Helping People Find Their Way Back to Jesus
The Gift of God’s LIFE – 2
By Larry L. Niemeyer
The card we are sharing – “The Gift of God’s LIFE” – has hopefully been something you have given away this past week. Last week we learned that the Gift of God’s LIFE comes from Jesus.
Matthew 5:48 –God wants us perfect. But that perfection comes only from the gift of his LIFE in our life.
John 5:26 – Our only access to God’s LIFE is through Jesus who carried the gift from heaven in his own human body.
John 10:10 – The Lord’s mission was ultimately to give us the gift of God’s LIFE.
By bringing the gift, Jesus called on all people to repent (Luke 13:3). This needs to be emphasized. Why? Because we must get through the grit of sin and repentance to get to the gift of God’s LIFE. Grit is gravel or sand in the wrong place. Grit in a machine will ruin it. Grit in our rice will leave something hard for our teeth to crunch down on. This grit is in our lives.
Jesus warned us simply, directly – if we live with our sins, we die.
Sin is Terminal
Sin is as deadly as living with a terminal illness like cancer. I remember when Judy and I were told that her cancer was terminal. That was a difficult time. She had only four months to live. But I think it was right at that moment of exposure that she made up her mind: she was going to live beyond four months. As we know she went on to live ten months of wonderful testimony. When the end drew near, it was beautiful for me to watch her come to terms with the terminal condition of her life. She had such peace, contentment, readiness, determination to say farewell to us all and so eager to see beyond her earthly experience. Her cancer was terminal – but Judy wasn’t.
We may be tempted to call sin a simple sickness, Jesus reminds us that it is like a terminal cancer. It is a sentence of death. We go on sometimes and call sin an accident; Jesus always brings us back to the threat of death and reminds us that it is more like a deadly scheme. We call sin a blunder: Jesus says it is a devastating blindness that lets us fall into the trap of death. We call sin an unfortunate event: Jesus clarifies that it is a deadly choice. We call sin a bad habit: Jesus calls it a damaging disobedience that results in death. We call sin a small fascination: Jesus calls it a fatal attraction. We call sin a mistake: Jesus says it is much more. Sin is terminal.
Why this view of sin by Jesus? Why the linkage of death to each of these mistaken notions of sin? Because if we live with our sin, we die. Why the warnings not to soften sin? Because sin offers no soft landing. It is terminal. I remember the doctors’ faces when they told Judy her cancer was terminal. I remember the doctors’ faces in India seven months later when they told her tumors had grown from 4 to 25. Their faces were grave, serious, solemn. Imagine the face of Jesus saying the words of Luke 13:3 – “unless you repent, you too will all perish.” I think he was grave, serious and solemn. Why? Sin leads to death.
To repent is to turn away from a simple, natural journey toward death and turn toward a sacred, supernatural journey toward God’s LIFE in our lives. The end God seeks for us is not death; it is LIFE, LIFE eternal. We must turn away from the pathway of sin. We can’t have the gift he wants for us if we keep the grit of sin.
Sin – The Denial of Our Need of God’s LIFE in Our Lives
This, I believe, is the basic, crucial sin. Take Adam for example. We say he sinned by disobeying God’s command. I say he sinned before he ate the fruit by denying his need of God’s LIFE in his life. He chose not to eat from the Tree of LIFE and live forever before he chose to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That is the real nature of sin – the denial of our need for God’s LIFE.
We Have a Story to Tell
Now, it can be very difficult to tell others about our sins. Who wants to reveal all that?! I don’t know about you, but I am reluctant to tell the stories of my sins. Only a few people get to hear those stories. Only a few people have exposed such things to me. Ginny, my new wife of four months, has become one of those people. She lived 39 years without God’s LIFE in her life. She denied, ignored, and avoided that gift. When I was trying to make a hit with her, she started telling me about her sins. That was hard – for her and me. She told them, thinking I would end the relationship. I would give up and move on. I didn’t move on, though. However, I did come to realize a big need to distinguish between Ginny BJ (39 years before Jesus in her life) and Ginny AJ (her 31 years after Jesus).
She gave me permission to tell one story. During those 39 BJ years, Ginny made two suicide attempts. She thought I would be a goner. I took her home that night and continued to process that story and her life. At the end of that processing, I was excited. I called her and said, “Ginny, you have such a story to tell. You tried to die your way twice and then met Jesus and learned to die his way.
Such stories are hard to tell. I remember meeting with a group of men I was training in Zambia. I wanted to encourage them to tell their stories so they could use a little book I had created – “Jesus Changed My Life.” We practiced a little transparency. One man said he had had three women before he had met Jesus. The next man said he had slept with six women. The third man added a few more successes and I realized the occasion had become a contest of manliness. Finally, the chief’s son shared his story – and, of course, he had slept with the most. Such stories are hard to tell – honestly.
Now here is where this perspective on sin comes in. When we see sin ultimately as our denial of the need for God’s LIFE in our lives, we can tell our stories without getting into a “greater sinner” contest. Such stories may not be as dramatic as Ginny’s but they are just as real.
My own story has not been dramatic. Just this past week, Ginny asked me when I became born again. She wanted a dramatic event in a single moment of my life. But when I received Christ into my life 64 years ago I was never told about being born again in a split second like that. It was just not part of the evangelism I was exposed to at that time in the 1950s. Gradually, “born again talk” came into my life. But it took 20 years!! I’m sure God said, “OK. We have a slow learner here!”
It took 20 years for me to realize the nature and need of God’s gift of his LIFE to me. It occurred in Zambia when I was 29 years old – when I was down with a serious bout with malaria. In the midst of that feverish, almost delirious state of mind, that gift finally played out before me and it was wonderful. And, though it took 20 years, it was just a moment for God. And he had taken the time and resources to get me to that born again awareness. That is probably one reason why I am so urgent about the message of that gift today. I don’t want others to wait 20 years.
God had to get me to turn away from my slow journey toward death alone. He had to get me to recognize the need and necessity of the gift of his LIFE. So, mine is a slow story – not real dramatic – but it is real. Your stories are real, too. They are important. We need to tell them in order to help people find their way back to Jesus.
Sin Denies the Basic Condition of Our Humanity
We can believe God created us, made us in his image, redeemed us, blessed us provided for us, and loved us, but if we deny that his LIFE is the basic condition of our humanity, we lack the belief that he wants us to have. Our perfection and completion as human requires the LIFE of God within us. Sin denies that requirement; it chooses to remain ignorant and separated from God’s LIFE. To deny, ignore and avoid God’s LIFE is the ultimate sin and the basis of all sins.
A young boy was asked by his Christian father to drive a nail into a piece of wood every time he did something wrong. Some weeks later the father went out into the garden with his son and told him to pull out the nails one by one, confessing to what he had done wrong. Then his father forgave him for each of his wrongs. After that, the little boy said triumphantly, “ Hooray, all the nails are gone.’ ‘Yes,’ said his father, ‘but the marks made by the nails are still in the wood.’ Taking him into his workshop he filled the holes and sanded down the piece of wood until all the nail marks had gone (a story from Selwyn Hughes: Every Day with Jesus 2005:17th Apr.).
The Lord’s work can be likened to the work of this father with his son. But the work of Jesus is not the work of simply filling in the holes of our humanity that have been left by sin. The Lord works from the inside out and those holes are filled with his LIFE.
He died for our sins so that he could give us his LIFE. Ginny and I are reading a book we were given at our wedding: The Book of Mysteries, written by a Messianic Jew. Every day’s devotion is a new mystery. One mystery made Ginny cry this week because she was so staggered and amazed by a wonderful insight into the price Jesus paid for her sins.
The author said Jesus was the King of Thorns. Have you ever heard that? I hadn’t. He connected Genesis 3:17-18 where God put a curse on the land in which Adam and his descendants would work. For men, there would always be thorns. That curse went along with the other consequences of sin – the pains of women. The author then connected this curse to the crown of thorns put on the head of Jesus at his torture and crucifixion (Matthew 27:29). Thorns, whether in Genesis or at the crucifixion are related to the consequences of sin: pain, tears, the curse, and death. By wearing the Crown of Thorns, Jesus became the King of Thorns – the one who bore the curse of sin.
Sin Seeks Human Life Satisfaction and Denies Divine LIFE Sanctification
To sin is to seek physical, human life alone and deny the need of God’s divine LIFE in our lives. Our bodies and souls have their needs and we see to those needs all the time. In good and bad ways. The body receives our hourly attention. We feed it, nourish it, clean it, perfume it, decorate it, shampoo it, dress it up, clothe it, and provide water and liquids for it. Some ways are good and some are bad. The soul as described by the Bible is the center of our intelligence, emotions and will. We constantly inform our souls, educate them, teach them, train them, provide them with books and keep checking the web for more knowledge. It may be good or bad. We give vent to our emotions and we seek their expressions in all kinds of circumstances. Good and bad. We make constantly make decisions for ourselves and others all the time. Good and bad. All this for the satisfaction of human life.
BUT, the bodies and souls we so faithfully attend to as of greatest importance, decay in a grave. They deteriorate, degenerate, rot, mold and turn to dust. Earthly knowledge ceases, human emotions are buried, our decisions become irrelevant. That’s the outcome of human life alone without God’s LIFE.
So, where is the denial of divine LIFE sanctification? It is in the human spirit. When the body and soul turn to dust, the spirit continues to live. I learned the importance of the human spirit in Africa these past 50 years. I soon realized back in the 1960s that Africa was deeply concerned with the spirits – but seemed to have very little knowledge of the human spirit itself. On one of my first evangelistic journeys in Zimbabwe, I was confronted with that continental fascination with spirits as a woman became spirit possessed right in front of me. Later, at a baptism the same thing happened again and I realized I didn’t even have a vocabulary that included the word spirit as it relates to our creation by God.
I went back to the Bible and learned that the word spirit is used more than 800 times – and one-half of those usages refer to the human spirit. Zechariah 12:1 was a verse that really captured by interest – God forms the human spirit within each person born into this world. That spirit in every human life is reserved for him. Nothing else can satisfy the human spirit. The body can be satisfied in many ways. The same is true of the soul. But the spirit can only be satisfied by God’s own perfection and completion. The human spirit needs God’s LIFE within to reach its full potential. The human spirit is created by God as the unique feature in our lives to which he can give us his LIFE. The human spirit was created by God as the unique way he could give us his LIFE. Romans 8:16 – “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Sin is the denial of our need for God’s LIFE in our spirits.
Why so long on sin and repentance? As I said at the beginning: to get to the gift of God’s LIFE we must get through the grit of sin and repentance. The card we are using in this series ends with two statements.
No. 5 – “Jesus offers LIFE to you as your only way to God’s completion in your life.
In John 14:6 he said, “I am the way and the truth and the LIFE.” Jesus is not only the way TO God but also the way OF God. He is not only the TRUTH from God; he is the truth OF God. He is not just the way and the truth about God’s LIFE; He is God’s LIFE. The Jesus way bound to the Jesus truth brings about the Jesus life. We cannot follow the Jesus way without speaking the Jesus truth – and we can do neither without the Jesus LIFE (adapted from Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus is the Way, 2007:4).
In 1 John 5:12 the truth is spoken more plainly than anywhere else – “”He who has the Son has LIFE; he who does not have the Son of God does not have LIFE .”
No.6 – Like Paul, we can say “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live now, I live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20). Paul had made his choice and this was a beautiful way to express that choice. We may not be able to say it as well. But, nevertheless, we need to proclaim our choice. It is a choice God leaves to us. He is not an Arm-Twister.
Have you made this choice? Turn the card over. See the hands of Jesus offering you the gift of God’s LIFE. Have you accepted that gift? Or, are you just being religious?
Do you believe that God’s plan is to complete and perfect your life by giving you his LIFE through Jesus?
Do you believe that Jesus came demonstrating the power of that LIFE?
Do you believe that he came to give us this LIFE?
Do you believe in the necessity of repentance so that we can receive the gift?
Do you really believe this gift is for you?
The story is told of a boy who didn’t get along with his father. They seldom talked. They argued when they did. Finally, the boy left home. Bitter. He denied his childhood – denied his father. His father died but before he died, he left a letter to his estranged. alienated son and put it in his Bible. At the funeral, his mother gave him that Bible. The son expected more. He thought it was an unfair gift. His father had been wealthy. In bitter denial, ignorance and avoidance, he never looked at that Bible. One day, in a moment of repentance, he took that Bible out, opened it and saw the letter. In the letter, his father had left him everything. He only had to show the letter to the right person.
We are often like that son. We ignore, deny, and avoid God’s gift. It’s there tucked away in the Bible, waiting for to repent.
Here’s a thought: Look at the card. I meant for you to see the hands of Jesus offering the gift of God’s LIFE. But, perhaps these are your hands?!