Guy M. Richard

Feeling Christ within Us

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Saturday, April 20, 2024
Instead of looking for perfection, we should be looking for any desire to pray, any desire to meditate, and any desire to obey—however small. We should look for conviction when we fall short too. Is there any remorse in regard to your prayerlessness or lack of attention to Scripture or to obedience? If so, be encouraged. These kinds of things are impossible without the Spirit of Christ, because apart from Christ no one will ever want anything to do with God in any way (see Rom. 3:10ff).

I want you to picture the scene: a pastor is meeting with a member of his congregation who has come to him seeking his counsel. The member has been struggling with assurance of salvation and is asking the pastor for help. The question uppermost in this member’s mind is, “How can I know for sure that God is for me and not against me?”
The scene is not unusual. Pastors get asked these kinds of questions all the time. The struggle for assurance is undoubtedly one of the most persistent struggles that many Christians will face in their lifetimes. But what would you say if I told you that the pastor in this scenario responded by saying, “The key to knowing whether or not God is for you is to feel Christ inside of you”? How would you respond if you were the one sitting in the pastor’s office, and this is the counsel you received? Many people that I know would be tempted to get up and walk out. Feelings are fallible. They can easily mislead us, and, oftentimes, they do. So, why would any faithful pastor direct his church members to feel anything within themselves?
Surprising as it may be, however, this is precisely the counsel that John Calvin—of all people—gives in his commentary on Ephesians 5. After devoting significant time and energy to unpacking the doctrine of union with Christ, Calvin quite unexpectedly says: “Let us therefore labour more to feel Christ living in us, than to discover the nature of [our union with Him].” It’s a statement that comes out of left field, as least it does for me. I cannot recall another place, off the top of my head, where Calvin speaks of feeling anything much less of feeling Christ within us. Quite simply, Calvin is not known for his “touchy-feely” demeanor, convictions, or counsel. This statement sounds more like what we would hear from a pastor or ministry leader in the 21st century than in the 16th century. What is Calvin trying to say here? And what does it mean to “labour…to feel Christ living in us”?
What is Calvin saying?
The first thing that Calvin has in mind here is the mysterious nature of our union with Christ. It is “mysterious” not because we don’t know anything at all about it but because, as AA Hodge once said, “it so far transcends all the analogies of earthly relationships, in the intimacy of its connection, in the transforming power of its influence, and in the excellence of its consequences.” Rather than seeking to understand how Christ is “in us” or what it really means, we should instead, according to Calvin, focus upon other things that are less mysterious. And Calvin believes that feeling Christ within us is at least one of things that qualifies.
The second idea that Calvin has in mind in encouraging us to feel Christ within us is the fruitfulness of our union with Him. When the apostle Paul says that “Christ in [us]” is “the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27), he is highlighting the transformation that union with Christ produces within every believer. To have Jesus within us is to have something that we didn’t have before: namely, hope. That hope represents an experiential change within the believer; it is something that we can see and feel, generally speaking. Every Christian may well undergo seasons in which that hope is veiled, but that should be the exception rather than the rule. Being a Christian means having Christ within us, and having Christ within us means that we have hope.
Paul speaks more explicitly about the transformation we experience in Romans 8:9-11, which says:
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
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Sin in the Christian Life

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Friday, November 17, 2023

Many years ago, when I was in seminary, I asked one of my professors what had surprised him most about the church when he had finished his own theological studies and had started serving in ministry. I will never forget his response. He said, “Guy, would you believe there is actually sin in the church!”
As my professor insightfully and rather comically pointed out, we are so often surprised by the fact that Christians continue to sin after coming to faith in Jesus Christ. But we shouldn’t be—not really. We live with ourselves. And so we should know, better than anyone else, the thoughts that we think and the things that we say and do. We should know that what the apostle Paul says about himself in Romans 7:13-25 applies to us as well. We regularly fail to do the things that we want to do and instead find ourselves doing what we do not want to do (vv. 15-16). It’s not just that you and I were sinners until Christ set us free from sin and death but, as Paul says of himself, we are still “wretched” men and women who still need to be “deliver[ed]…from this body of death” (v. 24).
But, having said this, it is important to point out that some New Testament scholars would disagree. They believe that Romans 7 is not talking about Paul after his conversion but before. That interpretation, however, does not hold up to further scrutiny. What is more, it is out of step with several other passages in the New Testament that confirm the reality of remaining sin within Christian men and women. Let’s look a little closer at this idea.
The first thing I would mention in regard to Romans 7 is that an important key to understanding what Paul is saying is found in vv. 16-17 and in v. 20: “Now if I do what I do not want…it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” At first glance, Paul would seem to be passing the buck or shifting the blame: “It’s not my fault. Don’t blame me. Blame the sin that lives within me.” Sounds like a convenient attitude, doesn’t it? But I don’t think that is what Paul is really saying here. I think Paul is telling us that his “I” has been changed. In other words, he has been converted. He is no longer dead in sins and trespasses (à la Eph. 2:1), which is why he says it is “no longer I who do it.” He is now a “new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). But sin still remains within him, leading him to do the things he does not want to do so much of the time.
Paul then confirms this in vv. 22-23, when he says: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” Paul’s “I” has been changed. That is why he can say that he “delight[s] in the law of God” in his “inner being.”
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Where Does Sin Come From?

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Wednesday, August 23, 2023
Sin is not something that needed to be created in order to exist. It became a possibility when God created the angels who were capable of choosing godliness or ungodliness, and it was actualized when one of those angels chose the latter over the former. This angel, along with his army of demons who joined him in rebelling against God, are responsible for promoting and proliferating sin in every generation. And, under their influence, sin has become the natural bent of every human being’s heart, mind, will, and affections.

Sin exists. That much should be obvious. We see it manifested in the world all around us; we see evidence of it within ourselves as well. Violence and hatred go virtually unchecked. Selfishness and pride run amok in so much of what we do and in so many of the decisions we make. Anger and frustration so often lurk beneath the surface, just waiting for the right circumstances to call them up. And storms and diseases frequently wreak havoc on our lives and our livelihoods. These things we all know to be part and parcel of the world in which we live. The question is, why? Why are they part of our reality? Where did they come from? Better yet, if these things are all manifestations of sin, the real question we must answer is, where did sin come from?
The problem gets more complicated, however. If God created everything in the universe and declared it to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31), and if sin is, at its root, not good—i.e., it is unrighteousness and ungodliness, as I argued in my last article—then God couldn’t have created it. But if God didn’t create it, then where did sin come from? Has it always existed? Is it some kind of cosmic opposite to God? Or is there some “sinful” being that is responsible for bringing it into the world and sustaining its influence in every generation down through the ages? And, if that is true, then where did this being come from? These are just some of the things that we will be exploring in this article. Let’s start “in the beginning” with what happened at creation.
Sin Didn’t Need to Be Created
If, as I argued in my last article, sin is ungodliness or unrighteousness or, even, lawlessness, then this means that sin is not a substance that needs to be created in order for it to exist. It is an attitude or a posture—an anti-God attitude or posture—that leads in turn to anti-God thoughts, words, and deeds. Sin is the privation or absence of godliness or righteousness or lawfulness, much in the same way that darkness is the privation or absence of light. God didn’t need to create ungodliness; it already existed as an “opposite” to His own character and will.
In addition to the passages I cited in my last article, Titus 2:11-14 clearly supports this line of reasoning. Significantly, according to the apostle Paul, we are told in these verses that Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness” (v. 14). Sin is necessarily, therefore, the opposite of law-keeping; it is the privation or absence of lawfulness. And because God’s character and will are the only bases for the law, this means that sin is nothing more or less than ungodliness. Paul confirms this interpretation by placing “lawlessness” in v. 14 in parallel with “ungodliness” in vv. 11-12. The work of Christ not only redeems us from our lawlessness; it also transforms us more and more to reflect God’s character and will over the course of our lives.
This, in turn, confirms that sin didn’t need to be created. It is the privation or absence of God, His character, and His will. All that is needed for it to come into existence is for creatures to exist who have the ability to choose to embrace God/godliness or to reject it. Therefore, when God created the angels with the ability to choose “for God” or “not for Him,” sin—which is simply ungodliness—became a distinct possibility for the first time in the history of the universe.
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What Is Sin?

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Tuesday, August 22, 2023
Sin is, fundamentally a rejection of God as God. It is idolatry at its very core or, as so many ministers and theologians have said down through the ages, it is “cosmic rebellion” against God. When we think or act as though there is no God, we are sinning—which is why it is possible for a good deed to be a sin. If we do good deeds in order to give glory to ourselves, then we are falling short of the glory of God and are, therefore, sinning. If we do good deeds out of a desire to be recognized or appreciated or simply to feel good about ourselves, then we are falling short of the glory of God and are, therefore, sinning. Sin is a complete anti-God state of thinking, speaking, desiring, intending, and doing.

It doesn’t take much in the way of discernment to see that something is drastically wrong with the world in which we live. The mere fact that people would even think of walking into an elementary school and casually and violently extinguishing the lives of the most precious and, yet, most vulnerable among us ought to be enough to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that something is not right in the universe. Who of us hasn’t watched with horror and profound grief as images from these kinds of ghastly events have been displayed on our televisions or our phones and ipads? Who of us, in these moments of unbelievable tragedy, hasn’t longed for a world that is utterly free of this kind of evil and injustice?
But we don’t need to confine ourselves to only looking at school shootings. Many other things in the world show us that something is wrong. We put locks—and, sometimes, alarms—on our houses, our cars, our offices, our schools, and our stores for a reason. We hire police officers and security guards, because we think that we need them. We take to the streets to protest injustice, because even the very authorities that we look to for protection oftentimes fail us. We buy and carry guns, because we want to protect what we have and don’t trust others to do it for us. Something is wrong with the world in which we live, and that much should be overwhelmingly obvious to us all.
But it doesn’t take much self-reflection to realize that whatever is wrong with the world is also within each of us. No one has ever had to teach anyone to lie or to steal or to be selfish. Those things seem to come naturally for every human being. We all know that the testimony of the apostle Paul in Romans 7:14-25 applies to us as well. We recognize that there is a battle going on inside of us between the things that we should do and the things that we actually find ourselves doing. We are all aware that we fall short in our thoughts, words, and deeds. We don’t always think the right things; we don’t always say the right things; and we certainly don’t always do the right things. And this isn’t just a problem “out there” in the world at large. It’s a problem “in here” within each of our hearts as well. Something within every man, woman, and child is not right. It doesn’t take a lot of soul-searching to see that. But I’m not so sure that every man, woman, and child would be able to put their finger on exactly what it is that isn’t right either within themselves or within the world.
The Bible teaches that the problem with the world and with every person living in it is something called sin. According to the Bible, sin has separated us from God and from one another. It has set us at enmity with God, with ourselves, and with everyone else around us. Sin has infected our hearts, our minds, and our wills such that every aspect of our human psychology is affected. We can’t think sinlessly. We can’t desire sinlessly. And we can’t speak and act sinlessly. The Bible says that even our best deeds are tainted with sin (see Isa. 64:6).
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Confronting Those Who Sin Against Us

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Friday, May 19, 2023
Christian confrontation, therefore, must not only entail “speaking the truth,” but it must also involve love. This means that the way we confront others is just as important as the truth we say, if not more so. We aren’t simply called to “get things off of our chests” as Christians, because that is selfish and the opposite of love. Rather we need to let love dictate what we say and how we say it.

On at least two occasions, in the context of speaking about forgiveness, Jesus instructs us to confront every brother or sister who sins against us and fails to repent or apologize. In Matthew 18:15, He says that we are to “go and tell” the one who has hurt us “his fault” in private. In Luke 17:3, He calls us to “rebuke” the one who has sinned against us in the hopes of bringing him or her to “repentance.” But, as everyone who has ever attempted to do these things will know, the way that we do them matters just as much as actually doing them. We can “go and tell” or “rebuke” others and end up making the situation far worse than it was before by doing these things in an unhelpful way. We can further damage the relationship, and we can even make the prospect of reconciliation less likely than ever by “telling” and “rebuking” in ways that hurt rather than heal.
I remember one time, many years ago, when I tried to confront my wife about something she was doing that was causing me offense. I thought about what I should say to her ahead of time, and I asked the Lord to give me the right words and the right tone of voice as well. But I didn’t give any thought to the timing of the confrontation (can you believe that I actually decided to talk to her right after we had gotten into bed and were ready to say goodnight?). And I didn’t approach the whole thing lovingly. Instead, as I discovered an hour or two later(!), I came across as arrogant and unkind. I didn’t have her best interests in mind, and she saw right through it all. Rather than fostering forgiveness and reconciliation, my confrontation backfired. It accomplished the exact opposite of what I had wanted it to accomplish.
What does it actually mean to “rebuke” someone? And how exactly should we “go and tell” others when they have offended us? What should the kind of confrontation that Jesus is advocating for in Matthew 18 and Luke 17 look like in real life? Jesus doesn’t give us much to go on in these two passages in order to answer these kinds of questions. But I think we can draw out a few guiding principles from the character of Christ Himself, which Christians are clearly called to emulate, and from other passages in Scripture as well. In particular, I want to suggest four things for us all to keep in mind when we have to confront someone who sins against us. These four things will help us not only to do it but to do it as helpfully and Christianly as we can.
Confront Slowly
The first thing I would say in regard to Christian confrontation is that we need to be very slow in actually “going and telling” people their sins. When I say this I don’t mean to suggest that we should delay our obedience to Jesus’s commands unnecessarily. We should never be slow in doing what Jesus asks us to do. But what I mean is that we need to be suspicious of our motives and our desires and to let that suspicion keep us from being “trigger-happy” in our confronting of other people. We should seek to discern why we want to confront them. Is it because we want to vindicate ourselves? Is it because we want to feel better about ourselves by tearing the other person down? Or is it because we genuinely love the other person and want what is best for them in this situation?
Practicing self-suspicion enables us to be more cautious in our approach to confrontation so that we are not confronting others unnecessarily. It helps us to be more selective in the things we choose to confront and the things we choose to let go. This is important because we live in an age that is overly sensitive. We are a thin-skinned people, by and large, and we are easily offended by the things that people say and do. When we continually confront people for trivial and unintentional things and when we constantly make mountains out of molehills, we become like the boy who cried wolf. People will stop taking us seriously.
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Do We Still Need to Forgive Even if They Never Apologize?

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Sunday, April 16, 2023
Even though Jesus calls upon us to forgive our brothers and sisters “seven times in the day” (so long as they repent), this doesn’t mean that we are to allow ourselves to be mistreated. It is appropriate for us to put some “guard rails” in place or to talk with brothers and sisters who hurt us about steps that they can take to ensure that they don’t continue to do the same things over and over again. 

In my last post, I argued that Jesus’s whole point in telling the “Parable of the Unforgiving Servant” was to say to Peter (and to you and me by extension) that we shouldn’t have to ask how many times we should forgive someone when they sin against us. Knowing that we are like the first servant in the parable who was forgiven a debt he could never repay, we are to stand ready, willing, and able to forgive others no matter how often they may hurt us or how great the pain they may cause. Forgiveness is not optional for us as Christians. We are to forgive others in direct proportion to the forgiveness we have received from God. But if all of that is true, as I certainly believe it is, it inevitably raises the question as to whether or not we are obligated to forgive those who hurt us even if they never apologize or seek our forgiveness. Are we as Christians to supposed to keep on forgiving others no matter what?
Forgiveness is Relational
The short answer to this question is no; we are not called to forgive others “no matter what.” One of the reasons we know this is true is because, as we have previously said, forgiveness is always a relational category. It is never an end in itself in the Bible but always a means to the end of reconciliation (see my earlier posts on forgiveness). A relationship has been broken, and it needs to be restored. It cannot be restored, however, until and unless the sins that have caused the break have been dealt with. Once these sins have been forgiven, the relationship can be restored to its original condition.
The relational nature of forgiveness means that we have no obligation to forgive someone with whom we do not have a relationship. That is because there is actually no way for us to forgive in this case, because genuine forgiveness—at least in the way that the Bible talks about it—is always unto the restoration of a relationship. And this is impossible if there isn’t a relationship to begin with. There should no doubt be something akin to forgiveness that takes place in these kinds of situations. We ought not harbor bitterness and anger toward people for the things that they do to us, even if we don’t have relationships with them. We need to let go of the hurts that strangers may cause so that they don’t consume us or eat us up on the inside. But we can’t forgive them really and truly, because forgiveness is always unto the restoration of a relationship, and, if there isn’t any relationship to restore, then there cannot be any forgiveness.
Forgiveness sometimes requires confronting others.
The relational nature of forgiveness also means that we have no obligation to forgive someone who does not apologize and seek our forgiveness for whatever hurt he or she has caused. This is because genuine forgiveness is impossible without both sides participating. One side must apologize and be willing to seek forgiveness and the other side must be willing to forgive. Without both of these things happening, reconciliation is unattainable.
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Why is Forgiveness so Hard? Part 2

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Sunday, March 19, 2023
All of us struggle with pride to one degree or another, and we bring it into every relationship that we have. Sometimes our pride manifests itself in an over-sensitivity to criticism, and we get our feelings hurt far too easily. More frequently it manifests itself in a resistance to forgiveness. Pride makes it unlikely that we will humble ourselves and seek the forgiveness of others whom we have hurt and even more unlikely that we will let go of the perceived wrongs that are committed against us.

In my last article, I explored two potential factors that make forgiving someone who has hurt us so incredibly difficult. I argued, first, that forgiveness is a relational category in the Bible, which means that it is always unto the restoration of a relationship; and I said, second, that forgiveness is costly, insofar as it always involves the incurring of a debt that must be absolved. No doubt these two factors have raised several questions in your minds. Two stand out in my mind: “Do Christians have to forgive one another?” and, along with that, “Do Christians have to forgive non-Christians?” In what follows, I will add a third potential factor that can so often make forgiving other people difficult, and, after that, I will try to provide some answers to questions like the two I just raised.
Forgiveness is Humbling
A third reason why forgiveness can be so challenging for us is because it is inherently humbling (and maybe even humiliating) work. It involves laying aside our pride, which is extremely hard for us to do, first, because we are all prideful people and, second, because pride is, as CS Lewis has so helpfully articulated, the “great sin” and the “essential vice.” It is the root sin that undergirds and leads to every other sin in our lives. Ever since the beginning it has expressed itself in the desire to “be like God” in determining for ourselves what is right and wrong (Gen. 3:5).
Pride affects each of us in different ways, to be sure, but the common denominator in all of our experiences is the “essentially competitive” nature of pride. It “gets no pleasure out of having something,” Lewis writes, “only out of having more of it than the next man.”* If everyone in the world is equally rich, beautiful, intelligent, or talented, then there is nothing for any of us to feel prideful about. We are not proud of being rich, beautiful, intelligent, or talented; we are proud of being richer, more beautiful, more intelligent, or more talented than someone else.
All of us struggle with pride to one degree or another, and we bring it into every relationship that we have. Sometimes our pride manifests itself in an over-sensitivity to criticism, and we get our feelings hurt far too easily. More frequently it manifests itself in a resistance to forgiveness. Pride makes it unlikely that we will humble ourselves and seek the forgiveness of others whom we have hurt and even more unlikely that we will let go of the perceived wrongs that are committed against us.
My mother used to always tell me that it takes two to fight. I remember not believing her as a child, because I was convinced that I was always in the right. No matter what the disagreement was—inevitably with my brother or my sister—it was always the other person’s fault. My actions, whatever they may have been, were justified because the other party was to blame. Looking back now, it is easy to see that I was motivated by pride, but it was not so easy to see in the moment. The point I am trying to make here is that, in most disagreements, the break in relationship is a two-way street. Both parties are usually to blame to some degree. Rarely do we get attacked for no reason whatsoever. Rarely does someone with whom we have a relationship hurt us without any provocation of any kind. It does happen. But the more common scenario is that we typically respond in kind. When we are hurt by someone, we usually strike back returning hurt for hurt and insult for insult. That kind of response is motivated by the competitiveness of our pride. We don’t want anyone to get the better of us; we don’t want to lose face. That is why pride makes the process of forgiveness and reconciliation so difficult. It makes it unlikely that we will walk away, allow someone else to have the last word, or let go of the anger we feel. It makes it unlikely that we will admit blame and humble ourselves, that we will let the other person win.
But pride also works against forgiveness and reconciliation in two other important ways. It makes it tough for us to confront someone Christianly when that person has hurt us, and it makes it tough to apologize and seek forgiveness from others when we have hurt them. The competitiveness of pride leads us to want to have the upper hand.
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Why is Forgiveness so Hard? Part 1

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Saturday, March 18, 2023
We don’t like actually having something to forgive, because having something to forgive means that we have been hurt or offended. It means that a debt has been incurred. Having something to forgive signals the fact that something is not right. Pain or loss has come into our lives, a friend has betrayed us, a relationship that is near and dear to us has been broken. Forgiveness is difficult precisely because we have something to forgive.

There is an old and familiar adage that we have been using in the English language for at least 500 years. Its Latin roots may go back even further than that. The adage seems to have been initially used in regard to the formulation of military strategy but quickly began to be applied to other areas of life as well. This well-known saying goes like this: “to be forewarned is to be forearmed.” And what we mean is that the more we know about a situation or an event ahead of time, the more we will be prepared to face it if and when it actually comes to pass.
This is true of most things in our lives, and it is true of forgiveness as well. The more we know about the circumstances and considerations that make forgiveness so challenging, the more we can be on the lookout for those things when we face actual disagreement and conflict. The more aware we are of these circumstances and considerations, the better armed we will actually be to forgive when the occasion arises. With this in mind, we will give our attention to examining three main characteristics of forgiveness that contribute to making it so difficult—it is relational, costly, and humbling—and then we will look more closely at some of the practical questions that these things raise. In this post, we will consider the first two characteristics of forgiveness, and, in the next post, we will wrap things up by looking at the third characteristic and then give attention to some practical scenarios that all three of these characteristics raise.
Forgiveness is Relational
One of the things that makes forgiveness so challenging is the fact that it involves relationships. What I mean is that, in the Bible, forgiveness and reconciliation always go together. Forgiveness is always unto reconciliation. It is never an end in itself but always a means to the end of restoring a relationship that has been broken or damaged. The grand example of this would obviously be God’s forgiveness of us in and through Jesus Christ. This forgiveness is not an end in itself. God doesn’t forgive just for the sake of wiping the slate clean. He forgives in order that you and I might be reconciled to Him and restored to fellowship with Him forevermore. Reconciliation is the ultimate end that God is after. But reconciliation is impossible until and unless forgiveness has taken place, because, without forgiveness, you and I are still at enmity with God as a result of our sin against Him.
This is precisely what the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:19, for instance, when he explicitly links forgiveness and reconciliation: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” Reconciliation, according to Paul, is impossible for anyone if God is still “counting their trespasses against them.” Those trespasses must first be forgiven. Then restoration or reconciliation can rightly take place. Forgiveness is, therefore, always unto the restoration of a relationship or, as we have said above, forgiveness is always relational.
We see the same idea implicitly in passages like Hebrews 8:12 and 10:17, both of which cite the beautiful reality expressed in Jeremiah 31:34, namely, that God will “remember [our] sins no more.” Now, we know these verses don’t mean to suggest that God will wipe our sins from His memory bank. That is not possible. God is omniscient; He knows everything—everything that has happened, everything that will happen, and everything that could happen. When God says He will remember our sins no more, He is not saying that He ceases to be omniscient when He forgives. He is speaking relationally. He is telling us that He will not hold our sins against us in terms of how He relates to us. He will not treat us in light of our sins but will treat us as if we had never committed any of them, because He has forgiven them already. This means that forgiveness must be a relational category. It is unto the restoration of the relationship that has been broken by our sin.
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Remaining Steadfast Under Trial

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Saturday, October 29, 2022
Rather than running to sin to help us cope with difficult circumstances, James challenges us to turn instead to God and to His Word. This again is incredibly practical. James understands that our tendency is not only to ignore what God says when we suffer but also to turn aside to sin.

The ESV begins a new section in James 1:19 and marks it off with a new heading entitled, “Hearing and Doing the Word.” The NIV and NKJV and other versions follow suit. By adding the heading, these translations give the impression that James is no longer talking about trials in the verses that follow but is instead shifting gears to focus on the topic of devotion to God’s Word.
But I don’t actually believe that James is shifting gears at this point in his epistle. I think he is still talking about trials and how it is that we are to remain standing in and through them. I say this for two main reasons. One, we need to remember that the headings, the verse numbers, the paragraphing, the punctuation, and even the spacing that exists between the words are all human additions to the original Greek, which contains none of these things.That is simply to say that there is no clear break in the original text after verse 18 (or anywhere else, for that matter).
Two, there is an evident link between James 1:16 and 1:19. The phrase “my beloved brothers” occurs only 3 times in the book of James—one of these occurrences is in James 2:5, which is many verses removed from the section we are studying beginning in 1:19. The other two instances occur in 1:16 and 19. And, interestingly, on both occasions, the phrase is preceded by an exhortation. In verse 16, James says, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers” and, in verse 19, he says, “Know this, my beloved brothers.” The point is that the connection in verses, that are so closely situated in the text, would suggest that James is seeing them as parallel.
If verse 16 is still dealing with the topic of trials, then it would make sense to take verse 19 in the same way. Both verses seem to be addressing the topic of how we can endure or remain standing in the midst of trials, even debilitating ones. In vv. 16-18, James points to who God is and what God has done as one of the practical ways we can keep on going during a trial. In vv. 19-21, he points to the Word of God and the priority we assign it in difficult circumstances. And there are two main things that James is highlighting here: (1) the means of our endurance and (2) the mindset of our endurance.
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Count It All Joy

Written by Guy M. Richard |
Sunday, September 18, 2022
Trials, according to James, are not scheduled or planned. They come into our lives when we least expect them to. They so often catch us by surprise. We don’t know when we will face trials; all we know is that we will face them, and we must be ready. There is, therefore, both a certainty and an uncertainty associated with all our trials.

In exhorting us to “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds,” James is laying before us one of the most difficult challenges in the Christian life (James 1:2). It is an other-worldly challenge. How can we “count it all joy” when we are going through the most heart-breaking or heart-wrenching of circumstances? How can we rejoice when the world as we know it is falling apart?
I once heard a story about a friend of mine who went to visit a member of his congregation in the hospital. The member had a young son, around 2 years old or so, and the son was dying. When this friend of mine walked into the hospital room, he saw the mother of the child sitting in a rocking chair holding her son in her arms. Almost as soon as he walked in the child took his last breath and died in his mother’s lap. As tears were streaming down her face, the mother looked up at my friend and, in the midst of incredible grief and pain, asked my friend to lead them in singing the Doxology.
It is relatively easy to “count it all joy” when things are going well around us. When God’s will matches our own will for our lives, it is easy to be a Christian and to “count it all joy.” But when those two things don’t add up—when God’s will for our lives and our will for our lives don’t match—that is when things get hard. We all marvel at those occasions, like the one described above, when we see brothers and sisters in Christ rejoicing in the midst of incredibly difficult circumstances. But how do we actually begin to do it ourselves when things fall apart in our own lives?
I think James 1:2-4 helps us to answer this question. It doesn’t do so comprehensively to be sure, but it does give us a real answer as to how we can “count it all joy” in the midst of heart-breaking circumstances. This passage has at least three things to teach us about trials and how we can consider them worthy of rejoicing in. We will look at the certainty and uncertainty of our trials; the consistency and inconsistency of our trials; and the regard and disregard we should have for our trials.
The Certainty and Uncertainty of Our Trials
The first thing we can see is that James is highlighting both the certainty and the uncertainty of our trials. Notice that James is mentioning trials right from the beginning of his epistle. He could have started out talking about sin or temptation or wisdom or the tongue or a variety of other subjects. Why start with trials? I think the answer is because he is writing to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (v. 1) who are living as strangers in foreign lands and, therefore, are undergoing trials and tribulations accordingly.
But, if that is true, who exactly are the “twelve tribes in the Dispersion”? The phrase is similar to one that Peter uses at the beginning of his first letter: “elect exiles of the dispersion” (1 Pet. 1:1). We know that Peter is clearly speaking of Christians who have been scattered throughout the surrounding nations, because he then goes on to describe them by way of their “obedience to Jesus Christ” and by the fact that they have been washed “with his blood” (1 Pet. 1:2). James would seem to be using Old Testament language—“the twelve tribes”—in order to connect the Old Testament people of God to the New Testament people of God. Christians are not a separate people but, as Paul says, we are “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16), those who are also children of Abraham by way of our faith in Jesus Christ. By referring to Christians as “the twelve tribes,” James is focusing attention upon the certainty of the trials and tribulations that would have been experienced by Christians in the dispersion. They would be similar to those experienced by their Jewish forebears as well.
We can also see this emphasis upon the certainty of trials in James’s use of the word “when” in verse 2. He doesn’t say, “Count it all joy, my brothers, if you meet trials of various kinds” but “when you meet trials.” The trials are certain. They will happen. We can take that to the bank. It is not a question of “if” but of “when.”
James also highlights the uncertainty of our trials by speaking of them as something we “meet” (v. 2). This word occurs two other times in the New Testament: once in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 and once in the account of Paul’s shipwreck in Acts 27. In Luke 10, we read about a man who is traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and, on the way, “meets” robbers who strip him and beat him and leave him for dead.
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