How did you become who you are today? Are you the person you envisioned you would be 10 years ago? We are all products of our past, aren’t we? Every one of us have been shaped and moulded to be who/what we are today. We have made thousands of decisions to end up where we are and doing what we do. Some things have happened unexpectedly which was out of our control, but we are responsible for the majority things. Along the way, we have made both friends and enemies. We have been let down and have let others down. The country we live in dictates our ‘cultural-norm’ which we adapt and conform to. How we were brought up as children, by enlarge, has shaped how we behave as adults. The morals we were taught, we pass on to our children. Some have had terrible parents or none at all. Some were brought up by a single parent. Some would say they had fantastic parents while others wouldn’t. Some people grow up to be just like their parents while others react unfavourably towards their upbringing and become the opposite. We have all been affected and shaped by times of tragedy, happiness, pain, illness, by people, opportunities, scenarios and circumstances. We are all different, but there is one thing in common with all of us: we are all sinners and live in a broken world – a world of undeniable beauty but also of incredible pain. We are all products of our sinfulness who have been affected by a sinful world and there is nothing we can do about it!
The Beginning of Change
The Bible teaches that we have a sinful nature (Rom. 5:12). We were born sinners (Psalm 51:5), it is deep within us (Mark 7:23), it is the problem of our heart (Matt. 5:28) and no one is without sin (1 John 1:8). Our spiritual state is that we are dead in our sin (Eph. 1:2). More than that, there is nothing we can do to change these facts because we are slaves to sin (John 8:34). We will always have an unhealthy desire to sin (Gal. 5:19-21). Sin is sin, big or small – all have fallen short of God’s expectation and standard (Rom 3:23) and God cannot and will not tolerate sin (Habbakkuk 1:13). Every sinner has to be punished (Rom. 2:12) because God is just (Psalm 25:8:14). The penalty for sin is receiving an eternal punishment from the wrath of God by being cast out from his presence and glory forever to a place called Hell (2 Thess. 1:9; Matt. 25:46).
Having said that, God is loving, merciful, kind, gracious and compassionate. There is one Man who is without sin, and that’s the divinely incarnated Son of God; Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:22). God the Son became man (John 1:1-4; Phil. 2:5-8) to live a life that no other person could live – a sinless and obedient life fully pleasing to God (Matt. 3:17). He was without a sinful nature and satisfied God’s desire for man to be obedient to him by enjoying absolute communion with him. As the only innocent, sinless, blameless, guiltless and shameless one, he was the only person who could offer himself up as our sacrificial substitute. Just like the Old Testament sacrifices and offerings had to be unblemished, spotless and of the choice grain (Ex. 12:5; Lev. 22:20-22), Jesus is the unblemished, spotless and chosen Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Paul told the Corinthian church that “for our sake he [God] made him [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).
The sixteenth century reformer Martin Luther called this the “Great Exchange” – that on the cross, Jesus exchanged our sin for his righteousness. Sinners can be counted as righteous and therefore inherit the rewards and glories of Heaven as heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17) by escaping the eternal wrath of God because Christ took upon himself our sin and was punished in our place satisfying and absorbing God’s wrath—the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2; 4:10). His death occurred on the Friday, but on the Sunday he rose from the grave (1 Cor. 15:3-5) thereby conquering death, sin and Satan with all his demons. Evil was conquered with God’s good news. After forty days, Jesus ascended into Heaven securing a place for God’s people—those who have repented of their sins and trusted in him by faith alone (John 3:16; Acts 3:19; 20:21). We have therefore been reconciled to God through the atoning death and life-giving resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord, God, Saviour, King and Redeemer (Rom. 5:10).
2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Not only has Jesus provided a way for us to be forgiven of our sins, but we have been given a new identity in Christ because we now have unity with him – we are no longer condemned as sinners (Rom. 8:1) but are hailed as his chosen people. We are free from sin and have been given a new purpose, a new meaning and a new life. We live now for God, no longer for sin. We worship God, not idols. We desire to be holy above anything else and want to please the Lord more than anyone else because he has given us the greatest gift: the gift of salvation through Christ. We have been transformed by the power of the Gospel of Christ. We are continually being changed and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. We are sealed by the Spirit for eternity. We no longer belong to the world but are citizens of Heaven (Phil. 3:20). The old has passed away and the new has come. We are born-agin. We are new creations. We are eternally saved. We are free to worship and praise our almighty and loving heavenly Father through the merits of his Son by the enabling and indwelling power of the Spirit. It is truly fantastic!
Paul says that we have an old-self and a new-self. He tells the Colossians: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator” (Col. 3:9). He confronts their sin by appealing to their newness of life. Why would we continue in sin, when we have been shown a better way? Likewise, John tells us to stop making a practice of sinning (1 John 3:9). We are to put to death our sin and live for God through Christ, by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:12-13). Our spirit has been brought to life by the living Spirit of God. By God’s grace we have been justified, are being sanctified and will be glorified (Romans 8:29-30).
We have been given a new spiritual life, but we’ve also been given a covenantal promise of a resurrected body to dwell forever with the Lord in the New Earth. The Lord will “make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Our future is bright and glorious, regardless of any suffering, affliction and pain that we might experience in this life. Jesus will wipe the tears from our eyes (Rev. 21:4). He will seat us on his throne (Rev. 3:21). The church shall be presented to Christ as his bride (Rev. 19:6-10; 21:2) and given the crown of life (1 Pet. 5:4). We will be higher than the angels (Heb. 1:13-14). There will be no more pain or suffering (Rev. 21:4). Thirst and hunger will be a thing of the past (Rev. 7:16). Everything will be perfect as he is perfect (1 John 3:2). There will be no more sin (Rev. 21:27). Satan will be defeated once and for all (Rev. 20:7-10). God’s people, the church, will be glorified with the him forever and ever (Rom. 8:30; Col. 3:4).
Christians are called to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus (Heb. 12:2), for “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). The author of the letter to the Hebrews says we are “surrounded by so great a could of witnesses” who have gone before us. It’s as if we are being ‘egged-on’ as we run this race by those (the witnesses) who have already finished the race, fighting and striving to finish the race ourselves in the strength of God.
Not only has our past, present and future sins been dealt with. Not only do we a have a future promise of a new life in the new heavens and the new earth. Indeed, God has forgiven us all our sins. But, we have also been granted a new way of life for the present—in this world—that the sins which have been committed against us and the hurt we’ve brought others doesn’t need to affect us the way it has in the past. If we are free from our bondage to sin, then the effects of those sins can also be dealt with.
Many of us have been hurt in a lot of ways. Some still feel the effects of abuse, whether it was through violence, sexually abuse, abuse within marriage, mistreatment at the workplace, divorce, bullying, or some other way. People are affected by illness, whether it be cancer, paralysis, blindness or some other disability. Some are afflicted with poverty – up to their eyes in debt. Maybe anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or another mental illness is causing intense suffering. Perhaps you’re grieving a loved one’s death which can have life-long effects upon one’s emotional and cognitive stability. We live now in momentary pain but have been given a new way of dealing and responding to these problems, which I want to discuss.
Here are 6 ways the Bible teaches us to lead better lives in light of the fact the we have become new creations in Christ Jesus:
1. Jesus Understands
There is comfort in knowing that Jesus experienced the same pains and sorrows that we experience. He suffered just like we suffer. He became poor (Luke 9:58). He suffered emotional distress and intense distress (Matt. 26:36-46). He grieved the loss of loved ones (John 11:35). He was bullied, mistreated and violently abused to the point of being gruesomely murdered. Therefore, God himself understands the sufferings that humans experience as one who has endured it.
The chief purpose of a Christian’s suffering is to produce in us steadfastness, perseverance, hope, to develop our godly character (Rom. 5:3-4) and to make us more holy until our eventual restoration (1 Pet 5:10). James tells us to “count it all joy” when we “face trials of various kinds”(James 1:2). Going through seasons of suffering tests our faith. Will you draw yourself closer to God, or bitterly turn from him when you suffer? Let’s not forget that the suffering we endure now shall one day be eclipsed by the eternal glory that is to come (2 Cor. 4:17).
Not only does Jesus understand human suffering, but he also understands what it is to be tempted to sin. Satan did his best to tempt Jesus in the desert at his weakest physical point, but failed miserably (Luke 4:1-13). Jesus in his perfection and impeccability refused every temptation and remained sinless as Hebrews 4:15 explains: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
It should be said, however, that even though Jesus possessed both a divine nature and a human nature, he was not tempted by any inward desire to sin, because he did not possess a sinful human nature. He wasn’t tempted internally, but externally by the temptations of Satan and the world (James 1:14). He was tempted by someone else’s desire to see him fall. God cannot be tempted (James 1:13) because his desire is not for sin, but for holiness. Christ in his incarnation temporarily confined himself to the world – to live as we live, to be tempted as Adam and his descendants were tempted, but to die for our sin and to rise victorious as the glorified Son of God; the Saviour of the world. In him, we are given the strength to refuse temptation because he holds the power to refuse sin (1 Cor. 10:13).
2. Avoid Sin
Sometimes, our suffering comes as the result of our sin. For example, if I murder someone, I will suffer the consequences in prison. We are likely to suffer the loss of friends if we gossip about them. Being caught lying about someone will affect their trust in you. Families are torn apart if adultery is committed. We let people down when we don’t do the right thing or fail to do what we should do. Peter says “let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler” (1 Pet. 4:15). Basically, don’t let your suffering come as a result of your sin. Jesus never suffered because of his own sin for he was without sin. But he did suffer because of our sin. By setting us free from sin, we need to declare war on our own flesh by continually seeking to fight our sinful desires through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sent to be our Helper.
The cross of Christ dealt with the eternal consequences of sin, but our sins still have destructive effects in the present. If ever we do suffer because of our sin, the immediate reaction should be to repent—to turn from our evil ways and trust in the death of Christ that our sins have been dealt with—the debt has been paid. Having repented of sin, receive the Lord’s forgiveness and push on. Put your hands to the plow, and don’t look back (Luke 9:62).
3. Welcome Persecution
It’s no secret that Christians will endure persecution. Persecution is the unjust suffering of a Christian when he/she proclaims Christ crucified as the only means of salvation. Whether persecution comes in the form of name-calling, bullying, discrimination, violence or even death, we should not be surprised at this (1 Pet 4:12). Persecution is inevitable for the Christian. We should not be actively seeking persecution, for that is unnecessary and foolish, but we should not be shocked if the world hates us (John 15:19; 1 John 3:13).
Persecution, as church history shows us, will often result in the Gospel being spread. All of the Apostles except for John were martyred for their faith and the result was tremendous. Standing firm in the face of persecution can have a profound effect upon those who persecute you. This was the case with Robert Jermain Thomas of Llanover who was martyred on the shores of the Taedong River whilst taking Bibles to Korea in 1866. It proved to be a powerful event in the spread of the Gospel throughout Korea.
Paul tells us to bless those who persecute us (Rom. 12:14) and Peter says that we are blessed if we are persecuted (1 Pet. 3:14). Persecution is an opportunity for us to proclaim the word of God and to glorify him (1 Pet. 4:16) for we have no need to fear man because God is with us (Psalm 23:4). Remember, if the world hates you, know that it has hated Christ first and that he willingly suffered the unjust persecution as one who was without sin to ultimately free us from the wrath to come.
4. Facts trump Feelings
Even though I believe that I have been saved from my sin and enjoy a relationship with the Lord, I have often felt far from him. I don’t always feel a nearness to God. When I’m troubled, praying can often feel hopeless as if no-one is listening and no-one cares. But feelings are unreliable. Feelings are important but can sometimes blur out the facts. The fact that God loves us will never change. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He is our comforter, he cares for us and hears all our prayers regardless of how we feel. But our feelings can cause us to doubt whether God really loves us.
When I’m on a date-night with my wife, I feel really close to her. It’s intimate, we can talk and enjoy each other’s full attention. We are happy and experience a closeness which feels wonderful and lovely. But we wouldn’t love each other any less if we were thousands of miles apart from each other. Whether we’re near to each other or far away, our love for each other does not decline. How I feel at any given time doesn’t affect the love I have for my wife. It’s a fact that we’re in love. As nice as it is, I don’t have to experience that feeling of closeness and being loved all the time to know I am loved. Likewise, if there has been a disagreement between us, it can arouse a feeling of momentary anger, disappointment or sadness – but even then, we still love each other. Feelings are temporary, while the facts concerning our relationship are permanent.
Similarly, we encounter seasons of wonderful spiritual blessings when we feel a closeness to our Lord through prayer, Bible study, fellowship and by meditating upon his word. But there are times when it becomes more difficult to do these things because we might not ‘feel’ close to him. Let’s never forget that if we don’t feel close to him, the fact is that he is right here with us all the time. God’s promises do not change. The declaration of his love for you is certain – he does not change his mind. God is the same, all the time, he is unchangeable.
5. There is Healing
The Bible, especially the four Gospels and the book of Acts, is full of accounts where God has healed people of sickness, paralysis, disease and demon possession. Jesus even brought people back from the dead. God shows compassion to some by saving them from their sins and shows compassion to even less by healing them of physical illnesses. If God does not heal your paralysis, your cancer, disability or anything else, it does not mean he loves you any less than someone who has received healing. It means that he has a different plan for you. If it takes years of suffering for you to be saved from eternal destruction, then that is far better. If it means that you suffer paralysis to understand that he loves you, then paralysis you shall have. Seems contradictory doesn’t it, that you should experience pain to understand the love of God? With healthy bodies, many ignore their spiritual health; with wealth in the bank, many fail to save up their riches in Heaven; by the comforts of worshipping idols, many neglect to worship the Creator. The magnificent fact is not that we should suffer to know God’s love, but that Jesus himself should endure a greater suffering and pain in our place to show the true extent of God’s love for us.
I have known a lot of Christians who have thanked God for their sufferings because it has forced them to lean on the Lord in a far greater way than if they hadn’t have endured that specific period of suffering. This doesn’t mean that suffering in and of itself is good, only that God is good. God is greater than your suffering. He is so good that he can use our sufferings to sanctify us in a greater way than if he just healed us from our afflictions.
Moreover, Jesus said (Matt.5:29-30): “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” In other words, it is better to suffer temporarily in this life than to suffer eternally in the next.
If your healing does not come in this life, it will certainly come in the next. God has revealed his infinite love through the atoning death of Christ and will bring his work to completion at the second coming of Christ. God’s children will be healed eternally of all their sin, pain, afflictions, suffering, illnesses and disabilities. It is the Lord’s desire that the church should benefit from the glories of Heaven because he is gracious, merciful and kind to his chosen people.
6. There is Divine Help
Having become new creations in Christ Jesus, we are not left to fend for ourselves. God is our permanent help in time of need. He keeps us, sustains us, empowers us for ministry, speak to us, guides us and disciplines us. He has revealed himself as our Father and calls us his children. We are adopted into the heavenly family through the merits of our big brother, Jesus (Heb. 2:11; Rom. 8:29; Mark 3:34). Through Christ, we are granted unlimited and unconditional access to the whole Godhead.
Jesus told the disciples in the upper room a few hours before he was betrayed by one of them and handed over to be crucified that he would send the Helper—the Holy Spirit. He said: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:16-17). Jesus tells them that when he would leave this world, they (we) would not be alone. The Holy Spirit, who is one with Jesus and the Father, would be sent to “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26b). He has come and is still here—he came at Pentecost where the Church was founded and thousands came to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour (Acts 2).
Our help comes from the entire Godhead through the Holy Spirit. He regenerates us and give us the gift of faith to believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He convicts us of our sin and leads us to repentance. He justifies us through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. He dwells in every believer and declares war against our flesh to make us a holy people. He gives us ample reason to rejoice in the hope we have been given. He equips us for ministry by giving us spiritual gifts to enable us to fulfil the great commission. He ministers to us through the scriptures. He helps us to pray, especially when we find it difficult. He seals us for eternity—ensuring that we will persevere until we are called home to be with the Lord. He sanctifies us by aiding us in our battle against sin. He empowers us to resist the temptation which comes from our fleshly desires, Satan and the world. He gives us strength in our weakness and comforts us in our sorrow. The Holy Spirit is God, he is perfect, infinite, eternal and cannot fail at any task. With God, we are victorious and nothing is impossible!
The challenge for all of us is to apply this knowledge to our lives practically. What does it look like to actually live new lives as new creations with a renewed outlook? I believe the conscious point of change in a converted person occurs at the moment he/she realises they are forgiven. At that moment they internally understand and has grasped the Gospel – that the slate has been wiped clean and that they’ve been given a new beginning. With the acceptance of forgiveness comes a change of heart and an altered way of thinking. Suddenly, you’re free to respond to past sins and how you’ve been hurt by others differently to how you’d respond and deal with them before.
For example, your past sexual sins have been forgiven, so you are free to forgive any sexual sin that has been committed against you. The relationships that have been broken between us and others can be mended because the bitterness in our hearts has been removed. I have seen the Gospel heal people’s alcohol and drug addictions. God is mighty to save and is mighty to heal the effects of past sins. We might still feel the effects of these sins, but the damage can now be healed. The process of healing can take time, but it can be done.
When we realise the grace that God has shown us, we actually want to mirror that by showing grace towards others. Jesus calls us to love our enemies as we love ourselves (Matt. 5:43-48). Forgiving others of their trespasses becomes a wonderful duty and a fantastic opportunity to witness the Gospel to others. Unfortunately, reconciliation isn’t always possible, but the choice to forgive another person lies solely with you.
Let me be clear as I make a distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation. It is possible to forgive someone who has hurt us, but isn’t always wise to be reconciled. For example, forgiving a man for committing a sexual sin against you takes a lot of grace, humility and strength, but that doesn’t mean you need to meet with him for coffee and become best friends – that’s not a good idea.
I watched a video online of the father of a murdered girl tell his daughter’s murderer, Gary Ridgway (the Green River Killer), that he is forgiven during the court hearing. Ridgway had murdered approximately 49 girls/women and at the court hearing, one relative after another came forward to express their hatred toward him. Ridgway kept a straight face throughout the hearing, until one of the victim’s father told him that he had forgiven him. Ridgway’s lip started to quiver until he could no longer hold back his emotions and began to weep. What happened was profound: the father extended grace to his daughter’s killer; someone who did not deserve to be shown such favour. It takes an incredible amount of strength and humility to carry out such a selfless act, but it didn’t mean that the two were reconciled in the sense that they would play chess with each other as if nothing had happened. It meant that the father’s hatred, bitterness, anger, disgust and grudge could be removed and that the killer would benefit from one less person hating him, all because Jesus exampled this at the cross.
Some people’s reactions were to ridicule this father for showing such a despicable man an act of mercy when Ridgway had shown no mercy towards his victims. But others can understand why this man would extend an arm of grace to Ridgway because we too have received an even greater amount of grace through the atoning death of Jesus Christ; the innocent God-man becoming a substitute in the place of a people who have committed sins which carry an eternal weight of deserving punishment. The girl’s father didn’t forgive Ridgeway because he deserved it, he forgave him because God forgave him for his own sins. How great and merciful our God is!
So, even when forgiveness is possible, reconciliation is not always possible. Grace is required to forgive, but wisdom is required to discern when we should seek reconciliation with others. This should lead us to be all the more thankful to the Lord that he does reconcile us to himself. No sin is too big, and none of sin’s effects are so devastating that they can’t be used by God to bring about something far more glorious. We have been given a new way of thinking about others and we have received a new way of responding to people when they hurt us.
We have received forgiveness from the Lord through repentance, therefore, it’s our duty to forgive others (Matt. 18:21-22; Eph. 4:32). I have heard pastors argue that we are only required to forgive someone when they apologise to us. This is preposterous. God chose to forgive us while we were still sinners, meaning when we were not prepared to repent (Rom. 5:8; Eph. 2:5). The only reason we repent in the first place is because God chose us before the foundation of the world to be recipients of his grace (Eph. 2:8). It is not our own doing, it’s God’s gift to an undeserving people. The whole reason for forgiving someone is in order to show grace, love and mercy toward someone who doesn’t deserve it. So, it is a duty, but also a privilege to be able to reflect something of God when we love those who don’t love us.
Written by: Pastor Gwydion Emlyn