Be Holy or Be Holy?

This post does not have a typo in the title. Recently, I have heard several messages about the line of scripture where God says, “Be holy, even as I am holy.”

The interesting thing is, I have heard these words preached in different ways. In some of the messages, it is presented as a command; a requirement that we must fulfill.

Some have even preached it as a threat. “Be holy or else!!!”

Other people interpret this verse as God saying, “Be who you are.” You are holy, therefore you can act holy.

The problem that I have with the first line of thinking, is that there is a vagueness and confusion that often accompanies the “requirement” mentality. Are we supposed to become holy through self-effort and self-improvement? What follows is the question of are we doomed to hell if we do not achieve a certain level of holiness? I have heard exactly that implied in some messages before.

So I tend to go along with the second view. However, that does not mean I take this any less seriously. We are to be “holy in our actions”, but I am pursuing this through faith in the already finished work of Christ and not through the works of the law (obeying a command/requirement in order to be considered holy).

Also, the definition of holiness itself is not good behavior. God is without sin and so are the celestial beings in heaven who call him holy. So what does God’s holiness consist of? It is in the fact that there is none like Him. He is infinitely beyond all created beings in beauty, power, and character. Even so, we are told to be holy in  our behavior. Holiness is not the behavior itself.

Let’s look at this verse in its Biblical context. First of all, we should note that this verse is found in both Old and New Covenant passages. To recap, the Old Covenant contained commands, while the New Covenant contains enablements. The old shows what you must do (and how you fall short). The new shows who Christ is in you (and who you are in Him). The Old is fulfilled in the New. So Jesus fulfills the command to be holy (as He has fulfilled all the Law and the Prophets).

So why then does Peter simply repeat the same command in the NT? Looking at the context helps give understanding of what he was saying to the church:

 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy. (1 Peter 1:13-15)”

 So Peter is saying to be holy in our behavior. Why can we do this? It is because Jesus’ holy nature is now ours via our union with Him. Paul said to, put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24).

Moreover, if you keep reading Peter’s letter, he says that we the church ARE a holy nation:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9).

From these scriptures, we find out that our nature is now holy in Christ, so we should be seeing this in our behavior. This is where we find the resolution for the argument over the interpretation of this text.

 God is declaring through Peter that we are free now to be holy. It is a promise and a declaration as the only way we can produce fruit is through our supernatural union with Christ, the Vine.

 Let’s say I go into a prison and say to the prisoner, “Be free as I am free.” They will say, “But I am locked up! How can I be free?”

 But it would be an entirely different story if I were to open the door and declare “Be free!”

 In a similar manner, we were enslaved to sin. As the reformers used to preach, man’s will was in bondage to evil desires and thus needed grace to even believe the gospel and accept Christ, let alone live holy. Paul also expresses what it was like when he was “trying” to be holy.

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.  For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.  If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good.  But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. (Rom. 7:14-18) 

Paul was describing his old life under the law of Moses because in the chapter before this, he makes it clear that believers are no longer slaves to sin.

You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness (Rom. 6:17-19).

We are now slaves of righteousness. The result? Holy living!

To recap, this is a classic case of rightly dividing the word of truth. If we do not properly separate the covenants, we will end up with two gospels. One says, “You have been set free from sin.” The other says, “You better perform or else, you slave.” My friends, the child of the slave and the child of the free cannot exist in the same house (see Galatians 4).

We have been given righteousness that leads to holiness in Christ. This holiness is the good stuff. It is sharing in the nature of God, not trying to be like God. This is the true death to self that comes by way of baptism in Christ, not the do-it-yourself of religion.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God,the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life (Rom. 6:22).

Blessings!

Posted in Experiencing the Presence of God, Righteousness | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Born Into Slavery: A Fresh Look at Original Sin

Hello boys and girls. Its time to talk about everybody’s favorite topic: Original Sin! Maybe we will even follow it up with Total Depravity for good measure. When it comes to the topic of sin and man’s depraved condition, one of the most important scriptures to understand, one that I mentioned in past posts, is Romans 3:23:

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

Religion focuses on the first half of this verse as it is more sin conscious than God conscious. But the emphasis of this verse is to show that we were made for so much more than the what the fallen world has produced in us. This verse does not speak of the tragedy of failing to obey a command but of failing to live out our purpose.

Something obviously went wrong somewhere. We all ended up sinning and not living the high life in God’s presence for which we were made. This brings up the whole “original sin” thing. People tend to either think that we were born with a sin-nature which we inherited through Adam or that we start off as pure as Adam before he fell and then choose to sin, thus becoming sinners. Let’s look at what the Bible says about this rather than making up stuff that appeases our current bias. Here is a brief rundown on Romans 5, which delves into the issue at hand:

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

Interesting that it does not say sin entered the world through many, but just one (Adam). We see that death (the degenerative process that affects both body and soul) came to all because of this one man. The evidence: all sinned. The sin referred to here is not the sin that brought death (Adam’s), but the sin that resulted from mankind being born into a state of spiritual death. This describes the cycle (or law) of sin and death.

To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Sin is not harmful because it is forbidden; it is forbidden because it is harmful.” Religion says sin is bad simply because God says. But here we clearly see that sin has inherent bad effects regardless of the commandments. The commandments, as Paul mentions in Romans 7, reveal the harmfulness of sin that is already there.

We also see that some did not sin “in the likeness of Adam” who had a specific command that he violated. Also, consider the fact that Adam did NOT have a sinful nature when he sinned. Therefore, what he did was in another category then the sins that followed.

When Adam sinned, the devil (who is the true original sinner) took him and his descendants captive. This is why the Bible says this about Jesus’ encounter with him in the wilderness:

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.  And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours. (Luke 4:5-7)”

When man obeyed satan, he forfeited his God-given authority over to him (or else the scripture above could not have been). We thus became sin’s captives. With Adam’s free will he sinned. After that, man’s will became bound to sinful desires. But Jesus came to take his captives captive and bring them to the Father after crushing the serpent’s head. He is the Savior and Friend of sinners, not their enemy.

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

I love this! It is saying that what Adam did and what Jesus did are out of proportion! Some think it unfair that all mankind was affected by Adam’s choice. However, what is more “unfair” is that we who have sinned with “many transgressions” can receive the perfect righteousness of Christ, who is greater than Adam. See, when God restores something, He makes it better than the original state.

Also, I believe that the “condemnation” here refers to condemned to a sinful nature, slavery to sin, not condemnation to hell for it has always been that “the just shall live by faith” and the “evil heart of unbelief” that causes us to fall away from God (see Hab. 2:4 & Heb. 3:14). This passage never mentions hell once. This is a relevant Earth-life passage. I will touch more on this at the end of this post.

Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

This passage is used by Inclusionist philosophy to say that all people now have life because of what Jesus did. However, it is clear from the verse prior that the benefit of the gift affects “those who receive” even though it is offered to all. For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people (Titus. 2:11).

Here we also see the Bible’s conclusion about the sinner by nature vs. sinner by choice debate. The many are “made” either sinners and righteous. There are two representative heads of mankind in whom we can be positioned.

Back to the point at the beginning. All sinning and falling short of the glory points to the fact that there already was a problem. We did not become slaves to sin when we sinned, but rather, we sinned because we already were slaves to sin.

It’s not that little Johnny was completely pure in nature but then stole a cookie from the jar and became transformed into a sinner. But that is how religion has told the story. Rather than being “dead in sin”, it says we are “bad in sin” (see Eph. 2). Religion says we are bad and need to be good. The Bible actually says, “He who has the Son has life. He who does not, does not have life.” (see 1 John 5)

Analogy: If I have some fish in a bowl and they jump out onto the floor, they will be outside of their purpose. They will not simply be bad pets because they will be dead; cut off from their purpose. They will have “fallen short” of the glory of living in the water. But instead of getting angry at us for “jumping out of the bowl”, the Father picks us up and puts us in the ocean of His love, mercy, and grace. So the arguement of original sin and the depravity of man are put in their proper place when we realize that man cannot function outside of God.

The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The first sin of man brought death and then that death is what caused us to sin. The law came in not to bring life but to highlight the fact that sin had already produced death. Our only hope was a Savior. This is not a message about not being accountable to sin, but about realizing that the cure is not self-effort. Instead, we simply need to receive “the Gift”, which is even better than being a pre-sin Adam! This is a joy, not a bondage.

The issue at hand is not original sin, but the eternal Son. As the late Winston Nunes liked to say, “It is a Son issue, not a sin issue.” This puts an end to the debate that says it is unfair that people are born into sin and will go to hell without a choice. Because of Christ, sin has been dealt with, but our need for life is only fulfilled through relationship with Christ.

The religious non-good news gospel says, “You no good sinner. You are on your way to hell because of your sin. But God will have mercy on you if you repent.” However, lets look at what John 3, perhaps the most well known evangelistic passage says:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil (John 3:16-19).

How many times is the word Son mentioned here? 4 How many times is sin mentioned? 0. The judgement is for those who reject the good news because the only thing outside of good news is bad news. the only thing outside of life is death; the only options are light and darkness. The light of the gospel reveals a loving Father who dealt with sin and wants to give life. Reject the light and only darkness remains.

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God (2. Cor. 5:19-20).

I am not saying that sin is less bad than we have thought. I am saying that God’s grace is better than we could ever think (apart from God given revelation). I am not saying hell is not real. I am saying Heaven is far superior. We are called as ambassadors of Heaven, preaching the GOOD news. In light of this, let us thank God that original sin is nothing compared to the eternal Son.

Posted in Experiencing the Presence of God, Grace | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does Grace Simply Enable us to Keep the Commandments?

I want to touch on something I have heard recently regarding grace. I have heard various  Christians, from well-known to unknown, make mention of how God’s grace enables us to keep God’s commandments or keep the law. They give strict warning against anything that makes one think grace allows you to just do whatever you want to. While I do believe that grace enables us to walk out an awesome life of passion and obedience to God, I disagree with the way this is being presented.

For instance, it has been said that we should not think that we are free from keeping the commandments because we are under grace. In one particular message I heard, the preacher went on to mention the high standards Jesus set for us in the Sermon on the Mount. You know, hatred is murder, lusting equates adultery, chop off hands and pluck out eyes to avoid hell.

The problem I have with thinking Jesus was explaining the Christian life in that particular message is that He was not :) He was expanding on a statement He had made concerning having a higher righteousness than that of the self-righteousness of the religious leaders of His day. They thought they were keeping the law pretty well so Jesus, in this passage, was fulfilling the law, or upholding it for what it was.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them… For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:17,20).

So in this sermon, Jesus was speaking to Jews under the Old Covenant about what it really meant to be a Jew under the law. He was silencing the self-righteous Pharisees as well as eluding to a righteousness that would come, not by the works of the law, but through the kindness of our Father (which would later be revealed in Jesus’ sacrifice). As Paul mentioned in Romans:

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify (Rom. 3:19-21).

So Jesus came to those who were under the law and had to first uphold it (see Gal. 4:1-8). And boy what a high standard that was! I’m sure that many mouths were shut after that message. According to the scripture above, that was indeed the law’s purpose. It silences the self-attempt to live for God as it reveals the depths of the damage sin has done to man’s soul.

But then, Jesus would also go ahead and fulfill the law for us. That opened the way for the righteousness apart from the law to be given through faith. That opened the floodgates of grace. The blood was shed; a New Covenant was made. But not before the blood was shed, which means this was not in force when Jesus spoke to the crowd in Matthew, chapter 5.

For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it.  For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives (Hebrews 9:16-17).

So, back to the main question? Is grace simply enablement to keep the commandments of the law? If so, then we are still living in the Old Covenant, just with a power we did not have before. But the Scripture is clear that the way we now approach God is different, not just the ability vs. inability to keep the law. The book of Hebrews reveals:

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God (Heb. 7:19-20).

The former regulation in this verse refers to the Old Covenant not having a perfect people and priesthood and how the law was not the solution for this. What this all comes down to is righteousness. The better hope that we have when drawing near to God is that Jesus Christ is now our righteousness.

Rather than approaching God in terms of how well we have met the requirement of the law, we approach Him boldly through faith in Jesus and His work. He met the requirements for us. He qualified us and now we are enjoying and ministering the benefits of the New Covenant.

For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,  God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:3-4).

So to say that grace is empowerment to keep the law is to completely miss the point. The requirement meeting of the commandments has been superseded by faith in Him who met them. Through the obedience of the One Man, we have been made righteous (see Rom. 5:19). That means we are also considered as having met the covenant requirements.

Now, that does not mean I can go out and live any old way and still experience a blessed life (as some suppose). It means that I do not qualify for these blessings based on my adherence to the old law system. I am simply trusting that Christ is in me and will live through me. His life (His faith, His obedience, His character) is what we will produce as we abide in Him. Don’t be misled by messages on keeping commandments that do not first mention keeping faith. Blessings!

Posted in Giving | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Never Again: The Power of One Little Word

The Power of One Little Word

Have you ever noticed how one little word in Scripture is enough to bring tremendous revelation and freedom? Romans 8:15 says, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Why does it say we have not been given a spirit of slavery leading to fear again? This is because Paul, in this letter, has been contrasting living under law and living under grace. When the law is proclaimed, we see how short we fall and the fear of judgment enters our lives. Furthermore, Paul addresses this very issue with the Galatians:

So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir (Gal. 4:3-7).

So we see from these two passages that the spirit of slavery that leads to fear refers to life under the law. However, when we receive our Sonship, i.e. become born again as a child of God, we should never have that fear again. In other words, when God commands something of us as New Covenant sons, our reaction should not be fear, but joy and faith in God’s work in our hearts. John speaks about this difference between law and grace living in this passage:

… this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 5:3-5).

The Two Types of Preachers

So the job of a law preacher was to reveal the utter helplessness of our self righteousness. But what should the aim of a New Covenant preacher be? It is the exact opposite. A New Covenant preacher should build an absolute confidence in Christ’s perfect work on behalf of man. They should inspire a confidence in the unconditional love that the Father has for us.

let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful (Heb. 10:22-23).

I remember a time in church as a teenager where we had an old-school holiness guy teach the youth one week. The demands of God’s law were so strongly emphasized and pointed out to us that my heart sunk as I realized this was something I could never accomplish. Little did I realize then, but the law was actually doing its job!

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin (Rom. 3:19).

But I felt confused and condemned because I was ignorant of the New Covenant grace that is present as well as the true purpose of the law. I thought that guy, and many of the other law speakers I had heard, was preaching the gospel. However, the preaching of the futility of our efforts sets the stage for the overwhelming flood of grace revealed in Christ.

 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Rom. 3:21-22).

The problem is that we as a church have not made a clear enough distinction between law and grace. We take a little bit of comfort from the law. We might think that we are doing pretty well when it comes to some of our commandment keeping. We might pride ourselves in how well we “repent” when we make a mistake or how much we pray for revival. But we were never supposed to take comfort in the law. The law (tree of knowledge of good and evil) is good, but will kill man if he eats of it.

Likewise, we bring a little bit of judgement into grace. We might think along the lines of, “Yes Jesus saved me from my past sins, but I better make sure to be forgiven of my last sins before I die so I can make Heaven.  I better keep short accounts with God or else I could slip away into hell.”

But as we see in Romans, we are to never again be in fear of judgement once we receive the spirit of sonship.

In the days of Jesus on Earth, the Pharisees thought they were okay. Sure they might have known deep down that they fell short of some commands, but hey, they sure nailed it when it came to tithing out of their herb garden. Jesus, who came to uphold and fulfill the law said they were not okay. Let’s look at one of His discussions He had with them (in John 8).

First, Jesus offended them by saying, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” This was probably great news to the humble. But for those who thought they had their stuff together:

 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

So Jesus, excellent Law preacher that He was, had to drive in the point.

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.”

In order that they could be saved, Jesus revealed the disease of sin that was present in them. Their sinning was a symptom of their overall slavery to sin. See, a good doctor is one who let’s you know exactly what is going on in you. It would only harm you if they said that your terminal illness was a mere virus that would pass. But blinded by their self-righteousness, the Pharisees replied,“Abraham is our father.”

Does Jesus then say, “You know, you guys aren’t that bad. Take comfort in the fact that you are better than most other Israelites”? No, he had to uphold the law, which was meant to silence them. The more they spoke, the heavier the judgement of the law got.

“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the works of your own father.”

“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 

Wow! So we see what trying to keep the law gets you; an ever-increasing “revelation” about your self-depravity. That spirit of self-righteous ability to be like God started with the devil, the father of lies.

In contrast, to the humble woman caught in adultery, interestingly also in John chapter 8, Jesus did not say, “Okay, you’re still going to be condemned, but I will see what I can do to make it a little better. I’ll throw in some grace with your judgement”?

No, but rather, “Neither do I condemn you. Go (in the freedom of grace) and sin no more.” This is His word to us as well who have received Him. Rather than keeping the law and then receiving “no condemnation”, grace starts us at the highest place of blessing. He does not condemn us, so we have good reason to never fear again and power to not live in sin.

My friends, if you start to get worried or in despair over your stance with God while reading your Bible, remember that one little word. Just stop, relax, and thank God that you are not a slave to fear of law-based judgement again.

 

Posted in Eternal Security, Grace, Righteousness | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Faith of the Son

 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20, KJV).

That verse is one of my all time favorites and is a defining statement about the Christian life. Throughout my posts, I have hit on the first part; what it means to be crucified with Christ. This speaks of the grace of God expressed through the finished work of Christ by which He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ (Eph. 2:5, MSG).

This takes care of the problem with the “old man”, the flesh, whatever we want to call the thing that stood in the way of us living the life God intended us to live. There are no more excuses now. We have been set free from sin because dead men do not sin.

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— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin (Rom. 6:6-7).

However, we may find that even as new creations, we struggle with stuff and may need wisdom about how to walk out the new life. In this scripture, Paul also talks about how he lived this new life; not just how God crucified the old life. He says that the life he lived was “by the faith of the Son of God.” I believe this means Paul was living in a constant response to God’s grace shown to Him. Christ was living through Him and He was living through Christ. This is the greatest mystery of all time and is now revealed. What the prophets and fathers of old saw but could not have, we have but sadly often do not see.

Notice that it is the “faith of the Son”. A big theological debate that has been going on for a long time is whether this and other verses are talking about faith “in” God or the faith “of God”. There actually is a big difference between those two little words. Faith in the Son implies us reaching out to Him. Faith of the Son implies Him rising up in us. The former is what usually passes as “faith” here in America. “You just have to believe! If you had believed more, you could have had this or that!”

We know that grace is a free gift. Faith is also a gift. For we are saved by grace through faith. And that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8). What is the “that” in that passage? It is the “grace through faith” that saves us which is the gift.

Grace is God reaching out to us. Faith is us reaching out to God. But it is the faith “of the Son”, not of ourselves. It is His life in us which yearns for the Father. That is what saves us and keeps us. It takes two people to have a true embrace. Grace is God’s arms wrapped around us. Faith is us reciprocating the embrace by wrapping our arms around Him in response.

It is important for us to learn to live by the faith of the Son. This simply means living by the life of Christ in us. See, Christ was not only God’s gift offered to us, but man’s response to God. He fulfilled both ends of the covenant between God and man. “For God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting man’s sins against him.”

Likewise, we were in Christ as He carried our old nature, which was dead and unresponsive to God, all the way to the cross. I like to picture Him personally carrying my spiritual corpse to the rescue station of God’s love and mercy; His tree of death became the tree of life for me. Do you know that Jesus’ acts as our Substitute did not start at the cross, nor even the garden of Gathsemane? They began when he was baptized by John the Baptist (who was confused as to why he had to baptize the sinless one). Jesus said that the purpose of his water baptism was to “fulfill all righteousness”.

I picture Christ going down into the water and coming back up carrying fallen humanity around his shoulders as a shepherd carries the sheep. He carried my old dead self through the wilderness, through the cities of Israel, all the way to the cross where He tasted death for us and we were, as a result, crucified with Christ.

What Does it Mean to Carry the Cross?

I believe Jesus’ cross carrying started after his baptism. This is also why he told His followers to carry their crosses and follow Him. Would He, their example, have not been doing the same at the time when He ordered that of them? I am beginning to see “carrying the cross” in a different way. The cross was the means by which we are saved. It is where God in Christ demonstrated His love for us by the giving up of His rights and His very own life blood. It was a selfless sacrifice by which we learn what true love really is. The cross was His mission.

In the same way, we carry our cross for those whom God would like to reach through us. We bear with them and love them to the end irrespective of how they treat us. We love them as Christ loved us; we love them first.

I am in no way saying that we pay the price for their sins. That was accomplished at the Lord Jesus’ cross alone. However, it was love that motivated the cross in the first place. The cross was an expression of the love He had for us from eternity. I read once that Jesus is not the Lamb because He was slain, but rather He was slain because He is the Lamb.

This same love that laid itself down for ones friends is now our new nature. This causes us to want to lay down our lives for others; to become all things to all people, so that they may be saved. Sure we partook in the Lord’s death, but I think there is a present tense cross to bear as a Christian. This might not go over well with some in the grace circles, but again, this is not about paying for our sins or anyone else’s. It is about what Paul said to the Philippians:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:3-8).

It is what he said to the Colossians in this verse:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Col. 1:24).

… And to the Corinthians in this passage:

 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you (2. Cor. 4:10-12).

Again, I am talking about selfless love, not the self-affliction for which religion is infamous. Know that it is actually Christ in us that will move in and through us with this love; the same love that motivated His going to the cross. It is the faith of the Son. It is constantly “looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of faith”. It is living in response to God’s grace. That’s true faith. That’s good news!

Posted in Faith, Loving God, Loving Others | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Seek First the Will of God?

I’m continuing my series on God’s will. I have explained how we can tend to mystify the will of God and create unnecessary confusion and frustration in that area. I want to show that God’s will might not be so limited and unreachable as we might sometimes feel. Are we waiting at that spiritual red light until we get a booming “GO!!!” spoken to us by God (or at least a super-Christian)? In this post, I want to touch on whether or not we need to find out what God wants us to do before doing anything.

“Lord, I seek first your will in everything”, might sound like a noble prayer, but the Bible never says to do this per se. If we are always trying to seek God’s will, we might end up not moving forward in faith and wisdom as we wait for a thunderous voice from Heaven to tell us everything from where to live to what to order from the drive thru menu.

Instead, we are told to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33).” I believe this is saying that in every situation, rather than just saying, “What does God want me to do”, we are to develop a kingdom perspective about everything. “Woah… kingdom perspective… big term. Don’t confuse me even more, I just want to know God’s will!”

Relax, this is actually a simple practice. So how do I seek first the kingdom of God? Well, before we start going after outward things again, Jesus made a statement that is foundational to our understanding of the kingdom.

 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation;  nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)

People in Jesus’ day had all kinds of ideas about how the Kingdom would come. They pretty much all thought it would manifest itself outwardly. The king would make it clear that He was the king and overthrow the current oppressive government.

However, the kingdom, as it is now, must be seen (perceived) inwardly. I define kingdom life as living under Christ’s reign and extending that life to others. It is life on God’s terms; the abundant life Jesus said we would have in abundance (John 10:10).

His righteousness is His way of making us right (through the blood of Jesus, by grace through faith) as well as His way of doing right. This means an abandonment of all self-righteousness and trying to fit into other people’s standards of right that they try to impose on us.

Seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness brings a clarity and a power to navigate this world. This means that before we “know what to do”, we know how to be. We see that there is more than meets the eye. We see the reality of the superior eternal Kingdom. We see that He has made us righteous and we are taken care of and dangerous to the kingdom of darkness.

Let me give a practical example.  Let’s say your car breaks down. All kinds of thoughts go through your mind. The money for a tow truck, why the thing quit on you, how this is going to make you late… All sorts of concerns surface.

Then on top of that, the religious influence might cause us to think that God is punishing us for not taking good enough care of the car (it was His will that this consequence occurred). Or, we might think that it was God’s will because He is teaching us to be patient or not to be focused on worldly possessions (even though our beat up car is not desired by any worldly person). This is a bunch of bondage that hides itself in a package labeled “Could this be God’s will?”. If you think about it, it all has “us” at the center instead of the King and His Kingdom.

But what if instead of letting the situation drag you down,  you frame it in terms of a Kingdom perspective. You simply pray, “Thank you Father that you always take care of me and you are with me. I thank you that my life is not my own and I am here to manifest the King. I trust in You Father to not only take care of this, but to turn this into a Kingdom opportunity”

Then, the tow truck guy shows up. You get to talking. He is having a rough time and is wondering why on Earth you are smiling so bright and not bummed about your vehicle. You then feel in your heart that he has a pain in his back from an accident years ago. He is shocked that you knew that and gladly accepts prayer. He receives healing and embraces the gospel that night. You go home rejoicing and it turns out it was just a spark plug that needed replaced, but you have totally lost sight of the car in the light of the King’s majesty.

If we are only concerned with the car and our own troubles, we could miss out on the opportunity to help a hurting person. Also, if we are paranoid that God is punishing us by this mysterious and scary “will” that He had for the car to break down, we will not be empowered to minister the gospel as we fearfully hope we are “okay” with God.

This is just a hypothetical scenario. Kingdom life can come in many different ways and situations. But if we are walking confident as His children, then we won’t always be miserably wondering what His will is. Jesus told us to pray to the Father, “Your Kingdom come. Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” We have probably quoted that a million times and not seen the power in it. His Kingdom coming to Earth IS His will.

To summarize, I am trying to hammer in the fact that we can be grounded in the overall, big picture will of God without worrying about the specific details. “Who cares about the big picture! I need to know whether or not to sell my car before it breaks down again! Is that God’s will? I would not want Him to be angry if I sell it and buy the wrong car.”

The specifics will work themselves out, my friend. We cannot neglect to have an understanding of God’s basic will (what He likes) while we struggle to know which car or house to buy or even what church to go to. If we do neglect this, we will end up seeking after outward things, which Jesus warns against. We will spiritualize it by saying we are seeking God’s will, but we simply want the outward taken care of so we can stop worrying.

Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matt. 6:31-33).

I pray that this brings clarity and peace in your desire to do God’s will. I will touch more on this in future posts at some point.

Posted in Experiencing the Presence of God, Righteousness | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Is it God’s will for me to know God’s will?

Do you know God’s will for your life? When it comes to finding God’s will, what comes to mind might be things like:

“Does God want me to live in New York city or upper state New York?”

“Does He want me to be a doctor or a paper clip salesman?”

“Should I buy a brown or a black pair of shoes?”

There are many people out there that ask these types of questions all the time. All they want is “to do God’s will”, but it seems like such a hard to reach, distant reality. I used to be in a similar place. For some reason I thought I needed to find out God’s will for just about everything. It was as if I was stopped at a spiritual red light as I “waited on the Lord” to change it to green.

Since I am well familiar with the confusion and frustration that comes from trying to locate this mysterious “will” in the far reaches of outer space, it brings me much pleasure to help shed some light on the topic.

Might I start by saying that God’s will is not a place (like where to live) or a thing (like the right pair of shoes), but a person. Jesus IS God’s will! The most basic thing to grasp is that God’s will for you is Jesus. To know Him, be like Him, and demonstrate Him is definitely what the Father wants. Everything else will fall into place.

Notice that the questions about God’s will I listed at the beginning of the post all deal with outward things. I am not saying that God will never say to live in a certain area or to choose A instead of B, but I think when it comes to how we perceive what the will of God actually is, our mindsets may need some shifting.

Jesus is not only God’s will for you, but He is the life in you that will desire and accomplish that will. Now what that ends up looking like can vary in countless ways because Jesus is unlimited. The problem is, we tend to think that we need to find this “will of God” thing in order to find Jesus, but when we find Jesus, we find God’s will. I’m not just talking about accepting Him as Lord but when we perceive His heart in circumstances and for people, we have the will of God.

Don’t Worry, God Chose You to Know His Will

After Paul came to Jesus, he was told, “The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and hear him speak (Acts 22:14).” I believe this word is for everyone else who has received Jesus as well. He has chosen us to know His will. But the Bible often speaks about God’s will in different ways than the typical, “Should I be a missionary or a local pastor” type of language.

This will speaks of God’s unfolding plan of redemption for creation. Knowing this will is more in reference to flowing with the rhythms of the gospel of grace as it advances throughout the Earth.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will… (Eph. 1:7-11)

The mystery of His will is all revealed in His Son. Sometimes it comes in a “go here” “do this” or “marry her” type of way, but be assured that it has to do with Jesus’ kingdom permeating this age until all that is left is Jesus and His heart’s desires (in which we are included).

I will delve more into this in my next series of posts and break down different Scriptures that actually mention the term “God’s will”.  Suprisingly, there are not very many compared to what there could be and considering how often Christians cry out for God to show them His will. So stay tuned… Lord willing :)

 

 

Posted in Experiencing the Presence of God, Growth/ Destiny | 1 Comment