Our Best Advocate Ever

At some point in our lives, most of us will have needed someone to speak on our behalf. Be it as a defenceless child, an unwell adult, an accident victim, or being accused of something, we need an advocate. In those times of vulnerability, being unable to say or do what’s needed to assist or release ourselves, an advocate who intercedes on our behalf becomes our saviour.

Advocates can be drawn from family, friends, work colleagues, or legal representatives. Regardless of who it is, there is one thing they all have in common; they speak and act in our defense. They set about achieving a beneficial result we cannot accomplish for ourselves. Consequently, they often become our heroes.

We read in 1 Samuel 14, of the time when Jonathan unwittingly violated his father’s vow not to eat food until the enemy was conquered. Consequently, King Saul, being full of self-righteous indignation, was determined to kill his son Jonathan to satisfy his vow. But Saul was confronted by an unexpected advocate in defense of Jonathan, when the people of Israel interceded for Jonathan’s life (1 Samuel 14:43-45). The people proved to be more honourable than the king by saying, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day. So the people ransomed Jonathan, so that he did not die (1Sa 14:45).

But the greatest advocate by far, is the Lord Jesus Christ. He stood in our place at the cross, paying the full penalty demanded by God for the guilt of our sin. Then, throughout the believer’s life, Jesus continues to advocate with the Father on our behalf. And even when a believer stumbles in sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1).

However, Jesus is no ordinary advocate, as the authority He intercedes with, is based on His satisfaction of God’s justice. He is the propitiation for our sins… (1 John 2:2). As the Lamb of God (John 1:29), Jesus is the only sinless sacrifice for sin ever made, who was provided by God, and has successfully and permanently appeased the wrath of God. Jesus alone has atoned for our sin, transitioning God’s wrath against our sin to a state of calm and peace. Now, with His unique credentials, Jesus continues to speak in heaven on our behalf, maintaining our justification (our declared innocence) and security of salvation.

In Romans 3:25, Paul emphasises that it was Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. Again, it is God’s intention for people to believe these truths, to attach their faith to Jesus who accomplished God’s appeasement on their behalf on the cross. It is personal faith in Jesus substitutional death and resurrection which activates the benefits of Jesus’ advocacy within the individual before God. This begins with the heavenly declaration that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

As believers, we will experience condemnation from others in this world, and from our arch enemy Satan, but NEVER from God! While worldly condemnation comes packaged with rejection, our heavenly advocate secures our acceptance with God. This is the very heart of the gospel, and Paul gives us real-world gospel application in Romans 15:7; Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory. Our heavenly advocate works for us, and within us, enabling His loving grace to defend us, to protect us, to secure us, and to flow through us to others. As always, this is for God’s glory and believer’s blessing. May this be true in our lives today.

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Grace that Grows

In the apostle Peter’s closing doxology of his second letter, he reminds us of a necessary pattern of Christian life that is easily forgotten. Peter personally knew the power of Jesus’ saving grace that patiently persevered through his life. For Peter, grace was never a ‘one shot for life’ deal. No, he knew that just as Jesus continuously applied grace in his life, so he needed to ensure the growth of that grace which would provide ongoing assurance of his faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

For the believer, God’s grace has no ‘expiry’ or ‘use by’ dates. Peter, like us, could never say he’d changed enough, and the Holy Spirit could stop His transforming work of sanctification for greater Christlikeness. Similarly, I’m sure Peter would never say there’s no more ways to be explored for God’s grace to flow through him into others. Grace can never be left alone if we wish to be the channel through which it pours into other’s lives.

Therefore, Peter signs off with the exhortation to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen (2 Peter 3:18). The continuous flow of Jesus’ sourced grace is recognised and experienced as the believer continues to grow and mature in their knowledge of Him. More specifically, Peter implies that we should never give up developing our understanding of Jesus as our Lord, as our Saviour from sin, and as our Christ (Messiah King).

There is an inescapable connection between Jesus’ grace and our knowledge of Him. They are inseparable. One cannot be neglected without the other suffering equal loss. Peter is not referring to an intellectual accumulation of facts about Jesus, as if we were writing an encyclopaedia. He is speaking of knowledge that is more thoroughly understood and equally more thoroughly experienced in the expressions of grace in our appreciation and outward giving of it. Jesus’ grace in an ongoing way is intrinsically intertwined with our daily exploration of the knowledge of Him. 

Peter doesn’t leave us hanging in an endless cycle of pursuit here. No, he points to the God intended destination of grace and knowledge, which is the day of eternity. Our earthly walk has purpose, it has a goal, and that goal is fixed in a future location called heaven, in the eternal presence of God. The child of God cannot grow in grace without growing in real world knowledge of Christ. The combined result will be increasing joyful anticipation of reaching God’s destination.

The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write a similar exhortation in Colossians 3:16-17. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

All this goes to say; to him be the glory. Although we often pray for Jesus to be glorified, I suspect we pray this with little thought to how God would answer it. Here, Peter provides a condensed explanation of how God glorifies Christ. It’s through intentional growth for the open declaration of Jesus’ grace, of Jesus’ truth, and hope for Jesus’ heavenly destination. As Paul says, these realities can only be mined from the written Word of God and fertilised by the controlling presence of the Holy Spirt. By God’s grace, may this be true in each of our lives.

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Suffering – an instrument of God

Two thirds of the way through his letter to the church of Galatia, the apostle Paul reminds the believers of the circumstances through which he first met them. Now, years later, Paul writes; I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel (Galatians 1:6). Sadly, a major shift in the beliefs of the church had occurred because of false brothers secretly brought in to the assembly of Christians with infectious error (Galatians 2:4).

Consequently, Paul’s letter to the Galatians is serious, it’s bluntly to the point as he addresses real compromise and error. Mixed into all the distorted issues that Paul addressed, was the matter of his validity as an apostle, as the messenger of the gospel to Galatia. Because Paul did not come up to the superficial standards of the erroneous ‘super apostles’ (2Co 11:5; 12:11), some were calling everything about Paul into question. So, Paul reminds the Galatians of the God ordained circumstances that brought him into their lives initially, and how they responded to him. It was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first (Galatians 4:13).

Paul had become so sick on his first missionary journey that he diverted to Galatia for a period of recovery. For God to bring the gospel to that area, there was to be no miracle of healing for Paul. Seriously sick with an illness that we are uncertain of, Paul admits that his condition was a trial to them (Gal 4:14a). Yet, overcoming any possible prejudice against him, Paul says they did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus (Gal 4:14b). So compassionate were they, that Paul says if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me (Gal 4:15b). Whatever the illness, it must have severely dimmed Paul’s eyesight, which, for a scholarly man like Paul, would have been debilitating.

Despite violent public rejection, persecutions, and serious physical illness, Paul continued to preach the gospel of Jesus, and a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed (Acts 14:1). Had there been no persecution, no debilitating sickness, and no prolonged suffering for Paul, the church would never have been birthed in that area. Through the inscrutable grace of God, which defies the sensibility of sinful mankind, salvation was enabled in many lives, carried by the gospel enabled vehicle of Paul’s suffering.

At another time, Paul explained to the Corinthians, having asked God three times to remove the thorn in his flesh; God replied No! “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” was the Lord’s response (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul was not a masochist, and yes, he would have preferred suffering to be removed, as do we. But Paul quickly realised the wisdom of God in using His people through the small to great struggles of life to deliver His life giving grace to others.

Our lives, like those in biblical history, are often empowered through suffering to glorify God in ways we never imagined possible. Unsought opportunities for sharing the gospel, living the love of Christ before others, speaking encouragement into struggling believers, or for teaching the truth of God’s Word, are usually provided throughout our suffering. As always, we need to recognise these opportunities for what they are, a grace gift from God waiting to be explored for His glory, and for the blessing of others and ourselves.

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What does it mean to be “born again?”

What does it mean to be “born again?”

In John 3:3, Jesus explained to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Being “born again” speaks of an invisible spiritual new birth, it’s a spiritual renewal or regeneration.

The need to be born again comes from mankind’s natural state of separation from God as hostile sinners (Romans 3:23; 5:12; Colossians 1:21; 2:13). There is no man who does not sin (1 Kings 8:46), and there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

This means, from birth, we are all sinners who are dead in our sin (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:1), considered enemies by God and under His wrath (Romans 5:9-10), waiting final judgement. In humanity’s natural state, we are separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12). Therefore, as sinners, we all need God’s forgiveness and cleansing.

But God, motivated by mercy, and without any assistance from the believing sinner, performs a spiritual washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). God refers to this as being “born again,” which is His act of cleansing forgiveness, renewal/regeneration, and gifting of eternal life to those who receive Jesus and believe in His name. Here, believing sinners are given the right to become children of God… because they have now been born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13).

To believe in Jesus, you agree with God (confess) that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh, fully God while also being fully human. The Bible says, in Christ all the fullness of the Deity (Godliness) lives in bodily form (Colossians 2:9). Next, is to believe Jesus will forgive you of the sin that separates you from God. Belief in Jesus  Christ means depending upon the fact that Jesus himself bore our sins in his body on the cross (1 Peter 2:24). Believe that Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18).

Therefore, it is through being “born again” that God delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Colossians 1:13-14). This means believers are children of God through spiritual adoption because we have received the Holy Spirit of adoption as sons and daughters (Romans 8:15). In Him (Jesus), you also, after listening to the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1:13).

The “born again” person is now forgiven, renewed, gifted with eternal life, indwelt and sealed by the Holy Spirit, adopted into God’s family, and transferred into God’s Kingdom.

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The Goodness of God

Old Testament Moses was no better than anyone else, yet Yahweh desired intimacy in their relationship which Moses didn’t qualify for. As is always the case, the Lord’s loving kindness overrode Moses’ disqualification, and God interacted with Moses in the most spectacular ways. Sinful Moses could not reveal anything about himself to God that God was not already familiar with, but God could reveal Himself to Moses in ways never thought possible.

Exodus chapter 33 records the amazing discussion between Yahweh and Moses, when the LORD said, you have found favour in my sight, and I know you by name. To which Moses replied, Please show me your glory? (Exodus 33:17-18). Theirs was to be a uniquely close relationship mutually enjoyed. But how was God to show Moses His glory in a way that Moses could survive?

As the Lord prepared Moses, He explained, I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD’ (Yahweh). And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy (Exodus 33:19). Notice the sequence, everything of Yahweh would be encapsulated in His goodness. Out of goodness would flow every attribute of the Lord. As the name ‘The LORD’ (Yahweh) was to be proclaimed, Moses would witness brilliant attribute upon attribute of Yahweh’s multi-faceted goodness.

Equally important in the Lord’s revelation of Himself, was for Moses to know with absolute certainty that I will be gracious, and I will show mercy. The accumulative manifestation of God’s glorious goodness would be seen through the diverse expressions of His intentional grace and mercy. Moses needed this, as he was called to lead a rebellious and stiff-necked people (Exodus 33:3) who would never qualify to receive anything good from God apart from divine grace and mercy.

And so it happened. Yahweh preserved Moses’ life by placing him in a crack within a rock face and  covering him with His hand. Moses viewed Yahweh’s back as He passed by proclaiming His name. All of Yahweh’s goodness was revealed, all His grace and mercy were exposed.

As breathtaking as Moses’ experience was, the greatest manifestation of God’s goodness is seen in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. Paul explains in Titus 3:3-5, that Christians  were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour (Jesus) appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.

The entirety of Yahweh’s goodness is experienced through salvation. The gospel is God’s loving conduit through which believing sinners are protected from judgement and transitioned from the state of being a dead enemy (Rom 5:10; Eph 2:1; Php 3:18) under the wrath of God to being forgiven (Col 2:13). They are cleansed (Ac 15:9), adopted into the beloved (Rom 8:15; Eph 1:6), gifted eternal life (Jn 3:16), indwelt by the sealing Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13), and gifted with Christ’s righteousness (1Co 1:30). Such is the extreme nature of God’s goodness in action for unqualified sinners.

May we today, give our heart’s attention to worshipping the Lord for His awe-inspiring goodness. May the Lord give us opportunities to share the gospel of our good God with someone ready to receive  the  mercy only found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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