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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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Tuesday, February 16, 2016
The Power in God's Command.
I had coffee with a brother in the Lord this weekend, and as we are inclined to do, we spoke of matters concerning the tragic trajectory that modern Christianity seems to be taking, and again about the perceived or imagined causes of, and possible solutions to arrest the trend.

We agreed that the main problem was immaturity - at a time when believers ought to be full grown, they are still infantile in their faith.  For some it is because they believe themselves to have attained what they came to the church to get: eternal life.  They believe they have found the "correct" religion, and have believed all that is required of them to secure for themselves a deliverance from a hellish afterlife; and having attained what they came to get, they are not just treading water by attending church - maintaining the status quo, until they receive what they perceive to be their reward.

Such as these aren't drawing near to God, because they didn't become Christians to know of draw near to God, they became Christians because they wanted to escape the wrath to come.  Insofar as they judge themselves to have escaped that wrath, they find themselves content, and have no further desire to draw any nearer to God.  They love the Lord with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him because they didn't become to know God, to love Him and to submit themselves to His rule, they became a Christian to escape the consequences of their sin (i.e. their rebellion against God's rule).  Ironically, in practice, they ignore God's rule in their day to day live, and rather live by whatever the lowest common denominator of conduct happens to be in their congregation - and consider themselves to be secure thereby.

Others are more earnest, but suffer from the notion that they personally are incapable of understanding the "deeper things of God" and justify themselves thereby, in not pursuing them. They almost (if not outright) think that only those with certain positions and gifts can draw near to God, and having found obedience both difficult, and often fruitless, they have given up trying, and justify their failure on the grounds that they are lacking something, but they aren't quite sure what that is.  More often than not, these end up pursuing the latest fads, and believe that if they could just discover, then achieve the right motivation or spiritual truth (or ultimately, the right "experience") then Christianity would become easy, and they would thrive.  But since they are seeking for something that isn't there and will never be there, they fail to find it, and eventually burn out.

I suppose I could catalog several causes of immaturity, but the main cause, whether we are talking about a genuine believer, or someone who is convinced they are saved, when they are not - the same reason lies behind both the immature tare, and the immature wheat: ignorance.  The "tares" ignorantly believe they have what they came for, so they see no value in going further.  The wheat believes that Christianity is supposed to look another way, so in their ignorance they pursue what cannot be found, and wear themselves out pursuing the wind.

In short the churches seem to contain both false and genuine converts, neither of which do much more than attend church - and the reason that continues, is because they remain ignorant.  The former because they are never challenged to examine themselves and see if they are in the faith, and the latter because they are too busy pursuing a form of Christianity that doesn't exist to learn what Christianity actually looks like.

It was the latter group that I was most concerned with.  Since I personally found that a lot of what passes for Christianity today is really just a perpetuation of tradition and even in some cases, superstition.

One of the reasons immature believers continue in pursuing the various experiences, programs, and styles that never lead anyone out of their spiritual inertia is  because everyone else is doing that.  Christians want to fit in with one another just as non-Christians do when they congregate.  People tend to adopt the status quo wherever they go.

New believers coming to a church where everyone hollers, "Amen!" and "Preach it brother!" are going to assume that such expressions demonstrate a healthy faith, and will begin aping them sooner or later.  The same goes for stoic silence.  If everyone is perfectly silent, and all heads turn because some young mother's infant giggles, you can bet that new believers there are gagging their kids to preserve the "holy" solemnity of perfect, stoic, silence during a sermon.

Whether it is hand raising, speaking in tongues, or just using the same words and expression to pray as everyone else - new believers ape the congregation they come to stay in.  Every church has its own feel - and new believers coming to that church will interpret that "feel" as the "correct" way to "do" Christianity.

Unless a congregation is aware that this is going to be the case, it is probably not going to do anything to address it - and most don't. So I'll take just a moment to do that.  Take a moment to consider the flavor of your church.  Do you clap hands when singing?  Do hands go up (ostensibly and apparently to indicate spiritual receptiveness)?  Is it quiet when the pastor speaks?  Is there humor?  Is it very serious, or is it casual?  Etc.  The bible doesn't tell us to clap our hands when we sing, or to dance, but it doesn't tell us not to.  It does speak about "lifting up holy hands" - but the context of that is almost always lost to those who make the showing of their armpits a "thing".

The posture of prayer for the Jew, was to raise up their hands when they prayed - thus the call isn't to "raise you hands up" - it is rather that when you pray your hands should be holy - which itself describes your conduct - you should be doing the will of God with your hands, and not your own.  The NT equivalent is that the "earnest prayers of a righteous man avails much"  This passage isn't suggesting that the posture of holding your hands up in the air (which, thanks to television and cowboy westerns is now associated with surrender) is more spiritual than holding them at your side.

It is talking about the necessity of personal holiness in prayer.  You want to know why your prayers aren't being answered?  It is because you are not living a holy life.  If you haven't heard that, let me say that someone ought to have told you that in the very early days of your Christianity, but it is never to late - take that to heart, and learn to pray, by learning to walk the Christian walk.  There is no Christian-lite option, there is only a Christian-useless option, and the sooner you understand that, the sooner you will want to avoid it.

Which brings me to the point I wanted to make with this post.  The first reason a lot of believers remain in a state of spiritual infancy is because they are not made aware of what is expected of them, and not expected to pursue it.  The second is because when they set out to live the Christian life in all its fullness, they find themselves failing to find the "power" to do it.  The sit in Romans 7, wanting to do good, but failing to find a way to do it.

So I'll open up on this one point, and trust the Lord to speak to whomever He will through it.

Let's start with some basics:  I wouldn't shouldn't have a difficult time convincing a biblically literate aware Christian that the universe and all that is, ever was, or ever will be, in it exists, and came to exist, and will exist by God's command.  The only folks who would deny that do so because they deny the scriptures that teach that.

Consider the weight of this thought: There was nothing until God commanded there to be something.  

You may think that this truth is limited to the act of creation, but you'd be wrong, and that particular error will have a profoundly significant impact on "how" you understand what it means to be a Christian.

Consider when Jesus commanded the lepers to show themselves to the priests.  Under the Mosaic Law a Jew who had been previously declared unclean on account of a skin disorder had to present himself to a priest when and if he had been cured of his leprosy.  The priest would inspect the former leper to see if the claims of cleansing were true, and if so, he would declare the leper clean, and admit him to the general assembly once again.  When Jesus told those lepers to go and show themselves to a priest, they were still lepers.  They obeyed the word of Christ, and as they did so, they were cleansed.

You've probably heard a sermon or two on this passage in the New Testament, and the take-away that is often presented is that because the miracle didn't happen until they exercised faith by going (even though they were still lepers) to present themselves to the priest, it follows that faith precedes the miraculous.

Here is what I want to teach from that same passage: what was it exactly that healed them?  It was the power of God (obviously), but (and I hate to use such cheesy language here) what unlocked the power of God to do this miracle?  Their faith?  No.  It was the command of God - it was the fact that God told them to go and present themselves to the priests.

Consider, if you are able, that the commandment of our Lord is no small thing.  By His word, all that has ever existed came to exist.  This is who told these lepers to go present themselves to the priest, and pregnant in that command, was the implicit notion that they would be clean before they got there.  Yes, they exercised faith that what Christ implied would come to pass, and it isn't my purpose here to correct or ignore the importance of that faith - it is important.  What I want you to see is that God's command, because it is the command of God, is pregnant with the power to do what it has been unleashed to do.

Okay, I was being a little theatrical when I used the word "unleashed" in that last sentence.  God's word isn't leashed, I just wanted to emphasize the fact that when God commands a thing, it is very, very significant.  He isn't pithy with the things that He does, such that what He commands, He grants by His own power.

You'll hear a lot of rhetoric on how to be obey God.  A lot of  that sort of stuff waters down to finding the "right" motivation, or worse, experience. So what I am saying will probably seem pretty lame and way too simple compared to what others are going to tell you.  I will let the Spirit be the judge.

There is no "power" that we have to tap into.  The power to obey is in the command itself.  God has commanded it, and because He has commanded it, it can be done.  The first example of this happened when you were saved.

Do you realize that God commands us to repent and believe the gospel?  Paul wrote instructively, and accurately in Romans 1 that the gospel was the power of God unto salvation.  We might try and expand that by saying, "Well, it isn't like the words themselves have power, it just means that the power of God is present whenever those words are understood" - and I expect that wouldn't be too far off the mark.  I don't mean to say that there is power in the words themselves, as though reading them or seeing them unleashed (I am using it correctly this time) a latent, embedded power that was pregnant in the text itself.  What I mean is that whatever God commands, He commands according to His power.

Let's take that out of the theoretical realm, and put that into practice.

You don't want to read your bible.  It's boring - or put more accurately, it isn't regarded as being as entertaining as the other things that you would rather be doing at the moment.  You feel you should read it - or rather, you are convicted by the Holy Spirit that you should read it, but because it isn't entertaining enough to overcome your default apathy, you shrug it off and do something else with your time, as you have done countless times before.

In that situation, where do you "find" the "power of God" to obey?

That is how the question is typically stated.  But I suggest it is the wrong question to ask.  The question ought to be, "Am I really being convicted by the Holy Spirit, or am I being provoked by something else?  Guilt (I haven't read it in a while)? Religious duty (if I don't read it, people at church might find out!)? Religious habit (I have to read a certain amount every day, or I won't get the bible read in such and such a time)? Conceit (I want to be known as someone who really knows the bible)?

Listen: there are all kinds of bad reasons to read the bible.  But you should understand that it is the word of the Holy Spirit within every believer who provokes/convicts them to read their bible.  This He does so that through the reading of God's word we will draw near to the actual God, and not some God of our own making.

My point is that even when I am being convicted by the Holy Spirit to obey the will of God (such as to read my bible), more often than not I will not feel like it.  For the immature believer, that is usually enough to win the contest.  So how do I overcome my own feelings which are not inclined to obedience? Does God send me power to do that?


I mean, as a general rule, no.  You will experience many things as a Christian, and sometimes you will be carried along, almost effortlessly into the will of God - but that is always (at least in my own experience) an exceptional thing.  Perhaps the infrequency of this type of phenomenon is a reflection of some as yet unearthed deficiencies in my own walk.  Yet for today, let's accept this much: most of the time, we are not inclined to obedience.

What a lot of people do in that situation is seek the proper motivation.  They reason that if they were the right kind of Christian, this would all be easy.  Therefore they must lack something, and that is why it is so difficult to obey.  So they look for motivation in their feelings, in the writings of people who claim to have solved the mystery, or in various "spiritual experiences" - most of which are either demonic counterfeits, or just plain fluff.

The problem isn't motivation, because the truth is your flesh will not be motivated, and cannot be motivated to obey the will of God.  The will to obey God is not rising up from within the "you" that you think of as "you".  It comes from Christ who is in the believer through the Holy Spirit.  He desires that you obey Him, and you experience that desire as your own.

Consider this: If your desire to obey finds its origin in Christ, and that by itself isn't enough to motivate you to obey (and, for the person living carnally, it won't be), you can bet that every other effort to find the "correct" motivation is going to come up short. If you understand that, you'll stop trying to "find" the proper motivation, and instead deal with the actual problem - you don't want to obey.

You will never make your flesh (the you that is "You") want to obey Christ.  It isn't ever going to be tamed, it isn't ever going to desire to obey.  If you're chasing a version of Christianity where you imagine you find the magic key that makes it easy and pleasant to obey Jesus, you're going to be disappointed, and you're wasting precious time chasing something that the scriptures never suggest or promise.

The moment you understand that your flesh isn't getting any better, and will not get any better, that is the point at which you will begin to understand that the solution isn't going to involve creating a situation where you suddenly "want" to obey.  That just isn't going to happen.  We do not overcome the flesh by taming the flesh, we overcome it by regarding it as dead.

That is where it starts.  First you must understand that in a moment where you can choose to obey the will of God, or choose to pursue your own will, the way to overcome your own will, is not to fight against it, but to understand that it has no power over you.  The power it used to wield over you was your own death.  But if you're in Christ, then He who overcame death, has overcome that power. If you surrender your will to the one who has already overcome death, you will overcome what death is calling you to do.

Okay, I am using some personifications there that I've taken from Paul in his letter to the Romans, and it is easy enough to get lost in the personifications, so I'll repeat that in plain language.

The desire you have to do your own will is a sinful desire - meaning it is a desire to rebel against God's will, in favor of doing our own will. The penalty for that is death - which makes perfect sense; why should God sustain a life that refuses to conform itself to the purpose for which God created it. 

Our desires run contrary to that which permits life (obedience to God).  If we pursue our own desires instead of pursuing what God has created us to do, we are not just usurping the life that God has given us - we are destroying the only reason God has, or will ever have, to sustain the life He has given.  It may be hard to wrap your mind around it, but there is no life apart from God.  The life that we live - the life itself - isn't just owned by God, it -is- preceding from Him right now, it is being sustained by His will - and the moment a person intentionally disregards God's will, in that moment the life that this person was given is eternally forfeited.

So Paul isn't using death as a metaphor in Romans 5 and 6.  Death is just the word he uses to describe both the absence of the life that God sustains, and the absence of one's right to that life.  We lose the right to live the moment we sin. In that sense Adam's setting aside of God's will to pursue his own, (i.e. Adam's "sin") brought into being a situation where he no longer had a claim on the life that he was given.  He still possessed it, but he had no right to it.  Having no right to that life, he no longer had any right to direct the course of it either.  When we say that through sin, Adam brought death into the world, what we mean is that Adam's disobedience brought into being a forfeiture of his right to claim the life he was living.

The life we have inherited from Adam was forfeit (on account of Adam's sin) before we ever inherited it.  Said another way, we have been cut off from God ever since the days of Adam.  Adam and Eve could sense God's presence in the Garden prior to the fall - but when they lost "the rights" to the lives they were living, they lost the ability to sense God's presence because they were no longer connected to the life of God in the way they had previously been.  We've inherited that disconnect.  The life we received (through procreation) is a life that has already been disconnected from the life of God - He sustains it, but it is already dead in the sense that it is already cut off from God - He will not sustain our life once our body is through with it.

That is why we need a Savior after all, because we are born dead in our sins and trespasses, and need a life that is connected to God.  When we are saved, God doesn't re-connect the life we had been living to Himself.  That life is already forfeit.  Instead God gives  us a new life - the life of Christ, which we become partakers of when we are "baptized into Jesus" (i.e. born again).  In that union, we take on the life of Christ, which is still connected to God.

So when Paul speaks about the flesh etc. in Romans 5-8 etc., he is talking about the life that is forever forfeited, and will not be fixed.  His solution is the only solution - stop trying to fix that which cannot be fixed, but regard it instead as dead - because it is dead in that sense that it is not going to be redeemed, and will not be cured, etc.  We do not fix the flesh which is still animated by the old life of Adam, instead regard that life as being dead.

That doesn't mean we pretend it is dead.  It doesn't mean that we convince ourselves that it has no power over us.  It is rather that we recognize that it cannot, and will not have any part of our life in Christ.

It follows then, that we will never find sufficient motivation to overcome our sinful desires.  Such motivation cannot arise from our old life, or our old flesh, because both our flesh and our old life are spiritually dead, and cannot please (and therefore obey) God.

The very first time a Christian obeys God, is when that Christian obeys "the gospel" and believes. 

But how does the believer obey God when there is nothing in the believer's fallen and forfeit life, or fallen and twice dead flesh to provoke that believer to obey God?

Paul tells us that the power comes from the gospel itself, which is the power of God unto salvation.  He is saying that the power itself is pregnant in the command of God.

Paul writes that we are saved by grace through faith.  Grace, we've heard (too often) is "unmerited favor" and that works well enough, but the idea is that faith itself was a gift from God that you did not earn, or deserve - and certainly didn't generate.  You believed the gospel and so you obeyed the gospel, and as you surrendered by grace to the command to believe the gospel, you believed and were saved.

When you obeyed God's command to believe the gospel, you were saved.  The command, because it came from Him who brings into existence out of nothing things that now exist, produced the faith in you through which you were saved.

I know it sounds like a cart before the horse before the cart sort of nightmare, but that is the way it is. 

You may be wondering how all this applies to the topic at hand.  It applies in this way.  New believers haven't learned that there is no trick to sanctification.  You simply obey what God has commanded you to do because God is in the business of bringing obedience out of nothingness the moment you begin to obey.

Every place where your foot falls, will be yours he told the Israelites as they entered into the promised land to take it for themselves.  They had to go out and do it, but when they did the victory was not their own - it was promised them.  As they obeyed they received.  So it has always been.

We don't have the power to obey, or even to believe, but Christ who is in us has both.  As simple as it is, we just have to "trust and obey"  There is no other way to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.

Immature Christians are immature because they are trying to be Christians without obedience, and they believe that they cannot exercise obedience,  because they haven't found an easy way to do so.  There is no way to make the flesh obey, and as long as they try and make that happen they wear themselves out in repeated failures sprinkled only very conservatively with a few marginal, and very superficial successes.  So they give up, because they don't know that they can't make themselves obey, but must obey nonetheless.  They don't rest in the power of God's commands, and instead attempt to succeed by exercising their own futile power to obey.

My advice, if you find yourself lacking the power to obey - embrace it.  You never had the power to obey to begin with.  Ask yourself instead, am I a slave of Christ?  If I am, what kind of slave sits around and looks for motivation?  I obey because I am a slave, trusting that as I do so, I'll find the strength of my Master in the work I do - because He commands it, and what He commands, He makes happen.

posted by Daniel @ 11:07 AM  
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