Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Sin Itself

Thoughts, True Freedom, Walking in the New Nature
So we have examined a lot of chains in the past few weeks; chains from which Christ offers sweet release.  We have examined: the chain of the Law the chain of legalism the chain of pride the chain of shame the chain of guilt the chain of fear the chain of worry the chain of selfish ambition the chain of idolatry the chain of our own unworthiness We now come to the last chain, the chain of sin itself.  And let's be very careful to explain exactly what that means. "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us"…
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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Our Unworthiness

Thoughts, True Freedom, Walking in the New Nature
There is a branch of theology that says, "You are not worth it."  There are voices in your past that say, "You are not worth it."  There are messages from the church that say, "You are not worth it."  There are Bible teachers who say, "You are not worth it."  My simple answer to all of these is, "Do not believe it, you are worth it." "Worth what?" you might ask.  You are worth being ransomed, redeemed, delivered, rescued, set free.  "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16).  God's love, God's plan, God's salvation, and God's promise are so beautifully summarized in this one verse. But in the beauty of…
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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Idolatry

Thoughts, True Freedom, Walking in the New Nature
Idolatry is a powerful chain in the lives of many believers.  I am not talking about images of wood or stone.  I am talking about the place in our lives where we run to receive what only God can give.  I am talking about that place where we put our "functional trust". If the word "idol" sounds strange to you in this context, let me pose some questions to help us identify our "idols".  What is that thing, that when you have it in your life, you feel fulfilled?  Or what is that thing, that when it is absent, you feel unsettled and discontent?  Or what is that thing, that when you have Jesus + ______ , all is right in your world? Pastor Eric Hoffman writes, "Idolatry begins when we…
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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Selfish Ambition

Thoughts, True Freedom, Walking in the New Nature
One of the great freedoms Christ promises us in the New Testament is the freedom from ourselves; the freedom from our selfish ambition.  The Bible makes clear that selfish ambition is at the root of so many of our sins.  "If you have envy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and lie against the truth.  This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.  For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice" (James 3:16). Could selfish ambition be the foundation for "every evil practice"?  It often forms the foundation or motivation for our evil actions.  The apostle Paul encourages us to lay aside selfish ambition as a motivating force.  "Do nothing out of selfish…
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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Worry

Thoughts, True Freedom, Walking in the New Nature
Just as the peace of Christ is the antidote for the chain of fear, the joy of the Lord is the antidote for the chain of worry.  Much like fear, worry is so often colored by this anxious age we live in.  The list of things to worry about is almost endless.  But into this milieu, the call of the New Testament is, "Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!"  (Phil 4:4). Or, as Karl Barth has written, "It is astonishing how many references there are in the Old and New Testaments to delight, joy, bliss, exultation, merry-making, and rejoicing; and how emphatically these are demanded from the Book of Psalms to the Letter to the Philippians."  Yes, throughout the Scriptures we are urged to live joy-filled…
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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of the Imposter Syndrome

Thoughts, True Freedom, Walking in the New Nature
Have you heard of the "imposter syndrome"?  It is a term coined by psychologists in the late 1970s to describe high-achieving individuals who were marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.  It is really another chain of fear.  Let me describe how this fear manifests itself in our spiritual life. Depending on the church you grew up in, your family of origin dynamic, or even your present day experience in a community of believers, we generally develop some standard in our lives that we feel we must live up to in order to be accepted by the community.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I like standards.  I like encouraging each other to pursue holiness.  There is nothing wrong with helping each other move forward into a maturing Christian…
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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Fear

Thoughts, True Freedom, Walking in the New Nature
Another chain that shackles our living free experience is the chain of fear.  We live in an anxious age.  I honestly don't know when in my lifetime I have felt such angst about every single topic that comes up in conversation or in the news.  Think about these issues; marriage, family life, health, immigration, the well-being of children, politics, clean water, violence, climate change ... and we could go on and on. We all have ideas of how to respond to these political and social issues and it discourages us when the answers we see in the world around us show not only a pervasive immorality, but an outright complete lack of common sense.  Instead of moral or even common sense solutions, we are bombarded by extreme positions, moral confusion, complete dysfunction, scarcity,…
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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Guilt

Thoughts, True Freedom, Walking in the New Nature
Moving now from shame to guilt, let's review.  Guilt is, "I have done something wrong."  Shame is, "I am something wrong."  Shame is never who we are after our conversion to Christ.  Guilty, on the other hand, is who we are when we sin. Understanding guilt is an important piece of understanding our salvation.  In a legal (from a moral standpoint) sense, prior to Christ, we are all guilty.  We are sinners in Adam and we are sinners in our actions.  We are guilty on both counts.  But Christ took our guilt upon Himself when He died on a cross in our place.  The concept of substitution - Christ dying in our place - is at the heart of the gospel's message of redemption.  Christ died for our sins. The…
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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Shame

Thoughts, True Freedom, Walking in the New Nature
As we consider the shame side of the pride/shame cycle, let's turn to Hebrews chapter 12.  "Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb 12:2).  One of my favorite phrases about what Christ has done for us is "despising the shame". Death on a Roman cross was the epitome of shame.  A naked man publicly put to death on a stick of wood.  Its cruelty and shame would have us turn away in horror.  But instead of turning away, we are called to "fix our eyes" on our dying Savior.  And when we do, we see the suffering Son of God…
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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Pride

Thoughts, True Freedom, Walking in the New Nature
A dangerous side effect of legalism - reducing the Christian life to a set of rules - is pride.  Paul says as much in Colossians 2:18 calling the rule-promoters "inflated without cause by their fleshly mind."  An inflated ego is a hallmark of legalism.  And it is driven by the flesh, not by the Spirit. When we set up a rule-following system as the picture of Christianity, we almost always fall into a comparison mode that has no spiritual value.  How am I doing today compared to yesterday?  How am I doing at keeping the rules compared to person A, B, or C?  Are my community's rules more godly than the church down the street?  Do you ever feel these comparisons? These comparisons are fueled by pride.  They are motivated by a need…
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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Legalism

Thoughts, True Freedom, Walking in the New Nature
While most believers recognize that we are set free from the Old Testament Law, there is still the danger of a New Testament version of the law that creeps into our thinking, our churches, and our approach to living the Christian life.  Our attempts to keep things as black and white as possible, as well as looking for a holiness that we can measure, often lead to a new set of rules to follow.  This rule-following approach to living the Christian life is known as legalism. In Colossians chapter 1, the apostle Paul summarizes the mystery of the gospel, "Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the Word of God,…
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Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of the Law

Thoughts, True Freedom, Walking in the New Nature
One of the first chains we are to throw off in our quest to live free is the chain of the Law.  Many of the earliest believers in Jesus were of Jewish background and they needed clear direction regarding their new relationship with the Old Testament Law.  The apostle Paul explains on several occasions that the short answer to the question of the Law is that we have literally died to it.  It is no longer in effect.  It is no longer influential or applicable to those who have embraced the gospel. At the beginning of Romans chapter 7, Paul illustrates our death to the Law by comparing it to the death of a spouse.  "Just as a woman is free to be joined to another man after the death of her husband...you…
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Living Free

Thoughts, True Freedom, Walking in the New Nature
I love this quote by hip-hop artist Lecrae in his new book Unashamed, "I had finally been set free, but I was about to find out if I could live free."  Did you catch those powerful two words, "live free"?  That, my friends, is the Christian life in a nutshell; learning to live free, learning to live in the freedom that we already have in Christ.  That is really the question at the heart of living the Christian life, "Can we learn to live free?" When you and I embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, we were instantly set free; free to enjoy the fullness of Christ in us.  We were immediately set free from the penalty of sin.  "And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of…
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Thanksgiving and the New You

Holidays, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
I am a stickler for truth in advertising.  When the Bible talks about God's commands as not burdensome or His yoke as light, I want to know how this happens.  Because, quite frankly, I have felt the weight and burden of Christ's commands and it was not always pleasant.  And I do not think I am alone in that feeling. What lifted the burden for me was an understanding of all that changed at my new birth.  And one of the changes was an infusion of a new nature - an infusion of the righteousness of Christ - such that obeying Christ's commands is now my new normal.  I am not saying my new normal is always easy, but following Christ's commands has become my second nature and yours too. When…
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Your Righteous Smile

The Good Father, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
Several years ago, when we lived in Houston, I went to visit our daughter, Bethany, on the job.  She was working at the time as a nurse on a medical-surgical floor at Methodist Willowbrook Hospital.  She didn't know I was coming.  It was a surprise. I made my way to the seventh floor and wandered through the labyrinth-like hallway.  I am sure I looked lost.  I came up to a nurses' station and said to the secretary, "Can you tell me where I can find Bethany?"  As the secretary stared at her paperwork, she asked, "What room are you in?"  I guess she assumed I was a patient looking for my nurse. As I pondered her question and before I could answer, she looked up.  I smiled.  She let out a quiet shriek. …
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Guilt, Shame, and Speaking Truth to One Another

Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to meet Wm Paul Young, author of The Shack.  One of the things he shared with our group really resonated with me because it articulated what I have been trying to say through this blog since day one.  Mr. Young said, "Guilt is I have done something wrong, shame is I am something wrong." The first line of his quote is the biblical view of sin.  We are guilty because we have done something wrong.  But to our detriment, the authority figures in our lives often see our sin and make clear to us that "we are something wrong."  This second line, the shame, is not the biblical view of who we are in Christ.  And the distinction between guilt and shame has tremendous…
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The Sacred and the Profane

Colossians, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
So is this 24/7 connection to God automatic?  If there is no sacred/secular distinction for the believer is it all smooth sailing on the sin front?  Are our actions always godly by virtue of our identity in Christ?  The short answer is No, No, and No.  There is one distinction that still haunts us, even in our new identity as God's children.  And it is the distinction between the sacred and the profane. Profane was a more common word in the days of King James.  Its Greek form bebēlos (βεβηλóς) means, “primarily, permitted to be trodden; hence, unhallowed, profane, opposite of sacred.”  According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, “it is that which lacks all relationship or affinity to God.”  It is more commonly translated "worldliness" in today's…
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A Life of Love

Colossians, Love is ..., Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
Paul continues in Colossians chapter 3 to explain what a life of love looks like.  Remember, Paul has already identified the key to overcoming the flesh.  It is living into all that became new at our salvation.  It is laying aside the old self with its evil practices and putting on the new self with its holy attributes.  And the greatest of these is love. "And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful" (Col 3:14-15).  Two times in these two verses, Paul writes about the unity of the body.  One of the signs of a life of love is the peace…
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The Law of Love

Colossians, Love is ..., Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
Let's dive back into our recent topic:  empty religion.  We were working our way through the book of Colossians, when we stopped at Paul's warning regarding the "empty deception of empty religion."  The apostle reminds us that setting up a self-abasing, overbearing, tedious, rule-keeping system for living the Christian life is not only inappropriate, but is "of no value against fleshly indulgence" (Col 2:23).  The very thing we are trying to defeat is not the least bit hindered by a law-keeping system.  Why?  Because in its empty deception, it lacks true power. The power to live the Christian life lies instead in our connection to our new nature.  Paul goes on in Colossians chapter 3 to explain that we defeat the flesh when we live into all that became new at…
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Defeating the Flesh

Colossians, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
Paul makes clear in Colossians chapter 2 that legalism in the church has the appearance of wisdom but in reality is "of no value against fleshly indulgence" (vs 23).  So how do we approach our struggle with the flesh and how do we win? Our victory over sin is expressed throughout the New Testament as a laying aside the old self and putting on the new.  "In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self...and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth" (Eph 4:22,24). That is why it is so crucial that we understand the new man; understand the new creation we are in Christ.  The New Testament writers constantly refer…
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Indulging the Flesh

Colossians, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
Last time, we stopped in the middle of Colossians chapter 2, verse 19.  "[Those promoting a religion of self-abasement and rule keeping] are not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God" (Col 2:19).  Proper spiritual maturity, growth in the Christian life, comes from lining up our ways under the headship of Christ.  The entire church, the community of believers grows up when we walk according to the gospel of Christ. Paul contrasts spiritual growth under the headship of Christ with the deceptive approach of a rule keeping system.  "If you died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world,…
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Empty Religion

Colossians, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
In Colossians 2:8, the apostle Paul warns, "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ" (Col 2:8).  I used to think this verse was a warning against the irreligious philosophy of the world; the thoughts, explanations, and ideas of the lost.  But when we step back to capture the context of this letter, we find this "empty deception" is actually quite religious.  It is a man-made version of Christianity that is all too common in the church.  The deception is robbing saints of understanding who they are in Christ and replacing the gospel of Christ with a religion of man-made rules.  Let me explain as…
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Freedom From the Performance Trap

Thoughts, True Freedom, Walking in the New Nature
Another freedom our new identity affords us is freedom from the performance trap.  How many of us measure our worth by our performance; or more specifically, by how others react to our performance? Ryan Kwon writes, in the context of church planting, about the performance trap.  "The gospel says, it was through Christ's performance, not our performance, which makes our adoption possible.  So now He accepts us as His own, and that is our primary and supreme identity.  The world tells me, 'I am what I do.'  But the gospel tells me, 'I do what I am.'  For the Christian, our identity precedes our activity.  So our identity is not based on winning, or losing, on a big church, or a small church.  God can't love us any more, and…
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Humility and Dignity

Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
I once heard a speaker in a business setting say that he had no ego.  I had the same reaction that is probably going through your head right now, "Of course, he has an ego.  We all do."  But as I thought about it later, I conceded that maybe pride is not an issue for him.  It is easy for me to project my challenges with pride onto others.  Do you think it is common for us to project our own besetting sins onto others and assume they are weighed down with the same issues? Because of reactions like mine, humility is a hard topic to write about.  You can't very well say it is something you have attained and come across as genuine.  It is even hard to give tips…
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Free From Selfish Ambition

Thoughts, True Freedom, Walking in the New Nature
Another freedom that comes from our new heart, new nature, and new disposition is the freedom from selfish ambition.  Throughout the New Testament, the apostles highlight selfish ambition as one of our worst enemies.  James writes, "If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.  This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, and demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing" (James 3:14-16). Selfish ambition is arrogance unchecked.  Selfish ambition is earthly, natural, and demonic.  Selfish ambition sows seeds of discord, disorder, and every evil thing.  We and our selfish ambition really are our last and worst enemy.  So what is the remedy? The…
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The Gospel for Believers

Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
The latest buzzword in Christian publishing is "the gospel".  From J. D. Greear's straightforward title, The Gospel:  Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary, to Timothy Keller's Center Church:  Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City.  Overall, this is a positive direction as we seek to rediscover the core of the gospel message for the church.  But what exactly is "the gospel"? The gospel literally means "good news".  And I think we can divide this "good news" into two forms.  First is the gospel for unbelievers.  It is a gospel message we are very familiar with.  When Jesus came to earth, He initiated a new arrangement between God and man.  His message of release from the penalty of our sin was totally founded upon His death, as a substitute for…
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Self-Correcting Grace – An Illustration

Analogies, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
Last post, I addressed the issue of indulging in sin as a way to abuse God's grace.  I explained Titus 2:11-14 and the concept that grace, properly understood and applied, actually teaches us to deny sin and live godly lives.  Grace has a way of self correcting.  Today, I would like expand on this idea. Pastor Judah Smith of Seattle's The City Church shared a useful illustration along these lines in a recent interview with the Christian Post.  In addressing a question about grace, Pastor Smith first talks about his relationship with his wife, Chelsea. He summarizes, "Chelsea is just the most incredible, considerate, compassionate, loving, gracious spouse, she's a lot like Jesus.  In the 13 and a half years of her loving me and serving me and being so kind and…
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Self-Correcting Grace

Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
The apostle Paul had strong words for the rule-makers in the Galatian church, even to the point of calling them "false brethren" (Gal 2:4).  But I don't know if these folks were truly evil or just a little over zealous in wanting to keep people in line with their focus on the rules.  After all, the challenge of how far our freedom goes is still with us today.  Are there "false teachers" among us who seek to limit our Christian freedom or do they have a legitimate concern that freedom will be abused and our flesh will be indulged? One of the ways to address this issue is with the concept of "self-correcting grace".  Paul wrote in Titus chapter 2, "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to…
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Free to Obey

Thoughts, True Freedom, Walking in the New Nature
Another freedom we experience as a result of our new birth is the freedom to obey; the freedom to choose a new master (Rom 6:14).  James writes in the New Testament, "But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.  But one who looks intently at the prefect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:22-25). The…
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Free to Serve

Thoughts, True Freedom, Walking in the New Nature
When we think of the word "freedom", we often think of autonomy; basically the freedom to do whatever we want without constraint.  When the New Testament speaks about freedom, it relates to our new opportunity and ability to be all that God created and redeemed us to be.  Free to serve, free to love, free to worship, and free to embrace and live out all that became new at our new birth. In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul addresses the freedom challenge.  Rule-makers had infiltrated the church seeking to limit the believers' freedom.  "But it was because of the false believers who had sneaked in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into slavery.  But we did not yield in…
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