Published: Easter Reflection – Cleaning Feet

A little reflection piece I wrote about Easter was just published on the TGCA site.

You can find it here.

“Through his death on the cross Jesus has not just given us a symbol of humility and service but has acted in humility and service toward us. Jesus’ death provides us with the cleanliness we need. His death is the sacrificial service for our sin. It is an act that cleanses us. As Jesus washing his disciples feet, making them clean; so too Jesus’ death washes our hearts and makes us clean from sin.

As we solemnly remember the death of Jesus these next hours, as we enter into the remembrance of our Lord’s death, may we come to a new appreciation of this great act of humility and service, for us, for our neighbour, and for our world.

And boy, don’t we need it.”

You can read more articles I’ve written elsewhere here.

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Martin Luther On Complete Forgiveness In Christ

In recent weeks I’ve found myself reading more about Martin Luther, the great reformer of the sixteenth century.

I began reading more of Luther, again, because I picked up Eric Metaxas’ recent biography of the man. My understanding is that Metaxas isn’t looked upon too fondly within the scholarship world because of his writings and perceived errors. But I have to say he does tell a good biography. I’m about 200 pages in right now and the way he writes keeps you in the story. While some of his inaccuracies are something I’ll search out a little more later on; for the moment I’m enjoying his mix of personal interpretation and the life of Luther quite evocative.

In reading this biography though I’ve now moved into reading Luther for himself. This, of course, if the best way to read anyone. So in going to the man himself I’m working through his commentary on the Letter to the Galatians as part of my devotions (for a PDF version of this go here). And let’s be honest, reading Luther is even more evocative than reading Metaxas. The language, the criticism, the insight, the forthrightness of Luther’s writings. Wow. How great.

Martin Luther on The Complete Forgiveness of Christ

But lest this simply be an exercise in reading and analysing his writing there are particular aspects to Luther’s writing that are extremely helpful for the Christian. In particular, this early reflections on chapter one, with the focus on sin being dealt with by the cross is simply stunning.

I’m sure I’m not the only one that battles with sin.

And I don’t just mean the battle with daily sin, behaviour or attitudes that we fall into. I mean the realisation my sin is so great that it raises the question of assurance of true forgiveness. How can God truly forgive the attitudes and behaviours I have acted upon for myself, let alone those things toward others!?

I’m sure I’m not the only person that knows the depths of their own heart, the depths of their own sinfulness, and the holding on of sin of the past, the sin that isn’t easily forgotten.

O how great a sinner we recognise ourselves to be in light of knowing the glorious nature and holiness of God! And how regretful, unassured, and doubtful we find ourselves when these things are brought to light through the Spirit.

And then at the same time we find ourselves neglecting the true grace that is given by the Lord Jesus. In our pursuit for holiness, and our disgust at sin, we become so self-centred about it that we hold on to it; just so we can feel bad and guilty about such sin. This could be for days or weeks or months or years. How many of us are holding on to sin that has been forgiven? How many of us are holding on to sin that grace has already dealt with!?

Well, for anyone that is dealing with sin, in dealing with a conscience of guilt because of sin, then I think Luther helps us tremendously. In fact, I don’t know whether I’ve read a better few pages that]n his reflections on this.

Below I copy much of what he says while reflecting on the phrase, “Who gave himself for our sins” in Galatians 1:4. I hope you are as edified as I was in reading this. It speaks to the person dealing wracked with guilt because of their continual stumbles into sin and temptation. And it provides great encouragement to get up off the mat and endure in the Christian life assured of every single sin, no matter how great or small, has been dealt with.

Enjoy.

Verse 4. ‘Who gave himself for our sins’.

Paul sticks to his theme. He never loses sight of the purpose of his epistle. He does not say, “Who received our works,” but “who gave.” Gave what? Not gold, or silver, or paschal lambs, or an angel, but Himself. What for? Not for a crown, or a kingdom, or our goodness, but for our sins. These words are like so many thunderclaps of protest from heaven against every kind and type of self-merit. Underscore these words, for they are full of comfort for sore consciences.

How may we obtain remission of our sins? Paul answers: “The man who is named Jesus Christ and the Son of God gave himself for our sins.” The heavy artillery of these words explodes papacy, works, merits, superstitions. For if our sins could be removed by our own efforts, what need was there for the Son of God to be given for them? Since Christ was given for our sins it stands to reason that they cannot be put away by our own efforts.

This sentence also defines our sins as great, so great, in fact, that the whole world could not make amends for a single sin. The greatness of the ransom, Christ, the Son of God, indicates this. The vicious character of sin is brought out by the words “who gave himself for our sins.” So vicious is sin that only the sacrifice of Christ could atone for sin. When we reflect that the one little word “sin” embraces the whole kingdom of Satan, and that it includes everything that is horrible, we have reason to tremble. But we are careless. We make light of sin. We think that by some little work or merit we can dismiss sin.

This passage, then, bears out the fact that all men are sold under sin. Sin is an exacting despot who can be vanquished by no created power, but by the sovereign power of Jesus Christ alone.

All this is of wonderful comfort to a conscience troubled by the enormity of sin. Sin cannot harm those who believe in Christ, because He has overcome sin by His death. Armed with this conviction, we are enlightened and may pass judgment upon the papists, monks, nuns, priests, Mohammedans, Anabaptists, and all who trust in their own merits, as wicked and destructive sects that rob God and Christ of the honour that belongs to them alone.

Note especially the pronoun “our” and its significance. You will readily grant that Christ gave Himself for the sins of Peter, Paul, and others who were worthy of such grace. But feeling low, you find it hard to believe that Christ gave Himself for your sins. Our feelings shy at a personal application of the pronoun “our,” and we refuse to have anything to do with God until we have made ourselves worthy by good deeds.

This attitude springs from a false conception of sin, the conception that sin is a small matter, easily taken care of by good works; that we must present ourselves unto God with a good conscience; that we must feel no sin before we may feel that Christ was given for our sins.

This attitude is universal and particularly developed in those who consider themselves better than others. Such readily confess that they are frequent sinners, but they regard their sins as of no such importance that they cannot easily be dissolved by some good action, or that they may not appear before the tribunal of Christ and demand the reward of eternal life for their righteousness. Meantime they pretend great humility and acknowledge a certain degree of sinfulness for which they soulfully join in the publican’s prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” But the real significance and comfort of the words “for our sins” is lost upon them.

The genius of Christianity takes the words of Paul “who gave himself for our sins” as true and efficacious. We are not to look upon our sins as insignificant trifles. On the other hand, we are not to regard them as so terrible that we must despair. Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for picayune and imaginary transgressions, but for mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded, but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained.

Practice this knowledge and fortify yourself against despair, particularly in the last hour, when the memory of past sins assails the conscience. Say with confidence: “Christ, the Son of God, was given not for the righteous, but for sinners. If I had no sin I should not need Christ. No, Satan, you cannot delude me into thinking I am holy. The truth is, I am all sin. My sins are not imaginary transgressions, but sins against the first table, unbelief, doubt, despair, contempt, hatred, ignorance of God, ingratitude towards Him, misuse of His name, neglect of His Word, etc.; and sins against the second table, dishonour of parents, disobedience of government, coveting of another’s possessions, etc. Granted that I have not committed murder, adultery, theft, and similar sins in deed, nevertheless I have committed them in the heart, and therefore I am a transgressor of all the commandments of God.

“Because my transgressions are multiplied and my own efforts at self-justification rather a hindrance than a furtherance, therefore Christ the Son of God gave Himself into death for my sins.” To believe this is to have eternal life.

Let us equip ourselves against the accusations of Satan with this and similar passages of Holy Scripture. If he says, “Thou shalt be damned,” you tell him: “No, for I fly to Christ who gave Himself for my sins. In accusing me of being a damnable sinner, you are cutting your own throat, Satan. You are reminding me of God’s fatherly goodness toward me, that He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. In calling me a sinner, Satan, you really comfort me above measure.” With such heavenly cunning we are to meet the devil’s craft and put from us the memory of sin.

St. Paul also presents a true picture of Christ as the virgin-born Son of God, delivered into death for our sins. To entertain a true conception of Christ is important, for the devil describes Christ as an exacting and cruel judge who condemns and punishes men. Tell him that his definition of Christ is wrong, that Christ has given Himself for our sins, that by His sacrifice He has taken away the sins of the whole world.

Make ample use of this pronoun “our.” Be assured that Christ has canceled the sins, not of certain persons only, but your sins. Do not permit yourself to be robbed of this lovely conception of Christ. Christ is no Moses, no law-giver, no tyrant, but the Mediator for sins, the Giver of grace and life.

We know this. Yet in the actual conflict with the devil, when he scares us with the Law, when he frightens us with the very person of the Mediator, when he misquotes the words of Christ, and distorts for us our Saviour, we so easily lose sight of our sweet High-Priest.

For this reason I am so anxious for you to gain a true picture of Christ out of the words of Paul “who gave himself for our sins.” Obviously, Christ is no judge to condemn us, for He gave Himself for our sins. He does not trample the fallen but raises them. He comforts the broken-hearted. Otherwise Paul should lie when he writes “who gave himself for our sins.”

I do not bother my head with speculations about the nature of God. I simply attach myself to the human Christ, and I find joy and peace, and the wisdom of God in Him. These are not new truths. I am repeating what the apostles and all teachers of God have taught long ago. Would to God we could impregnate our hearts with these truths.

Wow. What a great word.

Day 2 – You Are Sinful

“The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)

It might seem odd, in the early stages of a devotional series about identity, to have a focus on sin. It doesn’t really seem encouraging or uplifting, does it?

It’s not meant to be.

Sin is a reality.

Sin is hurtful.

Sin is bad.

We are sinful.

You are sinful.

The bible speaks about sin in a number of ways. It is called ugly, shameful, guilt-giving, people-hurting, relationship-destroying, heart-wrenching, gut-twisting awful.

Sin is something which can be done by a person, but first and foremost it is a state of being.

It is a reality.

You're More Than A Number - You Are Sinful

The reality is that our hearts are naturally inclined to sin. Sin isn’t just what we do that is bad, or immoral, or hurtful, it is more than that. It is a heart position. It is the state of our heart that means we are utterly against God in everything we do.

Even if it looks good.

The bible speaks of our heart as being against God and His goodness. Our hearts, from birth, are defective. They are selfish.

So, often we will operate out of a place of self-interest. We will make decisions and act in ways that will be for our good before anyone else’s. We place ourselves as king or queen of our own lives, neglecting others, and particularly God.

Often this plays out in action. When we think of a school assessment we might want to short circuit hard work and steal the answers off the person next to us. When we are filled with lustful thoughts of that person down the corridor. When we think poorly of a person in our team. When we joke amongst friends about the loner sitting in the playground during lunch. When we do something that hurts someone else. All this is the outworking of our sinful heart.

We are always wanting the next best and greatest thing for ourselves, no matter the cost. Whether it costs us friends, relationships, family, or even be harmful for ourselves, our hearts chase after sinful things and drive us toward sinful action.

Because God is supremely good and holy everything He does is good and holy. And because we are not we find ourselves in a bit of trouble.

There is a problem.

The state of our hearts, our bodies, and this world is not entirely good or holy. Therefore, God wants nothing to do with those things that are sinful, things that are against his holiness and goodness.

The focus on ourselves brings us to the point where we think nothing of believing that we rule the world on our own. Instead of acknowledging God as the true and right ruler of this world we have bought into the lie that tells us we are the centre of this world.

We are living in a world that tells us we can have satisfaction and joy if only we are true to ourselves.

We are told we can have everything if only we can put in the hard work.

We are told that at the end of the day, if we have looked after our self and put ourselves first we will find some form of wholeness.

The culture we absorb from a young age spills over into our thinking and is something we find completely natural. What is unnatural, it seems, is to realise that there are greater things going on in the world. That God is actually the right and true ruler of this world, and when we place him at the centre of it all then we will find that satisfaction and joy we desire.

The putting of self at the centre is just another form of our sinful heart leading us away from God.

And because we operate out of a sinful heart we find we are separated from God.

Because of his goodness and holiness God can’t have anything to do with sin. And because he can’t have anything to do with sin this means he can’t have anything to do with us. We are a bitter taste on the tongue of God.

This means our relationship with God is non-existent. Our relationship with God is broken. There is a large fjord between God and us, and no matter how hard we try to reach him and know him we can’t.

The divide is too wide.

Our sinful nature leaves us apart from God. It leaves us lonely, self-absorbed, and heavenly homeless.

FOR REFLECTION

  • How does understanding our sinful nature help us understand our position in life?
  • What sort of feelings rise up in you as you read what has been said?
  • Do you know what brings this separation with God back to wholeness?

This is part of a devotional series called You’re More Than A Number. To understand the purpose of these posts then please read the series introduction. If you’d like these delivered to your inbox, please sign up to follow this blog or my FB page.

Day 1 – You Are Created

11 Things: Temptation And Holiness

As I’ve mentioned previously, the church is made up of broken and sinful people (Romans 3:23). This includes the leadership of any church, its elders and pastors. This includes the Youth Pastor too. It is simply a reality.

Before starting out in ministry I looked up to my Youth Pastors as people who had it all together. They had a better relationship with God than anyone I knew. For some reason I thought they were further up the spiritual ladder than I could ever imagine attaining. And they were always surrounded by or doing godly type activities – preaching, speaking, leading bible studies, organising events etc. At the end of the day they were in Christian leadership and were ‘better Christians’ than I and most of the congregation.

So I thought.

Entering into youth ministry with this thought will not help. That is why I wished I knew that the sin and brokenness which we have prior to ministry will be amplified when in it.

Those things we fear, those habits we slip into, those behaviours we act out, those temptations to click, those thought processes we go through, will all continue with more intensity as Youth Pastor. The nature of the position means the Evil One will seek you, or those close to you, out more often.

Just as the temptation to sin doesn’t stop when we become a Christian, the temptation to sin doesn’t stop when entering ministry either. It only increases.

This is not then used to justify sinful behaviour or thought, it is the reality of being in the role. Sinfulness continues because we are not yet perfect beings. However, realising that there is an increase of temptation as Youth Pastor it is probably wise to have a few things in place.

Regular Life With Jesus 

This is a no brainer. Every Christian should be having regular time with Jesus. But this does require intentionality. It is easy to slip into believing that all those sermons, bible studies and pastoral meetups with prayer constitutes daily devotional time with Jesus. We know that’s not the case though. Put time in your calendar, alarms on your phone, and work to find a regular rhythm to meet with Jesus throughout the day, week, month and year.

A Ministry Partner

I’m sure I’d have gone off the rails more that I usually do had I not been meeting with those who ask the hard questions. Regular catch ups with people willing to ask about my private life sounds daunting but it is just so important in helping me continue in faith and ministry. One or two guys regularly hear acknowledgement of my own fallenness and brokenness. These are people I trust, away from my own church context, who know what I’m going through. Make sure you get one if you haven’t.

Know Thyself

When you are prone to falling into temptation? What is it that makes you do this? Is it tiredness? It is boredom? It is escapism? Is it procrastination? It is something else? Look at your calendar, see what energises you and what doesn’t. Think about what happens in your head and in our body as you work through the rhythms of your ministry week, month, year, etc. Are you always gorging KFC on the way home from youth group at midnight on a Friday night? Are you thinking poorly of people you are working with? Are you wasting time on things that take you away from the important things? Know thyself.

As much as this post is about realising the temptations that come thick and fast while a Youth Pastor it is also about holiness. Holiness is a much maligned topic. We seek to follow Jesus as much as we can and be missional in our lives. Yet, for some reason we really dislike the thought of having to be holy, seeking to be obedient, and grow in godly maturity and character. Of course it will be painful, cutting off branches that don’t produce fruit in order to have small shoots of growth is going to be so. But in among this realisation of increased temptation comes the need to pursue holiness (Hebrew 12:14; 1 Peter 1:14-16; 2 Peter).

And yeah, I still look up to my old Youth Pastors no matter their own sense of flaw and brokenness.


A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part seven of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part onepart twopart threepart fourpart five and part six here.

The Eighth Sin: Apathy

I’m inspired by today’s The Dailypost topic “The Eighth Sin”.

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First, I’m intrigued that sin is still talked about. Outside of the church I don’t hear too many people talking about sin. It should be talked about more. I’m glad to see it on the radar here in this little exercise.

Second, what came to mind when thinking about what might be the eighth cardinal sin was apathy.

When reflecting on the past couple of weeks I can’t help but think we’re an apathetic people.

This is an apathy that is best wrapped up in the saying, ‘Out of sight, out of mind’. But because of the information age we’re in there is no real excuse for being out of sight. My social media feeds are filled with people sharing articles and posts written about the persecution of Christians in Iraq and the terrible conflict in Gaza. Yet, as I reflect further I notice that it’s only a handful of people that are talking about this, or commenting or liking.

I don’t expect everyone to have their say. For some it’s not a forum where people wish to discuss or even mention their views on anything. Yet, that is one of the main reasons we are so apathetic.

Apathy allows us some emotional distance from what is going on for others. Apathy means we don’t make a stand when we should. Apathy means we don’t give a voice to the voiceless. We let injustice run its course.

To be apathetic means we don’t care. And that’s sad.

Not everyone can care about everything. That’s impossible in such a complex and issue-ridden world. But on things that aren’t ‘issues’ but are to do with the life and death of human beings, then perhaps we do need to care. Perhaps we need to shake off the comfort and ease of apathy. Perhaps we need to confess we are sinners and one sin that affects us is our apathetic nature.

Thankfully sin is forgiven, even our apathy. Yet this doesn’t mean we don’t have to change. Just as the sin of apathy is forgiven through the person and work of Jesus Christ, the ability to change and work toward a more just world, a world where the voiceless are heard, is achieved through the continual trust in Him and His rule.

Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges

In this book Jerry Bridges writes about a number of sins the Western church has, for some odd reason, decided it’s OK with.

The author focuses on the verse from 1 Peter 5:5, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”, and tackles the issues such as pride, selfishness, ungodliness, unthankfulness, anger, self-control (or lack thereof), impatience, envy, jealousy, sins of the tongue and many others.

Grounded in the doctrines of cross and the sovereignty of God, Bridges calls his readers to take a long, hard, look at themselves. He encourages people to see the way following Jesus impacts their lives, each and every part of it. Behind that thick wall of pride what do we think and do that we tell ourselves is OK in little doses but really isn’t? It is a very searching and convicting book, highlighting the work of the Spirit to convict his readers about those sins he comments on.respectable sins by jerry birdges

This is a really good and thought-provoking book.

Bridges challenges each individual to be humble before the Almighty and recognise that there are sins, sins which we ‘take for granted’, that need to be confessed and repented of.

At times you might debate whether or not everything he mentions are actually sins, but he writes in a humble and good-natured way that urges godliness. I found it a book that slaps you around the head a bit–but in a good way.

It’s not a long book, finishing up at 181 pages. It would be a good book for small group discussions, or a preaching series. I’d encourage anyone wanting to flee from sin or grow in godliness to pick this book up, and read it.

Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins: Confronting The Sins We Tolerate (181 pages, USA: Navpress), 2007.