Our Salvation Is Quite Sure

My favorite of all the apostles is John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” I love his Gospel, the three epistles that he wrote, and of course,  Revelation.

There are a couple of things I love about John’s writings:

  1. He reminds his readers that he was an eyewitness to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
  2. He clearly sets out the evidence for Jesus’ divinity.
  3. He focuses, particularly in the epistles, on the love of God.
  4. He reveals the power and purpose of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.
  5. He provides believers with an assurance of salvation.

It is this last point that I want to write about today. Early in the history of the Christian faith, deceivers had come into the church who taught that one had to achieve sinless perfection to be saved. John wrote his first epistle to combat this heresy. The same type of heresy has crept into many legalistic denominations even today. By outwardly following the rules, such people claim to be without sin. But as John writes:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:8-10 (NIV).

John here provides assurance that the fact that the believer sometimes sins does not negate their salvation, because Jesus is faithful and forgives our sin. One of the definitions of assurance on Dictionary.com is “full confidence; freedom from doubt; certainty.” Throughout this epistle, John provides further assurance that those who trust in Jesus can be assured of their salvation even though they are not sinless and perfect.

The word “know” appears 42 times in this short epistle because John wants to make sure believers know that God loves them and that they can rely on His promise of salvation. In each of the chapters of the epistle, John includes his assurance:

I am writing to you, dear children,
   because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
   because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
   because you have overcome the evil one.

1 John 2:12-13 (NIV).

“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”

1 John 3:21-24 (NIV).

“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.”

1 John 4:15-16 (NIV).

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”

1 John 5:13-14 (NIV).

None of us is perfect and completely sinless. If we were, we would not need a Savior. But we do need Him, and we thrive best knowing that He is faithful in His promise of salvation for those who believe.

John does not advocate living a life in which we sin ‘willy-nilly’ simply because we know we can be forgiven.

Now don’t get me wrong. Those who truly believe in Jesus, and trust in Him for salvation, will desire to keep God’s commands. His Spirit living in our hearts will help us to overcome the temptations of the world and to love as He has commanded.

You may be struggling today with worries that you are not good enough, or that God will give up on you and you will lose your salvation. But remember – God is faithful in His promises and He has promised eternal life to all who believe in Jesus and allow His love to live in them. He has not hidden the truth from us but has made Himself known through His Son and the witness of the apostles so that we can be assured of our place in His Kingdom. Your salvation is sure.

aasignLinda

Our Lesson for Today: Learning to Lean

“One of His disciples, whom Jesus loved [whom He esteemed and delighted in], was reclining [next to Him] on Jesus’ bosom.”  

John 13:23, Amplified

“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

Matthew 22:37

This apostle, traditionally known to be John, is sitting at the table with the rest of the disciples.  It is an intimate and relaxing affair, they eat and talk and rest in a cool, quiet room. It’s here that John learns to lean.

John sits next to Jesus, an informal place of honor. 

The scripture says that he just rests his head on Jesus’ shoulder.  And Jesus did nothing to stifle such behavior.  Often, with men it would be very uncomfortable and distracting.  I remember when I was a missionary in Mexico watching men holding hands, as good friends.  (I’ve heard that this is true in other cultures as well.)

The intimacy between Jesus and John might strike some as a little odd. 

But for Jesus this love encouraged him as he prepared himself for a brutal death. He felt John’s love and confidence in Him. It was a precious moment. I’m certain both men drew strength from this. Perhaps maybe we can also encourage Jesus like this–maybe?

Tradition tells us that John was boiled in oil. Loving him can be dangerous.

When the black rolls in, and it begins to get scary, resting your head on Jesus’ shoulder is a wonderful place to be.  We may not look at it like this, but I believe Jesus is comforted by our love.  He is encouraged by our affection. It was now getting dark outside.  Jesus had just hours before the nightmare would begin. 

We can make Him happy and content by our simple tokens of affection.

The ‘arm of the Lord’ is spoken of repeatedly by the prophets.  They had a prophetic insight into the strength of God.  We call it, ‘omnipotence’, and our understanding is that He has all strength, and all power– all of the time.  I think that John was leaning on that omnipotence.  But it still was motivated by his affection and love for Jesus.  

Our Savior is strong enough to carry our very heavy burdens and all of our loads.

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bry-signat (1)

Grief Sucks but God Restores Hope

It’s been 15 days since I got the news. My sister Suz passed away at 4:00 a.m. on a Thursday morning.

I hate that phrase, “passed away.” It makes it sound like she floated off in a gondola across the sea.

She died. Why do we shroud death in such wishy-washy language?

I never went to visit her before she died. I had plans to visit Memorial Day weekend. But that was a week too late. I really need to stop planning to visit loved ones who are sick and just do it.

The cards and condolences all give me permission to grieve this terrible loss. But I’m scared to let myself grieve. I can’t think about this loss of my oldest sister without remembering the loss of our sister Peggy (who also died on a Thursday), and Daddy before her, and Mom before him. The grief seems too much to bear.

Grieving is doubly difficult when every impulse to let tears fall feels like teetering on the rim of the pit of depression. What if I let the grief run free and it drags me into that hell I haven’t really known in over 20 years? I remember that place of desperation all too well and I refuse to go back there.

It’s not that I haven’t cried about her being gone. I definitely have, but it terrifies me when I do. And why do the tears keep coming back once they’ve been cried? How do I grieve but continue to live? 

I know this deep sadness is different from major clinical depression. I know the reason for these tears. When my depression was at its worst I had no idea why I couldn’t stop crying. The incessant tears served no discernible purpose. But the head knowledge that my tears of late do have a purpose—the loss of someone I dearly love—doesn’t alleviate the fear that they may drag me into another bout of depression.

The other day I queued up a few Chris Stapleton songs on YouTube while I worked on a relatively mindless project. I fondly reminisced about when she bought us tickets to see him at a small venue in Portland. Then a song came on that I hadn’t heard him sing before called “Drink a Beer.” The next thing I know I’m bawling and my heart feels like it’s breaking into a million little pieces and being compressed in a vise all at once.

Today, as every day for the last two weeks, the hard cider in the fridge calls to me. I usually wait until after work to have one. But I’m on vacation this week and today 3:00 p.m. seemed like a good time to have one. It’s 5:00 p.m. somewhere, right? And at least I’m not drinking tequila in her honor.

Maybe it’s the compound grief that is making it harder for me to cope with this loss. I don’t remember it being quite so unbearable when Peggy died, but then Suz was there with me for that loss. We began the grieving together. Now all my family support it on the other end of a telephone line.

When Mom and then Dad died, I was already depressed. My grief was fused with the vague despair of my mental illness. I suppose it could be that fusion that makes grieving so difficult now. I can’t seem to separate the two states of sorrow.

And yet this spiritual discipline of writing my thoughts and fears on paper helps me to gain a clearer perspective. I’m reminded as I write of a favorite Bible verse. John 11:35 says, “Jesus wept.” The occasion was the death of his dear friend Lazarus. Even though Jesus knew he was about to raise Lazarus to life again, Jesus modeled grief over the loss of a loved one. He declared in that shortest verse that tears are a normal part of this broken life we live in a world of sorrow upon sorrow.

The same apostle who recorded this verse penned the book of Revelation where we are told God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4 NIV.

These tears I cry for my sister are normal. This grief is okay. Today won’t be the last time I grieve this loss. This will likely not be the last loss I will know in this broken world.

“We will never be the same as we were before this loss, but are ever so much the better for having had someone so great to lose.”

Mending Your Nets

Tools used to mend nets

“And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them.”

Matthew 4:21, ESV

“And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

Mark 1:18

To mend nets was tedious but necessary. You would take your net and spread it on the ground in a open space. Every knot would be carefully examined. All holes would be repaired. Nothing was overlooked. Fishing nets were painstakingly maintained. Everyday, without fail.

Fish would school, and if your gear was right, and you were in a prime place, you could catch a lot. But at the same time, you could let hundreds of fish escape through a hole in your net. Each fish that escaped meant money lost.

Jesus walking along the beach surveyed the boats and crews. Since most of these guys had worked through the night, they were tired and maybe a bit “punchy.” Some had gotten somewhat lucky, while others had very little to show for working so hard. Most likely the different crews teased each other as they unloaded.

Jesus walked through the bunches of fisherman. He looked at their hauls to see what they had caught. But it wasn’t the catch He was looking at, it was the men. It was from these laboring fishermen that He would choose. These men were rough and tumble rednecks. If they had chewing tobacco back then, they would use it.

He stands, looks and then commands them.

Now if you are looking for disciples– future apostles and leaders, the seashore is not the best place to recruit. They really have a rudimentary education. No theology, and just a meager understanding of Jewish ritual and religion. Essentially there was no time for them to think outside their occupation. Sure there just might be one, or two that possessed more, but that would be the exception.

But Jesus had no desire to interview them, and take the best of the lot. He didn’t have a Human Resources Department, there were no tests, and no forms that had to list references. He simply commanded, and those who understood followed. Only after they left it all did He get their names and addresses. I think that it is the same today.

Will we leave our boat, with your nets? Really, you can keep mending or you can follow Him– it’s your choice. Most of the time though, decisions have a tendency to be irrevocable. Perhaps you have a moment, an instant of time to decide.

Sometimes mending nets can be back-breaking and tedious. But following the Lord Jesus is an unknown; too many choose to keep mending. Others are launched into something new, and eternally significant.

The glaring truth is the necessity of obedience to Jesus’ command. There is no other voice we must hear. As a matter of fact, hearing (and really apprehending) is the only foundation we can trust to make our obedience true.

You can keep mending your nets and preparing for another night on the water. That is always your prerogative. But if you decide to follow you will need to leave what you know behind. That is authentic discipleship.

“Rest in this – it is His business to lead, command, impel, send, call or whatever you want to call it. It is your business to obey, follow, move, respond, or what have you.”

-Jim Elliot, missionary to the Auca indians

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