Friday, February 15, 2013

Victorious Christian Living

…Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Heb 11:36  Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. Heb 11:37  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated-- Heb 11:38  of whom the world was not worthy--wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. Heb 11:39  And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised… 

Hebrews 11 is about living by faith.  Many times in our modernized way of speaking we hear people describe it as Victorious Christian Living or Our Best Life Now or some other catch phrase.  But in essence this chapter is teaching us how to live in a way that honors the Lord which is by believing his revelation to us and living in light of that reality rather than just for the here and now.  We know this is what pleases God because he tells us in vs. 6 that one cannot please the Lord living in any other way and this is repeated in vs. 38 above where God is said to commend them for their faith. 

I quote the latter part of the chapter above because this helps us balance the first part.  Most of the chapter speaks of the great deeds and victories in the flesh performed by those who lived by faith and that is all well and good.  What many fail to remember though is that these were to a great degree illustrations of living by faith but not the goal of living by faith.  

We notice starting in the latter half of vs. 35 that the results of living by faith change dramatically from victorious in the flesh to defeat, humiliation and sufferings in the flesh.  And yet these are equally commended by the Lord as faithful saints who will receive their reward every bit as much as the great saints of the OT who conquered kingdoms and stopped the mouths of lions, etc . 

The lesson of Hebrews 11 to the saint living in the New Covenant era is that God has revealed to us that it is primarily through our weakness and suffering that we will exhibit God’s glory in our lives and not through victories on the battlefield or in politics or on Wall St.  One most readily thinks of when the Apostle Paul had to learn this in 2 Cor. 12 when he assumed that he could do much more for the Lord by being exalted in the flesh, 2Co 12:9  But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  One other text that comes to mind is Rev 12:11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.  These saints conquered for the Lord not by the sword or by having their “best life now” but by giving up their lives in his service. 

And so Christians today must fight the message of the TV preachers who tell us that to have victory in Christ is to have plenty of money in the bank or live in a Christian culture or live under a Christian government or to even be respected by this world.  Not only have we not been called to those things but they can in large part hinder us from victorious Christian living.  We sometimes spend more time trying to look successful in the world’s eyes than in God’s.  As those in Revelation 12, their victory is seen in their willingness to die for the Lord, not in their holding onto this life at all costs.   

Does not the NT teach us that we win by dying, not by staying alive or happy in the flesh?  We most perfectly honor the Lord by remaining faithful and full of joy and contentment and patience during the difficult times so that we proclaim to all that Christ means more to us than anything in the life.  This is almost impossible to do as effectively when everything is going well and certainly when we are living at the top financially or politically. 

This is also where I believe the Deeper Life Movement shows its weakness.  The victorious Christian life is not to be sinless or even close to being sinless.  It also is not to be so mysteriously controlled by the Holy Spirit so that we seldom sin or make mistakes.  While that ultimate victory awaits us in glory, Christian victory in this life is to love Christ so much that we live or die to his glory before this world.  And this can be accomplished and probably only can be accomplished effectively in trial, adversity, humiliation, poverty, persecution and such experiences that the power of God can rest upon us and his glory be seen by the debt of our love for him.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Parading Our Sin

Mat 23:5  But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, Mat 23:6  And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues. 

In my previous article I dealt with Jesus’s condemnation of the outward religion of these Jewish leaders as they concentrated on the little things and missed the most important aspects of worshipping God.  I applied it to our tendency to think ourselves okay because the outward man looks good while the inward man is not doing well at all.  I quoted the above passage from Matthew 23 because these verses deal primarily with their pride.  It is our pride that I would like to write a few thoughts about today.   

I was listening to Albert Mohler today as he made an interesting observation about what is referred to as Gay Pride Parades.  He rightly noticed how it is not unusual for sinners to be proud of their sin.  We are seeing little by little that fewer and fewer sins are to be ashamed of but instead they are demanded to be embraced as good.   

But as I said in the previous article, it is trying to see how we Christians might be guilty of the same thing that is most important in applying this passage of scripture and as I thought of Homosexuals parading around proud of their sin I wondered if we do the same thing many times. 

Pride after all is the essence of all sin as we seek to put ourselves above God and others.  At our church we have been going through the Peacemakers DVD series which has been a first rate, biblical look at how we are to resolve offenses and differences with each other.  And as you begin to look at the root reasons for bad relationships it is the sin of pride that mostly stands in our way.  We are too proud to confess our guilt before God and certainly before each other.   

And this is where I think we are guilty many times of the same type of sin as those who march through the streets proud of their sin.  Even though we are faithful to church and prayer and devotions and tithing and all the rest of those easy to do outward signs of religion, we very stubbornly refuse to humble ourselves with each other and be honest of our guilt and confess our sins to each other.  Perhaps we ought to have a Stubborn Pride Parade.  After all we seem quite content to live with strained, awkward and certainly ungodly relationships with each other and if anyone would dare confront us with our problems we blow up or clam up (husbands) or separate ourselves and have an even worse relationship with them rather than listen to those who love us and want us to do right. 

Hey, at least we aren’t guilty of homosexuality, right?  Well, no, but aren’t we equally guilty of being so proud of our sinfulness that we refuse to listen to anyone and even dare anyone to point out our sin?  Every time we get angry at someone without cause and refuse to do right we might as well print a banner that we are proud of ourselves and march around the church.  At least then we will not be guilty of hypocrisy!  Instead we tend to go around and point out all the sins we aren’t guilty of rather than the ones of which we are guilty. 

There is no end to the Sin Pride Parades we could participate in if we think about it.  And it isn’t because we aren’t guilty at times of all these things but it is because we are so willing to stay in a state of such sins and refuse to forsake them and seemingly dare anyone to approach us about them.  That is what makes me think we are proud of our sins.  When I see a Christian willing to stay angry and distant to another sister or brother in Christ for years or a husband or wife willing to live in a cold, distant, unloving, non-intimate, abusive relationship with their spouse right into the grave, it leaves me shaking my head.   

Clearly honoring the Lord has been abandoned, not to mention loving your neighbor as yourself.  We might as well have an “I’m Proud And Not Going To Change Parade” and admit what everyone else already knows.    Because like those marching in the Gay Pride Parade, all we are doing is daring anyone to suggest that we are not doing what we should be doing. 


Friday, February 1, 2013

Outward Religion

Mat 23:13  "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.  Mat 23:15  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves…Mat 23:23  "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Mat 23:24  You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! 

I quoted only a few of the woes pronounced on the hypocritical Pharisees by Jesus as he rejects them and the OC which they have broken.  The entire section is a diatribe against their hypocrisy and outward religion that requires no heart change and certainly no true love for God.  The applications that we can glean as Christians are many.  Here is a section from one of my sermons from this passage where I try to apply it to the way we sometimes follow their example. 

“Verse 24. Here is a great example.  Insects were unclean and thereby not to be eaten according to the Word of God to those under the OC.  So some Pharisees would drink through clenched teeth so that no insect would slip by and they become a defiled “sinner”.  The problem was that their hypocrisy far more defiled them than a bug in their tummy.   

And I hope as we close that we don’t miss the main point as well.  It is easy for us to make big things of that which is small and to make outward things a substitute for the heart.  We can make church attendance and tithing a substitute for godliness and growing in love for the Lord; we can make outward discipline a substitute for reaching our children’s heart; we can make not getting a divorce more important than having a godly marriage.  We can train our children to not marry an unsaved person or not touch them before they get married and yet set such a bad example of marriage that we have failed to really prepare them.  Yes, we want our children, for instance, to enter marriage as virgins but if that is the best we have done we have failed them.   

We can give our children three squares a day and clothe them and teach them how to do a budget and have a good work ethic but never convince them that you as a parent have been touched by the grace of God.  Oh, we have conformed to the law but we haven’t convinced them that we are transformed and conformed to Christ’s image.  We have substituted religion for godliness and condemn ourselves to the misery that comes in legalism.  We have made them good conservatives, taught them the evils of the welfare system, made them good farmers, supported them in all the schools activities, made them good athletes, good cooks, faithful to church and prayer and devotions, taught them to be tithers, haters of evolution and liberalism and such things.  But we many times fail in the most important thing which is to bring them to Christ and live Christ in front of them and so consign them to the same outward religion that will fail them in life just like it does us so many times. 

Like those Pharisees, these are the things we need to repent of.”