Revelation 3 – Letters to the Seven Churches (part 2)

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The Church in Sardis

Sardis was a capital city known for its great wealth and fame.  There is not much written about the city of Sardis other than that, but I have often related this particular letter most readily to the church in North America.  Jesus says, “You have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead.”  In a country where great wealth and fame are what defined and viewed as important, the church seems to have taken a back seat.  Because of our country’s place in the world, we may assume that this too is where the church is the strongest… but in reality, the church is declining in the U.S. faster than any place in the world.

The question that this letter poses to the church in North America is what it looks like to be faithful in the midst of this.  How indeed can we actually be alive?  How do we live as those who haven’t “soiled ourselves” and stand with the one who is victorious before the Father?

The Church in Philadelphia

Philadelphia was a city known for its trading located on the main trade route from Rome into the province of Asia.  As such, the city was a main place for pagan worship and church persecution.  In the midst of this, Christ’s points to an “open door” that He has placed before them.  While the church here had endured a great deal, their direction was clear.  Interestingly, this has almost always been the case for the church when it faces persecution.  In these difficult times, the Gospel spreads and the church grows.  Perhaps this is what Scripture is referring to here.

The change of name imagery that we see here is one that is often found in Scripture.  Many people have undergone these changes at pivotal times in their lives.  Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel, Saul becomes Paul.  Each time the change represents God’s calling on their life and the new life that it brings about.  Here, Jesus promises to write the name of “God” and “the city of God” on them.  This too is a symbol of new life and new calling reflective of what we see in Scripture.  Those who God calls, who place their faith in Him, are marked as Christ’s own forever.

The Church in Laodicea

Laodicea was also a city of great wealth and influence known for banking establishments, medical schools, and textile industry.  The many water references in this letter come from the fact that the city had no source of fresh water.  Jesus’ reference to the “one true God” is perhaps an allusion to that here in his discussion about their “lukewarmness.”  It is important that believers find their source of spiritual water from the only source of true living water, that being Jesus Christ Himself.

Jesus’ words here also challenge the church in its action.  The church of Laodicea has not hot, possibly referring to the hot water used in medicinal practice, or cold, possibly referring to the refreshing and thirst-quenching ability of fresh water.  The only way to get either would be to return to the source, not having it shipped in or pumped in through other means.  This too is a good word to the church in North America, which has spent an inordinate amount of time pumping in water from culture, government, and any number of other places rather than returning to the source our healing and refreshing: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.



Isaiah 40:1-11 "Advent Peace"

The Prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is discord, harmony;

Where there is error, truth;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.



Revelation 2 – Letters to the Seven Churches (part 1)

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After seeing Jesus, John is told to write a letter to each of the seven churches, represented by the seven lampstands.  These letters could simply be letters to each of those churches, addressing issues that were present at that time.  However, with the greater arc of this book being to the Church Universal, limiting the writing and its meaning in that way wouldn’t necessarily fit the whole of the book of Revelation.  Notes in my Study Bible suggest the possibility of these letters being a “preview of church history in its downward course toward Laodicean lukewarmness.”  Another possible interpretation would be that these letters represent the “characteristics of various kinds of Christian congregations that have existed from John’s day until the present time.”  Being that we believe God’s Word to be “living and active,” each and/or all of these could have some semblance of truth to them.

The words for each church come from Jesus, but His introduction in them bears one of the different characteristics of His appearance, found in chapter one.  Each difference is based on the message that is coming to them, both the tone and the type of message.

The Church in Ephesus:

By now, the church in Ephesus is quite familiar to us.  Having read Paul’s letter to them as well as some discussion around the church in other letters, we know that the city was one of great importance and as such, the church there faced a number of challenges from false teachers both outside and inside the church.  To that, though, Christ speaks words of praise; they have readily resisted those teachings including those of the Nicolaitans, a heretical sect that had worked out a compromise with pagan society.

Yet, in the midst of this battle, they seem to have forgotten that which is most important, love.  It’s easy to begin with love but as many in relationships know, love takes hard work and dedication to continue on in.  This isn’t simply true in human relationships, it is also very true in our relationship with God.  We need to hold onto this love because it is that love, the love of God in Jesus Christ, that will bring victory in the end.

The Church in Smyrna:

Smyrna was a city that was closely affiliated with Rome and therefore desired greatly to worship the Emperor.  It was also home to a very large Jewish population that was hostile to the church there.  Christians here likely experienced a lot of persecution, something that Jesus Himself was familiar with.  Jesus’ words are those of encouragement to persevere despite the conditions there for their true home and true victory lie in something much greater than this life.

The Church in Pergamum:

The city of Pergamum was the capital of the Roman province of Asia and as such it was the official center of emperor worship in that region.  This gives light to the comment that “satan’s throne” was there and it also explains why Jesus uses the image of the sword in His introduction.  Antipas is traditionally known as the first martyr in Asia.  His death makes some of the things we hear about terrorists doing today look tame.

Though they have remained faithful in the midst of intense persecution and cultural pressure, Jesus still calls them out on some false teachings that they continue to allow within the church.  It is not enough for us to remain open and functioning as a church in the midst of persecution.  If we give in and allow for culture and heresies to change us, we might as well not even be there.  True victory comes from faith in Jesus Christ, the true victor, not in remaining physically present at the expense of salvation.

The Church in Thyatira:

Thyatira was a military outpost known for its guilds and trading.  It is also known for being the home of Lydia, a prominent woman in the early church.  This may be one of the reasons for the images Jesus uses in his introduction; refining fire and burnished bronze are both things that would be familiar to this city, their worth, having been refined, was much greater.  Jesus commends the church here for their growth, how things seem to be getting better.  Yet, just one is growing does not mean that evil things within its bounds can be tolerated.

Yet, just one is growing does not mean that evil things within its bounds can be tolerated.  This has applications both personally and corporately.  Sometimes, when things are going well, we want to ignore the negative things that might be happening so as to not create waves.  To this, Jesus says “no”.  He is not in the business of comfort, nor does He desire half growth… we cannot keep our pet sins as we continue to grow and be sanctified.  True victory comes in wholeheartedly following Jesus, putting off all other things.



Revelation 1 – Seeing Jesus

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John begins his writing by orienting his readers to what is happening and the purpose of his writing.  The whole of this book is a revelation from God that is given to John to make known that which will take place soon.  Remember that we talked in 2 Peter about the dimensions of time when it comes to God’s actions and history.  In fact, all of what “is going to take place” is a New Testament reference to the Old Testament phrase “in the last days.”  This is a phrase that is often used by the prophets to talk about the time when the Messiah would come which means that, since Jesus came to earth, we are in those “last days”.

As he begins his writing, John also directs this letter to the “Seven churches” in the province of Asia.  Each of these churches is specific, however, the meaning of the number seven in Scripture is also important.  Seven is associated with the number of God, perhaps meaning that this letter, while given specific destinations, is also directed to God’s Church, the Universal Church made up of all those who put their faith in Him throughout all time.  Further evidence of this would be the introduction of God as being both “Alpha and Omega.”  Both would seem to indicate that the scope of this letter is much greater than simply seven churches at one point in time.

1bc068bd89998b7e40c90cc47ad06afbThe vision that John has of Jesus is pretty intense and packed with imagery.  These images can seem foreign to us, especially because our study this year has only contained New Testament passages.  However, Jesus is actually revealing Himself in a way that would have been familiar to both John and to readers of God’s Word (which at that time was only the Scripture there was).

John records that he saw 7 golden lampstands.  This may be a reference to the menorah, the lampstand with seven arms that was made for the tabernacle and the temple of God.  He then saw “someone dressed like a son of man.”  Both Daniel and Ezekiel, in their visions, also describe an image of the Messiah in this way.  Isaiah, in his vision of the Lord, sees God dressed in this way, perhaps reflective of the High Priest who also wore such a robe.

The golden sash that Jesus is wearing in this vision is also noted in another vision of Daniel.  A head of white hair suggests wisdom, as referenced in Proverbs; Jesus is often described in the New Testament as the “Wisdom of God.”  His eyes of fire suggest a “penetrating” or “refining” gaze; Daniel again sees this in his visions as well as the feet of glowing bronze.

Ezekiel hears a similar voice in one of his visions.  The rushing water is perhaps a reference to the “living water” that Jesus offers.  Out of His mouth, John writes, came a double-edged sword.  Isaiah makes references to this several times in His writing; the author of Hebrews also makes reference to the Word of the Lord being a double-edged sword.  Jesus is the Divine Word Incarnate (in the flesh).

Jesus then introduces Himself to John who has rightfully fallen down before Him in what was likely a mix of fear, reverence, and worship.  He says to John, “Do not be afraid.”  This too is a normal greeting for a Divine being to give to a human when a revelation is occurring.  There is obvious reason to be afraid, but Jesus reassures John and us that we need not fear because of who He is and what He has done for us.  This greeting becomes, for us, the basis in which we can approach the rest of the book:

“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.  I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!  And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”



Introduction to the Book of Revelation

The book of Revelation, also known as the Revelation of John is, in all actuality, the Revelation of Jesus Christ.  “Revelation” means to reveal something that had otherwise been hidden beforehand.  It is, then, an appropriate title for this book, not because there are secrets that we need to dig out of it, but because Jesus Christ is revealed in greater clarity as is the plan and work of God’s redemption and restoration, as well as the ultimate war against and defeat of evil in the world.

John, the Apostle and author of the Gospel of John as well as the three letters attributed to His name, is also the author of this book.  He witnessed and recorded all that is contained within this book while in exile on the island of Patmos, a small island off the coast of Greece.

There is a great deal about this book that is unique to the New Testament but is related in large ways to some of the same styles of writing in the Old Testament.  Apocalyptic literature, the category that this book falls under, is often seen as cataclysmic, filled with vivid imagery, symbolism, and meaning that is often lost on those looking at it without context.  Like all Scripture, it is important to read the book of Revelation within the context of all of Scripture.  It is also important to follow general idea that both Apocalyptic literature, like prophetic literature, is speaking to a people at a particular time, revealing a greater reality of what is going on in the world, both physical and spiritual.

Far too often, people have approached this book in an effort to “unlock its hidden meaning.”  They will look at current events and those of recent history and try to match them up to what they see described here.  While there may be some similarities, this is an inappropriate way to view Scripture.  Instead we should be looking at how Scripture speaks into our lives and, should events of the world relate, remind ourselves of how God is revealing Himself and His work in those situations.

As such, our journey through this book WILL NOT include the following:

  • Identifying the specific anti-Christ
  • Relating of today’s nation of Israel to the Biblical Israel
  • Identifying exactly when Christ will return

I will admit, here and now, that I am completely  unqualified to offer commentary on this book.  John Calvin, the great reformer, was unwilling to write a commentary on this book.  What I can offer is, as it always has been, thoughts and reflections as well as learning from my faith journey which includes seminary and Christ-centered, undergraduate education.  I trust that the Spirit will continue to lead us on this journey and bring forth all that needs to be said.

It also bears mentioning that I am approaching this from a Reformed Theological Perspective.  That brings with it a number of assumptions and viewpoints (for example, amillennialist viewpoint) that are not necessarily held by all.  I welcome the conversation as I think we have a profound opportunity to learn from each other here.  We’ll talk more about these things as they arise.  I trust that the Spirit will continue to lead us on this journey and bring forth all that needs to be said.

Disclaimer: Due to the nature of the book of Revelation, many posts here will likely be longer than usual.



The Book of Jude

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The book of Jude is short, unique, and quite beautiful in its writing.  Jude introduces himself as the brother of James who most likely authored the book of James and was the brother of Jesus, a prominent member of the church in Jerusalem.  In this culture, to identify as someone’s brother rather than the son of their father is certainly unique.  However, given James’ status in the church, this made Jude’s writing all the more accepted.

Jude addresses his letter to all those who are called and who are loved by the Father.  In essence, he is writing to everyone.  There really is no one that falls outside of this purview, though the qualifier of having been “kept in Jesus Christ” tells us that these words would impact, in a greater way, those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ.

On of the very unique characteristics about the book of Jude is the author’s use of extra-canonical references.  Extra-canonical books are religious writings, often written in the same time period as the canonical books (those that are included in the Bible) but were not included in the final canon of Scripture when that decision was made.  Many of these books are included in the Apocrypha.  Jude references the Book of Enoch as well as a writing known as “The Testament of Moses.”  Both of these writing were popular and well respected in New Testament times, however, they were not considered to be divinely inspired in the way that the canonical books of the Bible we know today are.

While the Reformed Church and most protestant denominations do not recognize these books as Biblical or Canonical, unlike the Catholic Church and many Orthodox churches, there certainly is still value found in them.  Books like the Maccabees stand as a witness to historical events whereas others stand as a witness to that which is in the canonical Bible.

Martin Luther, one of the fathers of the Reformation said of these books, “[Apocryphal books are] books which are not held equal to the sacred Scriptures, but nevertheless are useful and good to read.” The Belgic Confession, one of the statements of faith in the Reformed tradition, observes, “The Church may certainly read these books and learn from them as far as they agree with the canonical books. But they do not have such power and virtue that one could confirm from their testimony any point of faith or of the Christian religion.”

The Belgic Confession, one of the statements of faith in the Reformed tradition, observes, “The Church may certainly read these books and learn from them as far as they agree with the canonical books. But they do not have such power and virtue that one could confirm from their testimony any point of faith or of the Christian religion.”

Perhaps sometime in the future, these will be a source of study in this blog…



3 John – Hospitality

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We often talk about those who have the gift of hospitality as being those who can put on a good dinner party or those who like to have people over to their house.  Certainly, there is an element of truth to this notion and there are many who are gifted with a welcoming spirit and an open home.  However, Scripture challenges our this notion, pointing out that if hospitality means only welcoming those we know, those we like, and those who believe the same way that we do, it falls short of the true meaning of hospitality.

Here John commends his friend Gaius because of his faithful work and love toward those he does not know.  These people are, apparently, Christians but are strangers to Gaius.  However, Gaius continues on in what he is doing for the sake of the Gospel and receives a commendation from Paul for it.

This is contrasted with the actions of Diotrephes who always wants to be first, the very opposite of hospitality.  John, here, is echoing Jesus’ teachings to His disciples, talking about servant leadership and humility rather than boastful, proud talk.  Such actions are not hospitable and are, in essence, wounding the message of the Gospel.

As is always true, the example that we follow is that of Jesus Christ.  Paul speaks to the humility and hospitality of Jesus in the book of Colossians:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing    by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.



2 John – Walk in Love

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Though 2 John is the shortest book in the Bible,  it is no less important because of the message that it carries.  The author, presumably the Apostle John, continues in the theme he carries throughout his writings, to show and live out the love of God daily.  John says that he is not giving them a “new command,” but rather is reiterating the one that Jesus gave to His disciples: love one another.  When we walk in love, we are walking with God and are obeying the commandments that God has given to us.  This is, as Jesus points out, the essence of the whole Law.

What is interesting here, and at other points in 1 John as well, is what it means for those who claim to be Christians to not love each other.  John says that they are “a deceiver and the antichrist.”  This may seem a bit extreme as we often think about the “antichrist” as being a person who will appear in the end times to openly oppose God and actively persecute Christians.  Views like this have been perpetuated in today’s culture by books like the “Left Behind” series and other “end times” type books.

Yet the way that John uses the term “antichrist” is one that references the work of the devil on a daily basis, not an evil figurehead.  In fact, if we were to follow this line of thinking, it makes sense that Satan is the antichrist, the one who opposes God in the world and that those who deny Jesus, those who do not love God or show God’s love for others participate in the work of Satan, the antichrist.

In the same way that those who love as God first loved them are in Christ and participating in the salvation and redemption of the world, following God’s lead and Lordship, so too are those who do not, participate in the Devil’s campaign against God and His work in the world.



Isaiah 64:1-9 "Advent Hope"



1 John 5 – Overcome

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Several times throughout this writing, John has talked about overcoming the world.  Whenever he says this, though, it doesn’t come in the context of us opposing the world through our own strength.  The victory that we have is and always will be in Jesus Christ alone. Our victory is founded in His victory over sin and death and, like we are raised with Him, we will also dwell with Him when He returns.

While this may seem a somewhat obvious reality for us, far too often we forget the primary place this needs to hold in our lives.  We like to claim that Jesus is Lord, but then we look to our government to protect us and provide for us.  Christians in the U.S. have created lobbying groups and other governmental entities to further advance a political agenda, rather than following the Gospel message to love those around us.  We try to overcome the world politically when the words of Scripture clearly point to Jesus Christ dwelling in us as the only way this could happen.

We worry and fret about the loss of religious freedom in this country, thinking that if we can’t gather on Sunday mornings all will be lost.  Our government makes decisions that are contrary to what we see as morally right, “Christian principles” that we read out of Scripture and are surprised.  None of this, the moral decline or the repressing of the Gospel should be surprising, though.  Christ Himself said that we shouldn’t be surprised by this but to take heart because they hated Him before they hated us.

He also reassures us, “Take heart for I have overcome the world.”  John writes that when Christ dwells in us, we have a strength greater than the world’s power and we too can not only resist the temptations of this world but overcome them by “the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony” as John will testify to in the book of revelation.



1 John 4 – Don't Deny

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John continues to talk about love in this chapter, something that we could never really say enough about.  God’s love, shown by Him and reflected in us is such a vital part of who we are in Christ and how we come to be just that.  John’s words on this could go on forever.

He also briefly talks here about the ability to recognize the Spirit of God in those around us.  This is also an important thing for us to think about especially in the current culture that would seek to offer us “pseudo-Christian” teachings that do not necessarily jive with Scripture.  How can we know that these things are “of God”?  John points out that any teaching that claims to be Christian in nature, any teaching or spirit that claims to be of the Bible, will first and foremost acknowledge the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

What does this mean?  For starters, it means that it will be in line with Jesus, His life, death, resurrection, and teaching.  In other words: It will match up with “The Word” as John refers to Him as.  Jesus Himself is the Word of God made flesh, the fulfillment of all that Scripture says.  Therefore, any and all teachings that are of God will acknowledge Jesus as Lord first and foremost.

There are a number of religious groups that claim the “Christian” title but don’t do this.  Their messages sound good, their church buildings look spectacular, and their message is often well disguised to motivate and uplift their listeners.  However, it is not of God.

Once again, John is warning his readers that they need to be clear on who and what they are loving.  Messages that are meant to make us feel good but don’t acknowledge Jesus as Lord (or our sin for that matter) are ultimately self-serving and betrays us to the sin of idolatry of self.



Psalm 145:1-7 "Giving Thanks"



1 John 3 – What Great Love!

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John continues his emphasis on love, now turning to the love that God has shown us in Jesus Christ.  Whereas in chapter two, John was giving direction on who and how to love, as well as where not to place our love, now he shows the example of perfect love that comes only from God.

God’s infinite love is beyond amazing.  Far too often we talk about it in a limited fashion, referencing it simply to the forgiveness or sins, or God not getting mad at us when we don’t live the way He calls us to.  Both of those are true statements but fail to get anywhere close to the far-reaching depth of God’s love.

Through the love of God shown in Jesus Christ, we aren’t just given a free pass, God actually adopts us as His own, calling us His children and, as Scripture says, making us heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.  Our old self, the sinful dirty part of us, is put to death, washed away, and completely covered Jesus Christ, whom God sees when He looks at us.

There is very intentional imagery being used here because it gets at the importance and intimacy of the relationship that develops here as well.  God is the loving Father who lavishes love on His Son and on us as those who are marked with His Son’s blood.

In response to this, John writes, we should love one another.  When he says this, he is using the same form of the word “love,” meaning that our love for each other should be modeled after God’s love for us.  This is supposed to be the foundation for our relationships with each other in the Christian community and with all of those we come in contact with.

It is enough to say that we fail at this often.  But John also offers a reminder and an encouragement that we have hope in God, that He is greater than our sins, and both forgives us and works to build into us and shape us more into the image of His Son.



1 John 2 – Loving the Other

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Echoing Jesus’ words and directives to love, John writes here encouraging his readers to show love to each other.  He even goes so far as to say that those who don’t love their brother, a word which we could exchange readily with the word “neighbor”, do not have Christ in them.  While this may not seem like a dramatic statement, but when we look at these words in combination with chapter one, John is essentially saying that those who don’t love others are the same as those walking in darkness, they have not encountered God.

Indeed, John writes in his Gospel that Jesus says the world will know we are His disciples by our love.  This comes in sharp contrast to how many Christian denominations act today, defining themselves not by the love that they show to those around them, but by the high towers of theology they have built for themselves.  Far too often, our “doctrines” and “theology” create an interpretation of Scripture that divides rather than bids of to love.

There is, however, a limit to the love that we are to show as well.  While loving our neighbor is an essential part of the Christian life, loving the world is not.  In fact, loving the world actually brings the same determination as those who do not love at all: they do not have Christ in them.

Loving the world means loving the things of this world more that God.  John lists these things as bring primarily related to lust and pride, out of which I’m sure we could track most of the common sins of our lives.

Finally, John talks very intentionally about what it means to deny Jesus.  For John this might have been a very personal thing for him to say, remembering Peter’s denial of Jesus and recording the reinstatement of Peter in his Gospel.  He encourages his readers to remain faithful, reminding them that their calling and anointing comes from God alone and cannot be changed, even by their own actions.  This is an important reminder of Christian identity, something that has implications to everyone who believes.



1 John 1 – Life and Light

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The Apostle John opens His Gospel talking about the incarnation of Christ as the theological foundation that supports the rest of his book.  He says there, of Jesus, “In Him was life, and that light was the light of mankind.”

John opens his first letter, though not in letter format, with the very same themes.  Jesus is the incarnation of God in human flesh and He, being the very Word of God, brought with and in Him life.  The life that Jesus brought, that He offers to us, is also the invitation to have fellowship with God, to be in a relationship with Him.

He then continues into a practical application of what this means as we live into this in the life of faith.  Once again, John uses the contrast of light and darkness to describe those who follow Christ, the light of the world, and those who don’t.

There is a very important theological principle that is hidden in this first chapter.  We often talk about the Gospel message and the “Good News” of Jesus Christ as being all about grace and being saved from our sins and this is entirely true.  Yet to be saved from anything, there needs to be an acknowledgment of the need for saving.  In John’s words here, if we say that we are without sin, we are deceiving ourselves and we continue to walk in darkness.

In Jesus Christ, God brings light, life, and salvation into the world, redeeming and restoring our ability to live in relationship with Him.  Jesus is the only way that this could happen; there is no way we can save ourselves.  So, while we rightly emphasize the grace of God, the only way that this grace is important is because of the sin we find ourselves in.  John says that if claim that we have not sinned, we make a liar out of God.  In reality, we know full well of our depravity and when we acknowledge that, as uncomfortable as it may be, we can embrace the saving grace of Jesus Christ and live true life, in true light and freedom.