Adopted people are loving people

22 Feb

It is not easy to love people well over a long period of time.

Even though we know the importance of love, we often have many excuses for giving up.

Perhaps this is why the apostle Paul gives us so many different motivations for persevering in love.

We’ve noted one.

We are forgiven.

Now, let’s think about another.

We’ve been adopted.

Paul says, “Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children.”

And I think we would be foolish to run by that because it is really a remarkable thing Paul is saying.  He is saying we are children of God.  And the reason that is a really remarkable thing for Paul to say is because of what he’s already said to be true of us before salvation.  Before we were believers Paul describes us not as children of God, but Ephesians 2:3, instead “we were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind.”

And how did we go from being children of wrath to being children of God?

The answer to that question is found in the biblical doctrine of adoption.

You see God’s design in saving us was bigger than just forgiving us, it was to actually bring us into his family as children.  This is one of the fundamental salvation realities we find running throughout the book of Ephesians.

Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:5 that God predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ and in Ephesians 2:19 that we are no longer strangers and aliens now that we are Christians, but we are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

And household is what?

Family.

What Paul is saying is that as a believer you have been given a new identity as a child of God.

And while there are many great privileges in salvation, this has to be one of the greatest of them all.   And it is the basis for this call to imitate God, as children of God.  As God’s children we should want to become more and more like our father.

When there is and I am sure you have probably noticed this that very often when there is a good relationship between a father and his child, especially if that child respects his father, what happens is that child imitates his father.

They walk the way they walk, they talk the way they talk, they joke the way they joke.  There is a family resemblance in more than just looks, but also in actions.

And of course, Paul’s point is that there should be a family resemblance between us and God, especially in this matter of forgiving love.

Now, the problem is and this is where we really get things wrong.

Because we are good at imitating, that comes natural, we are always imitating, but we all too often we are imitating the wrong people.  We often imitate whom?  We imitate the person in front of us.  They are friendly to us, we are friendly to them.  They are unkind to us, we are unkind to them.

What are we doing?

Imitating.

Instead of focusing on that person though, you know who you should be focusing on in that moment, not the person in front of you, and how they are treating you, but God.   Imitate Him!

You are His child.

Now and I think here’s the problem for us when it comes to loving others.

It’s that we think we deserve to be God’s child.  We don’t get what a great privilege this is.  Whenever there is a lack of love for others, mark it down, there is too much love for ourselves.  Whenever I am having a hard time loving someone else, I need to spend less time thinking about what they did to me and more time thinking about what I did to God and what I deserve.

That’s part of why relationships with difficult people are so good for us and why we should be thankful for these relationships, because you know what a relationship with difficult people does?  It can drive you back to your relationship with God!  Because you know what?  You are difficult people.

Can you imagine a friendship with someone who was:

*       Unappreciative

*       Stubborn

*       Uninterested

*       Self-centered

*       Lazy

*       Glory seeking

*       Complaining

And yet that’s exactly the way we are so often with God, and yet how has God treated us?  He hasn’t only forgiven us, he’s adopted us! He’s not only visited the orphanage and handed out some food, He’s brought the orphan into His family.  And you know that illustration is too small, because we were not simply orphans, we were enemies of God and what I am saying is really loving other people sacrificially begins with believing that.

I am a child of God, and as His child, I want to be like Him in all the ways I can, as I grow up!

 

Forgiven people are loving people

16 Feb

You don’t meet many parents who would say they struggle to love their children.

But, sometimes that’s only because they aren’t really thinking about what it means to love.

Love is not just a word in the Bible. It’s defined by Christ. In Ephesians 5, Paul tells us that Christians should imitate God in the way they love others, and the specific example God gives us of love, is found in the way He’s loved us through Jesus Christ.

And the truth is we often struggle to love our children like that.

All too often we would rather serve our children when it suits us, when it is not so tiring, when it doesn’t impact our schedules, when it makes us look good, when it is comfortable.

But that’s obviously not the way Christ loved us, and so I thought I could give you some encouragements as to why you should pursue this radical, sacrificial love in your family relationships. I want to give you encouragements to think about so that you don’t give up, working hard at imitating God and Christ as husbands, fathers, wives and mothers.

  1. We need to be loving people because we are forgiven people.

 One place Paul encourages us to love others is in Ephesians 5:1 and 2 where he writes, “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children.” You’ll notice, this passage begins with the word therefore and whenever you read a word like therefore it is obviously pointing you back to what goes before it.

“Because of what I just said, therefore.”

That means this command to imitate God by walking in love is based on what Paul has just said in Ephesians 4:32. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

In other words, because God in Christ has forgiven you, therefore, you should seek to imitate God in your relationship with others by forgiving them and loving them sacrificially. And the key idea that I want to rivet in your minds as you think about that is the fact that forgiveness and love are tied together.

Obviously one way they are tied together is when you really love someone, you will show it by forgiving them.

Forgiveness is a way you show love.

But more than that, it is also deep gratitude for being forgiven that produces love.  Being forgiven produces love, or at least it should.  And that I think is Paul’s point here, because you have been forgiven by God in Christ, therefore, be like God and show that same kind of love to others, which means, when you meet someone who has a hard time loving others, you usually are meeting a person who doesn’t appreciate the greatness of  God’s forgiveness.

Jesus himself puts it like this in Luke 7:47, “he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

Now since there is no one who has been forgiven by God who is forgiven little, Jesus has got to be talking about a deep gratitude and appreciation for forgiveness and what he is saying is that the person who lacks a deep appreciation for forgiveness, lacks love, which means if you want to grow in your love for God and others, one place to start is to get on your knees and ask God to help you grow in your gratitude and thankfulness for how much He has forgiven you.

And we can take that a step further and say if you want to grow in your gratitude and thankfulness for how much God has forgiven you, you need to get on your knees and ask God to help you grow in your understanding of your own sinfulness. When we don’t understand how sinful we are, we don’t appreciate how much we have been forgiven, and when we don’t appreciate how much we have been forgiven, we are cold and hard towards others. You simply will not find people who are gripped with a sense of their own unworthiness before God and are overwhelmed with gratitude for their forgiveness by God who are not at the same time extremely gracious and forgiving and loving people themselves.

This is why Paul calls our attention back to God’s treatment of us as he challenges us to show forgiving love.  God’s forgiveness of us and our love for others are tied together. If we want to become a truly sacrificially loving church, we will find motivation not by looking first and foremost at the people around us but instead by continually looking up to God.

It’s good theology that drives biblical mercy.

I love how Paul puts it here in verse 1, “Therefore be imitators of God.”

Because how do you imitate someone?

To imitate someone you have to watch them.  You have to study them.  You have to know them! We must not talk about sacrificial love and forgiving love as if it were somehow something disconnected from our knowledge of God.  To love other people the way we ought, we have to know God so well, that we understand how to imitate Him in the nitty-gritty issues of our daily lives.

One thing that can so easily happen when you begin to develop a relationship with someone else is that you begin to see that they are sinners and when you spend too much time with them you can easily come up with all sorts of reasons why they are undeserving of your love.

This is part of why we often give up on really serving others.

When we look straight at people we can find all kinds of reasons not to reach out to them in love, but when we are looking up to God, the point is all of those same reasons quickly disappear.  Because you will never have to love anyone who deserves your love less than you deserve the love of God.  You will never have to forgive someone more than God has already forgiven you. And that’s why forgiveness and love towards others is such a test of how well you as a church are understanding the gospel and maturing in the gospel because it reveals what you really believe about how holy God is and how sinful you are and how much you need Jesus.

It may be that we think of ourselves as really spiritual and it may be that even others think of us like that but if we have a hard time putting up with other people, it is because we are ungrateful for the goodness God has shown us and we really need to go back to the basics again and better appreciate forgiveness.

Forgiven people are loving people, or at least they should be.

That’s why Paul begins this passage with the word therefore, and if we want to grow in our love for children, we should begin there as well, by making it a daily priority to enjoy how good God’s been to us through Jesus Christ.

Job Number One

13 Feb

I am good at making simple things complicated.

There are a lot of us who have the ability to take something that is straightforward and making it confusing and complicated.

It is definitely possible to do that when it comes to marriage and family and parenting.  This is one of those subjects that books and books have been written about, sermons and sermons have been preached about, I mean, we could fill up a library with all the material that has been written or taught regarding having a successful marriage and family.

But with all that has been said, there is a sense in which what God wants from us as husbands and wives and as fathers and mothers is not all that complicated.

 

 

And that’s biblical love.

Paul writes,

“Therefore, be imitators of God as beloved children.  And walk in love as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

If you ever have the chance to study the book of Ephesians you will see that Paul throughout the first several chapters shows us just how big it is to really be a Christian.

People sometimes talk about it as if it were just believing a set of facts. But Paul’s like, no, it actually involves God in His grace radically transforming us.

It’s a miracle.

In chapters 4 and 5, Paul turns a corner and begins trying to help us work out the difference this miracle should make on the way we think and act. Because even though we have been changed in a big way, we have all developed ways of thinking and living over the years that don’t match up with this great change that has taken place in our lives, habits, and those habits die hard and so Paul says part of what is required now that we are believers is that we work on turning from those old ways of living that we had as unbelievers to a new ways of living that go along with what God has done in our lives through Jesus Christ.

And if you check out the end of chapter 4, you see that he gets pretty specific.

He talks about stuff like putting off lying and putting on telling the truth and putting off sinful anger and on and on he goes until here, he comes in this passage that we are looking at together, to what we might call a or what should be the  summarizing characteristic of genuine believers and that is  radical and sacrificial love.

Therefore, Paul says, walk in love.

Live a life of love.

It is like he is wrapping everything up.

If you want to know what the Christian life is about, it is about love. Not love in the way the culture defines it of course, but true love.

This is what should set Christians apart.

And it is what should set Christians families apart as well.

One of the key distinctives of a truly Christian relationship is its commitment to God like, Christ like love.

It’s difficult for me to overexaggerate that.

We can have everything right in our families, money, homes, good educations, vacations, you name it, but if our relationships aren’t characterized by Christ like love, then it’s all pretty worthless.

This is not just here in Ephesians 5, obviously.

Jesus once put it like this,

It is near the close of his ministry and he is instructing his disciples and he wants them to understand what is to be the distinguishing characteristic of their lives as his followers.

John 13:33ff,

“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Paul would have agreed.

He explains in 1 Corinthians 13, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

If I met someone who spoke in the tongue of an angel, could tell me what was going to happen in my future, understood everything that the Bible had to say, someone who knew it all, no kidding, knew it all, had this major faith that just was like a rock, so much faith that he actually gave it all way and died as a martyr, I would be tempted to say that he was a pretty good guy. But Paul says if he does all that but doesn’t have love, he’s absolutely nothing.

And Paul is not alone in thinking like that. There are plenty of statements from others throughout Scripture that make a similar point. For example, Peter says in 1 Peter 1:22 that we have been saved to love, “since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren…” and then exhorts believers in 1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” John kicks it up a notch in 1 John 4:8, “The one who does not love does not know God.” He says flat out in 4:20, “If someone says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar, for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” And then concludes in 5:7-8, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love.”

I am not sure how it could possibly get any clearer than all that. It is not like you need a Ph.d in Greek to get the point. What God wants from us as Christians, as husbands and wives, as parents can be summed up in love.

The foundation for God honoring relationships, for family relationships that make a lasting impact, for parenting that transforms, is not complicated.

It’s biblical love.

The problem is and this is I think is where we get stuck as parents is that biblical love is hard.

It doesn’t take a genius to say that love is important for families and that our families need to be characterized by love, but the problem is the kind of love that God’s calling us to, is demanding.

It’s a call to die really.

We see that here in our text.

“And walk in love as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us…”

This is where we get stuck.

Because we know about the importance of love, and we agree about the importance of love, but really in practice we want a love that isn’t so hard and that doesn’t require so much sacrifice.

As fathers, (as someone has said)“We would prefer to lob grenades of truth into family’s lives rather than lay down our lives for them.” As husbands and wives, we would prefer if every time we communicated, people responded exactly as they should without us having to be patient and to change the way we talk. As parents, we would rather serve our children when it suits us, when it is not so tiring, when it doesn’t impact our schedules, when it makes us look good, when it is comfortable.    But that’s obviously not the way Christ loved us, and it’s obviously not the kind of love that God’s calling us to here in Ephesians 5, and so what I want to do in the next couple of posts is encourage you as to why you should pursue radical, sacrificial love in your family relationships.

In other words, I want to show you why this loving, sacrificial, forgiving lifestyle is so important for us to pursue as parents and  give you encouragements to think about so that you don’t give up, working hard at imitating God and Christ as husbands, fathers, wives and mothers.

 

 

How to change, part ten

1 Feb

As believers we are interested in changing. We are interested in growing. In fact, if we say we are Christians, and we are not concerned about overcoming sin and becoming more and more like Jesus, then something is going wrong.

Seriously wrong.

Because being a Christian means something.

It is not just a word, Christian, for someone who goes to church.

Which is kind of what we’ve actually been stressing over the past couple of posts. This is where we began in our discussion of how to change, and we began here, because it is difficult to talk about living as a Christian, without thinking first, about what it means to be a Christian.

A Christian is a person who has been.

Justified.

He’s seen his biggest problem is sin and he’s agreed with God about what that sin deserves, and yet, at the same time, he knows he’s been forgiven and declared righteous because he’s trusting in what Jesus has done on his behalf.

He’s been justified.

And he’s been born again.

A Christian is someone who has been literally given new spiritual life as a result of the Spirit’s work in Him.

And he’s been set free from the ruling power of sin.

We, as believers, are people who have died with Christ, quoting Paul, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life, which is why of course, spiritual growth, changing, overcoming sin, pursuing holiness, is a subject, we as believers, are all vitally interested in.

Unfortunately, however, while this is one of those subjects that every true believer is interested in, it’s also one of those subjects, that many believers, are really confused about, as well.

How do I grow?

How do I become holy?

When it comes to fighting sin, there are many believers who don’t really have a good idea, and you know, what’s even worse, there are also believers who have the wrong idea of what it means to become more and more spiritually mature.

There are some very wrong ideas about how to grow.

Which I think that has to be one of the greatest hindrances to growing.

Spiritually.

It is obviously going to be hard to move forward in the right direction if you are constantly listening to someone who is pointing you in the wrong direction.

Which is.

Honestly.

Paul’s concern.

As he writes the Colossians.

He knows, some good things have happened to them spiritually.

If you look back at Colossians 1, verse 3.

He begins,

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints.”

And he himself, has been really, working hard for their spiritual good.

“For this I toil.”

He says.

In chapter 1.

Verse 29.

“Struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”

That they might be mature in Christ.

And he wants the Colossians to know how hard he’s worked.

Chapter 2.

Verse 1 and 2.

“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for all those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

And the reason, he’s telling them all this, is because he’s concerned. He’s concerned that in spite of all the good that’s gone on so far and in spite of all his efforts on their behalf.

They might still be fooled.

To quote him in verse 4.

“I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.”

Which I think actually tells us, something, really important about growing and changing and moving forward spiritually.

One of the threats to becoming spiritually mature, to changing, to growing, are wrong ideas about how to grow and change and become spiritually mature.

Or to say it another way.

More positively.

One important step you can take towards growing spiritually.

Is.

Identifying and rejecting wrong ways of growing spiritually.

Which is.

Honestly.

I know.

Not maybe where we would normally start as we talk to someone about living out the Christian life.

I mean.

How do I grow?

Well.

First you need to know how not to grow.

But I think actually if we take a step back, in the real world, we can see why this is important, because, the thing is, we all know people who are frustrated in their Christian lives.

Where.

They are stuck in what they know to be a pattern of sin.

And they say they want to get out of it, and yet, as you talk to them, and try to counsel them, you find it is difficult to get anywhere, really, because they are convinced.

 Absolutely convinced.

 About certain ways of thinking about the Christian life.

 That just aren’t true.

Like, for example, the person who is just waiting for deliverance.

If you ask him he says he is a Christian and yet, he’s stuck in this ongoing sin. And he knows it is a sin. And he says he want to change. But, he feels like he can’t and, so his idea of how he’s going to change, is he needs to go to church, and get delivered. The pastor is supposed to put his hand on his head or something and say certain words, and if that happens, then the demon or whatever is keeping him stuck in that sin, is going to be cast out, and he’s going to be freed.

And he’s never going to struggle again.

Which.

Is.

How he thinks change works and is obviously going to impact him, and you are going to have a hard time helping him change until he gets rid of those wrong ideas about how to change, first.

Or.

Take another person. Who thinks the way you change is just letting go and letting God. Which is pretty common. In fact, I was reading where one of my favorite authors, who is a man named J.I. Packer and he’s written many great things on the Christian life, and yet he says when he first became a Christian, he was part of a particular group, that was teaching the way to become holy was basically just to let go, and let God.

So.

He thought he had to somehow surrender himself over and over to Jesus, and if he got it just right, and he got rid of self enough, then Jesus would sort of take over and the live out  the Christian life for him.

This was his idea of how he was supposed to grow spiritually, and it certainly sounds spiritual.

Jesus living through you.

And they made it sound like you could get to this point where it isn’t really you thinking or choosing or doing anymore, it is Jesus doing all that for you, which is why, when it came to temptation, he thought, I am not supposed to fight temptation, I am supposed to wait for Jesus to fight temptation for me and, he got very discouraged, because it wasn’t working, and it actually almost ruined his life as a result, he got to the point, where he was just about to give up, which you can understand I think.

If we want to grow but we are believing things that are not true about how the Christian life works it can do us a lot of long term spiritual damage,  which is why, Paul says here in Colossians 2, verse 8.

“See to it that no one takes you captive.

 I mean.

 He’s going to get into the specifics of how we grow and what we need to do in chapter 3, but before he goes there, he begins.

 “See to it that no one takes you captive.”

 And the image there is of a kidnapping.

 It’s like in a war.

Where one soldier is walking along, when suddenly an enemy soldier, springs out from behind a bush and drags him away.

Taking him captive.

And Paul’s saying.

Spiritually, we have to see it to that doesn’t happen to us. We have to watch out. We have to take care. We have to pay attention. We have to beware.

 And.

Obviously.

When we think about being taken captive.

We usually think of a person falling into some temptation to sin, specifically.  Like lust takes them captive. Or greed or something. But, that is not what Paul is telling us to watch out for. 

Here.

I mean.

Who is it that’s doing the kidnapping?

 It is a person teaching error.

“See to it that no one take you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”

And this threat.

Is.

So significant to the apostle Paul.

That he comes back to it.

Over and over.

Again.

Throughout chapter 2.

Verse 4.

Was.

You remember.

I say this so that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.

And.

Verse 8.

Is a command.

To watch out.

And.

Then verse 16, as well.

He writes.

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.”

Which actually you have to make sure you hear.

Let no one pass judgment on you.

Because you might think Paul was going to say, don’t pass judgment on others, but if you look again, you see he says don’t let anyone pass judgment on you.

And he’s talking about these particular areas, that he’s about to mention, which maybe sounds strange, that we can’t allow someone to pass judgment on us, but he has to say that, because he realizes there are certain attitudes and certain teachings, about the Christian life.

That we absolutely cannot accept.

It’s like we have a responsibility to not allow them to pass judgment on us, when it comes to this way of thinking, spiritually.

And Paul doesn’t stop there, either.

He says in verse 18.

“Let no one disqualify you.”

Which obviously is a pretty strong statement. To disqualify. I mean, he’s moving past someone passing judgment on you, toward them literally robbing you of at the very least the intimacy of your relationship with Jesus.

And it’s possible he’s speaking even more strongly.

Which is why I am saying.

If we are going to grow spiritually.

We have to watch out.

This is like step number one.

That we haven’t fallen for wrong ideas about how we are supposed to grow spiritually.

Which unfortunately, isn’t always easy.

That’s the thing.

Because, as I mentioned earlier, Paul calls them.

Plausible arguments.

Verse 4.

And a plausible argument is obviously one that sounds good. The kind of false teaching about the Christian life that does the most damage is sometimes the hardest to spot, because it sounds good, at first.  

And we can see why it sounds good as we work our way through how Paul describes it.

For one thing.

It usually is connected to a long worked out system that is based on ancient traditions.

In other words.

It’s in line with the way people in a culture normally think.

That’s the warning you see in verse 8.

“See to it that no one takes you captive by (what?) philosophy and empty deceit, according to human traditions, according to the elemental spirits of the world…”

And.

It’s not just obviously worldly either.

This is another characteristic of the false teaching in Colossae at least.

It sounded pretty spiritual as well.

While it was based on worldly principles and connected to this way of thinking that was very, very common, it was dressed up in religious language.

If you look down at verse 16.

It uses biblical language at points, as they talked about food and drink, and even the Sabbath.

That’s Old Testament stuff.

And then verse 18.

It looked religious.

They were even claiming to have visions.

“…going on in detail about visions.”

And.

They were disciplined in the way they treated their body.

Paul says.

They insisted on asceticism.

Which means, they had kinds of really hard rules to follow, and they probably doing all kinds of things, like fasting, and they were pretty serious about it.

This was at the heart of their teaching.

Verse 21.

“Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.”

Which is, I guess, why Paul says, in verse 23, that, it had the appearance of wisdom. “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom.”

Which is where we find ourselves today, as well, in Sunnyside, Pretoria, Africa, as we think about living the Christian life.

If you are living your life and wanting to live it for Jesus and to help others live for Jesus you are going to have to become a kind of expert in at least the basics of spotting false teaching, because, there’s just so much of it around us, right now, and it’s actually an awful lot like the kind of false teaching Paul’s talking about here.

It sometimes sounds good.

It consists of these ideas that have been around a long time in our cultures that are now dressed up in religious language and connected to Bible verses.

It is promoted by these people who look somewhat religious, and are claiming to have all this authority, because of certain experiences they say, they’ve had with God.

Even though Paul is writing to these Colossians about false teachers a couple thousand years ago, it’s like he’s talking to us today, and in this passage, he identifies the characteristics of the false teaching, we must reject, if we are going to move forward spiritually, which we will begin to look at in the next post on changing.

A Meet Habitation for His Soul

20 Jan

How was it possible for Jesus to be a sinless human being if we as humans are conceived in sin?

John Owen answers this question by pointing us back to the miraculous creation of the body of Christ by the immediate power of the Holy Ghost.

In other words, the virgin birth.

He writes,

“From this miraculous creation of the body of Christ by the immediate power of the Holy Ghost, it became a meet habitation for his holy soul. We have not only the general depravity of our nature, but the deviations of our own particular constitutions to conflict with. Hence, one is disposed to anger, another to levity, a third to sensuality, and another to sloth. But the body of Christ being perfectly pure and exact, there was no tendency in his constitution to the least deviation from perfect holiness. The exquisite harmony of his natural temperature, made love, meekness, gentleness, patience, benignity, and goodness natural to him, as having an incapacity of such motions as should have a contrary tendency. Hence, though he took on him those infirmities which belong to human nature, as such, and are inseparable from it till it be glorified, yet he took none of our particular infirmities, which cleave to our persons through the vice of our constitutions, or irregularities in the use of our bodies. Those natural passions of our minds, which are capable of being means of trouble, as grief and sorrow, he took upon him, and also those infirmities of nature which are trouble some to the body, as hunger, thirst, weariness and pain, (yea, the purity of his holy constitution made him more exquisitely sensible of these things, than any of the children of men;) but as to our bodily diseases and distempers which personally adhere to us, on the disorder of our constitutions, he was absolutely free from them. The human nature of Christ thus being miraculously formed, was sanctified from the instant of its conception, and filled with grace according to its capacity. Being not begotten by natural generation, it derived no taint of original sin from Adam; it was obnoxious to no charge of sin, but was absolutely innocent and spotless on the day he was created.”

John Owen

How to change, part nine

19 Jan

When we are thinking about sin and holiness, and change, if we are talking with someone who is not a Christian, they are enslaved to sin, they are under the dominion of sin, they need the gospel, but if we are talking to someone who is a Christian, they need to understand what the gospel means for them. In other words, they need to understand what it means to be a Christian.

To be a Christian is to be someone who has died to sin, which means you are someone who is not enslaved to sin, someone who has been set free from sin, someone who no longer lives under the authority of sin.

Which seems so big, someone might say, I think, how is that even possible?

I don’t feel that way.

 And when I look at sin, it seems pretty powerful, and I can’t imagine how I can ever be someone who has defeated sin and broken its back.

Which of course, is pretty much, why Paul spends so much time explaining in verses 3 through 10, of Romans 6, exactly how this happened. We have his question in verse 1, and then his answer in verse 2, and this long explanation in verses 3 through 10, which ends with him saying down in verse 11.

Actually.

“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

In other words.

As a result.

So.

This is why.

You should think of yourself as dead to sin, and what is the reason, Paul’s been giving?

In all the verses that go before that?

In sense, it is not that complicated.

And in another sense, it sort of feels like it is.

But as you look at this passage, I am going to try to keep it kind of simple by showing you the two basic components to his argument.

And the first.

Is because of what Jesus did.

Which is vital.

Why do we consider ourselves dead to sin?

It’s first, because Jesus died to sin and rose again and you can see that’s the foundational theme running throughout these verses.

It’s the assumption.

And it has nothing to do with our will power or our decision or something we feel is true of us or our just being really serious people.

If it were you versus sin, you would be taken out.

Every time.

The reason you can be assured as a Christian that sin has lost its authority over your life doesn’t have something to do with your personal efforts, everything to do instead, it has to do with a fact, an event that has taken place in history.

Jesus came into this world

Jesus died, and Jesus was raised from the dead, by the glory of the Father and this death and resurrection has significance.

Which Paul’s explains in verses 9 and 10.

In other words.

It accomplished something.

Paul writes,

“We know that Christ being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died, he died to sin, once for all, but the life, he lives, he lives to God.”

Which means.

In other words.

Jesus’ won.

As Christians, we believe Jesus won.

He didn’t just become man because He was wondering what it was like. He came into this world in order to go to battle against sin and its consequences, and while he was in this world, there’s no question, sin assaulted him, and he’d experience the consequences of living in a world that was dominated by sin.

And the biggest and worst consequence of them being the death that He died on the cross.

There was a point in history where death had dominion over Jesus, and the reason it was able to have that dominion over Jesus, was because of our sin, he took our sin on his body on the cross and bore the wrath of God, and we know, that while though Satan and sin did everything they could to defeat Jesus, in the end, they couldn’t, Jesus was victorious, and the proof of that, is the fact that he was raised from the dead.

He went to war against sin.

Jesus.

And against all its consequences, and even though sin brought out its most powerful weapon against him, when Jesus was raised from the dead, God made it clear that Jesus had won, and that victory, for Jesus was final.

He’ll never experience the consequences of sin like that again. Death has no power over Him.

Because.

Paul says.

In the next verse.

For the death he died, he died to sin.

Which means, as far as sin is “concerned, Jesus’ relationship to it is finished forever.” It’s done. He came. He lived on earth. He died for sin. He humiliated Satan. He put an end to sins claims on believers. And now that he’s died, that phase of his life, is past.

It’s not going to be repeated.

Which is why he says as he is dying on the cross.

It is finished.

Which is why, after he rose from the dead, he ascended to God the Father, and now, we know, or course, he lives in a completely different realm. The life he lives, Paul says, he lives to God and he doesn’t mean, obviously, now that He is risen, He really is able to obey God or something like that, because he always was able to obey God, fully.

Instead means, that Jesus now, lives entirely in the realm of God the Father.

Where there once.

Was a time.

As one pastor explains,

“when Christ was in the realm of sin and death; he is no longer there…he is now living in this other realm, in the realm of the power and the glory of God.”

Which of course is awesome. It is exciting.

It’s like we are watching a great king go out to do battle against this terrible enemy, whom we all know, we could never overcome ourselves, and as we watch him do battle against this enemy, we see that He’s clearly victorious, and yet you might be asking, what does all of this has to do with me?

Which is the second component to Paul’s argument.

And this is key.

We find it all the way back, in verse 3.

“Do you not know”

Which of course is the problem that a lot of people have. They don’t know.

“…that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”

And obviously when we heard the word baptize or baptism, we think about the water, but the word baptism itself, literally just means immersed, and so, Paul’s saying, when you become a Christian, you have been immersed in Christ.

That’s fundamentally, what this is talking about. It’s talking about believer’s union with Christ.

Union with Christ.

You say, I don’t know what union with Christ is?

You need to know it.

It’s Paul’s favorite way of describing what it means to be a Christian. I think there are something like 100 pages of Paul’s writings in the New Testament and somewhere around 170 times in those 100 pages he talks about being immersed or united to Christ, which kind of tells you this is important to him.

As Christians.

According to Paul.

We have a relationship with Jesus now, that is so deep, we can, say we have been, immersed in Christ.

Which is significant.

When it comes to us being sure, sin no longer has authority over us.

Because as you see, Paul works it out.

If you have been united to Christ. God looks on what happened to Christ, as having happened to you. Which sounds intense.

But it’s what Paul says.

If we have been immersed into Christ Jesus, he says in verse 3, that means we have been immersed into his death.

Which is the first step.

We look back at Jesus dying, and we died with him.

Verse 4.

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Verse 5.

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his…”

Verse 6.

“We know that our old self was crucified with him.”

And verse 8.

“Now if we have died with Christ.”

In other words.

If we think about ourselves, as we used to be. As people who were born into this world, and were represented by Adam. With Adam as our head, it’s like when Adam sinned, we sinned.

Paul says this back in Roman 5:12.

Actually.

“Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…”

And he’s saying.

Before, God looked at us as in Adam and as result, as having sinned with Adam and what he experienced, we experience.

We experience all the consequences of his sinful choices.

But.

Through faith.

All that changes because we are united to Christ.

He’s our representative now.

And because God now looks at us as in Jesus, it’s like everything that He went through, and that He accomplished, happened to us, specifically, He was delivered from the dominion of sin and now sin’s no longer able to threaten him or exercise any kind of rule or power over Him, like it did on the cross.

Which again, Paul’s has practical implications for us, because it means we can be assured, confident, that sin no longer has rule and power over us.

I mean.

Listen to how many times Paul says this.

Verse 4.

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Verse 5.

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

Verse 8.

“Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we also will live with him.”

Verse 11.

“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

And, man, it’s interesting how often Paul repeats himself, but that’s because he knows how hard it is sometimes for believers who are struggling with temptation and sin to believe this. And really, we have to believe it, because this dying and rising again with Jesus, is not some sort of experience we had really.

It is a divine transaction.

When you were saved there wasn’t a real death and burial that took place, though God gives you baptism to help you picture it, but it wasn’t a physical thing, it was spiritual, and we have to know it’s true through faith.

Which is why it is sometimes hard for us to really grasp and enjoy the fact that this is actually true.

I was thinking this week.

I think it’s kind of like what might have happened after Apartheid maybe.

I mean, I wasn’t here, so I am kind of making this up, but I can also imagine it’s something like what happened in America after slavery ended.

If you were living all these years under this oppressive system, where someone was telling you, that you weren’t as important and you couldn’t do certain things, and you were supposed to act a certain way around certain people, and then say that oppressive system was somehow overthrown, and you weren’t actually the one who was physically present overthrowing that system, you were just out there, somewhere hearing about it having happened, and you heard you were freed from all of that, that would be amazing of course, but you know, it would be very tempting, if you had lived under that old oppressive system for so long, to not to really believe it.

In practice.

Because you woke up the next morning and most everything still looked the same.

You can imagine in the United States there were restaurants where certain people couldn’t go, and then, suddenly, when that changed, you might have been allowed to go into that restaurant, but it would be somewhat difficult to believe it, or enjoy it or even do it to go into that restaurant, because there had been so many years, when you couldn’t.

Or maybe here, even though, now, it’s obviously wrong for a certain group of people to treat others as inferior, there are people who will still act as if they were inferior, just because for so long, they were told that is how they were supposed to act, and they would be punished, if they didn’t act that way, and so it just became a way of life for them. And someone might say, that’s not how it is any longer, but it might not feel like much has changed for them really, and obviously, if they are going to change, it’s going to take work, but that work is mostly going to be in their mind, they are going to have to keep coming back to what they know to be true, this is what is reality, they are going to have to come back to what happened, and say this is what is real, and that is going to be especially hard, if everyone around them is telling them, that’s not reality, and it’s going to be difficult, if they don’t feel like it’s real, but they can’t allow their feelings to control them, if they are going to change, they have to say this is what is true, and this is how I need to live in light of that.

Which is what Paul’s saying we have to do, as Christians, if we are going to change, in verses 11 and following.

We have had the question.

Can Christians keep on sinning?

And the answer is, no, because we have been united to Christ, and our relationship to sin, as a result has completely changed, we are no longer under its power and authority.

And.

This is the application.

“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

And he’s not saying pretend like you don’t have sinful desires and pretend like you don’t sometimes struggle with sin. I mean, this is not some sort of funny game you play with yourself.

I don’t want that.

I don’t want that.

Instead he’s saying verse 12.

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body to make you obey its passions.”

In other words, as you are being tempted, you need to go back to the gospel, and observe what’s happened. Follow me now. This is one key step in overcoming sin. You need to think about what you know to be true, which is, that Jesus has defeated the power of sin, and he’s been raised from the dead, sin has no authority over him, and therefore, if you are a Christian, you are in Jesus, which means sin has no authority over you either.

So don’t let it.

Don’t let sin reign in your mortal body, and if it is going to reign over you as a Christian, that’s the thing you have to let it.

You have a choice now. And so you have to know that. You can’t keep making excuses for yourself. You have to know, that you are in Christ, and you are a new person, and you have to now work at applying that reality to the way you think and live.

Which is the second key really, know, make sure you know what’s true about you, and that you think about it, and then act.

Quoting Paul again.

“Don’t let it reign sin your mortal body to make you obey its passions.”

Which can be a challenge of course.

I was thinking.

If you were a slave for a long time, and you were set free, and then your slave master came back and he tried to intimidate you, and threaten you, you might be tempted to just go back and start relating to him the way you used to, and to doing what he says.

And someone might have to come to you, and say no, don’t, don’t do that, because that man doesn’t have any authority over you any longer.

Which is what Paul is saying, in terms of sin.

While Jesus has won the battle, we are going to have to work at enjoying the benefits, because we are still living in this sinful world and sin wants to reign in our mortal bodies.

I mean.

We don’t have our resurrected bodies yet, which are going to be completely free from any kind of corruption. When we have those resurrected bodies, the issue is completely taken care of, body and soul are going to be in absolute sync with one another, perfected without any desires that are broken, but for now, we still have these mortal bodies, which are messed up because of sin, and so there are still desires, that are not working the way they should, and sin wants to take advantage of that weakness that remains in us.

And of course.

This is where as believers, the battle is taking place.

And.

This is why it sometimes feels like such a struggle.

As long as we are in these physical bodies, there’s still a kind of very real brokenness, and yet, you know, it’s not hopeless, which is Paul’s whole point, because now, as believer we can say no to ungodliness and yes to righteousness.

If you are a Christian.

You can as Paul says in verse 13.

Choose.

Not to.

Present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness.”

 You are able not to sin.

 When the old slave master comes and says come, work for me.

And even using your desires to fool you.

You are able as a believer to say no, I am not going to give you my body, to use for unrighteousness. This is part of overcoming sin, knowing what’s true, applying it to your life, and then specifically, saying no to sin and yes to righteousness.

Because.

You are able to.

Now.

To live in a way that pleases God.

Quoting Paul.

“Present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”

And while I never want to minimize the challenges we face in pursuing holiness in this world, I also want to make it very clear that Paul thinks it is possible, for those of us who are believers, to live lives that are genuinely pleasing to God.

There actually are some people who think that we shouldn’t expect Christians to be able to turn from sin and turn to God. And sometimes they even argue, that it’s because they are making a big deal of God’s grace.

But I am pretty sure, the apostle Paul would say the opposite.

Romans 6:14.

“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law, but under grace.”

Who Not To Argue With

18 Jan

It seems loving to try to answer every single question every single person has, but it is definitely not wise.

It’s not wise because there is a kind of person who just doesn’t learn.

No matter how long you talk with him. No matter how persuasive you are. No matter how much research you’ve put into your arguments.

He won’t benefit from them.

He’s unable to and his inability to benefit from what you are saying has nothing to with his natural intelligence, either. It has everything to do with his heart.

He’s a scoffer.

Solomon says, “Scoffer is the name of the arrogant, haughty man, who acts with arrogant pride.” (Proverbs 21:24) And one of the ways that arrogant pride reveals itself is the fact he won’t pay attention to someone who tells him he is wrong.

Proverbs 13:1, “A scoffer does not listen to rebuke.”

Which means, if you find yourself in a disagreement with someone who is a scoffer, before you even respond, he’s got one clear criteria for evaluating your argument, is he making me look good?

It’s not about the quality of the argument. It’s not about the proofs you offer up. It’s got nothing to do with that, because that’s not the scoffer’s agenda. The scoffer is proud and as a proud person he has one thing he wants most, and that’s to make himself look important and smart and good, at all costs and, if the person talking isn’t saying something he thinks does that, he goes on the attack.

If you won’t make him look good, he has to make himself look good, and the way he tries to make himself look good, is by trying to make you look bad.

Which is why Solomon says,

“Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.” (Proverbs 9:7)

No matter how much he might claim objectivity, he’s not objective, and proof of that is the fact that he has to be so mean. He doesn’t just disagree with the person talking to him, he seeks to injure that person, and the reason he wants to injure that person is because he hates him.

“Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you.” (Proverbs 9:8)

And the fundamental reason the scoffer will hate you for rebuking him is because you  aren’t buying the lie he has spent his life trying to sell himself and everyone else, which is, that he’s the hero of the universe.

Which, I think, is part of what makes it difficult to know how exactly to love him. I mean, how do you love someone who seems to define love as bowing down and worshiping him?

Sometimes it seems the only thing you can do is drive him out.

At least that is what Solomon tells us.

“Drive out a scoffer and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease.” (Proverbs 22:10)

Which seems harsh, but love protects, and loving the people around you might mean, you have to make difficult decisions about the one who is scoffing, but those difficult decisions shouldn’t keep you from praying, because while you may not be able to answer a scoffer’s arguments in a way that he can benefit from, you can hope that one day his own folly will break him enough, to change the attitude of his heart, so that’s he’s ready to learn.

You hope that, because you can be sure, if he isn’t brought to that point, there is a day coming, when that scoffer will receive an answer from God, and that answer will be punishment.

“For the ruthless shall come to nothing, and the scoffer cease, and all who watch out to do evil shall be cut off, who by a word, make a man out to be an offender, and lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate, and with an empty plea turn aside him who is in the right.” (Isaiah 29:20,21)