Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Sin Itself

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” (Heb 12:1).  In this one verse, we see an interesting continuum regarding our sin.

On the one hand, the author tells us “to lay our sin aside”.  Now that implies to me that “laying aside our sin” is possible or why would God instruct us to do so?  Would God call us to do the impossible?  I don’t think so.

At the same time, there is a clue in this verse that this “laying aside” is not just an easy once-and-done process.  The author refers to our sin as “easily entangling us”.  Somehow the sin we are to lay aside is also the sin that so easily entangles us.  And there is the rub.  You have the power – by the risen Christ living in you – to lay your sin aside.  But the process of doing so often encounters a tangled mess.

Because I think most of us are comfortable with recognizing the tangled mess, let’s start with the power to lay sin aside.  And this power is fully dependent on Christ living His life in you.  Just hours before His death, Jesus gave us this promise, “The Father will give you a Helper (Gk. Paraclete, one called alongside to help), that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, who the world cannot receive because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you” (Jn 14:16-17).

Christ promised us the presence of God’s Holy Spirit inside.  And based on this promise, we often limit the indwelling presence of God to the Spirit.  But Jesus goes on in this passage to add, “In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (Jn 14:20).  Over 200 times in the New Testament, we see reference to either God in us, Christ in us, or the Spirit in us.  They are undeniably interchangeable.  The bottom line?  The God of the universe – in every form available to Him – has miraculously come to live inside you when you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

So how does this relate to laying aside our sin?  Think about it this way.  Not only is Christ in you, but Christ … and His character are in you.  By virtue of Christ in you, His qualities of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience live in you.  By virtue of the Spirit in you, His fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control live in you.

We often look at these lists as character qualities or character traits to aspire to.  We lift them up as something Christians should strive for, usually through greater effort.  We present them in  a way that makes their attainment and practice look like a grueling task.  But calling these character qualities or character traits to aspire to is really aiming way too low.  They are so much more than that.  They are literally manifestations of Christ.  And when you live into them, they are literally manifestations of Christ being lived out in you.

Putting these “manifestations of Christ” into practice is like putting on the clothes in your closet.  They are already in your closet, just waiting to be put on.  So often, when we see admonitions in Scripture to lay aside the bad stuff and put on the good stuff, we don’t think we own or have access to the good stuff.  These righteous traits are for the super saints, not for us regular folks.  But Christ has made you full of Himself and you are just as empowered to follow where He leads as any other saint.

In a word picture that the apostle Paul uses over and over in the New Testament, you already have these clothes in your closet.  You do not have to go out and buy them.  They are not something you have to strive to acquire.  They have already been purchased by the precious blood of the Lamb, done deal.  And they are hanging in your spiritual closet.  Our job is to simply get dressed; to simply put on the clothes of righteous actions that Christ has already purchased and supplied for us.  He has supplied these clothes, not by dropping them into our shopping cart like apples falling from a tree, but rather by filling us up with Himself!

Now this righteous action, while clearly available to us, is not as easy an experience as grabbing a polo shirt and putting it on in the morning.  We still have that entangling sin to deal with; a topic we will address next time.  But until then, remember, you have more righteous clothes in your closet then you probably recognize or honestly have been led to believe by teachers stuck in a law or Old Covenant mentality.

Go ahead.  Put them on and shine in whatever path Christ has called you to today.  “And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on the clothes of a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other…and beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:12-14).  Christ is calling.  Get up and get dressed!

Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Our Unworthiness

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 seeing God’s love extended to the entire world, we sometimes miss the personal message God has for us.  Did you know that, “God so loved you that He gave His only begotten Son for you, so that if you believe in Him, you will not perish, but you will have eternal life”?

God loved and loves you.  Christ gave His life for you.  And He says you were worth it.  Christ did not die in your place out of obligation.  Christ did not die in your place as a noble sacrifice.  Christ died because He loves you.  When Christ died in your place, there was a joy in your rescue.

“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 has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).  There was and is joy in Jesus’ rescue of you.  You were worth “the precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (I Pet 1:19).  We often think that an incredibly valuable sacrifice – the blood of Christ Himself – was required because of our great sin.  But could it be that the sacrifice was so great because that is what you were worth; that was the price required because you were worth it?

I guess what I am trying to say is this.  What God – in His judgment, purposes, and wisdom – determines is worthy of being redeemed is never to be devalued.  Never, never, ever.

Now, lest we get carried away and think that somehow we were “worth it” because we were basically good people, without sin, let’s come back to reality.  Prior to Christ, we were sinners indeed.  We were totally lost without any hope of saving ourselves; lost with absolutely no value in any of our own self-righteousness.  So how do we go from depraved, lost, and sinful individuals to worth the precious blood of Christ?

We need to understand the difference between worth and merit.  Regarding merit, in our standing before God, we have none.  We did not earn our salvation.  We were not “good enough” to warrant redemption.  We contributed nothing to our ransom from sin.  It is all grace.  It is all a pure gift.

But worth is a different thing altogether.  We arrive at our high view of worth because of our brand new and united identity with Christ.  As Dwight Edwards writes, “What frees us from the paralyzing grip of inferiority and inadequacy is not the power of positive thinking but the astonishing wonder of united identity.  As believers, we no longer have the option of thinking about ourselves apart from the indwelling Christ to Whom we are inseparably united.”  As a “partaker of the divine nature” (II Pet 1:4), you are inseparably united with the indwelling Christ.

I write all this because I see two prominent errors affecting the church in this theology of our unworthiness.  First, if we believe that we are just worthless sinners somehow covered by Christ’s blood, we will never fulfill the destiny that God promises of experiencing victory over sin.  God’s promise is that sin will not be our master after our conversion.  Your “worthless sinner” status was removed when you embraced the gospel message; when you were saved.  Your destiny as one united with Christ is to experience His power, living inside you, to live the Christian life.

The second error is that if we believe that we are just worthless sinners somehow covered by Christ’s blood, we will seek to rise above that status through our own self-effort.  We will try to “prove” our worth by our works.  We will be always striving to attain God’s acceptance by our works.  And there is no joy in this approach to living the Christian life.  You are already loved and accepted by God.  And He is doing the work inside to lift you into the supernatural Christian life.

So don’t let those voices of your unworthiness that rattle around in your head keep you in chains.  In your daily functional beliefs, embrace His freedom by seeing who you are in your united identity with Christ.  You are a new creation who carries not only the image of God – as all mankind does; but in us, His followers, you carry His divine nature as well.

Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Idolatry

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 put something else where only God belongs.  When we say that God is not enough or His ways are not what I am going to follow, we are consciously putting our hope, trust, security, and identity into a created thing.”  Later, Eric asks, “Where are you putting your functional trust?”

On an intellectual or theological level, we know the danger of idols.  But on a practical or functional level, in our daily living, what or who are we trusting in?  Where are we looking for proof of our value and worth?  What are we driven to protect at all costs so that we can project a positive image?

This topic is an expansive one so I will only give it a broad overview in this post.  But here are some categories of idols to get us thinking about our own situation.

The idol of power.  Are you driven to and find your satisfaction in success, winning, gaining influence?  Do you fear humiliation or lack of respect?  Maybe power is an idol.

The idol of approval.  Do you seek affirmation, love, relationships, at all costs?  Is rejection your greatest fear?  Maybe approval is an idol for you.  This is very much a challenge for me.

A few weeks ago, I represented our neighborhood at a city council meeting to speak against further development at the end of our street.  I thought my presentation went well, but the highlight was as I went back to my seat, I received an outpouring of gestures of support and thanks from our neighbors in attendance.  Since we had not made much of a connection with some of them yet, I remember this clear thought in my head, “I think they like me.”  Why was that approval so important to me?  The approval idol in me needed their reassurance to be satisfied.

The idol of comfort.  Is your highest goal your own comfort, privacy, freedom, lack of stress?  Are your greatest fears wrapped around demands, stress, pain, or loss?  Maybe comfort or its variations of pleasure, health, materialism, and recreation are idols in your life.

The idol of control.  Are you driven by self-discipline, certainty, standards being kept?  Is uncertainty and things beyond your control your greatest fear?  Is security in your finances, your career, your family an idol in front of you?

These ideas have barely scratched the surface, but I hope they give you an idea of what I am referring to in the topic of idols.  What created thing are we placing our functional trust in?

The answer to idolatry is to place our intellectual, our heartfelt, and our functional trust in Jesus Christ.  Look at how the apostle John relates our abiding in Christ to freedom from idols.  “And we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ.  This is the true God and eternal life.  Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (I Jn 5:20-21).

What John is saying in these verses is this:  “We are in the true God and in His Son.  Our abiding, our identity, our purpose, our provision, our comfort, our security, our approval, and our power are all wrapped up in our connection to God and to His Son Jesus.  We know that He is the true God, and we are in Him.  Jesus + nothing is what we need.  And this truth is part of the eternal life that we are already experiencing.  Now, in light of these facts, guard yourselves from idols.”

In light of knowing and abiding in the One who is true, do not accept a counterfeit.  Do not accept a cheap imitation.  Do not accept a substitute for the real thing.  That is what idols are; counterfeits, imitations, substitutes.  Life in Christ offers freedom.  Idols enslave.  They never come through on what they promise.  And our pursuit of them keeps us from being secure in the grace of God’s leadership in our lives.

Throw off the chain of the idols in your life.  Ask God to reveal what things are enslaving you.  What idols are you chasing after that keep you from being present, that keep you from being available to serve the people and situations God has placed in front of you?  God has called you to a life of living free; and identifying and confessing the “lesser” things we depend on is the first step to freedom from our chains.  Lift up your eyes to the only One who is worthy of our trust, the Lord Jesus Christ who leads our lives.

Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Selfish Ambition

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 ambition or empty conceit” (Phil 2:3).  Is that kind of “nothingness” regarding selfish ambition even possible?

As with all things pertaining to living the Christian life, we have been freed from the dominion of sin as our master.  This includes freedom from selfish ambition.  This freedom was accomplished by our being united with Christ in His death and resurrection (Rom 6:4-7).  But learning to live into that promise, that spiritual reality, is a process.

Yes, you have the power to overcome your selfishness.  And the positive replacement for it is found in the rest of Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.”  Humility is the answer to selfish ambition.  And by virtue of your new life in Christ, you have this humility inside.  The question is how to put this humility into action.

The interesting thing about selfish ambition is that only you know how deep it goes.  The Bible teaches that even preaching can be done out of selfishness.  “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife…proclaiming Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives” (Phil 1:15,17).  Because selfish ambition is a motivation more than an action, you cannot always tell how deep my selfishness goes.  But I know.  And God knows.

Engage with God’s promise and God’s power to overcome what is really our greatest and last enemy; ourselves.  Set yourself free from selfish ambition by practicing humility of mind.  We do this in many ways.  Not having to win every discussion or disagreement.  Stopping to hear one another’s thoughts, intentions, and opinions.  Looking out for the interests of others by celebrating the successes of our brothers and sisters and by honoring the gifts they bring to the table.  Practicing hospitality by allowing others to be served and thinking of their needs first.  Thanking those who have been hospitable and generous to us.  Using our freedom to serve others, setting aside our own plans when an urgent and sincere need arises.  Being generous, as God is generous to us.  And the list in Scripture for how to put your humility into action goes on and on.

You have been set free from your slavery to sin by Christ’s death and resurrection.  And you have been set free from selfish ambition as your primary driver or motivation.  God has given you the power and the Spirit to break the chain.

Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Worry

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 lives.

Our fundamental, foundational stance as a believer is to be one of joy.  Our serious, melancholy pessimism should be the exception.  Yes, those empathetic emotions are real.  And there is a time for grief over our struggles; and those of our families, our communities, our churches, and our world.  But underlying our concern is a bedrock of joy given to us by the Father.

Did you know that you have already been given the incredible gift of joy?  It is not something you have to strive for.  It is not something you have to work for.  It is not something you have to earn.  You already have it inside.  How?  Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22).  When you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you were given the Holy Spirit to live inside you.  You did not earn it; it is pure gift from God.

And by virtue of this gift – by virtue of His Spirit living inside you – you already possess all of the Spirit’s fruit.  In the natural world, a fruit tree can only produce the fruit of its DNA.  It cannot produce any other fruit.  Likewise, you were ordained to produce the fruit of the new Spirit that lives inside and one of those fruits – already there by virtue of your spiritual DNA – is joy.

It may seem like a subtle distinction, but the key to experiencing that joy is to recognize it is already in there and then proceeding to unwrap it at every opportunity rather than seeing it as a character quality that we must strive to attain.  It’s already in there!

Can I encourage you to throw off the chain of worry?  There are many more aspects to breaking this chain in terms of our faith in God’s goodness, His sovereignty, His love, and so much more.  But for today, our focus is on the joy that He plants inside.  Rejoice in the gift of joy that He has given to you.

Is there a time to ponder the sobering reality of evil in the world?  Yes, there is.  But the underlying reality of a joy-filled life is a constant theme throughout the Scriptures.  And it is a reality that has been beautifully summarized by English author G. K. Chesterton, “A person is fully human when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial.  Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul.  Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labor by which all things live.”