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Archive for the tag “Holiness”

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.

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.

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