Tag Archives: sin

Holy Living: The Present Reality of a Future Condition

 

Writing to those he calls pilgrims, strangers, and exiles, in his first letter, Peter, under divine inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, provides some practical encouragement to persevere through suffering on the basis of Christ’s suffering.  Indeed suffering becomes the major theme throughout the letter, no doubt because the early Christians were faced with escalating persecution that had already resulted in marginalization and plundering of property with the progression to death as a very real possibility.

Continuing this theme of Christ’s suffering and our response to living in light of that, Peter returns again to the subject of holiness (1:13-21) in the fourth chapter, seen below

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

Proceeding into our exposition of the passage, therefore sets the stage.  Typically a therefore serves as a transition point from an indicative, an action of God, to an imperative, a command that demands our obedient response.  Here, the therefore carries the weight of the discussion of Christ’s suffering, tying back to 1 Peter 3:18.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, “

Therefore, based on this finished work of Christ, in which He, “suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.”  The basis for the imperative, arm yourselves, is the suffering of Christ.  It is the foundation and motivation for how we are to approach our own suffering and how we are to live in a fallen and sinful world which wages war against our souls.  As it sounds, arm is military word expressing both the seriousness and hostility of the situation, it is a literal call to arms.  Wuest comments that the noun form of this armoring up, “was used of a heavy-armed footsoldier who carried a pike [javelin] and a large shield….The Christian needs the heaviest armor he can get, to withstand the attacks of the enemy of his soul.”

Amen.  We are long past the point of realizing that the Christian life is war.  For far too long, Christianity (more accurately Christendom), primarily in Western Civilization and specifically in America, has assumed a prosperous passivity, only to wonder why individually and collectively evangelicalism is so weak and gullible.  It’s simple, failure to realize that we’re in a war.

Next we see that this armament is not with physical weapons, rather it is spiritual, specifically as it relates to the mind.  Here, we are instructed to be armed with the same way of thinking that Christ had, who humanly speaking faced unjust suffering unto death.  Did Jesus assume health, wealth, and prosperity?  Did He object and resist suffering?  Did He  rally troops or mount up picket lines to counteract the injustices He faced in suffering without cause?  No, He went willingly.  Peter has already described our Lord’s humility and submission in suffering

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

With the command to arm ourselves with the mind of Christ, we see that this includes putting to death all attitudes of protestation, grumbling or discontent with our present situation.  It includes putting to death all desire for vindication, self defense, and restoration.  Rather it is a humble submission entrusting oneself into the hands of the sovereign God.

Moving now to the latter part of verse 1, and we reach a bit of difficulty by asking who is being referred to, Christ, or those who have suffered in the flesh”?  Perhaps a clue comes when we keep reading into verse 2, that whoever this is who has ceased from sin is called to, live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”  With this phrase, it seems more reasonable to conclude that it is those who have been united to Christ by faith, shared in the death and resurrection with Him and are now raised to walk in a life of holiness.  There is a strong contrast presented here between between human passions and the will of God.  The two are not complimentary, they do not cohabitate, rather they are at violent odds with one another.  If we note the use of time elements in this passage, essentially we are to flee from our past life of sin and are called to live our present life, holy and unstained from the world because of the reality that our future life is one of complete holiness.  This command is a practical restatement of “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16) in the light of the suffering of Christ.  

In light of the death of Christ on the cross for sin through His suffering, there ought to be an anticipation that in this world we will suffer too.  Our suffering, in whatever form or fashion will ultimately lead to death, at which point we will cease to sin.  By following in the footsteps of our Lord in suffering in the flesh, we ought to live in the present reality that we will one day cease to sin.  Because we will one day be sin free, as a result of Christ’s death, therefore, be holy now, in the present.  Live the rest of your life not fulfilling human passions or the lusts of men (or yourself), rather live for the will of God.

Soli Deo Gloria

Sin, Dominion, and Grace

 

In 2011 I was leading a youth group at a local church.  Over the course of a year or two, we addressed topical passages of Scripture,  followed by an in-depth examination of discipleship, followed finally by an exposition through the book of 1 John.  One particular evening, at the conclusion of what I would have thought was a sound, doctrinal exposition of a particular passage, a wise, thought-provoking student asked if I could give an application for the passage.  To my surprise, I hadn’t really considered the application, only the doctrinal propositions.  My focus was on accuracy, not application, as though the two were mutually exclusive.  After that humbling experience, I’ve since learned to think more about application, but not necessarily to the extent of providing it on a spoon, as I still believe the Holy Spirit is the one who makes the individual, and needed, application of Scripture.  A faithful teacher should be the conduit through which the truth flows in such a way that allows the application to be easily made, not hindered.

In Romans chapter 6, we needn’t worry about how to apply the doctrinal propositions laid out by the Apostle in verses 1-11 because it is followed up by a strong application in verses 12-14.  As is common with Paul, there is a logical consistency with his writings.  Chapter 6 is not isolated from chapter 5 (as would be expected because chapter divisions were a much later insert), but is indeed a continuation of the thought.  In the fifth chapter, Paul concludes with the familiar statement that where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more. This naturally leads to the question, “Shouldn’t we sin more so that grace would abound more?”  In the strongest possible language the Apostle replies, “By No Means!”  From this exclamation, chapter 6 proceeds to be a defense of why believers cannot continue in sin on the basis of grace, a defense that is centered on no longer allowing sin to reign in our lives because we are dead to it, therefore no longer slaves to it.

Doctrinally, the focus of Romans 6:1-11 is union with Christ, defined in terms of both His death and resurrection and symbolized by our baptism.  Through the union with Christ in His death, our old self or old man, was crucified with Christ such that our body of sin, literally our flesh, would be brought to nothing for the purpose of severing our slavery to sin.  Further, union with Christ in His resurrection, though already past, has a future implication of resurrection from the dead.  Because of this union, and these transactions, we are exhorted to consider ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Out of this doctrinal proposition, we find an application with at least three parts: an exhortation, a command, and a promise.

The Exhortation

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.”

Our application is expressly linked to the doctrinal proposition by the use of therefore, though in this particular translation it does not lead the sentence, it is nonetheless linking the sentence with what has already been said.  The first order of business in this application is a strong appeal to refuse to allow the rule of sin in our mortal bodies.  Literally, this is exhortation says “Do not let sin be king!”  There is an implied possibility here, that sin could indeed gain the upper hand and exert mastery over us, not in actuality, but in practice.  This is what we are warned against, because as king, sin rules as a taskmaster making us obey its passions, desires, and lusts in our mortal bodies.

This phrase mortal bodies is a reference to our actual, physical bodies, though historically there has been some disagreement on this matter.  It includes our hands, feet, eyes, ears, tongues, mouths, sexual organs all of those members that constitute a body that will eventually die.  As we will be exhorted later, these members are not to be instruments for unrighteousness.  However, collectively they are here called our mortal body in which we are to refuse the kingship of sin.  Summarily, there is a king: sin; a subject: our mortal bodies; an obligation: obedience; the command: (sinful) lust or desire.  If we allow sin to reign, we are obliged to obey.

The Command

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

Working out of the previous exhortation, we are carried into a command.  In order to combat the obligated obedience to sin, should it be allowed the reign, the Apostle provides a divine command in familiar Do Not language.  This mortal body, in which sin desires to set up kingship, consists of members – those which we briefly addressed above – and here we are told not to present them to the service of sin.  Our members, if in submission to sin, can become instruments for wickedness, literally weapons for war.  Which brings up a question, weapons for what and against whom?  As if it were not obvious, they become instruments of sin acting against God.  We should consider this more deeply in our war on sin.

As king, sin sounds a call to duty.  When it has set up its kingdom, it’s trumpet heralds a call for our members to report to duty, whether they be our eyes, ears, hands or otherwise, to be used as weapons of war for unrighteousness.  The heart of the Apostle’s command here is to not allow our members to answer that call, i.e., refuse an “at your service” response to sin.  This can only be accomplished if sin is not allowed to rule.

Conversely, we are to answer, “at your service” to God, commending our whole selves to Him.  Sin has the power to only bring death, whereas here we see that God not only has the power to bring from death unto life, but He has actually done it, first with Christ and then to those of us who have been united to Christ, in both a death like His and a resurrection like His, all of which is symbolized by our baptism.  This simple phrase, those who have been brought from life to death, joins our command here in the application to the doctrinal proposition from the earlier verses (6:1-11), rightly placing the command in subordination to the Gospel.  We are commanded not to answer the reveille of sin because of the Gospel, namely the death and resurrection of Christ, but more than that, because of our union with Christ.  Instead, we are to present our members as weapons of war for righteousness.  Notice here that there is not an implied change of the weapons – still our members, nor of the use – still war, but there is a change of purpose – for righteousness.

The Promise

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

We now arrive at the promise, linked to the previous statements by the little word, for, followed by a declaration that “sin will have no dominion over you,” which itself is followed by the justification, “you are not under law but under grace.”  This particular promise brings up a couple of questions, or at least should.  What makes this a promise?  How can it be guaranteed?  Is it dependent upon some personal action?  Why is the law brought into view?

The first observation that needs to be made is the declaration that sin will have no dominion over you.  Clearly this statement is issuing a promise.  Given the context of the exhortation, do not let sin be king, and the command, do not answer sin’s call to duty with your weapons of war, it would appear that a promise like this is unfounded or at least disjointed.  In the previous verses we are presented with the reality that sin actually could reign, therefore the call to action not to let that happen.  Why would that action, command or exhortation, even be necessary if sin won’t have dominion over you?  In other words, why tell us not to let sin reign if there is a promise that it will not reign anyway?  It is seemingly a paradoxical statement.

Practically speaking, verses 12-13 are the working out of our salvation, with fear and trembling.  There is an exhortation and a command.  These are part and parcel of our sanctification, an ongoing and progressive, divinely-wrought, purification from sin to conform us more to the image of Christ.  In this sanctification process, we are prone to sin and could be prone to extended periods of falling into sin.  But this is not a reality based on our justification in Christ.  In other words, the preceding discourse on the gospel, by the Apostle, going back into chapter 5 (and earlier for that matter) is the grounds for the promise that sin will not have dominion.  Sin cannot have dominion because it’s rule has been broken by the death of Christ on the cross and His subsequent resurrection.  Our union with Him, by faith alone, ensures that sin’s dominion is broken.

Furthermore, in this promise we see a return to the discussion on law and grace joining us to the previous statement from Romans 5:20-21 that led to this entire discourse in the first place.  In essence, the Apostle is saying that if we were still under law, it would magnify sin in our lives thereby establishing the rule and reign of sin, not because the law was bad, but because our flesh would be stirred up by the law to sin, a point that he will elaborate on in the remainder of chapter 6 and all of chapter 7.

In essence the application of Romans 6:12-14 goes like this: Don’t let sin be king and capture your members as weapons for war.  Why?  Because it’s not an actual king anyway, nor can it be – it’s a pretender to the throne – so stop living like you’re under its rule!  The believer’s practical day-to-day sanctification is grounded in the reality of our justification – made right with God by means of our union with Christ in His death and resurrection, no longer under law, but under grace.  That is the application of the doctrinal proposition.  One without the other is insufficient.  It is in this application that we must live daily in our pursuit of holiness, realizing that it is grounded on the reality of having been crucified with Christ, united with Him by faith.

Remembering Egypt

 

Originally published Sept. 5, 2014.

The Israelite exodus from Egypt was a historical, monumental act by God to redeem the people whom He would set apart for His own ultimate purpose, the establishment of a lineage for the Messiah.  The promise for this began in Genesis 3:15, but continued with the covenant to Abraham, then his son Isaac and eventually his son Jacob (see Romans 9:6-13 for additional context).  Beginning in Genesis 46, the family of Jacob relocated to Egypt to survive the widespread famine that had stricken the region.  While there, the people begin to enlarge so much that the Egyptians began to worry about their numbers, resulting in enslavement of the people as a form of control (Exodus 1:10).

Throughout the Old Testament God was constantly reminding His people of His gracious redemption from their bondage to Egypt.  This occurred not only during their 40+ year exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land, but was used as a reminder by the prophets of God’s care and mercy towards His people.  They were to look upon this merciful act with eyes of worship, recognizing that Yahweh had condescended Himself to redeem for Himself a people.  This great act was not to be forgotten in a generation but passed along to future generations.

Conversely, the people were constantly remembering Egypt, but not for the right reason.  Their hearts were set on the idolatry and delight in the pleasures of the flesh that they enjoyed while in their captivity.  Observe Numbers 11:4-64 Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 6 But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

We can see in this example during the Wilderness Years that not only were the Israelites grumbling about the provision of manna from the hand of God, but they were longing for the pleasures of Egypt even if it meant their re-enslavement.

Think about this.

They failed to remember their slavery, forced to work for little to nothing, forced to make bricks without straw, forced to labor for an idolatrous leader for idolatrous purposes; all forgotten as their focused turned to what they enjoyed during that time.  What God had provided them was unsatisfying because they failed to appreciate their redemption and worship God for providing their daily bread.  Instead their insatiable appetite lusted for the pleasures of Egypt.

How true is that for us today as believers?

Though we have been redeemed by Yahweh from the enslavement and bondage to sin, we often find ourselves complaining about the provisions of God and longing for the days when our fleshly desires were fulfilled.  All too familiar is this idea conveyed through the Israelites of our own bondage and slavery.  We forget all about the lack of reverence toward God, our failure to delight fully in Him and love Him with all our hearts, mind, soul, and strength.  We forget about the guilt and shame that our sin brought on us or the pain that we caused others because of our enslavement to sin.  Worst of all, we forget that our sin was an affront to the holiness of God, demanded the justice of God, satisfied through the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  Instead, we remember the fleeting pleasures of the flesh.  The momentary satisfaction that sin brought us.

Ezekiel 23 provides a helpful comparison and contrast of remembering Egypt for the wrong reasons and includes the account of how God feels about this.  Please take time to read it in it’s context, as it is quite provocative. While the force of God’s disdain towards those who would remember the lusts of Egypt cannot be fully expressed apart from the entire chapter in context, we can get a sense of it in verse 27 “Thus I will put an end to your lewdness and your whoring begun in the land of Egypt, so that you shall not lift up your eyes to them or remember Egypt anymore.”

God’s desire for the Israelites was for them to remember His gracious goodness in their redemption and His providential care towards them throughout their Exodus.  However, as they looked in their rearview mirror at Egypt, they overlooked this and failed to give God the worship due His name.  In actuality, they perverted the goodness of God by embracing the lusts of their flesh experienced during their time in Egypt.

Too often, we look back on sin, our own personal Egypt, with delight in our eyes.  Perhaps it is a memory that we allow to linger or a thought that we fail to take captive, but sin has a surprising way of appearing crystal clear in our rear-view mirror.  Would that our hearts would be moved to focus more on the gospel of Jesus Christ; that our memories would be set upon the redemption that is only found in Him; that the cross would be vivid in our rearview and the glories of heaven a desire for our destination.  Set your minds on things above and not on things below.  Remember your redemption from Egypt and give no thought to her pleasures.  Her allurements are unsatisfying and she wishes nothing more for you than re-enslavement.  But you, believer, have been bought with a price; ransomed from Egypt by the precious blood of Jesus Christ.