Do you have a peace about it?

gethsemane

Decision making can be difficult at times.  For those of us who put our trust and hope in Jesus Christ, we know that God has plans for our lives, we know that we are supposed to pray to seek His guidance, but knowing which path to take can sometimes be difficult to discern.  My small group was discussing last night how exactly we are supposed to ascertain God’s will in a decision between two good options.  God gives us very clear outlines in Scripture about right and wrong, and defines parameters for us when it comes to decisions like who to marry, ethics and morality.  But what about when doors 1 and 2 have no moral implication?

My dad used to tell me that as long as we are abiding in Christ, if we are one with Him and seeking Him, then we can rest confidently that God is molding our hearts to be like His, He is making our hearts desire what He desires, so when it comes to this kind of a decision, we can do what we want!  We can trust that God has affected our hearts and one decision will not lead us down a path of destruction since it is not sinful.  We should not over-spiritualize the good/good decisions.

“Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.”

– Ps 37.4

This verse is often misunderstood and misapplied to lead people to believe that God will give us whatever we want.  Rather, it is teaching that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will transform our hearts to desire what He wants us to desire.

That being said, we are often advised – or we just think – that God will give us a “peace” about the right decision.  Peace.  We contemplate minor and major life decisions, pray about them and wait for peace.

Why?

Where in Scripture does it say, “God will tell you which path to take by giving you peace”?  Let us consider the last great journey of Paul.  After he had completed his missionary journies, the Spirit led him to go to Jerusalem to report to the Apostles everything that had happened amongst the Gentiles.

“Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, ‘After I have been there, I must also see Rome.'”

– Acts 19.21

“And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.”

– Acts 20.22-23

Paul knew that the Spirit was taking him to Jerusalem.  He said that he was “bound by the Spirit”.  He had no other option but to go.  And he was unsure of what would happen, other than that it was probably going to be bad.  It was a long trip to Jerusalem and Luke records the stops along the way.

When we came in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we kept sailing to Syria and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo.  After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.

– Acts 21.3-4

While Paul and his crew were staying in Tyre, the Holy Spirit told the disciples to urge Paul to not go to Jerusalem.  The Spirit was telling Paul one thing, and telling others to tell Paul the opposite.  Paul knew the voice of the Spirit and was unwavering in His decision, but consider what your level of peace would be heading out on a journey when the Spirit was compelling people to tell you to not go!  Later they came to  Caesarea and stayed with disciples there.

“As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”’  When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem.”

– Acts 21.10-12

Each step closer Paul got to Jerusalem, the Spirit’s warning grew stronger.  Agabus prophesied that Paul would be bound and turned over to the Gentiles if he went on to Jerusalem.  And what was Paul’s response?

“Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’”

– Acts 21.13

Now, one might argue that Paul had peace from God and had made peace with himself that he would be obedient no matter what happened.  And the only true knowledge of Paul’s heart condition that we have is that he himself said that the disciples were breaking his heart by pleading with him to not go.  But my point is simply this:  it is possible that God will give us convictions and callings and will Himself test us by telling other Christians to oppose us.  Will peace be the driving factor when someone opposes us?

But let us now examine the example of Jesus.

“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’  And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed.  Then He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.’  And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.’  And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?  Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’  He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.’  Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.  And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.”

– Matt 26.36-44

Jesus, as He neared the end of His life on Earth, as He approached the very reason He had come to Earth, was grieved and distressed in His spirit.  He spent the last few hours before it all began begging God to find another way, to let him avoid the cross.  Three times He prayed, for at least an hour, pleading with God for another way.  He submitted Himself to the ultimate plan of redemption and salvation by dying on the cross, but Jesus most certainly did not have that peace we often require in making our decisions.  He even told the disciples that His Spirit was willing to obey, but His flesh was fighting against it; His flesh was weak.  He did not will for it to be, but He was willing to submit to God’s will.

Jesus Himself, before the single most important event in history, did not have peace from God, but rather was distressed and grieved, with weak flesh fighting against the decision that had to be made to assure salvation for everyone who would believe.  Why, then, would we expect God to work differently for us?

Let us consider our decision-making tactics.  God has given us extremely clear instructions for life on Earth through His written word.  We understand morality, ethics; we even understand His heart for us (our sanctification, 1 Thess 4.3) and His heart for the Church and the world (to make disciples of all nations, Matt 28.18-20).  We can test every decision before us by those standards:  does it glorify God?  Are we making disciples?  Are we growing in maturity and Christ-likeness?  If those three things are met, then we can and should trust that God is making our hearts to be like His – desiring what he desires.  But we must also recognize that there are times when He will test us by placing roadblocks in our way.  Sometimes He will straight up refute our decision to test our obedience and determination.  And there are times that our flesh will fight against that to which He is calling us.  Peace is not the standard.  Calling is.  Obedience is.  Let us ask God for wisdom, because He promises to give it freely to anyone who asks, and let us rest on His word, regardless of our emotions.

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

– James 1.5

Everyone Makes Mistakes

hypocrisy

I remember vividly the first time I realized that Scripture documents historical narrative in the New Testament.  The Old Testament, we all know, tells the history of Israel.  But often we tend towards the New Testament for instruction, for theology, for teaching about how the Church should function.  The Gospels and Acts tell the story of Jesus and the disciples planting the first few churches, and then the rest of the New Testament are letters telling those churches how to act, right?

Yes!  This is true!  But we pick up tidbits of the story line through those letters; just like when we write letters (or emails) today, we mix in stories with our thoughts!  And one particular story is causing me much reflection today.  When Jesus had his disciples, there were three who were his inner circle:  Peter, James and John.  If you have spent any time in the Scriptures, you know that Peter was the dynamic leader of the group.  He was the outspoken one, the one who spoke quickly and often put his foot in his mouth.  He was also the first one to preach and stand up to the Jews and religious counsel after Jesus returned to Heaven and the Holy Spirit came.

But when [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.  For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.  The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.  But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to [Peter] in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

– Gal 2.11-14

Peter, the leader of the Church, the “rock” as Jesus called him, the one to whom God gave the vision and the first mission to take the Gospel to the Gentiles by declaring them clean, fell into the temptation to refuse to eat with the Gentiles because the Gentile Christians were not observing the Old Testament dietary laws.  In the book of Acts we are told the story of Peter receiving a vision that God declared all food and all people clean, and called him to go and preach the Gospel to Cornelius and his family, a man to whom God had given dreams about salvation.  And Peter went!  He was the first one to be led and to branch out preaching and taking the Gospel to non-Jews.  And yet, the Jews were so influential that when Peter went to Antioch – a Gentile city – and met with the church which was primarily not Jews, he was tempted and fell into hypocrisy.  He fell into a heresy that God Himself had refuted to him in a vision.  And his failure was so dynamic that the rest of the Jews followed him.  Even Barnabas, “the son of encouragement” was fell into this hypocrisy and sin.

Paul confronted him.  In front of everyone, Paul noted that Peter had been eating with the Gentiles until “certain men from James” showed up Peter was eating with the Gentile Christians and had no problem with them.  But their false Gospel drew him back into his old way of thinking; that he still must adhere to the Jewish dietary laws.

Peter.  The dynamic leader of the Early Church.  Messed up the Gospel.

If that does not give you hope, nothing will!  How often do we believe the claims of the Gospel that nothing can earn us merit with God, that we should obey Him out of love and reverence, but yet when we fall into our own temptations and sin blatantly or establish legalistic tendencies for ourselves trying to maintain our standing with God?  Do you beat yourself up if you forgot to read your Bible one day?  Do you judge other Christians for non-Biblical guidelines that you have layed out for your own life?

Peter did it too.

But thankfully Peter had Paul to call him out.  Peter and Paul rarely interacted with one another.  Peter was appointed as the apostle to the Jews while Paul was appointed as apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jews) (Gal 2.8).  But thankfully we see this interaction and we know that Peter repented because after this exchange he wrote his letters (1 and 2 Peter), which preach the same Gospel.

Everyone makes mistakes.  Everyone at times warps the Gospel in his mind.  Sometimes we are too lenient towards sin and sometimes we are too legalistic.  It’s normal.  But be humble when your friend points it out in your life and return graciously to the beauty of the Gospel that we cannot earn our salvation and keeping rules will not merit us worthy before God.  And repent when we are tempted to continue in sin because “God is gracious” and will forgive us. Yes, He will forgive, if we truly repent and turn away from our sin, we may not continue in it.  But we are all – just like Peter – a work in progress whom God is sanctifying and changing.

Do we still have laws?

ten commandments

When Jesus brought salvation to the world through grace and fulfilled the Law, did He take away all expectations of how we are to live?  Do we still have instructions for our lives?  Christianity seems to take two extremes these days: legalism and unconditional acceptance.  I realize I have been on this topic for the last few days, with the different conversations floating around in our culture at large and American Christianity, but today I have been meditating on this well balanced instruction from Paul:

      “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.

      For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.  For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

      Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.  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.

      Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.  Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God,for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord.  ‘BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

 – Rom 12

What grabs my attention in this passage is the level of love to which we are called.  We all can spout out the commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself”.  But when was the last time that someone persecuted you and you blessed them?  Someone cut you off in traffic and you said, “I hope you get wherever you are going safely”?  Someone stole your wallet and you prayed for them that they would have food to eat that night?  And to be the person to suffer the offense for the sake of peace?  We all know the fairy tale ending of the suffering hero, the one who sacrifices himself for the princess or the kingdom, but is that how you live?

We are incapable of living that way, without the hope and humility exemplified in this passage.  Until we realize our guilt before God and grasp the weight of our forgiveness, we are incapable of forgiving others.  But the moment we realize what we deserve and embrace the grace of God that leads us to salvation, we are no longer capable of expecting anything from others.  He who has been forgiven much loves much.  Having been forgiven much makes us humble and thankful, and that is why Paul tells us to not think of ourselves more highly than we ought.  

But knowing that we have been forgiven does not always appease our desire for justice when we have been sinned against.  We can be humble, but still get angry over injustice.  And in this we trust the promise of God that He is going to handle that sin.  All sin will be punished.  God is not mocked, and He does not excuse any sin.  Either Jesus paid for it on the cross, or the offender will pay for it in eternity in Hell.  Would you take away from the crucifixion?  Or are you capable of adding to eternal damnation?  God knows His perfect plan and will handle each sin appropriately.  It is not for us to interfere!

If you trust God to handle your sin, why not trust Him to handle someone else’s?

Yes, we have commandments.  Live peaceably with everyone – so much as it depends on you.  Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good.  Don’t be a hypocrite.  Be transformed by renewing your mind (learn the Scripture, cling to the promises, remember your sin and your own forgiveness and be humble, fight your sin).  Pray.  Rejoice in tribulation.  Bless those who persecute you.  Return good for evil.  

This commandment is infinitely more difficult than the Old Testament Law, which required an eye for an eye!  But God provides the strength, the desire and the ability.  Cling to Him.  Trust Him.  And make every effort to obey Him.

A Christian genocide has begun.

isis

ISIS has begun to attract the attention of the world.  Thinking that everyone is distracted by Israel and the unrest there, ISIS has started without consequence what is now being called a Christian genocide, murdering all who have not fled or converted, and marking the homes of Christians who have fled with the threat that they will be killed if they return.  The United States responded this morning, with our first attack on their artillery.

But yet we get up and go to work like normal.  We take selfies, plan our vacations, go out hiking or to see a movie, just like normal.  We, after all, are not in danger, and what can we do anyway?  As I listened to the news this morning and pondered the dichotomy of my personal activities for the upcoming weekend, I began to meditate on Paul’s experience:

Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.  Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.  I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.

– 2 Cor 11.23-28

Consider with me the simple, yet profound reality of his lashings.  The lashes were designed to bring a man to the brink of death.  Forty was the maximum number allowed by Jewish Law, and they would only prescribe thirty-nine so as to not accidentally exceed what God had allowed – and to be sure to not unintentionally kill the recipient as killing him thus would be against the Law.  Thirty nine was the penalty, the amount given to almost kill a man.

Paul was stripped naked, his back beaten with a whip that tore the flesh off his back.  Bleeding.  Infection.  The scar tissue alone that developed in the aftermath would make him appear deformed.  And five times this happened to him!  Five layers of scar tissue for his entire back being ripped open.  Could the man even walk?  Added to that was beatings with rods, a stoning where they threw rocks at him until they believed him to be dead, multiple imprisonments and being robbed.

And these are only the attacks of man.  Compounding his hardships were natural factors like shipwreck, a day and night floating on the sea, hunger and poverty!

Imagine your daily job, food instagramming, tv watching, pleasure seeking world being transformed into what Iraqi Christians are experiencing right now.  Would your faith sustain you through this?  Would you uphold your belief in Christ if it required lashings, beatings, stonings, the death of your children?  Would you still care to scroll through your facebook feed and see all of the filtered pictures of your friends’ perfect lives?

It’s real people.  Will it impact you today?  We do not and should not seek martyrdom, that is not the point.  But we should pray for the persecuted church, for the salvation of ISIS, for the completion of the Great Commission and God’s glory.  Jesus tells us that Christians will be hated and murdered by all mean before the end will come.  Not only that, He prepared us to be ready to stand firm during such trials.  This was His prayer for us:

“But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.  I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.  I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

– John 17.13-19

Jesus was not concerned to keep us from suffering.  He came into the world to suffer and die, and in the same manner He is sending us into the world.  In fact, Scripture tells us that all Christians will join in His sufferings (1 Peter 4.13).  But He prayed for the disciples and for us that God would sanctify us and uphold us while we walk those paths.

Chances are high that you will not walk that path today.  But pray, in the way Jesus prayed for us, for those who are walking it today.  That God would sanctify them, uphold them, draw near to them, and comfort them.  And if you have the ability to stand up for them, do it!  Make a difference!  The instagram of your lunch can wait.  And the lunch we enjoy in eternity will make it quite unimpressive anyway.  Be about eternal things today.

And I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

U2 released this song in 1987 which quickly became a #1 single in the US and around the world, and because of its musicality and message of spiritual uncertainty, the song has been voted by many critics and publications as one of the greatest tracks in music history.  The lyrics are dynamic and characteristic of Generation X, Y and Millennials:

I have climbed highest mountain
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you

I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her fingertips
It burned like fire
This burning desire

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

I believe in the kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
Well yes I’m still running

You broke the bonds and you
Loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Of my shame
You know I believed it

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

Are you content just asking questions?  Or are you looking for the truth?  This comic is long, but insightful.

a day at the park

It is very cool these days to be a seeker.  Philosophicals like to ask questions, ponder the meaning of life and study what insight cultures around the world might have that we lack here in the states.  But there is often a strong disinterest in finding answers to these questions.  It is even argued at times that it would be audacious or impossible to answer these huge questions of life and reality.  Scripture prophesies this phenomenon:

“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.  For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these.  For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

– 2 Tim 3.1-7

It is good to have and ask questions.  It is by examining life, the world around us and Scripture that we learn, grow and come to know God Himself more intimately.  However, we should never hold on to a question so tightly that we would prefer it to not be answered for the sake of being thoughtful, philosophical or a seeker.  Because while God’s ways are not our ways, His thoughts not our thoughts,  “God is not a God of confusion” and has given us His word for us to know Him and to love Him (Is 55.8-9, 1 Cor 14.33).  Jesus Christ is the way, the Truth and the life, and He is the only way to God and eternity with Him (John 14.6).  Ask Him.  And if you want to know the Truth, the real and only answer, you will find Him.  And love Him.  And cherish Him.

It is interesting to me that in the litany of sins that Paul outlines here, the first few are normal marks of the world: “lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”.  But then he makes a statement that grabbed my attention:  “holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power”.  Paul, in other places, makes the assessment that the Word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor 1.18).  He says that The Gospel is spiritually discerned and that those who do not have the Spirit cannot understand it (1 Cor 2.14).  But the benefits of obeying the mandates of Scripture are far reaching, and in a society where morality is valued and faith not persecuted, we are plagued with nominal, fake Christians.  These people hold to a form of godliness, but are not of God.  They have denied His power that would transform them into a new creation: cause them to die to sin and live unto God.

Therefore, to avoid such temptations, let us be satisfied with and embrace the answers of Scripture, being transformed by its powers.  Let us be humble and meek to offer God’s Truth and not our own understanding when interacting with others who have questions to which we have the answers.  Let us push one another on to maturity.  Let us dig deep!  Because the deeper a foundation is laid, the more highly we can build.

I have found what I’m looking for.  Have you?

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

Has the Church hurt you?

Did you grow up in the Church?  Did you ever get invited to go to youth group or See-You-at-the-Pole one time with the Jesus freak from your class?  Have you never darkened the doorway of a Church building?

Has the Church hurt you?

I have heard countless testimonies of people who went to church, gave God a try, did the whole “spiritual” thing for a while, but became disenfranchised with the church because someone did this or said that.  “Aint nobody got time for that.”

They are all just a bunch of hypocrites, right?

Let me tell you a story.  There was a man who was called to be a missionary.  He went out and boldly preached Jesus everywhere he went.  Sometimes people would listen and believe and he started churches, but he was in what we call a “level three” security zone – a place where it is illegal and dangerous to work as a missionary, so frequently after starting churches he would be kicked out of town.  He was arrested, beaten and charged with an array of crimes – but he never backed down from preaching Jesus.  Even in prison.

He went into one town and started preaching boldly.  He was assisted by two national partners, and shortly after starting the church, two other missionaries came and joined in the effort to establish this young group of believers.  After a year and a half of planting the church, he was arrested, but the national court dropped the case.  The missionary sensed the leading of the Spirit that this was his time to move on to the next town, and to disciple and continue to train the church from afar.  Another Christian came in behind him to partner in the work and to continue discipleship training with the church face-to-face.

Because of the immaturity of this church, factions began to form.  Some people began to say that they were “followers” of the first missionary, some of the second – and some, who would consider themselves the most pious believers, claimed to be followers of Jesus Christ alone.  But the bigger problem that they had was overall worldliness.  They did not understand dying to sin and living to righteousness.

Within that young church, it actually happened that a man was having sex with his father’s wife.  Yes, this man was intimate with either his own mother or his step-mother (the story is not exactly clear).  And the church accepted it.  You have probably realized at this point that this is the story of the church at Corinth, founded by the apostle Paul.  Paul stated that “immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the [heathen]” (1 Cor 5.1).

Was that your experience of church?  Did you see people saying that they were saved, they were holy, they were good and yet living just like everyone else?  Or worse?

We have all seen it.  People that we trusted, people that we esteemed, people that we thought truly understood God, His heart and had a dynamic relationship with him throw it all away, split the church and leave a trail of destruction in their paths.  I have seen one church split multiple times in just a few years.  I have seen pastors and missionaries abandon the faith.  I have been personally hurt by misunderstandings, unfounded judgment and those things that tend to turn people away from the church.

Is that grounds to quit?

Abigail Van Buren made a statement that has become quite popular of late:

“The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”

Sometimes we forget the fact that we are all on a progressive path to sanctification.  God, when He saves us, counts us righteous.  Jesus’ righteous standing before Him is imputed to us (Rom 4).  We do not stand before God on the basis of our own good deeds, but in the blood of Jesus Christ.  And while we have been forgiven, we are dying to ourselves, dying to our flesh and our sin every day (Luke 9.23).

Our tolerance level then becomes quite low because in our minds we know that Christians are commanded to love.  We are to love one another the same way that we love ourselves (Matt 19.19).  Do you love anyone the same way that you love yourself?  We also know that we are supposed to care for the poor, for the hungry, the widow and the orphan (James 1.27).  Have you ever had a need – physical or spiritual – that no one in the church ever noticed?  We judge and hold grudges against church-goers because in our minds we know that they are called to a higher standard.

But, at the risk of sounding cliche, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Our joining in a church is not primarily about us, or the other people there.  It is about God.  We come together corporately to worship and praise the creator of the universe, the savior of the world, the almighty, all powerful, all good and righteous God.  We also unite to push one another on to good works, hold each other accountable and partner together to reach the world (Heb 10.24-25).

But it is so easy to get caught up on ourselves.  We expect the church to serve us, we expect people to see our hurts, we expect people to love us selflessly – and we forget to serve others, see the hurt all around us and to love our brothers and sisters selflessly.

“Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

– 1 Cor 1.10

We must unite.  And the standard and foundation on which we must unite is the Scripture.  It is the holy, inspired, infallible Word of God.  Everything else is opinion.  Therefore, as we encounter hardships, let us follow the example of the Berean Church:

“Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

– Acts 17.11

Paul and Silas entered the city as missionaries and the people listened attentively, with great eagerness, and they went back to the scripture to see if what the missionaries had to say was true.  Let us test everything we hear against the Scriptures.  And let us be obedient to the scripture to keep false teaching and unrepentant, nominal Christians out of our churches.  Paul states that this man who had his father’s mother should be kicked out of the church – not only that, but:

“For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present.  In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

– 1 Cor 5.3-5

Does this sound harsh?  Church discipline is the responsibility that Christ gives to us as a body in order to hold one another accountable and to help each other maintain obedience to God in our daily lives.  It is outlined clearly in Matthew 18 – it is not to be entered into lightly and it is always to the end that the believer would repent and return to the Lord.  But it is primarily about the reputation and purity of the Church and glorifying God.  Church discipline is never enacted towards one who does not claim to be a Christian, but one who would claim Jesus as Lord and yet deny His authority over his life.

We must protect and care for the purity, reputation and integrity of the Church.  How have you been hurt?  Has someone sinned against you?  Jesus says that if so, it is our responsibility to go to that person and let them know.  In private.  And reconcile.  If that person repents (says he is sorry and seeks to make amends), it is our responsibility to forgive (Matt 18.15).  How many times?  As many times as he seeks to make amends (Matt 18.22).

If I go to church, or attempt to have my private quiet time with the Lord, and remember that someone is mad at me – or recognize by the conviction of the Spirit that I have sinned against someone, it is my responsibility to drop everything and go make peace with that person, before praying, or worshiping or giving an offering (Matt 5.23-24).

When we come together, let us come to worship God.  Let us come to serve one another.  Let us take our eyes off of ourselves, let us put away our grudges or make amends where tensions need to be broken.  Let us stand united, let us love and let us forgive.  And let us build up the reputation of the church by not expecting lost people to act like believers.  It will serve no one to judge a dead man for stinking (Eph 2.1).  Let us seek to introduce the dead to the author of life.  And once he is alive, let us come alongside in love, and hold one another accountable to living a life that glorifies and honors God.

“Beloved, let us love one another.  For love is of God and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God.  He that does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

– 1 John 4.7-8