselves slaves in the land of Egypt. And God called one of them, Moses, to lead them out of slavery and out of Egypt and back to the land of Canaan. But Moses had a problem with his temper: he killed an Egyptian and disobeyed God in leading the people towards Canaan. He wasn’t the promised one.

The promised one would be like Moses in that he would lead God’s people out of captivity, but he would have to be better than Moses.

God’s people make it into God’s promised land, but the promised offspring doesn’t appear. The people get into a cycle of ignoring God, falling into the hands of their enemies, repenting and being rescued by a judge raised up by God to save them, only to ignore God again as soon as they were safe. Each of these judges had potential to be the promised one in the eyes of the people. One, Shamgar, killed 600 enemies with no weapon but a wooden ox goad. But his victory didn’t last and God had to raise up another judge after him. So, Shamgar wasn’t the promised one.

The promised one would be like Shamgar in that he too would use an instrument of wood to conquer his enemies, but he would have to be better than Shamgar.

Eventually, God’s people grew tired of the never-ending cycle with the judges. They asked God to give them a king. God warned them that they wouldn’t like it, but they insisted. The first king, Saul, didn’t work out very well, but the second king was promising. His name was David and the Bible tells us that he was “a man after God’s own heart.” Surely, he was the promised one. Unfortunately, he wasn’t. David failed to keep himself pure, committing adultery with a friend’s wife and then arranging to have that friend killed. David wasn’t the promised one.

The promised one would be like David in that he would truly be a man after God’s own heart, but he would have to be better than David.

And on and on. God’s people, those still clinging to his promise of the coming one who would be God’s man, grew weary of watching, weary of waiting. A hundred years was a long time to wait, but thousands were passing. Every time a potential promised one appeared, he failed.

A Man Was Required But A Man Wasn’t Enough

It was becoming clear: no one was good enough. The best and the brightest of humanity had tried and failed. If God’s promise was going to be kept, God was going to have to do something remarkably different than what people had seen before.

One group of God’s people realized this quite clearly. The Sons of Korah were servants of God and helped to write some of the Psalms that we find in the Bible. These were worship songs, sung by God’s people as they praised and trusted him. In Psalm 49, the Sons of Korah realize something very important: the promised one couldn’t just be a man. In verses 7-9 of that Psalm, they write, “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit.” (ESV)

The Sons of Korah looked at this dismal record of failed promised ones and recognized something vital: a mere man wasn’t going to be enough to fulfill the promise. In order to ransom humanity from their enslavement to evil, the promised one would have to be someone who wasn’t under the curse, who wasn’t bound by the lies of the Father of Lies, Satan, that old serpent.

But in order to fulfill God’s promise, the promised one still had to be the woman’s offspring. In other words, he couldn’t be merely human, but he had to nonetheless still be human.

The Sons of Korah suggest a solution, whether they recognized it or not, in verse 15 of Psalm 49: “But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.” (ESV)

They recognized that a mere man could not ransom another man, but they rightly discerned that God could, and would, be able to ransom them.

God’s Not Surprised

God knew that too. All the “failures” that happened along the way weren’t God’s: he allowed the hope to build and his people to look expectantly at each new candidate. People may have been surprised by the failures, but God wasn’t. God wasn’t crossing his fingers as David’s eyeing Bathsheba, thinking, “Man, I hope he doesn’t do it!” God wasn’t biting his fingernails as Moses is standing in front of the people at the rock, whispering, “Please, oh please, don’t hit the rock!” Their failures aren’t God’s failures. God knew that they weren’t the promised one, he knew they weren’t good enough. But he was preparing us for the one who would be. He was preparing us for the GodMan.

See, God’s promise could be fulfilled only if the promised man was also God.

The Promise Fulfilled

Many missed it, but that’s exactly what eventually happened.

After thousands of years of delayed hope, of waiting and watching kings and prophets and judges, of praying for the promised one, God sent his promised one.

He was a man, born to a young peasant girl named Mary. His birth was just the same as every other human’s: messy. His first breath was like every other human’s: a prelude to a newborn’s squall. He grew. He learned. He got hungry and he ate. He got thirsty and he drank. He got tired and he slept. He was human, an offspring of the woman.

He was also God. In the beginning, he was with God and he was God. Before Abraham was, he is. He is the creator and sustainer of all things. He is the first and the last, the Alpha and Omega. He receives worship as God and does not correct the worshippers. He is God, able to ransom us from sin and death.

God’s man is the GodMan.

Jesus Christ is the only name given among men by which we may be saved because he is the only offspring of the woman who is also the one who created the woman.

Jesus Christ is 100% God and 100% man in order to finally fulfill the promise of God and reconcile mankind to himself.

Jesus Christ was the only one who could fulfill Genesis 3:15. He was wounded by the serpent, dying on the cross. But he struck the serpent’s head by rising through the power of his divine perfection.

Jesus Christ opened a way for humanity to return to the presence of God, not by setting a good example for us, but by bringing the presence of God to us and taking the punishment we deserved.

Time and time again, we fail. But the GodMan, Jesus Christ, invites us to put our trust in him, in his incarnation, in his life, death, burial, and resurrection.

Will you trust him? Will you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead?

Because that’s the only way that you can see God’s promise fulfilled in your life. That’s the only way that you can be redeemed from sin and death: trust in God’s Promised One.

Put simply: trust in God.

Incarnation God Man Jesus Christ

Want more? Sign up for email updates!



 

Five Fiancés, One Bride, And A Wedding

“Why do you even let people see you with that drunken whore!”

The exclamation burst from taut lips with an explosive, yet strangely precise, force: like a demolition charge carefully placed to produce exactly the intended destruction and no more. The eyes above the lips flashed intensely in the harsh white light of the study hall, unrelenting in their glare.

“If you could only…” He started but was cut off by another directed explosion…

“…see her like you do!? I know, you’ve told me that before. It’s like you don’t even care what people might think of you! For that matter, what they might think of me! I’m trying to be reasonable here, but she’s making it incredibly difficult! All that, ‘It’s all cool, just walking the path, enjoy the journey’ mumbo-jumbo! Does she even know how to read? Does she understand how important it is to use even a little bit of logic? Could she, just once, say something clearly?”

He sighed. She was so hard to deal with when she got like this. “It’s like she knows everything without knowing anything, all at once,” he thought again. For the millionth time.

“Well, just give her a chance, you’ll come to love her, trust me.

“That’s highly unlikely! Face the facts: I am the only one smart enough for you!”

With this final outburst, she spun around and stalked off, the close, white walls echoing the staccato rhythm her heels beat out on the polished floor.

“Look, I don’t know why you waste your time with her. I mean, she’s obviously too stuck-up to ever, you know, get it.”

The words dripped out of lips slick with liquid sheen from a recently sipped IPA.

He started to reply, but the far-off glint in her eye told him she was just getting started. He stopped.

“It’s like she thinks she’s better than everybody. You’re not like that, you know, you’re more like Jeff who works down at Daily Grind. You know him…the one with the cool half-sleeves. Yeah, he’s the one that started the Bible study I’m going to. But don’t worry, he’s totally legit – he does a lot of community service work too. He’s trying to be incarnational and all that. I’m really into what he’s got going on.”

He seized his chance to break in on her ramblings: “Well, maybe you’re being a little too hard on her. I think if you two had a chance to sit down and talk, you might have a lot in common.”

The sip his interruption made possible was almost spewed by her raucous laugh.

“Her!? Talk to me!? No way she’d ever do that. Not sure if I’d even want to even if she did. I mean, how many people has she hurt with all her rules and stuff. No thanks, I’m good. And hey, I’ve got you and what more could a girl ask for. And for that matter, you’ve got me and you know I’m cool.”

She tilted the bottle up for another taste but stopped with the amber liquid just short of her lips. Lowering it slightly but still talking around the bottle she asked, “On another note, you want one?”

“I heard you went and saw that shameless hypocrite again.”

The words dripped with acid and accusation.

“Don’t you see that she’s all fake? Don’t you know that she’s just an empty shell?”

The rigid certainty in her words is backed up by a stern glare. Her eyes bore into his.

“Don’t judge her so quickly. Remember that everyone starts somewhere.”

“But she shouldn’t set up camp and stay there. It’s like she doesn’t even care about anything other than just looking good. How she fools everybody is beyond me. Give me a few minutes with her, I’ll set her straight.”

He tried to be gentle, “You already tried that, remember? You said hello and then proceeded to yell at her for like ten minutes straight about proper dress, proper behavior, proper everything. She just laughed. Remember?

“Yes, I do. And that’s all the more reason for you to stop associating with her. Did you know I heard that she was friends with that gay guy? You know, the one who’s always going on about it. Yeah, apparently she thought it would be a good idea to ‘have a conversation’ with him. And you associate with her!? I’m not sure I should even associate myself with you if you’re going to insist on this continuing.”

The silence between them stretched awkwardly.

Finally, she turned to leave:

“You know what you need? You need to wake up and recognize that I’m the only one good enough for you!”

“Gah! Quick, close the door.”

After a rushing gesture, and a cautious glance around the door frame, she leaned back inside the office and sighed.

“Seriously! How many times have I told you not to show up dressed like that – Don’t you care about what people will think? You can’t wear that and expect people to follow. You’ve got to dress for success. You’re dressed for work or something but not for success.”

Now it was his turn to sigh.

“Look, I know I embarrass you sometimes, but you need to unders…”

“You embarrass me? No! Although I will admit that I make you look good when you let me. No, you don’t embarrass me – that buttoned-up schoolmarm you go hang out with embarrasses me, that’s what embarrasses me.”

“I know she doesn’t look exactly like you would want, but…”

He didn’t speak quickly enough. Her next barrage started up:

“Doesn’t look like me!? Man, she couldn’t look any less like me! Seriously!? Look, I make this work. Look at these heels! Take a guess at how much they cost?

“I don’t want to know, do I?”

“Let’s just say a lot. But it’s worth it! You know why? Because when people see that what I’ve got looks good, they want it too. I am an inspiration to millions! That’s more than corpse-face can say. She can barely find her clothes at the store, they’re so out of date. Why anyone, you included, would want to be seen with her is beyond me. So embarrassing!”

With a clearly rehearsed motion, she slid a hand onto his shoulder.

“Admit it: I look good and I make you look good.”

“Look, I’ve had it up to here with all this nonsense!”

The force in her words, though expected, still came as a bit of a shock.

“Why she can’t just leave well enough alone is beyond me. Constantly fiddling about, spouting off about some new theory, some new insight. It’s so pointless! It’s like she thinks she’s impressing someone by rattling off all her facts and theorems. But what she’s really doing is messing everything up.”

“I know we’ve had this conversation before, but…”

She cut him off.

“Yes, we have had the conversation before and that’s just the point: why continually make up new stuff? It’s not just silly, you know it’s dangerous. She could influence others who will start spouting off the same crazy ideas. It’s like she can’t let things be, she’s always trying to restate and innovate and it’s going to lead to trouble, mark my words.”

“But she makes some really good points and she’s got lots of new information.”

“No she doesn’t and I’m getting really nervous with you taking up for her like you are. She’s trouble. Look, why can’t we just go back to the way things were? Wasn’t that simpler, hmmm? Wasn’t it better? Why waste your time with this new whats-her-face when you’ve got me?”

She twisted the engagement ring on her left hand wistfully.

“I just wish you’d leave well enough alone. Why can’t things just stay the same between us?”

He turned to leave. There was a big day to prepare for and he knew all of this noise would soon fade.

He stood at attention, eyes expectant, heart thrumming in his chest.

This was it, the culmination of more days than he cared to think about, the chance for everyone to see his love for his bride on full display, to celebrate with him this crowning achievement.

The anticipation, heightened by the long wait, was building to a crescendo when the music shifted.

Every eye turned to the back of the room.

There she was, in a white dress so brilliant it made everything behind it seem dull.

He knew it wasn’t traditional, he knew the bride typically came to the groom, but he couldn’t wait any longer!

He ran.

The room was so large, but he ran.

The crowd was vast, but he ran.

The dignity of the moment was swallowed up by the pure joy and ecstatic love he felt and he ran.

He reached her, his bride, his beautiful bride, and he clasped his arms around her and drew her to himself.

They embraced.

Then slowly, with eyes full of love and pride, he carefully placed his hands on her shoulders and stepped back to arm’s length.

“Let me look at you, my bride.”

Her eyes lifted and met his and he saw everything in that moment…

The flashing eyes revealing that keen and curious intellect…

The shining lips smiling for the sheer joy of it all…

The firm set of her jaw, steadfast and resolute…

The radiant perfection truly realized in her beauty…

The timeless features, a testimony to her endurance…

All of them were there and she was stunning.

This was his one and only bride and this was their wedding day!

A voice from the front of the room called out in resonant tones, “Let the wedding feast begin!”

He took her hand and led her joyfully towards the source of the sound.

They reached the table, stretching for miles it seemed, spread with the richest feast imaginable.

He stood together with her for a brief moment of wonder.

Then, with a flourish of his scarred hand, he pulled out a single seat and beckoned her to sit.

His bride was his and his bride was whole.

Church Wedding Day

Want to read more? Sign up for email updates!



Some (More) Unsolicited Advice This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving.

A day dedicated to two quintessentially American things: football and overeating.

Oh, and being thankful. More on that in a moment.

Thanksgiving is also the time wherein the nuts from every limb of the family tree can come together for calm, rational, even enlightened conversation on non-controversial topics like politics, religion, and the NFL.

Or not.

It’s also a day in which, inevitably, a crazy uncle or pushy inlaw will insist on offering you unsolicited advice on everything from your dating habits, your child-rearing practices, or your personal hygiene.

And if they’re going to do it, so will I. Here’s my unsolicited advice for your Thanksgiving Day:

“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.”

Yes, I’m not even offering original unsolicited advice.

It’s Maya Angelou’s advice, I’m just quoting it.

And in good, unsolicited advice fashion, it’s actually two pieces of advice disguised as one:

Be present.

Be thankful.

It’s simple, but it matters.

Be Thankful

At the risk of being obvious, let’s reverse the order and start here because being thankful shouldn’t be shocking advice on a day literally named for it.

But, for some reason, it’s hard for us to be thankful, even on Thanksgiving.

In part, that’s because we’re an entitled society. We expect a certain level of comfort, ease, and security and if those criteria aren’t met, well, let’s just say we’re not handing out gratitude like candy.

But our struggle with thankfulness goes beyond an entitlement issue. I think it has its genesis in a myopic understanding of life. What do I mean?

I mean that it’s hard to be thankful when we can’t see beyond ourselves. We imagine that life’s sole purpose is for me to get mine. It’s impossible to be thankful when you’re starting assumption is that you are the center of the universe.

Thankfulness requires de-centering our selves.

Thankfulness requires us to recognize someone or something other than ourselves as the source of our happiness.

It doesn’t play well today, but the only way we’ll be thankful is if we quit imagining life is about us and re-recognize the one who created life: God.

Thanksgiving started as a recognition of God’s provision, not of extravagance, but of the basic necessities of life. He was the one at the center. He was the source. And thankfulness was possible.

We’re not entitled to anything. We’re not at the center of anything. Everything we have and everything we are is God’s gift.

We have two options:

1) Grouse about, looking for a return receipt.

Or,

2) Acknowledge him and his provision for us.

Only one of those options will help reestablish thankfulness in us this Thanksgiving.

Be Present

Thankfulness is centered on God; being present is centered on others.

We have a tendency, in this modern, individualistic world, to wrap everything around ourselves. We dedicate our every waking moment to curating a fundamentally egocentric experience of the world. Social media, gaming apps, and streaming video: we control the quality, quantity, and nature of our interaction with reality, filtered through our smartphone screens.

That’s why, when Thanksgiving Day rolls around, so many of us struggle. Because we can’t control what happens when Bernie Bro Cousin Joe and MAGA Grandpa Jones get going. In real life, there’s no “Mute” button for Aunt Joyce’s lifestyle advice column like there is on social media.

But, contrary to our preference, that’s ok.

We need the reminder to be present because we’re usually not. Too often anymore, getting together with the family means sitting in the same room as we occupy different digital worlds.

So, use this Thanksgiving to flip the script.

Put the phone down.

Play football in the backyard.

Hang around the kitchen for quality control purposes. And for the conversation. Of course.

Sit in the den after dinner simply contemplating the sheer goodness of elastic waistbands.

Enjoy the company of other real, air-breathing, flesh-and-blood, people. Revel in the oddity of your family. Find joy in the mundane and the minutia.

Don’t try to escape, don’t retreat into your digital world: be present.

And, for heaven’s sake, spill the gravy on Cousin Joe before “that idiot Tru…” finishes passing his lips.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Quote

 

Getting Jesus Right: The Key To Everything

I want to tell you a story of a man who was crucified.

He was crucified some time in the first century A.D. He was probably in his late twenty’s when he died. He was most likely a convicted political agitator: he was somebody Rome saw as a threat and so they crucified him for it.

Crucifixion

For those of us who live in the 21st century, I guess that’s just an interesting historical fact. But I want you to understand what crucifixion was and what it meant back then. By the first century A.D. Rome had perfected crucifixion as a means of political punishment. It was a means of public humiliation meant to deter anyone who would dare to contradict the Roman system.

To perform a crucifixion, Roman soldiers would take nails and they would drive them, not through the palm of the hand as is frequently depicted, but through the wrist. There’s a very good reason for this: the weight of a man’s body cannot be held by just the flesh and tendons; it requires bone structure to support it. The executioners would pound spikes through the condemned’s wrist and into a horizontal beam. They would lift that beam, with the criminal nailed to it, and set it on top of a vertical post set in the ground. Then they would nail the victim’s feet, through the ankles, to that post. And then they would wait. For hours.

Although in excruciating pain because of the nails through their wrists and through their feet, a crucifixion victim usually didn’t die quickly. That’s because it wasn’t blood loss or shock from the nails that usually killed them but the excruciatingly slow process of gradual suffocation. With their arms stretched out by the nails, the condemned couldn’t take full breaths without pulling up on the nails or pushing up with their feet. Each breath required amplifying the pain they were in. Over the course of a day, the physical, mental, and emotional effort required to make the movement would take its toll and eventually they wouldn’t be able to muster a breath at all.

It was a horrible, vicious, cruel manner of death.

Yehohanan

But back to my story. What’s interesting about the guy I started telling you about is they actually found his bones in an ossuary in his family tomb. His name was Yehohanan. When they opened his ossuary, they found his heel bone still had a Roman spike through it.

It’s the only such bone found out of the thousands of crucifixions we know that Rome performed. But I’d be willing to guess that you still hadn’t heard the story or Yehohanan’s name before this.

Yeshua

There was another guy crucified in the first century as well. They’ve never found his bones, but I bet you know his name: Jesus.

Have you ever asked why that is? Why, of the thousands crucified, is Jesus’ name still known and revered throughout the world while so many others have been forgotten? There’s something about Jesus.

For one thing, Jesus is central to Christianity. As Christianity has endured, Jesus’ name has endured. But beyond the merely religious consideration, there’s the fact of who Jesus is: the Son of God, the Resurrected King, the Mighty Savior. We remember Jesus because he is not dead, he is alive.

Getting Jesus Right

But simply remembering Jesus isn’t enough.

We don’t always get Jesus right.

But it’s absolutely crucial that we do.

And in order to get Jesus right, it’s essential that we turn to the Word of God. And, thankfully, in 2 John, we’re given five marks to help us see whether or not we’re getting Jesus right.

If I am getting Jesus right then…

1. I am fully committed to truth of who Christ is (2 John 4)

The first way I can know I’ve got Jesus right is if I’m fully committed to the truth of who he actually is. For example, in John’s day people were saying that Jesus couldn’t be human because he was God. So they said he only appeared to be human. But that contradicts the truth of the Word. The Bible is clear that Jesus was actually human, actually flesh and blood. If the Bible says Jesus is human, I’ve got to believe that regardless of how I feel about it.

But the flip side of that coin is when people say that Jesus is human, he’s just not God. They take this approach because it’s hard to deal with Jesus as God in our modern era. But Scripture is just as clear that Jesus is God as it is that he is human. Jesus himself claims the divine name in John’s Gospel. Others testify to his divinity throughout the pages of the New Testament. The record is clear.

And it goes beyond questions of his nature. I need to land inside the biblical lines on his atonement, his kingdom, his purpose for his followers, etc. Getting Jesus right isn’t a choose-your-own-adventure story. Either I am fully committed to understanding the truth of who he is or I’m settling for a false Jesus I’ve manufactured according to my own whims, traditions, or feelings.

Ask: Is my faith resting on my feelings or on the truth of who Jesus is, as revealed in the Bible?

2. I have a deep, practical love for fellow believers (2 John 5)

Getting Jesus right also results in a very real and a very deep practical love for my fellow believers. John considers this essential. John understands, and wants me to understand, that if I truly understand Jesus’ nature and the nature of his work, I will be free to quit living my life as a means advancing myself. I don’t have to do good things for my neighbor; I get to do good things for my neighbor. When I see a brother or sister in need I can meet that need and I don’t have to advertise it. Because of who Jesus is, I no longer have to pretend like I can impress God.

Instead, I am able to focus on others. Life in the truth of Christ means I am no longer living life for me. I am free to live to serve others, just like Christ demonstrated in his own life. I cannot have the truth of who Christ is without the love that it brings for those around me.

Ask: is my faith producing self centeredness or is it producing selfless service for others?

3. I find joy in obedience (2 John 6)

Another key to help me determine whether I have Jesus right or not is to determine why I obey God. John says that obeying God is the natural outworking of the truth of who Christ is and loving those around me. So, do I obey him because I desperately want to be seen as being righteous? Or do I obey because I love Jesus? If I get Jesus wrong, it will be very difficult for me to obey him for the pure joy of it. No one but the biblical Jesus is sufficient to inspire me to go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, and seek holiness.

Because that’s what obedience should spring from: a deep love for Jesus. When I understand that Jesus is all I need and all that God needs from me, I no longer have to obey out of fear. Instead, getting Jesus right means that I can obey God from the sheer joy of knowing his love in Christ. I can’t add to my salvation, I can’t improve on Jesus’ record. Obedience becomes not my best attempt to forge a ticket to heaven but the all-expenses-paid trip I get to go on. I no longer have to wear obedience as clothes to impress those around me but as my most comfortable pair of pajamas to luxuriate in. If I find joy in obedience not for what it does for me but for the joy it brings God, I can know that I am getting Jesus right.

Ask: Do I obey God because I need to look righteous or do I obey God because I love Jesus?

4. I live in Christ’s teaching (2 John 9)

One thing that getting Jesus right doesn’t mean is being about to pass an essay exam on the hypostatic union of Jesus. Following Jesus can’t be reduced to a theology seminar. That being said, however, there are certain things that God reveals in Christ that I need to learn, I need to know, and I need to believe. Call it the basics, call it catechism, call it whatever, I’ll call it what John calls it: the teaching of Christ. Jesus taught us things. He was called “Teacher.” There is an intellectual element to faith.

However, it is important that I not insist on going beyond the teaching of Christ. It is possible to get bored with the gospel and to go beyond it, to look for more teaching, more revelation, a new prophet to speak to me. But Scripture’s clear: Jesus is God’s ultimate revelation (Hebrews 1:1-2). It is possible to go beyond the teaching of Christ by demanding a continual supply of new truth and not being content with what God has revealed.

This happens in individuals, in churches, in entire religions: they are not content with Christ’s teaching but must add to it to fulfill their own desire. But I need to be content. I need to recognize that while the gospel is as simple as “I’m a sinner, Christ died in my place, now I can have peace with God,” it is also remarkably deep. There are so many implications to the gospel that I could spend 200 lifetimes considering them and never exhaust the variety. I should be content with the gospel because it is enough for me to chew on forever. Literally forever.

Ask: Am I demanding more revelation from God or am I content with Christ?

5. I have true fellowship with God (2 John 9)

The final mark of getting Jesus right is probably the hardest one to evaluate. I want to be right. I want to assume that I am on the right path. But I can deceive myself. If I get Jesus right, I have true fellowship or communion with God. But I can fake that relationship with God. I can fool myself and I can fool others.

But I can’t fool God.

I can have an incredible prayer life, read my Bible everyday, go to church three times a week – I can look really good for others and in my own eyes.

But if I don’t get Jesus right, it won’t matter in the end.

There is only one way to fellowship with God: confess the real Jesus as Lord and believe in my heart God raised him from the dead. If my “fellowship” with him is based in any other confession, hope, or idea, I will lose everything when it matters the most.

Ask: Am I in fellowship with God and heading towards him or will I lose everything in the end?

Conclusion

In the end, the ultimate question, then, is, “am I getting Jesus right?” That’s the question for me and it’s the question for you.

Here’s my challenge to you: don’t take my word for it.

Go read the Gospel of John. Read 2 John. Read the New Testament. Read the Word of God.

And seek Christ. Seek to get him right, not based on what I say, not based on what anybody else says, but based on who he has revealed himself to be in the Bible.

Seek Christ because everything hinges on getting Jesus right.

Relationships Can Change The World: The Letter To Philemon

What does the Gospel of Jesus Christ have to say about your relationships with other people?

That’s an important question, but don’t answer it just yet.

Answer this one first:

Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ primarily about going to heaven when you die, or is it about having every aspect of your life, both now and forever, transformed?

If you’re a Christian, how you answer that question will significantly influence how you live. More specifically, your answer will require you to evaluate decisions, finances, ethics, etc. by completely different criteria.

If the Gospel is simply about getting to heaven when you die, then this life is of secondary importance. So long as you check the boxes marked “heaven” on your final destination ticket, you’re free to live however you want, or at least however your culture pressures you into living.

If, however, the Gospel is about much more than that, indeed is about transforming everything about you, then its implications for the here and now are massive. Instead of filtering every decision through a “me” or a “culture” filter, you have to filter it through a “Jesus” filter. This means that you give Jesus shot-calling power in your finances, ethics, etc.

It especially affects your relationships.

So, back to the original question: What does the Gospel of Jesus Christ have to say about your relationships with other people?

Put succinctly: everything.

We see this comprehensive impact of the Gospel on relationships very clearly in the New Testament book of Philemon.

Whereas most of the letters in the New Testament are written from a leader to a congregation, Philemon is different: it is primarily written from a Christian leader to another Christian leader. Not only that, but it’s from a friend to a friend. Paul is the author and Philemon is the leader of a house church. It’s a very personal letter.

Paul most likely wrote the letter from Rome while sitting in prison. And Philemon was likely a well-to-do leader of a house church in one of the towns that Paul had visited on his missionary journeys.

He was also a slave owner.

That’s a shock to our 21st century sensibilities, so we need to understand what slavery was like in first century Rome before we can understand this letter’s impact on how we understand relationships under the Gospel. In first century Rome, there were so many slaves that they outnumbered the Roman citizens. It was not uncommon for a wealthy Roman citizen to own upwards of ten thousand slaves.

And then gospel gets introduced into this mix. And, frankly, the message spread very quickly amongst the slave community. The hope and grace and joy in the message of the Gospel gave new meaning and purpose to the lives of those who found themselves in bondage.

But the Gospel also began to reach those who owned slaves. And this was a new thing. Slavery was so common in that day it was just kind of the air they breathed, the water people were swimming in: people just kind of took it as a fact and never really examined it.

But one commentator on the book of Philemon said no other writing was more instrumental in the downfall of slavery than it was. Why? Because Paul says that just because something is culturally assumed it is not necessarily going to stand in light of the gospel.

Why does all this talk of slavery matter? Because Paul is writing to Philemon about an escaped slave, Onesimus. That may not mean a whole lot to us modern readers, but in Rome, where slaves outnumbered the citizens, there was constant fear of a slave revolt. Consequently, the punishment for any slave who disobeyed their master or who ran away from their master was very serious. The master could, at their discretion, beat as runaway slave. They could imprison them. They could even kill them. As a matter of fact, one of the means of death that was available to the Roman citizen who owned a runaway was crucifixion.

So, when Paul writes to Philemon about Onesimus, he knows the seriousness of the matter.

He writes knowing Philemon’s rights as a slave owner.

But, he also writes knowing that the Gospel has the power to transcend the law and transform relationships.

He knows that because he has experienced it.

Paul is one of the most fascinating character studies in the Bible. When we first meet Paul, he is persecuting the new Christian faith. He was really focused on his Jewish heritage, he saw this new church that was starting, and he said, “absolutely not.” He began to persecute the church: he was there when Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned. He threw believers into prison. He even got permission from the religious leaders to take the show on the road and begin threatening the church in Damascus.

But something changes. He has an encounter with the risen Christ.

Now you talk about an unlikely convert: that’s Paul! But he is changed: he goes from being a persecutor to being a preacher to being a prisoner for Christ.

When Paul writes Philemon, he starts by referring to himself as “a prisoner for Christ.” As I understand it, he’s giving testimony to the extreme power of the gospel to transform your life and your relationships. He was antagonistic to Christ and now all of a sudden he’s willing to suffer for Christ.

His relationship with Christ changed and that made a huge difference in his relationships with others. Paul was a pretty intense dude. Paul did not have any problems telling you what he thought.

Except in Philemon, he seems to hold back. Paul had the authority, as an apostle and the one who brought the Gospel to Philemon, to tell Philemon what to do but he softens it.

I would argue it’s the gospel that softens Paul’s words. Paul experienced the love of Christ in his own life and it drove him to demonstrate that love to others. He tells Philemon, “I’d rather appeal to you.” Why?

Love doesn’t demand and command: it encourages and transforms.

The gospel that transformed Paul was not something that Paul came to unwillingly: once Jesus showed up and Paul experienced the love of Christ he began to apply that to his life. There’s a transformation that takes place across Paul’s ministry.

The way Paul relates to people has been transformed by the power of the Gospel.

Paul’s not the only one who’s been changed by the gospel. Philemon has been changed as well. One thing we know about Philemon is that he is a rich guy. Anyone who had a house big enough for a church to meet in and who owns slaves is in the one percent: he’s the upper crust in society. People of his station were not supposed to be concerned about opening their homes up to what was likely a congregation of lower class people.

And yet the gospel has transformed him.

Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Good thing God works miracles. Because Philemon, the rich guy, is a Christian. He’s somebody who’s been transformed. He’s in the Kingdom of Heaven. Why? Because the Gospel transformed his relationship with his wealth. The Gospel took what had probably been the primary concern for him and makes it secondary to the cause of promoting the Gospel.

Philemon’s relationship with Paul is affected by the Gospel. Because of the Gospel, Paul knows that Philemon is someone he can trust. Philemon will listen to the Holy Spirit, he’s a trustworthy kind of guy now because the Gospels transformed him.

But there’s also a relationship that still needs to be transformed by the Gospel. There’s a blind spot in Philemon’s life. His relationship with his slave, Onesimus. Paul wants Philemon to see the implications of the Gospel in this area: Onesimus can no longer be a slave if he’s a brother in Christ.

This is where, if I was Paul Harvey, I’d pause and you’d just have to wait for the rest of the story.

I’m not Paul Harvey, but you still have to wait.

First, there’s a third character we need to look at: Onesimus. A slave who most likely stole from his master the resources by which he was able to escape. He ran away to Rome to hide from his master in the crowds there. And then he meets Paul. And Paul introduces him to Jesus. And Onesimus meets Jesus in the Gospel.

Onesimus, who was willing to risk death to flee slavery, meets Jesus. And what does he do? He begins serving Paul. He begins to willingly do the thing he was willing to die to avoid. The Gospel transformed Onesimus’ relationship with service. This is a guy who said, “I don’t want my life to be defined by serving someone.” Now, after the Gospel, he is submitting to Christ and he’s serving Paul. It’s interesting that there’s a little play on words going on here: Onesimus means “useful.” Paul tells Philemon that Onesimus was formerly useless as a slave, but now he’s useful.

Paul is not saying he’s useful because now he’s just a good obedient little slave. No, he’s saying he’s useful because he’s been transformed by the gospel. Onesimus has changed from wanting what he wants to get out of life to wanting what Jesus wants. His relationship with his very life has been transformed by Jesus coming in.

Note that Paul is not turning Onesimus over to the authorities and having them haul him back. Most likely, Paul is putting this letter in Onesimus’ hand and he is freely and willingly going back to Philemon. The master that he probably stole from. The master that he could not wait to get away from. And he’s going back.

That’s transformation. That’s what the Gospel does in our relationships.

How?

How does the Gospel transform us like that?

The Gospel gives us a call, not to self advancement, not a call to self-improvement, not a call for me to be the best me possible, but for me to be like Jesus. The Gospel transforms us not by giving us a list of things to do but by first and foremost having us see Jesus.

Jesus is all that matters. Jesus is the only one whose vision for your life matters. What you want to be, what you want to do, what you want to become in yourself are entirely and utterly insignificant in the grand scheme of God’s plan for the universe. God’s goal for creation is not that it would revolve around you but that Jesus Christ would be all in all.

But how does that happen?

Jesus becomes a slave.

Is that not the most counter-cultural counter intuitive way of doing things you’ve ever heard?

If we want to get ahead, we imagine that we’ve got to promote ourselves. Jesus example says, “No.”

Jesus is God. He didn’t need to come as a human. He didn’t have to give up the privileges that he had as as God eternal and come to earth as a human being. He didn’t have to do that but he did.

Because the fundamental truth of the Gospel is this: a life lived for yourself is a life that is not worth living. A life lived for others is a life that will endure forever.

Jesus comes and he dies on a cross not because it was good for Jesus, but because Jesus wasn’t worried about Jesus: he was worried about his Father, he was worried about us. That’s why Jesus came and Jesus died and that sacrifice opens up the hope for us to be transformed and for us to be redeemed. If we will submit to Christ, the Bible says we will be saved. If we confess Him as Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead we will be saved.

And being saved doesn’t just mean getting to go to heaven when you die. Being saved means that one day you’re going to look like Jesus. Getting saved means God starts remaking you, beginning the process of transforming you from a wretched rebel to a son or daughter who looks like Jesus.

Part of that process will necessarily involve transforming your relationships.

The gospel transformed Paul from a persecutor to somebody who was willing to be a prisoner. It changed his relationships with those called Christians and with the Christ they took their name from.

The gospel transformed Philemon from “that rich guy” to somebody known for being generous, loyal, and a disciple-maker. It changed his relationship with his stuff and how he used it.

The gospel transformed Onesimus from a runaway slave to a faithful fellow worker. It changed his relationships with those around him from what he could get to what he could give.

That’s radical. That’s change that everyone can see. That’s testimony to the power of the gospel.

So, how is the gospel changing your relationships?

Because here’s my fear: that we, as Christians, are so tempted to make our relationships about us that we miss the life-transforming power of the gospel in them. When we approach relationships saying, “what am I going to get out of this, what’s in it for me?” then we miss the heart of Jesus in the gospel.

Not only that, but the world misses a chance to see real, practical evidence for the truth and power of the gospel.

The gospel is not inert. It isn’t just a good story. It’s not about morality.

It’s about transformation.

You don’t know the ripples that will spread out in the lives of those who see the gospel transforming relationships.

And now for the…rest of the story.

We don’t get it from the New Testament, but there’s something very interesting that happened in the story of Philemon and Onesimus after Paul’s letter. A guy named Ignatius of Antioch writes years later about the Bishop of Ephesus. His name? Onesimus.

Now, it’s possible that there was another Onesimus, but the fact he is also referred to as the Slave Bishop seems to indicate that it’s the same guy. And, as we trace the story through various authors, we get the idea that Philemon took Paul’s hint and set Onesimus free. Then, Onesimus went back to Paul and serves with him. He serves the wider church faithfully and eventually becomes the bishop of Ephesus.

Some scholars also think Onesimus is the one who assembled Paul’s writings. That’s important. There wasn’t a printing press, so preserving the letters would have to be an intentional act. It seems Onesimus may have been the guy doing it. So, why do we have a New Testament that includes Paul’s letters? Ultimately, it’s the inspiration of the Holy Spirit but he could have been working specifically through transformed relationships.

That’s pretty cool.

So, based on the example of Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus, begin to think intentionally about how you can demonstrate the gospel through them. Start today by changing the way you think about relationships.

Don’t ask: “What do I deserve?” Ask: “How can I serve?”

Don’t ask: “What’s the least I’m required to do?” Ask: “What will show the most love?”

Don’t ask: “What do I want to do?” Ask: “What would Jesus do?”

When you change your approach to relationships, they are transformed. When relationships are transformed, its evidence for the truth of the gospel. When evidence for the gospel is seen, the gospel spreads. And when the gospel spreads, the world is changed.

How are your relationships looking in light of the gospel? Because they have the power to change the world.

What Is The Gospel?

“Gospel” is simply a word that means “good news” but many people use it as shorthand for the central message of Christianity. Usually then, “gospel” refers to the good news about Christ and his Kingdom.

So what’s the good news about Christ and his Kingdom?

To understand that good news, we have to understand its place in the larger history of the world. Everything we need to know about that context and the good news itself is revealed in the Bible.

God Is The Creator

The opening statement of the Bible tells us that: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Just a few paragraphs later, we read that God declares everything he created to be very good or perfect. He created mankind to be like him (very good, creative, intelligent, etc) and essentially gave them stewardship over what he had made.

God Is The King

Stewards serve under a king. Mankind is the steward; God is the King. As King, he is the lawgiver. Because he is good, the law was good. And it was simple: don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Mankind Rebelled Against Their King

Mankind disobeyed God’s command. They rejected God’s authority over them.

As a result, sin entered the world. Sin is anything that we do that rejects God’s authority as King. More than that, sin causes all sorts of problems for us and those around us. Death entered the world, hunger, bitterness, anger, jealousy, murder, and every other sin spread out as mankind continued to reject God.

God’s Promise

But God promised he was going to fix it. He began speaking to various people, prophets who would share his message with those around them. It wasn’t always clear to the people what God was up to, but he was preparing the world for his sin solution. As he spoke throughout the centuries, he revealed to the people of Israel that he would send a Chosen One (Messiah in Hebrew or Christ in Greek) who would conquer sin and death and make the world “very good” again.

God Keeps His Promise

Then, he quit speaking to anyone for about 400 years. It seemed like God had forgotten his promise. It seemed like he had given up on mankind.

But after that silence, he appeared to a young, engaged couple, Mary and Joseph, and told them that, before they were married, Mary would have a child who would be the Son of God.

Sure enough, Mary did have a son and they named him Jesus.

Jesus

He was human but he was also the Promised Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. He showed and told people the truth about God, about the Kingdom of God. Jesus preached the good news about that Kingdom’s arrival through him and told people to believe in him and his message and to love God, love others, and tell others about the Kingdom. He gathered a group of followers who believed his message.

Mankind Rebels Again

But most of mankind didn’t like Jesus’ reminding them that God was King. So they killed him. They actually had inside help: one of Jesus’ followers betrayed him. Jesus’ message of God’s authority and man’s responsibility simply wasn’t popular with rebels.

They thought killing him would be the end of it.

Not The End

But Jesus didn’t stay dead.

Instead, he rose from the grave and appeared to his followers, who were all convinced that he was really alive again. He was human and thus could die but he revealed that he was also God and therefore had the power over life and death.

Jesus Inaugurates His Kingdom

Jesus told his followers that by his dying and rising, sin and death had been conquered for all who would believe in the good news of his message and the truth of his resurrection. He reminded them that even though he was going to leave the earth, his Kingdom would continue through the lives of those who submitted to him as King together. He called this gathering of those who believed his message “the church.” After telling them to make sure the gospel, the good news of the Kingdom, was told throughout the whole world, Jesus ascended into heaven. But, before he left, he told them that help was on its way.

The Holy Spirit

Jesus’ followers had a big task: represent the Kingdom of God to everyone on earth. Jesus knew that they weren’t able to do this on their own. So he sent the Spirit of God to live in and through his followers. “Spirit” doesn’t mean an impersonal force: this is God himself. He works in many different ways. By making people aware of their rebellion against God, he helps them submit again. He empowers people to follow Jesus. He shows the reality of the Kingdom in different ways. And he gives comfort to those who believe in the Kingdom as they wait for Jesus to return.

Jesus Will Complete His Kingdom

Jesus returned to heaven with the Kingdom of God established in the lives of those who believe in him by the power of the Holy Spirit. But he also promised to come back one day, after the gospel had been spread to every tribe, tongue, and nation, to finally eradicate sin and death and rebellion and fully establish his Kingdom in a new heaven and new earth.

The Gospel.

I am curious: do you believe?

Once Saved, Always Saved?

A common phrase in Christian circles is “once saved, always saved.” Many hold it, many reject it, but a lot of people have questions about it. Here are a few brief thoughts I recently shared with someone who asked me about it:
The Bible speaks clearly to the nature of salvation:
1) It’s a work of God (Ephesians 2:1-10, John 6:44, Romans 8:28-30, etc)
2) It’s not based on any works that we might do (Ephesians 2:1-10, Titus 3:5, etc.)
3) Jesus will not lose any of those the Father gives him to save (John 6:39, John 10:28)
Based on these passages, and others like them, I would argue that salvation is not dependent on us, but on Jesus who does not fail. Therefore, since it is not dependent on us, we cannot lose it. And Jesus won’t lose it for us.
Once saved, always saved.
That being said, however, Scripture is equally clear that it is possible to lose what we never truly possessed:
1) We can taste and see the goodness of God in salvation without actually experiencing it for ourselves (Hebrews 6:4-6)
2) We can delude ourselves into thinking we are saved when we are not (Matthew 7:21-23)
3) We can claim salvation but never be changed by it and thus prove to never have been saved (1 John 2:3-4)
Based on these passages, and others like them, I would argue that not everyone who claims to be saved is saved. Therefore, “once saved, always saved” has to be understood to implicitly mean “once truly saved, always saved.”
Though much more could be said here, I’ll keep it brief: Once saved, always saved is an easily remembered phrase and, so long as it is spoken with the understanding of all the biblical context taken together, it is true. However, it has frequently been used to imply that so long as someone “walked an aisle and prayed a prayer” they are saved. But that’s not what the Bible says salvation is. The Bible says salvation is found in submitting to Jesus as Lord, holding the enduring belief that he is who he claimed to be, being convinced that God raised him from the dead, and finding your joy in obeying him.
Want to read more? Check out: