How Jesus Restores Mankind Part 3, on Lust and Sexuality

Yesterday we took a look at how Jesus redefines the severity of the anger problem, tying it to the heart behind hatred and murder. After his discourse on anger, Jesus moves to the topic of lust with an equally devastating redefinition.  

27 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Mt 5:27-28). 

For obvious reasons, this is devastating to those who, while they haven’t acted on their desires, have entertained thoughts and fantasies.  But why?  Doesn’t it mean something that we control our impulses to act, and relegate lust to feelings and thoughts? Perhaps, but again, let’s not assume that Jesus is only saying this in order to make us see how bad we are and drive us to the cross and our need for a savior.  Let’s assume that he wants us to have total freedom in this area.  

Why does it matter to God what we do with our minds and hearts?  The answer is that God doesn’t just care what we look like. He cares about who we are. He made us in his image to show the world what he is like, especially those of us who he has saved and filled with his Holy Spirit.  To entertain lustful thoughts, we must forget all that.  We must be like animals who don’t think, just move by instinct.  We must suspend our God-given abilities to step back and consider what is best. Not what is easy, fun, or what would satisfy our momentary craving, but what is best.  Is it good for us to forsake in our minds God’s desire for us to be pure?  Should we rebel against God by ignoring his instruction on sexual purity?

God created sex, and he designed the idea of romantic relationships.  How happy Adam must have been when God woke him up and presented him with the wife that he created from Adam’s own body.  “This is now flesh of my flesh, and bone of my bone” (Gen 2:23). I can’t even imagine the joy of discovery that ensued.  This is God’s desire for all of us unless he specifically calls us to singleness (Mt 19:12).  It is a gift, a mind blowing gift.  There is no reason whatsoever to pervert that gift by using it in a lesser, cheaper way than how he intended it. Pornography is cheap. It does damage to us in so many ways, not to mention exploiting the brokenness of some young woman who doesn’t know God and has sold herself cheap.  Prostitution is even worse.  But even just plain old fashioned premarital sex doesn’t come close to the good design God has for love and relationship in a marriage.  It is a pathway to destruction of a relationship, to mistrust, to conflict. If you get married to the person you are crossing those lines with, there will be years of pain and mistrust to overcome together. Nothing is impossible with God, but it is usually very difficult to overcome. 

Jesus doubles down on this point and says that to look “at a woman with lustful intent” is to already commit adultery with her.  The same goes for women looking at men with lustful intent.  When you do that, man or woman, what does that say about the position of your heart?  What does that say about the belief that God is in your mind and sees what you see, hears what you think, and knows what you are?  If you can know Jesus’s words and ignore them, then I have to assume there is a good chance you don’t actually believe any of it.  God is watching. Always. To fear God is to believe that is true. To love God is to care what he thinks and love to please him.  But there is more to it than the fact that perversion dishonors the God who watches.  

Jesus is showing us the way to freedom.  

Do you want sexual freedom in the area of your actions?  Then get sexual freedom in the area of your thoughts.  The good news is not that God doesn’t want you to think about those things, perverting your spirit and dishonoring his, but that God has actually set you free from the compulsion to do those things, to think those things. Furthermore, he has something much, much better for you if you are married, especially if both of you are believers.  Do it right, and learn this.  

But maybe you aren’t married. Maybe you have no spiritually viable outlets for sexuality. Neither did Jesus. He was a single guy. Do you think he kept himself in check by repression? I don’t think so. I think Jesus understood reality well enough to know that even sex that is within the confines of holy matrimony is not the end all be all of abundant life. He knew that the love of a woman is not the greatest love of all; it is not the key to happiness and joy that our current culture believes that it is. This is one of Satan’s greatest lies. From what the Bible says, there will be no sex in heaven. No marriage (Mt 22:30). So, that tells me that what there is in terms of love and fulfillment is much, much greater. Jesus would have us see that now, take sex off of its current pedestal and start living. Romantic love pales in comparison to agape the love of the Father, the love for God with all our heart, soul, and strength, and the love for our neighbor as our self. It is the love that we must subordinate even the romantic love of our spouses to, if we are to have a godly, and healthy, even a romantically fulfilling marriage.

If all this sounds difficult and sacrificial, remember that Jesus is talking about freedom. What’s not to love about freedom? He came, lived, and died to set you free from sexual sin. Believe, and go free. Let’s talk more tomorrow about the sermon on the mount and what Jesus had to say about giving, praying, and fasting in secret

How Jesus Restores Mankind Pt. 2 The Sermon on the Mount – Anger

To hear Jesus talk about the ways of the kingdom of God must have been frustrating to the unsaved, as it is today.  But having accepted salvation and received the Holy Spirit, we can see Jesus’s teaching as more than just the proof that we need a savior.  We can see it as the ways and laws of living the abundant life of Christ.  Let’s look at some of the key themes of Jesus’ teaching on how to live life.  We’ll take a look at the sermon on the mount. The scope of these articles won’t allow us to hit every part of it, but just a look at a few key points will tell us a lot. Today, we’ll look at the way Jesus addresses anger, lust, and practicing religion.  

The Sermon on the Mount

Matthew 5-7

After the Beatitudes, which turn the normal assumptions about being blessed or happy upside down, Jesus takes his listeners through a profound set of “rules” designed to do two basic things. The first is to change their thinking from managing their outward behavior, to managing their inward orientation. And the second, which is related, is to get them to see how much of their life, even their religious and moral life, is spent on trying to impress other people. Jesus says in Matthew 5:14-16 that his disciples are to be the light of the world, so that others can see them, and see the way to God.  But at the same time, you’ll see in a minute that we are not supposed to do things to be seen.  Which is it?  We’ll come back to this question.

Anger 

Jesus really gets going about heart and behavior when he addresses anger in the next section.  

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Mt 5:21-22).

All the Jews, like most people, know that it is wrong to kill people. It was part of their ten most important and fundamental commandments.  But Jesus is much more radical than everyone else.  He says effectively, “If you are angry, it is the same thing as murder.” Why? Because it comes from the same place.  How am I never supposed to get angry?  You can explain this in a lot of ways, and people have. “Jesus got angry in the temple at the money changers”. Or, “The Bible says be angry and do not sin” (Eph 4:26).  But all of this is an attempt to avoid the plain instruction here.  If Jesus is saying this, then there must be some way in which we can obey this teaching.  More importantly, there must be something about obedience to Jesus on this issue that is good for us. There must be something about it that relates to the kind of life that Jesus refers to when he promises that he came so that we could have life, and have it abundantly (Jn 10:10).  

Most people see the sermon on the mount as an unattainable set of laws that Jesus gives us so that we will know we need him to save us. They say that he is trying to show people that, not only are they not righteous, but that they cannot be.  But what if that isn’t true?  The authors of Scripture tell us again and again that we should be righteous. Jesus said that unless we are more righteous than the Pharisees, we won’t enter the kingdom (Mt 5:20).  He said we must be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48).  So could it be true that we could look at the commands like this one to not be angry as some part of the good news?  Can you imagine not becoming angry?  Does anger ever feel good?  

To be clear, Jesus, who was perfect, did sometimes get indignant. It is true that he got fired up when the money changers were misusing his father’s house and exploiting guilt of the people who came to the temple to worship.  He got indignant when the disciples wouldn’t allow people to bring to him their children for blessing.  I don’t think that is what Jesus is talking about here.  He’s talking about taking things personally and getting angry because of it.  How in the world does one manage to avoid taking things personally?  It’s about the worldview, which comes with a right view of yourself.  

Picture this.  There is a guy at work who is mean. He is rude to everyone and one day, he turns his rudeness toward you, in front of everyone.  He makes some comment that is meant to be a put down about some project that you worked hard on and did your best.  You get angry about it. What does it mean that he said that?  Does it meant that you did a poor job?  Consider that.  Maybe you did. Did you do your best?  Yes.  Was it good enough?  Maybe not in this case.  Why? Maybe you need more training.  Are you willing to correct it?  Yes.  In this case then, he may have been right in his criticism, but he was a jerk about how he said it.  Furthermore, he said it in front of the rest of the team, which made it much, much worse.  This is understandable, but it is important to figure out why that made it worse.  

First of all, he disrespected you.  So what?  That is his problem. You may need to call him on it, you may need to ignore it, but you absolutely must understand it.  Why does someone act that way?  It is because of his own feelings of insecurity that someone would look for someone else to put down, especially in front of others.  So what do we know?  You could have done a better job, but you still did your best.  You’ll need to address that.  But we also know that this man is insecure and he covers it up by talking down to coworkers.  If he can get an audience, even better, because other people are his means of self-evaluation and self-esteem.  Here is the secret: that’s got nothing to do with you. 

Yeah, but how on earth will you manage to control anger in the situation? But I didn’t say “control anger” and neither does Jesus. I’m talking about freedom.

As a follower of Christ, you and I can learn to see the world as Christ sees it, for what it is.  Reality.  Your feelings don’t tell you what reality is. They only tell you what you think deep down that reality is.  If you understand that, your feelings will become useful.  As soon as you fish out some lie you’ve believed by following a sinful feeling back to its source, you can develop a concept of the world that is true, and begin to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Ro 12:2).  This takes work. It takes time with God in the Word, and a courage to face reality about the way things truly are, and the way you still misunderstand that.  

In this situation you got angry. But you know from the Bible that this is a problem with the other guy and his own insecurities.  But because of your insecurities, the disrespect has got you ready to blow.  Maybe you also have a worldview of nonconfrontation and you aren’t going to blow up on him. Rather, you are going to go home and call your mom, or complain to your wife (just as bad), perhaps to all the coworkers when he’s not around, and maybe up the chain.  

You are going to do this because you think it will take away the hatred you have for yourself.  But it won’t. It’ll actually make it worse because you know this is a cowardly way of dealing with things.  

Step back and ask, “Why am I getting angry?”  You’ll find that this guy is pushing some very specific buttons.  He is reinforcing a false belief in you that you are no good.  Why do you think that?  Is it because you didn’t do as well on this project as you wanted?  Not fundamentally.  Fundamentally, you think, “Of course I didn’t do well. I’m no good.”  I don’t know why you think you’re no good, but I’d bet serious money that you learned that from a caretaker, and it really doesn’t matter who it was.  

When Jesus says, “Don’t be angry at your brother, because that’s how people get murdered,” he isn’t trying to give you another rule you can’t follow in order to confirm your suspicion that you’re no good. He’s trying to set you free. 

Anyone can go through life and manage to avoid murdering someone. Most people don’t want to go to jail.  But imagine that you did this hard work of following feelings back to the source, the lie.  When you see that you have a fundamental belief that you are no good, and you see that you got that belief from a specific source, deal with it. Spend as long as it takes, and do whatever it takes, but deal with it.  Start out by forgiving the caretaker. In fact, I’d recommend confronting them.  Say something like: “I know you were only doing what you thought was best when you loved me less than you should have because you were trying to control my behavior, but I have resented you for a long time, and I have suffered self-doubt and self-hatred because of it. It was wrong of you. But I forgive you.”  This is the most powerful thing you can do.  Jesus actually commands that we forgive others and says that we won’t be forgiven by God if we don’t (Mt 6:15). This is because if we are unwilling to forgive others, we have yet to believe God as needed to forgive us and has indeed forgiven us.  

Next, learn to abide in the presence of God by prayer, time in Scripture, mindfulness on God, and mindfulness on his ways and worldview.  Train your mind. 

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8).

Counter lies with the truth.  When the coworker is rude, and a voice in your head says, “You’re a loser.” Ask yourself, “Is that rational? Is it biblical? Is it true?”  No? Then don’t believe it. One day it will happen. Something that usually would make you angry has zero effect on you.  

Besides rooting out your beliefs by following your feelings to their source, and besides forgiving the one who originally caused the source lie to root in, you also must learn to respond appropriately. Jesus’s command in the sermon on the mount mostly relates to how we view other people. God calls us to love others; our brothers, our neighbors, and our enemies.

How would you love this guy? Well, now you dont take things like this personally, so you can evaluate his words. Are they true? Yes? Listen then, and adjust for next time. Thank him for his feedback. Also, without anger, in love, speak the truth to him about how you’d like him to address you in the future. To be an image-bearer of God, you must be just. He should not necessarily be allowed to get away with this behavior, not because you are angry, but because it is wrong. It may be even better to do it when you witness him doing it to someone else. In that case, it won’t be tempting to take it personally. You are only righting a wrong.

Jesus said if your brother sins against you, tell him (Mt 18:15).  He also said to go to him alone first.  This means you don’t need to talk to the whole office, or the whole family about it first.  That is a cheap way to draw strength from others. But it’s a lie. You don’t gain strength of character by doing that. You avoid gaining strength of character.  You will grow exponentially when you begin to deal with your problems in a direct manner.  Getting into these habits will change you at the core. You are dying to yourself so that you can find your Self (Lk 9:24-25). You are losing your life to save your Life, that is your “abundant life” (Jn 10:10). You are becoming what you are in Christ, walking in the “newness of life” (Ro 6:4).  

If you will follow Jesus in this, then one day, you will find yourself unflappable. You will be able to become indignant at certain things, but they won’t undo you the way they used to. You won’t be angry in the sense that Jesus is talking about when he says it is the same as murder. Your view of God will be set in. Your view of the world will be set in, and your view of yourself will be proper. Tomorrow, we’ll look at Jesus’ teaching on lust

How Jesus Restores Mankind

A virgin teenage girl, named Mary, was visited in her room by an angel, Gabriel. He told her that the Messiah, the savior, that the Jewish people had been awaiting for centuries was finally coming, and she would be his mother.  This was startling and more than a little puzzling, because, as she said, “I am a virgin”. The messenger explained that God, the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Trinity, would overshadow her and she would be impregnated with the Son of God. In this way her son would be fully God and fully man.  Whether or not Mary realized it at the time, this fact was crucial to the whole rescue plan that God had had since the beginning.  

Jesus would come to save the lost, and that means a whole host of things beyond that we will go to heaven for believing — no small thing.  But it also means that we can be restored to the image of God according to his original intention, and that we can be a part of restoring the world in the same way, both here in this age in some limited capacity, and certainly in the next when Jesus returns.  Let’s look at four main aspects of Jesus’ ministry to see what he has done, and how we can apply it to our lives in order to begin living the life that God has called us to.  These are the atonement, the teaching of Jesus, particularly in the sermon on the mount, the understanding of losing our life to find our Life, and coming of the Holy Spirit for empowerment and abiding in Christ. 

The Atonement

The first and most important aspect of Jesus’s life is that he was born to die. In my very first blog post I said that God is the great I AM. This means that he not only exists, he is the source of all life, goodness, and laws about the way things are, from physics, chemistry, and math, to philosophy. In the beginning was the Word, the Logos, The Greeks may have thought of this as simply reason, but it is much more than that. John 1:14 says this Logos, the “Word, became flesh and dwelt among us.” All that God is, and all that is true is embodied in this. Truth flows from God. That two plus two equals four flows from God. Love in all its forms flows from God. Justice flows from God. Value flows from God. Life flows from God. Light flows from God. Glory flows from God, who is the standard of all glory.

God is the source of all truth and justice. As such he can only be perfect.  He is perfect in every way, but particularly in the realm of justice.  He does all things in a way that is right, or righteous.  It is very hard for humans, who are not perfect, to grasp this fact and why there needed to be a substitutionary sacrifice for the evil that is in the world, the imperfection which is an affront to the Creator.  The Father, like the father of the prodigal son, waits and longs for our return to him and to his way of existing, which is not only perfect, good, and righteous, but designed for human flourishing to the glory of God. 

There must be a just way to restore creation without himself acting unjustly. This is why Jesus had to be fully man — so that as a man he could restore men — and fully God — so that he could actually accomplish a sinless life, making himself the only proper sacrificial lamb for all time. The Bible says the law could not accomplish it because men could not keep the law. But the righteousness of God was manifested “apart from the law” in Jesus Christ (Ro 3:21) so he could be the just and the justifier (Ro 3:26), meaning God could be the one who demands justice, but also, lovingly, provides justice. Jesus lived a life of perfection, though he was tempted like us. He never once sinned. Satan tempted him and he never once gave in to temptation.

Then, he allowed sinful men to arrest him. He watched his friends abandon him like cowards. He stood silently as his enemies mocked him, beat him, and gave him a farce of a trial, a formality, and then they killed him by crucifixion, hanging him by nails in his hands and feet up on a Roman cross. The Lord of Glory was killed for our transgressions, uttering with his last breaths, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they are doing.”

And so his followers could later go back to Jesus’s words to Niccodemus in John 3:

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

Whoever believes in him, meaning, whoever believes that they are a sinner and in need of a savior, and puts their faith in Jesus, will have everlasting life. They will go to heaven forever when they die, or Jesus returns. Whoever does not believe, will remain condemned. As John the Baptist would say in the same chapter,

“36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (Jn 3:36).

So we are saved for eternity from the justice of God to come, but too often this is thought of as, eternal life will start when I am dead. But this is not the case. Eternal life begins at regeneration. This is the nature of this eternal life. The first and most important step is to trust Jesus for salvation and new life. The Bible says that when we are saved we are made into a new creation, to walk in the newness of life.

Later we’ll start a multi-part series of articles that get into the Sermon on the Mount in order to think through some of the key teaching points in Jesus’ ministry. These have great significance for how we deal with the problem of being fallen and broken in the image of God

Why is it Not OK to Love the World?

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life (or pride in possessions) — is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. — 1 John 2:15

At first this sure sounds ominous. If we read it a certain way, we must take some drastic action.

  1. Don’t allow yourself to love anything in the world. No certain food, no pleasure, no sex, no entertainment, no work, no sport, no relationships, friendships, nothing can be desired. 
  2. All of the above is evil and proves that you don’t love God.
  3. Pride of life? Think of yourself as lowly, a worm. 
  4. Look at the world and hate all of it.  

Along with this, give away everything you have that you like, or just give away everything. Don’t take care of yourself. But do take care of others. Don’t eat. But do feed others. Work, but don’t pay your mortgage. But pay your neighbors’ mortgages until you have no more money, and then you can rest easy, unless you realized that you could work a few more hours a day to pay your other neighbor’s mortgage.  

Did you find yourself enjoying something or someone in the world? Shame on you. Get rid of it. 

Some Biblical and Logical Problems with This Interpretation

It cannot be that this is what John and the Holy Spirit meant.  The Bible (and logic) refutes this interpretation.  

[btw – this is what critics of faith have against us. They say, “look, you don’t do what the Bible teaches, you must be hypocrites.]

The Logical Problem

The logical problem first: I could not live if every time I am thirsty I give water to someone else (my neighbor). If you agree that that is true, then you will open the door to a logical premise. The individual must first care for himself before he can care for others.

“If a man will not work, he will not eat” (2 Thes 3:10).  Paul says this because he knows that proper stewardship begins with a stewardship of self.  As humans we are to take care of whatever God has given us to take care of.  It would be morally wrong, sinful, disobedient to God to fail to do this.  

I must drink when I am thirsty. Jesus did. I must eat when I am hungry. Jesus did. 

But I must not love food and drink more than God.  

But No Helping that Hurts

I must work to pay for my food and shelter, my family’s food and shelter, and then I can think about helping others with theirs.

But I cannot give to others in a way that robs them of the privilege of being human and becoming self-reliant, which is a high trait of godliness. When I give, I must give properly.

And I cannot coerce anyone else to give. It may be efficient (doubtful), but it is immoral.  

To love the Father and not love the thing he has created, seems to be antithetical to loving him.  I must assume that John’s meaning is that the love of things and the love of God need to be in their proper place.  Do I love something more than God—meaning, could I not live without it?  Then I have broken the commandment and proved myself to not have the love of the Father in me.  

But if in fact I know that I love God more than his good creation, and can live without any of it, then I am probably on righteous grounds.  

Am I to hate anything that God has created?  No, unless by hate the world (the way Jesus says it) you mean compared to God. 

Am I to consider myself a worm?  Only in comparison with God. Am I tempted to think of myself higher than God, or higher than someone who has excelled beyond me?  Then I should happily consider myself a worm.  

But if I see that God is high above me as my creator and the source of all good, then I should see myself properly as the crown jewel of his creation. I should joyfully strive to be the greatest version of that that I am capable of becoming, always content with who I am intrinsically as an image-bearer and adopted son of God in Christ, but lovingly and joyfully reach upward to be better, learn more, fly higher for love of God, for the glory of God, for the joy of being a man.  

I will love mankind more this way.  I will worship God more when I see man in his glory.  I will acknowledge greatness with humble joy, and seek to emulate it. 

Jesus said to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you (Mt 6:33).

The Biblical Problem

These things were clothing, food, and drink. Jesus was saying not to worry, YOU were going to get clothing, food, and drink. 

He doesn’t say to hate clothing, food, and drink.

Paul says to Timothy:

6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1 Tim 6:6-10).

And then:

17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

20 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you.

Always be prepared to be stripped naked.  You may die naked.  

Don’t let that change one thing about you fundamentally.  

He even admits that food and clothing are good to have. Loving money in this sense is the evil of seeking money for money’s sake.  But it would be nonsense to tell someone to be indifferent about the fact that we need money if we are to have food and clothing.  Again, you may lose it all. If losing your money would diminish your personhood, then you have built yourself wrongly on possessions. 

Then rich Christians are acknowledged (17). Their temptation would be haughtiness because of their wealth. Again, since wealth is uncertain, they are in danger.  They could not be “stripped” of their wealth and remain confident, free, joyful. 

They are in a good position to do good works, seeing their money as a trust from God to do good. 

And then Timothy is charge to guard the “deposit entrusted” to him.  This is money language. But it is more likely that money itself, currency, is from the language of God. Meaning, Paul isn’t borrowing from accounting to tell Timothy to guard his “wealth” (his calling, his knowledge, his faith, his opportunities), But accounting borrows from the language of stewardship.  Money falls into that as a neutral representation of wealth and the power to gain what is needed either for one’s own needs, or to help others. 

Helping others can come in the form of charity, but it can also come in the form of business and production.  

One More Fact of Logic

Giving is only meaningful if the gift truly belongs to the giver.  This alone is proof that God allows us to bring our possessions under our identity (in a certain sense).  The great sin of most people is that they bring their identity under their possessions. And what makes it an even greater sin is the “pride” that has them do that for the sake of comparing themselves to others in order to develop self-esteem from comparison. This is a great evil, and it always ends in pain.

The “world” then is the kingdom of darkness that runs on envy and the bad kind of pride that relies on recognition and validation from others. In the world is domination, and coercion, and bondage, and manipulation, and lying in all its forms. 

“Do not love the world or the things of the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life (possessions).”

The desires of the flesh are extras that are needed to fulfill cravings. The pride of life is the life of comparisons.

Manifestations of a Broken Image Pt 3

In the first two posts we talked about some common ways that our brokenness negatively affects our ability to bear the image of God in the way that he originally intended when he dreamed up and created mankind to reflect him and represent him on the earth. Because of sin we have never been able to pull it off, but because of Christ we can begin to learn what God intended for us, and we have the tools: truth, redemption, the Holy Spirit, and the example of Jesus to make it possible.

But today I want to explore some of the more insidious ways that our broken image can manifest so that we can not only watch for signs of these in our own hearts, but also know them when we see it in others around us. 

Crooks

A crook is a person who does not understand that according to the true knowledge of good and evil handed down by God, it is an abomination to steal from others.  As we said in an earlier post, God institutes the sacredness of property rights in the Ten Commandments.  In order to elevate one’s status, some will become thieves of one kind or another, whether by breaking in and stealing physical property, online theft, identity theft, scam business practices, false advertising, cheating, or other such activities.  This violates the very principles we’ve been discussing about the sacredness and dignity of human beings.  God says our stuff is our stuff to dispose of any way we see fit, hoping we will look to him for direction.  Crooks deny his existence by denying the necessity to follow his ways and by trampling his image in their victims. 

Liars

A glance at Scripture may make it seem like it is a sin to be rich. But a careful and balanced study of the Bible will show that the issue is not how much money one has, in itself a neutral thing, but how one acquires it, and what one does with it.  Many of the passages that seem to condemn wealth assume that those with wealth will have gotten it by means of oppression (Ja 5:4).  Indeed, to acquire wealth by oppression violates the principles we’ve been discussing. It fails to see the inherent dignity of the oppressed and is wicked. 

Closely related to crooks are liars. Remember we are discussing the manifestations of the shame that began in the garden (Gen 3:10). Why do people lie? They lie in order to project a false image, or to gain something. If when we were kids, we were expected to be perfect, at least outwardly, we may have discovered that lying was easier than being good. In a sense, this whole blog is about being good, but not like you think. Not looking good. Not pleasing anyone. Not gathering other people’s opinions that you are good, but actually being good, which is a major key to the abundant life of being a glorious image-bearer. Since no one teaches us that as kids, we find out that the rewards are for looking good, and getting other people to recognize that. Well that is difficult, but we can short-cut the process by lying when we fall short. This can go with any of the other categories of the manifestations of shame.

Recluses

Any of the above characters could choose to escape all that shame and interpersonal complexity by becoming a recluse. There was an article in GQ called “The Strange and Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit” (Aug 5, 2014; Finkel). Christopher Thomas Knight lived in the woods of central Maine for twenty-seven years.  He was affectionately known to the locals as the North Pond Hermit, and when he was finally caught stealing by the police, he admitted to around forty robberies over the years.  He’d go into the town when he needed food, or batteries, or clothing, fattening up on Smarties and Oatmeal pies in the fall against the harsh Maine winters (never lighting fires to avoid being seen).  

When they finally caught him it eventually came out that, while he felt a fair amount of shame for being a thief, it was ultimately worth it to him because it meant that he could avoid interacting with people.  When he was twenty years old, he had just had enough. Not that he’d had a bad life, but interpersonal relationships made him anxious and uncomfortable, so he ran, and though it was really tough to survive out there in the woods all those years, he said the anxiety and stress just stopped the day he left, and started up again the day he returned, twenty-seven years later.  But God made us to be in relationships. It is healthy and good to become a self-reliant person who is emotionally resilient enough to spend lots of time alone, but not forever.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his book, Life Together, “Let him who is not in community beware of being alone” (pg 77).  

The recluse can manifest on a spectrum, like any of these.  Some just have a tendency to stay home and avoid people most of the time.  Some go into the woods for twenty-seven years.  But either way, it is still a function of our brokenness when we are unable to deal with being around other people. 

Tyrants

Tyrants come in all shapes and sizes, but what they have in common is that their favorite mode of coping with people is to dominate them. Jesus was clear that God created us for what psychologist Alfred Adler called, horizontal relationships.  No one is meant to be above us, and no one is meant to be below us.  This does not mean we cannot have or be a boss, a teacher, a police officer, or some other such authority. Christians are called to submit to authority (Ro 13:1). But none of that is ever meant to be personal authority. If we have authority over another person, there is some higher entity that they are actually submitting to: the state, who has the power to protect rights; the company, who has the power to fire, or promote; or even the parents, who are invested by God.  

But no person is supposed to dominate another person because it violates that person’s selfhood. It does violence to the image of God in them.  A Tyrant, because of his shame, will seek personal power over people, rather than trade value for value as a servant leader.  A boss, a parent, a friend, or the worst, a pastor, may use you to soothe their insecurity and the anxiety of their self-doubt by seeking dominance over you.  

But this is the broken image of leadership as God intended it and as Jesus described it to his own status-hungry disciples (Mk 10:42-44).  All relationships should start with the acknowledgement that here before you is an image-bearer of the Almighty.  To seek dominance is to destroy that image.  The techniques vary from obvious and physically violent, to subtle and highly manipulative. Either way, as Jesus said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you.” (Mk 10:42-43 emphasis mine).  

Followers

On the opposite end, are the extreme followers.  There could be no tyrants if there were not those who were prone to give over the keys to their identity and their responsibility for thinking to these tyrants.  People long for heroes and infallible leaders, because they long for God.  Many people did not quite get what they needed or wanted from an earthly Father, and so they are susceptible to any fatherly type of tyrant.  Others just like having someone to trust in, who will take care of them, of everything, and sometimes, who they can blame when things go wrong.  

You don’t have to look all the way to the cults like Jonestown and Waco. There is some level of a sinful willingness to follow in every sphere of human life, and at most otherwise good churches.  Consider the teenager who lets the cool kids get him into trouble. Why is he doing what he knows to be wrong? Because of the powerful desire to follow the one who will give him status by association.  Isn’t this what happens in spiritually abusive churches?  Men and women seek status, so they seek to hitch themselves to the highest status leaders in the church. These followers will eventually become tyrants if they can, and for the same reason.  

Gangs, online communities, clubs, secret societies, and pretty much any grouping of people has great potential for this sort of thing, but none is more destructive than when it happens in a government. The extreme version of this might be seen in fascist (Hitler) or communist (Mao) countries, but even democratic political systems will bring out the sinful tendency to want to give over thinking responsibility to an all powerful leader who has tapped into a need in the masses and become a cult of personality.

So What Do We Do?

These are just some of the ways that our sin manifests to break down the image of God inside us and derail us from living the life we were made for and to live for God, ourselves, and others. Sometimes, to look around, or to even look at yourself can feel hopeless. Does anyone come to earth and live like an image-bearer, fulfilling the purpose God had for humanity when he lovingly created us? There was one. And his work on earth has made possible the restoration of us all, if only we will have eyes to see what he has done, and ears to hear what he has said. His name is Jesus. He knows you and loves you, and he was everything he is calling us to be.

Manifestations of a Broken Image Pt. 2

In part 1 we discussed how we were made in the image of God to work.  Work was meant by God to be a rewarding experience for us.  God worked in the creation of the world and he is still working (Jn 5:17).  Because of the fall, work became difficult, but because of Christ, work can be restored to its proper place of glorifying God and being an aspect of the meaningfulness of our lives.  This meaning in the pursuit of life for our own sake, for his sake is what will drive us when we become mature.  It is something we will do perfectly in eternity.  

Today and tomorrow I’ll consider some of the things that can drive us instead of the pursuit of righteousness and abundant life. Because the world is in sin, working in the way we are discussing, in a redeemed way, is rare. We have already discussed in part 1 the cycle of working hard to seek comfort and pleasure. Consider now the following drivers of the people of the world.

Status Chasing Treadmill

If you have managed to outgrow pleasure seeking and comfort chasing, then there is a good chance you are driven by status seeking. Remember what happened in the garden (Gen 3:11)?  Shame.  Fear of our own nakedness means that we don’t like who and what we truly are.  

Sadly, the way most sinful humans deal with this is to compare themselves with others, hoping to find some reason to believe that they are higher somewhere on the ladder of status than those with whom they are comparing.

The worst part about this is that the way the vast majority of us choose to do this is to mine the world for the opinions of others. Everything we do asks the question: “What do you think of me in comparison with them?”  You can live your whole life this way and never quite realize it, or know how to stop.  Why? Because only one person at a time can achieve the highest place.  There can only be one best person. And the secret is that even that person won’t know they are the best.  

Consider how this happened: You are a bright kid with lots of potential.  Your parents are proud of you, a little too proud.  Every time they hear about the achievement of someone else’s kids, they feel anxious and begin to push you a little harder than before to succeed at everything that you do. When you win, or succeed, they seem to really love it, and love you. When you don’t, they say something about how it’s OK, and they love you no matter what, but somehow it doesn’t feel the same.  They get so very elated when you succeed, and you can hear the joy oozing from their voices as they brag to their parents and friends about how great of a kid you are.  

You pick up on this and learn that the most important thing you can do is impress them.  You also learn that impressing others impresses them the most.  You are good at piano. They like to hear you play, but they love to hear you play for their friends.   If you’re young enough, your parents were on Facebook and projected this unhealthy pattern to hundreds, if not thousands.  And you? Somehow you have become the same way. You can’t wait to tell them about the A that your kid, the grandchild of their loins, got on his math test.  You may have mild discomfort about all of it, but you ignore it, because everybody is like this. Not everybody, but the vast majority.  

Where did this start? The garden.  I was ashamed because I was naked, so I hid myself. The image of the little creators was broken and hopelessly screwed up.  The history of humanity has shown the sad results, starting with the murder of a brother because he was envious of him and not able to master the sin that was crouching at his door (Gen 4:7), and right on until today.   Here are some ways we can turn out as a result.

Second Handers

Some philosophers have called them second handers, others call them agreeable, and most call them people pleasers. These people have no idea who they actually are. They’ve learned from an early age to become experts at reading others to find out what they should value. These are non thinkers who often get possessed by ideological positions, either on the left OR the right, probably depending on who they most interact with.  They make up herds, crowds all driven by the same idea.  How great that I don’t have to think in a herd!  A thousand people can’t be wrong!  They make up mobs, crowds all driven by the same emotion. Again, I don’t have to think, feelings make me feel alive! And they make up gangs, all driven by the same idea and emotion.  These are all ways of experiencing groupthink, and they can be virtual online crowds, or actual physical crowds.  

One sad example of a second-hander is the overwhelming number of young people today that aspire to become celebrities.  In surveys of young people, the number one aspiration tends to be fame of some kind.  Famous for what?  For being famous! If all the people that want to become famous, become famous, then none of them will become famous. Fame truly is a zero-sum game. 

Emotional Dependents

These people don’t bother thinking very much.  They chase the feelings, or at least they run from the bad feelings.  Consider the idolization of romance.  God made us male and female and created sex and romantic love for the purpose of godly families and joy in marriage. Those who are addicted to romantic relationships, making it their highest purpose, tend to go from relationship to relationship searching for a feeling.  If they do stay with one person, the codependency will be certain to cause distress for both parties. 

Emotional dependents may find one person to depend on emotionally, or they will depend on everyone to varying degrees.  Consider the overbearing mothers who felt distant from their father, so they married a man just like him who they also feel distant toward, and then she has a son.  This baby boy will fulfill all her dreams of connection and closeness, and will grow up to have a codependent relationship with her, ruining his future marriage, as he looks for another mom in his choice of spouse. This person has been taught that he is a bad boy if his mother is not happy with him.  This translates to everyone must be happy with him and all the time.  He will never have an enemy, because he will look to win everyone he ever meets.  Someone upset with him will consume until he can win their approval, or find a reason to write them off and try to forget they ever existed.  

This doesn’t just happen to boys.  In fact, women struggle with this more than men. Remember the overbearing mother.  There are books and books written about how we got this way, but for now, remember that the main source is the knowledge of good and evil that came, not from God, but from man’s disobedience to God, which led to shame.  Shame drives the behaviors and emotionalism that keep us from being who we actually are as image-bearers of the great I AM who made us to be creators.  Emotional dependents create nothing except validation pipelines from themselves to everyone.  

Performers

Once in a great while a musician, or an actor, or some other kind of entertainer will come around who truly seems to be doing what they do for the art itself.  These people, in my experience, are one in a million.  Most of them, like 98%, were driven to perform because of shame. Actors probably are especially prone to this because of the allure of becoming someone else in a performance.  But more than that, spend time with them (I am speaking from experience as a former singer-actor), and you will see that they are always on. Do they know they are always on?  Not usually.  Sometimes those who have been driven by the most pain will eventually come to terms with this.  Those who find God will begin to see the idol of the opinions of others as what drives them.  Cultivating a relationship with God can help someone to stop getting the reward from performing that they were getting, as they learn to worship God alone, but this will likely be a lifetime struggle.  

But one doesn’t have to become a professional entertainer to live their life as a performer.

Consider the rise of social media and the tendency to curate an image.  People can carefully consider everything they post, designing their online personality to be exactly what they want it to be.  Or consider those people who do that in person.  They are salesee. They always have some agenda. You never quite know what is behind their words.  You get the sense that you don’t really know anything about them, even if you have “known” them for years.  

Have you ever seen someone who smiles all the time, but you sense they are wound up so tight that they could explode at any minute?  Have you ever caught someone like that when they don’t know anyone is watching, and their face returns to the look of desperation that was hiding behind the huge smile all along? Then when they see you looking, BAM, smile is back.  This is a performer.  They don’t even know themselves, and they probably think they don’t want to know. Sadly, I think a lot of clergy fall into this category, forgetting we are called to be truth-bearers, not salesmen, and that people are God’s children and sheep of his pasture, not potential customers and clients. 

Hope

It doesn’t have to be this way. Jesus did not die just so that we could go to heaven some day. He died to heal us, to restore our broken image back to the glory under God that we were meant to have as we reflect our creator. I’ll come back tomorrow to talk in part 3 about a few other more dangerous ways that our broken image can manifest.

Manifestations of a Broken Image Pt. 1

How do most people think of work?  Most people think of work as something that you have to do, so that you can afford the things that you want to do.  They work for the weekend.  But the weekend is often just as hard, if not harder, at least for those with families.  There are kids to raise, notoriously difficult and labor intensive.  If it isn’t labor intensive then you are doing it wrong!  There is a house and lawn to keep up. Don’t forget about the fact that all week, spouses have been able to avoid one another while one or both of them were working outside the home.  Remember what God said about the curse on marriage?  Will it be fun for the wife to have a “desire [that] shall be contrary to [her] husband?”  It is potentially no fun for either one of them.    

And so much of the work is in the hopes of gaining enough to spend on pleasures. But those pleasures always fall short of being worth the effort.  When one lives for comfort and pleasure, the best part is the anticipation and the work to achieve them.  Getting the comfort and pleasure is never as great as we anticipate that it will be. Why? 

Because pleasure seeking is not actually what we’re made for. 

Think about something pleasurable, like eating cake. Anticipating it is great. Smelling it is great. The first two or three bites are great. But the third through the seventy-fifth bites become increasingly not great. In fact, they start to impact our emotions negatively as we begin thinking about the pain that is coming, the weight that will be gained, the early death that we can expect if we keep doing this, how disgusted with ourselves we are for not stopping. If cake is not your thing, insert sex, drugs, alcohol, shopping, and you’ll see that emptiness and depression are the result of all of it. Right now in history is the worst time to be dealing with this, because we are so prosperous. If you didn’t have time for any of these things, because you spent all your time on toil in order to survive, you’d have other problems, but you wouldn’t have this one. The current age is the most dangerous in history in terms of having the time and resources to seek pleasure and comfort to our hearts content, which is actually impossible, though we are killing ourselves to learn that.

Principles vs. Vision

What is your vision?  

What is your five year plan?

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

What are your goals and how do you plan to reach them?

These are the questions that make the world go round. Everybody who is anybody knows that you have to have a vision. Nothing has ever been accomplished that wasn’t first a goal.  Don’t you have to see what is wrong and lacking in your life so you can develop an idea of how to change it?  Then you can set some big, hairy, audacious goals to go out and achieve for the glory of God! 

I would respectfully like to challenge that notion and say that I believe that is not God’s way, but it might be satan’s. That is not how the Kingdom of Heaven operates, but it is how the dominion of darkness runs. How can you possibly know what you are to be in five years? “God told me.” No (respectfully) He didn’t. James 4:13-17 says,

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (ESV).

Unless, of course, God did tell you. But how would you know? There are several ways that a prophetic word of God could come, but none of them are “a sentence popped in my head while I was feeling: anxious, empty, insecure, fearful… just plain bad about myself and where I am right now.” 

An angel could show up (although you’d need to screen him based on Gal.1:8). There could be an audible voice, a burning bush, or an enormous hand writing on a wall.  There could be a dream, which would also need to be screened in some way. 

But for 99.99999999% of the time, God will not tell us the future. He will guide us and let us create it as we go. How will He guide us?  By His ways, His principles. His wisdom.

Biblical Principles

God’s ways are clearly communicated in Scripture by His commandments and the example set by His Son, Jesus. God tells us in the Bible how we are to live.  Jesus spent His entire ministry showing and telling about the Kingdom of God and how to live in it.

In addition, He fills us with His Holy Spirit when we are born again so that we can be guided by Him.  Every Christian has access to these two things: His Word, and His Spirit. So why do so many Christians have such a hard time getting by in life, and why do so many get obsessed with hearing God’s voice for their life? 

I think it is because following God, rather than satan is harder in many ways. Everything in our bodies and brain chemistry makes the way of the world more natural for us.  But the way of the Kingdom takes an ability to constantly push against that and trust God. 

Just like God, who identified Himself to Moses as I Am, we mostly are to exist in the present. James has it right. 

  • All such boasting about the future is evil.
  • The point is to know the right thing and do it. 

How then should we live?

God is I Am, not I hope to be.

Wake up in the morning, get into the presence of God and His Word, and then go throughout your day doing what’s right in your context as you continually practice His presence. He will present opportunities. He will provide. You cannot even imagine what He has in store for you, so you couldn’t possibly make it a goal to achieve. Just be and do, for the glory of God, by the power of God, thanking Him and trusting Him. 

Here are a few Biblical and practical principles that I follow. Feel free to add some of yours in the comments.  Also, I welcome conversation about my thoughts on vision vs. principles.  

My Principles:

  • Truth – The outcome of (telling, believing, accepting, insisting on) the truth is the right outcome.
  • Relationships – All relationships are to be horizontal, not vertical except the relationship with God. God is higher, everyone else is an intrinsic equal. It is never right to manipulate or coerce any fellow image-bearers, even your own children.
  • Recognition – Seeking recognition is always bad, always comes from insecurity and feelings of inferiority, and it will never deliver.
  • Stewardship – It is not about what we have, but how we use it. God will add to he or she who proves faithful.
  • Love – The absence of love is only hate (1 Jn 3:11-12). Love brother, neighbor, enemy, everyone.
  • Leadership – You can lead a horse (or people) to water but it is a sin to make them drink. Jesus said the gentiles lord it over and exercise authority over those they lead but it shall not be so with you. (Mk 10:42) Leadership is by example and reason.
  • Abide – The most important thing at any given time in any place is to abide in Christ (Jn 15).
  • Justice – God is totally just and to be like Him, so should we be just. This means trading value for value in the marketplace, the church, and the home. This is why Jesus had to die for us, to satisfy God’s justice because, being God it is not mathematically possible for Him to forgive sins without the cross.
  • I Am – God is a being that exists primarily in the present and so am I. In His image I am a little “i am,” meant to act like Him, and create, produce, bring order for my sake, for His sake.
  • Mercy – I am free in Christ to be merciful, as God is merciful.
  • Thankful – Thankfulness is part of stewardship. It is misery to sit around wishing we had something else, or some different situation. Instead, thank God for any little sign of God’s grace in your life, and you will experience more of it.

Pride: Two Kinds

There are two kinds of pride. A good kind and a bad kind.  

What is the difference?  Indeed, what is the difference?  

The Good Kind

God created man in his image.  He delegated him to rule the earth in his name, to subdue it. To make things of it. To steward it.  He gives him gifts and talents to steward for his glory. Man should delight to function in these, to push himself to the limits of these for their own sake, for the Lord’s sake, because of the joy it brings.  

Isn’t that the way we were made to function? Would there be an exaltation in being man that would not rob glory from the Creator?  Could we not exult and still honor the one who is greater still than we could ever be?  

Could we not glory in Being itself?  Could we not take great joy in breaking out, and out, and out still further?  Could we not glory in doing a job well done, in bringing order to chaos, or chaos to totalitarianism?  

Could we view other men as intrinsic equals who are free to pursue the end of their own merits and potential?  Could we judge them, but not impartially, and not from a desire to defeat them, or to dominate them, or to take pride over them?  Could we love them and love their achievements as much as our own? Could we not give glory to God who made them as well as us?  Could we not join together in a “wise crowd,” and pool our talents, and energy?  Could we not glorify God in this pursuit?  

Could we not speak the truth to one another unashamedly?  Fearlessly? Lovingly, without fear of rejection? Rejection is a sign that someone is unworthy of us because they are not bearing God’s image properly. We can love them and move on. 

The good kind of pride loves life, affirms it.  The good kind of pride loves the Great God who made us, and Jesus Christ, the best of us. The good kind of pride loves its fellow man and expects the best of them, won’t settle for less. Won’t settle for less than total truth, total effort, total godliness, total righteousness. 

The Bad Kind

The bad kind of pride is envious of others.  The bad kind of pride seeks the recognition of men and puffs up when it gets it. The bad kind of pride gets mad at God for not making me better that I am, which means better than the men around me.  The bad kind of pride seeks the worship of others. The bad kind of pride hates. Hating one is hating all. Hating anyone is hating myself. Hating myself is hating God. 

The bad pride is suspicious of everyone and keeps score of status.  The bad kind of pride revels in dominating others because of our deep fear that we are nothing.  There is no joy in the bad pride.  There’s only suffering, arrogance, depression, anger, and fear.  The bad pride is hell. 

Cultivating the Good Pride

  1. Know God.
  2. Abide in God.
  3. Do right.
  4. Abide in God.
  5. When you have a chance to be courageous or cowardly, be courageous.
  6. Abide in God.
  7. When you have the chance to lie or tell the truth, tell the truth.
  8. Abide in God.
  9. When you have the chance to be responsible, or irresponsible with what God has assigned you (brushing your teeth, starting a company, raising a child), be responsible.
  10. Abide in God.
  11. When you see that you are holding a contradiction that to let go of will cause pain, choose to let go and go through pain. Wholeness and integrity is worth it. 
  12. Abide in God.

The good pride comes from knowing who God is, who you are in light of that, and walking according to what that means. It feels like being solid, settled in soul, happy, strong in spirit, and loving towards all. It feels like perfect peace. Don’t settle for less, and don’t go for the satanic bad pride. It’s hell.

Dear friend who is falling apart while sheltering in,

I’ve been thinking about you since our conversation this morning.  Anything I could tell you you probably know already.   But this verse came to mind: 

Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). 

There are some habits in your life that are specifically designed by you for the purpose of avoiding the deepest realities.  You like to constantly be on the go because you have demons chasing you, and your hope is to outrun them.  If you aren’t physically going, then your mind is going as you plan the next two years worth of activities.  But the demons are always right there in the rear view, just waiting for you to stop.  

But what if along with those demons, Jesus is also there?  What if you stopped, turned around, and faced them.  They are chasing you because they have a right. Your fear, your insecurity, your unforgiveness for yourself and others is attracting them like raw meat to a wolf pack.  If you face them squarely, trusting Jesus to heal those things in you, they will go away, and you will be left in perfect peace.  Be still.  Feel whatever you have been trying not to feel.  Ask God to show you what is so terrifying in your thoughts that you don’t want him to bring up.  This is where you will grow.  This is truth, and the outcome belongs to God.  God wants you to be still and let him show you.  He has a really good idea what you need for wholeness and happiness, and can only show you if you will be still.  

There are things that need to be faced, confessed, spoken.  Among the 100 billion other things God is up to with COVID19, let this be one of them, and this will have been the most important few months of your whole life on earth.