Prayer: Our Words In The Word

In the beginning the Speaker spoke the Word. The Word went out from the Speaker, carried along by the Breath, and the world was created, formed, and filled. Speaker, Word, and Breath working in loving, powerful union with one another to create from nothing everything that is. 

The height of this creative activity was the creation of man himself, the image of God. He is a creaturely word; a revelation of God within the creation. This form fashioned from the dust of the ground was himself filled with the Spirit-Breath of God. This Spirit empowered him to take the creation given to him and, by word and deed, follow in the image of God to create, arrange, form, and fill this creation so that it will one day reflect God’s own heavenly throne room. This is his dominion task.

The dominion man is to take over the world is not some impersonal job handed down to him from a distant God. The man is a part of the divine family. God has called him into the family business of creating. He can’t do this apart from the rest of the family. He is not God himself after all. He, like the Triune God, must work in concert with the family. Man is dependent upon Father, Son, and Spirit–Speaker, Word, and Breath–to take the dominion over the creation.

Central to this mission, therefore, is to be in prayerful communion with the Triune God. Man is a co-laborer with God. God doesn’t do the work apart from man, and man doesn’t do the work apart from God. God has sovereignly chosen to act in this way.

The Divine Family is still working as they did in the original creation, and we who belong to the family now participate in this creation project. We have been united to God the Father–the Speaker–in the Son–the Word–by the Spirit–the Breath. Now being “in the Word” we are “words of God.” Being given the Spirit at Pentecost, we are words of the Speaker being carried along by the Breath of God to create, arrange, form, and fill the world so that it comes to look like the kingdom of God. Our words do this, not because they are mechanical, not because they are always theologically precise, but because we share the life of God himself, the Creator of all. The Spirit helps our weaknesses; when we don’t have just the right words or we haven’t done things just right. Because we share life with him, he is more than making up for our weaknesses.

Within this creation project we share with God, prayer is indispensable. In prayer we are caught up in the Trinity to participate in this power that God himself exercises over and in the world. There are other activities that are necessary to our taking of dominion, but nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than prayer. Nothing can replace it. While we all have different gifts of the Spirit to accomplish the mission of the church, we all share the ability and responsibility to pray.

If the church is to accomplish her mission, then prayer will need to be central to her life together. Prayer cannot be subordinate to all of the other activities that go on in the church. We are not a “house of social gatherings,” or a “house of support groups.” We are first and foremost a house of prayer (Isa 56.7). If the church forgets this most fundamental activity in her life together, we have become only another civic organization. Yes, we may grow great crowds because people “feel connected” or there is so much for them to do. But if prayer is not central to the life of that group of people, the church is not being what she was called to be and her mission cannot be accomplished. 

In love our God bids us to join him in his creative work through prayer. He desires that we share the fullness of his life. What could be a higher and more beautiful privilege? Why would we let ourselves be distracted from the disciplines of prayer by lesser things? 

You, dear Christian, are imbued with power because of your membership in the divine family. Though many times imperceptible to you, when you pray, the world is changing. Give yourself to prayer. Pray individually. Pray with your family. Pray with the church. Pray.

What To Pray?

What the world needs now is a crazed Muslim leader in the Middle East who has nuclear capabilities to launch a nuclear weapon at the USA. The world needs Christians to suffer and die at the hands of atheistic Communists and rabid Muslims. America needs abortion to continue to be legal for decades to come. Aunt Lucy needs to be diagnosed with stage four cancer. Uncle Joe needs to be in an accident so that he loses a leg. Henrietta needs to lose her child to leukemia. We and the rest of creation need these horrible things.

Who would ever think such things? Who would ever pray for such things? No one that I know.

However, in the infinite wisdom of God, situations like these may indeed be necessities. I know it is repulsive to you. It churns my stomach as well. But so does the cross, yet it was a necessity. Jesus told his disciples on a number of occasions that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die at the hands of Israel’s leaders (cf. e.g., Matthew 16.21). They couldn’t grasp it at the time because it was a category mistake. Messiah doesn’t suffer defeat. He wins. How could this be necessary? To kill the Messiah would be sin. How is sin necessary?

I’m not telling you that I understand why these are necessities. I’m only telling you that they are. God raises up Pharaohs, Assyrians, and Babylonians to oppress his people, and prophets such as Habbakuk have problems with it too. He turns the devil loose on his faithful servant Job to bring him to the point of death. He raises up scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Roman governors to kill his Son. These are all necessities.

But would you pray for such things? No. But then again, you don’t know what to pray for as you ought; you don’t know what the world needs. So says Paul in Romans 8.26. We see the creation groaning. We groan when we participate in the suffering and see others suffering. We pray for deliverance. And we should. We know that this is not the way things ultimately ought to be. The created order is in disarray, and we want it set right. That’s proper. Praying toward that end is the right thing to do. Jesus taught us to pray that way.

But how God is getting us there is just as mysterious to us as it was for the disciples when Jesus told them that it was necessary for him to suffer and die. We don’t know what the world needs exactly in this or that situation. We don’t know what we need. Our perspective is limited, not only because we’re sinners, but because we’re creatures. God has not afforded us the perspective that he has on the world. He is the wise one who know how everything–even sin–fits together and is working toward the good of his people and the rest of creation. No matter how much wisdom we mature into in our lifetimes, our wisdom will never be God’s wisdom. There will never be a time when we know exactly what to pray; when we know precisely what is needed in every situation.

The Spirit helps us in this weakness (Rom 8.26). However, he doesn’t help us by giving us the exact words to pray so that we can get a grasp on the situation and fix it. The Spirit groans with us, never giving us the relief of putting it into words. He never gives us that leverage over the world. We are called to suffer in prayer with the world, and the Spirit comes and suffers with us, interceding for us.

And the Father understands the Spirit’s groanings. He knows the mind of the Spirit, and he will give us and the creation what we need. We can be assured of that. 

In light of this, praying in faith is not claiming this healing or really believing that God will remove this oppressor if pray long enough. Praying in faith is following the prayer life of our Lord himself who prays, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” Praying in faith is submitting all those things we think are necessities to the wisdom of the Father. Yes, we ask him for the things we think we need. But we trust the will of our loving heavenly Father to do what is best for us and the creation. We know that our Father will not give us a serpent when we ask for a fish. He will not give us a scorpion when we ask for an egg (Luke 11.11-12). He will give us good gifts, even when they come in packages of suffering.

Praying In The Spirit

At this present time in whole of the created order, there is a hauntingly bright symphony being performed. The creation is groaning and travailing in the pains of childbirth like the deep, resonating, sad tones of a cello. The groans of the cello are joined in the same melodic progression by the violins of Christians’ groaning. As Christians we find ourselves in harmony with the creation, giving it further voice because we share in the same pain, waiting with the rest of creation for the redemption of our bodies. But there is a third voice; a voice deeper and more fundamental in this symphony that is controlling it and moving it toward its conclusion. It is the double bass of the Spirit, groaning out wordless music to the Father. We and the rest of creation with us have joined with him so that we are taking up his groans and he is taking up our groans in this symphony of prayer.

This is praying in the Spirit.

What the writers of Scripture exhort in shorthand in other places, Paul describes in Romans 8. From here we begin to learn what prayer is. Prayer is not some impersonal spanning of a great distance between us and God through the medium of words. Prayer is participation in the eternal divine conversation. Father, Son/Word, and Spirit have been in this communion of conversation forever. In grace our Triune God has made us members of his family and, therefore, the conversation.  We are family members who share the relationship of the Son with the Father because of the Spirit uniting us to the body of Christ. As Paul says to another church, “For through [Christ Jesus] we both [i.e., Jews and Gentiles] have access in one Spirit to the Father.” (Eph 2.18) Prayer is joining the loving conversation that the Holy Trinity is having. As Christians we are not outsiders who somehow hope to gain the ear of our distant God. We are not far off but rather have been brought near in Christ Jesus. We share the same relationship with the Father that Jesus himself shares. Being in the Son is the only reason we can call God, “Father.” But being in the Son means that we do, indeed, have that privilege with Jesus. And it is the Spirit of the Son that God the Father has given us who causes us to cry out, “Abba, Father.” (Gal 4.6)

By the Spirit we are fully incorporated into this family and the family conversation. The Spirit doesn’t merely create a bald status of being a child of God. Rather, he pours the love of God out in our hearts (Rom 5.5) so that we share the love of God. That is, we love what he loves, hate what he hates, want what he wants; we share his sorrows, his joys, his anger, his jealousy, his compassion, his mercy, and his grace. As we pray in the Spirit, these shared desires are given expression. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Our wills are becoming one with his will. Our hearts are in harmony with the Father, Son, and Spirit. That’s what it means to pray in the Spirit.

When we look around us and see that things are not right, that God’s will is not done on earth as it is in heaven, that the creation is in pain, our hearts groan. But we discover that these groans are not just our own, but they are also the groans of God himself being expressed by the Spirit in us and on our behalf to the Father. When we groan in this way, we are finding ourselves caught up in this symphony that is ultimately being conducted and played by our Triune God. When we find ourselves there, we have found the place of prayer.

Because these groans are not our own but participation with the Holy Trinity, we have the assurance that our groans are not pointless pain. Rather, we groan in hope. The God who groans with us is the same God who is working all things together for good (Rom 8.28). Yes, the creation is subjected to frustration, but it is subjected in hope (Rom 8.20). God has secured this hope through the death and resurrection of his Son and by the giving of his Spirit who is making a new creation. Our groaning prayers will not go unanswered. The haunting music that fills our souls with the rest of creation at present will modulate into the joyful music of dancing in the end.

The Conundrum of Hope

Suffering comes in all shapes and sizes. From common illnesses to terminal illnesses, from putting to death the sinful deeds of the body to being put to death by those who hate the gospel, from fighting enemies within to fighting enemies without, the church suffers. It is our calling. The work of salvation that Jesus definitively began in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension will not be complete until his body, the church, is also bodily raised from the dead at the last day. Between this time and that we have been called to endure the suffering that comes in a creation that has not yet been completely liberated from the corruption of sin.

This suffering, however, is not without a purpose. It is not a fight that ends in a draw. It is a training camp for Christians to learn to rule the creation as it ought to be ruled. Just as Jesus did in his life, so we learn obedience through the things that we suffer. And like him, we are being matured through what we suffer (cf. Heb 5.8-9). Somehow and someway that is not presently clear to us, God is working all of our suffering for our good and, consequently, the good of the rest of creation, which will be saved when we are revealed to be the sons of God through the redemption of our bodies (that is, in the resurrection; Rom 8.19-21, 28).

The question is, What gives us the strength to endure these present sufferings? Hope. More specifically, the hope of glory.

This hope is not the wispy positive thinking of some motivational speaker who tells you that everything will turn out alright because everything always turns out alright. That’s wishful thinking. It’s not a solid foundation for hope. Hope built on the sands of wishful thinking will eventually crumble when the tides of suffering are relentless.

Our hope of glory–the hope that we ourselves will one day be completely freed from the corruption of sin and its death in body and mind and that the rest of creation will follow us–our hope of glory is firmly fixed on the Word of God declared boldly in the resurrection of Jesus and confirmed continually by the presence of his Spirit with us. The Word that was before the world and that created everything that we see is the Word in whom we trust. Our hope in Christ Jesus is more sure than the things in the creation that we can touch, see, feel, or taste.

Having this hope we have the strength to endure all of the battles with sin and its corruption in this present life; whether those battles rise from within us in being tempted to sin, or they come from without in dealing with the corrupting power of sin in relationships. We can endure because we have a sure hope that this is not the way it will always be. God promised.

Our future hope gives us present strength to endure. What you hope for shapes what you desire and the way you live right now. The young man who has been promised by his parents that he may buy his first car when he is sixteen, works and saves with that hope in mind. He resists temptation to buy other things that are frivolous. He has to say “No” to activities with his friends at times because he has to work. He gets tired along the way, but then he remembers the prize. He keeps pushing on, maintaining the disciplines that will get him to his hope.

So it is with us as Christians and our hope. Our future hope shapes our desires and the way we live. Because we long for what God has promised, knowing that we must suffer with Christ in order that we may be glorified together (Rom 8.17), that means that we discipline our lives accordingly. We must say “No” to temptations, even when everyone else is doing it. There may even be things that are technically lawful for us to do, but they are not as profitable to our lives as they should be (cf. 1Cor 6.12). Our desire for the best outweighs our desire for the acceptable.

Show me how you’re living, and I will tell you what you hope for.

When that young man finally buys that car, when his hope is realized, all that he went through to get there will seem like no real trouble at all because it all came together to bring him to this place. “I reckon that sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed to us” (Rom 8.18). When we, the church, finally reach our hope, we will understand that this was but a “momentary light affliction” that was working in us an “eternal weight of glory” (2Cor 4.17). Weighed in the balances, our present sufferings are not even worth comparing to our future glory.

Not all of our suffering is directly produced by sin and its corruption. Some of our suffering is produced by our hope. Our hope has been deferred, and our hearts are sick (Prov 13.12). Knowing what is coming, knowing that one day we will be liberated from all of the bondage of corruption, creates in us a longing that groans in pain until that day arrives. We suffer because we have hope. We see the world around us living contrary to the gospel, killing itself. We stand by the bedsides of loved ones, watching them die. We feel the sting of an unfaithful spouse. We get caught up in the tension of someone’s bitterness toward us. We live in a church that is, at many points, unnecessarily divided. We read of our brothers and sisters being slaughtered by oppressive governments and religions. We hear that dreaded diagnosis and prognosis from the doctor.  In all of this, we suffer from the sin itself as well as the presence of hope that makes our longings even greater and our groaning even deeper. We begin to understand the cries of the Psalmists, and we cry out in song with them , “How long, O Lord?”

Our hope produces groaning in a sinful world, but it is also our strength through it.

Spirit Of Sonship. Spirit Of Warfare.

Once upon a time there was this little boy who was growing up in a horrid home situation. His parents were abusive to one another and to him. They were cooking Meth, shooting up heroin, engaged in sexual perversions, and living in squalor. They neglected him and left him for days at a time to fend for himself. The outlook for his life was bleak at best. As he grew up, this was the only life he knew. He thought that this was the way that life was to be lived. Consequently, he adopted this way of life for himself, following the pattern of his parents who had, by the culture they developed in the home, developed this way of thinking and living in him. He knew nothing else.

One day a man and his wife learned of the situation and decided to try to help the boy. The biological parents objected strongly (as parents in these situations are sometimes prone to do even though they don’t care at all for the child). However, the child saw something in this man and his wife that was attractive. He wanted to be a part of their family.

Arrangements were made, and, at great expense, the young boy was adopted by the man and his wife. His new life was beautiful. He was treated with great love. Life wasn’t always easy because his parents required discipline from him, but it was incomparably better than it was before. His new parents provided for him richly, not only with food, clothing, and shelter, but with the affection he had never known. Living as their son he would not only be provided for now but in the future. He was an heir to everything his new parents owned.

He had been rescued from a horrible situation. He was grateful. However, the ways he had learned in the years he spent in his original home were not excised easily. He constantly fought attitudes and desires that pulled him back to that old culture. He hated those ways of his biological parents, but they were also comfortable in a sick sort of way. Now, on the one hand, he felt this obligation, this debt, as it were, to his biological parents. On the other hand, he felt a debt to his adoptive parents because of the kindness and love shown to him in rescuing him. This new life was beautiful and held great promise for the future. But was this what he really wanted?

If he goes back to his old way of living, he is forsaking his inheritance and it is certain misery and death. If he stays where he is, his future is secure and beautiful. What will he do?

I don’t know. You tell me. You are that child, Christian.

Because of our heritage in Adam, we still have a pull toward the thinking and ways of the flesh; thinking and living that questions the goodness of God’s purposes and commandments and wants to go in the opposite direction. There are times we might even think that we just can’t help ourselves because we are in these bodies of death (or mortal bodies; cf. Rom 6.12). However, we are not debtors to the flesh to live after the flesh (Rom 8.12). That old flesh was crucified with Christ in baptism (Rom 6.1-11). All the debts have been paid. There is no reason to be under the sway of sin. If we adopt the old fleshly ways of living, no matter the profession of our lips, we will die (Rom 8.13). That is the fruit of allegiance to the flesh.

We are no longer debtors to the flesh, but we are debtors: debtors to God the Father, his Christ, and his Spirit. The Triune God has bound us to himself in a covenant that requires that we pay the debt of loving him with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. This love expresses itself in willingness to engage in warfare against the flesh, putting to death the deeds of the body through the power of the Spirit. This is the way of life (Rom 8.13).

Those who engage in this battle with the sinful deeds of the body manifest that the Spirit of God is truly working in them. God’s Spirit bears witness with their spirits in this way. They are desiring the same thing. They are walking in the same direction. They love the Father and the Son as the Spirit loves the Father and the Son and want nothing more than to please them with the way they are living. They want to hear, “Well done!” Those who live this way, those who are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

Being led by the Spirit doesn’t mean that the battle with the deeds of the body will be easy or without pain. In fact, it means just the opposite. The children of Israel were led by the Spirit of God into the inheritance of the Promised Land, but that leading meant doing battle with giants in the land. Jesus was led (actually driven!) by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. The Spirit leads us into and through battle, not around it.  The Spirit has always led God’s sons into battle. The Spirit of adoption or sonship is the Spirit of warfare.

Furthermore, there is no silver bullet that will end the battle. God has called us into a fight that ends either in the death of the deeds of the body or our own eternal death. He gives us everything that we need through the power of his Spirit, but you will have to fight day in and day out.

One day the fight will end. It may not be this day, but that day is coming. Those who have suffered with Christ in these battles will inherit glory with Christ. Our promised rest is coming. Our future is beautiful and secure in Christ Jesus. Don’t turn back to the ways of the flesh. Keep fighting!

The Jealousy Test

In 1Corinthians 11 Paul gives instructions, sobering exhortations, and explanations concerning the Lord’s Supper as it is practiced in the church in Corinth. Some of the Corinthians were acting like selfish pigs and not waiting on their brothers and sisters to eat. In their refusal to wait and eat with the rest of the family of Christ, they were dividing the body of Christ. They were not discerning the Lord’s body properly (1Cor 11.29); that is, they were, in their actions, judging others as being outside of the body of Christ who were, indeed, in the body of Christ. This is why Paul concludes his instructions with the exhortation, “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another...” (1Cor 11.33).

The judgment that had fallen on the Corinthians was severe. Their exclusion of certain family members brought divine displeasure upon some. Their lack of discerning the body was the cause of many being weak and ill and some of them “sleeping” (i.e., dying; 1Cor 11.30).

How does Paul know that this is the cause of this divine displeasure? Isn’t it dangerous to interpret events like this and attribute God’s action to them? Generally, we should use extreme caution. Some might say, “Paul was an inspired apostle and could make that judgment.” That’s possible. But there is another possibility as well.

In Numbers 5 God provided a way for a jealous husband to test the fidelity of his wife. If the husband suspected his wife of being unfaithful, he would take her to the Tabernacle and the priest to be vindicated or condemned. The jealousy test was administered when there were no witnesses to the alleged infidelity. Only God would know, so God would have to be the one to expose it.

The man would bring his wife to the priest with a memorial portion of grain. A memorial in Scripture is that which causes God to remember his covenant and act accordingly (cf. e.g., Gen 9.13-15). This grain offering would be a memorial to bring iniquity to God’s remembrance (Num 5.15).

With the grain in their hands, God also provided a holy drink. The process involved taking dirt from the Tabernacle floor (which is holy ground) and putting it into holy water in an earthen vessel (Num 5.17). Eventually that water would be joined by words of curse that had been written down and then washed off into the water (Num 5.23). 

The woman would then drink the water. If nothing happened, she was declared innocent. If she was guilty, her belly would swell and her thigh would rot (Num 5.22). We don’t know exactly what this means, but it seems that she would have a false pregnancy, giving birth to nothing. Her womb would be dead and no children would pass between her thighs. Death was the consequence of infidelity. 

We don’t know if this law was ever carried out against any woman in Israel. It might have been intended for the whole of Israel herself. There is a foreshadowing of this law happening at Mt Sinai when the new bride of YHWH commits adultery with a golden calf. The calf is ground to powder, put in water, and the people are made to drink. The guilty ones are then evident, and the Levites inflict the death penalty on them (Exod 32).

This jealousy test, it seems to me, provides at least some of the context for Paul’s interpretation of the events in Corinth. Grain–bread–and holy wine are brought. They are the body and blood of Christ, the Word of God made flesh. To eat and drink this holy food vindicates us or exposes our infidelity. This jealousy test happens every Lord’s Day as we gather around the Table of our husband. Unlike the bride in Numbers 5, we don’t eat and drink the shadows but the substance. Consequently, our vindication is greater but so is our punishment.

The jealousy test aspect of the Lord’s Supper is one of God’s mercies to us. We need any and all infidelities exposed. It is better that they be exposed now than in the final judgment. As they are exposed in the present, we can deal with them through confession and repentance. At the final judgment there is no repentance.

This is one reason why you shouldn’t avoid the Lord’s Supper as a member of Christ’s church. Not only have you compounded your sin by disobeying a direct command of Jesus who told us to “eat” and “drink,” but you have also cut yourself off from this grace of sin being exposed so that it can be dealt with.

The Lord has many ways to expose sin, not all involving you falling ill or dead on the spot. It may be that your secret sins come to light to the pastor and elders of the church so that the sin can be put to death. You were sneaking around being unfaithful in some way, thinking that you were getting away with living a duplicitous life. You come to the Table, devour the Word of God, and God exposes you in his grace. The Supper is not the problem. Sin is the problem, and it is the grace of God to expose it so that you have the opportunity to kill it through confession and repentance. 

Knowing that you will be tested this next Lord’s Day now encourages you to be much more aware of your private fidelity throughout the week. It matters not if no one sees your web activity because you are wily enough to hide it from everyone. That paramour that you meet on business trips out of the city will never be found. But God knows, and for your good, he will make it known. If he doesn’t, you’re in bad shape for the final judgment.

In The Flesh Or In The Spirit

The old flesh gets blamed for quite a bit in Christians’ lives. If someone blows up on you in anger, you might hear, “That’s just the old flesh coming out in me.” The reasoning behind this is something like this: I’ve got a good part of me that is controlled by the Spirit, and I have a bad part of me that is controlled by the flesh. The flesh, in this way of thinking, is the old man to which a new man was somehow added. You might even hear illustrations about how we carry around this dead man, a rotting corpse, on our backs like some old Roman punishment. As Christians we have multiple personalities. This makes it all too convenient when we sin to shift responsibility to the “flesh-side” and act as if we really don’t have any control. That’s just kind of the way we are and the way we’re going to be until we die and leave this flesh behind in a grave somewhere enjoying disembodied bliss in heaven.

That picture is not exactly accurate. Yes, there is a sense in which the flesh is still a reality in our lives as Christians. Our “mortal bodies” (our “death bodies”) are still associated with the flesh; that corruptible and corrupted existence that we inherited from Adam. These death-bodies still have those desires of the flesh (Rom 6.12) that plague us and want to bring us under dominion. We still have the desires in our bodies to sin, and we do sin.

However, as those who have received the Spirit of Christ, there is another sense in which we are not in the flesh. Paul says this emphatically in Romans 8.9: “Y’all are not in the flesh but in the Spirit.” How can Paul say this? Is he speaking out of both sides of his mouth?

Being “in the flesh” is more than just having a body. Being in the flesh is living as if Jesus had never died, risen again, and given us his Spirit. Being in the flesh is living under the dominion of sin and death. It is to be in bondage to the desires of the flesh and, thus, opposed to Christ’s kingdom program (see Rom 8.5-8). As Christians, we are not in the flesh but in the Spirit. Being in the Spirit means that we have adopted Jesus’ kingdom program for ourselves, swearing our allegiance to him as Lord, and fighting against the flesh. 

When the Spirit dwells in us, the body is “dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Rom 8.10). The Spirit now inhabits this death-body. What the Spirit does with dead bodies is raise them from the dead. He gives life to this mortal flesh both now and when he raises our bodies from the grave.

As you walk in the Spirit, you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh (Gal 5.16). The Spirit is working in us and with us to put to death the deeds of these death bodies (Rom 8.13). The Spirit is doing with us (generally) over a long period of time what he did with Jesus in a short period of time: transform our dead bodies through resurrection. 

He works in this way as we hear the Word read and taught, as we gather with other saints to pray around the Lord’s Table, and as we encourage one another daily. The Spirit is ministering through the other members of the body of Christ transform us from glory to glory (2Cor 3.18).

One thing that Paul is doing here, as he says in Romans 8.12, is telling us that we are not debtors to the flesh to live after the flesh. We have no obligations to obey the flesh. In other words, we can’t say (as a riff on an old Flip Wilson line), “The flesh made me do it.” You don’t live under the kingship of the flesh but of the Spirit. You don’t have to obey. You are not a helpless victim. God has provided means through which his Spirit will minister to you; whether through counselors, pastors, friends, the ordinary life of the church, or similar things. 

Faith accepts this reality, understanding that this is who God has made me in Christ Jesus, and then walks in lock-step with that reality. When you obey the desires of the body and sin, you own the full responsibility for your sin, you confess and repent of it, and keep moving forward. 

You are not a subject in the kingdom of the flesh. Don’t let anyone, even yourself, convince you that you are. God has given you his Spirit and with him all the power you need to put to death the deeds of the body.

The Community Calendar

At the heart of the Church Calendar is the weekly gathering of God’s people around the Lord’s Table. This is the Lord’s Day. Every other celebration throughout the Church Year is nothing more than a commentary of what goes on here each week.

Since our earliest days after the resurrection of Jesus, the church has been celebrating the Lord’s Day on Sunday. Our fathers understood that this day was anticipated in the Hebrew Scriptures with all of the references to the “eighth day.” Circumcision occurred on the eighth day (Lev 12.3). Cleansing of lepers went through an eight-day process, and he was fully cleansed on the eighth day (Lev 14.10, 23). Other uncleannesses went through a seven-day cleansing process so that the unclean person was finally clean on the eighth day (cf. Lev 15.14; Num 6.10). The Temple of Solomon and the visionary Temple of Ezekiel both have seven-day cleansings with the eighth day being the day that final cleansing is realized (1Kg 8.65; Ez 43.27).

Time, being a part of creation, was corrupted with the sin of Adam. The entire first week of creation had to be cleansed. A new creation came out of the old. This happened on the eighth day, the day that Jesus rose from the dead. Consequently, the apostles set the example for us to gather the church on the first day of the week; or the eighth day (cf. Ac 20.7; 1Cor 16.2).

While it is good to follow this pattern, it doesn’t seem that this is absolutely necessary. There is freedom in the new covenant church to set apart times to gather around the Lord’s Table on other days if necessary because of persecution or some other extenuating circumstance. God has given the church “stars”–pastors (cf. Rev 1.20)–to govern the times and seasons for the church as wisdom dictates what is best for the church in that situation. When the pastors of these churches set the time to gather around the Lord’s Table, then it is incumbent upon the members of the congregation to be there unless providentially hindered. To refuse to obey those who have rule over you (Heb 13.17) is a sin.

But what about the rest of the activities of the church? The rest of the activities of the church that don’t involve the Lord’s Table are not “absolutely necessary.” That is, you shouldn’t be under the threat of excommunication for not going to a Vespers service or a special Feast.

If these activities aren’t absolutely necessary, then why do churches have them? I can’t speak for other churches, but I can tell you why I lead our church to have these other activities. God has given us a blueprint for what he wants the church to be. This blueprint is all throughout Scripture but culminates in one glorious vision in Revelation 21–22. The pastor is called to be a Temple builder (cf. 1Cor 3). We look at the blueprints and then begin to figure how best to build our local congregations to match the design of God. The Lord’s Day service is non-negotiable. It is foundational. But the Lord’s Service is only one aspect of our lives together. To build a loving, vibrant culture, we must have shared life, which means shared time. These times need to contribute to what we are called to be as the church.

God’s Temple is a house of prayer for all nations, so we have special prayer services outside of the Lord’s Service to keep us engaged with one another and fulfill our mission for the world. God’s Temple is a place of celebration, so we have special feast days together–everything from fellowship meals on certain Sundays of the month to big blow out feasts for Easter and All Saints.

No, you won’t be excommunicated if you don’t come to these other activities. But why wouldn’t you want to come? Why do other voluntary commitments to ball teams and other cultural events take precedence over commitments to the church? Why are these other activities more important to you and your family? Why do you love these other things more than you love Christ’s church?

I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on you. Those other activities are probably all fine in their proper places. My responsibility in contributing to the building of this Temple of God is, in part, to lead those under my care to examine their lives in terms of what God is wanting us, his church, to be. We are not to be looking at our participation in the church as merely an “activity,” a burdensome commitment among many other demands on us. We are not to think of Sunday worship as “punching our time card.” Our life as the church is a way of life. That life involves prioritizing the church and her life over other activities in life; that is, saying “No” to invitations to do other things because you have a prior commitment to give your life to the church. 

If we are not doing this, then what are we doing? If we aren’t living life together and building a culture, then we are just another volunteer organization with a pep talk and a snack on Sundays.

We Worship By Faith, Not By Fun

As you approach the outer court of the Tabernacle with an animal in tow, your journey has been filled with thoughts of what is about to happen. This little animal, an animal of which you may have grown fond, is about to be slaughtered in your place. There may even be some thoughts of turning back.

The priest meets you in the outer court somewhere around the bronze altar; this big, hollow box with four horns on the top in which a fire is constantly burning. You lay your hands on the head of the animal, ordaining it to stand in your place to be offered up. The knife is then taken in hand and the throat of the animal is cut. The blood that gushes from its throat, being pumped out by a heart taking its last beats, is caught in a basin so that it can be splashed on the sides of the altar. The smells of death fill your nostrils. The priest finishes flaying the animal, cutting it up into pieces, washing the parts, and then placing it in this bronze altar in a particular order.

Though after a while in a culture that practices this day-in and day-out you become somewhat accustomed to this, it is not really what you would consider fun. In fact, this is something of a chore. It is difficult at many levels. You can think of many other things that you would rather be doing with your time. So, why do you do it?

You do it because God commanded you to do it. You walk by faith, not by fun. You are created by God to be a worshiper, and this is what worshipers do.

In this New Covenant age in which none of these animal offerings is required of us, there are still things about worship that aren’t fun ... and aren’t designed to be. We cheapen the worship of God when we try to make everything fun so that people will be comfortable and want to come back. While we do not have the obligation to bring animals to sacrifice, worship is still the presentation of ourselves as living sacrifices (Rom 12.1-2). There are parts of our worship, consequently, that won’t be pleasant. All discipline for the present seems painful rather than joyful (Heb 12.11). Worship is a place where our lives are being disciplined to deny the sinful desires of our mortal bodies, fight against the sin all around us, and be shaped more in the likeness of God. Quite frankly, it isn’t always fun.

I suppose this is one reason why there are people who will spend their food or utility money on a concert or a sporting event, go and sit for hours (sometimes in inclement weather), and then tell you that they had a great time. However, an hour to an hour-and-a-half in worship is “too long,” “burdensome,” and, worst of all, “boring.” It’s just not fun. If it were fun, I would move heaven and earth to get there. I love to have fun.

There is nothing wrong with having fun. God, you might be surprised to learn, wants us to have fun. There is a time and place for it. God wants you to delight in his good gifts. Spend money on things your enjoy. Take trips. Go to those concerts. Hunt. Fish. Go to ball games. Watch movies. Have fun.

But as with any good gift of God, fun can become an idol. When fun becomes my god, I only do the things that are pleasant and avoid the unpleasant and inconvenient. Being confronted with sin in my life when I enter into worship, kneeling in humility and confessing my sin goes against the Law of Fun. Spending time with the people of God getting beyond the superficialities of life may also be a violation of the Law of Fun. Let’s always keep it light so as not to enrage Fun.

So, why would you do all of these things that, for the moment, are unpleasant? Because you walk by faith, not by fun. You are created to be a worshiper of God. God commands these things, not for our destruction, but for our good; for a more lasting, deeper, and abiding joy.

The smells of death at the Tabernacle from all the blood-letting begin to change. As the animal begins to be consumed in the flames of the altar, the smells, instead of repulsing you, begin to draw you to them. It is the smell of food that is nourishing and enjoyable. If this is a peace offering, then you, your family, the priest, and maybe some friends you’ve invited, take some of the meat along with some bread, and you all share a meal with God. The unpleasantries of your entrance have turned into the joy of communion. Mourning has turned to dancing. Unpleasantness has turned to true fun. It is a fun that can only be known when you worship by faith, trusting that God has your best interest at heart, and you persevere through the discomfort.

Calendar And Community

There was a time when time was not. God began to speak. The heavens and earth came into existence. The rhythms of life within the eternal Trinity began being imaged in the rhythms of the creation. Day one. Day two. Day three. Day four. Day five. Day six. Day seven. A steady, twenty-four hour rhythm turns into the rhythm of the week. The rhythm of weeks turn into the rhythms of months. The rhythms of months turn into rhythms of seasons. The rhythms of seasons turn into the rhythms of years. What started as a slow steady beat has turned into a symphony of layered rhythms; some consistent, some syncopated, but all moving the creation relentlessly forward.

In order to conduct this symphony, God put the sun, moon, and stars in the firmament-heaven. They separated the day from the night and were for signs and festival times. The heavenly lights were God’s authoritative clock to tell the world the time (Gen 1.14-19).

The world knowing the time wasn’t merely a point of information. These times would govern the rhythms of the entire creation. Creation was to stay in rhythm with God’s clock. Man himself as a part of creation was subject to these rhythms. 

Time is not something standing outside of man by which he measures the rhythms of creation. Time is a part of man, controlling waking and sleeping, eating patterns, hormone production, brain wave activity, and cell regeneration. We are creatures of time.

Being part of creation, time is an aspect of creation over which man as the image of God is to take dominion. In the old creation (the creation before Christ came), man in his childhood was given a schedule to keep. The sun, moon, and stars determined the calendar. When God separated Israel from the nations, he gave his young son a strict calendar to follow; daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and weeks of years. Israel would look to the sun, moon, and stars to learn what they were to be doing. 

However, when man matured he would not need a strict schedule set for him by his Father. The rhythms that he learned in childhood would inform the rhythms of his life, but he would have to create new rhythms in wisdom. In his childhood man learned (or should have learned) that time itself was to serve man in bringing the creation to God’s fullest purpose. God set up rhythms to bring man as individual and community into his presence. The calendar was one way in which God created community. As people shared rhythms of life, it drew them together. When the Sabbath was a regular, weekly convocation, the lives of the people were planned around it. When feasts were on the calendar, the lives of individuals and the community would have to adjust. Whatever the occasion, when the life of a group of people submitted to the same rhythms, it drew them together into community. 

Things have changed. The Sun of Righteousness has risen (Mal 4.2). He is the Ruler in the firmament-heaven and, therefore, the one who controls the calendar. But there is more. He has seated us with him in these heavenly places (Eph 1.20-22; 2.6) where we shine as stars (Phil 2.15). We, the heirs of Abraham, are now the stars in the firmament-heaven. We are all grown up in Christ. Our Father now let’s us determine the calendar. Having learned from our childhood, we know that we need rhythms. We can’t float along being pulled this way and that by those who would love to determine the direction of our lives by controlling our calendars. We understand that whatever sets the rhythms of our lives is moving us inevitably to be a certain type of people. So, we must take dominion of the calendar in our personal lives and as the church. We are to learn from the Scriptures what type of people we are to become and adjust our calendars to fit those rhythms that will move us there. 

As the catholic church we do this by sharing a calendar that is defined by the life of Christ. It is called the Church or Liturgical Calendar. All over the globe we identify ourselves with one another by the rhythms we share. Our shared time is a witness to the world that we are the church of Jesus Christ. 

Local churches also have calendars; calendars determined by the stars–the pastors–that Jesus holds in his right hand (Rev 1.6, 20). These calendars should be set so that the people of God have the opportunity to set the rhythm of life together in order to become what we ought to be as the church. We are not to be engaged in activity for activity’s sake. Our schedules as churches ought to be purposeful. Regular Lord’s Day worship is a given. It is the primary rhythm. But then there are other times of prayer, study, feasting, and serving the world outside the church that must also be incorporated. Pastors (and elders) have been given a stewardship of the household of God. Part of that stewardship in Christ is to set the rhythm for the church so that the church may move to maturity. 

The congregation has a responsibility as well. You are not to be asking, “What are the minimal requirements?” Because you are all grown up in Christ, you are to be asking, “What is the best for the church, for the kingdom, and for the world?” It is not always what is the most fun. Adjusting your calendar is a spiritual discipline, and discipline isn’t always fun. But it is the right thing to do. If we are going to be more than a Bible club that happens to have the Sacraments, if we are going to be the City of God with a full cultural life, then our calendars will not only reflect this, but they will shape us into that City.

Pentecost, Old And New

As Christians we understand the celebration of Pentecost as the time at which Jesus poured out his Spirit on the church. This, of course, is correct, but Pentecost was one of the three major Feasts on the Jewish calendar that was celebrated since the time of the giving of the Law. Pentecost itself was the Feast that corresponded with the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. Exodus 19.1 tells us that the children of Israel arrived at Sinai on the “third new moon after the people had gone out of Egypt” (i.e., the Passover). It was “on that day” that they came to Sinai and began preparations to receive the Law. Considering that Pentecost was fifty days after the Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread when the firstfruits sheaf was offered (got all that?), the chronology lining up the giving of the Law with Pentecost seems more than plausible. The Feast of Pentecost was, among other things, a commemoration of the giving of the Law at Sinai.

The correlations between the giving of the Law and the giving of the Spirit are quite informative in a number of ways. The giving of the Law and all of the imagery from the record of Scripture should be teased out in all of its glorious detail. However, it is the contrast between the two that is also a concern for the church. 

In a shocking move in Romans 6 and 7, Paul speaks of the Law and sin as doing many of the same things. Sin reigns (Rom 6.14). The Law reigns (Rom 7.1). We died to sin (Rom 6.2). We died to the Law (Rom 7.4). We are free from sin (Rom 6.7, 18, 22). We are free from the Law (Rom 7.6). Reading Paul one might think that the Law and the Sin were practically the same thing! Paul is aware of what he is saying and anticipates the question in Romans 7.7: “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin?” In sentences that follow he makes certain that those who hear this letter don’t equate the Law with sin. Sin uses the Law for nefarious purposes, but “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good” (Rom 7.12). 

While the Law is holy, it is not adequate to bring about freedom from the dominion of sin and death. What the Law did was not only to reinforce the death in the world created by sin, but sanction it as a divine arrangement. The Law exacerbated the death in the world by reinforcing and expanding the division set up by circumcision. This death was the division that the Law reinforced between Israel and the Gentiles. Humanity would continue to be ripped in half. Humanity would continue to live on in death ... and it was God’s Law that sanctioned this dominion of sin over mankind. This is at least an aspect of how the Law intensifies sin.

As long as the Law of God is in place, death rules. The Law anticipates life–resurrection from the dead–but the Law cannot give life. The Law, by its nature, can’t reunite the nations into one body because the Law is given to maintain the division.

But it was all a part of the divine scheme of grace. Where the sin abounded, grace did much more abound. God is using death as the means to deal with sin and ultimately bring resurrection. God takes the strongest weapons of the enemy and uses them for his own purposes. The Law that divinely codified death became the place sin would be dealt with so that resurrection and life for the world could come.

This is the contrast between old Pentecost and new Pentecost. Old Pentecost, while glorious, was a ministry of death (2Cor 3.6-7). New Pentecost is more glorious because it is a ministry of life. The Spirit poured out by the resurrected and ascended Christ unites the nations into one glorious body. He has made one body out of the two by abolishing the divisions created by the Law (Eph 2.14-15). While we may all be from different nations, speaking in different languages, we are one people of God in Christ Jesus.

The glories of the new Pentecost are proclaimed to the world when the church maintains the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4.2). The principalities and powers of the world are notified of the wisdom of God in this new world order through the church living out this unity (Eph 3.9-10). Pentecost is not merely another tick on the clock of the liturgical calendar. Pentecost is a calling, a calling to strive for the bond of peace in the family of Christ.

How Israel Got A New Husband

There are many ways to approach the telling of the story of Scripture. Various themes can be traced out from beginning to end that help you understand God and his relationship with his people. One theme that is prominent from the beginning to the end of Scripture is the theme of marriage. The Scriptures begin in a Garden with the Father providing his son a bride. The last chapters of Scripture end in a Garden-City with the bride of the Son coming down out of heaven. Everything in between contributes to the development of this relationship. The whole story of Scripture can be told from the perspective that God’s purpose was to create a bride for his Son whom his Son would glorify through the gift of the Spirit. 

This process of glorification for the bride takes a long and difficult road. The bride is not always faithful. Her betrothed must go to great trouble to deliver his bride in order to make her beautiful. One such place we see this is when the bride is in Egypt. God sent her down there to protect her and provide for her under Joseph. But eventually the bride started adopting the old ways of the Egyptians in whoring after her “husbands,” and YHWH gave them over to their oppression under Pharaoh. However, he delivered them. He brought them through the Sea and then to Sinai. At Sinai Israel became YHWH’s wife (cf. Jer 31.32; Ezek 16). YHWH entered a covenant with Israel. Their marriage was “under Law.”

Imagine the consternation of the Jews when Paul comes along and says, “You are no longer under Law.” This is tantamount to saying, “You Jews are no longer married to YHWH.” How can this be? Can YHWH forsake his covenant? Did he walk out on the marriage? If he did, how can he be trusted to be faithful? If he didn’t, then the gospel Paul is preaching is blasphemy. 

There is an explanation. Marriage covenants are binding as long as the husband lives. But if the husband dies, then the wife is no longer bound “by the law of the husband” (Rom 7.2-3). The marriage died “through the body of Christ.” That is, when Christ died, the husband died. Yes, that means that Christ Jesus is YHWH who was married to Israel at Sinai. He died so that the bride could be released from this marriage that kept her “under Law.” This “under Law” stage of life wasn’t the complete glorification of the bride. It wasn’t good for the bride to remain in this position. In order to move on to greater glorification, her marriage bound by the Law of Moses had to die. The husband willingly gave his life so that the bride, and therefore the marriage, could move to another state of glory. 

And it did. The husband didn’t forsake his bride. The one who died is also the one who is risen again so that Israel might be married to the resurrected Christ Jesus, sharing in his glory. That old marriage was always bound to end in death. Death is all that the old marriage could ultimately produce (Rom 7.5). That was its aim. It was a ministry of death (2Cor 3.7). It was a necessary death, but it was death nevertheless.

God’s intention for marriage was fruitful life. This could only be realized through death and resurrection into a new condition of marriage. Israel is now free to marry the resurrected Christ so that they might bear this fruit unto God. The marriage that Christ has now with his people is the marriage that God the Father intended for his Son all along.

This marriage is a mission, a mission to bear holy fruit. This holy fruit is produced by the Holy Spirit given to us and is evident in our relationships with one another as love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Where these are evident, the marriage is being fruitful. 

But our holy fruit is not limited to what we might think of as attitudes toward one another (though the fruit of the Spirit is not limited to attitudes either). The fruit of our bodies whether through reproduction or labor is also included in this holy fruit. Our marriages are under the lordship of Jesus. Whatever comes from our marriages, including children, belong to Jesus. Our children are holy fruit (cf. e.g., 1Cor 7.14). The product of our labor throughout the week is holy fruit. All of it is for the continued glorification of the marriage of Jesus and the church; it is fruit that is produced that will be handed over to the Father so that he might enjoy it in communion with us (cf. 1Cor 15.20-28). 

We have been called to cultivate this holy fruit. This is the purpose and promise of our relationship with Christ Jesus. Being united to the resurrected, never-to-die-again Christ, we labor with the confidence that our labor will be fruitful. It is not in vain (1Cor 15.58).

Free Slaves

Freedom is something of a slippery subject. In our Western culture freedom tends to be understood as autonomy. I am the master of my fate and may choose what is right and wrong on the journey. Freedom, for many, is the ability to follow any impulse I have without constraint. If I want to marry an animal, I ought to be able to do so. That is freedom. If I am free, how does anyone have any right to tell me what to do?

Though we have not fully enslaved ourselves to this understanding of freedom in our culture (there is still law and order), without a proper foundation for understanding freedom, lawmakers and judges will eventually have very little reason to restrict any activity men can conjure up. Judgments will be consistently challenged based on the understanding the freedom means autonomy.

Freedom as autonomy doesn’t exist. We are all slaves. The world has two kingdoms at war within it with no de-militarized zones between them. Every person on earth is a slave in one of these two kingdoms and does the will of the masters of these kingdoms. Those who believe that they are autonomous are self-deceived slaves to sin. Their obedience to sin reveals their slavery. They are willfully obedient, but they are obedient slaves.

Freedom is not autonomy. Freedom is the removal of constraints that keep me from being what I was created to be: a slave of righteousness; a willful, obedient slave of righteousness. God created us as his image to be growing up more and more into his likeness. We are created to be righteous and holy like our Creator. When we live in this way, we are truly free. Sin is the shackles that bind us, keeping us from serving our true master. It is only when we obey the commands of King Jesus that we are free. Jesus’ commands don’t stifle freedom. They are the grace that he gives us for a life of freedom.

So, how do you know if you are free? Well, where do your loyalties lie? The master you obey determines whether or not you are truly free. If you obey sin, rejecting Jesus’ lordship over your life, refusing to obey his commands, then you are a slave to sin and, thus, in chains. If you adopt Sin’s ways of thinking and living, then Sin is your master. It matters not what you say or that you wish things could be different for you. Your obedience reveals your allegiance. If you are not fighting Sin with King Jesus, then you are Sin’s slave. 

Being a slave of King Jesus and being truly free doesn’t mean that you are sinless. But it does mean that you have taken his attitude about your sin. You think the same way about your sin as he does, and you fight sin the way he fights it. When you do sin, instead of excusing it, you confess and repent of it. You don’t give yourself over to it. It is always trying to gain lordship over you, but you are waging war against it.

If your loyalty lies with King Jesus, you obey his commands. When Jesus says that we are love one another as he loved us (Jn 13.34-35), you pursue that. When Jesus says you pursue peace, you do that. When Jesus says that you forgive, you do that. When Jesus says that you serve others, you do that. When Jesus says that you take up your cross and follow him, you do that. When Jesus says, “Love your wife,” you do that. When Jesus says, “Respect your husband,” you do that. When Jesus says, “Obey your parents,” you do that. When Jesus says, “Be holy,” you pursue that. When Jesus says, “Obey those who have rule over you,” you do that. When you do these things and whatever else Jesus says (revealed in Scripture), then it is revealed that your loyalty lies with him and not with Sin.

So, whose slave are you?

Fighting Sin

“Do not allow sin to reign in your mortal bodies....” (Rom 6.12) Paul writes to the church in Rome assuming that they have a choice in the matter. They do. He has already told them of their new position accomplished through baptism into Christ whereby they were transferred out of that old Adamic kingdom of sin-and-death and into the kingdom of righteousness-and-life. For this reason, if they find themselves being mastered by sin, they need to know that it is because they have chosen to be mastered by sin.

Sin reigning in our mortal bodies is different from sinning. Sin reigning means that you have pledged your allegiance to sin, adopting it as a way of life. You have yielded the members of your mortal bodies to sin to fight against righteousness (Rom 6.13). Instead of taking up arms against sin, battling it and overcoming it, you have yielded to it and become a subject again in its kingdom. The Christian still sins, but he is confessing and repenting of it along the way. He refuses to accept sin as the proper way of thinking or living. The Christian lives by faith, believing the truth of God over the lies of sin, and he seeks to have his life conformed to that truth. The Christian who does this is living under the reign of righteousness.

But, I’m sure, you have a good reason as to why sin is reigning in you. The Holy Spirit, when he inspired Paul, wasn’t thinking about your situation. If he only knew what you had been through as a child. If he only knew of your addictive personality. If he only knew how other people treated you. Yes, I’m sure if the Holy Spirit knew your situation he might adjust the Scriptures to make some allowances for sin to reign in your mortal body. This command can’t apply to you carte blanche. If it does, that means that there is no real justification for you to continue to adopt a way of thinking and living that embraces deviant sexual behavior, unforgiveness, bitterness, malice, deceit, outbursts of anger, enmity, covetousness, drunkenness, and envy as “just the way you are.”

There isn’t any justification for you or for me.

This isn’t being overly simplistic or naive. The Holy Spirit who inspired Paul realizes that dealing with sin is difficult. There are some sins in which we are enslaved at points in our lives from which it is difficult to be freed. No one said this would be easy. What is being said is that you have to fight. You can’t resign yourself to this being “just the way you are.” It is not who you are. Sin is not your king, and if you submit to sin as king you are being a traitor to your true King.

The difficulty of dealing with sin should not be confused with being complicated. While you need the counsel and encouragement of others, you don’t need a Ph D to deal with reigning sin. Some of us Christians have made this overly complicated to the point that all of the reasons we have problems with this or that sin become excuses to remain under sin’s power. We have resigned our thinking to the dominion of sin, as if its power hasn’t really been broken over our lives. That is just the opposite of what Paul is saying here. You have a choice.

It won’t be easy. You will have to resign yourself to the fact that this is going to be a fight for the rest of your life. When this sin over here is beaten back for a while, another one is going to sprout up like a bad weed. Faith in Christ fights the sin, refusing to adopt sin’s ways as the proper way of thinking and living. Faith in Christ lays hold of all the graces God has provided in his church to strengthen the body in its fight against sin. Faith disciplines the mortal body by establishing and continuing to pursue righteous habits. Faith cuts sin off quickly through confession and repentance as many times a day as it is needed. Faith clings to what God has said about us in Christ; especially the fact that we are a part of his kingdom in which this culture of sin doesn’t define who we are.

Christian, take up the weapons of faith and fight!

Who Are You?

Who are you? Whether you realize it or not, whether for good or for ill, you have been told who you are all of your life, and you have grown up into that identity. Being given an identity, defined by others, is not evil in itself. It is part of being a creature. We are made in the image of God, and, from the beginning, we have been told who we are. As image-bearing creatures and procreators, we define the lives of our children, and we have been defined as children by our parents. We have been taught our identity, and we have grown up into it.

Sin sees an opportunity with this created order and seizes upon it. Sin knows that if it can determined the answer to the question, “Who are you?” then it can control your life. If sin can damage you through abuse as a child, it will. Furthermore, sin will take those horrible instances and tell you for the rest of your life that you are a victim, you can never have a good relationship with anyone, you must always protect yourself from being hurt again, and you must look for love in all the wrong ways. You answer the question, “Who am I?” with “the victim of abuse,” and from that point on, you relate to everyone around you in terms of your victimhood.

You were reared in a certain type of family, a family characterized by anger and violence. You have been taught all of your life that, as a part of this family, this is the way we relate to people that treat us this way. You are catechized by word and culture to answer the question, “Who am I?” with “I’m an angry and violent person.”

The world plays on this with you. Do you want to answer the question, “Who am I?” with “a wealthy person,” “a popular person,” or “a good-looking person?” Well, they have the product or gimmick that will help you get there ... for a price.  

The same is true with positive qualities as well. If you grow up in a family culture that is hospitable, loving others, and serving others, you answer the question, “Who am I?” with “I am a hospitable, loving person.”

If you think about it a bit, you’ll realize that this is true. You have been defined, and you have accepted some definitions about yourself. What we are called to do is to examine those definitions in terms of what God has said about us. 

Paul tells the Roman church, “Reckon yourselves on the one hand to be dead to sin and on the other hand alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6.11) If you read the entire chapter up to this point, you’ll discover that Paul has told them that they have died and risen with Christ in baptism. The “reckoning” that they are supposed to do doesn’t make their baptism effective. Their reckoning recognizes what God has already said is true about them. Reckoning themselves dead to sin and alive to God is acknowledging the reality of God’s word concerning each of them in their baptism.

The reality is that our old existence in the first Adam and the Kingdom of Sin-and-Death set up through his sin is over. Gone. Finished. It doesn’t linger around in us as our “dark side.” We have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Col 1.13). Just as Jesus died to sin once, so we die to sin once. That dominion has been broken over us.

This doesn’t mean that we no longer struggle with sin. However, it does mean that we are not defined by sin’s kingship over our lives. We can’t keep believing the lie that sin somehow still retains mastery over us; that it is simply who we are. It isn’t.

Sadly, even in good Christian churches, Christians will hear Sunday after Sunday that they are nothing but sinners who just happen to have a ticket to get out of hell. But really you are still only a sinner. That is your fundamental identity. And we believe it. We believe, not just that we sin (because we will always struggle with sin), but that we are mastered by it. And this gives us the excuse to keep on living the way we are living only to come to grovel and wallow in the presence of God on Sunday again and again.

Don’t get me wrong. We need God’s mercy on a moment-by-moment basis. We need forgiveness daily. But God tells us to stop living as if sin is what tells you who you are. You are a Christian. You have died and risen with Christ, and sin will not have dominion over you. No, you are not defined as a “victim.” No, you are not fundamentally an “angry and violent person.” No, you are not a drunkard. No, you are not under the mastery of sexual immorality. No, this is not “just who I am.” No. No. No. 

You must start seeing yourself for who you really are. Who you really are is what God says about you in Christ. Accepting this is faith. It is a faith that doesn’t rest on emotional experience or whether or not you got a formula just right. It rests on God’s Word, the Word that created the heavens and the earth and continues to sustain them. It is more real than anything you can see, feel, touch, smell, or taste. He says that you belong to him. He says you are no longer under the dominion of sin but in the Kingdom of Righteousness-and-Life. Believe him.

This is where your life begins to take a new direction. This is where you are transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Look To Your Baptism

If you had to talk to another Christian about some sin in his life and the fact that he is presuming upon God’s grace, where would you begin the discussion? Go ahead, think about it. I’ll give you a minute.... 

Some might begin by questioning the salvation of the person. The question might be, “Has there ever been a time in your life when you prayed the sinner’s prayer and asked Jesus into your heart?” Others might not go that far, but may appeal to the person on the basis that he knows this isn’t the right thing to do. In our Protestant, evangelical world (which is the world in which I live) we will, normally, appeal to almost anything except what the apostle Paul appeals to in Romans 6: baptism. 

For Baptists, if the person isn’t living right, that might mean that he “didn’t get his baptism on the right side of his conversion.” Consequently, his baptism didn’t mean anything. To appeal to his baptism would be useless because it was just an empty, external rite. For the Reformed, well, we’re too busy all the time telling you what baptism doesn’t mean. “Baptism doesn’t mean you’re saved.” “Baptism certainly doesn’t mean this, and baptism most certainly doesn’t mean that.” By the time some of our brothers are finished telling us what baptism doesn’t mean, we start wondering why God is wasting our time with it!

We Protestants are a little afraid of water. We’re afraid that if we speak like Paul in Romans 6 that we will be misunderstood. His language is too strong and absolute. “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we are buried with him in the baptism into the death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, even so we also might walk in newness of life.” No qualifications. No, “If you got your baptism on the right side of your conversion” talk. No, “Well, you know baptism can’t mean that.” Baptism is participation in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Period. Full stop. No way to get out of it. Baptism changes you. 

Some have tried to wriggle out of this language by saying that Paul is referring to some invisible inner work of the Spirit on the hearts of individuals. Paul is only speaking to those who have really been baptized; wink, wink, nod, nod. There are many problems with that. Paul has never met these people. He is writing based on what he actually knows about them and what they know about one another: they have all been baptized ... with water. They don’t know everything that is going on in the hearts of one another. But he and they both know that they have all been baptized ... with water. His appeal to them is to live in accordance with what has happened in this baptism.

Your baptism has meaning. It doesn’t matter what you were feeling or not feeling at the time. It doesn’t matter if you were an infant, a teenager, or an adult. Your baptism means that you have become a part of Christ’s people. And it means that because God gives it that meaning. You don’t give baptism meaning. Baptism is not yours to give meaning. You receive it from God. It is his work, not your work or even the work of the person who baptized you.

Because of this you can’t blow off your baptism by making it dependent on the meaning you give it. God re-defined your life in your baptism. You have obligations. The first, foremost, and fundamental obligation is that you respond to the gift of God with allegiance to Christ Jesus; that is, biblical faith. He is your Lord. Do what he says. If you don’t, the consequences are bad and everlasting. We should handle the gift of baptism with great caution. Don’t presume upon God’s grace. 

But there is a flip-side to this. God defining you by baptism is also a great comfort. Baptism is God’s word to you in water. You belong to him. It is not dependent upon how you felt at the time or if you did this or that “just right.” Your heart will constantly be deceiving you, calling into question the promises of God in your relationship with him. Your guilt over confessed sin will keep you guessing if you really have a relationship with God. Baptism tells you, “You belong to God in Christ. Now trust him and continue to fight to overcome sin.” That is basically the message of Romans 6. That is God’s word to you.

Will we be misunderstood if we take the trek of the apostle Paul and appeal to someone’s baptism for caution and comfort? No doubt. But should we neglect the Scriptural appeal to baptism and replace it with our own conjured up traditions of men out of fear? By not means!

Look to your baptism, and hear God’s word to you.

The Clash Of The Kingdoms

God created man to rule. One of the principal commands given to man was the fact that he was to take dominion over the earth. Man was to take this world that God gave him and create a kingdom. Everything from the interiority of man’s individual life to the structures that govern societies was to be ordered under the lordship of our Creator. There was to be a deliberate, conscious acknowledgment of God’s authority over all of life. 

God granted the man the authority to establish and grow this kingdom. However, the man established a different sort of kingdom. Instead of a kingdom that would grow in righteousness throughout the world, man yielded his authority to the serpent and, with him, to Sin and Death. Sin-and-Death ruled the kingdom of the world. Paul speaks like this in Romans 5 and 6. The problem in the world is not just a little moral straying here and there. We are not merely fighting bad habits. There is an entrenched, ruling culture, a whole system of principalities and powers, under whose lordship we are born. Our hearts as well as our societal structures are all under its dominion. Our battle with Sin-and-Death is bigger than many of us may realize. 

What man needs–what the entire created order needs–are not just a few adjustments here-and-there to get it back on track. The created order needs the destruction of this kingdom, which is nothing less than the remaking of the world as it was created under Adam’s rule. 

The reign of Sin-and-Death must be broken. But how? Another Adam. There must be a man appointed by God the Father to take the vocation of Adam. That man is Jesus Christ. He is the second and last Adam, the new and faithful lord of the creation.

The remaking of the world is not an easy task. What was done in the first Adam must be undone in the last Adam before the kingdom of God can be established in the world. The second Adam must deal with the powers of Sin-and-Death and defeat them. As the last Adam, Jesus submitted to the powers of Sin-and-Death at the cross, representing the whole creation. When he died the world died. Death of this sort brings an end to the reign of Sin-and-Death. If the world is completely dead over which they rule, there is nothing left to rule. 

In Christ the kingdom of Sin-and-Death has come to an end. But the death of the old kingdom is not the end of the story. Adam was to govern a kingdom to maturity. If Jesus is the last Adam, then this is what he must do as well. But how can he do that if he is dead? He can’t. That’s why God established him as the true Adam when he raised him from the dead. He gave him all authority in heaven and earth, establishing him as Lord over all creation in order to see this kingdom project to completion.

All of this affects us where we live in our day-to-day existence. Paul tells us in Romans 6 that, through our baptism, we have died and risen with Christ. That means that we no longer live in the kingdom of Sin-and-Death. That is not our culture, and Sin is not our Lord. Because we are in Christ that kingdom doesn’t have dominion over us. We are a part of the kingdom that he has established. As such, we are to be assimilating into the “Christ kingdom-culture,” which means not living as if we are still in the kingdom of Sin-and-Death.

Continuing to live dominated by sin is a rejection of your new citizenship. It is as if you have been delivered from the cruel tyranny of North Korean communism into a place of freedom, but you are still desiring and living as if you are in North Korea! Or, in the biblical story, it is as if you have been delivered from Egypt but you continue to live as if you are still there. Grace delivers you from these things. Grace is not a validation of the culture of Sin-and-Death.

The resurrection of Jesus and your participation in it through baptism means that you should be living consciously and deliberately under the lordship of Jesus. And not only you, but also the entirety of the society he created: the church. There is no excuse for our churches to live dominated by sinful divisions that come from our pride, anger, and malice. That is not the culture of the kingdom in which we live. Whenever we live like that we are rejecting our citizenship and acting as if we are still a part of the old Adamic kingdom. While we celebrate Easter we are denying the power of the resurrection.

Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies or in the body of Christ. Sin shall not have dominion over you.

Fighting The Fires Of Lust

God created us as sexual beings. Each sex, male and female, is created to desire deep intimacy with the opposite sex. Our sexual drives and the resulting intercourse between the man and woman in the bonds of marriage are God’s good gifts. They are not to be despised. Without these sexual relations the mandate that God gave the first man and woman can’t be realized. Being “fruitful and multiplying” requires that both the man and the woman desire sexual intimacy with one another. Within the context of a loving marriage, sexual relations at every level, from flirting to intercourse, are beautiful. God wants us to enjoy the goodness of his sexual gifts.

However, sin, as it does with all of God’s gifts, perverts our sexual desires so that they become lust. Lust is the idolization of sexual desires. God’s creation becomes that to which we look to find the life that only he ultimately gives. When sexual desire is idolized, the beauty of God’s gift is turned into a hideous creature that consumes its worshipers.

You don’t have to look very far in our world to see just how much we are consumed in the sacrificial fires of lust. Perverted sexual fantasies are just a click or “swipe right” away. If you don’t like the messiness of dealing with a human that has real needs, there are sex toys, virtual reality, and even robots that are designed for your sexual gratification. The fires burn. The more these offerings are offered to appease, the greater the fire. The worshiper is left empty and the fires unquenched. This god will not be satisfied until the worshiper himself is completely consumed in death.

The church not only lives in the culture but has, in many ways, adopted this culture. Comparing the statistics between those who are part of the church (it matters not which denomination) and those outside the church, you find that they are practically mirror images of one another. The church only lags behind a few percentage points. Many (so-called) churches have just given up the fight altogether, adopted sinful sexual practices as “normal,” and, thus, have entered into the temple of Lust. The sin nowadays in some churches is denying your deviant sexual desires as deviant. Denying yourself ... well ... that just can’t be the Christian thing to do ... no matter what Jesus said.

We who desire to stay faithful have an uphill battle that we must fight within and without. It is constant and unrelenting. Chastity is not easy, nor is it always fun. It is a discipline. As you practice the discipline of chastity, you are developing a love for sexual purity. Disciplines shape what we love. The more you discipline yourself in an area of your life, the more you begin to love what you are doing. The discipline of chastity helps develop a love for purity. This is vital discipline. The person who doesn’t practice chastity is in danger of hell (cf. Mt 5.27-30; 1Cor 6.9-10; Gal 5.19-21; et al.). Lust is inconsistent with the life of God, and those consumed with it cannot participate in his life.

There are no easy three-step solutions to dealing once-for-all with the sin of lust. As mentioned, chastity is a life-long discipline that must be exercised every day. There are a few necessary weapons that we must wield at times in the war on lust. First, there is the weapon of flight. We are told numerous time in Scripture to “flee” from sin (cf. e.g., 1Cor 6.18; 10.14; 1Tm 6.11; 2Tm 2.22). If you find yourself in a compromising situation, run. Get out of there.

Another weapon we have is to fight. We fight by fleeing, but we also fight by pursuing righteousness. We need to busy ourselves with the dwelling upon and pursuing what is good so that there is less time to pursue what is evil. Develop a desire for the beautiful and the ugly won’t seem as appealing. 

Last, there is the weapon of fright. Be scared. Sexual sin is frightening at many levels. Being consumed with lust desensitizes you over time so that you can never be satisfied with any normal sexual relations. There is also the possibility of disease with multiple partners. But most of all we must fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Be afraid of the judgment of God. This fear is the beginning of wisdom in your sexual life. 

This fight is not easy, but it is a fight that we must and we can win. Stay faithful.

Food Fight

God created man hungry. Among the first words spoken to the freshly created man and woman were, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food” (Ge 1.29). Hunger and the satisfaction of it are God-given gifts to man in his sinless condition, not results of the fall. Man’s hunger is a constant reminder that he is a creature whose day-to-day existence is dependent upon the grace of God. God made us hungry and wants us to eat good food and lots of it. In fact, food is central to our worship of God. Whether we are talking about the fruit of the Tree of Life in the Garden, the daily offerings in the Tabernacle and Temple, the Feasts of Israel, or the Lord’s Supper, God has always called us to a table to eat in his presence in order to enjoy communion with him. God wants us to enjoy good food in abundance. Our hunger and his provision to satisfy it our his gifts to us. 

Hunger and food aren’t problems. Hunger is not to be considered a human weakness that we must overcome, and food is not to be seen as an evil that must be avoided. God has not called us to “rise above” the necessity of food. Those who condemn food (whether our need for it or certain types of food) are teaching the doctrine of demons (1Tm 4.1-3). All foods are good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. God sanctified all foods by his declaration in creation that everything he made was good, and all foods are sanctified to us when we receive it in prayer (1Tm 4.4-5). 

As with all other good gifts from God, sin twists our hunger and God’s provision of food so that they are turned into idols. We begin to allow our cravings to control us. They give us commands and we obey. When this happens our hunger has replaced God himself in our lives. This is the sin of gluttony. 

Gluttony is the sin of being obsessed with food. Gluttony is the idolization of food; that is, believing that it is food itself that will give you the life you crave. The glutton is the obese man who is constantly gorging himself with food. He is never satisfied. He may be full, but he can’t stop. The food is killing him because of his over-indulgence, but it doesn’t matter to him. He continues to eat what he wants, when he wants, and how much he wants. He cares not for the future consequences only the present pleasure. He doesn’t care that his lack of self-control is not only hurting him but hurting those who love him; whether through watching him kill himself over the long-term or putting undue burdens on his family (financially and otherwise) because he doesn’t want to push away from the table. The glutton’s consumption of food reveals his own self-consumption. Nobody else in the world matters. He and his cravings are all that matter.

While the common picture of the glutton is indeed an accurate picture of the sin of gluttony, it is certainly not the only picture of gluttony. Gluttony is obsessed with food. That obsession can take the form of quantity, but it can also take the form of quality. There are people who are controlled by fear of food. Of course, sometimes there are medical reasons to avoid certain foods. That’s understandable. But there are some who constantly worried about their waistlines to the point that can never enjoy God’s gifts. They will consider a piece of chocolate cake as a moral evil. People will say things like “I was so bad today” when they eat something not approved by the bishops of health in our society. In the extreme this obsession with food leads to anorexia, bulimia, and being consumed with exercise. This type of glutton is looking for his salvation through food as much as the obese man. “If I just eat all the approved foods, then I should be in perfect health.” But it never happens. 

Food is not our savior, but our Savior is food. The only way the glutton can be delivered from his sin is at a Table; a Table where he learns that the eternal Son became food for us so that we could be truly satisfied. In his grace he doesn’t call the glutton to forsake food, but he teaches him that his cravings can only be satisfied by first feasting on Christ’s body and blood. At this Table Christ teaches us how to eat properly. We learn that our salvation is in Christ alone, that we are to be concerned for others around us in our consumption of food, and that we need not fear food. Learn to eat at Christ’s Table and you will be freed from the enslavement of gluttony.

Come, taste and see that the Lord is good!

Filling The Hollow Eyes Of Greed

God created us to possess. He wants us to have things, and he wants us to want things. The first words to man in history had to do with his possession of the entire earth. In his Law God protects each person’s possessions with sanctions against stealing or even damaging things borrowed. God made men like Abraham and Solomon very wealthy. He gave the riches of Egypt to his people on their way out. God promised his people that they would possess the land of Canaan and, eventually, each man would dwell under his vine and under his fig tree (cf. 1Kg 4.25). Our God is far from being a God who wants us to dwell in eternal poverty. He has promised us, the seed of Abraham, the entire world as our inheritance (cf. Rom 4.13).

To desire to possess is a God-given, God-imaging quality. But as with other righteous desires, the sin that dwells in us takes the God given desire to possess and distorts it. The resultant perverted love is Greed. Greed is a thirst to possess, but it is an insatiable thirst. Greed is never satisfied. It has hollow eyes that are never filled. It is a fire that is fed by possessions, consuming everything it takes in without ever dousing the flames into a state of contentment.

Greed is possessed by possessing. Greed has idolized the creation (Col 3.5). It seeks life from the creation apart from the Creator, continually spiraling into greater and greater death. “Surely this next thing I lay hold of will satisfy me.” Greed runs from gadget to gadget, name brand to name brand, in order to find contentment. However, when it has a firm grasp on that thing, it somehow finds its hand and heart still empty. These things in themselves can never satisfy. 

Greed has one hand that holds tightly and another hand that is prodigal. These hands work in concert with one another in the mission of Greed. The tight-fisted miser won’t let go of anything, afraid that if he is generous he will lose his security. He is the Ebenezer Scrooge that sits at his table and constantly counts his money to make certain it is all there, shutting other people out of his life, suspicious that they will want something from him. He may live with great food and drink in a lovely house, but it is a banquet in hell for he is lonely, refusing to share his life with anyone. 

The prodigal hand of Greed is not only loose-fisted with what he has, he is willing to take and borrow in order to satisfy his cravings. He is the American with the credit card going to the mall to buy things to fill his hollow heart. He buries himself in debt but remains discontent. The prodigal will spend all that he has on parties and possessions, yet his hunger is never sated. 

Greed can never be satisfied. If it could, Greed would be fighting against itself and its mission. A house divided cannot stand. The mission of Greed is to starve us to death. 

As believers we are called to mortify this sin in our bodies. We are to take up weapons against it and continue to fight it, putting it to death on a daily basis. One of the weapons we use against this enemy of Greed is disciplined mercy. As a desire, Greed can be overwhelming, consuming our thoughts, driving us to consume more. To fight this desire we must purpose to show mercy to others with our possessions. Greed may kick and scream within us. That’s good. You’re doing something right when it does. Loosening the tight fist of Greed in sharing with others is a weapon against the monster. Redirecting our prodigality away from seeking things to consume only upon ourselves and being generous toward others will beat back the enemy.

Another weapon against our enemy of Greed is contentment. Contentment is the ability to say, “Thank you. I have enough.” Contentment can relax and enjoy what one has. Can you sit at the end of a day without your mind racing in anxiety, being frustrated, or being depressed concerning what you don’t possess? If you can, then you are content. Contentment is learned through the discipline of giving thanks in all the situations of your life. You receive what God has given you, and you can be satisfied. You may still aspire to have more, but at this time you are happy with your station in life. Contentment is freedom. While Greed promises great gain, godliness with contentment is great gain (1Tim 6.6).

Let us then be vigilant daily to guard our hearts from this deadly enemy of Greed by cultivating mercy and contentment.