Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Do My Actions Matter?

God 'will give to each person according to what he has done.' To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil… but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good...
Romans 2:6-10

“If I am saved by grace and not by being an especially good or deserving person, and if God loves me no matter what; then does what I do matter?”

Over the last year or so I have noticed an increase in confusion over this topic. It seems that nowadays it is not very hip to proclaim Leviticus 11:44 “Be holy because I am holy.” It is not hip to say that we as Christians are called to abstain from every kind of evil and to be holy and blameless before our God. In fact, right now as you read this, you may be thinking "But Leviticus 11:44 is an Old Testament scripture. We are under grace not under the law now, and we do not have to be nor can we be holy." Well, it is an Old Testament passage, but it is repeated two other times in the book of Leviticus alone, and is quoted in the New Testament in I Peter 1:15-16.

So how are we to understand this? Romans 2:4 says that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. This means that once we become Christians, by God’s grace not by our actions, we ought to be so thankful and amazed by God’s grace that we are motivated to repent of our sinful ways and are spurred on to do good deeds for the Lord. But it is also about the fact that the Bible teaches consistently that our actions have consequences. We see this every day in an earthly sense. We all know friends who got pregnant because of premarital sex, or who carry a burden of shame because of the same. Or we know friends who were killed in car accidents because of drunk driving. The list goes on.

We see this in an earthly sense, but the Bible also teaches it in a heavenly sense. Galatians 6:7-10 says that you reap what you sow, and that if you sow to the flesh you reap destruction but if you sow to the Spirit you reap eternal life. Notice that eternal life is a spiritual, heavenly gift. Also check out Matthew 6:1-24. See what Jesus has to say about laying up treasure in heaven.

I am not trying to tell you that God’s love is dependent on your actions. His love is far too amazing for that. But your actions do have earthly and heavenly consequences. I encourage you to be bold and courageous in separating yourself from sin. Pursue the Lord with your whole heart and you will receive your reward. Flee from sin in your life, put it away from you. And I don’t just mean "sex, drugs and rock and roll"; I also mean the more private sins that no one knows about but you. Put away pride and gossip, contention and strife, put away deceit and envy, put away trusting in things other than the Lord (idol worship). Seek God with your whole heart and you will receive your reward.

For further reading this week…
   -  Matthew 6:1-24: Do good in secret and the Lord will reward you.
   -  Galatians 6:7-10: You reap what you sow.
   -  Deuteronomy 30:11-20: Life or death decision.
   -  Psalm 62: Notice how David finds comfort in the fact that
      God ultimately repays everyone according to what they have done.
      (Especially vs. 12 which Paul may be quoting in Romans 2:6.)   

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How to Live in a World Stained by Sin

Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.
Romans 1:32-2:1

Not long after my wife and I were married we had a laundry mishap. We thought it safe to wash a blue t-shirt of mine with my whites because it had been washed before, or so we thought. Needless to say, all of my white t-shirts and socks came out of the wash a sort of light blue gray. They weren't really very usefull to me after that. Our world is kind of like that load of laundry. Sin has been thrown in the mix and now everything is colored by it. Nothing in this world has remained untouched by the stain of sin. Yet, Scripture says that we are to live holy lives, lives that are unstained and pure white. How do we do that? How do we live as Christians in a world that is so stained by sin? This passage offers three pieces of advice.

First, we are commanded to stop living the way we used to live before we met Jesus. There ought to be a noticeable difference between us and the rest of the world. It's not just that the blood of Jesus has removed our stain; it is also that he has changed our hearts. As people with new hearts, we ought to live differently. 1 Peter 2:11 puts it this way, "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul." We are called to live lives that are completely foreign to the world we used to feel so comfortable in.

Second, this passage tells us clearly that we shouldn't approve of sin. Other versions of the Bible interpret this as "take pleasure in" instead of "approve," which I think is a helpful distinction. I fear that sometimes as Christians we allow the devil to convince us that we are really missing out on all the fun things everyone else is doing. We find ourselves living vicariously through the sin of others. We listen to their recounting of their behavior and salivate at every juicy detail. This is a betrayal of our new nature in Christ. Obviously, we are not supposed to remain in a little Christian bubble all the time and never spend time with non-believers. Christ did not do this. He ate with sinners and prostitutes all the time (Mark 2:13-17). But we need to be careful not to approve of, encourage or revel in other people's sin.

Third, it is clear also that we should not judge other people. Paul says that, "at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things." We are just as guilty of sin as anyone else is. Paul goes on to tell the Jews that they teach God's law but do not practice it. They teach others not to commit adultery, then they commit adultery. They teach others not to steal, then they steal. It is the same with us. We have all fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), so we cannot judge. Only our righteous God can.   

So what does this leave us with? Well we must avoid sin because it is not glorifying to God. We have been cleansed from the stain of sin and are called to live lives in keeping with our new found purity. And while it is not our job to judge others, we are also called not to take pleasure in their sin. This balance between not judging and not approving is hard to find. Many people will accuse you of judging if you don't actively approve of their behavior, while others feel the need to verbally disapprove of everything. It is a delicate balance. May God give you wisdom. Look to Christ as your example.

For further reading...
   - Matthew 7:1-6 & 15-20: See if you can find the balance between not
      judging and "knowing them by their fruit."
   - I Peter 1:13-21, 2:11-12 & Hebrews 11:13-16: Aliens & Strangers.
   - I Samuel 2:12-17, 22-36, & 4:12-18: See how Eli's approval and eventual
      participation in his son's sins led to the demise of the priestly line of

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Romans 1:26-32

I never thought I would refer to the rapper Eminem to illustrate a truth presented in God's Word, but his song "Careful What You Wish For" (curse words aside) actually communicates the truth of this passage fairly well. The song talks about the unforeseen consequences of fame and the toll that they have taken on the rapper.

This is what I wished for
Just isn't how I envisioned it
Fame to the point of imprisonment
I just thought [that it'd] be different...

And eight years later, I'm still at it
Divorced, re-married
A felon
A father
Sleeping pill addict...

So be careful what you wish for
Cause you just might get it 

Eminem's song and Paul's message above share the same theme: unforeseen consequences. Eminem is talking about the unforeseen consequences of fame and how they have made his life difficult. Paul is explaining the devastating effect the unforeseen consequences of sin have had both on the world as a whole and on individuals.  

Remember, Paul has just explained that humanity has rejected God. We chose sin and refused to believe the truth. We thought we knew better than God, so we abandoned His way and went about living life our own way. Note what God's response is. Does he rain down fire from heaven or strike us all with a deadly illness? No. He simply "gives us over" to the sin we so desired. God punishes us by allowing us to get exactly what we wanted.

Look at the world around you. It is the product of our sin. Paul attributes evil, greed, envy, murder, strife, and even homosexual behavior to the "depraved mind" that we have cultivated. God has given us over to our shame and has allowed us to bear the punishment of our own works. In Paul's letter to the Galatians he puts it this way, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life."

Be careful what seeds you sow. Satan will try to convince you that all manner of sin will bring you happiness: lust, drugs, stealing, lying, etc... But these will no more bring you happiness than planting apple seeds will bring you an orange tree. Trust the Lord. His way leads to life and joy. As much as you may be tempted to believe that you know a better way, trust me when I say that you don't. God's way is perfect.

For further reading this week:
   - Galatians 6:6-10 The law of sowing and reaping.
   - Romans 6:20-23 The wages of sin is death.
   - II Samuel 11-12:2315-18 Read how King David's sin cost him much
     more than he bargained for.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Worst Trade Ever!?

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Romans 1:21-25

In 1919 Babe Ruth, who was playing for the Boston Red Sox, set the single season home run record with 29 home runs. After that season Ruth went to Red Sox owner Harry Frazee and vowed not to play until his salary was doubled to $20,000. Frazee refused to give Ruth the pay raise and instead traded him to the New York Yankees for $125,000 in cash and three $25,000 dollar notes payable at 6% interest annually. In his first season with the Yankees, Ruth nearly doubled the home run record he had set the year before hitting 54 home runs. Only one major league baseball team hit more home runs than Ruth did by himself that year. The very next year, Ruth broke his home run record for the third straight season hitting 59 home runs and batting .378. For these and other reasons, many people believe that the Boston Red Sox made the worst trade ever, but I disagree.

You and I make a worse trade every time we choose sin over God. Satan is like a salesman pushing one bad deal after another. Every time we fall for one of his schemes we trade God's best for Satan's lie. And every time we get less joy and more pain than Satan promised us (Rom. 6:23). The Bible says that our enemy is the Father of lies (John 8:44). Deceit has always been his favorite weapon. Think back to the Garden of Eden. What did he convince Adam and Eve of? He told them that the fruit would make them "like God." He convinced them that it would give them a wisdom that God was trying to keep from them. In essence Satan said to them, "God is holding out on you! He doesn't want to give you what you want, what you need. But I do. Trust me." Much of our sin begins with this doubt: Is God's way best or is He holding out on me?

Paul has already told us that humans have rebelled against God and suppressed the truth about Him. In the above passage, he tells us how we have done so. "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him." Creation proclaims the truth of who God is for all to see, yet we, by our sin, suppress that truth. We refuse to acknowledge His right to govern our lives. We withhold worship from Him and in the ultimate absurdity give it to the things He created for us. "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator."

We like to think that we are much more advanced than Paul's readers because we don't bow down to images made of wood, but we are not. We must understand that most of the pagan deities were worshipped because of the needs they promised to meet. Many were said to have the power to give a bountiful harvest, for example. At its base idol worship is believing the lie that Satan told in the Garden. We start to think "Maybe God can't meet my need. Maybe He simply won't, but this god, this image, this drug, this other thing will."

What do you exchange God for? What need or want are you trying to fill outside of His provision? Don't exchange God's best for Satan's lie. God's way always brings joy and life and peace. Satan's shortcuts always bring pain and death and destruction. Simply trust Him. "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" (Prov. 3:5-6). And if you were tricked into believing that the grass was greener on the other side of God's will, then repent and return to the Lord. There is grace. For God's Word says, "Come near to God and he will come near to you" (James 4:8).

For further reading this week…
   - Genesis 3:1-7: Check out the original lie.
   - Isaiah 44:6-23: Find out how God feels about idol worship.
   - Psalm 16:4 & 16:11: Compare the rewards of seeking God to the
     rewards of seeking idols.