Why do I feel so torn?

Life is tough. Life with God is also tough.

This is an appeal to all who teach or influence other followers of Christ.

Never tell anyone that it’s easier to live in the world as a Christian without qualifying what you mean. Yes, God’s way is best, but it’s not always easiest. Many times, God’s way is harder – much harder. And I am not just talking about extreme cases of dying for the faith. Living by faith in a fallen world is tough!

This is part of what we learn in Romans 8.

The picture opens with the great hope and confidence that we are free from condemnation in Christ. This can be our position because, “God did what the law was powerless to do… by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.” (3).

But there is more good news. God also gave us His spirit to live in us. “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you” (11).

We are also assured that, “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (18). Yet “what we suffer now” is real and painful. It’s also partly due to the very presence of the Spirit in our lives. We must always think of both the blessing and burden of having God’s Spirit live in us.

With the presence of the Spirit, we taste good things and good things to come. But the same Spirit is a powerful reminder of how unfinished and sinful we are because of the flesh. The Christian life is one of tension between the already and the not yet.

Please make sure you tell the new believer to expect a growing inward tension with faith in Christ.

We must confidently celebrate what God has done for us and what He is presently doing to change us into his image. But all of this will painfully remind us of how much unlike Him we know we are and how much work there is to complete in us.

We can be absolutely certain that God will finish what He started. We are also profoundly grateful that even, “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful” (II Timothy 2:13). But it hurts to think about our faithlessness. And as we grow older in these bodies, the flesh becomes even weaker. The battle has a wearing down effect.

Never forget that God put His “treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (II Corinthians 4:7). Whatever else is accomplished in our spiritual growth, it never turns the fragile, common jar of clay into a jar of gold (in this life).

Spiritual growth will bring great blessings and deep burdens. Let’s be honest about this (and faithful to the whole truth of Scripture). In this life with God, we’ll be increasingly torn between two realities: What God has and is doing and what we know (with growing clarity) about how weak and incomplete we are – how often we falter and fail.

The picture in Romans 8 rounds off this reality by reminding us that in this life with God (with all that He has done and is doing), we groan. This means we sigh. The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (23) And “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (23).

Until this great moment when these lowly bodies of ours will be made like his glorious body (Philippians 3:20-21), we live by hope and wait patiently for God to complete what He began in us.

As we hope and wait, we groan in our weakness and we repeatedly learn that, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” More than that, many times we don’t even know, “what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (26).

If you are a teacher in the Church or one who influences other followers of Christ, do your best to make sure they understand the painful reality of the tension they will experience and how torn they will feel because of God’s Spirit living in them. Don’t set them up for disappointment based on a misrepresentation of what it means to know God.

But, in describing this reality, be sure to tell them not to grow discouraged. Encourage them to “fight the good fight” and “hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you” (I Timothy 6:12).

Although we can expect to be deeply torn, let’s live with settled confidence, “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Steve Cornell

Here’s a great song for those who feel weary: “Torn.”

I’m Tired I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes
To keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world

And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn

Judgment according to works?

Every passage of Scripture describing a scene of final judgment makes works of righteousness done in this life the basis for judgment (e.g. Matthew 7:21-23; 25:31-46;II Corinthians 5:10;Revelation 21:11-15).

Yet, according to the gospel, eternal salvation is given as God’s undeserved gift and is “not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5).

How do we reconcile works based judgment with the fact that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Final Judgment 

Let’s first be clear about the fact that, “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). “It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
 every tongue will acknowledge God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” (Romans 14:11-12).

Judgment based on works

One of the clearest Scriptures connecting eternal destiny with human works comes from Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46.

After Jesus pronounced judgment on two different groups of people, he gave the basis for the judgment by using the “FOR“- each time.

The setting

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”

The sheep

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. FOR I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me’” (Matthew 25:31-36).

The goats

“Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. FOR I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me'” (Matthew 25:41-43). Conclusion: v. 46 – “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Evidently, “Sins of omission are judged as harshly as overt sinful acts.” (K. Snodgrass)

Unexpected outcome

The first group is surprised at the verdict because they were unaware that what they did was actually done for Jesus himself.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:37-40).

A matter of motive

Their surprise was not that they didn’t realize that they were serving the Lord. But their surprise excluded the idea that their deeds were being done to win salvation. In their surprise, Jesus used, “a literary device indicating that the service rendered was not done for recognition or reward.” (Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, p. 560). For those who have been forgiven by God, acts of mercy toward others will not be a means to an end but as a response to God’s redeeming love.

Those who do merciful deeds to score points with God or hoping to make God beholden to them miss the point Jesus made in the surprise of the righteous.

Excellent observations

“The narrative is a piece of the gospel, but not its whole theology in miniature. To debate the implications of ‘for’ for a theory of salvation taught here is to push the passage beyond its intent. It warns that judgment will be determined by acts of mercy, but does not address whether this mercy is the result of redemption or its cause.”

“To raise the problem of works righteousness is to foist on Jesus and Matthew a concern that is not theirs. Their concern is a discipleship that is evidenced in love and mercy. The judgment evidenced in this narrative does not ask if a person has accumulated x number of merciful acts but asks ‘what kind of person are you?’ The point is that a person cannot claim identity as a disciple of Jesus without evidencing it in acts of mercy” (Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent).

Judgment as validation or verification 

Our eternal destiny is settled in this life and judgment will verify (by means of our works) our identity as redeemed or unredeemed. Judgment will expose the connection or lack of connection between our profession and our practice. As Jesus said, ““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

All of this presupposes that saving faith is life changing faith. Something is expected in the lives of those who encounter the true and living God and receive His gift of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

Steve Cornell

Troubled dust, but dust that dreams

As he struggled with the exasperating enigma of existence, Scottish agnostic, Richard Holloway, couldn’t escape the feeling that there must be more to life than this world. 

  • “This is my dilemma. I am dust and ashes, frail and wayward, a set of predetermined behavioral responses, … riddled with fear, beset with needs…the quintessence of dust and unto dust I shall return…. But there is something else in me…. Dust I may be, but troubled dust, dust that dreams, dust that that has strong premonitions of transfiguration, of a glory in store, a destiny prepared, an inheritance that will one day be my own…so my life is spread out in a painful dialectic between ashes and glory, between weakness and transfiguration. I am a riddle to myself, an exasperating enigma…the strange duality of dust and glory.”

From dust to glory 

Jesus broke the grip of the curse of dust! “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree'” (Galatians 3:13).

  • “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of death… and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15). For “God would not leave him among the dead or allow his body to rot (decay) in the grave. God raised Jesus from the dead… Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us” (Acts 2:32-34, NLT).

God did this “for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:24-25). Yes, “God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Romans 5:8-9). 

Security in an uncertain world

Paul emphatically and unequivocally states that no experience in this life can alter the certainty of God’s love for us.

  • “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

Rest securely and confidently in what God has done for you in Christ! And remind yourself often that, 

  • “When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).

Steve Cornell

Living fully between already and not yet

Gospel-based living must be understood in the context of “Already (In between) and Not yet.” 

This way of seeing things will protect us from perplexing misunderstandings corrected by the apostle Paul in Romans 5-8.

The three parts (Already, In between and Not yet) follow the longstanding  Justification, Sanctification and Glorification. A Biblical understanding regards all three as a one-time gift received from God by grace (Romans 3:24-26; 8:29-30). But we experience this gift sequentially based on redemption accomplished and final redemption of our bodies (Philippians 1:6; 3:20-21).

This will happen “each in turn: Christ, the first-fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he ‘has put everything under his feet.’ Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all” (I Corinthians 15:23-28).

Three Dimensions of life

  • Already: We are In Christ Justification: Justified before God through Christ (Romans 5:1-2). Redeemed, forgiven, saved, reconciled children of God.
  • In Between: We are being made like Christ Sanctification (II Corinthians 3:18). Progressive transformation into God’s image in this life.
  • Not Yet: We will be like Christ Glorification: the redemption of our bodies (Philippians 3:20-21; I John 3:1-2).

A Closer look

I. ALREADY – Four great provisions (Romans 5:1-2)

“Already…” God has made four great provisions for us through Christ and when I lose sight of them, I easily slip into a performance-based approach to God. These provisions are presented in Romans 5:1-2

  • Romans 5:1-2 – “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith (a one line summary of the whole argument of 1:18- 4:25), we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”

All four provisions belong to those who belong to Christ

  1. Justified: to be declared “innocent of all charges justly leveled against those who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (see: Douglas Moo, Romans NICNT).
  2. Peace with God: This is not inner peace but being in a relationship of peace with God. This is the gift of reconciliation for powerless, ungodly, sinners, who are enemies of God. Our peace with God shines against the backdrop of hostility (5:6-10).
  3. Access: a continual enjoyment of God’s presence through Christ (cf. Hebrews 4:14-16).
  4. Grace: as a realm in which we stand (3:23-24) Grace reigns (5:21) we are under grace (6:14). (

A new posture and perspective: joyful confidence

In view of the great provisions that belong to us in Christ, we posture ourselves with or embrace a perspective of “Rejoicing/Boasting.” Our posture is one of joyful confidence in the provision of God in Christ — not in human achievement (Romans 3:27; cf. Jeremiah 9:23-24; Philippians 3:3-9). We take joy-filled pride in God’s gift of salvation with a hope-filled expectation of His final deliverance!

II. NOT YET

We take this posture based on the promise of future glory awaiting us.  v.2- “We boast in the hope of the glory of God.” Our future is fixed in God’s gracious actions described with a rich array of terms: He (God) foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified! These are identity markers for those who have come to Christ! These actions of God overcome all the pain and challenges that assault us in this life. So “…our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18). And “….in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

Because of God’s gracious action for us: “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30).

III. IN BETWEEN

Romans 5:3-4 “Not only so, but we also glory inour sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

We also take a joyful, hope-focused view of our sufferings. Why? Because our struggles are not really that difficult? No! We posture ourselves this way because present suffering cannot terminate or “break the connection with” God’s glorious future He has planned for us! “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us”(Romans 8:18).

  • “No sooner has the Apostle pointed to ‘the glory of God,’ as a light shining afar to cheer the believer on his course, than he thinks of the contrast between that bright distance and the darkness that lies around him here.” (Gifford ). “It is probably to head off criticism of his teaching that Paul introduces the ‘problem’ of suffering.  For (particularly) Jewish objectors would be likely to question Paul sharply about his affirmation that the Christian is enjoying ‘peace with God’ when that same Christian is facing illness, persecution, and difficulties of all kinds.  Indeed, Christians themselves, then as today, were surely wondering about the reality of these blessings in the face of suffering. Characteristically, Paul takes an offensive posture. Not only do sufferings not overthrow the reality of these blessings, but they are themselves occasions for joyful boasting! The believer should boast ‘not only’ in the hope of the glory of God ‘but also’ in afflictions.  This means not merely that we are to exult ‘in the midst of’ afflictions but that we are to exult ‘in’ the afflictions themselves: that is, to view them as a basis for further confidence in our redeemed status (D. Moo).

Make the connection: faith, hope and glory

When we disconnect our present struggles from what we already have in Christ and what we will have by God’s promise through Christ, this life becomes burdensome in a way notintended by God.

The key words of this experience in Christ are “faith” and “hope”– focused on “glory.” Romans 8:24 says it well, “For in this hope we were saved.”

  • “Saved” is the definitive act of God in the past.
  • “Hope” is our present posture based on the certainty of God’s future for us.

Neither death (Romans 5), nor sin (Romans 6), nor the Law (Romans 7), nor any other created thing (Romans 8:38-39) can separate us from God’s glorious future He has planned us to in love (Romans 8:29-30). More than that God is working all things together to this good (Romans 8:28).

But during the “in between,” faith and hope are words that shine in a context of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and circumstances of desperation (Hebrews 11; Romans 4:18-21).

  • “…all the evil that the Christian experiences reflects the conflict between ‘this age,’ dominated by Satan, and ‘the age to come,’ to which the Christian has been transferred by faith. All suffering betrays the presence of the enemy and involves attacks on our relationship to Christ. If met with doubt in God’s goodness and promise, or bitterness toward others, or despair and even resignation, these sufferings can bring spiritual defeat to the believer. But if met with the attitude of “confidence and rejoicing” that Paul encourages here, these sufferings will produce those valuable spiritual qualities that Paul lists in vv. 3b-4.” (D. Moo)
  • “Sufferings, rather than threatening or weakening our hope, as we might expect to be the case, will, instead, increase our certainty in that hope.  Hope, like a muscle, will not be strong if it goes unused. It is in suffering that we must exercise with deliberation and fortitude our hope, and the constant reaffirmation of hope in the midst of apparently ‘hopeless’ circumstances will bring ever-deeper conviction of the reality and certainty of that for which we hope” (D. Moo).

Connecting our present sufferings to the already/not yet fortifies us with a continual reaffirmation of hope. But this fortification is the work of the Holy Spirit who fills our hearts with an awareness of God’s permeating and unalterable love (5:6; 8: 35-39). Yet the Holy Spirit also intensifies our awareness of incompleteness (8:23) and helps us in our weakness (8:26-27).

Life between: What does it look like?

We must be clear about what life looks like during the in between period. In Romans 8, we learn so much about it. Whatever it looks like, it’s built on three great truths:

  1. No condemnation is declared over those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1)
  2. We are set free from the law of sin and death in Christ (Romans 8:2)
  3. The righteous standard of the Law is fully satisfied for us through Christ (Romans 8:3-4)

After these truths, the apostle explains the crucial role of the Holy Spirit connecting the Already and the Not yet (Romans 8:5-16). Then he builds a deep connection between sonship (Romans 8:19,21,23,29), suffering and Glory (Romans 8:17,18,21,30). Postured in hope (Romans 8:20, 24-25), we (along with the sub-human creation) are waiting eagerly and patiently (Romans 8:19,23,25), groaning (Romans 8:22,23, 26) and weak (8:26). These are very real experiences in the “In Between.” We must make sure that new believers anticipate the reality of these challenges. But we also must teach them to view “present sufferings” in deep connection with the Already and the Not Yet.

“And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved” (Romans 8:23-24, NLT).

Note: The only change I would make to this translation is to stress that it is because the Holy Spirit has given us a foretaste of future glory that we groan in view of our painfully obvious incompleteness in this life. We sigh and it’s a sign of our spiritual health. I call this the blessing and burden of the indwelling Spirit.

The Holy Spirit provides what we need as we journey through the incompleteness and frailty of life between the already and not yet! The two primary means used by the Spirit for transforming us into the likeness of Jesus are the Spirit-inspired Scriptures (II Timothy 3:15-17) and the Spirit-inhabited community — the Church (I Corinthians 3:16; 12; Ephesians 4:11-16).

Bondage to decay: from dust to dust to glory

It is noteworthy and must be taught that our present reality of “bondage to decay” is a result of God’s curse against the earth and against us because of sin. The reason that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (8:22) is because “the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it” (8:20).

This is doubtless a reference to God’s judgment in connection with human rebellion against the Creator. To Adam, who was gifted with earth as his dwelling place and made its caretaker, God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Genesis 3:17).

Yet God (who is rich in mercy) brought this curse against the sub-human creation “in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (8:20-21). So the apostle (by divine inspiration) postures the sub-human order with this profoundly amazing depiction: “the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (8:20).

Decaying, waiting, groaning and hoping

Creation is in the waiting, groaning and hoping phase as it endures under bondage to decay. And– “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved…. But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (8:23-25). For God’s redeemed people, this (in between) time is also one of decaying, waiting, groaning and hoping.

For God also brought judgment against the man himself, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” When Adam broke God’s law, he came under the curse “you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). And, “just as sin came into the world through one man, anddeath through sin, andso death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12, ESV)

Under bondage to decay, we are waiting, groaning and hoping! Let’s make sure that we adequately teach each new believer about this reality! But never teach it (this theology of the fall) apart from the gospel!

  • Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:20-22)

Dust I may be, but troubled dust

Struggling with what he felt to be the exasperating enigma of existence, Richard Holloway, (the frustrated Scottish agnostic) couldn’t escape some identification with this reality when he groaned, “This is my dilemma. I am dust and ashes, frail and wayward, a set of predetermined behavioral responses, … riddled with fear, beset with needs…the quintessence of dust and unto dust I shall return…. But there is something else in me…. Dust I may be, but troubled dust, dust that dreams, dust that that has strong premonitions of transfiguration, of a glory in store, a destiny prepared, an inheritance that will one day be my own…so my life is spread out in a painful dialectic between ashes and glory, between weakness and transfiguration. I am a riddle to myself, an exasperating enigma…the strange duality of dust and glory.”

Hope of the gospel

The gospel (good news) is our hope. Jesus broke the power of this curse for us! “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’ He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Galatians 3:13-14).

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of death… and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15). For “God would not leave him among the dead or allow his body to rot (decay) in the grave. God raised Jesus from the dead… Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us” (Acts 2:32-34, NLT).

God did this “for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:24-25).  Yes, the gospel says, “God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Romans 5:8-9). We must place all of life and death in the context of the gospel!

Foundation of certainty

Paul emphatically and unequivocally states that no experience in this life can alter the certainty of God’s love for us. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).

A plan for action 

Mediate deeply and often on what God has already provided for us in Christ. And “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him inglory” Colossians 3:1-4.

Live this life resting deeply in the one who said, “Come to me…take from me… learn from me… for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light: (Matthew 11:28-30).

Final thoughts

Between the already and not/yet, I must train myself to be godly (I Timothy 4:7), seek God’s glory (I Corinthians 10:31), groan as I hope and wait (Romans 8:23-25), work out my salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13), avoid grieving the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), make no provision for the flesh (Romans 13:14), run the race with perseverance and struggle against sin (Hebrews 12:2-4); wrestles against principalities and powers and take up the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10ff.), strive to please the Lord (II Corinthians 5:9-10), and endure hardship as discipline (Hebrews 12:7). I don’t do any of this to gain righteous standing before God but to practice righteousness as one who has been justified before God in Christ.

I am in Christ (Justification/saved); I am being conformed to Christ (sanctification/being saved); I will be made like Christ (glorification/ will be saved). I receive all of this as God’s gift in Christ (Romans 8:28-30). I am an unworthy recipient of the gift but by grace, an active participant in God’s work of transformation.

Yes, I must be mindful that transformation is by the Spirit (II Cor. 3:18) and my aim is to “strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me” (Colo. 1:29).

Do I work to be justified? No! (the “Already”). Do I work to become glorified? No! (the “Not Yet”). Do I work to be Christlike in between these realities? Yes! “work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for man” (Colo. 3:23)–with “all the energy Christ so powerfully works in you.” And, as a spiritual leader following the example of Paul, sometimes for those I lead, “I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19).

The really important thing for believers is to keep both (already and not yet) in clear view during this life. This will protect us from slipping into legalism or law-based relating to God. Too many celebrate grace upon salvation and move on as if grace got them in but works are the basis once grace gets them in. Yes, we work out our salvation but only because God works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

Steve Cornell

Audio versionLiving Fully Between the Already and the Not Yet.

What did Jesus teach about entering heaven?

Did Jesus preach the gospel?

Is there a difference between the way you invite people to receive salvation from God and the way Jesus did?

Is there consistency from the gospels through the epistles regarding how one is to be reconciled to God and assured of heaven?

Audio Resource: Listen to part 7 of In Step with the Master Teacher here.

Entrance requirements of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew

  • 5:20 – surpassing righteousness
  • 7:21 – doing the will of the father
  • 18:3-4 – childlike humility
  • 18:8-9 – amputation of sinful offenses
  • 19:16-24 – love of riches as an obstacle
  • 25:21, 23 – the faithful servant entering the joy of the Master

Five verdicts of the gospel

  1. I stand condemned before God – guilty of sin and deserving of God’s judgment         (Romans 3:10,23:6:23a; James 2:10)
  2. I cannot improve my standing before God (Romans 4:5; 5:6;Galatians 2:16, 21; Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).                                                               
  3. Apart from the mercy and grace of God, I remain forever under God’s just condemnation (Romans 3;Titus 3:5-7).
  4. What I cannot do, God did for me when Jesus Christ took the judgment my sin deserved (Galatians 3:13;Romans 5:8; 8:3-4;II Cor. 5:17,18,21).
  5. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1, 32-39;John 1:12;3:16-18,36; 10:27-28).

Romans 5:6, 8-11 – “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

Steve Cornell

 

What does it mean to be gospel-centered?

The gospel is the great news about what God has done to make it possible for us to be forgiven and restored to fellowship with Him in Christ.

A summary of the gospel is outlined in II Corinthians 5:17-21. 

Gospel-centered living happens when three tenses are kept in view:

  1. What we were apart from Christ (past)
  2. What we already have in Christ (present)
  3. What we will have through Christ (future)

Reflection: Titus 3:5-6 – “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Galatians 2:21 – ”if right standing with God could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Colossians 3:1-4 – “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.”

Gospel-centered living is based on two confessions:

  1. Romans 7:24 – “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death (my imprisonment to sin)?
  2. Romans 7:25 – “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” – 8:1)

Reflection: “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24). (see: Romans 3:19-20). “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” (Romans 11:32).

Have you responded to what God has done for you through Jesus Christ? 

Here is a way to express your need to God:

“God, I am ready to admit that I am a sinner. I have done many things that don’t please you. I have lived my life for myself and deserve to be punished for my sin. But I believe that Jesus Christ died for me to pay the debt I owe.”

“Today, the best I know how, I am placing my trust in Jesus Christ as my Savior. I am turning to you for forgiveness and salvation. I believe that you sent Jesus Christ to pay the penalty my sin deserves. I believe that when he died on the cross, his death was for my salvation. Through Jesus death and resurrection, you did what I could not do for myself.”

“I thank you right now for the gift of eternal life promised to those who believe in Jesus Christ. I now turn my life over to you. I thank you that by believing in Jesus Christ I can be your forgiven child and be completely assured that I will never perish but have eternal life with you. Help me to always recognize that my relationship with you is only based on what Jesus did for me. Protect me from the kind of pride that thinks that I can do what is needed to make myself right with you.”

Reflect on these Scriptures: Luke 18:9-13; John 3:16-18; Romans 10:9; II Corinthians 5:17-21; Ephesians 2:8-10;

Share this with others. 

Steve Cornell

Resurrection is life after life after death

I expect to be resurrected one day because Jesus promised that, “…everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:39-40).

But when I say I expect to be resurrected, I am not only saying I expect to live after the death of my physical body. I do expect this, but resurrection is more than life after death.

Resurrection is bodily life after life after death. It is postmortem existence stage two. In other words, I expect to return to identifiable bodily existence just as Jesus did.

Everyone should expect to be resurrected because Jesus also promised, “a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out — those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29).

The last experience of life is death. It is the most certain thing in every person’s life. “There is a time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2). But death is not final. Some definitions for death use the word irreversible. One defines it as the irreversible cessation of organismic functioning. Another includes the irreversible loss of personhood.

Do these definitions oppose all forms of postmortem existence? Or, do they only deny the possibility of physical life after death? 

Six events of history remind us of how important the body is to God.

  1. Creation: God fashions the body from the dust of the earth
  2. Incarnation: God enters the body prepared for him (Hebrews 10:5)
  3. Resurrection (Christ’s and ours)
  4. Ascension: Jesus has bodily existence at the Father’s right hand
  5. Salvation: The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit
  6. Glorification: Final redemption of the body (Romans 8 )

Most people expect some kind of life after death and also fear the possibility of postmortem accountability.

Yet how many really expect dead people to rise from the dead in actual bodies? Clearly the early disciples of Jesus did not expect his bodily resurrection. Despite his repeated predictions of his death and resurrection, the crucifixion of Jesus crushed their hopes of a kingdom with Jesus as their king. The notion of a crucified Messiah (much less a resurrected one) was not part of their worldview. And, to be fair to them, the resurrection of Jesus is unparalleled in ancient near eastern religion.

But after the unavoidable evidence that Jesus had broken the power of death and was alive again, the disciples became bold witnesses and the Christian Church was born. Apart from the actual resurrection of Jesus, it would have been exceptionally strange for his dejected disciples to go everywhere spreading the message that Jesus had risen from the dead. They boldly announced to everyone that, “God raised him up putting an end to the agony of death since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:24).

If this was only a self-fabricated story, there is no reasonable explanation for the birth and flourishing Christianity. And they didn’t go to some distant town to preach the resurrected Christ. They began announcing it in the very city where Jesus had been buried. Their message would not have lasted for one day if Jesus’ body were still in the tomb. The religious leaders who were eager to silence the message could have easily done so by revealing Jesus’ body.

Even more incredulous are theories about a stolen or resuscitated body. It is nonsense to suppose that the disciples got past a Roman guard, rolled a massive stone aside, unwrapped the grave cloths and restored Jesus’ body to health after crucifixion.

The first recorded witnesses to the resurrection were women. This is significant because a woman’s testimony was not credible in first century legal systems. Yet the documents telling the story don’t pander to the expectations of the times to make the story more plausible. The facts are presented as they happened.

The four gospels were written by and on behalf of eyewitnesses. They were circulated during the lifetimes of those who were alive at Jesus’ resurrection. If Jesus’ body had still been in the tomb, these people could have easily discredited the accounts.

It is simply beyond imagination that Christianity and two thousand years of the legacy of Jesus would have flourished based on a resurrection hoax. I realize that other religions have flourished based on lies but most of those who embraced them did so under coercion. True Christianity is not spread by forced allegiance.

Certainty of death, judgment and resurrection

Scripture says. “each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). The Apostle John wrote, “I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds” (Revelation 20:12-13).

Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave” (Revelation 1:17-18).

“Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21).

“when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (I Corinthians 15:54). “But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:57).

Steve Cornell