Episode 1. God Has a Plan
They say that old habits die hard. It’s true. And it’s even truer about bad habits. Have you noticed how difficult it is to get rid of bad habits. Some … me included … some would say, it’s …
They say that old habits die hard. It’s true. And it’s even truer about bad habits. Have you noticed how difficult it is to get rid of bad habits? Some … me included… would say, that it’s virtually impossible. So, what bad habits do you need to get rid of out of your life?
THE POWER TO CHANGE
We’ve all been there. There is this one bad habit that we just can’t seem to get rid of. There’s this one … no, let me start again. Let’s call a spade a spade. There is this one sin that we just can’t seem to get rid of. That’s better – sin. That’s the right word. I know that some find that word just a tad confronting, maybe even anachronistic; a bit old-fashioned, irrelevant in this day and age, and I understand that.
If we focus on today, our lives here and now, it can seem just a bit irrelevant; but if we zoom out, and look at our lives as a whole, we can see how our sin (the bad things we’ve done) has left a trail of destruction in our lives and in the lives of others. Zoom out a bit further and look at the whole world, and you can see how sin – the sin of men and women and even young folk – is tearing families and societies and nations apart.
Now twist the lens some more and zoom out even further, and look at the whole of the history of humanity, and the thing that’s wrecked a great world and a great plan has been what? The sin of humanity: The hatred; the selfishness; the anger; the wars; the exploitation; the genocide …
Think about it. God gave us a perfectly good world in which to live. I mean, He’s given us an amazing world: An amazing universe in which to live. He’s created each one of us so incredibly: The way our bodies function; the incredible talents and gifts and potential that each one of us has, and yet somehow, humankind has been on a course of self-destruction. Whether down in our personal lives or in the geoclinal events that are sweeping the globe today, the destructive power of sin is as plain as the nose on my face and yours. You just can’t miss it. Its effects are totally devastating
And yet we kid ourselves that somehow, our personal little brand of sin, whatever that may happen to be, doesn’t really matter. I’m not such a bad person; I mean, really I’m not. Okay, I get this wrong and I get that wrong, but I’m not that bad. Everybody’s entitled to one or two bad habits, aren’t they?
Well … you see how easy it is to rationalise our own personal sin when the truth is that the cumulative effect of my sin and yours and everyone else’s is what sets us on a course to destruction. Do you see how easy it is to downgrade our sin, and write it off as just a bad habit?
So deep down, we know that sin is sin, even if we don’t’ like to admit it to ourselves, and what’s more, we use the sin of others as our excuse to escalate our sin and get revenge. The problem is (call it sin; call it a bad habit; it’s the same thing) that try as we might, we can’t seem to shake it. It’s entrenched. It’s deep-graven in our flesh. We know the difference between right and wrong; we know what’s right to do; it’s just that we can’t seem to do it. Have you noticed?
The reason for that is that it was always meant to be like that. The reason for that is that God wants to have a relationship with us and the only way, the only way that that’s going to happen, is through what He does, and what He has in point of fact already done for us, not through what we do for ourselves.
Have a listen to this. It was written by the apostle Paul a couple of thousand years ago. He was writing about this self-same problem that you and I have – the problem that even though we know what’s right, we can’t seem to do it. Romans 7:21-23:
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what’s good, evil lies close at hand. You see, I delight in the law of God in my innermost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
That’s rather a good question. Who indeed? Well our first response, yours and mine, is to get a handle on our sin. When we finally do and decide for ourselves, ‘You know what? I just have to do better. I just have to stop sinning. I have to overcome this one bad habit that’s totally ruining my life: My anger; my gossip; my jealousy; my smoking or my overeating or’ … whatever other addiction happens to be plaguing us.
It’s just that it never works. In fact, that’s exactly what Paul goes on to say just a few verses later in Romans 8:3-4:
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, couldn’t do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and to deal with sin, He’s actually condemned sin in the flesh so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
So let’s just focus on the first part of that for a moment. God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. In other words the law, a bunch of rules, is completely and utterly powerless to help us to change and get rid of this rubbish, particularly when those rules in effect are weakened by our own sinfulness.
So many people, so many people, believe with all their hearts in Jesus, and yet because they themselves can’t seem to overcome their sin, they live with a constant sense of guilt and condemnation before God. Well, if you know anyone like that, I have some good news for you today.
Who will rescue me from this body of sin and death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! For there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death, because God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, couldn’t do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and to deal with sin, He condemned sin in the flesh so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (Romans 7:25-8:4)
What Paul’s saying there is, the answer is Jesus. The answer is grace, but the grace of God in Jesus Christ is something that you and I struggle to get our minds around because grace is completely unnatural to us.
And that’s why today we’re kicking off a series of messages that I’ve called ‘The Grace Transformation’. The only thing that is ever going to change us, the only thing that is ever going to transform our lives by gradually getting rid of the sin which is so destructive, is the amazing grace of God in Jesus Christ.
“Amazing Grace” is one of my favourite hymns, but every time I sing it, I wonder to myself whether I really grasp what grace is all about. Do you? Do you have a real handle on the amazing grace that God afforded to you by the death of Jesus on that cross to pay for your sins?
I think I’m going to spend the rest of eternity and then some trying to wrap my heart around the grace of God, but as we begin to do that, what we discover is that the transformation and the freedom that we’ve been trying to make happen in our own lives (and failing miserably) just starts to happen of its own accord, as the Holy Spirit makes grace real in our lives.
You have been saved by nothing more and nothing less than the incredible grace of God; the unmerited favour of God; the sovereign decision of God to spare your life and to give you a new start and a new eternity by heaping the punishment that you so richly deserve onto Jesus on that cross. Romans 11:6:
And if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
So just as we spend some time together in this series over the coming weeks, my prayer for you is that the grace transformation that God intends for you will become a reality in your life as you come to know the truth, and that truth sets you free.
There’s a beautiful old hymn called Would you be Free from Your Burden of Sin. Now I’m not going to sing it for you; I would never do that to you, but here are the lyrics of the first verse and the chorus, just as a bit of a reminder.
Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood
Would you o’er evil a victory win? There’s wonderful power in the blood
There is power, power, wonder-working power in the blood of the Lamb
There is power, power, wonder-working power in the precious blood of the Lamb
A great old hymn, one of my favourites. I wonder how often we think about the burden of sin. The incredibly heavy load that it causes us to carry. The word sin as it’s used in the New Testament simply means, ‘to miss the mark’ or as we might put it ‘miss the point’. And the whole point of life isn’t that we should carry around a heavy burden that drains us emotionally and physically and spiritually but that we should live free as a bird to enjoy our lives.
That was Gods original plan, that was the plan that Adam and Eve were living out in their idyllic existence in the Garden of Eden until they sinned. And from that moment forward they had to live out a terrible burden of suffering and sickness, the murder of one son by the other and on it went.
Those are the consequences of sin. They were back then and they still are today and Lewis E Jones when he wrote that beautiful old hymn back in 1899, asked exactly the right question, would you be free from your burden of sin? Well … would you? The sin that dragged you down, the sin that holds you back.
Then listen to me, the only place where you’ll find that freedom is not in your good works, not in trying harder but in the wonder-working power that can only be found in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for you on that cross – the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
And it’s that grace that we’re going to chat about for a few minutes together today and the best way I know to do that is to take you back to a time when the nation of Israel was suffering under the burden of their sin.
It was a terrible time. God had brought them into the Promised Land from their slavery in Egypt. He had set every good thing before them, the land flowing literally with milk and honey just as He does for you and me. And just like you and me these people rejected God. They went their own way, they worshipped their idols, they sinned against Him and so following warning after warning He sent His judgement upon them, He gave them what they deserved.
He allowed the Babylonians sometimes also called the Chaldeans, the largest and greatest world power of that day, to completely destroy Jerusalem and the Temple and kill many and take the rest into captivity. It was a terrible time, those left were taken into slavery in Babylon where they lived out their burden of sin and the sin of their forefathers for seventy years, seven decades.
Imagine what that would be like, being torn from your home, seeing everything around you destroyed and being taken from your freedom into captivity as a slave. Sounds rather dramatic but I imagine if it happened to you it would be devastating. And in a very real sense the effects of our sin are devastating. Homes, marriages, families are being torn apart every day through sin. Lives are being destroyed every day through sin, it’s all around us, look up and see and it’s in us too. Our lives are devastated when we allow sin to reign.
What’s the answer? Who will save us from this body of sin and death? Hard work won’t, trying harder won’t, only grace, God’s grace. And at some point something has to give, at some point something has to change ’cause nothing else works. And at some point something did change for the Israelites who are captives there in Babylon. God came along and changed it. Have a listen, Isaiah chapter 43, just verse 1.
‘But now’ thus says the Lord, ‘He who created you O Jacob, who formed you O Israel; do not fear for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name and you are mine’.
We’re going to spend quite a bit of time in this chapter of the Book of Isaiah over the coming days but for now I want to focus with you on just two words. Here they are ‘but now’. I call it a grace interruption. Life was going along so miserably for those Israelites, those captives as it is for anyone who’s carrying the burden of their sin.
And then all of a sudden along comes God with an interruption, a complete discontinuity of grace, His free unmerited favour that He lavishes on those whom He loves, His people, those who believe in Jesus His Son who died for their sins and my prayer for you today is that you’re going to have a grace interruption just like those Israelites had almost two and a half thousand years ago.
They had no prospect of a future, all they saw was more slavery tomorrow and the next day and for the rest of their lives. But along comes God through His Prophet Isaiah and says. “But now …”
Now despite everything that’s gone before things are going to change. Now despite the fact that all you can see is a bleak future and more suffering at the hand of the sin that’s holding you captive. Now I am going to break into your world, says God, with my grace, I’m going to turn everything on its head, my free unmerited favour is going to flow into your life because I love you, but now …
That same thing that He did for His people, breaking into their slavery to sin and setting them free, is what God wants to do in your life right now, today.
‘But now’ thus says the Lord who created you. ‘Do not fear for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name and you are mine.’ (Isaiah 43:1)
With all my heart I believe that that’s the word the Lord has for you today, NOW. The grace of God, the favour of God in Jesus Christ has come to set you free.
YOU ARE REDEEMED
Anybody who has ever come to the conclusion that they’ve made such a mess of their lives that nobody or nothing could ever, ever, ever make things better, anybody who’s ever been in that place needs to know something, something important … something, the only thing that could ever make things better.
One of the things that Christians do is that they throw around words, words that seem important to them but are meaningless to the rest of us. Worse than meaningless actually, it makes them sound almost like a cult, the blood of the Lamb, sin, salvation, communion, redemption. It’s a pretty long list of in-house jargon that for quite a long time kind of made the goodness of God, the amazing love of God, His grace in Jesus, inaccessible to me, it turned me off religion, to tell you the truth I remain turned off from religion and jargon and rituals. None of those things in and of themselves have ever done anything much or meant anything much to me.
And I guess that the sad thing about all of that jargon is that by using it without explaining it we kind of obscure the power and the wonder of the meaning that lies behind it.The word that I particularly want to focus on right now, not because I want to do some irrelevant word study but because it really matters, is redemption.
What does it mean to be redeemed? Who cares? Does it matter? Is it relevant to our lives today? Well you make up your own mind.
Yesterday on the program, we were talking about a bad time in the life of Israel, a time when through their rebellion against God they found themselves living out the consequences of their sin as slaves and captives to the Babylonians. It was a terrible time. It lasted for seventy years which is almost three generations.
But one day God decided that enough was enough. They’d had enough pain, enough suffering, the direct consequences of their rebellion – their sin, it’s what always happens but enough was enough, it was time to act because God so loved His people beyond measure. Isaiah chapter 43 beginning at verse 1.
But now thus says the Lord who created you O Jacob, he who formed you O Israel, do not fear for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name and you are mine.
See there it is, that word ‘redeem‘, did you pick it up? He goes on to say:
When you pass through the waters I will be with you and through the rivers they shall not overwhelm you. When you walk through fire you shall not be burned and the flames shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. I give Egypt as a ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. (Isaiah 43: 2-3)
So what does it mean to be redeemed in the context of what God is saying there to His people? Well in that context, remember as far as the Israelites were concerned all was lost, they were third generation slaves in captivity with no prospects of freedom. Jerusalem, their capital, lay in ruins. The Temple where the presence of God supposedly dwelt lay in ruins, all was lost, their lives were lost, their future was lost.
But now God comes along and says, ‘Do not fear for I have redeemed you.’
I have brought you back from the abyss. I have lifted you out of this pit, I have restored your future to you. I have saved you from a lifetime of living out the consequences of your rebellion against me, aka your sin. I have removed the burden of your sin from you.
And notice with me if you will the tense of the verb ‘redeemed‘. It’s not future tense. God’s not saying ‘I will redeem you one day’. It’s not even present tense, ‘I am redeeming you today’. It is in fact past tense, it’s a completed act, it’s a done deal, ‘for I have redeemed you’ says the Lord.
Now just imagine what they, the Israelites, felt when they heard the great Prophet Isaiah declare that to them. ‘But now’, says the Lord, do not fear for I have redeemed you’. They would have been confused. Hang on a minute, right now I’m still a slave, right now the Babylonians are still the dominant global super power on the planet, nothing’s changed.
And yet this isn’t just anyone saying this, this is after all the Prophet Isaiah. What do I do with this? How do I process this? The Word of the Lord and the evidence of my circumstances are in total conflict and opposition to one another so what do I do now? Which one do I believe, Gods Word or my circumstances?
That is pretty much the dilemma that we all find ourselves in pretty often. It looks like the burden of our sin will never leave us. The consequences will never go away and yet the truth is that in Jesus, just as the Israelites were redeemed through God’s Word and in subsequent chapters in the Book of Isaiah you actually see how all that plays itself out. Just as they were redeemed so have you and I have already been redeemed, already plucked from the pit of our despair by the grace of God.
The free, unmerited, unlimited favour of God who doesn’t want us to live out the punishment and the consequences that we so richly deserve but who wants to set us free to be all that we can be for His glory.
Romans chapter 5 beginning at verse 6:
For while we were still weak at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed rarely will anyone die for a righteous person though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
Much more surely then, now that we’ve been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his light. But more than that we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)
It’s a done deal! It’s past tense. Whatever it is that’s going on in your life at the moment, whatever exile and captivity and slavery that your rebellion against God has been brought upon you, I want you to hear this very good news. The very Word of God for you today is this, ‘Do not be afraid for I have redeemed you .I have called you by name and you are mine.’
Where there’s a conflict of evidence between your circumstances and God’s Word, God’s Word wins. God’s Word always wins.