Tag Archives: Grace

Looking Down on Deathbed Confessions

We think the wrong way about the thief on the cross, Pastor Mark Welch explained this weekend.

Someone He Could Trust Forever

You remember the story: as Jesus behaved in a gracious and forgiving way to people who were hurting and killing Him for no good reason, one thief being crucified beside Him had a change of heart. “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom,” he requested. And Jesus promised He would.

Graham Maxwell wrote that maybe that thief thought that if this Man was going to have a Kingdom, he wanted to be there. He would be a great King! He’d be Someone you could trust.

Pastor Welch stated that we normally think of this thief as a “deathbed confession,” someone who sees death approaching and only decides to repent because of it. And we think it’s great that God is able to save someone like that, but we think it must take a special effort to do so and that we are better because we repented earlier in our lives, not on our deathbeds.

How I’m Like a Pharisee

But that’s similar to the attitude that the Pharisee had in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. A tax collector and a religious leader are both praying out loud in the temple. The religious leader loudly thanks God for not making him like this sinner standing beside him. But the tax collector just sinks to his knees and pleads with God to have mercy on him, because he knows how bad he is.

And maybe we’re like the Pharisee when we look down on deathbed confessions. The fact is that God uses just as much grace to save me as to save someone who confesses on her deathbed. We both required the infinite sacrifice of His Son.

I was an enemy of God when He saved me. Up to that moment, I had wasted my life just as much as everyone else — even a deathbed confession person. I had no chance to save myself.

Grace is never based on our good works, the Bible says, so that no one can boast. So repenting a little earlier than someone else can’t make me better than them.

The Greatest Need in the World

Finally, the person who thinks he has the least need for grace needs it most.

We all need God’s grace throughout our whole lives, every day. It’s the universal human desire. People all over the world want to be let off the hook, to be treated with mercy, with leniency. We want a judge at the moment of sentencing or a police officer standing at the window to take a deep breath and say, “You know what? You’re free to go, get out of here.”

Someone who knows they’re helpless and lost and humbly asks God for help makes Heaven ring with shouts of joy, no matter when they ask.

So don’t worry about when someone else repents or is born again. We’re all nothing without God. Instead, realize that all people, from the deathbed confession person to you, need grace every single day.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

Jesus’ Unfair Advantage

It’s fascinating that Jesus was born with His will surrendered to God. He was born obedient. Hebrews 10:7 says that He said, “I have come to do your will, O God.” In other words, His only purpose for existence was to do God’s will, to be obedient to Him. He turned His will over to the Father before He left Heaven to come to Earth to be a human. (See the Thursday lesson from last week.)

Comparing Jesus Sinning to Crashing a Bike

We’re each born with a will that is turned away from God in rebellion, but Jesus was born with a will that was turned toward God. Of course, He still had a free will so He freely chose to obey God and could have chosen to turn away from God if He wanted.

But it would have taken a special effort for Jesus to turn toward sin, whereas each of us is born with a natural tendency to turn to sin. For Jesus, His life was like a man riding down the street on a bicycle who could choose to suddenly wrench the handlebars to the side and go flying off his bike, but he has his balance and has no desire to injure himself.

Jesus’ Unfair Advantage is Good News for Us

I think C.S. Lewis wrote that analogy. He also wrote that some people say Jesus had an unfair advantage, that He wasn’t on a level playing field with us. Well, Lewis writes that if you’re drowning, flailing around in some white water rapids and you can’t reach the shore under your own power and someone on the shore who is standing on a solid rock throws you a rope, you wouldn’t want to refuse their help because they have an advantage over you.

If everything were fair and equal they would be flailing in the water themselves and not be able to help you. If you’re going to be helped, you need someone who has a special advantage. It’s not about fairness.

Jesus’ Life Wasn’t a Test Run

Some people who don’t understand Christianity very well say that Jesus came to Earth to test if it were possible to live a good life. But Moses, Elijah, Joseph, and people in other cultures had already lived good lives.

The infinite, all-powerful God didn’t set aside all His powers and come to Earth and get tortured to death as an experiment! He wasn’t unsure about it; He didn’t think, “Well, this might not work out — oh, well, I’ll try it anyway.”

No. Philippians 2:8 says He only came to Earth to be obedient and to die on the Cross in order to do something new, to do more than just teach morality.

He was protected by angels. He had the Holy Spirit in His life at His conception, at the start of His ministry and throughout every single day. As we discussed before, He was perfectly obedient because He gave His will over to His Father before being born. But He was on a mission! He was doing all of it to redeem humans — you and me — not to give life a test drive.

The Danger of Treating Jesus Only as a Moral Example

If people think Jesus came to Earth just to try to live a good life, that encourages them to try to be good in their own strength without relying on God. But that’s impossible. Even just to repent of sins, we need a special act of Divine power — just to ask for forgiveness and for help! The prideful heart of a natural human doesn’t want to ask for help or to admit to being wrong.

Our repentance is not our own virtue shining through; no, it’s actually a miracle from God that is made possible through Jesus’ life. We also need His power to be born again, to be a new creation, as the Bible promises, and to keep growing every day.

So it doesn’t make sense to think that Jesus is just a guy who lived a good life and is a good example to us. No, through His blood and His grace, which are imparted to us through the Holy Spirit, we get the power to live a new type of life. His mission to Earth, His perfect obedience, was to accomplish that.

We don’t know exactly how it works — the Bible says even angels are interested in studying that mystery — but all Christians agree that it does work.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

 

Feeling Confident Reading the Bible (Part 1)

Imagine sitting down and reading the Bible for, say, a whole hour. Someone has asked you to study it and understand it and really get something out of it. How does that make you feel? If you rate your feeling on a scale of 1, reluctance, to 10, excitement, what is it?

I’m at a 4 sometimes, scared to read the Bible. Part of why reading the Bible doesn’t seem appealing is we don’t totally understand it and so are not confident that it’s worth spending time on.

Passion Comes After Learning

I heard an author, Cal Newport, last week explain that people who are really passionate about their jobs often get that way because of long experience in which they developed rare and valuable skills that they then enjoy exercising.

They didn’t start out with great passion — they weren’t good at their jobs at first — but they had just enough of a seed of interest that it could grow into great skill and then passion later.

Remember that point when you think about reading the Bible. Don’t expect to have great passion and amazing positive emotions right away. That takes time and growth in certain Bible-reading skills. But if you start with at least a small seed of interest, that can grow if you give it time.

It Takes Time To Learn

How much time? Well, some research says it takes 1,000 hours of practice to get pretty good at something. For example, if you work at a job for eight hours per day for six months, that gets you to 1,000 hours.

But in reading the Bible we might read for ten minutes per day. Getting to 1,000 hours could take years at that rate. So we need some special techniques to get better at understanding the Bible as soon as possible. And I’ll reveal some of those tricks a little later.

In the meantime, cut yourself some slack. It’s not realistic to expect to be a Bible expert if you’ve only read the Bible for a few hours total. But also remember that God is patient; in His grace, He gives us time to grow instead of expecting instant excitement and perfection.

Be Like Mike: Coaches Focus on What’s Most Important

Also, people have found that you can cut 1,000 hours down to 100 to 200 hours if you learn shortcuts — even to 20 hours, in some cases. The Pareto Principle, also called the 80/20 Rule, says that 80% of results come from only 20% of the effort, from focusing on the best, most important parts of any skill and ignoring the rest.

How do you learn what to focus on? Well, you need coaches — people who have gone before you and done the trial-and-error work to find out what works and what doesn’t so you don’t have to. Even great sports stars still use coaches.

For you, coaches can be books, online Bible commentaries, pastors, Bible teachers, and YouTube sermons, as long as they are trustworthy: they need to express the ideas of the whole Bible, not just their pet part of it.

Two of my favorite authors of this type are C.S. Lewis and Graham Maxwell. Maxwell’s book Servants or Friends? is powerful; Lewis’ book Mere Christianity is another good one.

In the next post, I’ll reveal more of what I shared with the class last weekend when we discussed this lesson: some key ideas about how to understand the Bible much better that you can practice for just a few minutes per day.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

God’s Pre-Programmed Finches

(This is a reaction to the January 15 bible study lesson at http://ssnet.org/lessons/13a/less03.html.)

You really need both Nature and the Bible. Someone said in class that it’s crazy that some people can look at Nature and not see that it was designed by God. But how carefully have you looked at Nature? There are insects that lay eggs inside of other animals that turn into larvae and eat the host animal alive. That’s not something that’s somehow beautiful from a certain angle; it’s always horrific. Nothing should be suffering like that. So we actually see the results of sin in Nature. We see design, yes, and we see the horrible marring of sin. So God has given us the Bible to explain the meaning behind what we see with our eyes in Nature.

C.S. Lewis wrote that we only see the lessons in Nature that we have learned from other sources, which means that Nature hasn’t actually taught us anything. And that isn’t to insult Nature. Nature is God’s tool and is like our elder sister. It’s simply to say that we can’t call other people stupid just because they don’t have the same faith as us.

We didn’t learn about God from Nature. We learned about Him from the Bible; we believe in Him through the Holy Spirit; and when we look at Nature, we take our belief into it. And that’s wonderful. We need both Inspiration and Nature. All I’m saying is that we shouldn’t accuse other people of stupidity if they haven’t had the same experience. We didn’t see the God of design automatically in Nature, and neither will they. They need experiences of love with God’s followers and the touching of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of God in the Bible.

Now, some evolutionists can look at us and think that we’re mentally out to lunch because they think that we all believe in the “fixity of species,” the idea that all species are set in stone from Genesis 1 and can never have any variations. And then evolutionists can look at the fact that there certainly are variations in species and think that we’re very silly.

But only a few creationists believe in that from Genesis 1. Our lesson points out that it’s more accurate to say that God create “various kinds of” animals on the fifth and sixth creation days but that then they were changed because of sin. And possibly God changed them even more because new habitats emerged because of sin. In His grace, He programmed into their DNA many new possible variations that can come out in different environments.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

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