Christianity 201

March 16, 2017

Feeling Condemned? Romans 8:1-4

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Condemnation is in the air. Every day in law courts across this land verdicts are reached and sentences given. Whether fiction or reality, tv is full of stories of condemnation. Then there is the condemnation that shows up in our personal relationships, from friends and enemies alike. There is also the self-condemnation many of us face when we either step in front of a mirror or step onto the weigh scales. All too often we wear false verdicts as life sentences.

Perhaps this is the reason why many people are not bothered with church. “Just another place to face more condemnation.” Perhaps this is the reason why many people do not want to think about their relationship with God. “More condemnation.” Yet if we think one hundred years or so into the future, which verdicts will still matter? Will the condemnation we have faced from others, or even ourselves, matter? One verdict will matter. God’s. One sentence will matter. God’s. His verdict is a just verdict. His sentence is an eternal-life sentence. Given the supreme importance of that verdict, what can be said about it? Let is turn to the book of Romans to find out:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

The ‘therefore’ of Romans 8:1 points us back to consider what has been said earlier in the book of Romans. A thousand sermons could not do the first seven chapters of Romans justice, so let us attempt a quick summary. As we look back we find there is some good news, some really bad news, some really great news, some more really bad news and some more really good news.

So first the good news: God has given us the law as a gift. Without law society, and life along with it, devolves into chaos. God has given two kinds of law. There is the law that is written on the hearts of all people (Romans 2:14,15). That sense of conscience, of the difference between right and wrong. Further, to give a shining and clear example, The law was given to a specific group of people, the Hebrew people, through Moses. This was good news since this law helped people thrive together and was a proper yardstick for measuring up.

Now for the really bad news: As wonderful as it is to have this yardstick, God’s law just confirms that could never measure up.

What then? Are we any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; Romans 3:9-10

Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. Romans 3:19-20

If you think that God has reason to condemn you. You are correct. That is really bad news.

Now for the really great news:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

Why?

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26

There is a lot to unpack in those few verses, but suffice it so say here that in the blood of Christ we have forgiveness of sin. The verdict has been arrived at, the sentence has been served by Jesus. This is a gift of God’s grace. Receiving that gift is a matter trust.

But now for some more really bad news: There is a second kind of sentence to deal with; a sinful life. To understand this we can think of a drug addict who has served time for being in the possession of hard drugs. A verdict has been reached, and the sentence has been served in the eyes of society. However, the addict is still that, an addict. Addiction can be a life sentence, and for some that life sentence is worse than jail time. It would be an awful thing if we were given assurance of a positive final verdict before the judgement seat of Christ, yet nothing changed for us in this life. Though looking forward to freedom, we would still be serving a life-sentence to a life in the service of evil in the here and now. Paul speaks about this problem in the very verses that precede Romans 8:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin. Romans 7:21-25

And now for some more really good news: we are freed from this sentence also!

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4

To say that sin was condemned “in the flesh” is akin to saying that the full sentence of the addict was served, not just the jail term, but the life-sentence of bearing the disease of addiction as well. The addict’s identity would be forever changed, no longer being known as an addict. Likewise, our addiction to sin is broken, our identity changed forever, as we are now “in Christ,” people who walk “according to the Spirit.” Paul has more to say about this in the verses to follow, and so will we next week.

We are guilty sometimes of speaking of salvation as if it is only a matter of what happens at the judgement seat of Christ. It is more than that. Because of the love and grace of God in Jesus there is no condemnation for those who belong to Him, neither a guilty verdict at the judgement seat of Christ leading to an eternal-life sentence, nor a life-sentence to  slavery to sin here and now. God rescues us from both. That is really great news!

(Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Clarke Dixon is a regular midweek contributor to C201 whose material can also be seen at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

January 1, 2017

Accomplishing Your New Year’s Resolution

resolutionsby Russell Young

Blessings to you in the new year! Many welcome the new year with resolutions and great intentions.  Research shows that most resolutions will not be realized.  The University of Scranton has stated that 39% of people in their twenties will achieve their resolution each year while only 14% of people over 50 years of age will achieve theirs. Perhaps greater success is achieved by younger people because of the nature of their resolutions, that habits are more entrenched in older people, or it may be that younger people are more determined to achieve their resolutions.  Regardless, change in behaviour is difficult to accomplish.  Some changes require the development of a completely different perspective, and all require motivation. Resolutions are not made concerning a single happening, but are intended to alter a developed pattern of action or attitude; they have become patterns because they have brought satisfaction or pleasure to the person who has adopted them.

Paul has shed some light on this aspect of the human condition. Although many accept that eternal salvation comes from pardon for sin, it really comes from the product that the Lord is able to accomplish in the transformation of a person; it is the result of sanctification by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5─6; 2Thess 2:13) making the believer a sacrifice acceptable to God. (Romans 15:16) A person’s transformation/sanctification requires a great deal of work and power.  Paul addressed the dilemma that he faced concerning his own inadequacy in the taming of his body.  He wrote: “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.  What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death (that causes death)? The flesh is weak! 

Paul followed up his predicament with its solution. “Thanks be to God—through Jesus our Lord!” (Rom 7:21─25 NIV) “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son…” (Rom 8:3 NIV) The reason why human resolutions and the laws of God are often not fulfilled is because their completion rests in a weakened sinful nature. Resolutions are made with good intentions but the weakness of the flesh often dooms people to failure.  Those who resolve to adjust their habits intend to do so…they want to keep their resolutions; the body just does not accommodate.

Try as one will the realization of a resolution cannot often be accomplished without divine help.  If the believer is being impressed with the need for change, the prompting for change probably came from the Holy Spirit. Change is not easy and should not be accepted as being easy, but it can be done.  Victory lies within the grace and power of God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the believer’s commitment to honour the Spirit’s calling.  It is often the lack of motivation and the weakness of the flesh that brings failure.

The Spirit is Christ in the believer (Col 1:27; 2 Cor 3: 17, 18) and he will lead and empower for victory, but those seeking victory must engage the battle with him. Prayer and commitment to honour the Lord through the successful completion of a resolution can never be abandoned. To do so means that the “believer” has fallen under the slavery of the weak, old nature and has relented to serving the flesh rather than God’s Son. If a person relies on his or her own strength for victory, they will revert to the old nature and to old patterns.  Victory demands a struggle with an objective, a determination of the will, and the power provided by the helper, the Lord.

Resolutions can fall into many categories but often they are related to expressing love and kindness toward a family member or brother in the Lord, or they may relate to gaining victory over habits that are offensive to others.  They may involve better financial management necessitating a reduction in love for the world and the things in the world.  They may also be related to issues of forgiveness.  Many resolve to treat their bodies with greater respect in some manner. These are all issues that deal with the development of the righteousness for which we hope. (Gal 5:5) They are issues important to Christ.

Since righteousness is not a trivial matter, neither should be the believer’s approach to its development.  Even in matters that might seem trivial, the faithful will bring their need before God in prayer, with commitment, and in expectation. Christ said, “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me…” (Jn 10:27 NIV) It is through the practice of obedience that victory can be gained. To hear requires listening. The voice of God often comes through the quiet whisperings of a person’s conscience and the one seeking success will not dismiss these.  The Word promises that believer will not be faced with temptations from which a way out will not be provided, and states that he or she will not face temptations that are not common to man. (1 Cor 10:13) Even though a resolution may not seem to require victory over a “temptation,” it may have been induced through an issue that the Spirit has brought to mind and he is always ready to help the humble and submissive to enable victory over any issue that is in keeping with his will for that person.

New Year’s resolutions are important to the one making them and they may be important to God. Self-discipline and the leading and the power of the Spirit can assure that they are realized.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngCheck out Russell Young’s book now in print and eBook — Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

December 18, 2016

Being Filled With The Spirit

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Across the wide spectrum of Christian belief the phrase “filled with the Spirit” is interpreted differently by different groups. In Paul’s writings on spiritual gifts he says “we know in part” and “we see only a reflection.” In the same chapter however his primary directive is that love should guide all our relationships in the body of Christ.

by Russell Young

There is a common understanding that the believer needs to keep being filled with the Spirit. That is, that he is much like a container from which the Spirit can be consumed and which, consequently, needs to be replenished. This concept is error! The filling of the Spirit needs to be considered in another light.

The Spirit is a person. He provides the enlightenment, leading, and power for victory over the devil, the flesh, and the world. He does not come to a person in fragments or pieces, but in full. Peter wrote, “[Christ’s] divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” (2 Peter 1:3 NIV) If he has given us everything we need, we need nothing more. This understanding is contrary to the understanding that the believer needs more and must seek more.

To be filled with the Spirit means to be emptied of all else—to be emptied of self and the interests of the natural spirit.natural-spirit

When the “body of death” (Rom 7:24), or that causes death, has been crucified or put to death, it has no more interest in sinful practices—it is dead. Consequently, the natural spirit holds no power; only the Holy Spirit remains. “Put to death, therefore, whatever remains of your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Col 3:5 NIV) When the natural spirit and its interest have been defeated, the believer has become filled with the Holy Spirit. To accomplish this filling, the believer needs to constantly put to death his or her earthly interests and the demands of the flesh. This is a matter of the will

Natural Spirit

Believers should not require any more of the Spirit. In fact, they cannot get any more of the Spirit. They need to appropriate what they have been given. Certainly, it is possible for God to affect those around us, and indeed, the circumstances of our lives to accomplish his purposes (Rom 8:28), but more of the Spirit is not required. It is not without reason that Christ told the believer to carry his cross so that he might crucify himself as his own interests and natural spirit start to emerge once again. The believer’s prayer should not be to seek more of the Spirit but to seek less of self, and even death to self. (Rom 8:13; Mt 16:25) They already possess the completeness of the Spirit and need no more.

The believer’s old self was pledged to have been crucified with Christ when he or she was baptized so that the body that causes sin should be done away with, that they should no longer be slaves to sin. Anyone who has died has been freed from temptation to sin and from its practice.

When Paul told the Ephesians “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,” (Eph 5:18 NIV) he was admonishing them to be consumed with the Spirit, to will the Spirit’s sovereign right to their lives, and to put to death their natural interests and any inclination to consume too much wine.

Paul taught that the Spirit was poured out generously on us. (Titus 3:5─6) It is a human tendency to cast responsibility on another. The thinking that I just need more of the Spirit so that I can do all of the wonderful things that God would have me do is an attempt to excuse ourselves of our own failings and to demand more of God. To ask God for more of his Spirit in times of “praise” is a hollow effort to glorify ourselves by implying that we are waiting for his grace and his power so that we might serve him. Again, we already have all that is needed to live the life that is expected of us, but that life can only happen as death to ungodly interests is realized and interest is taken in agenda.

Either the heart of God is sought or the natural life; it cannot be both. Each person needs to determine their own level of commitment and to accept the consequences that accompany our decisions. The believer is to work out his own salvation with fear (terror) and trembling. (Philippians 2: 12) A self-righteous demand for more of the Spirit is a confession of our own defeat unless it is accompanied by an honest petition seeking death to self and victory over the flesh.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngCheck out Russell Young’s book now in print and eBook — Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US



Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

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

 

May 22, 2016

What is the New Covenant?

•••by Russell Young

A covenant is a compact or an agreement that holds surety of promise between two parties.  The Old Covenant is often referred to as the Covenant of the Law through which the Lord promised good to those who obey Him.  “Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people.  Walk in the ways I command you, that it may go well with you” (Jeremiah 7:23, NIV) This is also the “Everlasting Covenant.” (Isaiah 24:5)

According to the Old Covenant the Israelites had to obey all of the elements of the Law.  It was not arbitrarily designed but its purpose was to create a holy nation. (Exodus 19:6) Because man “was weakened by the sinful nature,” (Romans 8:3, NIV) he could not keep the Covenant.  However, the Covenant is everlasting and God’s blessings to man depends upon the believer satisfying its righteous requirements without which a holy nation could not be created.

The Old Covenant was brought to a close for those willing to accept Christ’s lordship (Romans 10:9-10) by having its requirement of death for sin satisfied through His substitutionary sacrifice.  The New Covenant makes the believer competent through Christ’s indwelling presence to overcome his sinful nature and become transformed into His likeness. (Romans 8:29)

The New Covenant is a covenant of the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:6) The Spirit is Christ in the believer (Colossians 1:27; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18) who is able to live without sin in the believer just as He had in the body that the Father had prepared for Him in the womb of Mary…provided He is obeyed.

Paul wrote: “He [God] condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:4, NIV) Rather than accomplishing the law through one’s own resources as required by the Old Covenant, the believer has been provided with Christ’s indwelling Spirit to enlighten, lead, and empower Him to live righteously and develop a state of holiness (Romans 6:19, 22) without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14) The requirements set by God have not changed but the means of accomplishing them has.  According to either Covenant, obedience is required.  The writer of Hebrews has stated that “eternal salvation” comes to those who “obey” Him. (Hebrews 5:9)

The New Covenant is not engraved on stone but is in the flesh…the mind and the heart.  It is not legally based on satisfying the law but is based on the believer having a personal, living relationship with Christ.  It is those who are led by the Spirit who are no longer under the law (Galatians 5:18) and who are sons of God. (Romans 8:14) Those who choose to walk according to their sinful nature, even after pledging Christ’s lordship, will reap destruction. (Galatians 6:7-8; Romans 8:13)

Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant.  That is, He is the One who intervenes on behalf of the believer to accomplish the eternal hope for the believer.  He has done this to provide access to the Covenant through His death.  As mediator He has provided His Spirit to accomplish its requirements.  As High Priest, He intercedes on behalf of the believer for sins committed “in ignorance” (Hebrews 9:7) and for sins that have been confessed and repented. (1 John 1:9)

Peter wrote that “His [the Lord’s] divine power [Holy Spirit] has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3); however, the believer is not to be passive or lukewarm but is “to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling; (Philippians 2:12, NIV) that is, through obedience.

The New Covenant is NOT the promise of an eternal hope through the sacrificial death of Christ on his behalf.  It is a covenant by God which allows the Christ to live in the believer and through obedience to satisfy God’s righteous requirements for His Eternal Kingdom.  In honouring God’s Son the believer will be transformed into His likeness, will truly become His brother, and will inherit all of the blessing that apply to a son of God.  In the end, the “Everlasting Covenant” will be honoured by both God and man.

May 6, 2016

Rock on the Water

We’ve linked several times to Michael Newnham, aka Phoenix Preacher at Thinking Out Loud, but apparently never here at C201. Today seemed like a good day to fix that! He in turn seems to be introducing a guest writer who has done several posts as “Jean’s Gospel.”

This is a fresh take on a familiar story, and it attracted many comments. Click the title below to read at source.

Jean’s Gospel: Stay In the Boat!

Stay in the Boat!

“And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matt 14:28-31)

It’s amusing that the disciple whose name means “rock” thought he could walk on water. What was Peter thinking? That would have been quite an achievement, if only…. Peter ate some crow that evening.

But, someone might protest: “Jesus said ‘come’. Surely Jesus would not give Peter a command unless He also gave Peter the ability to keep it.” Should we pin failure on Peter’s lack of faith? Or, did Jesus command the impossible from Peter? But commanding the impossible is unjust; isn’t it? Surely God is not unjust!

There’s one other factor to consider. Only the right material can stay above water. It must be lighter than the water to stay on top. Peter wasn’t the right stuff to walk on water. He wanted to be the right stuff, or maybe he thought he already was the right stuff, so Peter asked for the command – to show commitment to Jesus and maybe show the other disciples who was the greatest among them. Jesus went along with Peter, and in the process taught Peter and all of us a couple valuable lessons.

We are not the right stuff.

We are like a feather with a giant rock inseparably glued to it. The rock is our sin. Our human nature is thoroughly corrupted by sin. If we attempt to come to God, we only sink under the weight of the rock of our sin. The Bible is chock-full of commandments. God’s commandments show us his holy character and perfect will for us. If we could carry out God’s commandments, we could bring ourselves to God. But, we can’t cross the water that separates us from God. We sink because of our sin. We are not the right stuff.

But there’s good news in this lesson. God’s commandments also show us something else; they show us our sin and need of a savior. When we realize that we can’t cross the water and give up trying, then we cry out for the One who can. “Lord, save me.” Once we realize we are not the right stuff, Jesus calls us blessed: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:3) Jesus wants us to stay in the boat where it’s safe and leave the water-walking to Him. He will come to us. He will still the wind and calm the sea.

Jesus is the right stuff.

Jesus came to save sinners. He loves to save sinners. When we feel the weight of our sin pulling us down and under, Jesus reaches down into the water, takes hold of us, and pulls us up to Him. We can’t cross the water, but Jesus can…and does…for us. He is the right stuff. In this life, we hunger and thirst for righteousness, and Jesus calls us blessed. Why? Because Jesus is our righteousness. (1 Cor 1:30) So, we can stay safely in the boat.

The Blessed Exchange.

Jesus eternally saves sinners through a blessed exchange effected through the incarnation, cross and preaching. In this exchange, Jesus takes our sin so that it cannot accuse us and gives us forgiveness so that we have His righteousness to boast in, not our own. Also called the righteousness of faith (Rom 4:13), this righteousness is outside us. We do not possess our own righteousness before God. Jesus is our righteousness. Therefore, we must stay safely in the boat. “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19b)

How do we stay in the boat? We stay in the boat by remaining in Christ and His Word. Where is the boat? His Church is our boat. Jesus will pilot us across the water to dry land. Through storms and tempests, winds and rain, He will keep us safe. So, fellow travelers, let’s rejoice in our Captain and enjoy the boat ride together.

“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10a

August 16, 2015

Lord, I Can’t Do This; Please Get Somebody Else

A few days ago we looked at how Moses was reluctant to be God’s chosen mouthpiece and his reasons why God should get someone else. Our particular focus there was the public speaking aspect of the job God was calling Moses to do.

But sometimes it’s not public speaking, we have other reasons why we just wish God would choose someone else. (After writing this, I realized there’s also a tie-in to our devotional from two days ago; that often we just wish we could be somewhere else.)

I never really thought of this verse in this context until a sermon I heard this morning, but certainly God understands when we are struck by our limitations:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses – Hebrews 4:15a

and an earlier verse in the same book:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity – Hebrews 2:14

In Christ we have a role model, who as he took on a mission that, in his humanity, as Calvary loomed large, caused him to ask if there were not a better way or a different way. It’s like he was almost saying, ‘Maybe someone else can take over at this point.’ Okay, I know that’s not the way it works, but you do get a sense of the anguish that Christ as feeling at that time.

But sometimes we hesitate to enter into the mission God has for us because of condemnation. This is a difficult subject to address because sin needs to be dealt with before a person is fit for public ministry (which might include everything from teaching a class to helping at the soup kitchen.) But sometimes the condemnation is simply an attack of the enemy.

I John 3:20 states,

If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

From the Forerunner Commentary at BibleStudyTools.org:

When we commit the occasional sin, are we no longer acceptable to God? Is our fellowship truly cut off? While it is true that sin separates us from Him, do we remain unsatisfied because we feel there is no communion? Once again, God’s grace rescues us from what would otherwise be an impossible situation.

The answer to this confounding situation lies in a change of our natures arising from repentance, receipt of God’s Holy Spirit, and—perhaps above all—access to God through Jesus Christ. Through these come fellowship and experience with Them throughout the remainder of life and access to God’s merciful grace when we fall short. There can be no doubt we are saved by grace through faith. Our depression and extreme self-condemnation reveals a lack of faith in God’s willingness to forgive upon repentance. Though works are required of us, we cannot earn our way into the Kingdom through them because they will forever fall short in providing payment for sin.

As mentioned earlier, there is a tension between the two extremes of excessive guilt and feelings of worthlessness in contrast to the casual, careless, irresponsible, “God will just have to take me as I am” disregard of our responsibility to glorify God in all we think, say, and do.

This is why John says, “God is greater than our heart.” He is ever willing to accept us as Christ—even though we personally bring Him blemished offerings in our life’s experiences—as long as our attitude has not turned to trampling the sacrifice of His Son underfoot and treating it as a common thing.

We will never enter into God’s acceptance and fellowship based on any work of offering we sacrifice to Him. The only thing He will accept is the unblemished offering of Christ’s life, and because it accompanies or precedes us into His presence, we are accepted, have communion with Him, and are fed.

[read more at Bible Study Tools]

Ephesians 3:12 states:

 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

If we find ourselves in a battle, Ephesians 6:13b reminds us:

…[W]hen you have done everything you could, you will be able to stand firm. (ISV)

Our local congregations are in need of people who are able to give their time in ministry service, but many are afraid to step up because of what the commentary above calls excessive guilt; however, our texts today I hope help us see that this may just be another tactic of the enemy to get us to quit.

Don’t get discouraged and don’t get overcome by feelings of inadequacy.

 

 

 

 

 

May 20, 2015

The Weight of Sin

 Hebrews 12:1b

…Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up. (CEB)

…We should remove from our lives anything that would slow us down and the sin that so often makes us fall.  (ERV)

…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us… (KJV)

let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely… (NRSV)

…let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace… (The Voice)

The 3rd Choice (The3rdChoice.org) is an apologetics website. Many of the articles are much longer than what we’ve shown below. This is a great site for someone who is investigating Christianity or has just recently begun their journey with Jesus. To read today’s article on their site, click the title below, and then look around.

Sin: Not Real Popular in the Culture, but A Big Deal in the Bible

Sin is a very big idea in the Bible, and most people seem to misunderstand it, so it’s something we need to know about truthfully. Sin is defined in a few different ways, but you’ll catch a common theme quickly.

Deone Drake defines sin as thinking, doing, or being anything that demonstrates a dissatisfaction with God.

Gary Anderson says, “There are many metaphors in circulation about sin, but the one that gets 80-90% of the textual space [in the Bible] pictures sin as a weight or burden that has to be carried. And so, in many texts in the Old Testament, forgiveness is conceived of as taking away a burden.”

The word “sin” in the New Testament means “to miss the mark; err; swerve from truth and right; go wrong.”

I think you’re getting the idea. People seem to think it’s doing something bad (which isn’t too far off the mark), and they think if they’re generally good people, sin really doesn’t matter that much. After all, most of aren’t criminals, right? That’s where they’re missing the boat.

The Bible explains that sin is our nature as much as it is our behavior (Romans 7.25* and others). In other words, we don’t just do sin, we are sin, as much as a cat is a cat and a dog is a dog. A dog acts like a dog, but even he meows, he’s still a dog, y’know. We may learn to be good people, for our own sake, to please others, or for the good of society. Whatever. Sin is our nature—it’s what we are. So even though you may be a good person, you still have sin in you because if you’re human, you’re sin.

Now add to that that even if you’re not doing wrong, but you don’t do the good that you ought to do—that’s sin too (James 4.17**). Remember the time when your brother was lying to your parents, and you knew he was lying, but you didn’t say anything? Yeah, maybe you thought you were helping your brother, but what you did was wrong. In a way, you were being an accomplice and were guilty of lying too, because you let the lie stand.

We also find out from the Bible that sin separates us from God. God is life and holiness. Sin is death and depravity. So God doesn’t have any sin in him; but since we do, it separates us from him, just as the same poles of two magnets can’t be put together.

Well, you still may think you’re a pretty good person, and maybe you are, but even the smallest amount of sin matters. Let me put it this way: if you have a glass of sewage (ew!), would you drink it? No. Yikes. It’s SEWAGE. OK, but what if have a glass of water, and only a quarter of it is sewage. Pretty good water, right? Would you drink it? Ew, no—it’s SEWAGE.

What are some sins? The biggest one in the Bible is pride. Self-centeredness. Selfishness. There’s also greed, anger, lying, cheating, stealing, envy, jealousy, disobedience to parents, and a long list of other things. Whatever is not like God. Unfaithfulness, disloyalty, dishonesty. That’s what sin is.


* So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (NIV)

** If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (NIV)


Go Deeper: Jesus Gives Life (JesusGivesLife.blogspot.com) is another website designed for people who want to learn the basics. Check out the approach they take to today’s opening verses in this post.

January 26, 2015

When You Hit Bottom and Things are Great at the Same Time

Rock Bottom Remorse

NLT Ps. 51:3 For I recognize my rebellion;
    it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
    I have done what is evil in your sight.

I realized yesterday that I had hit bottom.

Let me qualify that a little, I realized that I had hit bottom in one specific area of my life.

You can actually be doing great in other areas, but have this one area where you struggle; where your responses are not always ideal; where your outlook or worldview is being shaped more by popular consensus or culture than by God’s Word.

Paraphrased, the first step of the classic “Twelve Step” program is, ‘We admitted we had a problem.’ It’s hard for people in ministry to do this. It’s especially hard for church leaders and pastors to admit such things. It’s really difficult when you’re a person that everyone looks up to and admires as a spiritually mature person to realize you see yourself as crashing in a particular area of life.

Instead, you start to believe your own press. You can buy into the image that people have of you. You can decide that nine-out-of-ten is good enough. You can rationalize that the ministry is still happening, people are still getting saved, money is still being raised, the teaching is still being distributed. You don’t admit weakness, that would be letting people down.

I can only imagine what it’s like when you’re the king, especially when your nation or state is somewhat theocratic in nature.  Like King David.

Psalm 51 is his particular prayer of confession. While I usually don’t use this translation, I want to quote from the second half of verse 3 and the first half of verse 4 in the KJV.

…my sin is ever before me.

David admits he can’t run and he can’t hide from the thing he has done, or the person he has become. It’s what he sees when looks in the mirror. He owns up to it. I believe that whatever sin we give into, no matter how private, no matter how secret; it will manifest itself at some point in some more open way. Bathsheba presented a tremendous opportunity — her husband was away at the time — but it wasn’t the first time David had looked at a woman. Or perhaps not even the first time David had hatched a scheme.

You don’t become an adulterer overnight. It happens when you have failed to pre-book your choices. It happens when you’ve never recognized your susceptibility. It happens when pride gives you spiritual over-confidence.

Then he says,

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned

Jerry Bridges says, “We never see sin aright unless we see it as against God.”

  • When you maligned your co-worker, you sinned not against them, but against God
  • When you cheated on that test, you sinned not against the school or the teacher, but against God
  • When you falsified that document, you sinned not against the organization or the government, but against God
  • When you flirted with the girl in the grocery store, you sinned not against them or against your wife, but against God

You get the pattern.

Some of the resolutions people made at the start of the year are long broken. If they carried with them moral or spiritual significance, it isn’t just a personal letdown, you don’t just fail yourself, but rather it’s sin against God.

…I did not commit adultery or cause a neighbor to be put in the front lines of a battle to be killed. But I really felt I hit bottom in one particular area. One some might even dismiss. However…

If it’s big enough to notice, it’s important enough to deal with.

 

December 2, 2014

Killing My Old Man

I remember years ago a musician borrowed a phrase from Paul’s writings about the “old man” and the “new man” and came up with the song title, “Killing My Old Man.” It raised some eyebrows!  I also remember years ago without warning saying to an acquaintance, “Everybody has a spiritual compromise, what’s yours?” (He understood that this was a rhetorical question and remained silent.) Today we pay a return visit to the blog of Mike Ratliff and a blog post that applies as much to me as I trust it does to you. To read this at source and then look around at other good articles at his website, click the title below.

Unrepentant sin leads to spiritual blindness

1 O Lord, the God of my salvation, I have cried out by day and in the night before You. 2 Let my prayer come before You; Incline Your ear to my cry! 3 For my soul has had enough troubles, And my life has drawn near to Sheol. 4 I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength, 5 Forsaken among the dead, Like the slain who lie in the grave, Whom You remember no more, And they are cut off from Your hand. 6 You have put me in the lowest pit, In dark places, in the depths. 7 Your wrath has rested upon me, And You have afflicted me with all Your waves. Selah. 8 You have removed my acquaintances far from me; You have made me an object of loathing to them; I am shut up and cannot go out. (Psalms 88:1-8 NASB)

Despite what many so-called Christian leaders are teaching in our day about the necessity of repentance in the life of the believer, the Word of God teaches us something entirely different. In it, we learn that the life, vigor, and comfort of our spiritual life depends much on our actively and deliberately mortifying the sin that clings so closely, which results in genuine repentance. This teaching has unfortunately been neglected much over the last several decades to the point that some scoff at its necessity in the Christian walk. However, if we go back and read the Puritans and others that came before we find that personal holiness has not always been neglected in the Church as it has been in our day.

If a professing Christian considers of little value spiritual strength, comfort, power, and peace in his or her walk with God then there is a problem. Why? The genuine believer, being a new creation with a new nature, deeply desires these things. He or she has a growing hatred of sin while their love of holiness is continually increasing. These are indicators of the working of God’s Spirit in the heart to sanctify the believer unto Christlikeness. These believers have an insatiable hunger and desire for a level of obedience to their Lord that is marked by spiritual strength, power, vigor, and life as they walk with God day by day. Along with this, he or she deeply desires peace, comfort, and consolation within that walk.

On the other hand, many professing believers see no value in any of those things. Their focus is elsewhere. Their desires are controlled by their lusts. Since their souls are not illuminated by God’s truth and grace, they become more and more darkened. Their ability to recognize what is true and what is false becomes distorted. It is these professing Christians who have constructed or participate in a form of religion they call Christian but its values and constructs are according to what seems right to man. Their sins are not mortified so their hearts are darkened. Eventually they will become spiritually blind.

However, many a good Christian, while deeply desiring to kill their sin and walk in holiness before their God, even as they are on a constant course of mortification all their days, never enjoy a good day of peace and consolation. We see this in the passage I placed at the top of this post. I can relate to Heman, who wrote this Psalm, because there are days that I feel much like this even as I prayerfully seek to kill the sins that are tempting me as my flesh demands to be fed. Heman’s life was one marked by a perpetual mortification and walking with God, however, terrors and wounds were his portion all his days. God singled out Heman for this walk. Why? He used Heman, his choice friend, to make him an example to those that are fighting the same battle who read Psalm 88 and find therein comfort and encouragement by God’s grace.

The blessings of the sin mortified walk help us in pursuit of affirmation, vigor, courage, and a spirit-filled life as the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God. Why? Victory over these sins keeps them from depriving us of fellowship and intimacy with God. On the other hand, when sin is allowed to live uncontested in the believer it will certainly weaken the soul, depriving it of its vigor while it also darkens the soul depriving it of comfort and peace.

The sin-weakened soul of the believer is deprived of spiritual strength. When David had sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband he then attempted to cover it up. However, the affects of this unmortified sin on David’s soul were dramatic.

3 There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your indignation; There is no health in my bones because of my sin. 4 For my iniquities are gone over my head; As a heavy burden they weigh too much for me. 5 My wounds grow foul and fester Because of my folly. 6 I am bent over and greatly bowed down; I go mourning all day long. (Psalms 38:3-6 NASB)

Unmortified lust will drink up the spirit and all vigor of the soul, and weaken it for all duties. Why? It clouds and scrambles the heart itself, by entangling its affections. It diverts the heart from it proper focus, the glory of God, which is required for vigorous communion with Him. It lays hold on the affections, rendering its idol as its beloved and desirable, which expels the love of God (1 John 2:15; 3:17). What this does is place a veil of mist over the soul that removes certainty. The believer will walk from God to love his or her idol and in the process lose the desire to say uprightly and truly to God, “You are my portion.” He or she loses this because their idol is now the object of their love. This is not simply an act of disobedience isolated in itself. No, it also entangles fear, desire, and hope with this idol worship. These things should be full of God, but now the heart is darkened and entangled with a contender for the believer’s affections.

Not only does this idol worship drive a wedge between the believer and God in the heart, it also fills the believer’s thoughts and imaginations about it. Thoughts are the great purveyors of the soul, to bring in provision to satisfy its affections. When sin remains unmortified in the heart, these thoughts are bent on making provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts rather than on walking in repentance and communing with God. Believers captured by their flesh this way must continually lift up the objects of the flesh, and embrace them in order to receive satisfaction. To make this work, however, their imagination becomes defiled beyond all expression. Christians so captured by their flesh are also hindered in their Christian duty. Instead of worshipping and serving God, they are serving their idols in vain attempts to be fulfilled. These idols can be anything that the flesh sees as a potential object of self-gratification.

As sin weakens the soul, it also darkens it. This darkness is a cloud, a think cloud, which covers the soul, intercepting all the beams of God’s love and favor. The sense of fulfillment that comes from contemplating one’s adoption into the family of God is taken away. Any sense of guilt or thoughts of consolation and turning back to God are quickly scattered by sin.

The believer’s who are sick and wounded under the power of lust often do cry to God for help. Their darkened souls remember, in a sense, how far they have fallen. However, they are not delivered until they come to acknowledge their offense. Any self-help cures to deal with a sin-sick heart will never work. Healing and repentance, which mortifies sin, begins with confession. This is the only means of the removal of the sin that has allowed the flesh to capture the soul.

Mortification prunes all the graces of God, and this makes room for them in our hearts so they may grow. The life and vigor of our spiritual lives consist in the vigor and flourishing of God’s grace in our hearts. This is the duty of the Christian in the maintenance of the heart. Deliberate and active mortification of sin is necessary in order for the graces of the Spirit to grow in the heart. The believer who neglects this has a heart choked by weeds because sin is allowed to run free and his or her flesh rules their lives. He or she has a darkened soul. Even though they may indeed search for faith, love, and zeal, they will probably not be able to find any. By God’s grace, they may discover the weak and neglected remnants of them, but their hearts are so clogged with lusts, that they are of very little use to them. But now let the heart be cleansed by mortification of the weeds of lust being constantly and daily being rooted up! Let room be made for grace to thrive and flourish. Then will God’s grace act its part, and be ready for every use and purpose.

The Christian who works to continually deny self and crucify the flesh is actively and deliberately mortifying their sin. This is the soul’s vigorous opposition to self. In this is Christian authenticity most evident.

Soli Deo Gloria!

June 1, 2014

The Depravity of Humankind

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?  (KJV)

“The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful,
    a puzzle that no one can figure out.
But I, God, search the heart
    and examine the mind.
I get to the heart of the human.
    I get to the root of things.
I treat them as they really are,
    not as they pretend to be.” (same passage, from The Message, w/ vs.10)

Job 5:7 Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.  (KJV)

But man is born to trouble as the sparks and the flames fly upward.  (same verse, Amplified)

This weekend we were talking about the theological idea of the depravity of man, and my youngest son, who has been studying these things this year, pointed out that while man is totally depraved he is never utterly depraved. This came out in a discussion as the proposition that some of the worst people history has offered were still made in God’s image, while some of the best people the world has ever seen still need a savior.

My son defined it this way:

Total depravity means every single part of you is affected by sin.
Utter depravity means every single part of you is destroyed by sin.

Man is born with a sin nature that must be dealt with. It permeates body, mind, emotions, and spirit; but is never beyond the redemptive grace of God. But man is also born with an innate capacity to respond to God’s offer of salvation. (Whether you believe this is a matter of election or free-will choice is immaterial here, what matters is the capacity to say yes to God.)

So, you’re probably thinking of some of the examples that came up in our discussion…

Could Judas or Adolph Hitler asked for and received the grace of God toward the end of life? Yes. It’s important when remembering the “last minute” salvation given to the one crucified with Jesus that day was a criminal. That’s the only identification we have of him.

Could Mother Teresa or Billy Graham rest on their own virtue and righteousness and miss somehow the need to be covered by the atoning blood of Calvary? Yes. Anyone could try to get their own their own merits and not be resting in what Christ has done for us.

We live in the tension between being born in sin and depravity yet not being so utterly depraved that we cannot respond to the grace and goodness of God.

February 16, 2014

The Heart Will Fool You

The Heart is Deceitful

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind,to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” (Jer 17:9-10).

Our first take on today’s key verse comes from the blog True Church of God and is entitled Trouble Shooting of the Heart.

Take a deep look inside your own heart and mind to see what unrighteousness you have swept under the rug and stuffed in a closet to hide from your own view.   Human nature wants to feel good about self and simply hides much of its evils from self.  Its all still there in the mind, but stuffed out of view from self , so that self can avoid condemning self behavior.   For this reason human nature likes to keep the focus on someone else’s faults; it helps make self feel more just, and righteous; especially if they don’t seem to have the same fault or weakness.

Real repentance involves God helping us to see these evils that we have stuffed in closets and swept under rugs in our minds; and facing the honest truth about our selves; and confessing these things to God in sincere heart felt prayer, and asking him to forgive us and give us strength to not do these evils ever again.  Then we must follow righteousness, and don’t let self repeat these evils.  God shows us some of our sins that we need to repent of when he first calls us; but for the rest of our Christian lives, if we will repent and continue in our conversion and desire it; God will continue little by little to reveal our faults so that we may continue to repent of our evil nature, and grow in the Godly nature.

The more we turn away from sin and obey the righteousness of God; then the more of the Holy Spirit God will give us.  By this means we must Grow in God’s grace until we are Holy as God is Holy.   This growth process does cause some growing pains; but they are not worthy to be compared with what God has in store for his true saints.  The hope that we have in the Kingdom of God is what gives us zeal to continue to put self nature to death, and grow in Christ.  That is why one must truly believe the gospel (good news) as well as repent of sins in order to be baptized into the body of Christ.

The average person commits many sins against God without even being aware of it.  Any disobedience to God is sin; including violating his Holy Law the Ten Commandments.

Most of our sin is directly against our fellow humans also.  When you have wronged someone in deed or word; ask your own heart: why did I do this wrong against this person?  Don’t let your heart get away with just shrugging your shoulders and saying I don’t know; or they had it coming.  Demand an answer from your heart.  Search your own soul to know how to fix what is wrong with your self so that you can always treat other people with the same love and respect that you desire for self.  You can’t fix your neighbors attitude, but if your are willing, you can fix your self, with the help of God.   You can’t fix the problem until you can see it, and acknowledge that it really is a problem that needs fixed.  Ask God in sincere heart felt prayer to show you what you need to fix in your own heart, and nature.   I’ll guarantee you, that if you are truly sincere, God will hear and answer that prayer.

Our second take on this comes from the blog at The Christian Network and is titled Heart Changer.

When we hear that we are broken, that something is terribly wrong with us, it is not the comforting news we wish to hear. We want to be told we are good, kind and loving. Why would we want to hear we are deceitful, greedy, immoral, selfish and evil (Mt 7:11, Gal 5:19-21)? Facing oneself is not easy. The reflection we see in the mirror can be confronting. God does not pull any punches in describing humanity’s condition. In Romans 3:23 we read ALL Have fallen short of the glory of God. God’s universal judgement of the entire human race. The diagnosis, however, does not improve as the Bible’s message unfolds.

The preceding verses to Jeremiah 17:9 announce an ominous warning –  “This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. ” (Jer 17:5). Trusting in our own strength or trusting in others strength is a form of idolatry. In other words, trusting in the creation rather than the Creator. Verse 17:9 tells us why this is such an issue. The problem lies within the human heart itself.

Feinberg (1986) states “The source of all human difficulty is the human heart (Prov 4:23). In OT usage the heart signifies the total inner being and includes reason. From the heart come action and will.” Our hearts, our inner being, are far from perfect. Once in a sermon I singled out a man in Church and asked him if I were to place all of his thoughts for the year on a projector screen, that the whole congregation could see, would he be comfortable? He adamantly shook his head. In the Sermon on the Mount Christ lets us know that even our thoughts are vitally important to God – and indeed will be judged. Anger the same as murder, a lustful look the same as adultery (Mt 5). Christ was getting to the core of the matter – the deceitful heart we all carry.

This verse tells us God searches our hearts and looks at our deeds (Eph 2:10, Jm 2:26, 1 Jn 3:18, Rev 2:2, 2:19, 3:1, 3:8, 3:15). Our deeds carried out in the body will clearly be judged (Rom 2:6-7). To those that persist in doing good there will be reward and to those that persist in doing evil – punishment. How then can we change from having this deceitful and corrupt heart to having one that seeks to do good unto others? Put simply – we can’t, by ourselves it is beyond cure. Only God can do it.

He tells us the cure Himself in Ezekiel 36:26 – “I will give you a newheart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh”. That new heart is received when we repent and turn to our Savior Jesus Christ and make Him our Lord . Through His Spirit the heart is circumcised. It softens, its hardened exterior cracks (usually in tears) and we in-turn change. Sanctification begins, our healing and metamorphosis initiates. It is then we can literally see the fruit of our good deeds (Eph 2:10). If they are not present, as James  explains – are we really saved at all? If the continuous act of charity (love in action) is not present, what is going wrong? Or are we simply whitewashed walls, still corrupt on the inside and resisting the Holy Spirit in self righteous pride (Acts 7:51).  Billy Graham’s message of the new heart is worthy of note when regarding heart change. Watch it here.

 

 

Click image to source at the blog Chasing After Dear

January 21, 2014

Sin Kills

Sin Kills 2

Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship, in Lancaster, Ca. He has recently written Desperate for More of God, for which you can watch a book trailer here. This article appeared in November on the church’s blog under the title, The Cross of Christ is Foolishness . . .”

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

There is a significant shift in the church today to avoid controversial truths such as the cross. The cross confronts evil; it’s repulsive to sinful man. Darkness hates the light. God’s Word says to confront, confess, and turn from sin, whereas many encourage us to ignore, overlook, and continue in them. Silence about sin minimizes the cross. But the cross only makes sense in light of the consequences of sin. “To convince the world of the truth of Christianity, it must first be convinced of sin. It is only sin that renders Christ intelligible” (Andrew Murray; 1794-1866).

Many mistakenly believe that Jesus didn’t mention sin—after all, He was “a friend of sinners.” However, Scripture reveals quite the opposite. For example, in John 5:14 Jesus exhorted a man to sin no more or a worse thing would happen to him. He also told the woman caught in the act of adultery to “go and sin no more.”

It’s clear that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (I Timothy 1:15), why, then, is there a move within the church to avoid mentioning difficult truths such as the cross, sin, judgment, and so on? John 12:43 may reveal the answer, “They loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” “The old cross slew men; the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it” (A.W. Tozer).

Sin has a life cycle — it either grows or withers depending on whether we feed or starve it. This is why the puritan author, John Owen, wrote, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” With that said, here is why we need the cross of Christ:

Sin is within: “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). Our sinful nature is at war with God. No peace treaties can be signed; no concessions can be made…sin must be eradicated: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin” (cf. Hebrews 9:22). The life of the flesh is in the blood. Christ’s life had to be offered in order to saves ours.

Sin has a cost: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). It’s been said that sin takes you farther than you want to go, costs you more than you want to pay, and keeps you longer than you want to stay. Sin has a tremendous price, but fortunately, this greatest of debts was paid: “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Sin separates: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2). Sin separates all nations, tribes, and tongues from God. There are two types of separation: 1) separation from God eternally, and 2) separation that believers experience as the result of besetting sin. If God seems distant, Bible study boring, and church inconvenient, it may be that sin is hindering your relationship with Him. Look within…is jealousy, envy, bitterness, gossip, lust, or anger controlling your thoughts? Do you have a critical spirit? Are you compromising the gospel? Are you filled with pride and judgmentalism instead of love, joy, peace, contentment, and gentleness. If there is no repentance of besetting sin, one can never experience true freedom in Christ.

Sin enslaves (controls): “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). Mike Wilkerson, in his book Redemption, writes, “Sin corrupts worship. Not a ceasing of worship but a distortion of it. We never stop worshiping. Rather, in sin, we worship anything and everything other than God. We tend to exalt a substance, an experience, a person, or a dream to the level of a god. We define life by its attainment, and we feel like dying when it eludes us…The Bible calls this ‘idolatry.’ So addictions, for example, aren’t just drug, alcohol, food, or pornography problems. They are worship disorders. They flow from hearts bent on worshiping created things rather than the Creator.” Sin enslaves, controls, and distorts. The only way to break sins hold in our life is to embrace the cross. Jesus came to “save His people from their sins.” The penalty for sin was paid on the cross (propitiation), and our guilt was removed (expiation).

Conviction is a wonderful gift from God…run to it not away from it. Conviction is also the first step toward truly knowing God. Does 1 Corinthians 1:18 convict you: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”? Is the cross foolishness to you? That can change today. John 10:10 says that Jesus came to give us life, freedom, and a relationship with God. Are you experiencing this abundant life? Or are you bound by sin, rules, compromise, or tradition? 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation. The old has gone, and the new is here. You must trust in Him as Lord and Savior and repent from your sin. This isn’t popular but it is powerful.

If you’re a believer, but find yourself trapped in sin, misery, and depression, there is also hope. God’s continually calls His people back to Him. If you return to Him with all of your heart, He will return to you. That’s a gift of the greatest value…a promise that will never fail.

The title we chose for today’s post comes from the song Sin Kills by Andy McCaroll and Moral Support, a Christian metal band from the early 1980s. It’s not the type of song I would normally embed here, but if you’re under a certain age, the lyrics are quite powerful. Click here to listen.

August 22, 2013

Just as I Am

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:24 pm
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Biblical Diagnosis is the name of one of the newest Bible Study blogs at Faithful Bloggers. The writer tends to do longer series of articles, but here we’ve patched together both of two pieces on the subject of how we come to God.  Click the “reason” to link direct to each article.

Two reasons you should come to Him just “as you are”, not matter “how good or bad you think you are”

Reason 1: Despite what we may think, we are actually all the same in God’s eyes! There really is NO difference between us.

Romans 3: 21-24 – But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all those who believe. For there is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. [21st century King James Version]

Romans 5: 11-19 – And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. 12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned…18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. [KJV]

These passages give us God’s perspective on who we are, before we have accepted Christ: There is NO difference between us. That is because we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. Now, one may ask, “how can this be, since clearly some people are more evil than others?” “How can there be no difference between us?” Looking at Romans 5 give us the answer. Verse 18 states that condemnation came upon all men because of the offense of one. The one in question is Adam, the first man. One man’s sin made us all sinners! It is not the sin you and I committed yesterday that made us sinners…we were born sinners because of Adam.

No matter how good we think we are, and no matter how evil we may believe we are, we are “by nature” sinner, all of us! And therefore, since it is by one man that we became this way, it is also by one man that we are changed, freed from sin, or in the other words “made righteous”. That man is Jesus-Christ who obeyed God, even to the point of accepting to lay down His life. We discuss the second reason in the next article.

Come as you are! You are not any worse or any better than anyone else!

Reason 2: We cannot change what we are by nature…it’s what we are!

Romans 3: 21-24 – But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all those who believe. For there is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. [21st century King James Version]

Romans 5: 11-19 – And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. 12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned…18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. [KJV]

We saw previously that the first reason why we should come to Jesus-Christ just like we are is because, where it matters, we are actually all the same, sinners! Now, here are some questions. Can a snail change itself into a tiger? Can a man change himself into a butterfly? Of course not! Why? Because this is what they are. They cannot change their nature. No matter how the snail may wish to be a tiger or the man a butterfly, it just won’t happen, because they do not have the power to do so. It is the same for all of us. As long as we have not accepted Jesus-Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are sinners, whether we like it or not, and no matter how hard we may try to change it. It is our nature and we have all come short! To be acceptable to God, we need to change “our very nature”, which is something no one, but Christ, can do for us.

It is important to recognize that it’s our inherent sinful nature that Jesus-Christ completely changes (making us acceptable to God). It is not our character (although accepting Him will now make that kind of change worthwhile)! All is required of us first is to accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, that is the starting point. We recognize our sinful nature and recognize that Him and only Him can do something about it. It isfrom that point that any effort we make to live an honorable life starts to count.

Come as you are! It is His business to change you!

 

 

July 31, 2013

Able to Keep You from Falling

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:43 pm
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jude24-25

Last night I ended the day listening to a recording of The Jude Benediction. There are several different musical settings for this passage; although this one had some variances, it was closest to the song I remembered.

As I thought of approaching this verse today with excerpts from various sources, my search results first led me to something that was posted only days ago by Deryk on the blog, Becoming Less. As I tried editing this at various points, I felt that I really should run all of it. I hope you resonate with the author’s raw honesty and transparency. And as always, you’re encouraged to read blog posts here at their source; this one was originally titled On Being Kept from Stumbling.

The contents of my heart and mind are kind of raw and disorganized right now. I spend a good deal of time in conversation with other Christians, as well as perusing the internet, to hear and process where the Church is at on a variety of issues and topics and what not. And it can be discouraging.

So many Christians who fight what they understand to be sin in their lives eventually grow weary. That’s nothing new. But when they do, they may glance over to the World, who is waiting with open arms to embrace them in whatever they may be fighting. See, the World won’t condemn, or judge, or even call it “sin.” The World is “tolerant,” and truth can bend and flex to not only accept whatever you might be fighting – the World might even call it a good thing, something to celebrate!

I see Christians doing a lot of bending and flexing and doing a dangerous dance with the World. Some people end up radically reforming their theology, not in a “Reformed” sense but trying to put the pieces back together in such a way that says God’s down with sin that for thousands of years Christians have understood him not to be. At different points throughout history, this may have been more difficult, because the World may not have embraced such change as culturally acceptable, even outside a “religious” sphere – but today, it’s an epidemic.

So in our struggle against sin, we look to a church of redeemed sinners for strength (though we’ve always been crippled and desperately dependent on Christ), and if that’s not enough, the World is waiting with open arms for us to give up and fall completely… only to tell us that we never really fell after all, we just threw off the misguided, oppressive chains of religion to experience enlightenment. What a tricky situation we find ourselves in.

I cling to the hope of this benediction from the epistle of Jude:

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude 1:24-25

I read stories of Christians responding to the life-long struggle with our sinful nature that we all face by re-forming their theology to tolerate their sin, or by ditching their faith altogether to try embracing their sin without the pretense of reconciling the two. This is scary. It scares me to see older Christians give up when I’m facing who knows how many more years on this earth, pursuing sanctification but knowing that until I stand before Jesus I’ll always be battling sin. It’s intimidating, not knowing how God will or won’t change me, or how fast, or how radically. What will I do with that in a year? In 5, or 10 or 50?

But Jude reminds me that it’s “him who is able” to keep me from stumbling, and to present me blameless, to himself.

I look at my life and see certain struggles with sin that have greatly diminished, to a point where I pretty much don’t experience them or, at least, not nearly as significantly as when I was in a place of lesser maturity. By the grace of Jesus and the power of his holy spirit in me I have grown in discipline and holiness, and I can testify to him being so good to me in that. But what about the parts of me that aren’t changing like I want? What do I do when I see sin so deep in me, and know that I’m not guaranteed any particular outcome with that short of the day I stand before Jesus?

These words just came to mind as I’m writing… Paul said that he was “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). I’ve prayed in similar confidence in God’s work in other people so many times, but so often forget about these words when I need hope.

I guess I’m trying to be OK with God’s work in me. I’m trying to be OK with the speed and trajectory that it’s taking, even though I’m, well, not. However I have been skewed, flawed, jacked up by living in a sinful world, and however Jesus decides to heal and free me – or not yet, or not right now – I’m trying to trust him in that. If I’m having to realize that I may not experience the kind of change I long for on this earth, if I’m not a person whose heart and life is characterized by the freedom and holiness I want on the timeline I want it – God is still good. I have to trust in his coming kingdom and present redemption and stay confident that one day I’ll stand before him completely healed and whole.

I deeply desire to be able to joyfully and honestly believe and speak the words of the Doxology in Jude. I want to look at my life and affirm that God is to be praised for keeping me from stumbling, and that I’m headed towards being presented blameless in his glorious presence. I know my sin is paid for, and it doesn’t stick to me, in his eyes; I’m just so sick of the ways it’s so near to me on this earth. I don’t want to grow weary, I don’t want to compromise like so many do.

Please pray for me. Pray for whatever healing and freedom God will grant me, and for holiness and strength in whatever ways I need to bear a cross, including the scars of sin.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

(Psalm 51:10-12)

 

 

 

Image: Agape Ministries

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