A More Excellent Way

A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Conditions for Overcoming Sin (cont'd from previous post)

We all want to hear Jesus say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” Jesus will say “well done” to those who have done well! Don’t mistake this to mean you must earn good standing with God through works. No amount of effort can undo your sins. Your only hope of salvation is by “grace through faith” in Christ’s work. Ephesians 2:8-9 says so plainly, and then in verse 10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV).

Faith that saves has come to life in works! Works of faith always follow saving faith. If your faith doesn’t propel you into a sincere war against sin, it’s not saving faith (James 2:14, 17). The previous post noted that concern is the first of ten essential steps for overcoming sin. Let’s consider seven more.

Commands are essential to overcoming sin. We each must diligently study Scripture to learn God’s commandments for us, and prayerfully strive to obey them from the heart. The simplest definition of sin is disobedience to God’s commands. Conviction is the third condition. Peter’s sermon on Pentecost notably brought the hearers to ask, “What shall we do?” (Acts 3:37). We each need to hear the words Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (2Samuel 12:7). Until you are convicted of your own sinfulness, you’ll never be motivated to fight against it seriously.

The fourth condition is Contrition. When the word of God reveals your guilt, how will you respond? Will you proudly reject what the Bible says, or will you humble yourself and say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 8:13). Fifth is conversion. There is the thought of sin, the act of sin, and the state of sin. When a young person reaches accountability and chooses to do wrong, he or she becomes a sinner, and enters the state of being “in sin” (John 8:24; Romans 6:1). The Bible calls all who continue in this state and frame of mind “the world.” To be saved from the power of sin, the sinner concerned with God’s commands, convicted of his failures, and contrite about it must be converted, that is changed in mind and transferred out of the power of sin into the power of God. It’s called salvation, justification, and the new birth (John 3:3-8).

Once converted, there is still the possibility a Christian may not take the fight against sin seriously. God help us all realize how serious it is! Commitment is essential! We must be committed to winning! The writer of Hebrews teaches us to struggle against sin even if it takes our lives! “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:3-4, ESV).

Seventh is Continuance. The Christian struggle against sin is for the long haul. We must fight against it until we are set free from it on our dying day or the day the Lord returns whichever comes first. Jesus said, “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). Brothers and sisters, let’s redouble our efforts to overcome sin in all its forms and keep on keeping on! 

You’ve probably noticed I’ve used alliteration to make these easier to remember, and I hope they will be memorable. A final disclaimer: While the ten “Conditions” for overcoming sin are both Biblical and important, overcoming sin in your life is more than just going through a checklist of steps. The ultimate key to overcoming sin is to walk with the Lord daily in genuine faith. It’s our God who gives us the victory over sin, and we do not have the power in ourselves alone. Now on to the last three.

Communion with the Lord means more than taking communion on Sundays. It means association, fellowship, sharing thoughts and emotions, and intimate communication. Communion with God and brethren is essential to winning against sin—which leads to the next “C,” Companions.

Companionships can corrupt good morals, or the right kind of companions can help you stick to them! Choose your friends wisely! Paul tells Christians in 1Corinthians 15:33 not to be deceived for a reason. Some have foolishly thought themselves above being influenced only to find themselves drifting into sin. 

Finally, Confession is essential to winning the fight against sin. Pretending to be better than you are is hypocrisy, and trying to beat sin all by yourself—in the shadows—is playing right into Satan’s hands. Find a brother or sister in Christ you can trust and share your struggles (James 5:16). Bringing it into the light will rob Satan of the powers of fear, guilt, and shame, and enable you to fight the fight in the daylight rather than the dark—it’s so much easier in the light!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Do You Care that God Cares about Sin?

Sin is a problem for the whole human race, and for everything in Creation, for that matter. We all have to choose how we'll deal with it. Some choose to deny its existence. Some minimize its importance. The right thing to do is seek peace with the One who will judge us in the end, and try to find help to overcome sin in our lives. 

Over the next few weeks I'll share some thoughts--ten to be exact--about how to overcome sin. These "ten steps" are steps we take as we respond to God's call and grow closer to him. The Bible says, "So give yourselves to God. Stand against the devil and he will run away from you. Come close to God and He will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Clean up your hearts, you who want to follow the sinful ways of the world and God at the same time" (James 4:7-8 NLV). That's the spirit behind these posts. So, on to step 1!

When Cain was angry, before he murdered his brother, God tried to steer him in the right direction. He told Cain, “Why are you angry... If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:6-7, ESV).

God had already equipped him with the freedom to choose between good and evil—we’re all born with that ability. God put the responsibility for overcoming sin right at Cain’s door. It was his responsibility to master sin, or if he so chose, to give in and be mastered by it. Now, God never said he had to, or even could master it alone, but that he had to make mastering sin his own free choice. God would have helped Cain find strength if he'd asked (as his uninvited warning demonstrates), but Cain didn’t heed God’s words of wisdom, and he didn't pray for strength. Instead he gave up the fight and let sin win in his life—which ruined his life with residual effects!

What was Cain’s problem? Well, among other things, he didn’t care to heed God’s warning. Concern is the first condition for overcoming sin in your life in this list. If you care what God thinks, he can show you the way, but if you are like many in the world whose consciences are “seared over” (1Timothy 4:2), well, God won’t force you to care.

So, do you care? I hope you do. More next week.


Friday, January 10, 2014

The Pros and Cons of You

Well, time to get the old blog out and dust it off again... Been thinking about pros and cons lists, and the thought occurred to me (while thinking of other things, which is usually how thoughts about other things come to me) that it would be an interesting spiritual exercise to make a pros and cons list about my spirituality. 

Please bear with my list of disclaimers... I've no intention of using this as a means of beating myself up. I already know it won't make me self-righteous (not beating myself up here, of course, but the cons list will be too long for all that). I don't believe in salvation based on my own works of righteousness. However, I do believe true believers share a faith that is alive in their works, and Paul said this in 2Corinthians 13:5: "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!" So, this is just one way to test yourself, to see if you're really walking the walk and not just talking the talk. 

I'm going to make a pros and cons list of me--my spiritual strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures. Then I'm going to pray about the list, and make a plan to scratch a few of those cons of the list, and maybe even add a couple to the pros. Just an idea. Might be good for you too!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Old Fashioned Christmas or Cyber Holiday?

Some of you might have caught the holiday movie, Deck the Halls, starring Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick, on TV recently.

Matthew Broderick’s character is the epitome of the old fashioned Christmas traditionalist. He forces his family to go through the motions of fulfilling all the standard holiday traditions dictated by their unchanging Christmas Calendar, from caroling to ceremoniously cutting down and decorating the (always essential) Silver Noble Fir Christmas Tree.

Danny DeVito’s character is the epitome of the extreme opposite—the flashy, techno-commercial-Christmas. In an effort to make his house visible from outer space, he turns it into an electronic spectacle that loops blinding lights through a state-of-the-art show set to modern music, including a holiday rap, that blares through the neighborhood—and into Broderick’s bedroom—until 4 a.m.

The two men quickly become enemies blinded by their desires to outwit and thwart the plans of the other until each nearly destroys the holidays and comes close to losing his family altogether.

The movie is a light-hearted, funny bit of entertainment, but the extremes represented by the two main characters are familiar to us in ways that affect us year round. It is so easy to get caught up in any and everything new, or to reject the new and stubbornly camp out in the old ways. Neither extreme is wise.

The old guard knows the value of tradition and fears what will be lost if they accept the inevitability of change. Change is inevitable, and there is always loss with change. However, by deceiving themselves into believing they can freeze time, traditionalists ultimately risk losing ground not only with the changeable things, but with the absolutes as well—things that ought always to remain stable.

The new order embraces change and recognizes the good that comes from fresh ideas and approaches. But, having lost stability in their hunger for the thrill of newness, they dismiss nearly everything that came before them into obscurity, and come to regard the past as tired and worn out. In the process, they lose a sense of purpose, and all meaning is lost in an endless, and tiring parade of innovation. In the end, seeking rest, they attempt to freeze time and become the new, old guard.

The truth is that there are some old ways that never change, and we all ought to stubbornly preserve them. But, those old ways are often not as one-dimensional as we think, and can be respected and manifested in new, more relevant ways. Even the old ways that are as unyielding as stone aren’t right just because they’re the old ways. They’re right, because they’re right. Rather than regarding them as weighing us down, we ought to see them as solid rock beneath our feet—they stabilize us and give us much needed security.

On the other hand there are old ways that are just old ways. They were once new, and the old guard back then feared and resisted them until they all died off and the new thing became the old thing beloved to the new old guard.

Wise people recognize the things that are transient, and can let them go, knowing that fresh approaches are needed to keep our families and societies from going stale. So, whether we’re talking about the holidays, the world, or the church, the best approach is to be neither old guard nor new order, and to be both. An attempt at balance, however imperfectly executed, offers the best shot at preserving what ought to be preserved with stability, and embracing change as needed to maintain a healthy sense of newness.

As we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2Corinthians 4:18).

Monday, November 11, 2013

Honor Soldiers, Pray for Peace

“The enemy? His sense of duty was no less than yours, I deem. You wonder what his name is, where he came from. And if he was really evil at heart. What lies or threats led him on this long march from home. If he would not rather have stayed there in peace. War will make corpses of us all.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
The above quote has long been a thought-provoking one for me. It's not the thought of a "peace at any cost" kind of person. In the story, it's the thought of a soldier doing his duty to protect his people from terrible evil. Yet, through it all he hates the war. He wishes for peace, and feels soul-piercing compassion even for a fallen foe. That's part of what makes him one of the good guys. The writer, Tolkien, was a veteran of World War I.

From childhood I've loved war movies--good ones at least. My friends and I used to play war all the time, and we had lots of fun! I never enlisted. I've, unfortunately, been in a couple of fights, but, fortunately, never to war, not physical war, at least. 

Many of the wars fought over the centuries have been needless and unjustified--little more than theft disguised as nationalism. In those times it's the ones who refuse to fight who are the "veterans" we ought to revere.

Some wars are justified wars, and the honorable soldiers who've fought for the right in those conflicts are truly heroes. I deeply respect their sacrifices.

Sometimes it's hard for good people to know who's truly right in a conflict, whether war is the right choice or not. Fear has forced many hands. Regardless of one's nationality, the decision whether or not to bear arms always has to be a personal one. Each one must give an account of himself before God. People of conscience must respect the consciences of others. Let's keep that in mind on this Veteran's Day while we celebrate the courageous accomplishments of those who have fought and lived, or fought and died for the homelands, and people they loved, and hopefully, against enemies they loved as well, and sought to heal and bless when, and if possible. 

God is sovereign over everything! Nothing will be allowed to happen that in any way thwarts his ultimate plans for this Universe. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and as he reigns, the peace will continually increase in one way or another (Isaiah 9:7). Yet, at times he has used wars to bring about the greater good, and he has used soldiers to protect his people. Some of his best people, like Cornelius (Acts 10), and the Jailer from Philippi (Acts 16) have been honorable soldiers. I appreciate all those in my ancestry, and yours, who have served, sacrificed, and suffered in times of war. May the time when every sword finally becomes a plowshare, and every spear is finally beaten into a pruning hook come swiftly! Amen, come Lord Jesus!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

God Didn't Have To...

Natural affection is the sense of love and belonging that we expect from close relatives. Parents are supposed to love and provide for their children’s well being, and show them a fair degree of favor and kindness. Children are supposed to return their parents’ affections in reciprocal ways. When a parent doesn’t show natural affection to their children, all the rest of us automatically recognize the evil of it, and when children do not show natural affection to their parents, we all know something’s wrong. There is a give and take involved in natural affection, but the basic feeling isn’t based on that, it’s based simply on the fact of the family relationship. 

God is the Father of us all through Creation, and doubly the Father of believers in Christ through spiritual adoption (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5). We who’ve put our trust in Christ are both the legitimate sons and daughters of God and stand to inherit all his glory in the coming consummation. If parents ought to show love for their children simply because of the nature of the relationship, and if children ought to return this love simply because they’re their parents’ children, then doesn’t Nature also teach us we owe God at least some degree of love? It truly does. In fact, none of us would exist at all without God continually willing us to exist. If we love parents and children, we ought to love God even more!

God didn’t have to create us! He didn’t and doesn’t need anything (Acts 17:25). He didn’t have to send Jesus to save us! We didn’t and don’t deserve it (Romans 3:10; 1John 4:10). He doesn’t have to provide for our needs! We all know we’ve often and still often do take these blessings for granted. God didn’t have to, but he did… and does. Don’t wait until Thanksgiving to express gratitude. Be thankful today!