When Should I Turn The Other Cheek?

Jesus rocked the Jewish world (and the world of every reader for the last two thousand years) in His unsettling commandments about loving and serving our enemies.  God Himself is just and His written Law originally stated “An eye for an eye” which is still the current objective of modern judicial systems (Ex 21.24).  Jesus, however, came to pay the punishment for our sins and thus introduced the before unheard of notion of unmerited grace.  God was always merciful and forgiving, but it was through Jesus that we could be forgiven without retribution or sacrifices of atonement looking forward to His redemption.

Because God offers us such complete forgiveness and grace, He expects us to turn around and offer the same to others.

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

– Eph 4.32

In the same measure we have been forgiven we should forgive others.  That means every single offense, every single time we are asked, no matter the gravity.  Jesus goes so far to say, in fact, that if we do not forgive in that manner we prove ourselves to not be forgiven by God.  It is by receiving God’s grace through forgiveness that we are completely changed and cannot help but love and forgive one another in the same way.  If we cannot forgive someone, it is because we have not yet been forgiven.  These words of Jesus are poignant and convicting:

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

– Matt 6.14-15

And if this expectation of forgiveness weren’t enough, Jesus sets the bar even higher!  We are commanded to love and pray for our enemies (Matt 5.44), bless those who persecute us (Rom 12.14), to offer the other cheek when the first has been hit (Matt 5.39), give more to the person who steals from you (Matt 5.40), and if someone forces you into slavery of any sort, we are supposed to serve them and even do more than they demand of us (Matt 5.41)!

Jesus, of course, gave us the highest example of all of this by submitting Himself to the will of God by going to the cross.  He never argued against His accusers, He never fought back when He was beaten, He never even tried to defend Himself but rather healed one of the men who sought his life when Peter cut off his ear (Luke 22.50-51).

Does all of this mean that Christians should be pacifist door mats who let people trample them and take advantage of them?  Should we ever stand up for ourselves?

I would argue no, Jesus is not teaching blanket pacifism, and that each situation depends primarily on obedience to Scripture, guidance of the Spirit and wisdom.

What do I mean?  Consider Jesus.  On at least one occasion (many scholars believe twice), Jesus became angry against the sin of sales within the temple, threw over the tables, made a whip and chased the vendors out of the temple – to defend the house of God and righteousness.  He had holy anger that was exemplified through authority and aggression.

Jesus also was hated and pursued many times throughout His earthly ministry by people seeking to kill Him, and instead of allowing them to kill, harm or harass Him, Jesus “slipped away”, often noting the fact that His “hour had not yet come” (John 7.30).  Only once, in fact, did Jesus submit Himself to the wickedness and abuse of man – which ultimately led to His death.

The Apostle Paul also regularly and consistently was chased out of town by people who hated His teachings.  Paul did suffer much persecution, including beatings, stonings and other tribulations, but he regularly fled town when he could no longer continue the work of the Gospel.  It was only when the Spirit directed him to go Jerusalem and prepared him that he would suffer intense persecution and death there that Paul gave that ultimate pacifistic response.  Even so, Paul defended himself in court for the purpose of preaching the Gospel all the more!

Ok, so what does all of this mean?  The key is understanding the heart and intention of the commands of Jesus.  Why do we turn the other cheek?

“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”

– Matt 5.39

The implication is that we will all encounter evil people – people who will hit us, who will use their authority to take advantage of us, people who will steal from us.  And we should not resist them – we should never return evil for evil, but always return good for evil.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

– Rom 12.21

It is a godly response to feel anger towards sin and unrighteousness.  God Himself is angry at unpunished sin, and this is why Jesus was not only justified but right to respond to the desecration of the temple vocally and even by chasing the vendors out.  Jesus, therefore, also rightly responded to those who sought to trick, tempt and deceive Him with seemingly harsh words calling them names like “brood of vipers” and stating that they were of the devil (Matt 12.34, John 8.44).

It is also imperative that we remember it is God’s place alone to exact vengeance, and He will.   All sin is primarily against Him and He alone is fully righteous.  He, therefore, will exact perfect and right vengeance and we would only dishonor it by trying.  It is by remembering this promise that we can endure wickedness.

“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

– Rom 12.19

If our goal, therefore, is to overcome evil with good and to do so by loving our enemies, we can make better decisions in the moment of suffering.  If someone is persecuting, hating or offending us, can we impact the kingdom by loving them with the response of turning the other cheek?  By going the extra mile?  Or by knowingly letting ourselves be taken advantage of?  Or will we more rightly overcome evil with good by exiting the situation, like Jesus and Paul did so often?

Unfortunately there is no cut and dry, “always do this” answer, because that is not how life works.  Even if we look at the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount, we cannot apply the instructions as exclusive and normative.  For example, we do not always pray when we are alone in our closet (Matt 6.6).  We are instructed to pray when we gather corporately, and the elders are commanded to pray over a sick person for his healing (Matt 18.19-20, James 5.14-15).

Therefore, as in all decision making, we should stop and pray.  We should seek first the Holy Spirit and ask for wisdom.  God promises always to give wisdom to those who ask (James 1.5).  We should seek godly council and weigh our response against Scripture.  If our choice is in line with Scripture and by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, then we can always act confidently – whether that be to give more money to someone who has stolen from you, or to escape the situation, or to demand that someone work in order to earn his wages and food (2 Thess 3.10).

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Sometimes betrayal is the plan.

betrayal

There are few worse experiences in life than being betrayed by someone you trusted and loved.  All amicable relationships inherently hold some level of trust, and for many of us trust is extremely difficult to extend after it has been broken.  This tendency leaves our Churches and Spiritual circles vulnerable to rapid disintegration.  All it takes is one leader to be caught in any form of deception or sin and the masses flee – because our trust is primarily in a man and not in God.  If two dynamic church members can be pitted against one another for any reason, then the congregation becomes divided and they lose their effectiveness in the kingdom by wasting all of their energy fighting, reasoning, rebuilding internally.

Any breach of trust is a terrible sin.  However, God sovereignly and beautifully orchestrates it to accomplish His will on occasion.  Let us consider what is perhaps the most tragic and also the most purposeful betrayal of all time:  Judas.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He chose twelve men to walk with Him daily.  These twelve men were bonded to Jesus as their mentor or “rabbi” who had special insight into Scripture and the ways of God and they would soak up everything He taught.  Jesus intentionally chose each of them and called them by name.  For three years Jesus walked with them, explained Scripture and grace to them, gave them supernatural powers to cast out demons and represent Him in cities and towns, and lived life with them.  They were His friends, they were His comrades, they were His family.

Included in this number was Judas.  He was given the role as the keeper of the money, and was included in every activity that the rest of the disciples did (John 12.6).

Imagine your group of college friends – those ones who were thick as thieves, who did everything together, who stayed up late, went on adventures, talked about the meaning of life and discovered themselves together – after all of those years of trust, fun, experience and interaction turning out to be a participant of a sleeper cell and you “closest friends” were his mark.  You did not simply lose touch after graduation, he actually sought your harm.  This would be a similar level of relationships, except the twelve disciples did everything together – every day – for at least three years.

Judas, however, was the subject of a predestined plan from the beginning.  His betrayal of Jesus was foretold hundreds of years beforehand and was an integral part of the Gospel story (Zech 11.12-13, Ps 41.9).

Jesus also, being God, knew that Judas was the one who would betray Him all along.  Jesus knew, as He called Judas to come and walk with Him, as He empowered him to cast out demons, as He explained prophecy and scripture and as He loved him, that Judas would turn Him over unto death.

“For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.”

– John 6.64

Interestingly, however, we see no evidence of condemnation or premature revelation of Judas’ role.  He was allowed to experience everything that the other eleven experienced and then, at the appropriate time, God allowed “Satan to enter into him” and he betrayed Jesus (John 13.27).

It was God’s plan from the beginning of time to send Jesus as the Savior and redeemer.  It was prophesied in the Garden of Eden and we see the prophecies and promises throughout the whole Old Testament.  In the New Testament, we learn that those who are saved have been written in the book of life since before the world was created, and it is by this book that God allows people into eternal rest at the end of time (Rev 17.8).  Part of the Gospel story was Judas’ betrayal.

“For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

– Mark 14.21

Judas was created as a vessel of wrath (Rom 9.22).  He served a very specific role by which God was glorified, the Gospel was written and Jesus made atonement for sin.  It had to happen.  Judas is also responsible for his choice of betraying Jesus, and thus we see that there is a mutual responsibility for the betrayal.  And Jesus said simply, it would have been better for him if he had never been born.  Even after all of those years of walking with Jesus.

Jesus gives us a small insight into the reality of Judas and his situation:

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.”  For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.  And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”

– John 6.63-65

Judas was welcomed and even empowered with the disciples, but Jesus knew all along that Judas did not believe.  Yes, Judas believed the signs and sought the benefits of being around Jesus just like the crowds who would form for healing, for food, for teaching…but he did not have the belief that led to salvation.  Jesus, after feeding the 5,000, rebuked the crowd because many only believed for the sake of the food that perishes and not for the “food that leads to eternal life” (John 6.26-27), and he lumped Judas into that group.  He knew who had true faith, true belief, and who did not – and consequently who would betray Him.

But Judas had to be a part of the inner circle and group of friends to fulfill his role as inside betrayer.  And in like manner, the faith of the Church will be chastened by the role of inside betrayers and false prophets.  It is devastating indeed when a pastor, a leader, or a mentor falls but we see from the example of Judas that there is always an intentional plan for failure and sin.  Thus we can claim the promise of Rom 8.28 in a new way:  God is indeed working all things together for good for those who love God.  And sometimes that good is learning to never put our faith or hope in a man but only in God.

Studies have been preformed and statistics analyzed about the flow of people in congregations when a pastor leaves a Church and when a pastor falls.  It is a notable and consistent percentage that leaves when a pastor leaves, and a notable consistent percentage that leaves when the new pastor comes.  God certainly can call people to serve and be involved in different churches during interim periods, but we can also expect that many come and go because their belief is only to their own, temporal benefit and not unto salvation.

We also see that Judas fulfilled his role by being a part of the group.  Jesus taught a parable on such a situation.  He stated that for the sake of those who do believe he allows those false believers to remain in the body – at least for a season:

“Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field.  But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away.  But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also.  The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?”  And he said to them, “An enemy has done this!”  The slaves said to him, “Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?”  But he said, “No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them.  Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn’.”’”

– Matt 13.24-30

So we see that the uprooting of false believers and false prophets at times may cause more harm than good to the local body of believers.  But we are also sternly warned to keep an eye out for false prophets and false believers and to keep our distance from them (even removing them from the Church), when they are evident (Matt 18, 1 Cor 5, Matt 7.15).

It is also important to remember that there are betrayals and failures that are not rooted in a lack of salvation.  Peter denied Jesus three times within twenty-four hours of Judas’ betrayal, and he went on to be one of the most dynamic leaders in the Church.  How do we tell the difference?  By the response of the guilty party:  repentance.  Peter repented and turned back to Jesus.  Judas knew he was guilty, but instead of repenting he went out and killed himself, he never repented.

God utilizes sin and even betrayal to grow and develop the faith of the Church and of individual believers.  There will be times that the betrayer is a believer, and there will be times that he is not.  It will all develop in us the discipline to keep our eyes and faith in Jesus alone and not in a man.  It will also develop in us humility to remember that we are not above falling ourselves.  It will teach us to forgive when the offender repents and it will teach us to stand firm on truth when the offender does not repent.  It all serves a beautiful purpose to glorify God.  So let us not shy away from the confrontation.  Let us not be surprised when it happens.  Let us press on in the faith and remember that Jesus was betrayed much more deeply than most of us will ever experience, and it was all to the glory of God.

 

The Keys to a True Apology

apology

Most of us have learned – somewhere along life’s path – that a true apology always includes a few things:

  1. An expression of remorse (“I am sorry”)
  2. An acknowledgement of the wrong or offense  (Verbalizing how the offender wronged the offended utilizing empathy to acknowledge and validate the offended’s feelings)
  3. An acknowledgement of responsibility (“It was my fault”, or “I was wrong”)
  4. An expressed plan to change (I will not do this again, and this is how I will be held accountable)
  5. An offer of restitution (“I will make it up to you by…”)
  6. A request for forgiveness

Few of us follow the mental checklist when we are in the heart of a disagreement or are trying to make peace, but after learning how to restore a relationship in this healthy manner we are keenly aware when we receive (or give) a false apology.  It is like the stubborn toddler that the mother forces to “say sorry” when he steals a toy or hits his sister.  As we grow older, however, our false apologies become a bit more suave.  We “say sorry”, but assign the guilt to the offended:  “I’m sorry if I hurt you somehow…” and make excuses, “It was not my intention to offend you”.  While it may be true that it was not our intention to hurt or offend someone, true sorrow recognizes the pain of the other party and seeks to make it better, not justify himself.

It is possible for the offended party to hear true remorse and in spite of being validated in their feelings, offered restitution and asked for forgiveness to choose not to forgive.  And once bitterness has established a deep root it only becomes more difficult.  This is one reason we must be able to recognize broken relationships and make every effort to restore them quickly.  Bitterness and unforgiveness are also offenses, and thus it typically happens that when a confrontation or problem occurs, both parties need to practice the steps of an apology in order for the relationship to be restored.

Mature adults, and well socialized children have learned the interpersonal skill of a true apology.  Surprisingly, however, the skill is not as widely grasped as one would hope.  Many people skirt through life, floating from relationship to relationship and leaving behind any and all who have hurt them.  Some people and families have mastered the art of “moving on” – simply pretending the problem never occurred and “letting it go”.  (Yes, it is also a healthy skill to learn to forgive when an offense was clearly unintentional, or the value of the relationship is greater than the weight of the offense.)  Some people just verbalize “I’m sorry” without validating the other person’s hurt or offering restitution or a plan to change – and thus remain in a cycle of hurting one another.

This confession process, however, is also the pivotal point on which salvation hangs.  It is what Christians call “repentance”.  Scripture teaches us that there are two kinds of sorrow:  one that is a guilt rooted in pride – sorrow for having been caught in sin or sorrow for one’s reputation being tainted, and one that is rooted in humility – sorrow for having sinned against God and for being the cause of Jesus’ suffering.

“For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while—I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.  For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.”

– 2 Cor 7.8-10

Godly sorrow recognizes one’s wicked heart and is broken over it.  Worldly sorrow recognizes only the punishment or the ramifications to one’s reputation and just wants a get-out-of-jail-free card.  Godly sorrow leads to deep, profound change.  Worldly sorrow leads to escapism, self-justification, and tactics by which one can save face.  Godly sorrow leads to repentance, and repentance requires not only the apology, but the confession of guilt, the seeking to make restoration, and the earnest effort to change.  Simply saying “I’m sorry” or asking God to forgive us and accept us does not exemplify the heart that is broken in humility before God.

This is why Scripture teaches us that even though we are free in Christ, we cannot use our freedom as an opportunity to sin:

“Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.”

– 1 Peter 2.16

In short, we cannot make up our minds to sin and expect God to forgive us.  We cannot decide to go rob a bank and think, “I will just repent later”.  We cannot look at pornography, cheat on our spouse or file for divorce and assume God’s forgiveness while we are continuing in that sin process.  True repentance recognizes personal guilt, seeks to make right what is wrong and takes responsibility to change.  God can forgive the bank robber or adulterer, but part of his repentance process will be returning the money or serving the jail time, and making amends to his spouse.

We also cannot come to God and make a blanket confession, “I am a sinner, please forgive me”, and expect that sinner’s prayer to cover our eternity.  From the moment we begin the repentance process, the Holy Spirit will take up residence in our lives and convict us of sin continually and consistently.  And this is a good thing!  Scripture also teaches us that it is the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance.  It would be unkind of Him to allow us to remain in our sins and headed to Hell!

“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”

– Rom 2.4

Thus we should check ourselves – is the Holy Spirit convicting us?  Have you walked through the steps of confession and repentance with God recently?  Have you walked through the steps of confession and restoration with a friend lately?  It is possible to go long periods of time without hurting or being hurt by a friend, but it is uncommon when we are living life in community the way God has commanded us.  That is just the nature of relationships.  It is not possible, however, with God.  Because none of us will reach full Spiritual maturity and perfection until we are free of our physical bodies.  God knows our every thought and feeling, and while we may not act out on those thoughts or feelings, He knows the sins within.

So let’s get real about our confession and interactions with God.  Even though we preach tolerance in our culture, God does not tolerate our sin.  He hates sin.  And He will not accept us if we just give him a fake “sorry” and continue acting however we want to act.  He must have authority over our actions and decisions, He must be the Lord of our lives and continually guiding us through repentance in order for us to be saved.  So let’s recognize our guilt, confess it, seek to make it right and seek to change.  Let’s also practice these interpersonal skills with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and with the outside world.  People know a true apology when they hear one, and this is just one more brick we can lay in the house of love we are building – by which we seek to be known.  And whenever someone confesses a wrong to us, let us be quick to forgive – for Jesus has always forgiven us of infinitely more than we could ever be asked to forgive.  And not only that, but He promises that God will not forgive us if we are unwilling to forgive others:

“But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

– Matt 6.15

So let us be quick to love, quick to apologize, quick to listen and quick to confess.  Let us not grieve the Holy Spirit but follow His prompting when He convicts us, and let us also be quick to apologize if a friend or family member confronts us in a sin or grievance.  God desires that change, that we love well, and that we be known by our love.

Why We Cannot Be Switzerland.

switzerland

Do you remember the childhood pacifist response to confrontation, “I am Switzerland!”  You could listen sympathetically to two friends who were mad at each other for any reason, but when a quarrel would break out in a large group the peace keepers would refuse to take sides, claiming to be neutral – like Switzerland always is – and just wait for the conflict to be resolved and everyone to be happy again.  This is a fairly safe method of conflict management for seven year-olds because rarely is the offense worthy of a life-long feud and while the reconciliation process might be lacking, the conflict is quickly forgotten by distraction.

What does last, however, is the implantation of the worldly worldview that it is best not to intervene.  Our young minds were molded into pacifism, cowardice and selfishness all because we were never trained to rightly and Biblically handle confrontation and sin.  We think if we bury our heads in the sand, someone else will figure it out.  We think that it is not our problem or business, so we turn our backs and ignore the situation.  We do not recognize the eternal consequences of the situation and just wait around for things to work themselves out.  We do not want to pick sides, try to befriend both sides, and end up with nothing in the end.

Does the Bible have anything to say about all of this?

Yes, actually.  It has a lot to say.  First of all, we must approach life, relationships and conflict in humility.  If we have been saved, then we have recognized our own sin, we have recognized the weight of that guilt, we have confessed our sins (and are continually confessing them) to God and to close friends, we are repenting of our sins, and we are forgiving those who offend us (Matt 6.12, 18.22).  If we all were capable of dying to ourselves at every moment and in every situation – putting one another first the way Scripture commands – this would be a non-conversation.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

 – Phil 2.3-4

Secondly, we must approach life, relationships and conflict in love.  It may feel like the loving thing to let people do whatever they want, but we all know that sometimes love intervenes.  Loving parents do not let children put themselves in harm’s way.  “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk”, right?  And we all know the intervention that is required to help a friend who has been allowed to destroy themselves for years.  But more importantly, we recognize that when someone’s heart has been hardened against repentance, his eternity is at stake (Heb 10.26).  This is why Scripture commands us to confront sin in one another, pushing one another on to holiness, and holding one another accountable.

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

 – Matt 18.15-17

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

 – Gal 6.1

“…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…”

 – Heb 10.24

Notice here, that Jesus does not say “If a brother sins against you”, but rather “if your brother sins”.  We often try to excuse ourselves from responsibility because we are not a part of the conflict.  But Jesus says no matter what, confront him so that we might see him repent and be restored and pulled back from the snares of the devil!  It is the loving thing to address sin, so as to help one another along the way to salvation.  We do this with greatest humility and tenderness, knowing that we ourselves are not perfect or above temptation:

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

 – Gal 6.1

“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

 – Matt 7.3-5

Thirdly, we will be convicted to approach life, relationships and conflict when we understand God’s expectation of us:

“Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me.  When I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.  Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself.  Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he will die; since you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand.  However, if you have warned the righteous man that the righteous should not sin and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; and you have delivered yourself.”

 – Ez 3.17-21

If we do not confront sin in our brothers and sisters, their blood is on our hands.  If love and compassion for our brother who is toying with his Spiritual walk and eternity will not drive us to say something, then perhaps the direct commandment from God and the consequence of forever having his blood on our hands will.

“Silence in the face of evil is evil itself:  God will not hold us guiltless.  Not to speak is to speak.  Not to act is to act.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

But how do we know?

Ok, so now we know that we are commanded to confront one another and it is the loving thing to do, how do we know what to say and when to say it?  To oversimplify, we take note of the unrepented sin.  As redeemed and forgiven children of God, we should not walk around looking to beat people up for mistakes and sins that they have committed.  Rather, when we observe that someone has given in to any sin, they have made peace with it, they are not changing from it.

What this means, first and foremost, is we must know what God calls and considers sin.  He is God, and He gets the final say.  Everything from murder to sexual immorality (lust, fooling around with someone and sex outside of marriage, pornography, adultery), to lying, to bitterness, pride and selfishness.

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

 – Gal 5.19-21

Secondly, this means that we recognize repentance is the key.  We will all stumble and fall into sins at times, we will all willingly choose to partake in sins at times, but the determining and damning factor is our response to that sin.  Do we make peace with it?  Do we enjoy it and continue in it?  Or do we recognize it, confess it and repent from it?  If you see someone repeatedly participate or give in to a sin, then we lovingly confront them and walk them through repentance holding them accountable.  If we see two friends fighting, and they are unable to come to resolution, then we confront the pride, bitterness and division – walking them through repentance and holding them accountable.  The expectation of God is not for us to simply point out sin in one another, but to actually enable and walk alongside one another to maturity.

We also understand that God is sanctifying us all differently and we are at different points in our Spiritual development and maturation.  So when we breach a topic of sin, we first pray and rely on the Holy Spirit’s leading, then we bring the Scripture with us – because the person may not yet know that his actions are indeed sinful!  The Holy Spirit might not have gotten there yet with him.  The person may not be hardened in sin, but immature.  This is no excuse, and it is still our role as brothers and sisters to confront and walk alongside.  This is also much easier than dealing with someone who has given in to sin and has hardened his heart against God and Scripture.

Finally, this means that we do take sides.  We take sides against sin.  So often we gloss over confrontation and division and desire to remain neutral, but Scripture teaches us that division itself is a sin (Gal 5.20).  Has a husband abandoned his wife?  That is a sin.  We stand up against that sin.  Has a wife had an affair on her husband?  That is a sin.  We stand up against that sin.  Is someone stealing from the Church or their job?  That is a sin.  We stand up against that sin.  Is someone proud, sleeping around, unforgiving or a gossip?  These are all sins.  We stand up against those sins.  It is very rare that a conflict is based purely on one person’s sin.  It does happen, though typically there is guilt on both sides.  What then?  We stand up against all sin, and we forgive, overlook and hold accountable the repentant.  Our hope and prayer is that all parties repent.  Our instruction is to push all parties to repentance, and to maintain the purity of the body by removing the unrepentant from among us.

Sin is no laughing matter.  It is, in fact, what merits our eternal damnation.  We must, in love, push one another on to holiness and for the sake of our own conscience and confront sin.  We do not want blood on our hands.  We do this all in love, all in humility, and all to the glory and honor of God, hoping that we maintain purity and holiness in our families, churches and communities.  Let us consider one another – better than ourselves – and hold one another accountable!

Am I disqualified from serving God?

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What is your experience and background with the Church?  Do you believe that God is an angry sovereign ready to smite you for every mistake that you make?  Or do you believe that God is love and accepts everyone, regardless of their belief system and backgrounds?  Are you predisposed to pride and arrogance?  Or are you prone to doubt and insecurity?  It is remarkable how our personalities and worldviews affect our assumptions and expectations towards God.  And typically, having one disposition blinds us from truly comprehending the personality makeup of those on the opposite extreme.  We might understand academically that some people wrestle with depression, but having a strong personality and high self esteem we think others are exaggerating or just looking for attention through their insecurity.  Or, wrestling with depression or doubt we might think that others have it all together and never have moments of weakness.

Along those lines, if you have experience in any fundamental legalistic church, you might have been trained to believe that while grace is free and abundant and that God forgives sins, there are many sins that simply disqualify us from serving God.  You might even be condemned for a life situation over which you had no control!  If, however, you have attended a liberal, “grace” driven church, you might believe that your actions have absolutely no bearing on your service to or standing before God.  Thankfully, we have the Bible to clearly teach us about grace and our worth before God, and we can walk in confidence if someone (even ourselves) has tried to convince us we have been disqualified from serving God.

First of all, God hates sin.  There are lists of sins that God hates throughout Scripture, the entire Law from the Old Testament was written to define sin and keep people from it, and the reason Jesus came to the world was to save us from our sin by paying the due punishment we deserve for it.  There is a problem in the world, there is a problem in every single human being and that is sin.  Until mankind had sinned, he was not separated from God, and after one little sin he was damned to Hell and the entire world was cursed.  Sin is a big deal.  It is that which separates us from God and causes us to need a savior.  God hates sin, He pours out His wrath against sin, and He will not overlook even the smallest sin.  His righteousness and justice demands that every single sin be judged by the harshest punishment because His standard is perfection.

We, as sinners, cannot rectify this sin problem.  Therefore, God sent Jesus to live a perfect life so that He, though not deserving punishment for sin, could take our place and pay the punishment that we deserve by dying a horrific death on a cross, descending to Hell for three days, and raising back to life – conquering death and offering us His righteousness.  Jesus offers us the free gift of salvation which is essentially the switching of places with Him.  If we have faith in His work and repent of our sins, then He takes the punishment for our sins and we take His perfection – in the eyes of God.

This exchange is no limited to the little sins.  Pretty much any sin for which you might condemn yourself (or someone else) is exemplified by the greatest men and women of the Bible.  Murder (Moses, Paul), Adultery (David), Prostitution (Rahab), Lying (Abraham), Theft (Matthew, Zacchaeus, David), Denying Christ (Peter and ten other apostles), Idolatry (Solomon, Rachel), and even Killing off Christians and the Church! (Paul).  God chose to use people who had committed the most heinous of crimes to be some of the most monumental people in history and in the Church.  Many of these crimes were even committed while these people were known to be following God!  God is not shocked by our sins and our failure, and He is ready and willing to forgive anything.  Not only that, we see then that the sin itself does not in any way mark us with a scarlet letter as unworthy or unusable before God.  The simple fact is that none of us who have committed any sin, ever, are worthy to serve God until we switch places with Jesus and take on His righteousness.

Where this gets tricky, however, is the reality that the process of us switching places with Jesus and taking on His righteousness is marked by our repentance.  None of us, while in the flesh, will fully conquer sin.  We will wrestle with sin until our dying day.  We must, however, allow God to be authoritative over our lives and define sin, and we must repent of it – continually giving our hearts and efforts over to God and dying to sin.  What this means, for example, is that you cannot plan a sin and carry it out with the expectation of God’s forgiveness later.  We cannot say, “I will just cheat on this test and I will confess it later and God will forgive me.”  We cannot say, “I am going to have an affair on my wife and/or divorce her, but God will forgive me.”  We cannot say, “I hate him, and I will just keep my distance from him.  It’ll fade away and God will forgive me.”  If we hate sin, we run from it, we despise it’s pleasures and we seek to make right what was wronged by it.  God will forgive the cheating or abandoning spouse if he recognizes that he sinned by having an affair and leaving his wife if he is broken over his sin, confesses it to God and to her, and tries to make restitution.  God will forgive the cheating student if he confesses it to God and the teacher and seeks to make it right – either by retaking the test or taking a consequential fail.  If we love the benefits and pleasures of sin, then we have made peace with that sin, and we have not repented.  This is perhaps the most dangerous of situations.  Scripture says,

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.6-27

If we have confessed our sins, repented of them, and are striving to honor God in our lives then there is nothing that can disqualify us from serving God!

Now, this is the point where we need to examine the Biblical outlines for church leadership.  God loves His Church.  We are His body.  The head of that body is Jesus Christ, and the rest of us make up parts of it both in our local congregations and globally.  Within this body, the Bible gives us clear instructions for two specific roles:  pastors/elders/overseers and deacons.

A pastor or overseer is one who teaches the body regularly.  You might say that he is the mouth of the body.  He is not the head, Jesus alone is the head.  But he does have a leadership and authoritative role over the body, and will be help accountable to God for how he led the flock and cared for our souls.  Thus he must meet these requirements:

“It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.  An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.  He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.  And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

1 Tim 3.1-7

First of all, we see that he desires to serve in the office.  We should never appoint someone to be our pastor who is not called, and does not desire the office.  It was trendy in the 90’s for people to say that they fought against it and did not desire the office.  It is wise advice for one to follow that if there is anything else they would like to do, then they should do that.  The rest of the qualifications are character assessments rooted in maturity of the faith.  This is a man, who is not a new convert, and has proven himself to be above reproach, free from the love of money, able to teach, and hospitable.  Of course even pastors and overseers will sin, but is his life marked by repentance?  And is he free from being characterized as a sinner in any of these ways?  Congregations value and appreciate transparency, but being “real” does not mean Spiritual immaturity and inability to fight sin.  This also interestingly notes that the pastor should have one wife.  It has been an issue of strife amongst the church that some would disqualify anyone who had been divorced for any reason, but I argue here that culturally and because of the nature of God and grace, that it means polygamy.  God can even forgive un-Biblical divorce:  He forgave and used David.

Deacons are people who serve the church.  They are appointed as men to oversee and make sure that the needs within the church are met well.  They do not have authority as teachers (though some of them may teach), but their office is one of service.  As such, their qualifications are slightly different:

“Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.  These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.”

– 1 Tim 3.8-10

Again we see that God is primarily concerned with character.  Deacons must have dignity, they must speak truth boldly (not double tongued), and above reproach.  They should be tested or interviewed to be found above reproach, and then should have good reputation.

All believers will serve God in a variety of ways.  No one committed sin can permanently disqualify us from any form of service.  There may be times when a person serving as a pastor or deacon sins and needs to be removed from office for a season, but he can be restored with proven repentance and regained trust.  Here is what Allistair Begg had to say on the topic:

“Much of what we regard as disqualifications for serving Christ, God in His sovereign wisdom and purpose turns them in to stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks. That as we rehearse the details of our lives and as we look back over our days and as we are confronted by our disappointments and as we are made painfully aware of our failures and as we see what a basket case in many ways we have been, we are forced to conclude that an individual such as we could never be useful in the service of Christ. That is a lie of the devil. That is one of the most clever ways that the evil one sidelines useful people from Christian service. To tell us that actually, the mess of our past disqualifies us. And I want to say to you as individuals, let us be about the business of the Phil 3:14 perspective: Forgetting those things that lie behind, once we have learned from them, whether in success or in failure, let us press on towards the goal, to win the prize for which God has called us Heavenward in Christ Jesus. God is in the business of putting people like you and me, warts and all, into the front lines of service for Him, even in our days.”

– Alistair Begg

So let’s get busy about recognizing and repenting from our sins.  Let’s get busy about joining the front lines of the battle, pushing back the enemy and engaging in the battle for people’s souls.  Let’s get busy about serving God in every way that we can.  Let’s remember that God works all things together for our good and for His glory, even our sins and failures.  Let’s allow Him to use our past as a testimony to His grace and goodness.  Let’s not believe lies and get sidelined because of something we have done, and let’s not sin boldly expecting God’s forgiveness.  Let’s revel in grace, repent of our sins, and boldly proclaim the Gospel that all who believe and repent can be saved!

Sin is crouching at the door.

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In the beginning, God created man and woman.  He placed them in a Garden called Eden and they lived there happily with God, without any experiential knowledge of sin.  They did have intellectual knowledge of sin, having been given a command not to eat the fruit off of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and also the consequence for doing so.  But having not yet disobeyed, they could remain in God’s presence and were not yet separated from God.  We do not know how long Adam and Eve remained in the garden, but we do know that they ate the fruit and were kicked out.

They had two children, Cain and Abel, and Cain felt challenged by his brother being jealous that Abel found favor with God.  We see that God was not please with the type of offering that each boy made to God, but with the heart behind it, and thus God came and directly confronted Cain about his attitude:

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry?  And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?  And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’”

– Gen 4.6-7

Unfortunately, Cain did not listen.  Out of his jealousy, Cain lured Abel to a field and killed him.  One generation into the existence of mankind, and we have the very first murder – brother against brother.

God’s statement to Cain is profoundly simple.  Sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for him – and for us.  We must master it.  This is the theme of Scripture.  This is the theme of the history of mankind.  We have a problem, and it is our sinful nature, and we must master it, be freed from it, be forgiven for it.

The remainder of the Old Testmanet teaches us, however, that we are completely incapable of mastering it on our own strength.  We can never make ourselves good enough to remain in God’s presence again, because His standard is perfection.

This is the very reason that Jesus came.  He came as an act of love, but the reason He had to come was because of our sin.  Every sin has to be punished, because God is just and righteous – He cannot overlook any sin and just sweep it under the rug.  So Jesus died to pay our debt of punishment for sin, that we can be forgiven and welcomed into God’s presence without sin.

After wiping our records clean, Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to empower us to fight against sin.  We cannot glorify God in our actions on our own strength and conviction, we need His strength to push us along and enable us.  Thus the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives to convict us not only of sin, but of righteousness.

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

We must be careful to balance our attitude towards sin, however.  It is a restless evil, and it will destroy us.  Hebrews tells us that if we continue sinning after we come to Jesus for salvation, that we are not saved but still on our way to Hell (Heb 10.26).  Thus we must recognize that the reason Jesus came was to pay our debt, and we gratefully receive his pardon and respond by allowing the Holy Spirit to change us and quit sinning.

If we set out to earn God’s favor by changing on our own strength, we will fail because we can never reach perfection.

But we must change as an act of worship, reverence and respect for God and His salvation.

Many today err on the side of legalism, trying to earn God’s favor, but many more err on the side of our “religious liberty”.  When Jesus rose from the dead, He fulfilled the Law and therefore some of the ceremonial laws which were established to set the Hebrew people apart as God’s chosen race were fulfilled and therefore no longer need to be kept.  This is what Paul calls our freedom.  We incorrectly apply this reality to ourselves, however, and abuse Jesus’ death on the cross by continuing in sin and making excuses for ourselves.  We must hate those things that God hates, the mark of the believer is one who is being transformed into God’s image, which means conquering sin by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let us not deceive ourselves into resting in grace and continuing in sin.  Grace exists to free us from the sin that lurks at the door waiting to destroy us.

Let us be diligent.  Let us be aware.  Let us fight the good fight, and not allow sin to destroy us.  Let’s submit the power and conviction of the Holy Spirit anew, today!

What if I don’t want to go home for Christmas?

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As we barrel through the holiday season, many of us will find ourselves forced into situations that are uncomfortable, awkward or difficult.  For the sake of tradition or expectation, we gather with people who might not like us, or whom we might not like.  There are some families out there who are closely knit and well-involved in one another’s lives, but most families have some un-reconciled offense, some level of hostility, or one black sheep or situation that will dominate what should be a joyous time of year.

Thankfully, Scripture offers us help along the lines of relationships.  As believers, we are commanded to be a unified body of faith.  We are instructed to put one another before ourselves, to speak truth in love to one another, and to build each other up; only speaking words that edify:

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.  Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.  He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.  Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.  Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

– Eph 4.25-32

To live in such a way is only possibly by the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling us.  We cannot maintain a righteous anger, we cannot speak only edifying words, and we cannot live without bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and slander apart from the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul says it simply in Romans:

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

– Rom 12.18

Thankfully he is realistic about the nature of relationships.  We cannot force another person to like us, to respect us, or to treat us well.  Thus, Paul simply says, “so far as it depends on you”, do these things.  This echoes the sentiment of Jesus to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and love those who persecute or hate us.

You may not have a family member or acquaintance who is an enemy, but perhaps they have that one quirk that drives you insane.  Perhaps they have the same personality flaw that you are fighting in yourself, so it irritates you exponentially.  Perhaps you had a fight fifteen years ago and he simply will not let it go, bringing up your past failure no matter how many times you ask for forgiveness or simply harboring a bad attitude.

Thus we must remember, “as far as it depends on me”, I am going to love this person and live peaceably with him.

How, though, can we generate such an attitude?  It is by the power of the Holy Spirit.  But we see in Ephesians that it comes from a recognition of our own state:

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

– Eph 4.32

If you look at that issue or that irritant for what it is, it is a futile effort to try to love unconditionally.  Sooner or later we will break.  Rather, we should focus on Jesus and our personal forgiveness.  Only when I revel in the glory of my forgiveness and salvation can I freely pour forgiveness and love out to others.  Only when I recognize that I do not deserve the salvation which I have can I love those who still hold a grudge against me, or who simply rub me the wrong way.  Only when I let the Holy Spirit love me can I truly live peaceably with all men and forgive in the manner I have been forgiven.

As you continue through your celebrations this holiday season, consider Jesus.  Consider why He came:  to save a lost a dying world.  And consider the forgiveness and love that you were given when you were an enemy, when you were dead in sin, when you were wickedly living according to your own pleasures.  Rejoice in that forgiveness, love and salvation, and through that peace, love the unlovable in your life.  So much as it depends on you.