Are There Sins Separating Me From God?

There’s a fairly prevalent idea out there in Christianity that our sins separate us from God because God can’t be in the presence of sin. But is it true that God pulls back from us because we’re too dirty for Him, or is there something else going on?

The idea that God can’t be around sin is largely based on a verse in Habakkuk that reads, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Hab. 1:13, KJV). When we look at the context, though, we see God just told Habakkuk He planned to work with the vicious Chaldeans, and this verse is part of Habakkuk asking God why He would ever associate with such wickedness.

If we accept the premise that Jesus was and is fully God (as I believe we should), then we know God doesn’t shrink back from sin as if scared to get His hands dirty. Rather, He dives right in among sinners so that He can wipe sin away and replace it with holiness. God gets close to sinful people so He can set things right.

But there are also verse that talk about iniquity separating us from God and revealing that God will not fellowship with evil. While we don’t have to worry that we’re so filthy God wouldn’t touch us, if we want a close relationship with Him we need to figure out what’s going on here. Continue reading

Am I Ready To Hear What God Says?

As the Passover approaches, those of us who believe Jesus intended modern-day Christians to observe it are given a task. Before following Jesus’ instruction to take the Passover symbols “in remembrance of Me,” we’re told to examine ourselves.

For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks the Lord’s cup in a way unworthy of the Lord will be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup. (1 Cor. 11:26-19, WEB)

Every year I hear these scriptures read, and every year since my baptism in 2008 I ask myself, “How?” What can I do to examine myself and determine if I’m keeping the Passover in a worthy manner?”

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Photo credit: “Remember this day” by Tim Sackton, CC BY-SA via Flickr

The Lord Examines

Perhaps the reason why I’ve always felt like I was hitting a wall when trying to examine myself is found in a very familiar scripture:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it? I, Yahweh, search the mind, I try the heart, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings. (Jer. 17:9-10, WEB)

There’s no way we can successfully examine ourselves without God’s help. Maybe that should have been obvious, but I only connected it with Passover after hearing Len Martin’s sermon on self-examination (which you can listen so by clicking here; I highly recommend it). We need to ask God to examine us, or our self-examination isn’t going to bear much fruit. Continue reading

Why Do We Keep The Passover?

Happy New Year! Today is the first day of the Hebrew month Nisan (also called Abib), and the first day of the sacred year on the Hebrew calendar (Rosh Hashana starts the civil year). This means Passover is exactly 14 days away. As we draw nearer this important holy day, I wanted to shift our focus onto why Passover is so important for Christians today.

As I started thinking about reasons to keep Passover, I realized I’d either have to make this a series of posts or be much more concise than the subject deserves. Instead of a series (though there will be other Passover posts coming up), I decided to just write a brief overview of some reason to keep Passover and then invite you to join me in exploring them further. If this post inspires any of you to study Passover, I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments. And if you write a blog post about Passover, please share a link here so we can all read it.

It’s A Command

Exodus chapter 12 describes the events of the first Passover in Egypt, when the children of Israel were protected from the plague that killed all Egyptian firstborn. After delivering instructions specific to that Passover, the Lord reveals that Passover celebration will continue forever among His people. Continue reading

Turning Offense Into Something Useful

It seems like everyone is offended about something today. Wherever someone voices a decided opinion, there’s someone else reacting to it defensively. In an effort not to offend anyone, we’re turning into a society where we talk around issues rather than addressing them directly. We couch our opinions in careful language like, “From my own personal view …” and “I don’t want to force an opinion on you, it’s just my thoughts that …”.

Why are we so quick to see offense as a bad thing in today’s culture? If it’s just because we don’t like to be made uncomfortable, then we’re missing valuable opportunities for personal growth. Being offended offers a challenge to how we think. For people who are open to questioning, growth, and refinement, being challenged is a good thing. For people who just want to float through life without wondering “why?”, offense is scary.

Turning Offense Into Something Useful | marissabaker.wordpress.com

photo credit for portrait: “Angy Face” by Ryan Hyde, CC BY-SA

The next time you feel offended, don’t look at it as a bad thing. See it as an opportunity for self-examination. It’s a chance to look inside yourself and find out why you’re having such a strong, defensive emotional reaction to what you just saw or heard. Ask yourself things like,

  • Is this important enough to be offended about?
    • If no, why am I so defensive?
    • If yes, how do I turn my offense into something more productive?
  • Am I offended by this because it makes me feel guilty about something I’m doing wrong? (plank in your own eye, speck in your brother’s …)
  • Does anyone else care that I care about this?
  • Would sharing my thoughts on this just stir up unproductive strife? (If yes, don’t do it!)
  • Is the thing I feel offended about something that’s hurting other people?
    • If yes, what can I do to stop it? (For example, being offended that human trafficking exists doesn’t help; you’d need to fight against it or support those who do.)
  • Is the idea/statement that offends me actually true, regardless of how I feel?

Offense is unproductive by itself, but when we feel offended we have a chance to transcend knee-jerk reactions and use it as a tool for self-examination, growth and motivation. We can look inside ourselves and see if our offended reaction points to something we need to change, and we can look outside ourselves for opportunities to actively make the world a better place.

Best Way To Humility

What comes to mind when you think of humility before God? Do you think about abasing yourself? thinking of yourself less? or thinking less of yourself?

The problem with these approaches to humility is that they’re still focused on the self. To truly become humble, we have to shift our focus to God. Instead of wondering, “How can I think of myself less?” we should ask, “How can I think of God more?”

During the Feast of Tabernacles this year, a message given at our Feast site contained this gem of wisdom: “Elevating God is the best way to develop a spirit of humility and meekness.” Instead of focusing on abasing self, we focus on exalting God.

Best Way To Humility | marissabaker.wordpress.com

photo credit: Lightstock, Temi Coker

Joy In Exalting Him

The Psalms are a perfect place to begin studying God’s exaltation. David — the man after God’s own heart — penned many of the psalms. In his words of praise, we see an attitude of humility inspired by an awe of the Creator.

I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together. (Ps. 34:1-3)

Gladness probably isn’t the first word we’d associate with humility, and yet that’s what David does. Exalting God fills the humble with joy, and it also increases their humility.

But I am poor and sorrowful; let Your salvation, O God, set me up on high. I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bull, which has horns and hooves. The humble shall see this and be glad; and you who seek God, your hearts shall live. For the Lord hears the poor, and does not despise His prisoners. (Ps. 69:29-33)

This carries over in the the New Testament as well, which we can see in Jesus’ first recorded sermon. He says the “poor in spirit” have “the kingdom of heaven” and that the meek “shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:3, 5). Then near the end of the Beatitudes, He tells people to “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad” when they are “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matt. 12, 10). I suspect that’s impossible without an attitude of compete submission to God and a desire to find your joy in and glorify Him.

Pointing To God

John the Baptist is an excellent example of humility that exalts God. He consistently identified himself simply as a tool, a messenger whose sole purpose was to point others to Messiah. Every time someone asked about John, he pointed them to Jesus instead.

John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” (John 1:26-27)

Later, after Jesus’ ministry began, John had to deal with people who seemed worried that Jesus was undercutting John’s fame (John. 3:22-26). Once again, John handled this by stepping out of the way and finding joy in his Lord’s exaltation.

You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. (Jn. 3:28-30)

Jesus Himself did much the same thing while here on the earth. He “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death” as an example to us (Phil 2:8). He consistently honored his Father, and did not glorfy Himself.

I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. (John 5:30)

Jesus answered, “If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. (John 8:54)

Jesus Christ — God in the flesh — was humble and meek (Matt. 11:29; 2 Cor. 10:1). We who are flawed, imperfect sinners have far more reason for humility. As those rescued from sin and brought from death into life, we have even more cause to exalt our Savior and God.

Best Way To Humility | marissabaker.wordpress.com

I took this photo at the Feast

A Share In Glory

Humility is an essential quality in the family of God. Our Messiah modeled it, the people of faith all had it, and we must develop it to receive a reward.

Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,  casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. (1 Pet. 5:5-7)

Our humility and meekness will be rewarded. There’s an element of ironic humor in the fact that the people who refuse to humble themselves will lose the glory they seek in this life, while those who submit to God and don’t care about themselves will be exalted.

 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Matt. 23:11-12)

This is the pattern Christ modeled for us — submit to God’s will, be humble, and He will exalt you (Phil 2:8-9). One of the most incredible things about Christ’s exaltation is His desire to share His glory with us. In His John 17 prayer, He talks about giving His disciples “the glory which You [Father] gave Me,” and prays that in the future His followers “may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory” (John 17:22, 24).

Glorifying Jesus and exalting our Father can only lead to our good. It’s the best path to humility, it gives a proper view of God, and it multiplies our joy.

Finding Christ in Me

For my family and me, Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are just around the corner, so I thought this would be a good time to share one of my Bible studies leading up to this spring Holy Day season.

Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.(1 Cor. 11:27-29)

We read this scripture many times leading up the Passover service, both in individual study and while listening to messages in our church congregations. I heard it again last weekend when listening to a Steve Buchanan message titled “The Focus of the Passover.” He pointed out that the phrase “discerning the Lord’s body” gives us a guide for how to examine ourselves. The more we learn about Jesus Christ, the better we will be able to examine our conduct in the light of His life.

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. (2 Cor. 13:5)

Since Jesus Christ is our example (1 Pet. 2:21) and we are “to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6), it is His conduct that we are measured by. Walking after His example and obeying his commandments, goes hand-in-hand with abiding in Him and being a fit dwelling place for His presence.

Need For Christ In Us

The mutual indwelling that must occur for us to grow as Christians is described in John 15.

"Finding Christ In Me" marissabaker.wordpress.comAbide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)

Like a branch must rely on its vine and rootstock for everything that keeps it alive, so must we rely on Christ. If He is not in us, our spirits are dead.

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  (Rom. 8:9-10)

Christ in us is our “hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Without Him we can do nothing, but with Him we can do all things (Phil 4:13). When we examine ourselves, we should be looking for evidence of His presence in our lives.

Start In The Mind

Our becoming like Christ starts in our minds and hearts, then spills out into external action. We are told, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” and that we will be expected to “give account for “for every idle word” that we speak (Matt. 12:34, 36). Since the product of our hearts is so pivotal in how we measure up to God’s standard, it is imperative that our hearts and minds be reshaped to look like Jesus Christ.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Phil. 2:5-8)

"Finding Christ In Me" marissabaker.wordpress.comThe aspects of Christ’s personality emphasized here are His humility, his service-mindedness, and His obedience. We need to prayerfully examine ourselves in these areas. Am I becoming humble the way Jesus is humble? Do I follow His example of service to God and other people, both in and out of the church? How well am I keeping His commandments “in spirit and in truth” as well as in the letter of the law?

Another question we can ask is, “How much do I really want to be like Christ?” That’s an aspect of our minds as well. If we don’t have an attitude that sincerely wants to be like Christ and then acts on that desire, we are hobbling our spiritual growth. Christianity is not for people who are content to remain as they are.

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:7-11)

Do we have this attitude about becoming like Christ? Our goal must be to get rid of anything in us that doesn’t lead us closer to Him. Our life, feelings, thoughts, and actions  must start to look more and more like His.

Remaking Us

Those of us who have been “baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death” and “should walk in newness of life (Rom. 8:3-4). Our old self, the aspects of our character that are not Christ-like, need to be replaced. Our way of thinking, feeling, and living is meant to be radically impacted by the conviction that we are alive only through Jesus Christ our Lord. If we are in Christ, we are being remade in His image and should be able to see that when we examine ourselves honestly.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Cor. 5:17)

Just before the “let this mind be in you” passage starting in Philippians 2:5, Paul writes to the brethren that they should be “like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (Phil. 2:2). This mind, which causes peace in the church, is the mind of Christ, and this love is the kind of love which He connected with obedience to God’s commandments (John 14:15; 15:10). Paul further writes, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Phil. 2:3). This attitude of humble service is yet another trait of Jesus Christ that we should be looking for when we examine ourselves to see how closely we resemble Him.