Sin, Slavery, and True Freedom

Thoughts, True Freedom, Walking in the New Nature
"So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, 'If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free' " (Jn 8:31-32).  What "truth" is Jesus talking about?  And what kind of "freedom" does this truth deliver to us? The dialogue that immediately follows these verses gives a clue to the freedom offered by Jesus Christ.  The Jews parked on the word "free" and answered Jesus.  "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, 'You will become free?' " (Jn 8:33).  The Jews were thinking in terms of political freedom; that is, in specific terms of slaves and masters.  Basically they were saying,…
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Breaking Free

Thoughts, True Freedom, Walking in the New Nature
If you were to take a poll of your friends and relatives, what phrase would they most associate with the word "Christian"?  Would it be keeping the rules...religious...being a good person...hypocrite...or something else?  Getting it down to one phrase, I think something about "keeping the rules" is one of the world's most common associations with Christianity. But if you read the New Testament, the basis for our Christian faith, I think a better word association is "FREEDOM".  Christianity is all about freedom.  The powerful connection between Christianity and freedom - so clearly explained in Scripture - is often missed by a world under the enemy's control and a church stuck in our rule-making ways.  Why is this so? From the world's viewpoint, they have no interest in accurately portraying one of…
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Sin in Remission

Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
Last post I suggested that there is a "cure" for ongoing sin in the life of the believer.  I want to make sure we do not confuse "cure" with "eradicate".  Cure, in the biblical sense, is more like sin that is in remission, not sin that has been totally eliminated.  Sin will only be completely abolished in that glorious future when we are free of sin's influence forever! In the world of cancer treatment, we generally use the word cure to identify the remission of cancer, not necessarily its complete extermination.  Under the cure, we are now free of cancer's rule.  We are now free from the rapid growth of malignant cells.  But even in remission, some cancer cells may still be making their home in our body. It is…
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Is There a “Cure” for Sin?

Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
It is easy to get all excited about the theology of the New Covenant.  But what does it do for us in practice?  Does it really make a difference in how we live?  If you have been reading these posts for some time, you know the answer is a spectacular YES!!!  I believe the provisions of the New Covenant as described in Scripture are literally a "cure" for sin.  C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, "God's love for us does not come and go.  It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him." My pointed question to you is, "Do you…
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The Relationship Between Your New Nature and Sin

Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
One of the over-arching messages of the New Testament is that a sinful lifestyle is not compatible with being a child of God.  The apostles' teaching in this regard starts with this foundational truth:  people who have embraced the gospel message become a member of God's family and are given a brand new identity.  "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new person; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come" (II Cor 5:17). The new identity is indwelt by God Himself through His own Spirit and carries a moral resemblance to God.  How is this possible?  Earlier in II Corinthians 5, Paul attributes our entrance into God's kingdom and His indwelling as based on Christ's death in our place (II Cor 5:14-17).  Our old sin nature…
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The Sin Zombie

Analogies, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
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…
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Get the Log Out!

Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
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…
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We Are What We Love

Church Life, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
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…
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Doing the Right Thing – Motivated by Our New Identity

Analogies, Motivation, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
We come now to our last installment of how believers are motivated to righteous living; because this is who we are.  In our new identity as holy and beloved saints, righteous living is what is expected of us.  It is what should come natural to us.  It fits who we really are. In Romans chapter 6, the apostle Paul answers the question, "If greater sin brings greater grace, should we continue in sin?" with an emphatic "No".  And Paul's "No" is based on our new identity in Christ.  The apostle takes the rest of chapter 6 to explain.  When you became a believer, you appropriated the fact - and it is a fact - that your old sin nature died with Christ on the cross.  Your sin nature is dead. …
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Do the Right Thing

Motivation, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
What motivates new covenant believers to do the right thing?  That is, without the fear of the Law, what causes us to walk the straight and narrow?  What motivates us to fly right?  Can the same grace that secured our initial salvation also inform our actions?  Is grace just a theological concept or does it also empower us to righteous living? Grace and godly living go hand-in-hand.  "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, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless…
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Letting the River Flow in Ministry

Church Life, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
"Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.  For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (II Cor 3:5-6).  As ministers of the new covenant, we recognize the flowing river inside each believer and we serve in ways that encourage its flow to come to the surface in our friends and family. Let me give you an example of how this works in ministry.  Several years ago, Rhonda and I were asked to lead an adult Sunday School class at our church for young married couples who were just starting their families.  We were at the other end…
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Lining a Canoe Upstream

Analogies, Hebrews, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
Writing about the river's flow in our last post reminded me of the idea of "lining a canoe".  The basic principle is this:  when seeking to take your canoe upstream against the current, you tie a rope near the front of the canoe and, walking upstream along the shore, you provide the power by pulling the rope and the river's current keeps the boat from running into the bank.  When I googled "lining a canoe" to learn more, I found this explanation on The Alaska Hunting Forum: "I can tell you from personal experience that lining any boat upstream any appreciable distance comes down to one thing - HARD WORK.  There's just no easy way around it.  The truth is that you will be in, on, and around that river…
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Never Thirsty

Hebrews, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
Similar to the offer of rest for His children, Jesus gives us another incredible promise in the same vein.  "Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst' " (Jn 6:35).  The word "never" is a powerful word.  I try not to use it very often.  The word "never" doesn't allow for loopholes.  Yet, in this passage, Jesus makes the incredible promise that "he who believes in Me shall never thirst."  What narrow corner has Jesus backed Himself into with this kind of promise; a promise with no loopholes? What Jesus has promised is that in your spirit, in the real you, He will so fill you up that you will never be…
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Entering the Believer’s Rest

Faith is ..., Hebrews, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
Last time we posed the question "How do we enter the believer's rest?"  How do we go from wilderness Christian to God's promised land experience in the here-and-now?  The author of the book of Hebrews gives us some insight. Starting first with the Old Testament example of those who refused God's promised rest.  "Today if you hear My voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, and saw my works for forty years.  Therefore I was angry with this generation and said, 'They always go astray in their heart, and they did not know My ways;' and I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest' " (Heb 3:7-11).…
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The Believer’s Rest

Faith is ..., Hebrews, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
Another prominent theme in the book of Hebrews is the believer's rest.  Entering into God's rest is foreshadowed in the Old Testament by the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt and their eventual arrival in the promised land.  The three stages of their deliverance are symbols of the three stages of deliverance for New Testament believers. Stage one is the Israelites release from Pharaoh's grip during their exodus from Egypt.  This represents our initial salvation when Christ delivered us from Satan's grip by His sacrifice on the cross.  The Egyptian taskmasters of Pharaoh's day represent the flesh, our sin nature, that controlled you and I prior to our salvation.  Paul writes of his before-salvation experience, "For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice…
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Putting Faith into Practice

Faith is ..., Hebrews, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
That the Christian life is lived "by faith" is a prominent message in the New Testament.  But how do we do it?  It is great to understand the theology and theory, but we all want to know, "How do we put it into practice?  What does living by faith look like?"  I can measure laws and law-breakers; I can measure rule-keeping and rule-breaking; I can measure a life lived by works.  But faith?  That's a little too nebulous; a little too out there in a world that we can't see, smell, or touch.  But it is exactly how God intends us to live.  So how do we bring faith to our every day experience? Think of your Christian experience as a big circle.  We start with a faith challenge.  Something…
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Faith and the Three Great Promises of God

Faith is ..., Hebrews, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
If you take a comprehensive read through the New Testament, you will find three great promises God makes to new covenant believers that are repeated over and over again.  And just like our old covenant ancestors, faith is a primary requirement to lay hold of and experience the power of these great promises. The first promise is the most familiar.  Believe in Jesus and you will have eternal life.  Jesus introduced this promise about a hundred different ways in the gospels.  One of the most succinct is, "He who believes in the Son [Jesus] has eternal life" (Jn 3:36).  Because we can't see the future, because people don't generally come back from the dead and share their experience, we don't know for sure what our after death experience will be. …
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Hating One’s Parents?

Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
Last post, in the comments, Nancy brought up Matthew 10:37 and appropriately so.  "He who loves father and mother more than Me [Jesus] is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me" (Mt 10:37).  In the parallel passage in Luke chapter 14, Jesus uses even more striking language, "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple" (Lk 14:26).  This seems to be in direct contradiction to the point of our last post - we love God by loving our families - so what gives? It is important to understand the words of Christ in…
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Love in the Big Circle

Love is ..., Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
In Matthew 22:35-40, Jesus identified the two great commandments - love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself - as the greatest commandments in the Old Testament.  Did I just say Old Testament?  I did, and I said it because Jesus said it.  Jesus listed these as the greatest commandments in "the Law" (understood to be the Old Testament) saying that "the whole Law and the Prophets" (again, the Old Testament) depended on them. In the New Testament, Jesus introduced a new love emphasis.  "A new commandment I give to you, that you love on another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love…
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Motivated by Love

Love is ..., Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
When we embrace the gospel message of Jesus Christ, one of the changes we experience, whether rapidly or gradually, is that we are no longer motivated by selfish ambition, by "what's in it for me."  We have a new motivation for our actions. In the first chapter of I Peter, the apostle goes to great length to explain our inheritance in Christ.  "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you" (I Pet 1:3-4). Peter continues in this chapter with two actions that…
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On the Road to Change

Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
Without taking anything away from our last post, The End of Sin's Power?, we do need to talk about how this works in practice.  The message of the New Testament - the indwelling resurrection power of Christ in our lives and the thousand new things that come with it - is all true, but experiencing this power is a process. The path to all that happened at our new birth becoming our normal practice is hindered by at least two barriers.  The first is our group of enemies - the world, the flesh, and the devil - that seek to empower our moribund sin nature.  I will not elaborate here as we have discussed this challenge many times (see Galatians 5 and The War with the Flesh). The second barrier…
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The End of Sin’s Power?

Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
The self improvement message behind a certain brand of Bible teaching today is work harder and stop doing the bad stuff.  Try harder and stop doing the bad stuff.  Strive harder and quit the bad stuff.  It's on you to clean up your life. The message of the New Testament is believe who you really are in Christ.  Embrace who you are in Christ.  Live according to who you are in Christ.  Christ has cleaned up your life already through His death, burial, and resurrection.  You were created - in your new identity - for so much more than the bad stuff.  And by the way, stop doing the bad stuff. The first message is essentially sin management; trying to manage our sinful tugs by the power of the will. …
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Faith is the Means

Faith is ..., Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
The power to live the victorious Christian life is "Christ in me, the hope of glory" (Col 1:27).  The power of the Exchanged Life, the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God is the fuel that frees us from the power of sin.  And the means or vehicle to lay hold of this power is faith. God has promised that our old self, our sin nature, died with Christ.  I believe this by faith.  God has promised to take up residence inside us by His Holy Spirit.  I can't always feel this, but I believe it by faith.  God has promised Christ's resurrection power to all believers.  I believe this by faith.  God has promised that sin will not be our master.  I need constant clarity on how this works…
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Laying Aside and Putting On

Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
Consider these admonitions from the New Testament: "Let us lay aside the deeds of darkness...and put on the armor of light." (Rom 13:12) "In reference to your former way of life, lay aside the old self...and put on the new self." (Eph 4:22,24) "Since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices; anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech, and lying...and have put on the new self." (Col 3:8-10) "Putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness...receive the word implanted which is able to deliver your souls." (Jam 1:21) "Putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander...long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to [your present] salvation." (I Pet 2:1-2) "Let…
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The Tug of Sin’s Power

Analogies, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
We have all heard the story of how baby elephants are trained.  A chain is placed around the baby elephant's foot and attached to an iron stake driven into the ground.  The young elephant pulls at the chain but does not have the strength to dislodge the stake.  Eventually, the elephant gives up.  As the story goes, when the elephant is fully grown, he can be easily contained by a chain and a stake - something he could now easily uproot - because he is conditioned by his past experience to believe the chain is a sufficient constraint.  I have been unable to determine if this is a true method of elephant training or a story used by life coaches to identify the chains in your life that limit your…
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A Thick Wet Blanket

Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
How many times have you heard something along these lines?  "He says things that are controversial.  He sometimes stretches the interpretation to make a point.  I don't always agree with what he says.  But, at least, he is preaching from the Word!"  The words "at least" are our way of saying we value a message based on a text of Scripture rather than a motivational topic looking for a Bible verse.  And we should.  But is "at least" the best we can do? There is no honor in "preaching the Word" if we are not getting it right.  In response to our view that modern preaching has gone soft, we are in danger of thinking any expository message will do.  And a common expository message of evangelical preaching today is…
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The Exchanged Life

Analogies, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
When our preaching wanders into the realm of motivational speaking, we play right into Satan's hand by delivering a less than complete gospel message.  When our teaching takes the form of self-help pop psychology delivering ten steps to a better life, we have stripped the power from the gospel.  But when we let the Bible speak for itself, the message of Christ is a message of an exchanged life.  It is not a message of life improvement; it is a message of life transformation. For the unbeliever, it is the exchange of my sin for Christ's righteousness.  This is the basis of my justification, my being reconciled to God.  "God made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of…
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A Message of Confusion

Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
Both Jesus and the apostles stressed the central need for unity within the Christian community.  Satan, on the other hand - having lost the war already and still losing individual battles every time someone joins God's kingdom - is focused on just the opposite:  disrupting the unity of our message through planting seeds of envy, strife, and disharmony. It is imperative that we get a handle on what Satan is up to in this world.  We often relegate Satan to the make believe world of fairies and elves and in so doing have dropped our defenses against him.  Peter warns, "Be on the alert.  Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (I Pet 5:8).  And Paul writes, "Put on the full armor of…
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A Good Name

Church Life, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
Prosperity teachers, name-it-claim-it theology, and the word of faith movement have all combined to give the power of words a bad name.  But words do carry power.  We believe the written Word of God carries supernatural power.  And we empower our believing community when we properly use the words of Scripture to describe ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ. I am a firm believer that kids and adults live into the expectation we set before them.  And that expectation often takes its form in the words and labels we use.  If we practice a ministry of condemnation (II Cor 3:9); labeling believers as sinners, telling them how poorly they are doing, and not holding out much hope for improvement, can we be surprised when our parishioners live into…
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Crucifying the Flesh in Community

Church Life, Thoughts, Walking in the New Nature
"Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.  Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart" (II Tim 2:21-22).  Another way we "crucify the flesh" in practical terms is by pursuing righteousness in the company of our fellow believers. Paul makes clear in II Timothy 2 that to become a useful tool in the hands of the Master, or to extend the thought, to crucify the flesh and thus be prepared for every good work, we must flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness.  This flee and pursue pattern is very similar to Paul's put off the old nature…
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