Archive for the tag “Grace”

The Grass May Be Greener

We’ve all heard the phrase, “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.” I have two thoughts about that phrase. First, the grass may be greener but it may be sinful. Looks may be deceiving; in fact, they usually are. Sin in any of its expressions, whether it be greed, anger, or lust, presents us with the perception that our lives would be so much better if we indulged. Sin tempts us with the lie that we would feel so much better if we had that “thing,” or if we let out all of our emotions, or if we indulged in that pleasure. If we only had what was on the other side of the fence, we would find satisfaction and fulfillment and significance. But the truth is that any time we cross a boundary that God has given us, the high lasts only for a short time, actually a very short time. That is the lie of pornography or adultery. That’s the lie of materialism. Sin appears to satisfy, but all it really does is create a greater hunger. The grass may look greener, but it may be sinful.

But I have a second thought about this phrase (the grass is greener on the other side) and it deals with the issue of envy. The truth is, the grass on the other side of the fence may be greener but it may not be sinful. It may be greener, but that means it is simply different, and it is different by God’s design. Just because the grass on the other side of the fence is greener than it is on our side of the fence doesn’t change the fact that the grass on our side of the fence may still be green. Envy is wanting God’s goodness to others while ignoring God’s goodness to me. Greener is not always better. In fact, if it is not God’s will for us to have greener grass, greener is never better. This truth is illustrated in a conversation between Jesus and Peter, recorded in John 21.

We all remember that Peter denied Jesus three times, so after the resurrection, Jesus made a point to restore him by giving him a renewal of his call to ministry – “Feed my sheep.” Then he reveals to Peter that during the latter part of his life, he would suffer an ignominious death by which he would glorify God (Vs. 18-19), a statement that reveals that the grass in Peter’s life, even though difficult, is nonetheless green, as it always is when we have the opportunity to glorify God. Enter the temptation to envy.

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me! (Joh 21:20-22 ESV)

Peter was just commissioned to the highest privilege under heaven – feed the sheep of Jesus. How many have received that privilege? And this privilege was given after Peter failed miserably, not once but three times. I’d say that Peter’s pasture was very green. Yet, instead of being overwhelmed with the grace and restoration of Jesus, Peter is concerned about the call of John. So Jesus gives Peter a lesson in envy. “Peter, your grass is green and John’s grass is green. You graze in your green pasture and John will graze in his green pasture. The bottom line – “You follow me.”

The temptation of a musician (which I have some experience being) is to compare my talents and abilities with the talents and abilities of others and to conclude that since I am not as proficient as someone else is, there is no place for me. The same is true of pastors and teachers. If we can’t preach and teach like those we hear on the radio, we may as well not teach. Or worse yet, we have to learn how to teach and preach like they do. That is simply envy. The truth is, the grass may be greener on the other side of the fence, but that doesn’t mean it is better and it certainly does not mean that our grass is not green.

Here is my challenge. Examine God’s blessing on your life and learn to appreciate it. Learn to want what you have. Thank God for what you have. Worship God for his grace and calling on your life. Then rejoice in what God has given to others. How boring life would be if all grass was the same color. May God free us from the sin of envy.

Lust and Holiness, Part 4

In my last post I opened a door that might create a bit of controversy. It may appear that I am not in favor of Christian accountability. But this is not at all what I am suggesting. Rather, I‘m attempting to clarify the concept of grace in the battle against lust and rescue well-meaning Christians from the misuse of accountability. I think Peter helps us when he discusses grace and holiness in the same passage.

set your hope fully on grace  (1Pe 1:13 ESV)

but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1Pe 1:15-16 ESV)

Here is how I think the two work together to create an awesome power in the battle against sin.

A common metaphor to describe the holiness of God is fire. The Bible describes God as a consuming fire, a fire that burns sin and sinners. Exodus 32 describes the wrath of God that burns against sinners so hot that it would consume them. When God judges Sodom and Gomorrah it is fire that rains down from heaven. Yet, at the same time, God is full of mercy, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 103:8-9), a love that was demonstrated on the cross of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:8). When we realize that God could consume us with fire – justly, according to what we deserve – but instead he reaches out to us in love and forgiveness, the power to defeat lust begins to work in our hearts. So, as we practice accountability, here is what we do.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10:24-25 ESV)

We stir up one another and encourage one other with the message of God’s grace and holiness. Here are some suggestions on how to have a healthy accountability group that helps us set our hope on grace.

So, how have you sinned this week? Here is how I have sinned this week.  Let’s review 1 Cor 10:13 – No temptation has overcome you but such as is common to man. Now notice 1 John 1:8 – If you say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. When we start off our conversations like that – it establishes that we are safe with one another. There is no arbitrary or man-made standard that we pretend to live by. It establishes that we all are in the same boat, no one is better than anyone else. We are all here only because of God’s grace. Peter instructs us – set our hope on grace!

Isn’t the cross of Jesus incredible? God is so holy that he can’t just let sin slide. There must be justice when he is offended – and sin offends God. And to be consistent with who he is, he is obligated to burn with the fire of his wrath in the face of sin. But not only is God holy, he is love. At Passover, the angel of death passed over every house that had the blood of the lamb on its door post. Then he created the OT sacrificial system where we learn that God provides a substitute and a representative to deal with sin on our behalf. Jesus – the perfect lamb, met the terms of the holiness of God, he himself is God, and he himself willingly, for the joy that was before him, went to the cross and paid the penalty for our sin. And he did that as our representative – for us. Peter instructs us – set your hope on grace.

Now, in the midst of our struggle, when we come to Christ, we not only receive the grace of his salvation, we receive the grace of his sanctification. The Bible tells us:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2Co 5:17 ESV)

Sin is not who we are in Christ. God no longer looks on us as failures. He looks on us as his beloved children, heirs to all the riches of heaven. Not because of anything we could ever do, but because of his grace. We need to combat the lies and accusations of our enemy who tells us that we are losers, that we are a scourge to the name Christian, that we are unfit to show up in church. We must set our minds on the hope of grace. The truth is, God is a holy fire. He could have just burned you up when you turned on that computer. In fact, if we all got what we deserved every time we sinned, nobody would be here. It is only because of his grace that we even have the opportunity to receive his forgiveness.

So when we fail him, as a loving father forgives his beloved children, God forgives us. Set your hope on his grace – receive his forgiveness.

Finally, help one another replace our acts of sin with acts of obedience, which come from our heart.

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, (Rom 6:17 ESV)

How easy and powerless is it to conform to the law, to conform our behavior in order to please men and not God. How much more powerful is it to live in gratitude for God’s grace. Here is a suggestion on how to help each other replace sin with grace. The internet is the cause of so much stumbling. But it can also be a tool for building each other up. How about if we send each other daily e-mails and devotionals or written prayers for each other, or testimonies of how we were about to plunge into sin and then how God rescued us when we focused on his grace.

With these kinds of questions and discussion, this is the kind of accountability group I would stand in line to join!!

The power that breaks the chains of lust is grace.

Lust and Holiness, Part 3

I‘m dealing with the concept that grace is the power that breaks the chains of lust, and I’m suggesting that Peter describes this power in 1 Peter 1:13-16. But I wonder if anyone is asking the question, “Doesn’t Paul give us three steps to follow that will enable me to be on my way and live happily ever after?” Well, I suppose we might interpret his message like that, but it may be a bit simplistic. There are three steps to follow, and Paul describes them in 2 Timothy 2:22–Run from, Run to, Run with. But if it is that easy, why are so many sincere followers of Jesus struggling so much with sin? There must be something missing! I suggest that there is something missing and I’d like to illustrate it by discussing the last step – run with.

Counselors report that they have never worked with a man who was enslaved by pornography who successfully broke free without being in an accountability group. Accountability breaks the three-legged stool of accessibility, affordability and anonymity, for when you are accountable you are no longer anonymous. 2 Tim 2:22 clearly teaches accountability, so in obedience to the Word of God, we need to work on accountability. But when we meet with our accountability partners, what is it that really happens? Here is the testimony of one Christian leader.

Every week, before we meet, we fill out a sheet that asks a variety of questions: have I been faithful to pray for the men and women of the church this week? Have any of my financial dealings failed to be filled with integrity? Have I given sufficient time to my family? Have I fallen into any kind of sexual sin? Did I take a day off this week? Though this is a helpful way of examining my week, looking back to see evidence of sin in my life and evidence of God’s grace, I know that my heart is often motivated more by a desire not to confess sin to other men than it is to honor God. In other words, I am often motivated more by fear of man than I am by a fear of God.

What a subtle trap. Technically, we can rejoice if fear of man keeps us from being enslaved to sin. But is that really a solution that deals with the issue? I think not. There is the need for something more. But this is not the only trap. Here is another one. For those who genuinely fear God and come to their accountability group with genuine confession, there is often a neglect of Peter’s clear admonition to set our hope on grace. Instead, we focus on everything else. One leader even counsels men who are struggling to get free from pornography to actually avoid accountability groups.

Instead, link up with believers radically focused on encouraging one another in the gospel of grace. Well, maybe this is a bit of an overstatement against accountability groups, but the point is that often accountability groups turn into focusing on sin rather than experiencing the gospel of grace. You don’t just want a group that kills, but gospel-driven community that gives life. Men’s groups I’ve been a part of in the past tend to focus more on the experiences of failure the week before, not the event of God’s grace in the death and resurrection of Christ 2,000 years ago.

Don’t get me wrong: Christian relationships should engage in confession of sin (James 5:16), but they are also meant for encouragement in grace (I Thessalonians 5:14). The author of Hebrews reveals that the key to not being hardened to the deceitfulness of sin is daily encouragement, not an excessive concentration on sin (Hebrews 3:13). The use of accountability software between brothers to keep one away from online pornography is helpful, but grace-oriented encouragement between brothers is best.

These are the messages we often get in accountability groups. The motive may be good, but the execution leaves much to be desired, and even leaves out the real power. When Peter held his readers accountable for the lust and passions of their former way of life, what message did they get from him? Notice Vs. 13, 15 and 6

set your hope fully on grace  (1Pe 1:13 ESV)

but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1Pe 1:15-16 ESV)

In this passage Peter mixes God’s grace with God’s holiness, and therein is the power that breaks the chains of lust. I’ll elaborate on how those two concepts meld together next time.

Lust and Holiness, Part 2

1 Peter 1:13-16

Perhaps you remember the admonition of Paul in Romans 5:20-6:2:

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Rom 5:20-6:2 ESV)

What Paul is saying is this: While it is true that if and when we sin, God meets us with his forgiveness, there is a problem if we are satisfied with this scenario. A life of sinfulness is simply not who we are. We have been justified. That old person outside of Christ is dead. We have a totally new identity – a new name, a new ethic, a new membership in a new community that gives us a totally new significance. Paul declares, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” How can we who are married still live like we are single? How can we who are born again still live like we are not? To sin so that grace may abound is simply an unthinkable suggestion.

But what about those of us who experience a chain to sin but we are not satisfied with it. Instead, we are completely conflicted. When this issue of lust raises its ugly head and ruins our relationship with our wife or husband or with anyone we might want to date, we experience it as a private war with ourselves and we know that God is not smiling on us. We want to break free but we seem powerless to do so. Here is a factor that is often overlooked. The chains of lust are broken when we realize the power of grace.

Before I share the passage of Scripture that describes this truth, I want to clarify what I mean by grace. Grace is certainly God’s undeserved favor for salvation. But grace is also God’s undeserved favor for sanctification – growth in Christian maturity – to use the term in this passage, Christian holiness. Sanctification is holiness or freedom from the dominance of sinfulness. Let me illustrate. Imagine a young woman who has a very close relationship with her father and, on her 16th birthday, dad takes her out on a special date and gives her a purity ring. As she begins to date, she always has this ring to remind her that she made a commitment to God and to her dad that she will remain sexually pure. But, as often happens in this fallen world, she got involved with her boyfriend at college and one evening they went too far. Full of shame and remorse, she called her dad and told him she was going to send her purity ring back to him. She was a failure. Here is what her dad said. “Sweetheart, do not send back that ring. You keep it and wear it and start a new season of purity in your life. I forgive you and God forgives you.” That is grace. That is grace that breaks the power of lust. Notice how Peter describes the power of grace.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”  (1Pet 1:13-16 ESV)

According to Vs. 16 – The subject of this passage is holiness or freedom from lust. Vs. 14 -Challenges us not to live according to the passions (lust) of life apart from Christ like our old self. Vs. 15 – Challenges us to live according to the holiness of the Christian life – our new self. The main verb in this passage is found in Vs. 13, where Peter says to us, “set your hope upon” something. This is an imperative, a command. It tells us to focus on something that is worthy of your hope, a goal that when achieved will be wonderful. Hope is an expectation that is good.

Now, notice that there are several modifying phrases that clarify this command. “Prepare your minds” is a verb tense that speaks of a completed action (aorist participle). Peter says, “Get this settled once and for all in your thinking. Make this commitment. Decide right now – set your hope on something.” Then he says, “Be sober.” This is a verb tense that speaks of a continuous action (present participle). Always keep your thinking along this line. Renew your mind, remind yourself every day, as often as you need to. Now, putting these two thoughts together, here is the message of Vs. 13: “Make up your mind and continually remind yourself of this hope.” Make a commitment to keep this hope at the forefront of your mind all the time. Commit to think about this hope regularly and not forget about it.

So what is the goal of our hope? Vs. 13 says, “Decide right now and continually remind yourself to set your hope on grace.” Grace is the goal in our sight. Grace is the hope that drives all of our efforts. This is not the grace that brings salvation – although this is in view. This is the grace of a loving father who gives his daughter, who betrayed him and God, a second chance.

Vs. 13 continues, “The grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” This is a present tense (present participle). Even though in English, it appears that Peter is focusing on the future, the time when Jesus returns (the revelation of Jesus Christ), the grammar is a present tense, not a future tense. What does this mean? Peter is talking about the grace that is being brought to you now but will be brought to you in its fullness when Jesus returns. It is an already but not yet phrase. Here is the point. The already is no less real because it is not yet in its fullness. My love for my wife 40 years ago was profound and genuine and a powerful influence on my life. But it wasn’t even close to how powerful my love for her is now. And 20 years from now, it will be even more powerful. However, all along the way, it is powerful. God’s grace is powerful now, but it is not even close to how powerful it will be the moment He returns. When Jesus comes in the clouds and that trumpet sounds, and when the dead in Christ rise and we who are alive are caught up with him in the clouds, the power of God’s grace will be at its height. However – and this is the point – God’s grace is powerful now, powerful enough to break the chains of lust. John Newton says it well:

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

Grace is a constant and present reality that will continue till Jesus returns. Set your hope on that grace. Make a decision that you will think about that grace all the time and not forget about it, especially when you are faced with the lusts and passions of the fallen nature. I am suggesting that Peter is telling us that the present reality of God’s grace becomes the power that breaks the chains of lust. Therefore – set your hope on it.

OK – but that is still a bit fuzzy. That still seems like a mind game. I’ll continue to unpack this concept in my next post.

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.

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.

Obedience from the Heart

There is a very interesting verse in Romans 6 that precipitates what I consider confusion about the relationship between grace and law.

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Rom 6:14 ESV)

According to verse 13, we are to present ourselves to God (see my last post), and that sounds a lot like obedience. We might call battling the seven deadly sins a quest for obedience. But this verse seems to imply that we have a choice about how we obey. We can either practice obedience motivated by law, or we can practice obedience motivated by grace. Here is my suggestion of what obedience motivated by law looks like, and I will overstate it to make a point.

Relative to sinful behavior, law makes up a few rules, some do’s and don’ts. Then law encourages us to hold each other accountable to those rules. When we fail, we get together and beat each other up, heap on some guilt, challenge each other to repent, and then leave our group with a determination to try harder. Now I said I was overstating this, but I think there is a good deal of truth in this scenario. The result of these types of groups – discouragement, because law just doesn’t deal with the real issue. The real issue is found in Romans 6:17-18.

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Rom 6:17-18 ESV)

The key phrase is that true believers who are under grace and not under law obey from the heart!! They understand that they are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. They understand that sinning is not the way a person who is in Christ is to live. They are motivated from the heart to obey. Obedience that sets us free is obedience from the heart. Obedience from the heart is obedience empowered by grace not by law. Obedience empowered by grace results in a life where sin has no dominion over us – we are set free.

Here is Paul’s description of obedience motivated by grace.

Do not let sin reign in your bodies.

Do not present you bodies to sin.

Instead – motivated from the heart and empowered by grace:

Do present your new self to God.

Here is a great verse that unpacks this command. It comes from the lips of Jesus.

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23-24 ESV)

To deny our selves is to deny who we used to be in Adam.  To take up our cross is to present our new self to God in obedience to God from the heart.

Do present your bodies to God – (Rom 6:12-14- obedience from the heart)

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Rom 12:1 ESV)

If we learn to obey from the heart and to be empowered by the grace given to us in justification, sin will have no dominion over us. We will break free from the seven deadly sins.

For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. (Rom 6:19 ESV)

The daily battle against sin is a constant battle.  But we do not wage it from a position of defeat.  We wage it from the position of being In Christ.  I close with my life verse.

(My identity in Adam) have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (My identity in Christ). And the life I now live in the flesh (I present my new self to God in obedience from the heart) I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20 ESV)

I am preaching a series of messages titled, Breaking Free From The Seven Deadly Sins. As I progress through this series, I will make specific application of these principles and we will continue to learn together how to win the daily battle against sin.

What Does It Mean That We Are “Dead to Sin” – Romans 6:2 – Part 2

Last time I surveyed what I believe is the correct understanding of this pregnant phrase from Romans 6. My conclusion was that it refers to our justification and it teaches us that the old identity in Adam is dead and it is replaced by our new identity in Christ. Therefore, we now have the great privilege of entering into our new life in Christ, free from the condemnation and guilt of sin and rejoicing in our new relationship with God through Jesus, our substitute and representative.

But there is an alternative view that suggests that by this phrase Paul is teaching that our human nature is dead. It suggests that when we place our faith in Jesus, or in a subsequent experience of a second work of grace, the old nature dies and only the new nature remains. Therefore, as we progress in disciplining our mind to accept this truth, we will progress to a life that is free from behavioral sin. But there are two problems and an unnecessary consequence with this view.

First, there is a theological problem – it does not seem to fit the biblical evidence. Dozens of times the Bible instructs us not to respond to sin. But if our human nature is dead and we, by nature, are not responsive to sin, why would God tell us not to respond to sin? Colossians 3:5-11 specifically tells us to put to death the deeds of the human nature. Why would Paul tell us to do that if there are no deeds of the human nature? In Galatians 5:16-26, Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit is at war with the human nature. We are commanded, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to resist the deeds of the human nature. Why would Paul give this command if the human nature was dead?

The second problem is an experiential problem – it does not fit the reality of the Christian experience. I realize that there has been a significant amount of ink spilled over whether Romans 7 is Paul’s present personal testimony as a believer or whether it refers to his testimony of his experience as an unbelieving Pharisee. My view is that it refers to his Christian experience, which then seems to reflect the experience of all Christians. (Although I do not hold this view because it fits experience – that is backwards hermeneutics. But that exegetical quagmire is for another post. To understand the view that it refers to his pre-Christian experience, see Romans by Douglas Moo. For evidence that it fits his present experience, see Romans by John Stott.) Listen to Paul’s testimony:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  (Rom 7:14-15 ESV)

Is that your experience? It certainly is mine. But if one holds that the human nature is dead, there is the unfortunate consequence of discouragement and even doubt. Discouragement comes when we cry out to God for this second work of grace whereby our human nature dies, and it doesn’t come and doesn’t come. When we continue to be confronted with sinful impulses and works of the human nature, we feel defeated, even a complete failure as a believer. The ultimate consequence is that we might even doubt our salvation and give up on the Christian life altogether.

But this is not what the phrase “dead to sin” means at all. It means that we are justified and that our relationship with sin has changed. Rather than be discouraged, we rejoice in the grace of God that declares us not guilty and clothed in the righteousness of Jesus, not because our human nature is now dead, but because the death of Jesus has paid our debt and we are free from the condemnation and guilt that sin brings!!

So 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 it is a constant battle to live that way. How do we gain that freedom from behavioral sin? I’ll begin that discussion in my next post.

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