Tuesday, January 29, 2008

It's War!

For if you live according to the flesh, you will die.  But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.--Romans 8:13 (ESV)
The minute you woke up this morning, you walked into a battle zone in the most important and largest war ever fought.  The bullets began flying when you opened your eyes; the enemy had you in their sights as you rolled out of bed.  According to Romans 8:13, Christians are constantly in a life-and-death struggle with sin.  In the last post, I talked about how we kill ourselves with our sin.  In this post, I'll share what struck me about the second half of this verse.  (Note: There's no shortage of insights and applications for this verse--John Owen wrote 160 pages of small print [The Mortification of Sin--excellent book] on just the last half of this verse!)

First, life and death are at stake.  The Christian's pilgrimage is marching through enemy territory, not hiking for pleasure.  The flesh is trying to kill you.  You are trying to kill the flesh.  This is war--brutal, bloody, constant war!  Christians, who are in the greatest war ever, need to listen to John Owen's words, "Be killing sin, or it will be killing you."  I know that many times in my life, I have let up my guard for a few minutes and in that time, sin has attacked and overpowered me.  I need to keep this question in my mind at all times, "Am I killing sin, or is sin killing me?"
Second, though it is our duty to kill the flesh, we cannot do it with our own grit and determination.  "If you by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body, you will live."  We, being weak and sinful to our very core, cannot kill sin without the help of the Holy Spirit.  We need to depend on God for power over sin.  This should humble us--we are simply incapable of killing sin by ourselves.  This truth should also give us hope, though.  The Holy Spirit dwells in each Christian for the purpose of killing sin by His omnipotent power.By God's grace, we have the infinite weapon provided to us for the killing of the deeds of the body: God Himself.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Laughing at My Own Funeral

For if you live according to the flesh, you will die.--Romans 8:13a (ESV)

Not very many people laugh at funerals.  More than that, I've never heard of a person so much as smiling during his own memorial service.  It's a physical impossibility.

Sin causes funerals.  Living according to the flesh is the cancer that slowly kills your soul.  Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death."  James 1:15 says, "Sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."  The righteous and just punishment of God is death.  The Bible is very plain in this: "If you sin, you will die."  The lightest profanity, the whitest lie, the littlest lustful glance, the smallest robbery--they kill.

Now, we know that grace is all-sufficient, but we also know that sin is a killer.  So, while we affirm that "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1)," we also remember "the works of the flesh are evident... those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19, 21).

But all too often, I have, figuratively speaking, laughed at my own funeral.  For example, I have literally laughed my way through movies which glorify sexual sin.  I have smiled while a friend and I gossiped about another friend.  I have enjoyed that which should I have been killed for.  I have never heard of someone smiling while knowingly injecting himself with HIV, indeed, we would commit such a person to the insane asylum.  But that is who we all are: people who enjoy killing ourselves.

If this post sounded a bit hopeless, I think you'll have to wait one more day for hope.  In my next post, D.V., I'll take a look at the second part of Romans 8:13, where we find the secret to life.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Infinite Debt for Infinite Gifts

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.--Romans 8:12 (ESV)

Romans 8 is, in my opinion, one of the most inspiring chapters in the Bible.  It is filled with the truth of the gospel and its application to Christians' lives.  So far, Paul has written about (1) God's forgiveness of our sins, (2) God's setting us free from the flesh, (3) God's condemnation and weakening of the flesh, (4) God's filling us with His Spirit, and (5) God's future resurrection of the saints.  So when Paul writes, "So then, brothers, we are debtors," he's saying that we owe God for giving us these humanly unattainable gifts of grace.

We owe God everything.  We depend on Him for everything; He provides everything.  Even our very lives (both our mortal and eternal lives) depend on Him.  We can't set a value to God's gifts of grace.  If Bill Gates gave me a house worth one million dollars, I would owe him one million dollars.  I could quantify the gift and work towards paying it back.  If I worked hard and saved furiously, I might even be able to pay him back after many years.  However, we cannot do this with God's gifts to us.  They are too large for us to comprehend, let alone pay for.  Yet, according to Paul, we still must try to pay what we can back to God by living according to his Spirit.

Paul says, "We are debtors."  Every debtor has an obligation to pay back his debt.  If after Bill Gates gave me a million dollars, I ignored Bill Gates and started paying money to Steve Jobs, I would be doing a pretty stupid thing--I wouldn't be paying back my debt, I would be helping my benefactor's enemy!  Yet all too often, I take God's gifts with an ungrateful heart and turn them to the flesh's use.  For some reason, I often think that I owe the flesh something.  But what has the flesh given me?  "The wages of sin are death," says Romans 6:23.  The flesh has given me corruption and ruin and depravity and sickness and death.  I owe the flesh nothing, indeed, he's my sworn enemy.  

We owe God everything.  We are obligated by our debt to live according to God's Spirit.  In the next post (hopefully I'll put it up tomorrow), I'm going to share a picture of how we can pay back God for his gifts by fighting the flesh with His Spirit.  

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Why Read the Bible?

The other day, I was given a very fun school assignment.  Seriously.  For my writing class, I had to write a logical essay on the importance of daily Bible reading.  I relished the opportunity to write about my favorite book and enjoyed reading Psalms 19 and 119 again.  Altogether, it was an excellent assignment.  I thought I would post the result up here so you can read it. [Note: I didn't have time to revise it, so there are structural weaknesses; I am sure I only got a tiny piece of the potential Bible references I could have used to prove my points; plus I'm not a great writer in the first place, so please be charitable in your judgment.]

Daily Bible Reading

Oftentimes, the Bible doesn’t seem that important. It is tempting to think that daily Bible reading is an option for Christians—not a necessity. But, when we look at God’s word, we find that the opposite is true. Indeed, there are several reasons why daily Bible reading is an essential Christian duty. In this paper, I will discuss two important reasons for spending time in the word of God.

First, the Bible is the true word of the living God. In John 17:17, Jesus prays, “Your word is truth.” Psalm 119:60 states, “The sum of your word is truth.” 2 Peter 1:20-21 informs us, “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. So, by reading the Bible, we learn what is true. Psalm 19:7 says, “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” The next verse states, “The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” Because God’s word is true, when we meditate on it, our eyes are opened to truth and we are made wise. And, not only do we learn truth in general, we learn about the one true God. I am sure most Christians would agree that learning more about the Lord is, at the very least, a wise thing to do. By meditating on the word, we can discern God’s commands. Again, Psalm 19 is helpful when it bears witness to this fact in verses 9 and 11: “The rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether… Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them, there is great reward.” Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Through Bible reading, we can not only discern God’s commands, but we can also learn about God’s great and glorious grace. The Old Testament is full of prophecies regarding Christ, and the entire New Testament unfolds the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When we read and study the Bible, we glorify and bring honor to the Lord. By reading, we testify that we are the Lord’s servants and desire to know Him, His commandments, and His grace more every day.

But not only is Bible reading glorifying to God, it is also highly beneficial to Christians. Indeed, Bible study and meditation is a means of grace to believers. Psalm 19:7 reads, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” Being of the Spirit, it gives life, for Romans 8:6 states, “To set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” James 1:21 commands, “Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” If we value our souls, we will pay attention to the word. In Ephesians 6:17, Paul compares the word of God to a sword: “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” In this famous passage on spiritual warfare, the word of God is the only offensive weapon. If we attempt to do battle with evil with no offensive weapons, we will surely lose. Last, but certainly not least, faith comes through the word. Romans 10:17 argues, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” So Bible reading and meditation is a primary means of God’s empowering believers.

We should listen carefully to the advice in 2 Peter 1:19, “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention, as to a lamp shining in a dark place.” In Deuteronomy 8:3 and Matthew 4:4, we find that, “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” If after reading this essay, you are still not convinced that Bible reading is an essential duty of the godly life, I encourage you to read Psalms 19 and 119. Spend some time considering whether your life shows the same devotion to learning of the word as the psalmist’s. May we make time in our daily schedules to hear the word of God and affirm with Job, “I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.” (Job 23:12)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What Does the Spirit Do?

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.--(Romans 8:7-10; ESV)
What did the Holy Spirit do when we were saved?  What does the Spirit do now?  What will He do in the future?  The answers to these questions are numerous, but one particular action is brought out in Romans 8:7-11.  The simple way to put it is this: "The Spirit gives life to dead people."  Paul's reasoning is relatively simple when we boil it down: "Before, we were dead; now, we are not; in the future, we will live even after we die."
Can we be hostile to the omnipotent and holy God and live?  The answer is, I believe, no.  Indeed, "the body is dead because of sin."  There is a very real way in which the unsaved are dead--even while they are "alive."  But, when we were saved, the Spirit gave us life.
In the present, we live in and by the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit indwells us, empowers us, refreshes us, gives us joy and peace and passion, and sanctifies us.  We depend on the Holy Spirit for our soul's very life.
But, in the future, the Spirit will do still more for us.  When our mortal bodies have perished, He will give life to our bodies.  This is one thing I really don't understand in Romans 8.  (I probably don't understand a lot of other things, but even I can tell that I don't fully understand this.)  As far back as I can remember, I've been taught that the body is temporal and the soul is eternal.  So, I inferred that in Heaven I would not have a body.  In fact, it wasn't until recently that I even heard the idea that "in Heaven, we have bodies."  So, this passage kind of takes me by surprise every time I read it.  I don't quite understand it, but I rejoice at this truth.  When our bodies are aching and tired, we can remember that the Spirit will raise our bodies to perfection.  When we fear death, we can trust in the fact that God will give our bodies eternal life.

So what does the Holy Spirit do?  Among other things, He gives us our very lives.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Christianity and Economics

In my macroeconomics class last Wednesday, I was taught this: The fundamental principle of economics is scarcity.  Scarcity is a term used by economists to describe the fact that everyone has infinite wants, but there is a finite amount of resources to satisfy those wants. Though we may be content, we can always think of one more thing which we think would bring us satisfaction and happiness.  However, we simply don't have the resources we would need to obtain all these things.  Therefore, there is scarcity.

But, for the Christian, there is no scarcity.  How can I say this?  I believe God created us to be infinitely satisfied in Him alone.  Yes, we have infinite wants.  God created us to be satisfied with nothing less than infinity--Himself.  However, after the Fall, mankind was separated from God.  We now try to satisfy our infinite desire with the finite things of this world.  But this is impossible!  Mathematically, a finite amount is always less than infinity.  So, there is scarcity for the unsaved.  But the Good News of Jesus Christ allows us to have communion with God--to be satisfied completely by Him.  Because of his salvation, we have (a) His [infinite] Spirit filling us and giving us happiness in Him, and (b) a hope of Heaven, where we will never stop enjoying God and receiving satisfaction from his [infinite] glory.  So, our infinite desire is infinitely satisfied in the infinite Lord.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Fleshly and Spiritual Duties

To follow up on my last post, I thought I would post Thomas Wilcox's view on Christian duties (found in his Honey from the Rock).  His perspective on duties is a clear application of the Flesh/Spirit dichotomy.  So, here it is:
"What duty make not more spiritual, will make more carnal [fleshly]; what does not quicken and humble, will deaden and harden."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Flesh and Spirit

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the Spirit.  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.--Romans 8:5-8 (ESV)

The word dichotomy means: "division into two mutually exclusive, opposed, or contradictory groups."  In Romans 8:5-8, Paul sets up an absolute dichotomy between things of the flesh [sinful nature] and things of the Spirit.  He starts off by dividing all people into two groups: those who live according to the flesh and those who live according to the Spirit.  Then he points out the defining characteristic of each group: what they set their mind on.  Very simply, fleshly people set their minds on the flesh; Spirit-led people are instead consumed by the things of the Spirit.  What's interesting here is that there is no middle ground.  There are no loopholes in this passage.  Either something is of the flesh or of the Spirit.  

I have two thoughts on this passage.  Firstly, it's possible for Christians to be walking in both ways in the space of a short time.  I've seen this in my life.  One second, I can be praying for my brothers and thinking about Christ's amazing grace; the next second, I'm indulging the flesh.  Why is this?  I think it has to do with the remaining indwelling sin that hides out in believers' hearts.  We will see in verse 13 that there is still work to do in fighting the flesh.

Secondly, the things of the Spirit are laid out in the Word.  I think meditation on Scripture would most definitely be a thing of the Spirit.  So would prayer, fasting, loving others, forgiving those who sin against us--not to mention every fruit of the Spirit.  I think most likely this refers to the things which God has commanded us to do.

I'm going to be applying this passage by watching what I set my mind on very closely.  What I watch on TV, the music I listen to, the books I read, the thoughts I let my mind settle on--these can be discerned as either fleshly or of the Spirit.  If "to set the mind on the flesh is death" it is very important for me to pay attention to where my mind is set, and, when I catch myself slipping, run to the Spirit.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sin on Death Row

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.--Romans 8:3-4 (ESV)

In my last post I said that God set us free from sin.  This is a glorious truth which we can't afford to not make the center of our lives.  But God not only set us free from sin, he also put it in death row.  Romans 8:3 says, "he condemned sin in the flesh."  What does that mean?  I've been puzzling over it for a few days now, and the only explanation I have for it is that God has sentenced sin to futility and eventual death.

The word condemned as used in Romans 8:1 and 3 means: To confer some sort of eternal divine punishment upon.  So, when Paul says there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, he is saying that there is no Hell for Christians.  Conversely, sin has been condemned.  I don't know exactly how sin, which is not a person, can be condemned, but I think it's most likely somewhat like a judge condemning a criminal to death.  The criminal is imprisoned, powerless and never to escape, but not dead yet.  
In the same way, sin has been imprisoned by God and made powerless over us, but he has not quite finished destroying the last dregs of sin yet.  Theologians call the bit of sin left in the flesh the indwelling presence of sin.  We all know the truth that we are not completely holy yet.  I can look back at the end of every day and point out many, many obvious sins.  The good news is sort of the theme of Romans 8: By the Spirit, Christians fight their flesh and sin and in the end, stand victorious over all their lusts and distempers.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Freedom of Christ

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.--Romans 8:1-2 (ESV)

When I realize my sin, and all I can think about is how I have despised, defied, and rebelled against the Lord, this is the passage I come to most often.  Listen to its message: There is no condemnation!  I have been set free in Christ Jesus, so I have no guilt!  Not only that, but the power of sin over me has been broken.  The Spirit has, by the cross, set me free from the kingdom of darkness.  These are glorious truths!  No longer do I face eternal punishment and torment; no longer do I face unconquerable sin.  By Jesus' death and the Spirit's work in my life, I am set free from all uncleanness.  Praise God!

Monday, January 7, 2008

2008 Blogging

As we move into 2008, I am hoping to post more frequently.  However, I am not a pastor or a preacher, and I definitely don't apply as well as I would like to.  Sometimes, I think to myself, "Colin, you're not qualified to write on anything."  And it's true, I'm not an expert in anything.
But, as a fellow pilgrim with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I am called to build them up in any way I can.  One way I believe I can do that is by sharing what the Lord has been teaching me.  As part of my Bible reading plan this year, I am hoping to make in-depth studies of short passages--analyzing, hopefully understanding, and applying God's Word to my life.  As I find the nuggets of pure spiritual gold packed into Scripture, I hope to share them with my friends. 
My next series of posts will be on Romans 8, which I am currently memorizing.  After that, I hope to embark on a study of Biblical time management.  My prayer for this year is that I can humbly build up my brothers with the little understanding God has given me.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Fourth Prayer of 2 Thessalonians

Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men.  For not all have faith.
--2 Thessalonians 3:1-2 (ESV)

The fourth exhortation to prayer found in 2 Thessalonians is a direct command: "Brothers, pray for us."  Paul, a missionary, asked for prayer that more could be saved.  Since not all had faith, there was a need for the word of the Lord to spread and be honored among all nations.  In our age, we face the same situation.  Not all have faith.  In fact, some have never heard the word of the Lord.

In my last post, I wrote about salvation being the Lord's work.  One of the applications of this truth is dependence on God for missions and evangelism.  God and God alone saves.  He also loves to answer prayer.  Our prayer, made possible through Jesus's mediation, has power.  Put these truths together and the obvious application is to pray for the Lord to save.  Our prayers can--and I believe will--be answered and cause the ultimate change in many people's lives.  

May we always pray fervently that the Lord would cause His word to speed ahead and be honored for the glory of Jesus Christ and the salvation of the world.