Christianity 201

October 9, 2016

Slavery to Sin

by Russell Young

Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” (Jn 8:34 NIV) This proclamation is very convicting and many would argue that although they might sin, they are not a slave to sin. What did the Lord mean?

Understanding his wording and condemnation rests in understanding the fullness of his provision for those whom he has redeemed.   A slave is a person who has a master.  In this case he is teaching that all who sin have sin as their master.  Proclaiming that a saved person can be a slave to sin may cause great affront to those who have been saved.  Perhaps this is because those who consider themselves in the family of believers find it difficult to appreciate what is meant by sin.  Perhaps it is that we see ourselves as being righteous Christians and are not ready to accept that sin can exist in our lives, and when it does, it is accepted as a minor issue.  However, sin is a serious matter!  The Lord went on to say, “Now a slave [to sin] has no permanent place in the family.” (Jn 8:35 NIV) He also taught, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Mt 13:41 NIV)

Do you sin?  Are you a slave to sin? Some would argue that as mere mortals all people sin and for this reason accept its practice as something that God would find tolerable in their lives. They excuse themselves.  This is a grave mistake.  It is common to hear of God’s unconditional love and many accept that his grace and his love will cover their unrighteous practices.  They might accept that some sinning is okay as long as it is not a serious sin like murder.  However, the Lord taught that everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

The believer must not be allowed to find escape in the human propensity to sin and expect God to tolerate his or her disobedience. Peter taught that “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” (2 Pet 1:3 NIV) The reality of his teaching needs to be examined because if it is true, humankind has no excuse in the sight of God for establishing peace with any sinful practice.

God’s divine power is the Holy Spirit. He is the power that raised Jesus from the grave.  He is the power that kept Jesus from sinning while in the body that the Father had prepared for him.  He is the same power that resides in all (Col 1:27; 2 Cor 3: 17, 18) who have humbled themselves before God and have declared that Jesus is Lord.  No one can make the claim that they are incapable of not sinning; at judgment day their confession will have to be that they didn’t use the power and authority given them, and not using all that has been provided will not be found as an acceptable excuse before the Lord for sinning .

A person who has recognized God’s requirement for righteousness and has turned his back on all that has been provided for its defeat must admit that rather than the Spirit of holiness being his master, sin remains so. The one who sins is still a slave to sin and to the interests of the flesh and will be judged accordingly.

The redeemed need to establish in their hearts and minds an understanding of the effect that sin has on God and the measure of his or her willingness to allow excuses for their behaviour.  The Word is clear, the evil imaginations and practices of people bring pain to the heart of God, (Gen 6:6) and he gave his Son to defeat its practice.  No matter what excuses the redeemed are prepared to make for unlawful behaviour those excuses will not be accepted.  It is time that teaching proclaims God’s holiness.  It is well past time that the deceptive teaching of God’s “unconditional love” be stopped and replaced with the more correct presentation of the expansiveness of his love—his provision of freedom from past sins and of the provision of his divine power so that the believer need not be a slave to sin. Believers need to understand that the Father had given his Son to be tortured on the cross and provided him to live in them so that the power of sin might be defeated.

Do those who call Jesus their Lord sin?  Yes!  Does that mean that they are slaves to sin? In the moment of their sinning, they have let sin dominate the Spirit and have allowed it to become their master. If sin is their master, they have become its slave. Christ did not sin and will not sin so when it happens the sinner has abandoned the power and leadership of Christ who would have given them victory. They did not retain him as master or lord.

Release from sin’s draw on a person’s life is not instantaneous but freedom from its slavery must be gained. The righteous life is a struggle and striving to defeat the enemy becomes impossible when the flesh, the evil one or the permissions of the world are allowed to dominate the Spirit. The Lord knows our weaknesses and does not give up when we fail until we quench or deny the Spirit.  Slavery to sin might prevail in our weakness but committedly engaging the enemy with the power of Christ will result in winning the battle for righteousness in the end. All of mankind enter this world as slaves to sin; their need is to allow Christ to become their master.

It is unnatural to deny the flesh and to live for righteousness and for Christ, that is why the Spirit is the only solution for victory.  The battle for freedom from sin is not won without a contest. Some battles are won and others lost. However, John taught that if we confess our sin we will be forgiven and purified from all unrighteousness. (1 Jn 1:9) The person who is actively engaged in the fight for victory has not accepted sin as his or her master and will yet gain their freedom from it.

Has your own indifference prevented your struggle for victory?  Has deceptive teaching allowed you to rest in a false hope? Are you determined to master sin rather than have sin master you?  Christ revealed,” He who overcomes [the issues raised to the seven churches in Revelation, which includes sinning] will inherit all of this [the blessings of the New Jerusalem], and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Rev 21:7 NIV)

not-a-slave-to-sin

 

April 8, 2014

Overcoming Temptation

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James 1:13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Ben Stuart is part of Breakaway Ministries a non-denominational student outreach on the campus of Texas A&M University. The video runs 4.5 minutes.

“Do I believe God really loves me?”

This was an interesting quote at the end: “I dislodge a beautiful thing from the human heart by replacing it with a more beautiful thing.”

 

October 29, 2013

Strength to Overcome

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Joshua 17:12 Manasseh was not able to defeat those cities, so the Canaanites continued to live there. 13 When the Israelites grew strong, they forced the Canaanites to work for them, although they did not force them to leave the land.

14 The people from the tribes of Joseph said to Joshua, “You gave us only one area of land, but we are many people. Why did you give us only one part of all the land the Lord gave his people?”

15 And Joshua answered them, “If you have too many people, go up to the forest and make a place for yourselves to live there in the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaites. The mountain country of Ephraim is too small for you.”

16 The people of Joseph said, “It is true. The mountain country of Ephraim is not enough for us, but the land where the Canaanites live is dangerous. They are skilled fighters. They have powerful weapons in Beth Shan and all the small towns in that area, and they are also in the Valley of Jezreel.”

17 Then Joshua said to the people of Joseph—to Ephraim and Manasseh, “There are many of you, and you have great power. You should be given more than one share of land. 18 You also will have the mountain country. It is a forest, but you can cut down the trees and make it a good place to live. You will own all of it because you will force the Canaanites to leave the land even though they have powerful weapons and are strong.” (NCV)

I never ceased to be impressed at the number of people who are sharing daily devotional thoughts online. Even if absolutely no one is reading, it provides a discipline in their life that offers much spiritual benefit. I know that after years of trying different daily reading programs, preparing these readings has helped me develop a regular study plan, and has taught me so much. Also, there are just enough regular readers that I am kept accountable. Furthermore, the potential for someone to land on something I’ve written or reblogged here, and have that article change their life, is huge.

Sometimes I’ll use keywords in a Google Blog Search to try to find what someone is saying on a particular topic or Bible reference, but other times, I’ll be using Google (or Yahoo) Image Search to find a picture or graphic which complements an article. That’s how I landed on Devotions By Chris, though I never did find the picture. This appeared on the blog a few days ago under the title Strong Enough to Overcome.  Please give Chris Hendrix — and the other various writers we use here — some encouragement by clicking the titles to read articles at source.

I’ve been reading in the book of Joshua about the land allotment given to each tribe of Israel. You know the part where, like the genealogy sections, we typically skip over. I saw something interesting in Joshua 17:12-13. It says,

“The people of Manasseh never were able to take over these towns – the Canaanites wouldn’t budge. But later, when the Israelites got stronger, they put the Canaanites to forced labor. But they never did get rid of them.”

They couldn’t get rid of a few people in a few towns even after all the great conquests in the Promised Land.

As I read this, I began to think of the sins that I have in my life. You know the type. They’re the ones that no matter what I do, I can’t seem to beat. No matter how hard I try, I still succumb to their temptation every time. I’ve done fasting and prayer to get strong enough to beat them out of my life, but they still keep showing up. I’ll see something in the day that starts the process. My thoughts begin to dwell on the things that will eventually lead to the sin and sooner or later I fall. Sound familiar?

Near the last part of that verse, it says that they forced the Canaanites into forced labor when they became strong enough. When I read that, I thought of II Corinthians 10:5 that says,

“We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

It’s our thoughts that keep the temptation alive in our heads that walk us down the road to sin. I’m not strong enough to drive out those thoughts and so I end up sinning. But here, Paul says we have divine power to demolish the strongholds in our lives.

There is a power beyond ourselves, in Christ, that can give us the power to take those thoughts captive and as the book of Joshua says, “put them into forced labor.” When we try to combat these thoughts in our own strength, there isn’t enough power. Those thoughts seem to be fortified against whatever we throw at it. They’re like the Canaanites in Joshua 17:16. The people of Joseph complained that they didn’t have enough land because the Canaanites had iron chariots and couldn’t be moved.

Joshua didn’t care about the iron chariots. He wasn’t looking at this as a physical struggle, but a spiritual one. He spoke into the tribe what they were that they couldn’t see. He saw what God sees when He looks at us. In verses 17-18 he told them, “you are very powerful” and even tough the Canaanites had iron chariots and were strong too, “you can drive them out.” He spoke into their lives and called out in them what God had put in them. He reminded them of their past victories and current realities.

You may see yourself like these two tribes. You’ve forgotten all that God has forgiven and delivered you from. You have strongholds in your life that you’ve allowed to remain because you haven’t seen yourself as strong enough to beat them. You’ve allowed them to shame you and to accept them in your mind. I’m telling you today that you are strong enough to overcome. You are powerful through the Holy Spirit that God has placed in you. If He has forgiven you and given you deliverance from other sins, He can give you the strength to beat the ones you’re struggling with today. Though they seem fortified with iron, God’s Word is more powerful and it is alive in you today. Bring those thoughts into captivity and drive them out of your mind’s landscape. You are very strong.

Today’s two-for-one special: The theme of Spiritual Warfare appears here very frequently. For past articles, click this link, scroll down the page and select another article to supplement today’s reading.

July 19, 2012

A Study on Sin

After a longer post yesterday, I was looking for something shorter today, but then remembered having this in my files and wanting to share it sooner than later.

Blogger Jeff Mikels wrote this following the arrest of a local pastor, so while it deals with the sin problem as faced by all of us, he wrote in within the context of sin impacting church leaders.  As always, you are strongly encouraged to read C201 posts at their source; this is a great encouragement to the writers and you may find other articles on their blogs you would enjoy.  Here’s the link to where this appeared as Reflections on Sin.

This past week, a number of stories came out in my local newspaper reporting on and analyzing the arrest of a local pastor. He has been accused of placing and monitoring video equipment in the female bathrooms at the church. If you haven’t read the articles, don’t worry about not knowing the details. I’m not going to address the specifics of that story, but it has burdened my heart so much that I feel a need to reflect here in my semi-public space what these moral failures reveal about God, humanity, and the state of the church.

The story is all too common

Including this story, a total of three significant church leaders have been arrested for sexual misconduct of some kind in Lafayette in just the past three years. People are well aware of these stories happening all over the place. These stories happen in the Catholic Church. They happen in Protestant churches. They happen in small towns and in large cities. They happen with local pastors and national figures. The stories are all too common especially when we consider that the Bible says this about those who would be leaders in a church.

Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.1 Timothy 3:2-4

and also

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.James 3:1

As an individual and as a pastor, I am sickened when I hear that another leader has failed in this way not only because behavior like this is clearly prohibited in the Bible but also because these failures are easily preventable. I literally feel it in my gut when I think about some church leader violating God’s Word and the trust of the people.

At the same time, I admit that I’m freaked out by it. As one pastor after another falls to this and to other temptations, I seriously begin to worry about myself. What can I possibly do to prevent falling prey to the same temptations? Am I prone to falling in the same way? Am I prone to falling in a different way? Is it from a prideful heart that I want to judge other leaders who do fall to those temptations?

It shouldn’t be common among us at all

The sad reality is that sin happens, no one is immune, every one needs grace, but the wonderful promise of the Bible is that living a life of integrity is not only a calling but also a privilege, a gift for all believers.

Consider these two verses from 1 John:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.1 John 1:5-10

There are three things to note here. First of all, no one has the right to claim to be without sin. Those who do are fooling themselves. Secondly, all sin, regardless of what it is, can be and will be forgiven for anyone who will confess those sins. Thirdly, and this is the most relevant part for our conversation, those who walk in the light are they who enjoy both fellowship with people and cleansing from sin.

John is writing to make sure that everyone knows that no one is perfect. However, he clearly says that God’s work is more than forgiveness. God’s work is purification. In other words, God is at work to gradually eliminate sin from your life, and those who walk in the light are the ones who receive that gradual purification.

Going a little deeper, John says in chapter 3:

All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.1 John 3:3-10

Even though we can’t say we are free from sin, we can’t claim to belong to God if we continue in sin. Periodic sins are to be expected, but habitual sin, particularly the kind of sin that reveals an unloving heart, is proof of the devil’s work in that person. Therefore, if some pastor, church leader, or in fact any other human being has a habitual sin that displays an unloving heart (as almost all sexual sin does), John would conclude that the devil had been at work in him.

That’s scary.

The bottom line is that even though sin is everywhere, those who claim to be followers of Jesus (regardless of position in the church!) are expected to live lives of love and purity, and if you claim to be a follower of Jesus yet have any habitual sin in your life, you need to get it under control or you will be just as guilty in God’s eyes as anyone who’s ever been arrested for any of these sins.

So why does it happen?

I can’t tell you specifically why any sin ever happens, but the Bible leads us to understand how any sin develops in a person’s life. It comes from the heart.

For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come‚—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.Mark 7:21-22

also

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. — James 1:13-15

Sin crouches in the soul, in the heart waiting to come out at an opportune time, and there’s one thing that lets sin stay there, under the surface of our lives until it gets an opportunity. What is that one thing? Darkness.

Remember what John said in chapter 1 verse 7?

if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.

The antidote to the problem of the heart, to the problem of sin, and even to relationship problems is walking in the light! Therefore, I conclude that if someone has a sin problem or a relationship problem, it’s because of walking in darkness, but if we want to walk in the light, it requires not only that I myself live in an environment of light (especially the relationships I maintain), but it also requires that I allow the light to shine on me. The antidote to sin is to let the light shine on me and to walk with others who likewise let the light shine on them.

If that’s the case, then there are two simple reasons why people fall into sin. They keep their hearts in the dark, and they keep their friends in the dark.

Let me explore those thoughts with you for a moment.

A darkened heart

Simply put, a darkened heart means that a person has gone for a long time without meditating on the Word of God. David would say in the Psalms:

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. — Psalm 119:11

and he would also say:

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.Psalm 119:105

A heart that is not filled with the Word of God is a darkened heart. Now, that doesn’t mean I think pastor Bob or any of these other leaders were not reading their Bible. I’m sure they were actually spending a great deal of time in the Bible, but it’s one thing to read, and it’s quite a different thing to absorb it. Two more passages are relevant to this:

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.James 1:23-24

and this:

But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.Matthew 7:26-27

When sin comes to the surface, it’s because the penetrating light of God’s Word wasn’t allowed to shine where the sin was hiding. Those who block a part of their heart from the light of God’s Word are creating a sin incubator inside themselves.

Darkened friendships

The Bible speaks of two different kind of “darkened” friendships–friends who choose lives of darkness and friends I choose to keep in the dark.

Regarding the first group of “friends” the Bible teaches that people who hang out with wicked people will themselves fall into destruction:

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither‚ whatever they do prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.Psalm 1:1-6

In our world today, this can happen outside the context of “friendships” and in the context of entertainment. With technology, it is possible today to enjoy the “company of mockers” while being completely alone. The values of the world can seep into a person’s life simply by osmosis. If a person is hanging out with wicked people, watching wicked shows, or otherwise regularly soaking in a godless culture, that person will be corrupted by it.

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. — Proverbs 13:20

or

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”1 Corinthians 15:33

However, a person can have the greatest, most godly friends in the world, but still have darkened friendships by simply choosing to deceive, lie, or otherwise keep them in the dark. A person can have darkened friendships by simply never opening up and confessing to them his sins, temptations, and struggles. By avoiding the vulnerability of confession, he never reaches the point of growth that is supposed to come when godly people are with each other.

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.Proverbs 27:17

or

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.James 5:16

Therefore, we can say that a great deal of sin is simply the result of a darkened heart living with darkened relationships. What then, shall we do to move from darkness into light?

Moving from darkness to light

Paul gives the people of Ephesus a severe challenge in his letter to them:

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person‚–such a person is an idolater‚–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible‚ and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Be very careful, then, how you live‚–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.Ephesians 5:1-16

Paul attacks sexual immorality, impurity, and greed (three things rampant in our culture even among church leaders), but he attacks them from the standpoint of light and darkness. He tells us that those who belong to God are “children of light” and should work to “expose” the darkness wherever it may be found. In other words, Paul’s charge to followers of Jesus is that they live in the light.

So before we ever address the specific questions raised by any specific scandal, I want to turn the questions to you and to me. Let’s ask these self-evaluating questions:

  1. Is there any area of my heart where the light of the Word of God is not currently shining? Is there any area where I am knowingly avoiding the light of God’s Word?
  2. Are there any regular relationships I maintain (with people, Internet, or other media) where there is no light?
  3. Is there any area of my heart that is in the dark from other people? That is, for each attitude, behavior, temptation, and thought that’s true of me, is there at least one person who knows me well enough to know about it and to call me on it when they see it?

If you have darkness in your heart or darkness in your relationships, you are likely to fall to temptation. Deal with it now before it’s too late!

~Jeff Mikels

There are two additional (shorter) parts to this.  You need to click the link and scroll to the bottom to read

  • Some questions for times of scandal
  • Final thoughts

Jeff’s writing was previously featured here in February, with two Q&A posts:  Part One and Part Two.

January 8, 2012

The Strength and Vitality of the Spirit

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This quotation appeared at the blog, Standing for God.  A. B. Simpson was the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination.

The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me freeRomans 8:2

The life of Jesus Christ brought into our hearts by the Holy Spirit operates there as a new law of divine strength and vitality. it counteracts, overcomes and lifts us above the old law of sin and death.

Let us illustrate these two laws by a simple comparison. By the law of gravity my hand naturally falls upon the desk and lies there, attracted downward by that natural law which makes heavy bodies fall to the earth.

But there is a stronger law than the law of gravity-my own life and will. Through the operation of this higher law-the law of vitality-I can defy the-law of gravity, lift my hand and hold it above its former resting place and move it at my will. The law of vitality has freed me from the law of gravity.

Precisely so the indwelling life of Christ Jesus, operating with the power of a new law, lifts me above and counteracts the power of sin in my fallen nature.

by A.B. Simpson