Of Halos and Humility

Watching my brother get into trouble with our mother was always great spectator sport for me. Two years his junior, I would smugly look on as Eric squirmed a bit under the microscope of scrutiny in Mom’s court of correction. If I could “help” her make her point, I was more than willing to step up and serve the family in this crucial way. (After all, doesn’t the world need more moralizers?) Occasionally, however, I’d say too much and expose my own culpability, at which point Mom would look at me with her little “you-just-stepped-in-it-buddy” grin and say in a slightly lilting tone, “Paul, your halo slipped.”

It was deserved. What is it about us that loves to load the law onto the backs of others? We did it as children; we do it as adults. We did it as non-believers, and, sadly, we do it as believers, even though we’ve been set free from the power of the law and its shackles of shame. This is nothing new: the apostle Peter addressed the issue before the church council in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, “Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?”1 Why, indeed? So, we receive pardon from our penalties, then referee others from the rule book? There’s something wrong with this; it’s not what forgiveness and freedom are all about.

Is it still important that people under grace live in the ways that are good and right? Absolutely, and the power to do so lies in liberty, not law. “Freedom is not the permission to do what we like but the power to do what we should,”2 observed British historian, Lord Acton (paraphrased here by Os Guinness). We who deserved judgment have received mercy; we who were guilty have received pardon. We who had no right standing before God have been credited with the righteousness of Christ, and we who had no hope live fully and forever in Him. When we renew our minds and think on these eternal realities, what can possibly flow from us but endless gratitude to God and boundless grace toward others?

What happens then inside of us? Judgement fades, and encouragement flows. Blame and accusation of others give way to prayer and petition for them. And the confession of our own sins supplants our condemnation of the sins of others. We tend to our own little “halo” of grace, and celebrate the beauty of theirs.

Thanks, Mom, for the gentle correction. Nice halo, Eric.

God, help me always to remember how the reach of your grace extended to the depth of my sin. May my freedom in you yield understanding, mercy, and care toward others. In the name of Christ, I pray. Amen.

Christ in me is freedom.

[Click here to read today’s Scripture in Acts 15:6-11.]

1 Acts 15:10
2 Guinness, Os. A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future. InterVarsity Press. Downers Grove, Illinois. 2012.

Faith Beyond Belief!

A man once said to me, “I have a hard time accepting the idea that God will only let me into heaven if I believe a certain thing or a certain way. So I live my entire life and, at the end, it all comes down to whether or not I believe something to be true? I’ve seen big changes in my friends and family members who believe, so I want to believe, but I have a hard time accepting this.” The man’s openness was refreshing, and I completely understood his skepticism. For if belief is nothing more than admitting the truth of a matter, I think he has a point. Mere acknowledgment of fact, however sincere, is something less than transformational. The apostle James gave voice to the sentiment this way: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”1

Biblical belief is so much richer, so much warmer, and so much more substantial than an academic nod of agreement from afar. For the foundation of our faith is so much more than a mere notion or idea; He is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in whom life exists. Jesus assures us, “as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.”2 So also the apostle Paul attests of Christ, “All things were created through him and for him,” he writes, “. . . he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”3 The belief to which God calls us, then, far surpasses mental assent; He invites us to a place called faith, where we entrust our very lives to Him in whom eternity exists. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”4

Taking this cross-over step of faith, we emerge from the shadows of our hiding and enter into restored relationship with God. We experience Him as He transforms us, and we enjoy Him, for He is not a belief system of our making, but the abundant life of our longing.

If the Spirit is stirring in you to be reconciled to God through His Son, you can respond by praying:

Jesus, I know I cannot gain eternal life on my own or by my own merit. I do not live as you would have me live. For this I am very sorry. I believe you are the Son of God and that you paid the penalty for my sins because you love me. I believe you rose again to never-ending life and that you offer that life to me as a gift. I entrust myself to you, receive your gift now, and by your promise, cross over from death to life. Fill me with your Spirit and use me for your honor and glory. Thank you for your precious gift of life in me.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)

[Click here to read more about salvation through faith in Christ in Romans 10:6-13.]

1 James 2:19
2 John 5:26
3 Colossians 1:16, 17 (ESV)
4 John 5:24

Today’s post is an excerpt from Christ in Me. Copyright © 2016 Paul Nordman. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Tribute

Keith Agee was a classmate of mine, a friend—quiet, very bright, and a heck of a nice guy, off the football field, that is. On the field, he was a defensive coordinator’s dream—dogged, laser-focused, and loved to hit. One day in a scrimmage, Keith leveled the running back and then stood over him, laughing as the ball carrier writhed in pain there on the ground. It was at that point or soon thereafter that Keith, new in his faith in Jesus Christ, began to sense God calling him away from football. He had nothing against the game itself, nor did he feel others should follow suit; it was personal. The coach repeatedly tried to talk him out of leaving the team (who could blame him?), but for Keith it was a matter of hearing God and obeying Him. His teammates were disappointed, and he received some criticism, but Keith had such peace, humility and integrity about him—and he spoke of his new life in Christ with such joy and conviction—that he was widely respected and held in high esteem.

If ever someone lived life as though executing right out of the believers’ playbook, it was Keith. We are chosen, says Peter, to be God’s people, that we might “proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.” We “abstain from the passions” of this world while loving the people of this world, living honorably, so that even those who speak against us “may see [our] good deeds and glorify God on his day of visitation.” That was Keith. One could look to him and know his God was real. I know I did. Though it was another 10 years until I came to peace with God through faith in His Son, it was the life-witness of Keith Agee and others like him that gave me hope and kept me going on the path to life in Christ.

Keith went on to become a pastor and today all five of his and Sally’s children are in ministry. Who can imagine his legacy, and now theirs? Three years ago, Keith left this world behind him and stepped into the next, victorious. It is difficult to imagine him any more joyful than he was here on Earth, but I suspect he is.

Immeasurable joy awaits us, as well. In the meantime, we, too, execute from the believers’ playbook like so many who have led the way before us, proclaiming God’s praises and living honorably, so that others see Christ in us and dare to place their hope in Him. May this be our legacy, too.

Lord God, shine through this life and through your entire church today, that others would see you and glorify you through faith in your Son. Amen.

[Click here to read today’s Scripture in 1 Peter 2:9-12 (ESV).]