DEAD AND ALIVE

How wide, how deep, how high, how far does the love of God reach for His creation? Many have tried to plumb the depths of His love and have come up with answers that seem to keep many people out of God’s reach. How can a finite being such as a human possibly know the full expanse of the infinite? Maybe God is not the ogre many have portrayed Him to be.

GOD

IS

LOVE

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Today’s readings from the Psalms (Ps. 32:1-2), the epistles (2 Cor. 5:16-21) and the gospels (Lk. 15:11-32) all blend together to form a beautiful tapestry.

The psalm said that the one whose sin is forgiven is blessed. The scripture lesson said the one whose sin is forgiven is a new creature. The gospel reading said we didn’t even get a chance to ask for forgiveness.

Because there is so much in each of these readings, all I can do at this time is to give you a brief overview of the expansive love and mercy of God for us.

His love and mercy shown in these passages is so grand, so expansive, so far-reaching that I could not come up with a decent title for this message.

So, it is simply DEAD AND ALIVE; but it is all about God’s love.

I have spent time on this concept in weeks past, but it is something that continues to show up in the passages suggested in the Lectionary.

Maybe that’s because that is what the Bible is all about—God’s love for His creation.

Let’s begin with the first reading from Psalm 32.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
Psa 32:1-2

Notice the three words used for sin in this passage—transgression, sin and iniquity.

While we usually just associate them as synonyms for sin, they each have a slightly different meaning.

SIN = missing the mark  

INIQUITY = bending the line  

TRANSGRESSION = stepping over the line

What we see here is that in any way you want to define sin, it is covered in this passage.

AND, it is covered by the Lord in the grace and mercy of His forgiveness.

David is saying here that the one for whom this is true is blessed and happy.

I always preached this verse as something you must do to gain this blessing; but I don’t see it that way any longer.

David later wrote

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
Psa 130:3

That is a rhetorical question which has an obvious answer—NO ONE COULD STAND.

NO ONE COULD STAND.

Let’s consider the gospel reading

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.
Luk 15:20-22

You know the basic story of how the boy took his inheritance before he was supposed to and then squandered it all on easy and fast living.

When he realized what he had done and what it was costing him, he began to feel sorry for himself.

He decided to try his luck back home to see if maybe he could do better.

He had a speech all planned out that he thought sure would cause his dad to feel sorry for him.

But, before he could get the first words out of his mouth, the father was already hugging and kissing him. He had seen the boy from a long way off.

That can only mean one thing—the father was continually expecting the boy’s return.

Then, when the kid tried to offer his speech, the father cut him off and said, “Let’s have a party to celebrate his coming home!”

QUESTION—

Where’s the reproof?

Where is the
‘I told you so?’

Where is the
“I hope you learned your lesson?”

Where is the
“Well, we will just have to wait and see how sorry you really are.”?

It is not there, is it?

It is not there because this is not the parable of the prodigal son. It is the parable of the loving father. It is more about the goodness of God than it is about the wickedness of man.

The parable of the Loving Father

The father was not looking for anything other than the return of the one who had wandered off.

That was enough repentance for him.

He wasn’t looking for any apologies. He didn’t need any expression of sorrow. He wasn’t looking for any tears.

He was only looking for his son.

The only thing God is looking for from anyone is for them to awaken to whose they are and return to where they belong.

That is the only repentance that is required of anyone.

He will take care of everything else that is needed after we get home.

We can see that plainly as we consider the passage from the scripture lesson.

in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 2Co 5:19

God is not counting our trespasses against us. He is not counting anyone’s trespasses against them.

That is not what we have believed for decades, is it? We have been taught to believe that we needed to be sorry for our sins in order for God to accept us.

The word ‘reconciling’ is the word we use for balancing the books. We need to make sure that all our debits and credits are applied for our balance to be correct.

In this case, the books are balanced by the blood of Jesus. There is no sin too great or too many for His blood to cover.

If there is or was one for whom His blood was not efficient, then it was ineffective for all.

But that is not what we learn from the scriptures.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
1Co 15:22

This is a verse which is often preached in evangelistic meetings where the goal is to get people saved, to have them accept Jesus.

The preacher hammers home the idea that because of Adam’s sin, we all sinned. And because we all sinned we will all die a spiritual death.

The only remedy for that spiritual death is to accept Jesus. And if you don’t, then you will die a spiritual death, which means you will go to hell.

Therefore, you need to make sure that you get yourself into Christ.

Sounds perfectly logical, doesn’t it?

If we do not pay attention to what Paul is saying here, we will go along with that line of thinking.

So, let’s look a little more closely.

How many die in Adam? ALL.

How many are in Adam? ALL.

How did they get there? By being born. It was not a choice made by their free will.

But, when it comes to the “all in Christ” of the verse, we change it to making a choice.

If you don’t make the right choice, then you can’t be in Christ.

Can you see the lack of logic in such a conclusion?

If we only had this verse, and the teachings about how you must accept Jesus—which, by the way, is not found anywhere in scripture—then it would seem to be a correct understanding.

However, we are not left with only this one verse which may appear somewhat ambiguous if left by itself.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.
Rom 5:18

This is about as plain as it gets.

One person, Adam, committed one sin, and that one sin led to condemnation for the entire human race.

One person, Jesus, did His one act of righteousness, which led to justification and life for the entire human race.

That word ‘justification’ is the idea of justice being completed. The demands of justice have been met in Christ.

Let’s continue. It gets better.

For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Rom. 5:19

This is another verse like the one in Corinthians we just looked at, where people exercise their mental gymnastics in order to make it say something to fit their paradigm of choosing Jesus.

They focus on the ‘many being made righteous’ to prove that it is not everyone.

QUESTION—why is the second many in the verse different from the first many?

THE MANY were made sinners by one man’s disobedience.

Who are we talking about? Adam.

How many were made sinners because of his disobedience? ALL.

Therefore, is it at all logical to assume that the second “many”—which is the same word—is any different from the first?

Can we with a straight face say that the second many is not as inclusive as the first?

I’m sure we can as far as ability goes, but it defies and denies any sense of rationality.

So.

What have we said?

We have shown that any and all who have their sins covered or forgiven are blessed.

We have seen that the Father is only concerned with our coming to our senses and realizing that we already belong to Him.

We have also seen that He does not keep a record of wrongs. He does not count anyone’s sins, trespasses, or iniquities against them.

This truth about God’s love should completely eliminate any fear someone may have about sinning in such a way as to doom them to hell.

There are far too many Christians who are continually afraid that their sins might outweigh their good deeds and they will wind up in hell.

That is not the Father’s love, because perfect love casts out fear.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
1Jo 4:18

Brothers and sisters, the reality is that you are loved with a perfect love which has no conditions for your acceptance.

You are loved with a love that has no boundaries.

There is nothing you can do to defeat this love.

His love will find you regardless of where you may choose to wander.

Maybe it is time we all just simply learned to bask in the reality of that love.

MIXTURE = LAW + GRACE

People are being set free from bondages in many forms, the greatest of which is fear as was produced by their adherence to religious rules and regulations. Many are also being freed from anger and despair.

An understanding of the grace of God and His everlasting love for all His creation is gathering power around the world.

It is a beautiful thing to see.

People are being set free from bondages in many forms, the greatest of which is fear as was produced by their adherence to religious rules and regulations. Many are also being freed from anger and despair.

All these are being brought into the glorious freedom of being able to love as they are loved. Understanding and having the experience of being loved without conditions—without being dependent upon their good behavior being greater than their bad—is giving them permission to live as God originally intended.

However, as has been true since the time of Jesus with Judas,
there is danger lurking in the shadows.

Even as the apostle Paul wrote in more than one letter, a return to the legalism of law-keeping is at the door, ready to crash through the slightest opening and steal this wonderful freedom.

Many of our teachers in this current “grace movement” have sounded the alarm, and many followers have also picked up the call. Everyone wants the message to remain pure—without adulteration.

Any admixture to the pure grace teaching is seen as dangerous, because it truly is such.

As a result, though, there is also danger in the watchfulness.

There has been no clear definition of what is meant by “law.” For many, it has boiled down to the place that any suggestion of something that should be done is now labeled “law” and given the curse of anathema.

Let’s think this through for a few moments.

Is it law in opposition to grace when you tell your child, “Do not play in the street?” Does “pure grace” lean completely on the Holy Spirit to direct the child?

When the doctor says, “You should exercise more,” do you reject the advice because it came from an attitude of “law” as a requirement?

“Guard your heart…” (Pro. 4:23) is a straight out imperative. Do we ignore it because it is written as a command?

Yet in our “grace camp” there are those who seem to bristle at any phrase, statement, or even innuendo which appears as “law.” Requirements are out, they say. “I don’t HAVE to do anything.”

On the surface, that is absolutely correct. You do not HAVE to do anything. But, that is nothing new. You were never under any requirement. You may have chosen to obey whatever, but the choice was always and still is yours.

So, that is not the issue here.

When Jesus was asked about the greatest, or most important commandment, He quoted Deuteronomy and gave the two “love laws” of God and neighbor. However, we tend to either miss or gloss over the full quote from the fifth book of the Bible.

In Mark’s account, neither did Jesus miss the full quote. It begins with a command—“Hear, O Israel!”

Some have pointed out that there is no word for ‘obey’ in Hebrew. The word we translate as ‘obey’ is the word for ‘hear.’

This is what parents mean when they scold their child with “You’re not listening to me!” The child knows that they are ‘listening’ and can repeat every word you just said. What they are not doing is obeying.

This is where it gets a little sticky.

We don’t want to be told to do anything by anyone. That is the current mantra of many in the “grace movement.” However, it was in our DNA long before we came into grace. It is at the heart of any and all of our rebellion to anything in any form.

What are we to do? How do we respond? How do we avoid, then, any mixture of law in our message of grace and love?

There are no easy answers.

It may appear to be a conundrum, but we are not impaled on the horns of a dilemma if we will simply take time to think.

It has been fashionable for a few years to claim that the Decalogue as given by Moses was not “The Ten Suggestions.” In reality, though, they are—in a manner of speaking.

The so-called Ten Commandments are written in the indicative mood, which means they “indicate” something. They indicate how the believer acts.

Instead of reading “You may not,” read them as “You won’t.”

One who loves will not steal or tell lies or commit adultery. It doesn’t enter into their mind. They are not focused on what they should or shouldn’t do. It simply IS.

There are many in the grace camp who would do away with any part of the Bible that seems to indicate a ‘law of requirement.’ (Yes, there are some who have done away with the Bible altogether. This is not for them.)

James, the Lord’s brother, is credited with having written the letter that bears his name. His words are often put in contrast over against the words of the apostle Paul as if James is an outright legalist and should be ignored by any who are coming into grace.

(Did you notice the irony there? “…should be…”)

Is he a legalist?

Is it not possible that we read his words with a jaundiced eye?

When James writes, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only” do we ignore
Pro. 4:23 on the basis that James is a legalist and I have no requirement to be a doer?

Many will say, “I refuse to be brought under any form of law.”

Is that really where we want to stand?

When Paul was arguing against allowing the law, he was opposing legalism. He was against any exercise of effort on our part to be “right with God.”

In this we should stand firm.

Legalism is the law of requirement to make one righteous.

When Paul writes that we should “speak the truth in love,” (Eph. 4:15) is that not a command? Should we avoid that because it is written as a law? Or, should we not rather view it as it is—a principle.

We use the term “law of gravity” which means there is a principle of gravity which must be considered if we want to do certain things.

LOVE is just such a ‘law.’ It is a principle by which we operate. “Speaking the truth” is an indication of how love will look in that situation. “Being at peace with all” is an indication of what love looks like in the world.

“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
(1Jo 3:18)
Is this a legalistic command which should be avoided?

If we have the correct words without the corresponding actions we are nothing but a clanging cymbal. (1 Cor. 13:1-3)

The so-called commands of the New Testament are basically indicators of what love looks like. Use them as a benchmark to mark the level of your growth in love.

Let us get over our fear of mixture in the grace message, because fear has torment and is not a part of love.

Let us begin to hear with ears that are tuned to what is being said, not necessarily how it is being said. As humans, we are limited in our language—especially those of us who speak the English language with all its limitations of a multitude of definitions for a single word.

Yes.

We are love personified,
and
there is no fear in love.