O Wretched Man!

How do we respond to those struggling with immoral attractions and desires? Or who believe deep down they’re in the wrong body? Or who fantasize about unspeakable wickedness?

It does seem as if we’re not all deliberately choosing the feelings and tendencies with which we struggle; they’re evidently inherent in our nature, as if we’re born with them: and Christians are not immune from the fight. (Ro 7:7-8) How then can we condemn such behavior? Why resist it at all? (1Pe 5:9)

God gives us over to a reprobate mind, to harm ourselves and others, when we don’t keep Him central in our world view. (Ro 1:28) Yet many struggle with evil within while pursuing God (Ro 7:18-19); we may indeed be resisting quietly, doing our best to walk uprightly in spite of how wretched we feel, unable to figure out how we got here. (Ro 7:24) What hope do we have in such a struggle?

Perhaps our instincts, apart from our conscious will, spring from our sub-conscious, from beliefs and thinking patterns programmed into us from infancy through a variety of traumatic, social and cultural factors. How have these millions of signals, most of which we didn’t choose, impacted us?

It may also be that we inherit moral tendencies through ancestry (De 23:2), from our culture (3-4), and even from mankind in general (Ro 5:19), infected just being part of the vast, living human organism. (Ep 4:25)

We may not fully understand how we’re influenced by our own thoughts and actions, or those of others, either in the present or in the past, but one thing is clear: as we succumb to these immoral desires and begin to practice them they become much stronger, creating a bondage that deepens and strengthens over time. The more we engage and pursue them the more firmly their stranglehold on our hearts and minds becomes.

We also know that pursuing these immoral tendencies doesn’t tend to satisfy us, to enable us to live balanced, healthy, resilient, joyful, peaceful lives. Giving in to them makes us prisoners of war (2Ti 2:25-26), and most of us aren’t even aware we’re in a battle.

The only other obvious option is to continually resist these impulses, to struggle against them and deny ourselves the pleasures they promise. (Ep 4:22) While this is clearly better than giving ourselves over, the “Just say no” strategy tends to fail over time. Is there a better way?

God tells us knowing the truth makes us free (Jn 8:31-32), that acknowledging the truth delivers us from spiritual slavery and bondage. (1Ti 2:25-26) Truth is the weapon of our warfare here (2Co 10:4); there’s no bondage or instinct too strong for God to heal (Ep 3:20), if we’re willing to pursue and receive the truth. (1Pe 1:4)

Everyone experiences sinful tendencies and attractions which seem beyond our control; we can deny and resist them, but we can’t simply turn them off altogether and choose to feel differently. Rather than presuming “God made me this way” whenever we have an instinctive reaction that’s contrary to moral law, perhaps we should offer up these instincts to God and ask Him to help us re-program both our conscious and sub-conscious minds.

Consistently and prayerfully exposing our minds and hearts to truth, asking God to work it down into the deepest recesses of our being, this is the way to cleansing and freedom. (Ps 119:9) It may not be the quick fix, any more than our initial programming happened overnight; the web of lies may be extremely deep and complex. Our hope is that God knows us better than we know ourselves (Ps 139:1-4), and has given His very best to set us free. (Tit 2:14)

We may not understand exactly how we fell into bondage, but we can still be set free: ask and seek. (Mt 7:7-8) If we want to be healed and pursue God for it, He’s on our side and will be with us every step of the way. (He 13:5-6)

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Works of the Devil

When we observe inconsistencies between our rational minds and our emotions we discover our subconscious: underlying beliefs controlling us which are contrary to our intellect. What we actually believe and who we are is a composite of all these beliefs, and it’s a bit mysterious.

Many fight intense negative emotion, fear and anxiety, when they’re in no danger; others, a critical voice relentlessly discouraging and crippling them; still others wrestle with a debilitating sense of shame and worthlessness they can’t shake off. We all have spiritual wounds keeping us from functioning according to God’s design.

A girl, having done her best, hears, “Why don’t you do better? You’ll never amount to anything!” Satan whispers, “Something’s wrong with you; you’re unloved, worthless, unimportant, unnecessary.” As an adult she’s working herself to the bone serving others, but she’s constantly anxious, restless, no satisfaction or peace.

A boy is sexually violated and hears the insidious whisper, “If God loved you He wouldn’t have let this happen to you; you’re dirty, flawed, worthless.” As an adult he’s filled with fear and shame, hiding in rebellion and perversion.

We might frame all of this up in terms of lies and truth: when we’re acting inconsistently with reality we’re believing a lie. We might call the resulting damage to our souls works of the devil, the consequence of believing Satan’s lies about our lived experience (Jn 8:44b), and see Jesus Christ, the Truth (Jn 14:6), as our Deliverer: He destroys the works of the devil. (1Jn 3:8b)

The Passion of the Christ

Whenever we experience trauma, Satan is at hand to feed us the lie: “God isn’t good; you’re the problem.” But it’s just a lie, and there’s no reason to believe it. Yet we do tend to believe it, and this is the problem.

These lies are often buried so deeply within our subconscious we don’t even know what’s happened to us, or where to begin in dealing with them. So, how do we get free? (Ro 7:24)

We get into spiritual bondage in stages, gradually, starting in childhood and believing more and more lies as we go through life. So, it should come as no surprise that we generally get free the same way, over time, in many small steps, believing more and more truth (Jn 8:32) as we pursue God (Mt 7:7-8) and He teaches us His Way. (1Jn 2:27)

The only path to freedom is going back the way we came: realigning our mind with reality, believing differently; it’s called repentance, and it’s the gift of God. (2Ti 2:25-26)

Freedom comes as we internalize three primal truths: [1] God is good; [2] God is sovereign; and [3] He created each of us for a unique purpose. Like a three-legged stool, remove any of these fundamental principles and we have an unstable foundation.

We must know deep down that God loves us and that He’s ultimately benevolent towards us. (Ps 27:13) We must also know He’s in charge of everything: nothing ever happens without His permission. (Ro 11:36) And we must be confident that He has a unique design and purpose in creating us (Re 2:17b), and that all He has ever allowed to happen to us, or ever will allow, is ultimately for good. (Ro 8:28)

God calls us to pursue His purpose for us (2Ti 2:17), and He will help us as we turn to Him and follow after Him. (He 4:16)

The more deeply we know these things the more we align with reality and deliver ourselves from Satan’s devices.

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Pleasure in Them

Recently I’ve been convicted of enjoying others as they violate God’s ways. Granted, it’s fiction that I’m enjoying, but I don’t really see the difference: how is enjoying sin in a fictional character any different than enjoying it in real life?

While I might not be so bold as to actually do what they do, when I take any pleasure in their disobedience, don’t I reveal my own heart to be aligned with their sin in some way? (Ro 1:32)

For example, I enjoyed watching a navy seal avenge himself (Terminal List), I was sympathetic with fornicators (Titanic), rooted for thieves (Ocean’s 13) and took pleasure in insubordination. (Top Gun: Maverick) What are all the ways I take pleasure in sin, and how is this not itself a sin?

Similarly, twinges of envy and bitterness reflect unbelief in the goodness of God; it’s blaming God for making mistakes, distrusting Him, claiming I know better, positioning myself as God and putting myself on the throne. This is not fully believing in God; it’s failing to submit to Him and honor Him. (Ro 1:21)

By God’s grace I’d never actually do such things against God deliberately with my words and will, of course, but when my emotional impulses and tendencies reveal an inconsistency with what I think I believe, I should soberly address it. (Ro 7:21-24)

I’m being double-minded (Ja 1:7) when my emotions are inconsistent with my intellect, misaligned with what I claim to believe. Like claiming God is my delight without joy (1Pe 1:8), or believing God is good without thanksgiving. (Col 2:7)

This is all driven by inconsistent, contradictory conscious beliefs (formal double-mindedness = not loving truth), and/or by subconscious beliefs of which I may be entirely unaware. In either case, it’s definitely an opportunity to grow more into the likeness of Christ (1Jn 3:4): Jesus Christ has no such inconsistency. (Ps 45:7)

In diagnosing this I notice the root cause of my behavior to be lies embedded within my conscience, the part of me approving what’s good and rejecting evil; my conscience is telling me sin is good, desirable, acceptable, even tolerable … when it’s not, so my conscience needs to be cleansed and healed. (He 10:22)

So, what should I do about this? Systematically search my conscious understanding and root out all inconsistency as well as I’m able, hiding God’s Word in my heart and meditating on it, comparing my beliefs, attitudes and actions with what God says and praying through any verses which rub me the wrong way. God has commanded me to do this very thing for this very reason (1Ti 1:5), so He can heal me of the lies to which I’m still clinging and set me free.

I can also continue to observe my emotions for inconsistencies with the Word and lift them up to the Light, asking God to show me the lies I’m still harboring way deep down, and heal me. He is in the business of purging my conscience from dead works with the blood of Christ that I might serve Him more completely and fully. (He 9:14) Wherever I’m not aligned with His Way He will reveal this to me when He’s ready to deal with it in me, in the perfect time and in the perfect way. (Php 3:15)

This is the sobering journey of sanctification, and I’m to work it out with fear and trembling (Php 2:12), knowing God is working in me both to will and to do of His good pleasure. (13) As I hunger and thirst after righteousness, He has promised to fill me (Mt 5:6) that I might partake of the divine nature. (2Pe 1:4)

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Faith in His Blood

The instant of conversion is when we believe on God in the context of what He has done for us in Christ (Jn 3:36), but what is it exactly that we actually believe in or about God and/or Christ that saves us?

Abram was justified the instant he believed in Jehovah (Ge 15:6), yet he evidently had a deep relationship with God prior to this time and was following Him the best he knew how. (1-4) Abram had obediently left his home and family to follow Jehovah (He 11:8), built an altar to worship Him (12:8) and called on His name. (13:3-4) Yet Abram’s belief in God did not justify Him.

The faith which justified Abraham came afterward (Ro 4:19-22), and was thus more than believing in God’s existence, that God should be worshipped, trusted and followed at any cost. Such beliefs are evidently typical of those seeking salvation and involve prerequisites to saving faith, but do not fully comprise it. (He 11:6)

We might think believing on Christ is equivalent to accepting the fact that Christ is God’s Son and that He rose from the dead, yet we find Christ Himself telling us that many who call Him Lord, evidently believing such obvious basics about Him, will ultimately be cast away, eternally condemned. (Mt 7:21-23) Many who claim to believe the historical facts about Christ aren’t obeying Him, showing that they don’t love Him (Jn 14:23), and He’s telling us in no uncertain terms that these folk don’t belong to Him. (26-27)

God says Jesus Christ is made a propitiation for us through faith in His blood. (Ro 3:24-25) In other words, the belief that justifies is an explicit, unwavering trust in and dependence on the efficacy of the blood of Christ for one’s personal justification before God: it is the blood that makes atonement for our soul. (Le 17:11) It’s knowing we’re justified by what Christ has done in shedding His blood and dying for our sin (1Co 15:3), becoming our sin (2Co 5:21), washing us from our sins in His own blood (Re 1:5), and imputing perfect righteousness to us. (Ro 4:23-25)

This is not the same as believing Jesus Christ died to provide an offer of salvation to the whole world, such that anyone may be forgiven of their sins. While this is certainly true (Jn 3:16), this belief in itself does not save anyone because it is not personal; it’s not about one’s own sin being atoned and paid for. This belief opens the door to salvation, but believing it does not get us through the door because something that applies to everyone, but does not in itself save anyone, cannot be proper grounds for our justification. Believing it gives us no personal assurance of eternal life.

We are justified as we become fully persuaded that what God has promised us in Christ He is able also to perform (Ro 4:21-22): that the blood of Christ and His atoning work has satisfied God in our personal case and has eternally justified us. (Is 53:11) This is a supernatural work in which God assures us of eternal life in Christ (1Th 1:5), based entirely on the work Christ has done in dying for us personally on the Cross, paying our sin debt to God, and creates in us a new nature (2Co 5:17) that loves Him (Jn 14:23) and obeys Him. (1Jn 3:9-10)

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Believe on Him

Given that there are only two places to spend eternity, Heaven and Hell, and nothing in between, it follows that at the most fundamental level there are only two eternal spiritual states before God: condemned and justified (or not-condemned). (Jn 3:18)

Given that we all start out alienated from God, dead in sin, under the wrath of God (Ep 2:1-3), such that we’re all commanded to repent and believe (Ac 20:21), in order to go to Heaven a transition must occur when we go from being condemned to being justified. According to Scripture, this transition happens as we believe on Jesus Christ (Jn 3:36, Ro 3:26), so it is important to understand what this means, to ensure that we are justified and are no longer condemned.

The first thing we might notice is that if there are only two possible states before God: condemned and justified, any transition between these two states must be instantaneous; it must happen in an instant. In other words, in order to go to Heaven there be an instant in time when we stand condemned before God, dead in sin, headed for Hell, and the second after this instant we are justified before God, headed for Heaven, eternally safe, such that God will never again impute sin to us. (Ro 4:6-8) Becoming justified cannot occur gradually over a measurable period of time, or involve an ongoing process of growth and transformation. This is directly implied by the fact that there are fundamentally only two possible, eternal spiritual states:  condemned and justified; there is nothing in between, no middle ground for us to occupy, even for a moment.

A second thing we might notice is that at the instant we are justified we must believe something new and different about Christ that we have not believed before, and this belief will relate in some way to the person, character and/or atoning work of Christ. (Ro 4:23-25) This follows from the fact that if we are justified by believing on Christ, justification is conditional upon having this belief in Christ, and having this belief in Christ implies that we are already justified. So, this belief in Christ must first occur in us at the instant of justification, and not sooner or later: justification happens as and when we believe on Christ, and we believe on Christ as and when we are justified.

This may seem trivial, stating the obvious, something anyone could discover by thinking just a little bit and using some common sense. Yet this understanding of salvation is very uncommon among professing Christians: that [1] there must be an instant of conversion (or salvation), and that [2] this event is marked by believing something new about Christ which was not believed before. (Ro 3:22)

Most all Christians do not believe salvation occurs when their beliefs about Christ and His work change. In most every case, what is believed about Christ just before the instant of salvation is identical to what is believed about Christ immediately afterward. In other words, no beliefs in or about Christ change at the point when most think they’re being saved. This is how most every evangelical gospel tract presents the good news and evidently how most every instructed Christian would explain it, basing salvation itself on something other than simply believing on Christ. This is — obviously — no small thing.

The typical substitute today, at least in Evangelical Christianity, is some form of The Sinner’s Prayer, in which a person, believing they are currently headed for Hell, and having been told the good news about Christ’s death, burial and resurrection and having believed the message, yet perceive nothing in the message itself suggesting that they are justified before God merely by believing it. Rather, they hope to experience this transition from being condemned to being justified by telling God they’re sorry they have sinned, asking Christ to save them, and committing their lives to serve and obey God. They think of this act of prayer as trusting Christ to save them, but nothing about what they believe is changing during this act of praying, so this cannot be the correct way to present or understand the gospel if salvation is by believing in Christ.

In the Bible, when the gospel message is presented, people are saved as they hear and believe the message; something miraculous happens within them causing them to believe on Christ (Ac 8:35-37); they are never encouraged to pray any kind of prayer or engage in any kind of ritual in order to be justified — they just believe. (Ac 10:43-44)

Praying to receive Christ does not get us to Heaven; neither does being baptized, taking a sacrament, following any religion, creed or tradition, or performing any kind of ritual. (Ga 6:15) Those who depend on such Man-made devices for their eternal safety have perverted the gospel of Christ and do not rightly understand it. (Ga 1:6-8)

It should come as no surprise that many — perhaps almost everyone — calling Jesus Christ Lord will be cast away from Him, as He pronounces those dreadful, final words: “I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.” (Mt 7:22-23)

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Crucified Among You

A Being Who creates time and space must be beyond both space and time, inhabiting eternity, able to simultaneously experience all of time and space at once. (Ep 4:10) If there are 10 dimensions, or more, God has designed each one and exists within, through and outside them all (Ro 11:36), being both ever-present and omnipresent.

The Word gives us glimpses, windows into His unimaginable infinitude. As Christ walks the earth, He is yet in the heavenlies (Jn 3:13) holding everything together. (Col 1:17) He has already trodden down all who err from His statutes (Ps 119:118), as if the Day of Vengeance has already come and gone. (Is 63:3-5) In other words, anything and everything God will ever experience … He may have already experienced it, and He may always experience it.

The Passion of the Christ

This includes that mysterious moment nearly two millennia ago when Jesus Christ cried out: “My God, My God, Why hast Thou forsaken me?(Mt 27:46) If any moment in all eternity is the most dreadful, the most intense, the most awesome and wondrous, perhaps it is when the deepest eternal communion within the very Godhead is disintegrating, breaking,  being disrupted and marred by sin. This is the moment God is pleased to bruise His Son, to put Him to unspeakable grief, to make His Holy soul an offering for sin. (Is 53:10)

This darkest hour, when Christ became our sin, as He was treated as a sinner, as an abomination by His own Father, would certainly be an hour He might never want to experience again, ever, for all eternity. Yet, if this is Love, born of and revealing Love, the highest possible form and expression of Love, why would God forget it?

The fact that God is Love itself (1Jn 4:16) suggests that God accepts this infinite suffering as part of His eternal experience, ever mindful of the dreadful price He has paid to ransom us. It is immeasurable suffering on our behalf; we can never fully comprehend it.

So, when Paul claims Christ was crucified among the Galatians, decades after He rose from the dead (Ga 3:1), while he certainly wasn’t being literal in the sense that Christ had came back down to Earth to die again, it seems Paul may not have been entirely metaphorical either: there’s evidently a very real sense in which the atonement of Christ may a timeless, ongoing event from God’s perspective, though He has only offered up Himself once. (He 7:27)

And herein, within the infinitude of God, we may find the mystery of the Gospel laid out for us afresh and anew, how God can be angry with unbelievers, condemning them for their unbelief (Jn 3:18) and holding them guilty for breaking His laws (Ro 3:19) long after the Cross, yet assure all who believe on Christ that He bore our sins in His own body on the cross (1Pe 2:24), such that Christ cleansed us from all our sins long ago. (He 1:3)

To acknowledge this, as the scripture clearly states, is to admit that the atonement of Christ is both limited to those who have already believed (Is 53:11), yet also available to anyone (1Jn 2:2) who is willing to seek after God until they do believe. (Mt 7:7-8)

So it is, in the wisdom of God, how unbelievers remain condemned in their sin (Ja 5:19-20), how David believes on Christ long before Christ comes as if He has already died, such that sin is no longer imputed to him (Ro 4:6-8), and how we find all our sin laid on Christ only as we believe on Him, well after His work is completed. All this can only be true if the work of the Cross itself persists outside of time in some mysterious way.

Before the foundation of the world, Christ is slain (Re 13:8), and He lives this out over time in every holy sacrifice offered up in faith before the Cross itself, in all who see the Lamb of God taking away their sin. (Jn 1:29) It continues even now, with and without the visual aid of animal sacrifice, unto the end of the world, as each elected soul grasps the efficacious miracle of Christ’s substitutionary atonement, until the very last believer is welcomed, sin-debt paid in full, and the Bride of Christ is complete, new heavens and new Earth blaze with the ever-present glory of the greatest act of Love the universe has ever known.

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Remember the Day

Thirty-eight years ago today I was born again in a mobile home park in Alamosa, CO, after struggling for nearly 5 years to understand and believe the gospel. I was 22 years old.

Prior to this I had earnestly prayed The Sinner’s Prayer on two different occasions, asking Christ to come into my heart and save me and committing my life to serve Him, and I had been baptized three times. I had attended Bible college, memorized many books of the Bible, led scores of people in professions of faith, and preached many sermons in church pulpits. But I never had assurance of salvation, and was still struggling earnestly to believe the gospel and be saved.

Several months prior to this God had spoken to me directly and revealed my lost condition: I loved the Bible and I loved religion, but I didn’t love Him: God is precious to believers (1Pe 2:7), so I wasn’t a believer, not just yet. The evangelical message had completely failed me; after years of earnestly searching and studying and going to church … I had no faith: I didn’t know what it was or how to get it.

It was on July 11, 1984, that I finally decided I could not go on any longer without understanding the gospel. I had locked myself in my study, determining not to leave until I believed on Christ and had assurance of eternal life. (1Jn 5:13) I knew it had nothing to do with asking Christ to save me, repenting of my sins, dedicating my life to serve Him, believing Christ had lived and died and rose again, being baptized, attending church, etc. What it was I had no idea, but I had to know. Not knowing was not an option.

Salvation was by faith: I knew I had to believe something I didn’t currently believe, to know something by faith that I didn’t currently know, and I could not for the life of me figure out what this was, and no one had been able to help me.

As I was meditating on and studying the word propitiation in 1 John 2:2, it suddenly became apparent to me that Christ had actually already paid my sin debt in full when He died on the cross for me (Is 53:11), and that the only way I could possibly be condemned was if He had somehow failed. His righteousness was suddenly now my righteousness, and I was as safe in Him as He was. This belief was certain, unshakable, steadfast. There was nothing to ask for, no ritual to perform, nothing to do: it was already done. All I could do was say, “Thank you!”, and so I did.

This was an entirely new experience for me, something I had never believed before. I could not explain why I believed it, or how this had happened to me. I also realized in that instant that God was now precious to me; I loved Him, I was attracted to Him, committed to Him and delighted in Him, more than anything or anyone else.

This is my testimony, my understanding of how one is born again and how I have experienced it: we believe on God for our salvation and trust Him as our Savior. (Ro 4:4) This produces assurance of eternal life in us (He 10:22) and creates in us a new nature: it isn’t something we can actually do on our own, any more than we can do something to be born physically (Ja 1:20): it is something God does in us. (Jn 1:13) He must give us both the hunger to seek Him, as well as the faith to believe on Him.

Within God’s feast of Passover, I see His command to remember this day every day of my life (De 16:3), the day I was born anew, personally delivered from this present evil world, according to the will of God. (Ga 1:4) I will never forget it.

Thank you Father for your unspeakable gift! (2Co 9:15)

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A Matter of Wrong

Our innate response to sin is telling; we understand the concept of right and wrong, and we understand justice — that wrongdoing must be punished appropriately. (Ac 18:14) This instinct reveals the gospel through deductive reasoning.

If someone has wronged us:

  1. Then we acknowledge a moral standard. This standard is revealed in our instinct to find fault with others whether they agree with us or not; we impose an expectation of right behavior which is independent of human opinion.
  2. Then there must be a moral law Giver Who created this moral standard. Nature can’t create such a standard (since it’s metaphysical, spiritual), and Man can’t create it (since it’s independent of Man’s opinion). Therefore God created it (there are no other options).
  3. Then God will hold us accountable for violating this moral standard. A moral standard presumes a divine evaluation of human behavior, as well as a divine reaction for our obeying or violating this standard: a moral standard is meaningless otherwise.
  4. Then God has openly revealed this moral standard to Man. It is unjust for God to hold us accountable for violating His moral standard if we have no way of knowing what His standard is. We may think we know it apart from divine revelation, but this is effectively indistinguishable from making it up as we go, since our sense of goodness is impaired and compromised by selfishness. (De 4:6)
  5. Then this standard is Mosaic Law. Torah is credibly claimed to be revealed by God to Man through Israel, His chosen people; there is no other remotely credible claim here. (Is 8:20) One may argue that Israel could conceivably have created Torah on their own, but once we deduce that God has openly revealed His Law to Man, Torah is our only viable option.
  6. Then we have all violated this standard. We have not loved God with all our heart, soul and might (De 6:5), nor have we loved our neighbors as ourselves. (Le 19:18) We are all guilty of breaking God’s Law (Ro 3:19), and we’re without excuse. (Ro 1:20)
  7. So, in the same way we require just punishment for those who wrong us, God must justly punish our sin against Himself. Our instinct for justice generates anger instinctively; we’re created in His image, so we should expect this in God (Ro 2:8-9), but in a perfect way: there will be ultimate justice for God. (Ro 2:2)
  8. Yet the punishment we deserve is infinite: we can never pay it in full. Since our sin against God is entirely unjustified, offending One Who is perfectly holy, infinitely worthy of obedience and worship (Re 14:11) we’re all in a desperate case, with no alibi or escape, and there’s nothing we can do about this unless God mercifully intervenes on our behalf.
  9. So, we need a Savior to deliver us, not only from the punishment we deserve, but also from our very nature which deserves it. Seeing our need, God has kindly provided us just such a Savior (Mt 1:21), offering to deliver us not only from the punishment we deserve, but also from our very nature which deserves it. (Tit 2:14)

We can know all this by carefully observing ourselves and others. So, how shall we escape the wrath of God if we neglect so great salvation? (He 2:3) If we think this through as we should, we will see our need, repent and run to God for deliverance. (Ac 16:29-30)

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Repent and Believe

John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ by preaching repentance (Mk 1:4); Christ Himself preached the same (Mk 1:14-15) and so did His disciples. (Mk 6:12) Repent: this is Christ’s first call.

To repent is to change your mind, to start thinking differently, and the context here is sin (Mk 2:17), which is breaking God’s Law. (1Jn 3:4) God is introducing Himself by saying, Change your mind about breaking My Law.

This isn’t quite the same as, stop sinning; no one can totally stop sinning and live perfectly. (1Jn 1:8) It’s more like … stop sinning on purpose, deliberately, intentionally; stop thinking it’s OK to sin, that God doesn’t mind.

Sin is offensive to God, and willful, intentional sin angers Him. (He 10:26-27) Choosing sin is choosing darkness (Jn 3:19), choosing the lie; and God is light (1Jn 1:5); God is Truth. (Jn 14:6) Walk in the light. Pursue the truth. Do your best to obey God’s Law, all of it, as well as you can, and keep asking Him for help where you’re still failing to keep it perfectly. It’s the only way to be in relationship with God. (1Jn 1:6-7)

Christ follows this call to repentance with a call to believe the gospel, the good news that the kingdom of God is open to us. He doesn’t start with this message; that would be like the King giving us directions to His home while we’re still defying Him and running away; it doesn’t even make sense. Before giving us directions to help us find the Way, we must be seeking Him. (He 11:6)

Those who aren’t trying to obey God don’t know Him (1Jn 3:6); those who intend to continue offending Him have alienated themselves from salvation itself. (Ps 119:155)

Salvation isn’t so much about deliverance from Hell as it is the offer of a new nature that’s inclined to obey God’s Law (He 8:10), freeing us from the power and dominion of sin so we can fellowship with Him. (Ro 6:22) Repentance is God’s gift (1Ti 2:25), opening the door to salvation, enabling us to turn from death to life. (Ac 11:18)

This may explain why Christ replied to the rich young ruler the way He did (Mk 10:17-19); it was an invitation to take God’s Law seriously. The Law is our teacher to bring us to Christ (Ga 3:24); until we earnestly submit to this divine teacher and learn from Him we won’t find Christ.

To profess Christ yet not do what He says (Lk 6:46) is to deceive ourselves (Ja 1:22), miss Heaven altogether (Mt 7:21), and store up eternal wrath for ourselves. (Ro 2:8-9)

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Dead Unto Sin

God says, “Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Ro 6:11) What does He mean?

When we’re dead we’re unresponsive; we don’t interact with the world or function within it any longer.

To be dead unto sin then is to be beyond its reach, no longer subject to its appeal, disinterested in its enticements, to say as Christ did, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” (Jn 14:30) It’s natural to ask then, How might we attain to such a state?

Yet this is evidently the wrong question for the believer: God’s telling us we already have attained to this state; we’re to reckon this to be true, acknowledge it, and live accordingly. The right question to ask is then, How do I identify that part of me that’s dead to sin? How does that part of me live my life, and not the rest of me?

Paul identifies part of himself, the flesh, offering nothing good; it doesn’t equip him to do anything good he wants to do. (Ro 7:18) So, there’s a part of him which wants to obey God, which knows what’s right, an inward man which delights in God’s Law (22), which he calls his mind, and a different part (the flesh) which wars against the good part. (23)

So, we might think of ourselves as having a sort of dual personality, two different versions of us which behave very differently under the same conditions. (Ro 7:19) We might also think of a set of beliefs as a personality which embodies these beliefs; it’s a perfectly reasonable way to describe it. (Pr 1:20-23)

So, we might think of our flesh, the carnal mind (Ro 6:7-8), or the old man (Ep 4:22), as that body of lies to which we’re still clinging, either intellectually or perhaps emotionally or subconsciously, due to wrong teaching, being emotionally biased because of a wound or carnal desire harbored within us, etc. Whatever the root symptom, the underlying substance is the lie.

Putting off the old man, and being renewed in the spirit of our mind (Ep 4:22-23), is then to rid ourselves of these lies and to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Ro 12:2), such that we’re progressively walking more and more fully in the Way, the Truth and the Life – Christ in us, the hope of glory. (Col 1:27)

Reckoning then is noting that all the lies we believe are terminal; each one has a unique death sentence pronounced over it. (Ps 1:6) We’ve no allegiance to it, no obligation to follow after it.

It’s also remembering there’s a part of us which already believes the truth, a part of us which is alive unto God (Ro 6:11): this is the life of Christ in us.

When we look for this part of us, asking God to enable us to recognize it, to realize that we believe the truth and experience our faith in Him, He does so. (He 4:16) We’re free to walk in the light with Christ, if we will. (Ro 6:22)

When we engage our will to walk in this new man (Ro 6:19), the spiritual man, the mind of Christ (1Co 2:16), Christ delivers us from the body of sin (Ro 7:24-25) so we can walk in newness of life. (Ro 6:4) We overcome, because greater is He that’s in us than whatever’s in the world. (1Jn 4:4)

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