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Archive for January, 2017

Being Master Over Your Appetites

January 31st, 2017

And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matthew 4:2b-3 ESV)

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6 ESV)

The spiritual in us must overrule the physical and merely soulish parts of our life. We must master our appetites or they will master us.

Christ in His Beatitudes stated this truth that to hunger and thirst after righteousness leads to a blessed, happy, and fulfilling life. But to hunger and thirst after the things of this physical life, especially the elements we associate with sin, will lead to an empty and meaningless life. “Striving after the wind” is how Ecclesiastes describes it (Eccl. 1:17).

Now we do not notice how empty this is right away. Sometimes it takes years and sometimes it is never noticed because of the blindness of sin in our lives. We can often see in someone else what we cannot see in ourselves. We see the emptiness of someone else being consumed with food and drink, for example, and see him throwing away his opportunities in a fit of lust, in an inability to master his appetites. Yet we may not see this in ourselves, for we can easily justify our own appetites and feel that momentary illusory pleasure that flits across our consciousness like a mayfly.

The temptation to turn stones into bread, like all temptations, was to take a short-cut (Abkurzung) to the will of God. The goal of a Christian’s life is not only about arriving at the proper destination - it is also about taking the correct path to the right destination. Our goals cannot be to have arrived at a life that is fulfilling and meaningful, if we have compromised the principles of God in the pursuit of selfish intermediate goals.

For example, one may satisfy the sexual drive by giving into temptation, and justify it (falsely, of course) with the excuse to just get the matter over with. We may do the same with other appetites as well, saying to ourselves in a deluded type of thinking, Well, God will forgive me and I will feel better for a little bit. I will feed the urge, even if in a wrong way, and not think about it anymore. But, of course, we find on the other side of the sin, that the temptation returns again, all too soon, and we have developed a habit of giving into the temptation. Plus we discover that the shame has multiplied and felt in double strength because we feel powerless against the temptation.

It is a trick of Satan to so shame us about our sin that we return to the very sin just to numb the pain. But the end result is a downward spiral that brings defeat, depression, increased deception and dependency, and a strange loneliness of our souls.

Our appetites determine our paths and choices in life, just as sure as a train runs along the tracks. What we desire we will chase after, and the only cure is for our hearts to desire the righteousness of God. When we are born again in Christ we have this divine work of God called regeneration, bringing us back from death to life. This new nature is given us that is in the likeness of God, “created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:24 NASB).

We are commanded to put on this new nature every day, just like we put on clothes. The illustration is fitting, for in our homes, and it was the same in biblical days, we have both dirty clothes that we wore before, and clean clothes. We are to take off the dirty - the old nature - and put on the new, the new nature created within us by the hand of God. It is a matter of surrendering our appetites to God and letting Him put upon our hearts His own nature, so that we will hunger and thirst after righteousness.

If we do this, we will not be satisfied by what the world offers, but will find great joy and fulfillment in Christ. For example, when my wife and I have taken our vacations, we have found incredible fulfillment in going to places where we experience spiritual refreshment. Our best vacations have not been spent only at a beach, or some mountain resort, or even in some fascinating Asian or European city, but in a place where the Word of God was taught, where we joined in worship with other believers, where we relaxed but also where our spiritual appetites were fed more than our physical ones.

Even when we have been at more touristy places, at beaches or historic cities or in the mountain retreats, we have taken spiritual resources along with us - books to read or sermons to hear on tape or on the web. We did not merely spend the time as the world does. And we experienced not only physical and soulish rest, but also spiritual rest that strengthened us inwardly.

Christians must realize that life is not just about the destination, but it is especially about the journey and how we get there. We are to put our goal as the glory of God, and everyday let the Holy Spirit lead us to long for more and more of God in our lives.

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The Preparation of Christ for Temptation

January 30th, 2017

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. (Luke 4:1-2 ESV)

Before we get into the actual “nuts and bolts” of how Christ resisted temptation, we need to first further examine His overall preparation. He lived in the fullness of the Spirit and followed the leadership of the Spirit.

Luke’s gospel uses the terms “full of the Spirit” and Matthew’s says only that Christ was “led by the Spirit” (Matt. 4:1). The filling of the Spirit indicates a spiritual condition, and the leadership of the Spirit indicates spiritual direction and motion in life. These two thoughts go hand-in-hand, as Paul said, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25).

Mark’s gospel says the Spirit “drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12), stressing almost a forceful nature of the leadership of the Spirit. In fact this Greek word translated “drive out” (ekballo) was used for Jesus driving out the money changers from the temple (Matt. 21:12). It does not in every instance suggest a conflicted relationship, that the one who drives out another must fight with him to do so. But it does reveal the strong intent of the Spirit that Christ should go into the wilderness at this time.

Let’s examine these three phrases, because they describe also how we should live. “As the Father has sent me, even so send I you” (John 20:21), said Jesus to the disciples, so His experience with the Spirit in His life was similar to what our experience with the Spirit should be today. They describe for us three aspects of our experience with the Spirit of God.

The Filling of the Spirit - To live in the filling of the Spirit is to live under the control and influence of the Spirit. It describes a mind that is dominated by the Spirit, in which there is no part of the human heart that has closed off itself from the obedience to and the influence of the Spirit. We are to live in the filling of the Spirit, as commanded in Ephesians 5:18: “Be filled with the Spirit.” This is a passive command - we do not fill ourselves with the Spirit, rather He must fill us with Himself. Our work is one of submission to Him, surrender, accompanied by confession of sins. It is the daily life lived with the mind “set on the Spirit” that is filled with “life and peace” (Rom. 8:6).

This command to be filled with the Spirit is also an active verb, meaning that we must do this everyday - not just once in our lives, but each day, and each minute of each day. We are not to entertain evil in our thoughts, or seek to become “knowledgeable about sin” - rather we are to be focused on the Spirit and on His nature, His truth, and His love.

Led by the Spirit - This is another aspect of the Christian life. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom. 8:14 NKJV). Christ said, “follow Me!” The Christian life is a pilgrimage, a journey we take with Christ leading the way. He leads us by His Spirit - not just in terms of time and place, but also in terms of character and relationships and reactions. It is important to know where He leads us, and to go there when He leads us, but it is much more important to know who He leads us to become.

Driven by the Spirit - Here is an aspect of our spiritual life that we need to take more seriously. There are times when the Spirit will forcefully drive us in a certain direction - to do a certain thing. It is not that He must drive us or force us in a certain direction every day. Normally, in our day to day lives, our experience will be that we enjoy the fellowship of the Spirit (the filling) and sense His leadership (His leading). Often in His leading He gives us more than one good or right choice to make in life.

He does not normally demand that we should only have lunch at a certain restaurant, or wear a certain color tie. He instructs our hearts and and enlightens our minds, as we grow and mature in faith in life, He entrusts situations into our hands and gives us the freedom to decide many issues of life.

But there are times when His voice is insistent, when He strongly urges us to go a certain direction or to do a certain thing.

If anything, this point should allow us to live confidently and worry free about our directions in life. If we walk in the filling of the Spirit and listen daily to the Spirit’s leadership, choosing godly values and seeking to honor Him with our lives, we should not have to live in fear or worry about God’s will.  When the major changes come in our lives, the Spirit will act. He will “drive us out” and compel us clearly in the way He wants us to go. Otherwise we may live with our over-active imaginations dragging us pointlessly in one direction and then into another. John the Baptist said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven” (John 3:27 NKJV). Wait for the Lord to make clear His direction for you. He will do it in His time and in His way.

Paul and his companions in the province of Asia experienced such a moment (Acts 16:6), when “they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.” God had another plan and drove them in the direction to go to Macedonia. This happened also with Philip the Deacon, when in the midst of a great revival in Samaria, God spoke to Him through an angel to go out into the wilderness and meet the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39). Though it says an angel spoke to Philip, all of this happened under the leadership of God’s Spirit. God is not in conflict with Himself.

God does not tempt us with evil (James 1:13) so why did the Spirit drive Christ out into the wilderness to be tempted? Here we need to understand the nature of God’s testing. God tests us, and His testing under His guidance places us in situations where our righteousness is revealed and, if we pass the test, even strengthened. “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:10). Just as gold and silver are purified through fire, so our faith is purified and strengthened in trials.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom 5:3-5 ESV)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 ESV)

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Cor. 10:13 ESV)

God does not put us in the way of temptation in the sense of Him putting the evil thought into our hearts. The devil does that. But God allows us to undergo trials and testings that we might become stronger.

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