From Darkness to Light

From Darkness to Light

In this study we see another story of Paul’s testimony of the work of God’s grace in his life. This is the third time that Luke will record Paul’s testimony in this record of Acts. Some may wonder why we would cover this a third time and the answer is because Luke did. There are some unique aspects that Luke brings out in this third presentation of Paul’s testimony and we are going to focus particularly on those. Paul is now standing before King Agrippa and he is still on trial, being accused by the Jews of sedition, of heresy, and of desecration of the Temple. Paul uses his testimony as a means of defending himself before King Agrippa, a man who is well acquainted with the Jewish religion and who has great influence among the Jewish people. This is the record of Paul’s defense before King Agrippa.

When Jesus the Messiah imparts life to someone He transforms every part of the entire person. Jesus enters the life and He takes complete ownership over every room in the whole house, including the closets, the attic, the basement, the crawl space, and every nook and every cranny and every corner. There is no parts in our lives in which God does not write His name and proclaim, “This is mine. I redeem it for my glory.”

Paul will say of God, in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, that we are not saints,

19 …You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price.

That is who we are, and yet in spite of this reality, many believers succumb to the temptation to compartmentalize their faith in such a way that Jesus has meaning in one part of the daily or weekly routine of our lives, but that He has little or no meaning in other areas of our lives. This produces a “spiritual schizophrenia” in which a Christian puts on the Christian identity on the way to Sunday morning worship and they put on their Christian identity on the way to a mid-week Bible study or to a Christian concert, but this identity seems somehow out of place and awkward in the secular context of our lives, in the public world where religious expression is very much discouraged.

Like Clark Kent, many Christians never wear the “faith cape” while at the office. We feel as though our real identity may be disruptive to the secular world and we wonder how it really connects, so we refuse to reveal it and to allow our real persons to interact with all of our world. While at work we talk like Clark Kent, we act like Clark Kent, and we think like Clark Kent, all the while we are having to conceal our real identity and who we are. Living in this way demands that we live in contradiction to our real persons as believers in Jesus Christ and as men and women who have been transformed and changed.

My high school son had an interesting conversation with one of his friends that illustrates this strange ability to compartmentalize our lives and remain comfortable with this contradiction. Alexander asked his friend, “Do you believe in evolution,” which is a great question because a belief in evolution requires faith in humanism. His friend responded, “When I am in church, no. When I am on the street, maybe.” He was completely comfortable with this contradiction; that in one part his faith interacted with his thinking and his life, but in the other part he could not understand how his faith had anything to do with it.

The good news is that we don’t have to live fragmented lives; lives in which our faith energizes one part of our lives but is disconnected, even contradictory, to the other parts. I ask the question, “Who would want to live this way? Who would want to live in such contradiction?” God redeems us so that our lives will be made whole by connecting all of our lives to His glory. No part, no matter how small of our lives, is disconnected from this living faith.

Paul will say, in 1 Corinthians 10:31,

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Even mundane acts such as eating a hot dog or drinking a cup of coffee are profoundly impacted by our faith in Jesus Christ.

Not long ago, our family pastor, Daniel Bennett and his sweet daughter, Hannah, were having lunch at McDonalds. Daniel wanted to talk about this idea of our faith in Jesus impacting all of our lives in every way, so he asked her, “Hannah, does believing in Jesus affect how we eat?” Dear little Hannah said, “Noooooo!” So Daniel said, “What did we do before we ate this meal?” She said, “We prayed.” He talked to her about how believing in Jesus affects how we eat in terms of the attitude that we take of gratefulness to God and thankfulness to Him all the while we are eating and how believing in Jesus affects how we eat and that we are a bit more careful in what we eat because these bodies of ours are not our own and so we want to take care of them.

Then Daniel asked Hannah, “Does believing in Jesus affect how we drive a car?” She said, “No, I don’t think so.” Daniel spoke to her about the comfort of God’s protection as we drive; that we don’t have to drive in fear knowing the God is our Great Protector and how believing in Jesus affects what we do when we are on the road and how we are patient with people who may not be driving as we desire for them to drive, or how we attend to the laws that are governing the road’s speed limits.

Then Daniel asked her, “Does believing in Jesus affect how we sleep?” She said, “Yes.” He then asked, “How does believing in Jesus affect how we sleep?” She responded, “I don’t know but I know it does!” Hannah is beginning to understand a vital truth: believing in Jesus affects every part of all of our lives.

The skeptic will ask the question, “Why does it have to? Why can’t we divide out our religious lives from our secular lives? It seems to have worked for myself and for many. Why can’t we divide out our private, inner lives from our public, external lives?” The answer is this for the Christian: the change that Jesus makes is too invasive and too pervading. The transformation that Jesus makes in a life when He makes it is too severe and too penetrating.

In this study Paul defends himself before King Agrippa by relating his testimony of transformation; a transformation that Jesus Christ makes in his life that is whole and entire in its influence over him. In doing so, I believe that he unveils for us five dynamic changes that Jesus makes in a life that are transforming changes. The context is that Paul has been arrested. He has spent more than two years in prison waiting for a verdict. He has gone from a Roman soldier, Claudius Liscius, to a Roman governor, Felix, to another Roman governor, Festus, to now another ruler by the name of King Agrippa.

In Acts 25:13, Festus has had his time listening to Paul’s testimony and it says,

13 A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus.

Who is this King Agrippa? Agrippa is a member of the notorious Herrodian family. We remember some of his relatives from Scripture. Agrippa’s father was the Herrod, in Acts 12, who had James, a disciple of Jesus, beheaded and he was the man who imprisoned Peter. He was a man who would die by being eaten by worms because he allowed people to worship him as a god.

Agrippa’s great uncle was the Herrod who had John the Baptist beheaded. Then King Agrippa’s great-grandfather was the one who slaughtered the Jewish children around Bethlehem in order to get at Jesus. This family tree is filled with rotten apples. King Agrippa is this kind of character though not as notorious as some of those earlier in his family but none-the-less he does not fall far from that tree.

Who is Bernice? Interestingly enough she is not Agrippa’s wife. She is his consort, but more scandalously she is his full-blood sister. So morally abhorrent was there relationship that even the permissive Roman society of the day saw this relationship that they were engaging in as scandalous.

King Agrippa was influential with the Jewish people because, first, he understood their religion, and also Caesar had given him oversight over the Temple and over the appoint of the High Priests.

Now the Apostle Paul comes before King Agrippa. Festus asked Agrippa to hear what accusations were made against Paul and to hear Paul’s defense. He recognizes that he, as a Roman governor, unfamiliar with the Jewish customs, was a little bit out of his element and he wants to be able to write something to Caesar in relationship to the charges that were being laid against Paul. In Acts 25:22, we read,

22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear this man myself.” He replied, “Tomorrow you will hear him.”

Visualize the scene in Caesarea of that day. We see in Verse 23,

23 The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high ranking officers and the leading men of the city.

Picture all of these dignitaries, a crowd of them in number, entering with their flowing, colorful gowns and robes, with all of the regalia of the music and the trumpets announcing each one as they entered this great hall and amphitheater. Then they bring in, in the midst of all of the “pomp”, as it is described with the horses, chariots, and servants, this wee, little man. Paul was thought to be short of stature; that is how he is described. He is in chains and dirty clothes because he has been in prison for two years; you can imagine how disheveled he looks. Here are all of these dignitaries who are wealthy and powerful and Paul stands before them and they are going to interview Paul.

Instead the tables are going to be turned around to where Paul is actually sitting in judgment of them.

In Acts 26:1, we read,

1 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”

It is in this context that Paul now tells his story. He describes five changes that Jesus makes in his life. The first change is this: Jesus so transforms the believer’s life that they move from rebellion to worship. Paul first gives his credentials as a rebel.

The Bible teaches us that rebels come in all shapes and sizes. There are rebels who deny that God exists and they shake their fists at Him. There are rebels who live for money and the things of this world. There are rebels who pursue a corrupt, sensual, and immoral life. There are rebels who love violence. There are rebels who devote themselves to religion and to spirituality. Rebellion comes in all shapes and sizes and Paul identifies himself in this category of a “rebel who loved religion and spirituality”. In Verse 5, Paul is testifying and he says,

5 “They (the Jewish leaders) have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee.”

Paul is telling them that he loved religion and he loved spirituality and he loved all that adorned that kind of life. Then Paul continues, in Verse 6,

6 “And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today.”

Paul wanted them to consider the past life that he lived. In Verse 9 Paul describes more of his rebellion as a religious zealot when he says,

9 “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did…”

Paul’s religious zeal convinced him that he needed to resist Jesus’ authority, resist Jesus’ glory, resist Jesus’ influence, and resist Jesus’ name in every possible way, and that is what he did in Verse 10,

10 “And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.”

It is interesting that he is indicating that he was not always successful. Though he had all the force of Law and the force of threats, even the threat of death, he was not able to get them to blaspheme. He tried to get them to blaspheme; that was his obsession.

The story continues in Verse 13, and this is Paul, as a religious rebel against God, describing himself,

13 “About noon, O king, as I was on the road (to Damascus), I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’”

It is important for us to understand that, at this time in Paul’s life prior to this incident on the road to Damascus, Paul was entirely and utterly ignorant of the rebellion that was raging in his own heart. He was unconscious of the fact that he was a rebel. If you were to ask Paul, prior to this Damascus road experience, “Are you rebelling against God,” he would have said, “No, I am not rebelling against God. I am living my life in conformity to what God would have me to do. I am zealous for God!”

It is interesting that Paul’s answer of denying the rebellion in his heart is the answer that is true for most people in this world. If you walk up to the average person on the street and you ask them, “Are you rebelling against God,” there are some who will say, “I am angry with God and I hate Him,” but most people will say, “No, I am not rebelling against God at all. I am just trying to live my life.” But, though Paul was not aware of his rebellious state, he was, as Jesus said, “kicking against the goads.”

This is the condition of every human heart born into this world: we are born kicking against the goads. We may say, “That is an odd phrase. What does it mean to kick against the goads?” A goad is a stick with a sharp point on one end and a person would use a goad to poke at an oxen’s heels to get him moving as he is plowing a field or as he is carrying a burden. He will poke the animal’s soft, tender heel, right by the hoof, and the animal will move forward because he didn’t like the pain; he was moving away from the pain. Here, this expression is being used to describe someone who is absolutely stubborn; someone rather than being moved along forward, in progress, by the goad that is being pressed against his life, Paul is kicking against the goad.

What does that accomplish? It only accomplishes more pain – that’s all! It doesn’t make any sense to kick against the goad. It is only going to hurt more and who had the goad in their hands in this story? It is Jesus. Jesus prods us and He moves us forward for our own benefit and for our own well-being and for our own good. He pokes us in various ways and such is the initiative of grace that God has in our lives. He does so in many ways.

We are not told how God was “goading” Paul. Maybe it was through some of the Scriptures that Paul had memorized and that he was meditating upon; that God would begin to put these thoughts in his head about the Messiah and about who Jesus is. Perhaps it was in the inner workings of the guilt of his own life, even though he had all of these religious craftings and he felt self-righteous, none-the-less, the Law was coming against him saying, “Paul, there is still a problem in your life. There is still sin that you still stand condemned,” and God was using these goads to poke and prod Paul towards submission to Jesus Christ and toward become a true worshipper. Yet, all the while, instead of moving along in the direction that God was prodding him, instead Paul stubbornly stands there and he kicks against the goads. Through all of his life, up to this point, he is kicking against God’s prodding and he is only hurting himself in the midst of his stubborn rebellion.

The point is that God makes gracious advances towards us in His mercy. Why do we refuse Him? Friend, you might not feel as though you are in rebellion against God, but God says that you and I are born in this condition of rebellion. Isaiah, the prophet, would describe in the rebellion in our heart this way, when he says in Isaiah 53:6 that we all “will be like sheep”. There is not one of us who are outside of this state and condition in our natural position:

6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way…

Remember, rebellion takes many shapes. Not everyone turns to the way of the sensual profligate. Not everyone turns to the way of the drunkard. Not everyone turns to the way of the lover of money. Not everyone turns to the way of the boaster and the arrogant, but each one, in rebellion, turns to his own way. You know what your own way is: it is in rebellion to God and unless God makes a change in our life this is where we remain.

Paul tells this story to give us hope that God, when He comes into a life, He transforms us so that we move from being in rebellion against God to being a true worshipper of Him. Paul did not change himself. He did not reform himself by saying, “I have to start doing better!” Jesus Christ met him and, in a dramatic miracle, changed the course of his life. Let’s look at Verse 14 and 15,

14 “We all fell to the ground… 15 Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’”

In Paul’s case this was a falling to the ground in absolute submission and brokenness. Paul calls Him, “Lord”. Then we read Him say,

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Paul is beginning to get the picture that Jesus is alive, Jesus is reining in Heaven as Lord, and Jesus is meeting him personally. In the account that Luke records in Acts 2210, at this point in that account, Paul asks a second question. He first asked, “Who are you, Lord”, but the second relates to is and now he is completely broken,

10 “What shall I do, Lord?”

“I don’t want to kick against the goads anymore. God, you have changed my heart so that, rather than kicking against the goads, you don’t have to goad me anymore. I want to find out the direction that you have for my life, because now I am a worshipper and I am one who sees the value of Jesus; I am one who sees and understands His supremacy; and one who sees His Lordship, His glory, His sovereign authority over me, and I want, now, to respond in obedience and submission to do His will.”

The heart of the worshipper is not first a posture of upraised praise. The heart of the worshipper is, first, the posture of one who has fallen upon their face before the Lord in absolute brokenness and recognition of our rebellious nature. So often we would come to church and we would want to, first, stand up with our hands out, raised in praise, but, first, we must have a heart of one who has broken before the Lord. Until we are broken before the Lord we really can’t be a worshipper. The miracle is that God changes us.

I ask you, are you still kicking against the goads or have you been changed to a true worshipper of God? This inward rebellion keeps us from worshipping with eager praise for God and the reality of His being in every day of the week. The rebel is willing to come to church on Sunday morning, or Sunday night, or a Bible study during the week, but a worshipper everyday is not who they are. It requires a total life transformation that Jesus does make to all of those who are regenerate.

The religious rebel looks for loopholes to get around God’s authority and to get around God’s agenda for many aspects of their lives. The worshipper looks for more ways to respond to Jesus; “What shall I do, Lord?” I encourage you, don’t kick against the goads. Resisting God’s gracious initiatives in your life only hurts yourself.

The second transformation or changes is that Jesus so transforms the believer’s life so that they move from vanity and the emptiness of life to real purpose. Verse 16 tells us that Jesus said,

16 “Now get up and stand on your feet.”

This doesn’t mean that Paul was wrong to fall on his face in the first place. No, this was a humble brokenness as he considered the Holiness of Jesus and the glory of God, but it does mean that after we fall upon our face in brokenness that God’s purpose for us in the world once we are broken is for us to rise up and to do His will in this world. Now there is a whole new purpose for us. The Bible teaches us that we cannot connect to God’s eternal purpose for our lives until we have been broken, repented of our sin, and believe in Jesus. Once we do God’s eternal purpose connects to our lives.

God’s eternal purpose, this all-consuming meaning for why we exist, is connected to His glory and to the glory of the name of Jesus. It is only as worshippers that we can connect at all to the glory of God and that we can connect at all to the glory of His Son Jesus. It is only through Jesus Christ that we have access to God’s flawless design for our lives.

Everywhere, people are searching for purpose and they are searching for meaning. They don’t want to live an empty existence. One pastor in California, Rick Warren, wrote a book entitled The Purpose Driven Life. It continues to sell like hotcakes. It is a Number One Bestseller – why? It is because people are yearning for their life to count for something and have some purpose. They understand that there is a lot of emptiness and vanity that won’t matter one stick in relationship to eternity. They say that they want to have meaning and purpose so here we have “the purpose driven life”.

The Gospel truth is, though, that no life can have any eternal purpose until we come prostrate before Jesus. There is no purpose to drive us unless Jesus is the Master of our own soul.

I am tempted to write a book entitled The Prostrate Driven Life, but I don’t think it would be a “Number One Bestseller” though, because we want purpose without prostration and without falling in humility and brokenness before God. There is no “purpose” because God is the purpose and is the One who is the all-consuming meaning. It is only through Jesus Christ that we can connect ourselves to him.

God comes to Paul and He says, “Paul, get up. Stand on your feet. I have an eternal purpose for you to live out now.” What a joy that is for the believer; we have a purpose in this life that is meaningful and eternal.

There are other examples of this in Scripture. Remember Isaiah, when he saw the Lord (Isaiah 6:8), he too fell down and he called out to God, “O, woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips and dwell among a people of unclean lips.” It was then, that God in grace, touched his lips with a burning coal and He said, “Who will go for me,” and Isaiah said, “Here I am. Send me.” God gave him a purpose but it was after he fell prostrate before the Lord.

I think of Ezekiel, and the vision that he has in Ezekiel 1:28, of the glory of God. He says that it was

28 Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown…

What happens when he falls facedown? In Ezekiel 2 we read that the Lord said,

1 “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you… 3 He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites… 4 Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’”

It is this transformation that brings about purpose and prior to this transformation there can be no lasting purpose to our lives. Isn’t it wonderful, as a believer to say that Jesus Christ has done such a work that now we have purpose every day, and that purpose connects with every part of every aspect of our life. Praise God that this is so.

Paul’s life was one of vanity and nothingness until Jesus transformed him. He had a great career and he had the respect of all of the people around him; of his peers and of his nation. He was listened to as a religious authority, but he said, “I consider all these things as nothing because they were nothing compared to the vast value of knowing Jesus Christ. I understand that the real purpose is bound up in this eternal being.”

I ask you, are you living with an eternal purpose? Jesus is worth living for.

I have been praying for an Afghani man, Abdul Rahman, who was a Muslim and he converted to Christianity. This very day he still faces the death penalty because in that country it is illegal to convert from Islam to Christianity. He has garnered the world’s attention and our nation and some European nations are strongly trying to defend him, which is a bit of a surprise. In the midst of this, I was listening to one radio reporter talking about this on a talk show and this radio reporter was saying, “Consider this, wouldn’t you lie to save your life? What is happening here? Why doesn’t he lie? I know I would!” My heart was burdened for this man while he was talking because I realized that this man doesn’t have any reason to live and there was no real purpose that was driving his life.

This man, Abdul Rahman, has an eternal purpose that transcends anything in this world. That is how meaningful it is. (On March 28, 2006, the Associated Press reported that Abdul Rahman had been released. The announcement came after the United Nations said he had appealed for asylum outside Afghanistan. On March 29, 2006, Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi announced that his cabinet had approved Rahman’s asylum plea and Rahman had already arrived in Italy.)

The third change that takes place is that Jesus so transforms a believer’s life that they move from enslavement to freedom. God promises Paul specific protection in Verse 17,

17 “I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles.”

He was giving a foretaste to Paul that if he needed to be rescued he was going to be in trouble a lot. Right away Jesus tells Paul that he is going to be in trouble an awful lot and that there will be a lot of people after him to kill him, but Jesus will rescue him. Then He goes on to say,

17 “…I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light”

This transformation from darkness to light has something to do with the change in our spiritual understanding so that we understand who God is, but it also has to do with a transfer of authority; what kingdom rules over us – from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light. He goes on to say:

18 “…from the power of Satan to (the power of) God…”

In Colossians 1:13, Paul describes this in our salvation,

13 For (God) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of (His dear Son) the Son he loves…

Isn’t that wonderful that God Himself, in our salvation, has rescued us from the dominion of darkness? The whole world is under the power of the evil one until those individual people come to faith in Jesus, and at this point they are rescued from the dominion of darkness. The dominion of darkness, the dominion of Satan, is one of death, dishonesty, and one of darkness. That is the condition of every person’s life until being rescue. Jesus transforms us so that He moves us from enslavement to Satan to freedom in God.

The skeptic says, “Satan has no dominion over me. I rule my own life.” Friend, just because you don’t know you are enslaved doesn’t change the fact that you are. The Word of God tells you, unequivocally, that if you do not have Jesus you are enslaved.

How sad it is, by the way, as well for believers who have been set free from the dominion of darkness to go back, voluntarily, and submit themselves to this former dominion, the dominion of darkness, and live lives as though they are still a slave, with all of the horrible, corrupting ramifications.

The proof of man’s enslavement is this: man thinks that sin is harmless. You may say, “I am not enslaved.” You think this sin is harmless and that is undeniably the symptom that you are still enslaved, and so you sip at sin, you swig at sin, and you will even chug it down on occasions. You say that you can quit sin at any time, but you don’t. You don’t “quit” sin because you can’t! You might be able to change one sin for another sin, but you cannot be free of sin. You love sin and you cannot keep from loving sin. You do not love righteousness and you cannot love righteousness apart from this gracious work of Jesus Christ in the life of the believer.

How wonderful it is to be free from the love of sin that we, as people, can love righteousness and can hunger and thirst for righteousness itself. How good it is to be free so that our affections are changed so that we love God’s Law and we love its Rule and all of its implications over our lives. This is not to say that the flesh inside of the believer still does not entice us and lure us away and cause us to want to love sin, but it is to say that we are now truly free to have a life that loves righteousness and that our affections are changed. Indeed, we can hinder this process by continued abject disobedience to God, but this is what Jesus does when He makes a change in a life. This is why, as a freed people, we rejoice to hear warnings about sin. Enslaved people do not enjoy hearing warnings about sin, in fact, it gets really offended when specific sins are identified; sins that are very close to our lives. Enslaved people always say, “I don’t like that and I don’t want to hear that! If the Sunday school teacher or the pastor talks about that too often I am going to find another Sunday school teacher or I am going to find another pastor to listen to.”

This is never true for those who are free. Those who are free love to hear the warnings about sin because they really want to be free from sin completely and practically in their everyday lives.

The slave man and the slave woman cannot stomach very many words about specific sin. They are too personal, too uncomfortable, and too disturbing.

I like the story of Dr. Howard, a minister in Australia, who preached very strongly on the subject of sin. Afterwards, one of the church officers came to Dr. Howard and said, “We don’t want you to talk openly, as you do, about man’s guilt and corruption because if you do our boys and girls hear you discussing this subject and they might more easily become sinners. Call it a ‘mistake’ if you will, but don’t speak so plainly about sin.” At this point Dr. Howard took down a bottle from a medicine cabinet and that bottle was labeled “poison”. He said, “Are you to say that, if I would take this label off and replace it with a label that said ‘Essence of Peppermint’ that would be a good thing? It would be all the more dangerous for someone would read that label and not think of the deadly, corrupting results that would result from taking this bottle and they might sip from it. They might taste it and thereby die.”

Believers who are free love to hear warnings of sin from the Scriptures and from others of God’s people.

The fourth change is that Jesus so transforms the believer’s life that they move from condemnation to pardon. Verse 18, again, says,

18 …so that they may receive forgiveness of sins…

This blessing is the foundational blessing of a believer’s union with Jesus Christ. No other blessing is possible until we have been forgiven. Believers speak of themselves as “being saved”. The question is: saved from what? Here is the answer to that question – we have been saved from God’s justice. That is what we are saved from. We need to be saved from God’s justice because left to ourselves we will remain condemned by God forever and ever. How is it that a just God can forgive a people? It is by sending His Son to receive the just penalty of our sin for us. In the cross, the God who judges becomes our refuge and out tower of safety so that we can rejoice and say (Romans 8:1),

1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…

The world longs for forgiveness. Carl Menninger, the famed psychiatrist, once said, “If I could convince the patients in psychiatric hospitals that their sins were forgiven, seventy-five percent of them would be able go free and well that very day. If only they can be assured that their sins are forgiven.”

That is why we rejoice in it: that we move from being condemned to being pardoned.

In 1988, Marghanita Laski, one of the best known secular humanists, died and this is what she said before she died, “What I envy most about the Christians is your forgiveness. I have nobody to forgive me.” Beloved, do you have somebody to forgive you? Do you have the Judge of all the world who is eager and who is standing by and who is saying, “I forgive you. I cleanse you of all remnants of all the guilt of your sin.” How joyful it is for us who have been forgiven.

The last change is that Jesus so transforms the believer’s life so that they move from poverty to riches. In Verse 18 we read that they have been given

18 “…a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

I like the New King James translation of this term, which reads,

“…an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.”

This is the underlying truth behind this word. It is a possession that is rightfully ours by an inheritance and a connection to the Father, to the Authority of that family.

When I say that Jesus transforms a life from poverty to riches, I don’t mean what many of the televangelists mean we hear them on television when they say that God makes you rich. They talk about sending in your “seed money” and if you send in $1,000 of seed money you can be assured of getting $10,000 in return. This is not at all what the Bible teaches in regards to our inheritance. Such foolishness is actually an embarrassment to biblical Christianity for two reasons. First, it breeds a greed for materialism and a love for money from which many other evils flow. Secondly, and just as significantly, it darkens the view of our true treasure.

What is our “true treasure” and how is it that we have this inheritance and what is this inheritance? Here it is: it is Jesus Christ. That is our treasure and He is our inheritance and He is altogether lovely and He is beauty and glory and wonder, all combined in this one person and He is ours.

When Kimberly and I were married, one of the things that happens to many married couples is that you come home and you have all of these gifts yet unopened. So, you begin opening these gifts, gift-upon-gift that is filling an entire room. What is the joy of marriage? I will tell you, if I didn’t have any of those gifts, but I still had Kimberly, I am a rich, rich man. The truth is, if I have all of those gifts and multiplied one hundred fold, and I don’t have Kimberly, it is an impoverished day.

The wonder of our treasure is Jesus and we, as believers, need to learn to value the beauty of Jesus, otherwise we miss life and we miss the joy of Heaven itself.

John Piper asked the question, “Would you be happy in Heaven if Jesus were not there?” I tell you, this is Heaven: it is Jesus. Heaven is not about the streets of gold and it not about the beautiful buildings. It is not even about us getting to see other people. All of those things are great benefits; they are like the gifts that we open together after we came home from our honeymoon. Yes, it was a great day and we were enjoying it, but the real beauty is that Jesus is there. There is no one who is going to be happy in Heaven if we are not happy because Jesus is not there. That is what that place is all about, so we as believers realize that we have gone from being impoverished people, people who are poor and have nothing, to being the richest people on the earth for we have found the One who is the pearl of price, and how does He come to us? It says to us that He comes to us by faith.

I close by asking this question: do these changes describe your life? Have you gone from rebellion to worship; from vanity and emptiness to real, everyday purpose, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week; from enslavement to freedom; from condemnation to pardon; and from poverty to riches? Does this describe your life? If you say, “I am not sure,” I say to you, trust in Jesus Christ. Fly to Him in faith for He is the One who can transform you. He can and thank God He will as you come to Him in faith.