FOCUSING ON THE TRUTH

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The flesh is loud and insistent. It demands its own way. Above all, the flesh wants self-gratification. The Spirit is quiet, but clear. Above all, the Spirit wants to bring you closer to Jesus, and to bring others closer to Jesus through you.

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GALATIANS #18. GALATIANS 5:16-18

I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Gal 5:16-18, HCSB)

I have struggled to prepare this message, because what is said is here actually quite simple, but at the same time, it is very deep. It isn’t hard to grasp the obvious meaning, but sometimes it is hard to grasp how profoundly this could affect our lives.

We need a little background as we talk about flesh and spirit. The bible describes human beings as made up of Spirit, Soul and Body (Hebrews 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; numerous other verses). We each have a body. We know what that is. Our body life is what our body does – what we do and say, how we behave. We also have a soul. The Greek word in the New Testament for “soul” is “psuche” which we have changed in English to “psyche.” Just like that English word, the soul is your personality, your emotions, your thoughts and decisions. The third part of a human being is the Spirit. The New Testament word for Spirit is a lot like the word for breath. The spirit is the part of the human that interacts directly with God.

Your flesh is located in your body. The soul – your emotions, thoughts and decisions – is the battleground between flesh and spirit. Your soul can give attention and power to the flesh, or to the spirit. Before you are in Jesus, your spirit is dead. The flesh has free reign to do what it wants. The soul may occasionally make an effort to do some good thing, or refrain from something especially bad, but it is not empowered by God to that. It has nothing to go on but what it gets from the body, and that is heavily influenced by the flesh. However, when we come to Jesus, he makes us fully alive, fully perfect in spirit. Now, God’s Holy Spirit has a means to speak to us, to our souls, through our spirits. Now, the battle is on.

It is important to remember that the Spirit is eternal. The soul is also eternal. But the body, and the flesh, are dying, even as you read this. What that means is that the flesh is not the “real you.” The real you is going to live on eternity, either with Jesus, if you continue to trust him, or in the eternal torment of separation from him. If you are with Jesus, your spirit and soul will get a new body at the resurrection, a body that is free from what we call “the flesh.” This idea that the Spirit is the “real you” is very important when it comes to walking by the Spirit and not by the flesh.

I think one of the first questions I have about Paul’s statement, is: “how do we recognize the Spirit?” In order to help us understand, I want to reference a text that I preached on about two years ago. Bear with me if you know it, because I think it will help us. Turn to 1 Kings 19:1-13 (if you are new to the Bible, that means the book of “1 Kings,” chapter number 19, verses 1 through 13). This is a story about the prophet Elijah.

Elijah had some tremendous victories in his life. There were times when he was full of faith, and God did amazing things through him. But there were also times when things were not going well for him at all. His life was a little bit like a roller coaster – up, because things were good, and down, because things were bad. At one point, he got so down that he ran away and lived in a cave. After a time of recovery, the Lord spoke to him, and told him to come to the entrance of the cave, because he was going to reveal his presence to Elijah.

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire, a thin silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. (1Kgs 19:13, HCSB)

I think the Lord was making a point. Elijah was drawing his life from what was going on externally. When things were going well on the outside, Elijah was doing well. When God was working miracles and Elijah was feeling bold, everything was great. But when things were going badly, Elijah was not doing well. We might say, “So what?” Isn’t it normal to do well when things are good, and to feel discouraged when things are not good?”

God was saying to Elijah: “No. It doesn’t have to be that way. My life is not in the external things. My Life is not in things going well, and my life is not absent when things are bad.”

And so God sent a storm. Raging wind, splitting rocks, this beats any tornado you’ve ever heard of. It was noise, excitement, huge, awe-inspiring. But the LORD was not in the storm. So he sent an earthquake. Nothing is solid anymore, everything is shaken. There is nothing to hold on to, no security. But the LORD was not in the earthquake. Then came the fire. I’ve heard many people – even preachers – pray for God to “send your fire.” But the LORD was not in the fire.

Now, obviously, God sent the wind, caused the earthquake, lit the fire. So he was in them in a sense – they resulted from his action. But the true presence of God was not in those things that he sent and did. The true presence of God was a silent, calm voice that spoke into Elijah’s spirit.

What this story shows us, is the difference between flesh and spirit. Flesh is loud and insistent, even demanding. Elijah, even though he was a prophet, had been living according to the flesh. When things were good, he was OK. When things were bad, he was not. His focus was on the clamoring, demanding flesh. But what God showed him is that God’s truest presence is in the spirit. And the spirit is not loud, noisy, or demanding.

I’m reminded of a line from song by the Indigo Girls:

Now darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable;

And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear

I don’t know why that should be true, but it certainly is. This passage calls the call of God a “still small voice.” But it is an odd Hebrew expression that is hard to capture. I’m not much of a Hebrew scholar, so I’m mostly relying on the research of others. But a literal rendering might be “a voice, silent and intangible.” The voice of the spirit is like that. It wasn’t in all the ups and down of Elijah’s circumstances. It wasn’t even in the wind or fire or earthquake. It was a quiet whisper from God’s Spirit to Elijah’s spirit.

But here is something very important: Elijah recognized it. It was small. It was silent and intangible. And yet, it was truly there, and when it came, Elijah knew it. The New Testament seems to take for granted that we too, will recognize the voice of God’s Spirit, when we are in Jesus.

Paul gives us another clue. He says the Spirit and the Flesh are opposed to one another. They desire things that are opposite to each other. So here is a very practical help: If you sense a battle within you, if you want two different things, then one of those things is the voice of the Spirit; the other is the voice of the flesh. Now, I’m not talking about ordinary decisions, like what brand of jeans you should buy, or things like that. But if you are in Jesus, and you are presented with a choice of the flesh, there will be another voice, almost intangible, but recognizable, wanting to make a different choice. That is the voice of the Spirit.

The flesh is loud and insistent. It demands its own way. Above all, the flesh wants self-gratification. The flesh wants to do whatever is necessary – including sin – to gratify itself. Bear in mind, the flesh doesn’t always want to sin overtly. This is not the devil, but rather your corrupted flesh. Flesh just wants to get what it wants. It doesn’t care if it sins to do it, but it doesn’t have to sin to do it. So, you can do some things that appear to be good, and still be doing them in the flesh. I know of a large ministry that is built upon the flesh of the founder. The founding pastor may not be overtly sinning. He’s building a large ministry, which undoubtedly has some positive influence on some folks. But he’s doing it out of his own effort, his own focus on outward success, and ultimately, for his own gratification. It may look outwardly good, but it is still flesh.

The Spirit is quiet, but clear. There is a sense of “goodness” and “rightness” to what the Spirit wants. I don’t mean a religious goodness – I mean a clear, positive feeling, thought or conviction that what it wants is good – good as in positive, and good as in morally right. The Spirit’s goal is not your personal success or immediate gratification. Instead, what the Holy Spirit wants, is to bring you closer to Jesus, and to bring others closer to Jesus through you. Sometimes outward success will do that. Sometimes it won’t.

A lot of what it means to walk by the Spirit has to do with belief and focus. You need to trust it is true when the Bible tells you that the flesh is not the real you:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2Cor 5:16-17, ESV2011)

We don’t consider the flesh to be our true selves any more. We need to trust this, trust Jesus has really done this for us.

For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1John 2:16-17, ESV2011)

As we trust that Jesus has dealt with our sin and our flesh is on the way out, we start to see ourselves the way God sees us. The more you realize and trust that Jesus has made your righteous, the easier and more natural it will be for you to behave accordingly. We don’t need to struggle and strive with our flesh to change our behavior. Instead, we trust Jesus and what he has done for us. We cling to the truth that he has not only forgiven us, but he has changed us in the inmost being and through Him we have put off the old self and put on the new, which is righteous, holy and pure like God himself. And through the power of the Holy Spirit, we will begin to act as we believe. Paul says it like this to the Colossians:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col 3:1-5, ESV emphasis added)

Very few translations include this, but in verse 5, it says literally: “put to death your body parts, the earthly ones…” In other words, the sins Paul names afterward are sins of the flesh and body. And the way to deal with these, the way to put them to death, he tells us in the preceding verses: set your minds on things above. Set your minds on the fact that you died and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. You fight temptation by believing that Jesus has already broken your connection with sin. You walk by the Spirit when you believe that you don’t have to gratify every impulse of your flesh, because real life is in the spirit, and in the spirit you are perfect and complete, and God has already met every need.

Part of this is about focus. We should seek the things that are above. We should set our minds on the things of the Spirit. Paul puts it like this to the Romans:

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 things of the Spirit. (Rom 8:5, ESV2011)

As I write this, I am on a “detox diet” with my wife. There are certain foods that I am avoiding for a certain period of time. I am hungry right at this moment. The truth is, I really want some pizza, but I’m not supposed to have any. There’s no good pretending I’m not hungry. And there’s no good pretending I don’t want pizza. But there is also no point in fantasizing about a crisp crust and Italian sausage and jalapenos and the most wonderful cheese. The more I do that, the more I want it, and eventually, it will lead me to go get pizza and ruin the effect of the detox.

I have three things that help me in this situation. First, I recognize that though I want it, I don’t have to have it. I’m not going to die without it. It won’t hurt me at all to abstain, and it will probably be good for me. So I commit to something higher than my own immediate gratification. Second, except for the purposes of this illustration, I refuse to focus on what I should not have. I know it’s available. I know I want it. But I’m not going to waste my time or sap my willpower by continuing to think about it. Third, I am going to get up as soon as I’m done here, and go eat some of the good satisfying food that I am perfectly free to have.

I think walking by the Spirit is very much like that. Of course we are tempted to gratify the flesh. That’s why Paul writes about this. But temptation isn’t sin. You’ll be tempted, so what? It won’t hurt you to abstain, and you can commit to something higher than your own immediate gratification. Second, refuse to focus on it. Instead, focus on the good things you already have in Jesus, and the more good that he wants to give you. Third, satisfy yourself in Jesus with the good that he provides, and especially with his presence and his Word.

Paul also says walking by the Spirit means you are not under law. I think there are two things we should think about in connection with this. First don’t worry about messing up. God’s moral law has not changed. It cannot change, because it is a reflection of his holiness. But Jesus has met that standard on our behalf. If, as we try and walk by the Spirit, we screw up and give in to the flesh, you are not now obligated to be perfect again. Romans 8:1-4 says this:

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. 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. (Rom 8:1-4, ESV2011)

We shouldn’t deliberately continue in a pattern of fleshly living. To do so takes us farther away from Jesus. But if we screw up sometimes, we are not condemned. Sin has already been dealt with for those who walk according to the Spirit. When you fail, get back up and move on in the Spirit. Don’t waste a lot of time condemning yourself, because in Jesus, there is no condemnation.

Second, the fact that we are not under law means we don’t live by a list that tells us how to behave in every situation. Instead, we make our goal to stick close to Jesus, to pay attention to the spirit. If we do that, the Spirit himself will guide us, and we don’t need a set of rules for every situation.

There is a lot here in these two verses this week. Let the Holy Spirit talk to you about it right now.

JESUS WANTS TO LIVE YOUR LIFE

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LIVING IN REVERSE PART 7. JESUS LIVES YOUR LIFE

We’ve been moving through this series about Living in Reverse. We’ve learned to put what God says after the “but…” – to agree with Him, and to let our dominant reality be determined by God’s Word and God’s actions. We’ve learned to draw life from the Spirit, not from our outward circumstances – not even the good ones. We’ve learned that when we are in Christ, our old self has been crucified, and we are dead to sin to the law. We’ve begun to learn how to fight the ongoing temptations that would try remove us from all these truths we’ve been talking about. We have begun to explore our new life as citizens of heaven, and all the resources we now have in Christ. We’ve been learning our new identity.

All this is leading toward an ultimate purpose: so that Jesus Christ can express His Life through you. Let me put a different way: The purpose of it here on earth is so that Jesus Christ can live your life. Paul puts it like this:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20, ESV)

Now, as I have preached these messages, I have noticed that some people have a certain amount of fear. I have had some fear of my own. That fear is that if we believe that sin is truly taken care of we (or maybe other Christians) will sort of go crazy and completely indulge ourselves in a lifestyle of sin. Now, I’ve addressed that in other messages, by trying to explain the relational connection we now have with God. But I want to point that there are two probable roots to this kind of fear.

The first root is control. Believe it or not, a lot people feel more comfortable with the idea that spiritual things are up to them. If I have to somehow measure up, then I have some control – I can work to make sure that I do in fact measure up. Some folks are very uncomfortable with the idea that they can’t do anything about their spiritual condition – not even after they are Christians. Some people would rather check spiritual items off a list than actually interact with the living God in a daily, personal way.

The second reason we often fear grace, is that we don’t really trust that Jesus will live his life through us and other Christians. I had neighbors once who weren’t Christians. The woman was pretty much a pagan feminist. We prayed for her and her husband for years. Eventually she started coming to our church. One night in our small group she confessed to us, and to the Lord that she was a Wiccan – a witch. She asked for God’s forgiveness. The next day she renounced Wicca and burned her Wiccan books. Not long after that, she completely gave her life to Jesus.

Shortly after she became a Christian we had a conversation, and I realized that she still held a lot of pagan and feminist views. She believed that there was nothing wrong homosexual behavior or abortion. I thought, “Oh my goodness, she’s a Christian now, but she still has all these pagan attitudes.” I had no idea where to start with her.

You see this really works. When we are truly surrendered to Jesus, he really will live his life through us.

I didn’t have to. Over the next year or so the Lord worked within her to change her attitudes. I don’t know exactly when or how it happened, but Jesus living within her made sure that she did not continue in unbiblical beliefs or practices.

I didn’t even know she was a Wiccan, before she told us, but the Lord did. He worked within her to change that. The Lord knew before I did the thoughts and attitudes she held that were wrong. He worked within her to change that. She had been a feminist, but before any of us more mature believers talked to her about that, she felt the Lord leading her to change her feminist attitudes and actions toward her husband. That change led him to become a Christian a few months later.

You see this really works. When we are truly surrendered to Jesus, he really will live his life through us. I didn’t have to lay out religious rules for my neighbor to follow – I just had to introduce her to Jesus, and once she surrendered to Him, He began to live his life through her.

We had another lady who started coming to a cell group in that church. She had been raised in a Christian home, but as far as we could tell, she didn’t have a living faith. She lived with her boyfriend and thought nothing was wrong with that. One night she wanted prayer to receive the Holy Spirit. I thought that was jumping the gun a little bit, since she didn’t really know Jesus. But we prayed. When we were done she said, “when you prayed for me, I really did get the Holy Spirit.” I didn’t think so, but I didn’t want to burst her bubble, so I didn’t say anything.

The next day she called me. “I just told my boyfriend he had to move out,” she said. “I have the Holy Spirit now, and the Holy Spirit doesn’t want to live like that.” She told me some other changes she was making in her life. I was floored. She really did have the Spirit!

Once she was surrendered to Jesus, once he lived in her through the Spirit, I did not have to tell her it was wrong to live with her boyfriend. The Spirit showed her.

Now I am not saying there is no use in knowing what the Bible says. The Spirit works through the Word to guide, correct and teach us. Both of these women got extensive Bible teaching and mentoring. But the changes in their lives were brought about not by other Christians giving them rules to follow, nor by them making a tremendous effort, but rather Jesus living his life through them. Their main work was simply to trust Jesus and respond to him as he led them.

I could tell you more true stories but my hope is that if you are a believer, you will see for yourself that Jesus will live his life through you if you let him. And this is why we don’t need to focus on whether or not we are sinning. If we are focused on Jesus and if we respond to him as he teaches us and leads us, we are not going to sin very often. You see, if Jesus is the one living your life, Jesus isn’t going to sin. It’s only when we stop believing it, and stop responding in faith to Jesus that we get into trouble. We get into trouble when WE try to live our OWN lives. Even when we are trying live our lives in a holy way, if we are doing it on our own, we tend to get into trouble.

READ ON TO FINISH THE MESSAGE….

Continue reading “JESUS WANTS TO LIVE YOUR LIFE”

WHY DO WE SIN? HOW CAN WE FIGHT IT?

LIVING IN REVERSE PART 5.

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Now, there is another question we need to address. If we are already holy, and already free from sin, why do we sin anymore at all? And how do we deal with it?

I’m so glad you ask, because the answer is found in a passage of scripture that is frequently misunderstood: Romans chapter 7:15-20.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (Rom 7:15-20, ESV)

We read this and we say, “Yeah, I understand that, that’s me.” And we hear Paul say “sin is living me” and “nothing good lives in me” we think: “See? Isn’t that a sinful nature?”

But this passage is frequently misinterpreted. First, in verses 7-14, Paul is talking about the past, about how life was before Jesus. In verse 15, he begins to speak in the present tense, but it isn’t clear if he has switched to his present circumstances, even after salvation, or if he is still explaining the past. Just to move the discussion along, let’s say that in verse 15, Paul is talking about sins he commits as a Christian.

We always need to interpret scripture in context. The entire context of chapter seven is actually chapters six, seven and the first part of chapter eight. The chapters and verse marks were not inspired by God. They were put in by monks 1000 years after the New Testament was written, to help us in navigating around the bible. So pretend they aren’t there, and you can clearly see that the first several paragraphs of chapter 8 are still on the same subject as chapters six and seven.

So with that in mind, what is the general topic that Paul keeps coming around to? You are dead to sin, dead to the law, and alive to Jesus. Therefore, when Paul describes his struggle with sin here, he is not contradicting himself. It is the in the same letter, in the same section, talking about the same subject as when he said: “Likewise, you also have died to the law.”

Therefore, clearly Paul is not turning around and saying “You have not died to the law. You are not free from sin. Your old self is alive and well.” That would be ridiculous and unsustainable biblical interpretation.

I used to believe I had a sinful nature that was alive and well. So when I read this, I was focused on Paul saying “I do bad things…even though I don’t want to.” Actually, Paul’s emphasis is not that he is sinning, but rather that he doesn’t want to commit these sins. What Paul is saying is, “In the deepest part of me, I don’t want to sin. This shows that this part of me is holy and agrees with God. In my deepest nature, I am not a sinner.” He says, in verse 22: “For I delight in the law of God in my inner being.”

And so he says in 8:1-3

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. 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, (Rom 8:1-3, ESV)

I had friend once who was not a Christian. After a lot of time and people praying for him, and some long conversations, he gave his heart to Jesus. Afterward, we started to meet together to pray and talk about the Bible and generally encourage each other in faith. One time the subject of lust came up. He said, “You know, before I became a Christian, I did not struggle with lust. Now I struggle with it all the time.”

I was shocked. What had we done wrong? I asked him to explain.

“Well, before I was Christian,” he said, “there wasn’t any struggle. I lusted, and it didn’t bother me. But since I came to Jesus, it bothers me when I lust because I don’t want to do that now.”

You see the fact that he didn’t want to sin any more was proof that he had died to sin. In his deepest heart, he knew that he didn’t desire sin. In his inner being, he delighted in God’s perfect standard and holiness.

Continue reading “WHY DO WE SIN? HOW CAN WE FIGHT IT?”

If I’m Dead to Sin, Can I sin all the time now?

LIVING IN REVERSE, PART 4. ROMANS 6:12-23

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Last time we considered the New Testament teaching that in Jesus we died to sin and to the law. Through this death, which is accomplished through the death of Jesus, we have been set free from sin and the law. (Romans 6:7,14,18; Romans 7:4,6) Last week I shared no less than one dozen scriptures that teach explicitly that in Christ we have died.

The picture Paul gives us at the beginning of Romans 7:2-3 is of marriage. When two people are married in the eyes of the law, they are married. It would be a sin to marry someone else at the same time. But if the husband dies, the laws regarding marriage no long apply. Because of the death, the law doesn’t apply any more. It would no longer be sinful or illegal for the woman to marry someone else. The law was made irrelevant by death.

In the same way, the power of sin to bring us condemnation through the law has been destroyed by the death of Jesus, and by our death which happened in Jesus, as we have trusted him. We can’t be condemned as sinners anymore, because as Paul writes:

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. (Rom 7:4, ESV)

Now, when you really get this, there is a natural question that arises. Does this mean I can sin all I want, because the law no longer applies to me? Now stick with me here. I am going to give you an answer that may surprise you, but you need to follow through the ENTIRE answer I am about to give.

Technically, the answer is, Yes, you can sin all you want. If you are in Jesus, your sins don’t “count” anymore. In the eyes of the law, you are dead, so the law cannot be used to condemn you for anything you do now.

Now, that is a shocking answer. It isn’t the whole story yet, and I want you to stick with me as I give some further explanation in a moment. But just pause here for a moment. Do you see how outrageous the grace of God is? He has made it so that if you simply continue to trust Him, you cannot fail. Even when you do fail, it isn’t counted as you anymore. That’s why we see all those passages in the New Testament saying that when we are in Christ we are New Creation, we are Holy, we are Blameless and so on.

You see it isn’t our job to work ourselves into a state of holiness. God has already put us into a state of holiness, in our spirits. Our only job is to keep believing that he has done this, and through that faith, He will continue to work the holiness deeper and deeper into our soul and body life.

I use the expression keep believing quite deliberately. It is a daily (sometimes hourly) habit of continuing to believe who Jesus is, what he has done for us, how he feels about us, and continuing to rest upon it. This is not a one shot deal. This is not a situation where you just say, “Well I got baptized, so I’m good now.” Or “Well, I got saved five years ago, so I’m good now.” This is a process of continually putting our trust in Jesus, day by day. That is what it means to be “in Jesus” and all these things are ours, only in Jesus. I’m not saying that you have to work hard and live the Christian life on your own strength in order to be in Jesus. But I am saying that to be in Jesus, you need to continually rest in Him with trust in what his Word says, and in what he has done for us.

Last week I spent some time talking about how what we believe profoundly shapes what we do. So the next part of the answer comes here. Technically, you can sin all you want, and it doesn’t count against you. But if you really believe that God has freed you from sin, that you have already been made holy, you will be far less inclined to sin than if you believe you are still fundamentally a sinner.

If you believe you are half sinner, and half saint, then it is only natural for you to go through life sinning half the time. If you believe that, and you sin less than half the time, I commend you for your great will power, though it is misguided. The bible does not say you are half sinner, half saint. It says that if you are in Jesus, then in the most essential part of your being, the part that doesn’t change, the part that already has a solid connection to eternity – your spirit – you are entirely holy. You are completely separated from sin and the law.

When you believe what the Bible says – that the essential you is already holy and is free from sin – you will sin less, not more, because action follows belief. If you find that you are sinning a lot, what you need is not to try harder to stop, but to believe more fully what God says about you.

Now, there is another thing that will eventually restrain our sinful actions. There is a movie from the 1990s called Groundhog Day. In it, a weather reporter named Phil gets trapped in an endlessly repeating day – February 2 1993, to be precise. Only Phil is trapped in this day. Every day, the other people he meets are living the day as if it is their first February 2, 1993. The only thing that carries over from day to day is Phil’s memory. Naturally, at first he is depressed. One night he is drowning his sorrows in drink, and he says out loud: “What if nothing you did mattered. What if you woke up every morning as if the previous day had never happened?”

One of the other drinkers in the bar said, “That would mean there would be no consequences. You could do anything you like.”

Phil catches on to this idea, and at first, he abuses the fact that there are no consequences for his actions. He gets drunk, commits crimes, and does many morally reprehensible things. After a while all that loses its luster, because he realizes there is no life there. So he tries to commit suicide. He kills himself dozens of times, but always wakes up the next morning at 6:00am on February 2, 1993.

But finally, truly knowing there are no consequences, he begins to live for love. Repeating this day endlessly with one of his co-workers, he falls in love with her. And knowing it doesn’t matter what he does, he finally chooses, because of love, to do what is good and right and noble. He devotes himself to literature and music. He tries as much as possible to help others. Every day he says the same boy from breaking his leg, and the same man from choking. Every day, he tries to save the life of the same old bum who dies on February 2, 1993. Day after day, he tries to bless the people that he is stuck with.

I suggest that you are really in Jesus, and you really know you are free from sin, you will discover quickly that there is no real life in sin, and the pleasure you get from it is false and always disappoints you. When you really know you are free from sin and law, you will find yourself more often drawn to the Lord and REAL life, than the shallow, brief and bitter pleasures of sin. And when we learn to love God, we find that living for love naturally moves us away from what would hurt our loved one, and toward things that are good and right and noble.

Here’s another analogy. I am married to Kari. We have a legal marriage license from the state of Illinois. Suppose we went to a marriage counselor and I said: “Kari committed to be my wife, ’till death do us part. We are legally married, and there is no part of the legal document that specifies what I must do, or what I may not do. So does that mean I can stay out until 3 AM every night and party all I want? Can I stop working, and let her provide all of our finances? Can I spend all our money however I want, without talking to her about it? Can I leave dirty dishes and smelly laundry all over the house?” I could go on, but you get the picture.

Marriage is not about a legal contract in which I fulfill my duties or else face the consequences. I could technically do all those things and remain legally married to Kari. But what kind of relationship is that? I don’t do those things (except leaving the occasional dirty dish) because I love Kari. Now there are times when either Kari or I do things that hurt each other. When that happens, we have to talk about it, and ask forgiveness, and give forgiveness, and heal the relationship. But we don’t say sorry because we have rules about saying sorry. I don’t clean up after myself (a lot of the time, anyway) because there is a rule that I have to. But I know it is helpful for our relationship if I do. I am motivated by love.

This is the picture the New Testament gives us of our relationship with God. Truly, if you are in Jesus Christ, sin is irrelevant. But what is relevant is your relationship with him, your love for him.

Paul describes it almost exactly this way. He uses the analogy of a woman who husband dies, and then she is free to marry someone else. Paul says:

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. (Rom 7:4, ESV)

We died to sin and to the law so that we could be raised into relationship.

If you are looking to find out how much sin you can get away with, then I question whether you actually are in relationship with God. I would say at the very least, you relationship with him is in very serious trouble. And, believe it or not, that is really the question of someone who is still trying to live by the law. You want a rule about how many rules you can break and still be OK. You aren’t really in relationship with God.

So, to go back to the sin question, since you are free from sin, dead to it, is there a problem if you sin? Well, is there a problem in your marriage if you cheat on your spouse? Of course there is. It isn’t a law problem, it is a problem that shows lack of belief in what God says, and lack of love for him. But we need to understand that it isn’t about performing correctly for God or reforming ourselves or making ourselves holy. It is about believing Him and loving him.

I don’t like it when I hurt Kari feelings. I hate the feeling when we are fighting and our relationship isn’t right. I feel the same way with the Lord. And the truth is this. If I say something hurtful to Kari, and I never say sorry and seek her forgiveness, it puts a barrier in our relationship. The more I hurt her and refuse to resolve the hurt I’ve done or acknowledge my mistake, the more distant our relationship will become. Eventually all the hurts and barriers and distance add up, and if we let it go, we might end up divorced. But you can’t divorced without signing papers. It can’t happen without you knowing about it and agreeing to it.

In the same way, if we continue to live in such a way as to hurt our relationship with God, we will become more and more distant from him. Eventually, we may be so distant that we get no benefit from our relationship with Him. The prodigal son left his father. The father still loved his son, and called him his son, but the son got no benefit from it. Even though he was the son of a loving, kind and generous father, he was living with pigs and eating pig food to survive. He might have died that way, and so, through his neglect of the relationship, never received anything more from his father.

Some of you reading this believe you can never lose your salvation. Some of you believe you can. Wherever you come down, the Bible is very clear that it is very serious thing to be distant from God. The bible exhorts us to continue to have a daily relationship with Him, through faith.

But once more, I want to emphasize that if you truly believe how outrageous God’s grace is, when you truly know that He really has freed you from sin, you will not be motivated to sin nearly as often as before. The more you believe, the less you injure that relationship with God, and the more quickly you will seek healing and resolution when you do hurt that relationship.

We don’t fight sin by trying be good with our own willpower. We don’t conquer temptation by gritting our teeth and getting over it. We start by believing that we are already holy, that in fact, we don’t have any relationship to sin any more. We live now in relationship to God, a relationship of faith that is based upon unconditional love, not rules.

Now, there is another question we need to address. If we are already holy, and already free from sin, why do we sin anymore at all? I apologize, but this message is getting long, and so I will answer that question next time.

YOU’RE DEAD MEAT!!

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Download “Living in Reverse Part 3

LIVING IN REVERSE PART 3.

This is actually the third part in a series called Living in Reverse, but due to a speaking engagement, a vacation and then an illness, it has been almost a month since the second part was posted. So I want to remind us of where we are. We began the series by looking at the life of Leah, and how she learned to make God’s love and God’s view of her more important than her life circumstances. We call this “Living after the But.” We need to understand that the final and most important factor in any situation, feeling, thought or circumstance, is what God says and does. Second, we looked at the life of Elijah, and how God showed him that true Life is not in our external circumstances – not even in how God may or may be changing them. True Life is found in the Spirit, and God designed it to flow through our spirits into our souls and then our behavior.

With all that in mind, we will move on. I want us to begin this time by considering how much our actions are affected by what we believe.

In the 1850s, people began to keep track of how fast a man could run one mile. The time-pieces back then were fully accurate enough to make across the board comparisons to modern times. For almost a hundred years, no one was able to run a mile faster than four minutes and several seconds. There was a general consensus that no human being could run a mile in less time than four minutes.

One of the fastest mile-runners in the world in the 1950s was Roger Bannister. On 2 May 1953, he made an attempt on the British record at Oxford. Bannister ran 4:03.6, shattering a previous record set in 1945. "This race made me realize that the four-minute mile was not out of reach," said Bannister. What I want to point out is that it was at this point that Bannister began to believe that he could run a mile in less than four minutes.

A year later, on May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile barrier, completing it in 3:59.4. I contend that he was able to do this simply because he believed he could. For a hundred years, no had run a mile in less than four minutes. Most people believed it couldn’t be done. Bannister believed, and a year later it became reality. Now, once Bannister proved a man could run a mile in less than four minutes, what do you think happened? Now everyone believed it could be done. Bannister’s record was broken less than two months after he set it. His record and subsequent faster records were broken five more times during the next decade. In a hundred years, no one had run a four minute mile. But once one man did it, and others believed it could be done, dozens began to do it. During the past sixty years, it is estimated that more than 850 people have run a sub four minute mile. Let me state it clearly: In the first hundred years, not a single person ran a sub-four minute mile. In the past sixty years since that record was first broken, almost nine-hundred people have done it.

Now you could probably make a case for nutrition and a more sports-oriented culture to explain some of this. But I personally believe that the biggest difference between the first hundred years of records, and the last sixty, is that now people believe it can be done.

Your belief affects how you act, what you attempt, and what you achieve. If you want to change the results you are getting, you must start by changing your belief. At the family camp where I recently spoke, another speaker observed that preachers have two basic options: to ask you to do something, or to ask you to believe something. I would add that we can also impart information and inspiration. This week, I will give you some information, but my main purpose is to encourage you to believe something that God says in the Bible. When you believe it, it may change your life. You may find that you are living with a perspective that you used to think was impossible.

This what I am asking you to believe: When you trust Jesus, you are dead to sin.

Many of us come out of a Lutheran background. The writers of the old “Green Hymnal” did not do us any favors when they had us say, week after week, for decades: “I am in bondage to sin.” Many us, Lutheran or not, have used the NIV bible translation for years. The NIV is generally a great translation, but they didn’t do us any favors when they translated the Greek word “sarx” as “sinful nature” when really what it means is “flesh.”

There is another problem. Our experience tells us that we are capable of sinning a lot, and sinning horribly. We get angry. We lie. We cheat. We are dishonest. We lust. We get drunk. When we combine the reality that we still sin, with the concept of bondage to sin and sinful nature, we have an entire generation – maybe two – of Christians who have grown up believing that even after we have come to Jesus, we are fundamentally sinful beings.

We recognize that the Bible actually says something that sounds different than this. And so we reconcile it by saying this: “I know I am redeemed by Jesus. But I also have this sinful nature living in me that I will have to fight with until I die.” But brothers and sisters, the story is different than that. Read carefully:

  • By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death.. (Rom 6:2-4 ESV)

  • We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin (Romans 6:6-7)

  • So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11)

  • Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God (Romans 7:4)

  • But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code (Romans 7:6)

  • Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)

  • For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. (Gal 2:19-20, ESV)

  • If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations (Col 2:20, ESV)

  • The saying is trustworthy, for: ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​If we have died with him, we will also live with him; ​​​ (2 Tim 2:11, ESV)

  • He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness (1 Pet 2:24, HCSB)

  • For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:14-17, ESV)

Just a quick note. I have run into some folks who want to debate what part of us, exactly, was crucified with Christ. What died? I think this is a little bit beside the point. Paul says variously, “our old self” or “I” or “you.” He is not terribly specific or theological about it. I have my professional theological opinion, but let’s not get side tracked.

The point is, in Jesus Christ, you have died in such a way that the connection between you and sin is broken. Paul says we are dead to the law. Think about it. There are no laws for dead people. A dead person is beyond the law. Imagine you committed a horrible crime, and you were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Once you are dead, your sentence is over. They bury you in the prison graveyard, and you are done. Once you are dead, the law can require nothing more from you. Paul says “You are released from the law. You died to what held you captive.”

And we are dead to sin: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” He says this in several places. Peter also says it.

The point then, is not really what part of us died. The point is that we need go forward, from this point, believing that in Jesus Christ, we have died to sin and to the law that keeps us on the hook for sins we commit. The connection between us and sin, us and the law is so thoroughly broken, it is like trying to get a dead person to keep serving a prison sentence. It’s over. There is no more connection.

You see, I spent years trying to make myself behave better. I thought my old self was still alive. I thought I still had some deep internal connection to sin. And so I kept trying to reform myself, and always failing Finally, I saw that God doesn’t try to reform the Tom. Instead, he killed him. In Jesus, the new Tom – at least the spirit of the new Tom – has already been raised. And there is no connection between that new Tom and sin. When I began to really believe that – that I am truly dead to sin – I began to sin less.

Do you believe that your old self is dead and buried with Christ through his death? Do you believe that you are dead to sin? Do believe that you are no longer enslaved to sin? Do you believe that the old has passed away and the new has come? Do you count yourself dead to sin but alive to Jesus?

I find that the biggest objection this idea is that it is not usually our daily experience. We feel like the old us is still there. We don’t feel like we are free from sin. We feel like the law still applies to us and holds us captive. We don’t feel new, and like we are living according the Spirit and not flesh.

Now is the time we must remember the first two messages in this series. If you never heard them or read them, stop reading this, and go back and get those first two messages. You see? Our experience is telling us one thing and God is telling us another. What should we put after the but? Our experience, or God’s word? God’s word, of course. We should say it something like this. “I know that in my flesh, there is still a struggle with sin – BUT God says I am dead to sin. I know I feel like I have sinful nature – BUT God says my old self was crucified with Christ.”

Then, remember Elijah. Where does real life come from – the flesh and the soul, or the spirit? The spirit, of course. What is eternal, and more powerful? The spirit. And where is is that the old self is dead and the new is come? The spirit. The spirit trumps flesh and soul.

Now, this is a deep concept. I will take next week to talk about the struggles with have with sin, and how that fits into it all.

But for now, I am calling you to believe what God says, and give it more power than your feelings and your experiences. I am calling you to draw life not from what is happening in soul and flesh, but in what God has done and is doing in your spirit.

You see, if you believe that you have a sinful nature, how are you going to act? You are going to sin, of course, because that is what someone with a sinful nature does. As I said at the beginning, what you believe ultimately determines how you will act. You cannot consistently or for very long, act in opposition to what you truly believe.

If you trust Jesus, at the most important place, in the heart of your being, you are not a sinner. I am not saying you never commit sins. But you are not a sinful nature. And the part of you that is holy and blameless and perfect will outlast the part of you that still struggles. The place in which you are dead to sin is more powerful, more enduring and more important than the place where you struggle. Life comes from the Lord, through place where you are already dead to sin.

We need to believe that when God says we died with Christ, we really did die.

I killed a snake one time. I blew it half with a shotgun. The snake was dead, there was absolutely no question about that. There was a the head, with a little piece of neck, and there was the body, completely separate. But the mouth kept opening and closing like it was trying to bite something. The body twisted and coiled and uncoiled for ten or fifteen minutes afterward.

All that twisting and coiling and movement looked like life – but it wasn’t life. It was merely the death throes. If I was a really dumb veterinarian, I could have wasted time and energy treating the dead snake that acted like it was alive. But there was no life there.

Our old person can sometimes act as if it is still alive. We still get the impulses and signals that seem to show that our old self is alive and well. But this is nothing but death throes. There is no life there. If we work to try and kill it again, or try and reform it, we are wasting time and energy in a futile exercise.

Paul says, “don’t gratify the flesh.” Our old body is rotting in the prison graveyard. We don’t have to follow the prison rules any more. We don’t have to try and make up for the laws we broke before. Satan is the one who comes to you and says: see all the twisting and turning and activity – you have a sinful nature and it is alive and well. But the Bible never says anywhere that our old self got un-crucified. It never suggests that the old nature got resurrected. It is is a lie of the devil. He’s trying to get you to live as if you are still alive, back in the prison of your sinful self.

Here’s the thing: he can’t put you back in prison. But if you don’t believe what God says – if you don’t put God’s word after the but – the devil and your flesh can trick you into living as if you were still in prison.

Now, I will talk next week more about this struggle with the devil and the flesh, and how it all fits together. But for this week I am calling you to faith. I am asking to believe that what God says is really true:

In Christ, you have already died. In Christ you are not sinful. You are not divided into good and evil. You are holy and blameless and without reproach.

Yes sin in your flesh is still writhing around in its death throes. But it is already dead. Pay it no mind. Instead fix your eyes on Jesus, put your focus on the unseen and eternal truth – you old self is dead and your true self is alive in perfection with Jesus.