Forever Grateful 

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapters one and two, believers are given some glimpses of deep realities of the depths of God’s love for us countered by the realities of our depravity and utter helplessness. Regarding His love for those who are His, take note of some strong words, full of meaning, used to describe God’s activities on our behalf.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ. ~ Ephesians 1:3-9

Two common mistakes I think many Christians make are, 1) thinking they actually understand the concepts of  God’s choosing us, predestination, adoption, and redemption; and 2) either dismissing or changing their meanings. These mean exactly what they say, despite the depths are beyond human comprehension.

One’s redemption, cleansing, and salvation were God’s ideas and initiatives, not ours. We could neither dream of a God loving us so much that He would suffer for us nor that He would lavish such profound love, grace, and forgiveness so richly and freely. Furthermore, as we will see from chapter two, apart from His initiatives, we would not have desired these to begin with.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air [the devil], the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. ~ Ephesians 2:1-6

Like zombies, we appeared to be alive, but we were dead; made insane as we were driven by sinful passions and godless pride, following the current of the world and the rebellion of the devil. Like bucking, untamed horses, we kicked against the sacred and holy. By grace we are saved—and only by grace.

Again, a couple of common mistakes I think Christians make are, 1) thinking one was/is better than he really was/is; 2) thinking we didn’t follow after Satan in his rebellion; and 3) thinking that some inkling of goodness of our own contributed to our salvation.

The debt Christ paid with His own blood was a price we could never have paid. The humiliation and shame He endured was so we could be delivered from our own, making us acceptable to God. We sometimes forget just how serious our situation was. We were both separated from God and bound for a hell of our own earning and deserving. Jesus will forever be deserving of our awe, praise, worship, surrender, and gratitude. May we be forever grateful.

Washed, Sanctified, Justified—and the Inner Struggle

Some people, after reading some of my posts, think I’m too negative and expect Christians to be perfect. However, to come to this conclusion is to miss the point of what I’m trying to communicate. Yes, I try to signal warnings often, but the intention is like that of a lighthouse trying to keep sailors from becoming shipwrecked. So much of what passes as “Christianity” today is far from what was intended by Jesus and the apostles, but there is real struggling within true believers.

We have such corny terms like “conservative Christian,” “liberal Christian,” and the list seems never ending. I’ve even heard of persons claiming to be “Christian socialists” (which is practically the equivalent of claiming to be a “Christian atheist”). Jesus never intended to come simply as an interior decorator or a landscaper. Rather, He came to demolish the old, set a new foundation, and build something totally new. He certainly did not come to promote political affiliations, but declares Himself to be Lord and King over all lords and kings.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:17-18

Jesus gives His people an entirely new identity. God’s people are told,

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. ~ Ephesians 2:1-6

Elsewhere, we are told,

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. ~ 1 Peter 1:9-10

For many of us, if we are honest, were quite the rascals and scoundrels. We were selfish, hedonistic, blasphemous, and depraved in our thoughts and behaviors. The apostle Paul, writing to one of the churches, says,

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ~ 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Did you catch that? “And such were some of you”—past tense. We are no longer who or what we were. In Christ we have a new identity, we are adopted into a new family (see Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5),  and we are given a new purpose which transcends living for ourselves and destructive passions. Let us not miss the importance of the words washedsanctified, and justified. Each of these have great significance for the follower of Christ. Washed means exactly what it says. We were washed and made clean.

And since we have a great priest over the house of God,  let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. ~ Hebrews 10:21-22

They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. ~ Revelation 7:14

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

If we were washed, then it means we were dirty, and if we were dirty then we were defiled and unacceptable before God. Regardless if you were immoral, greedy, a thief, a liar, mean-spirited or a gossip, each of us were dirty, defiled, and were on death row (see Rom. 3:10-23).

Sanctified is a religious term, and its significance must not be ignored. It means to be made holy, set apart for God’s purposes. We are given an excellent example of what this looks like practically:

For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.” Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. ~ Revelation 18:3-5

In the Old Testament God condemned the people who made no distinction between the holy and profane:

Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. ~ Ezekiel  22:26

The apostle Paul, in separate letters illustrates what sanctification looks like when put into practice.

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. ~ 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5, 9

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. ~ Titus 2:11-14

Justified, a vital concept woven throughout the New Testament, is a judicial term, meaning to be absolved of guilt, to be declared righteous. Mind you, this is not that our guilt is ignored. Far from! Rather, the person who looks to Christ in faith understands that He bore the penalty—death—for our sins and guilt.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. ~ Romans 5:1, 9

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:21

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. ~ Hebrews 9:11-14

We must not dismiss the significance of these words and their meanings. To do so comes with severe ramifications. Understand, we had once been on death row, but Christ bore our penalty and set us free from sin’s prison and condemnation. If a person on death row, today, was to receive pardon, common sense tells us the expectation is for the person to abstain from the criminal and lawless activities that led him there. Likewise, Christ did not die in our stead just to give us liberty to indulge in the sins which held us imprisoned, waiting for eternal condemnation.

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? ~ Romans 5:20; 6:1-2

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. ~ Romans 6:11

Although we are to consider ourselves, to treat ourselves, dead to sin, each of us knows that sin does not go down humbly, willingly, or politely. While there is victory we have over sin, through Christ, many of us know that it waits to sucker punch us any chance it gets. In other words, although we are washed, sanctified, and justified, we are not perfect. Here we experience a paradox.

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. ~ Hebrews 10:14

In Christ, we are sanctified and made perfect; yet the Scriptures, and life, shows us we not perfect and are in the process of being sanctified. Many of us know the bitter sting of failure, the stumbling and falling on our faces and dirtying our garments. This inner battle is real, and even though for reasons we don’t understand, God permits it to prune us, purge us, to humble us, and to grow us. Of his own experience, the apostle Paul writes, 

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. ~ Romans 7:15-19

Elsewhere he writes of the inner battle each of us is aware of.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other. ~ Galatians 5:16-17

There are battles won but others lost. There are times a genuine believer is permitted to fall and hit the ground hard. But we must not blame God (e.g., “God made me this way” or “He put me in this situation”). We are told plainly,

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. ~ James 1:13-15

But hope is not lost for the true sons and daughters of God, born again by His Spirit and redeemed by the blood of His Son. God allows us to stumble and fall, but He will help us back up. He might allow us to be broken, but He will repair us in due time. He will discipline us to correct us so that we will not be condemned with the world.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. ~ Romans 8:1

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. ~ 1 John 1:8-2:1

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. ~ Hebrews 12:4-11

To those who say my writings are “too negative,” I’m trying to warn those who are growing lax in, simply playing with, or outright defying the ways of God. To those who accuse me of thinking I’m better than others, I’m not better than anyone. I am a man who, too, struggles against the sinful nature. But regardless of what you think of me, examine what I say with the Scriptures. Is what I write true or not? But for those who are struggling, I encourage you to look, and cry out, to the Savior. His grace, forgiveness, and cleansing go deep. If you’ve fallen, His grace can lift you back up. If you’re dirty, His blood will cleanse you. If you’ve totally blown it, He can restore. If you are genuinely His, regardless of your past and present struggles, you are washed, sanctified, and justified. But yes, the inner struggle continues and is real. But remember who you belong to and your true identity in Him.

Our Passover and Shelter from the Storm

Have you ever had a severe storm come your direction? Your heart beat wildly as the weather reports displayed your area being right in line of the storm, but nothing happened. The storm seemed to simply pass over you while the news reported neighboring towns having a lot of damage.

In Exodus, we read of a coming storm, of sorts, coming toward Egypt. The Lord was bringing judgment and was going to kill the firstborn of every household. However, He instructed every household of His people to take a lamb, to slay it, put its blood over the door posts, then roast the meat to feed on. God’s judgment would pass over every household that followed His instructions.

This Passover was not only about judgment, but it was also about deliverance. The Lord was not only bringing affliction to the Egyptians but also a great rescue mission of His people from their slavery and captors.

Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it…. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. ~ Exodus 12:7-8, 12-13

Jesus Christ is the Passover Lamb for His people. And just as the people of old were to get rid of all leaven in their homes in preparation, so too, we are told to get rid of the leaven of sin in our lives and homes.

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. ~ 1 Corinthians 5:7

We were once in bondage, slaves to sin. God’s judgment was coming our way, but Christ our Passover was also the firstborn Son who was inflicted with the death which was rightfully ours. 

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:21

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. ~ Romans 6:15-18

The storm of God’s wrath against our sin was coming like a freight train, but God’s Lamb was sacrificed and the Firstborn incurred our punishment. His blood is sprinkled over the door posts of our hearts and conscience, and God’s wrath has passed over us.

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood. ~ 1 Peter 1:1-2

The Bible tells us a storm is brewing once again, and the time is coming when God’s wrath is going to be unleashed again with fury against men’s sins and obstinate rebellion and unbelief (see Rev. 6-18). Yet, Jesus remains the Passover and Shelter for all who put their trust in Him.

Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. ~ Psalm 25:3

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you . ~ Psalm 91:1-3 

My hope and prayer for you, my friend, is that you know Jesus Christ as your Passover and Shelter. Only through Him is there safety and shelter from the holy wrath of God poured out because of sin. May you not get caught and swept away by the storm.

*Listen to this weekend’s podcast, “All Hail the King!”:


https://anchor.fm/geno-pyse/episodes/All-Hail-the-King-e144di7

Not Too Far Gone

My wife and I used to be involved in jail ministry. Those incarcerated are often viewed as monsters or worthless. While such a ministry has its challenges, my wife and I did not minister to monsters or worthless ones. We ministered to men who made poor choices, yet had families they loved and cared about. 

Many of the men we talked to grew up in the tough parts of a notorious city. Numerous times persons would tell us, “My daddy is a gangbanger, and my uncles, and my brothers, and my cousins are all gangbangers.” Such criminal living is all they have ever known. I remember looking at my wife one night and saying, “If I grew up in this city and all my family was gangbangers and drug dealers, I doubt my choices would be any bit different.”

Something that broke our hearts is how many men would say something like, “Don’t pray for me, I’m too far gone. But pray for my kid(s), that they don’t make the choices I’ve made and wind up here.” Numerous times we would have to tell them, “We will certainly pray for your kid(s), but you are not too far gone! Jesus loves you so much He died for you!”

No one, no matter what they have done, is too far gone if they truly turn from sin and turn to Christ in faith. The apostle Paul writes,

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. ~ 1 Timothy 1:15-16

Understand, Jesus is not a “get out of jail free” card. His love does not minimize the seriousness of sin or its consequences. However, His love and compassion reveal at least two things. First, they reveal the great value of the souls of people; and second, they reveal that human depravity does not come from a vacuum. Besides the complexity of original sin, there is the intricacies of personal makeup and various life experiences.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. ~ Hebrews 4:15

Perhaps you feel that you are “too far gone.” If so, Jesus gives this promise:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. ~ John 6:37

Do not let your fear or shame of feeling too far gone prevent you from responding to Jesus’s good and gracious promise.