Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Walk by the Spirit

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
Galatians 5:16-25

When I was a kid we had a big, untrained dog named Bear. This Australian Shepherd mix was aptly named (in my eyes anyway). I was only an eight year old boy at the time and Bear was much bigger and stronger than me, so my feelings toward him were a mixture of love and fear. Any time I tried to take him for a walk Bear would see something worth chasing and tear off after it. It was all I could do to hold onto his chain and get drug behind him. I simply wasn't big enough to stop him. The truth is I never walked Bear. Bear walked me.  

Sadly, this is exactly how a lot of people live their lives. Only it’s not a big, untrained dog that drags them around... it’s their flesh. When our fallen, sinful nature gets a craving it simply takes off after the thing it desires. Sex, money, success, proving you were right and winning the argument. Whatever it is that the flesh wants in that moment it runs after. The problem is that all of us are like that eight year old version of me. We are being drug around like rag dolls behind our cravings. None of us are strong enough to fight the lusts of the flesh alone. We need a stronger power to pull against the flesh. A power that will ultimately overpower the flesh and put it down like the rabid dog that it is. Only then can we be truly free. 

Galatians 5 tells us that this is exactly what happens in Christ. Verse 24 says, "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." When a person declares Jesus as Lord of their life, they die to sin and they are raised up to live a new life for Christ. In this sense they participate in Jesus' death and resurrection spiritually. But how is this possible? 

It happens by the supernatural work of God's Spirit who indwells believers at salvation. Once the flesh has been dealt with, the Spirit begins leading us in the way that we should go. Prompting, convicting, and directing us. Unfortunately, though the final death blow has already been landed, Christians are not completely free of their sin nature until heaven. So there is a constant tug of war going in a believer's life. 
For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. (Galatians 5:17)

Thankfully, Scripture tells us what we can do to gain the victory here and now. "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16). When Christians aren’t living by the Spirit daily, when they return to their old ways of living, then they strengthen their fleshly desires. They actually join in with their flesh and fight against the Spirit of God in their hearts. But Paul shows us a better way. WALK BY THE SPIRIT! If the believer chooses to listen to the Spirit's whispered promptings day by day, if he chooses to turn his ear to God's voice, and if he sets his heart to obey the Spirit's tugs, then the great promise of verse 16 awaits him. He will no longer carry out the desires of the flesh. You don't have to taste defeat at the hands of that addiction or bad habit any more. You can finally be free of the sin that has entangled you for so long and kept you from becoming the person God is calling you to be.

So what does it mean to walk by the Spirit? It involves drawing nearer to God through things like:
  • Scripture Reading- Remember that it was the Spirit who inspired the writing of the Bible and He plays a special role in illuminating it to our understanding. This is God's primary way of revealing Himself to us. Don't take it for granted. You must make time to be with the Lord, if you are to walk with Him daily.
  • Prayer- And I don't mean just a one-sided conversation where you download your wish list. God placed His Spirit in believers for a reason. We have to stop and listen some. We have to tune our hearts to be sensitive to the Spirit's promptings.
  • Be sensitive to God’s voice- According to John 3:4-8 & 6:44, every believer feels the tug of the Spirit when we get saved. Since we are all called to salvation, we have all felt Him move in our hearts before. It is that burning conviction in your heart and in your gut. Oftentimes you just know what it is that God is telling you to do. At other times God speaks to us through our circumstances, through opportunities that come our way or through the wise counsel of Christian friends. Of course we must always make sure to check our understanding of these leadings against Scripture. Only Scripture is inerrant. 
  • Be Eager to Obey what you know- We need a prepared readiness to eagerly obey whatever God leads us to do. Whether he reveals it to us through Scripture, prayer or some other means, be careful not to quench, grieve, or resist the Spirit. Step out on faith and see what God does. 

Consider Paul's admonition in verse 25 as a challenge for the fast approaching new year. "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit."

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Recently I have discovered that I do not excel in being loving. I have known for some time that I wasn't the most compassionate or patient person. These virtues have been earmarked for improvement in my life for a while. But it wasn't until I read Donald S. Whitney's Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health that I realized just how short I fall of embodying the supreme Christian virtue of love. Since Christmas is a time for families, and since often our families suffer the most at the hands of our character flaws, I thought this would be a good time to post a section from Whitney's book covering parts of the chapter entitled "Are You More Loving?". (I also very highly recommend Whitney's Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. It should probably be on every believer's bookshelf.) I hope this quoted section nourishes and challenges your heart as much as it did mine.  

(The rest of this post is quoted from Donald S. Whitney's Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health pages 39-42.)

Love is the badge and character of Christianity. A Christian may advance in many areas including the the ability to witness, teach or even preach..., but these mean little without growth in the most important Christian distinctive- love. 

Some people flatter themselves about how loving they are. They know that nothing means more to them than their children. Holidays are always spent with family. They consider themselves good neighbors and devoted friends. As their family and circle of friends grow, their love grows with it, right?

Too often we wrongly classify as love what the King James Version of the Bible calls “natural affection” (see Romans 1:31 and 2 Timothy 3:3). In normal circumstances, parents love their children, family members love each other, and people love their friends. This is true for Christians and nonChristians alike. God made us in such a way that, even in a fallen world, we naturally love certain people, thus the term natural affection... Many people, therefore, are congratulating themselves for what amounts to merely being human, and they conclude amiss that this innate love testifies of spiritual health. 

Besides natural affection, there is another counterfeit love. Its loving actions are only a veneer for too much self-love. Any benefits it brings to others are secondary to the question, “Does it please me first?” A man will be absolutely convinced that he loves a beautiful woman, and indeed will do almost anything for her. He adores her, thinks of her constantly, and wants nothing more than her. But the truth is, he loves her only for what she does to and for him. She excites, intrigues, and arouses him. He does want her to be happy, but in reality he wants her to find her happiness in bringing pleasure to him. And he continues to love her only to the degree that she continues to please him. He will do nothing for her willingly or without hypocrisy unless it brings pleasure for him to do it anyway. This kind of love is just as common in other relationships as romantic ones. With parents or children, siblings, neighbors, or friends, we can act in loving ways, but either heartlessly or only because it pleases us to do so. We do not measure our growth in Christlikeness by the vicissitudes of this kind of love.

A similar counterfeit is the “I’ll love you if you’ll love me” type of love. This kind of love doesn't originate from a commitment to love, nor from a desire to be like Christ, but simply dispense love as a quip pro quo. This is not Christian love, rather it is the epitome of worldly love. Jesus put it this way: "But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them" (Luke 6:32). Edwards portrayed those who love like this: 
They are full of dear affections to some, and full of bitterness toward others. They are knit to their own party, them that approve of them, love them and admire them; but are fierce against those that oppose and dislike them. Some show great affection for their neighbors,... the children of God abroad; and at the same time are uncomfortable and churlish towards their wives and other near relations at home, and are very negligent of relative duties.
Can anyone think he is growing in love and thus becoming more like Jesus when, just like those who hated Jesus, he only loves with a reciprocal love? The test of Christlikeness is not the greatness of your love toward those who love you, but the bounty of your love toward those who do not.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Talking the Talk

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Colossians 4:5-6

What's the worst thing you said to someone in the past 24 hours? Or maybe it wasn't what you said as much as it was how you said it. (I've been told that makes a big difference.) 

It's not easy to control our tongues. James says, "Every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison" (James 3:7-8). And again, he says "If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body" (James 3:2).Yet we are commanded in this passage to make our speech gracious. What exactly does that mean? 

In the least it must mean that the way we speak to other people must reflect the grace that God has given us. When we have the right to be angry with them, we speak grace instead of anger. We speak to them with the gentleness and love that they don't deserve, because that is how God has spoken to us. When we have told them something over and over and over again but they're still are not getting it right (I'm looking at you parents and teachers); even then we should respond to them with patience and mercy. It means that we give them the benefit of the doubt so that our words cast them in the best possible light, not the worst.

It also means that the content of our speech ought to draw people to Jesus. Words like Christ, salvation, resurrection, and grace ought to be regular parts of our daily vocabulary, so that people can't really be around us without hearing pieces of the gospel. Our conversations ought to be "seasoned with salt." According to the ESV Study Bible this means that we ought to speak in an "interesting, stimulating, and wise way" that would commend the gospel to non-believers. Salt is a natural preservative of course, so I don't think it a stretch to assert that this means our speech ought to be free of the putrid, rotten subjects of conversation that our world so delights in. In other words, it's not just how we talk to people that matters, it is also what we talk about. 

So how have you been doing over the last 24 hours? You can't control your tongue alone. James was right. "No human being can tame the tongue." But consider Jesus' words when in response to another task that is impossible for man to do alone. "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26). Ask God for help. Think of one person you can focus on speaking life and grace to tomorrow. It may very well be a family member. 

For further consideration...
  • Daily vocabulary- Facebook recently started doing this thing where you can see what words pop up most often in your posts. I wonder if the Lord were to do the same for us. What would your most common words be? What words do you use the most? What is your daily vocabulary and what does that reveal about your character?
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:5-12)
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. (James 1:26)
...but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect... (I Peter 3:15)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Butterfly in the Sky

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4

Does the butterfly that flutters gracefully through the sky set its mind on and seek after the life it once had as a caterpillar, inching along as it dragged itself through the dirt? Of course not. It has died to that old way of life and found a far superior existence. In the same way, it makes no sense for a Christian to be intently focused on worldly things, to seek after them. We died to that old way of living and have been raised with Christ. Colossians 3 puts it so clearly. It hit me strongly this morning as I read it. Believers have made a choice. We have chosen the things of God over the things of man. Believers have forsaken the world, repented of their ways, and committed to seeking after the things of heaven (Which are far superior anyway). Why would we ever look back? 

And yet so many do. We claim to serve a God who is sovereign over every detail of life, and yet live in fear. We say that God's very Spirit dwells within us, that we are the temple of God; and then we debase our bodies through sexual immorality, pornography, and masturbation. We acknowledge that we are new creations in Christ, but our speech betrays us. It is laced with anger, malice, slander and abusive speech (v.8). We affirm that there is one true God, yet we continue to bow down at the altar of money/wealth and worship what it can offer us in this life. 

Why would he return to such things? It simply makes no sense for any Christ follower, having tasted God's goodness, to turn back and begin to long for the things of the world once more. 

We must continue to put off the old man everyday (v. 9) by setting our minds on things above. We must learn to seek the advance of God's kingdom in this world and of God's righteousness in our own lives. Instead of worldly things, let us seek after: increased knowledge of God; hearts characterized by kindness, compassion, and humility; lives defined by gentleness, patience, forgiveness; and above all... love (v. 13-14).

Father, help Your children (help me) to grasp the deeper truths of this passage and help us to live them out. Remind us that our lives are in heaven. Forgive us for focusing on things that have no bearing there things like: sex, money, romantic love, entertainment, and athletic glory. Help us to set our hope on Jesus' return instead (v. 4). In Jesus' name...Amen.   

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Christ: First in All Things

And [Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
Colossians 1:17-18

Colossians 1:15-20 is a tightly packed master class on Christology. If you want to understand who Jesus was, His nature, His role in the cosmos, and the importance of His death, it's all here. One undeniable implication of this passage is that Jesus is of the highest importance. He has first priority. He is supreme. 

This is evident in verses 17-18. Verse 17 says that "He is before all things," and in case that wasn't clear enough verse 18 adds that God has worked all things out so that "in everything [Jesus] might be preeminent." That word 'preeminent' is rendered in various Bible translations as supremacy (NIV), preeminence (ESV, KJV, NKJV), or to have the first place in everything (NASB, HCSB, NLT & NET). This last rendering is the closest to the literal translation in the original language which is to be first or to hold first place. 

So then Jesus holds the highest priority in reality. Not just Christian reality or spiritual reality, but REALITY. This has major implications. Here are a few.

First, this explains why putting other things ahead of Christ in our lives is idolatry. Doing so moves Jesus out of His rightful place of supremacy and bows our hearts in worship to someone or something else. To attempt to remove the One who is infinitely worthy from His place of primacy and set something up in His stead is exceedingly sinful.

Second, placing anything or anyone ahead of Jesus is both damaging to ourselves and is delusional. When we place a higher priority on something that isn't Christ we reveal our own understanding of what is ultimately true and of infinite worth. The reality that Jesus holds first position in everything hasn't changed; we have simply revealed that our perception of reality is off. We legitimately think Jesus is not of the highest priority. This means we are detached from reality. We no longer see it as it truly is. 

Third, it is entirely unfathomable that a Christian would place a higher priority on anything or anyone over above Jesus. It is crazy to think that a Christian (of all people) would attempt to dethrone the one whom they claim as their Savior, Lord and God by putting other things ahead of Him. Sadly we do this regularly. I do this regularly. WE MUST STOP!
Lord, help me to learn to treasure Jesus above all else. Help me to keep Him first in my life. Help us to see all the ways that Jesus is already truly first in all things. And help us to live in light of that truth every day. I pray these things in Jesus' name. Amen.