It doesn’t happen by accident.
It doesn’t happen by accident.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1
This is an amazing passage, especially in light of the fact that Paul has just concluded chapter 7 by talking of the war that wages within us; of the struggle, as Christ-followers, to do what we want to do, all the while finding ourselves doing what we don’t want to do as it relates to sin. His conclusion is that of wretchedness as he declares his imperfection before a holy God…but then immediately follows with an answer to the question of who will deliver him from this body of death with spontaneous praise to God through Christ! Why? Because he knows it is not based upon his own righteousness, which does not exist (Isaiah 64:6), but upon that of Christ. Paul admits the continual struggle between serving Christ in his mind and with his will, desiring to always be faithful, but wrestling with the law of the flesh (sin) that is always close at hand.
That is a struggle with which I am familiar. That is something that I can identify with. I desire to follow Christ closely; desire to obey with my whole heart, but I find that I am often found horribly lacking. I have wrestled with fear and doubt and depression over the condition of my life…why can’t I be a better dad or husband or pastor…a better follower of Jesus? The enemy is always close at hand, seeking to devour me (1 Peter 5:8), to destroy me (John 10:10), to accuse me before the Father (Revelation 12:10).
What do I do? I keep reading! Because of what Christ has done in me, redeeming me from the penalty of the Law of sin and death, there is no condemnation! NONE! The Father does not look at me as the failure that I am, but the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), the child of the King that Christ has made me (Romans 8:15-17). The Father looks at me and sees the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to me (2 Corinthians 5:21); credited to my account to such an extent that I shine righteously in the Father’s presence, the only way He can look upon me with pleasure…and He does!
I still struggle with sin and I am to always be at war with my sin nature, but I am not defeated by it. I can never be defeated because the law of sin and death was destroyed by the means of a Roman cross (Colossians 2:13-15), never to have victory over me because in Christ, I stand redeemed!
Paul tells Timothy that if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, “he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)
This is a concept I’ve been dealing with a lot lately in messages at The Gathering, though it’s a concept I’ve not mastered. I certainly struggle, not so much with the concept or idea of “cleansing oneself”, as much as the practice of it. The concept basically addresses the outworking of sanctification (the process by which the Holy Spirit begins making changes and also empowers us, through discipline, to bring about changes, as well). Whereas salvation/transformation is solely the work of the Holy Spirit, sanctification is a divine partnership, in which I have responsibility. Admittedly, it would be much easier if God just DID IT all, Himself, but that’s not the way He’s chosen. Instead, He has equipped me to do battle within myself and those deep-seeded sins that “so easily entangle” (Hebrews 12:1).
Because of the work Christ has already done in my life to change my position before the Father to that of Holy and blameless, I have the power to say no to conditional sin that, before, I could not. Before, sin had me chained…I was under it’s power, fulfilling all the things that my flesh dictated to me (Ephesians 2:1-3). Now, the Word tells me I’m no longer a slave to sin and that the only reason I am under any authority of sin is that I, willingly, place myself under it’s control, wrapping myself again with the chains that once held me, choosing the sin from which I’ve been freed. In short, I sin now because I want to, not because I have to (Galatians 5:1). That’s what is troubling. I want to sin. Man, I hate even saying that, because I really don’t and, yet, if sin ever dominates my life, according to Scripture, it’s because I let it.
I think this is why Paul encouraged his young son in the faith to “Fight the good fight of faith.” (1 Timothy 6:12a) It is most certainly a fight, but it’s a fight that involves retreating…running away from an enemy. Sounds crazy when talking about standing firm and fighting, but being an overcomer, in this case, involves running away from enemies we cannot beat if we remain in their presence. Samson was the strongest man in the neighborhood, but the only way he could have beaten the Philistines was by running away from that which tempted his heart…the great temptation of Delilah. He was defeated, not by the brute force of an army, but by remaining under the influence of a single individual who offered him all that he wanted…momentary pleasure.
Wow, that’s it right there. Momentary pleasure. Even though it doesn’t last, it still has the ability to train wreck our spiritual lives. This is why Paul kept encouraging Timothy to run away from it. Don’t try to stay and fight because, eventually, you’ll let your guard down and the fight is over. Clean knock-out. As a matter of fact, right after Paul encourages Timothy to cleanse himself, he tells him how:
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant[e] must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2: 22-26)
In this passage, there is both a “run away from” and a “run towards”. Both words used, “flee” and “pursue”, communicate both an urgency and an exertion of effort. One involved running away from as hard and fast as you can while the other involves chasing after something as to catch it. In other words, we should never be standing still! The question is where should the most emphasis be placed, on fleeing or pursuing? Which one do I focus on more? The great news is that they are in opposite directions, but only sort of. Here’s what I mean: I can flee from unrighteousness, but that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily pursuing godly righteousness. It might mean that I’m simply pursuing self-righteousness. I might still be trying to overcome sin under my own power and that will just lead to a pride that is nothing more than unrighteousness in disguise. So, in truth, I’ve never actually run away from anything!
The key, then, to dealing honestly with sin, is to chase after godly righteousness “along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” In other words, I will never actually overcome sin in my life using a “Lone Ranger” approach because I’ll just drift towards self-righteousness and never even notice. It’s actually a great weapon of the Enemy, “the Father of Lies”. However, if I am in a community of humble people who are honestly seeking these same things, we can ” gang up” on sin, keeping each other in check, moving towards true godliness together, pointing out that slow drift away from our godly pursuits.
This is why “Gospel friendships” are so important, where we are deliberately speaking into each others lives; where almost every conversation contains some level of Gospel conversation, encouraging and challenging each other and simply “checking up”. It doesn’t happen by accident and takes a great deal of cultivation. If, though, I want to overcome sin in my life, sin that my flesh really wants to give in to because I like the momentary pleasure it offers, I have to pursue such relationships with everything I have, knowing that it’s worth the effort.
A favorite section from R.C. Sproul’s classic, The Holiness of God:
When our holy war with God ceases; when we, like Luther, walk through the doors of paradise, when we are justified by faith, the war ends forever. With the cleansing from sin and the declaration of divine forgiveness we enter into an eternal peace treaty with God. The firstfruit of our justification is peace with God. This peace is a holy peace, a peace unblemished and transcendent. It is a peace that cannot by destroyed.
When God signs a peace treaty, it is signed for perpetuity. The war is over, forever and ever. Of course we still sin; we still rebel; we still commit acts of hostility toward God. But God is not a cobelligerent. He will not be drawn into warfare with us. We have an advocate with the Father. We have a mediator who keeps the peace. He rules over the peace because He is both the Prince of Peace and He is our peace.
We are now called the children of God, a title granted in blessing to those who are peacemakers. Our sins are now dealt with by a Father, not a military commander. We have peace. It is our possession, sealed and guaranteed for us by Christ. (chapter 7)
A call to and reason for worship for all who have experienced this peace!
I’m always a little taken aback when I stop long enough to think of how easy it is to engage in trivial pursuits in life. Hosea calls it “sowing the wind.”
Do you ever find yourself engaged in trivial pursuits? Trying to attain things that ultimately don’t matter and can’t bring lasting satisfaction Does your life demonstrate meaning and purpose? Do you have a dynamic relationship with God that leads to meaningful pursuits or are you doing little more than chasing your tail, so that if you get it, you only find the pain involved with being wrapped up in yourself and your own destructive idolatry?
This week, I talked about the Calamity of Sowing the Wind. Here is the video from that message:
Ever wonder who’s to blame for all the junk in your life? When you sin, did the Devil make you do it? When you stumble, is it because your parents didn’t teach you well enough? Are you overweight because McDonald’s serves those dog-gone fries? We’re great at assigning blame. That’s nothing new, of course. Remember our first ancestors? Adam: “It’s that woman you gave me. She gave me the fruit and I ate it.” Uh, who ate it, Pal? Eve: “It’s that blasted serpant’s fault!” (my paraphrase). So, it’s been happening from the beginning and we have continued the tradition right on through today.
Here’s a thought to consider: What if God is the cause of much of the junk in your life? Gasp! “Heresy! Heresy! This guy’s a heathen!” (or heathern if you’re from the South). OK, I’m not talking about the sin, just the hard stuff…maybe even much of the stuff you blame the Devil for.
Job is actually right in assuming that God ordained that these bad things to happen to him, but wrong in assuming that they are for his downfall.
Look at it like this: Satan is the agent through which Job’s challenges come, but God is the Sovereign…even when it is bad.
I am reminded again how even the bad that comes, for one who is in the favor of God, is not ultimately bad. As John Piper has said, for the one who has been redeemed by Christ, suffering is not punitive, it is purifying. What great encouragement!
In light of Christ, we can rejoice that “all things work together for good, to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28), All things are purifying. Job was purified through his suffering, in the end coming to see God more clearly than he had ever seen Him before…this time looking at God through humbled eyes.
I want to encourage you, when you are walking through the wilderness of despair because things just aren’t working out for you, before you start placing blame everywhere else, consider a couple of steps first:
1. Look in the mirror. Is there something in you that needs to be dealt with (a character flaw that needs to be cured, a sin that needs to be killed, an attitude that needs to be adjusted)? If so, lay that down in prayer. Ask Christ to minister to you in these areas.
2. Look to Christ. Is there something that He is wanting to do in your life to make you more like Him? The refining fire is usually painful. Did you get that? It is usually painful. In other words, what you are going through is not uncommon; you’re not the only one in the world dealing with this, so don’t fall victim to following the pity-party-path. If you are being refined, it is a blessing! You are not being left to your own depravity, but the Spirit of God is active in you. Choose to celebrate this fact in the midst of your pain or discomfort.
3. Share it. Walking through refinement alone is sometimes necessary. However, most of the time you have the opportunity to gain support from those around you, encouragement in the toughest parts, and people to celebrate with when you see the growth. Often, it takes those on the outside of the “cloud” to point out to you just how much growth is actually occurring in you. Take advantage of these gifts God has put in your life.
The bottom line is this: God is a good and sovereign God. Deal with this. Understand that often what appears as evil in our lives is actually the grace of a holy God and the only way you are going to know the difference is by walking closely with Him in prayer.
The real change in Job happened near the end of the story, when it was just Job and God in conversation. Then again, that’s when real change always happens.
Purity is something that we battle for all of our lives. If we’re not battling for it, we’ve already given up on the idea. For a Christ-follower, purity is not an option, it is a command; an expectation; a requirement. Purity goes hand-in-hand with holiness, which we are called to be since Christ is holy. Makes sense really: Christ lives within His followers. Holiness and unholiness don’t mix. Something cannot be both pure and impure at the same time. You are one or you are the other.
Therefore, the battle must be waged. It’s not easy. It’s often not fun. It is, however, a matter of life or death. I would say ask any one of several who have lost the battle, but most of them are dead now. Amy Winehouse is one of the most recent examples. It starts by giving in a bit and in small areas, usually, then the enemy completely overwhelms. Listen to hints of the progression towards destruction from Winehouse’s own mother (source):
In an interview in 2008, her mother Janis said she would be unsurprised if her daughter died before her time.
She said: ‘I’ve known for a long time that my daughter has problems.
‘But seeing it on screen rammed it home. I realise my daughter could be dead within the year. We’re watching her kill herself, slowly.
‘I’ve already come to terms with her dead. I’ve steeled myself to ask her what ground she wants to be buried in, which cemetery.
‘Because the drugs will get her if she stays on this road.
‘I look at Heath Ledger and Britney. She’s on their path. It’s like watching a car crash – this person throwing all these gifts away.’
How bad does it have to be for one to come to terms with a child’s death before it ever happens because you know it’s inevitable? If we give up the spiritual battle of purity in our lives (and you’re fooled if you think it isn’t spiritual), then you given in to all that is destructive.
Old married guys (just like singles) have to deal with it, too. Everyday, married couples have to wrestle with issues of purity: our thoughts, our practices and our habits. We are called to purity in all aspects of our lives all the time. It’s a fight.
I just read a really good, article on this struggle and some great advice on how to deal with it. Read this excerpt (and then read the entire post):
Trisha and I have spent more time apart this summer than we have at any time since our separation five and a half years ago. I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t brought up questions and concerns and conversations. I’ve been free from pornography for almost six years. It no longer has a grip on my heart. But neither of us are stupid either. I’m one choice away from compromising my integrity; my relationship with God; my marriage; my boys. I know that.
There’s a lot of honesty in there. Honesty is where it all begins. Being honest with ourselves, our weaknesses and our failures. Being honest with God regarding our need for Him. Then understanding that this is going to be a lifelone fight for our lives and for our families.
It is hard…very hard, but it is worth the fight.
I’m not exactly sure what it is yet, but I get a strong sense that God is beginning to move within The Gathering, which could result in a revival, an awakening, and a growth spirt like we’ve never experienced before. Why do I say that? The telltale signs are all there:
1. Increased spiritual activity and attack. Personally, I have experienced a truly incredible level of spiritual attack recently which seems to be intensifying regularly. The first part of John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…” That is his sole objective: abject destruction and death and he will stop at nothing to see his plan through. That means that any time the Lord God begins to move, Satan also moves with increasing intensity. I know I’m not alone in my feelings of spiritual attack. Though it is never desired or enjoyed, it should be embraced with joy, knowing that He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world. Satan’s attacks will always fall empty when the Spirit of the living God is on the move!
2. Sin is taken seriously among a people. As we have been talking weekly about the message of 1 John, the fact that it really does matter how you live your life continues to surface. God will not move among an unholy people (not talking of a perfect people, but a people who do not desire and strive for personal holiness). A lifestyle that does not take sin seriously is a mockery of the sacrifice of Christ. When a people of God understand this and begin to address sin within that body, God blesses them with His presence and the work of His Spirit. We are beginning to do that in love and compassion, calling on each other to holy living for the glory of God and the good of the individual. Again, Satan wants to destroy and we cannot sit back and let him pick us off one by one. We must love enough to confront and rescue one another from the destruction of sin.
3. God raises people up in brokeness and a hunger to see Him move. I have had several people come to me in the last week alone all saying the same thing: “God is getting ready to move among us and we’re not spiritually ready…we need to pray!” I couldn’t agree more and am thankful for God calling these individuals out and pray He will call us all to a place of brokeness and hunger.
I am calling on the people of The Gathering to that place of prayer. I am calling us to cry out to God in desperation knowing that if He doesn’t move, we’re done for. We will never grow, never minister at the level we’re called to and never experience all that He has for us. I am calling on us to take a hard look in the mirror of our soul and honestly evaluate the condition of our hearts, praying the prayer of Psalm 139. Make sure that you are not the stumbling block that causes Satan to have a victory he does not deserve.
I want to encourage you to come on Sunday ready to cry out to God together; As God leads, get together in small groups and pray. Whatever God calls you to do, do it with courage and anticipation! I cannot wait to see what God does within the people of The Gathering.
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”