Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Pervasive Nature of Holiness and Sin

 "1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God...4Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving...6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7Therefore do not become partners with them; 8for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them"

Ephesians 5:1-2, 4, 6-10

Holiness and sin share little in common. In fact, it would be acceptable to define the two as absolute opposites. However, one quality is consistent in the nature of both: they are utterly pervasive. We know the pervasive nature of sin all too well. Sin permeates every facet of our being. It defines our nature. It enslaves our will. It prohibits the beating of our hearts and envelops the words of our mouth. It sits on the throne of our souls and becomes the object of our affection. That pervasive sin is the product of fallen man untouched by the Gospel of the glory of Christ. One who has not experienced the new birth Jesus speaks of in John 3 cannot be "kind of" sinful just as a woman cannot be "kind of" pregnant; it is a state of being.

I am afraid for our generation of Christians, this of course including myself. Not that we are blind to the pervasive reality of sin, but that we reject the pervasive reality of holiness. My fear is that far too many of us model the belief that we can be "kind of" holy. The problem with this idea of holiness is simply that it is not true. The Biblical texts never describe holiness in this manner. The reborn and adopted child of God can be "kind of" holy no more than Saddam Hussein can be "kind of" dead. There is no part of the corpse which death does not touch. Its chilling effects are relentless and--- pervasive. If we are properly living in and savoring the victorious truths of the Gospel, holiness should seep through our pores like soap in an overflowing sponge.

I feel at this point that a clarification of terms is in order. In speaking of holiness, pervasiveness is not meant to imply perfection or completion. The writer of Hebrews helps clarify this issue for us by penning these words: "For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." So there is a real sense in which we are perfected before the Father. Our justification is absolute and completed. But the story does not end there. We who stand before God completely holy in His sight because of Jesus, are being made holy on this side of glory until we leave our earthly bodies and our flesh forever. Until that moment, our flesh is a law, as Paul describes in Romans 7. So my intention is not to chastise our generation of Christians or myself for a lack of perfection; rather, I mean to expose our fatal tendency to compartmentalize our personal holiness seeking that it would never reach the areas of our lives we deem culturally relevant, cool, or comfortable. Our holiness may not be perfected on this earth, but it should be pervasive. There should be no area of our lives that holiness is not seeping into, attacking our flesh, and purifying our souls. The very fact that we blatantly ignore certain mandates of holiness is evidence that we value our culturally molded opinions above the precious Word of God.

Ephesians 5 addresses, in my recent observation, a mandate of holiness that many of us have absolutely disregarded. We have decided to ignore the call of Ephesians 5 for holiness in our jokes, speech, and meditations, justifying our sinful inconsistency with humor or empty explanations that seek to minimize this sin in hopes that it may be acceptable for us. Foul language has become a regular occurrence in the young Christian's speech. Explicit jokes turn no heads. Constant approval of media filth and acceptance toward these things flows freely because somehow it does not seem harmful. If anyone protests such behavior, they are clearly a full-time home school student who has never stepped foot out their front door for fear that they might be defiled by the unbelieving world. Clearly, they wear button downs snapped to their throats and their idea of fun is playing Bible Monopoly with their great aunt Judie. But is this not just a shoddy red-herring to avoid the ferocious issue raging in our hearts? My concern is not that we stop cussing. My concern is not that we avoid inappropriate jokes. My concern is for the heart that stares right at the Word of God and says, "No." My fear is for the Christian who justifies his sin with pathetic reasoning that will only lead to further moral compromise. Oh that we might see that obedience to Ephesians 5 has nothing to do with legalism! It has everything to do with letting the freedom of the Gospel permeate every facet of our being. We see this filth as interesting and exciting because we refuse to understand that we were once enslaved to it, and Christ has set us free.

We do not obey Ephesians 5 to gain favor with God. That is legalism. We have favor with God already because of His overwhelming grace in sending Jesus to wage war for our souls. We obey Ephesians 5 because we see that contrary to the inclinations of our flesh, nothing is more trite than sin, and nothing is more satisfying than God's all surpassing glory, shining in the face of Christ. That is the Gospel. Is your holiness as pervasive as your sin once was? When we get on board with this illuminating truth, we receive great joy, and our King receives great glory.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

For the Fellow Face-Planters

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said to them,
It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Mark 2:15-17

I spend the majority of my life on my face. Unfortunately, I am not here referring to the sacred act of prayer. I am speaking of the kind of "on your face living" that involves a swift fall greeted by an unforgiving surface. If I were a runner, I would be more familiar with the smell of the track than the feeling of the finish line. In my life I have come to see that I fall, and then I fall again. I do not record these things to encourage self-deprecation or even to promote myself through some form of feigned humility. I just desperately want to be honest with myself. The "believe in yourself" messages have never held much weight with me because, well, I have never seen much to believe
in. And what I intend to write on tonight is not the mundane moral tale of how even the most successful of men have failed plenty of times. I do not intend on finding you statistics on how many baskets Michael Jordan missed or how many times Edison got the light bulb wrong. In fact, I want to avoid such things because I think this type of rhetoric is fundamentally missing the point.

I have learned to find great contentment in my overwhelming failure. As I read Mark 2, I cannot avoid basking in the great grace Jesus offers face-planters like me. Rather than attempt to conjure up some kind of "pull myself up from my bootstraps" mentality, or shut my eyes tight and start naming and claiming things, I would rather be honest with my sickness. If my time on the cold hard track of life's difficulties has taught me anything, it is this: I am hopelessly and desperately sick. I am thankful for the grace God has granted me that I might own up to this sickness. Because news that transcends any earthly success is waiting for me with open arms--- There is a Great Physician and He is good at what He does. Oh how thankful I am that Jesus did not come to call the religious! For I am not very religious. Oh how thankful I am that Jesus did not come to call the healthy! For I am terminally ill. But my life is not defined by my success or even my failure. My life is defined by the Great Physician who uses every bit of my short-coming to shine through His glory all the clearer. Every time that I fall is an opportunity for Him to pick me back up, force down the stones, and tell my tired heart: "Go now and sin no more." He never tires of doing this for His son. In fact, He delights in it! And every time I rise, I run a few feet farther than the last.

Here is what I know. I will never be self-reliant. I will never live a life of jaw-dropping success in the eyes of this world. No naming or claiming of any sort on my end will ever keep me on my feet. Though, even if I could, I am not sure I would want to be there. For it was on my face where I saw my sickness. It was on my face where I
could do nothing but call out for The Physician. It is on my face where I can join with Paul and "boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me." It is on my face where I find the joy in a life defined by this poem:
He came to my desk with a quivering lip, the lesson was done. “Have you a new sheet for me, dear teacher? I’ve spoiled this one.” I took his sheet, all soiled and blotted, And gave him a new one all unspotted. And into his tired heart I cried, “Do better now, my child.”
I went to the throne with a trembling heart, the day was done. “Have you a new day for me, dear Master? I’ve spoiled this one.” He took my day, all soiled and blotted, and gave me a new one all unspotted. And into my tired heart he cried, “Do better now, my child.”

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lord, to whom shall we go?

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”  61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?...
 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
   67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” - John 6:60-61, 66-69

I have had a brutal meeting the last few weeks with the messy reality of incomplete sanctification. If I'm being honest, I felt something like an obese hot-dog enthusiast attempting a triathlon for the first time. This feeling is certainly not anything new, and it's times like these that make approaching the many difficult teachings of Jesus disheartening at best. Though many current popular teachers would rather itch ears than be honest, the teachings of Jesus can be flat out hard. Anyone who has taken a serious look at what Jesus demands in terms of holiness is no stranger to this truth.

In light of this, I spent some time meditating on just how far I fall short as a son, a student, a man, a leader, and a child of the King. On one particular evening, walking back to my dorm across campus in the chilly and quiet night, I found myself praying out loud, "Lord, where else am I going to go?" Confronted with the harsh reality of my lingering depravity, the temptation for me is to flee. I want to run away and find some way to fix everything and please my Father. But as I took a long hard look around, I realized that I don't have anywhere to run to. It's important to note that my so called "meditation sessions" usually involve excess amounts of condemnation. In fact, my heart is an expert condemner. I found myself like Paul in Romans chapter seven proclaiming, "who will free me from this body of death?"

I'm thankful that the Word does not stop short of real answers to these complex problems. My heart may be an expert condemner but John reminds me in his epistle that, "God is greater than our hearts." I may inhabit a body of death but with Paul I rejoice and thank God who "delivers me through Jesus Christ," my Lord. It didn't take me long to remember that the answer was not to run but to fall. My place is ever only at the feet of King Jesus in humble submission. Like Peter, I realized, "To whom shall [I] go?" I was reminded that He was the anecdote, His mercy: the cure. He has "the words of eternal life." The only thing this broken sinner, thirsty for holiness, really needed was, "the Holy one of God." Like Peter, I realized I have nowhere else to run. Like Peter, I realized what I was looking for all along was ever only in the person of Christ.

What hard teaching has left you disheartened? What failure is causing you to take off? When you find yourself tempted to flee, just ask: "Where else am I going to go?" The answer will always lead you to His feet.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

When Strivings Cease

I wasn't sure when would be the best time to begin using this blog, until it became rather clear that tonight would be appropriate. I spent some time in the Word at the prayer chapel here at Liberty. It was in this quiet and undisturbed environment that I stumbled upon, perhaps, the most authoritative, life-altering, powerful and incomprehensible words of the Bible:

"It is finished."

I wonder brothers and sisters,  if we have taken the time to rejoice at these words in recent times. Perhaps we have never taken the time to celebrate the glorious truth that we find here in John 19:30. That's what I hope to do tonight in this post.

Here is what I am learning about myself. As the precious hymn describes it, my heart is, "prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love." In the face of such a disheartening law, my reaction is swift. I seek to strive. In an attempt to avoid this terrible reality, I find myself time and time again seeking to stay in fellowship with the Father by my own effort. Somewhere along the way, I have redefined repentance to an act of cleaning myself up so that I might be pure enough for my Master. While I have little trouble accepting the reality that I have been justified apart from my works, I find myself abandoning the sovereign love of God when I am faced with the impossible task of sanctification.

There are several places we could look to see the biblical solution to these ideas, but being that I am currently studying through the book of Hebrews, I thought one verse in particular might be appropriate. In Hebrews 2:11 the author writes that, "Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers." Notice the emphasis on who brings about holiness, and who receives this precious gift. God makes us holy. We are made holy only through the overwhelming power and grace of the Creator King. Oh that my heart may bow before the words of my savior: "It is finished!" For he did not say, "it is partially finished," or "it is finished until you wander," or "it is finished unless you make me angry," but rather, that sin is altogether conquered for the adopted child of the Most High God. Charles Spurgeon masterfully authored it this way:

"Oh! it is not my remembering God, it is God remembering me which is the ground of my safety; it is not my laying hold of His covenant, but His covenant's laying hold on me."

In Hebrews 4 tonight, I stumbled upon a freeing truth. While I've always taken note of verses 12-16, I realized that I had largely abandoned the first 11 verses. Here is what the Word taught my tired heart tonight. The author begins by alluding to Psalm 95 where God justly pronounces His punishment for the particular people of Israel who walked away in disobedience. "They shall never enter my rest," He declares. And the author continues by telling us the valuable but simple truth of how we may avoid such a fate. For at the beginning of all things, after God powerfully created the universe by His very Word, Genesis records that God rested, a rest which God still resides in today. God in turn offers this sabbath-rest, this peaceful sanctuary to His children now. So in the beginning God did a magnificent work, and then rested. But, could this work at the beginning of all things be a prelude to an even greater work of God thousands of years later in human history? Its in the Gospels that we see the full story. We learn that God the Son did, perhaps, an even greater work at Calvary. The work of reconciliation. The work of becoming sin for the sinful. The work of wrath-absorbing. The work of full and total redemption for His ill-deserving children. The work of creating, not galaxies and mammals, but pure hearts for those whose hearts were stone. When Jesus completed this work, He shouted, "it is finished!" And just as God rested after His work of creation in the beginning, we now enter that glorious rest too. But oh how I hope we see the truth here! We are entering into--- rest! No work of ours can maintain this precious rest. For the author wisely records for us: "for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his." The only way to keep in this rest, the only way to have peace with an everlasting Father, is to surrender your work. So, cease your striving, you weary brother! Lay down your filthy rags at the cross of Jesus, you downcast sister! He who did the great work of salvation in you will continue to mold you into the clay He has designed you to be. Yes, daily repent! But by turning from your sin and falling at the feet of Jesus, that He might clean you.

So rest. For: "It is finished!"