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Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
My complete profile...
Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
- Marc Heinrich
His posts are either funny or challenging. He is very friendly and nice.
- Rose Cole
[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
This post contains nothing that is of any use to me. What were you thinking? Anyway, it's probably the best I've read all day.
- David Kjos
Daniel, nicely done and much more original than Frank the Turk.
- Jonathan Moorhead
There are some people who are smart, deep, or funny. There are not very many people that are all 3. Daniel is one of those people. His opinion, insight and humor have kept me coming back to his blog since I first visited earlier this year.
- Carla Rolfe
| John 4:24
|"God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" [ESV]
I don't know how many times I've read this verse, and you probably don't know how many times you've read it, or heard it quoted. If you're reading my blog, chances are good that you didn't accidentally stumble in here, but are a Christians, and have probably read that verse enough times that you no longer marvel (if ever you did) at what it says. If you're a believer, you accept these words as true and (presumably) literal. God -is- a spirit. Those who worship God -must- worship God in spirit and in truth (whatever *that* means).
If you're new to the scriptures, or you aren't a Christian and have stumbled into this blog providentially rather than intentionally, the verse is a statement about the nature of God and the nature of the worship God expects from those who worship Him. What I am about to write is an explanation of how that verse influences the way Christians both perceive and worship God, and this I will do by looking at what the author of that verse (John) was talking about when he said that. I will also do my best to steer the reader away from common pitfalls in their understanding - so that what is being said is not clouded by notions which might come about if we read the verse out of context.
You've read or at least heard of the woman at the well whom Jesus met on the way into the town of Samaria. Recall that Jesus asked her for a drink of water from the well, and because Jews regarded Samaritans as unclean, she wanted to know what kind of Jew Jesus was if He was asking her to draw water for him - for the "...Jews had no dealing with Samaritans" (c.f. John 4:9b). Jesus enters into a conversation with the Samaritan woman, and using the drawing of water as a word picture, begins to describe Himself as the Messiah who gives eternal life to those who ask Him for it. He then demonstrates that He has this authority by telling her things about her life that no stranger could possibly know. Perceiving Christ to be at the very least, a prophet, she begins to ask him questions of a theological nature.
At this point it might help to understand who the Samaritans were. Long before Christ's encounter with the woman from Samaria, the ten tribes of Israel had been carried away into captivity in Assyria. As was the custom, the king of Assyria, having conquered the land that was formerly the property of the tribes of Ephraim and the half tribe of Mannesseh, displaced those who vacated the land with Assyrian settlers from Cutha, Hamath, Ava, and Sepharvaim (c.f. 2 Kings 17:24; Ezra 4:2-11).
These Assyrian settlers intermarried with the Israelite population that was still in the land (not every single person was rounded up and carted off, after all), so that the ethnic stock of what was now called "Samaria" was a mix more Gentile than Jew. At first the Samaritans worshipped various Assyrian idols which they brought with them, or fashioned in the new land, but because their "gods" couldn't deal with the abundance of lions in the land (which had been terrorizing the population), they supposed it was because the God of this new land was dissatisfied with them. To answer their appeal to Assyria on this point, A Jewish priest was dispatched to them in order to teach them the Jewish religion.
The Samaritans were taught about the God of the Jews through the books of Moses, and incorporated the God of the Jews into their idolatrous customs. they build their own version of the temple on Mount Gerazim, and worshiped there. It is fair to say that the Samaritans were not proper Jews, but then again, they weren't quite Gentiles either (see 2 Kings 17:26-28).
The Samaritans worshiped the one true God (albeit improperly) and regarded the writings of Moses (and only the writings of Moses) as scripture, such that they were genuinely waiting for the Messiah of God even as the Jews were.
As soon as the woman of Samaria perceives Jesus to be a prophet, she asks him whether the Samaritans ought to worship "on this mountain" - meaning in the temple her ancestors have erected on Mount Gerazim, or in the temple at Jerusalem - as the Jews insisted? Christ answered her that a time was coming - referring to the age of the New Covenant - when locations wouldn't matter. What was going to matter under the New Covenant age was whether or not you were worshiping God in Spirit and in truth. God was a Spirit, and as such, you didn't actually need to go to a specific location to worship Him - what mattered was whether or not your were worshiping Him in the Spirit and in truth.
To condense all that for you, and put the verse in question into context in summary form - Jesus was answering a theological question about where it was most proper to worship God, and His answer was that location won't matter when the New Covenant begins, since God is a Spirit (and presumably not bound to any one location, and what matters therefore is not where you worship, but rather the quality of your worship.
At this point, I haven't really explained how one goes about worshiping God in spirit and in truth, I've just explained that this statement was given in answer to a theological question concerning "where" one ought to worship God.
To be pithy, I suppose, we could say that Christ answered the "where" question enigmatically, by implying that one worships God "in" their heart. But I don't believe our Lord was trying to be pithy or clever - even if that "location" is a fairly fitting answer to the question posed by the woman of Samaria.
What I want to focus on, to answer the question I put in parenthesis in the last sentence of the first paragraph, i.e. "Whatever that means?" is the notion that God is a spirit, and how that knowledge should inform our worship. When our Lord described God as a spirit, it is informative to remember that He was -correcting- a wrong understanding of both God and how God is worshiped. The notion that it is right to worship God in one place, but not right in another, flows from a wrong-headed, anthropomorphic image of God - as though God had enough substance to be in one place to the exclusion of being in other places.
As creatures, we live in one place at one time. If we are here, we are not also there.
God, in the scriptures, often describes something of Himself using anthropomorphism. He has no face, but we understand what He means when He says that He spoke to Moses face-to-face. When Moses looked at God's back - He wasn't looking at a giant man walking with his back to Moses - whatever He saw, it wasn't human, and even if Moses had tried to describe it, words would very likely fail to capture it. God is a spirit.
That fact is very important when we discuss something like the Impassibility of God. Closely related to the immutability of God, the impassibility of God describes the thought that God does not and cannot experience such things as pain or emotions.
That isn't to say that God isn't love, or that God isn't kind, or merciful, or to diminish any of the ways in scripture our God anthropomorphically represents Himself to us - it is rather to hold firm to the *fact* that God is a spirit, and that such descriptions remain anthropomorphisms. When the bible describes the love or mercy, or anger of God - it is not describing a temporal human emotion.
Hopefully the reader is mature enough in their thinking to see that I am not trying to diminish the character of God - rather I am saying that to regard God solely in terms of those human emotions which the scripture uses to portray what are not "human" emotions - which fluctuate according to such base things as our heart rates, body temperature, hormones, and even situation that provoke us.
God cannot be provoked, He has no hormones, not heart to beat, and no body temperature to be affected by any environment. He is unchanging, and all knowing. No situation surprises God, so God is not provoked by any momentary passion. He is not a creature, and does not experience emotion in the same way we do.
That isn't to say that God isn't "angry" with sinners as the scriptures teach (c.f. Psalm 7:11), or that God isn't "merciful" (c.f. Deuteronomy 4:31). Rather than provide a long list of the various emotions that scripture users to describe God's character in one situation or another, it is enough to say that our own emotions reflect to some degree the nature of our Creator who made us in His own image. We *resemble* - but we are not *like* him. We are made of dust, formed into His image, but we are not of the same substance, as it were.
What I am trying to expound here is the gulf between our own experiences and the character of God - I want to introduce, or at least reinforce the notion that it is bad theology to read our experiences back into the character of God. Yes, God is described using language that makes sense to us - but we must remember that God is a spirit, and the language of the scriptures communicate God's character to us through anthropomorphic imagery - but the imagery isn't intended to suggest that what we are, God is - or that when God describes Himself as "angry" it is describing the exact same thing we experience when we are "angry".
God is a spirit, and not an emotional, suffering human in a fallen world. Whatever God's love is, it isn't like our love - which waxes and wanes depending on outside factors. It isn't injured or jeopardized by insult or injury, it cannot grow, it cannot shrink, it cannot change, because it is not dependent upon anything else. Every emotion attributed to God must be understood in the light of the fact that God is not a man, but a spirit.
Why does that matter - why is it important to understand that God does not "experience" emotions or pain, or suffering, or a sense of loss or gain?
I could give you a handful of reasons off the cuff, but let's keep this practical: God has told us that He is a spirit, so that we might respond accordingly - meaning, so that we will not reason from any perspective that diminishes the character of God into the an image or likeness of man.
People have emotions, people experience pleasure and pain suffer loss and are pleased or dismayed according to circumstances. God is not like that. He doesn't "feel" love - He "is" love. He doesn't act just, He "is" just, He doesn't "get" angry He "is" anger.
But even saying this much is still painting God in anthropomorphic language. The truth is we have no language to sufficiently paint the unchanging character of God. When we say that God is this or that - we aren't saying that God became this or that because of such and such - rather we are saying that God is always for such and such, and always against such and such, His character appears to us as "loving" when He does this, as "merciful" when He does that, and as "Wrathful" when He does this other thing.
I want the reader to understand that although God's nature is unchanging, that doesn't mean that God Himself is somehow dormant - as though He were a great big, unchanging block of stone. If you want to think of His character in those terms - that's fine, but don't imagine for a moment that the impassibility or immutability of God means that God exists in a perpetual stasis - unmoving, unthinking, unchanging.
Good gravy, No! It is God's character that never changes.
One of the problems we run into in the Christian life is when we try to persuade ourselves, or others, that God, when He is (momentarily) pleased with us, He will send us a blessing, or (as I have heard it described), He will "honor" our decision to do such and such; as though God is up in heaven being moved by some act of obedience, to reward His servants with some sort of blessing. The God of the scriptures expects perfect obedience from His servants, and when they have done all that is required of them, they have done nothing worthy of praise or reward - they are *servants* - their *perfect* obedience is what is expected of a servant - anything less means you weren't a fit servant.
That is one of those harsh lessons that a lot of nominal Christians cringe at. What do you mean God doesn't reward obedience? What do you mean God *expects* obedience? What kind of monster to you think God is?
Well, I think God is a holy God, and that He commands us to be holy too. I think that when we fail to be holy (which happens regularly for all of us) God's wrath towards us is merited. For those of us in Christ, that wrath was poured out in full upon Christ. The law of reaping and sowing is still in effect - if our disobedience is pregnant with consequence, we may experience the consequences our disobedience produces - and being mindful of our sin, these consequences will be understood as the fitting chastisement of a loving Father. But make no mistake chastisement isn't punishment - it is teaching. The punishment for sin is not worldly difficulties - it is the second death. God's chastisement is correction, and He often uses what our sowing has reaped to chastise us.
In the same way, our temporary obedience, if it is actual obedience, isn't worthy of merit, such that God is not rewarding us if we experience peace - rather God leads us by the still waters, if we follow Him, we will experience peace - not as a reward, but as a consequence.
Those who picture God's dealings with them in terms of punishment and rewards, do so because they believe God is momentarily angry at their sin, and momentarily pleased by their obedience. They imagine God is for them, when they obey, and against them when they disobey - because they believe that God rewards in his pleasure, and punishes in his displeasure. It isn't that God is emotionally unstable - it is that the believe God is *reacting* to their situation in an emotional way.
When Jesus said that those who worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth - I believe He was saying that God cannot be reckoned in terms of a man, but must be understood as transcending such things as time and space, but also such things as are common to the human experience.
We are ready to say that God doesn't have arms or legs - but how many are willing to understand that God doesn't have a body that reacts emotionally to situations? How many are willing to regard God as "Holy" (meaning so entirely set apart from us as to be utterly *alien*), so holy that whatever emotions God has, they are certainly not reactionary, nor can they be "triggered" - God is not a temporal being, He knows the end from the beginning - He isn't surprised by anything. His dealings with us are never reactionary - though we (who live bound to the laws of time and space) may interpret God as reacting to a situation - we must remember that God is not reacting, He is simply God being God as He has always been.
How do you worship God in spirit and in truth? well, let's start with the first commandment - love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. That is not a command for people to foster a warmest possible emotional affection towards God. It is actually a command to serve Him selflessly - as Christ served mankind selflessly. The love that God speaks of there is demonstrative: it flows from a place of true humility - you cannot serve anyone else if you're serving yourself, so the moment you stop trying to provide for your own desires, and instead look to fulfill God's desires, you will be "loving" God. You have to be humbled in heart, mind, soul, and strength - and frankly, you can't do that, but Christ did. Thus the only way you can obey that first commandment is to surrender your life to Christ, and allow the life of Christ to be manifested in you. When you surrender a moment to Christ, count yourself as nothing, and set your heart to obey, the life of Christ in you rises to the surface, as it were, and (as the apostle Paul described), Christ lives in you.
The point is that worship isn't about trying to produce or foster a right emotional state, or to find the right "Christian motivation" - as though you were an actor looking for your muse. God operates towards us in a perfectly selfless way. He serves us, working tirelessly for us, unchanging, untiring, unstopping - because He is a spirit. We have to worship God in the same way - not depending on our flesh (humanity), not working in our own strengths, but rather we must worship God in the Spirit (uppercase "S" denoting the Holy Spirit), through whom we have Christ indwelling within us.
There is no real way around it. Every effort in the flesh is wasted, useless, doomed to empty religion and failure - because it is carnal effort; i.e. the work of the "old man" trying to make himself into a "new man".
Yet when we regard ourselves as humble servants of God - nay, slaves! Slaves of God, so that we reject for ourselves the carnal "right" to do what we want, and instead, trust ourselves to be His actual servants, responding in each moment as the Lord's selfless servants ought to respond - in those moments where Christ is living in and through us even as we are putting to death the deeds of the body in order that Christ may reign - in those moments, we are truly worshiping God in spirit and in truth.
The heart of John 4:24 is that you can't worship God in the flesh, in your own power, or in your own way - you must simply surrender to God, allow the life of Christ to constrain your living, and in doing so you will be worshiping God in spirit and in truth.
posted by Daniel @
| Sanctification? Not Optional for the Believer.
|Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ - Matthew 7:22-23 [NASB]
I don't know what planet some of us are living on, but when I read this, I don't imagine that it'll will have been the atheists crying "Lord, Lord!" on that day - since no atheist is going to be looking to justify his claim on Christ through having been religiously active in his or her life.
The sad truth is that there are people who profess to be, and fully believe themselves to be, Christians, and these are dying and will day only to discover that their commitment to Christ in this life was a self-serving and superficial deceit. They believed themselves to be in the fold when they were never really in it.
Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.- Hebrews 12:14 [NASB]
If we are to believe the scriptures (and I do) it follows that any person capable of reading this, who doesn't pursue sanctification in this life is not going to be welcomed into the kingdom when they die - regardless of whether or not they consider themselves to be a Christian.
Wait, you say. What about once saved, always saved?
Listen: I am not saying that a Christian will lose their salvation if they don't pursue sanctification. What I am saying is that a Christian who doesn't pursue sanctification isn't a Christian at all. That applies straight across the board, from the pulpit to the pew, from the religiously active to the religiously dormant - all your prayer and bible reading, all your singing worship songs, all your church attendance and fine words for others in the faith - count for a hill of beans if you are not pursuing sanctification, because if you are not pursuing sanctification, you will not see the Lord - because whatever you have, it isn't saving faith.
So I am not saying you will lose your salvation, I am saying that if you are not pursuing sanctification, you weren't saved in the first place.
She will bear a Son; and you [Joseph] shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. - Matthew 1:21 [NASB]
Here is the thing, Jesus saves His people from their sins. When you're genuinely born again you are baptized into Christ, into His death, and into His resurrection. One "side-effect" of this new birth is that you will have the mind of Christ within you, and you will find yourself driven to pursue sanctification.
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. - Philippians 2:12-13 [NASB]
If Christ is in you, you will begin to work out your own salvation (from sin) with fear and trembling because God is at work in you, providing both the desire and the ability to do so.
An "aside" thought:
As a Calvinist, I want to speak to my camp especially on this matter, because we are the camp that (correctly) preaches that a genuine believer cannot lose his or her salvation. I don't believe that sound doctrine necessarily means a sound salvation. The devil can know and preach the truth, but just as his assenting to the truth does not and cannot save him, even so a Calvinist can assent to the truth without living that truth out through a genuine faith. Make no mistake - good theology is essential to a healthy faith - but it isn't a bullet proof guarantee. Judas was familiar with the best doctrine of his day - and when he was sent out, I expect the proclaimed the truth "faithfully" - but it never penetrated his own heart. So also, Calvinism, unless it works its way into a faith filled heart, is no proof against hell. So while I hate to see anyone who professes Christ to miss this, I especially want those of my own theological ilk to handle the doctrine of sanctification properly.
Back to the discussion at hand
You cannot lose your salvation, but you can certainly believe yourself to be a genuine believer when you are not one. When the scriptures say that you will not see God if you are not pursuing sanctification, and you find yourself on the wrong side of that equation, the call isn't to begin pursuing sanctification so that the equation balances out. The call is to re-examine your faith with judgment day sobriety. This is one of those tests that gives clear indication if you are or if you are not, in the kingdom.
A quick word on nuances
I don't feel comfortable describing the word "pursue" in Hebrews 12:14, (pursue sanctification) a "command". The verb is certainly in the imperative mood, but while imperatives certainly direct the reader's action, the context should inform us whether the writer is commanding a thing, or simply giving instruction on a matter.
If I wanted to tell you how to drive a nail with a hammer, I would be using a lot of imperatives to do that, "Grip" the hammer firmly, "place" the nail, and "balance" it carefully, before you "swing" the hammer, etc. I am not commanding you to hammer in a nail, I am telling you how to hammer in a nail.
We run into trouble when our understanding of imperatives is entirely one-dimensional, such that we read every imperative as though God were giving us a direct command. God is certainly giving instruction through the epistle to the Hebrews in this matter, and clearly the intention is for the believer to actually "pursue" sanctification - but it is more of an instruction than a command.
Not unlike saying, Do not touch the red hot element on the stove, or you will get burned. Yes, I am telling you not to do something, but it isn't so much a command, as it is an instruction. If you heed the instruction, you will reap the benefit, and if you fail to heed it, you will suffer the consequences. But it isn't really me commanding you - it is me instructing you.
I think that is what the author of Hebrews intends - he giving the readers some sound instruction: unless you are pursuing peace and sanctification you will never see God. This is rather like what our Lord said in John 14:15, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments."
In the case of John 14:15, our Lord is saying that love is evident in the works that same love provokes. In the case of Hebrews 12:14, the author is saying that the pursuits of peace and sanctification are evidence of a genuine faith - a faith that will see the Lord.
In the parable of the soils, our Lord taught that the message of Christ would be received by men in two ways: superficially or productively. When it was productive, it produced fruit, thirty, sixty, or an hundred fold - which reminds us of the imagery of Christ as the Vine, that every branch in Christ bears fruit, and every branch that is not in Christ does not bear, and is cast into the fire. When the seed is not productive, it either produced no growth (seed that fell on the hard packed earth), or produced superficial growth (seed in the thorny or rocky soils).
In the parable of the wheat and the tares, our Lord made it clear (to those who have ears to hear at least) that not everyone who followed Christ was genuine. The Apostle Paul calls his readers to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith (c.f. 2 Corinthians 13:5). Paul was under no illusions when it came to these matters - he clearly understood that many people would attach themselves to the church - being deceived into believing themselves to be Christians having only a superficial commitment to Christ.
The call then, isn't to false believers to work harder so that in working harder they will become genuine believers. The call is to examine yourself and see if you are pursuing sanctification because God Himself is within you provoking you, giving you a desire to live a life that is pleasing to Him, and supplying that desire with the ability to do so.
If you find yourself presently lacking in the desire to pursue holiness, you have little reason to believe yourself to be in the kingdom. If you find that desire to live a life pleasing to God is present, but struggle with the desires of this world - you need to ask yourself whether the seed has fallen into rocky or thorny soil.
Christ who indwells every genuine believer supplies the desire we feel to obey God, but a man who doesn't want to go to hell when he dies, may well supply from his own fear, a very real desire to please God in this life. He will not desire to please God because of a strong sense that this is right and proper, and he wants to live in a right relationship with God in order to experience more fully the love and character of God - he will want to please God because he believes that doing so will secure for him a better afterlife.
So if you find yourself desiring to please God, but having no power to do so, examine more fully why it is that you want to live a life that pleases God - is it for your sake, meaning, you want to please God because you secretly feel that if you don't it'll go bad for you; in which case you're not experiencing the same desire a Christian experiences - which is a desire to please God because at a soul deep level your greatest joy (in the here and now) is to know that you're "right" with God.
If you've got the right desire, it is from the Lord, and frankly, you will be pursuing sanctification. You may not understand that you're doing that - but you will desire to live a life that is holy, and you will strive to do so in whatever power you have, whether it be doctrinally sound and therefore productive, or whether it be in the utter ignorance of an immature faith - you will find that certain things have changed since becoming a believer - it suddenly feels "wrong" to cuss, you suddenly are concerned even about what the world would consider "harmless" sins - white lies, accidentally stealing a pencil - driving over the speed limit - even just a little.
It isn't that you're forced to make these changes out of fear, it is that it seems right and natural. Theologically speaking, Christ is at work in you, giving you the will and the ability to set these things aside.
But there will be much bigger things - things you wish you could set aside as effortlessly as these little things - and these will not go away by themselves. Much like the demon that could not simply be cast out, but was driven out with prayer - so also there are things in the life of every believer that will not go out easily, but will only go out when the believer begins to pursue holiness (sanctification) in earnest.
That is what the author of Hebrews is talking about, and that is whom he is talking to. Every believer will pursue peace with God and with people, and every believer will pursue holiness - some thirty, some sixty, some an hundredfold. But false believers will not long pursue holiness, if they pursue it at all - because they will not find it in their pursuit, and their failure to do so will only harden them, or at the very least so frustrate them that they will eventually give up trying and instead justify themselves in their bondage to sin.
This isn't a "do this so that you can be sure you're saved" - it is saying, "Look at your self: if you're not pursuing holiness, something is -so- wrong with your faith that you will not see God - which is a colloquial way of saying, you will go to hell when you die."
It isn't that a Christian will lose their salvation if they aren't pursuing holiness (sanctification) - it is rather a diagnostic - you can be pretty sure your faith is not legitimate if you're not pursuing sanctification. It isn't that you'll lose something you have, it is that even what you think you have (but actually don't have) will be taken away from you.
The attitude of some who attend modern day churches, is that justification gets you in the church, then sanctification is something you can do if you're a real keener.
Sanctification isn't optional, it is normal - where it is lacking in the life of a believer - hard questions need to be asked and answered, because where it is lacking, a soul is on the line.
posted by Daniel @
| Sin, good, bad, evil, repentance, and sanctification: An Overview.
Dear reader, I apologize for the length, I didn't have the time to trim this back or proofread it, so bear with the multitude of mistakes I haven't yet weeded out. I also apologize if I repeat myself too often, or meander a wee bit along the way, revisiting momentarily themes I have already addressed. The truth is I wrote the whole thing, pretty much as fast as I could type it, and didn't spend any time making it pretty.
Since I already have hundreds of unpublished posts that have remained that way over the years because I couldn't be bothered to go back and make them more presentable, and since I desire to put this out there without letting it fall into the same pit - I decided to put this out there as is, and repent at leisure (as they say).
Google tells me that the noun "sin" describes "an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law".
That's tidy, because it isn't very specific about who the divinity who makes the law that is being transgressed happens to be - so it can be considered just as valid for all kinds of religions, even those that are epistemologically opposed to one another (epistemology is just a fancy way of describing what we believe to be true, especially as concerns the question of who God is).
Unfortunately, that definition is so ambiguous, it is useless for proper Christian instruction. A weak understanding of sin leads to a vacuous and unfruitful understanding of repentance, which leads itself leads a superficial form of sanctification, and a whole lot of effort - most of which will be carried out in the flesh, and will reap only carnal, and not spiritual benefits.
Depending on how well you think your doing, or how successful you feel you are at being a Christian - you may feel I am way out in left field to say that, or maybe that I am simply overstating my case. But I ask that you bear with me. I would rather over-emphasize the points I am making, than to sell them short - though I am doing my best to neither under, nor over-state, the points I intend to make.
Even though we live in an age where the scriptures are widely available to all, yet very few Christians actually read the bible. Biblical illiteracy is the norm and not the exception in the modern church - and this is why I believe even church-going Christians may not have a right and biblical understanding of the very foundational truths associated with their faith.
In any given congregation, it is a good bet that many (if not most) of the congregation have learned what sin is, not through a personal study of the scriptures, but through word of mouth, or more likely - through the culture they live in. Sin is almost universally understood to be something you do that is considered "Bad" because God said not to do it.
Tragically that kind of an understanding is flawed enough to be a hindrance to, rather than a helping truth, in the process of growing in faith and subsequent maturity in Christ.
The first bit of baggage we must lose (if we want to understand sin properly), is our culturally informed notion of what is good and what is evil.
Good and Evil
A great many people (believers too) would say that murder is inherently evil, and that charity, likewise, is inherently good. They conclude that the reason God commanded us not to murder one another is because murder (taking a human life) is inherently evil. In other words, they believe that it would be evil to murder a person, even if God had never said not to. Likewise, it would be good to give to the poor, even if God hadn't directed believers to be charitable.
This kind of thinking -- the kind that believes that all actions are either inherently good, morally neutral, or inherently evil, lends itself to the notion that sin happens when you do something that is "inherently evil" and good happens when you do something that is inherently good.
This is not a biblical understanding of good and evil - it is a cultural one, and in this case the culprit is best described by and through the reigning secular philosophies of our culture, namely humanism.
Humanism is a system of philosophy that rejects the supernatural in favor of the natural. Part of what made the dark ages, "dark" was the near monopoly the church held on education and subsequently a monopoly on biblical truth. The Renaissance broke this monopoly by opening avenues to education outside of Rome's organized religion. The backlash from long centuries of religious repression included a rekindled rejection of all things supernatural. Mankind possessed an inherent worth and dignity with a capacity to determine its own moral course through secular reasoning and a strong belief in the personal worth and dignity of humankind.
Paul adequately described this "new" philosophy in Romans 1 where he describes the error of worshiping the creature rather than the Creator - for this is precisely what humanism does - it worships itself as the one thing fit to instruct and rule over itself.
A humanist might reason that it is wrong to "murder" because human life has intrinsic worth and dignity. Such humanists could effectively argue that something like abortion is "evil" because abortion fails to acknowledge the humanity that dignifies the life of a human fetus. Thus, killing a fetus is "wrong" because you're killing a human.
But humanism isn't the only philosophy that depends on an atheistic world view. Most humanists are also relativists - that is, they believe that concepts such as truth, or good and evil are all essentially cultural constructs - that there is no objective truth, no objective good or objective evil. They believe that our culture defines what is temporarily true, good or evil.
Thus the relativist may define human in terms of personhood rather than genetics. The fetal mass of flesh and bone may contain "human" DNA, but that doesn't make it "human" since we cannot measure whether or not the fetus has a personality yet, or (if it does), whether or not it has sufficient personality and awareness to warrant being called a "human".
Thus the humanist inclined to relativism still views the murder of a "fully qualified" person as evil, but the murder of an unborn child, temporarily defined as "non-human" to be morally acceptable, as long as the current cultural definition of a "human" fails to acknowledge the previously "inherent" dignity and "intrinsic" humanity of a human fetus.
Oddly enough the same culture that willingly rejects the humanity of an unborn human fetus, ciminalizes the destruction of eggs from endangered species. Apparently, a developing human isn't human, but destroying the egg a developing "endangered" bird bears the same consequences as killing a fully grown endangered bird.
I mention that as an aside because it manifests the fact that the culture we live in knows full well when life actually begins, but is willing to overlook this truth when the culture determines it to be too inconvenient.
One of the reasons our culture has a hard time understanding what sin really is, is because our culture views such things as truth, good and evil through the lens of personal convenience and popular opinion - as though good and evil were perspectives that gained substance via the circumstances in which they are being considered.
If there is no Creator, it follows that the concepts of good and evil are social constructs, that have no objective meaning. What is good this morning may be evil this afternoon, and good again this evening. What was perverse in the past is normative today, and what is normative today may be perverse in the future. There is no right, there is no wrong, there is only popular opinion.
When it comes to questions of good and evil, the Christian is not like the unbeliever who is morally tossed about like a proverbial wave at the mercy of an ever-shifting, cultural sea. Rather the Christian trusts that the One who created creation, is alone fit to give moral direction to that same creation.
Not that God gave us a list of things that are good, and things that are evil. Rather that Adam misappropriated the knowledge of what is good and what is evil, when he committed the first act of rebellion against God's rule by disobeying a direct command from God.
To be sure, that -is- the definition of sin: failing to obey the will of God, either in doing something He prohibits, or in failing to do something he commands.
To the secular mind, the idea that God has a right to command our obedience is not easily swallowed. God is not viewed as the Creator who has a right to expect His creation to fulfill the purpose for which it was created. They believe instead that man has the "right" to live autonomously from God - according to his own desires, and that God is somehow obligated to continue sustaining the universe in order that this man can live out his autonomous life as he sees fit.
In case you missed that, the secular mind believes that God owes us the life that he supplies us, and that he is obligated to keep His universe going so that we can enjoy it - without Him.
At this point, I will have to assume that you either do understand, or are at least beginning to understand exactly how wrong-headed it is to think that God should sustain lives that reject the purpose for which they were created. God made us for a purpose, and by virtue of supplying not only the life that we are currently living, but also all the things that pertains to this life (time, space, air, water, plants to eat, etc.), I say, by virtue of these things it should be clear that God actually does have the right to expect and even to demand our obedience.
Now, when I say that - what I mean is that we have no claim on the life we are given. We cannot sustain it ourselves, and so if we desire it to be sustained, either in the here and the now, or in eternity - we are at the liberty of the one who has the power to supply both the life we live now, and the life we will live in eternity.
God -does- have the right to expect and command our obedience, since he "owns" not only us, but everything pertaining to life itself. To expect life, while denying the one who supplies it - is utterly irrational.
Thus it is "good" to do what God would have us do - since doing so means living in harmony with life itself - and it is "evil" to deny the source of life because doing so harms us. In other words, what is good is what promotes and supports the life God grants, and what is evil misappropriates the life we have been given - leading only to death.
Sin therefore is more than just doing something "bad" - it is using the life that God Himself continues to sustain in a way contrary to the reason for which God is sustaining it. It isn't merely doing something bad, or simply breaking some arbitrary rule. Sin is an act of cosmic suicide - it is taking the life you've been given, and purposely separating that life from the source of life (God) who is sustaining it.
Sin is rebellion against God - but it helps to understand the psychology of what that means when we consider what sin is. It is rebellion against life itself. There is no life apart from God who sustains all life. To walk away from God is to walk away from life. That is why sin and death are flip sides of the same coin in scriptures. Adam's sin brought death into the world.
Now death and darkness have this in common, neither is a thing in and of itself, rather both describe a state that is lacking substance. Light is something - it is energy, it can be measured, it "exists" - darkness is simply the term we use to describe an absence of light. In the same way death is not a thing unto itself, it is just the absence of life.
Adam's sin didn't bring "something" into the world, rather it introduced an absence of a thing - the absence of life. We rightly say that through his sin Adam brought death into the world, but that is the same as saying through his sin Adam removed that life that could be lived with God from the world. He was driven out of the garden, cursed along with the earth, and all that is in it. He and all of mankind thereafter were no longer aware of God's presence, apart from God revealing Himself in the course of mankind's redemptive plan.
The average person thinks of sin as something bad, or something they shouldn't have done. The moment it is done, it is already a memory, and already beginning to fade in importance. We say that, "time heals all wounds", and what we are describing is our inability to hold onto some old anger or embarrassment long after the moment has passed. We can laugh at such former follies that once mortified us with embarrassment - because the moment fades.
Moments don't fade for God. He exists in every moment in every place with the fullness of His awareness and presence. He does not and cannot forget even the smallest sin, which remains before His intellect eternally clear and sharp as the moment it was committed. Our sins do not fade, the stack up - each one upon the other in the mind of God.
Anyone capable of reason, ought to tremble at the thought of putting yet another eternal memory of willful disobedience upon the already teetering pile of rebellious acts that stand before God and eternally testify against us. A collection of moments where we demonstrated that we will not use this life God has given us for the purpose He gave it. A day of judgment is coming, and each one of these acts will receive a just wage - and that wage is going to be to give the one who has rejected the life that God had given to him, what he has sought his whole life - autonomy from God, which is, by definition, a separation from the life that God was sustaining. The wages of sin, Paul tells us, is death - the death that a sinner tires himself out pursuing with vigor with the life God has given him.
So when I speak of sin, I am talking about forgoing the instruction of God - which is life itself, to pursue one's own desires, which lead to death. I am talking about a rebellion against God that is so utterly irrational, that it can only be described in terms of utter blindness and madness. It is an act of irrational rage in the pursuit of an unattainable autonomy. It is folly and madness - but above all, it is profoundly evil.
Now I've said enough that most of us should agree that sin is certainly rebellion against God - the Giver and Sustainer of life - but I haven't really expressed sin in terms of evil.
This is actually a very simple thing to explain, but a very complex thing to understand. Simply put, God is the source of all life and the upholder of all reality. All that is in harmony with God, is good, and anything that isn't in harmony with God is evil. That which supports life vs. that which would destroy it.
Evil is, therefore, anything that works against or contrary to the will, of God.
God is good. I don't mean that God does good things, He does - what I mean is God is the source and measure of goodness. There is no goodness apart from God. Whatever is separated from God is evil - by definition.
This is an "Objective" truth. If the bible is true, then good and evil are not culturally defined, they are immutable (i.e. unchanging) standards which are crisply and precisely defined, the leave no gray area - a thing is either good, or it is evil. Said another way a thing either promotes separation from God (and is therefore evil) or it does not (and is therefore in harmony with God, and is good).
When we understand Sin properly, we consequently understand Good and Evil properly.
You may think - that's all very fascinating - but it is hardly something that most Christians need to understand - and this is where you'd be judgment day wrong.
You can't really understand what it means to repent, until you understand what sin is, and the difference between good and evil.
You see, repentance doesn't mean that you stop doing bad things - it means you stop doing evil things - that is, you stop obeying your own selfish desires - desires that do not line up with the life that is sustaining you. But there is no middling place between doing your will or doing God's will. God does not desire anyone to sit around and do nothing, so unless you begin to do God's will, you will still be doing your own will - there is no middle ground. To repent doesn't mean you stop doing "bad" things - it means you commit yourself to pursuing and doing the will of God. Anything less is not, nor has it ever been, or will it ever become, repentance.
That is the repentance that is required for salvation - and it is the repentance upon which subsequent sanctification depends.
I could spend as many paragraphs on Repentance as I have on Sin, but I would be covering a lot of the same ground again. It is enough that you understand this: No one is ever saved who hasn't committed themselves to obeying God. You cannot enter the kingdom unless you accept the Kingship of Christ - that is, unless you pledge yourself to obeying Christ as your rightful king. That means you need to acknowledge His right to command you, and set your heart fully on surrendering to His will.
If you've truly trusted the working of God who not only raised up Christ from the dead but will raise up as many as call on His name, you likewise acknowledged Christ's right to rule over you - this is the work of the Spirit in every genuine salvation. If you came into "the faith" in any other way, I believe you did not come in through the Gate (Christ), but jumped over the fence, and are not truly a part of the flock. No one stumbles accidently into the kingdom, they become His subjects (Christians) when they accept the rule of their King. That is something that the flesh cannot do, it must be done in and through the spirit and happens when we begin to truly trust God to restore us back into the only relationship a creature can have with His Creator. More on that later.
If you haven't submitted to God in faith, (i.e. if you haven't repented and exercised faith in God), then you should deal with it honestly. Chose for yourself today whether you will really become a Christian, or not. God, is the Giver of Christ's eternal life to those who call upon Christ's name in earnest. He will not turn away a genuine appeal, but He likewise will not be fooled by a rebellious heart looking to gain eternal life without actually submitting to God in the first place.
In a nutshell, genuine repentance is necessary for genuine salvation - but repentance doesn't mean that you, "try to stop doing bad things" - it means that you repent of your rebellion against God's rule - and accept willingly the right of Christ to command you.
This leads to the matter of sanctification.
According to the Apostle Paul, our "old man" isn't going to be redeemed, it was put to death already in Christ. The word translated as "old" here, doesn't describe age, but rather something that has been replaced or superceded - like an old car that has been replaced with a new one. The old car may have only been a week old, but it becomes the "old" car the moment it is replaced by a "new" one.
The word translated as "man" is simply the word for man - which can describe a man, mankind, or humanity in general. Paul is not describing an elderly person, rather he is describing your former self - the self you were before you became a Christian. Your old "self" is not going to be redeemed - God isn't going to give new life to your old sinful self. He instead has given you a new life - the life of Christ. The life of the old self was crucified with Christ and died with Christ - but that life was not raised with Christ, it remained in the grave. The life that was raised was the life of Christ - which every believer has been joined to through that spiritual union with Christ described in Romans 6.
In order to understand what Paul means when he talks of our old/former self/life, we must understand what Paul isn't talking about. He isn't talking about our "former way of living". He is talking about the life that animates our flesh. A stone has no life, so we say it is an inanimate object. Your flesh, while you live, is animated by the life you inherited from your mother and father at the moment of conception. That is the life that Paul describes as your "old man" or "old self". He is not describing the flesh and bones, but rather the life that animates your flesh and bones.
Most Christians recognize a distinction between body and spirit. The body is the flesh we live in, and the spirit is that intangible thing that will persist after the body is dead. Yet the bible speaks of body, spirit, and soul, and I believe these three paint a more complete picture of the situation - a picture which greatly helps to explain why the Christian experience is what it is.
The body certainly describes the flesh we "live" in, but a distinction between spirit and soul helps to explain an important nuance in our union with Christ.
The spirit is that intangible "entity" that describes who we are. It is the "us" that we think of when the think of ourselves. It is the part that makes all the decisions in this life - it directs our body.
The soul describes the life we inherited from our parents - it is what animates our body in the physical realm, and what sustains our spirit in the spiritual realm. Without the soul (life) our body dies and our spirit faces judgment. Frankly, I don't want to be too dogmatic describing the separation of spirit and soul, because the scriptures say very little on this subject - what I describe doesn't transgress the scriptures, but it isn't clear from them either, so exercise caution reading too much into this. I am not saying that I am making up stuff so you can disregard it - I am saying that the end result is certainly true, and that I am giving my best guess as to how that works given what the scriptures do tell us.
If the wages of sin, is death, and it is, Then the our rebellion against God's rule means we have forfeited the life that animates us - which Paul describes as our "old man". We can call this the soul, but the soul and the spirit are so connected, that to forfeit one's life is to send the spirit (the part of us that is "us") to judgment. The spirit of a man is tied to the life within a man.
But when a person surrenders himself to the rule of Christ, and trusts that God who raised Christ from the dead will give new life to him when he genuinely calls upon God's name - in that moment the new "believer's" former life ("old man/self") is joined to the life of Christ. Since the believer's spirit is joined to the "old man" - it likewise is joined to the life of Christ - in the same way it is joined to the old life.
When Christ gave up his life, our old life died with him. When He was raised from the dead, our old life stayed in the grave - but our spirit was still united to the life of Christ.
That puts the Christian in a very unique position. Our spirit is joined at the same time to both  our old condemned life - the life that died with Christ and stayed dead, and is joined to  the "new" life of Christ (through the Holy Spirit).
On the day that our body dies, the final link between us and our old life will be severed, all that will remain is our link to the life of Christ.
What you need to understand is that even though the life we are living has died with Christ, we are still living out our days joined to it. What has changed is that on the day of our salvation we were joined to the life of Christ ... also.
So we've been joined to something new (the life of Christ), while remaining shackled to the life that died with Christ. The old life remains in bondage to sin, and will continue to remain in bondage to sin until the day you die. You cannot make it better, it will always remain sin's slave (that is, it will never stop chafing against God's rule - it does not subject itself to God's rule, and cannot be made subject to God's rule.)
Many new converts are horrified and shocked to discover that they still desire to do their own thing and reject the commands of God. The wonder, either openly, but more often secretly, whether they have really been saved - since their expectation is that if they are saved they will stop desiring to direct their own life, and be perfectly content to do the will of God. when they find this is not the case, they think that perhaps their salvation didn't work, or perhaps Christianity is a lie - promising something it doesn't deliver.
What Romans 6 teaches us is that life we are living - the very life Paul refers to as the former life (old self) is, and remains in, bondage to sin. Your salvation doesn't change that. The solution the Lord has provided, Paul tells us, does not include making the old man any better - rather it requires the believer to understand that the old life has died with Christ, and because it has, it no longer has dominion over a believer's spirit (the part of us that is "us").
That isn't to say that it no longer has any influence - it is to say that it is no longer our master. The reason it is no longer our master is because we have been joined to another life - the life of Christ. The former exclusivity is no more. We have been joined to another life - the life the belongs to and flows from our new Master, Jesus Christ. He who has the right, by way of this new life, to command our obedience. The life we are currently will be condemned, but the life that replaces it will sustain us.
That all sounds a little confusing doesn't it? I mean: Christ died a couple of thousand years ago, so how could the life that I am still living have been put to death already in Christ? Where does that leave me in the here and now? I have my life, the condemned one, called in scripture, the "old man" -and- I have the life of Christ in me at the same time? Which is it?
If we try and explain this situation from our (temporal) perspective, it gets pretty messed up. The (temporal) life we were living prior to our salvation, and continue to live with after our salvation - the "first" life that we had apart from, and before coming to, Christ, stays with us for our duration upon the earth. When we became believers, we received an additional connection to life - not a new connection to the first life, but a new connection to a new life. Our spirit is connected to the old/first life, and when we are saved, it becomes connected to the new/second life: the life of Christ. It isn't like the life of Christ displaces the old life, it is rather that we are joined to both lives, the former which is not subject to the law of god nor indeed can be, and the latter (the life of Christ) which is incorruptible and incapable of sin.
The former life is temporal, the latter eternal. the former is bound in time, the latter exists apart from time, being eternal.
That introduces some logic that doesn't follow the rules of our temporal reality. The old life begins at our birth, ends at our death, and if it has been joined to the life of Christ through faith, then when we die that life goes back in time to the cross, and dies there, and remains dead forevermore - meanwhile the life that was raised from the dead, the life of Christ, is with us, the moment we believe, and will sustain us in the hour of our physical death.
It isn't really that our old, spent life travels back in time, since the death that our Lord died, not the physical death on the cross, but rather the slaying of the lamb from before the foundation of the world - happened in eternity - that is, outside of what we think, of as time, such that the life that we have lived for ourselves has been crucified with Christ in eternity, and not in the past, nor in the future. We live our lives in a reality that is governed by time and space, but we are talking about things that happened outside of these considerations.
So yeah, it is confusing, but it isn't incomprehensible. It is enough to understand that the life that Paul calls the "old man" remains in bondage to sin until the day we die, but we receive the incorruptible life of Christ on the day that we believe, such that thereafter we are a new creation in Christ. Our "spirit" is no longer in bondage to sin, because it is no longer tied only to the former life, but is now tied to the life of Christ also - the old life no loner has an exclusive claim on the believer's spirit - or said another way, the believer now has a choice, to live according to the old life, or to live according to the new.
I can't stress this enough: I am not talking about an old way of living verses a new way of living. I am talking about living out the old life, or living out the new one. I am talking about your spirit having the choice to obey the desires of a life that is already condemned and has already been put to death, or obeying the desires of Christ's life which will sustain the believer beyond the death of his former life.
Paul's instruction in the matter is spelled out in straight forward, matter-of-fact language. The reason we died with Christ already is so that we can walk in newness of life today. The reason our old life was destroyed in Christ (i.e. the "body of sin" was done away with) was so that we would no longer be slaves to our own rebellious desires.
That presents a bit of a conundrum to many readers of Romans. How can Paul say I am not enslaved to sin, when I find myself unable to overcome temptation, and always and ever desiring to sin (even if I am somehow managing to suppress that desire)? It seems Paul is wrong, but he is perfectly right.
As I've said, your old man is enslaved to sin: meaning the life you're living right now (the "old life") has continued, and will continue to provoke you to pursue your own desires rather than to obey the commandments of God.
If you're a genuine Christian however, alongside your old life, you will notice something new - a heart-hunger to live in a way that is pleasing to God.
This is not the same as the desire of the Muslim to please Allah in order to earn a better afterlife. That desire is simply selfishness. Self will always prefer pleasure to discomfort, and will work to secure what is not only better in the moment, but is willing to sacrifice momentary pleasures if there is a reasonable expectation that doing so will provide a much better future. Every false religion works on this principle: it seeks something better for itself (is selfish at its core). Whether that manifests itself in actually living what is perceived to be a better life, or simply providing accolades by which one feels elevated above his fellow man - when a man is willing to suffer in the short term for expected future pay-off, it is selfish, no matter how it is dressed up.
What Paul tells us is not to try and make the old life better by being good - rather he explains that the old life only produces death, and only can produce death. Everything it does and calls the believer to do, earns the believer the death that he has died in Christ. It produces, and only can produce, the condemnation that the believer has earned and Christ has already paid.
Paul's instruction then is simply to choose whom you (i.e. your spirit) will obey, either the life that is condemned to death, or the life that will sustain you.
Now, no believer has ever consistently obeyed only the life of Christ. Every believer has at some point obeyed the desires of the "old man" even though they are no longer slaves to sin through the old man (i.e. the life that died with Christ). So this isn't Paul saying that every believer will suddenly stop sinning forever. It likewise isn't saying that every believer will suddenly stop obeying their own desires.
What Paul says is that those who have been joined to the life of Christ should not let their rebellious desires control them. They (ie. the part of them that makes the choices in their life) should allow the life of Christ to rule over their body instead of allowing the condemned life that Christ died to deliver them from reign. The promise is clear, if you present your members (i.e. if you give yourself entirely over) to God, so that you are pursuing His will (righteousness) as people who have been raised from the dead, rather than obeying the desires of that old life that remains in the grave - that rebellion which finds its strength in the former life will have no dominion over you.
Okay, I admit that's a bit wordy. Paul is saying, that if trust in the fact that you've been raised with Christ from the dead, and choose in the strength of that truth to present yourself as God's servant rather than as a servant to your own desires - your own desires will not rule over you.
He tops this off by saying that the reason this is so, is because (in Christ) you are not under the law, but under grace. In other words, you will not overcome your rebellious desires by gritting your teeth and trying to obey a rule or a law. No command has in itself the ability to grant a person power to obey it - and how much less so when your operating from sinful flesh that is already incapable of anything other than rebellion? Instead you must reckon upon God's grace.
Now, God's grace here is not some intangible idea, such as, "unmerited favor" - it is speaking about the gift of life that God has given in Christ - it is speaking directly to the life of Christ that you have become a partaker of - that life is the expression of God's grace in this situation - and it is that life that Paul is referring to when He says, God's grace - you are not under the former condemnation, you are a partaker of Christ's gracious life.
So Paul tell us to consider the truth of our experience. We're not to reason that since we have the life of Christ we can sin all we want; rather Paul is saying that instead of presenting ourselves as slaves to our own desires, we should present ourselves as slaves to Christ's desires - since his life is in us, and will sustain us. We owe the flesh nothing, but we owe Christ all.
For the modern reader this might seem a weak argument. But Paul is talking about how to overcome the rebellion that is pregnant in every believer by virtue of the old life's continuing bondage to sin. Paul is telling us that this desire to sin, is the expression of our bondage to sin - even as the desire to live a life that is pleasing to God is the same kind of bondage, not to a corrupt life, but to the incorrupt life of Christ. We have been trained from the cradle to obey our former bondage - the rebellious desire to do our own will, Paul tell us to instead obey the new bondage that is in every true believer, the bondage to the life of Christ - the desire to do the will of Christ.
The very moment you became a believer you experienced what it was like to overcome your bondage to sin - because in order to repent and believe the promise of God, you needed to accept the life of Christ, and in the instant you did, you were able to do the first genuinely righteous act your life has ever produced - you trusted in God, something you could not have done apart from the life of Christ within you.
Paul speaks about the benefits of accepting and living in harmony with the new reality that you are Christ's slave - if you give into that, rather than into the desires of your former life, you will experience sanctification.
To be sure, these things aren't supposed to be "optional" - every believer should be aware that he is Christ's slave, and should be (by faith) escaping the bondage to sin by pursuing the bondage to righteousness in Christ. If a believer doesn't understand that they are in bondage to Christ, or thinks that is just a figure of speech that describes some other notion, they will not have a leg to stand on. This is rubber-meets-the-road Christianity 101. You are delivered from bondage to sin, by your bondage to righteousness through the indwelling life of Christ.
When Paul says that he was crucified with Christ, nevertheless he lives, yet not him, but Christ lives in him? He is talking about this reality. The life that Paul lived after that in the flesh was not lived for the flesh, but for Christ - and there was no "secret" to this kind of living - it was spelled out plain enough for anyone willing to read it - you obey because you are the slave of Christ.
The problem is, Christian, if you're not progressing in your sanctification, is that you don't really believe that, do you?
Oh, you may assent to it in the way that a person says, I believe that is so - but you're not living like that is true are you? That truth hasn't found its way into your actually living, because you aren't living by faith in such truths - and that is why your faith is a stagnant little lump of wiener-water thin, church activity. It is why you make excuses for yourself to yourself. You know something is wrong, but you can't quite put your finger on it. You give yourself to passing seasons of effort, but you always end up in the same place afterwards.
Sanctification depends upon a deep trust being joined to Christ, you are truly His slave, and when you believe that truth, you will act in it accordingly.
My wife likes me adorn a teaching like this with a practical example. Not everyone can suck the marrow from "theory" - we need something practical.
Okay, here goes: 2000 years ago, a master told the slave to do something, and the slave did it, because the slave accepted and believed himself to be a slave. Even if he didn't want to do whatever he was told to do, he did not regard himself to be anything more than a slave - he had no right to refuse the request, because he was a slave, and so he did what was expected because he knew himself to be a slave. Do you know that you are Christ's slave? When a temptation comes, do you know that you have no right to give into the temptation because you are not the slave of your own desires but the slave of Christ? The way out of your temptation is not to ask God to make you stronger, it is not to repeat a verse to yourself or sing a psalm so that you feel guilty having brought something spiritual to mind, and don't want to upset God because you've just done something spiritual, and now you're going to follow it up with sin - that kind of pragmatic approach doesn't sanctify - it just suppresses sin, and in a moment of weakness you'll give in, because you don't believe yourself to be Christ's slave.
Honestly - it isn't a difficult concept - when you're tempted, remind yourself that you are not your own, you belong to Christ - this is the mantra of a slave, it is what you teach a slave to say when they are first brought into slavery. You are not your own, you have been purchased with a price. You don't have the right to deny the request of your master, because you're a slave. When you believe that, you obey because you're a slave, when that isn't enough to command your obedience, it is because you don't really believe Christ is your Master.
Don't mistake me. There are plenty of weak and beggarly Christians who haven't known the first thing about sanctification, who will readily own the "fact" that Christ is their master - but they mean only that they acknowledge the title - they don't actually obey Him as though they were his slaves. The outside of their cup, the profession, and the teachings are all clean, but inside, where they actually are supposed to practice these things - is lacking.
A right understanding of sin, leads to a right undertanding of good and evil. This in turn helps one to understand what it means to repent, and a right understanding of repentance leads one to understand what it mean to be sanctified.
There are all kinds of notions about how to live more holy - most involve either works or mystical nonsense. The way to live more holy begins and ends with faith. Trust what God has said - trust not only that it is true in an academic sense, but take that truth to heart. If the scriptures tell you that you are Christ's slave, and that reckoning this to be so, you will begin to be sanctified, then pursue that with gusto - taste and see if God is a liar, or if a doctrine is false.
If you truly count yourself as Christ's slave, you won't easily give into sin and temptation and you will draw nearer to Christ, becoming holier as your continue to walk in that truth. You'd think it was rocket science the way some people avoid it. But I will say this, there are some of you reading who will be challenged by this. There is a big difference between saying, "I am Christ's slave" then attempting to resist some sinful temptation and actually believing that the reason you will overcome this temptation is because you are not your own, but belong to Christ. That is a matter of faith, not effort.
I'll tell you this: You're not going to have much victory if you're prayer life sucks. You're not going to have much victory if you're reading the bible superficially. You're not going to have victory without faith, and faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. You're not going to achieve the necessary humility by human effort - it is a work that God will do in you, and if you feel it needs to be done in you, you need to talk to God earnestly and often about it. Grow your faith through the word and through prayer, You can't trust someone you don't know very well - and we get to know God through prayer, through scriptures, and through a walk that gives place to the life of Christ in our day to day living, rather than to self.
I believe that as you begin to walk with Christ in earnest, you will find the life you're beginning to live, far more filling, than the life you're leaving behind.
posted by Daniel @
| On Miracles and Faith.
|I preached a sermon this past Sunday (July 5) and just a few minutes before wrapping it up I mentioned that the miracles that Christ performed did not depend upon (as in could not be thwarted by) the faith of the ones who were receiving the miracle. I mentioned it in passing, and not really having enough clock left to dig into that, I underscored the notion by mentioning the various dead people whom the Lord raised, asking, "How much faith does a corpse have?". In this way I hoped to demonstrate from the absurdity of the premise that the faith required to perform a miracle rested in the one performing the miracle, and not the one receiving the benefits of the miracle.
In hindsight, given the thought didn't really add much to the sermon I was preaching, it would have been easier to bite my tongue and skip over the thought, given I didn't really have the time to park there and show from the scriptures why I believed that to be so.
But after I preached the message someone mentioned, intending to gently suggest a correction, that Jesus, in Mark 6, after coming to His home town of Nazareth, couldn't do many miracles there "because" they didn't have enough faith. This was mentioned in passing, and since it wasn't really something I thought would be productive to get into at the time, and again, since I wanted to study again this thought more thoroughly, in case I had indeed suggested something that was wrong, I chose to study the matter anew and this post is a summary of that subsequent effort.
The scriptures tell us that Jesus "...went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people." (Matthew 4:23). Consider also Luke 6:17-19, "Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place; and there was a large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were being cured. And all the people were trying to touch Him, for power was coming from Him and healing them all."
From these two passages alone we see that Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, and that wherever he went, people sought Him out both to hear Him and again to be healed by Him. Consider also what we read in Matthew 8:14-17, "When Jesus came into Peter’s home, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick in bed with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she got up and waited on Him. When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases."
If a person was too weak to come for healing themselves, others brought them to Jesus, and Jesus healed them. Note in particular that Matthew tells us -why- Jesus was healing people: to fulfill the scriptures. Jesus cast out demons, raised the dead, opened the eyes of the blind, and healed the sick because these things proved Him to be the Messiah.
Recall the healing of the ten lepers? Only one of them, a Samaritan, turned round to give God glory for the healing. It may not be clear at first, but the more you look, the more obvious it becomes, that not everyone who was healed by Jesus possessed saving faith. Luke writes in Acts 10:37-38, "You yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him." God was with Jesus (in the person of the Holy Spirit), and through the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus healed those who were oppressed by the devil (i.e. cast out demons etc.), but we see in John 6 that these crowds weren't hanging around Jesus because they were full of faith - they were rather hanging around Jesus to benefit from the miracles He was performing.
Wherever He went, crowds pressed in on Him, with one exception. When Jesus returned to His home town (Nazareth) it was no big deal.
That is perhaps the single most important thing we read in Mark 6:4 - that a prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household. Recall how Christ's brothers mocked him when it was time to go up to Jerusalem for the feast of booths? Few things can paint the picture described hear with greater clarity. There were no crowds of people in Nazareth seeking to hear Jesus teach and coming to be healed. The main reason few people were healed on our Lord's return, is because so few of them came to be healed, or to hear him speak.
Why didn't they come to be healed or hear Jesus speak? Because it was Jesus - the kid who grew up next door. He was nothing special, certainly not a prophet, and not someone to go and listen to, or come to for healing. This unbelief on their part is the main reason so few were healed - and Jesus marveled at this.
So when we read the verse that follows this truth - that our Lord was not respected in his home town, and reason that few came out to be healed, and remember that wherever our Lord had gone previously all who came to Him (regardless of their faith) were being healed, and understand that few from Nazareth would have come out to see someone they had no respect for, we can understand that those few whom our Lord healed, were the few that had come out - and all of them were healed, as many as came.
The objection raised however, finds its greatest support in the nomenclature of the very next verse in Mark (6:5), where we read, "And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them." To be fair, the word translated here as "could do no" means just that in the Greek - it literally describes, an inability to do something. What it does not describe is why or how a thing is impossible.
In the immediate context, the reason it was impossible for the Lord to heal was because the people of his hometown were offended by him. They wanted to know where he got all this stuff from - wasn't he a local carpenter - the son of Joseph? Weren't his brothers and sisters among them in the very synagog that he was preaching in? They didn't believe that Jesus was the Messiah, and even the thought that He might be a prophet offended them. They rejected Him, and frankly, very few people are going to come to listen to a person they think is off their rocker, and fewer still will seek out such a one to be healed.
In other words, it was impossible for Jesus to heal, not because He was trying (and failing) to heal people who were coming to Him with insufficient faith, but rather very few were coming to Him, so that he could do no mighty works there. As many as came to him, were healed. Those who did not come, were not healed.
The alternative is a picture of crowds coming to Jesus from Nazareth, and Jesus attempting to heal them, in the same way He had always (successfully) healed -everyone else- who had come to Him for healing in the past, but suddenly finding himself "unable" to do so. The picture of our Lord laying His hands on the sick, the blind, the demon possessed, etc. and saying, something like, "be healed." only to fail - that is what we are talking about.
Now, there is room also in the nomenclature used by Mark. The phrase he uses is used elsewhere in scripture idiomatically to describe, not so much literal "inability" but rather a figurative one. Consider 1 John 3:9, "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he -cannot- sin, because he is born of God." - is John saying that once you become a Christian it will be impossible for you to sin? Obviously not, or no one could claim to be a Christian.
The use of the phrase is obviously idiomatic, what John is saying is that the reason a Christian begins to overcome sin is because the Holy Spirit within Him desires it, and eventually the believer, will choose not to sin. They won't be perfect in their obedience, but as they learn to walk in the Spirit and mortify the deeds of the body, they will no longer pursue rebellion against God's rule in their life with unmitigated vigor. God will work in them, to will and to do, what He desires, over and against what they desire.
The point is that even if we ignore the context of Mark 6:5, we still wouldn't necessarily conclude that Jesus was being thwarted in His attempts to heal, on account of an abundance of insufficient faith unique to the city of Nazareth. Rather we'd say that Jesus responded to their unbelief by choosing not to do mighty works among them, that is, we'd understand "could not" in the idiomatic sense of "would not" do many mighty works, etc.
One might object at this point: What about the "littleness of their faith" we read about in Matthew 17? The reason the disciples couldn't cast out a demon was because they didn't have enough faith. isn't Mark 6 just another example of this same thing?
That's a fair question. In Matthew 17:20, the word translated as "littleness" (NASB) is used only once in the New Testament - and the nuance isn't necessarily describing physical size - it can describe littleness in terms of quality as well as quantity.
In other words, it may be that the reason they couldn't cast out the demon was because they didn't have "enough" faith, or it could also be true that the faith that they did have was either flawed or being used in the wrong way.
Faith isn't a commodity, it is a settled certainty: a trust that one has in something. In 1 John 2:12-14, we see three levels of trust described - the first is those who can trust that God is their father, the second are those who know the word of God and therefore cannot be lied to by the devil about what God has and has not said, the third are those who have come to know God personally through living in obedience, and seeing the reality of God in their lives through the answered prayers, and rich communion associated with living as a mature believer. Remember that the same Peter who had been daily with Christ for over three years, denied him three times on the night of His arrest, later stood up on the day of Pentecost and preached Christ from the rooftop, and when brought before the Sanhedrin, did not shrink back from putting the guilt of what they had done, at their doorstep. It wasn't that Peter had "more" faith, it was that his faith had grown ("up").
You may disagree with that. You may say that isn't what it means to grow in faith, but I think that is exactly what the scriptures teach. Consider what our Lord said concerning the mulberry bush in Luke 17:6: If his disciples had had the faith of a mustard seed they could have ordered a nearby mulberry bush to uproot itself and plant itself in the sea.
Don't miss this: the reason the Lord chose a mustard seed was not because mustard seeds hold faith - but because he wanted to figuratively illustrate the notion of having the smallest amount of faith possible. The message was that if you have -any faith at all-, you can do the impossible. The problem wasn't that they didn't have enough faith - it was that their faith wasn't perfected, it wasn't mature, it wasn't complete - it wasn't resting on all that it could be resting on. They believed as much as they had been told, but they hadn't been told it all yet. They didn't know, as they would know, that Christ was God, they didn't know how the coming of the Holy Spirit was going to inaugurate a new kingdom - not an earthly one, but a spiritual one, etc. etc. Their faith was fine, it just wasn't full (yet).
In other words, it wasn't the quantity of their faith that was their problem, but the "quality" of their faith. It's the same as Matthew 17:20 - their faith was too little in the sense that it was too immature.
So I would answer the objection by saying that the littleness of their faith isn't describing a lack of faith, but a lack of maturity. If you're tracking with me, you've probably already wondered, why am I bothering to answer such an objection, when we have an example in the scripture of the Lord healing with no difficulty or problem, the son of a man whose faith was lacking ("I believe, help my unbelief!"). Jesus didn't balk at his unbelief, nor was the power to heal thwarted by it.
The man's son was healed, lickety-split. That ought to be enough to convince any honest reader, that miracles do not depend upon the faith of the one receiving the miracle, but rather on the one performing it.
I believe that God -can- heal today, but I do not believe that God is -obligated- to heal, even if we really, really -believe- that He will do so. In other words, I believe that the reason people are not healed when we pray for their healing, is not because their faith is insufficient - or that our faith is (necessarily) insufficient, but rather that it isn't God's will to heal. Paul asked the Lord to take away the thorn in his side, and God's answer was a qualified, "No" ("My grace is sufficient for you"). Paul had raised the dead, and healed the sick, and in Acts 19:11-12, even handkerchiefs and aprons that had been touched by Paul were carried away to heal the sick and drive out demons! Yet when Timothy had a stomach ailment, Paul did not tell Timothy to rub the letter Paul had written on his ailing belly to have it be healed - Paul rather told Timothy to take a little wine in his water.
I remember when I first became a believer, I wondered why I wasn't able to do all the miracles I had read about in the bible. Wasn't I a genuine believer?!?
The truth is that very few people in the bible actually did miracles, and when a miracle happened, it was rare and wondrous, and served the purpose of authenticating both the message and the messenger of God. I don't believe that God is obligated to heal anyone - regardless of how much faith they have, or how earnestly they ask Him. Frankly, the notion that God is obligated by our faith to give us all that we need to live long and healthy lives suggests that the Apostles got it all wrong - since they all suffered much for the gospel.
I don't think -they- got it wrong though, if anything, I think -we- are inclined to get it wrong, which is why we need to know and trust the scriptures on such matters. Doing so will inform our faith, and keep us from pursuing (however well meaning our pursuit may be) all kinds of error.
So I stand behind the notion that our Lord was by no means thwarted by the quality or quantity of faith found in those He would have otherwise healed. He never failed to heal anyone He attempted to heal - and never could have failed because His faith was perfect. Furthermore, because He was not acting according to His own desires but was rather doing all that He did in obedience to God's will, it follows that He would only have attempted to heal people whom God directed Him to heal (since it was God in the person of the Holy Spirit performing the miracles through Him at the time).
If God were limited by our unbelief, God would not be able to save anyone, since the bible tells us plainly (Romans 3 for instance) that no one is seeking God. How can anyone seek God unless God (as our Lord says in John 6) draws them to Himself. God isn't drawing faithful people to Himself, because He tells us that there are no faithful people. It follows therefore that the only way for a sinner to come to God is for God to draw that sinner - and if that is the case (and I very much believe that scripture teaches that it is), then if God were thwarted by our unbelief, He would not be able to draw anyone to Himself.
The conclusion I come to then, makes sense in the context, and makes sense of the rest of the scriptures, the conclusion I dismiss is the one that wreaks havoc with the context, and makes a farce of the remainder of the scriptures: Our Lord was not, and could not be, thwarted in what He was doing, by the lack of faith in the people who would receive the benefits of what He had endeavored to do. Furthermore, I think the reason why "healing-on-demand" fails is not because the one being healed doesn't have enough faith - I think it doesn't work because God is trying (and failing) to heal those people, rather people are trying to cause God to perform through themselves, and blaming the the faith of those that would have received healing, for mankind's inability to command God to do their will on demand.
I believe that God can and does miracles - but He is never obligated to do so, and no man has the power in himself to call such miracles down and expect God to comply simply because they really, really believe God will. That isn't faith, that's positive thinking. The earnest prayer of a righteous man avails much (but not all), and frankly a genuinely righteous man desires to serve God, and not to have God serve him via providing healing on demand.
posted by Daniel @
| Sell all your possessions?
|Luke 12:33,34 - Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Luke is describing a scene where our Lord is addressing a large crowd after a man in the crowd who wants his brother to split their inheritance expresses a desire for Jesus to intervene on his behalf in the matter. The Lord replies with a question, "Who appointed me a judge or arbitrator over you?" - but then begins to address the crowd, not on the point directly, but on the sentiment that provoked the question: greed.
The Lord immediately tells the crowd to be on guard against every form of greed, noting that even a person living in abundance does not have his life dependent upon (consisting of) the things he possesses. He tells the crowd the parable of the rich man who has so much that he has no place to keep it all - and rather than give away what he doesn't need, he instead plans to tear down his barns to build bigger ones to hold (and thus keep) the abundance that the Lord has blessed him with. The motive for holding onto such an abundance is given in the parable - it provides the man with security, comfort, and ease for many years to come.
In the parable God Himself calls the man a fool, because the life that he is living is about to be taken away from him, and all the stuff he was providing for that life, would never be enjoyed by him. The teaching being that this is what happens to people who store up riches for themselves and are not rich toward God - meaning, presumably, people who hoard what they have instead of using what they have for the benefit of others (compare Luke 3:10-11, And the crowds were questioning him, saying, Then what shall we do? And he would answer and say to them, The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.)
The teaching continues with our Lord showing what an error it is to presume upon your own supply (possessions, accumulated wealth, etc.) by telling his disciples not to worry about their lives, as to what they would eat, or what was needed for their bodies, etc. Life is (i.e. consists of) more than food and the body is more than clothing. Giving the example of the ravens that neither sow nor reap, nor have storehouses or barns in which to amass their wealth - they are fed daily by the Lord. Our Lord then brings this imagery into focus by asking, how much more valuable are you than the birds! He explains that you cannot add a single hour to your life (i.e. by storing up good for yourself to ensure your life lasts longer, etc.) because you have no power to do that. He likewise continues the analogy, using the flowers of the field to show that you needed worry about possessions (such as clothes for the body, which is used in the example here) since God clothes the flowers of the field that are here today, and gone tomorrow. How much more will God clothe you? He admonishes His disciples to have faith, and not to worry about the things that you will need to live, because God knows about those needs, and is already looking after them.
Instead of seeking the wealth of the world, you should be seeking the "kingdom of God" (in other words, you should be seeking to obey God as your king), and when we have it, these things will be added to us.
It is at this point (Luke 11:33), and in the context of this teaching that the Lord says, "Sell all your possessions and give to charity;".
Taken out of context, some might imagine that Jesus is telling Christians to sell -everything- they have, but that is not what the text is saying. He is talking about greed, and the true source of greed, which is the desire to supply for yourself all that you desire. The more possessions you have, the more certain you are that your life will be fully provisioned. The more you provide for yourself, the higher a standard of living you can expect the wealth you amass to provide for you.
We should stop here and make sure we have don't misunderstand the point. The Lord isn't saying that wealth is evil, (though the desire for it is the root of all kinds of evil, as we read elsewhere) or that Christians should live without possessions. He is saying that the person who does not trust God to provide for the necessities of life, is going to look to himself to provide. Since the future is uncertain, and one cannot know today what one will desire tomorrow, it follows that no amount of amassed wealth will suffice - you will always be seeking to increase your abundance, and therefore increase your independence from God's provision.
There is nothing wrong with owning property, or having wealth - so long as you aren't hoarding wealth and possessions for worldly reasons (prestige, fame, bragging, or self reliance). The message here is not to go and sell all that you have to become a Christian - it is sell what you don't need, and give the proceeds to people who do need. It is the same teaching as having two coats, and finding another who has none - giving them your spare cloak.
The heart of this teaching seems to be to assert a right understanding of charity (love).
Remember the manna in the wilderness (c.f. Exodus 16)? Some gathered much, and some gathered little, but everyone ate their fill. Those who tried to hoard manna for themselves found it spoiled - even though you could gather twice as much on Friday, and it would keep over the Sabbath (Saturday).
But note the command that given was given in Exodus 16:16, "...you shall take an omer [about 7.5 pints] apiece according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent..." In other words, it didn't matter that some gathered much and some gathered a little, when what was gathered was combined for all in that tent, each had about an omer of manna to eat that day. Those who gathered abundantly one day were supplying the needs of those who gathered sparingly that day.
The idea, was not that everyone had to give up all their manna (i.e. sell on their possessions) - it was that those who had gathered much did so to supply the need of those who gathered less - so that the whole community was supplied.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 describes charity (love) in this way:
Charity suffereth long, and is kind;
charity envieth not;
charity vaunteth not itself,
is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly,
seeketh not her own,
is not easily provoked,
thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things,
believeth all things,
hopeth all things,
endureth all things.
I know your translation reads, "love" - and yes, I did go with the King James Version here, because it translates agape as "charity" instead of "love" - because the word love has come to describe an emotion in our culture, rather than the sort of selfless commitment to serving others that is being described here above. Charity is a better fit, but even that word falls short given the modern connotations associated with charity.
If it wasn't so awkward, the phrase, "the heart that truly serves others" would fit instead of the word "love" or charity. Something like this strikes home:
A heart that truly serves others is patient and kind;
It doesn't envy or make more of itself than it is,
it isn't arrogant or rude
nor does it demand its own way.
A heart that truly serves others isn't easily provoked,
nor does it assume evil of others,
It takes no joy in iniquity, but rejoices over truth;
It bears, all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.
No human born of Adam has such a heart within himself. Our hearts are, as Jeremiah says, deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. None of us come close to this - yet this is the heart of God, and was and is the heart of His Son Jesus Christ. He lived a life that put that heart on display in all that He did.
When I use "heart" in this sense - I am not talking about the blood pump, nor am I talking about something as pithy as an emotion or a feeling - I am talking about that attribute of God's character, which we try to describe using other words like charity or love. I am talking about a state of being, that character trait, that intangible "something" that manifest itself in a selfless commitment to serving others - to putting the needs of others before our own needs.
This is the very opposite of the sort of greed that causes a person to hoard possession. That greed which has as its root, a self serving desire that can only serve others if there is something to be gained by that service. The love described here is not merely selfless (making no provision for your self), it is going out of its way to make provisions for others. This is what this kind of love looks like - and it this love that most contrasts the greed our Lord describes here in Luke 11.
In our day and age, the word love doesn't really describe selflessness or charity - or serving others - it describes rather an emotion or passion that drives our actions. That is radically different than a state of being that naturally desires the best for others.
The command to love God, therefore is not a command to work up a warm and friendly emotion, or to try and generate in yourself a selflessness that wants to serve others. It is a command to serve God with all your heart, even as God serves you - selflessly and without remorse. It is also a command that no one but Christ has ever kept.
That is what we are called to: *real* love, a love that serves others while denying self. A love that cannot find its origin in our sinful, self serving, flesh - but must find itself in Christ - and so can only be found in genuine Christians - and even then, only amongst those who have learned to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God - so that even though their selfish lives continue - nevertheless Christ lives within them, and provokes them to good works that they themselves desire only because God is at work in them (c.f. Philippians 2) producing that desire that is otherwise foreign to them.
The love we serve with is not an emotion, and cannot be worked up or provoked by various means. It is a (the ?) fruit of the Spirit (Love joy, peace, etc.). It is impossible to love God in your own strength because the love that God requires is a fruit of the Spirit - meaning it doesn't come from you, it comes from Him. Only the Christian can love God the way God commands, and this not of himself, but rather through Christ.
So when our Lord commands us to sell all our possessions, He is talking about those of us who have an abundance of wealth - the kind that exists not to supply for daily needs - but rather as insurance against the possibility of need in the future - the kind that has been gathered in greed to make provision for our flesh.
Now, it isn't really my job to go (and I have no interest in going) around identifying how much of your "treasure" you should, or should not be selling to supply the needs of those whom you know to be in need in your local church, or even in the global church. But I do believe that times will come when need will arise, and there will be those who have abundance who will use their abundance to supply that need, because they will understand that this is the purpose for their abundance - to supply the needs of those who lack. I believe also that in such times there will also be those who have the same abundance which exists for the same purpose, but these will stand aloof because they (like the rich young ruler) love themselves so much, that they will not use money they don't even need to help people in need.
So when you hear our Lord commanding you to sell all your possessions, I don't think he is saying, become penniless in order that others may be wealthy. I think he is describing the sort of thing we see in the first few chapters of the book of Acts: people selling what they had been hoarding for themselves in order to supply the need of those who had less.
I know when I write stuff like this, my wife likes me to "make it real" by giving "concrete examples" of what I am describing - but in this case, a concrete example is troublesome because so many factors play into this sort of thing, that it is ultimately going to be something the Holy Spirit will reveal to people as they come across it.
The best examples I can think of come from the scriptures, and I have mentioned them already. If you have two cloaks (you would use a cloak for warmth, especially at night - it was practically a necessity) and a brother has none - give him one of your cloaks. That is the sort of "sell your possessions" the Lord is talking about. Don't love the things in this world so much that you amass what you do not need, while denying it to those who have a need.
It isn't rocket science, but there is a difficult caveat: If Christ isn't in you, doing this isn't going to put Him there. Stuff like this will not draw you closer to Christ, so if you're on the mouse-wheel, trying to do the next big thing to try and make your religion "more real" - this isn't going to get you there. This you will do when Christ moves you to do it. You'll know when He does because you'll have the will and the desire to do it, and there will be no remorse in what you do, because you will do it in Christ, and not in your flesh.
Like all things, be Bereans about this. Read the scriptures and see if I am talking out of my armpits, or whether or not the things I say here are so - and if they are, then hold onto what the scriptures say, surrender yourself to the will of Christ insofar as you are able, and trust that the work He is doing in you , will be brought to completion - not by your effort, but by (and on account of) His.
posted by Daniel @