Distinguishing Root and Fruit.

fruit

We all know the golden rule:  do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Most of us know that this comes straight from the Bible:

“Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.”

– Luke 6.31

If you have spent much time in the church or if you have read much of Jesus’ teaching, you will also know that He was cornered by some pious men and asked which of God’s commandments was the greatest.  Without blinking, Jesus responded:

One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.’  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

– Matt 22.35-40

The greatest commandment of God, that on which the entire Bible is established is the commandment to love God with everything we have – and let that love overflow in such a way that we love everyone around us in the same way that we love ourselves.  The commandment to love is a strange one, however.  What exactly is love?  We talk about our different love languages – the ways that we express and receive love.  We talk about different cultures and how they perceive, feel and express love.  We talk about how people should treat one another when they love each other…but it is quite difficult to nail down what exactly love is.  Webster’s defines love as:

  1. a (1) :  strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties <maternal love for a child> (2) :  attraction based on sexual desire :  affection and tenderness felt by lovers (3):  affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests <love for his old schoolmates>
    b :  an assurance of affection <give her my love>

  2. warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion <love of the sea>

  3. a :  the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration <baseball was his first love>
    b (1) :  a beloved person :  darling —often used as a term of endearment (2) British —used as an informal term of address

  4. a :  unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: as (1) :  the fatherly concern of God for humankind (2) :  brotherly concern for others
    b :  a person’s adoration of God

In summary of these points, it is primarily an affection that results in putting someone else before one’s self.  Strong’s Concordance defines the Greek term used for love (ἀγαπάω, agapaōas:

 – To be full of good will and exhibit the same;
– with acc. of the person, To have a preference for, wish well to, regard the welfare of

As we enter into marriage and as we evaluate the prevalent flippancy of our culture, we regularly discuss the commitment involved and the choice to love even when our emotions fail, but we all must and do recognize the simple fact that there is and must be at some level an emotional side to love.  Miserable is the marriage that goes through the motions of matrimony without any care or affection.  Sad is the child who receives dutiful care from a mother but no emotional engagement or nurture.  Yes, there are times that we choose to do those “duties” that our love requires when our emotions are not there, but in general we recognize, expect and hope for the emotional side of love to accompany the dutiful.

Unfortunately, emotions are not quantifiable and we turn to actions hoping to gauge the presence and proof of that love.  This is not only a good thing to do, but a Biblical guideline:

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him’.”

– John 14.23

Jesus Himself stated that anyone who loves Him will obey Him.  He said it multiple times and in a variety of ways in this one discourse (John 14.15, 21, 23, 24).  We also see in other passages that the fruit of the spirit is love for one another and the keeping of Jesus’ commandments:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

– Gal 5.22-24

If we love God, then we will love one another and exemplify joy, peace, patience, and all of the other fruit of the Spirit.  If we love God, the Holy Spirit will abide within us and empower us to obey Jesus’ commandments and His fruit will pour out from our lives.  Our obedience, our changed personalities and dispositions are the fruit – the outpouring, the result of our love.  Yes, we can force some of them for a little while, but we will not be transformed and it will not be the outpouring of who we are unless we love God, abide in Him and draw our strength and life from Him.

The root is love.  The fruit is obedience.

Jesus talks about abiding in Him, remaining in Him, being grafted into Him as a branch is to a tree.  These analogies are all painting the same picture:  we love Him and that love is emotional, real, and causes in us a longing for Him.  As we come to Him, spend time with Him, reflect on His teaching and study the things He said, we are in return deriving strength from Him.  By coming to Him, we are becoming one with Him – drawing life-giving sap and nutrients from the core of the tree, being empowered by the new Spirit that has taken up residence in our lives, and being transformed into new creatures.

What does all of this mean?  First of all, it means that we do have a tangible way by which we can evaluate ourselves.  If we are not walking in obedience and exemplifying the fruit of the Spirit, then we know that we do not love Jesus and we are not walking in Him – therefore we are most likely not saved.  Yes, there are times that we will struggle with sin and there are times that we will make peace with sin and the Spirit will take time to work those things out.  But we should be very concerned about ourselves and one another if we are not seeing obedience and the fruit of the Spirit portrayed.

Secondly, we have a means of accountability with one another.  Everyone who loves Jesus will obey His commandments and be marked by the fruit of the Spirit.  We must and should keep each other in mind and in heart – part of loving our neighbors in the same way that we love ourselves – making sure that they are not making peace with sin either.

Unfortunately, while it is true that everyone who loves Jesus will obey Him and be marked by the fruit of the Spirit, not everyone who keeps a moral lifestyle or attends church loves Jesus.  If we are not deeply invested in one another’s lives, then moral people will be able to self-placate and believe themselves safe from damnation within our churches, small groups and communities.  They can fool themselves and they can fool others, for a while.  There will come a time when true colors come out, however, and this is another reason we need accountability and deep investment.

Thirdly, this reality gives us great hope.  Our salvation and unity with Christ are not contingent on our perfect obedience or fruit, it is based on our love and remaining in Him.  Men naturally hate the light.  If you have an affection for or longing for Jesus, that is supernatural and it is a gift.

“For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

 – John 3.20-21

In fact, Paul tells us that the very word of the Bible is foolishness to those who are not saved:

“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

Therefore we can take great hope in the simple fact that we love Jesus, long for Him and enjoy spending time with Him and in His word.  If you do not, this is the starting point – not cleaning up your life.  Ask Jesus to open the eyes of your heart, to draw you to Himself, to give you a new Spirit and a new life.  You cannot long for these things on your own.  Yes, you can long to be saved from Hell, but you cannot desire intimacy with Jesus unless He draws you and gives you faith.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

 – Eph 2.8-9

Lastly, it simply means that obedience will be an outpouring of love.  Yes, there will be times that it will be hard.  But by-in-large, when we know and love Jesus, when we are being transformed to look more like Him, we will start to act like Him.  We will “obey” Him, because we want to emulate Him, because we want to please Him, because we want to enjoy Him.  The fruit will come out of us naturally, we will not have to force its growth and we will not be out picking fruit off other branches and taping to our own.  The root is love, and it supplies us with the life-giving sap that produces the fruit.

The Time is Now!

combine

Do you ever get discouraged in life?  Are you afraid that the Church is dying?  Do you wonder where God is, and why people are not getting saved?  I do, sometimes.  But the best remedy to discouragement and confusion is to get in the face of God, spend time in His Word, reflect on His promises and get busy about preaching the Gospel.  Do you know this promise:

“And He was saying to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest’.”

– Luke 10.2

When Jesus was walking the Earth and training His disciples to be the first disciple-makers, He promised them that the harvest is plentiful.  When Jesus was fulfilling the Law and bringing the first good news of the Gospel, the workers were not merely few – they were non-existent.  He Himself was training the first generation of laborers to go out into the harvest and to see people saved.  We see throughout the ministry of Jesus and the efforts of the disciples in the book of Acts that thousands of people were added to their numbers at a time!

We can see both the fruit of their labor today, and also the ongoing need to follow their example and continue to go out and pray for God to send more people out.  If you live in the United States, then chances are extremely high that you live within five miles of at least one Church, and you not only know Christians, but have heard the Gospel.  There are still millions of people, however, who have never seen a church, met a Christian or heard the Gospel.  And yet the promise is still true that the harvest is plentiful!  The Holy Spirit is already working in the hearts of people in every single tribe, tongue and nation to prepare them to hear the Gospel and believe.

Modern missions groups and many Churches like to teach would-be laborers and evangelists that it often takes people a while to believe – an average of hearing the Gospel seven times and watching believers live it out.  This, however, is not Biblical teaching.  It is simple statistics.  The Bible teaches us quite the opposite, and we should expect God to move as He promises in Scripture:

“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.  Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.  For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.’”

– John 4.35-38

Jesus begins to crush our understanding of “working the field” in this passage.  Does it typically take wheat four months to grow to maturity?  Does it typically take a person hearing the Gospel 7 times and watching Christians?  Sure, maybe in human forms.  If we want people to trust in us and not in God, then yes we have to be good little Christians so that they will want to follow our example.  However, if we look for the Harvest which God has prepared, it does not take four months.  It does not take seven presentations and a good witness.  It takes God’s supernatural movement, and He has already done it!  The harvest is white, the wheat is ready, we need only to introduce them to Jesus!  Consider this promise:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“When the plowman will overtake the reaper
And the treader of grapes him who sows seed;
When the mountains will drip sweet wine
And all the hills will be dissolved.”

– Amos 9.13

During this season of grace, when we are no longer under the Law, it will happen – and is happening – that the plowman (the harvester) will overtake the reaper (the sower).  The guy who squashes the grapes with his feet in the vat will be picking grapes before the other guy can even plant the grape vines!  Did you know it typically takes 3 years before a grape vine bears fruit?

Having lived in Indiana for many years, the mental picture is almost humorous of the big green row-planter sowing the fields, and the combine harvester following immediately behind him to gather in the corn or soy beans, and trying to push him along to move faster.

Anyone who reaps a harvest will be reaping reward he did not produce.  Yes, we might plant the seed of the Gospel, but Scripture teaches us clearly that it is God alone who causes the growth (1 Cor 3.6-7).  And we so often try to put God in a box by studying statistics and watching how people “normally” come to salvation, how people “typically” grow, how people develop “on average”.  The problem is, God does not function in a predictable fashion and we would do better to expect Him to fulfill His promises than to fit in a mold.

He said that in these last days, those who harvest will overtake those who plant.  He said that the harvest is ready and plentiful, and we only need God to send His appointed workers out to reap the harvest.

So what does that mean for us?  Firstly, it means that we need to trust Him and believe His word.  He has prepared the harvest.  There are people throughout the world and all around us who are ripe and ready to receive the Gospel.  Period.  Secondly, it means that we need to start praying that God would send out workers into the harvest and enable us to be those workers.  Jesus told the disciples to pray for workers and then immediately turned around and sent them out (Luke 10)!  Thirdly, it means that we need to stand on that promise and get busy about obeying the Great Commission.  We have all been commanded to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28.18-20).  We can start right where we are and we must go wherever God leads.  If we are not making disciples where we are, we cannot expect that God will send us to do it somewhere else – and we cannot expect that we will do it simply because of a change of scenery.

Let’s be those combine drivers who overtake those plowmen.  Let’s be those harvesters who overtake the sowers.  Let’s be the faithful laborers who are sent out into our neighborhoods, our cities and our world, to reap the harvest that only God can provide – and has already prepared!

Morality Vs. Salvation

morality

Is Christianity just fancy moralism?  So many Christians today are known for what they do not do and what they oppose.  We don’t drink, we don’t party, we don’t wear skimpy clothes, etc.  And the most holy amongst us are known more for what we do do instead of what we do not do:  we go to church, we give money (or little bags with snacks and a Bible) to the homeless, we volunteer, etc.  Is that the foundation of Christianity?  Did Jesus die on the cross so that we can clean up our lives and feel better about ourselves?

Moralism is as old as creation. The very first people, Adam and Eve, had two sons – Cain and Abel.  Abel loved God and offered sacrifices from love and Cain was jealous because he wanted God to accept his sacrifices, and instead of getting his heart right he murdered his Abel.  As soon as God handed down the Law of His expectations, there were people who set out to keep it in their own strength for their own glory.  God has been exceedingly clear about His expectations of humanity:  both on the heart level and on the outward – or pragmatic level, and human pride has always lent some to the effort of self-approval through keeping the law.  Morality.

It is also true that the Old Testament is centered on the Mosaic Law of God, and the New Testament is full of commandments for Christians saved by grace.  There is no doubt throughout the entirety of Scripture that man’s problem is sin – we are all condemned to death and eternity in Hell because of our sin and when we come to God for salvation through Jesus Christ, we are still commanded and expected to stop sinning (Rom 6.23, Gal 5).

The end goal, however, is not moralism.  God is not primarily concerned with our actions, He is primarily concerned with our hearts.  This has been true since the beginning.  When Cain killed Abel and interacted with God, God was not primarily concerned about his actions of offering a poor sacrifice and killing Abel, He was concerned about his heart:

“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

When God gave the Law to Moses for the Hebrew people to observe, the first and primary commandment was to Love God with everything and to not worship other gods or idols.  The first three of the ten commandments, in fact, deal specifically with this command.  He sums up the whole Law thus:

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

– Deut 6.4-5

And the summary of the entire Bible proclaiming the truths about the end times lists those sinners who will be condemned to Hell, even in light of salvation by grace alone through faith alone:

“But for the cowardly and [unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

– Rev 21.8

This, of course, is not an exhaustive list, but we have similar lists throughout all of the New Testament which exhort Christians to stop sinning.

Compounding the issue of moralism is the prevalence self-acceptance and self-realization in western thinking.  Philosophy has lent us to believe that there are no true absolutes, that we all have autonomy to determine our own paths, and that there is truly no right and wrong.  Lying is acceptable in certain situations, murder in others, deceit against immoral persons or governments and even theft to care for the less fortunate.  No longer are there black and whites, but everything is a shade of grey and we are left to determine our own way.

Moralism, fundamentally, is looking to an outward standard and attempting to attain that standard in our own strength and power.  It can be based on aversion (avoiding certain activities) or action (preforming certain activities).  Either way, it is a person proving his righteousness by his actions.  Self-realization, fundamentally, is looking inward to realize who one is at the core and development of a life system based on one’s own valuation of right and wrong.

Salvation, however, is neither of these.  The Law was given to us to show that we can never keep God’s law perfectly and therefore never be moral or good enough to earn His favor.  Paul teaches us, in fact, that the entire point of the Law is to reveal our sinfulness and therefore the frivolity of trying to keep it in our own strength:

“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.”

– Rom 7.7-8

Scripture also teaches us that the heart is deceitful above all else, that we are Spiritually dead apart from Jesus, that there is none righteous and none who seeks after God in his own strength and that we are all fundamentally wicked (Jer 17.9, Eph 2.1, Rom 3.10-12).  Therefore, self-realization and determining our own truth leads us only down the wide path of destruction (Matt 7.13-14).

What does all of this mean?  Simply put, it means that we – in and of ourselves – are neither capable of being good enough nor able to prove ourselves by our logic and making peace with our decisions.  We need a savior.

Thankfully, salvation is the answer.  Salvation is that work of God whereby we are Spiritually awakened, we are changed at the core level and transformed into new beings.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

– 2 Cor 5.17

Once we have been Spiritually awakened and empowered by the Holy Spirit indwelling us, the Spirit begins changing us such that we keep the commandments of God because we love Him and want to please Him, rather than trying to prove ourselves or simply be good people.  We are no longer students, sitting in class learning a lesson and proving ourselves on a test, we are now children who love our father and long to please him by obeying what he says to do.  We do not fear a bad grade, we fear disappointing our father.

This reality teaches us that morality is not our internal realization – God has established a perfect standard and He expects us to obey, but He enables us and drives us to obey it by transforming our hearts to be willing to submit to His leadership and direction.  We are therefore compelled by the Spirit within us to please God, not driven by our need of approval or self-validation.

It is by this reality only that we are given commands.  And Paul clarifies for us beautifully that the works of the flesh are sinful, but our obedience is purely the works or “fruit” of the Spirit living in us:

“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.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.19-23

People who practice the sinful deeds will not inherit the kingdom – because they are sinful and sin deserves damnation.  But we will only truly discontinue these sins and live in righteousness when we have been transformed at a heart level and given Spiritual life, and thus the Holy Spirit can live through us and exemplify all of those righteous attributes.

So what does this mean practically?  How do I get Spiritual life and live by the Spirit?  How do I stop trying to prove myself and live in freedom, aiming to please my Father?

Jesus teaches us that our Spiritual and eternal life begins at the moment we are born Spiritually (John 3).  When we hear the Gospel and long to be made right with God, we confess our sins, begin the process of repentance and are given the Holy Spirit.  If you have had a longing to be made right with God, have confessed your sins and are experiencing the conviction of the Holy Spirit in your life, then you have Spiritual life!  The Holy Spirit is alive within you.  It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict us of sin and righteousness (John 16.8).  Therefore, as we are reading the Scripture, understanding God’s hearts and desires, the Holy Spirit will convict us of sin in our lives and push us on to change.  We will know at a heart level that God is displeased with our laziness, with our lying, with our selfishness and with our pride.  He will then, through promises in Scripture, enable us to change.

This will be a lifelong process.  As long as we are in our human bodies, our sinful nature and our flesh will wage war against the Spirit.  Sin is pleasurable and desirable, and we will give in to it.  But the Spirit will convict us of it and the love that we have for God will drive us long for change and obey.

“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

We will fight sin on the heart level, on the actions level, and we will need tools to help us along the way.  Replacement tactics work very well:  when we are tempted to sin, we purposefully turn to God instead.  When we are tempted to look at pornography, we stop and pray or call a trusted friend to chat.  When we are tempted to go out drinking or partying, we call our Christian friends and gather together for wholesome entertainment.  When we are tempted to have an affair or fool around with a girlfriend before marriage, we turn to our spouse or go out on group dates to hold us accountable.

We can also utilize fighter verses when the sin is mental or emotional.  Are you fighting fear?  We can claim the promises of God that we have nothing to fear – even if we should die we would be in the presence of God and the troubles of this world will be over!  Are you fighting depression?  We can claim the promises of God that we are His beloved children and He has given everything so that we can be saved.  Are you fighting doubt?  We can claim the promises of faith, provision, or whatever specific doubt we might have.  Thus it is important to be in the Scripture daily and to have accountability in wise friends and mentors who can push us on in these truths and disciplines.

God is ultimately concerned about our hearts and the drive to please Him because of our Spiritual transformation.  Our morality is worthless because we can never be good enough.  Our self-realization is also worthless, because apart from Him we are Spiritually dead.  God Himself will give us Spiritual life and when He transforms us from the inside out, we will be driven by a love for Him to please Him by obeying Him.  We cannot obey Him, however, if we do not know the Scriptures and understands what He wants from His children!  So let’s get busy about loving and knowing God.  Let’s be transformed and work on pleasing our father, not trying to earn His approval.

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.'”

– John 14.23

Excellence

respect

I work for a Christian NGO.  My full time job is managing volunteers who come in to help us sort, inventory and package donated product that we ship around the world for community development and disaster response.  We are big enough and offer enough volunteering opportunities that many non-Christian groups will come to volunteer, many having heard of us but unaware that we are in fact Christians.  The most beautiful part about my job is that I get to share the Gospel with these volunteers before we get to work!  I have had a variety of responses – believers are regularly excited and encouraged, I have led a few people to faith, and I have had some bawk at our faith.  The normal responses, all in all.  Last week I had a group of people in, and at the end of the shift a man in his mid to late forties caught me to chat.  He asked if we were always open for volunteers and I told him our schedule.  Then he stated,

“This is good.  Even though you are Christians, you are doing a good thing and I will come back!”

Of course I giggled to myself and quickly told my friends from small group what he said, but then I began contemplating and wondering what could his life experiences have been that this was his first positive exposure to Christians?  How could it be that he expected Christians to be doing not good things?

This reflection is cause for conviction on all levels.  Am I personally impacting my immediate world by serving them for Christ?  Is my Church actively involved in serving the community?  Or do we just host a private party every week?  Am I, are we, impacting the world?  Are we behaving in such a way that people expect us to be wicked, unloving, or confrontational – just like the world?

We have been commanded to glorify God in everything that we do (1 Cor 10.31).  Our primary drive and concern should be to do what pleases Him because we love Him.  When we spend time with Him, our hearts become aligned with his and we enjoy to do the things which He commanded.  We will not function in perfect love all the time, however.  Thus God gives us other incentives to obey.

“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.  Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.  For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.  Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.  Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”

– 1 Peter 2.12-17

Out of love we obey God, and our obedience looks like excellence among non believers.  This is an easy test:  does our behavior look excellent to those around us?  Or is it just normal?  Acceptable?  We should go above and beyond – and part of our motivation will be so that they will glorify God, and part of the motivation will be so that we can “silence the ignorance of foolish men”.  Have you ever had someone lash out at you or watch you from a distance, expecting you to react like the world – and you shocked them by responding in love?  Have you ever had someone lash out at you or watch you from a distance expecting you to react like the world and you did exactly that – tainting your witness?

We are free.  God has forgiven us of our sins so that there is no longer any condemnation.  But this is not validation to act however we want, it is freedom from the bondage of sin to obey God and glorify Him.  We do not use our freedom as an opportunity for evil, rather we exemplify the love and grace that we have been shown to all around us, and in doing so we silence those who expect us to be wicked like the rest of the world.

Do you honor all people?  Love the Church?  Fear God?  Honor the president/government?  As we continue through this election season, particularly, let us be thoughtful and intentional with our words and actions.  Let us honor all people, love the Church, fear God and honor the president.  There are times that we honor the office and not the actions of the man or woman, but we must keep our behavior excellent among the world so that they will know God and glorify Him!

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.

If you do not obey Jesus, You are not a Christian.

People at the Cross

Many people around the world consider the United States to be a “Christian” nation.  Even though many in the public forum push back against this label, if you took a cross section of the average Joe on the street the majority will still claim to be Christian.  Research indicates, in fact, that 77.3% of Americans are professing Christians.  Many consider themselves to be Christians because their families are historically Christian.  Some claim the faith because they go to Church on Christmas and Easter, and some think that they are saved because they “said a prayer” and secured their eternity by one sentence.

Jesus, however, made radical claims and set high expectations for those who would follow Him.  If we want to be Christians or “mini Christs”, then we have to obey Him:

“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

– Luke 6.46

In order to be a Christian, in order to follow Christ, Jesus plainly said that we have to do what He said.

“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.”

– Matt 7.21

We can call Jesus “Lord”, but in order to enter into Heaven we must do the will of the Father – and that is to obey Jesus.

Jesus gave His life up for us because He loves us (John 15.13).  God Himself is love, and we cannot know love nor can we love unless we know God (1 John 4.7-8).  It is God’s desire that we come to love Him and abide in Him the same way in which Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit abide with one another (John 17.11, 21).  And the natural response to loving Jesus is to want to please Him by obeying Him.

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

– Jon 14.15

And we learn this by following the example of Jesus.  He loved God and spent all of His energy and life seeking to obey God and fulfilling His will:

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”

– John 6.38

Scripture teaches us that when we come to Jesus for forgiveness and salvation that He actually writes His law on our hearts (Heb 10.16, 8.10), and He gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us to obey those laws (1 Cor 3.16).  Thus we see that we are incapable of obeying Jesus in our own strength, but when we become a Christian we are transformed into a new creature in which the Holy Spirit resides (2 Cor 5.17), and it is actually no longer us who are living but Jesus 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

So if God is indwelling us and empowering us by the very law that He has written on our hearts, we have the conviction when we disobey, we have the desire to obey, and we look like Jesus.

What exactly, then, did Jesus command us to do?

Many go immediately to the “Great Commandment” to answer this question.

‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’

– Matt 23.7-39

Jesus gave these simple yet impossible commandments.  If you are a Christian, you will be someone who loves God with every inch of your being, and who loves your neighbor in the same way you love yourself.  Do you watch your neighbors to make sure that they have good food, nice clothes, that their cars are functioning and that they have a job?  Do you make sure that they have fun, that they have good exercise habits, that they have community and activities in which to be involved?  Do you splurge on their happiness?

Sometimes we dull down this greatest commandment and think that giving God lip service is enough and sing the mantra, “all we need is love”, and yet we truly and genuinely love no one.  What is love?  It is sacrifice.  Jesus offered His life for us.  For whom would you die?

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.  “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’”  And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”  Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

– Matt 10.17-22

Jesus is concerned about our hearts.  This man had kept the law, given preference to others, done everything that God had commanded.  But Jesus wanted him to love his neighbor as he loved himself, and this man was unable to do so.  He could not sell his possessions and give the profit away.  He could not trust God.  Therefore he was not a believer, and he went away saddened.

We must love God with all of our hearts, love our neighbor as ourselves, and die to the deeds of the flesh.  What are the deeds of the flesh?

“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

If you partake in immorality, impurity (think sexual), sensuality (indulging your senses), witchcraft (think good luck charms along with spells and darkness), enmities (do you have any enemies?), strife (is there someone with whom you cannot get along?), jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes (are you in an argument?), dissensions, factions (have you just written someone off?), envying, drunkenness or carousing?  Often times we think about the big things when we think of obeying Jesus.  And yes, there are some big things listed here like witchcraft.  And while this list is not exhaustive, it reveals the heart of God being concerned with our driving force and our hearts.  If the Holy Spirit is residing within you, you cannot be jealous.  You cannot have strife.  You cannot hold grudges and break yourself away from other believers.

Sure, we will continue to fight with our sin and fail.  And Jesus understands that:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

But these things cannot mark us as people.  We might be fighting against these things, and seeking to replace these things with those attributes which honor God:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22-23

Jesus says that we if we love Him we will obey Him.  If you do not obey Him, you prove yourself to not love Him.  And you have not kept the great commandment.  And you are not a believer.

“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 7.22-23

Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

– 1 John 3.24

Do you want to be a Christian?  Then begin with confessing your sins, asking for forgiveness and asking God to give you the Holy Spirit to enable you to obey Him.  Then begin the joyful life of following Him, loving Him, and you will begin to desire to obey Him and He will empower you to do so.  If you are not fighting sin and looking like Jesus, then you are not a Christian.  You are not a mini-Christ.  Let us all seek to become mini-Christs.

You have left your first love.

candle

We are all quickly approaching death’s door and our entrance into eternity.  We have been given a heavy, yet essential book to help us evaluate our live and our goals as we work towards that end, and that is the book of Revelation.  The Apostle John was sentenced to a life of exile on the Island of Patmos and while he was there, Jesus gave Him a vision of the end times and commanded him to document it for our understanding and growth.  In the vision, Jesus revealed seven churches and their positions before Him.  Each one of them has an example and warning by which we must learn if we desire to be welcomed by Jesus into eternal rest on that last day.

The first church which Jesus addressed was the Church at Ephesus.  Jesus praised the people for their perseverance through trials and for their commitment to true teaching.  But Jesus had a very real issue with the church, one that would cause them to not be allowed to enter into His presence eternally:

“I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.  But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.  Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.  Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.”

– Rev 2.2-7

“You have left your first love.”

This Church loved good theology.  They were taught by the Apostle Paul, they grasped the deep and difficult teachings of the faith, they had chosen to embrace following Christ’s example of suffering, and they were persevering through persecution and trials.  But they were doing all of this on their own strength, not out of a love for Jesus.

When they first heard the Gospel, they loved Jesus.  They embraced the reality of their sinfulness, they realized the burden Christ bore on the cross and in the tomb, and they were converted out of love for Him.  But then things became academic.  They began following the moral law of God out of self-righteousness rather than from a passion to honor Jesus.

Jesus does indeed want us to obey Him.  He makes it abundantly clear that those who love him do keep His commandments, and that you cannot love Him if you do not keep them.

“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.”

 – John 14.23-24

Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?

 – Luke 6.46

Obeying His commandments, however, is not what brings about our salvation.  It is faith alone, by grace alone, which results in a love for Him which compels us to obey.  When we love someone, we want to honor them and please them.  When we love Jesus, we want to honor Him and please Him.  We see the price that He paid on the cross and we desire to respect and cherish His sacrifice, and not belittle it.

Imagine you are a parent, and your daughter is taken hostage.  You receive a ransom note in the mail.  The price is beyond what you can afford, so you cash out your retirement, you sell your house, your cars, and even your wife’s wedding ring.  You ask your friends to chip in, and you finally come up with the dollar amount, and you take the cash to the drop point.  As you wait, you see your daughter pick up the money, turn back towards to kidnappers and when she reaches them, she puts her arm around one of them and they walk off together.  She was a part of the scheme, and she has denied you, taking everything you had and disgraced the ransom you paid by keeping it and embracing the wicked.

We cannot do that with Christ.  He paid our ransom from sin.  We cannot accept His ransom and continue in sin, we must leave the ransom and flee to Christ.

If we are not running after Christ and living in obedience out of love, it is just a charade.  Our hearts are wicked in attempting to earn our salvation on our own strength.  And Jesus will turn us away.  He forewarns us of this type of situation:

“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 7.22-23

Jesus did affirm the Church at Ephesus in that they were hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans, whom He also hated.  While it is not certain what exactly the Nicolaitans were teaching, many believe that it was the antinomiansism of 1 Cor 6:  the denying of the Moral Law of God based on the doctrine of salvation by faith alone through faith alone.  Essentially they were disgracing the work of Jesus on the cross by believing they could do and act however they wanted:  their actions did not matter because Jesus had already forgiven them.  But Paul said, and Jesus said, we must obey Him.  We must submit to Him as Lord of our lives.  This parallels with the actions of the Church at Ephesus, that they were outwardly obeying, though inwardly were neglecting their relationship and love for Jesus.

This was a positive factor for Jesus, but it was still not enough.  Jesus urged them to repent, or else their lampstand would be removed.  Their church would crumble and they would not enter into eternity with Jesus.

Are you still walking in love for Jesus?  Or has your faith become a system of obedience and laws?  Do you have habits which you follow like reading the Bible and going to church?  Or do you daily get face-to-face with Jesus and love Him?  Do you go to Church to worship and honor Him?  Jesus is not impressed with our habits and self-righteousness.  He promises us that unless we are more holy than the religiously devout  priests of His day, we will not enter into His rest eternally (Matt 5.20).  But we can have His righteousness by hiding ourselves in Him and loving Him.

Turn your affections to Him today.  Love Him.  If you have strayed from your first love, return to Him.  That is His greatest calling on us.