Category Archives: Christian Living

Killing Sin at the Desire Level

 

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 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.”  Galatians 5:16-17

One of the primary strategies for killing sin (Romans 8:13), perhaps the only real legitimate, successful way, is to attack it on the level of desire.  This puts engaging sin squarely on the battlefield of the heart, rather than a battlefield of the hands (see Matthew 5:29-30).  It becomes then much more a matter of properly setting the affections on things above rather than simply exercising will power over deeds.  The latter can only happen properly when the former is given priority.

In the passage above, the divinely inspired pen of the Apostle is instructing us in the way that these sinful desires operate while also  providing for us the means by which to kill them, namely by walking in the Spirit.

What does it mean to walk in the Spirit?  How does one maintain that walk?  Paul does not offer an explanation here, and perhaps for good reason so that we simply won’t create a to-do list.  However, by combing through Scriptures, we may arrive at a helpful strategy to keeping in-step with the Spirit.

First, by engaging the heart and mind in the Word of God.  The Psalmist, who knew a thing or too about fighting sin, informs us that a young man may keep his way pure by guarding it according to the word of God.  He follows this thought with, “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11  Additionally, in Psalm 37:31 we read, “The law of God is in his (the righteous’) heart; his steps do not slip.”

Secondly, by meditating on the Word of God.  We must note that it is insufficient to simply read the Word of God.  Rather Scripture must be contemplated, ruminated upon, churned over in the belly of the mind until it has been properly digested sending the spiritual nutrients throughout the soul.  In the previously mentioned Psalm 119, we find no less than 6 mentions of the word “meditate”.  This may be summarized in Psalm 119:48, “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.”  The classic passage for the example and consistency of meditation by the godly is the familiar Psalm 1:2, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

Third, by offering continual prayer.  The apostle gives us the simple directive for continual prayer in 1 Thess. 5:17 with three little words,pray without ceasing“.  How can one pray without ceasing?  This isn’t instructing us to spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in prayer to the neglect of life and duty.  Rather the implication is to have a heart prepared constantly for prayer and a tendency to turn to God in prayer on every occasion.  It may be easy to go through the motions in Scripture reading, doubtful for meditation, but fundamentally impossible to go through the motions in having an attitude of continual prayer.  Again, this is not simply 5-10 minutes in prayer, in which the mind may be easily derailed or where a rote prayer is offered.  We are talking about a spiritual frame in which the mind awakes to prayer, be it thankfulness or praise, goes throughout the day in prayer, and falls asleep at night on the pillow of prayer.  It simply cannot be faked, cannot be counterfeited, and it belongs only to the truly regenerate.  In fact, it may be the best gauge for determining whether one is maintaining a consistent walk in the Spirit and might well be the first to disappear should that walk slow or come to a stop.

Fourth, through the fellowship with other believers.  One of the detriments to the “structure” of the contemporary church is that we have come to treat it as a weekly obligation.  Even those who still hold to Sunday and Wednesday evening services neglect the fundamental meaning of ekklesia and the pattern that the early church provided, namely the daily or habitual interaction of “one-anothering” that occurred much like that within an immediate family as opposed to 3rd-cousins at a dreaded family reunion.  Hebrews 10:24-25 is instructive here, 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  Habitual, routine, stirring up, meeting together, encouraging one another.

There could be additions to this, but the objective is clear, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  It is not “may”, nor is it “could be possible”, but “will not” gratify.

Yet the Apostle presses further to define the motive of these desires by stating their opposition, indeed that they war against the Spirit, that is the Holy Spirit that that has renewed the inner man through the power of regeneration.  The contrast is not between the Holy Spirit (as used in verse 16) strictly speaking, but between the new nature brought about by the Spirit and the old nature.  Sometimes called the new man and the old man, i.e. the spirit vs. the flesh.  The Spirit wars against the flesh and the flesh against the Spirit.  Literally they are hostile adversaries.

Finally, notice the purpose of this hostility, “to keep you from doing the things you want to do“.  I’ve understood this before to mean that the flesh keeps the spirit (see earlier) from doing what it wants, but that is not the natural flow of the passage and only half of the meaning.  It is actually stating that the flesh keeps the spirit from doing what it wants and the spirit keeps the flesh from doing what it wants.  There is a kind of spiritual schizophrenia taking place within believers.  A tension so to speak, however not one of neutrality.  If left unattended, the spirit will give way to the flesh.  Paul does not leave an option open to stand still in the Spirit, but to walk in the Spirit, an ongoing, lifelong action.

Let’s close with a word from Charles Spurgeon on this passage,

“The enemy is so securely entrenched within us that he can never be driven out while we are in this body: but although we are closely beset, and often in sore conflict, we have an Almighty helper, even Jesus, the Captain of our salvation, who is ever with us, and who assures us that we shall eventually come off more than conquerors through him.  With such assistance the newborn nature is more than a match for its foes.  Are you fighting with the adversary today?  Are Satan, the world, and the flesh, all against you?  Be not discouraged nor dismayed.  Fight on!  For God himself is with you; Jehovah Nissi is your banner, and Jehovah Rophi is the healer of your wounds.  Fear not, you shall overcome, for who can defeat Omnipotence?  Fight on, looking unto Jesus, and though long and stern be the conflict, sweet will be the victory, and glorious the promised reward.”

 

RE: Lions at War

lions at war

4/28/2017 Continuing with the blog theme of Retractions and Edits that I introduced a few weeks ago, in this reexamination, I must confess it was a misapplication of passages, a sort of one passage vs. another and neither in their appropriate context.

(Original publication 11/17/2009) It’s not difficult to follow the patterns of my life by simply reading the blog posts that I write.  Recently, with a few exceptions, the focus has been on spiritual warfare and the fact that we are embroiled in the middle of a battle that seeks daily to destroy us, to not only impede our walk with Christ, but an attempt, albeit futile, to severe our relationship.  In those posts we’ve discussed how this war isn’t one of the flesh, but of the spirit, that we are equipped with the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20), and that non-participators in this battle are quickly seized by the enemy. This is an accurate assessment of the war in which Christians are engaged.

The Bible doesn’t under-emphasize this war, but instead is full of references and analogies to describe just how powerful this struggle really is.  Perhaps there is no better verse in the Bible that describes our enemy as well as I Peter 5:8 ESV, “Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  This description is so profound; a lion, massive and powerful, just like in the picture above, capable of literally ripping flesh from the bone and devouring it, just like Peter alludes.  The text tells us to “be sober-minded; be watchful”, a call for us to be alert at all times with our defenses ready, that at the slightest movement or sound we are prepared for battle.  Again, helpful.  Sometimes it seems we underestimate the influence and power of our enemy, that old serpent the Devil.  However the imagery of a lion helps put this in a proper perspective.

I’m sure we’ve all seen movies where the frantic, scared, and helpless person is trapped inside a house or cabin, while the adversary is outside looking for any possible entrance inside.  This is the same principle with a lion, they stalk their prey, looking to exploit any weakness they can find and so it is with the devil, searching for a foothold into our lives in order to attack and destroy us.  But this scene needs to be different; we’re not the scared helpless victim.  Don’t let the devil paralyze you with his stalking, because that’s exactly what he wants to do.  Again helpful.  This analogy of a lion, particularly as it has its victim in his sights is appropriate.  Instead of fearing, we are called to resist him, as our Lord did in His wilderness temptation.

No, instead Christians we need to turn the tables on our adversary because surprise, surprise, we’re lions too!  Proverbs 28:1b says, “but the righteous are bold as a lion.”  This certainly changes the game doesn’t it?  Lions aren’t cowardly (despite what the Wizard of Oz might portray) they’re predatory, aggressive, and relentless in their pursuit.  This should be our approach toward sin, don’t sit back defensively while it stalks you, attack it with the boldness of a lion!   “ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7  The analogy of believer’s as lions, capable of equally battling the Devil is not helpful and in fact may be harmful.  I do not think that believers should seek to actively engage the Devil.  However, we are called to resist him.  How or in what way?  In the strength of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, wielding the Sword of the Spirit, God’s Word.  We are to be ready, vigilant, sober-minded because our enemy prowls around like a lion, but we are indeed weak in our flesh and experience to think that we can resist him on our own.  

There’s one additional point we need to look at in this fight and it’s critically essential.  In our verse from Proverbs we are told that the righteous are bold as the lion.  This righteousness isn’t something we develop or are taught, but it comes through Jesus Christ when we accept Him as Savior (Romans 6:18, II Corinthians 5:21, Philippians 3:9).  He is the source of our boldness; He is the Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5).  As we learned yesterday in the post from Charles Spurgeon, we need to recognize that without Jesus, our weaknesses are exposed and will be exploited by the enemy.  Alone we have no power to battle sin, but with Him leading the way we have sovereign power.  As the enemy begins stepping up his assault on Christians of the world, it’s time that we stand up and fight back against sin with the boldness of the lion that we were made to be in Christ.  Stand up, be bold, be aggressive, be fearless as the lion, for “if God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31b ESV  This is a helpful, clarifying summary, if albeit unrelated to the subject of lion vs. lion.  If the righteous are to be as bold as a lion, as Proverbs states, it should be in our willingness to proclaim the Gospel, confront sin in our own lives, and live holy lives in a wicked and adulterous generation.

*Featured image credit – Atif Saeed Fine Art Photography

Reflecting on the Predicted Evangelical Collapse 8 Years Later

 

Something interesting happened in 2009 that recently caught my attention.  As noted in the post Nominal Christianity and the Christian Bookstore, on March 10, 2009 I commented on a religious survey that highlighted the decreasing religiosity of Americans.  In that post, Survey shows a Falling Away, I stated:

The fact of the matter is we are crossing over the threshold of the Final Apostasy.  Soon we’ll see the denominational wall fall completely as these churches begin to combine through their own false interpretations of the Bible.  I believe we’ll begin to see the atheist/agnostic movement pick up speed as they continue their assault on Christianity and the Word of God.  Look at what’s already going on in Great Britain.  We’ll continue to embrace other world religions as the world seeks an Ecumenical balance.  False movements and leaders will seemingly pop-up over night, much like the Emerging Church movement with people preaching with the Bible in one hand, but not speaking the Truth.  II Thessalonians 2:11-12 “For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.”

That same day, Michael Spencer, The Internet Monk, published his widely read series, The Coming Evangelical Collapse, which sent shock-waves through the blogosphere and online evangelical media outlets.  As recently as a few months ago, I was listening to a sermon by Brian Borgman in which he referenced and commented on this post by the late Spencer and it reminded me of the “prophetic” voice that his post had.

Spencer introduced his thesis with the following shocking prediction:

“We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the “Protestant” 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.

This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.

Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I’m convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.”

Here we stand, eight years after this prognostication that looked 10 years into the evangelical future and we must take inventory by asking whether there was merit in the words of Spencer and what the current condition of the Evangelical landscape is.  Let’s pause here to provide a general definition of evangelicalism:

Our modern evangelicalism was essentially birthed out of the fundamentalist vs. liberalism movement of the late 1800s – 1920s.  It was a correction to the staunch fundmentalism of the day over and against the liberalism that was infiltrating schools of higher education and mainline protestant denominations.  Evangelicalism was a middle ground so to speak, albeit mushy and ecumenical.  George Marsden defines the movement as, “any Christians traditional enough to affirm the basic beliefs of the old nineteenth-century evangelical consensus” which includes, “1. The Reformation doctrine of the final authority of the Bible 2. The real historic character of God’s saving work recorded in Scripture 3. Salvation to eternal life based on the redemptive work of Christ 4. The importance of evangelism and missions 5. The importance of a spiritually transformed life.”

So then, evangelicalism, if it can be defined clearly, is a broad movement and its foray into the political realm, particularly within the last 50 years, has been well documented.  I maintain that Evangelicalism is nothing more that conservative Christendom.  If you have time, listen to this 10-minute description by Phil Johnson, I posted from 2009: What is an evangelical?

Returning to Spencer, without question we can affirm that the 21st century is rapidly becoming, “very secular and religiously antagonistic”.

Likewise we are seeing unfold right before our eyes “Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.

Spencer went on to outline the reasons Why this collapse was imminent, the first of which, I believe, will largely usher in the forthcoming collapse.

“Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.

The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can’t articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.

Why do I see this this as the most significant “Why” of Spencer’s article?

Because it’s happening with rapidity since the latest presidential election.  Evangelicalism began to align itself with conservative politics in the late 1970’s early 1980’s with the goal of reclaiming the culture.  In a sense, they became cultural warriors to such a degree that the distinction between political conservatism and evangelicalism disappeared altogether.  To be Republican was to be Evangelical and vice versa.  To be Democrat was to be theologically liberal and vice versa.  Politics then became good vs. evil, sinners vs. saints, etc.  When a Republican won the presidency it was God’s divine intervention and blessing; when a Democrat won it was time to “hunker-down” for the spread of evil throughout the land.  The most recent election was hailed as a victory for Evangelicalism, but I think in the long run it will prove to have been a death-blow.  The backlash of this poorly reasoned political alignment will be harsh.

Where Evangelicalism has failed was in assuming their role was primarily cultural instead of primarily religious.  You simply cannot “preach” morality to a cultural that is blinded by sin and under the rule of the god of this age.  This is true in the most basic arguments used against abortion and for traditional marriage.  This is why these arguments are often made into political talking points and partisan politics.  Why should we be surprised when hearts darkened to the majesty of God uphold Roe vs. Wade or decide the fate of marriage via the Obergefell Decision?  To what is Evangelicalism appealing to?  Politics?  Morality? The unbelieving conscience that has been darkened by sin?  To justice?  Apart from the Word of God, how are we to determine what is just?  The primary clarion call should have been and should be repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

George Eldon Ladd offers wisdom on this matter in the following quote:

Here is the root evil: blindness, darkness, unbelief.  The Biblical philosophy of sin makes ethical and moral evil secondary to religious evil.

All forms of wickedness ultimately grow out of the root of ungodliness. Sin is primarily religious and secondarily ethical.  Man is God’s creature and his primary responsibility is towards God.  The root of sin is found in his refusal to acknowledge in grateful dependence the gifts and the goodness of God (Rom. 1:21), which are now imparted in Christ.  Darkness is the assertion of independence rather than God-dependence.

The primary manifestation of satanic influence and of the evil of This Age is religious; it is blindness with reference to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  How often we fail to understand satanic devices!  A man may be a cultured, ethical and even religious person and yet be in demonic darkness.  Satan’s basic desire is to keep men from Christ.  His primary concern is not to corrupt morals nor to make atheists nor to produce enemies of religion.  Indeed religion which rests upon the assumption of human adequacy and sufficiency is an enemy of the light.  This is the character of the Age of this world: darkness.

Contrary to Ladd, modern Evangelicalism has made ethical and moral evil primary to religion, in essence desiring to treat the symptom rather than the disease.  As I look back on this article 8 years later, the single biggest factor, in my humble opinion, that will contribute to the collapse of evangelicalism will be the failure to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in favor of the gospel cultural Christianity.

Let me conclude with an additional quote from my own post I wrote on March 10, 2009

“If the Body of Christ is to survive all of these paradigm shifts, we must unite with one voice with the Bible as our foundation.  We must preach “Christ crucified” and rebuke those who deem it “offensive”.  II Timothy 4:2, I Corinthians 9:18 As the Apostle Paul says, “…We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” I Corinthians 1:23

Our message of Salvation must be clear: repentance of sins, belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and faithful acceptance of Him as Savior.  We cannot sugar coat the alternative, “The wages of sin is death” but through our repentance, belief, and acceptance, “The gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23

If we as a “church” can do this and I believe we can, we’ll have one final great revival.”