Friday, September 26, 2014

Buffeting the Flesh Vs. Transforming the Heart

Php 4:11  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. Php 4:12  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. Php 4:13  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

While reading for a second time “To the Golden Shore”, a biography of Adoniram Judson, I came across an interesting time in his life.  Now before I challenge something he did during a particularly difficult time in his life, let me state that this is one of a few books that has had a profound effect upon my Christian life and so I heartedly recommend it.  Judson was a great man of faith and used mightily in the kingdom of God but there is an important point to make and something he said serves as a good illustration.

After his first wife died in Burma he got to thinking about the co-workers and his own children that had also died along with very little fruit for their efforts up until that time in Burma.  He began to wonder if in his zeal to do great things for God he had brought others into harm’s way and so began to feel guilty for his wife’s and other’s deaths; all to make a name for himself.  For a while I think he fell into one of the great traps that many in the name of Christianity fall into which is that he must punish himself and the best way to do this was to eradicate the pride in his life basically through self-denial. 

Let me quote him so you can see what I am writing about.  “…and the way to dispossess self-love is to cease indulging it; to regard and treat self as an enemy, a vicious animal, for instance, whose propensities are to be thwarted, whose indulgences are to be curtailed…”   When I got to this quote I knew pretty much what I was going to read next because you can see the Monasticism creeping into his thinking.  Certainly self-denial is a biblical teaching but it is all the extra-biblical things he says that shows he has gone well beyond healthy self-denial.  It is significant that during this time he moved off into the jungle to live by himself with only the absolute necessities to live on.

The Bible teaches that we are to deny ourselves that which does not serve to honor the Lord but if we are children of God who have been given new natures I don’t think that we are to think of ourselves as an enemy and a vicious animal.  Yes, we have corruption that remains within but denying ourselves the good things of life evidently because we can’t be trusted with them kind of misses the point I think. 

Notice in a further quote that this is exactly what Judson says that we are to do, “Adopt a course of daily, habitual self-denial…fast often; keep they body under…cease adorning they person…occupy a poor habitation; suffer inconveniences…Not only be content, but desirous, to be unknown, or being known, to be condemned and despised of all men…”   You can see his attempt to punish himself in these words as well.  But we also see that he believes we must basically take vows of poverty to battle sin in our life and it is better to wear rags and be offensive to people rather than being liked by others.

There are two problems I wanted to point out in this type of approach to the Christian life.  It falls into the mistake of assuming that being poor is the best way to battle the flesh.  But Jesus never taught that anyone had to deliberately be poor or make life as miserable as possible.  For sure we should be willing to live under such conditions if the Lord providentially calls us to it, but in reality being poor rather than rich or even “middle class” only exchanges one set of trials and temptations for another.  In either and all cases a child of God should be able to serve the Lord well.  Didn’t Paul say that he had learned to be content with little or much as the above verses show?

Secondly, I think this has our approach to sanctification somewhat backwards.  The only real way to control your flesh is to love Christ more than what your flesh desires.  This is how Paul could say that no matter what we do, do all for the glory of God.  We are always going to have sinful passions in this life but only by transforming our minds into conformity to Christ can we control them.  Merely denying your flesh what it wants will only stir up the desires all the more as 2000 years of Monasticism has shown.   Our body will only do what our mind allows it.  So the only way of sanctification that best honors the Lord is by developing a heart that loves him above all the things this world offers.  

It is interesting that just before Paul says that if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation in 2 Cor. 5, he said that the love of Christ controls us.  At the end of the day, our love for the Lord must be what rules our life.  Moralism and self-denial without that motivation is just so much legalism.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Are We Ruled By Emotions?

1Co 13:4  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant.  1Co 13:5  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 1Co 13:6  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

I am preaching through 1 Corinthians in church and right now we are in chapter 13.  We are all familiar with this chapter as it is one of the most beautiful and descriptive passages on love in the Bible.  I want to focus in this article on what is one of the most common misconceptions concerning love that we face which is defining love as an emotional feeling.  We can expand on this as we tend to live our lives based far too much on the way we feel rather than based on the truth of God.  Let’s face it; it is easier to be guided by emotion rather than taking the time and spending the energy to be guided by thinking through the Word of God in every situation.  But this is also one of the biggest areas of failure I believe Christians have.

We notice in these verses that love is not described as a series of feelings and emotions.  Actually these are all in the verb form so, as many have said before me, the focus here is not so much on what love is but what love does.  Much like faith which can only be evidenced by a faithful life, not by adhering to a set of doctrines; so love is proven by actions, not feelings.

So to display love towards a person and towards God as well, it should not be driven by how you feel but what you do.  Unfortunately too many times what we do and say is based entirely on how we feel at any given time.  But we need to remember that we are created in the image of God and if we are saved we have his Spirit indwelling in us.  We are human beings not animals and so we must not live by instinct and passion but by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”. 

The epitome of our depraved nature is deciding, or perhaps better, “sensing” how we feel about someone or some situation and then acting out those feelings rather than acting out the love of God.  This is much easier than being driven by love for the Lord because of the love shown to us in Christ Jesus and this motivating us to think through the Word of God and what action or word would honor the Lord the most.  But this at least in part is behind the ideas of taking up our cross and following the Lord and dying daily.  It is not about how we feel but we die to those passions that are only concerned for self and we live unto Christ.  How often is your speech guided by your feelings rather than your mind being transformed by your love for the Lord? 

Biblical love is to do good for its object.  In God’s case we love him and so want to glorify him in all things.  In our neighbor’s case it is to meet needs starting with spiritual needs.  If we believe the Lord to be the most wonderful and fulfilling person there is and the only Savior then if we love our neighbor we want to help them know and serve him.  My point here then is that acting out feelings toward people ignores all that and just focuses on how they affect me.  True Christianity thinks through how to best serve the Lord and others and makes life about God and not just self. 

Romans 12:17 ESV brings this out, Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  We must train ourselves to give thought to what we do and not just react to things like animals.  Verse 4 above says that love is patient and kind.  A person filled with the love of God doesn’t strike back in retaliation but considers what honors the Lord the most and can control himself to that end.  Love is not rash, love is calculated.  That might sound a little cold and I am not denying the gift of emotions and all that romantic love brings for instance, but I am merely saying that Christians are to be ruled by thinking, not passions; by a renewed mind, not the old man.  It is what separates us from the rest of creation.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Why Go It Alone?

Gen 4:9  Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" He said, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?"

It seems part of the ministry of the gospel minister is to deal with those who don’t think they need the local church, the fellowship of the saints and the accountability that joining a local church involves.  We all know someone who thinks that all they need is “Jesus” and that the church is just full of hypocrites and that they can take care of themselves.  I cannot remember a time even before I entered the Ministry that I was not dealing with this attitude.

The NT knows nothing of maverick Christianity and the very idea that we don’t need other people stems from the same error as hyper-Calvinism.  It ignores the means God has ordained to work out his sovereign plan.  Just because God ordained the end doesn’t mean it will happen apart from the means he ordained to get there.  This holds true when it comes to the Christian life.  The Lord has graciously given us means to grow and serve.  They include the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, human teachers and Christian influence and accountability to name a few.

In the above passage I find it interesting that Cain’s heart is exposed by the fact that he did not want to be held accountable for his brother.  Obviously this was worked out in murder.  Those that are under the misguided impression that they don’t need to be under the authority of the local church and in fellowship with their brothers and sisters in Christ are basically telling the Lord just what Cain was saying. 

We see it today not just in the lack of church support but in how so many refuse to commit to marriage and children; because they don’t want to get tied down to someone else.  But it couldn’t be any clearer that this is the epitome of selfishness as well as arrogance because to think you don’t need help in this life is just misguided foolishness.  We need accountability, we need to have a sense in which others need us and we need them to have a measure of fulfillment and satisfaction in life. 

Another way I know we were not meant to live in such arrogant isolation is because we are created in God’s image.  The Trinity belies such an independent spirit because even the persons of the Godhead have always existed for each other.  There has never been a time in all of eternity (and never will be) in which anyone existed by himself without a relationship with another.  Part of being human is needing others.  As Paul points out in 1 Cor. 12, we have much to offer others and we need what they offer to us, 1Co 12:21  The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."  The desire to be independent to the point in which you refuse to be accountable to your brothers and sisters in Christ merely exhibits your remaining sin but it is not being conformed to the image of the eternal Godhead. 

As always, the commands of God are always for our good.  Our Maker gave us the local church that we might prosper as children of God; as a place to serve and grow and it is the ultimate support group.  Submitting to the will of God always works better than trying to go it alone.