Thursday, April 20, 2006

Are Your Righteous Acts Filthy Rags?

God commands us to live holy and obedient lives; lives of righteousness and righteous acts. However, our righteous acts are filthy rags if we continue to live in sin. Unfortunately, many misuse the first half of Isaiah 64:6 in order to justify living in sin. They say God doesn’t care if we live righteously because he says our righteous acts are filthy rags and therefore there is no reason to stop sinning. But, let’s add a little bit of context to this one verse by reading verses 5 through 7.

Isaiah 64:5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? 6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. 7 No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.

The righteous acts are considered filthy rags because they are accompanied by sinful acts. They continued to sin. Continuing to live in sin is what made them unclean and made their righteous acts like filthy rags. Then look what happened; their sins swept them away, God hid His face from them, and they wasted away because of their sins.

Here is an analogy of how righteous acts can be like filthy rags when sin is still present: a man is aware that his wife is engaged in an adulterous relationship. He confronts her, yet she continues with the relationship. However, she serves her husband by having dinner on the table when he gets home from work, she washes & irons his clothes, and sincerely thanks him for working so hard. At the end of the day do you think her husband cares for, or appreciates, the “righteous acts” or good things she does for him? No! Her continued sin and lack of repentance makes all the righteous acts seem like filth because of her adultery (sin).

So, don’t stop the righteous acts. God calls us to holiness and obedience. Rather, stop living in sin because continuing to sin is what makes you unclean. And remember, it is not of your own might that you can live in righteousness; it is only in Christ and by his grace that you can put the flesh to death, flee sin, and become a slave to righteousness.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Do not be conformed to this world … renew your minds!

As Christians we are told to not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. NAS

James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” NIV

How do we not conform to this world? How do we say no to temptation? One very practical way is through the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2). The renewing of the mind is not some one-time magical prayer that cleanses your mind once and for all of all evil things. Rather it is the daily filling of your mind with the things of God: his word (read the bible), discussions with God (prayer), singing praise to God, and listening to his Holy Spirit. The more of God you put in your head, the less space there is for evil desires.

This will probably require more than a 10 or 15 minute prayer and bible reading time each day. I know it sounds crazy, but try to pray, read His word, and meditate on Him for the same amount of time as you watch TV each day. That may be 1, 2, or 3 hours a day for some of us. I know your life would change dramatically if you traded in your TV time for God time. That would be trading in the things of this world for the transforming presence and knowledge of Christ. Have I completely given up the TV? No, not completely - not yet, but as I have been converting my TV time into God time, I have seen incredible changes taking place. One of the most significant is that my desire for the things of God is increasing while my desire for the things of this world is decreasing. Thanks be given to God for His transforming grace.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Have you prepared for battle? Putting on the full armor of God.

Ephesians 6:11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

God tells us to put on the full armor of God in Ephesians 6. We are told to do this so we may defeat the devil and stand against his temptations and schemes. Again, God has given us the tools we need to win the battle, to say no to temptation, and to have victory over sin and the devil. However, many Christians do not accept these tools of God and therefore do not prepare for the battle. Many Christians think they have no role or responsibility in preparing for the battle. They think the armor of God can be put on instantly in the middle of a spiritual battle by just the snap of a finger or saying a prayer. God is telling us to put on the full armor of God now so that in the future when evil comes we will be ready and able to stand. It does not say to wait until we are in the middle of the battle and ask God to cover us with a magical force field. Rather, it says that “after we have done everything”, meaning prepared ourselves with the armor, “to stand”. So what are the battle tools God has provided and how do we prepare?

1. Belt of Truth, 2. Breastplate of Righteousness, 3. Gospel of Peace, 4. Shield of Faith, 5. Helmet of Salvation. 6. Sword of the Spirit: this is the word of God.

Every component of the armor of God is important, however, I am going to focus on two pieces: the breastplate of righteousness and the sword of the spirit.

The Breastplate of Righteousness: God has called us to live righteous lives in obedience to his commands and has given us His grace to overcome sin in our lives. We are to be dead to sin. Living a righteous life in Jesus Christ through the grace of God is our breastplate of righteousness mentioned in Ephesians 6. This is not something you just throw on in the middle of a battle. This is a lifestyle of obedience to God and a life free from sin.

The Sword of the Spirit: You must know his word, know what it says, and know how to apply it. This is the one tool in the armor of God that allows you to not only defend, but to also go on the offensive against the enemy. Jesus used the word of God to fight the devil when he was tempted in the desert. However, if you don’t have his word written on your heart and imprinted in your mind (memorized), you will find yourself without this critical part of the armor of God. The devil won’t allow you to call a time-out in the middle of his attack so you can go get your bible and search for a verse to throw at him.

Prepare your weapons now or when the battle arrives you will end up wearing armor that is equivalent to that plastic childrens suit of armor you can buy at the toy store.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

What is the Good News of Jesus Christ?

We have been told that the Gospel of Christ is the “good news”. Many think the good news means that we get to go to heaven because Christ died for our sins. While there is awesome truth in this statement for those that are in Christ Jesus, the good news goes much deeper – we can live victorious over sin today. Not only can we live free from sin, but we are called and commanded to live free from sin. As it is stated in the bible and is demonstrated throughout human history and in our own lives, we cannot live without sin by our own works or our own strength and discipline. However, through faith in Christ Jesus and by his grace we are given the tools and the power to crush sin and live an obedient life. This is true freedom in Christ.

Let's look at grace. What is the grace of God?
Is grace a get-out-of-hell free card? Is it an irrevocable ticket to heaven? No, the grace of God is a powerful tool that He has given to His saints in order that we might live the obedient and righteous lives He has called us to live. Is grace simply the safety net that catches us when we fall off the high wire of life into sin? No, God has given his saints a stabilizing rod that we can carry that allows us stay on the high wire and not fall. The stabilizing rod is God’s grace. It is a tool to help keep us from falling (into sin).

“Grace is popularly defined as 'unmerited favor'. While it does have this meaning in some limited applications, it is much much more.” If we are living in Christ we have been given the ability and tools to have dominion over sin by the grace of God and the Spirit of God. The scriptures say this about grace:

Romans 6:14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,

Jude 1:4 For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

These scriptures clearly present God’s grace as an active component and tool of our walk with Christ that helps us fight temptation and live a righteous life for God. Unfortunately, many Christians who believe grace is simply unmerited favor believe it is ok to continue to sin because God’s “grace” will protect them no matter what they do. They actually use God’s grace as a license to sin. Listen to what Paul says in Romans 6:1-2. “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”

Live obedient lives free from sin!
God commands us throughout the bible to live obedient lives free of sin and full of righteousness. In Romans Chapter 6 Paul speaks very clearly to this topic when he states: “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… For sin shall not be your master… You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness… But now that you have been set free from sin.” Paul is pretty clear that God expects us to live obedient lives free from sin.

Romans 6:11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13Do 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. 14For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace...
17But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness...
22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

John also speaks quite directly to the topic of sin in 1 John. We are to live in the light as he is in the light, God provides us with an advocate, and John concludes in chapter 3 that “no one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.”

1 John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

1 John 2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. 3We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

God is so good to those who love him and obey his commands. While he doesn’t want us to sin and doesn’t expect us to sin, he promises that His son, Jesus, who is the atoning sacrifice will speak in our defense if we do sin.

1 John 3:4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 6No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

What does John mean by “keeps on sinning” and “continuing to live in sin”? Is he saying that if we ever commit another sin we have never seen or know Jesus as our savior? He doesn’t say “no one who lives in him (never commits another sin)”. He uses the words “keeps on sinning”. He just eluded to the fact in chapter 2 that even those who love Him and obey His commands, meaning those whose lives are characterized by saying no to temptation and the through the grace of God seek and live an obedient life, may commit a sin. In chapter 3:4-6 he appears to be talking about those whose lives are characterized by continuing to say yes to temptation and have not accepted His grace that allows then to live obedient lives. He is talking about those, who instead of accepting His grace and thereby living obedient lives, say “God knows that I will still sin and I just can’t completely stop living with some of this sin and disobedience in my life”. If you are in Christ you will not accept sin as a part of your life. You will call on the grace of God and put sin to death. You will not “keep on sinning” and you will not “continue to sin”.

What is the difference between temptation and sin?
Is temptation the same thing as sinning? If you have an evil thought such as the desire to lust, to become angry, or the thought to tell a “white lie” in order to keep out of trouble, have you already sinned? Is the fact that you are being tempted or enticed to sin through “evil” thoughts or situations, sin itself? Not according to James. In fact, James tells us to count it all joy when we are tempted and to consider ourselves blessed when we are tempted. Why would he say that? Is it because that when we are tempted we have the opportunity through the grace of God to say no to the temptation and thereby put sin to death and receive the crown of life?

James 1:12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. 13Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: 14But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. KJV

Notice that we have evil desires. Temptation entices us and targets our lusts to create a desire to sin. We then have the “free will” to choose to allow the sinful desire to give birth to sin or to choose righteousness and say no to the temptation and thereby a deliver a death blow to our sinful desires and sin itself. The fact that you are tempted does not mean you have already sinned, in fact it is an opportunity to grow with God and exercise His grace.

James 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. NIV

The King James Version makes it even clearer:

James 1:2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. KJV

Here's some more good news. God never allows us to be tempted by more than we can handle and he always provides a way of escape.

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. NIV

The next time you face temptation remember James 1:12-15 and know that it is your opportunity to say no to temptation, put to death your lust, triumph over sin, and receive the crown of life.