- - Endorsed
- - Indifferent
- - Contested
|The Nashville Statement
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
| What Is The Greater Sin? Murder? Rape?
|Every now and again the question comes up: which sin is the most sinful sin of all sins? Is it murder? Is it rape? It's not a pleasant meditation. Men like Hitler and Stalin, and the men who carried out their orders certainly stand at the top of the list for crimes against humanity. But most of us aren't going to be responsible for the death of thousands or millions of otherwise innocent people.
Although this post isn't about abortion, I can't help but to mention that the Law of Moses isn't as indifferent to the death of unborn children as our current society is:
“If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise."
Pro-abortion interpreters (unsurprisingly) argue that the further injury mentioned in this text refers to further injury to the mother. I think you'd have to really want to see that (and they do), in order to believe it. But Exodus 21 includes clarifications for a variety of exceptional situations - this being one of them. What makes an assault against a pregnant woman exceptional - or rather what makes interpreting the consequences difficult - is not, "was the mom injured" - it is "what do we do if the baby is injured when the mom is assaulted".
- Exodus 21:22-25 [NASB]
Anyone who doesn't see that is willfully blind.
There is no difference in God's eyes - if you intentionally kill an unborn child, you are a murderer. For (bible believing) Christians, it doesn't matter what our culture thinks about abortion - it matters what God thinks about the murdering of children.
So while you may not be a mass murderer like Hitler and Stalin or any of their cronies, if you support abortion, you're supporting an industry that has murdered more innocent people than Hitler and Stalin combined, many times over.
Comparisons to Hitler and Stalin abound these days, but I do not bring them up to be trendy. When I ponder what most of us think of as the greatest evils in the world, those names come up. And if I ask what can compare to the magnitude of these atrocities? The only contender is death by abortions. Though it isn't really a contest since abortions (in the US alone) outnumber all the murders committed under Stalin, Hitler.... and even all the lives (civilian and military) lost in World War I .. combined.
It's easy to condemn the Hitlers and Stalins of this world, but if abortion is murder, then the seven supreme court justices who awarded Roe the victory, are even worse.
I personally can't imagine any worse sin that opening the floodgates to the murdering of unborn children. Maybe you disagree - maybe you think it was Stalin, or Hitler, or maybe you think it's the people in "the other political party" or their leader, or old leaders, or next leader.
The bible however doesn't gauge the greatest evil in terms of damage done to one another. It gauges it in terms of the greatest commandment. The greatest evil under heaven is to disobey the greatest commandment given by God.
The greatest commandment is not thou shalt not murder, or thou shalt not rape. The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
Elihu (in the book of Job) says:
“If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against Him? And if your transgressions are many, what do you do to Him? If you are righteous, what do you give to Him, Or what does He receive from your hand? Your wickedness is for a man like yourself, And your righteousness is for a son of man."
Neither our disobedience, nor our obedience affects God. God is not diminished by our disobedience, nor increased by our obedience. He gains nothing and loses nothing. So why is He concerned about us? The psalmist asks:
- Job 35:6-8 [NASB]
O Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him? Or the son of man, that You think of him? Man is like a mere breath; His days are like a passing shadow.
Why does God require obedience from us if our obedience provides nothing for Him? If our obedience and disobedience have no effect on God, then why does God demand obedience?
- Psalm 144:3-4 [NASB]
Consider what God requires us to do: First and foremost we are to love Him. Don't confuse "love" for an emotion or an affection. Love certainly provokes worldly affections and emotions - but these are not love. I'm tempted to say that love is "selflessness" - but rather it is selfless service.
If you love God, you will serve God. But God is a God of unending, selfless service. He is holding the universe together right now, that we might live. He is the provider of saints and sinners both - the sun falls on the just and the unjust, even as the rain in it's season. He does not do this to make Himself feel better. He does this because it is His nature to serve others. The only way to serve God is to do what God does - to serve others. We serve God in serving others - depending upon God to look after our needs, even as we look after the needs of others.
The greatest sin then is to fail to love God with all your being. Failing to love God, always comes hand in hand with failing to serve others. We are so busy serving our self - trying to get ourselves together, trying to fix our spiritual peccadilloes. We "repent" of lesser sins, but who repents of failing to love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength? We are careful to only cross the street on the light, and keep ourselves from cussing (most of the time). But this is like tithing mint and rue, and setting aside the greater things - like justice.
The justice I'm talking about is the just service each on of us should be offering to God - in the service of one another. To stop fixating on our own needs and wants, and to serve others even to our own detriment.
Listen: God's concern is that we serve (love) one another (as opposed to serving (loving) ourselves). If we serve (love) God, we will do what God does. A servant is like his Master, he sets his heart on the work his master is doing. Eve was given to Adam, as a helper, to help Adam. The bride of Christ - the church - has been called to do the work of God - which summarized in serving God and His interests. God selflessly serves others, and calls us to do the same first in serving Him, and then through that service - in serving those whom God serves (loves) daily - the people in this world.
The greatest evil is to set aside the greatest command. Murder and rape are horrible atrocities, but they only happen when you failure to obey the greatest commandment. Those who draw near to God, do so by way of entering into God's work - the work of selfless service to others. It is through this humility that we come to know God, through putting our hands to that plow, and no other.
Murder and rape are bad. I don't suggest that they are trifling or trivial. No one in this world is far from some violence or other. We all will experience it to one degree or another, and these two sins in particular always produce a devastating effect where they find purchase. I do not make light of this in describing the greatest sin. These horrible things are the end result of not loving (serving) God. It is impossible to intentionally hurt another person while serving God with all your heart. It is impossible to selflessly Murder or Rape someone. It is impossible to selflessly be greedy or jealous. It is impossible to love God and love the things in this world at the same time. In any moment, you are either loving (serving) your own pleasure, or you are loving (serving) God.
So to obey that first and greatest commandment is to obey all the commandments.
The mistake a lot of people make when they become Christians, is to attack their sins piecemeal. They quit swearing, they quit jaywalking, they stop watching sleaze on television (mostly). But they do all these things in a vacuum They do these to placate their guilt - they want to feel accepted by God, and so they find things in their lives that God says not to do, and they do their best to suppress themselves in order to please God. it can take years, or even decades (if at all) for them to realize that they've missed the point. They want to make sure they are real Christians by doing all the things that real Christians ought to do. But Jesus served God by serving others instead of himself. That is the simple thing we are called to do - simple, but not easy.
It begins with accepting God's rule in our life (ie. repentance), and continues as a daily pursuit to serve one another faithfully - a pursuit that cannot succeed without the mortifying of our own selfish pursuits. Paul said it this way:
For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.
It just means that being a Christian is about not living your life for yourself, but for others. This is contrary to our default behavior, so we must be intentional in doing it. We must actively deny ourselves (stop living selfishly) and serve others (start living selfishly) - because that is the work that God is doing in the world. God does not serve Himself - He has no needs that need to be filled. He serves others - and those who truly serve God, will learn to serve others also - and to stop serving their own sinful desires.
- 2 Corinthians 4:11-12 [NASB]
posted by Daniel @
| Prayer for the Saints: Intercession
|By prayer I mean talking to God, and by Saints I mean those who have humbled themselves in obedience to the gospel, and have called upon Jesus Christ to save them from the wrath of God which they have earned by way of their life long rebellion against God's rule in their lives.
An obvious example of an act of intercession would be to save a drowning person. They could not save themselves either because of exhaustion or because they don't know how to swim, or perhaps because they were knocked senseless into the water - or whatever; such a person will surely perish unless someone mindful of their danger intercedes for them in the situation.
A less obvious example of intercession would be to defend someone in their absence, such as where someone is assassinating the character of someone else who isn't present to defend themselves against unchallenged accusations. The one who stands in between the accuser and the accused (in the absence of the accused) is interceding on the other's behalf.
Intercessory prayer is prayer that is prayed for others, rather than for ourselves.
When I was young in the ministry, my elderly mentor brought my name to the throne daily. Whether he knew I wasn't as likely to pray for my own needs - or even recognize my own needs, or not - he took the charge of praying for me faithfully and seriously. He would rise early in the morning (between 3 and 4 a.m.) and pray for hours each day - not without tears. I used to come to be mentored by him at 5 a.m., and the door was always unlocked, so I could come down stairs for our time together, and many a time I would come in quietly and find him weeping on his knees begging God to work in the life of this person or that person. If I painted that scene for you with any clarity, your eyes would grow moist even as my do with every recollection. It is enough to say that the man knew how to intercede - and did so with all of his heart.
I know that he continued to intercede for me well after I had moved onto ministry. I know because I felt the difference after he died. The difference between being held up daily in the earnest and fervent prayers of a godly saint, and not being held up daily by that one faithful servant, whose heart so clearly reflected the heart of my Savior.
I've tried in a few deleted efforts to capture how the loss of this one man's intercessory prayer impacted my life - and I can only sum it up this way: it made me understand how profoundly important it is to intercede for others on a daily basis. I've been preaching for almost twenty years now, and I wonder if in that time any of my ministry has had as profound an effect as the ministry of those who have prayed for me.
Let me frame that again.
I wonder if Christ's ministry to others through me is anywhere near as effective as His ministry to me through the prayers of others.
When I was young in my faith, I thought that preaching was the most important ministry in the church. You're expecting me to say, that now I understand that prayer is the most important ministry - but that's not it. Prayer is certainly important - as important as any other work of Christ in the church. But I want the reader to understand two things:  I was never really prepared to intercede for others until I was able to see how profoundly important intercessory prayer was. And  Every ministry that Christ empowers in the church is profoundly important.
That isn't to say that all ministries are equal in effect. Surely the faithful preaching of God's word has a greater and more immediate effect on the spiritual health of a church than many other ministries. Surely the gifts of help and giving etc. (to name a couple) are just as important, if not as obvious. Each gift that is exercised is the work of Christ in the church - and to diminish any such work of Christ is to diminish Christ himself in our understanding.
But for all that, I will say that intercessory prayer is something that I am growing deeper in and accompanied with a vital sense of spiritual urgency. I am finally coming to understand experientially the zeal of the prophet Samuel when declared, "far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, ...." (cf. 1 Samuel 12:23)
The more I lean on Christ, the more Christ I find to lean on.
posted by Daniel @
| Where does it come from?
|I recall the day I first understood it.
Like every other honest Christian, I was doing my best to be holy, but my best could not exclude me from seasons and even cycles of failure. I don't think you can be successful in your faith if you aren't honest with yourself and with the Lord about where you're at. But I don't think being honest with yourself will ever be enough to overcome sinful habits or behaviors. It's a necessary component, but it cannot stand alone.
I shouldn't have to convince any reader that every sinner is inclined to pursue what he or she wants. But not everything a sinner wants is something God permits. Unfortunately, that means every sincere Christian struggles when it comes to some 'want' that isn't permitted by God. When our religion comes into conflict with some powerful sinful desire, it is often (at least in the infancy of our faith) the sinful desire that wins out. We may have experience frequent victory over temptation, but no matter how successful we are at overcoming some sinful habit, it is the seeming inevitability of our coming failure that troubles us. If sin doesn't trouble you, there is something very wrong with your faith. I think sincere Christians are more likely to mourn over their failures than celebrate their successes when it comes to overcoming temptation.
That's the boat I was in when I found myself alone one morning, half way up the stairs on my landing, fresh from some failure to resist a temptation, and crumbling under the weight of my latest failure. Each step seemed to me a step closer to the next failure, and the weight of my grief became overwhelming, so that I collapsed onto the stairs in chest heaving sobs of shame and inconsistency.
Why was I such a failure? Was I not a *real* Christian? Why wasn't I able to overcome sin? Why was I still in bondage to sin, when the bible said that I was no longer in bondage to sin? Was I deceived about my faith? Did I only tell myself I was a Christian? Was my faith a sad, self-deceived facade?
Like most believers in this situation, the first fear I felt was the fear that I was a fake. A wannabe. I knew that I had believed the gospel, and that there was no further 'faith' I could pursue. I knew the gospel, and I believed the gospel. I wasn't trusting in my own works to save me, I was trusting in God's promise to save everyone who called upon the name of the Lord to be saved. Jesus came to this world to save sinners, and I knew myself to be fully qualifies. I knew that I had seen my damnation, and agreed with God that this was what I deserved, and I knew that only through Christ could I be saved, and I knew that I had to come to God personally for salvation, and not trust in any religious participation or ceremony, or any amount of good works to appease God - so I prayed, and spoke to God in the sincerity of my heart, and called upon Him to save me, and though I hated God in my heart, I was honest with him about that, and cried out for a salvation I did not deserve on the basis of His promise to save me, and someone in that prayer my hatred of God and His Christ turned to profound love and gratefulness. What was once despised in my heart became precious in a moment, and I felt the Holy Spirit come into me like a screen door would feel the water of Niagara falls rushing through it. In a moment I was cleansed, in a moment I was saved. I knew it, and I knew the presence of the Lord.
I know the very moment I was saved in the same way a man knows the moment he was struck by a speeding semi-trailer. My salvation was neither subtle nor mistakable. It was night and day. My life two seconds prior was not the same as my life two seconds after. I knew something had changed radically in my life. So for me temptations to believe that I had somehow misunderstood the gospel, or only imagined myself to be saved fail because they cannot assail the reality of my conversion. I was not argued into the kingdom - I came in through an unforgettably violent and life changing conversion and not merely through the intellectual persuasion that accompanied it.
Yet here I was on my stairs, sobbing in despair as sin seemed poised to shipwreck my faith. I was in agony in my soul, tossed about like the proverbial dingy adrift on the tempestuous sea. But I was not without the sword of my faith. Having memorized the sixth chapter of Romans, I knew very well that Christ came to set me free from sin's bondage, but even here, my sword seemed to cut me rather than defend me - where was my freedom? Why was I still so obviously in bondage to sin?
Then it hit me.
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. - Matthew 6:24 [ESV]
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? - Romans 6:16 [ESV]
What our Lord said about serving money applies to serving anything else that isn't God. I was serving my own desires, and knew myself to still be a slave to these same desires. I was supposed to be a slave to righteousness - which is just another way of saying, I was supposed to be Christ's slave, but I wasn't. I was obedient in many things, but not in all things. My whole life prior to Christ one one large exercise in being a self-serving sleaze, and becoming a Christian hadn't, and indeed couldn't erase my personality. I was still the same me, only now I was trying to serve God, and doing my best not to give into 'being me'.
My big revelation began with recalling these truths in the light of bondage. A slave does not have any rights. He cannot oppose his master, because he has no right to oppose his master. No battle of wills - will grant him such a right. He must obey his master, because that is what being a slave entails. The salve who does not obey his master, is a useless slave, because he is not acting like a slave, but acting like a free man.
This in and of itself wasn't my big revelation. Many of you reading are familiar with these verses, but reading them probably didn't suddenly cause you to interject with your own, "Aha!" - I expect if anything, you didn't think much about it, and if you did, it was something akin to a mental version of, "Uh-huh". But I included the verses to outline for you my thought process at the time.
No one can serve two masters.
In any moment (and we only have free agency in the moment we are presently experiencing) we're either a slave of our own desires, or we are a slave to Christ's desires. What we choose determines whether or not we are acting in accord with our faith, or contrary to it.
But here was the thing: A slave doesn't have the right to make that choice. Anyone who names the name of Christ -whether they understand it or not- doesn't have the right to "choose" to obey Christ. All who claim Christ are -continually- obligated to obey Christ. Unfortunately, our assent to the truthfulness of this statement in and of itself has no compelling power to cause any of us to suddenly obey Christ.
The knowledge that we ought to obey doesn't compel us to obey. When I say that I'm talking about this idea that if such and such happened, we'd suddenly find within us some new urge or power that compels our obedience - making it second nature. We all would love something like that! How many times have I wished that God would just change my nature, so that I loved obedience rather than sin! But this knowledge didn't give me any special power to overcome my temptation, and so I was concerned because even though I was a "good" Christian 99% of the time (okay, closer to 60% of the time) yet when I stumbled, I was as much a sinner as I had ever been. This kind of failure, especially when it is repeated cyclically, seemed to paint my whole Christian testimony and experience as a kind of moral whitewash that merely cover up the *real* me. In that moment, and in moments like it, I begin to question my Christian experience - what is wrong with me?
And rightly so.
My problem was that while I fully accepted my designation as sin's slave (my every failure affirmed it), I had nothing to affirm that Christ had made me His slave.
I believed the scriptures to be true: I was Christ's slave - but my secret fear that I had somehow missed something important in my faith - was seeping out from under the door of my heart, out into the open. What was I missing? Clearly I was lacking some critical knowledge that if I could only solve the riddle, I would begin to consistently overcome sin, and be the Christian I so desperately wanted to be.
Then it hit me - I didn't really believe I was Christ's slave, and the reason I didn't believe it is because I wasn't experiencing perfect victory over every temptation and sin.
Being Christ's slave means that as a Christian, sin no longer has any power over me. It simply doesn't. The reason I am not experiencing this reality isn't because sin has me in bondage, it is because I have a habit of living in bondage.
I've heard it described as a man inserting a bunch of wire into a glass bottle. As you press more wire into the bottle, the wire bends within the bottle such that if you continue to press more and more wire in, eventually the wire takes the shape of the inside of the bottle. When you break the bottle, the wire retains the shape of the bottle, not because it is still confined, but because that is the shape of it's previous confinement.
So we who are slaves to Christ are likewise inclined by our former sinful life, to continue to function as though we were in bondage to sin. We aren't, but because of the way we're bent, we believe we are.
Because we still find ourselves in this same sinful bent, we believe imagine that if we truly are Christ's slave we will suddenly become unbent (to continue to metaphor). But that doesn't happen. We are definitely set free, but we expect freedom to be something else. The truth sets us free - it sets us free to obey God, but it doesn't force us (ie. compel us) to obey. We want to obey, but we find ourselves in that struggle that Paul describes so perfectly in Romans 7.
There Paul describes that internal struggle between the desire to obey God and the desire to obey self. A sincere believer has an intellectual desire to please God, that doesn't translate into the same kind of carnal compulsion to obey God, as compels us to pursue our own pleasures. Paul describes this wicked compulsion to sin as continuing to compel us even after we come to faith. He describes our flesh as producing only the the desire to do evil, and being incapable of producing a desire to do good - such that he is able to show that our desire to do good is not coming from our flesh but from Christ who is in us - our 'new man'. This is the life of Christ that every Christian becomes a partaker of the moment they are born again.
So the conflict in Romans 7 is between the life of Christ that is ours in Christ, and the life we inherited from Adam which animates our flesh. The one desires all that is good and selfless, the other all that is evil and selfish. We experience this as a kind of schizophrenia. We don't experience the life of Christ as foreign to us, because it is truly our life in Christ - the life we were joined to when we believed. But we live in flesh that is not animated by the life of Christ, but rather by that life that God first breathed into Adam. That life which is passed on through procreation to all of Adam's race. That life which was cut off from God -the source of all righteousness- in the garden of Eden, when Adam sinned. A life that is as incapable of righteousness, as it is incapable of reinserting itself back into the garden. The good that the life of Christ compels the Christian to do, is not reinforced by the flesh in the same way that the desire to sin - which animates our flesh - compels us.
So we find ourselves wanting to do good even as our flesh wants to continue to do evil. Paul describes this as a principle (a 'Law') that he has determined resides within himself. His "inner man" (i.e. the life of Christ within him), desires to do good, and that even as he himself concurs with the desire to do good along with the prompting from his "inner self" (Christ), he finds that he himself, in wanting to obey Christ, is a prisoner in his own flesh (the life of Adam) 'who' only desires to do evil.
He concludes Romans 7 thanking God that he has been set free (he just named himself a prisoner within his own sinful flesh) from the principle that ruled his flesh - ie. that made him a prisoner to sinful desires - that even though his flesh continues to serve sin, he himself is able to serve God through the life of Christ.
This would be confusing if we didn't realize that the chapter divisions aren't there in the original letter. Paul goes on to explain in Romans 8, that this means there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ, because that same law that enables Paul to desire what Christ desires, sets him free from the law that controls the flesh (the law of sin and death, ie. the life that was inherited from Adam which animates our flesh). The law of Moses failed because it required an obedience to God that the life of Adam in the flesh could never produce. But the because through the new birth we become partakers of Christ's life, we are now free to obey Christ, because we experience the righteous desires of Christ as our own desires (since they spring from the same life that sustains us now, and will sustain us when our flesh dies).
The life of Adam which sustains and animates our flesh isn't subject to God, and cannot be made subject to God, but the life of Christ that every Christian is joined to is subject to God, such that we do not please God when we obey the life of Adam in our flesh, and we can now please God when we obey the life of Christ that is in us through our new birth.
But here too, the life of Christ doesn't animate the flesh, it is contrary to the flesh - that is why we will never in this life desire obedience to God in the same way our bodies desire sin. We have the life of Christ as the seal and guarantee of our salvation through the indwelling Holy Spirit. But this life is not the life of the flesh - that is going to die. Paul reasons with the reader - you are under no obligation to the flesh, to obey it our it's lusts. You may feel compelled to by way of its desires, but that desire is not obligatory - it is just the desire of a dead man.
Where then does the desire to obey God come from? It comes from Christ - but it isn't a carnal compulsion, because the life of Christ isn't animating our flesh, it is renewing our minds - not our 'brains' - but the center of our person. God has a mind, but he doesn't have a brain because he is a spirit. Whatever Paul means by our minds, he isn't talking about the flesh of our brain, he is talking about who we are, the part of us that makes decisions and that we would identify as being our being. That part continues even after the flesh dies, so it isn't our brains.
That is what what Paul wants us to be renewing (c.f. Romans 12), not our brains: our being. Not allowing our being to be held prisoner by the mindset of our flesh.
On the stairs that morning, I was still imagining that being Christ's slave entitled me to some sort of sin conquering power - a power that would deaden my desire for sin while putting in me a great desire to obey, such that overcoming some sinful temptation would be trivial. I wouldn't have been able to articulate it this way then, but what I was expecting was for 'Christianity' to change my unredeemed flesh such that I no longer had any desire to sin, and only found in myself a desire to obey God. On some level I understood that Christianity doesn't (and cannot) change the desires of our sinful flesh. Even Jesus Himself experienced temptations because His life too, was housed in the likeness of sinful flesh (i.e. in a body that desired sin even as our own bodies desire to sin). If Christ was tempted in all ways as we are tempted, we must not expect to live our Christian life without sinful temptations.
I wanted to -in fact I expected to- experience a form of Christianity that the bible not only doesn't describe - but rather plainly denies. There is no Christianity without temptation, and that temptation comes in part from our own sinful flesh, animating our lives by and through the life we inherited from Adam. The life of Adam can only empower someone to sin, not over come sin - and it cannot be made to empower us to overcome sin. So becoming a slave of Christ doesn't mean our flesh becomes our ally in our fight against sin. It means that our flesh remains the enemy of God, and our enemy too, when we become joined to the life of Christ through faith.
But the salient point here is that when we receive the life of Christ, we receive a life that was lived in perfect obedience service. Christ served God and His fellow man flawlessly - and it is that life that we receive - the life of a servant. Paul describes the relationship as bondservice. We are the slave of Christ. Not because our flesh is suddenly made good so that our obedience feels as natural as our disobedience has always felt, but because God (in all His persons) -is- a servant. We see this is Jesus Christ, who though the heavens and the earth are the work of his hands, came to serve as the lowliest of servants upon this earth. That, by the way, is what true love looks like. I like the King James translation where it is described as 'Charity' - selfless service of others.
What I had not understood till that moment on my stairs, and what came to me in a flash, was the certainty that I didn't make Jesus my Lord by obeying Him, He was my Lord because I was joined to His life, a life that animates service and not selfishness. The problem was, I didn't believe I was a Christ's slave. I believed that something went wrong, which was why I wasn't behaving as a slave. I thought that if I truly was a slave, that my submission to God's will would come naturally and (especially) easily.
It may sound odd - but I needed to (and for the first time learned to) trust that Jesus was my Lord, and that I was His slave. I needed to accept that this was a reality. I didn't have the right to sin. I was a slave. Only a free man can choose whether or not he will do something that is commanded him. I was not a free man, and it was this truth that I needed to act upon in faith. Whatever temptation finds me in any given moment, I need to believe what is true of me: I am a slave to Christ, and as a slave I have to right to choose to obey or disobey. I am a slave, and so I have no choice, the only course open to me is obedience.
A slave has no rights. I am truly Christ's slave when I begin to trust this truth: I didn't have a right to say, "No!" to His yes, or "Yes!" to His no. It is by faith that I apprehend the reality - by believing that He is my Lord, that I act. It is a willful act of submission founded upon my belief that I truly am Christ's slave. The evidence of my faith is my submission. If you love me, you will obey my commandments. You could just as easily say: when you love me, you will obey my commandments, the point is the same - in the act of faith, in the act of trusting that I am truly Christ's servant, I act in accord with what I believe, and there is where my obedience comes from - my faith.
Not my 'faith' that Jesus exists. Not my faith that there is no salvation in any other religion. Not my faith that my doctrine is correct, or that I am a good person. Not my faith in attending the right church or conducting myself in a way that doesn't bring shame to the name of Christ. Rather in my certainty that I am truly Christ's slave. In the moment of my temptation, the way of escape for me has been this truth: I do not have the right to disobey, for I am truly the slave of my Lord and Savior. I have no say in this temptation, a slave has no say.
Even as a child obeys his or her parent because he or she is the child of that parent. So the slave obeys his or her master because he or she is a slave of that master, and has accepted the reality of their enslavement.
One reason I stumbled so often in the early days of my faith, was because in the moment of temptation, I didn't really see myself a slave of Christ, not in practice. That was an ideal that I hoped to live up to, to grow into. But I thought it would happen naturally rather than by way of personal volitional. I knew myself a free agent, and even as the years have passed, and I became more knowledgeable in the scriptures, and though I had I tried many tricks and methods to overcome sin - from memorizing scripture to repeating what was true of me I found no sure escape from temptation until I learned to exercise faith in what was true about my faith: I was a sinner, yet I was a chosen slave of Christ, and as such, I gave up the right to deny Him. In any moment of temptation where this truth comes to me, I have in that knowledge all I need to overcome any temptation.
That isn't to say that I have learned to live sinlessly. Some temptations build over time, and are easy to overcome, some come upon you before you are even aware of them, and so you stumble. But sinful habits - the things that we continue to do but know we must stop if our faith is ever to be deemed genuine - these can (and definitely should) be overcome by faith. You just need to know that faith isn't a spiritual muscle that grows when you learn to flex it. It is better understood as trust. You trust that these things are true, and you act upon the truth which sets you free.
How did God put it to Habakkuk when Habakkuk mourned over how the wicked prospered even as the righteous suffered:
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith. - Habakkuk 2:4 [ESV].
To live by faith means you trust that what God says is true. It is an anchored trust that delivers a man from temptation - the trust that he is Christ's slave, and no longer free to choose sin.
That has been my experience, God as my witness. I am not a perfect man, but this is my understanding, perhaps it will be of some use to those who struggle with sin.
posted by Daniel @
| The servant of the Lord
There is no Christian who does not sin.
That truth should comfort all of us who have ever professed faith in Christ, because we all will fail to live up to the life our profession calls us to live.
What we do with this knowledge will either reinforce or bring into question the fidelity of our faith.
Anyone who has ever attended a deathbed in a hospital knows that the mercy shown to a dying patient typically is expressed in medicating the patient into a painless unconsciousness. In this way the patient is unaware of the suffering and pain that is slowly taking away their life. It's a tender mercy to the patient, and a tender mercy to those who would otherwise have had to watch a loved one suffer in death.
I think something similar happens in the life of some who profess Christ.
These, having become convinced that they have secured eternal life for themselves through Christ, begin to regard their own sin as (not only normal, but even) personally inconsequential. Christianity takes on the role of the pain-killers and anesthesia in the deathbed example. These become increasingly unaware of their own sin, and their own spiritual suffering because of their slumber.
God help us all.
My great fear is not that I will renounce Christ with my mouth - or that I will suddenly become convinced that Christianity is false, or that there is no God. No. I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I've committed unto him against that day. My concern is that I will rather renounce Christ with my living - renounce him with a faith that was only found in my mouth and not in my heart, and through my heart, in my day to day living.
My fear is that I may be calling myself, and believing myself to be a servant of God, without giving any real evidence that I am.
I can look back at my life and wee where I was obedient, here and there also. I can assure myself on past successes that I have been, for some time, as much as I have been able, a servant of my Lord and Savior. But I regard this evidence with a critical eye. Judas had a great start also - and all his former obedience and piety, such as it was, didn't remove any of his condemnation. He knew Jesus was the Messiah too - yet that knowledge didn't translate into a life that served Christ. In the end he chose to serve himself - or rather, his default position became known to all including himself. He had never been a servant of our Lord, but had always been serving himself, even in his profession of faith.
I am neither a good nor a holy man by nature. I am a sinner, and selfish. I was so before I became a Christian, and even after being joined to the life of Christ though saving faith, I find myself still experiencing the same sinful temptations I've ever faced.
One thing I've noticed since becoming a Christian however, is that I no longer take joy in sin.
Now I don't describe sin as "bad things I do" - I describe sin as what it is - an act of rebellion against God's rule in my life. In a nutshell God commands me to surrender my will to His, to obey Christ whose life empowers my obedience, over and against obeying my own self - who, driven by the fallen life of Adam that animates me being, seeks only to alleviate my own discomforts, and to secure pleasures and comforts for myself in this life. When I sin, I trade true joy for earthly pleasures, true peace for worldly securities. It's bad math, it's madness. I hate the 'me' that knows all this but is still able to sit satisfied on the couch after a meal, and leave the dishes for someone else to clean up. Where is my servant's heart?
I don't have one, and if you are willing to understand this: neither do you.
What I do have is the life of Christ in me. His life empowers my obedience, but not in a way that makes me into God's puppet. I find that nothing in this sinful world has or could set me free from my own sinful desires - but what is truth about me, can and does truly set me free.
Here is a truth: Christ has a genuine servant's heart. Let me put that another way: God has a servant's heart. The life of Christ in me desires to serve others, even as I have no desire to serve anyone unless I can get something out of it - even if it is just the satisfaction of someone praising me for my service. Christ is selfless. His life in me prompts me to do what I personally have no desire to do. The reward for my obedience? It isn't an easier life - it is a harder one. It isn't worldly gain, because true obedience doesn't try to hold onto the wealth of the world for oneself. It isn't the accolades of men, because true obedience doesn't seek recognition. The reward is the joy of our Lord. That's the strength of our obedience. We obey because God's pleasure in our obedience is something we take joy in.
The servant of the Lord is someone who yearns to soak up the joy of the Lord through serving Him in response to the provoking life of Christ within us. Look into you life and see if this isn't so - the one thing every genuine Christian shares is a soul-deep desire to be pleasing to God. If that resonates in you, know this : the flip side is that we pursue obedience for a joy that is greater (spiritually satisfying and comforting) than the pleasure of sin.
Know this too Christian, that it is God Himself who is pursuing each of us who have come to Christ through faith. He provokes and empowers us to enter into the rest He has promised to those who are in Christ. It isn't a rest whereby we sin all we want secure in the knowledge that our sin won't count against us.
That isn't the rest.
We 'rest' in the certainty that through Christ - through His life that became ours when we were born again - we will be able to obey God even as we step out in faith to do so. Like the Israelites entered into the promised land. God gave them the victory even as their own efforts carried them into the promised victory.
posted by Daniel @
| Why Christians gather together weekly
|Let me qualify what I mean by Christian before I get into this post.
A lot of people identify as Christians, but identifying as a Christian doesn't make you a Christian anymore than identifying as a 56 Buick makes you an automobile. When I speak about Christians in this post, I am not talking about every Tom, Dick and Jane who considers themselves to be a Christian. You don't become a Christian simply by calling yourself one.
Before God made a new covenant with man (in and through the person of Jesus Christ), the salvation of God was restricted to those descendants of Israel who had inherited the promises of Abraham and Isaac (i.e. the Jews). Not every descendant of Abraham inherited the promises given to Abraham, but only those who were of the same faith as Abraham, and who were humbled before God in willful obedience. This is what it means to have a faith like Abraham's. It is to be one who intentionally repents of their indifference to God's rule, accepting instead their true status as a creature obligated to live in accord with the dictates God, who has a divine right as their Creator to command their obedience. They trust God to save them from His wrath, because He has promised to do just that for those who, in genuine humility, truly are submitting themselves to God's commands on a daily basis. Said in plain language, they have faith in God and repent of their indifference to God's right to rule over them. When I speak of repentance, I am not describing what some describe by that word. I am not saying stop doing bad things, and start doing good things. Repentance is not a repentance from one kind of work to another - it is a repentance of (turning away from) one's former rebellion against God's rule, and a turning toward a life of committed submitted obedience. Faith without repentance saves no one.
That was true of the Jews even before the Mosaic (or "Old" covenant). Under the Mosaic covenant, people who weren't descendants of Abraham could still worship God and be counted as within God's covenant if they  joined themselves to one of the tribes in Israel, and  had the same repentant faith that characterized Abraham. But the Mosaic covenant was only a foreshadow of God's full redemptive plan (in Christ). A new and better covenant was promised - covenant that would save not only descendants of Abraham, but as many descendants of Adam as would humble themselves in repentance to God's rule, and trust in God alone to redeem them from their condemnation and debt their sins had earned them.
A Christian therefore, is more than someone who considers himself or herself to be a Christian. It is more than someone who understands and agrees to the truthfulness of the Christian claims - a Christian is someone who has called Jesus Lord, because they have committed themselves to obeying Him a their Lord - and they trust in the work He has done, and is doing to save them. There are all kinds of people who believe that Jesus was the Messiah, and call themselves Christians, but they haven't surrendered themselves to Christ's rule - choosing instead to trust that they'll be forgiven in the end because they believed the facts to be true. They believe, but having no repentance - they never progress in their faith, because their faith lacks the necessary foundation of genuine repentance.
So when I speak of Christians in this post, I am not talking about the kind of secular, cultural "christians" (lower case "c") who "believe" that God just wants everyone to get along, be kind to each other, and live and let live. I am not talking about "christians" who toss out the bible wherever and whenever it disagrees with the sinful culture they find themselves in - I am talking about people who side with Christ against this culture, even to their own inescapable detriment.
The "christian" who is not striving to live a holy life, is almost certainly not living the life of a Christian. It could be that they are genuinely saved, but woefully ignorant of what they are called to be. It could be that they are genuinely saved, but weakened in walk because they are malnourished, and trying to walk the Christian walk in exile or isolation - but it is certainly possible, if not likely, that they were never saved in the first place. They've come to a cultural form of Christianity which being nothing more than a spiritually vacuous form of religion that shares the name, but has no power to deliver them (or anyone else) from their sin.
Sadly, those who are snared by the devil in a counterfeit form of Christianity are more often than not, satisfied with their lot. I don't say these things to belittle or offend, though if you find yourself in that camp, you will find these things offensive, and perhaps feel I am angry at or hateful towards people who have a different form of Christianity that I do. But I'm not angry, and I'm not hateful. I mention these things because I believe they're true, and if they are, then the greatest service I can render anyone is to show them that their form of Christianity isn't biblical, and suggest earnestly that they examine the scriptures to see if these things are true. God help anyone who thinks they are a Christian who isn't pursuing an obedient, holy life.
So... getting back to the topic at hand: Why should real Christians gather weekly?
The "go to" text that tells us we should be gathering regularly together with other Christians is straightforward enough:
"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." - Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV
But I think the author's word choice gives us some insight into the problem he was addressing when he wrote this. Note how he carefully couches this instruction - He doesn't simply write that we are to "meet together" he includes the error that he is correcting with this instruction - the error being that of neglecting other Christians. You have everything you need in this verse to plumb the depths of this instruction with me.
I'm going to assume that what the author prescribes here, is intended to be a small picture of what genuine Christianity is supposed to look like in practice. I'm reminded of Paul's similar instructions to the Galatians in Galatians 5:13-14, For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Christians have been set free (from their former rebellion against God's rule in their life), but this freedom isn't a "get out of all your responsibilities" free card. Christians are called to serve other Christians through love.
The (selfless) service Christ calls Christians to render to each other (and to non-Christians also) is not to simply appreciate or respect them. We should do that, but our service has a goal - and that goal isn't to make each other feel better. It is to build one another up in our faith, and to strengthen each other in our Christian walk. Consider Paul's instruction to the believers in Thessalonica:
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. - 1 Thessalonians 5:14-22, ESV
Here Paul is describing those who are ministering to other believers. In the church at Thessalonica while some were ministering to one another - others were idle. Let's take a step back for a moment. You might think that the only ministry going on in church is coming out of the pulpit - but that is culturally skewed imagine. Each believer (not just the pastors) is supposed to minister to other believers on a regular basis. If you're not doing that you're "idle" - your showing up, but you're not contributing.
I'll be the first to say it: some churches have a culture that lends itself to this kind of stagnation. By culture here I don't mean simply traditions - I mean to describe a shared attitude about the church is gathered together to accomplish. Some churches gather to hear a sermon. The sermon is the product, and the hearers are consumers of that product. People come to that church to hear the sermons. More often than not, it's really the pastor who is the product, - his personality and charm. The sermon is a by-product. In some churches, the music is the big thing, or the programs. Whatever it is, there seems to be only to kinds of church culture. The first and I fear all to common, is the consumer culture, where people come to church to get something out of it. The second is the one we find in the scriptures - one where we come to serve others rather than to be served by others.
The short answer to the main question of this post, is that Christians gather together weekly because they recognize that God has called them to serve one another in love, and in humble obedience to that command, they not only gather together weekly, but often more outside of the weekly gathering, where they encourage and help one another to live lives that honor and please God. People leave churches these days for the most selfish reasons. I don't like the pastor. I don't like the music. I don't like the service. I don't like the people. Even though Christians are reconciled to God through Christ, it doesn't mean that all our affections line up with that calling. We are still selfish people at heart, and that means we often pursue our own wants rather than what God wants. We don't come to church to serve others, we come to church to be served. If we don't like the service - we move on.
Spotty attendance, short lived memberships, etc. are all indicative of a mindset that views church as a service to be consumed rather than as a place we go to minister to others. I can't tell you what you should be doing when you come to church - but I can tell you what you shouldn't be doing. you shouldn't be idle in the service.
If you're a genuine Christian, God has given you the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit imparts to every believer something they not only can use, but are expected to use, to build up their local body of believers. We serve one another in the strength God supplies - that works itself out practically in this way: we enjoy doing the ministry we are called to.
Find out what your gifts are, and minister to one another as often as you are able. You'll be doing what you're called to do, and you'll love it. Trust me.
posted by Daniel @
| God expressed through the obedient Christian
When I talk to other believers about their walk with God, I ask them a few simple (but related) diagnostic questions. I start with something like this, "What was the first and greatest commandment God gave to Israel?" The answer is found in Matthew 22:36-40,
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He [i.e. Jesus] said to him [i.e. the lawyer/Pharisee who asked the question to test Jesus], “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” [NASB]
The "Law" that is spoken of in this passage is often called the Law of Moses because it was given to Israel through Moses who was chosen to be (and acted as) the mediator of a covenant between Israel and God. God promised to bless Israel if they kept his commands. It was that simple.
Even though the Law of Moses is no longer in effect (having been invalidated and replaced by a New Covenant), those who come to God through Christ under this same New Covenant, are still required to love one another:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.- John 13:34 [NASB]
This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. - John 15:12 [NASB]
This I command you, that you love one another. - John 15:17 [NASB]
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. - Romans 13:8 [NASB]
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. - Galatians 5:13 [NASB]
Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; - 1 Thessalonians 4:9 [NASB]
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, - 1 Peter 1:22 [NASB]
Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. - 1 Peter 4:8 [NASB]
For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; - 1 John 3:11 [NASB]
This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. - 1 John 3:23 [NASB]
Jesus not only lived as a Jew under the Mosaic Covenant Laws - He kept them perfectly, which means that He loved the Lord His God with all His heart, soul, mind and strength - continuously. He also loved others in the same way.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. - 1 John 4:7 [NASB]
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. - 1 John 4:11 [NASB]
Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. - 2 John 1:5 [NASB]
No Jew ever loved God with all of his or her mind, soul, heart and strength. No Jew - and let's expand that - no person (since the fall) has ever loved God the way we are called to, except Christ.
Becoming a Christian doesn't change you into a sinless being. Christians still have sinful desires, and fall into sin when they aren't actively standing against it. Our default condition remains selfish and self-serving - which is why we are taught by the scriptures not to let these desires rule us, but instead to understand that it is the very source of this proclivity that damned us before God. That proclivity continues to rule over the life we inherited from Adam (what the Apostle Paul describes as our "old man" or "old self" in Romans 6) but that same proclivity cannot reign over the life of Christ we inherited when we were baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
We don't typically view ourselves as a person who is simultaneously connected to two lives - the first is the one we have always known - from which all sinful desires are provoked; that sinful life we have inherited from Adam. The second we have received through the Holy spirit - the life of Christ. We experience the life of Christ almost as a second set of desires - but desires which are holy, good, and selfless rather than self-serving, selfish, and sinful. The Apostle Paul makes it clear in Romans 7 that the Christian experiences both sets of desires in the same body, and must choose to obey those desires whose origin lies in our new life in Christ, rather than those which come from our old life - which was put to death in Christ.
How do we overcome those sinful desires which remain?
Every new believer typically starts the same way - they find themselves suddenly sensitive to sin before God, and desire to avoid God's displeasure at their ongoing disobedience, so they begin to cut as much sin out of their life as they can. The rest of their sin, they hide from everyone else, until they can get it under control. But they never get it under control, or if they do, it never remains under their control. In this struggle they wonder what is wrong with them. Maybe their salvation didn't work, or maybe Christianity is all bunk. They feel like they missed something - some piece of the puzzle which when found will unlock their hobbled Christianity, but the months and years go by, and they either give up, or they simply make peace with the sin that remains in their life. They can't seem to get rid of it, so they continue to experience guilt and remorse as a necessary consequence of their unwillingness to repent. Of course they wouldn't describe their unwillingness to repent as unwillingness - they would describe it as an inability...
I recall ministering to a fellow who was fully and thoroughly convinced that he was unable to resist the temptation to view porn on the internet. We were walking, and I remember stopping in mid stride and turning to him and saying, "Do you mean to tell me that if I offered you one million dollars to go a day without viewing porn, you would throw away that million dollars if the temptation hit you before the day was out? Or would you not rather just fight that temptation till the day was up, and get the million dollars?" As you'd expect, he agreed with me that he could find the strength to resist the urge if doing so meant a million dollars in the bank at the end of the day. Obviously he had the strength and power to resist this temptation - he just didn't want to. In this case, another sinful desire (greed) was able to trump the other desire (lust) because it promised him a bigger return.
The reason a lot of Christians struggle against sin, is because they love their sin, and aren't willing to give it up - even for all the riches that fellowship with God in this life here and now promises. They know they ought to love God, but they love their sin more than they love God.
The question is why? How can a Christian love their own self above everything and anyone else? The answer is because that Christian isn't being a Christian, they are continuing in their sin and rebellion against God. Such a Christian is not repenting.
No one can become a Christian apart from repentance. You must repent of your unwillingness to obey God. That means that at some point you surrender your will and life to God, for His command - this you do trusting that God will save you through Christ as the New Covenant promises. Anyone who does that sincerely will be saved in the moment of their sincerity - they will inherit the life of Christ and receive the Holy Spirit who has already been at worth in them making them able (spiritually speaking) to comprehend these truths which provoked the same required repentance that was granted to them by God. No sinner is able to repent of their rebellion against God's rule, because that would be righteous, and there are none who are righteous, as the bible teaches. God as an act of divine grace, grants the believer the ability to trust in the promises of God, and grants the believer the ability to repent of their rebellion against God's rule, and fully surrender themselves to God's rule.
Yet once that happens, the old sinful desires are not eradicated - they persist. This has confused many a new convert - if I am saved, why do I still desire to rebel against God's rule (or said another way, why do I still want to sin)? Now begins the work of sanctification. It works exactly the same way our justification (i.e. our salvation) worked: we are enlightened and empowered (by the life of Christ within us through the Holy Spirit who provokes us) to obey those desires which arise from the life of Christ, and to deny those desires which rise up from our old life/self.
Insofar as we humble ourselves before God, we obey - and that includes our obedience to the greatest command: the command to love one another - even as Christ loved us.
If my understanding of "love" is cultural rather than biblical - I'm going to take that command and think, I love everyone in my church - meaning I feel some sort of bond of affection with everyone there. I like being with them, some more than others, but by and large I "love" them - I even say so now and again, "I love you guys".
But that kind of love, doesn't serve anyone like Christ served the church - giving himself entirely over in service to others. How many of us put the needs of others ahead of our own needs? How many of us are are willing to love others as long as there is no perceived cost to doing so (whether in resources like money or items, or investing ourselves in the life and support of others - i.e. in physically being there for others)?
You see the love that we show for one another puts us daily in the lives of one another. Is there someone in the body who is weak, those acting in true, biblical love won't wait for a posse to form before acting being there to strengthen them. They won't put their weekend plans above the needs of the church - and let me say this, every church is needy, even the healthy ones.
God expresses Himself in the church most visually, and with the greatest conviction - when the church members live their lives in the service of others in the church. Our gifts - our spiritual gifts - are given that we might function within the church in God's strength rather than our own. But we won't do that if we continue to live for ourselves.
I don't see many healthy churches today - instead I see a lot of churches meeting on Sundays, and ignoring each other the rest of the week. In many churches the only people routinely exercising their gifts are the pastors. Listen, the unwashed masses should see God in the church on Sunday - not just in the preaching, but (and perhaps more especially) in the lives of the believers invested fully in the lives of other believers. They should see the church every time they come to visit a Christian, or speak with one.
How are you serving your brothers and sisters in Christ believer? List for yourself what you plan to do this week, and ask yourself who you're serving - your congregation or yourself?
If the greatest commandment given to the believers is to love one another (meaning to serve one another in love - to strengthen each other, to look out for each other, to physically be there in the lives of other believers) how are you doing?
We have this mindset in the flesh, not to give anyone more than they deserve. We walk past the drunkard lying passed out in a pool of his own filth on the sidewalk because we've judged that it was his sin that got him there, and stopping to check on his welfare will be fruitless and best and possibly dangerous. Plus, who wants to make friends with a drunkard? If they want our help, let them meet us half way.
But that isn't how God helped us is it?
Did I deserve that grace that found me in my sin, revealed the truth to me, and enlightened my life that I could repent and believe? All I had to commend me to Christ was a life given entirely over to sin - nothing I did brought me half way, or part way, or in any way closer to God. He met me in my sin, and pulled me out of it. I didn't deserve that. That is what love looks like - someone serving someone else who doesn't deserve to be served at all, and certainly doesn't deserve to be served with the kind of earnest full-hearted service (i.e. love) we are called to serve one another with.
Recognize therefore that to wait until someone deserve your help (love), wouldn't be love by the time you gave it. Love - the love we are called to - doesn't seek it's own, it gets no payback whatsoever. It is not an affection that we foster for the needy - it is not restricted just to people with gregarious hearts and extroverted personalities. Love is for every Christian - love is that selfless service that we give undeserving others because we received the same from Christ when he saved us. It is the living testimony of the live of God in a person - apple trees produce apples. The life of Christ in you produces a life like Christ in you - a life that serves others.
Maybe you didn't count the cost when you came to Christ, because the person or situation that brought you to Christ didn't make the cost clear. But the Christian life is a life of service. Don't let a bad start turn into a bad race, followed by a dismal finish. Take up your cross, believer, and follow Christ today.
If you don't know how to start, talk to God. Share your heart with Him - warts and all. Don't let the sun go down on you today until you've spoken to God about you lack of genuine repentance, and your predisposition to ignoring this greatest of Christian commands.
If you don't know any obedient Christians, then be the first one in your group. Your changed life will affect others positively. God made the church in such a way that we all need other Christians to bring us to our greatest potential. None of us is able to walk the path of sanctification alone - because there will be times when we will need the strength, prayers, and living example of others to testify to us in our moments of weakness and failure. Lacking that, we can only rise to the level of our own strength - and we're all pretty lazy and weak when it comes down to it.
Our obedience to the command to love one another, will result in obedience elsewhere in our walk - for how can we serve the body of Christ effectively, when we're busy serving ourselves?
Think about it.
posted by Daniel @
| A Conscience Cleansed From Dead Works.
For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? - Hebrews 9:13-14 [NASB]
I was reading 1 John 1 the other day, and followed a cross reference at verse 7 (but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. - [NASB]) - the reference had to do with the blood of Jesus His son cleansing us from all sin. The reference directed me to the passage in Hebrews 9 that I quoted above.
I was feeling awkward in my affections towards the Lord at a time when I needed to draw near in prayer. There was creeping in again, an old sense of unworthiness that unless addressed with the truth of God's word, promised to be a hindrance not only to my worship and devotion, but to my joy and service.
As my thoughts lingered over 1 John 1:7, and then subsequently Hebrews 9:13-14, I found myself wondering what exactly the author of Hebrews meant by having a conscience cleansed from dead works to serve the living God. I wanted to serve the living God, and was finding myself hindered by my own being. Here seemed to be something with teeth in it, if I would only take the time to search it out.
The mention of the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of a red heifer in the previous context in Hebrews 9, points us back to the Levitical laws concerning ritual uncleanness. Any Israelite who came into contact with a corpse (intentionally or unintentionally) became ritually unclean for seven days - during which they were to live separately from all of Israel, and were barred from attending the Temple. On the third day and seventh day of their uncleanness they were to present themselves before a priest who would sprinkle "water of impurity" on them. Those who faithfully followed the requirements were restored to Israel, and any who did not were cut off from Israel.
That's where the ashes of the red heifer come in. To make water of impurity Eleazer the priest had to sacrifice a red heifer away from the tabernacle in the wilderness, and sprinkle some of it's blood in the direction of God's throne on earth (the tabernacle) seven times before burning the remains of the red heifer to ash. As the fire was burning Eleazer was instructed to add cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet materials to the fire so that the ashes of each would be mixed with the ashes of the red heifer. He had to go wash his clothes and body having himself become unclean until that evening. Another "ritually clean" person would gather the ashes the next day and bring them to a place outside the camp in a clean place, where the ashes would be mixed with water to create the "water of impurity" needed to cleanse a person from the guilt of having come into contact with a corpse.
The (converted) Israelites to whom the epistle to the Hebrews was addressed, didn't need anyone to explain the law concerning that uncleanness which could only be lifted by way of the ashes of a red heifer (c.f. Number 19). They understood something that we might easily miss today.
You see, the person who was unclean, having become contaminated by contact with a dead body, was simply presented to the priest according to the prescription of the Law, and upon receiving the full "water of impurity" treatment by the priest - was declared to be free of the uncleanness.
When the priest declared you clean - you were clean. Until then you were essentially cut off from both Israel and (more significantly) God. You couldn't worship in the temple, you couldn't have out with anyone who wasn't already unclean. The moment the priest declared you clean - you were back in - all was right in the world.
Every time a believer simply ignores God's will - by either not seeking it, or by setting it aside to pursue their own course - they "sin". Their sin is a work that they do, which is not done in the strength and power of the life of Christ, but rather in their own sinful strength - in the power of the "old man" whom Paul writes about in Romans 6. Pursuing your own way is a dead work, because it flows from the life that was crucified with Christ on Calvary. That's Paul's point in Romans 6 - that life is dead, so don't obey it. When you obey the desires of that life, you are obeying the commands of a condemned corpse. That is a dead work.
To understand what the author of Hebrews intends in Hebrews 9, you must understand the juxtaposition he is using to explain himself.
No unclean Israelite could serve God if did not deal directly with their (intentional or unintentional) transgression of the Law. If they ignored the Law, they were cut off from Israel. In order for an Israelite to once again become clean after coming in contact with a corpse a cleansing had to take place, and a priest had to declare you clean afterwards. Once they had done that, they were free once again to worship and serve God according to the Law.
Once the priest declared them clean - they didn't doubt their own cleanliness, nor did they hold themselves aloof from the congregation waiting for some greater indication that they were really and truly made clean. They likely headed immediately to the Temple, where they had been forbidden to tread for seven days. They likely immersed themselves back into the throngs of Israel, where formerly they were forbidden. The guilt of their transgression, being paid, was no longer a hindrance to their fellowship with God.
The author of Hebrews is rightly pointing out that any of his (Jewish) readers would not hesitate by way of some sense of guilt over having been unclean - from immediately partaking of all they had been denied during their uncleanness. This they would readily do in the strength of some ashes from a red heifer.
How much more so, the author asks, if your cleanness - your acceptance with God - is not brokered by the ashes of a red heifer - who neither offered himself up to be the sacrifice, nor was capable of understanding his role as a sacrifice (under the old Covenant) - is your acceptance with God by and through the finished work of Christ who understood his role as a sacrifice, and willingly entered into the bearing of the fullness of that penalty - all for the sake of those whom He was cleansing - how much more will what Christ has willingly and knowingly done to secure your acceptable with God, make you acceptable to God?
It is good, and even proper to continue to have a realistic appreciation of your own lack of personal merit before God. But you must never, if you are a Christian, allow that right understanding of your own pathos cripple you. You haven't been cleansed by your own efforts, any more than a Jews was cleansed by his or her own efforts. You merely present yourself to Christ and know that you are accepted in Him - and you conscience, resting upon the finished work of Christ - will not hinder your progress, but encourage it.
Do not let yourself become so certain of God's disfavor towards you over your sin that you hide from him like Adam and Eve hid from God in the Garden of Eden. You cannot serve the living God if you live as one cut off from God - in your own sinful pity party. Do not let your conscience remains so poorly informed that you keep yourself from serving the living God. But trust that all that Christ has done on your behalf has been effective and more than sufficient.
To put it another way, and I hope you can see it: walk in the Light as Christ Himself is in the Light. Do that and you will have fellowship with one other believers having rested fully in the knowledge that the blood of Jesus has cleansed you from the guilt of your sin, and made you fit to do the work you are called to do.
Having said that, I fear that some who read this will miss the mark a little. So let me say this clear: There is a person who sins all they want, and in no way pursues repentance. Such a one will hear a word like this and say, "ah, I can sin without fear because of God's grace" - and so they may continue in their sin, using grace as the enabler and excuse for their licentious living. These neither understand grace, nor give any evidence of a genuine salvation.
I am not saying these things to coddle any deceived fool on their way to hell, dressed up as, and imagining themselves to be, a saint.
No, I write this to the one who labors to draw near to God, but finds themselves weak for all the effort. I put this hear as an oasis for such as these - that they may be deceived by their own misinformed conscience into giving up.
posted by Daniel @