Our Salvation

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By Tom Chase

So Sunday is Easter! The day we celebrate and remember—and hopefully even party because of — what Christ has done for us! What is it that Christ has done for us? He has given us salvation! That salvation is so much deeper and richer than I have previously been able to articulate and realize. I don’t think I even yet fully comprehend it all.

What I am about to share with you is largely from what Stuart McAllister shared as part of a panel discussion with Ravi Zacharias. He answered a question about our struggle with being spiritually transformed when our hearts fails to match the will of God. His answer takes us back to the cross and the resurrection of Jesus. It’s found in what Jesus has done for us — salvation!

Here is what I mean:

1) I am saved from the penalty of sin.

In reality, I am a struggler in this Christian walk. Maybe you, too, would agree not only about my walk but also about your own walk. My heart does not always match the will of God. I am a sinner. But the gospel message is that when I accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, He saves me. So because of gospel, I can confidently say that I am saved. Jesus has taken away my sins. I am secure in my eternal destination. So I am saved from the penalty of sin.

2) I am being saved from the power of sin.

Sometimes the gospel message can be oversold, and we say God’s salvation will do things that it does not. As a result, we can become extremely discouraged about our present walk.

I can say, “I am saved,” and that is true. But at times the message becomes, “Jesus makes our lives better,” which is just as true, but not always in the ways anticipated by that general statement. So the message can then become, “Accepting Jesus will automatically fix everything in our lives. Suddenly, everyone will like me, there will be no more conflict, my work will be easy, my athletic abilities will become legendary, my spouse will become better looking, my kids will become smarter and perfectly behaved.” This simply is not what salvation does for us. Everything is not perfect in life or in us. Paul reminds us about our struggles in Romans 7:

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do … For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it … Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Our old nature rises up. We end up doing the very things we don’t want to do. For whatever reason, God has left us here with the sinful nature, and an internal struggle ensues.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. Galatians 5:16-17

So it should not surprise us that we are in a battle. Again, at the end of Romans 7, Paul says Who will rescue us—and it is Jesus Christ our Lord!  It is His salvation again. I am being saved. We are being sanctified, that is, becoming more and more like Jesus over time. I am being saved from the power of sin!

3) I will be saved from the presence of sin.

This last one is no less true than the others. When we are called into the presence of God and our final days here are done, we will be in the presence of the almighty God where there is no sin. There will be no more sickness, pain, and tears. The culmination of all that God through Jesus Christ has intended for us will be complete. We will have eternity to revel in it all and I will be saved from the presence of sin!

So as we celebrate Easter this year I am reminded of all God has done for us through Jesus Christ our Lord. Because of Him, I am, am being, and will be saved, from the penalty, the power, and the presence of sin. What God through Christ has done for us is simply amazing. Doesn’t that make you just want to lean into Him?

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What is Lent? Should Christians observe it?

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By Larry Short

“Lent” has been a traditional Catholic/liturgical observance, but in recent times has been gaining more traction among evangelical Christians. What is it, exactly, and why is it growing in popularity?

Lent is the period of time (40 days in length, not counting Sundays) between Ash Wednesday (which fell this year on Feb. 22) and Holy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter, and the day marking Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and Last Supper, just prior to the Friday of His passion).

The day before Lent begins is known as “Shrove Tuesday,” or more commonly “Fat Tuesday,” because it is sometimes regarded as a day of feasting and celebration before the observance of Lent. Wikipedia says: “The traditional purpose of Lent is the penitential preparation of the believer — through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events of the Passion of Christ on Good Friday, which then culminates in the celebration on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

As evangelical Christians I think we must guard against the idea of “penitence” or “penance,” which would say that we must undergo some sort of suffering to pay for our sins. In His death on the cross, Jesus has paid for those sins, once and for all, burying them in the deepest sea! The idea that we could possibly pay even an iota of the sin debt we owe God, ourselves, is incredibly ignorant at best and arrogantly prideful at worst.

But I think the other things on Wikipedia’s list … prayer, repentance, almsgiving (giving to the poor), and self-denial (within reason) … can all be spiritually healthy things. While only the more liturgically-oriented among Christian churches have typically formally observed Lent, a number of Christians in less liturgically-oriented churches (such as our own) have taken up the practice informally, because they have found its benefits akin to the biblical benefits of fasting, and it helps prepare one spiritually for Easter. In fact, the 40-day period associated with Lent is thought to correspond with Christ’s 40-day fast and wilderness temptation, at the beginning of His public ministry. Many Christians therefore find Lent a good time to identify with Christ and to focus on prayer and spiritual goals.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of fasting, the concept is to deprive oneself of food or some usual practice or luxury for the purpose of devotion to prayer and spiritual goals. In my life I have occasionally used fasting to sharpen my prayer focus and to demonstrate (to the Lord) seriousness in my intent to approach Him in utter dependence for His help and intervention. Jesus gave the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) to demonstrate the importance of us praying with dogged persistence and faith. In my case, I find it useful to set a specific prayer goal and commit to the Lord that I am going to deny myself something that I normally enjoy, for a period of 40 days, in order to identify with Christ in His dependence upon His Father and to communicate the seriousness of my desire for Him to hear my entreaty.

If we do fast, though, an important point is not to do so for the sake of being seen (by others) as “spiritual!” That was what the Pharisees did. Jesus says in Matthew 6 that fasting, like prayer and giving, should be done as privately as possible, directed for God to notice, not those around us! (By the way, did you ever notice that He says there: “when you fast” … just as He says “when you pray” and “when you give.” We definitely should be practicing each of these spiritual disciplines in order to be healthy!)

Speaking of health, as an aside: I also find Lent incredibly useful for setting and achieving health goals! This year, for instance, I am committing to give up foods which I enjoy but would nonetheless probably be healthier without (red meat and pork, refined starches and carb-heavy foods, sweets/desserts, cheeses, etc.) and substituting in their place healthier foods (fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, fish and poultry, whole grains). My goal is to lose 2 pounds/week and help stabilize blood sugar and blood pressure, both of which I struggle with to a certain extent due to lifestyle and heredity issues. I am also committing to exercise an hour a day, and to use this exercise time as part of my prayer focus time.

Last year I found that by reducing calories and eating healthier, along with regular exercise, helped me to lose weight and feel stronger both physically and spiritually.

(Probably something I should do all year ’round, and not just during Lent, right? Maybe someday I will have that kind of self-discipline!)

Others I know who observe Lent have found creative ways of self-denial that don’t necessarily involve food or drink. Some give up various forms of entertainment … computer games, movies, TV or listening to music. Others give up eating out at restaurants, getting a daily coffee at Starbucks, or similar things (which also helps them save money which then can be contributed to a specific spiritual purpose!). Still others give up things which have become a habit but which they don’t necessarily consider incredibly healthy, such as social media (several friends gave up Facebook last year during Lent).

And others skip the self-denial part, but instead focus on certain spiritual goals related to giving, reading, devotion, meditation, memorization, Bible study, prayer, etc.

I think an important point is that Christ would not wish us to be “legalistic” about observances such as Lent. If it helps us sharpen the focus of our relationship with Him, then great! But it shouldn’t be a negative burden or expectation that we place on ourselves or others. He came to bring us freedom from such things.

Are you celebrating Lent this year, or have you in the past? What has been your experience? I’d love to hear more, so please comment on this blog (below), or go to Elim’s Facebook site and comment on the wall associated with this “Last Word.” I am praying that if you decide to observe Lent in some fashion, either this year or in the years to come, it will be a blessing that will move your relationship with Jesus forward in big ways!

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