The Sin Zombie

Last time, I emphatically stated that Jesus would not have commanded us to “take the log out of our own eye” if it were impossible to do so.  God would not implore us, over and over in the New Testament, to “put on the new self and lay aside the old self with its evil practices and deeds of darkness” if it were impossible to do so.  So why is there so much preaching that suggests believers, rather than experiencing victory over sin, are actually still living under sin’s power; that believers are still desperately wicked in our heart of hearts?  Could it be that we agree with this teaching because it actually describes our experience with sin’s rule in our lives?

How do we explain the tension between God’s promise of victory over sin and the tug of sin’s power that we still feel?  Let’s start with the promise.  God says in Romans 6 to “consider yourselves to be dead to sin.”  Why?  Because “our old self was crucified with Christ, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.  For sin shall not be your master.”  Remember the word consider (translated reckon in the King James) in Romans 6:11 is an accounting term telling us to remove our name from the “sinner by nature” column in the accounting ledger and place it into the “dead to sin” column.  This transformation is God’s fact, God’s promise.  But on the other side of the tension, why does it still feel like I am under sin’s power?

Let me explain it like this.  Your old nature is like a zombie in a cheap horror picture.  Your old nature died with Christ.  It was put to death.  But just like on the movie screen, the zombie somehow comes back from the dead.  But what we need to remember is that the zombie is just that:  a walking dead man and nothing more.  He has no teeth.  He has no muscle.  He has no power.  But we see him and we fear a return to his influence, a return to our sin inclinations.

Now Satan comes along, props up the zombie, and convinces us that we do indeed have something to fear.  But it is not true.  Satan, “the accuser of the brethren”, is challenging you based on your past actions or your current temptations, but he is lying.  You are not under the power of the zombie.  You are under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit living inside you and all the provisions of the new identity that He brings into you life.

The zombie – the walking dead man of our sin nature – is our enemy and we have gathered several posts focused on how to defeat this enemy here for your review.  In the meantime, can I encourage you?  Don’t fear the zombie and don’t listen to Satan’s accusations.  The zombie is powerless and Satan is a liar.  The gospel message, the New Testament message, the fact of God’s accounting ledger for believers is this:  you have been set free from sin’s power.  So lay aside the old self and put on the new man.  You can do it!

Get the Log Out!

I think the most well-known verse in the Bible, particularly among those who have never read the Bible, is Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, lest you be judged yourself.”  The command not to judge others is universally approved (except when judging others as intolerant for calling out evil as evil; then it’s allowed).  Remember when we were kids?  One of our favorites phrases was, “You’re not the boss of me!” as we tried to announce our independence.  As adults, “You’re not the judge of me!” has become ours and society’s mantra.  But is “you’re not the judge of me” really what Jesus is saying here?

Let’s continue the passage.  “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it shall be measured to you.  And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye.  You hypocrite,…” (Mt 7:1-5a).

This is usually where we stop the thought in this passage of Scripture.  And we conclude that it teaches, “You hypocrite, you have your own giant problems so stop correcting your brother” or “With such great flaws of your own, stop trying to point out your brother’s minor ones.”  In short, “Don’t judge.  In fact, never ever ever ever judge others.”

But this isn’t where Jesus stops the thought.  Let’s read all of verse 5, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and you will see clearly enough to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Mt 7:5).  Rather than falling for the modern view that we all have so many problems that we should not be judging others, Jesus calls us to take action about our sin.  We are to remove the log – deal with the sin – in our own eye so that we will be clear-seeing and equipped to help our brother.  Jesus is not saying to ignore each others’ sins.  He is just telling us to take care of our own challenges first before we go too far down the path of trying to “help” our brother.

But what about our own sin; the log in our eye?  Jesus says, “Get the log out!”  We often fall into the trap of I can’t help my brother because of the log in my own eye.  Well, get the log out!  Jesus doesn’t conclude His teaching on judging others with, “Don’t judge, because there is a log in your eye.”  He concludes with, “Get the log out and then you can see clearly to help your brother.”  Let me emphasize:  Jesus would not have said “Take the log out of your own eye” if it were impossible to do so.

We are now back to a prominent theme in this blog.  The New Testament implores us over and over to put on the new self (Eph 4:24), put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 13:14), put on the armor of light (Rom 13:12), lay aside the old self (Eph 4:22), lay aside the sin that entangles us (Heb 12:1), lay aside the deeds of darkness (Rom 13:12), lay aside the old self with its evil practices (Col 3:8), the time for sin is past (I Pet 4:3), and finally, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh (Gal 5:16).  We can do all these things by the power of the new identity, the power of the Holy Spirit living inside us.  After all, would it make sense for God to tell us over and over to “lay aside the sin and put on the new nature” if it were impossible to do so?  I don’t think so.  So regarding these commands, you can do it!

Finally, getting the log out is not just for our own personal sanctification.  It is primarily so the body of Christ can do what the body of Christ was designed for.  To grow up as a body.  To grow up in community.  For the mature to lift up the weak.  For the strong to help the struggling believer.  This is what the body does.  This is the church in action.  Don’t fall for the world’s interpretation of Matthew 7:1-5.  Let’s get busy getting the log out of our own eye and get on to the business of serving each other, even if it involves taking the speck out of our brother’s eye.

We Are What We Love

As I was working on our last series regarding what motivates us to righteous living, I came across an interview with Professor Jamie Smith in the latest issue of Christianity Today magazine.  Since I am a curious person and like to think, the title of the interview, “You Can’t Think Your Way to God” caught my eye.  Read along as Dr. Smith himself articulates his thesis in the interview:

“Human beings are at their core defined by what they worship rather than primarily by what they think, know, or believe.  Starting with the idea that we are what we love, I tried to come up with a model of the human person that appreciates the centrality of love.  That propelled me to see that we are ritual, liturgical creatures whose loves are shaped and aimed by the fundamentally forming practices that we are immersed in.  And the rituals and practices that form our loves spill out well beyond the sanctuary.  Many secular liturgies are trying to get us to love some other kingdom and some other gods.”

“We Christians should be aware that there’s something at stake in cultural participation that we wouldn’t have been concerned about if all we did was worry about the messages in culture. I am trying to wake folks up to realize that if these cultural institutions and practices are formative, then the spaces that we inhabit do something to us. The stadium and the mall are examples of that.”

This quote, while a bit heavy and academic, is packed with thought-provoking depth and must be read carefully.  What I hear the professor saying is that our actions are motivated more by our loves than by what we think, know, or believe.  And our loves are influenced by our cultural participation, not just in the cultural messages we accept or reject, but in the ritual of participation itself.  Are these cultural rituals drawing us away to other loves, other kingdoms, and other gods?

This thesis is particularly compelling in regard to youth ministry.  In fact, it puts into words something that has been percolating in my brain for some time.  Christian leaders and the Christian press are rightfully concerned about the exodus of young people from the church.  We can argue specific statistics, but the anecdotal evidence itself is pretty clear; a large population of young people are leaving the church when their high school years come to an end.  But I wonder, “Have we inadvertently assisted in their exit by our approach to youth ministry?”

We encourage, under the pretext of evangelism, our students to “engage the culture”; to develop common ground with their schoolmates around today’s popular music, television shows, movies, and what’s hip or cool.  But in reality, is this is leading our students into an exploration of “other loves”.  Should we be surprised when they are drawn away by these “other loves” from the faith of their childhood?  Our kids may learn the facts of the Bible – the stories, the rules, what’s right, what’s wrong – but have we taught them to love, worship, protect, and cultivate their relationship to God?

We home-schooled our five children.  Long story, but what you need to know for this illustration is that we have no hostility toward public school and our family and children maintained friendships with kids from a wide variety of schooling situations.  It was a way of educating our kids that fit some things we wanted to accomplish as a family.  It was as simple as that, not part of some political or social agenda.  The background of us not being militant about home-schooling sets the stage for what comes next.

When one of our daughters finished junior high, she indicated a desire to attend the public high school.  We said, “Fine.”  But before we made that transition, we had a conversation and said something like this, “We are fine with you attending public high school.  You are a strong person in your faith.  We are confident that you can stand up for yourself and be a light wherever you go.  However, we have one word of caution.  Just because you are attending public school does not mean that we will be changing our standards.  So, when you are standing around with your new school friends, and they are all gushing about last night’s episode of “Friends”, you won’t be watching it.  When your friends report to school on Monday morning with a buzz about the latest R-rated movie, you won’t have seen it.  Also, you won’t be wearing the typical body-exposing outfits that seem to be popular among high school teens.  Our clothing standards will not be changing.  Our intention is not to send you to school and make you feel like an outsider, we just want you to know up front that our family standard around here will not be changing.  It is not about rules, it is about identity.  This is just who we are.”

You will have to ask Elizabeth what she decided because we left the decision up to her.  What I want to emphasize is that our standards were not driven by rules, they were driven by who we were; they were driven by who we loved and worshipped.  When I asked our adult children many years later, “Do you think we had a lot of rules when you were growing up?” they looked at each other and answered with a rather casual, “No, not really.”  I don’t think the rules as rules were a big deal in their memory because they were just a reflection of who we were.  We are what we love.