There Is No Condemnation in Christ Jesus - Romans 8:1-2

Focus On Grace

I’ve been working through thoughts and frustrations that are along the lines of, “Why can’t I just do what I know I’m supposed to?” (like exercising, not being generous enough or compassionate enough, among other things) and “Why do I do what I’m not supposed to?” (like eating badly, not watching what I say, working in my own strength instead of God’s… the list goes on and on). These are perennial things I do that I feel like I should have conquered by now. My struggle reminded me of Romans 7 where Apostle Paul talks about the battle between flesh and spirit.

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. – Romans 7:18 ESV

After Paul talks about the struggle, he goes on to talk about grace and the freedom we can live in because of Jesus.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. … – Romans 8:1-3a ESV

God has given me the grace to step out of the battle and trust in the work of Jesus. Not that I give in to the pull of the flesh (that would be serving the flesh and we’ve died to that, see Romans 6:1-3), but that I can believe in the mercy of His love. He’s poured out over me the grace I need to set aside the battle and step into His love.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. – Romans 8:5-6 ESV

Today, as I started going around and around about what I hadn’t done or what felt impossible to do, I remembered this and took a deep breath, and focused instead on His grace.

“Thank you, God, for showing Yourself to me and teaching me about who You are. Because of my relationship with you through Jesus, I can believe in You and trust in You. I know You’re working out all this in me to Your glory and I don’t have to beat myself up over it. You are good, and You are strong, and You are in me. I trust in Your work and I choose to forget about what I can/should/haven’t done. Instead, I will live in each moment and trust your guidance and mercy as you show yourself more and more to me.”


Christ’s Righteousness

Sometimes we say to God, “OK, God, I’ve been forgiven by you in this moment, so you just tell me exactly what to do and how to live from this moment on so I never have to do anything wrong again. That way, I won’t sin again.” This is a problem, not because we don’t want to sin, that’s a good desire, but because we don’t trust in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We’re saying, if I just do all the correct behaviors, I will not sin again. We’re not to trust our own righteousness, meaning, we’re not to try to maintain our relationship with God through the avoidance of sin. Instead, we’re to trust the righteousness of Jesus Christ, knowing that we are washed clean of sin through Him.

Sometimes, when I’ve been discussing this with people who are more in the first camp than the second, their response is, “So you’re saying it’s OK to sin because Jesus will forgive you?” No, of course not. Nothing about accepting the righteousness of Christ is about making it OK to sin. If your heart is in such a place that hearing that you have been made righteous by Christ makes you want to break all the rules or live selfishly, I want to ask you to question your heart. Why does hearing that make you think it’s ok to do what you want when you want? Perhaps, you think of Christianity/religion as a way to force ethical behaviors. As in, if you don’t’ have a rule or a community that defines certain things as wrong, there’s no possible way that you could live by that rule. This once again points back to a complete lack of faith. We’ve been given the Holy Spirit as a guide and a comforter. If you are so out of tune with the Holy Spirit that you don’t trust any part of yourself to behave if someone isn’t punishing you for bad behavior, you might seriously want to consider a spiritual tune up. Practice listening to Him and accepting His input, not demanding rules and oversight.

The next piece of this response is the confusion of forgiveness with ignorance of problems. God doesn’t forgive you because He overlooks your issues or turns a blind eye to your mistakes. That’s not forgiveness and it certainly isn’t mercy. We often think in terms of discipline for our children. When we overlook mistakes, we often just let things slide. We offer mercy by not completing the justice part of the equation. God never ever does that.

God’s mercy is fully aware of our sin. He can see and knows our sin and darkness and selfishness. He doesn’t just wink at problems. He is in a fix-it mission with the focus being our hearts. God is also a just God. He doesn’t allow sin in His presence, which is why He can’t just close His eyes to it. For us to be in His presence, we must have atoned and dealt with our sin.

Jesus Christ is where God’s mercy and His justice collide. He hasn’t provided a way for God to ignore your sin; He’s provided a way for God to eliminate your sin. It’s gone, thrown away and never seen again. It’s been atoned for by blood sacrifice and removed.

Your forgiveness in Christ is full and complete. What might be incomplete is your acceptance of God’s forgiveness. God offers it fully and completely, but not unconditionally. You must believe on the name of Jesus and let His righteousness define you instead of your own. Repentance is not a 12 step program to help eliminate bad behaviors. It’s not even a process of admitting to God that you have problems (He already knows that). It’s about letting go of your own personal need to be good and letting God’s complete righteousness fill you.

A White Christmas, Part 3 – Sermon Notes

[These notes are from a sermon given at Church of the Four Corners in Independence, MO, as a part of the series “A White Christmas”. If you’d like to see the full message, you can watch it here.]

Christmas time magnifies everything, both the warm, fuzzy ones as well as the negative ones. Suicides between Thanksgiving and New Years are more than in the rest of the 11 months of the year combined. This series is to help people experience forgiveness and have a truly white Christmas.

“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool. If you will only obey me, you will have plenty to eat. – Isaiah 1:18-19 NLT

Previously, we reviewed the myths of what forgiveness is. We also talked about how much God has forgiven us and we must always remember to forgive as generously. Last week, Connor talked about viewing others through the lens of Jesus so that we can understand how to be willing to forgive.

Twisted Ways We Deal with Our Past

  1. We believe that time will remove our mistakes. Time doesn’t heal wounds. We know it’s the Holy Spirit that heals and helps us deal with them appropriately.

People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy. – Proverbs 28:13 NLT

We all need a community of others where we feel safe enough to share our past without the fear of feeling judged.

  1. We beat ourselves up over our past. We feel that we owe it to carry a heavy burden because of our choices, but it’s not true. King David tried this as well and here’s what it made him feel like.

My guilt overwhelms me–it is a burden too heavy to bear. My wounds fester and stink because of my foolish sins. I am bent over and racked with pain. All day long I walk around filled with grief. A raging fever burns within me, and my health is broken. I am exhausted and completely crushed. My groans come from an anguished heart. – Psalm 38:4-8 NLT

When we beat ourselves up over our past mistakes it can actually affect our physical bodies.

  1. Blaming others. We try to move the responsibility of the choice made of to other people instead of owning it ourselves. The first man and woman on this earth pulled this same thing when God talked to them about the forbidden fruit they’d eaten.

The man replied, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.” Then the LORD God asked the woman, “What have you done?” “The serpent deceived me,” she replied. “That’s why I ate it.” – Genesis 3:12-13 NLT

How do we get past our past?

How do we genuinely give ourselves permission to forgive ourselves and find healing?

Apostle Paul would have the right than anyone to beat himself up over the choices he’d made to kill Christians. Here’s what he thought on the subject.

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. – 1 Timothy 1:13-15 NIV

If we want to truly find freedom this morning, we need to stop trying to earn our forgiveness. This is easier said than done, because everything in the world teaches us to do the opposite. To have good friends, be a good friend, for example. To have a good marriage, or to have a good career, we have to earn it and work for it. It’s even more deeply engrained in our American ideal. Because it’s so deep in our culture, it’s even permeated into our Christmas tradition. Think about Santa and all the ideas of being good to get gifts from him.

Because we so used to operating this way, we transfer this idea to the forgiveness of Jesus. But that is the opposite of what the Bible teaches us about the grace of God through the sacrifice of Jesus.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. – 1 Peter 3:18 NIV

He died once, not over and over. God took on flesh and was born in a manger for this reason: so we could be brought back to God. He was put to death in the body, but He was made alive by the Spirit. When He died on the cross, he paid the price for our sins: past, present, and future. If you struggle with this temptation to try to earn the right to forgiveness, you don’t have a sin problem; you have an unbelief problem. If you believe on the name of Jesus, you will be saved. Do you believe what He is, what He’s done. Do you believe there’s a God who sent His son for your sins?

The next time your reluctant to worship because of your week or your choices, remember that it has nothing to do with you. It’s about Him, that’s why we’re acceptable to Him. You need to allow God to turn it around for His good. That’s not to say that bad things in our lives happened because of God, but it does mean that any situation in our lives can be redeemed by God.

What is that sin or situation in your past that you can’t seem to forgive yourself for? Pray for the belief to accept God’s forgiveness and accept that it comes freely and fully.

White Christmas, Part 2 – Sermon Notes

[These notes are from a sermon given at Church of the Four Corners in Independence, MO, as a part of the series “A White Christmas”. If you’d like to see the full message, you can watch it here.]

“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool. – Isaiah 1:18 (NLT)

We sin and others sin against us. We can be white as snow, with one clarification: we obey. If God points this out, it’s probably because it’s not something we would do on our own. If we do this, we will be at free.

When was the last time someone did something against you? These things are unavoidable. Matthew 24:10, many will offend, be try, hate you. The word offended in this passage means we’ve been baited in and trapped.

Proverbs 18:19 – We begin to build barriers to protect ourselves. We live by the mantra of hurt me once, shame on you. Hurt me twice, shame on me. We build up walls and we miss out on all these good opportunities in order to protect ourselves.

There are many types of hurts, including being taken advantage of, used, ignored, lied about, confidence destroyed, or even hurt by churches. There are many types of rejection, opportunities lost, abused whether it be emotionally, verbally, or sexually. Sometimes we feel offended when we’re humiliated, becoming the butt of someone’s joke. There are so many ways that we can be hurt, far more than what’s mentioned here.

Jesus Was Hurt

Jesus knew these. He was betrayed by his own disciple for about half a year’s wages. The authorities falsely accused and misunderstood what he said. His friends scattered into the night. One of the closest disciples,Peter, denied him three times. Jesus was rejected and abandoned. Then, he was abused and beaten, whipped, stabbed and then nailed alive to wooden beams due to losing a popularity vote.

Experts say Jesus would have been unrecognizable due to the beatings and hanging naked in front of everyone. Jesus took on all these things for us and because of what we needed. Hebrews 2:17-18 says Jesus became a mediator (think modern day lawyer) that truly knows what we’re going through because he experienced it first-hand. Jesus is the authority on what it looks like to respond to offenses in our lives. Because of this, we can come boldly because He knows what it is to be abused, broken, hurting.

Responding to Unavoidable Offenses

1 Peter 4:1 says Jesus understood what you’re going through, learn to emulate him. While he was dying on the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what their doing.” Jesus made a choice that we should mirror. Maybe the person who has offended you really is a bad person, but it does your heart no good to choose to believe that. We need to try to remember that others who are causing us problems or issues may be suffering in a way that we cannot imagine.

“Remind us each day that the greatest gift you give us is love. Let us open our hearts to all humanity, not just our family. Let us be patient and loving.”

Jesus didn’t enjoy what he suffered, but he made a choice to keep his heart clean in the face of evil. And that’s a choice we can access today. We can chose to pray the same prayer that others will be forgiven, just like Jesus did. We have to start doing this: learning to see people through the eyes of Jesus.

3 Steps to bring Healing Godly Forgiveness

  1. Remember that we need forgivness, too. We’re not angels; we have sin on our hands just the same as everyone else. Romans 3:23, all have sinned and fallen short. You have received, so freely give. You’re never going to have to give out more forgiveness that Jesus had to give on the cross.
  2. Acknowledge and focus on the real enemy. Jesus saw the people that were killing him as victims of the real enemy. Hurting people hurt people. It doesn’t make what they did right, but knowing that helps people begin to have compassion on them. Ephesians 6;12 says we’re fighting against powers that are not of this world.
  3. Receive God’s love. Some of us haven’t truly accepted the unconditional nature of God’s love. We love Him because He first loved us. 1 John says we can’t love God and hate our brother or we are a liar. Don’t leave today burdened by unforgiveness.

Don’t be afraid to find someone to pray for you, either for past offenses that you are struggling to forgive or for strength to keep from being offended.

A White Christmas- Part 1, Sermon Notes

[These notes are from a sermon given at Church of the Four Corners in Independence, MO, as a part of the series “A White Christmas” . If you’d like to see the full message, you can watch it here.]

As a culture, we believe things about forgiveness that aren’t true.

Myth 1: Forgiveness is minimizing the seriousness of the offense.

Myth 2: Forgiveness requires reconciliation. 

  • Forgiveness is between me and God more so than me and the person who wronged me.
  • For people who wait for the other person to start the process, that is handing over control of your life to the person who hurt you.

Myth 3:Forgiveness is forgetting what happened. Unfortunately, we will never forget what happened, especially true the more hurt-filled the situation was.

One reason that often keeps us from forgiving is that we think it’s not fair. Life isn’t fair and we should be grateful that God’s not fair. In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35), we see a man who was forgiven a large sum of money, valued today at approximately $5 billion. Instead of offering that same extravagant forgiveness to others, he demanded repayment from one of his debtors of a sum of money equal to about $10,000-$12,000. The one who had forgiven him the $5 billion heard about it and threw him in prison until the money was repaid. We are the person who has been forgiven an amount that is impossible to repay, which is completely unfair. We need to be just as unfair in our response to others.

In order to forgive this way, we need to acknowledge two important things.

  1. This will not come easily or naturally.
  2. Waiting till you feel like forgiving means that you will never do it.

People who walk in freedom don’t rely on their emotions to determine their actions. Instead, they use the scriptures to guide and train their choices.

The scriptures tell us how we are to respond to those who have wronged us.

  1. Pray for them (Matthew 5:43-44). This doesn’t mean praying they will get “in trouble” with the Lord. It means honestly putting them before the Lord. You can’t pray for someone and hate them at the same time. Eventually, one of them will give. We must be guarding our hearts against hate taking hold in our hearts. Prayer is how we do that.
  2. Bless them (Romans 12:14). This is specifically referring to words. If you say that you’ve forgiven, and then speak badly about them every time they come up, you’re undoing any benefit of forgiveness (assuming you’ve actually forgiven them).
  3. Do good to them (Luke 6:27-28). Doing good things for those who have wronged us sounds crazy. No one operating out of the natural would do this. We’re spiritually transformed, meaning we will be lead by the Spirit of God and the truth of God’s scriptures. The only way these kinds of actions are possible is by the knowledge that God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32).

Sins Shall Be White As Snow - Isaiah 1:18

Cleaning up the Bodies

The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to the LORD. It shall not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever.” – Jeremiah 31:40 ESV

In the Jewish culture there were many things that were unclean, dead bodies being on the list. In Jeremiah 31, we see the promise of the Lord to renew the nation, even the most unclean parts of it. This promise is a part of the new covenant promise that the Lord is promising Israel. We can lean on this promise to remind us that there is no part of us that cannot be renewed and restored by the Lord.

In Jeremiah 31, Jeremiah is prophesying about what the Lord will do for His people. In verse 31, the Lord begins telling about the new covenant (the one New Testament believers accept through the blood of Jesus). He says, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Jeremiah 31:33 (ESV). The Lord also promises later in the chapter that the land of Israel will be restored including “The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes” (v.40).

What part of your heart feels like it’s been unclean, full of dead bodies? Is there a part of your heart that feels like a battlefield and the rotting remnants of the war is left behind? Did the enemy try to burn you out, leaving ashes covering the ground? Or did you try to burn out the enemy leaving nothing but empty land in your heart?

The good news? No matter how messy, how damaged or how unholy those pieces of your heart feel, God can rebuild them into fertile ground that produces a rich spiritual harvest for Him. He delights in blessing His children (Psalm 149:4) and wants to be near you. No battle, no matter who started, you or the other guy, can keep Him out. He want to bring peace to you and return you to Him (Colossians 1:20).

Don’t let an unclean place in your heart keep you from coming to the Lord. No matter how long it’s been there or how many times you’ve tried to clean it up, don’t let fear or shame keep you in the dirt. He will make you white as snow, though you are dyed in the deepest of dyes.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. – Isaiah 1:18 ESV

He Is Faithful to Forgive - 1 John 1:9

Forgiven First

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! – Matthew 23:37 ESV

Jesus uttered these words while looking over the city of Jerusalem while He was here on earth. In this one sentence, we can see how God’s forgiveness applies, not just to the city of Jerusalem, but to all of us.

The first things that Jesus brings up here is their rebellion and sin. He points out their sin and acknowledges their issues. Then what? He yells at them? Asks them, “How could you have done this after all the things I’ve done for you?” No! The very next thing is his heartbroken words about how much He wants to be with them. He would have gathered them close, and sheltered them under his loving, protecting wing. The people were not willing, but God was ready to run after them, love them and forgive them.

So often when we are thinking of our own sins and issues, we think that God needs to correct us or change us or demand more from us before he forgives us, but it’s just not true. God sees all our issues, more clearly even than we do. He isn’t a clueless parent who doesn’t know what we’re doing on the weekends with our friends. He can see the visible sins and the invisible ones. He knows everything about us. And it’s in this moment, the one where He’s looking into the darkest, nastiest corner of our hearts that He is longing with His whole self to forgive us. All He wants in that moment is for us to turn to Him and raise our arms to Him like a little child wanting to be gathered up.

We are the ones who need to choose to be willing to be forgiven. God is always willing; we are the ones whose pride and insecurities and selfishness get in the way of the work He wants to do in our heart. God loves us. Not just in a theoretical sense or in a disconnected sense or out of a sense of obligation. He’s in love with you. He finds joy in being in your presence, just like we find joy in being in the presence of those we love. He wants to be with you and be close to you. In addition to all this, He also knows how much more content and full of joy we’ll be when we accept His forgiveness and walk closely with Him.

God will work on our issues once we’re safe in His arms. He will talk to us about the changes that we need to make to become more helpful to others around us. All those things will be taken care of when we submit to walking with Him. But first, before all that, we must be willing to be forgiven and jump in to the loving arms of our father.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9 ESV

Prodigal God, Part 3 – Sermon Notes

[These notes are from a sermon by Craig Kackly at Church of the Four Corners in Independence, MO. Today’s notes are part 3 of series Prodigal God. The whole series including this sermon can be seen on their website. My notes from part 2 are here.]

Forgiveness has a cost: the blood of Jesus

Review of last two weeks: Jesus is teaching here to two distinct groups of people. The first group is the tax collectors and sinners, and the second group is the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. These two groups are total opposites; one does everything right and the other does everything wrong. The Pharisee don’t like that the self-proclaimed rabbi (Jesus) hangs out with the sinners. Jesus tells the three parables to the righteous in the crowd.

Parable of the Lost Sheep

This parable is about the loss of one sheep from a flock of 100. 100 would be an average size flock for that time. The shepherd leaves the 99 in a safe place and finds the lost one. He not only finds it but carries it back, which means it was too tired [or injured] to make it back on its own. Then Jesus says heaven throws a party for the return of the lost.

Parable of the Lost Coin

A widow loses one of 10 coins, each coin estimated to be about a day’s wages. Together, these coins could have possibly represented her dowry or her entire worth. When she finds her lost coin, she goes to her friends to have them celebrate with her.

Did you know that heaven held  celebration for you when you accepted Jesus Christ when you accepted salvation? Awesome thought!

Parable of the Lost Son
You might assume this story will parallel the first two, something lost then something found, but Jesus throws a twist in this one. The second parable is really about the response of the older brother to the father’s acceptance of the lost son.

This Week:
In the first two parables, what’s lost is actively sought out. But in the story about the son, when he’s thought lost, no one sought him out. Why? Who should have gone after the younger son? Culturally, the older brother should have gone after the younger brother and taken on the expense of dealing with helping out of the troubles he was in. Instead of an older brother that isn’t filled with compassion, the younger brother has an older brother who stands back with a callous heart and lets him stay lost to suffer the consequences of his own bad choices.

Fortunately, we didn’t get that older brother. We think that there’s no cost for the younger brother’s forgiveness, but that’s false. Reality says that there is always a cost.

In this parable, the cost is born by the older brother, by decreasing his inheritance. The cost of our forgiveness was Jesus’ very life. It was the sacrifice of shame and pain that He went through that paid the cost to allow us back into our Father’s house.

You will never know how to forgive until you know what it cost to bring you home. You will never know to give until you know what it cost Jesus to give you an inheritance.

Are you going to be the older brother who chose to hold onto the unforgiveness and resentment, or are you going to be the younger brother who accepts the payment for grace?


Prodigal God, Part 2 – Sermon Notes

[These notes are from a sermon by Craig Kackly at Church of the Four Corners in Independence, MO. Today’s notes are part 2 of series Prodigal God. The whole series including this sermon can be seen on their website.]

We think that only the younger son in the Prodigal Son parable was lost, but in fact it was both sons.

Recap from last week: there is nothing we can do to disqualify ourselves from God’s love. This parable is told to the teachers of the law, not to the sinners.

This Week: The Older Brother

The older brother is off doing something long enough that he doesn’t know what’s going on. From the servant, he learns that the father has thrown a great feast and accepted the younger brother back as a son. In response, he becomes angry and refuses to go.

By accepting the younger brother back, the father has set him back as a son. This means he has decreased the inheritance of the older brother [the father’s forgiveness comes at a cost]. By refusing to enter the banquet, the older brother is making a statement that he disagrees with the father’s choice to accept back the younger son.

Now we see the father pursuing a lost son again, when he goes and pleads with the older brother. [Note the word play on son of yours when the son speaks to this brother of yours when the father speaks.]

The unresolved nature of the story makes sense when you remember who the audience is. [The Pharisees would have been the older brother, so the response of the older brother would have been represented by their response, hence the open-ended story.]

The younger brother represents self-discovery. Letting go of inhibitions to experience the world and find out what there is to offer. Someone on this path seeks happiness and fulfillment through determining your own choices.

The older brother represents a moral conformist. It’s someone who does whatever their righteous culture or church says they should. They give, serve, pray, but it’s never intimate and life giving. It’s dry and lifeless. There’s no joy, instead there’s guilt.

Both sons rebel against the father. Younger son through bad choices, the older son through good choices. We can rebel by breaking all the rules or by keeping all the rules. The older brother did everything right, but still alienated himself from the father.

The sin here is all about putting yourself in the place of Jesus as the Lord and Savior of your life. All the older brother’s good deeds are an attempt to control the father for what he can get, not in true submission to serve from love. Whether you are a sinner or a religious person, both paths lead to death w/out Jesus.