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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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Daniel, nicely done and much more original than Frank the Turk.
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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
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Thursday, January 24, 2013
For Beginner Christians... A Primer - Part II
I remember with uncommon clarity the birth of our first child. I remember my wife starting labour, and taking her to the hospital, and secretly hoping I could go and read magazines in a waiting room somewhere, only to have someone come and inform me after a few hours, that the baby had come and was of such and such a gender. I knew my wife wanted me with her in the labour, but I was pretty nervous about that. In the same way that some people faint at the thought of getting a needle, or seeing their own blood, I was worried that I might not be up to the task of seeing the love of my life suffer in child birth - not that I thought I would actually faint, but rather that I was by no means looking forward to being helpless in the hour of her suffering.

At first we chatted in between the contractions, but when each contraction would came along, my wife would become silent as she concentrated on enduring each episode of mounting pain. There was a psychological battle going on within her that I hadn't really given much thought to before actually seeing it with my own eyes. With each new pain greater in intensity and in length than the last, and this being our first child, everything was new, and she had no idea how much worse it would get, only that it would get worse and worse. When a contraction passed, we would carry on as if nothing had happened, but it was sort of like ignoring the elephant in the room. When the contractions began to come one upon the next, the facade was no longer an option. At one point, I had a concern for her modesty as the door was open and her gown did little to hide her form, and I wanted to leave her for a moment to close the door, and she made me understand by the tone and candor of her voice, that she could care less if the door was open. The pain she was enduring drowned out every other concern, every other thought. Nothing mattered in the world but living through the current distress.

When it was obvious that she was about to give birth, a medical team came in, and for the next half hour, my wife pushed. I had been taught in the birthing class, that there were a bunch of things I might do at this time to help, such as supplying her with ice chips to chew, and I still putting an ice chip to her lips in a moment between pushes, and she neither ate it nor seemed to know it was there. She was with me in body, but she had shut out all but the pain of giving birth. When we found that the umbilical cord was looped around my son's neck, the doctor, the nurses, and I were urgently telling her not to push, but it took several frightening seconds for that to mean anything to her. Later she told me that we should have said, "Don't push, the cord is around the baby's neck!" - for to her, the desire to push at that moment was intoxicating, as it seemed to promise an end to her suffering. Having someone yell into your ear that you should prolong your suffering, is not the sort of message you readily comprehend or receive.

It all worked out well in the end. We gained a son, and I gained a much greater appreciation of my wife. I have never again been able to imagine her as a frail little thing - not after watching her bear up bravely under this profound pain. In fact, what I seem to recall the most is that as my wife was made to endure more and greater suffering, she began to withdraw within herself, until she was so focused on her suffering, that it seemed to me that she was no longer paying any attention to anything else in the world.

Real suffering is like that, it catches and holds your attention, and everything else in life is re-prioritized. What was prominent in importance yesterday, has no value under the present concern. Sit with a person who is dying and knows it, you will never hear them saying that they wish they had made more money and lived in a larger house. A year ago the pursuit of wealth and comfort framed the whole of this person's life, but here on the deathbed a clarity that came much too late brings regret - why did I waste my life pursuing things that have no value to me now? Even if you could crowd all the wealth I had ever gained, and all my possessions into this room with me, I tell you I would trade them all to have my youngest grandchild here with me - just to tell her how precious she is, and to warn her not to waste her life - would that I could do something worthwhile from my deathbed, that I failed to do in this life when I had both the opportunity and the power, each day to do it.

It is not secret that those who are dying, typically do so with regrets. My point is not to suggest that we all take a hard look at the way we are wasting our lives because we are going to regret every wasted moment on the day that our coming suffering will finally tear away the veil from our eyes so that we see the futility of our efforts for what they have been. If you get that from what I am writing, consider it a bonus. I didn't write today to inform you that suffering will force upon you a clarity of mind that you would do better to pursue now, before any suffering comes. No, I wrote today to speak of how suffering turns your focus inward.

So far I have spoken about physical suffering - and this I did with purpose. We all understand physical suffering, and hopefully you are able to agree with me that the greater the suffering, the more inclined you are to ignore whatever else is going on, and focus instead on just getting through the suffering.

But however natural doing this may seem, it is perhaps the most destructive thing you can do when the suffering you are experiencing is spiritual.

Let me unwrap that a bit. A believer who is not doing everything in his or her power to draw near to God is in a state of spiritual decline. It is like a ball that has been hurled up an incline - it is either going up, or it is coming back down it does not, and cannot remain at rest along the way. The moment it stops moving up, it begins to move down. Spiritually speaking, that pictures a person who is either humbling himself under God's rule, or a person who is ignoring God's rule. You cannot sit on the fence, to ignore the rule of God is an act of rebellion (sin). When our focus is no longer on obeying God, it is necessarily (and automatically) on pleasing our selves. This is the spiritual equivalent of a turtle pulling his limbs and head into its shell.

Now, I want you to understand what I mean here. I am not talking about withdrawing from church, because often the suffering believer will continue to perform the outward expressions of what would otherwise be a healthy faith. I am talking about struggling under the burden of sin without seeking help from any other believer about their struggle. That is what it means to "turtle" spiritually. We all struggle with (i.e. against) sin in our lives - anyone who cannot admit that is confused doctrinally and practically.

I hope I have impressed upon you the notion that it is quite a natural thing to desire to keep spiritual struggles invisible. Everyone can see when we turtle physically, but unless we tell someone else, no one will know when we turtle in our walk with Christ. In fact, we guard that secret by continuing on and acting as if all is well, and feeling more and more like the faker and the hypocrite that our enemy is working to makes us believe. Of course we feel guilty that we love our sin, and hold onto it with a tenacity that fills us with dread. The bible says that ever last believer, apart from Christ, is enslaved to his own personal refusal to obey God in all things, that is, we are enslaved to sin. But Christ who is in us through the Holy Spirit is not enslaved to sin, and that creates a tension in the believer. On the one hand we refuse to obey God in all things, but on the other we want to obey God in all things. Paul writes that the things we don't want to do (i.e. disobey God), we end up doing, and the things we want to do (i.e. obey God), we don't do. He asks (rhetorically) who it is who can save the believer from this very real, and universally common scenario?

The answer Paul gives is (I am in Romans 7 if you are following along) is that it is a kind of universal law: the part of us that refuses to obey God cannot be made to desire obedience, but will continue to pursue disobedience, and will continue to overcome the part of us that desires to obey God, that is, it will continue to drown out the influence of Christ (through the Holy Spirit) in our lives. He sees himself therefore as a captive - unable to break free from this cycle of sin, even though he wants to - asking (again rhetorically), who will save him from this imprisonment? Who will save him from a body that though it seems to desire righteousness, inevitably ends up pursuing its own pleasures? He answer the question: Jesus will.

But then Paul adds something that sounds pretty confusing to many "...So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin" - Romans 7:25b [ESV].

Huh? Is Paul saying that as long as he has a desire to obey God, it doesn't really matter if he actually does or not? No. What Paul is saying is that this is a law that defines the Christian experience - the Spirit of Christ within us, through the person of the Holy Spirit, will always press us to obey God, and our "old man" will ever resist that pressure, and will always win...

At this point you should be gasping. What? Did you just say that the flesh will always win? Yes I did. The flesh will =always= win. That is what Paul is saying, he is saying that the flesh always wins in the struggle against the Spirit. But I would add this caveat to clarify that. Paul is describing what it means to be in bondage to sin. He has, in the previous chapter made it clear that everyone who is in Christ has been set free from this bondage.

As English readers, we prefer things to come at us in the right order, and the right order for us is not the order of importance, it is chronological order. If you are going to tell me that I am no longer in bondage to sin, you should first explain what bondage to sin is, and then tell me how I am set free from it. What Paul does is first tell us that we are freed from our bondage to sin, and then he describes what bondage to sin looks like. Romans 7 is a description of what we (who are in Christ) have been set free from: we have been set free from the inevitable victory of the flesh over the Spirit.

Going back then to Romans 6, we learn that every believer has been spiritually united with Christ, such that we became partakers of His death, His burial, His resurrection, and more profoundly, His life. Paul explains that when Christ died, we (who are in Christ, as opposed to "all of mankind") died with Him, that the penalty for our sin was satisfied by our having died in Christ, and that the life of Christ, which we were joined to when we became believers, overcame death, and so we too, who were in Christ, have already overcome death.

These are profound truths, but Paul invites the reader to understand the implications of these truths - it means that the part of us that cannot obey God has been judged already in Christ, and being truly dead, it no longer has power over us.

Aha! you object. I have read this, but my own experience denies it, you think. I have seen it in print, but it has never worked for me. I find myself today just as enslaved, and just as inevitably following the desires of my flesh as ever I did - even if I do so secretly now that I am a believer. It has always been the source of fear and concern with me, striking me as "proof" that either Paul is wrong, or there is something "broken" or false about my faith.

But you only think that because you haven't been a very good reader.

You see, what Paul is saying is that before you were a Christian the breath of life that was in you was yours and yours alone - and this same life that sustained you in the flesh was corrupt, and because it was corrupt you could not experience victory over it. This life was united together with the life of Christ, and it died forever when Christ died. You now share Christ's life, which is sufficient to sustain you even as your former life sustained you - but unlike the life that Christ took with Him to the grave, this new life is incorruptible, and not only "can" over come the flesh - it cannot fail to over come it.

Of course that sounds like nonsense to you, because, lets face it - it sounds like I am saying that if you are a *real* Christian then the life of Christ is in you, and there *should be* an inevitable consequence to that new life being in you: you should always be victorious over sin...

But you only think that because you have failed to remember that the life that Christ took to the cross was not just the first part of you life - the part you lived until salvation. It was all of it, your past life, the life you are living today, and the life you will continue to life until the day that your flesh gives out.

Paul's message is not that you will be sinless, it is that the thing which is causing you to sin (your old "life") has already been crucified, even though you haven't finished living it out yet. You likewise have not come fully into the possession of your new life (for if you had, you surely would not sin), but have received the Holy Spirit as a promise of this new life which is already yours, and which you will inherit the moment your flesh lives no more. I say, Paul's message is that since the life that cannot but sin has been put to death, and since you have already come into possession of the promise of that life that is yours already but you have yet to receive, you no longer are in the same situation you were in before you came to Christ.

Back then there was no escape from sin. If you were a Jew, you had the law, but the law was not able to provoke you to sinlessness, since the corrupt life that was in you would always win. But now that you are in Christ, and now that this old life has been put to death already (even though you are still living it out), you no longer are the slave of that old life, but in fact you are a slave to the life of Christ which you have been joined to.

Paul is speaking about what is true already, but will not be experienced until the day your flesh dies and you receive the fullness of these truths. But this truth, Paul goes on to explain, means that even though this present (corrupt) life will always be victorious over the Spirit, you have access right now, through the person of the indwelling Holy Spirit whom you received when you believed, to the life of Christ which can never fail to overcome sin.

In this way, Paul writes, you have been set free, only your freedom is not found in the corrupt life that Christ has taken to the Christ, it is found in His life which you are a partaker of through the Spirit (for now), and which you will come into the fullness of on the day that your flesh perishes.

This is why Paul writes at every opportunity that the Christian ought to walk according to the incorruptible Spirit, rather than according to his corrupt life. When Paul elsewhere writes about Christians believers being "still in their flesh" he means believers who are ignorant of these truths, who continue to strive against the desires of the flesh, only to fail. They have forgotten what they should have learned at the beginning - that the only way a believer can truly overcome the desires of the flesh is by surrendering to the incorruptible life of Christ within Him.

That's a hard fact to articulate. People who hear that, want to have it explained, because it sounds like a slogan or something - it doesn't seem to include the "how to" information that they want. But the truth is, it isn't about "How" it is about "Who". Paul writes that we have to have these truths settled in our thinking - that our old life has truly been put to death already in Christ, and that on account of both it's death, and again our new life in Christ, we really are able to have victory - but it isn't the victory of our fleshly desires suddenly disappearing, nor of some profound and foreign spiritual strength that suddenly overcomes them. It is a truth, and Paul tells us that in leaning on this truth, we are able to set aside the former master, in favor of the new.

It's not a secret or anything, and yet it seems like we might want to describe it as the "secret" to Christian obedience. The problem most of us have is that we want Jesus to make us stop sinning, and He doesn't do that. What he does is give us His own incorruptible life, and informs us that we should stop obeying those desires that come from our former (now "dead") life, and instead we should have it settled in our mind that the life of Christ is in us, and that this life, when allowed to express itself through our obedience, is incorruptible - it will provide the way of escape.

The trouble then, with suffering in silent and ongoing defeat, is that we tend not to talk to anyone about our defeat, and for this reason, we may remain bogged down in it, when we have been set free in Christ from it.

I write this post today then for you, believer, who find yourself still struggling in your sins, and hiding it from everyone. I write so that you will know, not only that you already have the victorious life of Christ within you, if indeed you are a genuine child of God, but that this life is more than just a promise of future freedom - it is also the source of your own deliverance in the here and now. You S-H-O-U-L-D know this already, but I suspect many don't, and you shouldn't feel bad if our enemy has managed to hide these truths from you up until today. All that matters is that you stop playing the spiritual turtle. I write these things because if you are turtled, it is highly unlikely that anyone is going to speak them to you - and my hope is that in reading this, you will look into Romans 6, 7, and 8 and see that you will never rise out of this by trying harder, the only way out is by settling your mind on the truth, and acting on that truth.

If you don't know what that looks like, and you want to bounce a few questions off of me, feel free to do so - my email is over there at the bottom of the column on your left. If you're embarrassed and you want to remain anonymous - go right ahead - create an anonymous GMail account, and throw some questions my way. My concern is that you grow into what Christ saved you to be, and if I can help I count that as a great and welcome privilege.

posted by Daniel @ 11:19 AM  
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