Jesus was approached and challenged by a group of Pharisees who tried to trick Him with a question about taxes.

Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?

Jesus had an astute reply, asking to see a coin and asking about the image it bore – that of Caesar. The significance of the first part of His reply is well recognised.

Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s…”

But is the significance of the second part equally recognised?

…and [give] to God what is God’s.

The coin bore the image of Caesar, so Caesar had the right to it via a tax.

And mankind bears the image of God – so what is God’s (bearing His image) should be given to God.

But God’s ownership is based on more than His image being imprinted onto us.

There is also the right of the Creator to His creation. (“Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?'” (Rom 9:20) NKJV

And then there is the right of a purchaser over what He has paid for. (“you are not your own for you were bought at a price” 1 Cor 6:20 NKJV).

How often (if ever) do we slow down, or stop, to give serious thought to what that ownership means (or should mean) to the way we live our everyday lives.

I can recall occasions where the idea of complete submission to God and His will was raised. I can also recall how I held back from making that kind of commitment fearing what it might mean, and whether I’d be willing to  do what God expected.

‘What if God wanted me to…?’

Or  ‘what if God wanted me to go to…?

Jesus once addressed situations like that.

Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.”
And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”
But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”
Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”
And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”
But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9)NKJV

There are times in our lives when we have to face the choice of trusting, following and obeying God completely – with no excuses.
Are we willing to make that decision?

Are we willing to give to God what is God’s?

Or will we hold back, fearing what the consequences may be?

Righteousness and Divine Nature

At the beginning of the week I woke with the following statement in my mind:

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor 5)NKJV

I couldn’t think why that particular phrase of scripture was fixed in my thoughts.
Later in the day, I decided to look it up and see if its context helped me to understand why.

I highlight the parts that seemed to standout as I read it with that phrase in mind.

For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

I’ll look at the highlighted parts in reverse order, mainly because my initial search centred on the last sentence. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”.

I’m sure that we struggle to grasp the implication of that statement about the exchange that took place. Jesus became sin – OUR sin – so that we could become the righteousness of God. The proviso being that we access that exchange through being IN HIM.

When we are IN HIM we are beneficiaries of the righteousness of God instead of continuing to be subject to the destructive power and penalty of the sin that was ours. This is MUCH more than merely being forgiven, and having sin covered over. Our sinful nature is exchanged for God’s own righteousness. I have to wonder – what should that mean, what should occur in our lives as the outcome?

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

I’m sure we are familiar with that quote, but do we actually believe it? Or has familiarity stopped us thinking about what it actually says and means?

If we are IN CHRIST (that phrase again) we are totally different in every way to what we were before we came to Christ. “ALL things have become new”. And yet we carry on as if nothing has happened apart from having our name written in the book of life ensuring a place in heaven after death.

However, like any other benefit, that exchange is not automatic, but is obtained through faith: that is believing God’s word and acting on it. We need to put off the old and put on the new.

put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4) NIV

To be like God – some might balk at that suggestion because wasn’t that the claim of Satan in the garden? That eating of the forbidden fruit would make Adam and Eve “like God”?
Ironically, they were already like God, created in His image, and their sin actually made them less like God. So being “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” as per that verse, would be a restoration to God’s original intention for mankind, something to be received and embraced, not a satanic perversion to resist.

But how can we consider ourselves to have any chance of being like God? Aren’t we just poor sinners saved by grace – far from godliness?

That’s what Satan would like us to continue thinking. Such thoughts paralyse us and keep us locked into our past instead of being motivated by the changes God has made in our lives.

We have to stop seeing our old selves as our continuing reality and start seeing ourselves as God has made us, and by faith start to live as if we believe God and His word.

The third of the statements I’ve highlighted states WHY we’ve been made new, and why we need to live as if we really believed we have been made the righteousness of God in Him.

…those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.

What does that mean?
How should that impact the lives we live?
Does it mean we can merely go on living as we always lived – but with the “assurance” of heaven after death?

Or SHOULD it mean that our lives will be significantly changed? That our priorities will be totally different? That we make sure we know HIS will for our lives and start DOING it, genuinely living our lives for Him according to the changes the new creation brings about within us?

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. (2 Peter 1) NIV

Maybe the strongest sense I’ve developed so far is a realisation of how little the church seems to understand about God’s righteousness, His provision of it, and what it means when scripture makes it clear that it is now OURS.

One thing that is becoming more and more clear in my mind is how insipid our experience – and maybe our expectations – of the Christian life actually are.
I remember how, decades ago, I was frustrated by the vast gulf between what I read of the early church in scripture, and what I saw in the church then. While the churches I attended all professed belief in miracles, healing, and other Spiritual gifts, they were notably absent in practice. And despite the professed belief, that absence didn’t seem to worry the majority.

Today I not only see that absence continues, but I’ve seen how expectation, and faith for change are barely existent. I have seen how the very basic, foundational aspects of Jesus’ commission to the church to preach the gospel, with supporting signs, are being dismissed. In some cases, the extent of explaining and excusing their absence, come perilously close to calling Jesus a liar. I suspect that in some cases, that line has actually been crossed.

Maybe the starting point for change – for those who actually desire it – is to start believing and living according to God’s word – giving it more than vain lip-service.