Principles are Better Than Laws Part 10

You Shall Not Murder — Exodus 20:13

We have been considering for several months the laws of God, beginning with the Greatest Commandment to love God with all our hearts, and now continuing into the ten Commandments. In our consideration, we are seeking to understand the laws not as laws only, but also as principles. To be sure, they are laws to obey, but my premise is that all of God’s laws can be thought of as principles too, because…

God did not give us any laws that will not give us a better existence if we follow them.

Today we are on to the commandment, “You shall not murder.” This seems fairly straightforward. Don’t kill people. Do we need to discuss this? I think so, because understanding the reason for the sanctity of life will revolutionize your own life. This is the law that I’ve waited the most impatiently to get into.  So let me get into it. 

The first question to ask about any of God’s laws is “why?” Of course, God is our perfect Father, and he has every right to say to us, “Because I said so,” but let’s ask anyway. 

God made men and women in his image (Gen 1:28). In fact everything he made is important, because he made it. Why would he make it if it wasn’t important to him? Everything that exists has a purpose to be that thing that it is. We can count on that. God is perfect. He made a rock to be a rock and do all the things that rocks can do. He made a river to be a river, a mountain to be a mountain, a grain of sand to be a grain of sand. 

The same is true for the living entities that he created. He made an ameba to be an ameba and do ameba-like things. 

All things, from rocks and rivers and living things; from single-celled organisms, to plants, to animals, and finally to humans are made with a penultimate purpose and an ultimate purpose. The ultimate purpose of a thing, rock or human, is to glorify God. The penultimate (second highest) purpose of a thing is to be that thing. This is easy for the inanimate objects, they just sit there being. This takes more work for the living beings. They have to do something in order to keep on being. They have to live.

The purpose of a living being is to live.

This takes work, but every living thing does the work whenever it is possible. Microorganisms do what they do. Even coronaviruses will spread in order to keep on living if they can. They just will. There is no principle that a living thing will seek to die. It may seek to change, for instance from a caterpillar to a butterfly, but that is in order to continue living. 

In fact, in order to glorify God a thing has to prioritize being the thing God made it to be, and that means keep living in the manner that God made it to exist. He built the plant to seek nutrients from the soil with its roots, to suck up whatever water was near, and to face the sun for its food. It will do that everytime the resources are available. Animals are a higher order than plants, because their intelligence is higher. It has to be, because their life, also a priority, is more complicated to maintain. They will need to move, to hunt and/or gather, to avoid predators, to find shelter, to find a mate, because their existence is also tied to the existence of their species.

God has equipped them with instincts and claws so that they can know what to do to live, and do it every time, because living is what they were made to do. When a lion or a microorganism lives, it glorifies the God who created it. 

Man is the same in that regard. He is the highest created thing, so says God. God gave him all the other living things for food and usage to further promote his life (Gen 1:29, 9:23). Man’s flourishing above all the other created things and beings is a priority for the God who created him. 

But what does this mean? Man’s life is precious to God, and should be precious to us. To kill would be a grave sin because of this. If even an animal, just being itself, were to kill a man and eat him, God said that animal shall not live (Gen 9:5).

But how is this a principle ?

Things get very interesting when this commandment is considered as a principle. It means that man, whose purpose is to glorify God, has the penultimate purpose of his own life. Life is precious to God. God has entrusted each of us with an important responsibility of being. The related biblical principle is stewardship. A man or woman’s life is his or her first responsibility. Even if we are to consider others as better than ourselves, we first have to consider ourselves as of primary importance to ourselves. The way I know you are supposed to be your number one priority is that you, and only you were given charge over your own choices by your Creator.

This is why, even when we give charity to someone, we know (hopefully) not to do it in a certain way that will cause them to stop bearing the majority of the responsibility for their own life and well-being. It dehumanizes them, just like the ill advised policies that say people who commit crimes should not be held responsible and punished by the state, because they obviously couldn’t help themselves.

This is why we instinctively feel joy at winning, and sadness at losing. Or we feel joy at gaining something, rather than losing something, especially if we are in great need of that thing (consider a person in a survival situation who almost catches a fish, but then loses it).

Let me push this principle of life even further to happiness. I want you to see that happiness is a product of a man successfully gaining the values that lead to the furthering of his life.

The elements of this kind of happiness are self confidence, and self esteem. You might add a good kind of pride (which is not the kind of pride that gets inflated by comparisons to other people). If you know what you are trying to accomplish for the sake of furthering your life, whether it is basic food needs, or romance, or creating art to enjoy, then you will feel good about yourself when you are being productive and accomplishing these things. To feel bad about failure in this regard is not sinful, it is biological and spiritual. We’re made that way.

Failure to understand this leads to the widespread depression, anxiety, and fear that we see all around us today, even (or especially) in the church. Without life as a principle and a penultimate goal leading to the ultimate goal of glorifying God, then we are purposeless. The “purposes” we create for ourselves after reading books about mission statements, or listening to self help gurus, don’t really cut it, because they skip this crucial principle. I imagine that instead they replace it with love for others. Love for others is a key biblical principle, as stated previously, but without an understanding of one’s life as purpose, then there is no “I” in “I love you” (I wish I was the first to point that out, but someone else, Aristotle or Rand did).

Life is precious and life is purpose. It is precious to God, so we don’t kill, and we take seriously the fact that he has entrusted us with our own life, which includes the body, the mind, the abilities, the opportunities that it comes with. Enjoy it by making the most of it and seeking to flourish. There are many other things to consider, like engaging in worship, mission, and blog writing, but that comes after simply existing as a creation of God, a life.

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.

Principles are Better Than Laws Part 4

In the first three posts in this series, I wrote that God has given us laws. He gives us laws so that we can obey them and live. Because God is not a tyrant, but a wise creator who wants to be our Father, we are at our best when we see his ways not just as laws, but as principles.

We considered the greatest commandment to love the Lord with all our heart…and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  As a principle this works very well, and not only will lead to good relationships, but will impact our own being.  When we follow this, we become like Jesus, more loving, more peaceful, and more gracious, and when we love God with our whole heart, we don’t have to think about all the little sins we don’t want to commit.  The whole law is summed up in this.  Live the great commandment on principle and your life will change.  

Then we began thinking about the ten commandments as ten principles (not discarding the fact that they are commands to follow). “You shall have no other Gods before me” is the first one, and perhaps the most important. But I said in part three that this is hard to understand. Many Christians enjoy something and then feel guilty about it. They’ve been taught that to really love something makes it an idol. They have been taught that they should only love God.

This is false.  

At times like this, I think about God as he has revealed himself to me, as my Father.  I have five children.  They all love me.  I can tell.  They also love other things and people.  Three of my children love to draw and are amazing at it.  One of them loves animals and spends every waking moment studying, training, and caring for animals.  Another loves to do gymnastics.  He doesn’t do it on a team.  He watches YouTube videos and learns how to do various flips in the backyard on a mat.  Of course, they also love video games, certain TV shows, and playing games with mom and dad.  They have sports they love, friends they love, all kinds of things they love.  

I have never gotten worried that they would love any of these things more than me. I have never seen them take some of their love from me to give it to their hobby or their mom, or gramma, who they also love a lot. Love doesn’t work that way. Have you ever seen a dad who would get made about their children loving someone or something with their whole heart? If you have, you have seen an insecure and sinful dad who is doing great harm to his kids. I know that this happens, but it is not right.

Do you think God is insecure? God is not insecure. When the Bible says he is a jealous God, it is not like when you and I get jealous. It does not mean that he doesn’t want us to enjoy any of the good gifts of creation that he has given us, or the skills and talents with which he has endowed us. It means that if we actually worship idols, he is jealous. If we do worship idols, it is because we believe a lie that the idol will do for us what our Father in heaven can do. And it cannot. Part of God’s displeasure is that we are making a first thing out of something that is not a first thing. God is the first thing, and if he is not put first in our hearts, things will fall apart. Idols don’t deliver.

Back to our fatherhood example:  If one of my kids came home with another man and said, “This guy is going to be my dad now.  Your services are no longer needed.  I’m going to listen to him and let him raise me.  You guys have different opinions, and I like his better.  He lets me do whatever I want.”  How I would feel is similar to how God feels about our idolatry.  It is just not right.  I would be “jealous” and do something about it.  

But on the other hand, if my son brought a man in who had been a positive influence on his life, saying, “I really love this guy.  He has taught me a lot, dad.  I want you to meet him.”  I’d be delighted.  I’d thank God for another good and godly influence on my son.  If he were not a godly influence, I would not be jealous, only concerned, and I would deal with it.  I would seek to correct the situation.  

But for my kids to love something, especially if it is something that I gave them, makes me extremely happy and does not diminish their love for me.  

What do you enjoy?  What activity causes you to thank God for it?  Consider it a gift that leads your heart to the giver.  

Now that we have considered what the first of the ten commandments is not saying, in part 5 will we consider it as a principle, and seek to discover what it is saying.

Principles are Better Than Laws Part 3

God has given us laws.  In part one of this series I offered that seeing his laws as principles can help us see them not just as rules to make God happy with us, but also keys to God’s hope and plan for us as his people.  In part two I reconsidered the Great Commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  These two easily lend themselves to being principles to live by.  What Christian would not consider love for God and others a principle of life?

Today I want to start considering the Ten Commandments in the same light.  I think this is slightly more difficult than the Great Commandment, but I also think that understanding them this way can be more profound and helpful.  Let’s start at the top.  

Commandment One

“You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:3 ESV).

If the Great Commandment is the greatest law, then the first commandment is the law with the greatest consequences for failure to obey. Loving the Lord with all your heart is hard to measure, but bowing down to false Gods is easy to measure, the more literally you take it. Today, much is said and written about idols in our hearts and about loving something else more than God. But the first thing God had in mind with this is the propensity of ancient people, even the Jews, to worship whatever local god had a following. Though God was explicit in his command against the practice, the Jews repeatedly fell into idol worship. This led to some of their most severe consequences. Of course, the law still stands for Christians (1 Jn 5:21).

As a principle, this works pretty well.  In all that you do, put God first.  The reality is that God is first.  He created all things, and he created the way things work.  Putting him first not only gives him the glory and honor that is appropriate to him, but it also lines up everything else in your life.  

The first and most practical way to apply this principle is to start your day acknowledging God, reading his Word, worshipping him and praying. Five minutes, ten minutes, or an hour will do.  Doing it first is a way to put him first in your heart.  Some people will fail to do this on the grounds that they are not quite awake yet, and giving their first would violate a desire to give him their best.  Maybe the point is valid, but how about five minutes first, and fifty-five minutes of best later in the day when you are in your prime?

Now, here’s a problem right now in the Church.  To most Christians, loving God above all else and having no idols means loving only God.  There is one word behind this notion.  I’ll tell you what it is in a minute.  But let me rephrase it.  

To love God, according to many, and to keep the first commandment to have no idols, is to love only God.

If they love anything else, they feel anxious and do one of two things, they give up the thing they love, or they find a way to rationalize it, usually by doing some sort of penance.  

Let’s take an example: Alex loves to play the piano.  He finds that he gets a great amount of joy from tackling a hard piece, struggling to master it, and then playing well enough to work on the many nuances of musicality that really bring him joy.  He revels in the music itself, having found masters to play.  And don’t get him started on the Steinway that his grandmother left him.  It’s a beautiful instrument, and he still cannot get over the fact that it is his.  He enjoys playing for the entertainment of others, but that is a distant secondary to the sheer joy of making music. 

Alex is a Christian. He feels anxious in church when the pastor says, “If you really love something, or find a lot of joy in it, you need to consider that it is an idol.” Alex wonders if his piano hobby is an idol. Maybe he should join the worship team at church to justify his talent, but the fact is, he doesn’t really know much about playing from chord charts the way the band at church does. He’s willing to try. Maybe that would assuage the feeling that has been rising every time he hears the pastor speak on the subject.

And what is that feeling?  It is anxiety.  And where does it come from?  That one word I promised to share above:  Guilt. 

What is Alex to do? Driven by this guilt he has only two choices. The first is give it up. He can sell his piano and give the money to the church. He could play in the praise band, but he runs the risk of enjoying that too. That’s just too risky. He’s better off having nothing to do with music at all.

This would be a tragedy. What about a second possibility? He could continue to play, but ratchet up his spiritual disciplines. For every hour he plays, he will read his Bible and pray. This will be hard, but hopefully he will become somewhat unhappy. If he becomes unhappy, then he can feel much better. Surely his lack of joy is proof that he doesn’t love anything more than God. He has made his life as hard as possible. Yes, he still plays, but he doesn’t really like it that much anymore, maybe he’ll give it up now anyway.

Obviously, the second solution is just as wrong as the first.  God gave this command to the people who would build idols and then call them their god.  They would offer sacrifices, even human sacrifices to these gods, and beg them for a good harvest or a fertile wife.  It was spiritual adultery.  

This is not what Alex was doing with his piano.  He loves God and thanks him every day for his talent, his grandmother’s piano, and the joy of music.  But still, the pastor said…

The pastor is wrong. I’ll tell you why in the next article, part 4.

Principles are Better than Laws, Part 1

We’re Christians.  We have laws.  We have the Ten Commandments.  They are not called The Ten Principles.  Still…

Principles are better than laws, even when our principles happen to be laws.  

The nice thing about laws is that they don’t require thinking.  We just have to be afraid of the law giver, and voila, order.  But if you know anything about Christianity, then you know that laws don’t have power to save.  

3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Ro 8:3-4).

The law cannot save us because our “flesh is weak.” This means that we may know we are supposed to do something, or not do something, but when we try to obey that law, we fail time and again. We assume that we cannot help it. Isn’t that why Jesus had to die? Because we are so bad at not sinning?

Well, yes, it is. But there is more. Jesus fulfilled the “righteous requirement of the law,” for us who, “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Now what does that mean? I’d like to propose that one effect of walking according to the Spirit is that it makes all our laws into principles. In our sin, the “thou shalt nots, and thou shalts” seem like hard restrictions, keeping us from having any fun in life. But in the Spirit, sin having been “dealt with” by Christ, we are able to see the laws of God as a path to true personhood.

Our destiny is eternity with God that began at our salvation.  We will never lose our free will, but we will one day learn to always choose God of our own joyful volition.  We will always seek his kingdom and his righteousness, because we will have learned that it is the only way to be.  It is the only path to joy, and to pleasures evermore in and under Christ.  It is the only way to truly enjoy the good gifts of God without putting them above him.  

In my next posts, I’ll take the Great Commandment and the Ten Commandments and see if they also work as the Great Principle and the Ten Principles.

Self Esteem for Christians

I was talking to a pastor friend today. I mentioned that the problem with collectivist ways of feeling good about yourself, e.g. identifying with your whiteness, blackness, ancestry, nationalism, or any other kind of tribe or group, even your sect of Christianity, is the absolute wrong way to achieve self-esteem.

Instead, I said, you have to do something if you want to feel good about yourself. If you believe that honesty is important, then you have to DO the truth. If you believe that courage is important, then you have to DO courageous things. If you don’t live up to what you actually think is right, then you probably should feel bad. If you do what you know you ought to do based on the realities of life and the values you cherish (really cherish, not just say you cherish), then you will feel and should feel esteem for yourself. Would you feel esteem for someone who lived that way? Of course you would, unless you don’t actually value those things.

My friend was quick to point out, “Well, we should esteem ourselves based on God’s acceptance of us.”  

Yes, that is true.  We get our identity from the gospel.  God made us in his image, and furthermore, he loves us even though we have really messed some things up.  He sent his Son to die for us so that he could justify us and adopt us as his own children.  There is esteem there to be accepted as a gift.  

But…

I still think that if you believe what you say you believe about what is good, especially assuming you derived those opinions from your good Father in heaven, that you won’t, and probably shouldn’t feel esteem for yourself if you do not live up to them. You might protest that what I am asking is too difficult, that I am asking you to be perfect (Although it was Jesus, not me who said, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect”). You might protest that you wouldn’t need a Savior if you could do all that. Maybe so, but I’m not wrong, and millions of unhappy, self-loathing Christians know it.

Without diving too deep right here, I’ll say that I think that God actually means for us to be like Jesus.  He wants us to know who we are, to live according to the principles he has given us in Scripture, and in what is obvious in creation.  As humans, let alone Christians, we are always given the choice between moving towards life, and moving towards death.  Humans have to choose to live, or they choose to die.  Choosing to live means to accept the reality of the Logos, the reason, the substance, the laws with which God created the universe.  Man was made in the image of God to live.  In fact he said that we should “produce, multiply, subdue earth, and rule over it.”  I believe he built us to get a kick out of living, to find joy in, not merely surviving, but constantly choosing to rise higher. 

We must choose what promotes our lives and leaves our death behind, starting with a relationship with God through Christ, but also seeking our good and the good of others. Taking responsibility for the talents, resources, gifts, and chances that we are given, and building upon them according to the laws of truth, justice, mercy, love, and industry, is how we act like the God who put us here to rule in his image as his delegates. All this we do for our own sakes, for HIS sake, and for his glory.

If we learn to live in the way he created us to live, no one will have to convince us to esteem ourselves. Our esteem will have nothing to do with comparison to others, or power over others, or association with a group (American, Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, Southern Baptists, Antifa, LGBTQ+, White, Black, Brown, Asian, Southern, Northern, Atheist, white collar, blue collar, or any kind of group imaginable). Rather it will be the just evaluation of righteousness and human being. That is, being human.

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.

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