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Theological, Doctrinal, and Spiritual Musing - and whatever other else is on my mind when I notice that I haven't posted in a while.
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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
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.
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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.
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His posts are either funny or challenging. He is very friendly and nice.
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[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.
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- Carla Rolfe
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Sunday, November 16, 2008
Sin, Repentance, The Flesh, The Spirit, and The Soul.
How is that for a title?

This week I have failed to live up to many of the responsibilities in my life. I will be preaching in a few hours, and I haven't written the sermon yet. I have only just rose from a very productive time of prayer however, and I am writing more to organize my thoughts than for any other reason.

I say, my week, and perhaps I ought not to limit that to the past seven days, for surely I have been neglecting many things for longer than a week, but it is enough to say that I have allowed my Christian walk to coast for longer than I am comfortable with, and coasting in the Christian life has this one side effect, the longer you do it, the more inclined you are to continue in it.

For me, one of the difficulties in breaking out of a time of coasting is that I cannot deny that the person willfully coasting here is the real me. It is as though all my religion is mere whitewash - a clean coat that hides the junk beneath, but a whitewash that fades with time and eventually what is underneath begins to bleed through again. When I see that my old self is still there, that the real me is bleeding through; I begin to feel that perhaps my whole Christian endeavor is a facade, since the real me continues to bleed through as soon as I slacken the pace.

In this I can see how false religions perpetuate. If being holy indicates that I am justified, then failing to be holy must indicate that I am not not justified, so it naturally follows that I should pursue holiness in order to be sure that I am really justified, and having failed to pursue it with gusto, perhaps that indicates a backwards slide that must be compensated for lest I prove my faith invalid by allowing it to slide into worldliness.

Do you see the (faulty) reasoning that underlies all that? It says that I am only justified if I act justified, and if I stop acting justified, that means I am not justified, etc. etc. The link, if unstated, is undeniably there - works produce justification.

The problem with that sort of reasoning is that it isn't biblical. It is very deceptive in that if one doesn't bother to examine it closely, one doesn't note that it is entirely carnal and worldly. It is worldly wisdom - it is the way that seems right to a man, but leads only to death.

In Romans chapter six, the Apostle Paul begins his defense against an anticipated objection to his teaching on salvation by faith. I find this passage quite helpful in identifying this particular struggle.

Paul knew that many of his original readers were persuaded that a person had to keep the law in order to become righteous, and that once a person was righteous, it was that same righteousness that justified them. If we are not justified by our own righteousness there is no point in keeping the law, that is, if we are not justified by our own works of righteousness through keeping the law, then what is to stop us from continuing in sin after we are justified? I mean, that is a good question if you are convinced that you get justified by keeping the law, isn't it?

Paul knew that unlearned men would say that justification by grace through faith means that it is "okay" to sin, and that is why Paul pulls the teeth out of that argument from the beginning of chapter six. Grace doesn't mean you continue in sin - it cannot mean that because the grace that you receive comes through a union with Christ. The nature of the grace itself (Paul will argue) dismisses the notion that salvation by grace leads to debauchery.

Paul speaks of the reality of our union with Christ in terms of striking down the notion that we will continue in sin. Paul dismisses this anticipated accusation by showing the absurdity of it. How can anyone who is united with Christ continue in sin???

Unlike the theological position of those whom Paul anticipates our justification is not self produced, but God induced. The foundation of our hope is not in what we can do for ourselves, but what God in Christ has graciously done for us already.

In Romans 6:1-12, Paul is teaching that Christians will not continue to live in sin once they are saved by grace, and he teaches why that is, and how it happens. It is one of the most fruitful passages in scripture, and perhaps one of the most difficult passages to interpret correctly. Not that what is being said is difficult or even complex - but rather that every one of us wants to read that passage so that it lines up with our own experience - we want an interpretation that matches our condition - and that usually means explaining away, or dismissing as wrong-headed those parts of the text that do not agree with our present experience.

One of my first mentors led me to memorize this whole chapter because, as he said, I was to use it as a weapon against temptation. His formula was simple, whatever a person was being tempted to do, they just had to plug a description of it into this passage then recite it until the desire to sin went away: "What shall I say then, shall I continue in greed that grace may abound? May it never be! How shall I, who died to greed, continue in it?"

The mentality, of course, was that since this was true, all I had to do was brainwash myself until it worked. The passage was to be used like a tool to produce an effect - in this case, the desired effect was to overcome some temptation, and the process was only about as effect as the buy-in. I mean, if you could be convinced that this would work - then you were more likely to have success with it.

The problem I knew instinctively, was that for all the seeming piety in dealing with temptation thus, it was to me a carnal effort. I know that when Christ was tempted in the wilderness by Satan, he quoted scripture that is, he rebuked the lies of the devil by speaking truth from scripture. But Christ was not reciting scripture as a tool or a means by which He was delivering Himself from sin and temptation! Can you imagine? No, Christ was resisting the devil in the same way that we are told to - by surrendering Himself to God - you cannot be the serve one man when you are surrendered to another.

The point is that people who are making the same mistake as Paul's hypothetical objector, when they read Romans 6, they have to interpret it in a way that has them making themselves righteous through some means. I could have used the other end of the scale and spoke of those who are convinced that justification has nothing whatsoever to do with sanctification, and showed how these would interpret Romans six according to their presumption as well. It isn't that the text is difficult I say, it is that more than any other place in scripture - we bring our baggage to this text, and like a smith applying gold plating, we hammer the text around our baggage until it looks good as gold in our own eyes.

I have struggled therefore, with the text - and made every effort to understand it plainly, and to know myself and what I bring to it, and to set those aside and read the text a'right, as it were. I probably fail in many ways, and yet what light I have gleaned, if any, has helped me immensely in times such as my prayer time this morning.

You see, as I read it, Paul in speaking of our union with Christ as the foundation from which our deliverance comes, contends that it is through this union we are set free from sin's power, and having been set free from sin's power, we are free to obey God. If someone asks me what Romans six is about, I can say it tells us that believers are set free from sin's power so that we they can obey God.

Our old man was crucified with Christ in order that the body that belongs to sin might be henceforth set free from slavery. That is the teaching in Romans 6:6.

As I was grounding myself in prayer this morning, I was struggling with grace. How my heart yearned to merit an audience with my Maker. Oh, come now, it is so ridiculous we say - have you ever lived even one day on this earth - even your best day - what that day sufficient to merit you favor? Would you be willing to take your most holy pious day, and come before the Lord on the day of judgment and claim as Job did that you hold fast to your integrity? I have no day in my life that I would dare stand upon, and yet I am trained by the sliding scale of righteousness that, since there are days when I am more obedient than others - it stands to reason that I am accepted more on those days where I merit it more. As vile and obviously corrupt as that kind of thinking is, I found it there in my breast with clarity this morning.

I mean I knew, I knew that what my heart yearned to do was clean itself perfectly and present to God a vessel fit for his Spirit, and unless I could do that I felt I had no business at the throne of grace. I contemplated how it was that I could know this to be a carnal, worldly, and utterly invalid claim to God's presence, and yet I found that having the truth in no way settled the ulcerous demand from within; I wanted to be acceptable to God by "being acceptable" and not by accepting that I am accepted in the beloved.

It was yet another glimpse for me, at the depth of my own depravity, and by extension, the whole depravity of sin in general. My mind understood that I could not make myself acceptable to God - yet the "body that sin owns" continued to as it always has, you see, it isn't the body that sin owns that is set free - it is we who are set free from that body. Christ set me free from the dominion of sin's body.

Did you get that?

He set me free from the dominion of the flesh with belongs to sin. You don't believe that the flesh belongs to sin? Sin and death go hand in hand (read Romans 3-5!) - the fact that the flesh will die is proof enough that the flesh is still is owned by sin. The genitive in the Greek is the possessive case, when your translation says, "the body of sin" in Romans 6:6 - that is a formal translation, we would say, informally, "sin's body" - but in the context we are talking about our own body - the body in which we live. The same body that Paul ends Chapter seven with by saying - who will save me from this body of death??

So it was that this morning I was struggling with this body that sin still owns, struggling because it seemed to me either I have never understood Christianity or Christianity is an exercise in contradiction - for how can I be free from sin, if I still sin??

Then I understood, and not spuriously either, I was begging for clarity on this point, and waiting for it in prayer - I think my question distilled, for it was half prayed in words, and the other half in the meditation of my heart: Lord, how can it be that I am a sinner and saved from sin? How am I saved from sin? If I sin still, am I saved from sin? How can I have peace if I am always concerned that I am misunderstanding a fundamental and defining principle in my faith? How should I respond to the flesh Lord? HOW?

Then I began to see as the scripture came to mind, that God loved me before I loved Him - while I was yet in my sins. If His love and attention were brokered by my effort or obedience, then I should never have received his love - and if I were willing to be honest about my ability - I would never warrant it even now - for all that I do is tainted, I have no illusions about that. If therefore I did nothing, and can do nothing, and will never do a thing to earn, purchase, or merit God's love or favor - if His love for me depends on something outside of me, then I cannot - nay, must never look within for some way to broker it. Indeed, what is within me but sin's body - sold out eternally to sin, I am no bound to the body that is bound to sin, but bound to God in Christ. I have a new master even if I reside in a house that is bound to another. It may be enslaved, but I am not.

The difference is perhaps too subtle for my poor words, and yet there it is. There is the body that is bound to sin, there is me who was crucified with Christ so that I am no longer bound to sin's body - even if I reside in it - and there is now only a moment by moment choice as to whom I will obey - sin leading to death, or obedience leading to righteousness. Oh, it is like night and day as I right it, but I worry that time may fade the thought, so I wanted to get it out of me.

As the truth of it poured into me, I wondered if this ought to be what I preach on today. Conventional wisdom (that's what they teach you in seminar) is that you ought not to teach a thing you are just coming to grips with yourself, and there is a good reason why we call that conventional wisdom - because you don't want a doctor operating on you who is still working out the kinks, as it were, and wrong-headed preaching is far more serious and more deadly than medical malpractice. Yet the truth is that God provides, and I didn't give Him the opportunity to do so all week, and as I was asking Him if I ought to teach this, some scripture came to mind - certainly the verse that speaks of those whose faith is persecuted who stand before a judge or tribunal to give testimony of that faith - that they should not prepare before hand what they should say, etc. - but really, I wasn't satisfied with that as being applicable, since the context is very specific. So I waited, and another verse presented itself which was clearer, followed by several supporting verses after the thought, at least enough to satisfy me in the certainty that God is the speaker, and I am the messenger, and that the messenger speaks what God gives him to speak, or he is not God's messenger.

So I plan to put all that together into a sermon to be preached in two hours and twenty minutes. If you read this post before that time is up - pray for me and for the congregation I will stand before.

Sorry about any typos. I am a little rushed. What I hope is evidenced in this post is not merely the teaching, though I hope that clears up stuff for one or more of my readers, but also that prayer is not something dead, but living.


posted by Daniel @ 4:24 AM  
  • At 11:57 AM, November 16, 2008, Blogger Barbara said…

    I battle with this too. Your thoughts are much appreciated; and if you just happen to feel like sharing the scriptures and the message uyou present today with your readers, I have no doubt that it would be appreciated by more than just me. Seems this is a typical tool of the enemy, and a stubborn one it is.

  • At 9:47 AM, November 17, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    I ended up preaching extemporaneously on sin and how the Christian must deal with it. It was, I think, what the Lord would have had me say. I hope I said it all correctly.

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