Archive for the month “March, 2014”

Lust and Holiness, Part 1

1 Peter 1:13-16

This week I addressed the issue of lust in my series of sermons, “Breaking the Chains of the Seven Deadly Sins.” If you want to get the full context of my comments, I encourage you to connect with our webpage, harvestefc.com, and click on “Sermons”. James makes it clear that lust is the energy behind temptation to sin when he says,

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. (Jam 1:14 ESV)

Lust is a desire to progress beyond God’s boundaries in areas of morality. It is the misuse of what would otherwise be good and appropriate. For example, lust turns the desire to satisfy our hunger into gluttony. Lust turns the desire to have clothes into a greedy accumulation of designer fashions. Lust turns the desire for sexual fulfillment in the one man/one woman marriage relationship into sensuality, immorality and adultery. Lust lures and entices us to progress beyond God’s boundaries. But notice that this verse reminds us that lust is our responsibility. The sinful desires called lust come from within ourselves and we have to come to terms with this truth and take responsibility for our own behavior. But taking responsibility is actually the first step in breaking the chains of lust, because if something is our responsibility, we have the opportunity to govern it. If it is not our responsibility, it is out of our control. But if it is our responsibility, there is hope that we can control it. The first principle that helps us control our lust is understanding the path of lust. James tells us that there are five steps down that path.

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (Jam 1:14-15 ESV)

I will describe these steps in the form of questions.

Are you being drawn into sin by

The lure of sin – something is saying, “You need this.”

The enticement to sin – “Come on, you know you want to.”

Has sin been conceived in your heart? Here is the formulation of a plan.

Have you acted out? James calls this the birth of sin.

Is sin becoming your habit? James says this is sin that is fully grown.

Has there been some sort of destruction in your life because of sin?

These steps are found in every journey to sinfulness, whether it is the sin of greed, or anger, or sexual sin.

The second principle that helps us control our lust is understanding the exit from the path of lust. It is described by Paul in 1 Tim 2:22

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (2Ti 2:22 ESV)

First – Run from the sin. I think Joseph in Genesis 39 is a great example. When Potiphar’s wife had him in her grip, he literally ran out of the house. For us, running might be putting an internet filter on your computer, or blocking certain cable stations. For me, I have practiced the discipline, for the past 15 years, of not turning on the TV if I am alone in a hotel room.

Second – Run to the LORD. Paul says run to righteousness, faith, love and peace, all fruits of the Holy Spirit. He reminds us in Galatians 5:16 that if we “… walk by the Spirit, and [we] will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Gal 5:16 ESV)

Finally – Run with our fellow believers, those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. I don’t know of a clearer passage of Scripture that encourages biblical community in the pursuit of holiness.

The good news is that no matter where you are on the path of lust, if and when we run, God will meet us there with his forgiveness and restoration.

But this all seems so logical and straightforward. If it were just this easy. Well, while it is by no means easy, there is hope that we can progress in our Christian discipleship to the degree the path of lust is the exception and not the rule.

I’ll begin that discussion next time.

The Law of Diminishing Intent

It is so interesting how the issues surrounding each of the Seven Deadly Sins are intertwined. It seems that pride shows up with each one. But greed has its roots in envy, and lust is all about greed. And when we find ourselves angry in life, the frequent response is to medicate ourselves with over-indulgent drinking or eating.

This week I am dealing with laziness and am suggesting that one way to address laziness is to realize that when we practice diligence and hard work, that glorifies God, no matter if our diligence gets the attention of the world or not. If we are working for his glory, God is pleased. In fact, the glory of God is a strong motivation to be diligent in everything we do. Next week I am dealing with lust, and in my preparation I came to realize that laziness is a contributing factor in allowing lust to get the best of us. Let me explain.

In preparation for my message on lust (I will be addressing sexual temptation, so I read research written by counselors who help people deal with internet pornography), I came across a post from covenanteyes.com, a highly effective computer monitoring program that sends trusted friends a regular report of all the websites visited on a computer. The idea is accountability. We are less likely to open a questionable website if we know our friends will receive a report of our activity. The email was titled, “The Law of Diminishing Intent,” which says that even when we have good intentions, the longer we wait, the less likely we will take action. That sounds like laziness to me. How often do we state our good intentions, but never pull the trigger.

Recently a doctor provided a treatment for me that was optional, but helpful, and he said, “You need this treatment and I know you can’t afford it right now, so it’s on me. No charge.” I happily received the treatment and went on my way. Not long afterward, I thought to myself, “I want to send my doctor friend a thank-you note.” This was three months ago. I had very good intentions, but the more time that separated his gracious gift and my good intention, the less likely that I would actually write the note. It has been three months and that is simply laziness, and God is not glorified with my behavior. Well, since I am confessing my diminishing intent to you today, as soon as I finish this post, I am going to write the thank-you note and send it off in the mail.

Sin is so subtle isn’t it?! Is there any laziness in your life that is the product of diminishing intent? For the glory of God, follow through on your good intentions – right now.

By the way, I’m going to install Covenant Eyes on my home computer tonight!

Here Am I…

Isaiah 6:1-13

I am in the midst of a series of sermons dealing with the so-called seven deadly sins. Today is the sin of laziness. To introduce the subject, I refer to Isaiah, chapter 6, and ask the question, “Why would someone live a life of dedication and hard work when it is so much easier just to let things slide?”

The testimony of Isaiah’s call to the ministry is striking. He records it in chapter 6 of the book that bears his name. It contains all the drama of a good story. The setting is a vision of the presence of the Lord in his holy Temple with the glory of the Lord overwhelming him. But this creates a serious problem –  Isaiah is painfully aware of his own sinfulness and he cries out, “Woe is me…” The hero of this story is God, who sends his messenger to the coals of the sacrifice (presumably a sin offering) and places a burning coal to the lips of Isaiah, signifying his cleansing from sin. The relief is in the pronouncement of forgiveness and the resolution is Isaiah’s call to the ministry, which he readily accepts. Now, Bible teachers often stop here. They conclude with a challenge to their people to take up a ministry that the Lord has offered them, pronounce the benediction, and send their people out to the task at hand.

But this is really not the end of the story for Isaiah.  Let’s take a candid look at his call.

And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isa 6:9-10 ESV)

How would you like an invitation to a ministry like that? “Go and teach a people who won’t listen.” Actually that was the purpose of Isaiah’s call, at least in this season of his ministry. God wanted Isaiah to preach the gospel as it was understood in his day, and the very message he was preaching would harden the hearts of his listeners so that they would not believe. It was a call to deliver God’s judgment to a nation that had rebelled against him for so many years that they had exhausted his grace (that’s right – God’s grace is incredibly abundant – but it is not limitless!) It was time for judgment and Isaiah’s ministry was to bring it to the people.

How would you like a job like that?  Most of the time, God calls us to deliver good news to people with the hope of repentance and faith, conversions like happened in Nineveh at the preaching of Jonah when hundreds of thousands came to faith. This is a call that any missionary would relish (if you are interested, find my His-Story blog on Jonah which discusses the fact Jonah was not that type of missionary). But Isaiah’s call guaranteed the opposite. People would not listen. People would accuse him of being a prophet of doom and, eventually, as tradition tells us, they would saw him in two in order to silence him. Yet, Isaiah faithfully took the job – why?

I would suggest that the reason is found in vs. 3.

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isa 6:3 ESV)

Isaiah understood the glory of the Lord and that convinced him that no matter what it cost – following the call of God was for him. Nothing will stand in the way of serving the Lord when we are motivated by the glory of the Lord. I suggest that this is a key, maybe THE key to overcoming spiritual laziness. When we are consumed with the glory of the Lord, it is impossible to be lazy. I close with a challenge from John R. W. Stott, who summarized this motivation in The Preacher’s Portrait, Some New Testament Word Studies, pp 100. I think Isaiah could identify with his sentiments. I have inserted a statement about the glory of the Lord, which I believe fairly represents the sentiment of Stott’s prose.

“People are illogical, unreasonable and self-centered. (For the glory of God) LOVE THEM ANYWAY.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. (For the glory of God) DO GOOD ANYWAY.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. (For the glory of God) SUCCEED ANYWAY.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. (For the glory of God) DO GOOD ANYWAY.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. (For the glory of God) BE HONEST AND FRANK ANYWAY.

The biggest men with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men with the smallest minds. (For the glory of God) THINK BIG ANYWAY.

People favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs. (For the glory of God) FIGHT FOR A FEW UNDERDOGS ANYWAY.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. (For the glory of God) BUILD ANYWAY.

People really need help, but may attack you if you do help them. (For the glory of God) HELP THEM ANYWAY.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. (For the glory of God) GIVE THE WORLD THE BEST YOU HAVE ANYWAY.”

“Laziness is the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, enjoys nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing and remains alive because there is nothing for which it would die.” Dorothy Sayers

The glory of God is something – more than something. It is the ultimate something! And when it is the motivation of our lives, it will break the chains of laziness in the life of any believer.

Relational Generosity

2 Corinthians 8:13-15

This week I am discussing the sin of greed. Last time I suggested that greed (along with a myriad of other sins) might be masked in our misunderstanding that we might score points with God by doing or by adding Christian spirituality to our already together life. We might think we are on the right track, but sin lurks underneath and we don’t even know it. Jesus taught the young ruler of Mark 10 about his particular sin, which was greed, and although it could have been something else, this story gives us occasion to examine greed.

It seems to me that it is impossible to be greedy if one is generous, that is, a person who joyfully, sacrificially, and worshipfully gives to those things that are close to the heart of God (you might want to listen to my sermon, “Greed and Generosity” from March 16 for a full explanation of this concept). If you are generously giving, you won’t be greedy. The two just don’t coexist! So how do we practice generosity? I am convinced that the underlying power for breaking the chains of the seven deadly sins, including the sin of greed, is found in the cross. Paul makes this perfectly clear in 2 Cor 8:9, which is the central verse in his excursus on generosity.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2Co 8:9 ESV)

Jesus joyfully (Heb 12:2), sacrificially (Phil 2:5-8) and worshipfully (Mark 14:36) gave his life for us; actually he generously gave his life for us. With his generosity ever before us, how can we be anything but generous for him. And when we are – the chains of greed are broken.

There is a concept of generosity in this passage that is often overlooked, that I would like to explore. I call it relational generosity.

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” (2Co 8:12-15 ESV)

This passage introduces an element that might be missed – fairness. This term requires that we consider relationships, because it refers to how one person relates to another person. In these verses, Paul discusses fairness in generosity. The idea is that generosity is not determined by the amount – because some can give more than others. If the same amount were required, some would be eased and others burdened and that wouldn’t be fair. Rather, generosity is determined proportionally and according to circumstance. In this context, Paul is nurturing a relationship between the Jerusalem church and the Gentile churches in Macedonia. It is significant to remember that the Jerusalem church originated the Gospel. Shortly after its inauguration, the Jerusalem church sent out teachers and missionaries. It hosted convocations that protected doctrine (Acts 15). James, the lead pastor, sent a letter to teach the Gentile believers. We might call this spiritual generosity. On the other hand, the Gentile churches had money. They could contribute to the poor in Jerusalem. They could take up a collection and have Paul deliver it, which is financial generosity. Here is relational fairness. The Jerusalem church gave what they could give. The Gentile church gave what they could give. They both were generous to the ministry of the Gospel – the Gentiles by giving financially, generously, to the poor in Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem church by giving spiritually, generously, to the Gentile church. This is an example of relational fairness.

In the modern local church, this principle might be practiced as we give generously in order to promote fairness in relationships. Some of us can give more money than others. Others can give more time and share their own unique spiritual gifts. But everyone gives generously – and that promotes fairness.

But I want to remind us that generosity is nurtured in fellowship with others in the body of Christ according to voluntary fairness. In the KOG, fairness is not legislated. Obedience to God is always from the heart (see Romans 6:17). If it is by law, people will only participate to the extent they are required. But if it is by grace, we have the privilege of giving beyond what is required and that spells GENEROSITY.

Because Jesus was generous for us, we can be generous for him, personally (joyfully, sacrificially, and worshipfully) and relationally (voluntary generosity). Instead of greed, let’s practice generosity.

The Subtlety of Greed

Mark 10:17-31

Dennis the Menace was looking through a toy catalogue at Christmas time and made this comment: “Boy, I didn’t know there were so many toys that I wanted!” In our culture it is normal to think about giving and receiving gifts at Christmas time. In fact, it is a tremendous blessing to see the smiles a thoughtful gift brings to someone we care about. But if we think about how our culture has abused this tradition with the emphasis on merchandising and profit and Black Friday, it is not a stretch to conclude that this tradition might be fuel that feeds the sin of greed. (Actually most sin is in some way an abuse of something that began as good.) I suggest the following definition of greed: Greed is an eager (present) unrestrained ( no discipline) insatiable (never satisfied) longing expressed in the accumulation of wealth or possessions for the purpose of self-advancement. Now, to think that the average church-going believer might be greedy is quite a personal accusation. But if simply leafing through a catalogue fuels the longing for toys that previously were unknown, one conclusion is that Dennis the Menace had a problem with greed. Are we all that different? I want to consider a familiar passage of Scripture from Mark 10 to discuss this possibility.

Jesus tells the story of a young man who came to him and asked a simple question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” From outward appearances this young man was an upright and righteous person, just like most church-going Christians. Here is a man who (apparently) was humble enough to realize that he had a way to go in his life of righteousness, so he came to Jesus and asked what he could do to take the next step. This question seems like a perfectly appropriate one to pose to Jesus. But Jesus’ conversation with him demonstrated otherwise. (I am grateful to Timothy Keller whose sermon on Greed percolated many of these ideas.) Here is how Jesus heard this question. “Jesus, I know you are good and I’m also pretty good. We are ahead of most people aren’t we? But Jesus, help me out. What must I do so I can become “more good”, and make some progress – maybe even become as good as you?” Jesus went for the jugular. “There is no one good but God alone so there is absolutely no way you can ever be good. You can keep the commandments and even admit that you are not perfect, but that won’t make you good.” With that comment Jesus teaches this young man and all who are listening, that eternal life cannot be earned by doing anything. Christianity is not something we do! It is totally what Jesus has done. Neither is eternal life something we add on to an already together earthly life. This young man had his religious discipline set, since his youth, and now he wanted to add the last piece of his spiritual puzzle by coming to Jesus. However, Jesus will not be an “add on!” No one comes to the Father but by him, and him alone! So, to get to the bottom of the issue, Jesus desired to convince this young man that he had a sin problem, which was an act of love (Vs. 21). Sin separates us from God and only when our sin is forgiven can we inherit eternal life. Unless we realize that we have a sin problem, and confess that sin, and receive forgiveness that is totally based on the grace of God demonstrated by the cross, our efforts to inherit eternal life will fall woefully short. This particular man had a sin problem with greed, and to prove it, Jesus asked him to sell all of his possessions, give them to the poor and follow him. However, he went away sorrowful. How sad. Jesus brought him to the place where he could have received salvation, but his greed stood in the way.

Those who were listening to this conversation were shocked with Jesus. Vs. 26, “Then who can be saved?” If this guy cannot be saved, there is no hope for anybody. Jesus’ response is like this: “You are correct. There is no hope for anybody if they think they can do something or add Jesus to their already together life to make them pleasing to God. Salvation comes only by God’s grace.” (Vs. 27)

This particular situation was about sin that kept a young man from salvation. But how does this principle apply to those already saved? The idea is so subtle we might miss it. We come to Jesus with the same misunderstanding as this young man. We think we are good based on our good works. We think we are pleasing to God because we make sure Jesus is a part of our daily lives. But it is not about what we do nor is it about adding Jesus to an already together life. If we think it is, we are being misled and this covers up sin in our lives that keeps us from God’s best. This story reminds us that greed is one of those sins. Here is a simple question to ask that might help us discover if we have a problem with greed. I preface it by suggesting that God does not ask all believers to sell all of their possessions and give them to the poor. But here is the question – if he did, would you do it? Could you do it? If you hesitate, consider that you may have the same problem this young man had.

Greed is a bondage that grips us and has the potential to ruin us. Listen to the Apostle Paul:

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1Ti 6:9-10 ESV)

This is serious stuff. American Christians fall into this trap so easily. The sin of greed is so subtle. We are more like the young man in Mark 10 than we care to admit, thinking that we are pretty humble to admit we might need to grow and that adding a little more of Jesus might actually help us be more pleasing to God. But underneath this appearance of righteousness, there lurks the ugliness of sin – and to apply Mark 10, it may be the sin of greed. How about you? Can you even consider that you might be a greedy person? But freedom from greed does not come from what we do, or from what we might add to our already together life. It comes only when we consider the cross, the ultimate solution to all sin, including greed, and that will be the subject of my next post.

Defeating Anger in the Home

When husbands and wives are embroiled in anger, I suggest that they follow that anger and see where it leads them. This journey may lead to some eye-opening destinations. Men, we might find ourselves angry at our wives because we feel the need to have power and respect. We need significance and when our wives don’t give it to us – anger! Wives might be angry at their husbands because they need love and when they feel their husbands aren’t delivering – anger. Just a word about the difference between husbands and wives (generally) Husbands express anger by being aggressive. They raise their voices, maybe throw things and, at the height of sinfulness, abuse their wives – either verbally or physically. Wives express anger by being passive/aggressive. They find out what their husband’s goals are for the weekend and they sabotage them. They might be late for an engagement or have a headache (guess what I’m thinking of with that thought?); either way, marriage is filled with anger when something other than God is on the throne of importance.

The love of Jesus found in the cross, when he laid down his life for us, can take away the source of anger. A good friend of mine told me of a time when he was angry at his wife. She just offended him, let him down, and interrupted his plans. But instead of erupting in anger, he disciplined himself to reflect on how his fitfulness offended Jesus, how he let Jesus down, how he interrupted Jesus’ plans. When he followed his anger – it took him to himself. His anger towards his wife was disarmed and they were able to have a conversation about the circumstance and come together in harmony and love. He laid down his life for his wife because he realized how much Jesus loved him when he laid down his life for him.

Parents and children are frequently embroiled in anger. Now, I want to remind us that there is a place for righteous anger, and it is often appropriate in parent/child relationships. (See Eph 4:26-27.) I would suggest that a guideline to remember is be angry at what God is angry about. Candy Ljghtner founded MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) because she was angry that a drunk driver killed her daughter. She was angry, but she did not react – she responded in a healthy way. But if parents react in a destructive way – outbursts or abuse – this is sinful anger and it is never appropriate. I would suggest that if a home is frequently filled with anger, parents would be wise to follow their anger. I suspect it will often lead them to their own sinfulness. They get angry because the misbehavior of a teenager tramples on their reputation, they are offended because they are not being respected and they are personally offended by their children’s behavior. Obedience and respect are very important, but not because parents are so wonderful and worthy, but because this is the way God has set up the home in order for children to learn to love God and get along in society. Parents, we need to reflect on how Jesus laid down his life for us, and then lay down our lives for our children.

A word to teenagers (as I write this I wonder how many teens might ever read it, but here goes anyway.) If teens would follow their anger, I suspect that it will lead them to a desire for freedom and independence. Teens are often angry at their parents because they want their own way with no restraints, and when they travel their own path they want no consequences. Life for teenagers is so unfair and they are angry about that!! But if they would realize that Jesus lived a life of obedience to his Father in heaven, and in so doing he laid his life down for them, they will learn an example of how to live when there is (perceived) injustice.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1Pe 2:21-23 ESV)

For all of us, but especially teens, if we entrust ourselves to God, he will judge justly and we will learn real quickly if our cries for justice are godly or sinful.

So, when there is anger in the home, follow it to its source. If it leads to anything that we are valuing more than God, it is a sinful anger. Consider that Jesus laid down his life for you. Then, parents, lay down your lives for your children and, children, lay down your lives for your parents.

Anger & Fairness

I have been posting some thoughts on how to deal with anger when it raises its ugly head in our lives. The general principle is that when we find ourselves angry, follow it back to its source and see if our anger is defending or protecting or avenging something that is more important than God and his Gospel. If we find that we are angry about what God cares about, our anger might be “righteous” but only if we express it in a constructive way that glorifies God. If we find that we are angry about anything else, we are in danger of expressing it in a sinful way, thus falling to sinful anger. Therefore, we must, as God encouraged Cain to do, master it before it masters us (see Genesis 4:6-7. I had a conversation with a good friend (I’ll call her Sue but that is not her real name) this week that might help unpack this principle.

Sue was taking some material back to our local library and parked her car on the street and walked toward the sidewalk, which was lined with banks of snow, but had a path cleared for people to walk from the street onto the sidewalk. As Sue approached the sidewalk, loaded down with books, she found that a van was parked in front of the path leading to the sidewalk. Because there were snow banks on both sides of the path, the van was blocking the only way she could get to the sidewalk. There was a person sitting in the van, but instead of moving a few feet down the street, she remained stationary, blocking the path. Sue attempted to walk through the snow but  slipped and fell and sprawled out on the wet snow. Pulling herself up, wet and disgusted, she spoke to the person in the van, loudly enough that she could be heard, “You are blocking the path!” The response was, “I’m waiting for someone.” Sue was angry.

As we discussed this incident Sue and I attempted to follow her anger and discover its source. We decided that she was angry because this person did not care about her circumstance and, in fact, Sue was treated unjustly. It was not fair that this driver took advantage of the circumstance by parking where she thought it was most convenient for her, while totally disregarding Sue and her circumstance, which was “obviously” more significant. The driver of the van had the opportunity to move, but chose not to. It just wasn’t fair. Sue was angry. But was she angry about what God cares about or was she angry about something that, at that moment, was more important than God? I suggested to Sue that God is ultimately concerned about her personal growth in holiness and that it is possible that he orchestrated this experience in her life to teach her about how to deal with injustice in life, circumstances when life is not fair. To be angry in this circumstance was to put her own convenience above God’s desire to teach her a valuable lesson.

Now let’s reflect on 1 John 3:16. I suggest that because Jesus laid down his life for us, we can lay down our anger. When we are confronted with anger, look to the cross. Sue and I talked about how in the cross Jesus was confronted with injustice and that it might be helpful to examine how he dealt with it. We opened our Bibles to 1 Peter 2:20-25.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.  (1Pe 2:21-25 ESV)

Here is “the” example of how to deal with life when it isn’t fair. Instead of anger, Jesus entrusted himself to God, who judges justly. This experience presented Sue with the opportunity to follow his example. Instead of defending her own personal significance (obviously she deserved the right to walk on the path that would enable her to get to the sidewalk) she had the opportunity to submit to God’s lesson in humility and entrust herself to him. Later she commented to me, “I have been made more aware of how people who suffer real injustice are confronted with anger.” Now she is motivated to lay her life down for them, which she can do through prayer, getting involved in benevolence, joining a ministry that reaches out to victims, or many other constructive responses to injustice.

The solution to anger when life treats us unfairly is to consider that Jesus, who was treated much more unfairly than any of us will ever be treated, laid down his life for us. We can then lay our lives down for others. Instead of responding in anger, anger is defused and we are free from its chains. Because he laid down his life for us, we can lay down our anger.

Laying Down Our Lives for One Another

This week in my series of messages on Breaking Free From the Seven Deadly Sins I talked about breaking free from anger. I suggested that the way to overcome anger is to follow it to its source, and if that quest leads us to anything that we put before God, our anger is a sinful anger. For example, if we are angry at a driver who makes a bonehead move on the highway, and we trace our anger back to the belief that we are so important that that driver should have more respect for my presence on the road – I am putting “me” at the center of the universe and am angry that that driver doesn’t affirm my awesome majesty. I find myself defending my majesty by being angry. That’s sinful anger. I confess to you that most of the time, I trace my anger back to “me” and when I confess my own arrogance, my anger vanishes.

The best way to arrive at the ability to process anger this way is to consider the cross, where Jesus laid down his life for us.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1Jo 3:16 ESV)

Because he laid down his life for us, we have the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. We are declared righteous in his sight through being united with him in his death (see my past posts on Romans 6). Because he laid down his life for us, we should be totally broken. What an incredible love; and it is a love that we do not deserve. Further, not only did Jesus lay down his life for us, he also rose from the dead and now lives in us. We have the abundant provision of meaning, significance, joy and peace. Anger comes when we expect people and circumstances to give us what only God can give us. Beloved – he has given us all things (Romans 8:32). So when we receive what God provided for us, a gift made available because Jesus laid down his life for us, there is nothing for us to be angry about.

Now, here is a principle that governs our spiritual growth. God does not simply tell us what not to do. He always – always – instructs us to replace sinful behavior with godly behavior. The context of 1 John 3:16 is anger and hate (see vs. 11-12). Notice that John tells us that instead of anger and hate, we should love. In Vs. 16 he says we should love others like Jesus loved us – lay down our lives for one another. But does that mean we should sacrifice our lives – like one who pushes someone away from an oncoming train and dies in the process? Well, maybe. But generally, this is referring to something else. This is referring to giving preference to others and in the process sacrificing our own agenda, denying our own majesty! When we get angry at someone, it is usually because our own significance has been trampled on. Denying our proclivity to defend our own majesty and reaching out in love to others puts the nail in the coffin of anger. Let’s turn to a very familiar passage of Scripture and reflect on how loving others requires laying down our lives for others.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1Co 13:4-7 ESV)

Laying down our lives for others is never an obligation, going through the motions. A love like that cannot please God (Heb 11:6) and further, it will be vulnerable to anger. Whenever our loves encounters disappointment, is rejected, is not returned – all of which will happen – we might defend our majesty and get angry. Laying down our lives for each other must be motivated by the love Jesus laid down for us.

I have three practical applications based on 1 John 3:16. They will follow later this week.

God Gives Grace to the Humble

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.(1Pe 5:5-7 ESV)

Discussing humility is very tricky. The moment we believe we are progressing in humility, it seems that we are less humble. Yet in this passage, Peter commands us to put on humility. So how do we accomplish this tricky activity? The answer is found in two proactive behaviors that enhance our progress in humility. First is serving. This is the direct application of the opening command “clothe yourselves.” The word used in this phrase is the word used to describe Jesus when he was in the upper room himself with the uniform of a servant. He clothed himself with a towel and humbly washed their feet – including Judas! Every time we serve, if our attitude is right, we are progressing in humility. The second proactive behavior is submitting to God. Let me unpack this phrase a bit. Notice how Peter refers to the mighty hand of God. This letter was written to believers who were living in a very tumultuous period in Christian history when it was legal to persecute Christians and even kill them. In that environment, Peter refers to the mighty hand of God. Now, we might ask, as could his first century reader, if God’s hand is so mighty, why are Christians suffering so much? One perspective is to consider that God is leading believers through hardship in order to grow them in humility. This seems consistent with a passage earlier in his letter.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1Pe 1:6-7 ESV)

Further, this command to humble ourselves to God followed Peter’s instruction to young men to submit to their church leaders (vs. 5.) It makes sense, then, to understand the command to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God to refer, in a similar way, to submitting to the leadership of God. So, if we can get to the place where we own the perspective of receiving our hardship as an expression of God’s training and purifying process of our character, we will see his mighty hand at work much more clearly than we ever could through the eyes of pride. But that is not the end of the lesson. There is an immense provision of God in this process. Notice three.

First, God gives grace to the humble. This could not be referring to the grace of salvation, for salvation does not depend on our first being humble (see Romans 5:8). Instead, this refers to God’s gracious provision in the midst of our hardship as we serve others and submit to God. I believe that this gracious provision comes from the power of the Holy Spirit who not only gives us regeneration, but also power for daily living.

Second, God gives us the promise that he will lift us up in due time. Sometimes he lifts us up during our present life. I recently read the story of the confirmation process of Supreme Court Judge, Clarence Thomas. He tells of the total surrender of his life to the Lord and of how God gave him his grace, and then of how God literally lifted him up to confirmation. But it does not always go according to this timing. Sometimes, in fact many times, God does not lift us up till the day we put our hand in the hand of Jesus and he pulls us from this life into the next. But let’s not discount the hope that that day brings. In due time, God will lift us up.

Third, God cares for us. Along the way, the mighty God who governs the universe, cares for us; in fact, he cares about every detail of our lives. Therefore, we have the privilege of casting our cares on him. Someone asked me recently if grace was a noun or a verb. I didn’t know what to say right at that moment, but subsequently I realized that the answer is both! When we present ourselves to God (Rom 6:11) by serving others and by submitting to God’s mighty hand, he  “graces us.” He cares for us. We can rest in his grace and in his care, knowing that all of life is in his control.

So, don’t fall into the trap of not working at humility. Take proactive steps towards growing in humility – serve and submit to God. Enter into a perspective shared by Martin Luther when he said, “God created the world out of nothing; if we can become nothing, he can create something out of us.” When we learn to become nothing by serving and submitting to God, God gives grace to the humble.

The Daily Battle Against Sin

What do we do with the sinful impulses that are our daily experience? Every true believer wants to be free from sin, wants to obey God, wants to walk in the newness of his life “in Christ.” But every believer experiences a battle to live that way. How do we gain that freedom from behavioral sin?

For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Rom 6:10-13 ESV)

There are two proactive behaviors that grow out of the truth that we just discussed. Remember, Jesus died to sin, once for all, referring to the cross that accomplished our justification. Therefore, as we are united with him, he not only becomes our substitute, he also becomes our representative. When he died, we died. Sin, therefore, does not reign over us by inciting condemnation and guilt.  We are free from both.

The first proactive behavior is to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. That command “consider yourselves” is a discipline of the mind. The enemy will lie to us and accuse us in an attempt to convince us that the cross did not work. He will lie to us and accuse us in an attempt to get us to believe that our standing before God identifies us in Adam rather than in Christ. But we must believe the truth of God’s Word. We are justified and therefore free from the condemnation and doubt that sin incites. Therefore, there is nothing we need to do that has not already been done relative to our responsibility for sin.

Now, I would suspect that you are wondering how this discipline of the mind helps in the daily battle against the sinfulness of the still remaining sinful nature. May I suggest that it provides motivation for the second proactive behavior which follows. Paul already gave us an example in Vs. 2 when he asks

How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Rom 6:2 ESV)

We might call it Christian shaming. I know that might sound offensive – but I want to put it so that we get the sense. Paul is so outraged that people might actually think it is OK to continue to sin following their justification that he confronts us in the strongest possible way. We just don’t treat sin lightly. It is serious stuff. It is the reason God sent Jesus to the cross, and that is not an event anyone should take lightly!!

Now that we are sufficiently motivated, we are ready for the second proactive behavior and it is found in Vs. 13, which is to present ourselves to God. Rather than presenting ourselves and our bodies to sin, present ourselves and our bodies to God as instruments of righteousness. In other words, act like the new creature in Christ that you are. Take the necessary steps to enter into the grace that Jesus won for you and do some good works. Similar commands are all over the NT. Here are two:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:8-10 ESV)

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  (Jam 2:14-17 ESV)

So there we have it. Be who you are. But is it really that easy? Evidently not, because if it was that easy, every believer would be doing it. I’ll address this issue in my next post.

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