Principles are Better than Laws Part 6

I’ve been discussing God’s laws as principles for how he would have us live on the earth.  I have posited that God designed us to have magnificent (abundant), eternal life that starts now, even here on earth.  I mean that even if we suffer, which we will, or even suffer a lot, we can still see it that way, because our experience of life in God is, in some ways, relative.  

By that I mean that you may be poor, or you may be rich. There are certain feelings associated with those two states, but joy is relative in that sometimes poor people have joy, and often, rich people are in misery. The same principle can be applied to sick versus healthy, romantically fulfilled versus being alone, autonomy at work versus micro managed. All of the standards people usually use to evaluate joy or suffering are less relevant to the follower of Jesus.

Even to the most committed Christian, I would assume that plenty is preferable to poverty, health is preferable to sickness, and loving relationships are preferable to loneliness. Still, the wonderful fact of the matter is, for eternal beings like us, circumstances and outcomes are only of secondary importance. If they become primary, you are in for some hurt. But if kept in their proper place as gifts from God, undeserved in an ultimate, cosmic way, but earned in a “God’s created laws of cause and effect” way, they are icing on the amazing cake of eternal, abundant life in Christ.

In this light, we are looking at the Ten Commandments and considering them as principles. I’ll say again that I don’t mean to reduce them from the important and serious laws of God that we should approach reverently and obediently. I only mean to point out that they also work well as principles for an incredible life, revealing the way God originally created his image bearers, you and me, to function in this world and the next.

All of this, of course, assumes that you have put your faith in Jesus’ death on the cross to forgive you for breaking these laws all along.

In part 5 we considered the first commandment, now let’s look at the second: Exodus 20:4-6 says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love and keep my commandments.”

This commandment is not prohibiting the creation of a carved image, but it prohibits creating a carved image in order to bow down to it as your god. It is very similar to the first commandment to have no other gods. The principle is pretty much the same. Idolatry is an offense to God, and he created us to worship him. That is enough to know. But if we want to go further and consider it as a principle, idolatry is a competing principle that doesn’t work. Worshiping an idol or anything else as a god is an evasion of reality. Evading reality will always end in a bad outcome.

Much has been written about idols of the heart; money, sex, power, comfort, the approval of man. These are the false gods of our culture that do not deliver what they promise, leaving us anxious, ashamed, fearful, envious, and unbalanced. To obey the second commandment (along with the first) would be to avoid all these traps. If money is not an idol, it is a neutral tool that represents your labor. If sex is not an idol, then it is an amazing gift of God to share with your wife or husband for fun and connection, and to create new people. If power is not an idol, then it is power over earth and elements, NEVER men. If comfort is not an idol it is a Sabbath rest, or a reflection of it. If the approval of man is not an idol, then it will not rule you and drive your actions. It may or may not be a nice encouragement, but will never get in the way of truth and meaning in your life, and the pursuit of your purposes.

To break this commandment is to incur the wrath of God. Mans’ breaking this commandment is what caused Jesus to have to come and die for us. God is a jealous God, because he loves us and longs to see us do well. These verses indicate that our willingness to heed this law and principle will have an impact for good or ill on our children’s children for years to come (Ex 20:5-6).

Principles Are Better Than Laws – Part 5

So far in this series I’ve been thinking about God’s laws, that is, the way God designed things to work properly. This includes the best behavior for us to achieve abundant life as he originally intended it to be when he invented life and existence.

I’m thinking about this, because I’ve developed more and more of a sense that God actually intended for us to have a magnificent life on earth as his image bearers, even going so far as to send his Son to forgive us for our failure to have such a life. This is another way of saying what we are used to hearing: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Why did we choose to fall short (first Adam, and then the rest of us)? That’s a good question, but at least part of the answer is confusion. God is not the author of confusion, but satan is, ergo, we are confused. We are so confused that we think obeying God is about earning his favor so he will bless us. If that is true it is a primitive way of putting it, and one which leads to failure.

If you think that God has given us rules to follow so that we can earn his blessing, then you will be a legalist.  You will assume you ought to follow those rules, but you will constantly battle the desires to do something else instead, and you will constantly feel guilty.  Driven by guilt, you will obey the rules sometimes, leading to pride, and disobey them other times, leading to shame.  

But there is a better way to think about it. This is why I say principles are better than laws. God’s laws are nothing less than principles for living according to the objective reality that he has caused the world to be subject to. God’s rules are simply the principles of reality by which we function best in this world. They are the means whereby we will experience life as abundant. They are the means whereby we will achieve the most ethical success possible and the greatest joy possible. They are the means whereby we can achieve something closer to Jesus’ standard, “Your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees” (Mt 5:20), and “you must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

God has given us grace in that he sent his Son to take our sin, and give us his righteousness, but most people fail to make use of that righteousness to achieve joy and the glory of God (the same glory that we had previously fallen short of).  

In an earlier post I said that being a Christian is its own reward. This is what I meant. But because we fail to see God’s ways as the honest and true ways to live in creation for the greatest life possible, we fail. We don’t have to.

In part 4 of this series I was looking at the first commandment as the first principle.  I wrote about what God does not mean when he tells us to have no other gods before him.  Now, I want to consider what it DOES mean.  I can be brief.  

When God gives the law that he is to be our only God and the most important thing in our lives, he is saying that he is the source of all truth and goodness. Everything that is true emanates from him, from his nature. All the other laws, or principles, flow from who and what he is. He is love, he is truth, he is goodness, and he is all the fruit of the Spirit. To bow down to God is to bow down to reality, to the way things are, and, of course, to the author of all of it.

To bow down to any other is to put something before God. As a person, he deserves our highest praise and allegiance because he is truly the highest and greatest. But it also means putting his ways above all other philosophies, and his morals, including the rest of the commandments, above all other systems of morality or philosophy. The rest of the posts in this series will continue to look at several of those, but for now, we start with the first and best, to love and honor the first and best, God, as the first and best. We honor God and all his ways. Everything else is a derivative of that.

Loving the Truth

“19 And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.  20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works be exposed.  21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (Jn 3:19-21). 

Jesus said this to Nicodemus a few sentences after he said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” Whoever would believe would have eternal life, but whoever would not “is condemned already” (Jn 3:18).  

To believe in Jesus is to love the truth, the light. Jesus himself was the light of the world.  Jesus is the revelation of who God is.  He is the revelation of right and wrong.  He is the revelation of goodness and evil.  He is the light of all reality.  

This means that Jesus is bad news for anyone who hates the light.  

Jesus is bad news for anyone who likes avoiding the truth about anything whatsoever.  

Jesus is a light shining on the world to show what is there and to expose the true nature of what is there.  

The only way to be in the world is to love the truth.  Love what is right.  Love knowing.  Love reality.  Hate evasion.  Hate darkness.  Hate falsehood.  Don’t hate people, but hate what people do when they lie to themselves and others.  

The only right way to live is to conform to what is reality.  To refuse to conform to reality leads to death.  To whatever degree you fail to conform is the degree that your life will not be working properly.  This is the degree to which you do “wicked things” (v20).  Doing wicked things is synonymous with living by a falsehood.  

To do something “wicked” you need to forget some facts that exist. (‘Facts that exist’ is a redundant phrase, actually). You need to forget that there is a God who cares what you do and sees you. You need to forget that the thing you are doing will likely cause you harm. Maybe you want to get drunk. You must forget that God says not to and that your body has been created to function optimally without too much alcohol.

Maybe you’d like to steal some money from somewhere so that you can buy the things that you think you need more than your integrity. You need to forget, again, that there is a God who cares what you do and sees you. You need to forget that this is not your money, but that it belongs to someone else. You need to forget that you may get caught and punished. You need to forget that God is a God of justice, and that no one gets away with anything false forever.

Maybe you think you need to lie to someone to protect your reputation with them. You need to forget AGAIN, that there is a God who cares what you do and sees you. You need to forget that the person you are lying to is important, and deserves to be told the truth. You need to forget reality and attempt to bend it to your will. You need to forget that it is impossible to do that and that reality always catches up with a lie. At very least, you are now a slave to the one you are lying to.

Maybe you want to merely spend money you don’t have yet. You need to forget that math is not something that is subjective. Numbers are objective. You need to fail to count your money. You need to fail to consider what bills you will have to pay, and what amount of money you currently have, and how much you will realistically make in the near term. You need to fail to consider that you have some long term goals and obligations that will come for you, even if you pretend they are not coming. You need to forget that there is another entity who will not be paid when you default on your commitment to pay for the item that they are now without. And you need to forget that there is a God, who is still totally connected to the reality that you have CHOSEN to evade. You also need to forget that he doesn’t want you finding identity in the stuff you buy, or finding idols in the comfort from the stuff you buy.

Because such a thing as reality exists, your life will only work right if you subject yourself to reality. This is living according to the truth, and it starts with the reality that Jesus Christ came as the light in the dark in order to redeem you from your sins. He came so that you could have abundant life (Jn 10:10). Abundant life springs forth from the honest life of conforming to reality, that is, loving the truth. And when you love the truth, you know that your “works have been carried out in God” (Jn 3:21).

Sin is a Mayonnaise Sandwich

My wife hates mayonnaise.  I asked her what would be something gross to eat, and she said a mayonnaise sandwich.  I asked her if she likes chocolate.  She said yes.  

I said, “If you were hungry and wanted to eat some chocolate would you accidentally eat a mayonnaise sandwich?”  She said, “No.” I said, “Why?” And she said, “Because I hate mayonnaise, and I like chocolate.”  

This conversation happened because we were talking about sin.  Why do people sin?  Why do Christians think they want to sin?  Part of the answer is that they do not know that sin is a mayonnaise sandwich, and righteousness is chocolate.  

In an earlier post I said that being a Christian is, in part, its own reward. I don’t mean that the rewards in heaven for being a Christian aren’t greater than anything we can imagine, but that the “life” (and life abundant) of a Christian is very rewarding and fulfilling if you know what you are doing.

In my aforementioned post I said that the problem with the older brother in the prodigal son story (Lk 15:11-32) is that he doesn’t know how good he has it.  He thinks it would be fun to go live like his foolish younger brother, as though the life he (the younger brother) has been living in a far country, squandering his money on hedonism (death) and being reduced to eating after the pigs was some great time.  It was not a great time, but a bankrupt existence he was glad to leave behind.

Meanwhile the dad says to the older brother something like, “You and I are always together, and all my stuff is your stuff.  You own the world and have an awesome life, so why are you complaining?”  

Why would we complain about eating chocolate? Why would we think we wish we could eat the mayonnaise sandwich (or whatever food you hate)? Because we are confused. We don’t understand that our purpose on earth is to live. Living entails more than just continuing to breath. God always holds out the choice between his way, and some other way. His way he calls “Life,” the other way he calls “Death.” His way I’m calling “chocolate,” the other way I’m calling a “mayonnaise sandwich.”

According to God’s way there are bedrock principles of virtue that are based in the reality of life and existence with a body and a spirit. Truth, justice, love, productiveness, creativity, purity, contentment, and excellence are all part of God’s way. These are the principles by which through Jesus we pursue our lives, for our own sake, and ultimately for his sake and his glory. Seeking to live accordingly is going to be the most rewarding and powerful way to seek life.

That is what it means to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. That’s the chocolate that we actually want, and if we aren’t confused about that, we will never settle for a mayonnaise sandwich. Choose Life and live.

The Is-Ought Dichotomy

Can we know what we should do by observing facts?  Hume was the philosopher that asked this question.  

Can what “is” tell us what we “ought” to do?  

Hume saw a gap between facts and morality.  In other words, there is no way to know what to do by what we see to be the knowable facts of the world around us.  

Poison will kill you or the person to whom to sneak it.  So does that mean you should not give poison to someone?  Hume said we would have to know more, and what we could know would not be a fact, but an intuition.  

But I disagree with that.  

I agree that we have to have a moral code.  But I don’t agree that it must be based on intuition (or even faith).  When people intuitively know that they should not kill someone, I think there is actually a fact hidden in there somewhere.  We are being driven by facts as we see them.  But for most people, we are not aware enough of what our “facts” are, and so we don’t put them in the proper order.  Some facts are more important than others.  Getting this right will bring order and peace to your life. 

Fact: Poison is dangerous to your body and can kill it. 

Is this the most important fact in the situation of whether to eat poison, or even give it to someone else?  No, it isn’t. 

Fact: Staying alive is good.  

Is this the most important fact? It is a more important fact that the first one, but it is not the most important fact, because, why is it good to stay alive?

Fact: My life is my goal. 

Is this the most important fact? No, but is it the highest so far? It is not the most important fact because it sounds more like a value. It is only a fact (and a value) if it is a derivative of a hard fact. Here it is that hard fact.

Fact: I exist. 

This is almost the most important fact, and it is extremely important.  The fact that I exist means that I must value my existence.  But here is an even greater and higher fact.

Fact: God exists.

This is the highest fact and it gives meaning to the second highest fact (for me) that I exist. My life is a reality in God. He has given it to me. He has called me to live. I must live for him, because he is the highest fact. The Bible calls this his glory. My life is also my glory. Christians believe our sin at the beginning was to fall short of glory, God’s glory; which was our glory as his created image bearers.

You would be fair to ask me why I believe God exists. I’ll post that another time, but I think it is rational to believe it, especially the Trinitarian God of the bible. I have looked at the preponderance of evidence for the existence of Christ, the resurrection, and his claims to be God in the flesh. I think there is enough evidence to take it seriously. I also believe that Christianity as the Bible actually teaches it lines up with the facts of reality and the way things truly are. Then, without being able to see Jesus in person, I admit that here I go on rational faith. I should also mention that I have witnessed many miracles. This is also for another post.

So the fact that God exists (I AM), and has made possible the fact of my own existence (i am), means that there is no is-ought dichotomy. There is no gap. A fact of existence comes with a built in purpose. Everything that has life “works” for its own flourishing. Why? Because it must. Why must it? Because it exists. Does any living thing not work for it’s flourishing? None, except man, of course.

We are so confused that we often work toward our death.  This is to fall short of the glory of God.  This is to be subhuman (not animal-an animal would not work for its death).  This is evil.  

All humans naturally work to live, but since the vast majority do it unconsciously, they except false facts, which lead to false values that lead to death. However, since they also know on a deeper level that they must work to live, they walk in constant contradictions: anxious, confused, fearful, depressed, falling way short of the glory of God.

Even Christians get this wrong. We are thankfully saved by grace for “abundant life” (Jn 10:10). Jesus got this right, and he passed on to us the benefit, or the imputed righteousness. Jesus truly lived so that his death actually paid for our sin of never truly living, which is an affront to the Creator, and earns us his right wrath. This is why Jesus came. Put your faith in him. Close the is-ought gap and derive your moral ethical code from the facts (try these on for size).

You will truly begin to live when you start knocking down the contradicdtions, when you start aligning your goals with your abundant life, and stop all the sin. That is, stop all that leads to death. You were made to live forever, but most will die forever.

If this is your first time to my blog, I highly recommend starting with my two oldest posts and reading them from oldest to newest.

How Not to Glorify Yourself

4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,

    lest you take part in her sins,

lest you share in her plagues;

5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven,

    and God has remembered her iniquities.

6 Pay her back as she herself has paid back others,

    and repay her double for her deeds;

    mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed.

7 As she glorified herself and lived in luxury,

    so give her a like measure of torment and mourning,

since in her heart she says,

    ‘I sit as a queen,

I am no widow,

    and mourning I shall never see.’

8 For this reason her plagues will come in a single day,

    death and mourning and famine,

and she will be burned up with fire;

for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.” — Revelation 18:4-8

Part of my message to Christians and everyone else is that you were made in the image of God.  That means something philosophical about how you should see yourself and everyone else.  An image bearer is an amazing thing.  All image bearers are amazing because of the God whose image we bear.  

God made you.

He made you in his image.

You exist. 

God does everything for his own sake.  

This is logical.  Who else is going to do things for God’s own sake?

He does everything in for his own sake because he exists.  He is a fact.  When he acts, he must act to do what he wants to do, and what he feels he must do according to his nature and his purposes. 

This is to his glory that he does that.

You, bearing his image, must act the very same way if you are going to be philosophically honest. If you don’t acknowledge this, you will still act as though you believe up to a point.

Why?  Because you must.  You are not an organism that instinctively cares for its needs.  Amoebas do. Plants do.  When the resources are there, plants reach out their roots and leaves and take what they need.  Animals are higher order and more complex.  They do the same thing by instinct.  They get hungry, so they get hunting.  Their sensory perceptions move them according to their impulses.  

But people are different. Because we are image bearers of God, we think and reason like God. Being a human is a burden. It requires logical thinking. We feel impulses toward pleasure seeking and the avoidance of pain.

But we, unlike animals, cannot trust that those impulses are telling us the truth about what is important.

On top of that, we have sin in our flesh.  As mysterious as it all is, there is something to the idea that our first parents achieved in their rebellion a dark “knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 3).

In order for us to know which impulses to follow, and which to ignore for the sake of something better for us, we must think (See footnote). This is how we are like God. We have to have a way to know how to make decisions. God makes decisions in alignment with his nature, and his purposes. Every single solitary thing he does and says falls into line with who he is. Even his purposes are subordinate to his nature, or his being.

What I mean is, he does nothing illogical. He does nothing imperfect. Everything about him, even though “his ways are higher than our ways” (Isa 55:8-9) makes sense from this perspective. Consider that he loves justice, truth, love, mercy, goodness, and perfection. We are not perfect like him, but because he is perfect, he cannot sit by and allow us to continue in injustice, lying, hatred, cruelty, badness, and impurity. If you went somewhere and saw someone doing something awful to someone else, and you did nothing about it, you would be wrong. You would be showing a weakness of character. Perhaps it would be cowardice, or you know you do the same things, or you just don’t want to care about other people.

Imagine that God sees all of our sin, because he does.  He must respond rightly to it because his character is completely good, and perfect.  He cannot NOT respond.  So there is wrath for sin combined with his perfect love for the sinner.  What did he do in order to forgive sinners, while maintaining the standards of his character?  The answer is that God the Son, Jesus Christ, came and lived perfectly, then died for the sins of the world.  Anyone who believes in him and repents will be forgiven for their sins, no matter how grievous.  

That is totally logical.  Most forgiveness is painful, the cross showed exactly that.  

The cross happened because God makes decisions in alignment with his purposes. His purposes fall underneath the reality of his nature, his character, the facts of his personality. This is also called his glory (Isa 45).

You should live the same way.  In fact, you will.  In sin you fell short of the glory of God (Ro 3).  Jesus died to restore you to glory.  Glorification is your destiny in heaven.  Does this mean you will ever eclipse God’s glory?  Not remotely.  No matter how high we could rise, the Creator always is more glorious than what he has created.  Michelangelo is more glorious than the Sistine Chapel, Frank Lloyd Wright is more glorious than Fallingwater, and God is more glorious than the Grand Canyon, the Aurora Borealis, or you.  

So because we exist, and because we must act according to our purposes, which must line up and fall under our nature and character, we must work hard to know what is true and what is right.  Our purposes will become evident as we make decisions about who to be.  This is what it means to act like God.  God is perfect and doesn’t need to work on it.  We are imperfect and must first put some serious thought into the matter, and then we must learn to take control over our impulses.  

This is what it means to be an image bearer of God. The name of this blog is For My Own Sake. Let me be clear: I believe in doing everything for God’s sake ultimately. His glory is my chief end. The pursuit of my own “glory” is merely my attempt to come to terms with the reality, or the facts of reality. I exist. I must live. God has appointed me to live, and so that is my job. My life is my penultimate purpose, God being my ultimate purpose.

This has major implications. In my decision making, I must think of this. What does it mean to make my life one of my highest purposes? It means seek out the truth, and come under it. Believe what is true on every level that there is, starting with God, all the way down to the truth about what is going on in my life. For instance, last week I noticed a soft spot on my roof under the shingles. I would have enjoyed evading that truth. I would have liked to keep pretending there was no problem. But instead I spent a few brutal days racing against the coming rainstorm, pulling up shingles, replacing boards, and reshingling. I am not handy, but I had to do it. It was 90 degrees and very humid. I hated every minute of it, but since I didn’t want to pay someone else to do it, I had to. Because the truth was that my roof was rotting under there. To pretend it wasn’t happening would not change the fact.

You can think of a million examples. You evade the truth about your marriage until it is too late. You evade the truth about your rebellious tween, until it is too late. You evade the truth about your high blood pressure, until it is too late. You evade the truth about the shady business practices of your employer, until it is too late and you are in trouble with him. But God never evades the truth. He is unable. Your job is to learn to become unable to evade the truth.

Image bearing also means becoming unable to:

  • Hate
  • Be anxious
  • Avoid responsibility
  • Deny forgiveness
  • Hoard wealth
  • Steal
  • Shun Christian community
  • Seek the praise of men, doing things to be seen
  • Exasperate your children
  • Dishonor your parents
  • Kick the dog

This list is unending.  

This is how we should seek our own glory, by being like God in that we know we must choose to do things to promote our own life, because God has assigned us to do that, for his glory. So, this is why I say I do things for my own sake, for his sake. I do things for my own glory for his glory. But the Bible is clear about what that does not look like. Look up at Revelation 18:4-8. This is a personification of Babylon, a great, yet evil city we may be seeing now, but most likely is yet to come.

Verse 7 says, “As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says,  ‘I sit as a queen…’”

There is clearly a wrong way to glorify yourself.  It has to do with seeking the praise of others, and seeking power over others.  It is seen as an affront to God, and a challenge to his position at the top of creation. Why is this bad?  Aside from the fact that the queen, the city, was full of evil and depraved behavior, it defies logic and truth for someone to set themselves up higher than God.  You cannot be higher than your maker.  It warps the structure of reality to pretend so.  In the Bible, God is offended by that sort of thing, because he cannot be otherwise.  He is the most glorious thing, so he must sit at the top.  To do any less would be dishonest of him, and he cannot be dishonest, because he cannot go against his own nature.  

Most people seek glory by showing off, by controlling others, and by trying to feel important. That way is bankrupt and will lead to judgment and also will come with a fair amount of misery in this life.

But God would have you seek glory by learning what is true, and applying the truth to your purpose of living your abundant life in God. Use your brain every day to make decisions about what is best considering the truth of reality. What are the facts? How should those facts be considered as you prayerfully plan your course? This is good stewardship, and according to the Bible, God loves it, and loves to bless those who practice it. I feel compelled here to end with a prayer:

Father in heaven, I pray for anyone who has read this far that you will teach them to be like you, to be glorified in the right way, by trusting Jesus for salvation, and then taking responsibility for their life as an image bearer of you. Help us all to live according to your ways, and that our nature would become more and more like yours. Teach us to do everything for the sake of our abundant life, and to do nothing to be seen by others, or to take power over others. Amen.

Footnote: I owe some of my thinking about making my life my purpose and the necessity of thinking to the philosophy of Objectivism and its founder, Ayn Rand. Rand was not a Christian, and I do not endorse the complete philosophy of Objectivism, but I have found the logical propositions helpful, and I have not found any “reason” in Objectivism to disbelieve in the resurrection.

A Christian Approach to Relating to Others Part 5, Treating Others as Better than Yourself

Treating Others as Better than Yourself

The Bible calls us to “consider others as better than [our]selves” (Phil 2:3). How can this be if we are supposed to begin our stewardship of all God has given us at the most basic level, ourselves? The answer lies in the sense in which God speaks these words. To put others before ourselves can only be done in a certain way. This is a huge hang up for most people, because they think it means something that it doesn’t. But if it meant what part of us thinks it means, life would be very short: You wake up one morning determined to put others first. You feel hungry and start to get out your cereal bowl, but just as you are taking down the cereal, you worry that your neighbor hasn’t eaten. Is it common for them to miss a meal? No, but what does that matter? He has not yet eaten, so you must offer your cereal to him. Plus, you have more cereal.

But wait, what about the other neighbor? Pretty soon there is no more food in the house. No matter, you have money, so you head off to the grocery store, but you get a little sick feeling when you walk in because there are other people there. You will need to pay for all their groceries before you pay for your own. Why? Because they are all to come before you. As soon as you find someone who is not in need of your food, you can eat. But that is just it, with seven billion people in the world, you don’t have a chance.

You might be thinking this sounds crazy and you would never do that. I believe you, but you still think you are supposed to…deep down…although you don’t, because at least part of you knows that is ludicrous.  These two parts are in contradiction.  You’ll never truly live it out, but you’ll always feel somewhat guilty.  This will always hold you back from enjoying what you have or truly giving out of your abundance.  

Let’s consider honor.  If everyone is greater than you, and should go before you, and should be considered to be a better person, then you might as well find a dirty floor somewhere where people are walking by all day and just bow down, face in the dirt, and live there.  But in fact, this would be dishonest.  Everyone is not greater than you.  Some people are greater than you by certain standards.  They might be more loving, honest, industrious, courageous, free in Christ.  They are ahead of you.  They are your equals in intrinsic value because you are both created in the image of God. 

Nevertheless, Jesus does say to put others first and to take the lowest place. He did wash the feet of the disciples, though he considered himself their Lord (Jn 13). He did say that whoever would be great among you must be your servant (Mk 10:43). So why did he say that if it is impossible? Because it is only impossible in a certain sense.

In a completely different sense, on a completely different plane, it is not only possible, but required.

We are not to rank ourselves in order of value. So we are not to take personal power over another. We are not to use others. We are not to violate the rights of others: taking their property, looking down on them, treating them as though they are not our equals, keeping from them equal opportunities, judging them by anything but the content of their character. We are to be just.

And when it comes to ourselves, we are to take our identity from the only place we are truly allowed to, from God and our very being. We have an identity as image-bearers, little “i ams,” and we have identity from Aristotle’s law of identity that says, a thing is a thing. Existence is a pretty profound truth, and as such, makes us matter. Since we matter, we don’t need anyone else to make us matter. We don’t need to elevate ourselves in status with our wealth and stuff, comparing to others and climbing in a class or status system. Class is irrelevant. Status is irrelevant. Being better than anyone else is irrelevant. Only who we are in God and in being/existing is relevant. After that, it is proper to judge ourselves by the ways that God tells us to: character, love, courage, truthfulness, purity. Being and existing according to these qualities is not penance or a way to win with God; it is rather the nature of the abundant life that Jesus died to give us.

So when should I consider others above myself?  When it would be justice to do so.  For instance, you are in a room with your family.  Everyone is reading and quiet. You decide to pull out your iPad and watch TV with no headphones.  There was an unspoken agreement that everyone was being quiet. You have broken it.  You need to have some terms with the others who are sharing the room, and treat each other fairly.  This is right, or righteous.  No one should be allowed to trample the rights of the others.  It is not proper.  

What about the others in the room? Should they say, “No, you are more important than us. Watch your show. We’ll deal with it.” If you were only one person saying that, it might be a Christlike thing to do. Except it could be a little dishonest if you are going to resent the iPad watcher. But as long as there are others there, they are the ones to stand up for.   An agreement needs to be spoken out loud with some ground rules and boundaries.  We’ll be quiet for an hour and then watch TV for an hour.  Again, you can be magnanimous and give up your own claims, but it actually isn’t right to allow them to be rude, to enable them.  

In a similar way, giving your cereal to your neighbor robs him of an important aspect of being, that is, productiveness and finding his own provision, which is something God actually expects us to do (2 Thes 3:10). So when we give to help or serve others, it should not be done in a way that enables them to be less than human. Then it becomes unloving. Once we know this, to continue to do it belies a false motive on our part. Is it manipulation? Do we love feeling needed? Do we not want to make them upset by cutting them off?

Or worse, do we hate ourselves and it alleviates some of our self-hatred?

There is something going on, and it needs to be discovered and rooted out. Human nature is such that for a great many people, even our own semi-adult children, if we allow them to be freeloaders or parasites by our own “generosity,” we harm them, and we are supposed to love them too much to harm them.

Responsible to Rather than for

Much more can be said about helping, giving ,and serving others, but there are many good books and blogs already about it. The only other thing I will say is that we are not to be responsible for other people. Not anyone, not even our own children (at least not in the sense I’m getting at). But we are supposed to be responsible to everyone. Everyone. In what way? We are responsible to others to be truth tellers, courageous, generous (without enabling), loving, kind, patient, but also discerning. We are to show the way to God by being a concretization of the abstraction that is the Christian life. We are to lead all the “horses” to water, but never attempt to force them to drink. The “water” is God in Christ, the truth, righteousness and the kingdom of God. We show it, and we tell it, but we don’t coerce or manipulate others to live it. That violates them and the command of Jesus to not lead like the Gentiles (Mk 10:42).

Furthermore, whatever we say we will do, we do. We understand that the meaning of life is stewardship for the glory of God. Being. Pursuing life for our own sake, for his sake. This is what it means to be responsible to everyone. It shows value to others and puts them above yourself in the proper sense. In this way there are no contradictions. We treat people with integrity and goodness. The outcome of this truthful living is the right outcome. God will get his way, and we with regenerated spirit will love it.

How the Holy Spirit Helps us Grow and Have Abundant Life

The Holy Spirit 

Bearing spiritual fruit is part of the reward of abundant life. Jesus promised his disciples that he would go to the Father and send them an advocate, a helper, a comforter, the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:16).  Before they received the Spirit, the disciples were struggling. But Jesus told them as he was ascending into heaven, in Acts 1, to wait in Jerusalem for the promise before they went off to preach and make disciples of all nations.  He had something for them, something crucial if they were going to succeed not only in the continuation of Jesus’ ministry but in living a fruitful Christian life.  

Consider what the disciples were like before they were filled with the Holy Spirit.  Luke tells us that they were still arguing amongst themselves about which of them was the greatest after Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, and according John, had washed their feet, partially in an attempt to teach them the value of humble service to one another.  Then soon after, Judas arrived with the guards to arrest him, at which point the disciples scattered, abandoning him. Even Peter, who swore to go to prison and die with Jesus, denied three times that he even knew him.  

But after Pentecost it was an entirely different story.  These men were filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered for miracles, for preaching, for courage, and for obedience in righteousness.  What happened?  The Holy Spirit had been poured out and filled them, taking up residence in all believers.  Consequently, we are no longer enslaved to sin.  The Bible teaches that we once were slaves to sin. This meant we almost had to sin.  But now, when we are saved and filled with the Holy Spirit on conversion, we do not have to sin. Can we?  Yes. Must we? No longer.  The extent to which we will be able to abstain from sinning is directly related to the extent to which we choose to walk by the Spirit in us. How much do we choose to “be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Eph 5:18)?  When Paul directs us to be filled, he is not talking about something we have no control over, such as when the Holy Spirit manifests himself in us by some physical manifestation like “tongues of fire,” or a physical sensation, or a miracle such as healing.  

He is talking in that sense about being mindful of the Spirit in us and being mindful of Christ.  He is talking about submerging ourselves in this new reality called the “newness of life” that our newly regenerated Spirit loves but our flesh still shuns. He is telling us to take control of our flesh by submitting our minds to God and his Spirit inside of us.  He is calling on us to acknowledge the amazing power to change and obey God, loving our enemies, forgiving those who’ve hurt us, living out the truth and righteousness of Christ, and obeying everything he commands. Ask God to help you to be full of the Spirit at all times. 

Abundance of Life 

What now? What was the original intent of I AM? 

Taking the reality of our creation and assignment and applying the grace of God and the Spirit of God to actually do it, how then shall we live?  What does it mean to die to self and to live abundant life?  

Over the course of your life, in your sinful fallen state, you have been at the mercy of your fleshly impulses and the forces that shaped you. By “forces” I mean parents, culture, experiences, characteristics, and things like that.  Along with that, you have made a trillion choices in your life that have shaped you into the self that you are today. Even if you have been saved, born again, you are still impacted by the past.  The secret that most people refuse to believe is that the past, the old self, can be completely let go of, or more precisely, killed.  Jesus said we had to die in order to live. He said we had to take up our cross daily.  He said we had to lose our life to find it.  

This is a great mystery in some ways, but in other and more practical ways it is quite simple.  You have an old way of being which included your old way of thinking and interpreting the world.  Christ would like you to have a new way of thinking about the world and yourself in it.  This is the life that he wants for you.  If you have put your faith in him for salvation, you are saying that you believe that his way of seeing things is the right way, that he truly existed, died on the cross (because it was necessary), rose from the dead, and is coming back again. If you believe this, your sins are atoned for and you are going to heaven.  But that doesn’t mean that you will necessarily become very different in this life. In heaven, it will be easy to change, and you will in an instant. But if you think you should wait until then to become like Christ, then you don’t get it at all.  You can change starting now. Eternal life starts now. Abundant life starts now.  

Choose it. Ask God to help you choose it. Thank him when you have made the choice. But do your part. Believe you can change, and then do it. How do you see the world now?  Go back to the beginning of this message and re-read it. If it is not your default worldview, make it so. It is biblical.  Choose life. Choose to be a small “i am,” a creator in the image of the Creator who is your Father in heaven.  Choose to be courageous. Choose to live for God, for good, for others, for you, and not for the opinions of others (which is different than living for others).  Inventory your beliefs about the world. If they don’t match the Word of God, change them.  Inventory your beliefs about yourself. If they don’t match the Word of God, change them. Have courage, and do it. 

It is that simple. How you relate to the world is based on what your view of it is. Change that, change yourself. We’ll come back to this concept again and again over the course of this blog. Next, we’ll learn to understand what we can about how we are called to relate to others, and how the way we relate can lead to a deeper and higher quality experience of the abundant life that is its own reward.

Choose to Grow

Anything that is not growing is dying.  We are made to grow.  The very idea of lif life, especially abundant life, means that it is necessary to grow.  Sometimes, because of events in your life, growth is automatic, but most of the time, we have to choose to grow. 

You are saved by grace and reckoned as righteous by Christ’s sinless perfection.  But you still have to grow.  If you don’t like it, consider that Jesus was perfect, but still needed to grow. This may surprise you, but it’s true.  

The Bible says that he was made perfect through suffering (Heb 2:10). This begs the question. What was he before he was perfect?  In a sense, of course, he was already perfect.  Like a baby is perfect but still has a long way to go toward growing up.  In fact, Jesus was a baby at one point. As such, he could not talk, could not walk, could not do anything.  Like all babies, he had a long way to grow.  One day, his consciousness, that is, his ability to perceive, developed just to the point where he could build some minor concepts.  He would have been sitting there looking at the other kids who were slightly older than him, and he would have noticed some things. First, that they were a lot like him.  Two legs, two arms, hair, fingers, crying, eating, pooping.  He would realize that unlike the family goat, he had a lot in common with these kids.

But these other kids were slightly different than him. They didn’t crawl anymore.  That one there used to crawl, but now she’s doing something similar to his mother and father, the big people.  She is walking on two legs, upright. That created a longing in toddler Jesus.  Was it insecurity?  No. He was morally and emotionally perfect.  It was not sinful envy. But it was longing.  This new desire formed from the understanding that he could not do something, although he wanted to.   So, the next time he was able to pull himself up onto something, he took a step. 

What do you think happened to the glorious Savior of the world then? I think he crashed to the ground, and maybe he cried, until his adopted father, Joseph, having proudly watched the whole thing, came over, patted his head fondly, and stood him back up.

This likely happened again and again, until one day, Jesus was no longer a person who needed to learn how to walk. He had gone from a perfect being who crawled to a perfect being who walked. And this is one of the wonderful things about being a human. You can always grow, and the fact that you need to does not necessarily mean that you are less than perfect as you are. I am not saying you are perfect, but the fact you have to grow doesn’t prove that you are not perfect. It only proves that there is something you can learn, something you can grow in.  And to understand this is pure joy.  Have you ever seen the look on a baby’s face when he or she walks for the first time?  If you want to know what delight looks like, there it is.  

Now, by the way, this is a good time for a complicated thought:  What else usually happens in this moment that intensifies the emotion?  The baby is there and mom, dad, brother, sister, other sister, Aunt Peggy, and the UPS guy all happen to be there when this happens and what do they do?  They go crazy. They clap. They smile. They yell, “Good job! You’re amazing!”  The difference between you and Jesus is that somehow, perfect baby Jesus delighted in his accomplishment, and you (and I) got taken over by love for the praise of man (unless you are a lucky sociopath).  

This confuses everything.  Along with stern disapproval when they didn’t like what we were doing, we learned to do things to please others, or, we learned it was impossible to please others as much as our hearts wanted to, so we gave up and rebelled, which is two sides of the same coin of living for other people. There is a right way to live for others, generously, Christlike, and there is a wrong, and much, much more common way.  

But for now, just understand that growing is a part of life, and I would say a fun part, a rewarding and fulfilling part. Mastering things that were once hard is a superpower for building self-esteem and confidence.  

Wait!  Doesn’t that make it an idol?! Don’t preachers say that I need to find my esteem and confidence in what Jesus has done, and not what I do?

Now can you see why so many Christians are messed up?  We are hardwired by God to love a life of growth, but because of sin and bad (but well-meaning) parenting, we trade that for a life of seeking approval and praise from others.  And it is true that our primary identity is in Christ and in our Creator, after whom and by whom we are designed.  But here is an interesting question:  Did Christ build a false identity around walking?  Did he start announcing to everyone on Facebook that he was a walker? Did he go out and buy all the trendiest walking gear, shoes, ski poles with rubber on the end, T-shirts and bumper stickers for his car that announce to the world what he was about, walking.  No, he did not make an identity or a religion out of his new skill.  We would have done that, because we were born in sin, and so were our parents. But Christ did not. He was perfect.  

But that does not mean that mastering the skill didn’t give him some self esteem and confidence that informed his thinking when he noticed the next deficit.

Talking

“Why does it seem that the older kids seem to be saying something to each other? All I say is goo goo ga ga. What if my mom is actually trying to communicate with me and is not just making random noises? I need to learn. I am compelled to learn.” And just like you, learn he did. Then it was using the bathroom somewhere besides his diaper. Eventually it was using a mallet, and a saw. Joseph, his earthly adopted feather, was a carpenter. I’m sure that fairly early on it was reading Hebrew, then understanding the law and prophets so that by twelve Jesus could lose time in his Father’s house in Jerusalem conversing with the scribes about his Father in heaven. The Bible tells us that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature” (Lk 2:52).

And then what does it mean that he had to grow perfect through suffering?  Perfect in what way if he was already sinless?  It seems to mean that he had to suffer in order to be prepared for the ultimate suffering of taking on the sins of the world as the sacrificial Lamb of God.  Tortured. Broken. Filled with the filth of sin, which he had never experienced—my anger, my lust, my envy, my hatred, mine and yours and Adam’s and everyone else’s.  He had to endure a temporarily broken fellowship with his beloved Father in Heaven who had always been with him.   

Jesus was grown into the ability to endure all this.  He did not want to do any of it, but it was what he came to do.  In the garden of Gethsemane he even prayed that the cup of God’s wrath would pass if possible, but it was not possible.  God had to be just and the justifier.  There was apparently only one way to wipe the great sin of the world away, and God had been preparing the consciousness of the Hebrews for hundreds of years with the law and the sacrificial system.  It was time, and Jesus would say, “Not my will, but yours be done.” 

For you and I it is no less a process of growth to become what God made us to be.  Jesus deals with the sin in us, but we still have to grow spiritually. We are already perfect when we believe and put our faith in Jesus’ work to save us, repenting of our sin.  We are made into a new creation having received the righteousness of Christ as sure as he received in himself unrighteousness of us.  But we need to grow. You are perfect, but you need to and you can grow.   

See yourself right, and see your need for growth right.  Fellowship (verb) with God, abide in him (Jn 5:4), and look for what is next. What is he doing in you?  Do you still have unforgiveness? Grow. Do you still have anger?  Grow in love.  Do you still worry?  Grow in peace and trusting God.  Do you still find yourself seeking approval?  Grow in looking to what God has already done and to your own honest evaluation of yourself.  

Work with God on the things you see that need to change, and learn to delight in progress the way you did as a baby learning to walk.

But you are not alone in this. You have teachers. You have brothers and sisters in Christ. You have examples to follow. You have the Bible to learn from. And best of all, you have the Spirit of God living in you, by whom you can live and grow by his strength and direction. Choose growth and choose life. Let’s talk tomorrow about how the Holy Spirit enables us to do this.