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How Christ Redeems Sex in a Broken World

As an author and pastor, Paul Tripp stands out for me as one of the most passionate about what he does. A few years back I heard him say that before he preaches a sermon to an audience, he will first preach it to himself. For him, it is of vital importance to believe what he is going to preach before he steps on the pulpit.

When I saw his new book Sex in a Broken World: How Christ Redeems What Sin Distorts (Crossway, 2018), I knew I was in for a man who has already been cut to the heart by the very book he has written. I was not disappointed.

As early as the preface of this book, Dr. Tripp notes that finishing this book left him “a sad celebrant,” sad because of the sin and idolatry the book has uncovered in his own life but also celebrating because of the glorious hope of the gospel to redeem what sin set out to distort.

The book, with numerous captivating stories, brings to the open the debate which so many Christians have so long confined behind closed doors. Sex is for us a shameful thing to talk about before our children, or even brothers and sisters, yet this is what has led to things sexual getting out of hand. In eleven carefully written chapters, spanning 187 pages, Tripp identifies the sexual insanity of our age as a problem that needs to be addressed head-on—in the open.

Tripp does a masterful job of investigating the root cause of what he calls “the sexual insanity” of this age. In a theologically balanced, yet compellingly honest tone, he weaves the Doctrine of Original Sin into the narrative. Whereas we may say that our problems with sin—generally and sexual sin—specifically—have their source outside of us, this is very far from the truth. We are the problem.

Because of the events of Genesis 3, none of us was left unharmed. The biggest enemy of my sexuality is me. Aside from the fact that we live in a sexually broken world, we are sexually broken people.

“Your behavior is inextricably connected to the thoughts and desires of your heart. People and situations may be the occasion and location of what you do, but never the cause. So when you have done with sex what God says you should not do, you can’t look outside yourself for explanations. You must look inside. If, as Jesus says, you’ve already committed adultery in your heart, it won’t be long before you commit the act with the members of your body. Here’s what these two diagnostic passages tell us: it is always the sin of thought and desire in your heart that hooks you to the evil in the world in which you live. Your problem when it comes to sex is much deeper than an entertainment and media culture that has simply gone crazy. Your problem is the self-oriented, pleasure-addicted insanity that lives inside you and makes you an easy target for the madness of the society around you. Monasteries and boycotts simply don’t create pure living; never have, never will.” (pp. 60-61)

He then ascertains that our attempts at addressing the problems have been too ineffective. When it comes to the problem of sexual sin, the legalism which we have in the past used to address the problem never works. All through the book, the author reminds his readers of the inability of the law to change anyone’s life:

“God’s law is effective in exposing our moral neediness; it works to give us moral tracks to run on, but it cannot transform us. The law has no ability to make our hearts willing and pure. If it could, the Redeemer, Christ Jesus, wouldn’t have had to come to live and die and rise again in our place (p. 144).

“So when I face the deeper struggle of sexual purity, I am not helped just by getting a greater understanding of my sexual self, a clearer awareness of where I am susceptible to temptation, or a better system of accountability. Those things are helpful, but they easily become a way of asking the law to do what only grace can accomplish.” (p. 145)

When it comes to the real solution, however, Paul Tripp is quick to draw us outside of ourselves. Unlike many of the books on the topic which will ground their recommends in legalistic gymnastics such as moral restraint and spiritual disciplines, Tripp rejects that view. He is well aware that the human heart is totally depraved and therefore it would only be disastrous to seek answers in trying harder and getting better.

“Sanity in this area will never be found in trying harder and doing better, because it’s what lives inside rather than outside of you that you most need to defend yourself against.” (p. 51)

He locates the solution from outside of us and this broken world in which we live. For the author, only Jesus Christ and his gospel have the power to redeem what sin ravages. Our answers, therefore, to horizontal problems can only come to us vertically.

For my part, reading this book didn’t leave me the same. As I slowly went through these sentences, God was revealing before me that sexual sin is not a problem ‘out there’ but one that lurks ‘in here’ (in my heart). The book also punched holes in all my legalistic attempts at sexual restraint.

Above all, Sex in a Broken World pointed me outside and up to God who alone is the answer to the sexual insanity that always contests for the throne of my heart that can only be God’s. The assurance in this book is that there is hope for you and me, as we wait in anticipation of salvation between the already and the not-yet, we don’t wait as those who are hopeless. Our hope is sure and it is grounded in the glorious promises of Jesus Christ.

Get the book from AMAZON, BARNES & NOBLE or CHRISTIANBOOK.COM

The Black hole in the Human Heart

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.—Colossians 1:18-20 (ESV)

In the middle of the Earth’s galaxy, the Milky Way is an enormous space called ‘Sagittarius A’ with an extremely high gravitational pull that it will eat up anything that comes its way, including light.

This is what is called a black hole.

There are several black holes in space with intriguing proportions. ‘Sagittarius A’ in particular has a mass of 4 million Suns. According to NASA, it “would fit inside a very large ball that could hold a few million Earths.”

The other interesting thing about black holes is that they never fill up. Sagittarius A, for example, has been eating stuff since the beginning of time but it still shows no sign of stopping.

It still looks as empty as it was in the beginning.

The human heart—however small it may seem—also has a deep hole which has been eating stuff but still feels empty.

Human beings by their very nature cannot live without worth, value, purpose, approval, and identity. A heart which lacks these is an empty one.

What happens then is an attempt to fill this deep empty hole with all kinds of junk in the hope that things will be okay. Money, sex, property, prestige, jobs, spouses, children, acquaintances, and reputation are some of the things which we daily throw into the deep hole of our hearts hoping that the emptiness will go away.

The condition, however, deteriorates instead of improving. The more sex we throw into the deep hole of identity, the more sex this hole will crave.

We feel empty, worthless, tired and inadequate because, since the Fall, we have been trying to forge a fake rest parallel to the one God indented for us to have, hence the restlessness. St Augustine wrote, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

Restful rest is only found God alone, the author of eternal rest.

In his epistle to the Colossians, St. Paul writes that Jesus Christ is the One in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and for that reason he reconciled mankind to God by making peace through his cross and blood.

The empty heart has now been met with divine fullness, identity, value, worth, and approval. It all happened because God has moved in love right our wrongs while we were still fidgeting with worthless self-salvation projects to fill the emptiness in our hearts.

Two thousand years ago, God, in his Son, moved heaven and earth to fill the black hole in our hearts, which he successfully did by dying. United to Christ, we now have full access to God in whom our restless hearts can find rest and comfort. That is the Gospel.

AMEN.

Image: S. Brunier /ESO

God does not Give Second Chances

You have heard it said that “Our God is a God of second chances.”

This is a popular phrase in the church today. I barely get through a testimony without hearing someone talk about a second chance God gave them.

I am not sure if what they always refer to is a second chance, necessarily, or it is a third, tenth, or a nine-hundredth chance.

Sure, we blow it every day. Fair to say, we blow it every microsecond, so I understand all attempts at ‘second-chancism.’ It sounds like Good News, a turning of a fresh page, getting a new opportunity to redo, only that this time we do it better.

At their heart, all attempts at ‘second-chancism’ are aimed at earning salvation from God with our tears, sweat and blood, just like we do every year with New Year resolutions.

When we say that “Our God is a God of second chances,” or when we pray that God gives us a second chance, what we are doing is seize the tools of salvation from God’s hand and get to work at saving ourselves and pleasing God with our ‘trying again.’

Because the culture is in our corner shouting “Don’t give up, be brave,” we go on to put our faith in our ability to do better at pleasing God so long as He grants us that second chance.

In his commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, Martin Luther had this to say:

The true way of salvation is this. First, a person must realize that he is a sinner, the kind of a sinner who is congenitally unable to do any good thing. “Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin.” Those who seek to earn the grace of God by their own efforts are trying to please God with sins. They mock God, and provoke His anger. The first step on the way to salvation is to repent.

Nowhere in the bible do we find God telling his people to try harder and harder until they make it happen. Mr. Miagi in Karate Kid could give his little friend countless chances until he got the job done, but that is not how God operates. He gives us no chances to save ourselves.

He goes at it Himself. It is what the preacher in Hebrews 9:11-14 is saying:

 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

In salvation, God demands perfect obedience to the Law and then moves to perfectly obey the Law on behalf of sinners and sufferers.

God as a giver of second chances is not Good News; it is bad news. When salvation is put in our hands, there can only be death for the bible is clear when it says that we cannot please God by doing stuff (Isaiah 64:6; Galatians 2:16).

Martin Luther adds:

God sent His only-begotten Son into the world that we may live through His merit. He was crucified and killed for us. By sacrificing His Son for us God revealed Himself to us as a merciful Father who donates remission of sins, righteousness, and life everlasting for Christ’s sake. God hands out His gifts freely unto all men. That is the praise and glory of His mercy.

The Good News of the Gospel is that the God of the bible is a God of one chance in His Son Jesus Christ. Christ comes once to offer a Himself as a sacrifice once for all for your sins and mine. That also goes for our spirited attempts to save ourselves through second chances, which is also covered in that one time sacrifice at Calvary.

The Gospel is a story of God coming down in the flesh and doing for us, with one chance, what we could never do with a million chances on our hands.

The 5 Most Popular Articles of 2017

This past year was an eventful one.

A lot of things happened including someone breaking into our office and taking off with our laptop computers. This event in particular dealt a blow to my writing spirit a great deal. All the projects I was working on for The Vertical Life were lost.

That said, the positives outweigh the negatives. There were some great articles published on mategyero.com. These articles are ranked according to views, social media shares and engagement.

Let’s jump right in.

  1. Why “Never Put all your Eggs in one Basket” is Really Bad Advice

This is a popular saying, we are always told to secure our lives, and since eggs break and baskets fall, we need to have so many eggs placed in so many baskets so that we will not lose everything.

But have you thought of the Gospel implications of this idea? That is the goal of the article.

Quote from the article:

“Jesus says that eternal life in the age beyond this one is for those who have given up on control and trying to secure their future using their things, like the rich man. When you desire eternal life, you bring nothing and hide behind nothing; you give up on human initiative and stake your life on God’s initiative—which, by-the-way, doesn’t look safe at all in human terms.”

  1. Why Repent when God Forgave us 2000 Years ago?

There are sects everywhere which peddle all kinds of ideas, one of those ideas is that we were forgiven once and for all and so there is no need to repent. The first part of the argument is fine but the second, wait a minute, with the help of a fictional story involving Aine, Louis and Cleo, let’s reflect on it.

Quote from the article:

“How could Aine know that he needed forgiveness if he didn’t say it? How could he show his desperation for forgiveness if he didn’t ask? He had been forgiven seven years earlier but this forgiveness became true for him only when he asked.”

  1. My Dad and the Grace which Runs Deeper than our Sin

This comes off as the most personal article I have written for this website—I reveal way too much. I talk about my final moments with my dad—Mr. Mategyero—and also reflect on the lows and disgusting places Jesus went to as he preached and demonstrated grace.

Quote from the article:

“Jesus comes to that booth—a place of shame—and calls Levi out. He is not afraid to associate with the outcasts that no one wants to be seen talking to. He leans over the booth and whispers to Levi: “Dude, join my team.” Levi is called as a tax collector not as a reformed man. Christ comes to him in his outcastness and treason and calls him without requiring him to first change. He calls him as he is—dirty and ridden with mixture of shame and national ridicule. In the stench of his sin, Jesus touches Levi’s shoulder and calls him to follow Him.”

  1. The Death of Relationships

We tend to think of relationships in terms of the roles each one plays and how the life of any relationship, be it a marriage, depends on how the other party performs their duties. Husband ought to love their wives while wives also are called to submit to their husbands.

It is however disastrous to put expectation and obligation ahead of gratitude in any relationship. Find out more in the article.

Quote from the article:

“What Paul is trying to communicate is that love in any relationship that seeks to see the light of a new day should always be inspired by gratitude, not obligation. Obligation says, “I will love my wife to the degree that she submits to me”, it also says “I will submit to my husband to the degree that he loves me.” But gratitude says: “Because Christ loved and gave Himself for me, I will love my spouse or anyone without expecting reciprocation.”

“True, heartfelt love and acceptance is a “because….therefore…” affair; not an “if…then…” affair. People who expect to give love after the other party has checked off all the boxes on their checklist of demands demonstrate their failure to grasp the gospel. Because at the heart of our longing for love, there is no amount of love from a spouse, children, parent, relative or colleague that will ever fully and finally satisfy our hunger and longing to be loved.”

  1. Sleep Until Something Happens

This is a creative reflection on the biblical event called The Transfiguration. You remember when Jesus and a few disciples were on the mountain and Jesus was praying, and all of a sudden Moses and Elijah show up? Well, the disciples were sleeping, which was a good thing. Find out more in the article

Quote from the article:

“You see, God sends us to sleep for a reason: He can put things right without us. Just like He did to Adam in creating the Woman, God sends us to sleep so that He can do the work. I think that is why he created us last, after the beetles, mice, mosquitoes and chickens. He didn’t need our ideas on giving the mouse a fifth leg so that it can run faster or giving bigger thigh muscles to mosquitoes. He kept us asleep in His plan of creation.”

  1. Why the Gospel Makes so many People Angry

I grew up in church and I know for certain that there are people inside church who detaste a gracious God. They rather hear about how they gave in last Sunday than a sermon on a God who gives gifts to the unqualified. Find out why this article resonated with most of my readers.

Quote from the article:

“The offense of the gospel is that it accepts these riffraff without requiring them to first change. To add salt to injury, the gospel does not ask for a guarantee that they will change after they are accepted. The gospel just opens its doors and lets it the riffraff, the beggars and fools in to eat and drink until they are full, without a coupon. Not just that, it asks them to stay as long as they want because this party is for always.”

11 Advent Quotes to Feed Your Anticipation for Christmas

Advent is that time of year when we make our final turn leading up to Christmas. Around this time, we feed on the promise of God to one day send the ‘seed of the woman’ who will crash the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). Advent is the coming to life of that promise told in a variety of ways and through the lips all Old Testament prophets.

Below are some quotes from books, the hymnal and the prayer book to awaken you to the Good News of the coming of the Messiah.

  1. He comes to us in the brokenness of our health, in the shipwreck of our family lives, in the loss of all possible peace of mind, even in the very thick of our sins. He saves us in our disasters, not from them. He emphatically does not promise to meet only the odd winner of the self-improvement lottery. He meets us all in our endless and inescapable losing.—Robert Capon

  2. “Christmas is fast approaching. And now that Christ has aroused our seasonal expectations, he’ll soon fulfill them all!” St. Augustine of Hippo

  3. “Come, Almighty to deliver, Let us all thy life receive, Suddenly return, and never, Never more thy temples leave. Thee we would be always blessing, Serve thee as thy hosts above, Pray, and praise thee without ceasing, Glory in thy perfect love.”— Charles Wesley

  4. Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent; one waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other- things that are of no real consequence- the door is shut, and can be opened only from the outside.”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  5. “The Kingdom of God is the already but not yet.”― R. Alan Woods

  6. “O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny From depths of Hell Thy people save And give them victory o’er the grave Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.”— Douglas L. Rights

  7. “God travels wonderful ways with human beings, but he does not comply with the views and opinions of people. God does not go the way that people want to prescribe for him; rather, his way is beyond all comprehension, free and self-determined beyond all proof. Where reason is indignant, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps us away: that is precisely where God loves to be. There he confounds the reason of the reasonable; there he aggravates our nature, our piety—that is where he wants to be, and no one can keep him from it. Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  8. “Let deeds of darkness fly Before the approaching morn, For onto sin tis ours to die, And serve the Virgin-horn.”— Paris Breviary

  1. “Veiled in darkness Judah lay, Waiting for the promised day, While across the shadowy night Streamed a flood of glorious light, Heav’nly voices chanting then, “Peace on earth, good will to men.”— Ancient Antiphons

  2. “Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.”—Book of Common Prayer

  3. “Into this world, this demented inn in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ comes uninvited.”― Thomas Merton

You Are Not What You Do

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”— Colossians 3:12-13

From all sides, the world shouts one thing: You are what you do. Your value, identity, and worth are determined by your ability to perform before others. Beauty, expertise, prestige, success, good behaviour, right-standing, influence, prominence, property, etc are the things we use to determine who we are.

Our success, or lack of, is foundational to how we see ourselves. We are what we do.

From the verses above, the temptation is to try to anchor our identity, value, worth, meaning, purpose, and ultimately, our salvation in the behavioural attributes that Paul lists, such as compassion, meekness, kindness, patience, humility, forbearing and being forgiving.

This is what we always do because this broken world we live in continues to preach to us that we are what we do.

Not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s opening statement in the verses above is your true identity: “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved…” Before God, you are chosen, holy and beloved. It’s not about what you do for yourself, but what God in Jesus Christ has done for you.

You see, according to the Gospel, your identity and salvation are anchored in Jesus’s perfect performance on your behalf. It is because of that performance that you have been transferred from being a person of the world to God’s chosen one; from unholy to holy; and to one who is loved by God.

It is from this new identity that good works flow. In other words, the behavioural traits Paul lists in the verses above are produced by your new identity and right standing before God, not the other way round.

To put it differently, your identity as “God’s chosen one[s], holy and beloved” is the root from which the fruits (compassion, meekness, kindness, patience, humility, forbearing and forgiveness) flow. Obsessing with fruits (for example, kindness) will not make you more patient, rather, you will become obsessively impatient because the law can never inspire what it demands (Romans 8:3-4).

This is the Gospel: You are not what you do, you are what God in Jesus Christ has done for you—free of charge. It is only from what has been done for you that what you do grows.

What if God Allows Suffering?

Facebook has become for me a theological ‘battle-ground.’ Unlike the pictures which are meticulously filtered, the ideas are never filtered. The biggest debate this week has been that of the sovereignty of God. It may seem pretty obvious to you that God is in control, “of course He is,” you might say, but it may not be that obvious.

Someone came out and asserted that God is not fully in control—in other words—He is partially sovereign over the cosmos He created. Their reason: God cannot allow suffering, pain, disease, car wrecks, wars, etc. He argued that all this bad stuff we see around is evidence that God is not sovereign. “God is really good, He can’t do that.”

But, what if God allows suffering?

In his book, The Reason for God, author, and pastor Timothy Keller attempts to respond to those who use evil and suffering as evidence against the existence of God. This does not tackle the question at hand head on but, none the less offers some helpful insight into what we are dealing with. Keller, first of all, traces a fallacy in this kind of reasoning. To him, this kind of reasoning is blind faith. “Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean that there can’t be one,” he writes.

He then draws on the bible account of Joseph (Jacob’s son) who was sold into slavery by his brothers who could not stand his arrogance any longer. Through bondage and misery, his character was refined, and he went on to save thousands of lives, his family inclusive.

What caught my attention was the account Keller gives of a parishioner who lost most of his sight in a shooting:

“I knew a man in my first parish who had lost most of his eyesight after he was shot in the face during a drug deal gone bad. He told me that he had been an extremely selfish and cruel person, but he had always blamed his constant legal and relational problems on others. The loss of his sight had devastated him, but it had also profoundly humbled him. “As my physical eyes were closed, my spiritual eyes were opened, as it were. I finally saw how I’d been treating people. I changed, and now for the first time in my life I have friends, real friends. It was a terrible price to pay, and yet I must say it was worth it. I finally have what makes life worthwhile.”

It’s interesting that this man sees God’s hand in what happened to him. If this man could find something good in his suffering, so can many of us. I can also add that if we cannot see any good reason why God can allow suffering, it does not mean that God, from his divine perspective, does not see one.

27 Lessons from a 27 Year Old

On 7th October, this past Saturday, I turned 27 years of age. Along the way, I have learned a lot majorly through failure. Here is a trimmed list of 27 lessons from a 27-year-old.

Life

  1. I am more sinful than I can dare believe (Genesis 6:5; Psalm 51:5 ) but God is more gracious than I can dare imagine (Romans 3:23-25; Hebrews 8:12)
  2. Stop trying to chase 35,000 dreams when you have one life to live. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and pick something you are passionate about, then do it—and do it well.
  3. We are born to die. The earlier you discover this, the earlier your life will find meaning.
  4. Failure is not what they told us it was, it is not something to avoid but one we should make our daily teacher.
  5. While everyone wants to be famous, no one wants to do the dishes.

Knowledge

  1. Strive for intellectual curiosity. Read blogs every day and at least a book every month, then ask yourself this question: What did I learn this week/month?
  2. Learn from people who are better than you. Sit at their feet and shut up.
  3. Listen to podcasts–a lot of them. Avoid YouTube videos.
  4. Trash the selfie stick and replace it with a pen.
  5. Carry your notebook to the shower; it is a labour ward for great ideas.

Dreams

  1. A true dream is one that is bigger than you, the dreamer.
  2. Have you a dream? Want to be a writer? Start now. Open up blogger.com and start writing. They say that water does not begin to flow until the faucets have been opened.
  3. Is your work creepy? Keep going, even butterflies are born ugly.

Friendship

  1. Your true friends are defined by what they do for you when you are not around, i.e., dead.
  2. It is good to have friends but it’s even better to become a friend.

Love

  1. Love is not earned, it’s free.
  2. Marry the one you love so that you will love the one you marry. (I heard that from a movie)

Purpose

  1. No one is born without a purpose.
  2. Our primary purpose is not to be something but to receive something–salvation (grace and mercy) from God.
  3. The theological why to all life’s whats and hows has to be the Gospel. In other words, the only inspiration in life should be Jesus’s work on behalf of sinners and sufferers.

Law and Gospel

  1. The Law of God is holy and perfect. It also reveals to us what God is like–perfect and in turn shows me the depth of my sin.
  2. The Gospel is not what we do or what God has called us to do.
  3. The Gospel is solely God’s work.
  4. The Law may demand that I obey, but only the Gospel can produce in me the desire to obey.

Sin

  1. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.
  2. No one has the power to defeat sin, God Himself is the only One able to defeat it on our behalf.

Plans

  1. Resolutions are a way to atone for the mistakes committed in the past year.

[Bonus] Manifesto

  1. Whatever you do, live by a code. I live by the Ragamuffin Code: [Lord] Have mercy on me a sinner.

Image: Unsplash/ Ryan Holloway

Martin Luther: The Distinction between Law and Gospel

But you ask how it can be the fact that faith alone justifies, and affords without works so great a treasure of good things, when so many works, ceremonies, and laws are prescribed to us in the Scriptures?

I answer, before all things bear in mind what I have said: that faith alone without works justifies, sets free, and saves, as I shall show more clearly below.

Meanwhile it is to be noted that the whole Scripture of God is divided into two parts: precepts and promises. The precepts certainly teach us what is good, but what they teach is not instantly done. For they show us what we ought to do, but do not give us the power to do it. They were ordained, however, for the purpose of showing man to himself, that through them he may learn his own impotence for good and may despair of his own strength. For this reason they are called the Old Testament, and are so.

For example, “Thou shalt not covet,” is a precept by which we are all convicted of sin, since no man can help coveting, whatever efforts to the contrary he may make. In order therefore that he may fulfil the precept, and not covet, he is constrained to despair of himself and to seek elsewhere and through another the help which he cannot find in himself; as it is said, “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thine help” (Hosea 13:9). Now what is done by this one precept is done by all; for all are equally impossible of fulfilment by us.

Now when a man has through the precepts been taught his own impotence, and become anxious by what means he may satisfy the law–for the law must be satisfied, so that no jot or tittle of it may pass away, otherwise he must be hopelessly condemned—then, being truly humbled and brought to nothing in his own eyes, he finds in himself no resource for justification and salvation.

Then comes in that other part of Scripture, the promises of God, which declare the glory of God, and say, “If you wish to fulfil the law, and, as the law requires, not to covet, lo! Believe in Christ, in whom are promised to you grace, justification, peace, and liberty.” All these things you shall have, if you believe, and shall be without them if you do not believe. For what is impossible for you by all the works of the law, which are many and yet useless, you shall fulfil in an easy and summary way through faith, because God the Father has made everything to depend on faith, so that whosoever has it has all things, and he who has it not has nothing. “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 9:32).

Thus the promises of God give that which the precepts exact, and fulfil what the law commands; so that all is of God alone, both the precepts and their fulfilment. He alone commands; He alone also fulfils. Hence the promises of God belong to the New Testament; nay, are the New Testament.

This is an excerpt from Martin Luther’s “Concerning Christian Liberty.” It was edited for clarity.

Your God is Ugly

“And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.”—Luke 15:14 (ESV)

The two sons in the parable of the prodigal demonstrate before our eyes the futility of giving ultimate worth to anything smaller than the Jesus of the Bible.

The younger son, who came peddling his Father’s death certificate before he could drop dead, showed that what he needed the most was not his Father but the Father’s things.

The older son also obeyed, not out of love for his Father but for his Father’s things.

Luke’s account tells us that the younger son got the things. We also learn that the things never saved him.

The god of the younger son was not enough for him. The things got used, and he began to lack again. The emptiness in him that he thought the things will fill became even wider. His god was finite and ugly.

To illustrate the ugliness of this god, you need to think about a bucket full to the brim with water. If you started scooping water out of that bucket, you would run it dry, one way or another.

That is what happens when we put our hope, trust, security, identity, worth, value and salvation in things that perish with use.

They run out.

In the end, we are left wailing, enslaved in enemy territory, destitute, smelly and ugly like the gods we trusted to deliver us in the first place. Even the pigs will not share their food with us because we are ugly.

On the other hand, the God of the bible is different.

He is like an ocean. From age to age, He never runs out; He never runs dry. He is infinite. He offers a sure salvation, but above all, He is beautiful and makes beautiful.

Christian, we have Autism

“We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.”—Psalm 78:4 (ESV)

Autism is a rare disorder.

Children who suffer from it spend all their time focusing on a small aspect of their life. It may be a button on their jacket.

An autistic child can, for the whole day, restrict their attention to the button. They will do just that—repeatedly.

What therapists do for these children is disconnect them from the narrow focus the disorder restricts them to by making them look up in the sky.

When it comes to miracles, all Christians are autistic.

We have drawn conclusions of what qualifies to be a miracle and what doesn’t. Miracles are essentially the big things, the ones we will talk about during testimony time in our prayer meetings and heads turn. Anything short of that is not a miracle, we have concluded.

We focus on one aspect of life and close out everything else.

When we restrict our attention to the “extraordinary,” we miss a God who works in ordinary ways. We forget that the God of the Bible works and saves through ordinary means. He also gives Himself to us through the ordinary means of bread and wine. When we overlook the ordinary, we miss all the things God is doing in our lives.

We miss the miracle that woke up this morning.

We miss the miracles that we have people who love us.

We miss the miracle that God has given the opportunity to hear and believe His Gospel.

We miss the miracle that our children are able to go to school and graduate with degrees.

We also miss the miracle that we are able to give our children in marriage.

Yesterday as I was running late on my commute to work, I found a taxi which was to cut traffic jam by way of using a different route. Was that a miracle? Absolutely!

When I got to town, I found another taxi which needed just one passenger to hit the road. Was that a miracle? Because I’d be sitting waiting for it to fill up, it was a glorious miracle.

Miracles have their place in our daily grind. It is in the sweat of toil, the patience of parenthood, the perseverance in faith, the pain of suffering, dinner with a new neighbour, and the serenity of family quiet times that God works. Miracles happen every day.

What we need is to look up and see how vast the universe is. Until then, we will not be thankful for the miracle that we are alive today.

AMEN.

How to Become Better without Selling your Soul

The colonial education system was one way colonialists instilled order in the people they controlled. For the best part, schools—like the Police and the prison services—ensured that colonised people knew who runs the place.

The only way one could become better in such a school system was by submission whether you liked the program or not. Some pupils were good at doing the program while others always messed up.

What inspired improvement in school was the terror which the teachers were known for. There was always a saying that the backside (akabina/ekibunu) belongs to the government and so the teacher was free to whip his learners. All the time, we obeyed because the whip was always in view.

Our obedience was a result of fear. We didn’t like what was being imposed on us but it was easier to obey than endure the agony of punishment.

Terror-inspired obedience is always grounded in insecurity. Obedience is meant to earn something—respect, approval, favours, acceptance, and love. You can’t become better this way, you instead become a lunatic who is a good person when the guy you fear is around but when they are away, you become something else.

This is the kind of obedience legalism produces. A legalist treats God as a hungry bookkeeper out to get everyone who is cheating on the taxes. Such a God carries carrots for the good boys and girls, and sticks to whip the bad ones. Obedience under such a God is through fear—the fear of the heinous things that God will do to them.

Paul in Romans chapter 6 demonstrates a different kind of God, one who takes the initiative. He puts on flesh to do what we have all failed to do.

“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” (Romans 6:20-22, ESV)

This kind of God graciously hangs on a tree, with nails through His hands and feet, but shouts “forgive them.” In His pain, He sees our pain instead, and dies so that we will live. For us who were once slaves to sin because of Adam’s transgression (which was imputed to us), He by faith makes us slaves to righteousness, again by imputation. All this happens after He has accepted our sin—far and wide—to be imputed (credited) to Him. The God of the bible deals in only one currency—grace.

It is from this free gift of grace which none of us deserves that is now our new identity. We are children of God who now call Him Father. His love for us attracts us to him, not the other way round. And this love alone can transform our lives.

The root of His justifying work at Calvary births in us a fruit of obedience. It is out of his love and mercy towards us who deserve wrath and damnation that obedience springs. Paul says that Jesus’s saving work leads to sanctification—which is theological word for becoming better. Being better, in the Christian sense, starts with Jesus, any other thing that promises results apart from Jesus is fake.

His love for us alone has the power to make us better. No elbow grease, no sweatshops, no treadmills, just sheer grace. Trust Him alone above everything else this world promises, you never know, some fruits may pop up in your life for the glory of His name.