That Tension Between Our Flesh & Spirit!

-Do You Feel It?

If you’re a genuine “born again” follower of Jesus Christ it’s a tension you live with every day! Your spirit longs to be rid of sin; and, you know, from Scripture & intuitively, that you’ve been set free from the “power” of sin! It doesn’t rule over you as it once did! You’ve experienced victory over many sins that once controlled you! At the same time, your broken, totally depraved flesh continues to lust after sin.  Sometimes that tension between doing what your flesh demands & what your spirit wants is such a burden that the weight, of it, overcomes you and you slip back, temporarily, into an old sin!

-That’s Not What I Want To Do!

The Apostle Paul nailed it when he confessed: “When I want to do what is good, evil is with me. For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s law. But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body?” Romans 7:21-24. It’s in that tension—in the battle between our spirit & our flesh—that God progressively sanctifies, or, changes us. An “unchanged” believer is a contradiction in terms! If you’re not changed; and, being changed you’re not saved! You’re not a genuine believer; or, follower of Jesus. Jesus, Himself, said there will always be “fruit” to evidence genuine faith (Matthew 13).

-Putting Self Back On The Cross!

If our faith is real, God is moving us toward the completion of our faith! He’s moving us toward the Day of Glorification, when we become like Jesus permanently! Until that day, God will continue to transform us into the image of Christ by overcoming our remaining sin in the same way that Jesus overcome sin—on a CROSS! Jesus said we must die to self— “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me’” Luke 9:23. We have to continually put “SELF” back on the cross! EVERY DAY, Jesus said; or, it will rise up & wrestle back control from us.  And, THAT is how we grow spiritually! We ARE sanctified; and, we’re becoming MORE sanctified! We’re experiencing more & more freedom from the power of sin as we DENY & CRUCIFY self!

-Put The Flesh To Death!

The Apostle Paul followed up his dilemma, expressed in Romans 7, with these words from the very next chapter: “For if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live “ Romans 8:13. The old King James Version said we must “…MORTIFY the deeds of the body…” A huge part of God’s sanctification work, in us, is to strengthen us in our efforts to “MORTIFY” or “put to death” the works of our flesh. The old Puritan, John Owen, made famous this quote about killing sin: “Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”  I like to say that spiritual growth is ultimately becoming more like JESUS; and, less like YOU! Do you look more like Jesus today than yesterday?

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What Fruit Does Your Life Produce?

-Your Happiness Depends On It!

Your happiness is contingent on the kind of “fruit” that your life produces! That’s what the writer of Psalm 1 tells us. In vs. 1-2 he says, “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.” Don’t be surprised that God wants you to be HAPPY! But, He qualifies what it means to be “HAPPY”! It’s not the “happiness”, of this world, that’s generally tangled up in sinful conduct; and, while it may provide momentary pleasure, leaves you empty and facing lingering painful consequences! The happiness that results from delighting “…in the Lord’s instruction…” leaves no “bad aftertaste”; and, culminates in a fruitful life that is eternal in duration!

-Every Life Bears Fruit!

In v.3, the writer says that the person who rejects the advice of the world & delights in God’s Word & meditates on it day and night, “…is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” Every life bears fruit! Your life bears fruit! My life bears fruit! The Psalmist points to 2 different kinds of people who live their lives in 2 different ways; and, who bear 2 totally different types of fruit. The Apostle Paul uses similar language, in his letter to the Church of Galatia, when he says that the life lived in Christ produces the “fruit of the Spirit” like “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control”; but, the fruit produced by “the flesh” is “… sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these.” (Galatians 5) Choose wisely who you listen to!

-Contrasting “World Views”!

The writer, of this Psalm, concludes, in v.5-6, with the FINAL END of the contrasting “world views”—“… the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” In this life, the way of the righteous & the way of the wicked may appear to run parallel. In fact, the way of the wicked often looks pleasant & fun! But, a Day of Judgment is coming, the writer says!

-A Day Of Reckoning!

There is coming a day of reckoning; when, those who took their advice & counsel from God’s Word; and, delighted in it; and, meditated on it, will be gathered into a glorious congregation around the throne of God, in eternal HAPPINESS! While, the wicked will face the Great Judge, of all the earth, who will give them exactly what they always wanted—an eternity without God! The Lord promises to watch over you if the advice you follow & the things you take delight in & the content of your meditation bear the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit! Are these the things you delight in? If not, you need help! You need to pray for Holy Spirit help; and, you need to make yourself accountable to someone; or, a group, who will encourage you! Only in the Truth, of God’s Word, will you find real, genuine, eternal HAPPINESS; and, a relationship with God!

 

Choosing Between Joy & Happy!

-Does God Want You To Be Happy?

Would it surprise you if I told you that God is concerned with your happiness? I know of believers who debate over how “spiritual” it is to pursue happiness! “JOY” is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, they say; and, that’s what we should concern ourselves with; not, “HAPPINESS” (Galatians 5:22ff).  To them, “joy” sounds more spiritual; and, is based on the eternal! “Happiness” seems like it’s dependent on circumstances; like, it’s fleeting! It comes and goes!

-God, The Contrarian!

But, the psalmist—who was inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to write Psalms 1—seems to play the contrarian! He starts out, “How HAPPY is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction…” It seems like we don’t need to choose between “joy” and “happiness”! Perhaps both are Biblically permissible when the “object”, of each, is also Biblically permissible! Life, in Christ, offers us BOTH “joy” and “happiness.”

-There’s A Contingency!

But, there is a caveat—genuine happiness, in life, is contingent on some things! And, that’s where this idea—that “happiness” is dependent on circumstances—comes from. But, the psalmist offers a different slant. It’s not so much that happiness is fleeting—that it “comes and goes”—as much as it is that our walk with God is inconsistent! Our text indicates that the more consistent we are in adhering to the psalmist’s “counsel”, the HAPPIER our life will be! That, in fact, only a believer, who is walking consistently with Christ, is even capable of experiencing true “joy” and “happiness.”

-Where Do You Look For Advice!

Look at this:  first, your happiness is contingent on WHERE you get your advice! I think it’s significant that the writer doesn’t say, “Don’t be WICKED; don’t SIN; don’t MOCK.” It seems that the contrast , he wants to draw on, is our receiving advice from one source vs. our receiving advice from another! We’re shaped by the advice we accept; so, take great care, he says, that you’re not getting advice from sinners! That word “advice” is referring to persuasive words or ideas that someone shares with the goal of getting you to go in the direction that they recommend! Or, to change your thinking in such a way that your behavior is altered; and, the very course of your life is modified! So, don’t take the advice of sinners!

-There’s A Progression!

On the basis of the advice you receive & accept, your ACTIONS are affected; and, finally your CHARACTER is changed! So, turn your ears away from the advice of the wicked—whether that’s friends, people, books, music, TV, video games, or websites! Choose wisely who you listen to because your “happiness” depends on it! The writer, of Scripture, is saying that your life will only be “happy” (Or, “blessed” or “fulfilled” some of your translations say!) when you turn a deaf ear to the advice of the wicked! And, who, does he say, are the WICKED? Anyone & everyone on the path of sin! Those who live a lifestyle of disobedience to God’s Word! Those who mock anyone who desires to obey it! Don’t be fooled by them!

 

Christianity’s Image Problem!

-It Seemed Boring!

It seemed to me that Christianity had an image problem, back in the 70’s, when I came to faith as a Junior High Boy. Here’s what I mean—if you decided to trust Jesus, as your Savior, you’d get heaven when your life ended HERE; but, the rest of your life HERE would be boring and blasé. But, for me, the “tradeoff” certainly seemed worth it; so, I asked Jesus to be my Savior. I’ll take the 80 years of blasé; but, eternity in heaven vs. 80 years of fun & happiness; but, eternity in hell at the end! But, that didn’t “sell” real well with my friends! I had a difficult time convincing them that the tradeoff was worth it.

-Enduring The Christian Life!

I think many believers still suffer with some sever misconceptions about the “Christian life”, don’t you? It’s been my observation that many believers just ENDURE the Christian life! Secretly, they still pine for the pleasures & happiness they think the world enjoys. In their hearts, they’re earthly hedonists! Like the children of Israel, during the Exodus, still looking back with longing for the old life they left behind in Egypt. Somehow, we’ve come to this erroneous conclusion that life’s just not going to be fun or happy as a Christian; but, we put up with it because…. Well, we get heaven at the END!

-The Most Happiness Possible!

But, there’s a great text of Scripture that debunks the notion that the life that follows Christ & adheres to the Scriptures is a boring life. In fact, what this Psalm says is quite the opposite. The writer sets the record straight—we don’t just ENDURE the Christian life, putting in our time here, until we get to heaven & hangout with Jesus for ever and ever! No! This Psalm tells us that it’s the life that submits to God & His Word that provides us with the greatest fulfillment & the most happiness possible! This is a message that the Church desperately needs! You need this message! I need this message! Happiness & prosperity, in this life & the next, only follows the God-centered life. Here’s how I’d summarize the Psalmist’s big idea—We overcome the pleasures of the world by taking greater pleasure in the Word of God! A significant part of your spiritual growth involves the things in which you find pleasure & happiness! Don’t be surprised that God is concerned with your happiness!

-Here’s A Happy Man!

Listen to what He says: “1How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. The wicked are not like this; instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not survive the judgment, and sinners will not be in the community of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.” (Psalm 1) For some believers, it’s a debate over “JOY” & “HAPPINESS”! JOY is a fruit of the Spirit, they say; and, that’s what we should concern ourselves with! Not HAPPINESS! But, read that text again—it makes me HAPPY!

 

God Makes You New (Part II)

-He Doesn’t Condemn You Anymore!

One of the most powerful Scriptures for a believer to hold onto is this:  “Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  God no longer condemns you if you’ve placed faith, for your salvation, in Jesus’ work on the cross! So, we need to quit condemning ourselves! When you mess up & sin, CONFESS it—that means you AGREE with God that what you did was sin! (1 John 1:8-10) But, after you confess it, thank Him for forgiveness; and, get back into fellowship with Him!

-You’re Part Of The Family!

God has adopted you into His family; and, no one is going to overpower Him and rip you away! You belong to Him! That’s your “identity”—it’s WHO you are! Until you live by faith, knowing who you are in Christ, you will struggle to experience spiritual growth! Unlike “JUSTIFICATION”—which is an instantaneous judicious act of pardon by God; and, a passing from death to life—”SANCTIFICATION” is a process that God begins IN YOU the moment you’ve been JUSTIFIED! God frees us from the power of sin as He SANCTIFIES us! The Apostle Paul, in Romans, speaks of our sin as DOMINATING us BEFORE “JUSTIFICATION”—i.e. we were chained to sin; and, we couldn’t help but sin! But, at the moment of our “JUSTIFICATION”, the Holy Spirit indwells us; and, empowers us in a battle to “mortify”—or, “put to death”—the deeds of our flesh; or, the “old man” Paul calls it!

-We’re Saved! And, Being Saved!

So, at “JUSTIFICATION” we WERE saved; and, “regenerated” or made alive! In our “SANCTIFICATION” we are BEING saved! Don’t be concerned by that! It’s a good thing! Theologically, we mean that God’s “SANCTIFICATION” work, in us, is PROGRESSIVE & ACTIVE! The Holy Spirit is not passive about purging sin from our lives! He’s aggressive! In the Spirit, we now have the power or the capacity to overcome sin; and, at the same time, a growing DESIRE to be rid of it! That is one of my greatest PASSIONS—to BEAT SIN! If you have no desire to overcome sin, your “salvation” is in question! Perhaps you’ve been deceived! It’s in the “SANCTIFICATION” process that you are progressively becoming MORE like Jesus; and, LESS like you! It’s a work that only God can do in you!

-Trying Harder Doesn’t Work!

Unfortunately, it’s pretty typical for believers to try hard, do good & FAIL. That didn’t work; so, try HARDER, do BETTER & FAIL again! Until they stop trying so hard; and, just give in and FAKE IT. Can you relate to that? I know I can!  Listen, God’s “SANCTIFICATION” process tells us to take off the masks & quit pretending we’ve reached perfection! We’re all broken! We all need to be made complete in Christ! So, make yourselves accountable to each other to strengthen the Spirit’s effort to crucify your flesh! And, finally one day we will all become who we already are “positionally” in Christ—we’ll be “GLORIFIED”; and, set FREE from the very PRESENCE of sin! We’ll be like Jesus, Amen! No more corruption! No more sin!

 

God Makes You New (Part I)

-You Need To Know This Stuff!

If you’re a believer, in Jesus Christ, you’re no longer the OLD you! You’ve become—and, you are becoming— a NEW you; a work that God promises to finish once our lives end here! I love how the Amplified Bible renders 2 Corinthians 5:17—“Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, all things have become new [because spiritual awakening brings a new life].” Throughout his writings, the Apostle Paul breaks down our salvation into 3 parts; and, understanding this is VITAL to your spiritual growth & to your spiritual sanity!

-3 Big Theological Words!

He uses 3 big theological words—our “JUSTIFICATION”; our “SANCTIFICATION”; and, our “GLORIFICATION.” Now, don’t start snoring on me! Give me a chance to help you understand. You need this; because, it’s all about your “identity” as a disciple of Jesus Christ. If you ever struggle in your faith, it’s because you don’t understand how your faith works—your “JUSTIFICATION” is all about the “WAS” of your salvation; your “SANCTIFICATION” is all about the “IS” of your faith right now; and, your “GLORIFICATION” is all about the “IS TO COME” part of your salvation! Paul explains it like this in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14— “But we must always thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, so that you might obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

-Write This Down In Your Bible!

In your Bible, write down “JUSTIFICATION” next to “…belief in the truth…”  At the moment you believed, in Christ, you were JUSTIFIED by God; and, set free from the “PENALTY” of sin—ALL of it! As far as God is concerned, it’s just as if you’d never sinned because Jesus already paid the price for ALL the sin of ALL humanity for ALL time when He died, as a substitutionary atonement, on the cross! I’ve known believers who struggle with that truth—they believe all their sin, up to their salvation, was forgiven; but, they think they have to keep asking for forgiveness of future sins!

-How Far Is The East From The West?

But, that’s faulty thinking; because, ALL of our sin was “FUTURE” sin when Jesus died on the cross 2000 years ago! When God saves us, He tells us that He’s removed our sin “…as far as the east is from the west…” (Psalm 103:12). He says He “…buries them in the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19); and, my favorite is that He “…chooses to remember our sins no more” (Heb 10:17). ALL our sins—past, present & future—are GONE! That’s what it means to be JUSTIFIED! Satan doesn’t want you to know that! He wants you to grovel in your sin & your inadequacies! Every time you stumble & fall he wants to accuse you; but, don’t listen to his lies! God no longer condemns you—Romans 8:1. (Next Week: Part II)

 

More Like Jesus & Less Like You!

-So, How Are You Doing Spiritually?

At a recent Small Group meeting I asked this series of questions: “How are you doing Spiritually? And, on what criteria do you base your answer? How are you measuring your walk with Christ?” I’ve found when I just ask the 1st question—“How are you doing spiritually?”—that everyone says, “Good! Good!” Have you noticed that? I mean, that’s MY typical response to that question! It’s a question that needs qualifying! It needs those follow-up questions. On what basis can I say, “Good! Good!” when someone asks me how I’m doing spiritually?

-Is It About What We Do?

Do we measure our spiritual progress by the things we DO? Be careful! Don’t quickly dismiss the things we DO & say that, “…it’s only what’s in the HEART that matters.” If our HEART is right with God it WILL impact the things we DO, right? Jesus said: “If you love Me, you WILL KEEP my commandments.” At the same time, we can DO all the RIGHT things for the WRONG reasons, can’t we? We can do things to be SEEN of men; and, Jesus called that hypocrisy!

-Practicing The Spiritual Disciplines

Several months back I received a call from a young man who got saved in my youth group, in Colorado, several years ago. He asked if he could interview me for a seminary class he was taking. The interview included a line of questions based on how I lived my life according to the so-called “Spiritual Disciplines”—or, practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth. They’re habits of devotion—like prayer, fasting, public & private worship, meditation, making disciples—and, they’re all activities that Jesus’ followers are commanded to do! In fact, Jesus practiced most of them Himself! In answering the question, for the interview, I prefaced my answer with this caution—we are NOT godly just because we practice certain spiritual disciplines!

-The Error Of The Pharisees

That was the great error of the Pharisees, wasn’t it? They believed that they were godly BECAUSE they practiced certain things!  You cannot separate what you’re doing on the OUTSIDE by who you ARE on the INSIDE. What you DO matters! But, who you ARE matters even more! Here’s what I’m trying to say—Spiritual growth happens, in your life, as you become MORE like Jesus & LESS like you! That’s what’s expected if you’re truly His disciple!

-Where Spiritual Growth Happens

Based on several NT passages, I believe that our spiritual development occurs BEST in the context of a “faith community”; or, a church! Being a disciple of Christ does not begin with something WE do; but, with something that Christ DID! That’s the Gospel! He redeemed our broken relationship with the Father by His substitutionary atonement on the cross! He took away our sin! He paid the penalty we should have paid so that the Father might grant us forgiveness, grace, mercy & love! He adopts us into His “family”; and, it’s His family that makes up the church!  That becomes our new identity! We’re no longer citizens of this world; rather, Scripture says we’re “temporary residents” here! And, it’s within the “family” atmosphere, of the “church”, that God prunes us so that He might accomplish our sanctification!