Did Jesus really die for MY sins?

Jesus died for my sins

It seems to me that most Christians believe and say, “Jesus died for my sins.” The thinking would continue that, “By dying on the Cross, Jesus paid the penalty for my sins so that I don’t have to.” Is this just a narrow-minded assumption on my part? I guess I’m making a gross generalization, but I think most Christians would see this as the main reason, if not the only reason, that Jesus died.

But let’s reconsider the statement: “Jesus died for my sins.” We’ve all heard it so often that it just sounds so right too, doesn’t it? But note that “my” is a word that is one person – a singular person. It’s the person making the statement. And making this statement personal – about the individual – fits so well with the self-centered, egotistical, self-obsesses, iThis, iThat, iEverything “me” society in which we live. And when individuals make the statement, “Jesus died for my sins,” it pretty much seems to be the end of the story. That’s the complete equation. Really? Is it really true that Jesus died for the sins of you as one individual? Isn’t there an “and” that should be added there?

I see three problems with the, “Jesus died for my sins” statement. But not just with the statement. I think the statement represents a dangerous way of thinking that can result in a  completely ineffective way of living.

Problem 1: Plural not Singular

I don’t see this individualistic approach to Christ’s substitutionary death taught in scripture. Jesus is not described in The Bible as dying for my sin personally. But we can read that Christ, “died for all (2 Corinthians 5:15) and that “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2) and Jesus being described as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Sure, I am one of the many individuals that make up the whole world, but we’d do well to remember that Jesus died for the sin of everyone. Everyone! Saying, “Jesus died for my sins” doesn’t help us see the bigger picture. Is that just a little issue? Not a big deal to you? Before making that conclusion, please read about the second and third problems.

Problem 2: Whose action brings about the forgiving?

The “Jesus died for my sins” statement tends to allow the Christian to believe that his sin is forgiven – that the penalty of sin is no longer due in his, individual case – but the sin of so-called “non-Christians” is not forgiven because they have not done what the Christian has done. “They have not become a Christian like me, so they still have to pay the penalty for their sin – I don’t!” might be how it’s explained. The dangerous and unconscious supposition is that, “I am forgiven because I made the decision to be a Christian.” But was it really the individual’s decision that brought about the forgiveness on sin? Certainly not.

Furthermore, the “Jesus died for my sins” Christian can easily feel like they’ve done what they need to do and assume that, as far as their forgiveness is concerned, the story is over. The transaction is complete. Christians seem to think that, “Now it’s up to others to become Christians if they want Jesus to have died for their sins too.” But Christ died for the sin of the whole world! And the forgiveness of sin is wholly and entirely dependent on what Christ has done and nothing to do with what I have done – even praying a sinner’s prayer. As Oswald Chambers reminds us in My Utmost For His Highest (October 29)

“We are acceptable to God not because we have obeyed, nor because we have promised to give up things, but because of the death of Christ, and for no other reason.” 

The passive, “I’m right with God now and you’re not” mentality fuels the extremely unattractive “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” bumper sticker approach to life. It cultivates a pew-warming, inactive, stagnant religiousness. It takes away the emphasis on the essential, current and ongoing responsibility of the follower of Jesus. This is dangerous and most certainly not the position to which Christ calls His followers. There’s more. There’s an essential “and”.

Problem 3: And?

The forgiveness of my sin is not the end objective of Jesus’ death on the Cross. I believe forgiveness of my sin is included in the deal, but it’s almost a byproduct. There’s more. There’s an essential “and”. We would do well to remember that the forgiveness of sin through Christ Jesus is inextricably linked to what takes place within those who are forgiven.

And he died for all, so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 2 Corinthians 5:15

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:16

My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, Galatians 4:19

Did you get that? If I have been separated from my sin, it’s so that I no longer live for myself but instead live wholly for Christ! If I have been separated from sin, it’s so that I become God’s righteousness! If I have been separated from sin, I will lay down my life for others in the same way that Christ laid down His life for me. If I have been separated from sin, Christ Himself is being formed in me!

Rather than, “Jesus died for my sins”, I believe a far better statement is, “Jesus died for the sin of the whole world. As a recipient of forgiveness through Christ, Christ now lives His life in and through me.” Yes, it’s a bit longer, but it helps remind me that, by identifying with Jesus’ death, I forfeit any rights to myself. I am separated from sin and filled with Christ’s righteousness so that I can be God’s love to the world.

You see, Jesus died so that everyone might know His love, grace and forgiveness of sin. Jesus died so that His followers would be conduits through which He pours Himself for the benefit of all. I should no longer see my life as my own. I am merely a steward – a caretaker – of all that I formerly saw as mine: my time, my talent, my relationships, my energy, my money … my life.

While I recognize that relationship with Christ does have a very personal, individual aspect to it, we would do well to remember that Christ died for everybody’s sin – not just mine and the other people who are like me and agree with me about God – and that, if I would be so bold as to identify fully with Christ’s death, forgiveness is not the end of the story. This free gift of forgiveness costs me everything.

(Galatians 2:20)

(Romans 6:23)

What’s my ministry?

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All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

In Christian-ese, the word “ministry” is usually used to mean the most obvious, outward thing that a person does that is for God… especially if they earn any money for doing that thing. It seems that a very small number of Christians consider themselves in “full-time ministry”, others may be in “part-time ministry”, some volunteer to be involved in a “ministry” from time to time, while most, it would seem, are not actually in ministry at all. Some may be trying to find their ministry, or find out from God what their ministry actually is. Once they know, they’ll do it, but until then … I guess they’re waiting and wondering.

reconciliation |ˌrekənˌsilēˈāSHən|

noun

1 the restoration of friendly relations: his reconciliation with your uncle | the colonel was seeking a reconciliation with his wife.

But 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 tells us about the ministry of reconciliation that we ALL have ALL the time. Reconciliation is just a big word meaning good relationships. My ministry is the ministry of good relationships: me with people, me with God and me helping other people to have a good relationship with God. You’ve got the same ministry! It’s the Christians, not God, who seem to think that ministry switches on and off and is only happening with certain, specific, religious activities at certain specific locations and times.

For the follower of Jesus, ministry should not switch on and off. My ministry (and yours) should always be on. We are all in full-time ministry. My ministry does not depend on whether or not I have a guitar around my neck or a microphone in front of my face or if I’m away from home or if I am with churchy people singing and speaking about God. I hope my vocation is woven into the fabric of my ministry of reconciliation, but it’s unhealthy for me to think of only those activities as being ministry. That’s not even the high point of ministry!

While I recognize that my ministry – the ministry of reconciliation – is always on, always happening, there are different layers, or levels of my ministry. There are some people where being reconciliation with them is a higher priority than with anyone else. It turns out that my main ministry is at home – being reconciled with my God, my wife and my boys. What could be better than that!?

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god-at-work

There is a difference between my work for God and the work of God through me. A great deal of damage is done as a person – even with every good intention – decides to do what they think God want them to do.

Even things that appear to be good can be nothing to do with the work of God. They may just be a human definition of work for God, and nothing to do with God’s perfect will. In our own strength, we can never do what is truly God’s work. We can only do our own work and then hope, or convince ourselves that it was in line with God’s perfect, eternal plan. But it cannot be and never will be.

The work of God happens through a person who is first submitted to the Lordship of God. The work of God must happen in a person before the work of God can happen through that person. To be a conduit through which the work of God flows, I must first lay down my will,  my self-determination, my desire to control my own life – even how, when and where I do the work of God. I must lay down my “life”. (Matthew 16:24)

Then, and only then, will God’s presence operate in and through me. When I am filled with God’s presence in this way, any work that comes from me is not my work at all, but the work of God in me and through me.

Anyone who sincerely wants to allow the work of God to operate through them must be aware of the difference and the dangers.

As Oswald Chambers says, “We actually slander and dishonor God by our very eagerness to serve Him without knowing Him.”

Read the Oswald Chamber’s devotional from “My Utmost For His Highest” here.

The Sermon On The Mount… is too hard!

Sermon-on-the-Mount-Carl-Heinrich-Bloch

 

One of the most important and challenging passages in all of The Bible is contained in the Book of Matthew, Chapters 5, 6 and 7. Every sincere Christian is aware of this passage, or at least the general gist of it. It’s known as The Sermon On the Mount.

You can read is here:

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%205-7

Jesus’ most famous sermon starts with what we call the Beatitudes. You know …

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:3-5)

The list of blessed-ares is followed by some chunks of teaching on a wide range of topics:

  • on being salt and light to the world,
  • on fulfillment of the law,
  • murder and hatred,
  • adultery and lust,
  • giving to the poor,
  • oaths,
  • not worrying about anything, especially our stuff,
  • not storing up treasure on earth,
  • judging others,
  • loving our enemies and much more.

What Jesus teaches is tough, uncompromising and, in many ways completely unrealistic and unachievable. I’m tempted to quote some passages here to prove it, but I’d rather you take the link above and read Jesus’ words for yourself. Go ahead! Take a few minutes and come back …

Just the first part of chapter 5 should leave us feeling completely out of our depth and inadequate. Is this what I have to do, Jesus? No way! I can’t do this!

It seems to me that, at this point, most Christians simply refuse to directly plot their lives in relationship to The Sermon On The Mount. It’s just too hard. We tend to simply allow ourselves to become numb to the words, or perhaps think of the passages as some sort of poetic imagery from Jesus. “Surely it isn’t to be taken literally,” we may argue. We think, hopefully, that Jesus is describing some holy ideal that is not actually required. A dangerous supposition.

True: In one way or another, as I compare myself to The Sermon On The Mount, I must realize that I can’t do this.

Exactly!

If I am a a disciple of Jesus, the Sermon On The Mount is a description of how I must act – how I should be. I must not ignore it and simply put it out of sight and mind. But, instead, I must recognize that it gives evidence that I have a human heart, infested with the disease of original human sin. And that I can’t do this! No matter how hard I try in my own strength, it’s impossible. In reality, I don’t want to live God’s way at all. I want to live my way. I want to be my own small “g” god and simply deny that I need the big “G” God to save me from… well, me! I must realize that everything in me is incapable of meeting the requirements of Jesus – the One I claim to follow.

The moment I accept the hopelessness of my situation, instead of just becoming numb to the Sermon On The Mount – or seeing it as some poetic gobbledygook from Jesus that he doesn’t really mean – I now see that I need a heart transplant. I need my sinful human heart to be surgically removed and replaced with a new heart that God gives me – His heart. And this is not just something that happened once when I was thirteen at a Christian summer camp. This heart transplant is what I need now! And in every moment. The Sermon on the Mount is not simply a list of rules for me to (not) keep. It is a light that shines on my own desperate need for God and His amazing, saving grace.

The reality that my conduct falls far short of the standards described in The Sermon On The Mount is evidence that I am still not completely “dead” to myself and alive only to Christ in me.  If it was, “no longer I that lives, but Christ that lives in me,” (Galatians 2:20) then The Sermon On The Mount would be true in me. Or, as Oswald Chambers (in a manner far more effective than I could, as always) puts it…

“The Sermon on the Mount is not some unattainable goal; it is a statement of what will happen in me when Jesus Christ has changed my nature by putting His own nature in me. Jesus Christ is the only One who can fulfill the Sermon on the Mount.”

It’s a pointless exercise for me to be striving to make myself a better or more acceptable disciple of Jesus in my own strength. This is not about trying harder. Only Jesus can make me His disciple. Oswald Chambers again …

“If we are to be disciples of Jesus, we must be made disciples supernaturally. And as long as we consciously maintain the determined purpose to be His disciples, we can be sure that we are not disciples.”

Nor does the pilgrimage of the disciple allow for a dulled conscience or complacency –  accepting a certain deficiency or short fall in me when compared to the standards set out so clearly in The Sermon On The Mount. Instead, in each and every moment of my life, I must surrender more completely. I must be more surrendered than I was in the moment before. I must surrender to Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior. He’s my only hope.

Please read Ozzie’s incredible “My Utmost For His Highest” devo that inspired this blogpost here:

http://utmost.org/the-go-of-relationship/

Am I a “Christian”?

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And who are these so-called “Christians” anyway?

Quite obviously, the term “Christian” means different things to different people. I’ve found it can mean one set of things where I live in the buckle of the US Bible-belt and another in Portland, Maine. Travel to other places in the world outside the US and you’ll find that the variations become even more diverse. In Turkey, I’ve found that many locals think of a “Christian” as any westerner. And these western Christians want to destroy their culture. They remember the Crusades from the Middle Ages!

Doing a bit of amateur Bible study, I was surprised to find that the word “Christian” is used in The Bible only three times:

1) The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. Acts 11:26

It was not the disciples who were first calling themselves Christians. It was other people! Many theologians believe that “Christian” was first being used as a derogatory term – a put down – to categorizing the followers of Jesus as a means to better identify them for persecution.

2) Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Acts 26:28

And Paul does not say that he is trying to persuade Agrippa to become a Christian, but, instead, to become what he (Paul) is.

3) However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 1 Peter 4:16

This passage could be interpreted in many different ways, but I think it’s saying something like, “If you are being called this derogatory name Christian and being persecuted by the name-callers, just take the label and the suffering for Christ’s sake.”

I personally feel compelled to define a Christian as anyone who calls themselves a Christian. Who am I to say they are wrong? If I were to meet someone who calls themselves a Christian, and I don’t think they should be using that label, all I am saying is that their definition does not match mine. That they should be more like me if they want to call themselves a Christian! I can’t imagine that conversation going well. Life’s too short to expend any energy trying to change peoples’ word definitions to match mine. There are better things to do.

People who call themselves Christian today represent a very segmented and varied bunch. Much of what I see from Christians seems to have very little, or nothing at all to do with Jesus the Christ. As disappointing as that may be to many people, it’s not a huge deal-breaker to me. Yes, I want to see lives surrendered to Christ Jesus. But the label’s not that important. Encountering Jesus as Christ is important. Lives changed – surrendered to His Lordship – is important. In many cases it seems, the term “Christian” creates a huge hurdle for people. A barrier that need not be there.

I am encouraged by this: Jesus never asks anyone to become a Christian. He does not ask us to assume any sort of correct label or banner to describe ourselves. He asks us to recognize Him as Lord. He asks us to come to Him and drink (John 7:37). He asks us to lay down ourselves (Matthew 16:24) and, in so doing, allow Him to flow into us and through us (John 7:38). He describes the fruit that flows from us as the indicator of the change that has happened. And the fruit is the fruit of the presence of God Himself!

I don’t mind if other people think of me as a Christian, but it’s not a term I resonate with personally and I do not easily use it to describe myself. However, if I have to use a term, I am a follower of Jesus the Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. But using finite language will always fall short of describing the wonder, mystery and awe of the God/human transaction. Like any defining terms we might try to use – even one as scriptural as “disciple” – there will be problems.

Put simply, a disciple is a follower or student of someone – usually a teacher, leader, or philosopher. But Jesus is more than just a teacher, leader, or philosopher. He’s God! It is possible to be a follower of the teachings of Jesus, and think of myself as His disciple, yet not actually be surrendering my life to Him – His risen, present Lordship. In the end, it seems, it’s not about finding the right words in our limited English language to correctly describes what we think we mean. It’s about swimming into the mystery – individually and corporately – of oneness with God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I’d rather just let the fruit of my life surrendered at the foot of The Cross point to Jesus. I just want to get out of the way and have His life flowing through me.

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unity

“Indeed, in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him.” J.R.R. Tolkien, “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (as spoken by Elf Haldir from Lothlorien)

I believe that true unity in The Church will only be found as we become one with Jesus the Christ,  just as God is one. This will only happen as we value “oneness” with Christ more highly than we value our own versions of “correct theology”.

“How good and pleasant it is
 when God’s people live together in unity! …
For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” Psalms 133: 1 & 3b (NIV)

“My prayer is not for them alone [the 12 disciples]. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” A prayer by Jesus as recorded in John 17: 20-21 (NIV)

Certainly, learning about God and developing our understanding of Him through scripture is important and a good thing. But unity with Christ and each other is more important than being right! The Psalmist tells us that, where there’s unity, God bestows His blessings and life eternal! From Jesus’ own prayer, we understand that “oneness” with Christ is the prerequisite to “the world” believing in Him! But if unity is ever to be achieved – “oneness” with Christ and each other – it will require us to hold less tightly to our cultural concepts of God and the emphasis on defending our own intellectual positions around the subject of God. We must hold to Him and Him alone – not our particular theologies. More easily and dangerously than many realize, theology can become an idol and this idolatry causes much disunity.

It seems to me that a great deal of Christian theology is developed with little or no consideration for the leading of the Holy Spirit and oneness with God and The Church. Theological doctrine is often developed out of a desire to be right about God rather than to be one with Him. Where there is doctrinal division and disunity, there also is a lack of oneness with Christ. Will we ever be able to celebrate “oneness” in Christ and with each other? For the answer to this question to be “Yes” and “Amen”, we must:

  • turn down the volume of our own cultural “Christianity”,
  • attune ourselves to the voice of His Holy Spirit,
  • let go of the desire to be right about God, and
  • learn from one another in our doctrinal diversity.

Perhaps then the Church will be one.

Co-Crucifixion

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Brilliant stuff again from Oswald Chambers this morning in My Utmost For His Highest on Co-Crucifixion.

“It is … the greatest moment in your life once you decide that sin must die in you-not simply be restrained, suppressed, or counteracted, but crucified—just as Jesus Christ died for the sin of the world.”

The emphasis of “Christianity” (it seems to me) is merely the restraint and suppression of “sinful” activity. But the call of Jesus is my co-crucifixion with Christ – my “self” – the stone cold death of my sin nature – a complete end to my desire to live a self-governed life. This is a far deeper calling.

Read Chambers’ devotional here:

http://utmost.org/complete-and-effective-decision-about-sin/