Is God Ever Unjust?

Today I’m sharing from John MacArthur’s Grace to You blog.

Is God Ever Unjust?

by John MacArthur

Have you ever considered the stark contrast between Judas Iscariot and the thief on the cross? One was a close disciple of Jesus Christ and gave three years of his life to the best, most intensive religious instruction available anywhere. But he lost his soul forever. The other was a hardened, lifelong criminal who was still mocking everything holy while being put to death for his crimes. But he went straight to paradise forever.

The difference in the two men could hardly be more pronounced—nor could the endings to their respective life stories be more surprising. Judas was a disciple in Christ’s closest circle of twelve. He preached, evangelized, ministered, and was even given power “over all the demons and to heal diseases” (Luke 9:1). He seemed like a model disciple. When Jesus predicted that one of the twelve would betray Him, no one pointed the finger of suspicion at Judas. He was so thoroughly trusted by the other disciples that they had made him their treasurer (John 13:29). They evidently saw nothing in his character or attitude that seemed questionable, much less diabolical. But he betrayed Christ, ended his own miserable life by suicide, and entered into eternal damnation laden with horrific guilt. Christ’s words about him in Mark 14:21 are chilling: “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

The thief on the cross, on the other hand, was a career criminal—a serious enough villain that he had been sentenced to die by the slowest, most painful form of capital punishment known to man. He’s called a robber in Matthew 27:38—the Greek word there speaks of a brigand or a highwayman. He was crucified with a partner—both had been slated to be executed along with Barabbas, an insurrectionist and killer (Luke 23:18–19). All of that indicates that the thief on the cross was part of a gang of cutthroat ruffians who stole by violence and lived by no law but their own passions. He was clearly vicious, mean-spirited, and aggressive because in the early hours of the crucifixion, both he and his cohort in crime were taunting and reviling Jesus along with the mocking crowd (Matthew 27:44).

But as that thief watched Jesus die silently—“oppressed . . . afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7)—the hardened criminal had a remarkable last-minute change of heart. Literally in the dying moments of his wretched earthly life, he confessed his sin (Luke 23:41), uttered a simple prayer: “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42)—and was ushered that very day into paradise (Luke 23:43), clothed in perfect righteousness, all his guilt borne and paid for in full by Christ.

Apparent Injustice

Those who think heaven is a reward for doing good might protest that this was throwing justice out the window. The thief had done nothing whatsoever to merit heaven. If it’s possible to forgive such a man so completely in the dying moments of a wretched life filled with gross sin, wouldn’t it also be proper for Judas’s one act of treachery to be canceled (or mitigated) on the basis of whatever good works he had done while following Christ for three years? People do occasionally raise questions like that. The Internet is dotted with comments and articles suggesting Judas was dealt with unfairly or judged too harshly.

Judas himself seemed to be the type of person who kept score on such matters. He protested, for example, when Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with a costly fragrance. He knew the precise value of the ointment (equal to a year’s wages), and he complained, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” (John 12:5). He no doubt would have thought that the grace Jesus showed the thief was inappropriately extravagant as well.

People who have devoted their lives to religion do sometimes seem to resent it when God reaches out and graciously redeems someone whom they deem unworthy of divine favor.

Justice vs. Grace?

What we have to bear in mind is that all people are totally unworthy. No one deserves God’s favor. We are all guilty sinners who deserve nothing less than damnation. No one who has sinned has any rightful claim on the kindness of God.

Read the rest here.

Outrageous Grace

Outrageous Grace

By Lee Strobel

“This is embarrassing,” my friend said to me over the phone.

“That’s okay,” I assured him. “Go ahead. You can tell me.”

He sighed. “Well, we found out our little girl shoplifted a book from the church bookstore. We were really surprised because she’s a good kid. Anyway, I was wondering whether you would help us out with something.”

Frankly, I was relieved the news wasn’t more serious. “Sure,” I said. “What can I do?”

“We’d like you to represent the church so she can come in and apologize,” he replied. “Maybe you could figure out some sort of restitution. We want to use this as a teaching moment.”

I agreed to help, but I have to admit I had an even bigger lesson in mind.

The next day, the parents and their eight-year-old daughter walked hesitantly into my office and sat down. The girl was so small, she was almost swallowed up by the chair. Her eyes were downcast; her mood was somber.

After I exchanged some pleasantries with her parents, I sat down on the edge of my desk so I was facing the girl. As gently as I could, I said to her, “Tell me what happened.”

She hesitated, her lower lip quivering. “Well,” she said as she started to sniffle, “I was in the bookstore after a service and I saw a book that I really wanted, but I didn’t have any money.” Now tears pooled in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. I handed her a tissue, which she used to dab her eyes before continuing.

“So I put the book under my coat and took it,” she blurted out, almost as if she wanted to expel the words as fast as she could so they wouldn’t linger. “I knew it was wrong. I knew I shouldn’t do it, but I did it. And I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again. Honest.”

She was so contrite that it broke my heart. “I’m glad you’re willing to admit what you did and say you’re sorry,” I told her. “That’s very brave, and it’s the right thing to do.”

She nodded slightly.

“But,” I continued, “what do you think an appropriate punishment would be?”

She shrugged her shoulders. I knew from her parents that she had already thrown out the book to hide the evidence. I paused for a moment, then said, “I understand the book cost five dollars. I think it would be fair if you paid the bookstore five dollars, plus three times that amount, which would make the total twenty dollars. Do you think that would be fair?”

“Yes,” she murmured, though I could see fear — almost panic — in her eyes. Her mind was whirring. Where was she going to come up with twenty dollars? That’s a mountain of money for a little kid. She didn’t have the five dollars to buy the book in the first place, and suddenly her debt had spiraled completely out of sight.

At that moment, I got up and walked behind my desk. Sitting down, I pulled open the top drawer. The little girl’s eyes narrowed. She couldn’t figure out what I was doing. I pulled out my checkbook, picked up a pen, and wrote a check from my personal account for the full amount that she owed. I tore off the check and held it in my hand. Her mouth dropped open.

“I know there’s no way you can pay the penalty that you deserve,” I told her. “So I’m going to pay it for you. Do you know why I’d do that?”

Bewildered, she shook her head.

“Because I love you,” I told her. “Because I care about you. Because you’re important to me. And please remember this: that’s how Jesus feels about you too. Except even more.”

With that, I handed her the check, which she grabbed and clutched to her heart. She simply blossomed with a look of absolute relief and joy and wonder. She was almost giddy with gratitude. The same little girl who had slinked into the office under the weight of shame now left lighthearted and skipping.

I don’t know how God ultimately used that teaching moment in her life. But I do know this: once a person, even at a young age, experiences a taste of the kind of grace offered by Christ, it leaves an indelible mark on the soul. Who could resist being attracted by the forgiveness and unmerited favor extended by Jesus?

This is one of the greatest dimensions of the unexpected adventure. The message we convey isn’t based on condemnation or shame. We’re not offering people a life sentence of hard labor to try to somehow make themselves worthy of heaven. Instead, we have the privilege of telling people how they can find complete forgiveness as a free gift that was purchased when Jesus died as our substitute to pay for all of our wrongdoing — past, present, and future.

“Grace means there’s nothing we can do to make God love us more,” writes Philip Yancey in his classic book What’s So Amazing About Grace? “And grace means there’s nothing we can do to make God love us less. . . . Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love.”

Wow! When I try to let that sink in, I’m just as overcome with gratitude as that little girl. At the same time I feel a renewed desire to let others know about this incredible message of redemption and reconciliation. After all, with good news like that, how could we possibly keep it to ourselves?


From Investigating Faith by Lee Strobel

The Bible: The Word of God

This article was originally written in 1951 and was republished in the March 2019 issue of Decision Magazine.

The Bible: The Word of God

By Billy Graham

This article was originally written in 1951.

The Bible is being discussed today more than ever before. Some people want to get rid of it completely. Some want to keep it just as literature. And many, believing it to be God’s Word, want to live by it. Does the Bible have anything to say to us?

THE CONSTITUTION OF OUR FAITH

The United States has a constitutional form of government. A number of men, after long argument and debate, drew up the Constitution and submitted it to the 13 Federated States for ratification. The presupposition of these framers of the Constitution was that law was absolute.

People in the United States were to be free, for they were to know what the law required and also what the law could not do. They were to know their rights, their privileges and their limitations. No judge was to be unfair but was to judge cases as the law required.

People found that if they knew the law and kept it, they would be truly free. They knew where they stood, for constitutional law made it clear.

The Bible is the constitution of Christianity. Just as the United States Constitution is not of any private interpretation, neither is the Bible of any private interpretation. Just as the Constitution includes all who live under its stated domain, without exception, so the Bible includes all who live under its stated domain, without exception.

God’s laws for the spiritual world are found in the Bible. Whatever else there may be that tells us of God, it is more clearly told in the Bible.

Nature in her laws tells of God, but the message tells us nothing of the love and grace of God. Conscience, in our inmost being, tells us of God, but the message is fragmented. The only place we can find a clear, unmistakable message is in the Word of God, which we call the Bible. 

True Christianity finds all of its doctrines in the Bible; true Christianity does not deny any part of the Bible; true Christianity does not add anything to the Bible. For many centuries the Bible has been the most available book on the earth. It has no hidden purpose. It cannot be destroyed.

The Bible has a magnificent heritage. It has 66 books, written over a period of 1,600 years by more than 30 writers, and yet the message is the same throughout—so clearly that the 66 books are actually one book.

The message, in every part, is straightforward. No writer changed his message to put his friends in a better light. The sins of small and great alike are frankly admitted, and life is presented as it actually is.

THE CENTER OF CONTROVERSY

The Bible has been the anvil upon which the critics have worn out their hammers. Critics claim the Bible is full of forgery, fiction and unfulfilled prophecy, but the findings of archaeology have corroborated rather than denied the Biblical data.

Our faith, which is not dependent upon human knowledge and scientific advance, has nevertheless presented a magnificent case at the “bar of knowledge.”

How many times we have heard someone say, “Why, the Bible contradicts itself!” Very few who make that statement have used the family Bible for more than a storage place for pressed flowers.

The first requirement placed upon critics is that they read carefully every chapter of the Bible. They ought also to know something about how we got our Bible, the miracle of its writing. Biblical history is fascinating and makes us appreciate the Book that has been preserved for us to this day.

If you are setting yourself up as a critic, it is your responsibility to read and know both sides of the question. It is significant that very few Bible critics have bothered themselves to read the literature available on the defense of the Bible, much less the Bible itself.

The Bible will always be the center of controversy.

Read the rest here.

Polka Spotted

Polka Spotted

By Pat Knight

Among our three grandsons visiting Christmas day, the 5-year old suffered a fully developed case of chicken pox. The disease had no regard for person, place, or time; no indication it was interrupting our celebration of the birthday of the King. The chicken pox boy endured long enough to unwrap his Christmas gifts before he collapsed on the couch for the remainder of the day. Occasionally a whimper erupted from his direction as he tried to resist the complete lethargy and generalized soreness that accompanied the disease.

Our grandsons coined the phrase ”polka spots” for the skin lesions populating his body, including his lips, throat, inside his nostrils, and on the soles of his feet. The generalized outbreak of chicken pox, if blended together, had the potential to change his skin color. As I performed a close inspection of the polka spots on his back, it occurred to me that God could devise a method of registering our transgressions; a pox assigned for each sin. Over our lifetime, I wonder if we would have enough room on our bodies to register all of the pox? Thankfully, God does not choose any means of broadcasting to the world the mistakes we make. Sin is a private matter between God and the believer. Never does He make our indiscretions known to others. He has promised, “‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more’” (Hebrews 8:12).

If we are wronged by another person, we remember the incident to prevent similar hurt again, applying what we’ve learned, but not for the purpose of retaliation. God assures us, “‘I am he who blots out your transgressions, for my sake, and remembers them no more’” (Isaiah 43:25). Our Lord is not interested in flaunting our sins to the world. Once we repent of our sins and he redeems us, he destroys sins’ memory, never to be retrieved. Our God is patient and long-suffering, identified by justice and loving kindness. “‘I have swept away your sins like a cloud. I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist’” (Isaiah 44:22, NLT).

The Son of God’s death on the cross paid all debts in full to redeem our sins. God is not interesting in brow-beating; His forgiveness is merciful and full of grace. Conversations and dealings with us are held in strictest confidence, never to be revealed. Our Lord is kind and compassionate. “O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help” (Psalm 86:5, NLT).

In some societies slaves wear collars to identify their status and their owners. As Christians, our uniqueness is displayed by our love of God and our fellow traveler. No physical marks are necessary. We exhibit an outward manifestation of inner peace and joy, secured by hope in an unfailing God. Job, who suffered untold physical and mental anguish, said, “‘Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him’” (Job 13:15).

 

“He was pierced for our transgressions.
He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Believers in Jesus Christ do not require a distinguishing physical mark. Rather than brand us as His followers, God expects us to minister for Him with our speech and actions. “Just as the body is dead, without breath, so also faith is dead without good works” (James 2:26, NLT). Our external actions reflect our heart’s allegiance.

If we yell from the rooftops our love for God, we would be summarily labeled as wacko. But, if in our daily lives we consistently display the love and peace of God, our positive actions and benevolent outreach will impact many lives, including our own.

People also listen to what we do not say. Non-verbal communication sometimes speaks louder than words. If we refuse to be controlled by anger, resentment, or bitterness, others take notice. Are we active listeners, conveying a sense of importance to others? “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19).

Our goal is to be a conspicuous Christian, to imitate Jesus and His actions. The slogan so popular with Christian teens years ago, “What Would Jesus Do?” (W.W. J. D.), is still an appropriate question for us to consider prior to decision-making. We are commanded, “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God” (Eph. 5:1-2, NLT).

Let us evaluate whether we exhibit joy and patience amidst the disappointments and losses in life. Are we able to cling to our faith in Jesus when all hope seems lost? Are we patient and long-suffering when awaiting answers from God? Others observe confidence, joy, and gentleness as correct responses to unpleasant situations, those features that cancel negative behavior in every scenario.

Unlike the Nazi practice of tattooing Jewish prisoners in concentration camps or the fanciful idea of a chicken pox for each sin, as followers of Jesus Christ, promises are the only brands we will ever receive from our Lord. His words are believable, His love magnificent, and His gifts generous beyond our imagination. Polka spots represent a hurtful, temporary disease. Give God your sins and He will exchange them for an abundant life on earth and a home in heaven forever and ever!


[Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons]

A Cracked Pot

A Cracked Pot

By Pat Knight

In God’s Word, our lives are compared to clay pots, both of them fragile. Physically and emotionally we are weak vessels, easily injured. “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?” (Romans 9:21).

The woman was incarcerated in a federal penitentiary where she learned to love her Lord. Though she must serve her sentence for repeated crimes, she clung to God’s promises. She knew she was God’s creation, but she felt like a cracked vessel, flawed and sinful. Eventually she learned that there was a remedy available for the many fissures in her life. She presumed that if she were really made of clay, her cracked and crazed veneer could be repaired with glue, restoring her vessel for use. She believed God would function as her glue, forgive her sins, and repair her broken heart.

Rejoicing in her new-found freedom of healing and forgiveness, she sang praises to her Savior. Imagine being sentenced to a correctional facility and rejoicing for the positive developments in one’s life! She was joyful because her daily life depended on God’s promises. She accepted His unconditional love in exchange for her fragile, crumbling, vessel of clay.

In Macedonia, the apostle Paul intervened to heal a demon-possessed slave girl. No one thanked him for performing the miraculous healing; in doing so he eliminated the ability of the slave owner to profit from fortune-telling. There was such uproar among the town’s people due to this encounter that Paul and Silas were ordered to be beaten. After they were severely flogged, they were thrown into prison. About midnight, exhausted, bleeding, and suffering intense pain, Paul and Silas began praying and singing hymns to God. Nothing could quiet their joyful spirit. Suddenly a violent earthquake shook the very foundations of the prison, opening the doors of the cells and loosening the prisoners’ chains.

God was at work even in the dark, dank dungeon.
As a result of the apostles’ testimony to God’s goodness,
the jailor and his family came to believe in God.
Paul and Silas were released the next morning by government officials.

God delights in mending the little and big breaks in our lives. In the process, He strengthens us beyond what we can imagine. We observe the newness he has created from our previously broken-down lives. Though Paul and Silas were bruised and bleeding, God’s powerful love transformed their attitudes and healed their lacerated skin and bruised muscles resulting from the beatings.

Job sat among the ashes of the local dump heap, scraping his head-to-toe boils with a broken piece of discarded pottery. Before Jesus claimed our damaged lives we were all destined for the trash pile. We had no usefulness or merit. Breaking any of God’s commandments served to further crack our life’s fragile vessel, rendering us ineffective in carrying God’s love and light to others.

When our lives fall apart from multiple sins that weaken the outer veneer and threaten to eviscerate, Jesus is still at work in our hearts. Our ordinary, fragile, clay vessel is elevated in stature by the immeasurable value bestowed by our Savior.

The secular standard for measuring life’s worth is normally judged by the self-defeating attitude of the amount an individual contributes to society. We cannot earn God’s love. It is unchangeable and unconditional. He reaches out to us when we have no more to give; when we are spent and exhausted from our attempts at self-righteous living. God merely calms our efforts, instructing us to trust and depend upon Him as He repairs our broken spirit, damaged hearts, and physical ineptness. “We are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10). Only with the healing and peace of God can we reach our full potential in this world.

Jesus, our Savior, peers directly into our hearts and ascertains our motives. The woman serving her time in prison is aware of a great truth:

God is able to supply all of her needs,
including rehabilitating her life and repairing her fragile vessel.
Would it be so improbable for those of us who are unencumbered
by the stringent demands of prison life,
to share the same hope?

Let us sing and rejoice like Paul and Silas, the courageous and obedient prisoners of centuries ago. Grasp the truth that joy is not dependent upon our circumstances. Joy is an attitude that spontaneously erupts when Jesus resides in our hearts!

Hate What God Hates

This is an excellent article by Franklin Graham from the October 2017 issue of Decision Magazine.

I recently had the privilege to pray for our nation and its leaders at a gathering led by President Donald Trump.

I asked for God’s help and wisdom for our president and Vice President Mike Pence, along with our congressmen as they attempt to help steer our troubled country through some very turbulent times.

America has flaunted its sexual immorality to the world. We’ve neglected many of the poor and suffering and are guilty of much injustice, pride and self-indulgence. We are broken spiritually, adrift morally and divided politically and racially—following whichever direction the bankrupt culture seems to drive us.

Sadly, the voices of hate have grown increasingly loud and insulting, and it was my prayer then and now that God would silence these voices like he shut the mouths of the lions when Daniel was hurled into the den.

While those hateful voices have been raised on both sides of the political aisle, we must realize that ultimately what is transpiring in our nation is an increasing hatred of God, His Word and His ways.

In my lifetime, I have never seen such blatant and incessant animosity toward Christ and His followers. We should not be surprised, because the Scripture tells us that if they hated the Lord Jesus Christ, they surely would despise those who worship and serve Him.

I think of the recent ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Bremerton, Wash., high school football coach Joe Kennedy. For eight years, Coach Kennedy took a knee and prayed silently after games. But in 2015, he was suspended by the school district when he refused to discontinue his prayers, and his contract was not renewed.

The federal appeals court said in their appalling ruling: “When Kennedy kneeled and prayed on the 50-yard line immediately after games, while in view of students and parents, he spoke as a public employee … and his speech therefore was constitutionally unprotected.”

Can you believe it?

Read the rest here.