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Posts Tagged ‘obedience’

Be Perfect

November 15th, 2017

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)

The only moral standard given in the Bible is one of absolute perfection, the perfection found in God Himself.

Only the righteousness of Christ saves us from sin: Seeking to be perfect in our personal morality has never been God’s path for our salvation. At no time in salvation history do we find an era or a dispensation wherein God accepts us as righteous based merely on our personal performance. The ancients went to God through burnt offerings. From Abel on there was the understanding that only through the shedding of blood could we be saved, could we be acceptable to God. All of the sacrifices of animals pre-figured Christ, who is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

None of us is able to obey perfectly. Our problem is our old Adamic nature, the fallen nature of all humans, that drags us down. Not even the Old Testament Law made us perfect. We may know the commands of God, but we do not live by them all the time. This was God’s plan in sending Christ. We need saving and Christ is God’s Savior for us, as we read: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:21 ESV). We are only acceptable through the grace of God in Christ, and not through our personal moral efforts.

Only the pure in heart see God: We would do well in this passage to examine the context and remember that Christ placed this statement in the Sermon on the Mount, which began with the Beatitudes. Among them He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). The Pharisees taught that the heart did not matter, all the mattered was being outwardly obedient. “Better to watch your mouth than your heart” was their thinking. Christ reversed this thinking and said that heart is where life is lived, “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a person (Matt. 15:18).

So the great need we have to be holy is answered not by our personal efforts, but by our heart’s obedience first. Then God calls us to choose to obey Him.

But God still calls us to be perfect: We are given a new way to live in Christ, the way of life in the Spirit. Romans 8 is the great chapter of the Bible that explains this principle.

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Romans 8:5-6 KJV)

These two verses have given rise to many interpretations. I have often sat in the presence of someone seeking to make sense of this – and doing a rather poor job, I might add – by saying such things as “we just need to let go and let God” or “God will do it, we just need to get out of the way.” I suppose on some level those words could make sense, but, more often than not, they tend to lead to a lot of confusion. They suggest that we have no part in this matter, but that God will do it separately from our own choice.

Whatever we may believe about predestination, election, and the foreknowledge of God, whatever position we take in this matter – and there are many to choose from – no place does the Word of God remove from us our responsibility to choose to follow Christ. Repeatedly, the opposite is stressed in scripture, that we are to subject ourselves to the Lordship of Christ. Even the act of surrender is seen as a personal choice. Paul wrote, for example:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2 NIV)

There is no point to “urge” anyone to submit to God if it all happens automatically. And there is likewise no point to speak of testing and approving if all it takes is surrender. Looking back to Romans 8:6, the emphasis is on being “spiritually minded,” meaning that thought, understanding, concentration, emotions, and decisions are placed under the authority of the Spirit of God – not that they are separate from our own choice.

The 1984 NIV chose the words originally “the mind controlled by the Spirit” and later changed the wording to “the mind governed by the Spirit.” “Controlled” seemed to suggest some hypnotic state, where as “governed” put the emphasis on conscience obedience to God’s authority, a translation much truer to the original intent of the passage.

The original Greek, however, is most accurately represented by the King James which just says “spiritually minded” and does not use “controlled” or “governed” or any other word, simply because they were not there in the original. They are added for clarification.

Albert Barnes explained this phrase “spiritually minded” means:

That is, making it the object of the mind, the end and aim of the actions, to cultivate the graces of the Spirit, and to submit to his influence. To be spiritually minded is to seek those feelings and views which the Holy Spirit produces, and to follow his leadings.

I recall a young worship leader a few years ago, who would regularly stumble over these words. He would say things like, “God, I know you are going to do it, but I pray that you would make us holy.” He never could seem to balance this matter in his mind. I found out later that he had a pornography problem, and had simply not taken responsibility for his thoughts and his actions. He somehow thought that holiness would happen in his choices automatically.

Surrender is the word we should use to speak of our commitment to Christ. But once one surrenders he must then choose to obey God, and choose to live his life responsibly.

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Having a Confident Conscience

June 14th, 2017

For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you… Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. (2 Corinthians 1:12,15 ESV)

We can live confidently in Christ, our consciences cleaned by His grace and guided by His Spirit. “Conscience” is that aspect of the human soul that knows right from wrong. The Bible has much to say about the matter. Consider these few verses:

  • Our consciences bear witness to the fact that originally we were made in the image of God, but that image is scarred because of sin. We do not perfectly follow our consciences. “They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them” (Rom. 2:15). They defend us one moment in that we have a conscience, and accuse us the next because we do not follow them all the time.
  • Our consciences are imperfect, so they they are not the same as the Holy Spirit of God who resides within the believer. “Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:2). We each often feel guilty for the wrong reasons and do not feel guilty when we should. (See also 1 Cor. 23-29)
  • To regularly neglect our conscience will lead to a shipwrecked faith: “holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith” (1 Tim. 1:19 NIV)
  • Yet the more we walk with God in fellowship, the more informed and healthy our consciences are. “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5 NIV).

Paul had just finished writing about the overwhelming pressures he felt in his life and ministries that caused him to even despair of life (2 Cor. 1:8-11) . God had delivered him – not only from the deadly peril but also from the overwhelming fear that he had felt in its presence. In the verse above he explained the reason for his confidence, and laid down for us a principle of life – how to live confidently with a clear conscience.

Here is what he stressed:

He had listened to and heeded the Spirit’s voice: Above the deafening din of the world’s noise, he had learned the discipline of hearing from God. He meditated on the Word and communed the Spirit. He had worshiped Christ in his heart. His conscience was shaped not merely from his childhood memories, not merely from the voice of his teachers as a young man, and not from his fears or superstitions, but from the voice of the living God and the purity of His Word.

He had shunned worldly “wisdom”: The word “wisdom” appeared in 1 Corinthians, and it was apparently a word used quite often in the church of Corinth. Paul wrote to them:

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. (1 Cor. 2:6-7 NIV)

The spiritual person may have many friends who are less spiritual than he, but he follows only one voice and only one Master. He distinguishes between the ways and values and thoughts of the world and the thoughts of God. We cannot be spiritual if we have never learned to say “no” to the world and to its influences – especially to its false “wisdom.”

He behaved with simplicity, godly sincerity, and according to the grace of God: The complexity of the world’s thinking that says, “on the one hand” and then “but on the other hand,” that knows neither pure good nor admits to pure evil, was cast away from his mind. Instead he walked in simplicity of heart, eschewing all and any impure motives, and in sincerity. Grace was the value he held, which meant that he knew he himself was undeserving of God’s favor, but that God poured this out freely through Jesus Christ to all who believed.

In this grace and simplicity he engaged others lovingly and kindly. As he wrote to the Colossians, “Him [Jesus] we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:28 NKJV). He had come through the fire of trials with the life of God and the grace of Christ guiding his thoughts and every decision, relationship, and value.

Grace meant that he had not considered himself perfect, but rather his direction was Godward and he was quick to confess his failures and live daily in the reality of the grace of God. He refused to live under the illusion of his own moral perfection or perfect determination. He knew that he did not always know what to do in and of himself alone, but he trusted that God did and would guide and enable him to stand. As he wrote to the Philippians:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14 NIV)

This is God’s goal and plan for every Christian, that we might in simplicity of obedience, in freedom of conscience, and in the joy of the Spirit. The two Christian disciplines that we should have are to daily confess our sins and to surrender to the Lordship of Christ – forsaking the world and following the Christ.

You can have a clean conscience if you will confess your faults to Christ and commit to follow Him daily.

This was the blessing that he wished to share with the Corinthians – the Christian joy of confident living in purity of conscience with the Lord.

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