Grace is amazing. I have committed sins. God gives me his love and favor even though I don’t deserve it. He asks me to give him my complete devotion, admit and turn away from things he despises, and to try to do his work even as a I fall again and again. He doesn’t just forgive me, he forgets that it ever took place.
He tells his disciples to forgive an infinite number of times (Matthew 18). He looks at an adulterous woman, makes the crowds examine their own motives, forgives the woman and tells her not to sin again (John 8). He sees the masses crucifying him and asks God to forgive them (Luke 23). He emphasizes the need to examine our own sin (Matthew 7), rejoice when someone comes back to us from sin (Luke 15), help those in sin to find a path out. He tells us not to heap undue burden on them—and to make sure we restore them with meekness and gentleness, making sure we don’t sin as we do this (Galatians 6).
Then there’s me. I love God’s forgiveness when it’s directed at me. However, when someone else sins, especially against me, I tend to abandon God’s guidance on forgiveness. I am hurt. I want justice. Grace and mercy are fine concepts but when my spouse cheats on me or one of my friends betray me, righteous indignation takes over. I am likely to lash out and justify it based on what my brother, sister, spouse, son, daughter, or friend did to me or someone I love. I appeal to the high intensity of emotion as justification. John the Baptist does tell us to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” as an expression of our love for what God has done for us, but not as a measuring stick by which we are to judge others. Matthew 7 makes it clear we need to be careful lest the judgment criteria we use be used on us.
God has a name for this conduct—he calls it sin. Forgiveness is a core principle for Christians. We who don’t practice it, no matter the reason, are sinning. We can repent and be forgiven of that sin. However, in our human wisdom we are more likely to justify the anger and make excuses for the behavior. This runs especially high where adultery is concerned. Betrayal has taken place. The sin has been committed. It’s a horrible thing. It can have terrible consequences. When the offending spouse turns from that behavior and asks for forgiveness, God forgets it ever happened. In most cases I have seen, forgiveness is not what the offended spouse, his or her family, and close friends offer the repentant soul. No, they dole out disappointment, judgment, and condemnation in perpetuity. When does God ever teach that? God doesn’t ever teach that.
Here are five forgiveness principles to hold onto when a brother or sister in Christ sins and repents of that sin:
- Remember the forgiveness extended to you. Read Romans 5-8 again and again until you fully embrace the enormity of grace, peace, and forgiveness has extended to you. You’ll find there’s no room for righteous indignation.
- Be gentle, kind, and humble with the one who has repented. Don’t let the weight of repented sin crush their spirit and service to the King. Galatians 6 and II Corinthians 5 can help guide you.
- Welcome them back into your company. There is no partial status in God’s kingdom. There shouldn’t be any partial status as fellow heirs in Christ within local assemblies either. John 8 gave no conditions to God’s forgiveness—we shouldn’t give any for ours either.
- Rejoice with the one who’s returned to God. Luke 15 gives us some great guidance on this when he talks about the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.
- Stop making excuses and repent when you commit the sin of judgment and a hard heart. We’re not perfect. Keeping the mind of God is hard when you have been wronged. However, call it what it is—it is sin. Don’t make excuses. Repent of the sin and rejoice again that God has forgiven you.
Satan is powerful. But he’s nothing compared with God. Don’t let Satan fool you into having an unforgiving spirit no matter what the circumstance. Don’t use worldly wisdom to justify bad behaviors and a hard-hearted, sinful spirit. Remember the inspired word of James, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:27).
May God bless all of you who bow your knee to the King.
The Indwelling Holy Spirit
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul asked the Christians there a seemingly innocent rhetorical question: “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2). However, the answer to this question informs so much of what we know about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Now that’s a super-religious term: the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But what does it mean?
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the means by which God dwells in the heart of those who are his. Paul tells us that “you, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Romans 8:9). Elsewhere, Paul says, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
We are anointed with the Holy Spirit when we are baptized into Christ’s death, and that anointing conveys some very special spiritual benefits to all Christians:
The indwelling Spirit is a sign that we belong to God (Romans 8:9)
If you’ve ever been to a used bookshop, or browsed someone else’s bookshelf, you’ve seen a bookplate. It’s the little paper glued to the inside cover of a book with the owner’s name on it. A bookplate is a sign of ownership, a mark of identification. The Holy Spirit works within us to identify us as belonging to God (2 Corinthians 6:16).
The indwelling Spirit is God’s guarantee of what we’ve been promised in heaven (Ephesians 1:13-14)
Most people can’t afford the full purchase price of a new home. Instead, we offer a smaller amount of cash as a down payment, or as earnest money, against the full price which we promise to pay later. God puts his Spirit into our hearts when we become his children, as a promise that the future glory of heaven and an eternity with him is ours.
The indwelling Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26-27)
I’ve been blessed to be part of several mission trips to Costa Rica, and without question, the most important part of a successful mission trip overseas is a good translator. What a tremendous blessing we have from God, that his Spirit working within us translates and interprets the prayers of our hearts!
The indwelling Spirit gives us the means by which we can overcome (Galatians 5:16-25)
God’s Spirit dwelling in our hearts gives us the strength and the support we need to overcome our carnal selfishness, our pride, our greed, our anger…it is by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we can truly say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Grace and peace to you!
- Daniel Stauss
September 17, 2018
This blog entry is a companion piece to our September 16, 2018 Sunday AM sermon
Jesus and the Holy Spirit
For most Christians, we seem to have a much easier time relating to Jesus than we do to the Holy Spirit. One way we might draw closer to the Spirit is to think about Jesus’ relationship with the Spirit. Looking at the links Jesus had in his life with the Holy Spirit can help us to see some of those same links in our own lives. By understanding Jesus’ relationship with the Spirit, we can understand our own relationship with the Spirit today.
First, Jesus was born of the Spirit (Matthew 1:18-23)
The story of Jesus’ conception and birth is the story of the Holy Spirit bringing fullness and life to what was once empty and bare. In fact, Luke’s account of the conception mirrors the account of creation we see in Genesis, particularly when we think about the Holy Spirit in both stories. The Holy Spirit brought forth life, and that’s exactly what Jesus and the Spirit do for Christians today (John 3:5-6).
Second, Jesus was anointed by the Spirit (Luke 4:18-19)
Jesus was anointed by God when the Spirit descended upon him at his baptism (Acts 10:37-38). In the Old Testament, God gave Israel a very specific recipe for anointing oil. Once you smelled the oil, there was no mistaking that you were in the presence of God’s chosen. We too “have been anointed by the Holy One” (1 John 2:20), and there should be no mistaking who we are or who we serve.
Third, Jesus was led by the Spirit (Mark 1:12-13)
In Mark’s account, Jesus was driven into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan after his baptism. Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus was always in step with the Spirit, doing the will of the Father at the direction of the Spirit, the fullness of God leading us in turn to salvation and eternal life with Him.
And according to Paul, “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14).
Finally, Jesus was raised by the Spirit (Romans 8:11)
Paul introduces his letter to the Romans by saying that Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” The Holy Spirit was somehow instrumental in Jesus’ resurrection from the grave. Likewise, the Spirit of God is instrumental in our spiritual resurrection through baptism: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
One of the most important relationships Jesus had during his time on earth was his relationship with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was crucially involved in every aspect of Jesus life, and so he remains for us today.
Grace and peace to you!
September 17, 2018
This blog entry is a companion piece to our September 2, 2018 Sunday AM sermon
Who is the Holy Spirit?
The Bible is full of mysteries, as Moses told the children of Israel just before they entered the Promised Land: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)
One of the most mysterious things in the Bible is who, or what, is the Holy Spirit. We as Christians should never be uncomfortable or afraid to examine what we have been told about the Holy Spirit, as an understanding and relationship with the Holy Spirit is a critically important part of our faith.
The Bible clearly refers to the Holy Spirit as a who, not a what. Consider all the ways Scripture characterizes the Holy Spirit as an individual being:
- He loves (Romans 15:30)
- He feels and suffers (Ephesians 4:30)
- He’s intelligent (1 Cor. 2:10-13)
- He has a will of his own (Acts 16:6)
- He prays to the Father (Romans 8:26)
- He teaches (John 14:26)
- He directs our steps (Romans 8:14)
- He performs miracles (Acts 8:39)
- He speaks (1 Timothy 4:1)
- He can be insulted (Hebrews 10:29)
The Holy Spirit is just as much a person as Jesus was! And just like Jesus, the Holy Spirit is also portrayed as deity:
- He is eternal (Hebrews 9:14)
- He is omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-10)
- He is omniscient (1 Cor. 2:10-13)
And in Acts 5, Peter clearly states that lying to the Holy Spirit is equivalent to lying to God (Acts 5:1-4).
Knowing who the Holy Spirit is goes a long way to helping us better understand what the Holy Spirit does.
Grace and peace to you!
September 4, 2018
This blog entry is a companion piece to our August 28, 2018 Sunday AM sermon.
A dear friend recently observed that people seem more easily offended these days. That’s stuck with me. It’s a part of today’s culture—you don’t have to look too hard to see that. There’s a heightened sensitivity on every topic, save the topic of Christianity (Which I will save for a future blog post.) Much of the world seems on a never-ending quest to be offended by someone or something.
Christians have fallen prey to this mentality and I believe it’s fracturing unity within local congregations. I have seen people take things out of context, take offense based on assumptions, and justify ungodly behaviors because of the actions of others. We forget the words of the writer James when he tells us to “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19) We choose to put aside Paul’s advice for Timothy when he tells him, “The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil.” In Proverbs 19:10 the writer tells us that “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” We need to exercise more good sense regarding our relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to always assume the best intention even when some statement or action might be interpreted otherwise. If we find ourselves offended and believe it sin, we should follow the instructions for resolution found in Matthew 18:15-17. God’s laid out a pretty simple path to resolution. Is it hard to do? Sure, but it’s simple in terms of God’s guidance on what we need to do.
God is so very good. He’s forgiven every offense against him. We’re happy to receive his mercy and grace, and so often unwilling to extend that mercy and grace to our fellow heirs and family in Christ. We need to remind ourselves that, “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” (Proverbs 29:11) Perhaps we need to take a breath, say a prayer, ask God to forgive us, and then see if what was said or done by my brother or sister in Christ warrants being offended—I believe most times it’s not.
I need to get better at this. Unity in Christ is too important. Perhaps this is an area on which you need to work as well. My God bless you in your efforts to do so.