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Execute True Justice

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor.  Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.’ “ Zechariah 7: 9, 10

The word “justice” is defined on dictionary.com as “the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness.”  The word “just” is defined in dictionary.com as “guided by truth, reason, justice and fairness.”  In Webster’s dictionary, one of the definitions of the word “just” is “acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright and good.”  Webster’s defines “justice” as “the maintenance or administration of what is just, especially by impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.”

Major injustices in society would include people who were imprisoned for crimes that they didn’t commit, people who go unpunished for crimes committed, or a bribe taken by a judge or government official that results in an unfair judgment.  These major incidents are most likely beyond our realm of influence so we would not likely encounter them or possibly have a rare, once in a lifetime encounter.  My question is, “how does the Lord’s directive to execute true justice impact the daily life of the average Christian?”

All of us, throughout our lives, are faced with circumstances where our input determines the fairness or justice that is done to a person or group of people.  Whether as a parent, a teacher, an employer, member of a board or council, or even among peers, we have the opportunity to make or to influence decisions to determine whether they are just or unjust.

We can also look around us and see many (relatively minor) injustices that occur in our society.  In fairness, we must admit that some may be apparent injustices, that is, situations that may appear to be unjust, but if we would know the entire circumstances, we would understand that they are actually fair and just.  Many, through, are unquestionably unfair and unjust.

What is our part?  How should we act and think as Christians?

First, we must understand that the Lord sees justice as very important.  Jesus, when rebuking the religious Pharisees for their hypocritical actions, stated that justice (which they were neglecting) was a “weightier matter of the law”, along with mercy and faith.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” Matthew 23:23

In my experience, there are many sermons and teachings and books written about faith and mercy, but little or nothing about justice, although it is equally important.  Let’s look deeper at justice and what it means in a practical sense to our Christian walk.

At the root of any injustice, there is a motivation by the decision maker, or person in authority, to make the wrong, unjust decision because it will somehow benefit them; they also have a disregard for the pain or problems that the injustice will inflict on those on the wrong end of the decision.  As Christians, we must override this temptation to benefit ourselves and be sure to do what is correct and just.  This action of not seeking our own benefit is a part of love, as the Scripture in 1 Corinthians 13 says, “love seeks not its own”, and we can see how justice and love are closely intertwined. Many times true justice also involves mercy for those who are oppressed by the injustice.

We should also be aware that sometimes there is a price to pay in order for justice to remain intact.  For example, God the Father had to send His Son Jesus to pay the price for our sins, so that the Father would remain just and in alignment with His justice.  He could not just overlook the sins of mankind or justice would have been perverted, and so He paid a very high price (suffering and death) to keep justice intact.  Likewise, there are times that we too must pay a price to bring about justice, or to show mercy towards someone, but mercy should not be exercised at the expense of justice.

Another form of injustice is showing partiality with an evil motive.  Here’s what James, the brother of Jesus, had to say about it (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit):

“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘you stand there,’ or, ‘sit here at my footstool,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” James 2: 1-4

And so we see that we must be careful about our treatment of others, knowing that it is a serious matter to show partiality towards someone for the wrong reasons, or with selfish motivations.

Life’s circumstances are often times very challenging and difficult and we are often tempted or pressured into unfairness or partiality resulting in injustice. In an effort to live our lives as pleasing to the Lord, we need to ask Him to reveal to us any area of our life that would be considered by Him to be unjust or impartial.  We need to ask the Holy Spirit to expose any hidden motives that we might have that could be hiding even a remote connection to an injustice.

For example, in fairness, we should work a full day of work for a full day’s pay, whether someone is watching us or not (remember that the Lord is watching!).  We should treat all people the same regardless, or in spite of, of our prejudices. We should reward those who deserve it, even when it may be painful to us, and we should punish those who deserve it when it is our responsibility, without showing partiality.

God will honor all of our actions that promote justice, fairness, equality, and righteousness.  It starts with an earnest desire and self awareness, as well as being aware of the importance of justice in God’s kingdom.  God is a just God and He expects His children to also behave in line with His justice.  Hand in hand with this justice is mercy.  God is also a merciful God who expects us to function with this same mercy.

In the 7th chapter of Zechariah, the people of Israel refused to listen to God’s request for them to “execute true justice” and to show mercy and compassion, and to stop all oppression on the poor, widows, strangers, etc., but they did what was evil.  God therefore did not listen to them, and He brought His judgment upon them.

“But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the Lord of hosts. Therefore it is come to pass, that as he cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the Lord of hosts: But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not. Thus the land was desolate after them, that no man passed through nor returned: for they laid the pleasant land desolate.” Zechariah 7: 11 – 14

We must take care to address any injustices in our lives so as to not bring upon ourselves a similar situation of judgment from God as in the time of Zechariah.  Our judgments and decisions need to be impartial, fair, aligned with the truth, aligned with God’s commandments and laws, and tempered with mercy.

James ends his exhortation about showing impartiality and judgment with evil thoughts with this additional exhortation:

“So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.  James 2: 12 – 13

Amen.

 

 

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The Simple but Powerful Gospel of Jesus Christ

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. …. For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.  For the Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18, 21 – 24

The word “Gospel” means “good news”. What’s the good news? It’s a simple message that doesn’t require great intellectual knowledge, nor should it need to be verified or confirmed by some miraculous sign or wonder.  The message is this: Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of God, and He came to earth to suffer and die on a cross for our sins, as was prophesied in the scriptures, but then was raised again from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven as Lord and King of the Kingdom of God.  If you believe this, you will be saved, and will not perish.

“But to all who received Him (Jesus), who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1: 12

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3: 16-18

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests on him.” John 3: 36

“Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures…” 1 Corinthians 15: 1-4

The gospel message is very simple, but it can come across as being complex and confusing.  Most of the complexity and confusion come from not understanding the context of the message, or not having the essential background knowledge.  I would like to now examine some of the context of the message as was presented in the Scriptures.

Belief in a single, living, personal, creator God

“I am the Lord, and there is no other besides Me. I will gird you, though you have not known Me, that they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other; I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things.” Isaiah 45: 5-7

Most of the biblical accounts of the apostles preaching the gospel involved situations where the audience consisted either of Jews or other devout gentiles, all of whom already believed in a single, personal God who was their Creator.  The Lord Jesus also when teaching and preaching was mostly speaking to the Jews or Samaritans who He knew had a prior understanding of the nature and singularity of God. It is important to understand the message in this context.

A person who believes in multiple gods will be confused by the Gospel message, seeing Jesus as just another one of the many gods, and not perceiving that He was the physical representation of the one true God.  In contrast, the writer of Hebrews spoke of Jesus, the Messiah, in this manner:

“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in  these last days He has spoken to us by a Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature, upholding the universe by His word of power.” Hebrews 1: 1-3

It is also a point of confusion if a person sees God as some impersonal force that controls the universe. Although God is all powerful and His Spirit does control the universe, He is also a personal God who needs to be addressed and related to in a personal manner, not a force that you can tap into and use to manipulate for you own purposes.  Jesus as the Messiah, and as Lord and King of God’s Kingdom, has rules and standards that must be followed. He will later judge all men according to these principles.  It is in this context that we must view the Gospel message.

Paul, when he encountered idol worshipers in Athens (Book of Acts chapter 17), expanded his message to address this issue of having an improper context:

“Now while Paul waited for them in Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was full of idols” Acts 17: 16

His message to the Athenians:

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To the Unknown God’. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands.  Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.  And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of you own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’  Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained.  He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17: 22 – 31

Adam and Eve’s Fall resulting in a Cursed World

“For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15: 21-22

The coming of the Messiah was not just to offer forgiveness to men for their sins, but it was also to restore mankind from the loss of paradise and access to the tree of life (i.e. immortality).  We must understand that we don’t belong in this cursed world and we were not initially intended to be in this condition, but it was a result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God when they believed Satan’s lie and wanted to become like God.

“Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat of it”, Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.’” Genesis 3: 17-19

“Therefore the Lord sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”  Genesis 3: 23-24

Unfortunately today, especially in our western culture, the truth of God’s creation of Adam and Eve and the events of the garden of Eden have been lost due to the current teachings and beliefs about the origins of man, namely the theory of evolution and the scientific view of the timing and origins of our planet.  I won’t go into what I see as the flaws of the scientific theories (see the many teachings on intelligent design if interested in a thorough presentation of this) except to say that these men are making assumptions that equate to making guesses that will eventually be proven wrong, and that it takes as much or more faith to believe these theories as it does to believe what has been revealed by God in His word.  The Word of God wins hands down in my view.

The most important and undeniable reality that we all face (resulting from Adam’s sin) is our ultimate death.  Also undeniable is the hopelessness and vanity that death presents to us when we realize that nothings goes with us when we die.  Jesus came to restore hope and give us a reason to live.  He has promised us eternal life in heaven, a place with no more tears and sorrow, no more injustice, no more death.  We must recognize this truth as part of the context that the Gospel was presented in.

The Messiah as Lord and King

The Jews were expecting the Messiah to come and restore the Kingdom of God and to become the King.  They weren’t wrong, they just didn’t recognize that He must suffer first and become a sacrificial offering to conquer death, as was prophesied in the Scriptures.

“But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ (Messiah) would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.” Acts 3: 18 (Peter’s sermon)

It is extremely important that we recognize that when Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, and later ascended into heaven, He was then place in the highest position of authority as Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  If we believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of God, sent to earth by God the Father, then we must recognize Him as the current King and Lord of the Kingdom of Heaven of which we have become a part of as Christians.  We must therefore recognize Him as our Lord, submitting to His commandments and regulations as such.

Consider this prayer from Paul in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus:

“That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints (Christians), and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1:17-23

The Power

When the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is preached and understood in its full context it is able to change lives, transforming us into new spiritual creatures, born again to new life in God as supported by the truths of His revelation.  The transformation is internal and has great value even now, but will especially have value when we must stand before the Lord Jesus in the future as Judge of our lives.  This Gospel message is for everyone, not just those with high intellectual capacity or who can grasp intricate theories or high level wisdom.  The most important ingredient is our faith, which is available to all men.  If men will sincerely seek the God of creation they will find His Messiah, and the result will be powerful and transforming. Amen

Learn What is Pleasing to the Lord

“Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” Ephesians 5: 8-10

It should be the goal of every Christian to please the Lord, but we cannot do this unless we know what is pleasing to Him.  The main source to learn what pleases Him is the Bible, but we also have the Holy Spirit and our conscience to guide us.  It is a good thing to seek God to find out what pleases Him, and to read the scriptures with this intention in mind.

In general, the father and child relationship is a good guide for us.  We know that a father is pleased by a wise and well behaved son or daughter who listens well to instructions and follows closely what they are told to do.  The book of Proverbs brings out this idea of the Lord being like a wise Father instructing His children:

“Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, and give attention to know understanding; for I give you good doctrine; do not forsake my law.” Prov. 4:1

And this about how a wise son pleases his father:

“A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother.” Prov. 10:1

This may seem simple or obvious, that God is pleased with our wisdom, understanding and obedience to His commandments, but it is the lack of focus on these simple things that has gotten many well meaning believers into trouble over the years (like the Pharisees during the time of Jesus).

We have a tendency to focus on what pleases other men, instead of what pleases God, or we focus more on what feeds our own flesh and pleases us.  We easily get distracted and turn our focus to secondary things.  The Gospel of Mark has a great guide for what should be the focus of our attention to please God and do what is most important to Him:

“Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, ‘Which is the first (foremost) commandment of all?’ Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all commandments is: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all you mind, and with all your strength.” This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ So the scribe said to Him, ‘Well said, Teacher, You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’  Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’” Mark 12: 28-34

You will notice that the scribe’s wise answer included the point that having this understanding that there is only one God, and having a love for God and neighbor is more important than offerings and sacrifice, indicating that even back then there was an issue with people focusing on the wrong things when attempting to please God.

We must also recognize that God is Spirit and therefore we must be spiritual and understand the things of the Spirit in order to please God.  Being spiritual requires faith.

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11: 6

It is very clear in the scriptures that our carnality, or our focus on the things of this physical world that feed our carnal nature, is displeasing to God.  Removing the things of this world from our hearts and focusing on the things of the Spirit, or being spiritually minded, is pleasing to Him.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.  For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  Because the carnal (fleshly) mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8: 5-8

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but of the world.” 1 John 2: 15-16

This makes perfect, logical, sense because if we are carnally minded and without true faith, we become foolish and are unable to follow God’s instructions (or even see and hear them), and cannot walk in true love.  But if we exercise our faith, and turn from the things of this world in our hearts, and focus on the spiritual promises that God has given to us, and long for heaven, then we can see and perceive the truth, and are empowered to walk in love with the law written on our hearts, therefore pleasing Him.

“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”  Galatians 5: 16-17

When we focus our hearts on the things of God, the things of the Spirit, and His power and influence in our lives, and through our faith begin to walk in the Spirit, we then are able to see the truth from God’s perspective, and can honor Him and give thanks for what He is doing in our lives.

In Psalm 50, the Lord makes it clear that He doesn’t need anything from us, but He expects from us thankfulness, obedience to what we have committed to Him, and that we call upon Him for help so that He can be the glorified when He delivers us from our troubles and meets our needs.

“If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all its fullness.  Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” Ps. 50: 12-15

And so we see that it pleases God that we are thankful, and we should be thankful often, for the food that we eat and even the air that we breathe, we should not take it for granted.  And we should thank God for the many things that He does for us throughout our lives.

It is not wise for us to make vows to the Lord, but if we do, we should fulfill them.  For example, if you are married, you made of vow before God that needs to be honored completely until death.

We see also that God is pleased when we come to Him.  He wants us to make Him our God and not to substitute His place as God in our life with either our own power or thoughts, or with other men or other manmade organizations or institutions.  He alone is our deliver and help in our time of need.  He needs to be honored as such and then rightfully glorified when He delivers us from our situations.

Pleasing the Lord takes some effort and requires our attention.  Paul the apostle makes this clear in his teachings:

“But I want you to be without care (concern). He who is unmarried cares for (or is concerned about)  the things of the Lord – how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world – how he may please his wife.” 1 Cor. 7: 32-33

“You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” 2 Timothy 4: 3-4

In summary, we see that as beloved children we should be focused on making sure that our lives and actions are pleasing to our Father in heaven.  We need therefore to be obedient to His instructions and commands, but this requires that we turn from this world and focus our minds and hearts on the things of the Spirit, becoming spiritually minded.  Walking in the spirit will allow us to love God fully and to love our neighbors, as we have been instructed to do.  The Lord needs nothing from us, but instead desires that we are thankful to Him for the things He does in our lives, honoring Him as our God, and looking to Him in our time of need, and glorifying Him for His help and deliverance.  It requires some effort on our part to not only learn what pleases Him, but to keep focused on what is pleasing to God rather than what pleases us or other men.

I will leave you with this exhortation from the word from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:

“Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 4: 1-2

The Key to Victory is Our Faith in Christ

“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” 1 John 5:4

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15: 57

Our victory as Christians is twofold.  First, we have victory in this life over the world, over our flesh, and over sin.  Second, we have the final victory over the second death because our name is written in the Book of Life. Both of these areas of our victory are closely related.  One depends on the other and vice versa.

Before looking deeper into the victory we have as Christians, I first need to address some misconceptions that will cause confusion unless corrected. It is a major problem in our western Christianity that the enemy has perverted the truth about our victory in Christ.

Misconception: Christians cannot be perfect or cannot be free from sin

This misconception says that we can never be literally or actually righteous or holy, but that we can only be positionally righteous by having the righteousness of Jesus imputed (attributed or ascribed) to us by faith.  It also implies that we will never be free of sin in our lives, but that we can only be free from the penalty of sin.  In addition, this misconception states that to suggest that we are required by God to be holy and righteous is contrary to salvation by grace and is reverting back to a salvation by works approach.  Also, to even suggest that we are free from sin in our lives is dishonest and deceptive, and we would be deceiving ourselves.

This misconception of unattainable righteousness and freedom from sin undermines the victory that we have in Jesus.  We need to correct this.

My first objection to this viewpoint is the fact that there are many scriptures that admonish us to be holy and righteous, to live a life free from sin, and to produce the fruit of the spirit, with no additional references or clarifications regarding imputed righteousness verses actual, literal righteousness.  Preachers today who hold to the misconception explained above seem compelled to clarify themselves when they come across one of these scriptures that suggest a need for Christians to be holy and free from sin, but I don’t see Peter, John, James or Paul doing the same thing, whereas, if they held the same viewpoint, I would think that they would be compelled to do so also.

There are many scriptures that clearly express the need for us to live in righteousness and not to have sin in our lives.  Consider this portion from 1 John:

“Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen Him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as He is righteous.  He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning.  The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.  No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him and he cannot sin because he is born of God.  By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: no one who does not do right is of God, nor anyone who does not love his brother.”  1 John 3: 4-10

I am aware that the “explanation”, or clarification, for this and similar verses in John’s epistle is that the original Greek word translated as “sin” here has further connotation suggesting “habitually practicing” sin.  But what constitutes “habitually practicing” a sin?  Is it once a day, or once a week, or is it every few minutes?  Does one have to be a habitual rapist to qualify to be “of the devil” as the above quoted verse suggests?  Unfortunately, this so called explanation does little but give Christians an excuse to remain in their sin.

I have run across Christians who are quick to quote another verse in 1 John to justify this misconception:

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1: 8

The Christians who support the misconception would like this scripture to be saying that there is no point in a Christian’s life that they will not have sin present in them, and if they say that they don’t, at any time, than they are deceiving themselves and are untruthful. I do not believe that this is what John is saying.  If you look at the context of the verse, he is talking to people who have sin that needs to be dealt with through the blood of Jesus, who is an advocate for us to the Father to forgive our sins.  All of us have sinned in the past, so we cannot say that we have never sinned (see chapter 1, verse 10), and there are some Christians who still have sins that need to be exposed and removed from their lives, but they first must admit that they are sinning and stop deceiving themselves, then they need to confess the sin, and ask for forgiveness.  This is what John is addressing in this verse.  Here’s the broader context:

“This is the message that we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.  My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  And by this we may be sure that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.  He who says “I know Him” but disobeys His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him truly love for God is perfected.  By this we may be sure that we are in Him: he who says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.” 1 John 1: 5 to 2:6

As you can plainly see, most of what John is teaching in this portion of scripture is the need for us to live holy and righteous lives, obeying His commandments, walking as Jesus walked, walking in love.  It is absurd to pull one verse out of this and use it as an excuse to justify having sin in your life.  It is interesting that John says at one point “I am writing this to you so that you may not sin” but Christians use what he had wrote as a reason that they can continue to sin, because they think that the previous verse is saying that if they ever say that they are without sin, they would be a liar.  There must come a point where you are free from the bondage of sin and your conscience is clear.  God is the final judge, but if you have dealt with your flesh and have died to this world, and have set your hope on the promise of heaven and eternal life, you will be able to walk without sin in your life.  Jesus has made a way for us to be free from the cycle of sin and death.  John’s letter, and all of the other letters in the Bible, is addressed to a large and varied group of readers as these letters were circulated around to many churches.  Many of the reader were immature and needing to deal with their sins.

There are many other verses throughout the new testament that explicitly call for Christians to be holy, righteous and remove sin from your life.  Here are just a few:

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’.” 1 Peter 1: 14-16

“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5: 48

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let you laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will exalt you.” James 4: 8-10

“But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity(or sin).’ “ 2 Timothy 2:19

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification (or purification to become holy): that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the  Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of alls such as we also forewarned you and testified.  For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.” 1 Thessalonians 4: 3-7

“We know that anyone born of God does not sin….” 1 John 5: 18

In the book of Acts, chapter 5, you can read the account of Ananias and Sapphira who were struck down by the Holy Spirit and died because they lied about the donation of land they had made.  They were both Christians under the New Covenant, yet they were judged harshly due to their sin of deception, and made an example that brought a needed fear upon the church at that time, teaching them to not take sin lightly:

“So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.” Acts 5: 11

The Scriptures also clearly explain that God’s mercy, kindness and forgiveness is intended to cause us to repent, that is, to turn from our life of sin and to change the way that we think and act.

“Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For He will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.” Romans 2: 4-8

In addition, we are shown that the initial exercise of our faith when we accept the forgiveness of God and receive the promise of eternal life by placing our hope in heaven (accomplished through the death of Jesus on the cross) and we die with Jesus to this world, this faith is accompanied and verified by the works that are produced in our lives as we are transformed into new creations.

“ What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? [the implied answer is no] If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.  You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” James 2: 14-26

Another purpose of God’s gift of salvation through grace through our faith is so that no man can boast that they earned the right to be forgiven by their goodness or good works.  As we stated before, all of us have sinned in the past and need God’s mercy and forgiveness.  But this does not mean that once we have received the forgiveness and promises of God, that we are not required to produce the fruit of good works.

The error of the Israelites under the Old Testament was that they bypassed the faith and focused on the works only.  Thus they were in a trap of being carnal or carnally minded, due to the lack of faith, attempting to produce the fruit of the spirit, that is, love and good works, but they could not do so because they were not changed internally (this change is a product of living faith).

“What shall we say then? That the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith: but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law.  Why? Because they did not pursue it though faith, but as if it were based on works.” Romans 9: 30-32

In other words, Israel focused on the law and focused on the good works that go along with the law, but did not focus on the faith that produces the good works and the obedience to the law.  The analogy is a tree where the roots are like our faith and the fruit is like our good works.  If the roots are not healthy and alive then the fruit will not be produced no matter how much you focus on the fruit.

The key to our victory: a living faith

Victory for the Christian starts with the opportunity to become a child of the living God, and therefore, a citizen of heaven, with an immortal and eternal body. This was made available to us through the Lord Jesus Christ when He offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins, dying on the cross, allowing us to be completely forgiven of our past sins, removing the judgment that we were to face when we appear before God in our next life, after we die.  Before this opportunity was available to us, only the descendants of Abraham, His chosen people, were able to enter into an intimate relationship with the living God.

This opportunity is presented to us as a free gift, as an act of love and grace that we must accept as reality, and place our hope and trust in completely. For our part, we must exercise a living faith that causes us to be transformed into a new spiritual creature.  It involves the removal of the false hopes and influences from the world that we had trusted and hoped in previously.  We now place our trust fully in the Lord and await His return when He will establish a new earth and new heaven.

Our greatest enemy is death; we have victory over this death through the eternal life and immortality that we have in Christ Jesus.  This is the ultimate victory.  In addition to this, we also have victory in this life over the bondage of the world, the bondage of the devil, and the bondage of sin.

Consider this portion of scripture from the Gospel of Luke:

“So He (Jesus) came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’

Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’” Luke 4: 18-22

All of the sorrows, the blindness, the bondage, and the oppression of mankind are the result of sin.  Jesus came to deal with this root cause, and to offer to His followers complete freedom from the sin that has caused these issues in their lives.  Although the Lord is pleased when we turn from our sins, this freedom from our sins is more of a benefit for us because it results in a much improved condition for us.

So the question now becomes, “How does this victory work for us?” or “How can I become free from sin?”  Answering this is really what this entire blog is about!  In short, when we exercise a true, sincere, living faith in the promises of God that have been presented to us through the Lord Jesus Christ, we are converted from carnal to spiritual, from carnally minded to spiritually minded.  We do this by placing our hope completely and constantly in the promise of eternal life in heaven, rather than in the hopes of this world.  We do this by coming out of the world system, meaning that we stop thinking like the world thinks, but think as we are shown to think by the Lord in His scriptures, transforming and renewing our minds, seeing things with the eyes of our faith. We place our trust totally in God, making the living God our “God” and Lord of our lives.  These changes in us give us the ability to love.  Love is spiritual, so as we become spiritual we produce the fruit of the spirit which is love.  People who are focused on this world and their flesh cannot really love; they cannot love their enemy; they cannot love when they are hurt or offended or jealous because the flesh that they have been feeding overpowers their ability to love.

The key to our victory in this life is to have the type of faith that makes us spiritual. This means that we need the kind of faith where we die to our flesh and die to this world, the kind of faith that takes up the cross of Christ and considers themselves as having died with Christ to this world and therefore to sin.

We also must embrace the truth that God has revealed to us in His word and reject the lies that we have believed from the world or the devil or our own self.  Walking in the light of the truth will cause freedom from the bondage that the lies had kept us in.  Believing these lies also contributes to our unrighteousness and sin.  Believing the truth will set us free.

Once our faith is exercised and we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus and made acceptable to God the Father, His Holy Spirit comes and lives within us and begins to work in us, communicating with our spirit, helping us to see the truth, and working in us the changes needed to become spiritual.

Here is the secret: the root cause of our sin is our strong desires that are focused on physical things from this world.  When we die to this world and shift our hopes and affections towards the spiritual things of God that have been promised to us through Jesus (i.e. heaven and eternal life), then our strong desires are changed – this sets us free from sin!

Here’s what James said about the link between our desires and sin:

“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death.” James 1: 14-15

You see that desire “incubates” in us and then “gives birth” to sin.  It is our desires that need to change internally.  Faith changes our desires!!

The scriptures also exhort us to focus our affections and desires on spiritual things:

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds (or affections) on things that are above, not on the things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Colossians 3: 1-4

The victory that Jesus Christ accomplished over death gave us the opportunity to shift our affections and desires to heaven, making us spiritual as we apply our faith to His promise.  This transformation in us from a carnal creature to a new spiritual creature sets us free from the sin and bondage in our lives, and secures for us our position in God’s kingdom.  This is the full and complete victory that we have attained via our faith in Jesus.  For this we are eternally grateful to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, whom we worship and serve.

Amen.

Here’s How Christians Should Think!

“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2

This is a follow up to the last two messages about being a living sacrifice to God and renewing our minds.  Immediately after these above quoted verses in Romans chapter 12, Paul begins to give practical advice about how we should think.  I would like to go through each of his suggestions, grouping them as I see fit and drilling down into their possible implications.

Remember that although Paul the Apostle is writing this letter, he is being inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore this is guidance from the Lord.  Notice also that Paul again refers to the “grace given to me” similar to his mention in verse 1 of “the mercies of God”.  Paul is reminding us that these directives are related to the Lord’s merciful act of grace that he had previously defined in earlier chapters and also the act of grace that had revealed these truths to him by the Lord himself appearing to him and communicating the Gospel of the Gentiles.

Paul’s directives are practical and apply to everyone.  This makes them of great value to us today. He also suggests that we need to consider and guard our thoughts, removing some of the wrong thoughts, and guiding our thinking towards what is true and right.

“Keep (guard) your heart (and mind) with all diligence, for out of it flow the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23

Our Thoughts about Ourselves (verses 3 to 8):

“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Romans 12: 3

The word “soberly” here suggests that we need to think clearly, with a sound mind, and not allow our flesh or our pride to elevate our value in our own assessment.  Not only does this confirm our need to walk in humility, but we also need to recognize the need to know our place in life, to know the limits of our abilities, to know what God’s role is for us in life.  Verses 4 through 8 explain that the body of Christ has many individual members, each with a different gift, purpose and role to play, and that each member is important.  The message in these verses is for us to recognize our gift and purpose and then to focus on that gift so that we can put it to good use to build up the body.

It is very easy for us to think in the wrong manner concerning our place in life.  We can become jealous of others and desire to be like them, or we can undervalue our contributions and think we don’t have value unless we do what we see other doing.  These kind of thoughts are wrong and need to be removed from our minds.

I also see a warning here about covetousness.  We often see the grass as greener in another person’s life or position so we covet what they have.  It’s sort of like little children at a restaurant who see food on someone else’s plate and want that instead of what they had ordered.  The flip side is that we need to be content with where God has placed us and  with what He has commissioned us with doing, and if we desire a change, we need to seek the Lord about it and wait for Him to bring about the change in His time.

Related to this, there may be some Christians who have the opposite problem, that is, they are called by God to do something, but don’t think that they have the abilities to accomplish what they are being asked to do.  Moses had this problem when God called him to lead His people out of Egypt, Moses pushed back saying he couldn’t even speak properly in front of people.

“Then Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ ” Exodus 4:10

There are time we need to just be obedient to God’s calling and move forward in faith, trusting that God is able to accomplish His work through us, and that it is Him who does the bulk of the work, we are just His instrument.

Our Thoughts Supporting Love (verses 9 to 21):

“Let your love be without hypocrisy.  Abhor that which is evil; cling to that which is good.” Romans 12: 9

Another translation of this verse says “let your love be genuine (or sincere).”  The word “hypocrisy” comes from a word that means “an actor or to act” as in someone in a play.  Paul warns us here to make sure that our thoughts and actions are aligned, that we are being true to what we feel and know, and to correct the misalignment if necessary.  We should examine our motives.  We should not be doing things out of obligation or external pressures, but our actions should flow from a sincere heart that is truly concerned for others and wants to please God.

It is difficult to know for sure how closely associated the second part of the verse is to the first.  In some translations they are separated by a semicolon only, suggested that they are closely tied.  It stands to reason though, that if we guide our thinking to abhor what is evil and to cling to what is good, then it will influence our hearts to be more genuine in our actions towards others.  Things that are evil typically involve bringing harm to others, directly or indirectly, and things that are good support good relationships and typically involve building people up. Regardless, we need to examine and be keenly aware of our thoughts towards both good and evil, making sure that our attitude is aligned with what the scriptures exhort us to do.

“Be kindly affectionate one to another with brotherly love, in honor preferring one another; not slothful in business, fervent (emotionally intense) in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation, continuing diligently in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints; given to (pursuing) hospitality.” Romans 12: 10 – 13

Verses 10 through 13 hold practical admonitions towards others and towards the Lord.  Each directive is straight forward with a clear path to action, for example: be kind and hospitable to one another, helping those in need, and honoring one another.  There’s nothing complex about doing this and everyone has the ability to do so.  All of these actions, though, require a shift in our mindset, attitude and thinking.  Our focus should change in order to accomplish these things, and it will be much different than what we were accustomed to thinking and feeling while back in the mindset of the world system. Recognize that these are the things that we should be doing with our renewed minds.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind towards one another.  Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.” Romans 12: 14-16

In these verses Paul is advising us to not allow our thoughts to cause divisions or separations:  Not to allow persecution to escalate; to connect with those who rejoice and those who weep; to make sure we think about each other similarly, not categorizing people or holding some closer or as better than others; to not allow our thought to get too lofty or high minded to keep us from associating with some people we may consider of lower class or position in life, and again, not to think too highly of our self and our opinions.  We must guard against these things.

Thinking towards our enemy (verses 17 to 21)

“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. Beloved do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.  Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:17-21

Last February, I wrote an entire message about these verses entitled “Overcome Evil with Good” , so I won’t spend too much time on this topic here.  Suffice it to say that our attitude and thinking towards our enemy needs to be very different than it was in the world.   We know that revenge is a common mindset for many people in the world, but as Christians we must now show mercy and allow God to repay people for their evil acts.  I am convinced that if we truly die to this world and set our hopes and affections on the things of the Spirit and heaven, and if we get a true picture of the reality of God’s act of love and forgiveness towards us by sending His Son Jesus to pay the price for our sins, allowing us to enter into His kingdom, we will then be able to ignore or release any desire to take vengeance on our enemies.  It will come naturally as a result of God changing our heart and mind from being carnal to being spiritual.

This mindset is aligned with previous verses that advised us to know our place.  We are not a judge for anyone.  We need to allow God, whose place it really is, to avenge evil and show His wrath towards evil doers.  We have no right to exercise wrath towards people, but instead should be in a humble place of forgiving them as we have been forgiven, many times for doing the very same things that they have done.

Conclusion:

When we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God, or, in other words, when we consider ourselves dead to this world and alive towards God, loving and serving Him, we can then transform our thinking, changing our thoughts and attitude to be conformed to God’s ways and purposes, rather than to the ways and purposes of this world.  Paul has spelled out in the 12th chapter of Romans some practical guidance and checks for our thinking in the areas of how we think about ourselves, how we should think about others, and how we should think about our service to God.  Love is the guide, as well as our thinking towards good and evil.  Paul’s words in these verses are very practical and actionable.  We should visit them from time to time and examine ourselves to see that we are adhering to his advice.

Chapters 13, 14 and 15 of Romans continue with additional advice for us regarding our thoughts and actions.  Perhaps this will be the topic of a future message.  For now, God Bless!

What Mold will You be Formed by?

“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2

This message is a follow on to my last message covering these 2 verses from Romans 12.  I want to look closer at verse 2 regarding our conformity to this world (or non-conformity).

The Greek word for “conformed” used in verse 2 is “syschematizo” meaning (from Strong’s Concordance): “to conform one’s self (i.e. one’s mind and character) to another’s pattern, (fashion one’s self according to)” or figuratively, it means to take on the form of a “mold” or “pattern”.  Most of us are familiar with baking molds used for cakes or cookies, or jello molds.  Some may even be familiar with industrial molds and patterns used for plastic or metals to make parts for appliances or automobiles.  A cast iron manhole cover is made by pouring molten iron into a sand mold.  The iron is cooled and then hardens to take on the shape of the mold.  I think you get the idea.

The question is, “What is molding your mind and character?”  or “What pattern are you fashioning yourself after?”  Every day, either directly or indirectly, our thoughts and opinions are being influenced, or molded, by the information that we absorb.  We have a choice to either continue to be molded into the pattern of this world system, or to be re-molded, or transformed, into the pattern of God’s kingdom.

I’m assuming that you want to be molded into what God requires (or you would have stopped reading this message much earlier). Let’s look deeper at what this means.

We must first realize that we all have some core belief system that we hold to that determines our actions or reactions, our attitudes, feelings and moods, and is the foundation of our character.  This belief system has been established by the ideas and conditions that we have come to believe as being true and have embraced and made a reality in our minds and hearts.  It guides the daily decisions that we make and how we view the world around us.

The message from the Scriptures, as indicated by these verses in Romans, is that we must abandon the belief system that was molded in us by the world, and discontinue our conformity to it.  We must instead be re-molded, or transformed, by the new belief system that has been revealed by God and communicated to us through His word, the Bible, and by the example and teachings of His Messiah – the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s look at the belief system of the world.  Although every individual is different and has a unique view, in general, the world’s belief system has man at the center.  Although some may have an intellectual consent that there is a God, the reality of what they believe does not include His existence. They embrace the concept that we originated from some impersonal force or phenomena that set in motion an evolutionary process of life that resulted in the life forms that exist today with man being the highest form.  Included with this is the conclusion that man must then be totally responsible for the destiny of this planet and all life that is upon it.  In their view, man is also responsible for determining what is right and wrong, based on intellectual knowledge and genius, not on a higher law that was revealed to us from our Creator.  Additionally, for most there is a need to get the most out of life now because there is no guarantee of the future.  The focus is on accumulating material items and getting the most pleasure from our existence as possible.  There is no established hope outside of this life, since death is an unknown condition that most can only guess about and therefore block out of their mind and don’t include directly in their belief system.

We are constantly being bombarded with this pattern for the world’s belief system.  It’s taught in schools, presented in news broadcasts and commentaries; it’s the underlying message in most movies and television shows.  Also, our success is measured by the standards of this world system.

For the world system, the absence of God in practice puts the pressure on individuals to perform and be successful.  People must either trust in themselves or in other men for safety, advancement, prosperity, and future contentment.  Thus there is the attention that is paid to governments (politicians) and scientists, or other so called geniuses who can steer our future to utopia.

The most critical item to consider in our belief system is hope.   For those who have been molded by the world system, there is only hope for things in this life, but it is based on a lie or an exaggeration. The hopes and dreams that we have are rarely fulfilled, and when they are, they are not what we expected them to be.  For example, I worked with a man who waited until he was 70 years old to retire.  He planned to save more money and travel with his wife.  His wife died when he was 69.  This is the stark reality  for most of the hopes of this life.

As Christians, we see that our source of truth, or the mold that forms our belief system, must be the revealed truths as found in the Word of God, the Bible.  This is the authority that must overrule all other truths.  In these Scriptures we find the source of all needed information to transform us into what God has intended for us to be.  God’s will for us: what is good, and acceptable, and perfect, can be established by absorbing the truths of the Scriptures and allowing them to transform us.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12: 2

Here are some of the core tenets that we as Christians must allow our minds to absorb and our belief system to be molded by:

  1. We have been reconciled with our Creator God by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He paid the price for our past sins and we are now children of the living God and part of His family and will inherit His future kingdom.
  2. God is in complete control of the universe and we can wholeheartedly trust Him for our lives and our future, even for the future of this planet and mankind. He has promised to keep watch over us individually, knowing the hairs on our head and every need that we have he is aware of and able to take care of.
  3. Our hope is now in heaven, not focused on the fading and unfulfilling things that this world has to offer to us. We have been guaranteed a place in heaven with eternal life in a resurrected body.  We rejoice in this truth.
  4. All difficulties, trials and struggles that we encounter are used for our own good. God will test us and discipline us to work into us a mature character, desiring that we become more and more like His Son, and the image of His nature, Jesus.
  5. There is an enemy of God, and therefore he is our enemy, the devil, who will attempt to deceive us and confuse us, so we need to be aware of his tactics and his presence and not disregard his power.

Making this transformation in our minds at the core of our being by ripping out the old belief system of the world and replacing it with God’s belief system based on His truths is the key to attaining victory in our Christian walk.  The battle is won or lost in our minds.  The way that we think and the opinions that we hold directly influences our actions.

To be molded by the truths of God’s word is, in essence, to walk by faith.  The error that many have made throughout the ages is to attempt to act in a righteous manner and to be freed from sin, without transforming their belief system.  It is impossible to live a righteous life when our belief system is still molded by the world (i.e, without walking in faith).  The root cause of any problems with sin is our ability to walk in faith, adhering to the belief system based on the truths of God’s word.  This shift to faith transforms us.  It is radical and life changing.  We become spiritual rather than carnal.  We can walk in true, deep, unselfish love.  The law is then written on our hearts and we can do by nature what is required by it with our conscience guiding us.

In conclusion, Paul’s exhortation in Romans is that we become living sacrifices to God, dying to the lies of the world system and embracing the truths of God’s word, allowing us to be molded by a new, godly belief system.  This transformation in our thinking causes us to walk in the spirit, to walk in love, and to become holy and acceptable to God and it is our way of serving and worshiping Him.

Later in Romans 12, Paul expands this idea by adding some practical advice, building upon this idea of dying to this world as a living sacrifice, not conforming to it, but being transformed with a new spiritual mind fueled by faith (the below mentioned actions should be the outgrowth of the transformation):

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.  Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12: 9-18

Be a Living Sacrifice to God

“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2

A few years back someone asked me what my favorite Scripture verse was.  I hadn’t thought about it prior to this question, but I immediately responded that it was Romans 12:1 &2 (quoted above). The questioner’s response was pretty much what I expected.  He quizzically asked, “Hmm….why’s that?” I paused and responded, “I’m not sure where to start!”  As I recall, we had a long conversation after that.

It is my opinion that these 2 verses are among the most important verses in the Scriptures. The concepts that they present are critical to our spiritual walk with the Lord and our spiritual maturity.  Let me explain.

First, I want to share my experience.  Years ago, there was a point in my life where I determined that I was not going to look to the teachings of men, but rather, I was going to prayerfully read the Bible seeking the truth, requesting that the Holy Spirit reveal it to me as I read and studied.  I did not use a study Bible or commentary, nor did I read any other Christian books or writings.  I only used a concordance to look up the original meaning of words, and I also compared various translations.  I was reading a King James Version that had all of the out of date language usage highlighted with the modern English wording referenced in a side note.

I started in the New Testament, reading through the Gospels, and then the book of Acts. This reading took some time and I gained much insight especially from the words that Jesus spoke and taught.  As I went on to the book of Romans after Acts, I got slowed down considerably in this book, realizing that this was not just a normal letter of correspondence like the other epistles in the Bible but something more.  As translator J.B. Phillips explains in his introduction to Romans:

“This letter, with the possible exception of the ‘Letter to Jewish Christians’ [or Hebrews], is the only one that appears to be written deliberately as a religious treatise and not merely in the ordinary way of correspondence.”  Phillips – Introduction to Romans.

According to Dictionary.com, a treatise is a “formal and systematic exposition in writing of the principles of a subject.”

Paul was the “Apostle to the Gentiles” (or to the non-Jewish Christians), and Romans was his detailed doctrinal explanation of this Gospel.  There are Scriptures that suggest that this Gospel was given to Paul by a direct revelation from the Lord Jesus Christ.  I believe it’s true, and I’m a Gentile who was not raised in the Jewish religious customs, traditions and ceremonies so I believe this Gospel is intended for me.

“…when they saw that I [Paul] had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised [Gentiles], just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised [Jews] (for He who worked through Peter for the mission to the circumcised worked through me also for the Gentiles), and when they perceived the grace that was given me, James, Cephas[Peter] and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the Circumcised.”Galatians 2:7-9

There was much meat and valuable truth that I learned while reading and studying through Romans, much of which I have shared in my previous writings.  When I came to chapter 12, I realized that this was the culmination or climax of Paul’s writing in Romans.  At this point in his writing he appeals to the readers based on what he had just explained to them in the previous chapters.  Other translations use the word “beseech” or “urge” for the word appeal.

The use of the word “therefore” confirms that he is doing the appealing or urging based on what was said prior.  The original Greek word translated as therefore is “oun” and could be translated as “accordingly” or “so likewise then”, again confirming that this statement is tied to his previously established points.  From my working through the letter, I concluded that Paul had reached a conclusive point at this verse, making these a very important verses.

Paul then further defines his appeal to his brethren, or brothers and sisters in the Lord, as having been induced by the mercy of God.  He had just described in detail the mercy of God towards them as shown by the sacrifice of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ who suffered and died on their behalf, and now he considered that even the words he was speaking were a further act of mercy towards them.  Phillips translation:

“With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers……” Romans 12: 1 Phillips

What was Paul urging them to do at this critical point in his doctrinal treatise?  He urged them to “present their bodies as a living sacrifice to God.”  But what does this mean in the light of the previous truths that he had presented in earlier chapters?

We first need to understand the phrase “living sacrifice.”  This seems to be an oxymoron if you consider a sacrifice of a body as having it put to death, which was case in Paul’s time, e.g. animal sacrifices.  How could a body that was put to death in a sacrificial offering be living?  Obviously, Paul was talking about a figurative sacrifice, but I want to be more specific about this.  In chapter 6 of Romans, Paul says this:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.  We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. The death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6: 3-11

Making our bodies a living sacrifice means that we need to consider ourselves as dead.  We are to consider ourselves to be dead to this world and to this world system, and directly related to this, we are dead to the strong hopes and desires that this world offers that feeds our flesh or our carnal nature.  These strong hopes and desires, or lusts, are the root and cause of sin, and therefore when we die to them we are free from the entrapping principle of the cycle of sin and spiritual death.

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

Paul uses the idea of death to emphasize the radical change that must occur.  We must completely eradicate our old nature including the way that we think and feel, and the way that we view ourselves in this world.  Verse 2 of Romans 12 confirms this change that must occur in our minds, a transformation from our old way of thinking to the new way that is free from the world’s influence.

“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind….” Rom. 12:2

The Greek word for “transformed” used in this verse is “metamorphoo” meaning to transfigure, transform or change, or to change into another form.  This word was also used for Christ’s transfiguration on the mountain.  Again, this suggests a radical change that needs to occur from when we were once conformed to this world, to a new creation now considering ourselves dead to this world and to this world system and all the hopes and pleasures that it offers us.  Instead we consider ourselves as risen with Christ and already citizens of Heaven, awaiting the return of Jesus and the new heaven and new earth with God’s kingdom of righteousness.

Offering our bodies as a living sacrifice, that is, dying to this world and to our flesh, and crucifying our old nature, separates us from the rest of the world, not by our physical location, but by virtue of how we think and act.  We become completely different and opposite to the rest of those still living in conformity to the world system and way of thinking.  This is what makes us holy or consecrated or set apart to God.  We come out of the world by not thinking the way that they think, and by not following their priorities and accepting the lies that they see as truth.

After the completion of my reading and studying the book of Romans, years later, I was again drawn to these verses in Romans 12, and spent many days meditating and re-reading them.  The Holy Spirit drew me back again and again for a long time to these verses, more than any other portion of Scripture.  I suppose there is even much more to learn from them, and some I have since forgotten and need to be reminded of.

There is a battle, though, that we fight daily to keep ourselves in the transformed condition in our mind, in our thinking, and resist conforming to the world.  We must be attentive to the areas of our heart that we allow to drift back from hoping for our future home in heaven to hoping for some promise that this world offers to us.  The hopes of this world will disappoint us.  We must patiently endure as sojourners in this world, just passing through, looking for and hoping for the future promise that we have from our heavenly Father.

“Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

I’ll have more on these verses from Romans 12 in a future post.  For now, God bless!