Friday, October 22, 2010
This image is NOT the mental picture I want you to have of walking by the Spirit (or certainly of dancing at all), which is what I am focusing on in this post. And, I am perhaps foolishly referencing and modeling this rap song and cultural dance phenomenon with a naive understanding of what it actually means. No, I can't completely explain what is going on with my arms, and no, I have no specific reason why my pants are rolled up like that. But, no doubt, it got your attention. Mission accomplished. Besides, I've heard this song at godly, Christ-centered weddings, so it must be ok. And sometimes, we have to look like a fool in the Christian life as we humbly trust God, walk by faith, and rely on grace, in order to communicate and relate hope to lost people. That is ok (but takes discernment!). The Gospel is foolishness, so embracing that can be a godly thing.
Usually, I labor over a blog post for a long time. As you can see, I haven't posted since the beginning of September, and my goal is to do one per month. Since I'm not going to make that goal, and since the next post idea I have (continuation from the two previous) is going to take a lot of reading that I haven't yet been able to do, I decided that I would post some simple, though hopefully profound and helpful, thoughts.
MAN, ARE YOU SAVED?
So let me set the stage. First, are you a Christian? I mean seriously, are you saved by grace, through faith, in Christ? That is an important question. One you should consider, if you haven't already. If you have, maybe (hopefully) you have gotten to the same place as the Philippian jailer in Acts 16, who, after failing at the only thing precious to him (keeping prisoners in check behind bars), was brought to the brink of suicide before being interrupted and encouraged. Left with no answers to the miracle he witnessed, or to his remaining plight, he asks, "What must I do to be saved?" Have you asked that? Perhaps what is most precious to you (money? job? relationship? children? status? house? pet?) has not yet been torn away, or perhaps you are not yet suicidal. But still, have you asked that? Has someone interrupted or encouraged you in your brokenness, or in your perceived stability? If not, this is my attempt. Are you saved?!
Listen to this story shared in a sermon by John MacArthur in 1973:
"A man stood up in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada four years after the sinking of the Titanic in a testimony meeting and this is what he said. He said, 'I am a survivor of the Titanic. When I was drifting alone on a spar that awful night, the tide brought a man toward me in the sea and his name was John Harper. He was hanging to a piece of wreckage. And as he neared me, he said, Man, are you saved? No, I'm not, I replied. He said, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved! And the waves took him away. But strange to say, they brought him back a little later and he said, Are you saved yet? And I said, No. And he said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved! And I watched him go down. And there, alone in the night, with two miles of water under me, I believed and I was saved. And I was John Harper's last convert."
Do you grasp the power of a story like this? God is real. In 1912, through a horrible event that killed 1500 people and is probably as well know as any disaster in our history, God saved a sinking man through the boldness of another sinking man. Not "saved" like from the water (though He did), but "saved" eternally, from the wrath of a holy God, and into the presence of the most precious being in the universe: Jesus Christ. And then 4 years later, in 1916, this man told this story to perhaps hundreds of people. There is no telling how much that story passed on to and inspired others, God willing, to the point of salvation themselves. We do know that this story was told again, in 1973, through a sermon delivered to another hundred or so people, who in the context of the Word of God applied it to their minds, hearts, and actions, and, God willing, shared it with countless others who received salvation. Now, it has come to me, and through the blessings of the World Wide Web, I am sharing with an unlimited number of people, hopefully to the point of, or confirmation of, salvation to all reading.
God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, came to Earth as fully man and fully God some 2000 years ago, lived a perfect life, went to the cross and experienced excruciating (do you know where this word comes from?) pain and actual separation from His eternal Father, and died, taking the punishment that we deserve, and washed us clean from our sins through His blood. He then rose from the dead confirming our salvation and giving us hope, and is going to come back to judge the living and the dead, and will set things right for all time. The God of the Universe applied this eternal message and reality in the middle of freezing water in 1912 to a sinking man, who then shared his story in 1916, which was then related to a congregation in 1973, which has now, in 2010, been passed to you. That is unbelievable.
The message is clear. You are sinking, whether you realize it or not. You might feel quite comfortable and happy in your little box, and do not find God necessary or interesting, thank you very much. You might not understand how a good God could allow suffering, or why there are so many religions, or how to reconcile the evil that has been done in the name of Christianity, or how hell could exist, or why you have to surrender everything to Him, instead of just your time on Sunday. But your box is crumbling around you, because it is temporary, and all those questions are secondary. The primary one remains: Are you saved?!
What must I do to be saved? you ask. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved. That is it. For real. Just believe. Believe what? you ask. Believe in Jesus. Believe that He is who He claimed to be (God in the flesh) and that He did what He claimed to do (suffered and died for your sins, rose from the dead to give you hope). John 20:31, "These are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you might have life through His Name." Romans 10:9 and 10: "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved."
If you are a Christian (hopefully that is all reading at this point! If not, re-read above), the question becomes, now what? I'm believing, so now what? I'm saved, right? You said so. God promised so in His word. So, how do I remain saved? What all must I do to keep that salvation secure? Is there a list? What if I keep sinning? What is the "full armor of God"? How do I answer seemingly unanswerable questions from my unbelieving neighbors? How do I cope with suffering? How do I forgive those who have wronged me? How do I keep this good news relevant? What is God's will for my life? What about the poor?
I am going to offer 3 simple ways to deal with these things in the Christian life. They are simple, not easy. These are 3 things that I labor every day to keep hold of. It is a battle. But it is a battle to believe, not to perform. Misunderstand that, and the Christian life will be a mess. Understand it, and God's grace will transform you more into His likeness every single moment of every single day, and use you for His glory in the way for which you were created. The 3 things are:
1) Yield to the Spirit
2) Receive the Word
3) Understand Grace
Let me start with this passage from Galatians:
1For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
2Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
7You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
13For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 15But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Is that clear as mud? Maybe not. Some things Paul says are hard to understand. But that doesn't mean God doesn't want us to figure them out! Because as we do, we will experience the grace of Jesus Christ. God's Word is grace to people, on the spot. That is worth whatever effort it takes to understand it and live it. My imperfect experience has led me to three practical ways to bring the truth of this passage (and any passage) to bear in the Christian life. It is only by grace I can even discern these and offer them to you as a helpful resource.
YIELD TO THE SPIRIT
What does this mean? It means exactly what it says. You have to yield to the Spirit. You have to make a conscious effort to submit control to the Holy Spirit, which if you have saving faith, lives inside you. How do you do this? Prayer. What conscious effort might look like for you is verbally saying it in an out-loud prayer as soon as you get up in the morning. I don't know. But somehow, you have to yield to the power of the Holy Spirit, to convict you of sin, to comfort you in pain, to guide you in uncertainty, and to confirm to you truth and the promises of God in the Bible. The Holy Spirit is available to do all of that in your life. If you aren't consciously allowing Him to do this, just by simply asking and yielding, the Christian life is going to be way more difficult than it was intended to be. Yielding to the Spirit does not mean doing nothing. It does not mean sitting on a couch staring into nothingness and waiting for the Spirit to direct you. It means going about your day with a sensitive and discerning mind, open heart, and selfless hand, and trusting that God is on your side. This may not seem practical. That is ok. Just try it. Right now, yield, and then live. See what happens.
John MacArthur helps clarify:
"It's one thing to have the Spirit resident; it's something else to have the Spirit dominant. Let me give you an illustration of it. The word 'filled' is used in the gospels to speak of total control, for example, in John 16:6 it says 'Sorrow hath filled your heart.' In Luke 6:11 it says, 'They were filled with madness.' In Luke 4:28 'They were filled with wrath.' In Luke 5:26, 'They were filled with fear.'
"You see, mostly in our lives we can balance those things off. Like, for example sorrow; we have a little sorrow and a little joy. A little sorrow tipped this way and a little joy tipped this way and we try to balance it, so if something real bad happens we try to think happy thoughts and everybody tries to boost us up. When something horrible happens, total disaster, a terrible injury, a death or whatever - voom goes the sorrow side, and we're filled with sorrow. And in our lives, basically, the Spirit of God is there and there's a little for the Spirit and a little for us, and we kind of balance things off with the flesh, but there comes a time when we yield all to the Spirit and we're filled with the Spirit and the scale topples on His side. According to Romans 6 it's a question of yielding yourself in obedience to the Spirit of God. We are to be yielded to the Spirit of God in order that He may fill us."
RECEIVE THE WORD
What does this mean? It means exactly what it says. You have to receive the Word of God. You have to read the Bible, and while reading you have to understand what you are reading. How do you start? Prayer. You are not reading merely the words of man. You are not reading only a history book. You are not reading hocus pocus. You are not reading just about the grace of God in Jesus. You are reading the Word of God, which is coming to you as the grace of God in Jesus, on the spot. You have to receive it.
This, I know, is easier said than done. If you have tried to read the Bible with little success, or you read it religiously but feel little effect, I (or actually John Piper) would say this: Have a place, have a time, and have a plan. Stick to it, and trust God to speak. He will. If you still are struggling, remind yourself that the Bible you are holding in your hands is the breath of God (2 Timothy 3:16). Remind yourself that the entire Bible is ultimately about one person: Jesus Christ. The Old Testament is Jesus Christ concealed, the New Testament is Jesus Christ revealed. Look for Jesus in every passage. He is waiting there. Remind yourself that reading the Bible as if its about you will be absolutely confusing, but reading it as if its about Jesus will change your life every time. Seek biblical preaching that unpacks and expounds the Word in ways you might not have time or the proper gifting to do on your own. Let your plan follow this preaching, if possible. Pray constantly. And then see what happens.
Colossians 3:16 says to let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Richly, it says. That is more than a daily verse via email. MacArthur says, "As the word about Christ dwells in you richly, His presence becomes manifest in your conscious mind, and as His presence dominates your mind the Spirit of God controls you."
What does this mean? It means exactly what it says. You have to understand grace. You have to understand that grace is a gift that you don't deserve. You have to understand that God's grace saves you, and it keeps you saved. How do you do this? Prayer. Pray for deeper understanding. Paul Tripp paints an amazing picture of the implications and the nature of grace, daily, through the wonder that is Twitter. Here are just a few examples:
"Grace invades your strength and proves you are weak, then meets you in weakness and makes you strong..... Perhaps the things that you're going through don't look like they come from a God of grace because you don't have a biblical view of grace..... Everyday you give empirical evidence that even though the power of sin is broken, the presence of sin remains and for that you need grace..... God will call you to face the unthinkable in order to form in you what is unachievable apart from his grace..... Rest in the reality that there is never a moment when you don't need transforming grace and never a moment where grace isn't operating..... The grace of the cross assures that the difficulties God brings my way aren't punitive. They're always lovingly and personally restorative..... God's grace hasn't been given to remove all you troubles, but to employ those troubles to progressively transform your heart..... It's impossible for you to live as Christ lived, impossible to pay what he paid, impossible to defeat he what defeated. Your hope? Grace!"
We have to understand grace. In my experience, all the rules and man-made accountability structures in the world, while absolutely necessary in most cases, will not make the difference in discerning the will of God. What is the will of God? Our sanctification. In other words, going to church, reading the Bible, living in community, serving other people, practicing communion, avoiding temptation through various means, being held accountable by trusted friends, all by themselves will not make the difference in living a godly life in Christ Jesus. They are necessary! But they will not make the difference in sanctification, just like they won't make the difference in salvation. Walking by the Spirit includes more (and less!). Colossians 2 says,
20If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21"Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" 22referring to things that all perish as they are used—according to human precepts and teachings? 23These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
What, then, will make the difference? What, then, will have value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh? What, then, will help discern the will of God?
1If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
What is above? The God of the Universe, your Father, and His Son, your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And from Him is flowing the grace that saved you, and saves you. The grace that you don't deserve and you are completely dependent on, all the time. The grace that weakens you so you can be strong. The grace that humbles you so you can boast, not in your works, but in His. The grace that will make everything else in your life possible, including the instructions in the rest of Colossians 3. The grace that allows you to approach your earthly life with an eternal perspective. The grace that gives us hope. Do you understand it?
"The answer isn’t to try harder in the Christian life but to comprehend more fully and clearly Christ’s finished work for sinners and then to live in more vital awareness of that grace day by day. The main problem in the Christian life, in other words, is not that we don’t try hard enough to be good. It’s that we haven’t accepted the deep implications of the gospel and applied its powerful reality to all parts of our life." - Tullian Tchividjian
"No need to fear what's coming. The God who orders your life provides the grace necessary to face what he has ordained." - Paul Tripp
So walk it out! Walk by the Spirit!