Living by Faith

In the preceding blog post, I wrote about how we are saved by faith, and only by faith.

God offers us the gift of salvation, which can only be obtained by believing and receiving.

How sad it is then, that some people will move on from their faith-based salvation and begin pursuing a works-based sanctification.

The truth is our life after salvation is to be lived by faith as well.

Hebrews 10:38 states “But my righteous one shall live by faith.”

Back in the first century, the apostle Paul spent a lot of time starting up churches throughout Asia Minor. One of the churches he established was located in a region known as Galatia.

Paul introduced the Galatians to a Gospel message that was to be received by faith. And receive they did!

But awhile later, after Paul had moved along with his missionary efforts, word got back to Paul that the Galatians were trying to add works to their faith.

Paul exploded with frustration:

 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you,let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)

Paul was mortified to think that some of the Galatian Christians had decided that faith wasn’t enough to maintain their walk with God.

In frustration, Paul later asks them this question:

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? (Galatians 5:7 ESV)

In fact, the entire letter written to the Galatians centers on Paul’s strong desire to see the Galatian Christians get back to the place where they are living their life trusting God as opposed to trusting their works.

When we live by faith, we place ourselves in the position of trusting in God’s word, as well as trusting God’s power.

The supremacy of faith over works is highlighted in the book of Hebrews. In Hebrews 11:1, the writer offers us a snapshot definition of the substance of faith:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 

In fact, the entire contents of Hebrews 11 is dedicated to describing what extraordinary “living faith” looks like, employing the examples of several Old Testament personalities, including Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Moses and more. And the overall challenge of the chapter is this: live like these people!

Living by faith isn’t just some mystical, theoretical approach to life, but instead provides concrete, tangible results. When we live by faith in what God says, it shows up in what we do. For example:

  • Faith drives us to be caring and compassionate toward others (James 14:17)
  • Faith motivates us to share Jesus with others (Matthew 28:19-20)
  • Faith causes us to act in obedience to God (Romans 1:5)
  • Faith helps us to confidently take forward steps in life, even though we don’t have all the answers (2 Corinthians 5:7)
  • Faith reveals itself in how we love others (Galatians 5:6)

Regarding the value of living life by faith, the writer of Proverbs said it well with this short but powerful statement:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV)

Here’s the deal: we enter into a relationship with Jesus based solely on faith, and it produces our wonderful salvation.

And it is God’s plan that we continue our relationship with Jesus in faith, because “without faith, it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6)

May we please God by trusting Him to work through us, rather than us trying to work for Him.

 

 

 

 

Saved by Faith

Faith is the silver thread upon which the pearls of the graces are to be hung. Break that, and you have broken the string — the pearls lie scattered on the ground.”  ~ Charles  H. Spurgeon

Although human nature seems to want to insist that the way to reach God is through moral effort and religious activity, the Bible is emphatic in stating that the way to a right relationship with God is through faith.

In other words, rather than put our trust in ourselves, we are called to place our trust in someone else.

This may go against our instinct, but we would be wise to heed the warnings of scripture that make it plain that our salvation has nothing to do with works.

Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly makes this point:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (ESV)

Consider also this declaration of the uselessness of works found in Titus 3:4-5:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit… (ESV)

Faith is not something we just say, but it is something we exercise from our heart.

About 60 years ago, a man became well known for crossing over Niagara Falls by tight-rope walking on a cable. His name was Blondin, and people would flock to see him traverse back and forth across the wire.

One time he asked the crowd if they believed he could cross the gorge pushing a wheelbarrow, to which the crowd responded with an ecstatic, “We believe!”

So, off Blondin went across the falls and back. The crowd cheered.

He then asked again, “Do you believe I can push this wheelbarrow across Niagara Falls?”

The crowd erupted even louder, “We believe!”

Then Blondin asked for a volunteer to sit in the wheelbarrow as he made his way over the gushing waters.

The crowd became noticeably quiet, and some people even began slinking away.

In the end, no one dared trust Blondin enough to join him on the cable.

When it comes to placing our faith in Christ, we aren’t just being asked to state our belief.

We are being invited, in essence, to get in the wheelbarrow.

We are being challenged to place our trust in Him that He might become the Lord and Savior of our entire life.

Jesus said this in Matthew 11:28-30:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (ESV)

It’s one thing to say we believe in the yoke of Jesus. But true faith allows Jesus to place it upon our lives.

The good news is that, as Jesus declares, His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

It is vital for anyone seeking God to realize that He won’t be found in striving or earning, but only through faith. How important is this? Consider Hebrews 11:6:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (ESV)

The door to God is marked “faith.” And it is by no other door that we will connect with Him.

 

Adoption into God’s Family

When a person puts their faith in Christ, a multitude of things take place instantaneously.

For example:

  • Even though we have a “sin debt” piled up against God, we are declared justified and righteous in God’s sight (Romans 3:21, Romans 5:1)
  • We are spiritually regenerated, being revived out of spiritual death by the power of Christ (Titus 3:5, 2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • We become a permanent dwelling place for God’s Holy Spirit, who helps us better understand God’s word, convicts of us sin, and prompts us to produce godly behavior

But one of my favorite aspects of salvation is the fact that the Bible declares us to be adopted into God’s family.

Maybe this is because adoption is something near and dear to my heart.

Two times my wife and I have stood before a judge to be declared the legal parents of two children who shared none of our DNA.

The adoption proceedings were a ceremony that was both joyous and solemn. We had to sign documents and pledge to the court that we would fulfill our role as parents as if these children had come from us.

As a result, these children would live in our home and take on our name. And they would share all the rights and privileges due to a son or daughter.

A few verses that make the point that we are permanently grafted into God’s family include:

Ephesians 1:5 (ESV): He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…

John 1:12 (ESV): But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…

1 John 3:1 (ESV): See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are…

 Romans 8:14-15 (ESV): For  all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

So what are some of the effects of being adopted by God?

  • We enjoy a strong sense of security. When God makes us a member of His family, He does it even though He knows our past (Romans 5:8) and even though He knows our future! 
  • We gain a Father who is approachable. Romans 5:2 reminds us that one result of salvation is a new-found access to God. This was symbolized when the curtain in the holy of holies was torn in half right when Jesus died.The word used in Romans 8 is “abba,” which is a word for affection that a young child would have for his father.
  • God will look after us and provide for us. He will supply us all we need for our new life in Him. He gives us His Word, His Spirit and His church to help us grow and become fruitful.
  • He’ll even prove the validity of our adoption by being willing to discipline us. Normally, people don’t discipline other people’s kids. They leave that job to the parents. God shows us that He loves us, so much so he is willing to discipline us when we stray or sin. Hebrews 12:5-7 says,  And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

In the familiar story of the prodigal son (found in Luke 15:11-32), the rebellious son ran far away from his father so he could lead a selfish, lifestyle without interference from his dad. But when he ran out of resources, the son found himself living in conditions fit for a pig (literally!).

After realizing his foolishness, he devised a plan to head home and humbly pitch his father a deal to become one of the servants. The son felt his actions were so foolish and harebrained that his father would never want to receive back as a son. So, he hoped to at least settle for a demotion to the role of a servant.

But as the son approached the family home, humbly rehearsing his humble speech and readying himself to be shamed, the father saw him and ran down the road to meet him.

And what took place next was nothing short of amazing.

The father covered the son with kisses. He called upon his servants to bring out the best robe and he slipped a signet ring onto his son’s finger…a ring that declared that this son was FAMILY. It was the father’s way of saying to the son, “You have all the rights as a son.” And in order to share his joy with others, he ordered a huge feast to be prepared.

So what does this story have to do with us?

Jesus told this beautiful story to give us an solid idea of what God does for those who come to him in humility, ready to receive the gift of Jesus.

Nobody is born into this world a child of the family of God. We are born as children of wrath. The only way we enter into the family of God is by adoption, and that adoption occurs when we are united to God’s only begotten Son by faith. When by faith we are united with Christ, we are then adopted into that family of whom Christ is the firstborn.” ~ R.C. Sproul

 

What Does Jesus Mean by “Deny” in Matthew 10:33?

“…but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” ~ Matthew 10:33

Recently this verse created a discussion among some of my Facebook friends.

The idea being presented was this: if a Christian denied the name of Jesus to another person, God would be forced to deny them salvation.

Here’s a scenario that was used to frame the discussion:

Someone holds a gun to another person’s head and insists that they renounce Jesus Christ. Out of fear for their life, the person denounces their allegiance to Jesus. Result? No salvation because of a blatant denial of the Savior.

When it comes to Matthew 10:33, I don’t think the situation described above has anything to do with what Jesus was talking about.

Case in point: the apostle Peter famously denounced his relationship with Jesus, not once, but three times.

“I don’t know the man!” Peter bellowed. 

Yet, later on in John’s Gospel we find Jesus lovingly restoring Peter back into relationship, and at the same time, setting him up for fruitful ministry.

When Jesus speaks of the issue of denial, I think it’s important to look at the context of the passage:

“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.  So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. ~ Matthew 10:26-33 (ESV)

I find it interesting (and reassuring) that the first four words of this passage are “so have no fear.”

The overall point of Jesus’ teaching was not to instill fear, but rather to infuse confidence.

In fact Jesus, Jesus tells His listeners not to be afraid 3 times!

At verse 32 we also find this positive encouragement:

So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven…

That’s good news for us!

This verse reminds me of Paul’s words found in Romans 10:9-10:

Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

We are saved because we believe in our heart that Jesus is the risen Savior who is able to save us from our sins, and a natural reaction to that belief is confession.

Confession is much more than just a statement that comes from our lips.

It represents a true heart change that has occurred in our life.

To the person who has believed in Jesus us Lord and Savior and received Him into their life, salvation is promised.

And as multiple scriptures indicate, that salvation is secure. (Consider John 10:28-29, Romans 8:31-39, Ephesians 4:30, 1 Peter 1:5, Jude 24)

So, going back to the verse we started with, what is going on when Jesus says that He will deny those who deny Him?

I believe the point of Matthew 10:33 is that if a person in the totality of their life refuses to recognize and respond to their need for Jesus, then upon their death they will not be able to claim rightful residence in heaven with God.

Peter temporarily wavered (like most us have), but the sum of his life was one that had him opening up his heart to the Gospel. In fact, after Peter’s denials and Jesus’ restoration, Peter went on to become a major force in the building up of the early church.

What Matthew 10:33 speaks of is the person who clearly hears about the love of God, the sacrifice of Jesus and the hope of the Gospel, and in turn declines to acknowledge Jesus for who He is. It is a blatant denial on earth that results in a unblushing denial in heaven.

Last thought: although we can rest in the security of salvation, not fearing reprisal for our times of weakness, it is good for us to consider the measure of boldness we bring to our faith.

When challenged to stand up for Christ, as well as Christian principles, do we wither in shame or fear?

Part of Christian maturity is coming to the place where we are less and less fearful to stoutly stand on that which we believe.

William Gurnell said this:

A Christian without boldness is like a smooth file, a knife without an edge, a sentinel that is afraid to let off his gun. If men will be bold in sin, Christians must be bold to reprove.

May we have complete confidence in the Lord so that we might stand up confidently for Him.

May we be like Paul who announced that he was not ashamed of the Gospel.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m a New Christian. What Now?

In the Bible, a new Christian is compared to a brand new baby.

It’s actually a great description.

We all know that when new babies arrive, they need a lot of help to both survive and thrive.

So it is with the freshly-minted believer.

As a person embraces their spiritual rebirth, they realize that, in a myriad of ways, everything is brand new to them, and as a result they are going to need help to move towards maturity.

Truth be told, a new believer without the necessary helps is much like a baby that has been abandoned.

There are several important “first steps” for the new believer to take to develop spiritually.

But, the first thing I would tell a new believer is to find a healthy church, commit to regular attendance and seek out ways to get involved.

The local church is designed to be God’s incubator for spiritual development.

It’s the place where we can go to worship, fellowship, learn, and serve.

I believe it is crucial to find a church that is committed to a few vital components:

  • Clearly teaches God’s Word (as opposed to lightly glossing over the Bible)
  • Values prayer in all aspects of it’s ministries
  • Has a vision to take the message and mercy of Jesus outside of the church to others
  • Is marked by a culture that balances a commitment to truth as well as a spirit of grace and love
  • Provides venues for people to interact, grow and serve with other Christians
  • Is God-focused rather than consumer-driven (coming to church to give rather than take)
  • Is willing to ask you to help out and get involved (church is not a spectator sport)
  • Isn’t about taking up all your time, but wants to help you get out and live and share with others who need Jesus

It’s been said that being part of a church can be compared to a pile of red hot coals. As long as those coals stay close together they provide a red glow and a lot of heat. But it you take one of the coals and set it aside, far from the other coals, it will rapidly cool down, while the coals that are together will continue to burn hot.

Hebrews 10:24-25 makes the same point as the illustration about the coals:

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.

D.L. Moody once said regarding church involvement:

Church attendance is as vital to a disciple as a transfusion of rich, healthy blood to a sick man. 

As someone seeks to become part of a church, it’s good to keep some evaluative tools in mind. Here are a few thoughts:

A healthy church is one that:

  • Provides opportunities to worship God with others
  • Affords multiple settings for spiritual learning and growth
  • Equips believers to be able to handle life’s challenges from a biblical perspective
  • Develops Christians to effectively practice service to others
  • Releases people to share Christ with others

Church health isn’t determined by the amount of people in the congregation, the size of the building, or if the technology is cutting edge.

It’s found in a church that seeks to live out the instructions found in the New Testament.

It’s simply a group of people committed to loving God and loving others in light of God’s truth.

New to Jesus? Find your way into the life of a church.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Become a Christian

How does a person become a Christian? It really is the most important question we could ever ask.

  • Some people think it happens because they start participating in Christian activities.
  • Others think it occurs if they go to church.
  • For some, its the belief that becoming a Christian happens when they are baptized.
  • Still others think becoming a Christian is a result of practicing charity and social concern.
  • In some cases, people believe they have become Christians because they grew up in a Christian family.

The truth is, that while all these items are good things, none of them are really how a person becomes a Christian.

The things listed above  (except for the last one) are some of the potential results of a person becoming a Christian.

If you look at the list above, you’ll notice that it mostly describes things that a person does.

But the essence of becoming a Christian is wrapped up in what we believe and who we receive.

So, what is involved in the process of becoming a Christian? Here are a few thoughts.

The first step toward becoming a Christian is realizing and acknowledging our need for a Savior.

The first 3 chapters of the book of Romans are designed to make us understand that, across the board, every person fails to possess the absolute purity and holiness required to be in relationship with God.

The apostle Paul wrapped up this teaching with this statement about our spiritual futility in Romans 3:23:

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Our sin, no matter how small, keeps us from being in relationship with God.

Sometimes our temptation is to work, strive and labor to somehow get God’s attention by being religious, but apart from some assistance from outside ourselves, it’s a lost cause.

When we admit our need, and realize that our sins have placed us on a sort of spiritual “death row,” we are ready to continue forward.

Coming out of this ominous first step we encounter some really good news: God, being rich in love and mercy, has stepped in on our behalf. He knows we are unable to reach him.

That’s why God sent Jesus. He reached down to help us.

Perhaps the most familiar verse in all the Bible states:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 ESV)

God sent Jesus to live a perfect life, free of sin, so that He might die in our place. He took the punishment that was meant for us.

And because Jesus did that, we now can find our connection back to God. Not through works, but through faith.

So, the second step to becoming a Christian is placing our trust in the work that Jesus did on our behalf.

The Bible refers to what God has done for us as a gift (Romans 6:23). We aren’t supposed to pay for it, rather we can only receive it.

Jesus said as much in John 1:9-13

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (ESV)

To become a Christian, a person must believe and receive.

Essentially, God has made as an offer that, hopefully, we can’t refuse.

He’s paid for the sins that serve as our death sentence. And he wants to give us a new life where we can know Him and serve Him.

But we must act upon God’s offer. We must decisively decide to turn from our sin and embrace our Savior. This is a decision that is not meant to merely clear up our moral debt to God, but to transform us from the day of our decision forward.

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17:

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

To become a Christian means we go into it understanding that God intends to do a transformational work in our life.

It’s about leaving some things behind. It’s about discovering some new ways to live.

Here’s the last thing I’d add to the list:

To become a Christian means that we are willing to declare our new relationship with Jesus.

It would seem to follow that if we have received such a great gift from God, we’d want others to know about it to.

Paul wrote about the importance of a declaration regarding our salvation in Romans 10:9-10

if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (ESV)

Paul uses the word confession.

It’s the idea that we find ourselves motivated to let others know about the most monumental decision of our life.

This is why I believe baptism is so closely linked with salvation in the New Testament.

Baptism was (and is) a beautiful, illustrative way to declare the work that God had done within the the life of a new believer.

Please note: we aren’t saved by baptism, but baptism is meant to serve a proof of the reality and validity of our salvation.

Confession of our relationship with Jesus is a natural, normative expression of our new-found salvation.

In a nutshell, to become a Christian we must: admit our need, believe in Jesus, receive God’s gift…and out of this transformational change will flow a confession that declares Christ as the Lord of our life.

It can occur in a short little prayer to God. But it is a prayer designed to change us forever.

 

 

 

In Pursuit of a “Simple Christianity”

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~ Leonardo Da Vinci

As the saying goes, sometimes less is more.

When I think about much of what goes on in modern-day Christianity, I couldn’t agree more.

Sometimes I get exhausted by convoluted and “complexified” Christianity.

I wish we would yearn to simplify our faith.

I’m not talking about dumbing it down.

Just working harder at trimming the fat.

Here’s a smattering of what I’m thinking:

  • We spend way too much time fretting over things that mean little to our actual, Bible-informed beliefs and practices.
  • We’re often willing to trade things that are of eternal value for the inconsequential.
  • Christians violently clash over matters that don’t have any bearing on salvation or core theology.
  • We have so many camps, opinions, tribes and positions its hard to keep up.
  • Rather than uniting (as Jesus prayed for in John 17), much of our energy is spent trying to figure out how we differ.
  • And once we find out that we do differ, we use that as the reason we can’t fellowship with certain people who we will likely be spending eternity with.

I’m not trying to make a case for a wishy-washy faith.

I am a strong proponent of holding firm and fast to the core tenets of Christianity, whether it be theological doctrine or practical application.

But, what I’ve witnessed is this: a few too many people willing to violate the most basic elements of Christian conduct, all because they were obsessed with the lure of “Christian” minutiae.

Sadly, we sometimes have a knack for majoring in the minors, and minoring in the majors.

When Paul came to preach at Corinth, he made this proclamation about how he simplified and clarified the presentation of his message:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,  and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV)

Paul preached his message to a culture that viewed itself as highly sophisticated and culturally cosmopolitan.

But Paul didn’t try to impress them. He kept his message simple. He told them about Jesus and the crucifixion and left it at that. And that was enough, because God’s power dwells in the simple presentation of the Gospel.

Paul kept it simple, and as a result lives were changed.

Later on in his ministry, Paul was coaching Timothy about keeping focused on things that really matter. He wrote these words to Timothy:

 I urged you on my departure to Macedonia, you should stay on at Ephesus to instruct certain men not to teach false doctrines or devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies which promote speculation rather than the stewardship of God’s work, which is by faith. (1 Timothy 1:4 ESV)

Paul’s warning was this: its really easy to get sidelined by discussions that appear to be “deep” and “spiritual” and “important,” but in reality they are just sources for a bunch of never-ending, dead-end discussions.

They can even get so far off-base that they become false teachings.

(And one of their most insidious by-products of all this is how disunity often gets sowed among God’s people.)

Rather than get caught up in empty, endless, pointless debates, Timothy was called to pursue the “stewardship of God’s work.”

I think this work could be summed up in a three-fold strategy:

  1. Reach people for Jesus
  2. Build people up in Jesus
  3. Send people out for Jesus

It’s not rocket science. But it is, in a nutshell, the essence of our work here on earth.

I get it. We live in a time known as “the age of information.” And the availability of information can often be helpful.

But I’m also wondering if the ever-growing mound of Christian information we have at our fingertips isn’t getting a bit ridiculous.

As for me, I’m going to try and keep it simple.

 

 

 

 

 

Know Your Enemies (Part 4)

The third enemy that makes our living out the Christian life more challenging is something the Bible calls “the flesh.”

The Bible is not speaking about our physical bodies, which are made up of muscle and bones, bur rather an aspect of our self that goes much deeper.

See, prior to Christ we were dead spiritually. The only “person” that ruled in our lives was our self. And, apart from a relationship with Christ, our flesh had a tendency to lead us into attitudes and actions that we wouldn’t categorize as “God-pleasing.”

Ephesians 5:19-21 gives us some insight into the mindset, and resulting activities of the flesh:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (ESV)

In short, the flesh produces trouble. Trouble for ourselves. Trouble for other people.

But, when we came to Christ we invited a new dimension into our life. We became alive to God. We received His Holy Spirit. We went from perennial losers to ultimate victors.

But, at times, our new life in Christ and our old nature of self-rule push against each other. Paul said as much in Galatians as he described how the way of the flesh and the ways of the spirit don’t see eye to eye.

Of our struggle with the flesh, Anthony Thiselton wrote:

“The outlook of the flesh is the outlook oriented toward the self, that which pursues its own ends in self-sufficient independence of God.” Here is the reason we often fail to practice what we say we believe. We are born with this selfish disposition, our culture reinforces it, and it remains with us even after we are born again. We are all in the process of having our hearts transformed from an outlook oriented toward the self into an outlook oriented toward God and others. But part of the transformation involves recognizing our selfish disposition and submitting to God’s will. Such recognition and submission does not come easily.”

Perhaps the longest section of scripture addressing the challenge of the flesh is found in Romans 6:1-8:17. Paul, in an autobiographical style, shares of the struggle to please God while being hounded by the flesh that would lead him toward sin.

By reading Paul’s words, we must come to this conclusion: the struggle is real.

So how do we respond? Here’s a three-fold plan of attack to see to it that the flesh doesn’t have any victory in our life:

a) We must learn to say “No” to the desires of our fallen nature. We read in 1 Peter 2:11, “Abstain from the lusts of the flesh which war against the soul.”

b) We must continually reckon ourselves dead to sin. And so every time the “flesh” rears its ugly head, we must say (Romans 6:11), “I died to sin; I am not going to let it have power over me.”

c) We must “walk in the Spirit” and in this way, Galatians 5:16 says we will not “fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” To “walk in the Spirit” means that we must deliberately allow the Holy Spirit to rule us. We must consciously submit to His wishes. And we must carefully comply with His will as it is revealed in the Bible.

 

Know Your Enemies (Part 3)

 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12 ESV)

Satan is a vanquished foe. We know the end of the story. He loses.

But that does not mean that he is sitting on the sideline. He is active in trying to raise havoc and sidetrack believers.

Of Satan, Peter wrote:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 ESV)

In medieval times, artists came up with drawings of Satan having horns, a tail and carrying a pitchfork. The reason they did this was that they thought they could push back Satan’s advances by mocking and insulting him.

But Satan is a fairly sophisticated foe. His primary activities lie in the area of creating false religions, creating disunity among believers and trying to incite our flesh.

And he doesn’t work alone. He has a legion of fallen angels called demons who spread his reign of falsehood and accusation.

Satan is a lion. But, he is a lion on a leash.

His is a limited, finite creature.

Unlike God, he is not omniscient or omnipotent.

And he only has as much leash as God will allow him.

The Bible offers a few words of advice on how to deal with the activities of Satan. First is how we think about him:

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4 ESV)

The point here is, as much as we should be aware of Satan’s abilities, we ought not give him anymore credit than what he due. God is greater than Satan, and because of that we can live as confident overcomers.

James offers another practical application to dealing with Satan:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.(James 4:7)

When we turn to God, Satan takes a hike! Too often, we take the battle into our own hands and come out looking worse for wear. But the wise believer runs to God and allows God’s presence to spook Satan into retreat.

Finally, Paul offered this prescription for dealing with spiritual attacks in Ephesians 6:

 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;  and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,  and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,  for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:14-20 ESV)

It is this passage that Paul teaches us not to go head to head with Satan, but to set up a strong defense to resist his attacks. Simply put, he advises us to be in the word, to practice faith, to pursue righteousness, to embrace hope and to employ prayer. When we are active in these things, there’s really not a lot that Satan can do to us.

Know Your Enemies (Part 2)

The New Testament often refers to something known as “the world.”

When it does, it usually isn’t referring to the planet on which we dwell.

Instead, the word used, kosmosrefers to the order, or system, of how the world runs apart from the influence of God.

Apart from God’s governance, the way of the world is to (at the least) ignore God and (and the worst) antagonize Him. One way or the other, the world system seeks to leave God out so that people can do as they please, without any interference from a higher authority. Of course, such systems and philosophies make no sense since God is the author of all things, and as such, knows best how things are to run in within His universe.

Paul was speaking into the reality of this world system when He wrote to the Colossians:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. (2:8 ESV)

The world has a myriad of different approaches to life that seek to make certain God isn’t part of the picture. If you pay attention when watching television or a movie, or when reading a book or the internet, these philosophies are thrown at us at an amazing rate.

Notice too in Colossians 2:8 that there is a demonic aspect to the world’s philosophies. Satan certainly has a hand in all of this, for he has been pushing twisted perspectives since the days of the Garden of Eden.

In Luke’s Gospel, the danger of subscribing to a worldly philosophy was revealed in a parable told by Jesus:

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’  And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21 ESV)

The philosophy of this fool was that investing in the material things of this life was more important than tending to the spiritual needs of the soul. It seemed like a solid approach to life…until his life was over.

Even though we are justified by Christ and secure in our salvation, the voice of the world can still whisper in our ear time to time. The challenge is for us to compare such worldly viewpoints against the truths of scripture. When we do that, we will see the hollowness of the world’s philosophies.

The apostle John challenged his readers in regard to their relationship with the world and its system:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17 ESV)

Three primary drivers of the world’s philosophy can be found in these verses: sensualism, materialism, and egotism. Contrast these with three predominant themes of scripture: humility, self-control and contentment.

As Jesus prayed in John 17, we are in the world, but not of it. The world system will always be calling out to us to join in its dead-end ideology. But we are instead called to embrace the life-giving teachings of the Word. Perhaps this is why Jesus asked, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his soul?”