A Seat at the Table

Throughout the Scriptures, the “table” is a picture of God’s blessing and provision.  The Israelites during their wilderness journey complained, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?” (Psalm 78:19).  The answer of course is, “Yes, He can!”  And God did prepare a table full of manna and quail for the children of Israel.

Elsewhere in the Psalms, we have this reassuring word of blessing and provision.  “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:5-6).

Fast forward to the new covenant introduced by Jesus and we have another table of blessing and provision; something we commonly call the Lord’s table.  “And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’  And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood’ “ (Luke 22:19-20).

Christ’s body and Christ’s blood are the provision that took away our sin.  And the resurrected Christ now living in us is the blessing that carries us forward in this world.  Where are you experiencing the table of new covenant provision and blessing in your life today?

Imagine, if you will, a castle sitting on a high hill.  In the magnificent dining hall, your heavenly Father sits at a great table that is covered with a scrumptious feast.  You enter gingerly.  Yes, you are in awe of the Father as you should be.  But you are also a little frightened to be there.  You have been taught by the traditions of men that even though you are a believing child of God, there is a separation between you and the Father because of your sin, your doubt, your fear, or your shame.  Maybe you feel this separation right now.

A voice breaks the silence.  Your Father calls out, “Raise your head, My child.  Get up!  I have a seat here at the table just for you.  This feast has been set for you.  You are a child of glory.  Better yet, why don’t you climb up on the lap of your Abba Father?”

Friend, can I encourage you?  You are, right now, that close to the Father.  There is no separation.  When you believed the gospel message of Jesus Christ, your separation ended FOREVER.  “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Come to the table with the assurance that we talked about last time, “We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19).  You belong here.  The table is set for you.  The Father is waiting.

Arrogance or Confidence?

We wrote last time that there is no place for arrogance in our understanding of Christ making us glorious.  One of the unseen but incredible facts of our new birth is that “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5).  The love of God has so filled us that the love of God is what comes out when we share our lives together.  And the love of God is love without arrogance.

The apostle Paul explained this God-love that is to flow from us in the beautiful love chapter of I Corinthians 13.  And one of the hallmarks of that love is a very simple phrase, “Love is not arrogant” (I Corinthians 13:4).  How is it even possible to express that humble kind of love?  We can only do it because Jesus is loving through us, Jesus is living His resurrected life through us.

There is no place for arrogance in the Christian life.  The New Testament writers often compare and contrast the humility we are to practice and the selfish ambition we are to put off.  But God would not ask us to do something that He has not provided the means to do.  Our new life in Christ is what frees us from selfish ambition.

But there is a gift we receive that can sometimes look like arrogance.  That gift is confidence.  There is no room for arrogance in the Christian life, but there is a wide space opened up to us for confidence.  “Therefore, brothers, 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” (Hebrews 10:19-20).

We have confidence to enter the very holy place of God.  We have confidence to enter God’s presence.  We have confidence to jump into our Abba’s lap.  We have confidence to walk with Jesus, our brother.  And all of this was provided for us by the death of Jesus; washed as we are by the blood that flowed from His flesh.

And this confidence is activated by our faith.  Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.”  Our assurance that we are even allowed to “draw near” comes from our faith in the promises of God.  God said you are His precious child.  Do you believe it?

A proper understanding of grace keeps our arrogance in check (God did it, not you!) and allows our confidence to soar (God did it for you!).  Do not let your confidence become arrogance.  But likewise, do not downplay your confidence as some show of false humility, refusing to receive the new identity He gifted to us.

You are a child of God.  “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).  “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are !!!” (I John 3:1).  This is where our confidence finds its home and its power.  You are a child of God.

You are Glorious!

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). 

This familiar verse has a clear message.  Prior to our salvation, we were all unredeemed sinners and fell short of the glory of God.  But I have always wondered, “Why did Paul make a connection between unredeemed sinners and falling short of God’s glory?  After all, even after we are saved, aren’t we always falling short of God’s glory?”

Even as a youngster, this connection confused me.  By God’s grace and later in life, He awakened me to the true connection.  And the implication of this understanding is huge.

You see, I had always seen “glory” as something only associated with God, never with us humans.  But Jesus, in His prayer to the Father, says about the disciples, “The glory that You have given Me, I have given to them” (John 17:22).  Jesus has given it, past tense.  It has happened.  Jesus gave His glory to the disciples because they believed in Him.

Likewise, this message is for all of us who would believe in the name of the Son.  God has given His glory to us!  As former sinners who have been redeemed, we carry God’s glory in us!  YOU ARE GLORIOUS!

That is the connection of Romans 3:23.  Only unredeemed sinners fall short of God’s glory.  We who have believed in the Son are enveloped with God’s glory.  The glory of God shines upon us.  In fact, God’s glory upon us is what is transforming us.  “But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror (that is you in the mirror, my friend) the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (II Corinthians 3:18).

We are carriers of God’s glory.  Have I said it yet?  YOU ARE GLORIOUS!

And finally, there is no pride or arrogance in this reality.  Only gratitude.  Only faith to believe it.  Only humility because God alone accomplished this for you and me.  YOU ARE GLORIOUS!

Taking Every Thought Captive

As a follow-up to our last post, here are a couple of examples from my own experience to help us understand the difference between temptation and sin.  But first, let’s be reminded of the temptation-to-sin progression from James chapter 1.

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished it brings forth death” (James 1:13-15).

Let’s say that you are sitting in a Monday morning staff meeting.  And everyone is taking their turn reporting on what they accomplished last week.  How many sales calls, how many deals closed, how many call backs, etc.  For you personally, it has been a terrible week.  You have literally accomplished nothing for various reasons, one of which might be your own lack of initiative.

So you begin to say to yourself, “Well, I am going to have to make up a pretty good story about what I got done last week.  In fact, I wonder if our managers ever follow up on what we claim was done.  Because, when it is my turn to report, I really am going to have to outright lie to get out of this spot I am in.”

Or how about this scenario?  You are working on your tax return.  You realize that, “Hey, if I just move this decimal point over a couple of places, I can claim an additional $100.00 in my refund that is actually not due me.  But how can they ever find an error this small?  Plus, the IRS has bigger cheaters to be looking for.  I think I could get away with this one.  I think I could get an extra 100 dollars in my pocket for free.”

In both cases, you are now at the fork in the road where God is waiting to meet you.  Are you going to continue down the temptation road until sin is accomplished and lie about your week’s activities or cheat on your income taxes?  Or are you ready to hear from the Lord that lying is not who you are, cheating is not who you are?  Are you ready to turn your back on these temptations and tell the whole truth, enter the correct numbers?  The choice is in your hands.  And the power to make the righteous choice is in your being, through Christ living His resurrected and righteous life in you.  The choice is yours.

So far these have been a temptation, but you are on a path where sin is just around the corner.  This is where I believe taking every thought captive comes in.  “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (II Cor 10:5).

We have been erroneously taught that “taking every thought captive” means we do not even have these thoughts to sin, these temptations in our minds.  Somehow we block them out through I don’t know what.  Will power?  Self-discipline?  To not have these thoughts, to not face these temptations, you would have to not be in this world.  If we see these initial thoughts as sin, we will always feel defeated in life because these temptations are inevitable, they are part of being human.

I believe taking every thought captive starts after those thoughts to sin come flooding into our brain.  God has given us the power over sin to capture those thoughts before they turn into sinful actions.  We can capture them.  We can bury them.  We can overcome and resist the temptations by the power of Christ living His live in us.  What does the passage say?  “Taking these thoughts captive leads us to obey Christ.”  Obedience is what the new you is designed for.  This is who you are!

Temptation or Sin?

One of the most persistent questions I receive when I explain our new righteous identity to friends is this, “How do I reconcile my label of righteous and saintly with my experience of sin.  That is, if holiness is my new default mode, why is sin the first thing that crosses my mind when I face a moral situation?”  Let me give you a small example, recently shared with me by a friend.

My friend was in the produce section of the local grocery store when she noticed an unattended cart complete with an open purse and wallet sitting on top.  Her first thought was, “I could take that wallet and no one would know.  I think I could get away with it.”  Her question to me was, “If my new nature is so powerful, why is this my first reaction?”  A legitimate question.  My response to her was a question in return.  “What did you do?  Did you take the wallet?”  She answered, “Of course not.  In fact, I stood close by making sure no one else took it until the customer returned to her cart.”  So was the thought sinful, but the action holy?

Based on the biblical progression of sin, I believe the first thought was not a sin at all, but only a temptation.  What we do next in reaction to that thought is either a holy response or a sin.  My friend’s first thought to steal the wallet was a temptation.  The decision to stand guard over the wallet was a holy response.

The Bible explains it this way.  “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished it brings forth death” (James 1:13-15).

Do you see the progression?  This is so important to understand.  The temptation is not sin.  The first thought is not sin.  It has been drilled into us – due to a misapplication of Jesus’ words about sinning in our minds – that thinking these thoughts is a sin.  But that is not the case.

According to these verses, the enticement brought by our own evil desires is a temptation, not a sin.  Sin is what we do next with the temptation.  When we resist the temptation, all is well.  Is there is a path where temptation does lead to sin?  Yes, and it comes when we fertilize, rather than resist, the temptation.  James calls it “lust has conceived”.  And what happens when lust has been fertilized and conceived?  A birth comes next.  In this case, the birth or bringing forth of sin.  When lust has conceived, it brings forth sin.  Conception, not just enticement, is required for sin to occur.  It is following the temptation with a sinful action.

But Christ has given us, in our new identity, in our new “Christ living His resurrected life through us”, the power to resist the temptation.  When we walk by the Spirit, we are making choices in line with our new identity, in line with the Holy Spirit who indwells us, and “we will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).  We will not succumb to the temptations of the flesh.

This distinction between temptation and sin is so crucial to understanding how we experience our incredible freedom in Christ, our freedom from the power of sin.  If you think of these initial thoughts as sin, you will feel discouraged and weighed down and view yourself as a sinner.  You will have difficulty seeing yourself as a saint with the resurrection power of Jesus inside you.  But if you see these reactions for what they are; temptations that you have the power to resist, you will experience the power and the joy of the Christian life.