What exactly is “Done”?

service

It is a glorious truth that the Old Covenant, the Law which God commanded to Moses and by which the Hebrew people sought to maintain their favor with God was a list of commandments and expectations.  It’s sole purpose, we learn in the New Testament, was to point forward to Jesus and prove the depravity of man.  There is no man who can keep the Law – the holy expectations of God – and make himself acceptable to God (Rom 7).  The New Covenant, the provision which God has offered us through the perfect life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the relief from that bondage.  It had been said that the Old Covenant proclaims, “Do” while the New Covenant proclaims “Done”.

There is no greater gift than grace, the fact that we are incapable of earning God’s favor and yet He loved us enough to punish our sin in Jesus and offer us His righteousness.  Since we are incapable of being good enough, He gave us a substitute.  Jesus took our punishment and paid our debt.  We can be made pure in the eyes of God by being hidden in the blood of Jesus.

When we recognize, however, that Jesus died because of our sin, and when we recognize the weight of the price He paid to free us from the bondage of effort, we learn to love the things that God loves and hate the things that God hates.  We hate our sin.  We hate our sin because it cost Jesus His life, because it displeases God and because it dishonors God.  If there is any sin in our lives that we love or over which we are not broken, it is very possible that we are not saved.

How can we know that?  Simply put, the moment we come to Jesus for salvation – when we recognize our guilt, confess our sins and ask Jesus to cover us by His redemption, we are made Spiritually alive by being given the Holy Spirit to indwell us.  The role of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin and push us on to righteousness:

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

– John 16.8

Therefore, if we are not recognizing our sin, if we are not being convicted of it, and if we are not repenting of it, then we can understand that the Holy Spirit is not at work in our lives.  What should we do if we are in such a state?  Confess our sins and ask Jesus for the gift of the Holy Spirit!  As we develop the Spiritual disciplines of prayer, reading the Scripture and spending time with God, we will know His heart and the Holy Spirit will convict us.  We must be on guard against sin – sin is what condemns us before God.  We cannot drift and expect to grow Spiritually.  We cannot be passive agents in our Spiritual life.  We must press into God and the allow the Holy Spirit to transform us.

“Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer.”

– John Bunyan

Does that mean that the New Covenant does not really mean, “Done”?  This oversimplification of the two covenants can be extremely helpful and at the same time extremely dangerous.  There are different aspects to our salvation, and perhaps the most glorious is justification.  Justification is a legal term by which one is declared redeemed.  It does not mean “Just as if I had never sinned”, because we are not restored to a place of innocence and our sinful nature removed.  It means “punishment paid”.  We all deserve the eternal death sentence for our sin, and Jesus paid that for us.  This is our legal standing before the Heavenly courtroom in which God is the judge, Jesus is our advocate or lawyer and Satan is the prosecutor.  Jesus does not respond to God and try to disprove our guilt when Satan accuses us, He stands there and simply says “time served” for every offense.

In this sense, the New Covenant proclaims “done”.  Once we have been justified, all of our sins past, present and future have been covered.  We are not declared welcome into eternity because our punishment has been served.  However, the ongoing process of sanctification – that change by which we die to our sins and are made more like Jesus – is not completed, and we must be active participants in it.  John Owen paraphrased 1 John thus:

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Jesus said that we will be known by our fruit.  Paul teach us to work our our salvation with fear and trembling, being diligent to fight against sin.  We are not passive in sanctification, we are killing our flesh and pressing on to holiness.  In this sense, our salvation is not “done”, but is in process.  It does not mean that our justification is capable of being lost, rather we prove our justification by pressing on in our sanctification.  We prove that we have confessed our sins and turned to Jesus by hating our sin and ceasing from it.  When we are saved, when we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we love God and we want to honor God, and we understand that our sanctification glorifies God.

“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”

– John 15.8

How then do we balance law and grace?  Do we do what we want, and hope that it is not sinful?  Do we despair when we have to choose to do the right thing even though our hearts are not in it?  C.S. Lewis offers us this beautiful help:

“A perfect man would never act from a sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people) like a crutch which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it is idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits, etc.) can do the journey on their own.”

There will be times when our hearts long for revenge, for sinful pleasure, for indulgence or any other worldly sin.  Even after we have been saved (justified), and even after we have walked for years down the path of sanctification.  Only a perfect man would always long to do what God commands, and we know that we will only be perfected when we shed our Earthly bodies.  Until then, we will be left with the dichotomy of flesh and Spirit.  We are saved and yet still have our sinful nature.  We enjoy the pleasures of sin and the world and yet long for the pleasures of Jesus and eternity.  Thus we utilize the commandments of Jesus as a crutch by which we choose to do the right thing, even when we do not desire to do the right thing.

We continue to “Do” even though our salvation has been secured by what Jesus has “Done”.  We act out of love for God and thankfulness for His salvation, and at times out of discipline – not to earn God’s favor, but to please the one who gave everything so that we might be saved.

The Mark of a Believer.

battle

There are many attributes that Christians [should] have in common.  Scripture paints pictures for us about the love we have and are known by, but perhaps one of the more overlooked attributes of the believer is the internal struggle against sin.

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.16-17

When we come to God for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ by grace, we are born Spiritually.  Jesus called this the “second birth”, and it is the moment when our eternal, Spiritual life begins.  This life will not taste death, even though our physical bodies will.  And this Spiritual life is the result of the Holy Spirit taking up residence within us and empowering us to grow in Holiness.

The entire purpose of the Law and the Old Covenant (Old Testament) is to reveal to us that we are incapable of keeping God’s commandments and honoring Him with our lives.  Thus He offers us forgiveness and salvation, and gives us the Holy Spirit to enable us to obey and be holy.

But since we remain in our bodies and have not yet been freed completely from our sinful nature, our spirit and flesh are battling one another.  Paul says that the desire of the flesh are things that we please.  Sin feels good, it is alluring, it is pleasurable; at least in the moment.  And the only way we can refrain from doing those things – those very things we please, is to walk by the Spirit.

John Owen puts it simply:

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

As long as we remain in our bodies, they will have temptations and desires that are sinful.  Unfortunately, that is just the way it is.  And Scripture tells us plainly that our flesh and Spirit will be at war with one another.  That means that we can simply test ourselves by examining the battle going on within ourselves.  Is the Spirit convicting you?  Does your heart feel like a battle ground sometimes?  Take heart!  This is perhaps the most affirming attribute of your Spiritual health possible.

If you have not felt the conviction of the Spirit, then it means He does not reside within you – because none of us is perfect in our own nature.  If you have not felt the conviction of the Spirit, then get on your face and ask God to forgive you for your sins and send you the Spirit.  If you have been quenching the Spirit for so long that you did at one point feel His conviction, but now no longer do, then get on your face and ask Him to reveal the sin in your life and those things that are distancing you from Him.  He will respond.  He will reveal it to you – if you are not already aware of the sin.

Many times we can grow frustrated with ourselves, for struggling with the same sin repeatedly, or for finding victory over one sin and suddenly finding ourselves in a new one.  But we should rather find this as an encouragement.  The Holy Spirit’s role is to convict us and sanctify us:

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

– John 16.8

So let us take comfort in the conviction of the Spirit.  Let us live by the Spirit and therefore not give in to the desires of the flesh.  Let us lay ourselves continually on the altar and ask God to refine us, and then we can say with David that God’s correcting staff comforts us – because we know His presence by His chastising work in our lives, He is not leaving us to our own devices.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

– Ps 23.4

Fighting Sin: The Battle within the Mind

this means war

When we become aware of our sinfulness and the consequences of those sins and in response turn to Jesus for salvation and forgiveness of those sins, we begin down the path of eternal life.  Sanctification.  Salvation.  God takes out our heart of stone that is dead and opposed to Him, and gives us a heart of flesh on which is written His perfect law, and we feel convicted of sin and long to obey Jesus out of love.  We begin the difficult battle of dying to ourselves and killing our sinful desires in order to grow in Spiritual maturity and holiness.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught us, in quite simple vocabulary:

“When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

John Owen, upon reflecting upon the book of 1 John warned us,

“Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

– John Owen

Scripture teaches us that our bodies and our desires are at war with the Holy Spirit that now indwells us:

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.17

Fighting sin is a difficult discipline.  We speak little of it within the church and amongst believers because we are afraid to define sin and potentially hurt someone’s feelings.  We also have made peace with much of our own personal sin and are not interested in vetting it from our lives.  Sin is dirty, it is something that we keep hidden from one another, and without strong discipleship, we will not develop the disciplines of defining and seeing sin within our own lives and fighting it.  But we must!  If we are comfortable with sin then we are denying Jesus.  We, as Christians, must learn to see sin, identify it, and take steps to remove it from our lives.

Once we have entered into relationship with Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit within us whose job is to convict us of sin and righteousness.

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

– John 16.8

He will inform us what sin is, and it will always be aligned with Scripture.  The Spirit is sent out into the world to remind us and convict us of what Jesus taught.

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”

– John 14.26

Therefore, we must study the Scriptures to know what Jesus taught.  The Bible unashamedly teaches us the desires of God and what He defines as sin.  When we understand what sin is, the Holy Spirit reminds us and convicts us of sin in our own lives.  And then we begin the battle of fighting it.

Where does this all begin?  It begins in the mind.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

– Rom 12.1-2

Our goal, as believers, is to present our entire selves to God as a living and holy sacrifice.  Holy and acceptable means that we are fighting sin and making our lives reflect the worth and value that we believe God to have.  In order to not be conformed to the wold, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.  We learn the Scripture, we understand what God says – and by daily getting into the word and knowing God, we are able to discern the will of God.  We understand what is good, acceptable and prefect.

Then we have to put it to action.

“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…”

– 2 Cor 10.5

Once we are relatively comfortable in our Christian walk, many of our sins will be on the heart and mind level.  These – in my opinion – are the most difficult sins to fight because they rarely come to a fruition that others can see.  Pride, lust and envy are things that we can mask and maintain without ever having another notice and call us to accountability.  This is why Paul teaches us that we need to take every thought captive.  The moment that a proud, lustful or envious thought runs through our minds, we must stop that thought and replace it with one that honors God.

Our goal in sin fighting is not simply to stop sinning, but it is to grow in holiness.  That means taking the sin out of our lives and replacing it with something that gives glory to God.  Therefore, when an envious thought enters our mind, we should squash the thought and replace it with thankfulness for what we have, and praise God for blessing that other person.  When an arrogant thought grips our mind we must stop and humble ourselves before the Lord, purposefully dying to ourselves and acknowledging the worth and value of the person who is the object of our wicked thoughts.

Peter says that we need to “gird our minds for action”:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

– 1 Peter 1.13

During these days people wore long flowing robes with a belt tied around the waist.  In order to run or moved quickly, the men would grab the back of the robe and pull it up between their legs and tie it to the waistband.  Essentially they would turn a dress into running shorts.  This would give them mobility and the freedom to run and move quickly.  Peter says that this is how we are to prepare our minds – put running shorts on our minds so that we can move and be agile.  We are to keep sober in spirit and look completely in hope to our coming salvation.  That means remove distractions and sin.  Do not numb your mind with TV, with the vanities of life, with sin – but instead renew it daily with the Scripture and the promise of the coming end.  Live daily with the intention of making an eternal impact and storing up treasures in eternity.

When we do this, when we understand what sin is, and when we develop the discipline of identifying it in our lives and hearts, and when we replace the sin with a thought that glorifies God, then we have one of the most beautiful promises in all of Scripture:

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

– Is 26.3

When we set our minds on God, and keep sin out, even on the mind/heart level, God will keep us in perfect peace.  Do you have a lack of peace in your life?  Examine your heart to see if you are allowing any sin of the mind or heart to take root.  Bitterness.  Envy.  Anger.  Lust.  Pride.  Few will be able to see these sins until you verbalize and act on them.  But the Spirit within you will reveal it to you if you ask Him, set your mind on God, and learn what God defines as sin within His Word.

Set your mind on Him today and experience that perfect peace that passes understanding.

You can have a zeal for God, and yet not be saved.

zeal

There is one verse in the Bible that terrifies most Christians, and that is this:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’”

– Matt 7.21-23

Jesus declared that there are many, many – not just some, who will think that they are saved, who will have preformed miracles in the name of Jesus and cast out demons in His name, but who never were saved and will not be allowed to enter into eternity with Him.  If you have any concept of Hell, or a desire to spend eternity with Jesus, then this is a terrifying reality.  Paul, likewise, has a unique prayer in his musings over the Jewish people:

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.  For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.

– Rom 10.1-2

Zeal is a good thing.  We should all seek to be passionate about God.  John tells us that anyone who is lukewarm will be “spit out” as it were,

“So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.”

– Rev 3.16

and Paul goes on to say in Romans,

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

– Rom 12.10-13

Most importantly, Jesus taught us (directly from the Old Testament) that we should,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

– Matt 22.37

But how can it be that the Jews were zealous for God and yet were not saved?  How can it be that some people will preform miracles and cast out demons in the name of Jesus and not be saved?  Paul gives us the answer in his very sentiment,

“For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.”

– Rom 10.2

They were zealous for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.  Now, we all know the warnings about knowledge, that it puffs up (1 Cor 8.1) and that knowledge alone cannot save.  It must be utilized by wisdom in order to be effective in the heart of believers and in the world, but we must beware that we do not throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater in trying to stay humble and meek.  Knowledge is not only good, it is essential to knowing God.

Consider this:  God gave us a book which tells us about His direct activity in the world throughout history, it tell us about His heart, His thoughts, His intentions and His plan for salvation.  He sovereignly oversaw the writing of it, the preservation of it, and the translation of it so that we can all have access to His spoken words, His actions, and His offer of forgiveness.  Do you not think that He intends for us to read it and know it?  If you wrote a letter to your spouse or best friend pouring out your heart, would you be hurt if they just left it partially read?  God intends for us to know that which He has revealed about Himself.  And He has revealed Himself in the Scripture.  You cannot know the heart of God unless you know the Scripture.

There is a praise song that is growing in popularity these days called “Good, Good Father”, and the first verse goes like this:

Oh, I’ve heard a thousand stories
Of what they think You’re like.
But I’ve heard the tender whisper
Of love in the dead of night.
And You tell me that You’re pleased
And that I’m never alone.
Notice the lack of logic in this sentiment.  “I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like” – everyone has their own opinion of who God is and how He acts.  But instead of opening up the Scripture to find how God describes Himself, the author says, “But I’ve heard the tender whisper of love in the dead of night”.  He relies on his own experience and his own zeal.

It is not good enough to sit back on our haunches and say, “you’re wrong and I’m right”, or “the God serve is like this…”.  We must turn to the Scripture and know, “This is who God says He is, and this is what God says He thinks and does”.  Yes, God is a good father.  He is the best father.  He is the only Heavenly and eternal father.  But to know Him we must know His word, we must have knowledge of Him.  Otherwise we can facilitate a zeal that is of one who is unsaved.  It is a zeal for a name of a person that we do not know.

Therefore we can understand that this knowledge is not an academic knowledge only, it is a relational knowledge.  It is abiding in Christ, remaining in Him.  It is getting to know God by learning what He has to say about himself and reveling in it, rejoicing in it, letting the Spirit mold and change who we are by soaking in it.  It’s like the old adage,

Garbage in, garbage out.

If we soak in Christ, if we renew our minds in the Scripture and meditate on it, if we remain in Christ, then Christ and Scripture will come out.  If we remain in Christ, He will produce the fruit through us.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

– John 15.4-5

John Owen taught us that to remain in Christ means friendship:

“Christ is our best friend, and ere long will be our only friend. I pray God with all my heart that I may be weary of everything else but converse and communion with Him.”

and

“Mutual communion is the soul of all true friendship and a familiar converse with a friend hath the greatest sweetness in it…[so] besides the common tribute of daily worship you owe to [God], take occasion to come into his presence on purpose to have communion with Him.  This is truly friendly, for friendship is most maintained and kept up by visits; and these, the more free and less occasioned by urgent business…they are, the more friendly they are…We use to check our friends with this upbraiding, you still [always] come when you have some business, but when will you come to see me?…When thou comest into his presence, be telling him still how well thou lovest him; labour to abound in expressions of that kind, than which…there is nothing more taking with the heart of any friend…”

God intends for us to know Him, and He gave us an entire book to be able to do so.  We cannot have a true and real passion or zeal for God unless we know Him and remain in Him.  Thus we must seek to know His word, and by learning what He has to say about Himself, we naturally develop zeal for Him, for His reputation, for making Him known, and He will flow out of our hearts and minds as we live our daily lives.  We maintain this friendship by coming to Him in prayer and “visits” as Owen says.  Not just in crises or on business.  But to commune.  To talk.  To worship.  To adore.  To praise.

Let us be zealous.  But let it be rooted in knowledge.  So that we will not find ourselves amongst the many who never knew Him.  Visit Him today, spend time with Him today, invest in your friendship outside of business and an urgent need.  Read His word, learn who He reveals Himself to be, and pray back to Him how amazed, thankful, scared, thankful you are – or whatever response you have to His word.  Get to know Him a little more today.

This means war.

So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

– Rom 8.12-13

We are in a war.  A Spiritual war.  You have probably spent time meditating on the Spiritual armor that we are to wear as Paul lists it in Ephesians 6.10-18.  You have probably heard the analogy of prayer as our Spiritual walkie-talkie, allowing us direct access to our Commander-in-Chief.  But have you ever thought about the enemy?  Against whom exactly are we fighting?

The Bible tells us that the war of dominion has been won (Rom 8.1-2).  Satan has been defeated.  His destiny is settled: an eternity in the Lake of Fire and Brimstone (Rev 20.10).  Jesus holds the keys to death and Hell (Rev 1.17-18) and no one will go there unless Jesus sends him there.  And of all that the Father has given Jesus, none will be or can be lost (John 6.37-39).

Paul tells us, rather, that our greatest enemy is sin.  It is sin that earn us an eternity in Hell, not Satan.  And Paul gets very explicative in Romans 8 in telling us about our responsibility as believers.  We are under obligation to the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the body.  Under obligation!  John Owen made a very famous statement by which we all would benefit if we purposefully lived:  “Be killing sin or it will be killing you”.

Ed Welch, an author and counselor, made this statement:

“There is a mean streak to authentic self-control. . . Self-control is not for the timid. When we want to grow in it, not only do we nurture an exuberance for Jesus Christ, we also demand of ourselves a hatred for sin. . . . The only possible attitude toward out-of-control desire is a declaration of all-out war. . . . There is something about war that sharpens the senses . . . You hear a twig snap or the rustling of leaves and you are in attack mode. Someone coughs and you are ready to pull the trigger. Even after days of little of no sleep, war keeps us vigilant.”

Let’s reflect on a minute about the severity with which Jesus speaks to sin and how we are to respond to it:

“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire.  If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.”

– Matt 18.8-9

Clearly Jesus knows that an eye is not the cause of our sin, but the heart causing or allowing the eye to look at things which it should not.  And the hand is not evil in-and-of itself, it is the sinful heart that would use the hand to steal or kill.  But Jesus is so concerned with our sanctification – “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess 4.3) – that He would prefer us to cut off a member of our body and be saved than to continue in sin and be damned.  Paul tells us that we should no longer present the members of our bodies as instruments of sin, but instruments of righteousness (Rom 6.13).  If I were to physically cut off my hand, it would be unable to be of use to God.  But if I have a tendency or temptation to steal, I need to be so severe against that sin that I would fight that sin with the fervency equatable to cutting it off!

I wrote yesterday about flirting with the line; setting up boundaries for ourselves so that we can walk as close to sin as possible without actually sinning.  And I argued that that mentality is sinful.  I do believe that setting up boundaries and safeguards is a good practice.  But not to appease our consciences for living however we want, rather to help us live lives that are focused on and poured out for holiness and the glory of God.

So how do we fight these sins?  With the Sword of the Spirit: the Word of God.  We cannot honor God without clinging to His will and His Word, and we are only granted that wisdom through the Scriptures.  Are you timid?  Pray back Romans 8.15 to God until the timidity is gone.  Do you struggle with lust?  Meditate on the fact that God will always provide a way of escape, ask him for strength, and find the escape/safeguard (1 Cor 10.13).  Do you tell white lies?  Remember that liars will find their place in Hell (Rev 21.8) and ask God for boldness to honor Him with your words (Eph 3.11-12).  Fighter verses are the truths and promises of God that we find in Scripture that help us overcome struggles, temptations and sins.  Find them.  Pray them.  Memorize them.  Because it is the Word of God that is “living and active and and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Heb 4.12-13).

The Word is our sword by which we fight battles.  And it will not return void (Is 55.11).

There is, also, a level of Spiritual warfare against the principalities and dark places that is to be fought, as Eph 6 states.  The tension is valid that even though the war has been won, there are still battles to be fought in these final days (the Already-Not Yet).  But Satan has no power over our eternity.  He cannot take us from Christ.  And he cannot force us into sin.  Thus our primary war is with our flesh and with our sinful passions.  Let us examine ourselves.  Let us ask God to reveal sins of which we are unaware.  Let us put to death the deeds of the body and present ourselves as instruments of righteousness to honor God and to further His kingdom here on Earth!

Let Go and Let God.

Have you ever heard this phrase?  Has someone ever exhorted you to quit trying, stop working so hard, just trust God?

There are many situations in life in which we would tell ourselves it is appropriate to surrender.  If an earthquake is rocking your house and the foundation has failed, you probably will be unable to hold up the walls with your bare hands.  If a tree has died and is rotting, it is dead and no amount of fertilizer will bring it back to life.

But while we depend on God for our Spiritual life, for salvation, for forgiveness, for happiness and joy, it is rarely the case that God requires nothing of us.  He saves us, by faith, apart from works.  And then we respond.  We repent.  We put our fleshly selves to death and follow Him.

There is a debate amongst theologians as to the sanctification process and success of believers.  Some would argue that when we come to Christ, we are “a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5.17).  We have died to our flesh and our sin, we have put away the old man and we can live righteous and holy lives (1 Cor 6.9-11).  The argument goes like this:

I can willfully choose to not sin this very moment.  And if I can not sin for this moment, I am capable of not sinning for an hour.  If I can be without sin for an hour, I can go for an entire day.  And if I can go an entire day, I can live my life without sin.

Many respected theologians and men of God believe this logic, based on those very verses I noted above and more.  The opposing viewpoint stands on verses that point our righteousness to Christ, the bondage of sin that the flesh has and the hopeful nature of salvation being completed when we die.

For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.  For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.  But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.  So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.  For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.  For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.  But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.  I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.  For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.  Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?

– Rom 7.14-24

This passage is hotly debated between the two camps.  Those who would claim that we can live sinless lives through the power of the Spirit argue that Paul is speaking of himself pre-salvation.  Those who argue that we will only be free from sin in eternity argue that this is his Christian experience.

J. I. Packer is a well known professor and theologian.  He was saved during his college years at Oxford.  In his young faith, he was taught that perfection was possible – a sanctification by faith which would render one unswayed by the temptation of sin.  Packer had a very sensitive conscience and no matter how many times he reconsecrated, rededicated and resubmitted himself to God and holy living, he knew that he was not perfect.  His testimony is that this defeat led him nearly to suicide when he discovered two writings:  John Owen on the doctrine of indwelling sin and J. C. Ryle’s book on holiness.

We cannot and should not just “let go and let God” deal with our daily sin.  He will not sanctify us apart from our submission to Him and His ways.  This is not a passive process.  While the logic sounds good that we can attain perfection and/or freedom from the allure of sin, Paul states very clearly in the Romans 7 passage that he knows that the Law is good, that sin is bad and that he longs to obey God and follow the Law.  Unsaved people do not want or long to honor God.

Paul is not making peace with sin, he is not giving it permission to reign in his body.  He is not saying, “oh well, this is just who I am”, or “God will forgive me”, no!  It grieves his spirit, it breaks his heart and he is fighting against the sin that indwells his body.  Thus we have the doctrine of “Indwelling Sin”.  As long as we are united with our physical bodies, we are united to our fleshly, sinful nature, that does not die without a fight.  And will not be fully defeated until it lays cold in the ground.  Our sins our forgiven, and our hearts are made new.  But our nature is in transition.  That is why he compels us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2.12).

The phrase, “dying to sin” can sound passive, but it is a personal denying of the self, actively killing the sinful nature (Matt 16.24).  And we are only able to make progress on this path by the power of the Holy Spirit living in and through us.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

– Gal 2.20

We are justified by Christ’s righteousness alone.  Our works do not save us.  But His power within us, little by little, changes us – until the day that we meet Jesus face to face in Heaven.  And because of our love for God, our hearts should sound like Paul when we fall, “Oh wretched man that I am!” (Rom 7.24).  I hate the sin that I do!

The mark of the Christian is that we fight!  Do not make peace with sin.  Do not be passive, thinking that God will change you against your will and your efforts.  Examine yourself daily.  Confess your sin.  Trust God for forgiveness, and rely on His Spirit for the strength to deny yourself your fleshly desires.

“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

– Rom 6.12-13

There are times that we need to surrender our will and our pride to God.  I am not proposing that we do not surrender.  But I am saying that we join God where He is at work, and His primary concern is to sanctify us: to make us more like His son and to work good deeds through us, and to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.  Therefore, let us surrender to His plan by expending our every energy on loving Him, serving Him, fighting sin and purposefully denying our sinful selves and choosing obedience.

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

– John Owen

Are you sick?

Analogies are a wonderful teaching tool.  Jesus used them often in the form of parables:  stories that teach a lesson.  We use them with our children, with students and with one another when we want to soften a blow or paint a word picture to help someone remember a point.  And pastors do it often with their congregations.  All analogies fall apart if you push them to their natural end.  Their purpose is not to be exact, but to offer and example.

However.

There is one analogy that I have heard for years that I fear has led and will continue to lead people into a false understanding of the human condition.  And that is this:

Sin is a disease.

Sin is most assuredly not a disease.  Sin is not a virus – an outward source – that infects our otherwise healthy, vibrant bodies.  Sin is not a bacteria that gets into our blood or skin or other body part and eats away at us, as our immune system puts up a battle.

The reason that this analogy is so dangerous is because it presents the misconception that humanity, in and of itself, is good.  And alive!  Diseases have to feed off a life host.  The Bible, however, states that apart from Christ we are dead (Eph 2.1).  Spiritually dead.   Apart from Christ, we are not Spiritually alive with a virus or bacteria or even a flawed gene within our Spiritual DNA causing us pain or sickness.  No.  We are dead.  There is no life.

And sin is the outworking of the Spiritually dead person.  It is our human condition.  Everything anyone does apart from or without faith is sin (Rom 14.23).  It is the natural outpouring of who we are, our internal disposition.

“No one is righteous, no not one. No one understands. No one seeks for God. All have turned aside. Together, they have become worthless. No one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave. They use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. In their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

 – Rom 3.10-18

There is no human being who has been born that is Spiritually healthy and then corrupted by the world.  We are not even spiritually neutral and being affected by two opposing forces of good and evil.  We are all born without spiritual life, and it is of Jesus to give us life through His redemption by the power of the Spirit.  As I reflected yesterday, He is the bread of life – and by abiding in Him, he gives us Spiritual life (John 6).

Jesus also says that when we are dead, in sin, we are slaves to sin (John 8.34).  A slave is one who has no choice, he does what his master says.  Left to our own devices, we have no option but to sin.  Everything that we do is a sin.  And we will only sin.  We desire only sin.

Paul defines our dreadful estate before salvation:  we are hostile to God (Rom 8.7) and enemies of God (Rom 5.10).

Moses, when accounting the flood and God’s reasoning behind it, states that “The intent of man is evil from his youth” (Gen 8.21).  “That every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6.5).

And once we are born again (John 3.3), we are to consider ourselves dead to sin (Rom 6.11).  We have been set free from its bondage, from its mastery (Rom 6.18).  And it is at this point that the analogy of sin as a disease can be useful.  If we have been born again, if the Spirit is alive within us, if we have have been given the gift of faith (Eph 2.9), the gift of life, then we begin the battle with sin.  John Owen made a very famous statement which has impacted the Church for the past three hundred and fifty years:

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you”.

As believers, we can grieve the Spirit (Eph 4.30), we can stunt our spiritual growth and be left in immaturity (Heb 6.1) if we continue in sin and do not purposefully fight sin in our lives.  And in this sense we can observe sin as a disease.  But only if we account it as one that is generated from within ourselves, such as cancer, a faulty gene or any other disease that has no outward cause.  Yes, we can be tempted from without, but our desire and choice to sin is of our nature; it is blamable upon no one else.  No virus.  No bacteria.

We can only fight this battle as with a disease if we have been given Spiritual life.  Morality apart from faith is still damnable, as to fight the outward appearance of sin without being given life is to whitewash a tomb (Matt 23.27-28).

So whatever you want to call it, if you are a believer, fight sin.  Take your chemo.  If you have not yet been saved, do not waste your time fighting sin.  Because sin is not a disease trying to corrupt your good nature, it is your condition.  And your only hope is the gift of eternal and Spiritual life from Jesus Christ through the Spirit.  Turn to God.  He will bring you to life.  And then give you the power and strength to repent and fight sin, that only then, can be considered an enemy, fighting against your new Spirit:  The Spirit of God.

That does not belong here.

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.  Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

– 1 Peter 2.11-12

I like to run.  I live in the city, not in a subdivision but amongst older homes organized into neighborhoods in the more traditional sense, and I run on sidewalks and running paths the vein the city of Denver.  I live in a cute community, older homes that are well kept and fun to look at for their variety.  But there is one house that I pass on a regular basis that just does not fit in.  And it is not the house, but it is the fact that they use the small plot of ground between the sidewalk and the street to grow corn.  Yes, corn.

DSC_0428

I grew up in the country and we always had a large garden.  My roommate keeps vegetables on the side of the house, but this stands out!  It simply doesn’t belong there.

Yesterday I was reflecting on our responsibility to share the truth boldly and verbally as part of who we are:  aliens.  We are to be in the world but not of the world.  We know when something does not belong.  Corn does not belong on a city street.  Do people know that you do not belong in the world?  Can someone observe you and know that the Earth is not our home (Heb 13.14)?

I think that we hear this general instruction a lot, but little help is offered as to what exactly that means.  Do we create a new monastery where we wear robes, sing chants and remove ourselves from daily interaction with the world?  Do we start making our own clothes, stop using electricity and focus on dominating the Earth?  Do we, as one tribe I know of in the world, reject all forms of social structure including clothing, education and buildings in order to live as closely as possible to the way in which Adam and Eve lived when God created them?

“What we must do is to outdo the world in honesty, kindness, gentleness, usefulness, moderation of spirit, charity, compassion and readiness to help others in their need.”

– John Owen

But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.  And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.

– 1 Peter 3.14-16

I love the fulness of the picture that Peter paints for us here in that we have hope in Jesus Christ and have been transformed.  Because of that transformation and separation from the world, we will be slandered or persecuted, and on the grounds of our response to our persecution – faith, hope and love – people will see that we truly are different and will ask about the hope.  When we answer about our hope with gentleness and reverence, those who slander or persecute us will be shamed because our hope is sincere and they proved unable to nullify our witness.

Were all Christians meek, quiet, peaceable, sober, self-controlled, humble, useful, kind, gentle, willing to listen to all, cheerful in trials and troubles, always ‘rejoicing in the Lord’, then the world would not take offense at them, but wonder how any could live without them, and so be won over to them, making every effort to be like them.  If honesty, sincerity and uprightness were seen among Christians on every occasion, how greatly it would glorify Christ!

– John Owen

How then do we show that we do not belong?  By exemplifying the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, but loving as Christ loved, by preaching the Gospel at every occasion, and by maintaining our witness even in the midst of trials and tribulations.  They will know we are Christians by our love (John 13.35), and love never fails (1 Cor 13.8).  And we maintain this by not loving the things of the world, as we cannot love the things of the world and love God (1 John 2.15, Matt 6.24).  Let’s be the corn growing on the city street.

Teachability is the key.

The corrupt mind exalts itself as the sole and absolute judge of God’s Word.  The corrupt mind determines for itself whether God’s Word is true or false, good or evil, to be received or rejected without any supernatural guidance or help.  And whatever the mind rejects as not in agreement with its own ideas and system of logic is scorned and despised.

– John Owen

The last week of introspection has carried the theme of testing sincerity of faith and the genuine conversion and commitment of my heart.  It began with the expectation and command that we would hold one another in accountability so as to push one another on to holiness, and then a reflection on how we can test ourselves to see if we are in the faith.  Yesterday I was meditating on mental assent verses changing faith, and today I am just basking in some more of John Owen’s teaching on guarding against apostasy (abandoning the faith).

I think that there is one essential marker by which we can test ourselves and examine each other:  repentance.  One constituting factor of repentance is humility.  Do you have to instantaneously become an expert on God, on the doctrines of the faith and on living a holy lifestyle to be a believer?  Absolutely not.  Salvation is a life-long journey of sanctification by which we obtain eternal salvation at the point of death, and we will only be perfected in our glorification (when we get our new bodies and enter into eternity on the New Earth with Jesus, without sin).

But if we attempt to come to faith we must be open and teachable to what God has to say about Himself, and we find that in the Scripture.  The Bible is the Word of God (1 Thess 2.13), and we must submit to it.  “For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven?” (Heb 12.25).

“Unless we deny ourselves and all our own idea and opinions, unless we become humble and teachable, we can never receive the gospel.  God promises to teach the humble and meek (Ps 25.9, 14; Is 28.9; Ps 131.2)”.

– John Owen

There are some aspects of God and the Christian faith that we cannot and will not understand this side of eternity such as the Trinity.  But there are things that at first go against our reason and logic – things that we do not want to believe that are true about the nature of man, the nature of God and the nature of salvation, things that are learnable as being taught in Scripture.  These things we must learn and to these things we must submit our fleshly thought processes.  God wants us to know the things about Himself which He reveals to us!  John Owen says:

“Only the humble subjection of mind and conscience to the authority of God’s Word will keep one safe from apostasy.”

So how do we know if we are in the faith?  One very easy question by which we can test ourselves is this:  Do I humbly submit my mind, heart and conscience to the teaching of the Bible?  Do I invest my energy to learn, and when my understanding of God, sin, wrath and salvation are broadened, do I humbly submit to God’s word, or do I choose to reject parts of Scripture and truth?

I knew two people who decided to give their lives to Jesus Christ so as to obtain eternal salvation.  Both were heavily involved in witchcraft.  One, when he went to burn his magic books and amulets, he held his hands in the fire and was unable to give up his old ways.  He walked away from the faith.  The other, when people came to her to have their fortune told and to have spells cast followed the teaching of Scripture and put away her magic – and instead offered these patrons the hope of the Gospel and the one who has the true and real power.  One was humble and teachable.  One was not.  Which one are you?

How did the Pharisees get it?

“Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, and said, ‘Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I am to rise again.”  Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, “He has risen from the dead,” and the last deception will be worse than the first.’  Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.’  And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.”

– Matt 27.62-66

I have long been perplexed by this facet of the Gospel account.  Here we clearly see that the religious leaders of the day who oversaw the crucifixion of Jesus had heard His teaching and understood His prophecy that He would be crucified and three days later would raise from the dead.  The only reason that the grave was sealed and guarded by the Roman guards was because they understood what was to come.  The disciples, however, who were His closest followers and those to whom it had been granted to understand the mysteries of the Kingdom, did not understand (Mat 13.11).

“Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished.  For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.’  But the disciples understood none of these things, and the meaning of this statement was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said.”

– Luke 18.31-34

Peter himself refuted Jesus when He prophesied his death saying “God forbid it, Lord.  This shall never happen to you” (Matt 16.22).  He heard Jesus say that He would die and three days later rise from the dead, and he did not believe.  The disciples were so unable to understand this prophecy that when Jesus died they scattered and went back to their normal lives.  Mark and Luke both account that the disciples refused to believe the news that Jesus had come back to life (Mark 16.11, Luke 24.11), and John states that when Peter and John went to the empty tomb “they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead” (John 20.9).

So how can it be that the disciples, on whom the Christian church around the known world would be built (Eph 2.20), did not understand even the private teaching of Jesus about his death and resurrection but the Pharisees did?

I don’t know.

But one observation I want to point out is the fact that God used the understanding of the Pharisees to help to establish the irrefutability of Jesus’ resurrection.  The guards were set in place to be sure that no one came long to try to make it look as though Jesus had risen and the stone was set and sealed to the same end.  When they were unable to prevent the event of Jesus coming back to life, they made up a story to try to hide the truth:

“Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened.  And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.”  And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.’  And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.”

– Matt 28.12-15

But the fact of the matter is that they were there as guard and everyone knew that it was only a work of God that could move the stone, shake the guards and of course raise Jesus from the dead.

So what is the application here, other than noticing a remarkable turn of events and the will of God in allowing people to understand certain parts of reality in order to work out His perfect plan?

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

– 1 Cor 1.18

The Bible, the promises and the Word of God are foolishness to those who are perishing.  But that does not necessarily mean that a person who does not believe does not understand the Bible.  The Gospel story of Jesus redeeming His people by His own blood is not unintelligible by everyone who would not believe.  Therefore mental assent is not enough to obtain salvation.

“You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.”

– James 2.19

The Bible also says that God has revealed Himself through creation and our conscience such that no man is without excuse before God (Romans 1-2).  Therefore the foundation for faith is more than head knowledge.

But we also see that people can have an experience of God and not truly be saved:

“For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.”

Heb 6.4-6

This is an exceptionally deep passage and one that is hotly debated.  John Owen expertly interprets this passage in his book “Apostasy from the Gospel”, and I highly recommend it for your encouragement and edification.  All I seek to acknowledge today is that one can be enlightened of the Truth (understand the Bible and/or the Gospel) and experience the Holy Spirit and not be saved.  John says that such a one “went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2.19).

So how then do we know if we are living by faith?  The evidences of the Spirit at work within your life.  “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1.6).  “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2.13).  I wrote on Saturday my reflection to that very question!  The one who walks in and of the Lord exemplifies fruit in his life:    love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5.22-23).

How do you know that you have been born?  You are alive.

How do you know that you have been born again?  You are Spiritually alive.

Are you Spiritually alive?  Is God transforming you from the inside out?  Do you believe academically and live according to your own desires, or is God working in you to sanctify you and make you “worthy of the calling” (2 Thess 1.11, Eph 4.1)?