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

Seven Encouraging Reasons to Pray

Sharing today from Unlocking the Bible.

Seven Encouraging Reasons to Pray

By Colin Smith

It may be in a hospital or at some other moment of crisis, but at some time most people feel that they want to pray. That is true of thousands and millions of people who would never darken the door of a church.

Here is something that the church has to offer. Christian people have something that at some point, most people in our community and in our country will feel that they need—to pray. Christians know how to pray, or at least we should.

But do we know why we pray? Here are seven reasons we pray which are meant to encourage you in your pursuit of Jesus Christ.

1. Pray, because Jesus is our great high priest.

We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God… (Hebrews 4:14)

If I have to engage in an important conversation, I am often grateful to have someone else with me. Is there someone who can come with me who knows the person I will be meeting better than I do?

Remember this is how Moses felt when God sent him to speak to Pharaoh. God sent Aaron with him. Aaron was the High Priest. Who will go with us when we go into the throne room, not of Pharaoh, but of Almighty God?

Hebrews says “we have a great high priest…” Think about this: Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he is there for us. When you pray, you ascend by faith into heavenly places, where Christ is.

Christ is next to the Father, and when you pray, you are next to Christ. He is there for you, and when you speak, he is there with you! He is there, endorsing what you’re saying, placing his name under what you’re asking.

You can come to the Father with Jesus beside you. He is there to support you in your prayer, to back you up in what you are saying, to agree with your prayer because it has already been his own.

2. Pray, because Jesus knows what life is like. 

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15) 

You can’t bring anything to Jesus that will shock him. Nothing that you face is surprising to Jesus. You don’t need to hide anything from him. Think about the humanity of Jesus: He worked in a shop. He grieved. He saw darkness unleashed like no one else ever has. 

3. Pray, because God invites us to his throne of grace. 

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace. . . (Hebrews 4:16) 

Bunyan says, “God has more than one throne…” The throne of grace is very different from the throne of judgment. God invites you to come to the throne of grace! How often would you want to pray, if you knew you were coming before the throne of judgment? 

Read the rest here.

What Christianity Offers that World Religions Don’t

Sharing from the Radical.net blog.

religions2-amp

What Christianity Offers

that World Religions Don’t

By Patrick T. Dolan

Standing behind a row of worshipers in Kolkata, I saw the blackened figure of Kali. Around the idol’s neck lay a garland of skulls. Hanging from her earlobes were earrings draped with dead infants. Her dead eyes stared transfixed and her lolling red tongue revealed her vicious appetite for destruction and blood. At her feet, a man laid the severed head of a goat which was decapitated for ritual sacrifice. As people squeezed into the narrow passageway in front of the idol, their moans and prayers created a cacophony of desperation, but Kali was unable to answer.

Reaching Up in Vain

Almost every major world religion shares a similar story. The details are different, but each tells a tale of human beings attempting to reach up to the divine for purpose, blessing, and hope. Hindus yearn for the gods and goddesses’ blessing, so they offer daily sacrifice at their preferred shrine. Jains aim at perfection through non-violence, but no matter how diligent, negative karma floods their lives like water rushing in a boat with a cracked hull. Sikhs worship the one divine light, but their acceptance is based upon their dedication to a specific code of conduct and diet; however, moral effort cannot heal the corruption of a soul. Islam teaches that people must submit to Allah and perform five religious acts in order to please him, but even then, there is no guarantee of salvation. Buddhists renounce desire thinking they will eliminate personal suffering. They live within rigid guidelines hoping to achieve divinity or nirvana. Orthodox Jews wait for messiah and perform, as much as possible, the religious requirements of the law in hopes of gaining God’s favor.

Read the rest here.

How God Changes Our “Why Me?” Questions in Suffering to “Why Not Me?”

Sharing today from Randy Alcorn’s Eternal Perspectives Ministries (EPM) blog.

How God Changes Our
“Why Me?” Questions
in Suffering to
“Why Not Me?”

By Randy Alcorn 

There was a time when I could not fully accept any explanation for evil and suffering that didn’t make sense to me, start to finish. However, over the years, and through the process of writing my book If God Is Good, I’ve come to trust my own understanding less, and God’s Word more.

I find a strange delight in being swallowed up by the immensity of God’s greatness and by the divine mysteries that once disturbed me. Know­ing that I’ll sit before God’s judgment seat—not He before mine—I choose to trust Him. And the more I do, the more sense the story makes to me.

And I am certain about this: the best answer to the problem of evil is a person—Jesus Christ. I’m convinced He is the only answer. The drama of evil and suffering in Christ’s sac­rifice addresses the very heart of the problem of evil and suffering. And one day it will prove to have been the final answer.

So whenever you feel tempted in your suffering to ask God, “Why are you doing this to me?” look at the Cross and ask, “Why did you do that for me?”

In this excerpt from his 2018 book God’s Grace in Your Suffering, David Powlison writes about how God changes our “Why me?” questions in suffering. (My thanks to Justin Taylor for sharing this ohis excellent blog.)

So often the initial reaction to painful suffering is

Why me?

Why this?

Why now?

Why?

You’ve now heard God speaking with you. The real God says all these wonderful things, and does everything he says.

Read the rest here.

Kindness in Action

Here is a simple rule-of-thumb guide for behavior.
Ask yourself what you want people to do for you,
then grab the initiative and do it for them.
—Matthew 7:12, The Msg.

Kindness in Action

By Pat Knight

In the orthopedic surgeon’s waiting room, several of us were anticipating an X-ray prior to our first post-surgical visit. Seated near me was a man holding a fistful of medicine bottles, nervously rolling them in the palms of his hands. He was muttering angrily in broken English to his companion that he couldn’t understand the necessity of having another X-ray, and he was “planning to tell them so.” Just then, a young, vivacious X-ray technician addressed the distraught man by name and announced, “I’m going to take a quick X-ray before you see the doctor.” With great effort, he stood up, flashing a side-long glance at the technician, as if reconsidering his defiant approach.

The technician offered her outstretched arm for him to grasp, asking, “Can I help you?” Even before he replied, she steadied him as they began walking, cheerfully chatting about the beautiful weather that day. It was apparent the man had reformulated his plan of opposition in response to cheerful kindness. If I were to venture a guess about the outcome, I think they had a pleasant visit, with the man’s anger dissolving as quickly as the melting winter snow on his boots.

In God’s Word, the Golden Rule is the most universally known command guiding our behavior, though not commonly practiced. The rule instructs us to treat others as we want to be treated. One Bible translation takes our responsibility a step further. “Here is a simple rule-of-thumb guide for behavior. Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them” (Matthew 7:12, The Msg.). Since everyone craves kind treatment, it is each believer’s function to disseminate kindness to others. The vehicle of kindness operates with the fuel of cheer, propelled by good works. Imagine what a pleasant world it would be if each individual made kindness a priority.

Some acts of kindness are premeditated when we are alerted beforehand to a need. Joshua secretly sent two spies to the walled city of Jericho to assess how best to attack and capture the inhabitants and the land. The king was apprised of the presence of spies in his city, so he confronted Rahab, a prostitute and innkeeper, as to her knowledge of the stranger’s whereabouts. She admitted the spies had been in her establishment but that they had left before the gates of the city were closed at dusk. Rahab deceptively directed the soldiers to follow the spies toward the Jordan River. In reality, she had hidden the two spies underneath flax drying on her rooftop.

Rahab informed the spies that her people were well aware of the continual miracles their God had performed to rescue and protect the Israelites. She specifically mentioned their knowledge of the parting of the Red Sea, causing the citizens of Jericho to melt in fear because of the Israelite’s God. Rahab professed her personal faith: “‘The Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below’” (Joshua 2:11). Then Rahab offered to help the spies if they saved her family before the city was destroyed. “‘Please swear to me by the Lord, that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you’” (v.12). The spies agreed. “‘Our lives for your lives! If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land’” (v.14). From her window in the city wall, Rahab let the spies down to the ground and instructed them to hide in the hills until the militia abandoned their search in three days.

The mutual kindness between strangers was predicated on trust. For their agreement to succeed, it was necessary for both partners to remain faithful. The spies must remember their promise to Rahab. She agreed to drop a scarlet cord from her outside window to identify the location of her family. Ultimately, all the believers were following the will of God, who orchestrated the perfect plan. “‘I am the Lord who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight’, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:24b). Rahab and her family were saved, she was honored by Joshua, and her name is forever engraved in the lineage of Jesus, the Messiah (Matthew 1:5).

In addition to deliberately planned acts of kindness, we frequently perform random, spontaneous benevolent deeds. We spring into action when a situation presents itself. The moment may not be the most opportune for us, but in that instant we decide that another’s delight or safety is more important than our own convenience.

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late. ─Ralph Waldo Emerson

In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, a man was walking alone on a road with a notorious reputation for sheltering opportunistic robbers who ambushed defenseless travelers. The pedestrian was attacked physically, stripped of his clothes and valuables, and left for dead. Both a priest and a Levite passed the beaten, bleeding man, ignoring him by crossing to the opposite side of the road. A Samaritan, hated by Jews and labeled a half-breed, came to the aid of the dying man. He anointed the man with oil and wine and bandaged his wounds. Then he lifted the stranger onto his own donkey, delivered him to an inn, and personally cared for him. The following day the Samaritan gave the innkeeper enough money to house and care for the stranger until he returned, at which time he promised to reimburse any additional funds he owed. (Luke 10:30-37). The parable illustrates the total devotion demanded by the Great Commandment. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

Kindness is defined as extending tenderness or goodwill; lavishing with happiness and grace. In God’s Word, it is frequently synonymous with love, lovingkindness, or unfailing love, often summarizing God’s covenants with His people. The Lord said, “‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you {to myself} with unfailing kindness’” (Jeremiah31:3).

On earth, Christ showed kindness to everyone He encountered, regardless of their status. It is imperative that we learn the life principle Jesus embraced. When the Messiah was crucified, His body had already been physically abused beyond recognition. Tortured and with His last remaining trace of energy, Christ offered compassion to the criminal crucified on the cross beside Him.

“‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:43). Christ granted kindness during His worst hour. Surely we can express similar outreach to others during our best of times. God expects more than civility in our relationships; He empowers us to adopt Jesus’ attributes. “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12). Our compassion and kindness that imitate Jesus indicate a deep stirring within our inner spirit. True character is revealed when the charity that wells up in our hearts converts to tangible acts of lovingkindness.


All Bible references are taken from the NIV unless otherwise indicated.