He Died for us

While I was in Cradle Roll Sabbath School, before I could even read, I was mesmerized by a picture in my Bible of Jesus dying on the cross. I would study it in church as the preacher preached. As I took in the entire scene, one thought kept reverberating in my heart, Jesus died for me. One night when I was seven I put my Bible away to fall asleep. As I lay there contemplating that picture, the Holy Spirit was painting that very scene on my heart. That night I decided to give my heart to Jesus and be baptized because Jesus died for me.

Over time the world and even people in the church have pressured me to compromise my faith and convictions. When they demand my loyalty to them, I remember that night when I gave my heart to Jesus. I remember the people pressuring me to compromise did not die for me. Jesus died for me. I must be loyal to Him. I gave my heart to Jesus. I did not give it to people in the world or in the church.

Way too many times over the years I have compromised my faith without any pressure from anyone else at all. Again my mind goes back to the picture of the cross that the Holy Spirit painted on my heart on that night so long ago. I don’t give up. Jesus died for me. I ask His forgiveness which He so freely offers me. I know I am forgiven because Jesus died for me.

I have completed many more trips around the sun since my Cradle Roll days and baptism when I was seven. Still, one theme still grips my heart and mesmerizes my soul. Jesus died for me. As time passes the Holy Spirit continues painting even more details into that picture of the cross. As I continue studying Scripture, the details become increasingly more vivid on my heart, making the scene more real, more wonderful and more awe-ful. While many want to attach specific theological labels to the cross, I find the picture of the cross the Holy Spirit is painting on my heart much too grand and vivid to fall under any one label. Many camps of thought are not so much wrong in what they teach as in what they fail to teach. One camp of thought does not necessarily have to replace the other. I believe we get the big picture of the cross when we put all the camps of thought together and just throw away the labels. After all, I did not fall in love with a theological label. I fell in love with Jesus because Jesus died for me.

The first time I heard the Gospel presentation I was taught that when I chose to knowingly break God’s law that was counted as sin according to 1 John 3:4. Sin is punishable by death, according to Romans 6:23. But John 3:16 tells me God gave His Son to die the death I deserve so I can have the eternal life He deserves. As I continue studying I find another definition for sin besides 1 John 3:4. In John 16:9 Jesus also defines unbelief as sin. Through my study I see that Jesus died not so much because humankind took a piece of fruit they were told not to, but because in taking that fruit they showed they did not trust God or really believe in His love. Therefore God became a man and went to the cross to die and prove that He loves us so we can believe in His love. Therefore Jesus heals us from the sin of unbelief. The atonement appeases an angry race instead of an angry God.

So which is it? Did Jesus die because humankind sinned by breaking the law which is punishable by death? Or did Jesus die because humankind stopped believing in God’s love and by dying on the cross Jesus reconciled us by convincing us He loves us? Both! Interestingly John records both definitions of sin-in 1 John 3:4 the sin of breaking the law, and in John 16:9 the sin of unbelief. John understood that Jesus died for sin by every definition.

I have heard that Jesus took on human nature so He could give us an example of human obedience. I have heard that Jesus took human nature because He had to die as a man. So which is it? Both!

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4 NLT

There is not a law in this universe that will allow someone to die for someone else. I can’t go to a murder trial and offer to die for the defendant so that he can go free. They won’t allow that. God can’t allow it either. So what was God’s solution? Jesus took my human body to the cross and died not just for me but as me. Not only is my sanctification dependent on the humanity of Jesus, my justification is dependent on it as well.

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:14-17 NLT

Jesus had to become us and die as us. This is why Paul describes Jesus dying as us as well as dying for us. Where we all sinned when we were in Adam we have now all lived a righteous life in Christ.

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Romans 5:18 NLT

Also as I sinned in Adam I have now been crucified with Christ. Take a look at how these verses describe us dying with Jesus and not just Jesus dying for me.

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 NLT

Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was.We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. Romans 6:3-7 NLT

Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life.2 Corinthians 5:14 NLT

Where I sinned in Adam I have now been crucified with Christ. He took my flesh to the cross and crucified it. That is my justification. The good news is it does not stop there. Jesus also took on humanity and died so we can be sanctified and have victorious lives. Consider how these passages describe the victory Christ gives us by taking on humanity. Lets go back to where we began at Hebrews 2.

Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. Hebrews 2:18 NLT

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. 1 Peter 2:24

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

The atonement was not only possible because of Jesus’ complete humanity but also because of his complete divinity.

The broken law of God demanded the life of the sinner. In all the universe there was but one who could, in behalf of man, satisfy its claims. Since the divine law is as sacred as God Himself, only one equal with God could make atonement for its transgression. None but Christ could redeem fallen man from the curse of the law and bring him again into harmony with Heaven. Christ would take upon Himself the guilt and shame of sin—sin so offensive to a holy God that it must separate the Father and His Son. Christ would reach to the depths of misery to rescue the ruined race. –Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, Page 63.

Did Jesus make an atonement as fully man or fully God? Both. Did Jesus die to free us from the power of sin or the penalty of sin? Both. Did Jesus die because of the sin of breaking God’s law or the sin of unbelief? Both. I have learned so much more about the cross since my early childhood days. But I am still not in any one theological camp or label. When I am tempted I look at the picture of the cross the Holy Spirit has painted on my heart. His love empowers me to overcome as I remember Jesus died for me. When I make stupid decisions and fall into sin I look to the cross and know I can find forgiveness because Jesus died for me. I am reconciled to God and can believe in His love because Jesus died for me. God made an atonement for my sin and transgression of the law when Jesus died for me.

Many years since my Cradle Roll days, I have experienced hundreds of victories – victories I never imagined possible. But before you pat me on the back, I confess that I have also suffered a multitude of defeats that I never would have imagined possible when I first gave my heart to Jesus at the tender age of seven. Sin has brought me lower than I ever comprehended possible, and Jesus has raised me higher than I ever comprehended possible. I have found theological theories and labels get me nowhere. When I need forgiveness or power to overcome, I do what I have been doing since Cradle Roll. I look at the cross and remember, Jesus died for me.

You may listen to the podcast version of this article here.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

Remember, It’s not Happening to you, it’s Happening in front of you

Photo by Ihsan Adityawarman on Pexels.com

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 2:20 NKJV

We live in a hurting world, and we all have been made aware that hurting people hurt people. It is easy to want to lash out at others when we have been hurt, but here are some things we need to keep in mind.

We are not the intended target-God is. In Acts 7:54-60 when Stephen was being stoned for his faith, he could see Jesus standing up for him in heaven. Stephen asked God not to charge this sin against them. Stephen did not take this stoning personal, as he realized it was not so much happening to him as much as it was happening in front of him. He realized Jesus was the intended target. Stephen knew it was “not I but Christ” who lived in him. He knew it was the Christ in him who was being persecuted. Stephen was not afraid to die, because as far as Stephen was concerned he had already been crucified with Christ. Dead people aren’t afraid to die. When we have been crucified with Christ we consider ourselves dead to self, and realize it is Christ who lives in us who is being persecuted. After all didn’t Jesus tell Saul who became Paul, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting?” Acts 9:5 NKJV. It was Jesus, not Stephen who was the intended target. Therefore Stephen could have considered that it was not him but Christ who was being persecuted. We are the body of Christ. Christ is the head of the body, and whenever the smallest part of the body is hurt, the head of the body is first to feel the pain.  

By dying to self I can say “It is not I but Christ who is being offended.” As Isaiah 63:9 KJV says, “In all their affliction He was afflicted.” In Luke 9:23 NKJV Jesus tells us to take up our cross and die daily. In 1 Corinthians 15:31NKJV Paul says, “I die daily.” Years ago I held a “Cross of Christ” revival series in a small town in Southeast Oklahoma. I mentioned that if I die daily I cannot hold grudges anymore. After all, if I die daily and am born again every morning, I cannot hold a grudge over something that happened yesterday. How can you hold a grudge over something that happened before you were even born? You could not have hurt me yesterday if I was just born today. Dying to self and being born again on a daily basis not only frees me from my own sins from the day before, but it also frees me from the insults and slights that came flying my way from the day before. I am a new creature. You could not have hurt me yesterday if I was just born again today. After sharing that idea I came back to the same church a couple of years later. The pastor told me there was a cranky old lady in the church who was always holding grudges, but she changed after the seminar. He told me she had shared with him that it was this very illustration that turned her life around. She became a new creation indeed! 

When people are being mean and nasty we are not to take it personally. It’s their issue between them and God. It’s not happening to you. It’s happening in front of you. If we are crucified with Christ, it is not us but Christ who lives in us. Therefore it is not us but Christ who is being persecuted. Like Stephen, by faith we can look into heaven and see Jesus standing up for us. We can pray for their sin to not be charged against them. And like with Stephen and Saul who became Paul, Jesus will ask those aiming darts at us, “why are you persecuting me?” 

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

How I Ruined Satan’s Day

Has Satan ever tried to ruin your day? Well let me tell you about when I ruined his day. Years ago, I was driving in the middle of the night across country to see my sister and see about a job. I had just quit a job that was not working out and had no idea what the future held. I had no job, no money, no future, as far as I could see, and then, to make matters worse, I looked in my rear view mirror and see lights flashing! Just what I needed— a speeding ticket while I was broke without a job! I honestly had no idea I was speeding enough to warrant a ticket, but the officer was not the least bit sympathetic.

Photograph by William Earnhardt

Needles to say I was very frustrated. I was already feeling down before I got the ticket. Now I was in despair and gloom, as I asked God how He was going to take care of this ticket for me, since He knew I had no money when He allowed this to happen. (Never mind the fact that it was my foot and not His on the gas pedal!)

As I was complaining to God about the situation He had just placed me in and asking Him in despair how in the world He was going to provide the money for the ticket, I suddenly realized the obvious: God does not have to provide for this ticket. God does not have to do anything for me! God does not owe me anything! Then it hit me what I was doing. After He created me and died for me, I was withholding my praise from Jesus until He took care of this ticket for me. All at once it dawned on me, if God never provided the money for this ticket and stopped giving me any more blessings from this day forward, He still had already given me way more than I deserve! As a matter of fact, Calvary alone warrants all of my thankfulness, praise and devotion, without God ever giving me anything else.

There in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, I changed my attitude from gloom and despair to joy and praise. I decided not to ask God to help me pay for the ticket, but instead just thank Him and praise Him for everything else He has already done for me. I then remembered reading a passage from inspiration about how Satan cannot stand to be in our presence when we praise God, “When the evil one begins to settle his gloom about you, sing praise to God. … strike up a song about the matchless charms of the Son of God, and I tell you, when you touch this strain, Satan will leave you. You can drive out the enemy with his gloom; . . . and you can see, oh, so much clearer, the love and compassion of your heavenly Father. (Ellen White, Heavenly Places, p 95.)

Considering the above passage, I thought to myself, “Hey, if Satan is going to try to ruin my day by giving me this ticket (Remember it’s never my fault when I get a ticket), then I am going to ruin his day by singing praises to my God. I started singing praises at the top of my lungs. I was traveling in the middle of the night hundreds of miles away from my friends or family, but I felt the presence of angels as they sang with me. I wasn’t worried about the ticket any more. I was worried about making sure God knew I appreciated His sacrifice at Calvary. By the way, God did take care of the ticket for me. My sister also happens to be an angel. But even more impressive were the two lessons I learned that night:

One: God owes me nothing and I owe Him everything. After Calvary if He never gave me another gift, I still have cause to praise him for the rest of my life!

Two: If Satan tries to ruin your day, instead of murmuring and complaining, start singing songs of praise and ruin his day instead!

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

Try a Little Love and Tenderness

Monday’s section of this week’s lesson, reveals the relentless love of God. For me, here is the key verse.

But then I will win her back once again.
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her there. Hosea 2:14 NLT 

I am so thankful for parents who understand this. I wish all parents understood this is the way to win their children’s loyalty to God and to themselves

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Several years ago I was preaching for Father’s Day, and I had a few people, young and old, tell us what they liked about their fathers. One young man, about 12 years old, gave a powerful, heartfelt tribute to his dad, even saying “nobody reminds me of Jesus more than my father.”

That same Sabbath morning, the son was offered some cookies in his Sabbath School class which he gladly took. His father saw him eating the cookie and starting publicly berating him and telling him how sinful it is to eat in church! (News to me!) The son could not hide his hurt and humiliation. The son definitely was not trying to be a hard-hearted rebel by taking a cookie just like everyone else. I know the father meant well too, but you don’t have to be a parent to know that publicly embarrassing and humiliating your child is not a good thing to do. Remember, Jesus worked His first miracle, turning water into wine for no other reason than to save the host from public embarrassment. It would not have killed them to just drink water, but Jesus is a Savior from public humiliation and embarrassment. It is not one of His tools.

Not long after this, the father called me up and wanted me to lecture his son because he was becoming defiant. I came to their home as requested, but the talk did not actually go the way the father expected. The father was accusing the son of being disrespectful. With father and son both present, I asked the son about the beautiful tribute he gave to his father. Both agreed that was very nice and respectful. I then asked the son how he felt when later, his father publicly berated him for eating a cookie just like everyone else. He said it was very hurtful and you could see the hurt in his eyes as he said that. I shared Hosea 2:14 with them both and asked the father if he thought he could be a little more tender when correcting his son. I was not asking him to change his standards, just his approach. But I did share with the father that I was unaware of any Bible teaching against eating a cookie in church. Being a father is a very sacred calling, and I did not want to distract from that or appear to try to trump him. However I did encourage him to follow 2 Timothy 3:16 and be sure to correct his son according to Scripture.

Tears were in the son’s eyes by now as I explained to the father how much his son loved him, and how hurt he was, when publicly humiliated for doing something he thought was totally innocent, with no rebellious intentions. I assured the father that his son would not have written such a loving tribute if he did not deeply love and respect him. His son nodded in agreement with tears still in his eyes.

I thought the father was going to turn on me now for not ganging up with him on his side, but, instead, he actually thanked me! I know the father had a good heart and really cared about his children. Why else would his son write that no one reminded him more of Jesus than His father?

Parents, please be tender with your children. You may not think they love, appreciate and respect you, but at school and church I hear them say things you may never hear. I always tell kids, “Your parents love you more than you think they do,” and I say the same to parents. “Your children love you more than you think they do.” As a third party observer, I know this for a fact.

If you don’t want to take it from me, take it from God,

But then I will win her back once again.
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her there. Hosea 2:14 NLT