Monday, December 23, 2013

Straight Up Gospel

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body
so that you obey its lusts,
and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin
as instruments of unrighteousness;
but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead,
and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.

Romans 6:12-13

Take a good look at the picture above.  If you are in Christ, this is a portrait of you.  

Dead, then alive.

What I love about these verses is it reveals the motivation behind call to chase after Jesus.  At first glance, it looks like another religious baseball bat - stop doing this and quit doing that because one day you'll have to account for yourself before a holy God.  But is that what it's really saying?  

Let's make some observations:
  • these verses are written to believers (this is a given)
  • therefore, Christians CAN let sin reign in their bodies after salvation
  • Christians CAN obey sin by acting on its lusts
  • Christians also CAN offer their bodies in a way that makes them partners with sin - we can be the instrument sin uses to accomplish its evil
  • But we also HAVE THE ABILITY to offer to God the truth of our condition - we are alive from the dead
  • Just in case you missed this - we are ALIVE FROM THE DEAD
  • therefore, we CAN offer our bodies in a way that we are partners with God for righteousness
  • Bottom line - in Christ, we have some choices and we are not accountability-free
Can you see it?  We are called to battle against sin because we have been given new life.  Notice it doesn't associate the works with salvation in a way that implies the works make or keep us alive - we've already been made alive from the dead and in response to that truth, Paul urges us to battle sin as an offering to our life-giving Savior.

Let's put it this way:  Once dead, now living.  Now living, instruments of either righteousness or unrighteousness - either way, we will present ourselves to God.  

Our motivation is not the accountability - that's a works salvation mentality.  Our motivation is what He has done in us - dead to alive.  The accountability is still there, but the motivation is now out of love, not fear.  

Does this make sense? 

This week we have a wonderful opportunity to worship and offer ourselves as instruments of righteousness to our Lord and Savior. So what exactly does that look like in your life?  How can you partner with Him as an "instrument" for righteousness?  What sin are you clutching in your hand that you can release for His glory?  Is it anxiety or worry?  Is it lust or addiction?  Is it unforgiveness or bitterness?  

All of these sins produce unrighteousness in our lives.  As you sit with your family, sharing gifts and creating memories, decide to stop presenting your body as an instrument for unrighteousness and because you are alive in Christ, start acting like it!

Merry Christmas and may you all be captured by the grace and mercy extended to us two thousand years ago...

Monday, December 16, 2013


I am the vine, you are the branches;
he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit,
for apart from Me you can do nothing.

John 15:5

I have a garden on my property but I'm not a gardener.  I have a friend who is a gardener and technically, it's his garden and I get to cheer him on.  And he's a really, really good gardener.  So my gardening knowledge is pretty limited but I feel like I've tagged along on his journey, so let me tell you about our grape vines.

It's a rather large lot, so my friend has large strawberry patches and an area for the raspberry bushes.  We have boxes for the vegetables (everything from beans to tomatoes to lettuces to onions, etc.) and a large corner for asparagus - that stuff grows like crazy!  And another couple of spots for zucchini, patapan, pumpkins and watermelons - all which need space to spread itself out.  

And then there are the grape vines - one long fence with six posts.  We planted a vine at the base of the four inside posts and then waited for them to do their magic.  Grape vines are grabbers and crawlers, so as the plants grew, they went up the posts and then began to turn to their left and right and spread out along the wire fence.

Now, my friend told me not to expect any fruit the first year or two. The plants were too young and needed time to mature.  After the first year, he pruned the plant all the way back to the original size - the base of the vine was thickening but all the branches were cut away.  So during the second summer, as the plants were starting to grow, we were spraying for weeds and got a little too close to the vine and killed it.  

Back to step one.  It was about then that another friend gave me some vines as a gift and these vines were a success.  So in their second year, they started to produce fruit.  As I watched the fruits begin to grow, I was pretty excited - little clusters of grapes hanging all over the branches - this was going to be a great harvest!  Then, one night, just as the grapes were about ready to be harvested, a raccoon visited my garden.  It might have been a herd of raccoons, because the devastation to that harvest that occurred in one night was amazing.  That raccoon apparently pulled off each grape, one by one, squeezed the skin off each grape, ate the innards, and dropped the skin on the ground.  THOUSANDS of grapes eaten in one night.


So we pruned the branches back to the original vine and the next year we cranked up the electricity in the outer fence line before the grapes were ready to be harvested.  The outcome? Success! A bountiful harvest!

So here's what I've learned:
  • the vine is the source of life (poisoning the vine killed everything)
  • the branches need pruning for good fruit production
  • the fruit comes from maturing branches and are evidence of a healthy plant
  • raccoons are bad 
Jesus tells us that He is the vine - we must abide IN Him to bear fruit.  He says that apart from Him we can do nothing.  This reminds me of my favorite verse, Gal. 2:20 - I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ lives IN me!  The life of a believer is to be completely absorbed by Christ - we are in Him, He is in us. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.  If this is the reality of your life, then fruit production will be natural.  Joy will flow, self-control will dominate, love will rule the day, peace will be evident, patience will come naturally, you'll be one of the kindest people you know, goodness and gentleness will go hand in hand and your faithfulness to the Lord and His Word will be easily identified in your words, expressions and actions.

So what is the key to a life like this?  How do we bear fruit?  Abide.  We have to abide in Christ.  We have to live in Him.  We have to immerse ourself in His Word, talk to Him all day, think upon the things that are important to Him, watch TV with Him, take Him to the grocery store with you, place Him at the dinner table with your family and ask Him if that outfit makes you look fat.  Don't be alarmed at the pruning process either - it's for your own good and for better fruit production.  

Abiding means to be with on a regular basis.

The gospel is Jesus in my place - Jesus took my punishment and gave me His righteousness. But the gospel is not just a one time event - it doesn't end on the cross.  The gospel is for every day - Jesus now lives through us and abiding simply means choosing to let Jesus be in your place on a day by day, moment by moment basis.  

For apart from Him, we really can do nothing.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Are you a Self-Deluder?

But prove yourselves doers of the word, 
and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
James 1:22

We are master deluders - we can smile and shake the hand of someone we can't stand rather easily.  We say we're fine when we have a pounding headache.  We laugh at jokes that aren't funny.  And we swipe our credit card when there aren't funds to cover the charge.

We can fool those on the outside, but it's hard to fool yourself, right?  Apparently the answer is "wrong," according to our verse in James.  Apparently we can delude ourselves, as well.

Scary verse, wouldn't you say?  Looking at the context we see that James uses a mirror illustration to prove his point.  He says that those who hear God's word but don't act on it are like those who look in a mirror to start their day but then forget what they look like as the day wears on.  We envision ourselves fatter or thinner, prettier or uglier, cleaner or dirtier than we actually are, but when we look in the mirror, it reveals the truth. 

James warns his readers not to live deluded - thinking they are something they are not.  When you know what God's Word says but do not act on it then are you a true follower of Jesus?  When you know what He says but make excuses why you can't do it, are you deluding yourself into believing you are a Christian when really you are not?  

Let me clarify something first by answering this question - what makes you a Christian?  We know it is not by our works of righteousness that we have done, but solely by the mercy of God that we are saved.  Jesus exchanged places with us on the cross and paid the penalty for our sin - it's what He has done, not what we can do in regards to salvation.  

But salvation has a response; it has a transforming power. The faith God gives us to believe the gospel also transforms us into the image of our Savior.  So from a human perspective, we are called to respond - intellectually (repent of our sin and confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord), emotionally (worship Him in spirit and in truth) and physically (take up our cross and follow Him).  Our response will indicate our loyalty.  So the response is not what saves but it reveals our salvation.

I don't want to overlook an important word in our verse above - "prove."  If you prove something, you are showing - you are revealing.  Your actions speak louder than your words and this proving is not for Jesus and it's not for the world - it's for you.  In Philippians 2 Paul warns us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling - he's not scaring us into saving ourselves.  Jesus alone saves, but he is trying to sober us up about the intellectual, emotional and physical response to the gospel.  

If the gospel hasn't changed you, then it hasn't saved you.  

So are you changed?  Do you hear the Word of God and respond in obedience?  Or do you have an initial response but then as life goes on, that response gets choked out by the busyness or troubles of life?  James tells us that the proof is in the activity - your actions prove where your heart is.

Be a doer of the Word, don't just hear it and think that hearing alone is evidence of salvation.  Herod heard the truth preached and even enjoyed it, but it didn't transform his life. (Mark 6:20)  Don't delude yourself...

Monday, December 2, 2013

Through Him

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13

This is one of the most misused verses in all of scripture.  It's the Christian superhero motto and to many it basically means we are invincible because we have Jesus.  It's probably the poster verse for the works salvation gospel and it gives the believer the false understanding that they are unstoppable.  Here's the problem - the verse has a context and without the context, you are manipulating scripture to fit your personal goals and desires.

Here's a cold bucket of truth - you can't do all things. You're not Superman.  You're not God and you're not invincible. 

Sorry.  I know it's the holidays and I should be more upbeat, but in truth, this verse is really a great one for the holidays.  So let's take a step back from this verse, read the context and see if we can figure out what Paul was talking about when he wrote it.

"But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction." Phil. 4:10-14

Paul is nearing the end of his letter to the church at Philippi. Apparently, they were unable to help him earlier (financially or with support), not that they didn't care but they didn't have extra to share.  But now they were helping him and he was expressing gratitude.  In his thankfulness, Paul explained to them that he had learned the secret behind contentment - the ability to live in abundance or in suffering need was Jesus - He was the One Who gave the strength in all things.

Strength to be content, to love, to forgive, to be patient, to be bold, to be quiet, to hold his tongue and to speak truth.  Strength to deal with hunger and with runaway slaves, with snake bites and shipwrecks, with Roman soldiers and with prison cells.  Strength to walk in the light, no matter what the road looked like.  Strength to weather the storm and bathe in the sunlight.  No matter what the circumstance, Paul was able to do all things in contentment because it was Christ in him Who empowered him.  

This verse is really talking about the ability to obey, follow and serve Christ despite your current circumstance because the strength to do His will comes from an intimate relationship with Him.  This is the secret to contentment.

So how does this apply to you today?  Do you make excuses as to why you cannot be content where you are?  Do you start your excuses with words like, "If only I had more money..." or "If only I had a better husband/job/church/house/child/health/friend, then I could..."?  Or what about, "If only I knew the Bible better..." or "Well, next year I'll be in a better financial position to help..."?  Or how about, "If only I wasn't so hurt..." or "If they say they're sorry, then I could move on, but until then..."

My list of questions could go on and on.  Bottom line, if you lack contentment, you need to turn your eyes on Jesus and follow His lead.  He doesn't want excuses, He wants faithfulness. Despite your circumstance, He wants to replace your anxiety with joy.  Don't let the hustle and bustle of the gift giving season overwhelm your contentment of where the Lord has you right now - whether in want or in abundance, learn contentment and lean on His strength to do all things Christlike.

And the best place to start learning contentment is at the foot of the cross.  Stop trying to pay your own way to heaven and fall upon the grace of your Savior.  Find rest in Him and put your faith in what He has done and not what you cannot possibly do.  Then chase after Jesus with abandon - for it is no longer you who live but Christ Who lives in you.  How can you not be content when your life is not your own? He bought you, He dwells within you, He empowers you and He leads you to the places where you can see Him more clearly - follow Him!  Find your contentment in exactly where He has you today.

You can do all things through Christ - you can be content exactly where He has you - because He will provide the strength to endure all things.