Tuesday, November 01, 2016

GM2016: Saved from sin

George MacDonald
As many of you know, I've been working through a daily devotional this year called Consuming Fire: The Inexorable Power of God's Love, with readings taken from the sermons of a Scottish preacher and author named George MacDonald (1824-1905). My Dad, who is a life-long MacDonald reader, gave me the book last Christmas, and he recently admitted that the main reason he got this for my brother and me was the section we're in now, taken from a classic sermon called "Justice." I'm sure Dad will be thrilled to know I've been really enjoying these readings.

I wanted to share one section that particularly reverberated with me:
The notion that the salvation of Jesus is a salvation from the consequences of our sins is a false, mean, low notion. The salvation of Christ is salvation from the smallest tendency or leaning to sin. It is a deliverance into the pure air of God's ways of thinking and feeling. It is a salvation that makes the heart pure, with the will and choice of the heart to be pure. To such a heart, sin is disgusting. It sees a thing as it isthat is, as God sees it, for God sees everything as it is... Jesus did not die to save us from punishment; he was called Jesus because he should save his people from their sins. (October 23rd)
In other words: Jesus didn't come to save us from Hell. He came to save us from sin.

That last line, about why he was called "Jesus," is a reference to Matthew 1, when an angel of the Lord tells Joseph that Mary "will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (1:21). As you may know, Hebrew names in scripture often have a special meaning, and the Hebrew form of Jesus means 'the Lord saves'. Saves what? Well, "he will save his people from their sins."

Yet, in George MacDonald's day and still today, Christians often miss this point. We're taught about a salvation that's all about the future, about what happens after death, instead of a salvation that we can experience here and now.We're told that Jesus has saved us from eternal torment, and now we need to go be good Christians, when really the good news is that Jesus has set us free, saved us from sin, so that now we can live new lives in him, lives that lead to eternal life. Because of Jesus, we can live the lives that God made us for and be who God created us to be, free from sin's sway. When MacDonald hears people preaching a message of salvation from Hell, salvation from punishment, he points to that angel of the Lord: No, no, no! Remember - Jesus came to save us from sin itself!

Think about Matthew 7, when Jesus says: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it" (7:13-14). He's warning us about the wide, easy road, because it leads to destruction, and he's offering us a different path. The threat of destruction is there and it's real, and Jesus' challenge to us is to get on the right path. "Enter through this gate!" he says. He's trying to save us from that sinful road we would happily walk all the way to an unhappy fate. Salvation isn't just about arriving at the right destination. It's about walking the right path.

Or consider Zacchaeus. He was rich (Luke 19:2), which, Jesus had just said, makes it difficult for someone to enter God's kingdom (18:24-26). After all, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (12:34). Yet Zacchaeus is inspired to let go of his wealth in the name of generosity and justice. And what is Jesus' response? "Today salvation has come to this house" (19:9). Zacchaeus decided to leave behind the wide, easy road and head through the narrow gate, and right then and there salvation came. He was set free from that tendency to sin and delivered into the pure air of God's ways of thinking and feeling. He learned to see wealth the way God saw it. Salvation had come.

All of this makes me think of that great line from Romans chapter 6: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (6:23). Surely this means that Jesus came to save us from eternal death by offering us eternal life instead! That's sure what it sounds like.

But if you read the entire chapter, you might notice a refrain: "set free from sin" (6:7), "set free from sin" (6:18), "set free from sin" (6:22). We were all slaves of sin, but Jesus died so that those who are in Christ might no longer be enslaved (6:6). So when we get to verse 23, the point is clear: Sin was working us like a slave-driver, and all we would get in return for our sweat and toil was death; but now we've changed masters, and God offers us the free gift of life. Jesus saved us from sin that leads to death so that we can be "slaves" of God, who gives life.

Folks, if Jesus has saved you, that means now. That means today. Jesus has made it possible for us to overcome the "smallest leaning or tendency to sin," if we embrace the salvation and the new life he offers. Jesus saves us from our "old self," so that we can put on "the new self," created according to God's image: righteous, just, and holy (Eph 4:22-24). The gospel of Jesus Christ isn't just about where you'll spend eternity. It's about who you can be now, in this life, in Christ. Because he has saved you from sin. He has made you new (2 Cor 5:17).

What could we accomplish for God's Kingdom today if we lived like people set free from sin? If the temptation to sin repelled us, and we saw thingssaw our neighbors, saw this worldas God sees them? What kind of light could we shine in the world if we, like Zacchaeus, let go of our money (or whatever it is) and took hold of Jesus instead?

"The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness." (Romans 6:10-13)

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