A Morning Meditation

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

brokenchainsThis 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!

When It’s Good to be in a Gang

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.

No Room For Compromise

I had the opportunity to hang out yesterday with a couple of young adults whom I have great affection for and was able to hear from them what some of the general attitudes are regarding right and wrong and was is considered acceptable among their age-group. I wasn’t the least bit shocked, but still deeply troubled.

NoCompromiseI am convinced all over again of the need for disciples of Jesus to be rock solid on our commitment to Truth. I believe that if we compromise at all, we have compromised completely and the stakes are so high. I’m not talking about things that are left to the individual conscience (Romans 14, which, of course calls for limiting ourselves in certain circumstances even if our conscience doesn’t convict us!), but rather those things that are very clearly universally wrong for all people at all times.  Keep reading, I’m not calling for protests, militant take-overs, boycotts, or “take our Country back” rallies.

I’m neither a legalist nor a pharisee. I do not believe that being morally upright will get anyone to heaven. I believe that it is the work of the Spirit of God working in an individual to reveal the Son of God who provides salvation through grace alone apart from works of the Law. I believe that this justifying work brings a change in us that causes us to want to live a righteous life (not have to), because it is Christ’s righteous life in us.  Further, I do not believe that everything that has been called sin by the pharisees among us is necessarily sin. What I do believe, though, is that Scripture is very clear on what IS sin…on those things I am unwilling to compromise.

On that last point I should be clear: being unwilling to compromise on what is and is not sin is not to say that I am perfectly delivered from all that falls within that category. What I must never do is to change the category of that thing that I struggle with from sin to mere “preference” simply because I like it. I must still call it a sin.  Changing my mind on it doesn’t change God’s.  If I know that Scripture is clear and I take an “oh, well” attitude, I’M STILL RESPONSIBLE FOR IT because God is the judge, not me.  What is DEMANDED of me for forgiveness is to recognize it for what it is and repent of it (which involves turning away from it).

What I must also do is to unconditionally and authentically love those who are completely engulfed in sin without judgment or pride.  I must also never make the mistake of believing that loving them enough not to judge is the same thing as being unwilling to confront them regarding that sin.  Sin kills.  If sin kills and I am unwilling to address that with someone I love, the last thing I am really doing is loving them.  Confrontation peppered with grace is incredibly loving and strong…and difficult.  But important.

We are all victims of the same cancer called sin.  None of us can live perfect lives this side of heaven, but what we can do is live lives that are pleasing to God through acknowledging and repenting of those things that have offended His holiness and caused separation between us. Then forgiveness, healing and restoration comes.

With that at stake, there is no room for compromise.

The Death of Sin

I read this morning about killing sin.  Killing. Sin.  Hm. Seems only fair since sin is in the business of killing us.  Promising the world and delivering the grave.

I had to question whether or not that is really possible. As a pastor and follower of Christ, I know that He has overcome sin, but does God expect that I should really kill (mortify) all sin in my life?  After all, I’m only human!

The more I thought about that, the more I realized that, yes, I’m only human, but is that the problem?  Is it that I’m only human or that I’m not human enough?  Let me unpack that just a little bit:

In Genesis 1 and 2, God created all that is, including man and woman.  In that creation, there was no sin at all.  In essence, there was an ideal Man.  That is, humanity the way God designed it was without sin.  THAT is what it is to be “human.”  Complete and without sin.  OK, so then Genesis 3 hits and all chaos breaks loose.  Sin enters the world and Man falls…becoming, essentially, less than human.  From that point on, then, it was not that we sin because we were “only” human, but that we weren’t human enough.

When Christ came, He lived a perfect life, not because He was God, but because through perfect obedience to the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2), He was a perfect HUMAN.  He was what we were designed to be, and because of His work on the cross, made it possible that we no longer needed to be overwhelmed by sin again.

Look at this:

“…our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”  Romans 6:6

Done away with.  That’s pretty strong.  Sounds pretty definite.  Not managed or minimized…done away with.  Does that mean I no longer have to sin?  Well, sounds like it.  I think as I meditate on this, it means that as improbable as it is that I will no longer sin at all (because I still have the residual sin nature that was left in me because of Genesis 3), I cannot say that it is impossible.  Scripture seems pretty clear that Jesus has made it so.

So, then, what’s the take away?  I stop giving myself a pass.  I stop using the excuse that, because I’m only human, I’m going to sin.  Instead, I need to decide that sin WILL NOT reign in me.  I will no longer allow myself excuses as to why I still fall to the same old vices.  I have to “consider myself dead to sin” (Romans 6:11) which means that it is no longer an option for me.  As Oswald Chambers said, “You cannot [do this] until you have radically dealt with the issue of your will before God.”  That’s really it: Is it going to be my will or God’s will?  Who is the sovereign in my life?  If I’m honest, I have to say that it depends on when you ask me and what the subject is.  Sometimes, it’s God (at least in the easy parts of my life), but sometimes, when I’m dealing with my favorite flavor of evil, it’s me.

The only thing left for me to do is to realize the truth in the power of Christ in me to “consider myself dead to sin,” to be in constant prayer for that power to be manifest in me, and to be vigilant to daily make the mortification of sin in my life my aim.

“Lord, identify me with your death until I know that sin is dead in me.”

That’s a tough one to pray.

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