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Dying to Sin

June 2nd, 2017

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin… (Romans 6:6 NIV)

The hardest thing for any human to give up is his claim to his own life. This is precisely where the inner spiritual battle is fought, for once we surrender ourselves to God and removed our own hands from trying to control our destiny, we enter into a wonderful freedom. But in trying to hang on to our own rights, our control over our own destiny in opposition to God, we find ourselves blinded, vulnerable to satanic deception and temptation, ripe for the picking.

The scripture says:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Proverbs 14:12 ESV)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” (Matthew 16:25 NLT)

Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15 NIV)

Miles Stanford wrote:

It was on the cross of Calvary that God, in Christ, dealt fully and finally with self, the nature from which all our sins flow. “We know that our old (unrenewed) self was nailed to the cross with Him in order that [our] body, [which is the instrument] of sin, might be made ineffective and inactive for evil, that we might no longer be the slaves of sin” (Rom. 6:6, Amplified). The reason there is no other way for self to be denied is that God has done the work in this way: our identification with Christ Jesus in His death and resurrection! It is done; now it is ours to believe.

The battle is down in our hearts where we hold on to our selfishness like a prize. What we must do is to let go of it and give it to Christ. This cannot happen in a vacuum, void of details and circumstances. The battle always will have something specific attached to it. We must let go of our pride like Namaan and humble ourselves and apologize, or let go of our greed like the Rich Young Ruler and give something away, or let go of our strong will like Paul and say, “What do you want, Lord?”

And we must do this every day. Every day we will be tested in someway on how surrendered we are to Christ. To hold anything back from Christ is to not be fully surrendered.

A simple inventory will help us:

  • What things do you possess that are unsurrendered to God? Pray through them all and each.
  • Are you withholding your children from Him?
  • Are you too proud to apologize to someone?
  • Are you bitter because you have not gotten the attention you think you deserve?
  • Are you jealous over someone else’s life or position?
  • Are you unforgiving toward someone who has hurt you?
  • Are you afraid of the cost of leadership? Fearful of rejection or being criticized?
  • Are you selfish with your time and entertainments?
  • Are you proud of your reputation and unwilling to risk losing it for the sake of Christ?

There are many other things that God might put on our minds. All we can do is to confess our weaknesses and sins and surrender them fully and wholly to God. This is the only path of victory over sin for as long as there is one part of our lives unsurrendered, the devil can use that to tempt us and lure us into sin.

The Deeper Christian Life

The Life of Positive Faith

May 19th, 2017

The righteous flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him. (Psalm 92:12-15 ESV)

Today in the German national Newspaper, Die Zeit, or “The Time,” they have a front page article with a picture of Ned Flanders, the good neighbor of cartoon character Homer Simpson. The article is entitled: “The Good People: Why they get on our nerves and why we still need them.” It is an interesting article - actually several articles - but it also leaves me a little empty. The problem is that the writers have no concept of life in Christ. Although supposedly written from a Christian perspective, certainly Germany has had Christianity within it for several centuries and is the heart language of many profound theological works, still they look at being a “good person” as merely a personal choice. And their “good person test” in the article is based simply on what seems to be good according to political correctness.

So much of what is called Christianity in the West is disconnected from Christ Himself or from the Word of God, and is merely man made ethics and philosophy with a touch of what seems to be kindness. And this is the only way many people conceive of Christianity - man made, good thoughts, benign, harmless, and mostly pointless, and, perhaps, it is a little help to society if it makes us a little more conscious of being honest, kind, and “good.”

How different this is from the Scriptures. The Bible proclaims a life that is positive, hopeful, alive, flourishing, and can only be described as being “of God.”  Paul described a different kind of life when he wrote:

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way… (Phil. 3:13-15 ESV)

While I am glad to know that the articles at least admitted that society still needs good people, it completely misunderstood how people become good in the first place.  To the self-righteous Rich Young Ruler Christ said that none but God was truly good (Mark 10:18). The only way that fallen humanity can become truly good is to be reborn by the grace of Christ and be transformed by the renewing or our minds and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

“But then you become a fanatic,” is the common complaint. “Can’t we have just a little bit of good without all of this transformation stuff?” You can try, but I do not believe you will succeed. Of course, there are those who are extremists and out of order in their expression of their faith. But they are that way not because they have “gone too far” but because they have gotten something fundamentally wrong in the first place. Anyone who is rude, condemnatory, angry, self-righteous, hypocritical is not practicing true Christianity.

The scriptural description of a true follower of Christ, who lives in the Spirit daily, is not one of rudeness, or of condescending self-righteousness, but one of grace and love. We read:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26 ESV)

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20 ESV)

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17-18 ESV)

Faith in Christ brings the positive life of God into our hearts. The Christian life is to be lived not merely by human effort but through our faith in Christ we receive Him into our lives by His Spirit. He bears His life in us, He brings hope and a positive outlook, and we are changed by Him from within. The Christian become kinder and gentler not by self effort but by the power of God changing his heart.

Notice that joy is also an essential aspect of this life in Christ. Many people only know happiness because of what happens to them from the outside of their lives - it comes from events. We hear good news, we get a raise, we get something new, or we drink too much wine, and people confuse that with joy. It is not true joy for the joy of the Lord comes from within us by His Spirit. Someone once said that happiness depends on happenings but joy depends solely on Jesus.

So the new life in Christ comes by His Spirit and through our faith in Him. Daily trusting, daily surrendering, daily speaking to Him, daily confessing our sins, daily receiving His cleansing, daily following His Spirit - these are the simple disciplines of faith that make our lives in Him take a positive direction. The scripture says:

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. (Proverbs 4:18 ESV)

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