Renewing the Mind Reflections

Self-Sufficiency or Gratitude

“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them…” (Deuteronomy 11:13–16, ESV).

031 Stoke Rochford Ss Andrew & Mary, interior - tower arch restoration plaque

A plaque on a church thanks God for protection during World War II. By Acabashi [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

During the past year, a new phrase has gained popularity: “fake news.” The term has been around for a while, but it now permeates the Internet. If one does not want to believe something that has been reported, they will claim it is fake news. While President Donald Trump may be most responsible for the phrase’s popularity, no side of the political spectrum holds a monopoly on it. Indeed, some websites and media outlets are generally untrustworthy and deserve to be called “fake news,” but many will invoke that term to avoid investigating claims that go against their presuppositions, regardless of the source.

Like I said, fake news has been around for some time. In a very real sense, it is just the newest synonym in a family of words and phrases related to untruth, dishonesty, deception, etc. It is the newest twist on “lie.” People are prone to believe lies, especially in the spiritual realm. In my previous post, I addressed a few of the lies that we can overcome through confession of sin. No single short article can address all of the spiritual lies people believe, but we will look at some of the big ones in the next few weeks.

Perhaps the greatest lie of all is self-sufficiency, and God’s Word warns His people against it frequently in His Word. A false belief that “I accomplished something great and do not need God’s help” is the entry point onto the shortcut to idolatry. Deuteronomy 11:13–16 reminds the reader of a similar warning earlier in that book:

“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you…” (Deuteronomy 6:10–14).

Similar warnings appear elsewhere in Scripture. In Revelation 3:14–22, Jesus reprimanded the Laodicean church for its lukewarm faith. Most Christians will read their own pet peeve into that passage: Did Jesus think their worship songs were boring? Were they praying too mechanically? Maybe they enjoyed the same hobbies and entertainment as their heathen neighbors did. Actually, none of those were the real problems. Laodicea was a very wealthy community, prospering from a nearby hot spring and other successful industries. We see Jesus hinting at these blessings throughout His rebuke, beginning with the hot springs: Once the water cooled off, it was lukewarm and unpleasant. The city was famous for an eye salve and textiles, both of which are called unprofitable in this warning. Their lukewarm faith was not so much a matter of worship or morals: They thought they could make it on their own and did not need Jesus in their daily lives. Thus, He ends up outside the church, asking to be invited in. Laodicea thus becomes a picture of many Christians: lukewarm, self-sufficient, leaving our Saviour out in the cold.

Despite God’s warnings, the lie of self-sufficiency is one that people love to believe. American culture exalts the “self-made man.” We celebrate the man who rose from humble means to become a great success in business, politics, or some other field. We create a myth about how he achieved greatness by the sweat of his brow and his own ingenuity and inspiration, with little or no help from others. Those who guided or assisted him can be readily forgotten. The Frank Sinatra song that declares “I did it my way” may very well be the anthem of the self-made man.

To such people, Jesus declares, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God had placed those healing waters close to Laodicea. He gave each of us the talents, insight, and resources that lead to our success. He surrounded us with the people who helped us succeed. With every victory we achieve, or every goal we accomplish in life, we should give thanks to God first and foremost. He made it possible.

The lie of self-sufficiency is a step towards idolatry. For the ancient Israelites, that could be idolatry in the most literal sense. They might decide, “I had a great harvest. Yahweh didn’t do this; I did it! Maybe I can shop around for other gods who will allow me to do things my way to prosper.” The all-powerful God of all things, who provided the soil and weather that made a produced a bountiful harvest, may be rejected in favor of idols whom the self-made man seeks to manipulate for greater gain.

Today, we may choose other idols. In its broadest sense, an idol can be anything that we choose to focus on instead of God. We can make our own ideas an idol. We can idolize money (Ephesians 5:5 equates idolatry with covetousness or greed), political parties and systems, self-help gurus, financial advisors, etc. Anything or anybody who takes our eyes off God and claims to offer peace, pleasure, and prosperity can be an idol.

The answer to the lie of self-sufficiency is gratitude. It is tempting to give ourselves a pat on the back whenever we accomplish something. However, before we exalt ourselves, let us take some time to think of three ways that God made your success possible. What obstacles to success were not present because He removed them even before you began? Why or what helped you succeed? How did you obtain the resources to succeed? How did you develop the skills to succeed? The answer to almost all of these questions will point back to God’s grace. He remains the source of all our blessings, and He deserves to be thanked and worshiped because of His goodness.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Confession: Resisting the Lies of the Enemy

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (I John 1:8–10, ESV).

The Holy Bible

The Bible is the Christian’s guide for confession and for distinguishing between God’s truth and Satan’s lies

St. Paul wrote in Romans 12:1–2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Much of our spiritual warfare takes place in the mind. The Christian’s bloodiest battlefield is usually the space between their ears. If we want to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God, to offer Him true spiritual worship, and to avoid being conformed to this sinful world, we must let our minds be renewed. This is crucial to transformation.

One reason our minds need renewal is because we often believe lies. Jesus said that Satan is the father of lies. He is, in some way, responsible for every idea, philosophy, or world view that contradicts the Bible; for example, we may say that Satan is the father of atheistic evolution, false religious cults, and postmodern sexual morals. However, his cleverest lies deceive us about who we are in relation to Him. Once Satan can trap us in a spiritual identity crisis, he can plant the seeds of greater deception.

1 John 1:8–10 hints at two closely related lies that many Christians fall for: “We have no sin” and “We have not sinned.” The first implies that one has achieved a state of moral perfection; the other claims that either we were always in that state of moral perfection or that some people really have not sinned. “We have not sinned” may have several other lies attached to it:

  • “There really is no such thing as sin. Morality and ethics are relative, so there is no such thing as objective right and wrong.” This is one of Satan’s most commonly believed lies in our time.
  • “Our actions are heavily directed by our biology (hormones, neurotransmitters, etc.), so defining something as ‘sin’ is really just trying to force a cultural norm on another person.”
  • “There are some sins out there, but only really horrible people (note: people who have done bad things that we have never tried) are actually sinners. Adolf Hitler is a sinner, because he murdered so many people. Since I’ve never killed anybody, I am not as bad as him, so I am not a sinner.”

“We have no sin” (the present tense lie) includes a few other possible deceptions:

  • “Well, I used to be a sinner, but since I became a Christian, my sins are all forgiven. Therefore, what I do does not matter anymore.”
  • “I have an excuse for any sin: My carnal nature (or flesh) committed the sin, but my spirit had nothing to do with it. Or, the devil made me do it. Or, it’s always someone else’s fault: I lost my temper because my father was an alcoholic, or the other person pushed my buttons, or other people hurt my feelings.”
  • These other two lies can combine into a false view of entire sanctification: The believer claims to have experienced a crisis moment of sanctification after salvation and is now totally free from sin. Therefore, if they do something that looks like sin, either (a) there is some exception to the normal rules about sin here or (b) it is the other person’s fault.

Some Christians believe this because they have accepted Satan’s shrewdest lie of all: The belief that “God is harsh and you need to earn His love.” His justice and righteousness demand that we get our acts together. If we believe that is true, we have only two options: Make excuses to convince ourselves that we have met God’s standards, or beat ourselves up for failure. Somehow, we can convince ourselves about this even when we know that Jesus died for our sins and we are forgiven. We may intellectually believe that God gracious and forgiving, while our emotions convince us that God is like the judgmental, harsh, or abusive people in our lives. It is hard to believe that our heavenly Father loves us unconditionally when we were never quite “good enough” for our earthly parents.

God’s justice, though, is intimately bound with His grace and mercy. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins when we confess them. We have no need to make excuses. When we realize we have sinned (or, perhaps, we even think we might have sinned), we can go to Him, admit our wrongs, and ask for forgiveness and cleansing. Repentance means that we admit we were wrong and ask God to help us turn from the sin in the future. Sanctification means that He will give us the victory over that sin. It may not happen overnight. You might confess the same sins every day, and He will forgive you again and again. If you are sincere in your confession, the day will come when you cannot think of a reason to confess that same sin again. (“Wait a minute, God: Did I just go the entire day without committing XXX? Hallelujah!”)

Forget the devil’s lies. Have you sinned? Yes: The Word of God says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Does that mean that God hates you? No; like a loving parent, He is there to pick us up no matter how often we fall, and to clean us up whenever we make a mess. Confess your sin; admit you need His help; and believe He will do it.

If you are a Christian, take some time daily to confess your sins and lay hold of a renewed awareness of forgiveness. I say the following prayer twice a day to keep my “sin account” short (feel free to replace “We” with “I”):

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

from The Book of Common Prayer

You can make up your own prayer of confession or find some online. A few good confession prayers are available at http://thirdmill.org/files/english/html/worship/pray.confess.html.

If you have never surrendered your life to Jesus and invited Him to be Lord of your life, you may prayer for forgiveness and new life in this way (from PeaceWithGod.net)

“Dear God, I know I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe that He died for my sin and that you raised Him to life. I want to trust Him as my Savior and follow Him as Lord, from this day forward. Guide my life and help me to do your will. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.”

Let us not allow fear to hold us back from approaching God to receive forgiveness. We may confidently approach the throne of grace to obtain mercy, whenever we need it!

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Christian’s True Identity

“During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:2–5, ESV, emphasis added).

Jesus-washing-feet-01-1.jpg

Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. He could assume the lowliest servant’s role, because He knew His true identity.

Yesterday, my wife and I attended a one-day retreat organized by one of the ministry teams at my church. Throughout the day, we reflected upon and discussed several questions about our identity as Christians. “How am I known in heaven? Who do I say I am? Who does God say I am?”

Such questions about identity guide our lives. A person with a distorted, diminished, or deficient understanding of who they are will act on that sense of self-identity. A person who views himself or herself as a “loser” or a victim will expect to fail. (Sadly, many people make the opposite mistake; with a delusional, inflated self-image, they may try to be something they are not and fail at that.)

As Christians observe Holy Week, we note that Jesus had a clear awareness of His identity, which was necessary for Him to complete His mission of redemption. John notes that, as Jesus prepared to eat the Last Supper with His disciples, He knew that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was returning to God. He knew who He was. He knew He was operating from a place of victory: indeed, even a place of omnipotence.

He had lived His entire life with this keen awareness that He was the Son of God and that He had been sent from heaven. Luke 2:41–51 tells the story of Jesus, when He was 12 years old. After celebrating the Passover feast in Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary started the journey home, only to realize later that Jesus was not with them. Finally, they found Him in the temple, discussing theology with the pre-eminent rabbis of their day. Mary reprimanded Him for causing them to worry. Jesus replied, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 12:49). Approximately 13 years after angels told Mary and Joseph that they would raise the Son of God, they seemed to forget. However, Jesus remembered Who He was, Who His Father is, and what His purpose would be.

Without knowing His true identity, Jesus probably would have been happy to open a carpentry shop and build stuff for the people of Nazareth until He was old and gray. However, He knew He was sent for something more significant. Because He knew Who He was, He could accept the most mundane, demeaning task of a household servant and wash the disciples’ feet. Knowing that He was the Son of God, for the joy set before Him, He could endure the cross, despise its shame, and obtain eternal life for all who would follow Him.

What about us? Do we truly know our true identity as Christians? Perhaps most Christians have a false spiritual self-image. After church today, a few men from our church’s drug and alcohol recovery program addressed the congregation during the post-worship coffee hour. At one point, one of the men said, “Well, I’m no saint, but….” A member of the congregation responded that none of us are. Scripture says they were both wrong.

The Bible says that we are saints. In 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul addresses his letter to “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” It is true that the Corinthians Christians were imperfect; much of the letter corrected them for their shortcomings. However, he still called them saints along with all those who call upon the name of Jesus. As Christians:

  • We are saints.
  • We are holy and blameless in God’s sight (see Ephesians 1:4).
  • We are children of God, co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17): In other words, we are Jesus’ little brothers and little sisters, loved by God the Father.
  • We are alive in Christ, seated with Him in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:4–5).

The list goes on, much longer than I can include in a single blog post. We once were sinners—that was our identity before we came to know Jesus—but that is no longer our true identity. Even though we struggle with sin,  it is no longer how God sees us. He does not define us by our sins, our failures, our defeats, our mistakes, or the mistakes of our parents. He defines us as His children, saints who are blameless because we are alive in Christ.

Let us each claim our true identity in Christ, believe it, and live by it. This is a major element of being transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). It is e a lifelong journey. I expect to devote many hours of prayer, Bible study and reflection to learning more about my new identity in Christ. A one-day retreat is a great place to start, but habitually embracing one’s identity in Christ takes a lifetime.

As we observe Holy Week, I will remember that “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). I have been crucified with Christ, so that I may live in the power of His resurrection (see Romans 6:6–11). This is the privilege and identity of all true saints who call upon the name of Jesus.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Honesty and Unity—Ephesians 4:25–27

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:25–27).

ephesians-4-26-27.jpgIn December, I posted an article entitled “Renewed Mind and New Self—Ephesians 4:17–24.” This article follows up on that post, in part because the verses cited above immediately follow those. Furthermore, having your mind renewed by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God will not only empower you to live like the “new man” God says you are when you come to Christ: This leads to a transformation in your relationships with others.

Our relationships with other Christians should especially be affected. Jesus commands us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). This should especially occur in our relationships with other Christians. Paul says each of us should “speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” Whether we like it or not, we are united with other Christians, and this should affect how we live. Paul writes that we should be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

This spiritual unity should guide our entire Christian walk. We do not go to church: We are the church. We are members of the body of Christ and, as such, members of one another. If I attack or abuse my brother or sister in Christ, I attack or abuse Jesus and, in the process, I abuse myself.

Many evangelical Christians speak of having “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” However, while the relationship is personal, it is not individualistic. It is a familial relationship. My relationship with Christ unites me with other people who are part of the family of God, the same way other family relationships unite us with others.

This relationship with Christ demands us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ as much as we love ourselves, because God is love. It also calls us to live honestly and truthfully with other Christians, because Jesus is the Truth.

This does not mean we must admit every sin and struggle to every other person in the church. Unfortunately, none of us is perfect, and some believers can be terribly critical or judgmental, and may be horrible gossips. However, we should be honest with ourselves, with God, and with others: Particularly, we should not deceive anybody, and we should find those mature brothers and sisters with whom we can be completely honest. James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

james-5-16

In some churches, you may be able to go to a member of the clergy for sacramental confession. The priest or minister is required to hear your confession, remind you of Christ’s forgiveness, and never mention your sin again. They should model forgiveness, so that you may be empowered to live a holy life.

If your church does not have sacramental confession, find a mature believer whom you can trust: Someone who will listen to you without demeaning or judging you, who will remind you that you are forgiven, and who will guard your darkest secrets as if they are his own.

We should be honest about our emotions and our conflicts as well. “Be angry and do not sin” does not mean we should look for opportunities to get ticked off. Rather, it means we will get angry eventually. People will say or do things that hurt our feelings. However, that does not mean we should act out sinfully to resolve a situation. We should not bottle up our feelings. However, when we express our anger, we should do it in such a way that we work toward restoration of the relationship as quickly as we can. Do not give the devil an opportunity to inspired bitterness, grudges, hostility, or conflict within the church, the family, or the social circle. Speak up, speak honestly, speak the truth in love, and allow the God of truth to work in your life and heart.

Christian unity is not based on our feelings. It is a supernatural result of our unity with Christ. Because we are members of His body, we are united with other believers. Because of this, love and sincerity should characterize our relationships one with another.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Renewed Mind and New Self—Ephesians 4:17–24

“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:17–24, ESV)

The Holy Bible

Over the past few months, I have tagged several of my articles as “Renewing the Mind Reflections.” I encourage you to visit that link under “Categories” on my page for more articles on this subject. One blog post cannot cover it all.

Paul uses the term “renewing the mind” or something like it several times in his letters. He also speaks of the “new self” or new man frequently. Here, they come together. The old man—the person who is not “in Christ” or born again—needs an attitude adjustment. Because they are darkened in their understanding, ignorant, and hard-hearted, they are alienated from the life of God. This is why they engage in sensuality, greed, and impurity. We should not be surprised when non-believers live, think, and act like non-believers: It is who they are.

Yet, many of us (most? all?) continue to struggle with sin even years after turning to Jesus. We can shrug it off by saying, “Nobody’s perfect.” Yet, there is a way to win greater victories than we have experienced before.

Paul tells his readers “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” In other words, there are several elements of this change: (1) Put off the old self; (2) be renewed in the spirit of your minds; and (3) put on the new self.

At first glance, it sounds like we have to be renewed in the spirit of our minds before we can put on the new self. If we understand putting on the new self as salvation, this can be discouraging. After all, I turned my life over to Jesus over 30 years ago, and I still see areas where I need my mind renewed. I would propose, though, that Paul is not talking about chronological order here. He is emphasizing that these experiences are intertwined: As a child of God, one who is no longer alienated from the life of God (because I have, or continue to, put off the old self and put on the new), I will renew my mind.

Renewal of the mind is a process, but it is essential. When I struggle with sin or other hindrances to my walk with the Lord, there is often some “old self thinking” involved. I may be accepting Satan’s lies about a certain sin (everybody else does it; you really have to do this to make it in today’s world; it’s not so bad) or lies about who I am in Christ. There may be some other lies involved as well.

Paul writes in another verse of Scripture:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

It is easy to recognize that a renewed mind would take on God’s perspective about sin, righteousness, and holiness: for example, the renewed Christian mind recognizes that adultery and fornication are sins, even if the modern world says they don’t really hurt anybody. Reading the Bible may help us to recognize that activities we thought are acceptable may be sinful. However, renewal of the mind goes even further. In Romans 12, Paul follows the previous verse by writing:

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3).

Too often, we think Bible reading and its related “renewal of the mind” is only about sin, morality, or perhaps some basic biblical theology. But, it is more: renewing the mind includes gaining a new perspective about who you are. It is also important to gain a new perspective about who God is.

Over 20 years ago, I was struggling with deep depression. One of the tools I used to find remission (I will not claim I am fully healed of depression; it can rear its ugly head when I least expect it) was a new approach to Bible meditation. As I would read the Bible, I would take note of verses that talk about a believer’s status or identity in Christ. I would write those verses on index cards, personalizing if appropriate (e.g., inserting my name in place of generic term for Christians). Then, I would keep that stack of index cards handy; if I had a free moment (for example, stopped at a red light while driving), I would read the next verse and think about for the next few minutes.

My goal was to stop thinking of the Bible as only a book of rules, regulations, and ideas I must believe. It was also God’s message, telling me who He is and who I am. I had to not only believe some doctrines. I had to believe that God is my Father, that He loves me, and that the things He says about His children are (or can be) true specifically about me.

Friends, allow God to renew your minds. Read the Bible. Meditate on it. Recognize what it says about you, and pray that God will make those truths visible in your life. As you allow Him to renew your mind, eventually your perspective will change and your life will follow.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Renewing the Mind Reflections, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

A New Heart, A New Life—Ezekiel 36:25–27

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:25–27, ESV).

The_Holy_Bible

These words come from a prophecy wherein God promises to restore the fortunes of His people, the Israelite tribe of Judah, to their own land after a period of exile. At the same time, though, they find greater fulfillment in the New Covenant.

Many Christians fall into a trap of forcing ourselves to live by man-made rules, trying to do so in our own efforts. “If I just try harder, I will kick this addiction all by myself. If I come up with stricter to rules to follow, I will not be tempted in this area of my life.” Okay, we may not say those exact words. Yet, how often are we tempted to believe that our rules or efforts somehow make us more spiritual, or more holy, or better equipped to be a better person? To some, it is not enough to try to live by the commandments that are clearly spelled out in the Bible; we need to add rules. “Don’t listen to that kind of music! Don’t drink that! Don’t go to movies or watch television!”

God has not called us to follow new rules. He calls us to be a new kind of person: One in whom His Holy Spirit can dwell. These verses provide three elements of the new birth we receive when we surrender to Jesus:

  • Cleansing: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.” This is where it begins. We accept the free gift of salvation through Jesus’ death for our sins. God cleanses us. He forgives us for our sins. Cleansing can be a process. At salvation, we are forgiven completely, but we often find ourselves struggling with sin. (Or, at times, not struggling enough: We may just continue to willfully give in to temptation, because we enjoy it.) Forgiveness may be immediate and complete, and not based at all on our performance. Sanctification—the process whereby we become more like Christ—takes a lifetime. But, that is where the other elements come in.
  • Renewal: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Perhaps the greatest challenge we face as believers is that we do not truly believe this promise. Do I still have the same old heart of stone (spiritually dead, hardened against the will of God) or do I have a heart of flesh (in this sense, a living heart, one that has been softened to the will of God; one that beats in tune with the heart of God)?  Do I truly believe that I have a new spirit? Do I identify myself as a child of God, or do I still identify myself by my sins and failings?
    As a Christian, I do not merely have a new lifestyle. I have a new life. I have a new identify as a child of God.
  • Indwelling: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” This may be a continuation of the previous promise, but with more detail perhaps. God does not merely give us a new life with a new identity. He gives us the resources we need to live that new life.  The Holy Spirit dwells within those who have received salvation through Christ. He enables us to live the new life.

Part of growing in a relationship with Christ is recognizing what He has done for and in us and trusting Him to do His perfect work in us. At the same time, we have to recognize when the “old me” is popping up again. The old me can take many forms. It can be outright sinful behavior. It can be a bad attitude. It can be fear, worry, or anxiety. It can be bitterness or unforgiveness. When the old me emerges, I must remind myself of who I am in Christ, turn to Him, and allow His Spirit to guide me in the right direction.

When temptation comes, let us learn to lean on our Saviour and seek His strength to live the kind of life to which He calls us.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The War Within—Galatians 5:16–18

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Galatians 5:16–18, ESV)

Many Christians are familiar with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). St. Paul listed them for us, along with a list of deeds of the flesh, to assist us in a spiritual battle that rages within each of us.

Paul writes a lot about the war within. In Romans 7, he spells out his dilemma in great detail. With his mind, he desires to follow the law of God; but his flesh (the NIV translates this as “sinful nature”) seems to drag him in another direction, compelling him to do the things he does not want to do. This theme appears frequently in his writings, since it is a timeless problem. The outward appearance of temptation may change across cultures and time, but the nature of sin and its deceitfulness never change.

We have all been there: Probably every Christian has a besetting sin that causes frustration, anxiety, guilt, or shame. It can range from alcohol or drug addiction, to a bad temper, to a tendency towards irritability or worry, to sexual obsession, etc. We are not alone, though. The apostle who wrote approximately one-half of the New Testament books openly shared his struggle with us. The Gospels share some of the struggles of other apostles, like Peter and John. Even the heroes of the faith suffered this inner conflict.

I wish I could come up with a five- or seven-point plan for “walking in the Spirit,” which is the solution Paul offers. However, one really does not seem to exist. Countless books offer great suggestions: Pray more, read your Bible, listen to worship music. Even my most recent blog posts, including this one, are centered around renewing your mind with Scripture. Each of these suggestions is only part of the solution to walking in the Spirit, but there is no simple plan. Walking in the Spirit is a constant minute-by-minute commitment.

It begins when we come to Jesus, to receive His Holy Spirit within us and give us a new life. We are born again, and we begin the journey of walking in the Spirit.

We then commit ourselves to Him day by day, to acknowledge His presence and ask Him to lead and guide us. For me, that usually involves three times of prayer per day: usually one in the morning before I leave for work, a brief time of prayer during my lunch break, and a third in the evening. However, I cannot afford to just “turn off” the presence of God when my prayers end. I have to continue to acknowledge His presence: I may no longer be praying, but I can remind myself that God is with me even during my secular employment.

Most importantly, we need to RUN TO HIM when we begin to lose a sense of God’s presence. He is always with His children, since the Holy Spirit abides in them. So, when we do not feel the Spirit’s presence, it simply means we have lost that connection, but God is eager to restore it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that, at the moment of temptation, “God is quite unreal to us.” (A great reflection on that quote can be found here.) When we face temptation, we need to run back to Him and not try to face sin in our own strength. Our own self-will (the flesh) is what usually led us into temptation; therefore, self-will cannot deliver us. Only the power of God can do that.

Again, there is no easy formula for walking in the Spirit. It can best be summarized like this: You have been born again as a child of God; now live like a child of God. Remember who you are, and Who lives with you and in you. Most importantly, when you have strayed from God’s best for your life, run back to Him.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Godly Sorrow—2 Corinthians 7:10

“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10, NASB).

We all know the repeat apologizer. Over and over, he or she disappoints us, breaks promises, or does things to hurt us (accidentally or intentionally). He or she then apologizes and promises to stop doing it. However, before long, they make the same mistake and repeat the same apologies and promises. He or she might be a friend, spouse or other family member, or co-worker. If we are honest, we are probably that person to somebody else, in some area of our lives. I think all believers, at some point, are such repeat apologizers towards God.

The apologies and promises sound sincere, but after a while one loses faith in them. Is that person truly sorry, or just trying to manipulate feelings?

St. Paul contrasted two kinds of sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7. The King James Version refers to one of them as “godly sorrow” (or, as the NASB puts it, “sorrow according to the will of God”), which produces a true repentance leading unto salvation. “The sorrow of the world,” on the other hand, leads to spiritual death.

In many cases, the sorrow of the world is primarily being “sorry that I got caught.” From time to time, a politician or celebrity gets caught in a sex scandal. Initial rumors are usually followed by protests of innocence (the alleged adulterer accuses others of false accusations or blackmail), but once the evidence mounts, he publicly apologizes for his wrongdoing, often praising his wife for being such a wonderful woman whom he never intended to hurt. In far too many cases, the cycle is repeated soon thereafter.

It is not only sex. Many people are never sorry for other misdeeds until they are caught: Think of the person who drives while intoxicated until he is finally pulled over by the police, or the co-worker who steals office supplies until the boss figures out where all those pens and reams of printer paper went.

Others may be sorry for the consequences of their actions. A young woman may be sorry that she got pregnant with that guy she just met. Or, the drunk driver is sorry that he totalled his car in the accident.

It is so easy to get angry or frustrated with those people. Yet, how often are we like that with God? We confess our sins during prayer, and it is the exact same set of sins we confessed yesterday. The time, location, circumstances, and other affected or involved persons have changed, but we did the same thing. We tell God we are sorry, but we will probably do it again tomorrow.

Being sorry for getting caught will not bring repentance. It will just train us to find more elaborate ways to avoid getting caught the next time.

Being sorry for suffering consequences may change us for a little while. A few years ago, after a severe gall-bladder attack, I took drastic action to improve my diet: No more doughnuts; no more candy bars; cut back on coffee; avoided fatty foods. However, not long after I recovered from gall-bladder surgery, I was back to my old eating habits. Painful consequences might deter us, but if we can find our way around them, we will go right back to our old ways.

Jesus tell us that the two greatest laws in Scripture are “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What kind of sorrow will produce true lasting repentance? Only a sorrow that connects with love. If we love God and love our neighbors, we will lay a foundation for godly sorrow which will lead to true repentance.

  • Love the Lord your God: Recognize who He is and all He has done for you. Acknowledge that His will for your life, especially as revealed in Scripture, is better than anything you can come up with. Then, seek to do His will and live the kind of life that will leave no obstacles between you and Him.
  • Love your neighbor: Biblical love is not just good feelings. It is a sacrificial active pursuit of the other’s best interests. It involves caring enough to seek to improve the other person’s life or situation. (Read 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 for a more detailed explanation.) Do we think about how our choices will affect the person we love?

Repentance is the starting point for pursuing a new way of life, and it usually begins with the right kind of sorrow.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

All Have Sinned—Romans 3:21–25

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Romans 3:21–25, ESV).

Several of my recent posts have addressed the believer’s need for confession and repentance. These do not tell the full story of salvation. However, they lay a firm foundation for one to come to faith in Jesus Christ. True Christian faith must begin from the perspective expressed in Romans 3:23—“all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….”

Jesus came, died, and rose again because all of are sinners who need forgiveness. We need redemption; we need propitiation by His blood. Far too many professed Bible-believing Christians have not accepted the biblical Christian gospel, but a heretical distortion of it which some have called moralistic therapeutic deism (or MTD). I gave a more detailed summary of this worldview in Faith and Provision. (I urge readers who are not familiar with this term to read the section of that post which describes MTD; a more detailed description can be found on Wikipedia.) Many Christians talk, think, and live as if Jesus’ purpose was to give us our “best life now,” to offer us purpose and personal satisfaction. They are seeking what humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow called “self actualization.”

Jesus did not come into this world, live, die, and rise again so that we could achieve self actualization. He did not come to give us a sense of self-satisfaction. He came because all of us have sinned in some way. We all need forgiveness, justification, and redemption.

Let us emphasize that all have sinned. We may be tempted to think that “I am not so bad because I have not committed sin X or sin Y.” For example, I may not be a murderer, child molester, rapist, terrorist, or some other big-league sinner. Maybe my sins are less controversial, more common, or more socially acceptable. The Scripture reminds us that we have fallen short of the glory of God: That is our standard. God is our standard of righteousness: not Adolf Hitler, or Jeffrey Dahmer, or Osama bin Laden. Although I may not be as bad as Hitler, I am not as good as Jesus. Therefore, I need His forgiveness.

May God give each of us the courage to recognize that each one of us is a sinner, and we need His forgiveness to receive the eternal life that He offers us. If we can begin from that perspective, we will be open to receiving the free gift of salvation on God’s terms. For those of who are followers of Christ, we must remember day-by-day that He came to save us from our sins, not from our low self-esteem or sense of purposelessness.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Repentance Brings God Joy—Luke 15:7

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7, ESV).

The Lord is my Good Shepherd
“The Good Shepherd,” by Bernhard Plockhorst [public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

Luke 15 centers around three parables about repentance. Each story focuses on something or somebody that was lost, but which is eventually found. The most famous part of this chapter is the parable of the prodigal son (vv. 11–32). However, the parable of the lost sheep deserves special attention. This is the first parable in the series, when Jesus responds to complaints by religious leaders, who think it is inappropriate for Him to eat and drink with “sinners”:

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:4–7, ESV).

The story is simple enough: A man has 100 sheep. He loses one of them; most likely, the sheep has wandered away. Think about it, though: Is it worth the risk to look for that one sheep? It may already be dead, eaten by a wolf or another predator. Many more may wander off while he is looking for the lone sheep. Nevertheless, he goes off looking for his sheep, finds it, and then invites his neighbors to a party to celebrate the return of the lost sheep. (The party would probably cost more than the sheep would be worth.)

This is a picture of the grace of God. It is radical. It defies logic. It assumes a great risk when it seeks to save the lost. Most importantly, it cares about an unworthy individual.

Jesus tells us that there is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than there is over ninety-nine righteous people. God is not satisfied with those who are already following Him. He is seeking more lost souls to add to His kingdom and welcome into His family. When one child of God backslides, He is seeking to draw them back. No matter how many people are living in fellowship with Him and on their way to heaven, it is not enough.

No matter how far any of us may stray from Him, it is not far enough to draw us away from His care. Your sins are not bad enough to bring God’s love to an end. If you have strayed from Him, or if you have never entered a relationship with Jesus Christ, He still loves you; no sin will change that.

This parable also speaks against self-righteousness. The religious leaders, the Pharisees, were asking, “What kind of great religious leader spends time with people like these guys? Jesus, do you know what that guy over there does for a living? Do you know how many crimes that one has committed? Do you know what that one is smoking, or drinking? Do you know who that woman is sleeping with?” It does not matter to Jesus: He came to seek and save that which was lost. These are the people He came to receive: People who know they need forgiveness and salvation. He came for those who know that they deserve eternity in hell, instead of salvation and the love of God.

When Jesus speaks of the ninety-nine who have no need of repentance, it is sort of like a trick statement. Nobody is truly righteous. To another leader, Jesus would say “No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19). Romans 3:23 reminds us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. So, in reality, we all need repentance. Some of us have been fortunate enough to realize that and come to Jesus already. Others need to repent of sins that have become socially acceptable, or that many churches think are “not so bad.” We may look good and moral to others, but we still need the grace of God.

It does not matter how far you have wandered, or in what kind of mire you have soiled your soul. Forgiveness is available. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is seeking you. Run into His arms for protection and preservation. He is looking for a reason to celebrate.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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