Freedom

Free To Forgive

 

WATCH THE LIVE FACEBOOK STREAM HERE

LISTEN TO AUDIO HERE

 

When people sin, you should forgive and comfort them, so they won’t give up in despair. You should make them sure of your love for them.  (2 Corinthians 2:4)

“If a believer sins, correct him. If he changes the way he thinks and acts, forgive him.”  (Jesus, in Luke 17:3)

__________________________________________________________________________________

What are Paul and Jesus actually asking of Christians here? Is this forgive and forget? Do I have to feel really good about the perpetrator? Do I have to like them in order to forgive them? Do we have to be friends? Must we hang out? Am I supposed to move on and act like nothing happened?  Let’s look to Scripture…

1) Jesus sets the standard for forgiveness. Paul wrote elsewhere,

“For he [Jesus] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. “ (Colossians 1:13-14)

“ In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us…” (Ephesians 1:7-8)

We were all in in the dominion of darkness.  We have so much sin that we deserve death. Jesus in his mercy paid the penalty for us.  We are hardly in a position not to extend forgiveness.

“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”– C.S. Lewis

How many times has my anger been inexcusable? My judgment, my lust, my greed, my harsh and cutting words, my failure to respect and honor my parents, my wife and my kids; my laziness, my pride? How many times have they been inexcusable? All of them. And yet I have repented, and God has forgiven – and the people around me have forgiven me over and over. Christians forgive the inexcusable, because Jesus has forgiven the inexcusable in us.

2) Forgiveness is mandatory.

“But if you don't forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failures.” (Matthew 6:15)

“But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too." (Mark 11:25)

As an idea, that sounds really good. I really want other people to get this.  But what if I was personally were the one damaged by sin? “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”  C.S. Lewis

Peter once asked Jesus if forgiveness was to be offered seven times. The Jewish rabbis at the time taught that forgiving someone more than three times was unnecessary. Peter was suggesting more than double the mandated maximum. They would have been stunned by Jesus’ lavish answer of 70x7 (which was a very Jewish way of saying there is no end). They were used to a law that had limits, not a grace that did not.

Jesus followed that up with the  parable of the unforgiving servant. God has forgiven us an enormous debt; how ungrateful must we be if we don’t do the same for others?

If I may note the wisdom of this on a practical level: we will probably assume God and others forgive us in the same way we forgive others. If we forgive partially and reluctantly and keep score somewhere, that’s probably how we view the forgiveness of God and others. This is the advice of a loving Father: forgive as God forgives. Forgive fully and freely. It will help us understand the nature of God’s forgiveness.

3) Forgiveness is patiently anticipatory

The Parable of the Two Sons (or the Prodigal Son) in Luke 15 reminds us that it is God who will wake people up in the midst of their sin. We may be the instrument God uses, but we may not be also. And I can almost guarantee that people who sin against you won’t respond with your sense of timing.

We can be so quick to want people to repent NOW. Did you? Or did it take some time to really see and understand your sin? How long did people faithfully invest in you before, like the Prodigal Son, you “came to your senses” by the grace of God?

Meanwhile, the father was alertly watching and waiting for the return of his son. The father had not closed the gates and turned his back. He wanted his son to come home. His heart was for his son’s healing. In spite of the hurt and humiliation he had experienced, one of his greatest joys would be having his son come home.

He was eagerly anticipating the moment of restoration and the life that would follow. When the prodigal moved toward the father, the father moved toward him. I would find it easy to defend the father if he just sat on the porch and waited; maybe even had a servant tell the son that he was in the back 40 and the son would have to wait. Or not respond to the son’s email for weeks. None of this happened. The father was watching; he saw the son returning, and he ran to meet him.

Do we move with forgiveness toward those who are moving toward us with broken repentance? Or do we wait, passively at best and defiantly at worst? How many times do people around us make gestures of repentance that we ignore because we don’t think it’s enough?

When I was coaching, there was a parent who really didn’t like me.  He would write me letters several pages long chronicling all the ways I failed. He would glare at me all the time. He disinvited me from his son’s wedding. Then Braden decided that this man was the coolest guy in the room during basketball games, and would climb to the top of the bleachers to sit with him game after game (Braden was probably 3 or 4).  One night after a game this man was waiting for me. I braced myself. All he said was, “You and I have had our differences, but you must be doing something right as a father.” That was the most I was going to get. I took it. We’ve been good ever since.

Do we move toward that offer of connection? My wife and I have an unspoken “connector” when there is tension or distance between us. We have to sit on the couch together rather than on separate chairs (that’s step one), and then we have to have physical contact (that’s step two). That’s the peace offering: “I know things are not well. They will be okay. We will work this out.” And in those moments the one of us who feels most offended – and we take turns on this – has a choice: do I move toward the one who is moving toward me, or do I make them do all the work?

There’s an entirely different discussion to be had about not staying in damaging, manipulative cycles of abuse where the supposedly repentant people are manipulating people around them.  If you think that’s what’s happening, talk to someone you trust who has wisdom in this area. But generally speaking, I believe we are called to move toward those who move toward us.

4) Forgiveness does not delete our history; it covers our history. The Bible uses language of God’s forgiveness that at a quick glance appears to say that God forgets our sin.

  • “All their sins and iniquities I will remember no more.” (Hebrews 8:12)
  • “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)
  • “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

Every commentary I read noted that this is not literal amnesia. It’s the best human language we have to explain that God does not hold our sins against us when our sins are covered by the blood of Jesus.  Paul remembered his sins and wrote about them to churches. If God had forgotten, then Paul remembered something about history that God does not. If I pray and ask God for ongoing healing for my past forgiven sins, God is not confused by my request. He knows why I’m asking.  He just does not hold them against me.

Memory was not part of the fall. It’s one of the good gifts God has given us. We are meant to learn from our past successes and failures. It’s part of how we mature. 

  • We will never gain necessary wisdom if we forget what it was like to be in chains to sin. 
  • We will not appreciate the forgiveness God and others show us if we forget how much we gave them to forgive.
  • We will not be able to encourage others with our testimonies of God’s grace if we can’t remember why God showed us grace in the first place.

5) Forgiveness does not cancel ongoing accountability. Extending forgiveness is not the same as overlooking the impact of sin. Accountability and protection can go along with forgiveness. Charles Stanley wrote, “Forgiveness is relational; consequences are circumstantial.”

  • After Adam and Eve sinned, God provided a means of forgiveness…but also explained what the fallout was going to look like.
  • God forgave Moses…but Moses did not enter the Promised Land.
  • Jesus forgave the thief on the cross…but the thief still died that day.

Paul noted in Galatians 6 that we will always harvest what we plant. It’s a principle God has embedded in the world, and God will not be mocked.

  • If I steal your wallet, but return the wallet and ask for forgiveness, forgiveness should be granted. But are you going to leave your wallet out again when I am around?  Wisdom would suggest you keep your wallet close, at least until I have shown myself to be trustworthy.  
  • If I share a deep secret you told me in confidence, and I repent and ask you to forgive me, you should extend forgiveness. But you probably shouldn’t tell me a deep secret again until I have shown myself to be trustworthy.
  • If you hurt or offend your spouse or a friend, ask for forgiveness. But don’t become annoyed if they put up some boundaries so they don’t get hurt again.

Life is not an etch-o-sketch. We can’t just shake the picture that we’ve drawn and pretend it never happened. We have hurt people. Our actions have consequences. It’s going to take time to draw a new and better picture.The goal of forgiveness is to restore fellowship with God and others. Circumstantial consequences may or may not adjust in connection with the forgiveness; if they don’t, it does not mean no one was forgiven.  It might just mean those who forgive are also wise.

6) Forgiveness is worth celebrating.

The father of the Prodigal Son was overjoyed the son had returned. It was the legalistic brother who said, “How dare you celebrate the lost.” How easy is it for us to think that if we forgive too lavishly we are somehow overlooking or enabling or smoothing over whatever sin someone is leaving? The celebration doesn’t deny the past; the celebration revels in the present and the future. There are still consequences that will play out because God has made a world of cause and effect, but in that moment, and (if the parable continued) for many days to come, the father would celebrate, because his child who was lost has come home. 

This one is hard, especially if you are the one who has been wounded by someone else’s sin. Yet I think our reaction to other situations are instructive here. Don't we love that the Amish community forgave the shooter? Don’t we love the stories of parents who forgive their child’s killer? We applaud, as we should. We aren’t opposed to the principle. It’s just hard when it applies to us. This is the cross we take up; this is cost of discipleship; this is what God commands – and equips us to do.

_________________________________________________________________________

END NOTES ABOUT GOD’S MEMORY  

“’Will I remember no more’ - This is evidently spoken after the manner of men, and in accordance with human apprehension. It cannot mean literally that God forgets that people are sinners, but it means that he treats them as if this were forgotten. Their sins are not charged upon them, and they are no more punished than if they had passed entirely out of the recollection. God treats them with just as much kindness, and regards them with as sincere affection, as if their sins ceased wholly to be remembered, or which is the same thing, as if they had never sinned.” – Matthew Henry, on Hebrews 8:12

“’And their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more’; by which are meant all kind of sin, original and actual; sins before and after conversion; every sin but that against the Holy Ghost, and that God's covenant people are never guilty of; these God remembers no more; he casts them behind his back, and into the depths of the sea, so that when they are sought for, they shall not be found; God will never charge them with them, or punish them for them: this is another phrase to express the forgiveness of sins, and distinguishes the new covenant from the old one, or the former dispensation; in which, though there were many typical sacrifices, and a typical removal of sin, yet there was a remembrance of it every year.” Gill’s Exposition Of The Bible, on Hebrews 8:12

“’As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.’ God's mercy is the cause, the removal of sin the result. The two are commensurate, and are "described by the largest measures which the earth can afford." Pulpit Commentary, on Psalm 103:12

“’As far as the east is from the west’ - As far as possible; as far as we can imagine. These are the points in our apprehension most distant from each other, and as we can conceive nothing beyond them, so the meaning is, that we cannot imagine our sins could be more effectually removed than they are. “ Barne’s Notes On The Bible

“Christ engaged as a surety for his people; Jehovah the Father considered him as such; and therefore did not impute their sins to them, but to him; and when he sent him in the likeness of sinful flesh, he removed them from them, and laid them upon him; who voluntarily took them on himself, cheerfully bore them, and, by bearing them, removed the iniquity of the land in one day; and carried them away to the greatest distance, and even put them away for ever by the sacrifice of himself; and upon the satisfaction he gave to divine justice, the Lord removed them both from him and them; justified and acquitted him, and his people in him: and by this means so effectually, and so far, are their transgressions removed, that they shall never be seen any more, nor ever be imputed to them, nor be brought against them to their condemnation; in consequence of which, pardon is applied to them, and so sin is removed from their consciences, as before observed; see Leviticus 16:21.”  - Gill’s Exposition Of The Entire Bible

“Our thoughts of God as the All knowing preclude the idea of any limitation of His knowledge, such as the words “I will remember no more” imply. What is meant is that He will be to him who repents and knows Him as indeed He is, in His essential righteousness and love, as men are to men when they “forget and forgive.” He will treat the past offences, even though their inevitable consequences may continue, as though they had never been, so far as they affect the communion of the soul with God. He will, in the language of another prophet, “blot out” the sins which yet belong to the indelible and irrevocable past (Isaiah 43:25Isaiah 44:22).”  Elliot’s Commentary For English Readers, on Jeremiah 31:34

“’For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more’; there was forgiveness of sin under the former covenant, but the blood of Christ was not then actually shed for it; it was held forth under types; and there was a remembrance of sin made every year; and saints had not such a clear and comfortable sight of pardon in common as now; and it was known and applied but to a few. This is the staple blessing of the covenant, and the evidence of all the rest.”  - Gill’s Exposition Of The Entire Bible

Free To Repent

 

WATCH THE LIVE FACEBOOK STREAM HERE

LISTEN TO AUDIO HERE

• “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations...” (Jesus, in Luke 24:45-47). • “They… glorified God, saying, ’God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.’” (Acts 11:18). • “The sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation…”(2 Corinthians 7:9-10). • 'Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first...” (Revelation 2:5).

This week, I’m talking to me and you as the offenders, the sinners, the ones who have helped make the world a little more broken. The question we are going to ask is, “How do we genuinely, healthily repent??” ______________________________________________________________________

1) Own our offense

People try to find creative ways to say “I’m sorry” that can sound good but often conceal a deflection of blame. A popular phrase going around right now is ‘fauxpology,’ words that sound apologetic but really aren’t.

“I’m sorry I’m not perfect.” (the other person’s standard is too high) “ I am sorry that you were hurt.”(the other person is too sensitive) “I’m sorry that I don’t meet your expectations.” (the other person is too judgmental) “I’m sorry that I was not more self-aware.” (my stupidity is too blame)

Now all of these things might in some sense be true, and it doesn’t mean this should not be part of what you say if you have sinned against someone. But there is a far more important thing to acknowledge. The heart of the biblical words of genuine repentance are as follows: “I have sinned against God and you.” Repentance requires you to own what you need to own. Repentance does not excuse, justify, avoid, deny or cover up. I read an article a number of years ago about Lance Armstrong’s attempt at an apology for the performance enhancing drugs he used:

More than once in the interview Armstrong indicated that his hyper-competitiveness fueled his toxic need to control every outcome. That control was much in display throughout the confession. At one point, Oprah mentioned Betsy Andreu, one of the honest critics that Armstrong smeared. Armstrong acknowledged that he called her a b**** and crazy, but disputed that he ever called her fat. Such defensiveness undermines the whole apology.

An effective apology means giving up your argument with history. It means letting the victims have the last word. But throughout the interview, Armstrong displayed a constant need to have the last word for himself. It’s clear that he is not quite ready to do the heavy lifting of apology. (http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2013/01/18/why-lance-armstrongs-apology-was-just-plain-sorry/)

Repentant people face a hard truth — they have offended God and others. It’s the hardest thing in the world to just take a deep breath and say, “God, I have sinned against you. And my friend, I have sinned against you and really hurt you. I’m sorry.”

Some of you were interacting with me on Facbook this week about this issue and pointed out that our rational, decision-making capacity can be deeply, deeply influenced by our environment. I was introduced to a new term last week: “epigenetic trauma,” which is a fancy way of saying that experiences change our DNA, which effects our genetics. In other words, experiences change our very biology. Or consider that our memory is not stored just in our brains; memory is stored in organs like the heart and can be passed on to heart transplant recipients.

So the impact of our influences should not be overlooked, because they certainly form us and incline us certain directions. “Hurt people hurt people” is a proverb that reflects the reality that we often pass on our woundedness either intentionally or unintentionally. The impact of mental or emotional health issues are important as well. Our bodies reflect the broken reality of this broken world in many ways.

Ideally, when we face this reality, we develop a longing for God to bring us freedom from the damage and sin in our past, at whatever level that has impacted us. And while there are helpful ways to address this with medicine or counseling, we can only be truly healed by the transformation of our hearts and minds that only Christ can bring.

So should we ever give ourselves a pass when it comes to our sin? In Luke 12, Jesus offers a clear principle: “If you are given much, much will be required of you. If much is entrusted to you, much will be expected of you. (Luke 12:48). I think this is a broad way of saying that we are held responsible for what we do with who we are or with what we have been given.

The Bible does not allow followers of Jesus to passively shrug off our patterns of sin because we have found an explanation for “the sin that so easily besets us” (Hebrews 12:1). It demands that on the one hand we repent for the sinful things we have done. Then we beg for the God’s healing mercy, knowing this is our only hope. Then we ask for the forgiveness of others, because no matter the reason we did these things, we hurt them, and we must own our offense.

2) Turn Around “They were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, [John] said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance…” (Matthew 3:5-8).

Being emotionally undone is not the same as repentance. It might be part of the process, but tears do not equal repentance. Repentance requires a reorientation, a fundamental transformation in one’s relationship with God and others.

“Some tax-gatherers came to be baptized, and they said, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.” And some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.” (John the Baptizer, in Luke 3:11b-14)

Once again, you see this idea of a change of direction – a change of life.

By the grace and power of God, the truly repentant will surrender to God’s will and proactively reject their former patterns of sin.

If someone says to you, “I appreciate your repentance, but it’s going to be hard for me to believe that you will not lie to me again/keep watching porn/stop demeaning me with your words,” mere words are not going to do the trick. You need to establish a commitment to changed patterns in your life to show that you meant what you said.

The truly repentant surrender themselves to God’s will, submit themselves to the accountability of others, and deliberately plan to not do what they did before.

This requires God’s strength because we’ve already shown our strength is not enough. This should make us really, really humble. This also requires a community of accountability, a plan where we put people around us who can be strong when we are weak, or who have understanding when we don’t.

Only God can do the necessary interior work in our hearts and minds that genuinely brings about righteousness in what we think and what we love. Meanwhile, we can put safeguards in place to restrain and maybe even retrain us. This does not save us, but investing whatever sweat equity we are capable of shows our honor of God’s desire for our lives.

3) Brace Yourself

After his adultery with Bathsheba, David wrote:

“For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight. You are justified when You speak, and blameless when You judge. “ (Psalm 51:3-4)

David repented - then asked for nothing. He knew what he deserved, and he did not ask God to remove the consequences.

Be ready to harvest what you planted. There is a principle of sowing and reaping God has placed in the world (Galatians 6:7). If you drive drunk and have an accident, God and others will forgive you, but you will still do time. Repentance is not a ‘get our of jail free’ card in a very practical sense. And God designed the world to work that way.

More personally, brace yourself for the intensity of emotions from those you have wronged—anger, hurt, grief, disappointment, and distrust. The truly repentant don’t pressure people to move on. They don’t ask why the other person just can’t get over it. They simply ask for forgiveness, turn around, and patiently wait as God uses His Holy Spirit, time, and our new way of life to heal the wounds. (We will talk about forgiveness next week)

In addition, repentant people accept boundaries. They recognize that they have created distrust and earned caution. Their offense may be of such a nature that trust can be regained – or it might not. That’s the reality of their situation, and they accept their boundaries. To be sure they do this well, they become accountable. They invite people into their lives, and they embrace correction, direction, and encouragement.

4) Pursue Life Together

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24).

If you are right in the middle of focused worship, and you know that you have hurt someone else, Jesus would rather have you try to mend that relationship than continue in your worship. If you show up on a Sunday and see someone across the room who has something against you – that is, you have sinned against them, wounded them, offended them – you should skip music and the sermon and take them into the prayer room and be reconciled before you sing or ‘amen’ as if nothing is wrong. It’s more important.

Once that community has been restored, there is more. David did not see repentance and forgiveness as the whole story. He desired to teach others:

“Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You.” (Psalm 51:13).

David would be teaching sinners as a repentant sinner. His teaching would seek to turn sinners from their sin. Why waste forgiveness and repentance on just ourselves?

Repentant people should be bold. Stories of repentance and forgiveness make beautiful testimonies, but no one can benefit from your experience if no one knows. If you say, “Forgiveness and grace are beautiful things,” and someone says, “Why?” What will you say? “Oh, just because…”

Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).

Paul wrote without shame: ”For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10)

Simul Justus Et Peccator

romans_7_15-20_1800w.jpg

Simul Justus Et Peccator

Simultaneously Saint and Sinner

Listen Online

 

God’s Impossible Standard

Martin Luther was a troubled soul. (You didn't think I would come up here two weeks after the 500th anniversary of the reformation and not bring him up did you?) He would spend hours lying face-down on his floor in guilt for the sins he had committed. At that time the church taught that the believer must become righteous by keeping the law. Luther continually failed at this so he spiraled in despair. How could God him accountable to a standard that he knew Luther could not meet? What sort of God was this?

Sharing Luther’s Struggle

Years later, Luther would make the same observation that Paul had[1].

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” – Romans 7:15-20

We've been talking about the fruit of the Spirit in recent weeks. And I find myself in a struggle similar to Luther. On the one hand, I see fruit of the Spirit as something the Holy Spirit ought to be producing in my life - meaning it seems like he ought to be doing it without my intervention. After all, I have no goodness of my own. There is no deep well of patience and kindness within me just waiting to get out. Even after a good night's rest and a cup of coffee, I'm still not up to the task. These things have to come from outside of me.

On the other hand, I can't possibly be off the hook. Scripture is full of instructions:

  • Love God, with all your heart/soul/mind[2].
  • Love your neighbor as yourself[3].
  • Walk peaceably with all men[4].
  • Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God[5].
  • Hide the word in your heart[6].
  • Don't be a hearer only - be a doer also[7].
  • Encourage one another[8].
  • Take every thought captive[9].

This is scripture. None of these things just happen. It sounds like I’m supposed to do something.

So, if I don't see the fruit of the spirit in my life like I think I should, or like I see it other people, what do I do?

Intro

This is supposed to be a sermon on self-control. When I started to look at this topic, I tried to decide how I wanted to approach it. (Not just the topic of self-control, but the broader topic of Fruit of the Spirit in general.) There are a number of ways to approach the topic that might seem plausible. The way I approach a topic I’m researching is to tear the issue apart and look at it systematically, through scripture, and see what I find. In case there is anyone here who shares my confusion on the topic or who is interested in seeing how I approach such issues, I’m going to walk through my thinking this morning.

Engines & Salvation

If you’ve talked to me about Christianity at any length, you’ve probably heard me mention the Ordo Salutis. It means “Order of Salvation”, but Latin just sounds cooler.

For a lame analogy, using the word “salvation” is something like using the word “engine”. Everyone generally knows what I mean if I say I have a problem with my car’s engine. But on reflection, no one would really know what the problem was. A mechanic does not simply “fix my engine”. He might repair a leak in the radiator, or replace the starter, or adjust the timing. Generally speaking, all of these things could be classified as fixing my engine, but specificity allows us greater understanding.

Some might wonder why this matters. After all, I’m not planning to become a mechanic. But learning something about how an engine works will help me care for my engine better in the long run. It will help me to have more informed conversations with my mechanic. And hopefully, it will prevent me from getting myself into avoidable pitfalls down the road. Understanding the important parts of salvation isn’t that much different.

Salvation 101

When we say that someone “got saved”, there is a lot more going on than is evident. To illustrate, if we were to ask when they were saved, what would they say?

  • Would they tell you about the sermon they heard that made their heart pound?
  • Would they tell you about when they felt like a whole different person than they were before?
  • Would they tell you about the day they repented for their sins and placed their faith in Christ?
  • Would they tell you about the fact that God in his foreknowledge has always known they would come?
  • Would they talk about the conviction they had to live differently to honor Christ?

Do you see the similarity to the engine and its components? We can speak of each of those items in terms of salvation, but we can also use the word salvation as a description of the whole series of events that transpired. In the broader sense, salvation is a word that describes the whole series of events from God’s knowledge in eternity past to our future glorification in heaven. In that case, we would do well to develop a better understanding of the components that make up the salvation engine.

Ordo Salutis

I won’t cover everything this morning, but I’ll work in enough bits to paint a picture that I think will be helpful in this morning’s study.

The Call

Remember Jesus’ parable[10] about the farmer scattering seeds? There he was describing the general call. The general call is the message that goes out to all people. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand[11]” Sometimes that gospel seed takes root, and sometimes it doesn’t.

The individual call is the Holy Spirit’s unique call to a person that will result in salvation. In the parable I just mentioned, this would be the seed that lands in good soil.

Regeneration

The call is a crucial part of the salvation process, but the proper soil is necessary for the seed to grow. Regeneration is the name for the change that takes places when God turns our heart of gravel into soil so the gospel seed can take root. When we were regenerated, we received a new nature. No longer were we hostile to things of God. We became softened and able to respond to the Holy Spirit’s call.

Conversion

Next comes conversion. Conversion is the step most of us remember. This is the point at which I willingly respond to the gospel call and place my trust in Christ for salvation. When people tell you how long they have been a Christian, this is most likely what they have in mind.

Justification

When we respond to the Holy Spirit’s call, we are instantaneously seen as righteous in the sight of God. As Luther discovered, we are not made righteous, but we are declared righteous[12]. Justification is a legal decree. It’s like being declared not guilty. The declaration does not change the fact that we are guilty – it is a legal decree that our guilt is no longer being counted against us. In a blink of an eye, Jesus gets all my sin and the debt that goes with it, and I get credit for his sinless life[13]. Justification has nothing to do with my actions or my abilities. It’s not about my potential or what God sees in me. It’s all about Christ. According to scripture, I am saved by God’s grace, through my faith in Christ’s work on my behalf – all for the glory of God[14].

Sanctification

While justification is instantaneous, sanctification is not. The word sanctify means “to make holy”. We are not made holy in an instant. Holiness is a process and a pursuit. We are progressively sanctified over time as part of the salvation process. Sanctification is the life-long work of God, in which we participate, in order to become increasingly freer from sin, and increasingly conformed to the image of Christ[15].

Avoiding Error

Since we’re on the topic, let me be pointed for a moment. There are a couple common errors here. (And by the way, I don’t say this to pick on other religions, but rather to protect you from getting hung up on bad teaching.)

Don't make the error of Catholicism which mingles justification and sanctification. Catholicism would have us be sanctified in order to be fully justified[16]. This is what vexed Luther, but that is not the testimony of scripture. Sanctification is a fruit of justification. For those who are justified, sanctification inevitably follows. I also don't want you to confuse what I’m saying with Mormonism. Mormon doctrine would have you believe that God's grace is there to save us after we have done all the we are able to[17]. That's not what I'm saying at all. I am saying that the true believer will obey and do good works out of love for Christ[18]. But none of this is meritorious. That means no good work we do is credited towards our justification. However, we do have this debt which we are unable to pay, so Jesus pays it for us. He makes payment on our behalf. He doesn't pick up the shortfall - he covers the entire debt. Unfortunately, Evangelicals have absorbed these beliefs, and the burden they bring is crippling. Understanding the distinction between justification and sanctification will save you from a lot of bad teaching.

Taking a Step Back

That’s enough discussion of the nitty gritty that happens under the hood of salvation for this morning. Now that we have this vocabulary, let’s step back and define a few other terms.

Holy Spirit

As I said, we participate in our sanctification, but this doesn’t earn us any credit toward salvation. This sanctification that occurs does so under the conviction, motivation and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Have you ever thought about his name?  … “Holy Spirit”

Holy means set apart or sanctified. He could be called the Sanctified Spirit. He is also the Sanctifying Spirit. His role is to come alongside us in Jesus’ earthly absence and make us more like him[19]. The Holy Spirit was sent to sanctify us. To help us in this process of becoming more holy[20].

Fruit of the Spirit

Now the words get even weirder to our modern ears, but hopefully this will make some sense.

Paul refers to the result of the Spirit’s work in our life as “fruit”. It makes sense, really – especially to the agricultural community of the New Testament.

  • Earlier I mentioned Jesus’ parable of the sower spreading seed[21].
  • Paul expands on the metaphor saying that some plant, some water, but God gives the growth[22]
  • Paul references the idea that the thing that is reaped is the same as what was sown[23] (The seed of the Spirit was sown, so the fruit of the Spirit will be reaped.)
  • In fact, Paul calls the results of walking by the Spirit “fruit”[24]

Plants bear fruit after their own kind. If the Holy Spirit calls us, and the Holy Spirit regenerates us, and he guides the growing process, it is only natural that the “fruit” produced would look like him.

Summary

Hopefully, now you can see why Anthony has reiterated that only believers can exhibit fruit[25]. You can’t make tomatoes without starting with tomatoes. You can’t produce the fruit of the Spirit without starting with the Spirit[26]. In our justification, God began a good work in us. And through sanctification, he will be faithful to complete it[27].

Ok… But what am I supposed to do?

So what do we do with all of this? Is fruit something that just happens? Is fruit something we should strive after? I think that both are true, understood correctly. Fruit proceeds from the believer’s life as a result of God’s work in us, but that doesn't mean it is a passive endeavor. We are to be holy as he is holy[28]. The bible says we were created for good works[29]. The life of the believer should not be characterized by the meme, “Let Go and Let God”.

Avoiding Rome

But how do we reconcile this with grace? How do we reconcile this with resting in God[30]? This sounds like a lot of work! In fact, this sounds a whole lot like the issue that was disputed at the Reformation. Sure, grace saves. Of course, God justifies us. But how does one prove they are his? By their works! On the one hand, I am very sympathetic to this. After all, if I were to see someone who exhibited no fruit whatsoever, I would be very suspicious of their claims to being a believer. However, none of us is perfect. None of us will become fully sanctified in his life. None of us can obey the full weight of the law. And honestly, if I set up the fruit of the spirit as requirements, I am just setting us up for more failure. But does grace mean that we soften the very requirements that Jesus laid out? I'll give an answer that I think Paul would give: “By no means!” As Paul asked, “shall we go on sinning just because we'll be forgiven?” Of course not! The answer is the same because the problem is the same.

We are supposed to do good works.

We are supposed to refrain from sin.

It is our duty to execute both of these flawlessly. And yet we cannot.

This is where grace comes in.

When it comes time for me to be judged, God will not look at my sin to judge me (thank God!) but Christ's righteousness. When looking to see whether I was perfectly patient he will look at Christ’s patience. When he looks to see how I loved, he will look and see how Christ loved. In every area where I fall short (which is all of them), Jesus takes the punishment and I get his reward.

Grace did not replace the law. The law is good, but we miss the mark just like Luther. God’s grace does not eliminate God’s law – it eliminates the punishment for breaking it[31].

So should we do the things God told us to do? Of course we should!

And should we avoid sin? Of course we should!

The fact that Jesus has paid our price does not change our marching orders. What it changes is the why. No longer do we obey out of dread, but rather out of delight. Our obedience to Christ is not out of fear of being beaten by a brutal taskmaster. Neither is it out of fear that we might not make the cut. Rather, since we have already been justified, it is a response out of love for what Christ has ALREADY done for us[32].

A More Excellent Way

Much has been said about the gifts of the Spirit. As wonderful as they are, Paul seems to sweep them aside after introducing them. He says “here are a number of the ways that the Spirit has supernaturally empowered some people, but I want to tell you about a more excellent way.[33]” Unfortunately, this statement had the misfortune of landing at a chapter break, so we lose the context. Paul’s “most excellent way” is for us to love one another.

Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God, and close behind it was to love your neighbor[34]. He also said that people would know that we are Christians by our love for one another[35]. Paul said to the Corinthians that if we do not have love, everything we say or do is worthless[36]. Love identifies the believer. But what is love? How do we love? Paul goes on and writes what has become known as the love chapter in the bible.

How do we love? Paul says believers show their love for one another by being patient. They express their love through kindness. They don’t envy. They don’t boast. Believers are not to be proud or rude, because love is not proud or rude. Love seeks the good of the other. It does not delight in evil. On and on he goes, elaborating what love looks like in action.

In fact, some have observed that one way to look at this is to say that the Fruit of the Spirit is love. Period. Then we read further to see what love is. Earlier, Paul had written something similar to the Galatians, and that’s what we’ve been studying in recent weeks. He said that Christ has set us free from the law, and we should stand firm in that freedom and no longer submit to slavery. Ironically, I think our very discussion of the fruit of Spirit can lead us into that very thing. If we are not careful we may read the fruit of the Spirit as a list of rules, and gradually come to think that our salvation is determined by how closely we follow these rules.

Dead to Sin. Alive to Christ.

But that wasn’t the purpose of the fruit metaphor. If a tree is really an apple tree, and it is receiving proper nourishment, it will produce apples. If we are truly Christians, and we are receiving our nourishment from God the Holy Spirit, we will produce fruit of the Spirit. But this isn’t a passive message. It is both passive and active.

You have been given patience, so be patient. You have been given love, so love. You have been given the ability to control your actions, so control them. Not to earn your salvation. Not to keep God from being mad at you. You do it because you are a Christian. God has freed you from the bondage of sin and freed you to be more like him. Therefore, out of love, out of delight, out of thankfulness, be like him!

His yoke is easy, but there is still a yoke. His burden is light, but there is still a burden. He calls us to rest in him, but that rest isn't passivity or inactivity. The rest is from striving to do it on your own - to earn it on your own. It's a spiritual rest. A rest that comes from knowing your eternal destiny. Your hope is secure. So rest. Christ is yours and you are his. So rest. But biblical rest is not inactivity. The Harvest is plentiful, and the workers are few. Our work is in the Lord so that our labor is not vain[37].  We rest in our justification but we work along with Christ in our sanctification. You have been freed, but don't let sin reign in you, because we are dead to sin, but alive to Christ[38].

You hear people say, “you’re dead to me!” That’s us to sin. Being dead to sin means we owe it nothing. We no longer respond to its call. We don’t open the door when it knocks. We are dead to sin.

But to Christ, we’re alive! We do respond to his call. We do what he says. When the Holy Spirit begins his work in us, we follow his lead, and that is called walking in the Spirit.

By contrast, Paul says the works of the flesh include sexual immorality (there’s a broad category), impurity, jealousy, dissension, etc[39]. But “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.[40]” That’s what being a Christian is, after all:  we put our flesh to death and live in the freedom Christ gives us. But this “putting to death” is a continual process. That’s why we still struggle like Luther, and like Paul.

 

Sorting Fruit

In recent weeks, Anthony and Dan have expounded on different ways the Holy Spirit’s love is expressed through us. I want to point out a couple of ways that theologians have categorized them for you to consider. (By the way, I don’t think you have to pick one. I think these are all helpful ways for us to explore the topic.)

One way is to look at the three categories of God, other, and self.

  • God-ward fruit:  love, joy, peace
  • Others-ward fruit:  patience, kindness, goodness
  • Self-ward fruit:  faithfulness, gentleness, self-control

The first three show how the Spirit turns us toward God. The next three are how the Spirit orders our relationships with others. The final three are the ways in which the Spirit guides our inner lives. These aren’t perfect. I think there is some cross-over, but it’s a helpful grid.

A second way is to see the Fruit of the Spirit as a parallel of the attributes of Christ. If we want to see peace in action, love lived out, a gentleness that does not compromise – we can look to Christ. As the source of these characteristics, he is naturally the standard. One stands out to me however, making it uniquely applicable to Jesus as opposed to the other members of the Godhead, and that is Self-Control. (It only took me 20 minutes to get to my assigned topic!) Track with me here:  God is good. He is perfect peace. But in what sense is he self-control? How does God need to control himself? Using Paul’s definition, he doesn’t. That is, he didn’t until God became man. In Jesus, we see the first time that God exhibited self-control. To see what I mean, let’s look at how Paul introduces the topic in Galatians 5.

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” – Galatians 5:16-18

Remember the verse I started with? Paul said he found two forces acting within him. He recognized that he had competing desires. This is what Luther would refer to as being simultaneously saint and sinner. (That’s the title of the sermon, by the way.) In every moment, our actual righteousness is filthy rags, but our declared righteousness is Christ’s. We are fully justified, and we feel the Spirit’s work, yet at the same time we feel the tug of sin.

Red Pill or Blue Pill?

Here in Galatians, Paul is saying that the believer has two choices. We can either follow the desires of the flesh (sin) or the desires of the Spirit (righteousness). God cannot sin. However, in the person of Christ, that very real tension was felt. He felt the same battle Paul describes, yet he did not sin. That, to me, is a helpful way of understanding self-control, and that is why I did not belabor it with a long sermon. We know that we ought to control ourselves. You know what that looks like. I don’t need to tell you. We may all pursue different sins, but the cause and the solution are the same for each of us. The cause is our sinful human nature. And the solution is self-control. The Spirit works in us and enables us, yet we still must make the choice to choose God over sin. There is no mystery there. It’s probably one of the easiest aspects of the fruit of the Spirit for us to understand.

Closing

Even Luther knew that he was supposed to control himself. Luther’s struggle came from an inaccurate view of God and scripture. God is not a harsh taskmaster. He has given us his law as a curb, a mirror and a guide – but it is not our burden. Christ already carried that burden for us. We follow God, with the Spirit’s help, for our good and for his glory.

Jesus talked about a son who mistreated his father and ran away to revel in his sin. He described the boy’s father as sitting on the porch, looking into the distance, waiting for his son. And one day he saw him coming! The prodigal son had returned! The father ran to his son who had been far off.

This parable is about God watching for his own and pursuing him. Pursuing the very one who had no self-control when it came to prostitutes, gambling and alcohol. The joy the father felt at his son’s return was not approval of the son's behavior. The story was never about the son - it was about the father. He is forgiving. He is good. He is faithful and merciful and gentle. The point today is not to guilt you or beat you into self-control. I'm not here to squeeze fruit out of you. I'm here to encourage you. Choose the Spirit over the flesh. Don’t dread your heavenly father, but out of delight in him, be like him.

 

For freedom Christ has set us free. You were called to freedom. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:1,13-14

 

 


[1] Romans 7:15-20

 

[2] Luke 10:27

 

[3] Mark 12:31

 

[4] Romans 12:18

 

[5] Micah 6:8

 

[6] Psalm 119:11

 

[7] James 1:22

 

[8] 1 Thessalonians 5:11

 

[9] 2 Corinthians 10:5

 

[10] Matthew 13

 

[11] Matthew 4:17

 

[12] This distinction of “forensic” and “practical” righteousness is worth some study

 

[13] 2 Corinthians 5:21

 

[14] Quick summary of the five “solas” of the Reformation, which started 500 years ago in 1517

 

[15] Romans 8:29

 

[16] Canons on Justification, Council of Trent

 

[17] 2 Nephi 25:23

 

[18] John 4:20-21; James 2:14-18

 

[19] John 14:16

 

[20] 1 Peter 1:16

 

[21] Matthew 4:17

 

[22] 1 Corinthians 3:6

 

[23] Galatians 6:7

 

[24] Galatians 5:16-26

 

[25] John 15

 

[26] Galatians 3:1-3

 

[27] Philippians 1:6

 

[28] Leviticus 11:45, 19:2, 20:7, 21:8; 1 Peter 1:13-16

 

[29] Ephesians 2:10

 

[30] Matthew 11:28

 

[31] Matthew 5:17-20; Romans 10:4

 

[32] Romans 5:1-5

 

[33] 1 Corinthians 12:31

 

[34] Matthew 22:36-40

 

[35] John 13:35

 

[36] 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

 

[37] 1 Corinthians 15:58

 

[38] Romans 6

 

[39] Galatians 5:19-21

 

[40] Galatians 5:24

 

Goodness (Freedom Series)

Let’s start with a story from the Gospel of Mark. (I’m combining several accounts and helpful commentary to ‘flesh out’ the details). When He had traveled on, a young man came and knelt in the dust of the road in front of Jesus.

Young Man: Good Teacher! What good thing must I do to gain life in the world to come?

Jesus: Why are you so concerned about that good thing, and why are giving Me, teacher, the title of ‘good’? Don’t you believe and teach that no one and no thing but God and God alone has this honor?

You know the answer you have been taught. If you want to be good enough to enter into the world to come, you have to keep the Commandments of Moses: “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not slander, do not defraud, and honor your father and mother.”

Young Man: Yes, Teacher, I have done all these since I was a child.

Then Jesus, looking at the young man, saw that he was sincere and responded out of His love for him.

Jesus: Son, there is still one thing you have not done. Go now. Sell everything you have and give the proceeds to the poor so that you will have treasure in heaven. You have forgotten the most important command: Have no other gods in my presence. After that, come, follow Me.

The young man went away sick at heart at these words because he was very wealthy…

[Jesus teaches on the dangers of wealth becoming an idol]

The disciples: Then who can be liberated (saved)?

Jesus: For human beings it is impossible, but not for God: God makes everything possible. (Mark 10: 17:26 )

* * * * *

We lack good people in our world.

The Harvey Weinstein story has brought this front and center in a very particular area: sexual harassment and assault. He has opened the floodgates, and now you can’t read a news story without another actress –and a few actors – talking about cases where they have been the victims of sexual sin. Sadly, this seems to have simply shone a spotlight on what women have always known and men have too often dismissed. There’s a reason #metoo has been trending.

Meanwhile, many women around the world have turned to the men in their life and said, “I am so glad you are not like that,” and the men have been more than happy to agree that indeed they are not, and to remind their wives and girlfriends how lucky they are to have a good man like him around. Good men are hard to find. Thank God we made ourselves so obvious.

But for Christians, the standard for all of our conduct is much higher than simply that which can be observed. Jesus said that adultery – sexual unfaithfulness expressed in action - is bad, but those who nurture sexual unfaithfulness in their heart are also guilty of adultery (Matthew 5:28). In other words, obeying God’s law outwardly is important, but it’s not the ultimate standard of goodness. Good people don’t simply do good things; good people have good hearts. Good people desire the good as well as do the good.

Which puts us all in a really uncomfortable spot.

We do not all commit the same outward sins, and we don’t all struggle with the same kinds of sins, but we have all given in either outwardly or inwardly to some form of sinfulness. If we haven’t done it, we’ve thought a lot about doing it, and liked the idea. We dreamed about it. We pondered how it might be accomplished. We envied those who did the things we would never do but really, really wanted to do. “Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could have the testimony where I partied like a rock star and then settled down with Jesus?” Our hearts have been ravaged by the sin that has crouched at our door (Genesis 4:7).

This is what we call bad news. “The heart is deceitful, and desperately wicked. Who can trust it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Christianity demands that we never stand on a pedestal and point down toward the ‘losers’ who have given in to sin. We kneel on the level ground at the foot of the cross with everyone else and offer our hearts to a Savior who alone can heal.

Let’s talk about what I mean by level ground. Jesus said there are some things that deserve greater condemnation (Matthew 23:14). There is something unique about sexual sin (1 Corinthians 6:18). You dare not hurt kids. (Luke 17:2). Does this mean some of us are greater sinners?

I think this has to do with the ripple effect of what we do. Some sins leave more brokenness in their wake than other sins, and some do more damaging formation in people’s lives. A physical assault hurts a body; a sexual assaults hurts a soul. Both are bad; but one damages in a way the other does not.

I have not done what Harvey Weinstein has done, so I have not left that terrible legacy. But I don’t have to do what he did to have a soiled heart that expresses itself in broken actions that leave their own kind of damage. I’m not suddenly good just because Harvey is terrible. Harvey Weinstein is not the standard of goodness. In fact, the minute we start to establish whether or not we are good by comparing ourselves to others, we are in trouble. We can live in such a way that we lower the condemnation we deserve – and that would be good, because that would mean people around us weren’t being hurt - but that is not the same thing as being good.

• What if the Las Vegas shooter only shotone person? What if he sat around all day in a room filled with loaded weapons and thought about it but did nothing? Each of those would deserve less condemnation in that his immoral “footprint” would be smaller, but that wouldn’t make him good. If you found out your neighbor was watching people through the scope of his rifle all day long and pretending he was killing people, you wouldn’t clap him on the shoulder and say, “Love your self-control, dude. Well done!” You would say, “Uh, brother, you need help.”

• If I found out a friend was indulging in fantasies about someone else’s wife but didn’t actually do anything, would I congratulate him on his goodness? I’m glad he’s not acted on his thoughts, and I would affirm that, but we have to address the fact that he wants to offend. He wishes he could. He might protest: “My immoral footprint did not step on her.” Well, no, but not for lack of wanting it to. And he knows – we all know - that while it is a good thing not to follow through on the sinful desires of our hearts, our self-control alone does not make us good people.

None of us have lived up to the standard Jesus set. So while we rightly condemn the physical actions of moral monsters, as Christians we must do so while recognizing that our hearts have something in common with theirs: they are desperately wicked and in need of a transplant.

* * * * * *

This is where the good news of the Gospel begins. There is a solution.

God can create in us a new heart and renew a right spirit within us (Psalm 51:10). The desires of our hearts can become so transformed that God will give us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4) Jesus even talked about how blessed people are who are pure in heart (Matthew 5:8). God commands us to become good, and God will empower us to fulfill his command.

So how does this work? Let’s do a little background first. The Hebrew word for good, Tob or Tov, is about ‘superlative goodness and beauty.” When Moses met God on Mt. Sinai, he asked to see God’s glory. God responded that He would show His goodness, but even then Moses could only handle his “back,” which some have understood to mean God would show him how His presence leaves a mark of goodness on the world.

David wrote:

“You [God] are good (tob), and what you do is good (yatab)…” (Psalm 119:68)

Goodness begins in God – it’s part of God’s nature – and is revealed in His works. His creation is tob (Genesis 1:18); His intrinsic tobness is seen in the land (Psalm 27:13). But even though we see it, we only glimpse the surface.

The New Testament uses different language to capture the same idea. Agathós describes something that is inherently or intrinsically good. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), and Ephesians 5:9 describes it as being one of "the fruit of the light" for Christians who have been made new in Jesus.

Do you remember our baptism imagery? Immersion has to do with pickling. Baptism into Christ is an immersion of who we are into who Jesus is, and in that spiritual immersion we are fundamentally, spiritual changed. Now we have been pickled (?) in God’s goodness. It is changing who we are - which means it is changing how we live. God makes us good so that we can do good.

“A good (agathos) man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45)

So there is some really good news here: we, who are inherently not good people, can become good people through the presence and work of a good God in our life. “What good thing can I do that will make me deserving of eternal life?” asked the young ruler. None. There is nothing you can do that makes you good enough. But…. “with God all things are possible.”

This is the good news of the Gospel: we whose hearts are desperately wicked have a God who responds to prayer: “Create in me a new heart, O God.” And God, who is rich in mercy, does this.

So what does this mean to us when we walk out of here today? I have three thoughts; I am sure there are plenty more to add.

This should give us hope. When we give our lives to Jesus, He can bring goodness into our life where there is none currently. We don’t have to live in despair about our failures and sins. (2 Thessalonians 1:11)

This should point us toward God when we fail. The Bible calls us to actively pursue moral excellence, but when we fail – and we will – we can rest in the knowledge that God’s grace will help us. God knows the heart you were born with, and he know you need a new one. He has begun a good work in you, and he will be faithful (Philippians 1:6).

Christian community should be a place where we don’t have to live in shame about our lack of goodness. (Luke 11:4) I sometimes smile at the optimistic promises in wedding vows. I have these interjections that I keep to myself:

• “I promise to never disappoint you.“ (Oh, you will.) • “I will honor you every moment” (Well, not every moment. Not when you’re tired, or sick, or maybe even awake) • “You will always feel the warmth of my love (You might break that one by the end of the reception.) • “There is nothing that will distract me from you!” (Except Netflix, The Lions next loss, bacon, and Candy Crush.)

Our goodness – our attempts at doing the right thing on our power – will never be enough. We must acknowledge this or we will either hide or judge. We will hide out of fear that we will never be enough and will be rejected because we can’t be perfect, or we will judge those around us because they just aren’t good enough for us and should be rejected.

This is not the freedom God has prepared or you and that Jesus offers to you. The freedom is this: though we are all broken sinners, Jesus saves, delivers and heals. Jesus will empower us to confess our lack of goodness to God and others, and he will empower us to offer forgiveness. “Forgive us our sins, even as we forgive those who sin against us.”

And then we raise our voices together in prayer and ask the God of goodness to increase while we decrease (John 3:30), to be strong where we are weak (2 Corinthians 12:9), to shine through the cracks of our brokenness (2 Corinthians 4:7) not just for our collective good – not just so we can now have a good ‘moral footprint’ instead a bad one – but so that the glory of a good God can be seen in the transformation of our lives.

Kindness (Freedom Series)

Kindness: Xrēstós (chrestos): to furnish what is suitable; useful; well-fitted; beneficial. God’s kindness is shown through actions which are eternally and ultimately beneficial for us. http://biblehub.com/greek/5543.htm * * * * *

Kindness is very similar biblically to goodness and grace . Stephen Witmer says, “It’s a supernaturally generous orientation of our hearts toward other people.” Let’s put those ideas together:

Biblical kindness is expressing God’s supernatural orientation of our hearts in purposeful actions that benefit others practically and spiritually.

1. TRUE KINDNESS IS FROM GOD

A. It is embodied in Jesus

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness (chrestos) to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:1-7)

B. It is shown to all

"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind (chrestos) to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:32ff)

C. It is a fruit of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, not our own power

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness (chrestotes), goodness, faithfulness gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

“As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become useless (from achrestros); there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

2. GOD’S KINDNESS IS FOR US

“ Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness (chrestos) of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4) “My yoke is kind (chrestos) and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)

3. GOD’S KINDNESS IS MEANT TO BE PASSED ON

“Be kind (chrestos) to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32

* * * * * So true kindness comes from God and is empowered by God, and it is oriented toward our good. As we then seek to live as disciples of Jesus, what does this look like in our life as we pass on the kindness we have received from our Savior to all of those around us?

Kindness may or may not be “nice” (as we understand “nice).

As a kid, I wanted to help the baby chicks in my dad’s incubator. They would struggle so hard, and I figured I could help them by peeling open the egg for them. Why not make their life easier? Except that I would doom them. It was in the fight to get out that they became strong enough to survive. I was nice, but I wasn’t kind.

This is why niceness is not a biblical virtue. In fact, if you are a Christian, God insists that you not be nice (at least in the way our culture understands the word) to some people who claim the name of Jesus:

• Blasphemers (Acts 18) • Hypocrites (Galatians 2; Matthew 12) • Sinners (Luke 17, Matthew 18 – rebuke them) • Wanderers From The Truth (James 5) • Those In Need Of Reproof And Correction (2 Timothy 3) • Rebellious Christians (2 Thessalonians 3) • Divisive Christians (Titus 3; 2 Timothy 2) • Worldviews Set Against God (2 Corinthians 10) • Sexually Immoral Christians (1 Corinthians 5) • Lazy Christians (1 Thessalonians 5) • The Proud (1 Corinthians 5)

We can’t be “nice” in these situations and follow Jesus. We must be kind –that is, we must “actions which are eternally and ultimately beneficial for others.” It might not feel nice; it might become tense; it might embarrass. But it’s the kind thing to do.

“We’re all guilty on some level of being unwilling to be honest with people for fear of hurting their feelings, looking less spiritual or losing a friend. Oftentimes at the expense of our own well being, we overbook, over commit and extend ourselves in the name of being a good Christian… we have wrongly believed that being “nice” is akin to being “godly.” We don’t want to ruffle feathers… we don’t want to speak honestly and we don’t want to say no. Why do we do this to ourselves? Because we’re too nice… (“Jesus Didn’t Call us To Be Nice” https://relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/jesus-didnt-call-us-be-nice)

I get it: “nice” is the casual language we use. Let’s not get hung up on all the times we told our kids to play nice or be nice or talked about someone as being a nice person. I think we all understand what we mean by that: they weren’t mean. That’s not a bad thing.

I’m just pointing out that “nice” is an English word that does not do justice to the biblical definition of kindness. Kind people say things nice people never would, like “Get behind me, Satan” (Matthew 16:23) to those they love, or “You are whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27) making disciples of hell” (Matthew 23:15), or “Your father is the devil” (John 8:44) to those religious hypocrites who need genuine holiness.

Sometimes the kindest thing you can do is not to be nice.

• Nice people let their friend drive drunk; kind people take their keys. • Nice people let their friends jump into another terrible relationship without making any waves; kind people try to stop them. • Nice people say, “All roads lead to God” because they don’t want to make anyone upset and because they can’t imagine a nice God demanding a justice that includes punishment. Kind people speak the gospel truth.

This isn’t an excuse to be mean. It’s just that niceness unhooked from holiness far too easily becomes enablement or avoidance.

Be kind like Jesus was kind. Kind people cast our demons, and preach the gospel, and confront sin, and exercise godly judgment, and fight for justice, demand holiness, and lay down their lives. Be nice if you can do so without compromising truth and holiness, but don’t get hung up it, because that’s not your goal. Be kind.

Kindness is understanding (but not enabling)

We read in Titus 3 beginning in verse 3:

"At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.”

There is some empathy here. “I get it. I’ve been there. I know the temptation and understand the struggle. When I say I am going to walk through this with you, I mean I know where to help you step and how, because I walked this road.” It is crucial that people feel understood. One of the beautiful things about the incarnation of Jesus was that no one can say to God, ‘You don’t get it. You don't know what it’s like to be human.” Yes, he does. One of the ways in which we honor that ultimate incarnation is to unashamedly identify with people. “I know what it’s like” is a powerful phrase. But there is more to the this thought:

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy." (Titus 3:3ff)

But we don’t stop there. “Me too” is a great start, but that needs to be followed up with, “and you can now experience the salvation that Christ offers too.” God loves us as we are, but too much to leave us as we are.

Kindness shows empathy and understanding; it just doesn’t stop there, or it would not be kind. If I saw someone having a heart attack and just sat down and said, “Man, this really sucks, doesn’t it?” I suppose I would be nice, and I would certainly be understanding, but if I stopped there when I could do more, I would have failed to show kindness.

Kindness says, “I get it. Now let’s get help.”

Kindness is persistent and invested

This is a point that came up in our class discussion after the sermon. It’s not like we can invest in everyone in the world, but with those in our circle of influence, we must be faithfully present in their lives, and we must recognize that kindness will cost us something. I suspect there are no easy acts of kindness.

Is Jesus not the ultimate example of this? He came to us; He gave his live practically and ultimately for us. Invested? No question. “There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends.” (John 15:13) Even now, his Holy Spirit is persistent and faithfully present in our lives.

If we are to embody the kindness of Jesus in the world, we must consider the implications for our lives.

Kindness is gentle (but not passive)

Biblically, gentleness is “kindness of behavior, founded on strength and prompted by love.” I love this passage’s description of what gentleness looks like in action:

"Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out." (Isaiah 42:1ff)

The kind are gentle, and they nurture both those who are dying and those who are coming to life. The kind help those who have given up and are falling into the depths of sin as well as with those are moving toward the light of truth. I need to quote at length from MacLaren’s Exposotions, because I think he captures the beauty and importance of this passage in Isaiah.

But, blessed be God! There emerges from the metaphor not only the solemn thought of the bruises by sin that all men bear, but the other blessed one, that there is no man so bruised as that he is broken; none so injured as that restoration is impossible, no depravity so total but that it may be healed, none so far off but that he may be brought nigh. And so my text comes with its great triumphant hopefulness, and gathers into one mass as capable of restoration the most abject, the most worthless, the most ignorant, the most sensuous, the most godless, the most Christ-hating of the race….

There is a man in Paris that says he has found a cure for that horrible disease of hydrophobia (rabies), and who therefore regards the poor sufferers of whom others despair as not beyond the reach of hope. Christ looks upon a world of men smitten with madness, and in whose breasts awful poison is working, with the calm confidence that He carries in His hand an elixir, one drop of which inoculated into the veins of the furious patient will save him from death, and make him whole. ‘The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.’ ‘He will not break,’ and that means He will restore, ‘the bruised reed.’ There are no hopeless outcasts. None of you are beyond the reach of a Savior’s love, a Savior’s blood, a Savior’s healing….

* * *

Whether, then, the dimly-burning wick be taken to symbolize the lingering remains of a better nature which still abides with all sinful men, yet capable of redemption, or whether it be taken to mean the low and imperfect and inconsistent and feeble Christianity of us professing Christians, the words of my text are equally blessed and equally true. Christ will neither despise, nor so bring down His hand upon it as to extinguish, the feeblest spark. Look at His life on earth, think how He bore with those blundering, foolish, selfish disciples of His; how patient the divine Teacher was with their slow learning of His meaning and catching of His character. Remember how, when a man came to Him with a very imperfect goodness, the Evangelist tells us that Jesus, beholding him, loved him…

How do you make ‘smoking flax’ burn? You give it oil, you give it air, and you take away the charred portions. And Christ will give you, in your feebleness, the oil of His Spirit, that you may burn brightly as one of the candlesticks in His Temple; and He will let air in, and sometimes take away the charred portions by the wise discipline of sorrow and trial, in order that the smoking flax may become a shining light. But by whatsoever means He may work, be sure of this, that He will neither despise nor neglect the feeblest inclination of good after Him, but will nourish it to perfection and to beauty. MacLaren’s Expositions http://biblehub.com/commentaries/isaiah/42-3.htm

And we are called to be like Jesus. Can we do any less that to show this kind of kindness to the bruised and the smoldering around us?

Patience (Freedom Series)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

First note: patience is one of the fruits of having the Holy Spirit in your life. You can do damage control with self-help books – there are certainly ways you can manage impatience in such a way that you look better on the exterior than you used to – but a true, interior source of genuine patience comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit in our life.

“And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

Second note: patience is something that is commanded, because on this side of heaven our fallen spirit is going to fight with God’s Holy Spirit. In my life, there is going to be time that the fruit of Anthony is going to show. God’s presence moves in when we accept Jesus, God is faithfully at work until we die transforming us into the image of Christ, but that transformation is not complete until we get a new body and a new nature in the New Heaven and Earth.

So we are in the tension of what theologians call the “now and not yet”: we have God’s presence NOW, but our completion is NOT YET. So we live in this tension. Perhaps this is why Paul writes elsewhere:

”We have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:9-12)

Third note: Prayer for God’s miraculous work in this area is crucial. “We have not stopped praying for you.” Yes, we will have to work at “being patient with everyone,” but unless the Lord builds this house, we will labor in vain.

I would like us to take some time this morning to look at how patience is crucial for everyone. I’m going to do my best to unsettle all of you, but keep in mind that’s it’s not because I want us to feel hopeless in our sin. I want us to be able to see it for two reasons:

• So we know specifically how to pray for God’s help and ask for accountability with others. • So we can enjoy the freedom that Jesus offers when a surrendered and transformed heart flourishes in the Kingdom of God

* * * * *

The Impatience of the Strong – Unrestrained Power The Patience of the Strong – Restrained Power

• Exodus 34:6 Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth…”

• Nahum 1:3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power,

• 1 Peter 3:20 “Who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark.”

• Acts 13:18 "For a period of about forty years He put up with them in the wilderness.”

• Romans 9:22 “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?”

Strength and power are not bad things or God would be bad. Unrestrained or poorly channeled strength and power are terrible things. We call that bullying. God models for us the restrained, purposeful, appropriate use of power, and a key aspect is patience. God constantly withholds what he is capable of doing for our sake.

For those of us with power – and that’s all of us – do we withhold what we are capable of doing for the sake of others?

• I can verbally crush others. Ask guys I used to play basketball with. I am ashamed of the many times I just belittled people. I can overwhelm my wife with words to the point that she just doesn’t want to talk with me about hard topics. Words have power – do I withhold myself for the sake of others?

• I can make my kids follow my agenda. But is it for my sake or their sake? Do I want them in bed by a certain time for my sake or their sake? Do I want them to immediately respond for my sake or their sake? Do I want them to always pick up after themselves for my sake or their sake? I can snap at them so they know just how irritated Dad is – but should I?

• I can pressure others into doing what I want. That can be legitimate: if you are in charge of something, things need to get done. But if I’m not careful, I can do that by bullying them or passive-aggressively manipulating them.

Do we know how to withhold what we are capable of doing for the sake of others?

* * * * *

The opposite of the strong are, of course, the “weak,” and by that I mean those who are victims of something that is done to them. In this case, patience is sometimes called endurance or perseverance.

• “My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance [patience] of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful” (James 5:10-11).

• “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:2-4) The Impatience of the Weak – Whining/Cynicism/Despair The Patience of the Weak - Perseverance/Character/Hope

I need to clarify two important things.

First, patience is not the same as passivity. Putting up with abuse without trying to end it or get out of it is not patience; it’s victimization. Patience does not require laziness, apathy or unmotivated. Patience still fights for justice and truth and goodness.

Second, being patient doesn’t mean we have to dishonest about our unhappiness. It’s just important that we do it honestly and purposefully. Patience is not the same as silence (though it can be). Complaining to God in prayer is well documented in the Bible.

• “Why, O lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Psalm 10:1

• “Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?” Psalm 44:24

• “I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble.” Psalm 142:2

Never be afraid to voice to God what God already knows you feel. The Bible says that for the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2) – but he still cried out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?!?!?” (Matthew 27:46). The challenge – the thing we ask God to help us do – is to wrestle with our pain and confusion productively. If you are going to shake your fist at the heavens express your anger at God, just don’t walk away. What did Jacob say when he wrestled with God in Genesis 32? “I won’t let go until you bless me.” And God did.

The danger when we are weak is that we are too impatient to keep wrestling. We want our sickness to be over now, our marriage to be healed now, our finances to be better now, our depression or anxiety to end now, our temptation gone now. Suffering…perseverance…character …hope. That’s the Bible’s progression, not mine.

* * * * *

The Impatience Of The Proud - Judgment The Patience Of the Proud – Humility

• Romans 12:3 “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

• Philippians 2:3 “In humility, value others better than yourselves.”

Here’s why I am contrasting judgment and humility. Have you ever been standing around after church or at a party and thought you saw someone making a beeline for you? And you thought, “I don’t want to talk with them. If I talk with them I won’t get to talk to these other people”? Set aside times when you genuinely have a conversational mission you have to accomplish. Can I just ask what makes that person less deserving of our time? I think the reasoning goes something like this: “I only have so much time, and my time is better invested in someone else whom I like more or I think is more important.”

If you think I am being too harsh, let’s try a contrast. What if a person you really admired and really wanted to get to know started making a beeline for you? Would you not put your other plans for conversation on hold? Because now, THIS is a good use of your time, right?!

This will ruin you. You will always be on the lookout for someone you think is more important, rather than looking around and seeing people who all bear the image of God. We miss holy opportunities: What happens when we do something for “the least of these?” We do it for Jesus. And, I think, we find out there is no “least” in the Kingdom of God.

* * * * *

The Impatience of the Driven: Relentless Restlessness The Patience of the Driven: Rest

• Habakkuk 2:3 "For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay.”

• Genesis 18:14 “Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”

• Psalms 27:14 – “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart….”

Isaiah 40:31 “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew [their] strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; [and] they shall walk, and not faint.”

Psalms 37:7-9 – “Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him…”

Psalms 130:5 – “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word do I hope.”

Let’s talk about waiting for God’s plan to unfold.

Let’s start by talking about driving behind slow drivers or waiting in a check out line or a drive through forever or watching your phone refuse to load. “I don’t have time for this. I have to get to this next place and do this next thing.” Have to? Are you sure? I was in a situation recently in which I was getting impatient about how long the meeting was taking. You know why? I wanted to go home and see if I could find something worthwhile to watch on Netflix. Who’s to say God does not have a plan for your delay? We can overspiritualize this into just big issues in our life. Why wouldn’t this apply to driving through Wendys for half an hour? What are we missing in our haste? Prayer time? Introspection?

I got stuck in a half hour traffic jam with Braden on Friday as we were driving to Cornerstone to meet with an admissions counselor. My first thought pulling on to the parking lot of an interstate was, “Seriously? I’ll be late!” But I’ve been prepping this sermon….

So I called Cornerstone and told them we would be late, and that was fine. And then I listened to a new CD. And Braden and I compared shortcuts on our phones and figured out a way to avoid the traffic. And it all worked out just fine, and my blood pressure didn’t go out the roof, and I didn’t say anything in front of Braden that I would have to apologize for later.

I can become hyper focused on getting from one place to another, and I don’t mean geographically. It could be doing this task, or fixing this argument, or being involved in someone’s life. I usually tell God what I’m doing: “Hey, I’m headed over there. Just a heads up.”

Several years ago, a spiritual mentor challenged me on this in terms of how I felt driven to be involved in people’s lives. We had worked through my issues about trying to fix myself instead of trusting God work in me (or should I say we were working through them ☺) One day I was talking with him about being burdened by life situations I saw around me where I felt this relentless need to intervene, and he said, “You trust God to work in you; why don't you trust God to work in others?”

Oh. You mean I can wait and let God do his work before Anthony’s all-important work begins? That’s….not a bad idea at all.

* * * * *

The Impatience of the Defensive - Self-justification The Patience of the Defensive – Waiting

What do we do when someone insults, attacks or gossips about us?

• “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” (Luke 8:17)

• Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

God will justify His children. We are free from putting out every gossipy grass fire that springs up in our lives. Live according to God’s purpose for you – that is, follow and love Jesus – and let Him defend you.

* * * * *

Now, I would like to put all of these under one big umbrella, and I don’t like it any more than I think you will.

We lack patience because we lack faith that God is sovereign in us or our circumstances.

Impatience has one of two common subconscious thought: “My life and time are too important to have to wait around like this,” or “I don’t think God’s got this. I need to take this matter into my own hands.”

“Patience is a Christian virtue, which is deeply rooted in the Christian’s absolute confidence in the sovereignty of God and in God’s promise to bring all things to completion in a way that most fully demonstrates His glory.” – Albert Mohler

Here’s the big questions: Do I trust God?

• Do I trust that God has a plan and a purpose? • Do I trust God’s timing? • Do I trust that God is working in others? • Do I trust that God is faithful and present?

This, I think, is the question to ask when we are impatient. Is there something lacking in my trust in God that is bringing out this impatience in me?

Then, rather than trying to grit your teeth and merely self-help, surrender that to God in prayer, and ask for his miraculous intervention in your life. Then tell a friend. Be accountable. Then keep reading God’s word (maybe do a study on patience). Let the Holy Spirit work in you, through your friends, and through His word.

Peace (Freedom Series)

There are many things that can rob us of peace. First, our peace can be shattered by circumstances around us that impact us. Maybe it’s relational instability or pain. Maybe it’s sickness and the death of a loved one, or bankruptcy, or politics, or being put in situations where taking a stand for our faith brings some sort of suffering. Maybe it’s some form of abuse from those around you, or an addiction. There are so many things that impact us, and it’s understandable that in the midst of these things we are inclined to lack of sense of peace.

Second, our internal peace can be hurt when our identity is based on a wrong idea of what gives us a sense of dignity, worth and significance.

• Health or Beauty – If I stay fit or look good, I will be happy. • Productivity – If I can accomplish just a little more, I can relax. • Organization – If I can manage things just right, life will be okay. • Knowledge – If I read and study enough, I will understand life. It will all make sense. • Money – If I didn’t have to worry about the next bill, I would be okay. OR If I could just vacation there or live there, I would be content. • Relationships – If I just had friends or spouses who were this pretty with that personality, I would never be unhappy. • Reputation – If other people to always view me well, then I’d be okay. • “Neededness” – Maybe if I’m indispensible, I will feel that elusive sense of worth.

If we find our worth or goodness in this way, we will never be at peace. What is everyone thinking? What if I lose this? Who will I be if I don’t have this? Am I good enough? Will people leave me if I fail? _____________________________________________

The Bible makes some bold claims about peace:

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

“"I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

There is some sense in which we are free as Christians to experience peace. Yet that often seems to elude us. So let’s look more closely at God’s Word, starting with the birth of Jesus. When the angels appeared to the shepherds to announce Jesus’ birth, they proclaimed a message of peace:

“Glory to God in the Highest; and on earth, peace to those on whom His favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)

Not peace to the whole world. As Jeremiah pointed out 650 years earlier, there are plenty of people who will cry “peace, peace when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Ezekiel talked about the same thing (Ezekiel 13:10). Jesus mourned that Jerusalem longed for peace, but it was hidden from their eyes (Luke 19:42).

This is not a problem unique to the Jewish people in the biblical era.

• We think that if our nation were more peaceful, life would be better. This has some truth, but our nation could be one politically and economically and socially, and that would not guarantee our peace. • We think that if everything around us was just like we wanted it to be, then we would have peace… and this has some truth, but that would not guarantee our peace. • We think that if we could have the perfect job, and have no financial problems… and that would help, but that would not guarantee our peace. • And we can point to friends or family, and say that if we just had ideal parents, or ideal spouses, or kids who make our lives easy in everything they did… and life might look like we want it to look, but that would not guarantee our peace.

None of these things are bad things, but every solution on those terms is mistaking temporary peace for real peace. It’s putting a bandaid on gushing wound and saying “Ta dah!” while knowing it didn’t resolve the issue, and knowing the bandaid is going to come off at any moment.

When the angels came and announced that peace had arrived on earth, it was not because Herod was dethroned, or the Jewish people agreed on who the King of the Jews really was, or because schools were exempt from tragedy, or because there would be no more hurricanes, or because cancer was gone or because we had solved health care and immigration concerns.

The angels announced a peace that could be found not around those who have God’s favor (though that happens too) but within those who have God’s favor; specifically, those who have experienced salvation.

“Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

What is peace? First and foremost, it is reconciliation with God through Christ.

Skip ahead about 70 years after the birth of Christ. Paul was writing letters to the start-up churches helping them to better understand the true message of the gospel. When he wrote to the church in Ephesus, he was writing to a largely Gentile (pagan) audience. They were having trouble forming a church community with the Jewish converts. Paul lets them know how God helps this problem, and here we begin to see an even clearer explanation of peace:

“Remember that at that time you (Gentiles) were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace….

His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.“ (Ephesians 2:12-17)

What is peace? First and foremost, it is reconciliation with God through Christ, empowered by His Spirit. We see it alluded to here again. But that peace will make more peace: In this case in Ephesus, Jesus can end hostility between the Jewish and Gentile converts. For today, think, ”Those who are near and far from Christ.” Or maybe, “Those who we think are amazing Christians and those we post memes about and protest and have given up on.” (Side note: If God has not given up on those far from him, why should we?)

So peace is reconciliation with God through Christ, empowered by His Spirit; peace creates ‘one new humanity’ in Christ. But there are also other places in Scripture note that peace with God should bring a “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:6-7) in all situations (2 Thessalonians 3:16).

In other words, even in the worst circumstances in life, Jesus brings his presence and offers his peace. This is not the same as happiness or feeling carefree. I don’t think it means we don’t feel things deeply. Jesus himself clearly did (John 11:35). I think it means there is an awareness that Jesus is real, and present, and faithful, and that no matter what else happens, nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

• Health? “You look old/sick/frail!” My body grows older. I’m getting a new one some day. • Life? “I’m sorry, but it’s time to call hospice.” To live is Christ; to die is gain. • Beauty? “Where did you buy that!?” My fashion taste is lousy. Good thing I am clothed with righteousness. • Productivity? “You have a dead-end job! Wow, you really wasted your Saturday!” My accomplishments are straw. It’s what I do for God that matters. • Organization? “How could you have forgotten that thing? How could you overlook that person?” I am not perfect. My boast is in Christ. • Knowledge? “I can’t believe you haven’t heard of this person or this organization or the latest international event!” I don’t know everything, but I do know Christ crucified. • Money? I have the wealth of God’s kindness, forbearance and patience (Romans 2:4) • Reputation? “People are gossiping about you.” Let them. It’s God’s opinion of me that counts.

But that’s the fruit of peace, not peace itself. If we focus on peace, I think we will miss it. We have to start by focusing on Jesus, and when we find Jesus, we get peace thrown in to the deal. Peace started at the cross in the person of Jesus, and then moved inside those on whom God’s favor rests: that is, those who have given their lives to following Jesus.

Only people reconciled with God through Christ and empowered by His Spirit can truly find peace with God, bring about a lasting peace with others, and experience a holy peace within.

Truth (Freedom Series)

Jesus : 31 If you hear My voice and abide in My word, you are truly My disciples; 32 you will know the truth, and that truth will set you free. Jewish Believers: 33 We are Abraham’s children, and we have never been enslaved to anyone. How can You say to us, “You will be set free”?

Jesus: 34 I tell you the truth: everyone who commits sin surrenders his freedom to sin. He is a slave to sin’s power…. if the Son comes to make you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8, excerpted, from The Voice)

Let’s talk today about three ways in which the truth brings freedom.

FROM SPIRITUAL SLAVERY TO SIN

I am not going to spend a lot of time on this because I think I’ve covered this several times recently. The bottom line: Without Jesus, we were spiritually dead, chained into our sinful habits and compulsions. The death and resurrection of Jesus brought us to life and broke the chains. We call this salvation. In the process we call sanctification God is in some sense constantly at work in us, breaking the chains we keep dragging back on ourselves.

Let’s try an analogy.

We were all enslaved on a spiritual plantation, chained by our lust, pride, greed, envy, self-loathing, etc. Jesus shows up and says, “Would you like to be free?” And we all say, “Absolutely!” So Jesus knocks the chains away and says, “You’re free. Go! Live!”

But we say, “I kind of like this chain here. That lust one actually felt good sometimes.” So we clink it back on. The slave master didn’t do it. We were “drawn away by my own lusts” (James 1:14) But even then, it’s not like Jesus throws up his hands and says, “Well, your on your own.” He waits, and when we say, “I was wrong. I don’t want this one,” he gladly breaks it for us.

So we leave that place of death and pain, but as we are walking down the road we see lots of other places where we could now live. We remember that the reason we ended up there was because we didn’t know how to tell the good places from the bad. But Jesus gave us a guidebook that reveals the truth about the all the options in front of us. We can see now which places will draw us into death and chains, and which places will draw us into life and liberty.

Jesus is the Truth; He cannot help but tell the truth. His word gives the Truth. Freedom from the chains and eternal penalty of sin is the primary meaning we see in this passage about how He sets us free. However, I believe there are other ways in which we can clearly see how truth brings freedom.

God’s design is for our good. God demands that we be people of truth because He loves us, and He knows what is good for us. So with the foundation in place of Jesus as the Truth and His Truth setting us free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2) let’s talk about some practical implications of being people of truth.

1. WE ARE FREED FROM THE RIPPLE EFFECT OF LIES

First thing to note: Lying makes God mad really mad.

• Proverbs 6:16-19 There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. • Proverbs 12:22 Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord… • Revelation 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

I can think of at least three very practical reasons that God hates this kind of sin: it hurts us; it ruins relationship/community; it harms God’s reputation.

It Hurts Us

I believe there is a basic human tendency to think others view the world like we do. We project ourselves into them. If we are liars, I suspect we assume others are liars as well. And what happens if we assume that?

• We live in fear of being caught, so we build walls. If no one can get in, no one can see what we are hiding. • We never trust others, because they are like us, right? • We are forced to build a web of lies (“Oh, what a web we weave…”) • We don’t believe promises, compliments, and assurances. Why would we? There’s a good chance none of it is true.

This is not freedom. That is a life of bondage. It’s not just that the truth of God’s Word that sets us free from bondage to sin. It’s the belief that there is truth and that it’s important, and that the commitment to honoring it all the time matters. And the more we honor the very concept of truth, the more we don’t have to hide and cover up. The more we begin to assume the best of others. Our default cynicism turns into default trust. We can accept promises and compliments. We begin to hunger for truth.

It Ruins Relationships/Community

Remember the story of the boy who cried wolf? He lied so often that Eventually no one believed him. There are other stories that get a lot more uncomfortable:

• The spouse who says “Everything’s fine!” when it’s not. • The child who says, “Yes, mom,” but doesn’t do it. • The person who breaks promise after promise. • The friend who tells you that you are doing great; meanwhile, you are ruining your life. • The one who makes up false excuses about why they didn't do something with you - and you find out.

I believe God intends us to live in relational community. There is no way we can do this in deeply meaningful ways if we are not people of truth. This is the kind of scenario that breeds suspicion, distrust, anger and resentment.

It Harms God’s Reputation

When we read in the Bible about being ambassadors, the image is that of being the face of Jesus. If you saw the Lord of the Rings: “I am the Mouth of Sauron” was like saying, if you listen to me, you listen to Sauron. And however you treat me is how you treat Sauron. In The 300, Xerxes sends an ambassador to the Greeks, and this ambassador expects to be treated as if he were Xerxes. When Leonidas killed him, he sent a clear message: he was ready to kill the King. The ambassador, the representative, helps you know what the King is like.

We are ambassadors. Like it or not, we help others know what the King is like: How we speak, act and think sends a message about the King we serve. In other words, when people see me, they see what they assume to be a representation of Jesus. And among many other things, Jesus is Truth. This is why lying is such a big deal.

• The Christian who says, “I love God!” and hates his brother or sister (1 John 4:20). • The person who says “God’s return date is September 23” but it’s not. • The Christian who sits on a Family Values board and gets caught using Ashley Madison to try to line up an affair

Your reputation will take a hit, yes. But because you are an ambassador of Christ, so will He, as will His Word and His Church. No wonder lying makes God angry.

Now, considering this short list, does it sound like lying or truth leads to real freedom?

Option 1: Lie and implode as you hide, harden your heart, and grow increasingly suspicious and cynical of others. Lie, and lose your reputation. Lie, and tarnish the name of God.

Option 2: Tell the truth, build your reputation, position yourself to be able to enter into relational community in a healthy and honest way, and maintain your integrity as an ambassador of Jesus and thus honor His reputation. So you are healthier, your friendships are stronger, and God is glorified in the testimony of your life.

God is for you. His was – His truth – is designed to bring you life. Every time we obey Him, it is for our good and His glory.

2. FREED FOR THE GOSPEL AND THE KINGDOM

I can’t tell people what Jesus has done for me and to me if I am not committed to truth. Do you want to hear a cleaned up version of my testimony? It will bore you death. A guy who looks spiritually good on the outside gets forgiven for some incredibly minor sin that almost doesn’t count as a sin, it’s more like a faux pas, and now my life is sunshine, Reece’s Pieces and Ohio State wins every day!

That’s not just boring, it’s a lie. To quote an old hymn, “I was in sin’s prison, o so dark and cold.”

• Anger that boiled over onto my friends and my wife. • Lust that kept me in the chains of pornography for 10 years. • Pride. • Selfishness. • Judgment. • Envy. • Jealousy. • Identity based far more on what others thought of me than what Jesus does.

God has been faithful in my life, and as He has been freeing me from these things – I’ll be a work in progress until I die - his power and glory keeps becoming clearer to me. And if I want to tell other about what Jesus can do for them, I have to tell them what He has done for me.

We have to let truth tell the glorious story of God’s saving grace.

You know why I can speak so honestly about my marriage up here? Because Sheila and I have nothing to hide. She’s not going home thinking, “Where did that come from?” We both knew about it already. We both know that God has worked miracles in our relationship, putting together broken pieces that we couldn’t. What else can we do but talk about it? Why would I hide the beauty of what Jesus has done in two very broken people?

This week our small group has an assignment: Let your spouse ask you about your idols. As in, they get to identify what they see as an idol in your life – and ask you why. You don’t get to choose a petty one and gloss it over. It’s ‘throw yourself under the bus’ time!

But why wouldn’t we?

What’s to be gained by avoiding and hiding? How do I benefit by saying ‘it’s all good’ when it’ not? How will I grow if Sheila can’t say to me, “I think this is an idol in your life”?

God knows I don’t want to have that conversation, because I know what I would say if I was her, and I don’t want to face it. But that confrontation will force me to the truth of God’s word. And that’s the truth that will set me free.

Now imagine a church community where everyone practices this. • If you see honesty, maybe you can be free to be honest too. • If you see people reveal their worst and still be loved, maybe you can bare your soul too.

But this relational freedom can’t happen without first experiencing the spiritual freedom Jesus brings. When Jesus forgives us, He frees us from guilt and shame. He frees us from needing to look good. I’ve always liked the trajectory of Paul’s confession of just how bad of a person he was. He starts with “I am the least of the Apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9) and ends with, “I am the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).

Paul grew increasingly honest about the depth of his sin while becoming increasingly free to talk about it. I suspect that freedom is part of being one whom the Son has set free. You know Jesus did his work; now you have nothing to hide. You can live in the light.

And that is freedom.

Love (Freedom Series)

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace…. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5: 1-6)

We live in a consumer culture. We basically say, “If you please me, I will reward you.” If my garbage doesn’t get picked up, I’m getting a new collector. If another phone company is cheaper and better, I’m switching. It's just business. It’s entirely conditional. If I don't like the product, I move on. This is what we know – and in America we are very good at it.

This is not necessarily bad, but it becomes bad when we begin to treat people from a consumer perspective. We say to our friends, family or spouses: “If you please me, I will reward you. I’ll be good only if you provide something good. I will stick around only if you make it worth my time.” It’s a CONSUMER approach to relationships. It’s entirely conditional. If people don’t give us what we want, we dump them and move on. This leads to disaster.

• If you think you are being consumed you will never be free to openly admit failures and flaws. • If you think you are being consumed, you will feel a desperate need to impress. • If you are being consumed, you will never be sufficient. • If you are a consumer, you will never be satisfied. You will always demand more than others can give. • If you are a consumer, you will always want to be the one who has less invested in the other person. You were never here for them anyway; they were always here for you.

Part of the good news of the gospel is that we are being transformed into the image of a COVENANT GOD. Covenant brings the stabilization of commitment. Someone in covenant love does not say, “If you please me, I will stay with you.” Someone in COVENANT love says: “No matter what, I will be faithful.”

Because of this kind of love from Jesus – seen primarily in the Cross and in the Bible’s ongoing assurance that He will be faithful to us - we become a new kind of people when it comes to our ability to love. I want to talk today about how there is freedom in this kind of covenant love. Here’s the morning’s premise:

When we live in and for Christ, He frees us to live in covenantal love with others.

As we become more like Christ – as we are being transformed into the image of Jesus - we will increasingly love like He loves. In the New Testament, agape, a word which describes how Jesus loves us , is used 320 times.

Agápē is "unconditional love that is always giving and impossible to take or be a taker. It devotes total commitment… no matter how anyone may respond. This form of love is totally selfless and does not change whether the love given is returned or not."

This is the love that “has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” when we became His children (Romans 5:5; cf. Galatians 5:22). Once we experience this, we pass it on.

We will grow in our ability to become a 1 Corinthians 13 kind of person: patient, kind, not self-seeking, keeping no record of wrong, protecting, trusting. I like this quote (I don't know who said it):

“The truth is that the more intimately you know someone, the more clearly you will see their flaws. That’s just the way it is. This is why marriages fail, why children are abandoned, why friendships don’t last. You might think you love someone until you see the way they act when they are out of money or under pressure of hungry, for goodness’ sake. Love is something different. Love is choosing to serve someone and be with someone in spite of their filthy heart. Love is patient and kind, love is deliberate. Love is hard. Love is pain and sacrifice, it’s seeing the darkness in another person and denying the impulse to jump ship.”

This kind of love is not an option for Christians.

- “This is my command: love (agape) each other.” (John 15:17) - I am to love (agape) my wife like Christ loved (agape) the church (Ephesians 5:25) - “Anyone who does not love (agape) does not know God, because God is love (agape).” (1 John 4:8)

So what does this look like?

We are free to love unconditionally. When the love of Christ flows into me and through me, I’m not waiting expectantly for my wife to reciprocate when I do something really loving. She can totally overlook it and that’s fine, because I didn’t do it to be noticed. She can see it and just not think about responding, and that’s okay because I didn’t do it to get a reward. I am free from getting angry or depressed when my offering of love is misunderstood or rejected.

Living this way frees me from keeping score. There’s no more charts of how much I invested in a friend’s life. “I ask them all the time about how they are doing, and they never ask me. I always instigate getting together and they never call me first.”

Don't get me wrong: you need some people in your life who give to you, because we all need to be filled up at times or we will run out of relational fuel. But I Corinthians is clear that ‘love keeps no record of wrongs.” We are free, when we truly love with the love of Christ, to stop keeping track of the balance we have with others. Thank God that Jesus does not do that for us. We just love.

We are free from the haunting emptiness of being a consumer lover. A consumer never has enough. Nothing is good enough. There is always something better somewhere that will fill me better. It takes me forever to choose a movie to watch on Netflix. What if there is a better one? I find myself impatient for a movie to end so I can get on to something that is surely better that I have not yet found. We can do this with people if we are consumers. We are haunted by the idea that there is always better conversation, better sex, better personalities, better vacations, better humor, better listeners… There is always someone better somewhere who will complete me!!!

Covenant, agape love frees us from this restlessness. It says, “I am committed to you. You don't need to complete me because this is not based on what you can do for me. This is based on how I want to serve and love you.” An obvious example is marriage, but I think this applies in other relationships as well.

Now, the book of Proverbs is clear that we must choose our close friends wisely lest they draw us into sin. But barring the toxic people (what Proverbs might call ’perverse people” or ‘fools’) we are called to stay close:

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:7)

Speaking of adversity, here is an inescapable reality of covenantal, agape love: If you are going to serve in love, it will be demanding and intrusive and inconvenient at times. It will cost you something.

Love will be costly because it will break our hearts. It will force us to walk into the hard work of life when all we want to do is wrap ourselves carefully with hobbies and luxuries and silence and entertainment and selfishness. We are willing to be the more invested in a relationship, to offer love even when those receiving it don’t understand or appreciate it like they should. Did Jesus not model this as the ultimate example?

When we set out to love people with the love Christ showed to us, it will cost us something. Like Paul said, there will be times we are poured out like an offering (Philippians 2:17).

- I cannot love my wife without a cost to myself: conversations about hard things; household chores I don’t want to do; juggling responsibilities; talking about budgets and schedules without getting really irritable; learning how my words and my attitudes can build her up or tear her down.

- We cannot love our friends without a cost to ourselves. Sometimes it’s messy when hurtful things are said or done.

- We cannot love our neighbors without a cost to ourselves. Love – real love – will be costly as we get to know and understand, as we listen and love, as we seek to speak truth with love and grace, and we seek to represent Christ and speak the gospel with humility and boldness. Do you know how hard it is to do this with our online neighbors? The one who posts something mean or cutting about us? The one we just want to posterize for all of facebook world to see? If you want to love them with the love of Jesus, it will cost you. You will have to pray…think…retype…maybe submit your response to others to proof…search your heart to surrender your pride and anger to Christ…

- We cannot love the church, the body of Christ, without a cost. We are not perfect people. We will have to “bear each other’s burdens,” because we all bring burdens that other people will have to bear. It is not a question of if. It is a question of when. Showing the kind of love to others that God showed to me demands something of my life. Love is costly.

As our understanding of love changes - as our worldview changes - we freely become broken and spilled out for others in the same way Jesus was broken and spilled out for us.

But the cost is only part of the story. What Christ offers in exchange for that cost is transformation.

Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24) When Jesus came, he offered LOVE, and in this love was the hope of transformation of the world that is also played out in individual lives all the time. It wasn’t some generic “Heal the World” campaign; it was a deeply personal offer to transform you into something new, and keep transforming you until, in eternity, all that is bad in you will be undone.

I would argue that just as we are transformed when we receive Christ’s love, we are transformed when we give Christ’s love.

• I can’t remain as proud as I once was and give agape, covenantal love, because that kind of love is not about me. • I can’t remain as self-centered as I once was and give agape, covenantal love, because that kind of love is not about me. • I can’t settle for being resentful, as short-tempered, as mean, as lustful, as calloused as I once was and give agape, covenantal love, because none of those things are about the well-being of others.

I am convinced – and I couldn’t find a specific verse for this, so you can challenge me if you think I’m off base here – that it’s in the process of showing Christ’s love that some of our greatest transformation takes place.

We weren’t meant to sit back while God waves a magic wand over our character and personality. If you ask God to make you more loving, He’s probably going to put people around you who are hard to love – just like he answered the prayer of others by sending them you.

Once again, we find freedom.

• Freedom from being trapped in the bondage of our selfishness. • Freedom from pride as we realize we are the hard-to-love person in somebody’s life. • Freedom from shame as it sinks in that letting others know we are imperfect is okay. We are all in this together, with Christ at the center, faithfully completing the good work He has already started. • Freedom from loving others on our own power. God is working in us, pouring His Holy Spirit into us, building us up with His word and His people. We are not alone.

“This is my command: love (agape) each other.” (John 15:17)

Free Indeed

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." (Gal. 5:1)

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32)

_________________________________________________________________________________

We have a particular kind of cultural view of freedom:

  • “No matter what they say, I’m doing to do whatever I want.”
  • “Break the rules. Find your freedom. Live your life.”
  • “Walk where your heart leads you.”
  • “Run without a destination, and you’ll finally see what freedom can be.”

I think of it as a fish jumping out of a fishbowl that it considers to be this horrible confinement…and goes nowhere. All it wants to do is leave, but it has no destination.  It does what it wants, it finds its freedom, it jumps where its heart leads it, and it jumps without a destination.  But it doesn’t jump to freedom. It doesn’t realize it is leaving behind the very thing that brings it life. We know this principle is true. We see it everywhere.

  • A train needs to run on tracks
  • Drivers need rules for driving
  • Our diet needs restraint
  • Fireworks need guidelines
  • A band needs to be in agreement about the constraints of the song in order to make music to which anyone wants to listen.

At the heart of the culture is the idea that freedom is simply having choices or being able to do what we want.  Yet that clearly is not true. A book called The Paradox of Choice pointed out that too many choices often immobilize us or make us unhappy. When we have too much in front of us, we don’t want to choose out of fear that we will choose something that is not the best, and when we do choose we are unhappy because we assume we are missing out.

Even worse, there are freedoms that bring bondage.  Paul said he did not want to become enslaved by permissible things that were not beneficial (1 Corinthians 6).

  • I am free to eat what I want – but I will probably gravitate toward unhealthy foods made to hook me and then hurt me.
  • I am free to use social media – but I can easily become addicted or narcissistic.
  • I am free to spend money to enjoy life – but I can become greedy and materialistic if I’m not careful.

There must be more to freedom than merely the license of choice.[1]

Let’s go back to the fish imagery. Mere choice says the fish is free if it jumps anywhere it wants to jump. But the choice that brings life and real freedom is the jump from a bowl into a lake or the ocean. That’s still not a life without limits: even the ocean has boundaries. But it’s life with the kind of limits that allow us to flourish. The fish can now live a fully life – whatever that means to a fish – because it’s in an environment where it was made to live.

At the heart of the gospel is the idea that true freedom is not freedom to do whatever we want; it’s the ability to become what God intends us to be.

“Freedom, then, is not the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us.”—Tim Keller

This is a principle we hear repeated a lot of places.

“There are two freedoms - the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought.” Charles Kingsley

“Order without liberty and liberty without order are equally destructive.”  Theodore Roosevelt

“What is this liberty that must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not the freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check on their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few — as we have learned to our sorrow.” –U.S. judge Learned Hand, in his speech "The Spirit of Liberty"

This is a universally recognized truth: genuine freedom is not the license to do what we want. It’s the ability to do what we should – and as Christians we would add a very important point: so that we can flourish in God’s design. This is a biblical principle that God in his grace has made clear outside of His Word.

  • You are free to eat what you want or watch what you eat. The first will liberate your choices and hurt your health, the second will constrain your choices and liberate your health.
  • You are free to be lazy or productive. The first will liberate your time and hurt you, the second will constrain your uses of time and free you economically.
  • You are free to be greedy or generous. The first will liberate you from the burden of self-sacrifice and enslave you in the rat race; the second will constrain a self-centered use of your time, energy, and priorities and free you from the power of money.
  • You are free to be resentful or to forgive. The first will constrain your peace, your health, your understanding of grace. The second will constrain your selfish desire to be right and hold a grudge, but it will free you and bring you peace and a better understanding of God’s grace and forgiveness for you.

We are free from the bondage of the law of sin and death to serve God and in so doing, truly live. But we will have to live within the constraints of that new freedom.

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.  The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Galatians 5:13-14

“Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.” 1 Peter 2:16

There is the paradox of Christian freedom.[i] Jesus said:

 "Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." (Matt. 16:25)

The love of God, as seen in Christ, demands that we lay down our lives so that we can truly be alive as we are continually molded into the image of Christ. The more we sacrifice ourselves for the sake of Christ and in the service of others, the more we are free to bless those who persecute us, to love those who hate us, to forgive those who hurt us.

This kind of love constrains us, but it liberates us as well.

 “When we obey God, we become more, not less, free, in the same sense that your automobile will run more freely if you obey the owner's manual sent with the car by its manufacturer, and thus take good care of it.  The car has a given nature which can be abused and damaged. 

Human beings likewise have a given nature which can be abused and damaged, thus eroding our freedom, or destroying it all together.  God gives us a Manufacturer's manual by which we can maximize our ability to act, and pursue our rightful and most joyful life -- the ‘pursuit of happiness’”. [2] (F. Earle Fox)[ii]

Christian freedom is a directed, purposeful pursuit of the life given and empowered by God that allows us to increasingly participate in the character of Christ.[iii]

We are created in the image of God; genuine freedom, then, is found in conforming to that image, not rejecting it. 

When we say, “I am a Christian,” what we say, what we do, what we post, what and how we picket, what we laugh and cry at, how we show Christ’s love, how we balance justice and mercy, how we balance law and grace, how we prioritize our life, how we engage in relationships, the kind of person we commit to becoming in our homes, our workplace, at church, in sports leagues…. These all matter. Every moment leads us further away from or further into the likeness of Christ, and with it the freedom Christ offers.

We must stop fixating on ‘my freedom’ as though it were not bound up with everyone else’s. We realize that our lives are intertwined with the lives of others, and we “put on” a commitment to live like Christ, and we sacrifice ourselves for others. We give up our pride, our greed, our selfishness, our lust, our pettiness, our jealousy and bitterness.  We use our freedom to serve others.

Christian freedom shows us what to “put on,” and promises that God will help us accomplish this in ways we never could on our own. We are free to become what God created us to be: children and ambassadors who are constantly being transformed into the image of Christ. (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18)

Don’t be discouraged if the path of freedom is a struggle. God will help you. You have been given the Holy Spirit, God’s word, and God’s people which will all work together to transform you into the image of Jesus. God has begin a good work in you; he will be faithful.

Remember: you are a child of God. He is the perfect Father who will love and chastise and encourage and prune and build. God will work faithfully on you for your good and His glory so that we can experience not just life, but the abundant life (John 10:10)offered in the Kingdom of Heaven.

________________________________________________________________________

[1] Check out this most excellent article at Christianity Today online called “The Bonds Of Freedom.” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/october/bonds-of-freedom.html

[2] http://theroadtoemmaus.org/RdLb/21PbAr/Eth/Freedm.htm

[i] Martin Luther wrote in On Christian Liberty: "A Christian… is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian… is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone."

[ii] C.S. Lewis noted, “The lost enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded.” The opposite is that the saved can forever enjoy the freedom that have been graciously given.

[iii]The Word of God teaches that the Christian is a free man and should “stand in the freedom which Christ has made him free.” What is meant by Christian freedom? What is freedom in general? We answer: it is not the right and the ability to do as one pleases, but the ability to move without constraint in the sphere for which God made us. Freedom therefore is not inconsistent with limitation and law. The bird is free only when it can move in the air unhindered. A worm is free when it is not prevented from moving in the ground–in a sphere which would mean bondage and death for many other creatures. A locomotive is not free unless its motion is confined to the two rails on which it was made to run. Man was made in the image of God to be like Him and to reflect his holiness. Consequently he is free only when he moves without constraint in the sphere of holiness and obedience to God’s law.” –“Christian Liberty,” in “Report of the Committee on Worldly Amusements,” Agenda: Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, To convene June 13, 1928 at Holland, Mich., p. 22.

 

Free - From Slavery To The Shadows

Plato told a story in which people are trapped in a cave, watching shadows on a cave wall and thinking it’s reality. Occasionally, some of them recognize the shadows for what they are and leave the cave, entering into the sunlight of Truth and experiencing Reality for themselves. It might surprise you to know that the Apostle Paul tells a very similar story.

The Colossian church had a problem with living in the shadows. Paul started out his letter by stressing the preeminence of Christ in everything, then noted how glad he was that the Colossians were rooted in and built on Christ, because He was the source of all that mattered.

“Be strong in the faith, just as you were taught, and always spill over with thankfulness. Make sure no one deceives you through some misleading philosophy and empty deception based on traditions fabricated by mere mortals. These are sourced in the elementary principles originating in this world and not in Christ. You see, all that is God, all His fullness, resides in Christ.” (7-9)

Paul goes on to say that God, through Christ, has beaten all the principalities and powers – that is, every spiritual or supernatural force - and publicly displayed their ineffectiveness and Christ’s effectiveness. Then he adds:

“It was God who brought us to life with Him, forgave all our sins, and eliminated the massive debt we incurred by the law that stood against us. He took it all away; He nailed it to the cross. He disarmed those who once ruled over us—those who had overpowered us. Like captives of war, He put them on display to the world to show His victory over them by means of the cross.

But here comes the problem. There are those who want them to rob them of the freedom Christ has offered. There are those who want them to go back to the world’s “elementary principles” that will keep them in a spiritual cave. And Paul tells them what this will look like:

Don’t let anyone stand in judgment over you and dictate what you should eat or drink, what festivals and feasts you should celebrate, or how you should observe a new moon or Sabbath days—  all these are only a shadow of what shall come.* The reality, the core, the import, is found in Christ. Don’t be cheated out of the prize by others who are peddling the worship of heavenly beings and false humility.[i] People like this run about telling whoever will listen what they claim to have seen; but in reality they testify only to an inflated mind, saturated in conceit—not in the Spirit. They are detached from the very head (Christ) that nourishes and connects the whole body (of Christians) with all of its nerves and ligaments, a body that grows by the kind of growth that can only come from God. Listen, if you have died with Christ to the world’s legalistic ordinances, then why are you submitting yourselves to its rules as if you still belonged to this world? You hear, “Don’t handle this! Don’t taste that! Don’t even touch it!” but everything they are obsessed about will eventually decay with use. These rules are just human commands and teachings. They may seem wise, but they are promoting self-imposed forms of worship, self-humiliation, and bodily abuse. No matter which way they try to tether their bodies, they cannot harness their desires. (Colossians 2:13-23)

Shadows aren’t bad things in and of themselves, because they point toward the real thing. In a drought, you want to see the shadow of clouds across the land. On a hot day, you want to see the shadow of a tree. But those don’t exist without the cloud or the tree; we would be foolish to exalt the shadow and ignore that which cast it.

The same it true of spiritual realities. The Old Testament was full of shadows: the Law; various people whose lives we now see as in some ways prophetically revealing of God; the promise of physical blessing to Israel that pointed toward spiritual blessing in Christ.

One could argue that even the pagan cultures had shadows. Tolkien and Lewis were fond of pointing out how fictional myths of the gods captured our greatest fears, longings and desires. They were stories we made up about what we feared or longed to be true. In Jesus, all the deepest human longings and hopes were fulfilled truly and ultimately in history in a real world in a real way.

So shadows aren’t bad things. They point us toward the Shadow Caster. But a "shadow" is an imperfect representation of the thing it reveals. Problems arise when people mistake the shadows for the Real Thing.

Paul identifies two ways of “staying in the shadows” that can rob us of our prize: that is, rob us of 1) fullness of the new life and freedom he has given us in this life, and 2) our heavenly reward. I’m going to address two shadows in this passage that Tim Keller calls moralism and mysticism.

“What you eat and drink”

This refers to Old Testament laws that focused on diet and hygiene. The problem was not in the regulations; it was that this physical “clean” was only a shadow of the genuine spiritual “clean” that Christ gives to us. For us, it’s probably not “Don’t go to Red Lobster or eat bacon.” It’s probably more along the lines of, “I don’t have a TV… I only listen to Christian music and read Christian books… I don’t shop at certain stores.”

None of those things are bad in themselves. If God convicts you that in your life this is important, honor Him with your obedience. But if they become the standard by which you think you or others can become clean enough for God, that’s moralism, and you’re in trouble. This is still a version of “Don't Handle, Taste or Touch!” which come from the idea that if I just try hard enough that I can be clean enough for God.

Eventually, nothing else will matter as much as your self-imposed regulations of what it means to be good enough, and you will constantly be looking for all the ways in which you are currently failing as well as how you are succeeding. If you do well, you will tend to become proud and sit in judgment of those who don’t do what you do. When you fail, you will tend toward despair because you believe God and everyone else thinks you are a terrible person. 

“Festivals, feasts, moons and days”

There was an understanding that honoring the festivals and feasts pleased God and brought reward, and dishonoring them displeased God and brought punishment. Their conclusion? Faithful observance made them good, holy people. Once again, the problem was not in the holiday or festival or in obedience; it was that they were just shadow pointing to the reality of Christ, and the people had made them the most important thing.

What do we do? We have Sundays, Christmas, Easter, the National Day of Prayer, The March for Life, 40 Days of Purpose, Prayer Circles, and every big push in Christian circles that is promoted as being the crucial thing that will bring God’s blessing if we just observe them properly.

Once again, if God convicts you that in your life it is important that you observe any or all these things in a particular way, then by all means do so. That’s an important part of God’s work in your life. But if they become the standard by which you attempt to honor God and therefore earn his blessing, that’s moralism, and you’re in trouble.

When you do well, you will become proud and sit in judgment of those who aren’t as committed to the cause (“Are they embarrassed of Christ? Don’t they care like I do?) When you fail, you will despair because you believe you have let God down, and now you are in trouble, and probably everybody else around you thinks of you as a failure – so you try even harder the next time to do even more.

Here, I think, is a good question to ask in relation to the quest to do the right things: Is doing good things about honoring God or elevating the person?

  • Is my self-control about my work or the fruit of the Holy Spirit in me?
  • Am I doing this to be good or as an act of worship to honor the God I serve?
  • Do I need to be noticed?
  • Am I more interested in behavior modification or heart transformation? (Do I want to ‘surrender my desires’ or merely ‘tether my body’?)
  • When I tell my testimony about a changed life, does Jesus increase while I decrease? Do people go away talking about me or Jesus?
  • When I look at others, do I try to see what God is doing in them or settle for what they are doing for God?

“Worship of Heavenly Beings/False Humility”

Some of the Jews thought angels were intermediaries between God and men. Other sects actually tried to be an angelic presence on earth. There was a desire to know more about God, but they got so enamored with the messenger that they forgot the message. They began to believe that superior knowledge and experiences made them important.  What should have fostered a desire for others to know and experience God instead became a desire to be known and seen for their experience.

And to make it worse, they expressed false humility. Elliot’s Commentary explains it well:

“Humility is a grace, and is unconsciousness, and cannot live except by resting on some more positive quality, such as faith or love. Whenever it is consciously cultivated and “delighted in,” it loses all its grace; it becomes either “the pride that apes humility,” or it turns to abject slavishness and meanness. Of such depravations Church history is unhappily full.”

There are still people and groups in Christianity that put a lot of stock in those who convey information about visits with angels, or being caught up into heaven, or having supernatural encounters in which they spend time with really important people and are given crucial insights, or even simply having overwhelming ecstatic experiences.[1]

If you have a genuine supernatural encounter with God, that’s an important part of God’s work in your life. But if those moments become the standard by which you gauge if you are doing things right or getting to know God, or if your experience becomes the measure by which everyone else’s walk with God is judged, you are giving in to mysticism, and you are in danger of worshipping the shadow rather than the One who casts it.

The pursuit of or fascination with angels and visions will take you captive when nothing else matters as much as your experiences. If something glorious happens, you will tend become proud and sit in judgment of those who don’t have the connection with God that you do. Sometimes people even feel pressured to lie about what they’ve experienced. When you don’t have them, you will despair because you believe something is terribly wrong with you, and you will become increasingly radical in what you will do to recapture the experience.

Here, I think, is a good question to ask in relation to genuine supernatural encounters with God: When I think or talk about it, who increases: me or Jesus? Does what happened cause people to think about me or Jesus? Does my story of emotional rapture cause people to think about me or Jesus? Does my testimony of healing cause people to think about me or Jesus? Does my miraculous conversion story cause people to think about me or Jesus?

  • I wonder if this was why Paul wouldn’t talk about being caught up into heaven, and why in his epistles he never talked about raising a young man from the dead (maybe because his sermon killed him, I don’t know J (Acts 20:9-12)
  • Paul and Barnabas were mistaken for Zeus and Hermes. I think I would probably love to tell that story if someone thought I was a god. Paul never talks about it.
  • Peter heals the lame (Acts 3) and paralyzed Acts 9), gets visions from God (Acts 10), and raises a woman from the dead (Acts 9). People tried to position the sick so his shadow would fall on them (Acts 5)  – and Peter never talks about it in his New Testament writings.

What they experienced brought them closer to Jesus, and what they did pointed others toward Jesus. We don’t read that they continued to pursue a replication of those things. They just faithfully did what God put in front of them to do. I wonder if that’s why Paul wrote, “Forgetting what lies behind, I press on…” In the context of that verse he was not talking about hardship or failure. He was talking about success (Philippians 3).

The Law is a good thing  - it is a ‘schoolteacher’ to show us how God has designed us to live – but it is a shadow of the Lawgiver who fulfilled it. We can settle for trying to ‘tether our bodies’ when what Jesus offers is a transformation of our desires that will transform our hearts (and our bodies will follow). We will never find the freedom to flourish in God’s Kingdom through behavior modification. Because of Jesus, we are freed from the bondage of perfect living on our own power and drawn into righteous living through the power of God.

Supernatural experiences are a good thing – they reveal the reality of “God with us” – but the experiences are a shadow of the One being experienced. We are free to simply pursue Jesus, and allow God to decide if, when, and how He will reveal Himself in a miraculous way.

So what is Paul’s solution?

“So it comes down to this: since you have been raised with Christ, set your mind on the realities of the Kingdom of Heaven, where Christ is seated at God’s right hand.  Stay focused on what’s above, not on earthly things, because your old life is dead and gone. Your new life is now hidden in and enmeshed with Christ, who is in God.”  (Colossians 3:1-3)

But we will talk more about that next week...

_____________________________________________________________

 

* Some examples of the types and shadows in the OT that point toward Christ:

Feast of Unleavened Bread – holiness: "Purge out therefore the 'old leaven' that ye may be a 'new lump,' as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the Feast, not with 'old leaven,' neither with the 'leaven of malice and wickedness.' but with the 'unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.'" 1 Cor. 5:7,8.

The Law: “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.” (Hebrews 10:1)

The Temple: “The priests serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.” (Hebrews 8:5)

Offerings: “In the first covenant, every day every officiating priest stands at his post serving, offering over and over those same sacrifices that can never take away sin. 12 But after He stepped up to offer His single sacrifice for sins for all time, He sat down in the position of honor at the right hand of God.”  (Hebrews 10:11-12)

[1] Read up on the New Apostolic Reformation. The book God's Super Apostles: Encountering The Worldwide Apostles And Prophets Movement is a good place to start.  Tim Challies offers a good review/overview of the book. 

[i] An unusual word that appears to reference athletes who won the Games, then had their rightful reward taken away.

[ii] “It might seem strange that on the rigid monotheism of Judaism this incongruous creature-worship should have been engrafted. But here also the link is easily supplied. The worship of the angels of which the Essenic system bore traces, was excused on the ground that the Law had been given through the “ministration of angels” (see Acts 7:53Galatians 3:19), and that the tutelary guardianship of angels had been revealed in the later prophecy. (See Daniel 10:10-21.) For this reason it was held that angels might be worshipped, probably with the same subtle distinctions between this and that kind of worship with which we are familiar in the ordinary pleas for the veneration of saints. It has been noticed that in the Council of Laodicea, held in the fourth century, several canons were passed against Judaising, and that in close connection with these it was forbidden “to leave the Church of God and go away to invoke angels”; and we are told by Theodoret (in the next century) that “oratories to St. Michael (the ‘prince’ of the Jewish people) were still to be seen.” The “angels” in this half-Jewish system held the same intermediate position between the Divine and the human which in the ordinary Gnostic theories was held by the less personal Æons, or supposed emanations from the Godhead.”  - Elliiot’s Commentary

 

Free - From Saving Ourselves

We talked last week about being set free from the eternal penalty and the power of sin because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. When we give our lives to following and serving Jesus, we are no longer slaves to sin, chained to our vices and doomed to patterns or lifestyles of sinful failure.

But, even as Christians, there are still ways in which God is working in us to bring freedom. We didn’t get saved in a vacuum of history; there are a lot of things that have shaped the way we think and live: family, culture, school, friends, etc. We are going to revisit some dynamics in the early church to talk about how after salvation God continues to free us from slavery to false and destructive things.

Greek converts in the early church came from a particular kind of culture. Virtually all of them were coming from pagan temple worship and a Greek or Roman conception of how the gods worked. There are three things that stand out about how they lived and worshipped.

  1. Votive offerings. The people gave gifts to the gods who then gave them gifts in return. Everything received was earned. There were sacrifices, feasts, festivals, games, etc. but the fundamental idea was that if you were nice to the god, the god was nice to you. To get something, you had to give. The gods were cosmic slot machines; you put your spiritual money in, pulled the lever, and hoped you won. If things went badly, you had clearly failed the gods in some fashion, and you just tried harder.
  2. Competitions. The Olympics and other games weren’t just about athletics. They were staged for the gods. First place wasn’t just about fame and money; there was divine favor involved. Competition was the norm.In some ways, the most important distinction in that culture was between those who had power and those who did not. Life was a contest as people competed for the eye and the favor of the gods.
  3. Processions. You showed off how much you were willing to give the gods, how far you were willing to go, etc. You had to dress extravagantly, spend extravagantly, and act passionately. You had to show up for every event and festival, and front and center was better. Image and involvement mattered. You had to be noticed. And if you were noticed by others, the gods were probably noticing too.

Add to that the converts from Judaism. The NT makes clear time and again that they had come to rely on following the law of Moses to be righteous and holy, and by this time the rabbis had added tons of new laws. Keeping the law had brought pride, spiritual elitism, and a belief that if they were just good enough God would bless them.

Paul is addressing this kind of audience of Christians in Galatians 4:

 During the time before you knew God, you were slaves to powers that are not gods at all. But now, when you are just beginning to know the one True God—actually, He is showing how completely He knows you—how can you turn back to weak and worthless idols made by men, icons of these spiritual powers? Haven’t you endured enough bondage to these breathless idols? You are observing particular days [Sabbath], months [new moons], festival seasons, and years [Passover, feasts]… This letter is really harsh, yet I am really perplexed by you. Now it’s your turn to instruct me. All of you who want to live by the rules of the law, are you really listening to and heeding what the law teaches?

In other words, they weren’t yet free. Here’s a short summary based on the many commentaries at biblehub.com:

 The outword worship of rites and ceremonies of the Jewish law imposed a servitude no less severe than the customs of paganism, in which they thought their work would justify them. These rules were "weak" because they had no power to save the soul; no power to justify or sanctify the sinner because that can only come from God’s grace and Spirit. They could not give life, righteousness, peace, joy, comfort, and salvation. They were "worthless" because they could not impart spiritual gifts and graces (which Paul writes about in Galatians 5). They were only shadows of the riches of grace and glory, which come by Christ.

How had this happened? To understand, we have to go with Paul back to Genesis.[1] God had promised that Abraham’s descendants would be the means by which God would bless the earth (Genesis 12:1-4; 15:4-5), which is typically seen as bring God’s salvation to the world. But Abraham was old, his wife Sarah was barren, and that presented what looked like an insurmountable problem.

So Sarah suggested that Abraham sleep with her servant, Hagar, so they could “build a family through her” (Genesis16:1-2). It was customary and legal in the ANE – though not good - to have a son through a servant. Abraham decided not to wait on the fulfillment of God’s promise to get his son. Instead, he decided to get his son through his own effort. Hagar conceived, and Ishmael was born. Fourteen years later…

“The Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age … Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him” (Genesis 21:1-3)

Ishmael is traditionally the father of the Arab peoples; Isaac is the father of the Jews. The Jewish people didn't like the heirs of Ishmael at all. (If you are wondering when the tensions in the Middle East started, here you go).

Apparently, when the Galatians were becoming followers of Christ, they were being told that in order to enter into the line of promise (Isaac) they had to adopt all the Old Testament Mosaic law, because Moses was clearly part of the line too (Galatians 5 and 6 add circumcision to the list of ‘rituals’ being addressed). So Paul knows that the following is going to be hard to hear:

“Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman [Ishmael] was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman [Isaac] was born as the result of a divine promise.” (Galatians 4:22-23)

So far so good. Isaac good; Ishmael bad. His Jewish converts are tracking with him.

These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.

By associating Ishmael with Mt. Sinai – the law of Moses - Paul just said that the traditional Jewish understanding of what it meant to live in the line of promise was entirely wrong. Abraham chose to rely on his own power to make God’s promises come to pass, and it backfired. The Jews were relying on the law of Moses to make themselves righteous, but that’s relying on their own effort to gain the promise of salvation. So the more observant they were of the law as a means of earning God’s favor or blessing by their own power, the more they were actually in the tradition of Ishmael, not Isaac.

But the Jerusalem that is above is free…So, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but sons and daughters of the free.

It’s a Jewish example, but I’m sure the Gentiles understood the application. In other words, if you want to keep relying on your ability to ‘do work’ to save you, you are in spiritual slavery and outside of God’s promise. You are meant to be free – and that freedom comes from Heaven. Heaven will fulfill the promise in God’s power, not yours.

This is a hard concept for me. I understand earning or not earning things. You do a job, you get paid or fired. If you lift, you build muscles. If you practice, you can be a good musician. If I do good things, I expect people will be happy with me, and I feel really good about myself. If I don’t and they aren’t, I can always eat my feelings and watch Netflix. It’s a cause and effect world that makes sense to me. It’s one reason that this post-heart attack life is taking some getting used to. I’m just not as productive as I once was. I can’t ‘earn’ like I used to. I don’t like it, but it feels…normal? Isn’t that life?

What’s worse is that I tend to apply this same principle to my faith. I become like a kid with a flower, plucking petals and muttering, “God loves me, God loves me not” depending on how well I am doing or how well my life is going.

  • I have devotions and answer all my emails and remember everybody’s name and spend quality time with the family: “He loves me.”
  • I am grumpy and forgetful and waste time and avoid my family because they wear me out and I yell at that stupid driver who cuts me off: “He loves me not.”
  • I get good feeback on a sermon: “He loves me.”
  • I don’t. “He loves me not.”
  • I navigate a touchy subject on Facebook with grace, truth, and class…I don’t…
  • I start my day with prayer…I don’t…
  • I get a new job…I get fired…
  • My marriage is amazing…my marriage is hard…
  • People think I’m an excellent Christian…people don’t…

Do you see the trap? We are the Galatians, thinking that we can earn God’s love or favor by our power.

We give votive offerings. If we are nice to God, God will be nice to us. We have more devotional time, tithe more, pray louder, impress everybody at church with our exuberant faith, we volunteer more in hopes that we can force God’s hand. We can avoid poverty, illness, unhappiness, wayward children. Any ordinary and even good thing — morality, family life, church attendance, Bible-reading, prayer, witnessing, commitment to social justice—can be turned into a votive offering that is no better than what the pagans offered.

Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people and good things to bad? Because God is not a votive God. I hope this is comforting rather than discouraging. He gives and takes away according to His will and purpose, not because of our ability to perform. The Lord gives and takes away; His name is still blessed.

We Compete.  If we think God is a votive God, it should be clear who is winning and losing, right? We should be able to figure out who is the most rigorous in obeying the Law or having the most faith. We wonder what other people did or didn’t do force God’s hand in a particular direction – and we assume others judge us through the same lenses. The one who is most obviously, outwardly successful – by our measure of success – must be the one whom God favors. And we return to the bondage of competition.

But there are no Christian Olympian Games in which I have to outperform others for God to love me. Paul said that he ran his spiritual race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1) and care (1 Corinthians 9:27), so it’s not like he coasted. He lived purposefully so that he could spread the good news of the gospel without detracting from it (Colossians 1:29). But he wasn’t competing with others to be a church superstar.

Here’s the reality: There are lots of pastors who preach better than I do.There are better husbands and fathers and friends. There are people who are wiser, more healthy, better users of social media, better managers of their time, better evangelists… the list is endless. That’s okay. I am not in competition with others. Maybe they can motivate and encourage me, but that’s only to become that best I can be in Christ, not so I can become them.

We Parade (Processions).  Living well has its own reward – if I spend time in the Bible, I am absorbing God’s truth. If I spend time in focused prayer, I am purposefully humbling myself to God’s will and power. If I volunteer and help others and watch every word I say and give my money freely – good things happen all around me and within me.

But I don’t want to be zealous to earn God’s favor be noticed by others. I want to be zealous because I want to participate in the character of Christ and the Kingdom of God. I don’t need a processional. I don’t have to impress others. There is no Mr. or Mrs. Kingdom of Heaven contest. I don’t have to impress a panel of earthly judges in order to be righteous before God. I am free to live without the need to self-promote or be noticed. My identity comes from Christ. By the grace of God, I am what I am. (1 Corinthians 15:10). I am free to relax because Christ in me is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27)

So this sets US free, but it sets others free as well. If my goal is to reflect the image of God, to be an ambassador that embodies God’s presence in the world, there are some implications here.

  1. Others shouldn’t have to earn our offering of God’s love. My relationship with you should be characterized by a godly love that honors and values you regardless of what you bring to the table. The church should be the place where “the tired, the poor, and huddled masses yearning to be spiritually free” can show up and be embraced with the sincerity that people created in God’s image deserve.
  2. We shouldn’t have to compete with other Christians. Your value, worth, and dignity have nothing to do with how you compare. In the Kingdom of God, you are free to be the ‘you’ God created you to be. I spent years trying to be other preachers. I finally had to give that up. I have to be the best preacher God made me to be. I try to learn from my heroes, but I’m not them, and I was not intended to be. Don’t look around the Kingdom of God and be envious or jealous. Embrace the gifts, talents and opportunities God has given you, learn and be inspired by others, and then be you to the glory of God and the good of His people.
  3. You don’t need to parade in front of God’s people. There is no need to impress in the Kingdom of God. You can get the applause of people or the applause of God. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:2). Why? Because they did it to be noticed by people, and they were, so end of story. Jesus goes on to say that God rewards that which is done out of love and worship for Him.

Be free of from the obligation of saving and sanctifying yourself, of impressing God and others. Rest in the Grace of the Kingdom of God.

 

[1] https://mymorningmeditations.com/2013/09/01/pauls-hagar-and-sarah-midrash/

 

Free - From The Penalty And Power Of Sin

Over and over in the opening of Genesis, we read that God created and declared  the world ‘good’ (towb, good in the widest sense; some would say it meant the world was prepared or completed,). As opposed to other ancient creation stories where everything was created by an act of violence, this was an act of artistry, care, and design.

This was a world where ‘shalom’ characterized life. Shalom is a Hebrew word found throughout the Old Testament that means peace, interconnectedness, wholeness, fullness of life. It’s life as it ought to be in a world without sin, brokenness or despair. 

There is a problem.

Adam and Eve are given a choice – to be obedient to God and live within God’s design or choose their own way. God said, “You can have all these things, but there is one thing here that I don’t want you to have.  You don’t need to know why, it’s just not good for you. There are some things that will make life worse.” 

But of course, Adam and Eve focused on that one thing they couldn’t have in the midst of all they could.  And being people with free will – the means and the capacity to do what they choose – they did what any of us would have done.

They chose their own way, and immediately the world began to break apart in what we call The Fall.  God said to them, “What have you done? (Literally, “Why did you make/craft this?”)  Now they have to live in a world in which the blessing of God is distorted; now they have to live in a world that they broke.

Now, a life that was supposed to be characterized by harmony and wholeness would be full of chaos and brokenness.  Now, there would be violence instead of gentleness, deception instead of truth, rebellion instead of obedience.

As Genesis unfolds, we see the original version of “that escalated quickly.” Cain kills Abel; soon men are bragging that they’ve killed a ton of people; before long, the whole world is evil in God’s sight. It really doesn’t get any better as you read the Old Testament. Paul would eventually write to the church in Rome that all of creation groans as it waits for redemption. We are in ‘bondage to decay’ and ‘subject to futility’ (Romans 8). A modern writer put it this way:

Countries like ours are full of people who have all the material comforts they desire, together with such non-material blessings as a happy family, and yet lead lives of quiet, and at times noisy, desperation, understanding nothing but the fact that there is a hole inside them and that however much food and drink they pour into it, however many motor cars and television sets they stuff it with, however many well balanced children and loyal friends they parade around the edges of it…it aches.” (Bernard Levin, British columnist)

We know the source of the problem: sin.

For all the criticism we have of Adam and Eve, we would have made the same choice they did. They are what we call archetypes, real people who in a broader sense are all of us. Their story would have been our story. We default to sin.

  • All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23)
  • Apart from God, we are enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6, 16-17)
  • The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
  • We have bodies of death in need of deliverance (Romans 7:24)

The Bible doesn’t use the word ‘sin’ in the original language. The word sin comes from the Old 
English word synn, which is from the Germanic sunta or the Latin word sons, both of which mean guilty.[1] The Biblical writers were pretty creative with how many ways they expressed the many reasons we are guilty:

  1. hamartia; to miss the mark. “We all fall short of (or “miss”) the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) The devil has done this from the beginning (1 John 3:8)
  2. Paraptoma; trespass. A blunder.  (Matthew 6:14-15)
  3. Parabasos; crossing a specific line.  Think of an athletic field in which there are boundaries you cannot cross without penalty (Galatians 3:19)
  4. chatta’ah : willful going against what one knows is right and accidentally going 
against the divine order of things (Leviticus 4:14; Exodus 32:34)
  5. pasha: rebel; breaking a rule that has been established (Jeremiah 3:13)
  6. avon: willful 
or continuing sin (Genesis 15:16)
  7. adikia; injustice (Luke 18:6; 1 John 5;17).  Action that causes visible harm to another person in violation of divine standard
  8. Anomia; lawlessness.  When we read, “Whoever commits sin (hamartia) also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23; 1 John 3:4), we see that even the most accidental of well-intentioned moments of sin are like the worst.

Eskimo and Inuit cultures have around 50 words for snow. [2] There is a lot of snow and a lot of different conditions, so they want to be very precise. Apparently, the biblical writers saw a lot of sin, and they wanted to be precise. 

We look around at all the atrocities around us and think, “How can this be? Why do people fly planes into building, and wipe out entire tribes?  Why do people abuse other people?  Why do so many people exploit others sexually and financially? Why are people mean?

Is it poverty?  Then economic wealth should fix everything.

Lack of education?  Then we can throw more money at our schools and all will be well.

Lack of information? Free internet for all.

Corrupt political parties?  We can elect a new president and resolve the problem.

Greedy corporation and people?  We can picket and boycott.

But have any of those responses ever offered a long-term, lasting solution to the problem? No. The problem lies in sinful human hearts.  Or as G.K. Chesterton famously said when asked what the problem with the world was: “I am.”

It is important to humbly embrace this harsh fact of the world.

  • I embrace behaviors and make lifestyle choices that destroy me and hurt those around me. Others do the same to me, but at the end of the day I make my own choices.
  • I decide my way is better than God’s way.
  • I say mean things, and lose my temper, and gossip, and lie, and cheat, and feel jealous when other people succeed, and wish the world revolved around me, and view people as things, and treat things better than I treat people?

We don’t fail our spouses, or badly raise our children, or hurt our friends because we can’t get Dr. Phil on our cable. Our core lack of inner peace is not because our health care provider does not give us enough coverage, or Big Oil makes a lot of money, or the stock market is out of our control, or politics is corrupt, or fake news is fake.

This sickness is within us. We must own up to this or whatever diagnosis and treatment we choose will not make us well.

But this is where the story makes an important turn. It does not have to be this way. God is not stumped by the human capacity to undermine ourselves. God did not forsake Adam and Eve  - he covered them and promised them an ultimate victory over the very thing that tempted them. We fall, and there are consequences to that fall, but God does not forsake us. 

Like God covered up the shame and nakedness of Adam and Eve and showed them the role of sacrifice as a means of redemption, Jesus covers up our shame, our spiritual nakedness, and offers us Himself as the means to triumph over the power and destructiveness of sin.

“People who believe in me, though they are dead, they can still live.” - Jesus, in John 11:25

“When the Son has made you free, you are free indeed.” (John 8:36) Literally: “When Jesus has set you free from the restrictions of sin, you will be truly free to live.”

So sin is a problem, but there is a solution. The only way we can be saved is through Jesus Christ.

The objective basis and means of salvation is God's sovereign and gracious choice to be "God with us" in the person of Jesus Christ, who is described as both author and mediator of salvation ( Heb 2:10 ; 7:25 ). But the movement of Jesus' life goes through the cross and resurrection. It is therefore "Christ crucified" that is of central importance for salvation ( 1 Cor 1:23 ), for "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" ( 1 Cor 15:3 ) and was handed to death for our trespasses ( Rom 4:25 ). What Jesus did in our name he also did in our place, giving "his life as a ransom for many" ( Matt 20:28 ). And if Christ demonstrated his love by dying when we were still sinners, how much more shall we now be saved by his life? ( Rom 5:8-10 ). So critical is the resurrection to the future hope of salvation that ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins’ ( 1 Cor 15:17 ).  (“Salvation,” http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/salvation/)

We are meant to be free from the wages and power of sin. We are meant to be free to pursue shalom once again. The death and resurrection of Jesus is proof that we who are dead can be raised to new life spiritually in this life and physically for eternity.

So freedom - yay! – but let’s not forget the cost.

We observe Memorial Day to honor those who gave their life so that others could live. It’s what we mean when we say, “Freedom isn’t free.” We must never forget to honor a Savior who gave his life so we could live and be free.

Forgiveness involves suffering on the part of the one forgiving. The greater the forgiveness, the greater the suffering. We experience this in small ways all the time. When we forgive people, we not only take the pain of the original hurt (against our happiness, reputation, self-image, etc), but we give up the right to inflict the same in return. We give up making them feel what we felt. True forgiveness will cost us something. And the greater the sin that needs to be forgiven, the greater the cost of forgiveness.

“God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the Cross absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself… this is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that someday he can destroy all evil without destroying us.” (Tim Keller)

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, we are freed from the eternal PENALTY of sin; a overwhelming debt we build all our lives will be covered because Jesus has gone to the Cross to take our just penalty upon himself. The wages or cost of sin is still death; it’s just that Jesus paid it for you.

Justice must be served because God is just; to save just one of us, it would have cost him a crucifixion. This should always humble us, because it reminds us that we are more sinful than we want to admit. 

But mercy must be offered because God is merciful. To save just one of us, Jesus was willing to do this. This should always encourage us, because it reminds us that God’s love for us is so much deeper than we can ever imagine. 

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, we are freed from the present POWER of sin. We were once dead in sin. We were incapable of bringing ourselves to life, and we were going to inevitably default to sin. Because the Holy Spirit is now in us, we have God’s power to break what the Bible calls “chains” of sin. We will struggle with temptation, but we are not doomed to failure. God will work in us (sanctification).

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, one day we will be freed from the very PRESENCE of sin. In heaven, shalom will be restored.  The New Heaven and New Earth will not be broken, and neither will we. This is the solution that frees us from a life of brokenness and sin and an eternity of despair.

 

[1]  (HT John Oakes, “What Are The Origins of the Word Sin?”)

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/there-really-are-50-eskimo-words-for-snow/2013/01/14/e0e3f4e0-59a0-11e2-beee-6e38f5215402_story.html?utm_term=.a0cbcb729310