Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rules Were Made to be Broken

What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet." But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.

For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
Romans 7:7-13

"The house was quiet when the workmen arrived, and when someone came to the door they assumed it was the owner himself. They had come to install a new alarm system on the doors and windows. The owner had been anxious about burglaries, following a number of break-ins in the neighborhood, and had called the company to come and install a better alarm system for him. But the owner had an important meeting at work the day of the installation and had asked a neighbor to let them in. The neighbor went round the house with the workmen, and learned exactly how the alarm system worked. This gave the neighbor an idea…and of course put him in an opportune position to rob the house himself." (Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans Part One p.122-123).

Installing the alarm system had an unusual outcome. It accomplished exactly the opposite of what the owner had hoped it would, not because there was anything wrong with the alarm system, because there wasn’t. In fact, the alarm system was top of the line. The problem was already there before the alarm system was installed. The installation simply provided an opportunity that revealed the problem. The owner had an untrustworthy neighbor.  

This is similar to how Paul says the ‘law’ works with us. (Side note: When Paul uses the term ‘law’, he means the rules God has given us, e.g. the Ten Commandments.) The law was intended to bring life, but it brought death instead (v10). Like the alarm system in the example, the law accomplished exactly the opposite of what it was supposed to do. BUT the problem wasn’t with the law. The law didn't make us sin; it merely revealed how sinful we already were. And that was kind of the point all along. God knew that we could not perfectly keep all of his commandments. He knew just how sinful we were, but we did not.

Have you ever heard the saying "rules were made to be broken?" In an odd way this is true of  God's law. The law is like a mirror; it shows us how sinful we really are. God knew we were going to break his commandments. He gave them to us anyway because that was the purpose of the law, to be broken so that we could see our need for Jesus. Looking into this mirror of the law not only shows us our need for a Savior, it also reminds us of how good God is for choosing to redeem creatures like us. 

So praise God for the law and for the fact that you can never measure up to it! Praise God that He is holier than you and you can’t keep His standard! Praise God that He kept the standard for you and credited His righteousness as your own! Take a look into the perfect law of God, be reminded of your inadequacy and thank God for His provision.

For further reading this week…
- Deuteronomy chapters 5-6: Check out Moses' recap of the law.
- Matthew chapters 5-7: Check out the new standard Jesus puts forward.
- Romans 5:20-21: Just a reminder that our sin never outruns God's grace.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Life & Death Decisions

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace…For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:11-14, 23

There is a proverb in the Bible that has always struck me as interesting if somewhat disgusting. It says, “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11). The first time I read this I was too confused about the dog and its vomit to consider what it might actually mean. But this proverb has more to offer than just a stomach turning metaphor.

Romans 6:23 tells us that sin brings death, but Christ brings life. This is reminiscent of an Old Testament passage found in the book of Deuteronomy. "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse- the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God…" (Deuteronomy 11:26-28a).

All of us have done things that we wish we could take back, things that caused us or others pain. “Had I only known, I wouldn’t have done it,” we say. (If you disagree with these last two sentences because you live your life by the “No Regrets” motto, please scroll down to the bottom of this post and read the asterisked paragraph.) The good news is that after reading Romans 6:23, we do know. Now we know without a doubt that when we reject the Lord we will always reap pain and death; when we follow the Lord we will always reap life and peace. It’s as simple as that.   

The problem is that many of us do not really believe in our hearts what Romans 6:23 and Deuteronomy 11:26-28 tell us. Our enemy has done a very good job convincing us that sin doesn't bring death it brings pleasure. Nearly everything we watch on TV and in movies, or listen to on the radio reinforces this lie.  It's hard not to believe it. But when we fall into this trap, when we believe this lie, we become like the dog in the proverb. Clearly the food didn’t sit too well the first time he ate it. Why would he try to eat it again? But many of us do the same thing with sin. We get burned by it, but we keep coming back for more.

I know I have made this mistake… over and over and over again. For some of us it’s sex, for others it’s alcohol or drugs, but for some of us it’s the little sins that no one else notices like pride or self-centeredness. It doesn’t have to be a big sin. Even the little ones bring death and pain. The challenge is getting ourselves to believe that these things actually do hurt us so we will stop doing them. It’s hard though. Sin is so tempting and it always looks so good. This takes faith, and the grace of God. It also takes exposing yourself to the truth. We have to read the Bible and get some of God’s truth in our heads if we have any hope of not believing every lie we are told.

If you are a Christian you know what it means to be enslaved to sin and you know what it means to experience the freedom and peace of God. Don’t go back and embrace the life of death that you have been freed from. Don’t believe all the hype. Take courage and be of good cheer. The Lord will give you the strength to swim upstream and to rebel against the norms of this world.

I want to give you hope today. If you are caught in a vicious cycle of sin, if you keep returning to the same pile of vomit over and over again, know that we’ve all been there. God still loves you. He will forgive you, no matter what you have done. God wants to give you life and peace. He has plans to prosper you., and He will make a way for you to be freed from that sin if you will trust Him. It isn't always easy , but freedom from sin is a birthright of every Christian. And if you have never experienced any of this freedom, confess Jesus as Lord today. He will set you free!

For further reading this week, check out these passages:
   - I Peter 5:8-9: He seeks to devour you.   
   - I Corinthians 10:13: But you can bear it.
   - I Peter 1: Do not conform to your evil desires.

*This paragraph is for those of you who live your lives by the modern “No Regrets” motto. By this I mean the popular point of view that says, "I refuse to regret anything I have done because all of my collective life experiences make me who I am. Without that experiencing I wouldn't have learned a valuable lesson. I wouldn't be who I am today." While I agree that we should not wallow in regret and self-guilt our whole lives, this attitude (which refuses to regret anything) goes too far. We should regret our sin. Regret is a healthy, natural emotion that we should feel when we hurt someone else or ourselves. Let me give you an example. Imagine a convicted murderer glibly saying this motto to the parents of his victim. Do you see the depravity in that? Or more commonly, imagine saying this motto to your friend after you betrayed and hurt them. Surely, you can see that any true friend would regret such actions. In either of these scenarios it  would actually be wrong not to feel regret. So sometimes regret is good. In fact, it is a necessary part of the Christian faith. How can one repent of sins he does not regret committing? Regret only becomes unhealthy when we refuse to  move on by accepting forgiveness from God, others, or even from ourselves.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Resurrected with Christ

If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
Romans 6:5-7

Last week we found out that when we become a Christian, we participate in the death of Christ. By confessing Jesus as Lord of our lives, we obey Jesus' command to take up our cross and follow him; we die to ourselves and to sin. When we place our faith in Christ, His death becomes our death and His victory over sin becomes our victory over sin.  In fact, the Bible says that Christians are “dead to sin.” This doesn’t mean that we will never be tempted again or that we will never sin again. It simply means that the sin no longer holds power over us. We are no longer a slave to it or to ourselves (our own desires). Today's passage takes this truth a step further. “If we are united with Him in His death, then we will also be united with Him in His resurrection.” 

Right now our participation in Christ's resurrection may seem a little abstract; let's see if I can shed some light on it. We have been raised with Christ in that the old man has been put to death and we now lead new lives. We are a new creation (I Corinthians 5:17) even now, but one day, “in the twinkling of an eye,” our participation in His resurrection will be very concrete, very real. On that day the great hope of the Christian faith will be realized: a physical resurrection of the saints signifying a complete victory over death and Satan. But in order to fully understand the unique importance of resurrection in the Christian faith, we have to look at the Christian story as a whole. 

God created the world and it was good. Then sin entered the picture and brought death and shame with it. Because of Adam's one sin all of creation was  thrown off course. All of mankind and even the world itself bears the curse of sin. You and I are not what we otherwise would have been. Certainly we are still marvelous creations, still the handiwork of God, but we are marred by the damaging effects of sin both in our spirits and in our bodies. BUT the Lord has promised, through Christ, to undo the effects of sin on this world, on you, and on me (Isaiah 53). This is the one great hope of Christianity. This is what we have been saved for- to be set free from the things that so entangle us, to attain life as it was always meant to be (life without murder or rape or war...eternal life), and to see the one true God face-to-face. This completely unhindered relationship with God is the true hope of the Christian faith.  God is the highest good and a relationship with Him is all one could hope for. 

When I meet the Lord and receive my first hug from Him I believe that it will be a two-armed bone crushing hug. A hug that crushes all of my shame and all of my guilt, all of my pride and all of my good deeds. It will leave me standing before Him just as He created me, stripped bare with nothing to offer Him but love in return. And I believe that He will look on me with approval not because of anything I have done, but because I have been washed in the blood of Christ and His righteousness has been counted as my own. Can you say the same? If not, begin your journey toward faith today. And if you are like me, on your way to heaven, remember to set your eyes on the great hope that lays before you. Do not be seduced by the things of this world. All the riches of this world pale in comparison to the richness of knowing God in Christ.

For further reading this week, check out these passages:
    - I Corinthians 15: Resurrection 101
    - Ezekiel 37: "I will be their God and they will be my people."
    - Revelation 21: "Now the dwelling of God is with men." Oh Lord, 
      hasten the coming of that day!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

License to Sin?

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
Romans 5:20-6:7

Last week we came face-to-face with the grace of God. We struggled and strained our human minds to try and grasp the essential truth of the gospel: that God's forgiveness isn't based on what we do or don’t do. It is based on what Christ has done. Now Paul turns to respond to a possible objection to this gospel. If we are forgiven no matter what we do…If God’s grace is big enough to forgive all of our sins…then what’s to stop us from doing whatever we want?! What’s to keep Christians from sinning all the time?

The sad truth is that many of us know people who approach God in this way. (Some of us even do so ourselves.) Have you ever said or thought something like, “Well, I know that God’s going to forgive me so it's okay if I go ahead and do this.” or “I’m never going to be perfect so, I shouldn't try to be.” When we approach sin this way, we’re kind of like a spiritual James Bond. He had a license to kill. We think we have a license to sin. We have our "Get into Heaven Free" card so we can do whatever we want. Right?

Check out Scripture's answer: "By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" Continuing to live a life of sin is so out of harmony with who we are in Christ that it just doesn’t make any sense. It says that we have “died to sin" and later on we read that "our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin." What does all of this mean?

There are at least two ways that sin holds power over us. First, sin  holds power over us because it brings death and in so doing it controls our fate (Romans 6:23). Every time and in any form, sowing seeds of sin brings a harvest of pain and death. Second, sin holds power over us because we are addicted to it. We turn to sin because we think it will make us happy or meet our needs, but instead we end up enslaved to a cruel taskmaster.

The above passage of Scripture reminds us that when we became Christians this power that sin had over us was broken in both ways. First, sin doesn’t hold the power of death over us anymore. Paul says that we have already died with Christ. How can our sin bring death upon us if we have already died the death that our sin brings? You can’t kill a person twice. In Christ, we have already paid the penalty for our sin. Second, in Christ we have been set free from slavery to sin. Take it from a man who has been freed from his own addiction to sin, there is freedom in Christ. This doesn’t mean that you will never be tempted. It doesn’t mean that you will never sin again. It means that the sin no longer holds power over you. You are no longer a slave to it.

So now you see why it simply doesn't make any sense for us to continue living in sin. It would be like a butterfly trying to stay in its cocoon. What we have now is so much better than what we had before. So don't take God's amazing grace for granted. Live your life as an offering of  gratitude for all He has done for you, and turn any area where sin still holds sway in your life over to Him. He will set you free.  

For further reading this week, check out these passages:
   - Romans 8: You are not controlled by the sinful nature but by the Spirit.
   - Galatians 4:1-20 and Galatians 5: It is for freedom that Christ set you