How to change the world, without trying

gladIf you’re a fan of the movie, Gladiator, you might remember the elderly emperor, Marcus Aurelius. The movie was, of course, historical fiction, but here’s a piece of real history — a letter thought to have been written to Marcus’ tutor, when Marcus was a young boy, circa A.D. 130. The letter was written to give an account of Christians, and is believed to have been written by a direct disciple of the apostles, perhaps one of Paul’s. Unfortunately, history records that Marcus was hostile toward Christians, especially toward the end of his reign. But as we read, the early Christians rejoiced as ‘men who receive life‘ in the midst of their persecution. The early church, in the first couple of centuries, had no thought of transforming this present world through earthly government — they only had a ‘theology of suffering’, yet their lifestyle and sacrifice changed the hearts of men over the whole known world.

Chapter 5
For the distinction between Christians and other men, is neither in country nor language nor customs. For they do not dwell in cities in some place of their own, nor do they use any strange variety of dialect, nor practise an extraordinary kind of life. This teaching of theirs has not been discovered by the intellect or thought of busy men, nor are they the advocates of any human doctrine as some men are. Yet while living in Greek and barbarian cities, according as each obtained his lot, and following the local customs, both in clothing and food and in the rest of life, they show forth the wonderful and confessedly strange character of the constitution of their own citizenship. They dwell in their own fatherlands, but as if sojourners in them; they share all things as citizens, and suffer all things as strangers. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is a foreign country. They marry as all men, they bear children, but they do not expose their offspring. They offer free hospitality, but guard their purity. Their lot is cast “in the flesh,” but they do not live “after the flesh.” They pass their time upon the earth, but they have their citizenship in heaven. They obey the appointed laws, and they surpass the laws in their own lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all men. They are unknown and they are condemned. They are put to death and they gain life. “They are poor and make many rich” they lack all things and have all things in abundance. They are dishonored, and are glorified in their dishonor, they are spoken evil of and are justified. “They are abused and give blessing,” they are insulted and render honor. When they do good they are buffeted as evil-doers, when they are buffeted they rejoice as men who receive life. They are warred upon by the Jews as foreigners and are persecuted by the Greeks, and those who hate them cannot state the cause of their enmity.
– Epistle to Diognetus, from Lake’s Apostolic Fathers in English

The Alternating Conscience

conscienceWe get a glimpse of how the conscience works in Paul’s letter to the Romans, in chapter 2:14-15.

But Paul uses a progressive argument all the way through to chapter 8, so everything he says up to that point, has to be considered as “not the end of the story”. At the end of chapter 8, he concludes that section with the real point that he wants to make, and we might as well look at that now, just so we know where we’re going:

If God is for us, who is against us? (verse 31)
He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything?

Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? (verse 33)
God is the One who justifies.

Who is the one who condemns? (verse 34)
Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.

Who can separate us from the love of Christ? (verse 35)
Can affliction or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 8:37–39)

So that’s the point of Romans, up to chapter 8. God does not condemn, he justifies. Jesus was the one who died and was raised – He took our own condemnation on himself. Now he intercedes for us, on our behalf.

Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, no anguish, persecution, famine, nakedness (shame) or even those who want to kill us for our faith.
Jesus is our victory. It is through his love for us that we are victorious. It’s worth noting that there is a tie-in here also with Romans 7. The careful reader will see that when Paul says “Who is the one who condemns?” that he’s pointing back to his own struggle in doing what he doesn’t want to do.

I remember having a moment of epiphany several years ago – I realized I am not my own victory, Jesus is! Now I am free to have unbroken union with the Father.

But there’s this little problem – the conscience – and it’s important to see something here, to learn a little about how it works, so we can be wise to its ways inside our heads.

In explaining why both Jews and Gentiles are accountable to God, Paul shows that it is the contract of keeping commands for righteousness that is what brings everyone under condemnation. Trying to be right with God based on what we do! This was the promise the Israelites made to God in their part of the legal contract of Moses – “tell us what to do, we will do it all, and we will do it all diligently, and it (our doing) will be our righteousness” (my paraphrase of Deuteronomy 6:25 and Deuteronomy, chapter 28)

But what about the Gentiles? They were never given the law of Moses. Paul’s argument is that they show the same work of the law (condemnation) written in their hearts because their conscience alternately accuses or excuses them. Because Gentiles have a conscience, they’re in the same boat with those who have the law — condemned. All the world is accountable to God.

Here’s the section I’m talking about, in Romans 2:14-15

So, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, instinctively do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences confirm this. Their competing thoughts will either accuse or excuse them (Romans 2:14–15, HCSB)”

This idea of alternating accusing and excusing struck me as odd one day. I realized that’s what other people do, when I heard them in conversations. I’m a little dense sometimes, so it took a little while for me to make the connection that I do the same thing! Funny, everyone else does something, but I don’t always think of myself as “like those other people”. Excuse-making!

Watch this in other people, then once you see it, reflect on yourself too, and see what I mean. Here’s what to watch — listen to people, hear people talk, and watch what happens when you see an *accusation* come someone’s way, perhaps from their friend, co-worker or a relative. It’s an almost fail-safe guarantee that what you will see immediately after the accusation is some form of excuse. Sometimes it’s an automatic response. Sometimes you won’t hear the excuse until the accuser leaves the area. When you hear it, it might sound something like one of these phrases:

I can’t help it;

I was born that way;

I was raised that way;

Everybody else does it;

It’s no big deal;

Who are you to judge me?;

Those people are hypocrites;

I don’t care.

I say to watch others for the simple fact that it’s often easier to have a higher degree of objectivity with other people. We all tend to think of ourselves in our own guarded ways … subjectively. But when we see things in other people, if we’re honest, we’ll admit that if everyone else has this problem, then we must have it too. Then we’re able to have an honest conversation with ourselves.

After looking at others, ask yourself, “What do I do when I am accused by someone of something?” But go a little deeper and ask, “What do I do when I accuse myself of something?” What does my inner dialogue sound like when my conscience does the “work of the law” inside me. Do I make an excuse, or do I accept the charge?

Here’s the thing — we are all self-righteously programmed to do the same thing the Israelites did with Moses. Tell me what to do, I will do it, and it will be my righteousness. If we have a problem with the doing, we have two options;

1) resist the standard by lowering the bar of acceptability, or

2) make an excuse.

In reality, both options are a form of excuse-making, since the first option is really just making the excuse that there is no higher standard for us other than the one we can keep; We can be kind to Trump, but Hillary deserves all our scorn. Hillary is the blessed Virgin Mary, but Donald is evil incarnate. What about “treating everyone like we’d want to be treated” (even our enemies).

This is where the gospel comes in to meet our conscience head-on. This is the whole point of why some of our friends are Jesus-Freaks and we just don’t get it. The Good News is that we don’t have to lower the bar, the standard of righteousness, anymore. We are now free to be really, truly, for the first time, honest with ourselves! We can accept the charge from friends, foes, and our own conscience that there’s something wrong with us without making an excuse. Now, our conscience can bring a charge against us and we are 100% free to agree with it! Why? How? Because now our righteousness is no longer self-righteousness, it is Christ’s righteousness!

“…through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men” Romans 5:18b

“…through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” Romans 5:19b

“The Law (or ‘conscience’ for the Gentile) came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,” Romans 5:20

“so that, as sin reigned in death, even so __grace would reign through righteousness__ to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5:21

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2nd Corinthians 5:21

Now that Jesus’ righteousness is our righteousness, we are free from condemnation. We are free from the death of our own conscience. There’s no need to excuse ourselves any longer. And we are free from the accusations of others — because we accept the charges as legitimate. We can do this even when another person’s accusation isn’t legitimate, because who cares! They accuse, but God makes us righteous in Christ. Sometimes other people make accusations against us as part of their own excuse-making, but so what! We are free from the death of their accusation because we have died to self-righteousness. We are free to do so, because our righteousness is not our own! We don’t need others to think highly of us – God thinks highly of us!

The rest of Romans, up to chapter 8, deals with the faithfulness of Christ, how our faith connects us to his faithfulness, and how grace doesn’t cause us to live like the devil, because those who are united with Christ are united with him in both his death and his resurrection. But even so, there are real struggles. Our spirits are new and we have a new mindset, a new attitude, a new paradigm. We filter things differently. We think differently, but our bodies are old and not yet redeemed. In our new, holy attitude, we desire to do what is right, but don’t always find ourselves doing it. What’s the answer? Make another excuse? No, the answer is “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, i.e., those joined with him in his death, a death to the old way of thinking and doing, death to self-righteousness, ignorance of truth, hardhearted, callous selfishness. We learn with Paul that there is, for lack of a better word, an agent living in us, within our unredeemed bodies that opposes our will. But that’s the thing — we have a new will. Though we live in this old body and will still sin, we have a new mindset of the Spirit. We sin, but it is against the will of our mind. And it is this new mindset that proves we are children of God, not the ability to live sin-free.

And in this truth – we GROW. We don’t enter into the kingdom knowing everything with years of wisdom behind us. We enter as babes, and in the grand scheme of eternity, everyone of us is a babe – a newbie. God’s development of us takes time.

The experience of Israel is a lesson to us, when God said to them (about their enemies), “I will not drive them out ahead of you in a single year; otherwise, the land would become desolate, and wild animals would multiply against you. I will drive them out little by little ahead of you until you have become numerous and take possession of the land.” (Exodus 23:29–30). That’s a type for us. Israel didn’t just walk up to the Holy Land one day and walk right in. It took time. And Moses, the representative of the Law (and by extension, the conscience) couldn’t even go into the Promised Land. Why? Because he goofed up one time. The Jews didn’t go into the Promise until they stepped into the Jordan by faith with Moses’ successor, Joshua, whose Hebrew name happens to be same as our Savior’s – Jesus. It is Jesus who takes us into the Promise, and we follow with him in faith – dependent trust. The condemnation of the law, or the conscience, we leave behind us on the wilderness side of the Jordan.

Going Beyond Red Letter Christianity

There’s no such thing as a Red Letter Christian – the idea among some political activists who attempt to blend their brand of progressive, social justice with (some of) the words of Jesus. Never mind that Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world”, the term itself is an oxymoron, since the disciples of The Way weren’t called Christians until Acts 11, several years after the death and resurrection of our Lord, well into the black letters.

John 18:36 – Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”

Apparently, the disciples didn’t get the memo that the gospel wasn’t about social activism. But we can’t be too hard on them, because at the time when Jesus was being handed over to Pilate, the disciples didn’t have full knowledge of exactly what the gospel was. They had been banking on this idea of political overthrow and were ready to fight for that kingdom (even ready to cut someone’s ear off to resist Jesus’ capture). But, they would have to wait for Jesus to die and rise again, to put an end to the Red Letters, then wait again for the black letters, where Jesus would send the Spirit of truth to guide them into all the truth.

John 16:12–14 (NASB95) – 12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.

The word ‘bear’ above means ‘to carry, to pick up’, and when applied to concepts, takes on the meaning of ‘to comprehend, to accept’.

31.55 βαστάζωf; φέρωk: to accept, but with the implication of the truth being difficult to comprehend or to respond to properly—‘to accept, to receive.’ – Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains, Louw, Nida

Jesus was saying, about the things which the Spirit would reveal to them later, that the disciples couldn’t accept them now… couldn’t receive them… couldn’t comprehend them at that time.

The disciples in Jesus’ earthly ministry could not fully comprehend what Jesus had yet to say to them through the Spirit, who would come later, after the cross. In other words, there is no such thing as a “Red Letter Christian” because Jesus’ pre-cross message was incomplete — there was more to come! Anyone who restricts their base of doctrine to only the words spoken by Christ during his earthly ministry to the Jews, is getting only partial revelation because the Lord had much more to say, and he wouldn’t say it until after the red letters came to an end!

Acts 9:15 (NASB95) – 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel;

When our risen Lord called Paul and confirmed his calling through Ananias, the Lord explains to Ananias that Paul is a ‘chosen instrument of mine to __bear__ my name before the Gentiles’ — to bear — to pick up, to carry, to make my name comprehensible to the Gentiles.

Thus, that which was incomprehensible to the early, Jewish disciples would later be ‘carried’, ‘picked up, ‘made comprehensible’. Our risen Lord, chose Paul to make comprehensible to the Gentiles that which the other disciples could not receive before the Spirit. If we disregard the message that Christ has sent to us through his Apostle Paul, then we are willfully disregarding Christ’s own, complete message.

willful ignorance: The practice or act of intentional and blatant avoidance, disregard or disagreement with facts, empirical evidence and well-founded arguments because they oppose or contradict your own existing personal beliefs – The Urban Dictionary

But God first revealed to Peter this fact that Gentiles are saved by grace and continue to live by grace apart from works and without being circumcised in accordance with the law of Moses (Acts 10 & 11). Imagine the conundrum if Paul had appeared out of nowhere and said “Here I am… your former persecutor … here to take your message to the Gentiles!” They would have laughed him out of town! But Peter’s authority was well-respected, so it had to be revealed first to Peter. Even then, the Jewish Christians were ready to give Peter a verbal lashing, until Peter recounted what the Lord had showed him and said to him in a vision — beyond the red letters of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Apostolic Fathers – Ignatius

I am being enriched in reading the Apostolic Fathers, those Christians who lived and wrote near or immediately after the time of the Apostles, such as Barnabas, Ignatius, and Polycarp. I don’t see their writing as on the same level as the Apostles (and neither do they themselves), but what they write helps us to get a glimpse of what life and Christian faith were like at the very beginning. Their letters also help to fill in some of the gaps, some of the things that we are left wondering about in our reading of the Apostles’ letters.

For example, Ignatius — a disciple of the Apostle John — writes to those in Smyrna about the heretical Docetists who denied that Christ came in the flesh and suffered (actually) in real flesh. Not only does this confirm that the Apostle John was writing about heretical unbelievers in his letters instead of writing about a believer’s experience of fellowship as is taught in many fundamentalist churches in the USA, (Ignatius calls them unbelievers who are awaiting judgment if they don’t repent), but it sheds more light on what is so important in the phrases “believing on the blood of Christ” and “denying Christ”.

Believing on the blood of Christ makes almost no sense to modern American ears, and could even sound repulsive to those outside of Christ, but in that day it signified Christ’s actual incarnation and death in real flesh, and opposed the the Docetists’ teaching that Christ’s body only appeared to be real flesh and blood. Why is that important? If Christ didn’t assume real flesh, then he didn’t become like you and me, and he didn’t really assume sin, and he didn’t really take the penalty of sin (death), and you and I are still in our sins, not being properly cleansed, and we are still dead, having no eternal life.

Denying Christ, in Ignatius’ letter to the Smyrnaeans, is synonymous with denying the truth that Christ came in the flesh. In essence, the phrase is a judgment against the Docetists’, who denied Christ’s real, actual fleshly body, and in so doing, opposed the message of the Gospel — that God was reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting our transgressions against us.

Here below is another passage in Ignatius’ letter to the Romans, but not related to the content discussed above. This letter was being sent ahead of him as he traveled as a prisoner, escorted by Roman soldiers, to face his death in the arena. Here he describes a little bit about that experience and his expectation of what awaited him.

I can’t help but wander what would go through my mind, or any person’s mind, if I were traveling across the USA, perhaps to Washington, D.C., knowing that my geographical destination would also be my final destination on this earth. How would I write to those whom I love? I guess we’re all already on our way, as each day passes. I hope that reality can pierce my thick head today and spur me to gentleness for all who are in my path.

First, a few interesting notes. He asks his readers: “do not hinder me from living, do not wish me to die”, clearly referring to his desire to die to this world, so that he may live with Christ.

Second, he says the “ruler of this age wants to abduct me and to corrupt my mind towards God.” It seems he’s being very open about the difficulty that was facing him, knowing he would be given a chance from Caesar to save his earthly life by renouncing Christ and worshiping Caesar. He asks for their help by praying for him not to live, but to complete his journey and go to the Father.

Third, when he tells them “Do not let envy dwell in you”, he’s speaking of their desire to see him live and continue on earth, for their own benefit, a natural result of their love for him. But in speaking this way, he comforts them ahead of time, in their loss.

Lastly, this section ends with his true desire – imperishable love. My prayer, more and more, is that I may walk in the here-and-now in this imperishable love, in faith in God’s grace.

From Syria to Rome I am fighting with wild beasts, by land and sea, night and day, being imprisoned by ten leopards (that is, a company of soldiers) who also, being treated kindly,  become even worse. But in their mistreatments I am becoming more of a disciple, but I have not been justified by these mistreatments. May I enjoy the beasts that have been made ready for me, and I pray they might deal with me speedily. I will also entice them to devour me quickly, not as with some who were so cowardly they have not touched. But even if they are themselves unwilling I will force them myself. Grant me this favor. I know what is best for me. Now I am beginning to be a disciple. May nothing visible or invisible envy me, so that I may reach Jesus Christ. Fire and cross and battles with beasts, mutilation, being torn apart, scattering of bones, mangling of limbs, grinding of the whole body, cruel tortures of the devil; let these come upon me, only that I may reach Jesus Christ.

Neither the ends of the earth  nor the kingdoms of this age  will be of benefit to me. It is better  for me to die in Christ Jesus than to reign over the ends of the earth. I seek that one who died on my behalf. I desire that one who rose up on our account. But the pains of childbirth  are upon me. Be in agreement with me,  brothers, do not hinder me from living, do not wish me to die. Do hand over not to the world one who desires to belong to God, and do not deceive him with material things.  Allow me to receive the pure light; arriving there I will be a man. Allow me to be an imitator of the suffering of my God. If anyone has him in himself, let him understand what I want and let him sympathize with me, knowing what constrains me.

The ruler of this age wants to abduct  me and to corrupt my mind towards God. Therefore let none of you who are present help him. Instead be on my side, that is, God’s side.  Do not speak of Jesus Christ and desire the world. Do not let envy dwell in you. If I myself, being present, urge you, do not be persuaded by me, but instead be persuaded by this: what I write to you. For I write to you while living, strongly desiring  to die. My passion has been crucified and there is no fire of love for material things in me, but water living and speaking in me, saying within me, “Come to the Father.” I take no pleasure in food of corruption or the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread  of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who is from the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is imperishable love.

– quoted from Rick Brannan’s “Apostolic Fathers in English” (with a few changes)

Winsome Grace

One definition of grace, as used in the bible, is a winning quality or attractiveness that invites a favorable reaction — graciousness, attractiveness, charm, winsomeness.
I conclude therefore, I know the grace of God when my thoughts of him lead me to love him, when I see him as winsome.
By and large, the main view of the Western Church has missed this for a long time, teaching directly or indirectly a ‘god’ who is demanding, angry, distant, off-putting (not winsome), using the wrath of God as a fear motivator, instead of revealing the God who is all love, all good, all the time. (Even his ‘wrath’, properly understood, stems from his love and is corrective in nature, in that he lets us have the consequences of our own choices for the purpose of bringing us to a place where we are open to see our need, and open to seeing him as he truly is).
Grace is … good. Grace is attractive. The religious say repent! while non-believers ask why would I? The answer, for those who know him, is “because God is good – taste and see!”
To know him is to love him… to love him in such a way as to want to know him more, to give ourselves to him, voluntarily, willingly, without holding back — because his qualities have invited a favorable reaction from us.

Perfecting Holiness

Have you ever seen a small child pick up an iPhone and start using it like a pro? I’ve even heard stories of small children who make emergency calls when mommy or daddy is in trouble. The iPhone is truly a wonder — it has a computer that is more powerful than those that were used to fly to the moon, yet a child can use it with ease.

Just looking at an iPhone, one can see that it’s pretty much perfect all on its own. It’s a beautiful piece of work. But when a child picks it up and starts flipping through pictures or making calls, it then becomes useful.

But these things are durable too. I dropped mine on the ground after it had rained and it was a little muddy. So I wiped the mud off, and my iPhone was in perfect shape for another phone call.

This is a metaphor, of course; the iPhone is like a follower of Christ, created perfect. But it’s only useful to those around it when it is activated and used to do what it was created to do.

And all of us who are in Christ — who have died with Him to live with Him — are new creations. We have the mind of Christ. We ourselves are not schizophrenics, with a good side and a bad side. We are new creations housed in a fallen flesh. Sin from the flesh is like mud. Mud is immediately visible and undesirable to anyone who sees it. And, sin in the flesh seeks always to muddy our mindset, our worldview, our paradigm. Sin speaks to us in the first person, with “I” and wants us to be infected and preoccupied with self-focus, self-preservation and self-love. It says “I hate this person; I love this sin; I love my worldly attitude; my sin is not my fault; why can’t others be like me!”. This is defilement of Spirit, and if we, in grace — powered from knowing God in His goodness and mercy — actively and intentionally refuse sin’s influence, then we cleanse ourselves and perfect our “iPhones”, making them able to be used for their intended purpose. We have confidence and know we are refusing sin’s influence and choosing to think like Christ when we submit our thoughts to the teaching of the Apostles found in the New Testament. The more we know what they taught, the more confidence we have that we are reasoning like Christ.

Everything that’s good comes to us from our Father in heaven. Knowing God leads us to love others, to live upright lives, to actively and intentionally be good and do good in this world.

We know this:
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age,” (Titus 2:11–12)

So let’s do this…
“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)

… so that this never needs to be said about us:
“They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.” (Titus 1:16)

Happy New Year

fireworks

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, so this is not that – this quote from 2nd Peter (below) just happens to be one of my favorite passages of scripture.

I always have room to grow in this life. When I consider my shortcomings, I’m not condemned by them. As a Christian, I’m free to consider them because my own sense of worthiness and righteousness, while based on God’s standard, isn’t earned by my own abilities to do well or be good, but on Christ’s. I judge myself freely.  When I see faults in others, I come back to seeing my own faults, free and clear of guilt, deflection, excuses and denial, I can be honest with myself because I am in Christ, secure in my relationship with my heavenly father.

But beyond my shortcomings, I also have the Spirit in me who molds my thinking, my attitude, my desires to be like His. My shortcomings — my sins – aren’t what drives my relationship with God. Overcoming them is not my motivation (daily or yearly). My motivation is in the positive – to be like Christ in thought and deed. I get a real kick out of the attitude that says “be kind to other people – have joy, peace, patience, self-control, and above all put on selfless love” (Galatians 5:22-23).

At any given moment, someone might examine me and see more or less of Christ in me. I’m okay with this – I have no claim to personal, fleshly perfection. But I hope and aspire to be like Him while in this world, and I can judge myself objectively and freely, having no need for fleshly righteousness. I am growing within His righteousness, and it is producing fruit in me, in my thoughts and reasoning, which flow out into actions that benefit others. In learning about His free grace and growing in that, I’m free of the trap of self-righteousness, able to move beyond that snare, and able to think of others for their benefit. And being free – growing in that – I see my heart and mind desiring more to “love God and my neighbor”. I’m understanding more clearly that if I love God, it means loving my neighbor also, and that the two go hand-in-hand.

Lastly, I want to say I’m so encouraged by my brothers and sisters in Christ with whom I am fortunate to know. So many of you have blessed me in ways you may not be aware of. I see some struggle with this world and the flesh in different ways, yet you are always on top, you always win. In Him, you can’t lose, you are more than conquerors. Thank you all for sharing yourselves with me and my family. Thank you for being kind to me and showing me Christ’s love, even when it may have looked like I wasn’t receiving it, or when I was difficult to be around. Thank you for walking in Christ with me in this world.

“His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. By these He has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The person who lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten the cleansing from his past sins. Therefore, brothers, make every effort to confirm your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble.” (2 Peter 1:3–10 HCSB)

 

 

Promises, Promises. Taking Hold of Hope

When our heavenly Father makes a promise, you can bank on it. He has shown Himself trustworthy time after time throughout history. For our benefit, He has doubled-up on His promise, so that we can be doubly sure and confident in taking hold of the hope He has set before us in Christ.

Note to Self: Every day, take hold of the hope I have in Christ. The rest I have in being set free from a law of works Hebrews 4:10; the assurance I have in knowing that, even though I am not perfect in behavior, my High Priest Jesus sympathizes with me because He was made weak too, even though He remained free of sin Heb 4:15-16; the confidence I have in knowing the message of righteousness is The Big Idea for those who are mature Heb 5:13; the encouragement I have to TAKE HOLD of that which is mine — freedom to walk boldly into my Father’s presence in the throne room… The God of the universe, who exists outside of time and space, having created all that exists, who is eternally self-existent and holds everything in His own power, who is Holy and Pure, in whom there is no darkness – Yes! THIS GOD wants me to enter into His presence with CONFIDENCE Heb 10:19. This is the anchor for my soul… me, in His presence. HE wants ‘me’ to DRAW NEAR in full assurance of faith Heb 10:22.  That’s why He doubled-up on his promise Heb 6:17 — so I would have no doubt, so I could come near and receive help and mercy in my trials

In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Heb 6:17-20

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; Heb 10:19-23

For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Heb 4:10

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb 4:15-16

For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. Heb 5:13-14

Questions on Having Been Completely Forgiven – #2 : Don’t I need to confess every time I sin?

Don’t I need to confess every time I sin?

The word confess has become a loaded word in Christianity. Through tradition it has become to mean something other than what it means in context of the apostles’ teachings. So let’s start with a basic definition.

In Greek, to confess is homolegeo. Homolegeo is formed from two parts, homo (same) and legeo (to say, to speak). The combination of these parts means literally, to say the same thing. In biblical usage, the word can have a range of meanings, including: to proclaim, to profess, to agree, to admit, to say something that is true, to concede that something is factual or true, to share a common view about a matter.

So when the apostle John uses homolegeo in his gospel account, recounting John the Baptist’s confession that He is not the Christ, he wrote: “And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed ‘I am not the Christ’. So John the Baptist admitted he was not the Christ, he proclaimed as true that he was not the Christ, he acknowledged that he wasn’t the Christ. Note also, in the apostle’s usage, confess is often used as an antonym for deny.

In the apostle John’s 2nd epistle, he writes about deceivers who do not confess that Christ came into the world in real flesh:

“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.” (2 John 1:7 NAS95)

In his 1st epistle, John writes:

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 NAS95)

The statement is clear enough: If we acknowledge our sins, God is faithful to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The problem that this one verse causes for Christians is the way we filter the context of the passage – we read it as though John is writing to us about our experience as Christians and come to the conclusion that each new sin we commit causes us to be in a state of needing to be forgiven again. But the truth is, John is not writing about Christian experience, rather he’s making distinctions between true Christians and false Christians – deceivers – who have infiltrated the church, are in leadership positions, and are teaching and doing things that aren’t congruent with the Christian faith. They are heretics, and anyone who follows the teaching of these deceivers leaves the truth.

Consider the context and theme throughout the letter: John begins by writing about himself and the early disciples who were present during Jesus’ earthly ministry. From the very outset, he starts by challenging the lie that says Jesus didn’t have a real, fleshly body:

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

John doesn’t mess around; he gets straight to the point. Jesus was a real person with a real body. We heard him, we saw him, we watched him, and we touched him. He is the Eternal Life and he was with the Father, but then he was revealed to us.

Why is it important to take on the false teaching that Jesus didn’t have a fleshly body? Historically, we know there were groups in Judaism and early Christianity (now referred to as Gnostics and Docestics)  who taught that the material world was evil, therefore Jesus, if he were truly the Son of God, couldn’t have had a material body – that he only ‘seemed’ to have a material body. Along with that false notion, some of these practiced unrestrained indulgence in fleshly lusts, since —  in their thought —  only the ‘spiritual’ realm was good, and the ‘fleshly’ realm was evil because YHWH created it, and He was an evil, lesser God to Sophia the goddess of wisdom. So a ‘spiritual’ person could be saved through secret knowledge, irrespective of his behavior on earth.

So John also wrote:

“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (1 John 2:16 NAS95)

“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses (acknowledges) that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;” (1 John 4:2 NAS95)

“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.” (2 John 1:7 NAS95)

John wrote his letters in this historical context. Deceivers were going out into the world, not acknowledging Christ as having come in the flesh. Why does it matter whether or not Jesus had a real body? Because if his body were merely an illusion, then he didn’t really shed his real blood on the cross as the sacrifice for sins, and we are still condemned and unclean in our sins.

In this context, John explains one of his purposes:

“These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you.” (1 John 2:26 NAS95)

But it gets worse. The situation isn’t just that there are many deceivers in the world, but that these deceivers are in the church!  And then it gets even worse; it’s not just that there are many deceivers in the world and that they are in the church, but that they are leaders in the church!

“I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.

Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.” (3 John 1:9–11 NAS95).

Diotrephes was in the church, first among the church (leader), and he had enough authority to excommunicate Christians from the local church. The ‘beloved’ were then told not to imitate evil, and that the one who does evil has not seen God. Diotrephes slandered John and the apostles with wicked words. He was evil, had not seen God, and was a leader in the church. John had a very serious problem to deal with.

The example of Diotrephes that John gives in his 3rd epistle gives light to what he means in his 1st epistle when he says,

They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us.” (1 John 2:19 HCSB)

They were us. But they weren’t really us, that’s why they went out from us (left us, opposite of abiding).

In the historical context and in light of the totality of John’s letters, we see that there was a very serious error in the church with deceivers teaching that Jesus didn’t come in the flesh and practicing unrestrained indulgence in fleshly lusts. The problem was inside the church, being propagated by leaders in the church.

So after explaining what we have seen and heard and touched, concerning the Word of Life, John continues with

“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” (1 John 1:5–10 NAS95)

This passage is a distinction between those unsaved deceivers and the authentic Christians who submitted to John’s teaching. John isn’t writing about a Christian’s experience and how to deal with sins we commit as authentic Christians; he’s writing about the difference between heretics and believers so that the believers wouldn’t be deceived.  This isn’t about performing rituals to get new forgiveness, rather it’s about distinguishing an authentic Christian who doesn’t walk in darkness, who walks in the light as compared to those who walk in darkness, who do not practice the truth, who say they have no sin, deceive themselves, and do not have the truth in them. This is not about the experience or condition of the true Christian as he lives his life of faith in this world. When an authentic Christian sins, he does so in the light. He has been transferred from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of God (Colossians 1:13). An authentic Christian walks in the light, the blood of Christ cleanses him from all sin, and he acknowledges (or confesses) his sins, knowing that God is faithful to forgive him and to cleanse him from all unrighteousness. He does not have to be concerned that his sins put him in darkness and undo the work of Christ that forgave him of his sins and cleansed him from all unrighteousness.

The point here is that a true Christian acknowledges his sins, is forgiven, walks in the light and has fellowship with God in a state of having already been cleansed from all unrighteousness. And when he does sin, he has an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1–2 NAS95)

Knowing the real meaning of homolegeo (to confess), with the context, purpose and historical back-drop of John’s letters, we confess that genuine Christians agree with God (pardon the pun).

When it comes to sin, we say the same thing, we agree, we admit, we say that it is true, we concede that our sins are factual, we share a common view with God and other Christians about sins. In short, we acknowledge our sins rather than denying them. We don’t justify ourselves by claiming that our sins aren’t really sins or saying that our bodies are evil so it doesn’t matter if we sin (compare to the modern gnostic proclamation, “I was born this way so it’s okay”), but we admit them and trust in Jesus Christ, the Righteous one. We always acknowledge our sins, but we don’t make confession into a ritual that absolves us of guilt.