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The Gospel of Reconciliation.

Timely and important thoughts from my good friend, Don @ One Bondservant’s Diary.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthian 5:17-19).


And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the LORD and use it as a sin offering…Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses…And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness” (Leviticus 16:8-10, 15-16, 21-22).

One theme is Scripture is quite evident – God demands the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sin (atonement means the covering of our sin). This scene in Leviticus is a clear portrayal of Christ’s work as the spotless Lamb of God and our ultimate high priest, whose sacrifice cleansed His people once and for all. The writer of Hebrews explains:

“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins…then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second…And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1-4, 10-11).

As priceless and precious as this is, we often forget about the 2nd offering, the scapegoat depicted in Leviticus 16. They needed forgiveness, the removal of the penalty for their transgressions, but they (we) also needed the guilt of sin displaced. Many people have received God’s gracious forgiveness found only in Christ but have failed to embrace the removal of guilt that includes. We are forgiven! Completely! I know this is hard to accept, but it is true. And when Jesus said, “it is finished” while hanging on that grace-filled yet cursed tree, it was a God-breathed fact. So the Lord directed the Israelites to demonstrate this with the scapegoat. Sending it far away and leaving it there (there is a Hebrew tradition to actually follow the goats into the wilderness and push them off a cliff to make sure they did not come back).

What a picture! Off goes the goat and off goes our sin (on to the bleeding back of Jesus) – removed as far as the East is from the West (Psalm 103:12), buried in the sea of God’s forgetfulness (Isaiah 43:25; Hebrews 8:12), to be remembered no more (Yes, I know, sovereign God hasn’t forgotten anything but it is as if He has blocked out the vision of our rebellious transgressions as He gazes on the glory of Calvary and adores His Son’s payment for His chosen – “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake;  and I will not remember your sins”).

We need to claim this. Not to live in license and unrestrained sin; that’s not the way of one who has surrendered to and follows this beautiful Savior and Lord. But it is freedom (see John 8:32 and Galatians 5). Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). And there is no accuser whose claims against us will be upheld in the courtroom of an infinitely merciful and just God (Revelation 12:7-12).  We can thank the shed blood of Christ for that.

We would do well to remember and savor the words of Hebrews; as the writer continues:

“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified…then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:12-14, 17-18).

And now the lyrics from Nothing but the Blood, written in 1876 by Robert Lowry:

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

For my pardon, this I see,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
For my cleansing this my plea,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Nothing can for sin atone,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Naught of good that I have done,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

This is all my hope and peace,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
This is all my righteousness,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Now by this I’ll overcome—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Now by this I’ll reach my home—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Glory! Glory! This I sing—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus,
All my praise for this I bring—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

    • Refrain:
      Oh! precious is the flow
      That makes me white as snow;
      No other fount I know,
      Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Ohio School Shooting Victim’s Mom Forgives Gunman, Christian News

Grab some Kleenex and click the link above. What an incredible testimony! One which could only be born out of genuine faith and a rich understanding of God’s grace! Doesn’t this make the Gospel look glorious and Jesus look beautiful? In the midst of suffering, here is hope…here is joy…here is peace. All coming from trusting a sovereign God who is worthy of our surrender and praise, One who is always working all things together for His own glory and our eternal good!

Let me share some biblical situations that remind me of this woman’s heart and witness:

  • Joseph, after being sold into slavery by his own brothers and then being wrongly incarcerated for 12-13 years, said to his siblings, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20). 
  • Peter, who was to deny Jesus in cowardly fear, was told by the Master who eventually restored him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me” (John 21:18-19).
  • Paul and Silas’ compassion on the jailer who had shackled them in Philippi: “When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family” (Acts 16:27-33).
  • Paul, who was beaten, shipwrecked, imprisoned, and eventually martyred for his missionary zeal and faithfulness to his Gospel calling, ministered to the very guards who would eventually lead him to his death: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:12-14).
  • And, of course, sinless Christ, bearing the awful weight and burden of our sins, scourged and crucified, looked at the henchmen who had just mocked him and pounded nails through his hands and feet, lovingly said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments” (Luke 23:34). 

All of this begs some seriously reflective questions. Would we react as this grieving mother has so graciously done? Would we image forth the beauty of Jesus and His Gospel with such a powerful and profound proclamation of our faith? Would we “turn the other cheek” and “love and pray for those who persecute us and spitefully use us?” 

I pray this is the case. For as tragic as this situation may seem, this woman’s grace-filled testimony trumpets all that is great about the Savior we follow and serve. The One who died that we might live such mercy-filled lives. The One who can utterly save the shooter and all who have been touched by this senseless act…and even those who haven’t been.

“Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness-without it no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness springs up, causing trouble and by it, defiling many” (Hebrew 12:14-15, HCSB).

As I see it, bitterness and forgiveness are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. One can’t be forgiving while harboring bitterness nor can a bitter person claim to be a forgiving person. It is also my opinion that someone who is clinging to a bitter spirit doesn’t understand or has not fully embraced the forgiveness that comes only from God’s grace. This takes on tremendous spiritual importance in light of Jesus’ words, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37) and Paul’s admonition that we are to be “accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must [forgive]” (Colossians 3:13).

Anyone who has been infected by bitterness knows that it can be so dominating that all of life is influenced by it. All sorts of spiritual, emotional, and even physical symptoms are typically manifested by it. But that’s not all. Bitterness destroys relationships – ours with both God and others. In Ephesians 4:31 Paul makes it clear that bitterness has some ugly cousins: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” None of these enhance our lives, promote the glory of God, or reflect the beauty of Jesus.

So let’s look at what the writer of Hebrews tells us about bitterness in 12:14-15. Given the epidemic proportions of this spiritual malady, I believe his words carry great weight and are well worth heeding. Let’s notice:

  • Bitterness is a severe hindrance to living in peace (v.14). We are commanded to live in peace to demonstrate the peace of God provided through Christ’s reconciliatory work at Calvary (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). We are even called ministers of reconciliation (a true counterpoint to bitterness and its ugly cousins).
  • Bitterness does not promote the pursuit of the holy life that God requires of His children (v. 14). Bitter people tend to do bad things. Ephesians 4:31 reminds us of the other attitudes and actions that inevitably spring from a bitter heart – wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice.
  • Bitterness is evidence that we don’t understand or have not embraced God’s grace/forgiveness (v. 15). Bitter people withhold grace and therefore God, in a real sense, withholds His grace and mercy from them. God’s forgiven people are, by His endowment of grace, forgiving followers. Bitterness blinds us to God’s forgiveness of us but when we bask in God’s unmerited favor we are freed from the sin of an unforgiving spirit and practice forgiveness. Jesus clearly stated this in the Sermon on the Mount in the Model Prayer and afterwards emphasized it: “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15).
  • Bitterness is often an insidious and invisible spiritual flaw (v. 15). Roots are usually unseen but they supply the fuel that produces visible fruit. In other words, while one may not outwardly appear bitter, those infected with this spiritual disease will inevitably show fruit that will be the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22 (which I urge you to read and memorize).
  • Bitterness defiles us (v. 15). Jesus said, “Don’t you realize that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is eliminated? But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a man. For from the [bitter] heart come evil thoughts, murders…false testimonies, blasphemies. These are the things that defile a man, but eating with unwashed hands does not defile a man” (Matthew 15:17-20).

I see 2 applications. The first is practical: Clinging to bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping someone else gets sick. The one who harbors unforgiveness and latent anger is the one who suffers the most, no matter how “innocent” they may be. The target of their inner rage tends to be affected less than the one who is unwilling to be reconciled. Secondly, bitterness shows a serious spiritual void. It suggests that someone who is unwilling to forgive has not been forgiven (by God) or they have refused to fully embrace His grace. Both options are a siren’s warning as to one’s spiritual condition.

So which will we choose; bitterness of forgiveness? Though lengthy, I will leave you with this parable of Jesus. It is well worth our serious consideration:

“For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began to settle accounts, one who owed 10,000 talents was brought before him. Since he had no way to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt. “At this, the slave fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything!’ Then the master of that slave had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan. “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him 100 denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’ “At this, his fellow slave fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he wasn’t willing. On the contrary, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed. When the other slaves saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened. “Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And his master got angry and handed him over to the jailers until he could pay everything that was owed. So My heavenly Father will also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from his heart” (Matthew 18:23-35).

*This is an excerpt from my book “Captivated Anew: Restored to Pursue Him.” It can be found on virtually any major on-line bookstore in both digital and hardcopy formats.   

All who’ve received Christ inherit a marvelous gift: spiritual freedom. In Jeremiah 33:8 the Lord says, “I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion.” Quite literally, He lifts sin’s stranglehold. In John 16:8 Jesus explains the role of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter who dwells in all believers: “[He] … convict[s] the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” Though believers are no longer bound to sin, we still require a counselor to guard our ways. The Holy Spirit checks the heart of each Christ-follower, gently prodding him or her to stay in tune with the Lord. This He does not to condemn us, but to guide us in the abundant life Christ offers. 

I’m constantly amazed at the number of professing believers mired in a pit of toxic guilt. Rather than accepting the Spirit’s leading with joy, they become despondent and defeated, wallowing in past mistakes and the sins which cause them to experience little motivation to serve the kingdom. We must understand that while the Holy Spirit does convict us of sin, He does not paralyze us with shame. Everything He does guides us closer to Jesus, the source of all truth (John 16:13).  

The Holy Spirit does not condemn us. He merely convicts us of the reality and guilt of sin, thereby reminding us that we are sinners in need of Christ’s salvation. We can’t get by without Him; righteous Jesus is our only hope. Conviction is meant to nudge us closer to the source of life and mercy. When we focus on our guilty feelings instead of reaching out to Christ, we quickly become completely self-absorbed. We mentally scold and abuse ourselves until we think not of realigning ourselves with Christ but only of our own failure. This form of self-flagellation causes us spiritual paralysis and a morbid and lifeless disposition. Those entranced with this cancerous syndrome shelve their Christian service and give up on abundant life. In this process Satan gains an upper hand. By deceiving us into a depressing malady of defeat and paralysis, he induces a spiritual coma that sidelines us from our calling and purpose. 

This is not an issue of self-esteem – just the opposite. Believers shackled by shame and toxic guilt share a commonality; they hold too low a view of Jesus! They allow guilty feelings to diminish and demean the power of Christ’s death as if it was not enough to cover all their sins. In wallowing in self defeat, we suggest that Christ’s atonement was insufficient. At that point our feelings of unforgiveness supersede the fact of His perfect sacrifice.  

True, without the Lord, we are all “without hope … in this world” (Ephesians 2:12). We cannot save ourselves or remove the shame of our sin. The beauty of the gospel, however, is that God gave us the gift of Himself and declared us righteous through His Son. Jesus became our perfect high priest and intercessor. Hebrews 2:17 says, “For this reason [Christ] had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” That same pure and exalted high priest intercedes for us before God, arguing for His righteousness as our standing before a holy God (Hebrews 7:25).  

When we receive Christ in faith, He forgives all our sins—past, present, and future. This is not to say we should willfully keep on sinning or become insensitive to the urgings of the Holy Spirit. Instead, we should embrace the freedom Jesus offers as a gift while constantly pursuing Him and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Calvary and His resurrection mark the victory over our failures. When we receive Christ we can live with liberty. His infinitely valuable sacrifice gives us freedom to be and do what He calls us to.  

In accepting Christ’s remedy for our guilt we become motivated to live and speak by His power and for His glory. Second Corinthians 5:17 reminds us that those who are in Christ are “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” We must turn our attention to the Lord and away from ourselves. Let us pursue Him as the only One with the power and provision necessary to free us. When we daily respond to His urgings, our lives will testify to His transcendent glory and infinite worth.

Evangelical Churches Catch Suits From ‘Spirit’ Falls – ABC News

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:29-32).

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry (my first impulse is to cry) at this ABC News story. It seems as if charismatic churches are the target of numerous law suits alleging they are negligent when parishioners, while being “slain in the Spirit,” uncontrollably fall during their fits of ecstasy and injure themselves or other attendees.

I know we live in a ridiculously litigious society and decry the stereotypical “ambulance chasing lawyer,” but this is outrageous. Taking a clue, I guess, from the Nebraska State Senator who sued “God” and lost (see State Sen. Ernie Chambers Sues God – Omaha News Story – KETV Omaha), these folks have decided that suing the 3rd person of the Trinity would be considered frivolous by the court system. So they take legal action against churches that practice these types of services, during which they are presumably injured.

Which takes me to our focal passage. Now I’m in no way saying that these claimants are literally “grieving the Spirit” anymore than I’m saying that the defendants aren’t. I’m thinking about the broader context of Paul’s warning to the church at Ephesus. Grieving the Spirit is serious; it’s an affront to God. But the context here has much to do with our attitudes, words, and actions toward others. The Apostle talks about building others up in grace and putting away all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander. He tells us to be kind to others and to be forgivers. Doing, or not doing, these things can grieve the Spirit of God as well.

So the lesson to us? Though we may be disgusted by those would charge the church with negligence because they couldn’t litigate the Holy Spirit, we must be careful that we aren’t offending God in a different way. How do we treat others? How do we talk to and about them? Are we divisive; ones who harbor grudges? Our answers may indicate if we are potentially grieving the Spirit just as much as those who choose such senseless and despicable legal actions. Maybe the charge God would bring against us is that we grieve Him in our relationships with others, whether we file a suit against them or not.

Think about it!

Oral Roberts’ Son Arrested for Allegedly Speeding, Driving Drunk in Okla., Christian News

No one is a smaller fan of Richard Roberts and his ministry than I am. I consider his theology and ministry to be terribly misguided and a blemish on all that the true Gospel and Scripture stand for. But this is no time to cast stones. I’m praying for him, his family, and all those who follow him. I pray for all of those whose faith might falter due to this news. For, no matter the sin or the sinner in question, I couldn’t be more thankful that our Heavenly Father is a God of mercy, grace, forgiveness, and multiple second chances. And I write knowing this redemptive truth applies more to me than anyone else I know.

“For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body-so also is Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free-and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. So the body is not one part but many…Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it. And God has placed these in the church* (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27-28).  

*For the purpose of this discussion, I will use Millard Erickson’s simple definition: The church is “the whole body of those who through Christ’s death have been savingly reconciled to God and have received new life… while universal in nature, it finds expressions in local groupings of believers that display the same qualities as does the body of Christ as a whole.” You can disagree with this premise if you prefer, but at least it is a starting point. 

Our Christian culture, like any other culture, is prone to buzz words. One pertinent one, “Body Life” was popular several years ago. More recently the terms “intentional” and “missional” have permeated our rhetoric. Two others – the subject of this discussion – “unchurched” and “dechurched” are commonly heard in the context of  “the vision of our church is to reach those who are unchurched and dechurched.” Although the intention may not be skewed, these terms concern me. Why? Because one might easily surmise that the goal of reaching the unchurched and dechurched is to get them “churched.” And, to me, that can be a problem, depending on one’s definition of the church. 

You might complain that I am straining at a gnat or arguing over semantics (and I may be) but seeing people “churched,” if that means seeing them become involved (or the ambiguous and sometimes dangerous of concept of  becoming a “church member”) in an institutional organization that bears the name “Christian” alone, then the effort is misguided. We all know that being an active or passive “member” of an institutional church really has little to do with someone being united with Christ or a part of the Body of Christ, His spiritual Bride. And in some cases the label “church member” is an impediment to people actually being united with Christ, being part of His Body in its truest sense. I’ve often said one of the greatest mission fields in America can be found sitting on pews (or other pieces of furniture) on Sunday morning. Far too many have religion (they are churched) but have not been made alive in dynamic relationship with Christ (being a part of His spiritual Body, the true church).  

Now I’m not saying that those who preach a mission of reaching the unchurched and dechurched do not have something more substantive in mind than promoting attendance or participation in an organized “Christian” gathering, but it could be interpreted that way. It all depends on what one means by the term “churched.” For we all know that term, in its most superficial sense, has nothing to do with someone moving from spiritual death to spiritual life, from being lost to being saved, to being adopted into God’s family. These things are not the manifestations of going to a physical (visible) church but an act of regeneration. As Wayne Grudem says, “Regeneration is a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us. This is sometimes called “being born again (using language from John 3:3-9)” (see Grudem’s Systematic Theology, p. 699). 

Although not current, culturally relevant, seeker sensitive (another of those buzz words), or popular, what’s wrong with the terms “lost” and “saved?” Should not the goal of the true Body of Christ be to see people who are spiritually dead come alive in Christ, grow in His image, and be agents and ambassadors of His grace? Only then is one “churched” in the most biblical sense. After all, even Jesus Himself claimed that “[He] came to seek and save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10).

For this reason I will share a passage with you. The first section describes what it means to be “lost.” The 2nd describes regeneration. And no matter if one is unchurched, dechurched, or a “church member” these truths apply. For I believe, in the end, it doesn’t come down to being “churched” in its most shallow definition, but to being redeemed and all that implies.  

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:1-3). 

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” ( Ephesians 2:4-9).

For an interesting article on this very subject, see Trevin Wax’s thoughts at Unchurched or Unsaved? What Our Vocabulary Reveals About Our Beliefs

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-nine – Jesus: The Messenger and the Message

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28-29).

Both the message and the messenger of the Sermon on the Mount prove unique, distinctive, and powerful. The Lord’s discourse is unlike anything ever heard; it completely contrasts ancient teachings and threatened the theological powerbrokers of the time. Not before Christ’s earthly ministry or after it has the world witnessed teaching of such authority, received instruction to prompt such radical change, or found education that so thoroughly challenges and inspires.

Jesus holds the position of the ultimate communicator and was often referred to by the honorable title of “Teacher.” But that designation proves a tremendous understatement. Christ told His followers that as the Messiah, He should be their only teacher (Matthew 23:10). In other words, His message is the only one that truly matters. The Sermon on the Mount, therefore, stands not just as the greatest sermon ever delivered; instead, it serves as the prologue to the incredible sacrifice Christ made at Calvary. It sets the stage for God’s redemptive strategy, proving that God has a plan to change human interactions, to reintroduce selflessness, and to restore fellowship between Himself and man. Two thousand years ago, on a hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus unveils much about His role as King as well as the intricacies of His kingdom. He speaks with divine authority. His words hold life-transforming power!

The Sermon on the Mount reveals Jesus as the Savior of the world. The narrow gate leading to eternal life. Further, Christ fulfills Old Testament Law: only through Him do sinful humans find forgiveness and reconciliation with God. As they sincerely surrender to Jesus, people begin to live by “the law of Christ,” the New Covenant standard (Galatians 6:2). This law of love supersedes, enhances, and deepens the principles of the Old Covenant and sums up the law of the prophets without nullifying them (see Matthew 22:34-40).

To one outside the Christian faith, the standard of living Christ sets in His sermon seems outrageous and impossible. But we must remember that all things—including loving the unlovable, releasing anxiety, and walking in righteousness—are possible in His power (Philippians 4:13). Further, Jesus never asked us to do anything He was unwilling to do. For thirty-three years He lived a mortal life, loving the unlovable, releasing anxiety to the Father, and walking in perfect righteousness. Jesus embodied the message He taught.

As we learn and are empowered to walk in Christ, we live out the mountainside message He shared. What a privilege to follow Him! 

Author’s Note

Not long ago a thirty minute lunch encounter shook my world. On a brief visit to the Wycliffe Bible Translators Ministry in Texas, I met an eighty-year-old translator and missionary who—along with his wife of fifty years—planned a return to the deepest jungles of Africa. I do not remember the man’s name, but I’m certain that God does.

For over ten years the man and his devoted wife worked with a remote and primitive people-group. In that time they translated small portions of the Bible into the villagers’ native tongue—a language for which there were virtually no books. By endearing themselves to the people by giving insight on how to keep the tribe’s newborns alive and free from pestilence, the two earned acceptance and eventually befriended them. Over the years, as they translated the critical New Testament texts and placed them in the hands of those who could communicate biblical truth to the tribe, the missionaries lived in tents and their target audience in huts. Their lives were not easy.

All of this happened several years before I met this devout man. The couple had long ago returned to the States in pursuit of retirement. God, however, gave them a new vision for how to spend their last days: they’d return to that African country to continue their outreach.

“This time we will tell stories of Jesus,” the man explained with a gleam of joy in his eye. “That will be quicker and more effective. The people will pass these stories along to later generations who will never be able to read.”

I asked, as the old missionary rose from the table, when they’d return home to the States.

“Actually,” he quickly replied, “we are going home. We will never return to America. We plan on dying there, in Africa, with our tribe. We have the good news to spread and little time remaining to do so. We have a King to serve and a kingdom to share.”

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-eight – Radical Transformation Required  

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:21-27).

Central to Christ’s sermon stands the concept of radical transformation. Throughout His discourse Jesus encourages listeners not to just hear the Word of God but to practice it. Repeatedly He states the importance of not just right living, but of living right for the right reasons. When people truly surrender to Christ and allow Him to take ownership, their entire approach to life changes. They exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, value others more than self, and seek to spread Christ’s love. Even when difficulties arise believers can thrive, overcoming life’s storms through the strength He provides.

In Matthew 7:21-27 Christ makes an important distinction between those who check the Christian box on a census form with those who truly accept Him. Our King calls followers to unconditional surrender of our lives, wills, and minds. He confronts us with two truths: neither a verbal profession of His deity nor an intellectual understanding of what He came to accomplish prove sufficient in securing our entry into the kingdom. Neither proves an acceptable substitute for the faith and deep-seated obedience required. Jesus debunks the myth that our relationship with Him can rest solely on what we say about Him or to Him. No creed, formulaic “sinner’s prayer,” or verbal affirmation of Christ’s divine role can save us. God demands absolute capitulation to Christ as Lord. Confession proves a real and necessary part of our conversion, but it must be sincere (see Romans 10:9-11).

Interestingly, the verbal profession “Lord, Lord” made by those Christ rejects proves quite orthodox. But while the designation is accurate and respectful, the Lord hears it as empty words when coming from the mouths of those who claim to know Him without evidencing heart transformation. Although they called Him Lord, these “evildoers” did not fully submit in servitude to His lordship. When to their praise Jesus replies that He never knew them and that they should depart from Him, He reveals that radical transformation is required of those who live as part of His kingdom. This serves as a warning to those who “play Christian.” Claiming we know Christ without allowing Him to transform us proves dangerous and utterly destructive.

Luke’s account of the Sermon provides further insight. In Luke 6:46 Christ asks, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” The critical distinction between an acceptable profession of faith in Christ as opposed to an unacceptable one is this: true followers of Jesus demonstrate heart change through doing Spirit-empowered good works and aiming toward God’s righteous standards. Jesus expects to see Holy Spirit inspired obedience and good works as evidence of our sincerity.

Understanding the gospel message without doing anything to spread it shows a lack of spiritual foundation. Likewise, doing good works in our own efforts or out of a desire to be seen, fails to please God. Jesus refers to a home’s foundation to reveal that the substance of one’s belief is rooted deep within. Should our foundation stand strong, our efforts will follow. Unless we allow the knowledge of Christ’s truth to form a root to nurture transformational obedience, however, we’ll eventually find devastation and destruction.

Chris grew up in the church, was baptized at an early age, and even memorized significant portions of Scripture. But once at college and away from her Christian home and church, she felt overwhelmed by the temptations offered by her new-found freedom and worldly friends. It wasn’t long before Chris dove headlong into parties, drugs, and a promiscuous lifestyle. Her evangelical upbringing no longer influenced her choices. In retrospect she commented, “That was because I was a ‘believer’ but had never really bowed to Christ.” Thankfully, God intervened and made her aware that despite her religious background she was lost. Chris needed to submit totally to Jesus in order to experience His radically transforming presence.

Understand that Jesus never taught salvation by works. We cannot earn our way into Heaven. The Apostle Paul clarified this in explaining that we are saved by grace through the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). As we humbly accept the undeserved grace God bestows and allow our faith in Him to change us from the inside out, we begin to realize the truth of Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We realize that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”; therefore, we set out to serve the Lord in tangible, meaningful ways (see James 2:17).

The Lord desires that we approach Him with hearts brimming with love for Him and genuinely grateful for who He is and all He provides. Acknowledging His existence with shallow words, fleshly deeds, and mere intellectual assent fails to glorify God. We must instead live out His lordship with the heart-righteousness that comes only from the Holy Spirit. As we do, we will view everything in a new light, His light. Our paradigm will change: we will see life as a ministry that images forth the beauty of Jesus. We will look through the lens of Christ-exalting love and find ourselves moved to God-honoring obedience. Once we truly meet Jesus, everything changes.

Apply It.

Read and absorb Second Corinthians 6:3-10. Here Paul mentions that our service should be “in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love.” In what ways do you demonstrate love for the Lord? Does gratitude compel you to live a life that says “thank you” to Him? Commit to let this attitude transform every aspect of your life.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!


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